Adolescents in Developing Nations Lack Contraceptive Options

A report released earlier today by the Guttmacher Institute is shedding light on the need for increased contraceptive access in developing regions all across the globe. The study, “Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Adolescents,” was published by a team of researchers lead by Jacqueline E. Darroch, Ph.D.

The researcher team found that of the 252 million adolescent women aged 15-19 in developing nations, 38 million are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy. However, 23 million of these sexually active adolescent women have unmet needs for modern contraceptive options. 84 percent of the adolescents who lack access to modern contraceptives use no contraceptives at all. The remaining 16 percent rely on traditional methods such as withdrawal and periodic abstinence.

“Making it possible for young women to avoid unintended pregnancy and childbearing until they feel ready to become mothers can have a profound impact,” said Darroch in the report. “It allows them to achieve healthier lives for themselves and their children, more education and better job opportunities. The positive impact of investing in sexual and reproductive health services for adolescent women is undeniable.”

So what exactly would such an investment look like?

The research team estimates that an investment of just $21 per year on each sexually active adolescent woman with unmet contraceptive needs could result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies. This constitutes a decline of nearly 60 percent worldwide.

Furthermore, the same investment would result in an estimated 3.2 million fewer abortions, roughly 2.4 of which would be performed in unsafe conditions.  The study also estimated that this investment would result in a 71 percent decline in maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.

Based on their findings, the research team called on policymakers to devote additional resources to help meet the contraceptive needs of adolescent women in developing nations. In addition, they stressed the importance of taking steps to prevent human rights violations such as child marriage and sexual abuse which can contribute to unplanned pregnancies in these regions as well.

Study Finds Restrictive Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates

Study Finds Restrictive Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates Abortion rates have reached a historic low in the developed world, according to a recent study published by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, but it’s not because of increased restrictions on abortions.

The research team that conducted the study used national data from a variety of sources to analyze global trends surrounding contraception and abortion between 1990 and 2014. While abortion rates in developed countries fell dramatically during this period, abortion rates in poorer nations increased by about three percent.

The study also found that there was no positive correlation between the abortion’s legal status and abortion rates. In countries where abortion is either completely illegal or only legal in cases where the mother’s life is threatened, the abortion rate stands at 37 per 1,000 women. In countries where abortion is legal, on the other hand, the abortion rate is 34 per 1,000 women. This is likely due in part to the fact that countries that criminalize abortion typically have tighter restrictions on contraception as well.

Rather than reducing abortion rates, restrictive legislation often forces women to seek out clandestine abortions instead. Illegally performed abortions are often in unsafe conditions that can increase the risk of complication for mothers. According to a statement from study co-author Dr. Bela Ganatra, “nearly 300 million dollars are spent each year on treating the complications from unsafe abortions.” In other cases, women in countries where abortion is illegal are effectively forced to give birth to children who they are unable or ill-equipped to care for.

Hopefully studies such as this will encourage more lawmakers to pass legislation that protects the health of women, rather than imposing dangerous restrictions on their reproductive rights.

Fake Eggs Could be Used as Contraceptives and Fertility Aids

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been conducting experiments that could lead to a new method of long-term contraception, as well as improved in vitro fertilization techniques. These two ends might seem contradictory, but in fact they are quite closely related. It all has to do with the behavior of sperm during ovulation.

When an egg is passed through the fallopian tubes and prepared for fertilization, it’s coated with a peptide called zona pellucida glycoprotein 2 (ZP2) that attracts and binds sperm to the egg. Once one sperm penetrates the barrier it triggers a chemical reaction which prevents other sperm from entering the egg. Sperm cells – particularly the strong, healthy ones – will make a beeline for eggs coated in ZP2.

The researchers at the NIH realized that by coating a decoy egg with ZP2 and implanting it a uterus, they could effectively trick sperm into fertilizing the fake egg, rather than a real one. They made their fake eggs using agarose beads, which are carbohydrate particles commonly used in laboratory testing. Next they implanted the decoy eggs into the uteruses of mice and tested their ability to prevent pregnancy. The results were very promising. The researchers also found that once the fake eggs were removed, the mice were able to quickly resume having healthy pregnancies.

So how could this possible long-term contraceptive option improve in vitro fertilization techniques?

When scientists perform in vitro procedures, they visually inspect individual sperm under a microscope to determine which ones are the best candidates for fertilization. The decoy eggs could serve as a far easier and more reliable tool for vetting the sperm for fertilization. Just place a decoy egg coated in ZP2 in a petri dish with sperm and watch to see which ones latch on first. These sperm will have the best chance of producing a viable embryo.

It’s important to remember that while preliminary test results have been promising, there’s no guarantee we’ll see fake egg contraceptives on the market anytime soon. Just because it appears to be safe and effective in mice doesn’t necessarily mean that it will translate directly to humans. Nevertheless, it’s a promising line of research that could lead to better, safer methods of birth control in the future.

Contraceptive Education is Lacking in American Schools

In recent studies performed by the National Survey of Family Growth, researchers have noticed a striking decline in contraception education in American teenagers. While the Guttmacher Institute reports that teen pregnancy rates are lower than they were 20 years ago, it’s not because teens are being educated about sex, STDs and how to prevent pregnancy in our schools.

Teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates were at their highest in the early 1990s. In 2010, about 614,000 pregnancies occurred in teens ages 15-19, which is a 51 percent decline from the numbers in the early 1990s.

Researchers who participated in the study believed that the decline was due to more prolific sex education, easier access to birth control for teens, and more frequent conversations among teens and parents about how to prevent pregnancies and STDs. However, a recent study done by the National Survey of Family Growth shows that sex education has actually declined in schools across America in the last few years. Federal policy is no longer preaching the “abstinence only before marriage” method of birth control, and yet our schools still aren’t engaging in healthy contraception and sex education talks with students.

According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, 70 percent of teenage girls reported having had sex and contraception education in their schools or through conversations with their parents in between 2006 and 2010. In the 2011–13 range, however, that number declined to 60 percent of girls reporting they had received sex and contraception education. That’s a striking 10 percent move in the wrong direction in the span of only five years.

With more federal funding being given to the cause of educating young women – even with initiatives like providing free birth control options like IUDs – the number of young girls who are learning about contraception and sex should be increasing rather than decreasing.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that the federal government still spends about $75 million per year promoting an “abstinence until marriage” method of birth control, according to The Washington Post. Frankly, that is simply no longer a viable option for America’s teens. Surveys have shown that these abstinence-only initiatives have done very little to prevent teens from having sex or preventing pregnancy – so why are we still spending money here?

The recent decline could also be caused by the shifting standards of education in American schools today, suggests The Huffington Post. With the Common Core overhaul well under way, placing more emphasis on method and test results, the education landscape in this country is changing. Maybe teachers and school districts are scrambling to meet new standards, and sex education has not been made a priority.

The bottom line is that the decline needs to be stopped, and more teens – both boys and girls alike – should be receiving sex and contraception education in school or at home. Studies have shown that the act of educating teenagers ultimately leads to lower pregnancy rates – knowledge is power, after all. While right now, the rate of teen pregnancy is at an all-time low and it seems like we are moving in the right direction, we need to be proactive and ensure that students are educated about their options for safe sex to ensure that the rate continues to decline. If teens are not given the education they need, those low birth rate numbers are likely to be only temporary. Keeping pregnancy rates low requires ensuring access to relevant information, context and education – and it can’t just come from the internet.

For more information on sex and contraception education and how we can help you have a conversation with your son or daughter, call us today at 585-271-3850.

European Protestors Fight for Women’s Reproductive Freedom

Here in America, one presidential candidate’s inflammatory comments regarding abortion legislation have given women’s rights activists cause for serious concern. In a number of European countries, meanwhile, another heated battle is being waged in the war for reproductive freedom.

In Poland, some citizens and legislators are attempting to strengthen already strict anti-abortion laws. Earlier this month, a “Stop Abortion” civil committee submitted a draft bill to their government that calls for not only a complete ban on abortion, but also asks for a new criminal code called “pre-natal murder” to be added to the books, according to NBC News. The bill allows women who have an abortion performed, as well as doctors and anyone who helps her have the procedure, to be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison.

As it stands, abortion is illegal in Poland except in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life. This bill would restrict women’s access further by banning all abortion, regardless of the reason.

In Italy, abortion restrictions have historically been less restrictive. It has been legal for a woman to have an abortion procedure in that nation since 1978. However, the recent social climate in the country has caused women to have a very difficult time finding a doctor who is willing to perform an abortion. Many doctors refuse to perform the procedure due to personal moral objections, according to Medical Daily. As a result, many Italian women are forced to travel abroad to receive the necessary care they seek, potentially endangering themselves in the process by prolonging the procedure they need.

Europe has a long way to go before it can offer its women the quality of care without judgment that they deserve. Take a look at this map from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which shows abortion access in every country in the world. While in Europe, abortion is legally allowed “without restriction as to reason” in a majority of countries – with the notable exceptions of the United Kingdom, Poland, Finland and a few others – the recent surge among anti-abortion activists across the EU could change that status drastically.

In reaction to the recent anti-abortion movement, protestors have been fighting to protect women’s rights across Europe. Church walk-outs were staged in many countries, including Poland, while priests read letters issued by the church to address this topic. In Northern Ireland, protestors gathered outside the Belfast Public Prosecution Service, where a 21-year-old woman was sentenced to a three-month sentence suspended for two years for inducing a miscarriage. She was sentenced under the Offenses Against the Person Act, which was passed when Queen Victoria was still around.

Protestors handed out coat hangers and held signs that read, “dead women can’t have babies” in an effort to remind lawmakers of the fate that awaits women who are forced to turn to desperate measures for abortions. Across Europe, protestors have chanted “my body, my choice,” while in Poland, 15 cities participated in pro-choice movements, with thousands of people demonstrating for women’s right to choose.

What happens next in Poland – and in Europe as a whole – is now up to the politicians. While many people think that the bill in Poland will be difficult to pass, the fact that it has been introduced at all is a good way to read the current climate within the European nations. There is still a great deal of work to be done to guarantee that every woman in the world has the reproductive rights they deserve.

Scientific Breakthrough Could Lead to Unisex Contraceptives

The search for a birth control pill for men has had its fair share of hurdles. Over the years, pharmaceutical companies have explored a variety of experimental options, but none of them have made it to market. Recently, a research team at the University of Minnesota announced that they were working on a new type of contraceptive for men that targets the acid receptors tied to sperm production. It’s a promising development, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before it will be ready to go to market. Thanks to a team of Biologists at the University of California at Berkeley, however, we might someday have a single contraceptive that works for both men and women.

The biologists have identified a protein receptor that rests on a sperm’s tail and moves it back and forth when exposed to the female sex hormone progesterone. That motion is what provides the sperm with the forward momentum it needs to penetrate the egg. In essence, this protein acts like a person controlling the rudder at the back of a boat. The biologists found that when the protein doesn’t detect progesterone, it fails to trigger the sperm’s tail-flapping action, making it impossible for the sperm to penetrate the egg.

The team at Berkeley discovered the interaction between the protein and progesterone by employing a pretty ingenious research technique. Because of federal regulations that prohibit the testing of sperm and eggs in the same dish, they had to test the sperm alone. To overcome this obstacle, the biologists attached a tiny electrode to a sperm’s tail, and then exposed it to different hormones to see how it would react. By analyzing the electrode data, they could determine whether or not the hormones caused the tail to move.

The next step in the process is to devise a way to trick the proteins into ignoring progesterone. If the biologists are able to achieve this, we may be well on our way to having a unisex method of contraception. On the flip side, this discovery could pave the way for new treatments for male infertility as well.

FDA Updates Abortion Pill Guidelines

Originally developed in the 1980s, the drug mifepristone is now one of the most commonly-used methods for physicians to induce abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, medication-induced abortions accounted for roughly a quarter of all the abortions performed in the United States in 2011. Mifepristone works by blocking progesterone receptors, causing a miscarriage. It’s typically prescribed in conjunction with another drug, misoprostol.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will change the labeling on mifepristone to reflect current scientific evidence about the drug. The original labeling was based on clinic evidence from the 1990s. Under the new guidelines, the pill can now be taken up to 10 weeks of pregnancy rather than seven. The recommendations also decrease the necessary number of visits to a physician from three to two. Finally, the F.D.A reduced their recommended dosage to 200 milligrams from 600 milligrams.

In most states, physicians have already been following the regimen recommended by the new guidelines for years. In states such as Texas and Oklahoma, however, where the use mifepristone has been restricted, this update means that women will have improved access to the drug.

Abortion rights groups have applauded the change for finally bringing mifepristone’s labeling up to date with contemporary medical science. They’ve also roundly condemned the restrictive legislation which made the change necessary in the first place.

“This label change underscores just how medically unnecessary and politically motivated restrictions on medication abortion in states like Texas and Oklahoma truly are – and demonstrates the lengths politicians will go to single out reproductive healthcare to restrict women’s rights,” said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a prepared statement.

To learn more about mifepristone, you can visit the F.D.A. question and answer page here.

Chilean Legislators Reconsider Strict Anti-Abortion Policy

For women and physicians in Chile, having or performing an abortion could mean spending up to five years in prison. Chile is one of just six nations in the world that criminalizes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Since 1989, just prior to the departure of conservative dictator General Augusto Pinochet, abortions of all kinds have been criminal offenses in Chile. Prior to 1989, abortion had been legal in Chile for nearly 60 years.

Since 1991, twelve bills calling for abortion decriminalization have come before Chile’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate. Until last Thursday, however, none of them were able to gain much traction. Now, the Chamber of Deputies has voted in favor of legalizing abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal malformation to the fetus.

Soon after the vote, Chamber of Deputies president Marco Antonio Núñez expressed his excitement about the bill. “This is historic. The chamber of deputies has brought down the last ideological wall of the dictatorship,” said Núñez in a statement.

Receiving an abortion might be a criminal offense in Chile, but that doesn’t mean abortions are uncommon in the South American country. In fact, Chile has one of the highest abortion rates in Latin America. While some of these abortions are administered illegally by physicians, others are self-induced by desperate women who feel they have no other recourse.

“Clandestine abortions are carried out in Chile, and will continue, with or without politicians or a law,” said Claudia Dides, director of the women’s health organization Miles Chile. “What we want is for abortions to be safe.”

This bill is a long way from completely reforming Chile’s oppressive abortion legislation, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Before it can become law, it will next have to be approved by the Chilean Senate.

A Birth Control Pill for Men May Soon be a Reality

In recent years, researchers have developed a variety of new contraceptive options for women. From intrauterine devices to hormone injections, there are more ways for women to take birth control than ever. The search for male contraceptives, on the other hand, has been far more elusive.

Most male birth control options have been experimental, or invasive, or both.

Take Vasalgel, for example. This is a nonhormonal contraceptive that’s currently only available to men in Indiana through clinical trials. As its name suggests, Vasalgel is a polymer gel that is injected into the vas deferens to block the flow of sperm out of the testicles. It was based on a similar product which has been in clinical trials for more than 15 years. If men want to restore their fertility, a second injection is used to flush the gel out of the vas deferens.

A second, even more experimental option is Bimek SLV. This is a mechanical birth control switch invented by a carpenter in Germany. It’s surgically implanted behind the testicles, and acts as a temporary vasectomy that can be turned on and off. Flip the switch on, and a mechanism blocks the vans deferens, rendering the man temporarily infertile. Turn it off, and the flow of sperm is restored. It’s effective, but not exactly ideal. Plus, it’s not expected to be out of clinical trials until at least 2018.

Thanks to the efforts of a group of researchers at the University of Minnesota, however, men may soon be able to take responsibility for their reproductive health without having to go under the knife. The researchers presented their work last week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The researcher team’s leader, Gunda I. Georg, Ph.D., explained that in order to be successful, a male oral contraceptive must meet several criteria. It must work quickly, and it should not have a negative impact on libido. It should also be safe, even if taken for decades. Finally, its effects should be easily reversible and cause no lingering negative effects on sperm health.

“That’s a very high bar for bringing a male contraceptive to market,” explained Georg in her presentation. “It would be wonderful to provide couples with a safe alternative because some women cannot take birth control pills,” she continued. Oral contraceptives can be especially dangerous for women with high blood pressure or heart problems.

So how might the male contraceptive work?

Rather than focusing on hormone supplements, Georg and her team looked instead at chemical compounds that block retinoic acid receptors. One of these receptors – the alpha receptor – is tied to sperm production. Previous studies have demonstrated that animals with alpha receptor deficiencies stop producing sperm, but remain otherwise healthy.

Georg’s team concluded that if they could isolate a chemical compound that would target and suppress the alpha receptor, it could act as an effective, reversible form of birth control. The trick is finding a compound that will target the alpha receptor, but not other retinoic acid receptors. If the compound unintentionally interacts with other receptors, it could cause severe negative side-effects.

Georg and her team have been working to hone a chemical compound from Bristol-Myers Squibb that modifies the alpha receptor to stop sperm production. Currently, they’re conducting tests to ensure that the chemical only binds to the alpha receptor. They’re also altering the chemical to increase its solubility so that it can be taken orally.

There’s still significant work to be done before the chemical will be ready to go to market, but Georg expects that the team will have a pill ready for animal trials within the next six months.

SCOTUS Blocks Restrictive Abortion Law in Louisiana

In 2014, Louisian Lawmakers enacted a clinic regulation law which required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This law effectively masqueraded as a healthcare measure while profoundly restricting women’s access to essential health services. It was designed to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers in spite of the fact that the vast majority of abortions in the state are performed medicinally rather than surgically. The rate of serious complications associated with these procedures is less than one half of one percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute of reproductive health.

The law was initially struck down by a trial judge, but two weeks ago the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law could be enforced. This ruling would potentially force all but one of Louisiana’s abortion clinics to close.

Before the repercussions of the ruling could be felt, however, the Supreme Court handed down a brief but stern order reversing the appeals court’s decision and allowing the clinics to remain open. Only conservative Justice Clarence Thomas noted his dissent in the decision. The Louisiana state Attorney General has since said that he would continue to defend the law, but it’s not clear how he will be able to do so in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Center for Reproductive Rights has confirmed that two clinics which had already closed in response to the appellate ruling will be reopening shortly.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in other states are paying close attention to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Last week, the Supreme Court’s eight Justices convened to discuss what some people are calling the most important abortion rights case in a generation. It concerns a very similar law in Texas which has forced the closure of 82 family planning clinics throughout the state. This law, like the one in Louisiana, has also been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Likewise, many people in Texas are speculating that this law will meet a similar fate to the one in Louisiana.

In Missouri, a state that pioneered restrictive abortion legislation in the 1980’s, abortion rights advocates are optimistic that the ruling in Louisiana could be a sign of things to come in their state as well. Currently, there is just a single Planned Parenthood clinic in the entire state of Missouri. As a result, women in Missouri travel an average of 100 miles round-trip to visit the lone clinic in St. Louis.

This decision also comes at a critical time for the Supreme Court.

In the past, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s vote has been critical to the Supreme Court’s rulings in cases regarding abortion legislation. In the wake of Scalia’s passing, many people expected the Supreme Court to be split in a 4-4 decision in the Texas case. As such, the 7-1 ruling in Louisiana came as something of a surprise.  In particular, Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote was expected to play a key role in the decision. Now, it appears abortion rights activists in Texas and Missouri might have more support in the Supreme Court than they once thought.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court may not announce its decision in the Texas case until next year. Scalia’s death, in conjunction with calls for additional fact-finding prior to a ruling, have left many legal analysts to suspect the decision will be delayed for the time being.

In Louisiana, at least, women can rest a little easier knowing that their reproductive rights have been protected by the highest court in the land.