Defending Roe v. Wade, Defending Human Rights

By Elizabeth Sepper

Dr. Willie Parker is one of the few doctors in the United States who perform later-term abortions, up to 24 weeks.  He is one of three who provide abortions at Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic.  A Christian from the Deep South, Dr. Parker didn’t provide abortions for the first dozen years of his career.  But again and again he encountered women whose pregnancies endangered their lives, girls who had suffered rape or incest, and mothers who were too poor to raise another child.  He came to wrestle with the morality of abortion—torn between his religious tradition’s teaching against abortion and his moral commitment to his patients.  He listened to Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon on the Good Samaritan.  According to Dr. King, the Good Samaritan was “good” because he did not consider himself but instead asked “What will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help him?”  Dr. Parker was moved to examine his own conscience and to ask, “What happens to women who seek abortion if I don’t serve them?”  From that day, he began to perform abortions. (This interview is well worth a read.)

Choosing to provide abortions is an act of bravery. Abortion providers face threats to their safety and families, targeted and expensive regulations, and professional and community stigma.  They share much in common with human rights lawyers, union organizers, and women’s rights advocates around the globe who are harassed by their governments and the majority.  This makes sense if we recognize abortion providers for what they are: human rights defenders, who work to ensure reproductive rights (the Center for Reproductive Rights has argued effectively for this framework under international law).

As we mark the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade tomorrow, we should acknowledge the courage and commitment of these human rights defenders.  In the past two years, state legislatures passed more, and more novel, restrictions on women’s access to abortion and abortion providers’ practices than ever before.  The “graying” of current  providers represents a further challenge.  In the words of Justice Blackmun, “I fear for the future.  I fear for the liberty and equality of the millions of women who have lived and come of age in the . . . years since Roe was decided.”  But tomorrow I simply offer thanks to those who defend our rights on the front lines.

Overspent: Inauguration Day Thoughts on the Future of Health Policy

By Cassie Chambers

In honor of today’s presidential inauguration, I started making a list of exciting past, present, and future health policies advocated by the Obama administration. Thirty minutes later there was still just one word on my computer screen: OBAMACARE. Then, I came to terms with what the next four years represent for health policy: an empty page in healthcare history, colored only by the shadow of the Obamacare fight. In short: we’ve spent all of our health policy political capital, and the next few years are all about paying off the bill.

I could perhaps accept this bleak vision of the future if I thought that the Affordable Care Act had provided solid solutions to our current problems. But the compromises needed to pass the ACA left it littered with holes—including a lack of effective cost-controls that threatens to undermine the entire system. Because of these holes, there is one more truth we have to face: however expensive Obamacare was initially, we still haven’t paid the full price.

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Petrie-Flom Interns’ Weekly Round-Up: 1/12-1/18

By Hyeongsu Park and Kathy Wang

  • After an estimated 500,000 patients in the United States have received all-metal hip replacements that are failing early in many cases, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing rules that will require manufacturers to produce clinical data to support their devices’ safety and effectiveness.
  • A study published in Science identified people from online searches of DNA sequences, age, and a state. The result raises concerns about the difficulty of protecting the privacy of volunteers involved in medical research.
  • The Obama administration says it will give states more time to comply with the new health care law after finding that many states lag in setting up insurance exchanges.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $1.5 billion in new grants Thursday for states to continue building their insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. California, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont received funding.
  • Pharmacies around New York City struggled to meet the demand for flu vaccinations on Sunday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a public health state of emergency in response to a drastic increase in the number of flu cases this year.
  • A new type of flu vaccine that requires less manufacturing steps and shorter production time won regulatory approval on Wednesday, and its manufacturer said that limited supplies are expected to be available this winter.
  • Quebec is slowly moving towards legal euthanasia. A committee of legal experts has delivered a 400-page report to the provincial government which argues that it should allow “medical assistance to die” when a patient is close to death and is suffering from unbearable physical or psychological pain.