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Birth Control Coverage Ruling

A major railroad company did not discriminate against its female employees when it refused to cover birth control under its health insurance plan, a federal appeals court ruled last month. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, overturned a lower court ruling that found against Union Pacific Railroad. The lower court had ordered the railroad to cover all prescription contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Women's health advocates objected to the appeals court ruling, saying that it will open the door for other companies across the country to exclude contraceptive coverage. “This ruling is an outrageous step backwards for women's health,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Birth control is basic health care, and health insurance should cover it.”

Pregnancy Nutrition Survey

FDA officials plan to survey physicians and other health care providers to find out what information and advice they offer to pregnant women about nutrition and food safety. Officials are specifically seeking information on recommendations related to methylmercury and seafood consumption, listeriosis prevention, weight control and nutrition, dietary supplement usage, food allergies, toxoplasmosis prevention, and infant feeding practices. Agency officials issued advice for pregnant women in 2004 and 2005, and new insights from the survey of health providers will be used to evaluate whether the FDA advice is being used by providers to educate their patients. FDA officials are seeking a sample of 400 ob.gyns., 200 nurse-practitioners who specialize in obstetrics, 200 nurse-midwives who specialize in obstetrics, 200 physician assistants who specialize in obstetrics, and 200 dietitians from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The survey will also ask physicians and other health care providers what resources they use to stay current on nutrition and food safety risks among pregnant women.

Mississippi Abortion Ban Signed

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has signed into law a bill that would make it a crime to perform an abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade were overturned. Under the new law, abortions in the state would be illegal except in the case of preserving the mother's life or cases of rape. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, physicians or others in the state who performed abortions would face between 1 and 10 years in prison. Also included in the legislation is a provision that requires physicians to perform fetal ultrasound imaging before an abortion and offer the patient a chance to see the image and hear the fetal heartbeat. The ultrasound requirement is not linked to Roe v. Wade and is scheduled to go into effect July 1. Patients are required under the law to sign a certification form saying they had a chance to see an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat. Physicians are required to keep that form in the patient's medical record. “This law is a near-total ban on abortion. It would deny Mississippi women necessary reproductive health care,” Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said in a statement.

Adding Contraception to Sex Ed

Federal lawmakers recently introduced legislation aimed at leveling the playing field when it comes to funding comprehensive sex education programs. The “Responsible Education About Life” or REAL Act (S. 972/H.R. 1653) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and in the House by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). Under the legislation, the federal government would provide funds to states to offer “comprehensive” and “medically accurate” sexual education in their schools. Currently, the federal government offers funds to states for abstinence-only education but not for programs that teach about contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, according to the bill's sponsors. “We should absolutely be teaching young people about abstinence, but we shouldn't be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies,” Rep. Lee said in a statement. “Instead of 'abstinence only,' what we're proposing is 'abstinence plus.'”

FDA to Study Ad Risk Data

Saying that it has become more concerned about how much risk information is disclosed to consumers in print ads, and that the information is not usually in a consumer-friendly format, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it will study how to better present those data. One study will look at whether giving consumers more context—instead of a list of risks, for instance—will aid their understanding of a product's potential downside. Another will look at the usefulness of several different formats for presenting the data.

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