Monday, August 28, 2006

Preserve Access to the Courts
by Amber Sexton

MONTGOMERY, IL.--When I was 15 years old, I became paralyzed from the waist down. I was a rear passenger in my mother’s car, when it was involved in a frontal collision. I was wearing a lap-only seatbelt, the only restraining device available to me, when the crash forced my body forward and the burden of the lap belt nearly cut my body in half. What we later learned was that since 1966, auto companies knew that rear lap belts were unsafe yet continued to put them in cars, like my mother’s.

I am now in a wheelchair. In order for me to rebuild my life, my family went to court and I received compensation for my injury that provided me the opportunity to live in an accessible home, pay for uninsured medical expenses, and go to college. I was able to complete college and find gainful employment. And I am now proud to say that this spring, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Illinois, a feat I never could have accomplished without our court case, which helped me recover and set me on a new road in life.

This month, I will go to Little Rock to compete in a pageant to become Ms. Wheelchair America. At Little Rock, I will stress the importance of providing injured people with the resources needed to improve their quality of life.

It is disheartening, however, to know that there are forces in Illinois that are working against this goal. Large corporations are funding billboards and newspaper advertisements attacking those who use the court system. These special interests are pushing for laws that would make it more difficult for sick and injured people to obtain just compensation.

Making it harder to bring legitimate lawsuits like mine would not only be devastating to those who need fair compensation to rebuild their lives after a catastrophic injury, it would also limit accountability for those responsible for causing damage and harm.

Take my case, for instance. The automobile industry has been aware that lap belts may result in abdominal injuries since the 1960s. For that reason, most cars are equipped with three-point seatbelts that include shoulder straps, which are more effective in preventing injuries. The manufacturer ignored these basic safety precautions in order to save $12 per car.
Today, three-point belts are required in all rear seating positions. The change was made partly because of lawsuits like mine.

Over the last several years, we have witnessed a disgraceful effort to subvert Illinois’ civil justice system with misleading rhetoric about "out of control" judges and juries, resulting in cruel proposals that would cheat the sick and injured. They would also allow corporations to escape financial responsibility for causing injuries and death.

The civil justice system gave me an opportunity to succeed in life. It is a system that empowered me to help others with disabilities and put me on a path to becoming the next Ms. Wheelchair America. Access to this system should be preserved and expanded so that corporations that commit wrongdoing pay for the harm and damage they cause.
Sexton, age 26, is Ms. Wheelchair Illinois.
‘Right of Refusal’ Policy Hurts Women, Pharmacists Alike
By Teresa D. Avery, RPh.

As a pharmacist, I am deeply concerned by the Board of Pharmacy’s proposal to allow pharmacists to decline to sell prescriptions based on their personal beliefs. The proposal put forward by the Washington State Pharmacy Association and the Board of Pharmacy does not, in my opinion, represent the views of the majority of pharmacists who practice in our state. Fortunately, the board is now reconsidering the proposal, but advocates for women’s rights remain concerned about what the board may propose next.

Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals in the community, often giving free health counseling to anyone who approaches our counter. We have a long tradition of non-discriminatory practice and, I believe, that is why we rank among the nation’s most trusted professionals year after year. The public perception has always been that pharmacists have our patients’ health and welfare as our highest priority, even above our own personal beliefs.
However, a few in the profession are promoting a specific political agenda. They are attempting to politicize the profession, creating a culture of fear among pharmacists and patients alike and polarizing our religious communities. The issue of right of refusal is proving to be another area where those with specific and openly conservative views are attempting to change policy in our state.

Some argue that the proposed "right" of refusal is about a pharmacist’s individual moral or religious beliefs and the right to express them. Yet, the Board of Pharmacy’s own Mission Statement reads: "WSBP leads in creating a climate of patient focused practice of pharmacy." So whose rights are really the priority -- the patients’ rights or the few conservative pharmacists’ rights? Isn’t this proposal just a way of legitimizing social extremism by a few pharmacists while skirting the real issue at hand?

The bottom line is that this began as an issue pertaining to the reproductive rights of women, and it is coming to the forefront now because of the agenda promoted by a small and vocal group of people who purposely muddle faith and politics. It is another manifestation of the grassroots campaign that is being waged in cities and states all across the country, and it is a blatant attempt to limit access to legally available methods of birth control. However, all patients should consider that the Board’s proposal would allow pharmacists to refuse any prescription, for any personal reason. I do not believe that the religious beliefs of one person should trump the rights of another in this country.

I never dreamed that the principles of equal access to care for all that I learned at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy 16 years ago regarding the Pharmacist’s Code of Ethics would be so boldly threatened. I am deeply saddened that the progressive standards of pharmacy care in Washington are being challenged by this conservative agenda.
Despite the Board’s proposal and the Washington State Pharmacy Association’s present position, I believe that the majority of pharmacists in this state are fair minded and do not appreciate the profession being politicized in this manner. I believe that most of us are able to separate personal beliefs from professional obligations to our patients. Most of my colleagues understand and respect the long tradition pharmacists uphold. Being unbiased, non-judgmental and always respecting the fact that our patients are entitled to make choices that affect their lives even though others may not agree is the hallmark of our profession.

I strongly urge the Board to maintain the leadership role that Washington has always held in our profession by protecting the health and well-being of people, especially women, of our state; by ensuring that any patient can go into any pharmacy in Washington State and have his or her valid, legal prescription filled.
Avery is the manager of Cabrini Medical Tower Pharmacy in Seattle.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Choosing Lies and Deception:
Crisis Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina

by Melissa Reed

RALEIGH, N.C.--Across the country, anti-choice activists are working to limit women’s reproductive health options by restricting access to abortion and birth control. In addition to legislative action, one branch of this movement is targeting pregnant women through crisis pregnancy centers (CPC).

These anti-choice organizations present themselves as a source of neutral information and advice. In fact the CPC movement uses lies and scare tactics to prevent women from making informed choices about abortion. In North Carolina there are at least 70 of these anti-choice "pregnancy centers."

During the summer of 2003, volunteers from NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina called and visited 10 crisis pregnancy centers in the Triangle, Charlotte, Triad and Wilmington areas as part of an investigation of the CPC’s tactics. They presented themselves as women who thought they might be pregnant and were considering abortion.

During the course of the investigation, they discovered that CPCs provided false information about the medical consequences of abortion.

* One Raleigh CPC told an investigator that infertility was a common side effect of abortion. Studies show no increased risk of fertility problems or poor birth outcomes for women who have first-trimester abortions.

* A CPC in Asheboro told an investigator that having an abortion could increase the risk of breast cancer up to 800 percent. According to the National Cancer Institute, reliable scientific evidence shows no link between abortion and breast cancer.

The CPCs also misled women about birth control and emergency contraception.

* A Burlington CPC told an investigator that all condoms are defective and have slots and holes in them.

* Another Raleigh CPC told an investigator that emergency contraception "the morning-after pill" was not available in the United States.
CPCs attempted to discredit other, more reliable, sources of information about abortion as well.

* In Salisbury, a CPC told an investigator that she would give her "factual truths" about abortion that were concealed by "society" and the "news media."

* A CPC in Gaston County told an investigator that "doctors won’t tell you everything you need to know" about the side effects of abortion.

Most CPCs provide free pregnancy tests, and some centers also offer free ultrasounds. These services lend legitimacy to the centers, and may attract low-income women without access to medical care. However, the centers are not medically licensed. The pregnancy tests given by centers are usually over-the-counter tests, and results are interpreted by volunteer "counselors" with no formal medical training.

In some cases, investigators reported that CPC staff members deliberately manipulated the administration of the pregnancy test, withholding the results of the test in order to produce anxiety in the client. When investigators asked about other reproductive health services, such as sexually transmitted disease testing or birth control pills, the CPCs responded that they would not or could not provide information about these services.

Concerns over the "scientific accuracy of information" provided by these pregnancy centers have recently been raised in a national report prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA).

The false information given out by CPCs is especially damaging because the pregnancy centers advertise themselves as providing unbiased information to women in need of advice. Of the centers contacted during NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s investigation, only half identified themselves as anti-choice during phone conversations. Phone book listings separate CPCs from abortion providers by listing them under "Abortion Alternatives" with a header specifying that they counsel against abortion.

However, many CPCs are also listed under the more neutral-sounding "Pregnancy Counseling" listing, where they may be grouped with Planned Parenthood and other medically licensed facilities. Because there are so many more CPCs than abortion providers in North Carolina (over 70 CPCs versus only 16 abortion providers), in some areas these fake clinics may be the only local option for women seeking information.

In addition to concerns about the services and counseling provided, the funding of CPCs is also problematic. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, in 2004, over $82,000 in taxpayer money from a discretionary fund was funneled to Hope Pregnancy Care Center, a CPC in Stokes County to pay off its mortgage.

Some crisis pregnancy centers provide an honest and supportive setting for pregnant women to discuss reproductive options. However, many do not. The staff entice women to the center under the pretense of providing information, then use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation and intimidation to pressure women to carry pregnancies to term.

By making women aware of the deception practiced by the fake clinic movement, they will be less likely to take false information at face value. The most direct way of counteracting the CPC's misinformation campaign is to educate women about their full-range of reproductive health care options, including abortion.
Reed is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.