Let’s Talk About Sex

Abstinence-only education has been under fire frequently of late - in Toronto at the IAC, in Africa because of PEPFAR, and recently in Canton, Ohio. After learning last fall that one in seven girls attending Timkin High School were pregnant, the school board decided that maybe abstinence-only education wasn't working after all. Surprise! You can tell a teenager "NO", but do you really think that's going to work? Well, gee - when I was a young adult, being told not to do something just increased my desire to do it. Maybe adolescent attitudes have changed... but from the look of things... maybe not.

Next Stop, South Dakota

Big news from Colombia: the first legal abortion after the Constitutional Court’s May 2006 decision to legalize the procedure in cases where the woman’s life is in danger, in cases of fetal malformation, or in cases where the woman has been raped, took place at Simon Bolivar hospital in Bogotá last Thursday. Admittedly, I use the term “woman” loosely, since the case in fact involved an 11-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather (or, according to Catholic World News, who was “reportedly” raped by her stepfather). Despite the new law, the case had to go all the way back up to the Constitutional Court before the abortion was permitted, since initially the doctors refused to perform the procedure as a matter of conscience. Nice consciences, guys.

Premature End for Microbicide Trial Brings Sobering News

Microbicides raised hopes at the recent International AIDS Conference for their potential to offer an HIV prevention technique that could be initiated by women. But many researchers and advocates who work on microbicide development have been quick to offer cautions to the public that excitement not build too fast because a marketable product could still be years away.

The news that a Pennsylvania firm, Cellegy, has stopped its stage 3 (human testing) trial of a microbicide gel only adds to that sobering reminder. After a year of studying over 2,000 women in a trial that compared the real drug against a placebo, they have concluded that there is no statistically significant data being derived from the study. In an area where the rate of HIV transmission was expected to be about 3.7% a year, the women in this study are experiencing a rate of transmission closer to 2%. Good news, except it means that researchers can’t tell the difference between the microbicide’s effectiveness and the effectiveness of the condoms and HIV-prevention counseling offered to all of the women as part of the trial.

How Far Will Ideologues Go? Rep. Harris On Church, State and “Legislating Sin.”

If there was any shred of doubt left about where Rep. Katherine Harris (FL) stands on the political spectrum, there is none now. She has moved beyond conservative, beyond even far right, and set up camp somewhere in the exurbs of funny fringe land. She, the woman who presided over one of the great election debacles in all of US history, damaging people's faith in democracy, now says the founding fathers never intended for church and state to be separate.

She said that the separation of church and state is, "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws (like abortion). That's not what our Founding Fathers intended, and that certainly isn't what God intended."

Let's check in with Thomas Jefferson on that:

Almighty God hath created the mind free ... No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion ...

Rep. Harris' comments are evidence of a larger rift within the nation, and in particular the Republican Party, as social conservative ideologues are increasingly being held accountable for their reckless rhetoric.

Keeping Women Barefoot and in the Kitchen

Concerned Women of America (CWA) held a meeting earlier in the month to express concern about a weapon that threatens the American way of life. Is it terrorism... missiles... drugs?? No. Prepare yourself. Are you sitting down? Ok, here goes - it's the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Terrifying, I know. The treaty (ratified by 184 countries, but not the U.S.) would involve the U.N. in "our homes, our families, our marriages," according to the conservative group. They even use the ‘F' word - yes, that's right: feminists. They say that the socialist feminists (*double shudder*) want to impose a radical liberal agenda around the world.

Never mind that one of the major focuses of the recent International AIDS Conference was that women and girls are a vulnerable population and have an increasing risk for HIV/AIDS... that this is often due to gender inequality, gender-based violence, economic disparity, being forced to obey their husband, and lack of education (to name just a few minor reasons)... Why would such a large women's group not want to acknowledge that a treaty is needed to protect women and stop gender discrimination around the world?

Comments, Anyone?

Editorial headline from LifeSiteNews.com:

"Abortion in Cases of Rape: Why Not Kill the Guilty Rapist Before the Innocent Child?"

Where to begin...   Comments, anyone?

HIV Testing and Reproductive Choice – How Did The Rights-Based Approach Play Out?

Any reflections on the XVI International Conference on AIDS are necessarily subjective, as each person reporting attended different sessions, had different goals and talked to different people at different times. Nevertheless, taking the various perspectives into account can give us a more comprehensive view of what transpired in Toronto.

Advocates for women’s and rights issues can rightly take pride in having focused at least some attention on topics that were relatively neglected, such as female-controlled (at least to some extent!) barrier methods (female condoms, microbicides, diaphragms and cervical caps) and violence against women.

Condoms Still Newsworthy

A recent New York Times article confirmed what most of us know already: condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. One doctor in the article even goes so far as to nominate the condom for "the greatest technological invention of the past 2,000 years." Why? They don't need a prescription, they don't have an age limit, they're affordable, they can fit in your pocket, they're not messy, they save lives... the list goes on and on. So why is this news?

Because despite all of the progress in sexuality education and in preventing pregnancy and disease, there are still many misconceptions floating around about condoms.

La Cultura de Vida South of the Border

Here in Nicaragua, advocates for women's reproductive health and rights are up in arms about a recent anti-abortion statement by left-wing presidential candidate Daniel Ortega, narrowly favored to win elections this coming November. Ortega, who was President of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, is the head of the Sandinista party (Americans may recall the U.S.-backed Contra war against the Sandinistas, who originally came into power in 1979 when they overthrew the forty-year-old U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship) and a traditional opponent of Nicaragua's conservative Catholic hierarchy. During his 1979-1990 presidency, Ortega never took an official position on abortion, which has been illegal in Nicaragua under almost all circumstances for the past several decades. Throughout the 1980s, when pressed by the women's movement to do something about the growing number of Nicaraguan women regularly killed or sterilized by complications from illegal abortion, he chose instead to remind women of their reproductive responsibilities. Women were the mothers of revolutionaries, after all, and if women stopped having babies, who would fight the revolution? (Never mind that women themselves were fighting the revolution and that if a woman died or was sterilized during an illegal abortion, that made at least TWO fewer revolutionaries.) Despite the rhetoric, however, the Sandinista position on abortion always carried an air of ambiguity.

But a lot can happen in a few years...

Rumor Mill: UNFPA Likely Target for Plan B Backlash

If I were President Bush, the world would be a better place.  No, no, no that’s not what I meant to say.  If I were President Bush and had just pissed off my social conservative base with Plan B, I would be looking for something to appease them.  What could be easier than the other whipping child issue – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.  Look for the Administration’s coming decision to once again block the funds that Congress intended for UNFPA  – funds for contraception, HIV prevention and safe deliveries to the world’s poorest countries. Look, too, for the decision to be based on the need to create political cushion rather than any sort of substance.