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February 24, 2007

To Choice

Saturday Choice Update

~Choice: Abortion Referendum in Portugal
Earlier this month, a referendum was held in Portugal on the issue of legalizing abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Turnout was only 40%, which is lower than the 50% needed to be legally binding, but 59% of those who did vote were in favor of the measure. Prime Minister Jose Socrates has said that the results of the referendum support his commitment to making abortion legal. Right now, women can only get abortions in cases of rape, threat to life or health, or serious abnormalities to the fetus. There are only a few countries left in the European Union with such strict anti-abortion laws. Portuguese women are forced to seek out illegal abortions, which can be unsafe, or try to travel to Spain, where abortion is legal. They are also still actively prosecuted for having abortions, or for performing or assisting with abortion services. Getting these laws off the books would be a great step forward for Portuguese women, and hopefully also a message to the few remaining European nations with similar laws.

~Choice: Abortion Ban Defeated in South Dakota
This week, a bill that would have banned almost all abortions in South Dakota was killed in committee in the state Senate. This was the state government’s second attempt at a ban--last year’s bill was rejected by voters, partly because it only provided for exceptions in cases where the pregnant woman’s life was at risk. The new bill also had exceptions for health risks, rape, and incest. Opponents of the bill believed that it was unconstitutional and not likely to stand up to all of the legal challenges that it would definitely face. This doesn't mean that the issue is dead in South Dakota--the bill could still (but probably won't) be forced out of committee, and new bills will surely be introduced in the future. But the defeat of this bill is still a step in the right direction. And one more note: South Dakota currently has only one abortion provider, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls. Support them if you can.

~Choice: New Diaphragm in Clinical Trials
Diaphragms have been around for over 100 years, and a nonprofit organization in Seattle is working on redesigning them for the very first time. Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) has had success with the early trials of the new diaphragm, called SILCS, and it could be on the market by the end of the decade.

Unlike the Ortho All-Flex, currently the most commonly prescribed diaphragm, which comes in nine sizes and requires a woman to undergo a specialized pelvic exam to be fitted with the correct size, SILCS is a "one size fits most" silicone device.

PATH’s ultimate goal is for the new devices to eventually be available over the counter. An improved diaphragm could be a good choice for many women because it doesn’t involve hormones, has no side effects, can be effective at preventing pregnancy and protecting against some STDs, and it’s a method that can be totally controlled by the woman. A large study is currently underway in Africa to determine whether diaphragms could have a significant impact in HIV prevention. Because of the nature of HIV transmission, diaphragms wouldn’t be 100% effective, but even if the study shows that they could provide partial protection, it would still be a huge advance, especially in places like Africa where women are at such a high risk.

~Choice: Civil Unions in New Jersey
This week was the first week that civil unions for gay couples were officially permitted under New Jersey state law. There was already a domestic partnership law on the books, but the State Supreme Court had ruled that the law didn’t go far enough, and ordered the legislature to come up with a new law, which is now in effect. New Jersey joins Vermont, Connecticut, and California in offering civil unions, while Hawaii and Maine offer only limited rights to gay couples. Massachusetts is still the only state that allows gay marriage.

~Anti-Choice: Sex Toy Ban Upheld in Alabama
On Valentine’s Day, the Eleventh Circuit Court upheld a ban on the sale of sex toys in the state of Alabama. There are similar laws being contested in several other states—some have been rejected as unconstitutional, while others have been upheld. The grounds in this particular case? Preserving “public morality”. We think this issue is positively crying out for some creative protest methods. Ideas? Email us. Wouldn’t you just love to see this issue climb all the way to the Supreme Court?

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