Stem Cell Research Saves Lives…Of Cartoon Characters

29 03 2011

Popular adult cartoons, Family Guy and South Park, satirize the stem cell and abortion debates

By: Natalie Shuster

It is a miracle! After a stroke, caused from eating hundreds of burgers at McBurgertown, Family Guy star, Peter Griffin, was cured using stem cell research. And the most amazing part? According to Griffin it “only took five minutes. They injected me with a little bit of that fetal crap and I was better in no time!” (Season 6: Episode-McStroke)

Just weeks later, South Park resident, Kenny McCormick, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and told he only had weeks to live. The solution? Take a woman’s aborted fetus, transport it to a medical facility and use it for stem cell research (Season 5: Episode-Kenny Dies). Shortly after, Christopher Reeves also campaigned for stem cell research for the handicapped in the small town of South Park, Colorado. By cracking open fetuses and sucking out their juices, he was able to regain mobility, and even superpowers like the character he once portrayed, Superman (Season 7: Episode- Krazy Kripples).

These episodes of Family Guy and South Park serve not only as satirical commentaries on the stem cell debate but also to question the general public’s understanding of stem cell use and research. However, when viewing these shows it is important to ask, are these witty and comedic skits reflective of the general public’s lack of understanding? Do they provide the public with false and exaggerated information on the scientific benefits of stem cell research? Or do they help educate viewers to the issues at hand?

Science is often criticized for portraying negative stereotypes, depicting researchers as the “mad scientist,” or the new scientific discovery as a “monster” technology. Comedic shows generally exaggerate and inaccurately depict the implications of the true data. However, research has shown that the simple presentation of scientific information and demonstrations of the “system of science” actually helps to promote involvement and education about new technologies.

Multiple studies, such as those conducted on media attention and support for food biotechnology, have concluded that heavier viewers of television were generally more supportive of technology than those individuals who watched fewer programs. It is proposed that by simply viewing television programs, regardless of the factuality of the information or the depiction of the technology and scientists, viewers are given an underlying support for science. They are primed to be more receptive to the ideas of new innovations and technologies.

While a cartoon program may not affect all viewers in the same manner, the simple exposure to a new idea or technology has generally been viewed in a positive light by researchers.



Legislative Update

29 03 2011

By: Sarah Sonies

U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building

This blog post serves as a legislative update to the post on Reproductive Rights and Public Policy. Much of the coverage of the proposed legislation has blended with the discussion of the economy and the Congressional budget, as the possibility of a government shutdown looms with the impeding April 8 deadline.

However, there has been a notable development in the proposed Virginia abortion clinic legislation.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed a bill into law that will now require all Virginia abortion clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to abide by hospital regulations.

Some of the frames discussed throughout this blog that conservatives have used for reproductive issues in politics have been making women’s reproductive rights about the economy and the budget. However, McDonnell seems bent on framing the issue of regulating Virginia’s abortion clinics as a matter of safety.

McDonnell has made it clear that he intended to sign the bill and argued that “(the regulations) would improve the health of women who get abortions.”

Prior to McDonnell’s signing of the legislation, there was media coverage that served to clarify the results of what will happen to abortion clinics in Virginia possible legislation goes into effect. The media coverage has largely been in response to

According to the March 18 blog from TBD, the Virginia Board of Health was expected begin the process of enacting the new regulations when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signs the bill. Therefore, what will happen to 17 out of 21 of Virginia’s abortion clinics will still largely depend on what the Board of Health defines as hospital regulations. However, the bill gives the state board 280 days to come up with the regulations, which are currently being drafted.

The Board of Health is currently performing research on other states that also enforce restrictions on abortion clinics and the TBD article states that the Board expects to be able to enact the regulations by Jan. 1, 2012.

A Feb. 24 blog from TBD concerning what is now a law in Virginia, further clarifies that the regulations apply to clinics that perform first-trimester abortions. Abortions performed past the first trimester have always been required to be performed in a hospital setting.

As far as the possible legislation in the Georgia House of Representatives that some say would criminalize miscarriages, the George General Assembly website does not have a record of the bill passing the second reading. The proposed legislation in Georgia garnered a lot of attention in February from pro-choice blogs, like Mother Jones which have highlighted the dangers of such drastic legislation.

Any media coverage about these issues should not be ignored and needs to be highlighted in order for not only understand the policies, but for women to be able to fully understand their reproductive rights.

In the news about the national Planned Parenthood funding cuts, Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards, addressed a crowd in New York City on Feb 26, urging young women to speak out about the national funding cuts the House proposed for women’s funding.

“(Congress) aimed both guns at the largest women’s healthcare provider in America, Planned Parenthood,” Richards said. “Ending our ability to provide life-saving cancer screenings … and sex education through any program.”

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The Newest in the Abortion Debate

29 03 2011

By: Madeline Priest

Photo by S. MiRK

Photo by S. MiRK

Overwhelmingly, the issue that has been the focus and greatest concern for the American public has been the economy and jobs.  It has recently been the case that proponents of one issue or another have used the economy and jobs as a frame to argue for their respective cause.  This is particularly true of the recently renewed debate over abortion and government funding of Planned Parenthood.

While the issue of abortion has largely flown under the radar in recent years, the controversy surrounding it has been sparked again as the fight over the national budget is ramped up.  So why has an issue that has been on the backburner for so many years come to the forefront of American politics again?

The most likely answer is that pro-life advocates and politicians need a salient issue to be able to use to re-focus public attention on the abortion debate.  Currently, the issue is the economy, as it is the most impactful issue and frame currently.  Proposed deep cuts to governmental spending created the perfect opportunity to do this.

A larger frame in the argument made by some leading Republicans is that it is not justifiable for the American public to be funding abortions; however there are smaller sub-frames within this argument.  One smaller sub-frame is that it is more democratic that this funding for Planned Parenthood be stopped.  This came in the form of a bill known as the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which was led by House Speaker John Boehner, who said “for the first time in many years, the People’s House was allowed to work its will.”

The larger and smaller sub-frames from conservatives act as a way for Republicans to also attack Health Care Reform.  By saying that the new plan will provide federal funding for abortions, it can be attacked along with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, whose abortion services were the cause of fewer than 10 percent of visits.  Further, the money that is allocated to Planned Parenthood is not used to fund abortions, but rather to pay for family planning services, cancer screenings, testing and treatments for sexually transmitted infections.

Currently Planned Parenthood’s budget is $1.1 billion, with a third of this funding coming from federal, state, and local governments.  Some Republicans have also framed the issue by described organizations such as Planned Parenthood as “promoting abortion,” language that is certain to be impactful with much of the American public.  By saying that abortion is being promoted, which is an emotionally loaded term, and not simply provided, people most likely will have a more emotional response to the statement and subsequent issue of federal funding for services like Planned Parenthood.

The economy and jobs are the most salient issue for Americans currently, making it a strategic time for Republicans with an anti-abortion agenda to bring the issue to the forefront of politics once again.  With elections coming up in 2012, those with this agenda can make the point that they were tough about cutting federal spending and reducing the budget.

There is, however, a potential for this tactic to backfire.  With such a divisive issue as abortion, it is easy to alienate voters who may be turned off by such a strong viewpoint.  For moderates who swung Republican in 2010 elections, this stance may cause them to vote for the Democratic candidate in the 2012 elections.  Some Democrats are also pushing back in response to the argument posed by key Republicans.

Whether the argument posed by key Republicans in the newly fueled abortion debate will be effective in the long term has yet to be seen.  Currently, the framing of the argument in a manner that projects the issue to be about the economy and jobs, is the most strategic and potentially effective way to garner support for the anti-abortion cause.  To be effective, Democrats will have to counter this frame by crafting arguments that also relate to the economy and job growth.


Reproductive Rights and Public Policy

1 03 2011

Congress and some states cut funding for women’s health – leading to public outcries  By: Sarah Sonies                

Photo by ProgressOhio

Photo by ProgressOhio

Last November, the nation saw the first glimpses of what has launched into a full-fledged budget war when the newly Republican controlled House vowed to cut the budget to reduce the national debt in any way possible. The House has been swift to make sure the newly elected members will keep their word on election promises and announced last month a $2.5 trillion cut in spending for the 2012 fiscal year.

President Obama and the White House released the official budget proposal Feb. 14 for the 2012 fiscal year that proposed to cut $1.1 trillion from the deficit over ten years, leading to cries from Republicans that the Obama administration was cutting far too little.

Congress is currently engaged in a budget stalemate with women’s reproductive health organizations in the middle all across the nation. The cuts proposed for women’s health organizations made headlines these past few weeks, but leave a blurry area in terms of what they could mean for the future of reproductive health funding and the programs that the reproductive health funding provided by Congress and various states to its constituencies.

The proposed funding cuts made in January by House Republicans included a $317 million slash of the Title X family funding budget, which supports improving the quality of family planning services all across America, comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services; such as training for family planning clinic personnel through ten regional general training programs and three national training programs that focus on clinical training in a 2011 spending bill. Title X includes programs such as Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptive, abortion and family planning services to women all over the United States.

The proposed cuts for Planned Parenthood have been making the news recently because according to the Feb. 17 New York Times article, (“Planned Parenthood Financing is Caught in Budget Feud”) the Title X funding leaves out the $75 million that Planned Parenthood receives to provide family planning assistance to low-income women.

Funding opponents say that this $75 million in funding only provides spare funds for abortions and is unnecessary. However, “for every dollar spent on contraception for low-income women, the government saves four dollars in medical costs within the next year by averting unwanted pregnancies,” director of governmental affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, Susan Cohen said in the article.

Congress does not permit direct funding for abortions but Republicans including Mike Pence, (R-Indiana), have expressed beliefs that Planned Parenthood abuses its funding. According to the article, it is unlikely that all funding for Planned Parenthood will be cut but Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, described the funding cuts as “the most dangerous legislative assault on women’s health in Planned Parenthood’s 95-year history.” The article states that the spending bill will now shift to the Senate or further discussion. However, members of Planed Parenthood fear that the issue of the Title X funding will get lost in the greater issues of the budget and have launched a media campaign to designed to respond to the online attacks and accusations directed towards Planned Parenthood, such as the anti-Planned Parenthood website “Expose Planned Parenthood”.

It is obvious that there are going to have to be drastic budget cuts and a funding agreement made soon to avoid a government shut down, however the question that remains is what exactly will happen in the case of Title X, which is part of a major budget and legislation battle nationally, as well as in various states.

Virginia and Georgia are among the various states that have legislation in the works aimed to cut reproductive health funding. The Virginia legislature passed “historic” legislation designed to severely tighten regulations at abortion clinics that practice first-trimester abortions throughout the state. According to the Feb. 26 Washington Post article (“Va. bill a reminder that abortion rights can’t defend themselves”) Virginia abortion clinics will have to abide by hospital regulations, which are not directly defined, as the statute gives the state Board of Health a lot of leeway in defining what kind of “hospital” facilities an abortion clinic must provide.

The controversial bill, which the article states that Virginia Democrats “carelessly” let slip through committee, could lead to the closing of many of all of the 21 abortion clinics in Virginia. According to the Washington Post article, if the Virginia Board of Health adopts the regulation that all abortion clinics must function like “out-patient surgical centers,” it could cost millions of dollars to renovate the clinics to align with the regulations.

Farther south, Georgia state representative Bobby Franklin (R- Cobb) has proposed a bill that could criminalize miscarriages. However, the full text of the statue states that criminalization would only occur if the termination occurred “purposefully” proposed bill from Georgia can be found here.

The Public Policy Section of the Reproductive Health Science Project website will be monitoring reproductive health policies, the Congressional spending debate and other policy issues through the Spring 2011 semester.

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