NEWS: Department of Veterans Affairs sued over decision to offer abortions to veterans

Repro Health Watch

December 16, 2022 | Health Care, Abortion, Reproductive Rights


Department of Veteran Affairs Sued Over Decision to Offer Abortion Counseling and Certain Abortions to Veterans

CNN, December 14, 2022

A nurse at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility in Texas sued the department Tuesday over its decision to offer abortions services in certain cases and abortion counseling to veterans, claiming the new rules violate her religious beliefs. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Waco, Texas, comes months after the VA announced the new rules, which represented one of the very few policy responses from the Biden administration to the Supreme Court’s decision in June to eliminate the federal right to an abortion. The plaintiff, Stephanie Carter, an Army veteran and nurse practitioner working at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas, claims in the suit that her “sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit her from offering abortion services and providing counseling required by application of the” VA policy. Though the lawsuit is reportedly one of the first challenges to the new rule, it is not seeking to block the department from enforcing the policy nationwide. Instead, it asks the court to rule that the policy is illegal and unconstitutional and block the department from enforcing the policy at the facility in Temple. The suit claims that Carter twice sought a religious accommodation to avoid following the rule but failed to obtain one because it “makes no mention of a possible exemption or accommodation for religious health care professionals.” The VA, however, disputed that claim on Wednesday, saying Secretary Denis McDonough “has made clear to all employees that their religious beliefs are protected here at VA.” “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, VA does provide accommodation for VA employees who wish to opt out of providing abortion counseling or services,” said Terrence Hayes, the department’s spokesman, in a statement. The lawsuit says that, among other things, the department’s rule “exposes Ms. Carter to termination from her job,” “exposes her to criminal and civil liability under Texas law” and “exposes Ms. Carter to a possible loss of her nurse practitioner license in Texas.” Texas’ abortion ban, which went into effect in August, put in place new criminal penalties for abortion and offered an exemption only for certain health emergencies…The VA’s new rule, which was announced in September, allows the department to provide abortions when a pregnant veteran’s life or health is at risk if their pregnancy were carried to term, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. These services are also offered to Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs beneficiaries.

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Corporate America Thrives Where Abortion Is Protected

The Washington Post, December 14, 2022

Gina Raimondo doesn’t “know why any woman would want to live in a state that criminalizes full access to health care.” The assertion by the 40th US Secretary of Commerce is especially relevant after the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June that upheld a Mississippi law conceived to overturn two landmark decisions -- Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 -- conferring the almost half century constitutional right to obtain an abortion...“Healthy workers are more productive,” Raimondo said during a Zoom interview…“They show up every day, on time, ready to work - so I think states that provide better access to health care enable a more productive workforce.” Raimondo is the former venture capitalist and first woman elected and re-elected governor of her native state of Rhode Island, where she mended a pension system on the brink of collapse, fixed a crumbling transportation infrastructure, forgave student-loan debt, tripled the number of pre-kindergarten classes and guaranteed that every child can attend all-day kindergarten. She recruited more than 30 companies to Rhode Island, where unemployment plummeted to 3.4%, or 3.1 percentage points below its 30-year average and almost half the rate when she took office in 2015. “You have to do more than just deregulate and lower taxes to drive growth and attract business,” she said. “You also need high quality of life, high quality health care, high quality public schools, a well-trained workforce, and a place people want to live.” Raimondo…added another bulwark to her state’s competitiveness when she signed into law the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, protecting abortion rights by anticipating the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade. She isn’t “at all surprised” to see data showing publicly-traded companies in the 11 states where abortion is illegal -- Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas -- are less diverse, less profitable and less productive than the US average for big and small firms alike and, by these same measures, inferior to companies in the 10 states that expanded access to abortion -- Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania -- since 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. To be sure, there are many determinants beyond reproductive rights that explain why companies in some states outperform their peers in other states. “The best-performing companies are the ones who are able to attract, recruit, retain and develop the top talent,” Raimondo said.

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Anti-abortion Pregnancy Centers Are Deceiving Patients – and Getting Away With It

The Guardian, December 15, 2022

Patricia Henderson stood in the parking lot next to the Florida Women’s center in Jacksonville, wearing a white lab coat and greeting patients as they emerged from their cars. Their abortion appointments, she told them, were in the flat-roofed building across the road. Once inside, Henderson handed them three pages of paperwork to fill out – questions about everything from their highest level of education to the date of their last period. State investigative documents lay out what clients say happened next: she led them to a pink-walled ultrasound room, where she would reveal their pregnancies in grainy images that, according to leading medical groups, only a licensed physician or a specially trained advanced practice nurse should interpret. Henderson told one woman that abortion causes breast cancer – a claim widely disputed by medical research. She informed another that she was not pregnant and just had a stomach virus. According to the state report, that wasn’t true…Anti-abortion pregnancy centers like the Women’s Help center have proliferated in recent decades, with many aiming to expand their capacity now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. By design, an increasing number look and operate much like traditional OB-GYN providers, offering ultrasounds, tests for sexually transmitted infections and, in some instances, even some prenatal care. Many boast of having medical directors and other licensed staff. Dozens include the word “medical” in their names. But as the newly unearthed Jacksonville case highlights, beneath the veneer of medical professionalism is an industry that state and federal authorities have done almost nothing to regulate. Only a few states require pregnancy centers that provide medical services to be formally licensed as clinics, a Reveal investigation has found. And, because their views are grounded in a particular ideological viewpoint, the centers aren’t subject to many other rules designed to protect patients – rules that would require them to be transparent about their operations and medical credentials. The lack of significant regulation means that in most of the country, for the hundreds of thousands of clients whom pregnancy centers serve every year, there is no one playing an oversight role to make sure that centers are offering high-quality care and accurate information or that staff are licensed and adequately trained. No one protecting clients’ ultra-sensitive personal information or inspecting facilities and equipment to verify that they’re clean and up to date. No one taking substantive action if clients are mistreated or deceived.

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Medication Abortion May Be the Next Focal Point Fight Over Abortion Access. Here's What to Know.

USA Today, December 12, 2022

Medication abortion is expected to be the next major sticking point in the ongoing nationwide fight over abortion access, with advocates on both sides of the issue pointing to the pills as central to the debate in 2023. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down the constitutional right to abortion solidified by Roe v. Wade, medication abortion accounted for more than half of all abortions in the United States, according to analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights. While medication abortion has always been a vital piece of abortion access, since Roe v. Wade was struck down, “medication abortion has become incredibly important for abortion access as abortion bans that have decimated abortion care across numerous states,” said Jenny Ma, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “But we're not the only ones who recognize the promise of medication abortion in improving access to abortion care, and that is why it is the target for the anti-abortion movement,” said Lorie Chaiten, senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Anti-abortion advocates sue FDA over abortion pill: The lawsuit: The conservative legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit Nov. 18 in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, in an attempt to reverse the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a medication that can be used with another drug called misoprostol to end a pregnancy that is less than 70 days developed. It's unclear when the case will be heard. The drug: The FDA approved mifepristone for medication abortion in 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists call mifepristone a safe and effective abortion medication and component of treatment and management for early pregnancy loss or miscarriage. What anti-abortion groups say: Many anti-abortion advocates argue the drug comes with medical risks and should be pulled from the market, said Carol Tobias, president of the anti-abortion group National Right to Life. What abortion rights supporters say: Nearly 5 million people nationwide have used mifepristone in the last 20 years, and their is a large body of research that supports its use, Ma said. “They're seeking basically to remove this safe and effective drug off the market after it has enjoyed more than 20 years of medical proven medical record,” she said. “If they are successful in their lawsuit, it will unleash a public health crisis by removing health care options for millions of people.”

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Report: Maternal Mortality Rates Higher in State With Abortion Bans

U.S. News, December 14, 2022

Women who live in states with abortion bans or restrictions are significantly more likely to die during pregnancy or after giving birth than women in states with abortion access, according to a new analysis. In 2020, the maternal death rate was 62% higher in the 26 states that have banned or seriously restricted abortion access than in the 24 states with abortion access, according to the report released by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that seeks to promote more equitable health care access. “Making abortion illegal makes pregnancy and childbirth more dangerous and threatens the health and lives of all women of reproductive age,” report coauthor Dr. Laurie Zephyrin, a senior vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, said in a press release. In the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, several states have banned and dramatically restricted abortion. Abortion is currently banned in at least 13 states, and another 13 significantly restrict access to abortions. According to the report, it’s not just maternal health outcomes that are worse in these 26 states. States that ban or restrict abortions also have worse health outcomes for women who are not pregnant or giving birth, according to the report. Between 2018 and 2020, death rates for women of reproductive age were 34% higher in states with more abortion restrictions. Women of reproductive age in these states tend to have less access to health insurance and health care, and are more likely to begin a pregnancy less healthy than women in states with abortion access, the report found. In addition to the health risks faced by women, children are also more likely to have adverse health outcomes in states with restrictive abortion policies. In 2019, infant mortality within the first 27 days of life was 30% higher in states that ban or restrict abortion. In the first week of life, infants were 15% percent more likely to die in states with restricted abortion access. States with restrictive abortion policies also tend to have fewer maternal healthcare providers, according to the report. States with more abortion restrictions have a 32% lower ratio of obstetricians to births and a 59% lower ratio of midwives to births than states where abortions are accessible. According to the report, all of these factors increase risks for people who may become pregnant.

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