In Effort To Reduce Unplanned Pregnancies And Abortions, Some Conservative States Easing Access to Birth Control

Like Planned Parenthood’s Burch Elliott, Matson agreed that this bill would be just one step in providing more access to birth control for women in rural parts of the state.

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Birth Control
Several Republican-led state legislatures are advocating for women to gain over-the-counter access to birth control in what they say is an effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions, Ames, Iowa, March 15, 2019. VOA

Several Republican-led state legislatures are advocating for women to gain over-the-counter access to birth control in what they say is an effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

State legislatures in Arkansas and Iowa, for example, are working on legislation that would allow women older than 18 the ability to receive birth control from a pharmacist rather than going first to a doctor for a prescription. The measures are seeing bipartisanship support in those states and come after similar laws have passed in nearly a dozen other states.

Iowa state legislators have proposed a bill that would allow women to access birth control directly from a pharmacist, Ames, Iowa, March 15, 2019.
Iowa state legislators have proposed a bill that would allow women to access birth control directly from a pharmacist, Ames, Iowa, March 15, 2019. VOA

Arkansas legislation

Arkansas state Representative Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on the bill after seeing “about a 15 percent decrease of teen births” after other states passed similar legislation. Arkansas consistently has one of the highest birth rates among teenagers in the country.

Pilkington said support for the bill “in many ways, it’s very generational. … I find that a lot of younger people and women are really in favor of this, especially mothers.”

Arkansas state Rep. Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on a bill easing women's access to birth control after seeing “about a 15 percent decrease of teen births” after other states passed similar legislation.
Arkansas state Rep. Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on a bill easing women’s access to birth control after seeing “about a 15 percent decrease of teen births” after other states passed similar legislation. VOA

According to the Oral Contraceptive (OCs) Over the Counter (OTC) Working Group, a reproductive rights group, more than 100 countries, including Russia, much of South America and countries in Africa, allow access to birth control without a prescription.

Women are required to get a doctor’s prescription to obtain and renew birth control in most of the U.S., much of Europe, Canada and Australia, according to the reproductive rights group.

Pilkington, who identifies as a “pro-life legislator,” said he brought the bill forward partly as an effort to counter unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The bill would require a doctor’s visit about every two years to renew the prescription.

Rural residents

Arkansas has a population of about 3 million people, a third of whom live in rural areas. Pilkington said the bill would likely benefit women who reside in rural areas or those who have moved to new cities and aren’t under a doctor’s care yet.

“A lot of times when they’re on the pill and they run out, they’ve gotta get a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor says, ‘I can’t see you for two months,’” he said. “Some people have to drive an hour and a half to see their PCP (primary care physician) or OB-GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist), so this makes a lot of sense.”

What Pilkington is proposing is not new. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed the idea of making birth control available without a prescription. Today, at least 11 other states have passed legislation allowing for patients to go directly to the pharmacist, with some caveats.

FILE - Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her inaugural address in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 18, 2018.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her inaugural address in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 18, 2018.. VOA

In October, ahead of a tight midterm race, Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds raised a few eyebrows when she announced she would prioritize over-the-counter access to birth control in her state. Like Pilkington, she cited countering abortion as a main driver behind the proposed legislation. The bill closely models much of the language used in another Republican-sponsored bill In Utah that passed last year with unanimous support.

The planned Iowa legislation comes after the Republican-led state Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that rejected $3 million in federal funds for family-planning centers like Planned Parenthood.

The loss of federal funds forced Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and contraception for women, to close four of its 12 clinics in the state.

Since then, Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs manager of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa, said that anecdotal evidence shows that sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies have gone up.

“With family planning, it takes time to see the impacts, so there are long-term studies going on to really study the impact of this,” said Burch Elliott. “Right away, we saw STI (sexually transmitted infections) and STD (sexually transmitted diseases) rates go up, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea. As far as unintended pregnancy rates, we are hearing that they are rising, although the data is not out yet.”

Pro-life pushback

So far the Iowa legislation has received some pushback, mostly from a few pro-life groups.

The Iowa Right to Life organization has remained neutral on the issue of birth control, but the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops of Iowa, and Iowans for LIFE, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization, have come out against the bill, citing concerns that birth control should not be administered without a visit to a physician.

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE, also pointed out that oral contraception can be an “abortifacient [that] sometimes cause abortions,” challenging Reynolds’ motivation for introducing the bill.

On the other hand, Iowa family-planning organizations and Democratic legislators are mostly on board.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, center, talks with State Rep. Heather Matson, right, at the Ankeny Area Democrats' Winter Banquet, Feb. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, center, talks with State Rep. Heather Matson, right, at the Ankeny Area Democrats’ Winter Banquet, Feb. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.. VOA

“Policywise, I think this is really good,” said Heather Matson, a state representative of a district located just outside the state capital, Des Moines. She appreciated that insurance will still cover birth control, but took issue with the age restriction, saying she would like to see an option for people younger than 18. “Is it exactly the bill that I would have written, if given the opportunity? Not exactly.”

While Matson represents one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, she pointed to the number of “health care deserts” in rural Iowa, where a shortage of OB-GYNs is leading to the closure of some maternity wards.

Like Planned Parenthood’s Burch Elliott, Matson agreed that this bill would be just one step in providing more access to birth control for women in rural parts of the state.

“Even before Planned Parenthood was defunded, there wasn’t great access to birth control in Iowa to begin with,” Burch Elliott said. “Having said that, [this bill] is not a solution. Pharmacists are never going to be a replacement for Planned Parenthood, for example, where you’ll get STI and STD screenings, and any other cancer screenings or other preventive care that you might need.”

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Regardless of whether the bills pass in Des Moines or Little Rock, Arkansas Representative Pilkington expects other states to follow suit.

“As the times have changed and you have a lot of conservative states like Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah (pass this legislation), I think it makes it way less of a partisan issue” and more of a good governance issue, he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other states kind of pushing this as well. Especially when they see the success that other states are having with this.” (VOA)

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Swiss Government Bans All Public Events in The Country Due To Coronavirus Concerns

The United Nations is unsure how the Swiss Federal Council's decision will affect large-scale events scheduled to take place on its premises

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Coronavirus
As of Friday morning, the WHO reported more than 83,000 cases of COVID-19 in China, including 2,058 deaths. It reported 4,351 cases in 49 countries outside China, and 67 deaths. VOA

The Swiss government is taking the unprecedented step of banning all public events that have more than 1,000 people in response to a growing number of cases of coronavirus in the country.

The latest number of reported cases of coronavirus infections in Switzerland is 19. An estimated 100 people are in quarantine.

The ban, expected to extend until at least mid-March, has interrupted a number of events, but Swiss authorities say the government’s top priority is to protect the population.

The ban comes in the middle of carnival season, which draws thousands of merrymakers to Swiss towns and villages. One of the biggest casualties is the Geneva International Motor Show, which was scheduled to run March 5 to 15, and attracts about 500,000 visitors every year.

The United Nations is unsure how the Swiss Federal Council’s decision will affect large-scale events scheduled to take place on its premises. For now, the Human Rights Council is the only mass gathering at the U.N. in Geneva.

U.N. Spokesman Rolando Gomez says the news is fresh and he does not know how it will play out. The council session, which examines human rights violations around the world, is due to last until March 20.

Coronavirus
The Swiss government is taking the unprecedented step of banning all public events that have more than 1,000 people in response to a growing number of cases of coronavirus in the country. VOA

“Obviously, you well know there are well over 1,000 participants at the council,” he said.

Switzerland’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed Tuesday in the Ticino region, which has cross-border traffic with Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country. The World Health Organization says Italy now has 400 cases of coronavirus, and numbers are continuing to rise.

ALSO READ: China is Slowly Bringing Coronavirus Outbreak in Control, Says Apple CEO Tim Cook

As of Friday morning, the WHO reported more than 83,000 cases of COVID-19 in China, including 2,058 deaths. It reported 4,351 cases in 49 countries outside China, and 67 deaths.  Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, just reported its first case of coronavirus, as did Mexico. (VOA)

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Facebook To Ban Misleading Ads Regarding Novel Coronavirus

Facebook cancelled the event scheduled from March 9-12, to be attended by over 5,000 participants

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Coronavirus
The death toll in China's novel coronavirus epidemic climbed to 2,715 with 52 new fatalities while the confirmed cases rose to 78,064. VOA

Facebook on Wednesday announced to ban ads related to coronavirus that promise to cure, prevent or spread panic among the users around COVID-19.

The death toll in China’s novel coronavirus epidemic climbed to 2,715 with 52 new fatalities while the confirmed cases rose to 78,064.

“We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention,” the social networking giant told Business Insider.

“We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behaviour.”

Facebook earlier said it will remove misinformation about coronavirus from both its platform as well as photo-sharing service Instagram.

Coronavirus derailed Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit in San Francisco next month.

Facebook
Facebook on Wednesday announced to ban ads related to coronavirus that promise to cure, prevent or spread panic among the users around COVID-19. Pixabay

Facebook cancelled the event scheduled from March 9-12, to be attended by over 5,000 participants.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we cancelled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” a spokesperson said.

ALSO READ: Children Who Feel Connected To Nature Are More Likely To Be Happier, Reveals Study

“Facebook is committed to holding the event in San Francisco in the future,” the company added. (IANS)

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US States Start Supporting Planned Parenthood Clinics

US States Step Up Funding for Planned Parenthood Clinics

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Parenthood
Several US states have begun picking up the tab for family planning services at clinics run by Planned Parenthood. Pixabay

Several states have begun picking up the tab for family planning services at clinics run by Planned Parenthood, for a healthy lifestyle, which last year quit a $260 million federal funding program over a Trump administration rule prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions.

States including New Jersey, Massachusetts and Hawaii already are providing new funding, and Democratic governors in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have proposed carving out money in state budgets to counter the effects of the national provider’s fallout with the Republican presidential administration.

The proposals have stirred political debates over abortion at the state level, with some opponents claiming it’s a government endorsement of abortion and an inappropriate use of taxpayer money.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont earmarked $1.2 million for Planned Parenthood in his new budget proposal. The executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, Christopher Healy, criticized it as a purely political act.

“Where is the pressing need here to do this?” Healy said, arguing Planned Parenthood does not need taxpayer money. “They have the ability to raise money.”

Parenthood
Nationwide, about 4 million women across the U.S., many low-income and uninsured and that is why a planned parenthood is necessary. Pixabay

Lamont said he wants to help cover an expected shortfall for Planned Parenthood to ensure women in Connecticut have access to all the health services they need. A spokesman for Lamont said the administration doesn’t want the abortion debate to stymie access to things like contraception and cervical cancer screenings.

“Look, this is the law of the land. Here in a state like this, we believe that abortion rights are right, and we believe they ought to be affordable for folks who otherwise might not have that availability,” Lamont said. “So I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Nationwide, about 4 million women across the U.S., many low-income and uninsured, were receiving services last year under the Title X federal program, including STD testing, various screenings, education and wellness exams. Planned Parenthood and some other providers decided to withdraw from the program  rather than comply with what Planned Parenthood calls the Trump administration’s “gag order,” which bars clinics that participate in Title X from referring women for abortions. The move caused a money crunch for some clinics.

Since then, some of the rejected federal funds have been replenished by state or local funds in Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, California and New York. Hawaii’s current fiscal year budget sets aside $750,000 to partly cover a $2 million loss in Title X grant money.

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation authorizing up to $8 million. In California, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last year voted to cover a $482,000 expected shortfall for six Planned Parenthood clinics serving 36,274 patients. And Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, has included a $3 million line item in his proposed 2020-21 budget to also help offset the funding loss for Planned Parenthood providers.

In Oregon, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rule, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon said the agency has been “working closely with state officials to create critical backstops and protect access to care for all Oregonians who need it, regardless of federal action on Title X,” and commended Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, for prioritizing funding for reproductive health services.

Parenthood
Abortion rights and anti-abortion rights protesters stand outside Planned Parenthood as a deadline looms to renew the license of Missouri’s sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. VOA

Abortion opponents have accused governors of providing the money to gain favor with an organization that often supports Democrats at election time.

In New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy last month signed legislation that set aside $9.5 million in state money for family planning at Planned Parenthood, New Jersey Right to Life called it a disgraceful money grab.

“The taxpayers of NJ should not be forced to fund abortion, and make no mistake, that is what this bill will do,” Marie Tasy, the group’s executive director, said in a written statement.

Title X regulations prohibit funds from being used for abortions, with some narrow exceptions, and the money Lamont has proposed would fund Title X services and not on abortions, according to Connecticut’s Department of Public Health.
Abortion opponents in Connecticut have argued for years that state funds should not be used for abortions or abortion referrals. The state’s health insurance program paid for 6,995 abortions in 2018. A Department of Social Services spokesman said Connecticut is under a court order to pay for any abortion for a Medicaid-covered woman that she and her doctor have determined to be necessary.

The state money budgeted by Lamont would not go toward abortions, as it would fund only Title X services, according to state health officials. But opponents say that regardless of where it goes, the money for Planned Parenthood makes it appear the state is outwardly advocating for abortion.

“I’m disturbed by it, that it’s now state policy to outwardly advocate it no, matter what,”said Chris O’Brien, executive director of Connecticut Right to Life.

It’s unclear how long the help from states will continue.

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Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it’s “encouraging” that governors and state legislators are trying to fill the gap, but said the state-by-state efforts cannot replace the nearly 50-year-old Title X program.

“While we applaud leaders in the states for taking these temporary but critical steps, we must continue fighting for a nationwide solution,” Ayers said. “Only Congress has the power to permanently stop this harmful rule, and people across the country are continuing to call on them to do so.” (VOA)