STD Awareness: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have been with us since the dawn of time — or at least since the dawn of sex. And, as we continue to hone our approach to preventing and treating them, STDs will always grab headlines, whether the news is bad or good.

The Good

Can the HIV epidemic be stopped?

For more than a decade, AIDS, the illness caused by HIV, was seen as a death sentence. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s that antiretroviral drugs kept the virus in check, prolonging lifespans for people with access to these medications and transforming the infection into a chronic disease. Now, those dreaming of an end to HIV are seeing reasons for optimism. No, a cure isn’t in the works — but many researchers believe we can end the epidemic through prevention.

Ending HIV transmission will take money and an efficient health care infrastructure, but we have the tools to do it. It starts with expanding access to HIV testing — an estimated 15 percent of Americans with HIV are unaware of their status. The next step is to ensure that everyone testing positive has access to antiretroviral drugs. When used correctly, these medications keep viral levels so low that the chances of transmission are virtually nonexistent. More recently, medications called PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis — enable people without HIV to protect themselves from infection. Condoms, of course, are a time-tested prevention tool. Gathered together, we have a pretty mighty arsenal. Here in the United States, we could stop HIV transmission in its tracks in just a handful of years. Of course, people all around the world will need access to testing and treatment to halt this scourge on a global level. Continue reading

Maternal Mortality: A National Embarrassment

Americans spend more money on childbirth than any other country, but we’re not getting a good return on our investment.

Less than a century ago, approximately one mother died for every 100 live births — an occurrence so common that nearly everyone belonged to a family, or knew of one, that was devastated by such a loss. Fortunately, in most nations, those tragedies have declined over the years. In fact, in the decade between 2003 and 2013, only eight countries saw their maternal mortality rates rise.

Unfortunately, the United States was one of those eight countries, joining a club that also includes Afghanistan and South Sudan. Within the 31 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an American woman is more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than a citizen of any other country besides Mexico. Among developed countries, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates — and those rates are only getting worse.

Graph: CDC

U.S. maternal mortality has attracted the attention of organizations whose oversight you wouldn’t expect. Amnesty International, which most Americans associate with the fight against human rights abuses in far-flung authoritarian regimes, considers our high maternal mortality rates to be a violation of human rights. Additionally — and pathetically — one of the biggest sources of funding for maternal health in the United States comes not from taxpayers but from the pharmaceutical company Merck. The Economist quoted a Merck spokesperson as saying, “We expected to be doing all our work in developing countries.” Continue reading

Bearing the Burden of Injustice: Black Maternal Mortality

Mother and babyWhen it comes to maternal mortality, American women don’t all live in the same country. While white women live in Qatar, black women live in Mongolia.

Maternal mortality is death related to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Most of us don’t come from a time or place where the prospect of dying in childbirth is a tangible possibility — in the past century, as medicine has advanced, maternal mortality rates have plummeted.


To raise healthy families, we need access to general and reproductive health care, including preventive care, prenatal care, and maternity care.


The United States, though, hasn’t come as far as would be expected. Although its wealth should have put it on par with other developed nations like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and those in Scandinavia, women in these countries fare far better than those in the United States. So do women in Libya, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Bulgaria, and Kazakhstan, indicating that national priorities — and not necessarily national wealth — are key to ensuring maternal health.

The United States’ high maternal mortality rate is heartbreaking no matter how you look at it, but is even worse for women of color. African-American women are 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Between 2011 and 2013, the maternal mortality rate for white women was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. Comparing that to 2015 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), that rate puts white women’s maternal mortality on par with mothers in Qatar and Bahrain, two wealthy Persian Gulf nations. African-American women, however, suffered 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, putting their maternal mortality on par with those of Turkmenistan, Brazil, and Mongolia. Continue reading

In the Wake of Roe v. Wade: The Helms Amendment

USAID is essential in reducing infant and maternal mortality in the developing world.

This Sunday, December 17, is the 44th anniversary of the Helms Amendment.

What is the Helms Amendment and why should we care about it?

The simple answer to the first part of that question is that it is language added to the 1973 foreign aid bill. It reads:

No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.


The Helms Amendment was the first federal legislative attack on abortion rights in the post-Roe era.


But of course nothing to do with abortion is ever simple. Think of the Senate in December 1973, just 11 months after the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. In the intervening months the war in Vietnam ended; Henry Kissinger visited China; the Watergate hearings and the first trials of the conspirators began; Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being convicted of accepting bribes; President Nixon named Gerald Ford to replace Agnew; there were bloody coups in Greece and Chile; the Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo against the United States, raising gasoline prices from 25 cents per gallon to more than a dollar; Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by firing the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox; the top two people in the Justice Department resigned rather than do so, leaving Robert Bork to carry out that order, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre; eventually Nixon was compelled to turn over his tapes after fighting the order in court.

In other words, 1973 was a turbulent year, a time of great change and political turmoil in Washington. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Planned Parenthood Arizona is fighting for DACA! (Buzzfeed)
  • In case you hadn’t heard, Republicans are trying for the umpteenth time to repeal the ACA. Nevertheless, they stupidly persisted. (WaPo)
  • In line with pretty much all other Republican-sponsored legislation, the consequences for women would be grave. (Jezebel)
  • Black women are 3.5 times more likely to die from being pregnant than white women. THIS is why being pro-choice ultimately translates into being “pro-life.” (Tonic)
  • The Arizona Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the equal rights of same-sex parents! (Slate)
  • In other Arizona news: Two of our worst politicians, Mark Brnovich and Michele Reagan, are, as the Phoenix New Times puts it, on “Emily’s Sh*t List” for being woefully sucktacular on the issue of women’s health-care rights. (Phoenix New Times)
  • Abortion access has gotten easier in Missouri thanks to Planned Parenthood and, uh … other sources. (Double X)
  • One of my personal heroes, Dr. Willie Parker, gave a great interview to The Atlantic to discuss his Christian faith, teen moms, and what’s next for abortion access. (The Atlantic)
  • More than 1 in 5 women in Mexico is married before she turns 18. Unsurprisingly, teen pregnancy is usually a precursor. (Teen Vogue)

July 11 Is UN World Population Day

The following guest post comes to us via Esteban Camarena, a graduate student at the University of Arizona. He is currently in Brazil doing field research on politics and public health policy. He can be reached at estebanc@email.arizona.edu.

The world’s population is on the way to reaching 8.6 billion people by 2030 — that’s approximately 1.1 billion more inhabitants on the planet in less than 13 years. If we break it down further, that’s 84.6 million more people per year, 7.1 million per month, 1.8 million per week, or 252,0000 people added every day, roughly.

July 11 is UN World Population Day, which aims to create awareness of population growth issues and their relation to the environment and development. With the world’s population increasing every year, the limited amount of natural resources combined with the effect of climate change hinders any country’s ability to achieve sustainable economic growth and development. As the global population continues to grow, so too does the demand for food, water, energy, and land.


An investment in women’s health is an investment in families’ economic stability and a country’s development.


The inability to meet these demands will inevitably lead to malnutrition, poverty, and conflict between nations and people. This depletion of resources would particularly affect developing countries where the greatest amount of population growth is expected; in fact, more than half of the anticipated growth will occur in Africa, followed by Asia and Latin America. Among other factors, population growth is concentrated in these developing regions due to limited or lack of access to reproductive health care, family planning services, and sex education. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • With all of the shenanigans that have transpired in North Carolina over the years (their racially discriminatory voting debacles especially), it’s nice to be able to highlight the state for doing something positive for a change. North Carolina has managed to close its black-white maternal death gap. This is amazing and so important. (Vox)
  • I’m sure we all remember (and would like to forget) the Jan Brewer era? Well, friendly reminder: Arizona Already Tried What the GOP Wants to Do to Medicaid. It Was a Disaster. (Slate)
  • Our nomination for sentence of the week: “Whatever maternity care his mother got when she was pregnant with him helped him grow into the healthy, thriving, intolerable jerkoff he is today.” HA! (XX Factor)
  • Christian crisis pregnancy centers in Illinois are suing the state because they want to keep lying to vulnerable pregnant women about their options. Let’s hope they catch the ‘L’ they deserve. (Chicago Tribune)
  • The majority of women who have abortions are already mothers. They share their stories about why they chose to terminate their pregnancies. (Elle)
  • Parents are doing a mediocre job teaching teens about love, sex, and the misogyny that permeates our culture. Eighty-seven percent of teenage girls have experienced harassment, abuse, or assault. This is not OK. (NBC News)
  • Due to the fact that we have a thin-skinned narcissist with the restraint and civility of a toddler in the White House, there are obviously A LOT of concerns about national politics. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that local politics have a much greater effect on most of our daily lives — especially for women. NARAL President Kaylie Hanson Long details why. (Think Progress)
  • Literally ALL the medical groups hate Trumpcare. Have they no compassion for the rich people who would be further enriched by GOP tax cuts?!? (NBC News)
  • Wow — a majority of GOP voters largely support Obamacare’s birth control mandate. Surprising! (The Hill)
  • While conservative politicians are doing everything within their power to ensure women have less access to birth control to prevent unintended pregnancy and less access to abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, the foster care system is bursting at the seams with child victims of the opioid crisis. I personally have spent a great deal of time looking for SOME kind of evidence that the “pro-life” politicians who seek to restrict women’s rights are also advocating somehow for these children. Unfortunately I’m at a loss. Their privileged, traditional, nuclear families aren’t fostering them. They aren’t publicly advocating for them vocally. They aren’t trying to bring about meaningful change to the foster care system. Oddly, it seems like the “pro-life” advocacy only applies to CURRENT, not former, residents of a womb. Sad. (Mother Jones)
  • Well, this is heart-wrenching and tragic: In developing nations, 214 million women want to prevent pregnancy but have no contraception. How will poverty ever be eradicated if women have no control over their fertility, limited ability to prioritize their existing children and give them better opportunities, and no meaningful path toward economic independence? (XX Factor)