We will start off with novel and beneficial new research. A think tank called “Center for American Progress” has released an analysis of the current state of "sex ed” in America. They found the states to be, as a whole, deficient in teaching about issues of healthy relationships, consent and sexual assault. Only a handful (10) of states programs even mentioned these things at all.
Backlash continues across states and the nation. Last week, Iowa passed a law which bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected. This contradicts the law on the books at this time, Roe VS. Wade. Iowa is being sued by the ACLU and various abortion providers.
The Trump administration intends to cut all Title X funding to any clinic which even counsels about or refers for abortion. Eighty-five separate groups have signed a letter to HHS Secretary (Health and Human Services) Alex Azar to restore Reagan era regulations.
The Trump administration has shown political and financial preference toward family planning clinics who promote only abstinence for birth control, even though it is neither effective nor evidence-based. Since family planning clinics have been organized and staffed by those who endorse evidence-based effective contraception not including abstinence only, this effectively defunds all family planning clinics. The States have a serious interest in this since they realize the health and prosperity of their populace depends on such services. In that light, the States Attorneys General have come together to back family planning clinics nationwide to sue the Department of Health and Human Services over its policy. They argue that the current policy violates the terms of Title X enacted in 1970 with bipartisan support.
Should Medicaid recipients have a lifetime limit on benefits? Certain states, in cost-cutting bids, have been lobbying for this. However, the Fed, via the Center for Medicaid Services (CMS) has rejected these requests. In doing so, the Fed has broken rank with party conservatives.
Care for women, pregnant women and postpartum women is not just germane to women. The health of women extends to others in the way that the health of men simply does not. Pre-pregnancy health, we are learning, is more germane to a child’s health than we previously realized. During pregnancy our opportunities to intervene to prevent morbidity and mortality are obvious. Less obvious are the manifold opportunities in the postpartum period. New recommendations from ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine reflect a growing understanding that support in the extended postpartum period reaps many benefits. They now recommend that postpartum care should extend to 12 weeks and become a sustained period of support for the new mother and infant. It has come to light that for every 10 weeks pf paid job protected leave, infant mortality decreases about 5 percentage points.
With the legalization of marijuana all around the country, more and more pregnant and breastfeeding women are using. Until recently, we had only vague warnings for these women. However, now new data indicate that using during pregnancy leads to a 50% increased chance of low birth weight. Use during breastfeeding is associated with decreased motor development in babies.
The nation is indeed split on the issue of women and children. Part of the country is set on shifting away from collective responsibility toward women and children as they actually live. The current administration is intent on solidifying its base through supporting the explicit ideology of its voters, which gives women certain constraints in society: abstaining from sex before marriage, using abstinence only for birth control, and rejecting abortion. The administration has combined these emblematic stipulations with their advertisement to cut taxes, and the result is that healthcare budgets for women have been slashed. And as if to add insult to injury, it is not at all clear if the money lost to the health care system will actually end up back in the hands of the taxpayer.
The other part of the country is looking at the real problems of maternal morbidity and mortality. They are trying to solve problems with the best available science, rather than with ideology. States are beginning to realize that the lack of good routine health care, prenatal care, and postpartum care is expensive. It is expensive in the emergency room and in the workplace. Professional, scientific and legal groups are starting to fight back.
ABC has just done what amounts to an exposé on the poor quality of pregnant and postpartum care in the US. This column has dealt extensively with the percentage statistics and trends on maternal morbidity and mortality. However, I have rarely included raw numbers. Here they are. In the US seven hundred women die each year in childbirth. Sixty five thousand more almost die. In a response to this program, ACOG has publicized its coordinated initiative to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality state by state. It is called AIM, Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health. It has already been implemented in 18 states.
Science marches on.
New research indicates low levels of free t4 in pregnancy are associated with lower non-verbal IQ in children ages 5-8. Most caregivers are now including thyroid labs in their prenatal panels. Ask your doctor to be checked.
BRCA genes are not the only genes pertaining to breast cancer. Newer multi-gene testing panels are now available for selected patients. Ask your doctor to speak with a geneticist if you are uncertain.
Common sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in California. New data indicate that chlamydia is most increased in women in their 30s, while men account for the majority of new syphilis and gonorrhea cases.
Fertility rates in the US have fallen to record lows for the second straight year. The same is true for several other developed countries. What are we to think? We know that at present, 50% of births are unplanned. As women become more educated and have more autonomy, birth rates naturally decline. You hear environmentalists’ concern about overpopulation, and politicians bemoan declining birth rates. The devil is, as always in the details. Certain subgroups in our population are decreasing and others are increasing. All of this will add up to social and economic change. I have one main concern: that growth be sustainable. Since my life’s work is mainly done one woman at a time, I am concerned that my patient's health habits and healthcare are sustainable. I am concerned that she have the means to grow her family or finish her family's growth in a sustainable way. I am concerned that my town and my countryside have sustainable growth. However, for me, growth is not the right word. I’d rather my community mature, or flourish. We shouldn’t always need more people, more buildings or a larger economy. What we need is for the family size to be ideal as determined by the parents. We need our towns to function optimally and to improve the space we have until it is optimized. The same is true for our nation. But our financial institutions are geared toward growth: more consumers, more goods, more profit. But this comes a human, societal, economic and ecologic cost. When we think about family size, birth control, population statistics, and even prosperity in general, we have to think about what we want our future to look like. When women lack access to health care, we cannot craft our futures.
Stay tuned for more news from the exciting world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, right here next week on Medical Monday.