I survived an illegal abortion

Fran Moreland Johns sought an abortion in 1956 following a workplace rape. Now the author of Perilous Times: An Inside Look at Abortion Before and After Roe v. Wade, she survived a back-alley procedure in the days before legalization, and warns that with women’s rights under renewed assault, those grim days are returning.

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Does a fetus feel pain? (And, if so, when?)

Across the United States, politicians are passing laws limiting abortion that are based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation. But the science underlying this assertion is a lot more complex than it's made out to be. Most scientists don't think fetuses have the neural circuitry to experience pain until later. And the scientists whose research is most often cited as evidence of fetal pain at 20 weeks don't think their work is saying what anti-abortion activists think it does.

Toy fetuses snuck into candy bags at state fair

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Last weekend, anti-choice activists at the North Dakota State Fair slipped "Precious Ones" rubber fetuses into kids' candy bags without asking their parents. I bet they taste terrible! "Worst State Fair Ever Has Squishy Fetus Toys for Unsuspecting Kids" (Thanks, David Steinberg!)

A gynecologist on how abortion restrictions lead to dangerous abortions

Maggie Koerth-Baker interviews OB/GYN Dr. Jen Gunter, who has personal experience of treating patients forced to seek out distant or questionable abortion providers, and the complications they suffer as a result.

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North Carolina House Republicans sneak abortion rules into motorcycle safety bill without notice

North Carolina House Republicans have, without notice, inserted sweeping changes to the state's abortion rules into a motorcycle safety law. Effectively, they've reintroduced the abortion bill that Governor Pat McCrory had threatened to veto.

“It is a disgrace to North Carolina that legislators have again resorted to sneak attacks to move their anti-women’s health agenda forward,” said Melissa Reed, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Health Systems said in a statement. “Once again there was no public notice that this bill would be heard. The public and even many legislators on the committee only learned this was a possibility at 9:57am -- three minutes before the committee was to meet -- when a political reporter was tipped off and posted it on Twitter. This is outrageous and not how the people’s business should be conducted.”

Without notice, NC House rushes forward new abortion bill

Abortions do happen in Catholic hospitals - they just aren't called that

The most dangerous time to be a woman in need of a life-saving abortion at a Catholic hospital is right after that hospital has been consolidated into a Catholic system, according the medical demographer Dr. Diana Foster. That's because doctors with more experience in the Catholic system are more likely to secretly offer therapeutic abortions under the table, and get away with it.

Texas Senate will vote on abortion bill Monday, at behest of Rick Perry

An 11-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis (and a heady late-night mixture of parliamentary confusion and public protest) prevented the Texas Senate from voting on a restrictive abortion bill that would close almost all the state's clinics and ban abortion after 20 weeks. That was Tuesday. Next Monday, the Senate will convene again to vote on the same bill, after Governor Rick Perry ordered a special session to make sure the bill passes.

How an aborted fetus may have saved your life (and the lives of many other fetuses)

Cell culture lines are cells, taken from donor tissue, that have been divided and separated over and over and over — providing researchers with reliably identical "families" of cells that can be used to biomedical research. Some, like the now-famous HeLa line, are derived from cancerous tissue and replicate indefinitely. Others, like WI-38, will only divide a set number of times (in the case of WI-38, it's 50), but new cells can be frozen at any point and stored. When you thaw them out later, they'll pick back up dividing from the point in the 50-division cycle where they were when frozen.

WI-38 is a particularly important cell culture line. Used extensively in the development of vaccines, these are the cells that helped create the vaccine for Rubella, a disease that, just a few decades ago, used to kill and maim many fetuses whose mothers' became infected. Between 1962 and 1965, it's estimated that rubella infections caused 30,000 stillbirths and left 20,000 children with life-long disabilities.

But WI-38 is controversial. That's partly because the cells that founded the line came from the lung tissue of a fetus that was legally aborted during the fourth month of pregnancy by a woman in Sweden in 1962. At Nature News, Meredith Wadman has a fascinating long read about the moral and ethical issues surrounding WI-38. This isn't just about the abortion question. Also at issue: Did the fetus' mother consent to tissue donation? And are we okay with the fact that she and her family have never received compensation, despite the money that's been made off selling WI-38 cell cultures?

Medical Research: Cell Division by Meredith Wadman in Nature News

The true story of the woman who performed mercy abortions at Auschwitz

Gisella Perl was Romanian and Jewish. She was a gynaecologist at a time and place where very few women went into the medical professions. In 1944, she and her entire family were shipped off to Auschwitz, where Perl was instructed to provide medical care for her fellow inmates — medical care that was supposed to happen without even the most basic medical supplies.

In this position, she was officially employed by Josef Mengele, and she saw what happened to women who entered Auschwitz while pregnant. The short answer was death. The long answer was that those deaths were often horrifying and drawn-out. So Gisella Perl gave herself a new job — protecting women by helping them hide evidence of pregnancy and by performing abortions with her bare hands.

I'd never heard Perl's story before. It's heartbreaking. And it's riveting. The Holocaust History Project has a long and well-cited version.

Anti-choice Tea Party Congressman pressured pregnant mistress to get an abortion

Tennessee Tea Party Rep Dr. Scott DesJarlais -- a serial philanderer who told a court he'd cheated on his wife four times -- calls himself anti-abortion. His website says, "All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life." He has consistently voted for legislation that restricted abortion. But when he got his mistress pregnant, he insisted that she get an abortion. Here's a transcript of some of that conversation:

"If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let's do it," Desjarlais says.

“Well, we’ve got to do something soon. And you’ve even got to admit that because the clock is ticking right?” he says at another point.

I guess that this is consistent with an anti-choice position (he doesn't want women to choose, he wants their married boyfriends to choose), but "pro-life"? Not so much.

Anti-choice GOP Congressman pushed mistress to get abortion (Thanks, Winkel!)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Great Moments in Lady-Parts Science - Todd Akin's Startling Discovery

Help sustain Tom the Dancing Bug, by @RubenBolling, by joining the INNER HIVE.

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"How I lost my fear of Universal Health Care"

Worth a read: American blogger A Young Mom, who believed state-funded abortion was "a horrible thing," writes about how she changed her mind about Universal Health Care after realizing that affordable access to health care is associated with a lower abortion rate in Canada. She moved to Canada, and her opinions changed when she observed a single-payer system functioning in real life, not in rhetoric. (via @robertlavigne)

My miscarriage, my abortion

About a month ago, I wrote here about my struggle to decide what to do after I found out that my pregnancy wasn't going to be viable. This morning, I went on New Hampshire Public Radio's Word of Mouth to talk about that decision, miscarriage in general, and some of the ways that this issue connects to larger discussions in the public realm.

Word of Mouth doesn't have embedding available, but you can go to their website and listen to the full interview. One of the key things that I got to talk about today that I didn't mention in my previous post is the way that anti-abortion laws have huge (presumably unintended) consequences for women who miscarry. Case in point: Fetal personhood. If you give a fetus all the rights of a living human from the moment of conception, how do you deal with the fact that some 50% of conceptions end in miscarriage? Today, if a living human being dies and we don't know why, there's an investigation into the nature of their death, to make sure it wasn't caused by foul play. Under some of these proposed laws, women like me would have to spend the incredibly painful weeks after a miscarriage attempting to prove that we didn't cause it. That gets doubly difficult when you consider the fact that, quite often, nobody knows why a specific woman miscarried. Around 50% of miscarriages are caused by random chromosomal mutations. But we have no idea why that happens (or why it happens to some women multiple times), and that also leaves a big, hard-to-diagnose group of women who would have no way of proving that they didn't cause their miscarriage.

In fact, being able to choose to have an abortion—to get a D&C procedure instead of waiting for the miscarriage to happen naturally—was actually what enabled me to know what caused my miscarriage. Having a D&C makes it easier for doctors to collect enough fetal tissue that they can run a genetic analysis on it. Last week, I got back the results of the chromosomal analysis performed on my fetus. Turns out, he had a mutation, Trisomy 16, that was completely incompatible with life. That trisomy is the most common genetic cause of miscarriage. It's also completely random. Basically, my miscarriage was bad luck. Knowing that makes me feel so much better. It's almost hard to describe the relief. And I owe that to an abortion.

Read my earlier post about my miscarriage

Listen to the interview on Word of Mouth

Image: Load out for Bone Marrow Biopsy, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from thirteenofclubs's photostream

The only good abortion is my abortion

As I write this, it is 1:17 am on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.

I am lying awake in bed, trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

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Vagina song

Jonathan "Song a Day" Mann's latest is "The Vagina Song," inspired by Michigan's legislative fight, in which Republicans have censured a woman Democratic lawmaker for using the word "vagina" in an abortion debate.

the VAGINA song (Song A Day #1262) (Thanks, Jonathan)