Trudeau Pledges $650 Million for Reproductive Health Efforts

Earlier this month, International Women’s Day sparked demonstrations around the world in an encouraging show of support for women and gender-oppressed individuals. It also represented an important day for global health efforts, in large part due to a $650 million pledge made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “close existing gaps” in reproductive health services.

The plan, which is set to unfold over the next three years, will direct its efforts at improving reproductive health programs and sexual education, as well as investing in family planning and contraceptives. Although regarded as a controversial move by Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper, the extra funding comes in light of Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule” back in January.

Also known as the “Mexico City Policy,” the global gag rule stipulates that US aid cannot go to international NGOs if they perform abortion services or provide women with information about abortions in any capacity. The mechanics of the policy are better outlined in one of our earlier blog posts, which explains the deeper history behind the move, and its broader repercussions around the world.

As for Trudeau, the recent pledge marks a doubling of Canada’s current budget for reproductive health services, as well as a break with the policy of previous governments, which have historically chosen to steer clear of funding what have been called “divisive” abortion services in countries where the act is illegal.

Canada’s interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose weighed in on the matter in an interview with The Independent: “Our position was always, let’s stick to things that we know will bring people together and everyone can support, which was the maternal and child health initiative,” she said.

But Trudeau’s standing appears far more concerned with global women’s rights than party politics.

During a local event commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, Trudeau issued the following statement: “For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and a lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they either are at risk of death, or simply cannot contribute and cannot achieve their potential.”

For ongoing developments on this matter, as well as others in the realm of reproductive health, we encourage you to follow South Avenue Women’s Services blog.

Birth Control Pills May Have Saved Thousands From Cancer

Years of research have touted the positive health benefits that result from taking birth control pills. Aside from protecting against unwanted pregnancy, oral contraceptives often contribute to fewer acne breakouts, as well as lighter and less painful periods for women. Now, a recent study released by a group at Oxford suggests birth control may also provide women with long-term protection against endometrial cancer.

Just last week, scientists at Oxford’s Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies on Endometrial Cancer released findings that showed oral contraceptives helped save 200,000 lives from endometrial cancer over a period of nine years. The research itself was compiled from data sets of individuals involved in 36 epidemiological studies. Of these sets, 27,276 women had been diagnosed with cases of endometrial cancer, while 115,743 were healthy subjects, without a given diagnosis. From there, the relative risks of endometrial cancer were estimated using “logistic regression, stratified by study, age, parity, body-mass index, smoking, and use of menopausal hormone therapy,” according to the study’s Methods in Supplementary Material.

In the past, oral contraceptives have been known to be effective aids in cancer prevention. One earlier report found that every five-year span of taking birth control reduced the risk of endometrial cancer by an estimated 24 percent, even after women had stopped taking the pills for more than three decades. Findings from this particular Oxford study further supported such an idea—according to researchers, the longer women had used oral contraceptives, the greater the risk of them getting endometrial cancer had reduced. What’s more? Even after women had stopped taking birth control pills for more than 30 years, they experienced a reduced risk in endometrial cancer.

For more in-depth information on this study, we recommend you refer to the paper (“Endometrial cancer and oral contraceptives: an individual participant meta-analysis of 27276 women with endometrial cancer from 36 epidemiological studies”) published by The Lancet in Oncology.

9 Facts About IUDs [Infographic]

Long-term birth control options have completely changed the landscape of women’s contraceptives in recent years. Some of the safest and most effective of these long-term contraceptives are intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Hormonal IUDs typically last between 3 and 6 years, while non-hormonal options can last as long as 12 years.

But despite their growing popularity, there are still some lingering misconceptions about IUDs that we’d like to clear up. That’s why we put together a handy infographic loaded with tidbits of valuable information about these great long-term birth control options. Check it out to learn more about what to expect from an IUD!

9 Facts About IUDs [Infographic]

Foreign Governments Unite to Counter Global Gag Rule

Since Donald Trump reinstated a revised version of the so-called “global gag rule,” NGOs that provide abortions or abortion referrals to women are now prohibited from receiving federal funding, regardless of whether they use private funds for these services. Although the rule is designed specifically to target organizations that provide abortions, it could also block funding that would otherwise be used to support H.I.V prevention programs, provide contraceptive access and more.

That’s why a number of countries including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Canada have pledged support to an international effort to make up for the $600 million funding gap that the global gag rule is expected to create over the next four years. Earlier this week, Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg announced that the country will increase its funding for family planning and safe abortion by $10 million this year.

“At a time when this agenda has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important,” said Solberg in a statement.

Meanwhile, the government of the Netherlands has announced that it will set up an overseas abortion fund that businesses, social organizations and other foreign governments can all contribute to. Dutch officials hope that the fund can be used to “compensate this financial setback as much as possible.”

It will take an international effort to ensure that all women are able to access quality reproductive healthcare, and this coalition has the potential to make a hugely positive impact in the regions that need it most. In this regard, the Trump Administration’s global gag rule has inadvertently united other countries in support of women’s healthcare organizations. Hopefully before too long our own federal government will reverse its course and abandon the deeply misguided global gag rule as well.

Male Contraceptive Gel Passes Clinical Trials in Monkeys

The prospect of effective male contraceptives has been discussed for decades, though a successful product has yet to hit the market. Despite news of a hormonal birth control shot for men making headlines late last year, the study was curtailed after subjects reported experiencing “too many side effects” during the initial trials. But now, there’s another option on the rise—one that could finally provide an answer to years of research on long-lasting, reversible birth control for men.

Last week, Vasalgel, a contraceptive gel dubbed the “IUD for men,” successfully passed medical trials in a group of 16 male rhesus monkeys. Currently being tested in the U.S. by the Parsemus Foundation, a California-based company, Vasalgel works by injecting a polymer into the vas deferens, or sperm-carrying tubes located between the testicles and penis. The gel blocks sperm as they are released, and it’s considered by researchers to be a long-lasting reversible contraceptive that could provide men with a simpler alternative to a vasectomy.

Prior to this round of trials, Vasalgel was shown to work effectively in rabbits, both in terms of preventing contraception and the reversibility of the gel. Yet the latest monkey trials, according to researchers, are far more encouraging, given the fact that these primates are much closer relatives to humans. “The fact that these males don’t have offspring is a real indicator that it’s effective,” Catherine VandeVoort, a primate reproduction researcher at the University of California at Davis, said about the study in a recent interview with Smithsonian.

But Vasalgel is unlikely to hit the shelves anytime soon. The next challenge for researchers will be to show the injection is reversible in primates, and VandeVoort admits that testing in humans remains “a few years” away. Within that time, VandeVoort is planning to raise funds and receive approval to conduct reversibility studies among monkeys, hopefully bringing us one step closer to an option that will help both women and men share equal responsibility when it comes to preventing conception.

“Global Gag Rule” Threatens Health of World’s Poorest Women

January 23 marked President Donald Trump’s first full workday in office, and at the top of his list of things to do: restore and expand the so-called Mexico City policy, or “global gag rule,” an order that prohibits international NGOs from receiving U.S. aid if they provide abortion services, or even “promote” abortion as a reproductive health option.

Although the policy has been imposed during every Republican administration since Ronald Reagan, President Trump’s goes a step further by broadening the measure to include any department or agency that offers global health assistance to countries in need. Unlike former years, when the policy only pertained to international family-planning funds, Trump’s gag rule appears to apply to a broad range of services including H.I.V. prevention programs, access to contraception, and funding used to fight malaria, Zika, and Ebola.

Federal law under the 1973 Helms amendment already prevents international aid for abortions, but the gag rule further bans funding to NGOs that provide abortion or abortion referrals to women, regardless of whether they use their own private funds for the services.

“President Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule ignores decades of research, instead favoring ideological politics over women and families,” said Amu Singh Shaheen, president of the Family Planning Association of Nepal, in an interview with The Guardian. “We know that when family planning services and contraceptives are easily accessible, there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths and abortions.”

The policy is still being reviewed by reproductive health groups, but within that time, it’s clear the Trump administration intends to continue jeopardizing women’s reproductive rights, regardless of possibly devastating repercussions at home or abroad.

Arkansas Law Lets Spouses, Parents Sue Abortion Providers

On Thursday, February 02 Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill prohibiting clinics in the state from performing dilation and evacuation procedures—the safest and most common procedures used in second-trimester abortions. The law makes no exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

While second-trimester abortions are occasionally conducted by medically inducing labor, the dilation and evacuation procedure is widely regarded as a safer and less time-consuming procedure. Induced-labor abortions are more prone to complications, and they require an overnight stay in the hospital. By making dilation and evacuation procedures illegal, Arksansas lawmakers have effectively blocked women in the state from receiving abortions after 14 weeks.

Similar laws have been passed in six other states, but legal opposition has prevented all but two of them from going into effect. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas are already preparing to challenge this latest law in court.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of Arkansas’ version of the bill however, is a clause that allows a woman’s spouse, parent or guardian to sue abortion providers for civil damages or injunctive relief, thereby preventing the woman from receiving an abortion. Under the terms of this clause, a woman’s husband could prevent her from terminating a pregnancy that was conceived in a marital rape. A woman’s father, meanwhile, could veto an abortion even if the pregnancy was a result of incest.

The injunctive relief clause robs women of their autonomy, treating them as children rather than adults capable of making their own healthcare decisions.

“The law itself is a major overstep into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Karen Musick, co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network in an interview with The Daily Beast. “This is taking it one step further to say that women are incapable of making these decisions on their own and on their own behalf.”

Even if this law had not contained the injunctive relief clause, it almost certainly would have faced intense legal opposition from civil rights groups. With this clause, the law may go down as one of the most reprehensible attempts to curtail women’s reproductive rights in American history.

New York Introduces Legislation to Keep Free Birth Control

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans took the first major step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act which ensures free access to contraceptives for millions of American women. With replacement plans for Obamacare still shrouded in uncertainty, many women are understandably concerned that they might lose this valuable reproductive healthcare service. Following the election of Donald Trump in November, many healthcare clinics struggled to keep up with demand as women raced to stock up on long-acting birth control options like implants and IUDS.

Fortunately for New Yorkers, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is taking steps to protect access to free birth control, even if the Affordable Care Act is successfully repealed. On Wednesday, January 11 Schneiderman introduced the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act to the state legislature—a bill designed to “protect and enhance New Yorkers’ access to cost-free contraception.”

If passed by the state legislature, the bill would “require state-governed health insurance policies to provide cost-free coverage for all FDA-approved methods of birth control, including emergency contraception.” It would also prohibit insurance companies from enacting restrictions that can limit or delay contraceptive access. In the future, the bill would automatically cover men’s contraceptive methods in the same fashion as women’s contraceptives. Another provision included in the bill would allow people to access up to a year’s worth of contraceptive options at a time.

“New Yorkers have a right to comprehensive, cost-free access to birth control. With the Affordable Care Act under attack in Washington, it’s all the more critical that New York act now to protect these right,” said Schneiderman in his announcement. “The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act will ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the birth control method they need to stay healthy and effectively plan for their future—no matter what happens in congress.”

Following Schneiderman’s announcement, the proposed bill was received enthusiastically by a number of state lawmakers. If all goes well, the bill will make its way to Governor Cuomo’s desk and become a law this year.

Over-The-Counter Birth Control Could Be Coming to the US

Since oral contraceptives were first introduced in the 1960s, scientists have conducted extensive research on these popular birth control options that has repeatedly demonstrated their safety and effectiveness. Likewise, many physicians have argued that they should be available as over-the-counter birth control options, rather than medications that require a prescription. This idea has even received bipartisan support in congress, although the two parties tend to disagree about who should pay for over-the-counter birth control.

Until recently, the primary roadblock facing over-the-counter birth control has been the unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to undertake the long FDA approval process. Now, however, a French company called HRA Pharma is working with the Massachusetts-based nonprofit group IBIS Reproductive Health to get the FDA approval that would bring over-the-counter contraceptives to the US market.

“At HRA, we are proud of our pioneering work to expand access to contraception for millions of women,” said a company spokesperson in a statement to Vox. “Oral Contraceptives are some of the best-studied medicines on the market today and enjoy longstanding support from medical and public health experts.”

HRA Pharma has reportedly already begun the early stages of the research and application process, but they have been hesitant to provide concrete estimates as to when their OTC contraceptive will be ready to go to market. “Within a few years,” seems to be the general consensus from the company.

There has been some concern that the approval could be delayed or even halted if a Republican-controlled Congress makes good on its promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Fortunately, though, the approval process will ultimately fall on FDA scientists, not politicians.

It might take a couple of years for over-the-counter contraceptives to come to a pharmacy near you, but we’re thrilled to hear that this first big hurdle is finally being overcome thanks to the efforts of HRA Pharma and IBIS Reproductive health.

Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill” Makes It to Governor’s Desk

Last week, the Ohio state legislature passed a bill that would ban abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy. The bill makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest – only cases where the mother’s life is at stake. The bill is known as a “heartbeat” bill because a fetal heartbeat can first be detected about six weeks after conception. If the bill becomes law, it will be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

First though, it must be signed by Ohio’s historically moderate governor and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich. A few months ago, even the bill’s staunchest supporters didn’t expect it to have a chance in the state legislature. Following the election of Donald Trump, however, the anti-abortion movement has gained a new surge in momentum. Now, abortion rights activists are concerned that even a moderate like John Kasich might be swayed into signing the heartbeat bill into law.

Because the heartbeat bill violates the standards on abortion legislation set by the Supreme Court, there’s a good chance that Kasich will not sign the bill. After all, many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant at six weeks. But even if he doesn’t sign the six-week ban, he may still sign another 20-week ban on abortion that was also approved by the state legislature last week. Like the heartbeat bill, this 20-week ban would make no exceptions in cases of rape and incest.

If the 20-week ban becomes a law, it will almost certainly face a fight in the Supreme Court as well. But whether or not either of these bills becomes law, the troubling fact remains that a six-week ban on abortion is being seriously considered in a relatively moderate swing state. Following a number of important abortion rights victories in the Supreme Court earlier this year, this is a sobering reminder that there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to protect women’s reproductive rights in America.