Double Dose: A Wacky Week for the White House on Abortion; "Hypersegregation" and Racial Disparities in Preterm Birth; Blogging While Brown Conference; Hot Flash Fan on Exhibit; AIDS Conference Coverage ...

By Christine Cupaiuolo — July 18, 2008

White House Defines Contraception as Abortion: You know you’re counting down the remaining hours of the Bush presidency when you read that the administration “wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control,” as reported in The New York Times.

Under the draft of a proposed rule, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign “written certifications” as a prerequisite to getting money under any program run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Such certification would also be required of state and local governments, forbidden to discriminate, in areas like grant-making, against hospitals and other institutions that have policies against providing abortion.

And the kicker:

The proposal defines abortion as follows: “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

Check out the full memo (PDF). Reuters has reaction from family planning groups. NARAL created a letter you can send to members of Congress.

For more reading, see Allison Stevens; Susan Wood; and Christina Page, who notes:

Up until now, the federal government followed the definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association and our nation’s pregnancy experts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically unknowable moment (there’s no test to determine if a woman’s egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she’s not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS’ new science.

Senate Passes PEPFAR: Scott Swenson of RH Reality Check has the live blog on the 80-16 vote to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year, $50 billion global initiative to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

SEICUS, International Women’s Health Coalition, and other groups issued a response to the vote, noting in part that “policymakers failed to address critical shortfalls in the bill that would have ensured effective use of scarce public funds and a sustainable response to the pandemic.” It continues:

One key change that should have been made in the PEPFAR bill was the abolishment of arbitrary funding guidelines that determine how money can be distributed on the ground. The Senate bill calls for spending at least fifty percent of prevention funds designed to halt the sexual transmission of HIV, in countries with generalized epidemics, only on abstinence and faithfulness programs. PEPFAR recipients that do not meet this requirement must justify their programmatic decisions through an onerous reporting requirement to Congress, potentially facing defunding. […]

The PEPFAR bill passed by the Senate also failed to fully increase protection for women and young people, two groups increasingly vulnerable to new infections in nearly every region of the world. Women and young people are most likely to use family planning and other reproductive health services, and would benefit greatly from a strategy that integrated HIV prevention and treatment with family planning. Recent studies suggest that upwards of 90 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in countries such as Uganda and South Africa have unmet need for integrated family planning and HIV services. However, the bill passed by the Senate fails to call for, or even acknowledge, the need to strengthen critical linkages between family planning and reproductive health services and HIV prevention efforts.

Regional “Hypersegregation” May Contribute to Racial Disparity in Preterm Births: Where a mother lives may account for some of the striking racial disparities in preterm birth, according to a new study described in this release and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Written by Northeastern University professor Theresa Osypuk, the study found that regional hypersegregation (residential racial segregation across four or more dimensions*) may contribute to the higher rate of preterm births among black women. Prior research has shown that infants born to Black women in the U.S. are 50% more likely to be preterm than infants born to White women, although the causes remain poorly understood. […]

“The complexity of residential segregation and its impact on preterm births and related health outcomes has been overlooked by health literature,” said Dr. Osypuk, Assistant Professor in Northeastern’s Bouve College of Health Sciences. “We believe that the association between residential segregation and higher risk of preterm birth is related to the neighborhood environments in which black women live, including neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty, violent crime, and worse housing stock.”

Are Breast Self-Exams Worth It?: Kate Harding breaks down a new study by the Cochrane Collaboration.

Blogging While Brown (and Female): “People consider me the 411 on what goes wrong with black women in America,” Gina McCauley, founder of,” tells Kristal Brent Zook in this article on how women bloggers of color are getting their messages out without having to first get approval through a male power structure.

Plus: The first ever “Blogging While Brown” conference takes place July 25-27 in Atlanta.

Return of the C-Word for Departing Trib Editor: From Romenesko: “In 2004, Ann Marie Lipinski had her Chicago Tribune staff manually pull 600,000 copies of the WomenNews section out of preprinted packages because of the headline, “You c_nt say that.” (The story explored usage of the vulgar term for a woman’s anatomy.) On Thursday, the departing editor showed the newsroom a reader’s e-mail that said, “You C_nt Leave.”

Dissecting the Diets: I caught a frustratingly superficial TV news segment on a long-term Atkins Foundation-funded study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) that concluded participants on the Atkins Diet lost more weight compared to people on low-fat or Mediterranean diets. Tara Parker-Pope notes, however, that none of the diets resulted in much weight loss (though there were other health benefits), and she takes a closer look at what eating low-carb meant for the purpose of this study — while some commenters discuss whether the low-fat diet was low enough to be effective. Parker-Pope’s most concise critique of the study may be found here.

AIDS Conference Coverage: will provide daily coverage of AIDS 2008 from Mexico City, Aug. 3-8. Coverage will include live and tape-delayed webcasts and transcripts of each day’s sessions, including the opening and closing sessions, all plenary sessions, and selected other sessions and press conferences; English- and Spanish-language audio podcasts of select sessions; slide presentations from select conference sessions; a daily update email with links to the latest coverage; and more.

Hot Flash Fan Heats Up Exhibit: Lucinda Marshall points to an exhibit at the Huff Gallery at Spalding University in Louisville: “The Hot Flash Fan, Then and Now: Celebrating 160 Years of Feminism.” The Hot Flash Fan, an 8’ x 16’ wall hanging, was created by Ann Stewart Anderson in collaboration with more than 50 women artists. From the exhibit website:

The Hot Flash Fan was created in 1985 and facilitated by renowned feminist artist, Judy Chicago. The Hot Flash Fan, an immense wall hanging, encompasses various media and materials including: elaborate knotting, roping, beading and stitching. In addition, the piece is swathed in vibrant colors, which enhances the viewer’s image of the realities and experiences of menopause.

This specific piece has particular historical significance because it was one of the first artworks to ever visualize the subject of menopause. Through its vivid colors and intricate detailing the Hot Flash Fan depicts the various myths, stereotypes, as well as lived experiences of women transitioning through the multiple phases of menopause. Though historically, representations of menopause have largely focused on the decaying of women’s bodies, as the piece indicates, there are also many reasons to celebrate menopause as one of the important phases in women’s lives.

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