Boing Boing 

How medical abortion works


The latest Oh Joy Sex Toy webcomic covers medical abortion in its signature style: humane, thorough and approachable.

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How state anti-choice laws let judges humiliate vulnerable teens


If you're a child, pregnant, and fear or can't find your parents in states like Florida, you can still get an abortion, but only by convincing a judge, by way of a grueling, kafkaesque, humiliating procedure.

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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.Read the rest

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

NewImage

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.Read the rest

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)

Woman legislator in Michigan barred from future debates for using the word "vagina" in abortion debate

Michigan state rep Rep. Lisa Brown intervened in a debate about a pending abortion bill in which she used the word "vagina," for which she was censured, and prohibited from participating in some future, unrelated debates. She was not the only woman legislator prohibited from speaking during the debate. Rep. Barb Byrum was barred from introducing her amendment requiring men to prove that their lives were at risk before they were allowed to have a vasectomy.

Brown, a Democrat, argued that her Jewish faith allowed for therapeutic abortions when the mother's life is in danger without regard to length of pregnancy.

"I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?" she said. But what came next is what got her in trouble: "And finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'"

The Detroit News reports today the House Republican leadership did not allow Brown to speak on a bill about the retirement of school employees.

Michigan State Rep Barred From Speaking After 'Vagina' Comments (via MeFi)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Obama Sparks Creationism Controversy With "Evolution" of His Gay Marriage Position

Support Tom the Dancing Bug and receive untold BENEFITS and PRIVILEGES by joining the brand new INNER HIVE right now!

"$9.99 every six months to support one of my all-time favorite comics.

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New Kansas abortion bill lets doctors lie to patients, withhold cancer treatment

The Kansas House of Reps passed one of the most draconian and awful abortion bills imaginable last week. Among other things, it allows doctors to lie to their patients to keep them from getting abortions, even if the mother's health demands it, and mandates that doctors lie about health risks from abortion. It also allows doctors and pharmacists to withhold cancer treatment from pregnant women if they believe it might harm the foetus's health. From Amanda Peterson Beadle's writeup in ThinkProgress:

– EXPANDED ‘CONSCIENCE MEASURE: Earlier this week, the state Senate aproved a bill that offers additional legal protection to Kansas health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions. The House had already approved the measure, and it is likely that Gov. Sam Brownback (R) will sign it. But critics of the bill worry the “conscience” measure goes too far, and that it would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control “allow a doctor to refuse to provide chemotherapy to a pregnant cancer patient because it might end her pregnancy,” according to the Associated Press.

– PREVENTING LICENSES FOR PROVIDERS: Last year, the legislature approved licensing regulations that specifically targeted the state’s three abortion providers, potentially making Kansas the first state where a woman could not access abortion services. But when a judge temporarily blocked the regulations from going into effect, Brownback’s administration planned to enact the exact same regulations to skirt around the court’s ruling.

– DEFUNDING PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Lawmakers signed off on a law last year to ban Planned Parenthood clinics in Kansas from receiving federal funds, endangering health care for at least 5,700 patients. A judge blocked the law from going into effect, but the state has spent hundreds of thousands continuing to defend the law.

Kansas Anti-Abortion Bill Would Force Doctors To Warn Women Of False Cancer Risk

Army of volunteers politely call back anti-abortion harassers who place threatening calls

Deborah sez, "This landlord of an abortion clinic has turned the tables on anti-abortion protesters. His army of volunteers calls the anti-abortion protesters at home and say thanks for your concern but he's just a landlord and can't do anything about it. Very nice turning of the tables on the anti-abortionists."

Jezebel's Cassie Murdoch tells the story in detail, describing how Todd Stave, landlord to Germantown, Maryland's Reproductive Health Services Clinic, has faced systematic harassment, and has fought back by enlisting an army of thousands of telephoners who call back the people who place harassing calls and politely tell them off. The group is called Voice of Choice. They look up the family details of harassers who make references to their victims' families and make a point of dropping the names of their kids and their kids' schools into the conversation.

Predictably and sadly, this has upped the ante, and so now the anti-choice squads are doing things like distributing fliers featuring photoshops of Stave as Hitler, with the personal details of Stave's relatives and in-laws to Stave's neighbors. They picket Stave's kids' school on parent-teacher nights, holding signs with pictures of foetuses and bearing Stave's name and contact details. There's even one guy who pickets the dental office of Stave's brother-in-law (that is, he pickets the brother-in-law of the landlord of a doctor who performs abortions).

When asked if he thought this method of payback was harsh, Stave said no: "We gave them back what they gave us." Actually, not even. You gave back a mild, family-friendly version of what they gave to you. You proved to them that you know where they live and who their children are, but you didn't show up at their homes and schools and threaten them. You didn't come onto their lawn with posters detailing terrible imaginary things that they've done. You're serving up Revenge Lite™: Tastes great, less killing.

What's more, Stave is strict about who Voice of Choice will make calls for. If it's just run-of-the-mill protests outside clinics, he won't help them because he believes in people's First Amendment right to be out there saying what's on their mind. Protestors must be personally harassing doctors or landlords in order for Stave to step in. If only abortion opponents had the same respect for people doing what they were allowed by law to do. Ahem.

So this is the part where the evil bullies who've plagued him (and others) at all hours of the day or night learn their lesson after having a taste of their own medicine, right? Yep, yep. They all realized they were being horrible, and now every anti-abortion protester is treating their pro-choice opponents with the utmost respect. HA. No. Actually this is the part in the story where it gets much worse. Ready?

Payback Is a Bitch for Abortion Clinic Protestors, Thanks to a Brilliant Landlord (Thanks, Deborah!)

Daily Show's Kristen Schaal on GOP attack on women's reproductive rights

Here's a transcript of some of Kristen Schaal's Daily Show routine on the current mandatory transvaginal ultrasound disgrace and the national attack on women's reproductive rights:

I just flew in from Virginia, and boy is my vagina tired! From the involuntary ultrasound wanding — AM I RIGHT, LADIES? (Beat.) And by the way, why do they call it a ‘wand’? Where are we — Hogwarts? The only thing magically disappearing was my dignity and privacy, BOOM!!!

…What’s the difference between a fertilized egg; a corporation; and a woman? (Beat.) One of them isn’t considered a person in Oklahoma! BOOM!!!

— KRISTEN SCHAAL, on The Daily Show (via Beth Pratt)

Anatomy of an unsafe abortion

Dr. Jen Gunter, who is an OB/GYN and a pain medicine physician, writes a harrowing account of receiving a patient who has undergone an unsafe abortion, and is bleeding to death:

On the gurney lay a young woman the color of white marble. The red pool between her legs, ominously free of clots, offered a silent explanation.

“She arrived a few minutes ago. Not even a note.” My resident was breathless with anger, adrenaline, and panic.

I had an idea who she went to. The same one the others did. The same one many more would visit. A doctor, but considering what I had seen he could’t have any formal gynecology training. The only thing he offered that the well-trained provers didn’t was a cut-rate price. If you don’t know to ask, well, a doctor is a doctor. That’s assuming you are empowered enough to have such a discussion. I was also pretty sure his office didn’t offer interpreters.

I needed equipment not available in an emergency room. I looked at the emergency room attending. “Call the OR and tell them we need a room. Now.” And then I turned to my resident. I was going to tell him to physically make sure a room, any room, was ready when we arrived, but he had already sprinted towards the stairs. He knew.

Read the entire account here: Anatomy of an unsafe abortion.

Required reading in this year of presidential elections in America, in which so many candidates would have us return to the dark era in which abortion was illegal. Outlawing abortion doesn't end abortion, it just makes scenes like this more common.

And here's a follow-up post worth reading, by Dr. Gunter.

(thanks, @Scanman / image: Shutterstock)

Bowing to anti-abortion politics, breast cancer charity cuts funds for screenings at Planned Parenthood

Collateral damage in the abortion wars, and bad news for working class and low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for breast cancer and cervical cancer screening services. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, America's largest and best-funded cancer charity, is reportedly cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, in response to pressure from anti-women's health political groups.

Planned Parenthood provides a wide array of women's health services, including mammograms and cancer screening.

Washington Post has the dirty backstory. The short version: Komen hired an anti-choice politician to become the charity's vice-president before announcing this change in policy.

From her 2010 campaign website: "Since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."

Regarding state funds for the women's health clinics which she acknowledged were used for "breast and cervical cancer screening," she said while campaigning, "I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor."

Lame, lame, lame, lame. Cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice or not.

The founder and chair of @komenforthecure is Nancy Brinker. Email: nbrinker@komen.org.

(via, HT:@movinmeat)

PHOTO: A crucifix is held aloft during the "March for Life" in Washington January 23, 2012. Nearly 100,000 protesters marched to the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the 39th anniversary of the Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. (REUTERS)

VA state senator attaches rectal exam amendment to anti-abortion bill

"To protest a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) on Monday attached an amendment that would require men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication." (thanks, Antinous!)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: In which the President is forced to get "Pro-Life"

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Billboard ad used to accuse teenage girl with having abortion

greg_fultz_billboard_m.jpeg 35-year old Greg Fultz used a highway billboard to accuse his teenage girlfriend of having an abortion and thereby killing their child. With additional stalking accusations, defiance of a judicial order to remove the ad, and the New Mexico Right to Life Committee's public support of Fultz's attack on a barely-legal girl he refused to marry after knocking up, you'd think there'd at least be a degree of certainty involved. According to multiple sources, however, his girlfriend suffered a miscarriage. [Reuters]

Public Catholic school suspends students for wearing pro-choice stickers

Seven students at a publicly funded Catholic school* in Thunder Bay, Ontario have been suspended from school for wearing homemade pro-choice t-shirts on a day that the school administration had devoted to a "pro-life" Day of Silence. 23 kids wore the shirts, and seven refused to remove them when instructed to do so by the school's administration. Five of the seven were sent home for the day; two others were given two-day suspensions for swearing at teachers during the heated discussion of their protest.
The St. Patrick's Catholic High School students were either sent home or suspended for refusing to remove green pieces of tape with the word "choice" during a pro-life event Thursday, organized by a school chaplain and a student group, in which students sported similar labels with the word "life."

Among the students sent home was Alexandria Szeglet, 15, who initiated the protest after telling her mother that morning she disagreed with the event. Ann Szeglet responded, "Be peaceful about it. Don't make it a big deal."

"I was really respectful, but I just think the school goes a little further than a high school should [in] saying prolife," Alexandria said.

*Ontario's public education system is split into four subsystems: French, English, French-Catholic and English-Catholic; it's a product of the delicate negotiation that led to the merger of French and English Canada in the nineteenth century. Catholic schools receive a double-dose of funds, one from the taxpayers, the other from the Church. I sometimes do talks at Catholic schools when I tour in Canada; interestingly, the last couple schools I've been to had a large number of girls in hijabs and boys who self-identified as Muslim. When I asked a teacher why Muslim parents would enroll their children in a Catholic school, she said that sex education in the Catholic system is less explicit and thorough than in the secular schools, so conservative Muslim parents enroll their children and instruct them to ignore all religious elements of the school.

Pro-choice stickers lead to student suspensions (Thanks, NoDeg, via Submitterator)

(Image: CBC/Strombo)

California congresswoman: a vendetta against Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with creating jobs or reducing the deficit

Eileen Gunn sez, "Rep. Jackie Speier (D, CA) spoke passionately in opposition to stripping Planned Parenthood of any US funding. Compare and contrast with smarmy Rep. Chris Smith (R, NJ)."

Speier's point is well-taken: using a budget debate as an excuse to pursue Planned Parenthood is obstructionist, divisive politics at its worst. Imagine if the Democratic House had refused to pass any budget unless it contained amendments blocking funding to every agency, institution, charity and contractor that the American left objected to. The fact that this particular amendment vilifies women who've had to make wrenching decisions and endure difficult and painful procedures, often for life-saving reasons, is all the more infuriating.

(Thanks, Eileen Gunn, via Submitterator!)