Health & Wellness

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Louisiana Senate votes for 15-week abortion ban, with a catch

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2018 at 6:27 PM

At a 2017 Planned Parenthood rally, a supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • At a 2017 Planned Parenthood rally, a supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator.

A controversial ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy has passed the Louisiana state Senate, with a catch — if it becomes law, it won't go into effect unless a similar statute in Mississippi is upheld in federal court.

Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich (D-Shreveport) closely parallels the Mississippi law, which drew a legal challenge within 24 hours of being signed by that state's governor last month. In a last-minute amendment on the floor, state Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) proposed changes to S.B. 181 that would keep it from going into effect unless federal courts rule favorably on the Mississippi law, making an end run around objections based on costly legal battles.

"This is a win-win in the interim. ... This amendment will make sure that we spend no money litigating this issue," Martiny said.

The amended version of the bill also seemed to clear up a question over whether S.B. 181 would undercut a 2006 law that bans abortions in Louisiana in the event Roe vs. Wade is overturned. After a graphic closing statement by Milkovich ("torture," "tearing them to pieces"), senators voted 31-3 in favor of the bill, advancing it to consideration by the House.

State Sens. Wesley Bishop, J.P. Morrell and Troy Carter voted in opposition.

It's unclear what this means for women and abortion rights proponents in Louisiana. With Martiny's amendment, it's unlikely that this bill, if approved by the House and enacted, would go into effect at all — courts consistently have found early-term bans on abortion unconstitutional, based on the "viability" standard. Mississippi's 15-week ban will probably be struck down.

But the prevalence of such bans and their more extreme counterparts (including a recent Ohio bill that would ban abortion and make it punishable under homicide statutes, complete with the death penalty) suggest an ongoing campaign on the part of abortion opponents to continue to challenge current law via legislation and litigation, perhaps with the hope of shifting precedent.
In criticism of this and related bills during this session, local women's groups also have expressed frustration with the state legislature's enthusiasm for abortion bills, which often get held up by legal challenges and divert attention from the economic and health issues experienced by women statewide.

In a statement after S.B. 181 advanced from committee, reproductive rights group Lift Louisiana's executive director Michelle Erenberg pointed out the challenges Louisiana women have accessing reproductive health services, contraception and sex education, and castigated lawmakers for their prioritization of anti-abortion bills on the docket.

"How much money is the state willing to spend to keep pushing this radical agenda? We have a severe budget deficit and need our tax dollars to be helping families, not paying lawyers to hurt women," she wrote.

"These legislators just rubber stamp every anti-abortion bill that comes before them even when there are serious issues raised about the consequences."

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Survivor Story Showcase features theater, dance and performance pieces by sexual violence survivors

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 4:52 PM

Organizer Lauren Hind has created several performances dealing with sexual violence. - PHOTO BY SCOTT MCKIBBIN
  • Organizer Lauren Hind has created several performances dealing with sexual violence.

Sexual violence, performance and visual artist Lauren Hind says, is a silencing thing.

"One thing that survivors all have in common is just this unbearable secrecy and quietness. ... It often is very isolating," she says. "And in that isolation, I think, that's the part where it just becomes such a heavy trauma."

Hind first started thinking about this silence — and how to break it — during conversations several years ago with a group of other artists who also had survived sexual violence and abuse. Those conversations eventually made their way into a performance piece about healing the group staged at the Alternate ROOTS art activism conference, which provided Hind with the germ of inspiration for an upcoming production she's organizing with New Orleans Family Justice Center at Cafe Istanbul. Survivor Story Showcase opens April 25 and comprises 12 artists presenting theater, dance and other performance pieces drawn from experiences of sexual assault and what it took to move past them.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Medical marijuana in Louisiana could be ready by fall 2018

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 5:30 PM


Medical marijuana products could be available to Louisiana patients as early as September — 40 years after state lawmakers first approved marijuana for medical use.

Officials from Louisiana State University and Southern University — the stewards of the state crops to be processed into marijuana-based medicines — presented rough timelines and budgets to the joint House and Senate agriculture committee April 18, the same week the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy awarded competitive, potentially lucrative licenses to nine medical marijuana pharmacies that will cover the entire state.

These moves follow 2015 and 2016 legislation that tasked several statewide agencies with coming up with the rules for medical marijuana in Louisiana. Those laws followed a dead-end 1978 medical marijuana law that sat dormant on the books without any legal infrastructure to back it up.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Louisiana Senate committee advances 15-week abortion ban

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 7:16 PM

At a 2017 rally, a Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • At a 2017 rally, a Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion demonstrator.

After a lengthy discussion that came to a head over the legislation's potential unintended consequences, the Louisiana Senate's Judiciary C Committee voted to advance a bill that would ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich (D-Shreveport), an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, mirrors a recently passed Mississippi law that bans abortions 15 weeks after conception. Before the committee, Milkovich argued that the law would justify a certain legal battle over its constitutionality.

"I cannot think of a better expenditure of money that Louisiana could make ... than to protect the life of the unborn," he said.

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Louisiana Department of Health offers free STD, HIV screenings April 25

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 4:58 PM


Louisiana Department of Health will offer free STD and HIV screenings at its Orleans Parish Health Unit (517 N. Rampart St.) April 25.

The event, which is scheduled to coincide with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's STD Awareness Month, includes free testing at clinics across the state. Clinics will test for gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis as well as HIV.

Among states, Louisiana has been ranked second-highest in terms of gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV rates by separate studies. There were more than 300 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Orleans and Jefferson parishes in 2015.

Low-cost STD and HIV testing is also available anytime at CrescentCare's Sexual Health Center (3308 Tulane Ave.) and some St. Thomas Community Health Center locations.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'We are coming for you': Women's groups converge on the Capitol for lobby day

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 8:55 PM

State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.
  • State Sen. JP Morrell (left) addresses lobby day participants.

At the Louisiana State Capitol Building, there are imposing elevators with brass-coated doors, gold-painted Ionic columns, marble walls, lots of men clad in navy sportcoats and blue and gray suits, lobbyists with shiny "LOBBYIST" badges, security guards and school groups in matching T-shirts. And today, there were feminists.

A group of more than 100 women, many of them affiliated with women's advocacy groups including Lift Louisiana, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Feminist Majority Foundation, Women With a Vision, New Orleans Abortion Fund and Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, convened at the nearby Capitol Park Welcome Center on the morning of April 11 for "Justice for Louisiana Women." The event was part lobby day, part activist workshop and part response to a legislative session that has included a great number of bills that would be consequential for Louisiana women.

From bills that affect health care for women who are incarcerated to bills preventing people convicted of stalking from owning a firearm to bills preventing Medicaid service providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from simultaneously holding an abortion license, legislation currently being considered could endanger women's health, economic security and, some argue, even their lives. At today's lobby day, organizers seemed prepared to train a new generation of activists in the grinding, sometimes multi-year process of influencing and educating legislators, often with the threat of evicting them from their seats.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Louisiana House committee rejects comprehensive sex ed

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 6:05 PM


Louisiana has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections among people age 15-24. The state also has the seventh highest rate of teen pregnancies. Public health advocates and officials have pointed to a gap between the state's lack of comprehensive sex education and disproportionately high rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancies among school-aged young people.

But repeated attempts to change state laws to incorporate those programs — or at least anonymously ask young people if they've engaged in the kinds of behavior that would produce those kinds of statistics — have failed.

On April 4, after pushback from conservative Christian lobbying groups, a pair of bills to support comprehensive sex ed died in the state House Committee on Education.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Legislation, lawsuit show push-pull over abortion rights in Louisiana

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 6:11 PM

A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • A Planned Parenthood supporter steps in front of an anti-abortion activist at a 2017 rally.

As a legal battle rages over neighboring Mississippi's recent ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, similar legislation and a lawsuit demonstrate ongoing tensions over the right to obtain an abortion in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Senate's judiciary committee will soon consider two bills that could further restrict abortion access in the state, including a 15-week ban that mirrors Mississippi's. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Center for Choice have filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) over what the organization says is an unnecessary delay in the processing of an abortion license for its Claiborne Avenue health center.

Together, the bills and lawsuit underline the fraught environment for abortion rights proponents and women who may need an abortion in Louisiana, which lost one of its few remaining abortion clinics last year. According to Guttmacher Institute data, there were seven clinics operating in Louisiana in 2011; today there are just three.

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

'Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour' arrives at Mudlark March 15

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 2:19 PM

Amelia Bonow and Poppy Liu will appear on their "Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour" at Mudlark Public Theatre March 15. - COURTESY AMELIA BONOW
  • Amelia Bonow and Poppy Liu will appear on their "Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour" at Mudlark Public Theatre March 15.

Even liberal enclaves — the Brooklyns of the world — hold vestiges of the shame and silencing felt by many in former decades. Ideas about what's acceptable, or how to be, trickle down from parents who grew up in more troublesome times; women absorb and internalize a culture that still just isn't as tolerant as it might someday be.

For Amelia Bonow, founder of the advocacy organization Shout Your Abortion, this realization came right around the time the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015. In conversations with her friends about bill, she noticed something important was missing.

"I'm from Seattle, and I'm definitely in a really liberal, radical, queer circle of people that sort of talk about everything," she says. "But I wasn't necessarily talking about my own abortion experience, and I was starting to feel sort of strange about that — and not good about that."

What followed was an off-the-cuff Facebook post about her abortion, which unexpectedly went viral. Over the next several days, Bonow says thousands adopted her #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag, which prompted her to start an organizing group of the same name. She'll appear representing that group on the "Bible Belt Abortion Storytelling Tour" coming to Mudlark Public Theatre March 15.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

HIV rates still high, but Louisiana ranks 24th in use of disease-preventing medication

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 6:00 PM


Despite having one of the nation's highest rates of new HIV diagnoses, a medication that can help prevent infection has been slow to take off in Louisiana.

According to a new report and interactive map by HIV dataset provider AIDSVu, Louisiana ranks 24th in terms of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) use. PrEP — sold under the brand name Truvada — can prevent people who are at high risk of contracting HIV from getting infected.

The report, which breaks down PrEP usage by state, estimates that 18 of every 100,000 people in Louisiana are using PrEP. Compared to other states with high rates of HIV prevalence, 25 of every 100,000 used it in Georgia; 32 of every 100,000 used it in Florida and 76 of every 100,000 people used the treatment in New York.

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