The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the HHS ORR ( Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement) are battling out a constitutional question. The are debating whether or not unaccompanied undocumented immigrant minors in shelters have any rights to abortion under the Constitution. I am no constitutional scholar, and I am ignorant as to the extent that our Constitution applies to undocumented immigrants. Whether or not they are in shelters, or unaccompanied, seems immaterial. Their age could be germane, but again, perhaps could be handled under the terms of our own age laws. Any insights would be appreciated. For any women or girl, undocumented or otherwise, to give birth or to have an abortion is a momentous and expensive event. Either one is also a medical event and that is the most important point. We already have medical policies in this country about such things, and I cannot understand why immigration status would alter the medical algorithm such an undocumented minor would follow. We need to remember that these questions are primarily medical, not political.
New Hampshire has proposed a bill further reducing barriers to contraception. Currently, contraceptives may only be prescribed three months at a time. However, the state is considering a bill to increase this to a whole year. This seems logical to me as a Gynecologist since, at least with a patient who is established on the pill, I only need to see her once per year. If I am observing her on a new pill, or working to decrease side effects, special arrangements can made to see her sooner. The New Hampshire bill also specifies that insurers must continue to cover it entirely without copays.
The very red State of Idaho is espousing contraception. Idaho House legislators are advocating a bill which would obtain a “waiver” ie. federal permission, to expand family planning services to women aged 19-44 who do not qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or other programs.
Unlikely bedfellows in Connecticut are trying to secure prenatal care for the newly pregnant. Republican legislators are working with Planned Parenthood to offer health insurance to pregnancy women if they sign up within 30 days of finding out they are pregnant.
The red state of Nebraska, on the other hand, is draining funds from Planned Parenthood in a move that will decrease family planning services in an already medically impoverished state. The may com through restriction of Title X grants.
Dr. Haywood Brown the President of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has flatly called out the Trump administration and their “ continued move away from scientific evidence based policies and toward unscientific ideologies”. The particular context this time was the announcement of preferential Title X grant giving to organizations that teach “natural family planning” and abstinence for birth control. Where is the pussy grabbing now ? This administration has such an on again off again relationship with sex I just cannot keep track.
In medical news, culture seems to be playing a big role in smoking. Witness the great discrepancy in smoking rates among pregnant women by state. Worst is West Virginia, at 25%, whereas in California it is a little over 1%. The average across the US is about 7%. But, I am a splitter, not a lumper, and it seems our efforts to curtail smoking in pregnancy should vary state by state, perhaps even county by county, to be the most effective.
You may have heard about all the problems and lawsuits having to do with vaginal mesh used in prolapse surgery. You may also have heard of more of a tape or ribbon procedure to fix stress urinary incontinence (SUI). They are different. Vaginal mesh is a large sheet of mesh, whereas the tape/ribbon is narrow like the name suggests. They are not in the same category for complications. A new study has shown what we all have expected and hoped, that the tension free vaginal tape is safe and effective for women with SUI.
Probiotics are all the rage, and I mean in the hallowed halls of medicine, not the local vitamin store. A new study of very high quality (a meta-analysis) has found that probiotic and fish oil supplementation in pregnancy may reduce the risk of eczema and egg allergy in the offspring. That’s great, you say, no eczema or egg allergy. Actually, I am going speculate intelligently, and suggest to you that eczema and egg allergy are what I would call marker conditions, meaning conditions which are part of a greater category of tendencies that we call atopy, or the tendency to react to things. Atopic patients are those with troubles like asthma, rashiness, and lots of allergies. Their immune system is likely a little dysfunctional in vaguely defined ways. If simple nutritional interventions during pregnancy can help curtail such tendencies in children, that’s interesting and beneficial.
A new document of WHO (World Health Organization) pregnancy recommendations for woman in childbirth strikes me as unwieldy. It seems to address such a wide range of women in a wide range of conditions that it becomes unusable. Yes, it highlights recent findings and recommendations about giving natural unaugmented labor longer to progress. Yes, it advocates for movement and positioning during labor, and the presence of a supportive environment and support people. It mentions delayed cord clamping. But these are already standards of care in the US. However the document gets an identity crisis when it states continuous monitoring is not recommended, and yet allows food in labor, does not mandate an IV, and yet allows pain relief like epidurals. (One cannot have an epidural without an IV). It is a document for caregivers of patients who in many cases have had little or no prenatal care, and so in a modern care environment they would be considered high risk until proven otherwise. In no state of this union would a high risk patient be permitted to go without IV or monitoring. Neither would they be permitted to eat if an epidural was under consideration. In any labor, C section is a real possibility, and to have food in the stomach ahead of that is a real risk. On the other hand, if there were no facilities for C section then perhaps it is fine to allow patients to eat and go without an IV. But one’s ability to allow these things would not, under those circumstance, be because they are safe. It would be because they would not matter.
I am afraid this document will entirely confuse practitioners in a modern care environment. The WHO document recommends things which, in our environment, would be indefensible. The document almost needs to be cleaved into two documents, one for those in poorly equipped areas, and one for those unwell equipped area. This document appears to be written by people who would like to think that the rules should be the same for all women in the world, and that all laboring women in the world would have the same standard of care. I am one of those people. However, the authors of this WHO document are trying to torque this equality into being by sanctioning the labor care methods of minimally equipped facilities; in short, they achieve a unified standard of labor care by writing a document recommending a much lower standard or care for all. We in the US already have enough trouble with our maternal morbidity and mortality without these recommendations.
A new headline in “Health Day” covering an article published in the Journal of Nursing has concluded that "food and drink in labor appear to be safe". ACOG currently sanctions only clear liquids in labor, and this is to avoid the risk of aspiration of solid food particles, something to which pregnant women are vulnerable, especially if they go to C section. When an apparent discrepancy in recommendations like this comes up, it is always good to unpack the details. Did I mention I was a splitter ? It turns out the study was case-control design, done at a smaller Port Jefferson, New York hospital over 4 years. The study was actually comparing just ice chips versus clear liquids like jello and italian ices, the so-called "food". We have known for some time that clear liquids, which is what jello and italian ices are, are safe. The “food”is not solid, the study's conclusion is not news, and the recommendations have not changed. However, I worry that laboring women around the country will be asking to see a menu to order food as they enter labor.
Stay tuned for more news from the amazing world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, right here, next week, in Medical Monday.