Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration from Expanding Birth Control Exemptions
In November 2018, the Trump administration finalized new rules expanding employer exemptions to the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The new exemptions would allow employers that have religious objections to birth control to cease providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans. They would also allow employers, as long as they are not publicly traded, to stop covering birth control if they have a moral objection to its use. The new exemptions would also apply to educational institutions that provide health insurance to students.
The day before the new rules were scheduled to go into effect (January 14), District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. issued a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking the rules for the 13 states plus D.C. that challenged the exemptions in court.
The following day (the day the rules were scheduled to go into effect in the states that weren’t part of the lawsuit), U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rules for the entire country.
Legal challenges will certainly follow, and a hearing has already been set for January 23.
Kenya Bans Marie Stopes International from Providing Abortions; Then Reverses Ban
A misunderstanding about radio ads the UK-based organization Marie Stopes International (MSI) was running in Kenya led to a directive in November that they stop providing legal abortions and post-abortion care in their clinics. The ads were interpreted as promoting abortion, but MSI argued that they simply aimed to create awareness around the dangers of unsafe abortion. Abortion is only legal in Kenya when a woman’s health or life are threatened.
After an audit of the organization’s programs, the Kenyan Ministry of Health determined that MSI was not in violation of Kenyan law, and resumed MSI’s permission to serve patients.
Judge Slams Mississippi Abortion Ban
In November, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves struck down a Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was signed in March, at which point the sole surviving abortion clinic in the state sued and received a temporary restraining order, which prevented the law from ever being enforced.
Judge Reeves wrote in his decision, “The State chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.” He said the Mississippi legislature’s “professed interest in ‘women’s health’ is pure gaslighting.”
An identical law in Louisiana was automatically struck down because of its contingency on the Mississippi law being upheld.
Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General, Jim Hood, filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling in December with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hormonal Male Birth Control in Testing Phase
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is conducting a test of a contraceptive gel for men. The gel, called Nestorone, is a combination of progestin and testosterone. It is applied daily to the shoulders and back and works to halt the production of sperm without eliminating men’s libidos.
Diana Blithe, one of the study’s researchers, says, “Many women cannot use hormonal contraception and male contraceptive methods are limited to vasectomy and condoms. A safe, highly effective, and reversible method of male contraception would fill an important public health need.”
The gel was developed in partnership with Population Council. It will be tested on 420 men in Los Angeles and Seattle, and will run from 4-12 weeks, measuring the men’s sperm counts along the way.
This will not be the final trial before approval, even if the results are positive, but it’s a necessary step toward that goal.
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case Against Planned Parenthood
In December, in a win for Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a case challenging the decisions of five lower courts. The lower courts blocked Kansas and Louisiana from refusing to allow Medicaid patients to challenge laws that prohibit reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for health services they receive.
Only three justices were in favor of accepting the case, but four justices are required to take on any given lawsuit. Among those who did not support hearing the case was newly-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
2018 Saw Lowest U.S. Population Growth Rate in Eight Decades
The U.S. Census Bureau released its 2018 population estimates in December for the year that spanned July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018. The country’s population grew by 0.6 percent during that period, with wide variations by state.
Nevada and Idaho grew the fastest, both at 2.1 percent. Nine states experienced population decline: New York, Illinois, West Virginia, Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi, Alaska, Connecticut, and Wyoming (in order, by largest decline). California remains the most populous state, at 39,557,045 people, but its numeric growth trailed Texas and Florida by a large margin.
The country’s natural increase was 1.04 million (3,855,500 births minus 2,814,013 deaths). Immigration added 978,826 people to the population.
Ohio Joins West Virginia and Mississippi in Banning Safest Second Trimester Abortion Procedure
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill in December that banned the safest and most common second trimester abortion procedure, dilation and evacuation (D&E). Physicians can be charged with a fourth degree felony if they perform such an abortion for any reason other than to save a woman’s life.
The new law, in effect, bans abortion after the first trimester. That is the typical cutoff for vacuum aspiration abortions — after that point, dilation and evacuation is the safest method. In 2017, 14 percent of abortions in Ohio were obtained after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
At the same time, former Gov. Kasich vetoed a “heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortion as early as six weeks, because he feared an expensive lawsuit due to its obvious unconstitutionality. Gov. Mike DeWine, sworn in on January 14, has said he would sign a heartbeat bill. If the new legislature passes a new version of such a bill, he will have that opportunity.
United States Alone in Opposing UN Resolution
At the 55th plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly in December, the United States was alone in voting against a nonbinding resolution on the “Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: sexual harassment.” The rest of the attending countries either voted yes (130) or abstained from voting (31). Countries that voted yes included Afghanistan, Congo, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, and Yemen.
In another vote that same day, on “Child, early, and forced marriage,” the United States was one of two countries to vote no. The other country was Nauru, a small Pacific island nation that serves as a detention camp for refugees and migrants to Australia. In that vote, 134 countries voted yes and 32 abstained from voting.
References to sexual and reproductive health in both resolutions raised concerns among American delegates that voting yes could be interpreted as supporting or promoting abortion.
These news clips were current as of January 22, our print deadline. For the latest news on these and other items, please visit popconnect.org/population-news/.
– Marian Starkey