In the News
March 2018

California Population Growth Increases Wildfire Threats

California’s wildland-urban interface (WUI) is naturally prone to fires. But the intensity, frequency, and destructiveness of fires these past few years have got officials rethinking the state’s plans for future development.

The human population in the WUI in the western United States has grown by 300 percent in the past 50 years. The number of homes located in the WUI has grown by nearly 25 percent since 1990; as of 2012, 46 million homes were located in the WUI.

“If you look historically at Southern California, the frequency of fire has risen along with population growth,” says Jon Keeley, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

California has the highest number of housing units in WUI areas of all 50 states — about one-third of Californians live in the WUI. That figure could rise unless sprawl is contained (84 percent of the state’s private wildlands are still available for development). With housing in short supply and a population currently growing by nearly 300,000 people a year, sprawl has become an accepted reality in California — and one that people are willing to risk even if it means losing their homes, or their lives.

Alexandra Syphard, a senior research scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute, puts it bluntly: “The problem is not fire. The problem is people in the wrong places.”

Notre Dame Ends and Then Resumes Birth Control Coverage for Faculty and Students

Notre Dame, the Catholic university in Indiana, announced in November that birth control coverage by university-sponsored insurance plans would end on December 31 for faculty and August 14 for students. A week later, the university announced that it would continue offering no-cost birth control coverage in health plans after all.

Notre Dame was one of the entities that had filed suit against the federal government during the Obama administration for what it deemed an affront to its religious liberty — the university didn’t want to provide birth control coverage and also didn’t want to sign the form that would allow a third party insurer to provide said coverage. When the Trump administration expanded exemption from the birth control benefit in October to any employer with a religious or “moral” objection, the university did the obvious thing and announced that it would stop providing coverage.

The reasons for the reversal a week later aren’t clear, but are likely due, at least in part, to the bad press the university got when it made its initial announcement.

Massachusetts Protects Birth Control Benefit

Although the Trump administration’s reversal of the birth control benefit is on hold, thanks to an injunction by two federal judges, it’s unclear what the final outcome will be. To make certain that state residents continue to have access to no-cost birth control regardless of what happens at the federal level, Massachusetts has encoded the ACA birth control benefit into state law. And the state went even further, expanding the benefit to include a 12-month supply of birth control after a successful 3-month trial with the method, and coverage for emergency contraception.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law in November, after it received overwhelming support in the state legislature.

California CPCs Are Heading to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought by California’s anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which represents 110 CPCs, claims that California’s Reproductive FACT Act violates their freedom of speech. The Reproductive FACT Act requires CPCs to disclose whether they have a medical license and have medical professionals available, and to post a notice in the waiting room that says, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, pre-natal care, and abortion.”

The act went into effect in 2015 to counteract CPCs’ “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women.”

Justice Department Moves to Investigate Fetal Tissue Report

The Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in December, requesting unredacted copies of its 2016 report “Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy.” The Justice Department has not revealed any plans to pursue legal action on the basis of the findings in the report, but says that at this time it wants to “conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of [the] report based on the full range of information available.”

In response to the letter, Senate Judiciary ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said, “Multiple congressional committees, thirteen states, and a grand jury in Texas all investigated Planned Parenthood, and all of them found the organization did nothing wrong.”

Prince William Delivers Speech About Wildlife and Human Population

The Duke of Cambridge gave a speech at the Tusk gala in London in November, addressing issues negatively affecting Africa’s wildlife. One of those issues, as he described, is population growth.

“Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 — a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanization, infrastructure development, cultivation — all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now. On human populations alone, over-grazing and poor water supplies could have a catastrophic effect unless we start to think about how to mitigate these challenges.”

The total fertility rate for the entire continent is 4.43 children per woman; for sub-Saharan Africa, where the large game animals live, the rate is 4.75.

Last summer, Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton, made comments indicating that the couple planned to have more children (they already have two). Having Kids, a family planning organization in Tucson, AZ, wrote an open letter to the couple in response. The gist of the letter can be summed up in this quote: “All of us — especially public figures — should plan our families with the future environment in mind, producing a smaller and more resilient populace capable of thriving in that environment.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave no response to the letter and are expecting their third child in April.

Teresa Manning Steps Down and Valerie Huber Takes Her Place

Teresa Manning resigned in January from her position as deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Population Affairs — a position she had only held since May.

Manning’s job was to oversee Title X, the federal family planning program that serves 4 million low-income Americans. The anti-abortion activist is on record saying that contraceptives don’t work.

The circumstances of Manning’s departure are unclear, but sources inside the building say that all staff on her floor were ordered to leave and bring their computers with them so they couldn’t record evidence of her being escorted away from the premises.

Manning was immediately replaced by Valerie Huber, a prominent abstinence-only advocate. Huber had been serving as the chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health since June.

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