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Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Category

By Megan Donahue, DC Policy Intern

When I was a little girl, I remember waking up to the rhythms of salsa and merengue.  Whenever there was an opportunity, mami would run to the radio and play music.  She would invite my tias over, and that would lead to dance lessons for me and my sisters!  Dancing came naturally to my sisters, they were all gifted by birth.  I still say that dancing was almost effortless for them.  I, on the other hand, had trouble honing down my moves.  Mami would see me get frustrated and would tell me to just keep practicing, that with practice I would become an expert.  Like the saying goes, “La repetición es la madre de la retención” which means repetition breeds retention.  We know that repetition works in a funny way, in that we tend to react to anything new with some apprehension and discomfort, but with repeated exposure we become familiar with things.  Over time, what was once new and difficult will become familiar and less threatening.

Similarly, education about birth control in the Latino community is something that can become standard.  50% of women age 18-34, including Latinas, say that there has been a time when cost of prescription birth control interfered with their ability to use it consistently.  This can lead to unintended pregnancies.  Birth control in the Latino community may often be viewed as taboo, though studies show that Latinas do in fact support birth control.  With more education, Latinas, and all women, will continue to view birth control as an essential part of women’s reproductive health.

Knowledge is power, but how good is our knowledge if we do not exercise it? Knowing is simply not enough! We need to exercise it and talk to our families about what we know relating to birth control. Currently, prescription birth control is not included as preventive care under the health law that passed last year.  Poverty and socioeconomic status have an alarming effect on women’s reproductive health, especially for Latinas.  For example, roughly 19% of Latinos live below the poverty line, which creates barriers to obtain birth control.

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Great News! We just learned from our colleagues at the Women of Color Policy Network that Lamar Advertising is pulling down the racist and offensive billboard by the anti-choice organization, Life Always, in Soho after an outpouring of calls and emails from reproductive health activists and communities of color.

Following a letter to Peter Costanza, Vice President and General Manager of LaMar Billboards, written by the Women of Color Policy Network, Mr. Costanza responded affirmatively that they would remove the billboard.

However, we must remain vigilant! Life Always is committed to spreading the campaign throughout country and there are continued threats to access to the full range of reproductive health services for low-income women and communities. This billboard is only one of the many attacks on reproductive freedom and services for low-income women across the country. Both the House and Presidential budgets propose to eliminate critical funding to programs that provide services to women and families.

Here’s proof that there is power in our voices! Join National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in telling Congress to stop attacking women! Click HERE to take Action!

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In a statement released today, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health strongly denounced the deeply offensive and racist billboard campaign by an anti-choice organization targeting African American women. This organization posted a three-story high billboard in New York City this week claiming that “the most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb” in conjunction with a national campaign during Black History Month.

“These offensive billboards are nothing more than political ploys designed to stigmatize African American women and communities of color and restrict access to reproductive health care”, said Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “The organizations promoting these ads are focused on sensationalizing abortion and cutting even more women off from the reproductive health care they seek.”

Studies show that African American women and Latinas are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and often lack basic access to birth control and comprehensive sex education due to fundamental structural inequities in society.

“We should be doing all we can to support women making the best personal reproductive health care decisions for themselves and their families”, added Henriquez. “As the only national Latina reproductive health and justice organization, we stand with other women of color to speak out in opposition to these condescending ad campaigns.”

For more information about NLIRH, visit: http://www.latinainstitute.org

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I was fortunate to live in a home where I was raised by both parents. I wasn’t disciplined often, que mal hubiera sido eso. Bueno, tal vez, only a handful of times. But mom really preferred to give me la mirada, the evil eye, which almost twitched in formation as she squinted, or she would gesture her hand in a way that meant trouble. And I mean real trouble, like chanclas flying across the room and munuecas falling off the bed.

My mom knew I was a softie, too. And probably like your mom, mi mama wanted me to strike a perfect a balance between two extremes – queria que fuera fearless, borderline aggressive, yet loving and understanding, and compassionate. Latina moms, they’re quite the character. But I know what she meant. Queria que mis hermanas y yo tuvieramos a fearless approach toward life, a quench thirst to attain the things that we wanted to attain the most. I guess that’s why there is always something comforting, but frightening about hearing mom or abuelita say, donde hay gana, hay maña – “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Te acuerdas de este dicho? Dichos are part of our language, our ideology as Latinas, and we’ve come to understand and appreciate their meaning! Our stories and the ones of our family are the kind of stories that are told through dichos – including our accomplishments, our defeats, and our good fights, tu sabes.

This year Latinas are fighting the good fight. We are fighting the good fight in the new health care reform law to include birth control in the list of preventive services that the Department of Health and Human Services and The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is putting together. And our allies? One another, si senor! Y cuando quieremos algo, I don’t know how we do it, but we get things done. que no? Mujeres, we have until August to tell our government that women deserve to access birth control at no cost. Actualmente, birth control is not included in the list of preventive services, which means that women would have to pay for birth control under the new health law. Mujeres, we have until August to tell our government that women deserve to access birth control at no cost. Women should not have to pay for health services that are justifiably theirs. Porque?

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Guttmatcher Institute recently released a report on the potential benefits of new changes in the rules regarding the expansion of family planning funding within Medicaid. The family planning extension under Medicaid has been around for fifteen years, but thanks to a provision in the March 2010 health reform law, the process by which state governments can extend this family planning funding has become more efficient. The program was meant to extend these services to low-income people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but might still need these essential services.

Before the Health Care Reform law went into effect, if a state government sought to extend services, the process to do so was quite arduous, and could extend for a couple years before having to be re-approved. Now, the process can take as little as just a few months. For example, South Carolina sought to extend Medicaid family planning services to include more benefactors in September and had their application approved before the end of the year.

The Guttmacher report shows clearly that this expansion has historically done a lot of good, and that the improvements in process, as well as the new inclusion of men and adolescents in these expansions has the potential to extend the positive effects of this program widely. The program prevents unnecessary unintended pregnancies by providing low-income people with access to family planning tools like birth control.

Programs like this also have support from both sides of the political spectrum because, as the Guttmacher report clearly outlines, improving access to family planning services like birth control reduces costs in the long term. In addition to being a common sense policy, it’s also a common ground one, since family planning and contraception has been less controversial than other reproductive health services like abortion.

By Rosario Quiroz, Community Mobilization Intern

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By Hilarie Meyers, Development and Communications Intern

On November 16, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a motion of contempt against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ignoring a court order from 2009 to review its restrictions on emergency contraception.  NLIRH is a co-plaintiff in the case, Tummino v. Hamburg, along with various other organizations and individuals, including the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, as well as a number of grassroots activists and concerned parents.

Advocates of reproductive health and justice have long fought to ensure that all women have access to emergency contraceptive pills, such as Plan B, Plan B One-Step, and Next Choice.  However, the FDA has repeatedly created unnecessary barriers and obstacles that prevent many women from fully exercising their right to access and use such forms of contraception.

Tummino v. Hamburg is the most recent development in a string of petitions and lawsuits spearheaded by CRR in order to make emergency contraceptives accessible to all women.  In 2001, CRR, along with numerous other medical and public health organizations, filed a Citizen’s Petition imploring the FDA to grant emergency contraception, which, at the time, was prescription-only, over-the-counter status.  For four years, the FDA ignored the petition.  In response, CRR filed a federal lawsuit, Tummino v. von Eschenbach, against the FDA in 2005.  Finally, on March 23, 2009, the federal court ruled against the FDA and ordered a review of the existing restrictions on emergency contraception.  On its website, the Center for Reproductive Rights explains:

The Court found that the FDA “acted in bad faith and in response to political pressure,” “departed in significant ways from the agency’s normal procedures,” and engaged in “repeated and unreasonable delays.” In addition, the court found that the FDA’s justification for denying over-the-counter access to 17 year olds “lacks all credibility,” and was based on “fanciful and wholly unsubstantiated ‘enforcement’ concerns.” While the FDA did extend over-the-counter access to 17-year-olds, it has largely ignored the 2009 court order and neglected to fully reevaluate its restrictions on emergency contraception as it initially promised. 

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By Myra Guevara, Research Intern

According to the Guttmacher Institute only 17 states and the District of Columbia require hospitals emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception (EC) related services to sexual assault victims. In the state of Pennsylvania health service providers may refuse treatment based on religious or moral beliefs as long as they provide immediate transportation to the closest medical facility. In Texas the Medicaid Family Planning Expansion (Title X) explicitly excludes EC.

Washington State and the Board of Pharmacy are under pressure from one local pharmacy (Ralph’s Thriftway, Olympia) regarding a 2007 law put into place by Governor Chris Gregoire (WA). The law requires pharmacists to dispense all legal drugs, irrespective of moral or religious beliefs. This lawsuit is specific to the emergency contraceptive Plan B, but could have an impact on the dispensation of hundreds of legal drugs, such as HIV medication or birth control.

After the threat of a lengthy and costly lawsuit from Ralph’s Thriftway, the Board of Pharmacy fell to the pressure and has already voted 3-2 in favor of changing the statute. The pharmacy felt the rule infringed on their moral beliefs.

As the new law stands a pharmacist is allowed to deny distribution if they can “pass a patient to a co-worker.” The pharmacy is still under legal obligation to fill the prescription.

This new stipulation could limit access to not only emergency contraception, but birth control and HIV medication due to ‘conscientious reasons.’ The referral system, although a seemingly appropriate compromise in urban areas, becomes a challenge in rural areas where pharmacies are a long distance away or there is only one for miles. Not to mention women that may not have readily available access to transportation or the resources to cover transportation costs. The referral system becomes an additional challenge for time sensitive drugs, like Plan B which needs to be taken within the first 72 hours in order to be effective.

The public can comment on the proposed rule changes until November 30th.

To learn more about the facts of EC and find more about legislation in your state go here.

By Myra Guevara, Research Intern

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By Hilarie Meyers, Development and Communications Intern

Over the course of the past year, several new and exciting advancements have been made in the realm of HIV prevention, particularly in the form of microbicides, “a new type of product being developed that people could use vaginally or rectally to protect themselves from HIV and possibly other sexually transmitted infections.”  In a recent New York Times article, “New Lines of Attack in H.I.V. Prevention,” Donald G. McNeil Jr. highlights the importance of various microbicides that are being developed and even tested.  The article primarily focuses on a vaginal gel to be used topically and prior to infection; however, it also describes other forms of microbicides, including a rectal version of the gel and a long-lasting vaginal ring.  According to McNeil, the vaginal gel could be available on the market as early as 2013.

There are approximately 1.1 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS and an estimated 56,000 new infections are reported each year in the U.S. alone. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Latinas account for 16% of new HIV infections among women and their HIV incidence rate is nearly 4 times the rate for white women.

Currently, prevention efforts often focus on promoting the use of condoms or abstinence, both of which may not be a viable option for many women and men.  A document put forth by Acción Mutua, a program of AIDS Project Los Angeles, explains:

Many women do not have the social or economic power necessary to insist on condom use and fidelity or to abandon relationships that put them at risk [for HIV infection]. Because microbicides would not require a partner’s cooperation, they would put the power to protect into women’s hands.

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I recently came across a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute on how female condoms have allowed women to gain a new sense of independence. This newer form of contraception hasn’t gotten much attention, and the potential benefits have been slightly ignored. Compared to other female contraceptives like the birth control pill or diaphragm, it is the only one that helps prevent the transmission of STDs and HIV as well as pregnancy.

Female condoms give women the chance to protect themselves without relying on their partner’s compliance. The Guttmacher Institute research focused on sex workers in Central America and their experiences with the female condom.

If there are clients who don’t want to use the male condom, now we can protect ourselves with the female condom…Most women in the two El Salvador sites reported that they were very worried about contracting HIV, but thought it was completely within their control to protect themselves from infection.

The problem with the female condom is that it is not yet as widely available as the male condom. Another issue is the possible stigma associated with the female condom because of its size and how comfortable it is. It will take some time and more research to see the full potential of the female condom, as it becomes better known and more widely available.

More information about the female condom and how to use it is here.

By Stephanie Rodriguez, Policy Intern

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By Hilarie Meyers, Development and Communications Intern

As the buzz around midterm elections begins to die down, it’s time to revisit a topic that preoccupied NLIRH earlier in the year, contraception and health care reform.

First, let’s quickly review the facts and events leading up to today’s discussion.  During the Senate’s debates over health care reform, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) introduced the Women’s Health Amendment, which she authored with the intention of increasing women’s access to preventative care, including family planning and contraception. Despite opposition from both Republicans and members of her own party, Senator Mikulski fought hard and was ultimately successful: the Women’s Health Amendment was included in the health care reform legislation passed by Congress in March.  The Department of Health and Human Services has already released a list of preventative care services that will be covered 100% under the new law, meaning no cost to consumers.  This list includes many preventive care services essential to ensuring women’s wellbeing. However, in spite of the explicit intentions of the Women’s Health Amendment, birth control has so far been left off of the list’s provisions.

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