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? Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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
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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) Read the rest
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. Read the rest
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.
Of course, we don’t call it an abortion. We call it “a procedure” or a D&C. See, my potential abortion is one of the good abortions. I’m 31 years old. I’m married. These days, I’m pretty well off. I would very much like to stay pregnant right now. In fact, I have just spent the last year—following an earlier miscarriage—trying rather desperately to get pregnant.
Unfortunately, the doctors tell me that what I am now pregnant with is not going to survive. Last week, I had an ultrasound, I was almost 6 weeks along and looked okay. The only thing was that the heartbeat was slow. It wasn’t a huge deal. Heartbeats start slow, usually around the 6th week, and then they speed up. But my doctor asked me to come back in this week for a follow up, just to be sure. That was Tuesday, yesterday. Still my today. The heart hasn’t sped up. The fetus hasn’t grown. The egg yolk is now bigger than the fetus, which usually indicates a chromosomal abnormality. Basically, this fetus is going to die. I am going to have a miscarriage. It’s just a matter of when.
Because of these facts—all these facts—I get special privileges, compared to other women seeking abortion in the state of Minnesota. Read the rest
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)
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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
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"$9.99 every six months to support one of my all-time favorite comics. Boom, done." -John Gruber, Daring Fireball, INNER HIVE member since four weeks ago Read the rest
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:
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– 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.
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).
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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.
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)
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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. Read the rest
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: email@example.com.
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)
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"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!) Read the rest