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States Seek to Restrict Abortion

During the first half of 2010, lawmakers had introduced measures in 18 states to limit insurance coverage of abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. In those states, five new laws were enacted. The laws either restrict abortion coverage in private health insurance policies written in a state, limit coverage in policies to be included in state-based health insurance exchanges created under health reform, or restrict coverage in policies offered to state employees. Additionally, a separate list of 18 states saw proposals to make ultrasounds part of abortion procedures. Some measures would require physicians to offer women ultrasounds before abortions, others would require that any ultrasound images made be shown or made available to women seeking abortions, and others would mandate an ultrasound before any abortion. So far this year, new abortion-ultrasound laws have been enacted in six states, the institute reported.

Bill Aims for Better Maternity

New federal legislation would make childbirth in the United States safer by promoting evidence-based maternity practices and discouraging the overuse of cesarean sections and scheduled inductions of labor. Introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), H.R. 5807 would create an interagency committee to promote proven medical practices such as prenatal smoking cessation programs and group prenatal care. It would also expand federal research on best maternity practices and authorize data collection to identify the parts of the country with shortages of maternity care providers.

Grants Will Be Mothers' Helpers

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services are awarding $25 million this year to help states and Native American tribes better support pregnant teens and women, as well as women already raising children. The competitive grant program, which will offer $25 million in funding each year through 2019, was mandated by the Affordable Care Act. HHS expects to award up to 25 grants per year in amounts ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. The program, called the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, is designed to connect teens and women with services to help them complete school and access health care, child care, and housing.

Youth Breast Cancer Is Focus

The federal government is establishing a new advisory committee that will focus on early detection of breast cancer and support for young women coping with the disease. The Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women, created by the Affordable Care Act, will provide advice to the secretary of HHS and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new committee is being charged with creating a national education campaign of age-appropriate messages on breast health and risk factors related to family health, race, ethnicity, and cultural background.

Secondhand Smoke's Dangers

Getting pregnant women to not smoke may not be enough if they are exposed to secondhand smoke during their pregnancy, according to a study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers reported in the Open Pediatric Medicine Journal that newborn babies of mothers who don't smoke but were exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy had the same genetic mutations as those found in the babies of mothers who smoked. The mutations have the potential to affect survival, birth weight, and even susceptibility to cancer, according to the researchers.

Jailed for Reselling Fertility Drugs

A Massachusetts woman has been sentenced to 3 years in prison on charges that she fraudulently obtained fertility drugs and then sold them on the Internet. She will also have to repay more than $500,000 to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which was billed for the drugs. Heidi Benham, aged 44, was indeed a fertility patient, but she began calling pharmacies and fraudulently authorizing refills of various fertility medications by claiming that she worked for a physician, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The government alleged that the scheme continued from February 2001 through October 2005 and that Ms. Benham received about $160,000 from the sale of the drugs.

FDA Drafts Transparency Rules

The Food and Drug Administration's Transparency Task Force has issued 21 draft proposals concerning public disclosure of FDA operations without compromising patents or companies' trade secrets. Part of the FDA's transparency initiative launched last summer, the proposals are aimed at helping consumers, stakeholders, and others understand how the agency makes decisions and enforces them. The FDA said that one of the draft proposals would support research into rare diseases by freeing the agency to discuss that a company has abandoned its application for an orphan drug. Once made public, this information could enable another drug manufacturer to pick up where the first one left off toward a potentially new therapy for a rare disease.

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