Abortion Action Public Health

How to Laugh at a Senator

            Have you ever wanted to slap an elected official with whom you disagree—or do something more than just slap them? Well, some AIDS activists made a big splash when they rebelled against a legislator.

            Jesse Helms was a conservative US senator from North Carolina who opposed gay rights and access to abortion care. His stance against HIV research angered campaigners to take an extreme and humorous action. In 1991 they inflated a huge condom over Helms’ house! On the side of Helms’ condom was this writing: A CONDOM TO STOP UNSAFE POLITICS: HELMS IS DEADLIER THAN A VIRUS.

            Helms was no friend of reproductive rights. In 1973 he wrote an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act; it prohibits the use of foreign assistance funds to pay for abortions. This amendment was in response to the Roe v. Wade decision that same year, that made abortion legal throughout the USA. Unfortunately, his Amendment forced many people to seek dangerous “back alley” abortions. By limiting access to safe abortion care, Helms caused thousands of maternal deaths. 

            There is another even worse policy that limits access to reproductive health. It amplifies the Helm’s Amendment, and then extended limitations to the U.S.! The Mexico City Policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule” (GGR), was passed in 1984 and goes a step further than the Helms Amendment. The GGR bans foreign aid to any nonprofit that provides any aspect of abortion care. It prohibits informing women about abortion or making referrals to abortion providers. The GGR even prohibits advocating for decriminalization of abortion or working to expand safe abortion services.

            Ronald Reagan initiated the GGR in 1984 by means of a presidential memorandum. Since it was established by executive order, it can also be undone in the same way. Indeed, every Democratic president since then has rescinded the GGR, which then was reestablished by the next Republican president. Fortunately, the GGR is not in effect now since our president is a Democrat.

            Two brave Democrats, Cory Booker (New Jersey) in the Senate and Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) in the House introduced bills named “Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act”. They started in 2020 and then reintroduced the same bills every Congress since then. These Acts could repeal the Helms Amendment and substitute language stating that U.S. foreign assistance can be used to provide abortion as part of comprehensive reproductive health care.

            Although these bills seem to be lost in committee, it would be wonderful to see them passed and eventually become law. I realize that this is very unlikely in today’s political climate, but I have hope that people will rise up and once more safe abortion care will be legal in every state.

Although not all obstetricians and gynecologists are prochoice, the large majority of my specialty is. Our professional organization, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has a policy which supports access to abortion care. I would like to end this essay with the words at the end of the ACOG policy:

“ACOG supports every person’s right to decide whether to have children, the number and spacing of children, and to have the information, education, and access to health services to make these decisions. Individuals seeking abortion must be afforded privacy, dignity, respect, and support, and should be able to make their medical decisions without undue interference by outside parties. ACOG advocates to improve access to full-spectrum reproductive services, to integrate abortion as a component of mainstream medical care, and to oppose and overturn efforts restricting access to abortion.”

© Richard Grossman MD, 2023

Climate heating Population Reproductive Health

Denial is not just a River in Egypt

Image courtesy of NASA

            It’s been unmistakably hot outside, but some people have different ways of dealing with what most of us recognize as anthropogenic climate change.

            I asked one acquaintance what he thought about climate change. We had met when I was selling beer with our Bayfield Rotary Club on the 4th of July. He had come back several times for more beer. When I commented on this, he responded with “Those cans must have holes in them—the beer just seemed to leak away!”

            At a chance encounter, I asked him if he thought that climate change was real. “Oh yes, it’s real. Remember that explosion in the power plant in Japan? Well, it knocked the planet 3 degrees off its axis. That’s why the climate is all screwed up!” I think that is as rational as his reason for getting so many cans of beer.

            Gail and I were eating dinner with friends recently. I cannot remember how the subject came up, but I asked the person sitting next to me what they thought was making the climate so hot.

            “I think it’s a cycle.”

            I know this person to be intelligent and responsible. However, I was too flabbergasted to respond, so I changed the subject. The last time Earth’s climate was so hot as it is now was 125,000 years ago. That’s one loonngg cycle!

The way ancient temperatures are estimated is amazing. Scientists measure stable isotopes of oxygen and of hydrogen in air bubbles in Antarctic ice cores. There are known relationships between isotopes and atmospheric temperatures.

            We are very good at finding excuses for, or denying completely, what is incompatible with preconceived notions. This is especially true with facts that might interfere with our income or religious beliefs. Misinformation is rampant on Internet, in churches and from politicians.

            Let’s look at the facts of climate change. First, is it real?

            Yes, climate change is real. There are indications that humans have changed the planet’s climate for millennia, but previous to now, in insignificant ways. The human effect on climate increased after the Industrial Revolution. Then temperatures started to skyrocket about 1950.

            What is causing our climate to get hotter? We’ve all sat in a parked car in the summer and know how hot it gets from the greenhouse effect. The energy of the sun gets trapped in the closed environment. We also know that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing from human use of fossil fuels. However, it may be difficult for people to accept that COis as effective as a car in holding in heat. Other gases, such as methane in natural gas, are even more effective than CO2 as greenhouse gases. 

            Is climate change just in the future? NO! Severe storms, melting glaciers, enormous fires, the high temperature and drought we’ve experienced are all caused by, or worsened by, what we have done to the climate. Despite good snows last winter, the mega-drought of southwestern North America has been partly caused by the greenhouse gases we have wrapped around our planet. 

            How can we slow climate chaos? Driving electric is good, but less travel is even better. Increasing efficiency with LEDs helps, so does eating less meat. However, still the best way to reduce your individual carbon footprint is by having a small family—and by encouraging others to do the same. Global population has more than tripled since I was born 80 years ago. The more people, the more CO2 is emitted.

            We need to admit that we humans are responsible for climate change before we can conquer it.

©Richard Grossman MD, 2023