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Women's Care Graded 'U'

The United States has once again deserved an overall grade of “unsatisfactory” in meeting women's health needs, according to a new report card from the National Women's Law Center. The report, which is the fifth produced by the group, graded the nation “satisfactory” on only three indicators of women's health: those aged 40 and older receiving regular mammograms, annual visits to the dentist, and women aged 50 and older getting colorectal cancer screening. But the United States received a failing grade on 13 of 26 indicators. The country dropped from “satisfactory minus” in the center's 2007 report to “failing” today in the proportion of women who report binge drinking, and the percentage of women getting a regular Pap test declined from a grade of “unsatisfactory” to “failing.” The nation improved on only one indicator, rising from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory minus” in cholesterol screening for women.

Court Rejects Abortion Challenge

Abortion opponents failed to gain ground in an attempt to defeat the Affordable Care Act in court. On Nov. 30, a U.S. district court judge in Virginia dismissed a case charging, in part, that the new health care reform law is unconstitutional because it allows for coverage of abortions. In the suit, Liberty University, a Virginia-based Christian college, and five individuals claimed that the new law would force them to violate their religious conviction against subsidizing abortions. But the U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said in his decision that the plaintiffs had failed to show how any of the payments required under the new law would be used to fund abortion. In fact, the judge wrote, the law contains “strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.”

Unsafe Abortions Continue

More than 21 million unsafe abortions were performed worldwide in 2008, according to new data from the World Health Organization. The WHO defines unsafe abortions as cases in which either the provider lacks necessary skills or the setting fails to meet minimum medical standards. The WHO estimates that about 47,000 women, almost exclusively in developing countries, died in 2008 because of complications from these procedures. The figures were reported in the journal Reproductive Health Matters. The number of unsafe abortions rose from 19.7 million in 2003 to 21.6 million in 2008, but the increase resulted from the rise in the number of women of reproductive age around the world, according to the report. The actual rate of unsafe abortions stayed the same, at 14 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years. Overall, unsafe abortions were most prevalent in areas of the world where women had less access to contraception and abortion services were restricted.

New 2020 Maternal-Health Goals

The federal government has issued its new goals for improving public health by 2020, and they include a few new benchmarks for maternal health that touch on both preconception and postpartum wellness. For example, “Healthy People 2020” calls for a decrease in the rate of postpartum relapse of smoking among women who quit while pregnant. Another 10-year benchmark is an increase in the percentage of women attending postpartum visits with health care workers. The federal government is also seeking an increase in the percentage of employers who have worksite lactation programs. Focusing on women before they become pregnant, “Healthy People 2020” calls for more to get preconception care services and to practice key behaviors such as maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy. The objectives are available online at

New Tobacco Warnings Required

Cigarette manufacturers would be forced to cover large swaths of their packaging with bold warnings and graphic images showing the health consequences of smoking in a strategy unveiled by the Department of Health and Human Services. Potential images include a photo of a corpse with a toe tag, a man smoking through a hole in his throat, and side-by-side photographs of diseased and healthy lungs. The new warnings include “Cigarettes can harm your children,” “Smoking During Pregnancy Can Harm Your Baby,” and “Smoking Can Kill You.” The public can comment on the proposed images and warnings through Jan. 9, 2011. By next June, the Food and Drug Administration will select nine images and accompanying warnings, and cigarette manufacturers will need to include them on all packages by October 2012. Still, the new warnings come at a time when states are cutting tobacco prevention programs drastically to save money, according to a report from a coalition of public health organizations. Most states fall far short of meeting recommended funding levels for tobacco prevention programs set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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