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Weekly Pulse: Crisis pregnancy centers, Christine O'Donnell, condoms and concussions

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Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in New York City may soon have to level with the public about their real agenda. At the Ms. Blog, Michelle Chen has an update on proposed legislation which would force CPCs in New York to disclose that they aren't reproductive health centers.

CPCs are anti-choice ministries that masquerade as full-service reproductive health clinics. They typically set up shop near real clinics to trick unwary clients. Real clinics dispense medical advice from doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals. They are required to tell clients about the risks and benefits of all their treatment options. They don't push clients towards abortion or adoption. CPCs are typically staffed by volunteers. Instead of medical advice, they hand out over-the-counter pregnancy tests and medically inaccurate information about the risks of abortion. They use pseudoscience and high pressure sales tactics to derail as many women seeking abortions as they can.

Chen reports that if the bill becomes law, New York CPCs will have to post signs disclosing that "they do not provide abortion services or contraceptive devices, or make referrals to organizations that do." If the facility lacks licensed on-site medical professionals, the center would have to inform prospective clients of this fact. This is an excellent piece of consumer protection legislation. If CPCs are honest about who they are and what they do, they should have no problem with the law.

Christine O'Donnell: Not (just) a joke

In an essay for the Women's Media Center, organizer Shelby Knox explains why Delaware's Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell represents more than an anti-masturbation punchline:

Not ironically, O'Donnell is a loyal disciple to the religious agenda that equates sexuality, especially female sexuality, with evil and the decline of humanity. [...] To most mainstream Americans, O'Donnell's concerted battle against solo sexual pleasure in particular is so fringe, so bizarre, it's laughable. Yet, those of us deeply familiar with the ideology of the extremist right wing have long understood the condemnation of sex and sexual pleasure for anything other than the purpose of conception within marriage to be the underpinning of public policies that invite (Christian) God and (big, big) government into our bedrooms.

Knox notes that the same underlying suspicion of human sexuality finds expression in more mainstream areas of American politics, like federally-funded abstinence-only education, which substitutes religious homilies and gender stereotypes for science-based sex ed. (I would add federal funding for some of the nation's aforementioned "crisis pregnancy centers" to Knox's list of examples of anti-sex religious ideology replacing science-based health services.)

This week, O'Donnell drew audible gasps from a crowd when she claimed that the separation of church and state isn't part of the U.S. Constitution, as Monica Potts reports for TAPPED.

O'Donnell may seem bizarre to the average voter, but Knox reminds us that she's pretty typical of a rising tide of anti-sex, anti-science conservatism that we ignore at our peril:

But more accurately she's the poster girl for more than 78 candidates running this election season who share her anti-sex, anti-woman views. These candidates believe abortion should be illegal in all cases, without exception for rape and incest. Some have promised a GOP majority would signal a return to funding failed abstinence-only policies. Ken Buck, the GOP Senate candidate in Colorado, even went so far as to refuse to prosecute a rape because the accuser had "buyer's remorse" over an abortion he alleged she'd had a year before the assault.

Condoms and porn

A porn actor in California became the latest performer to test positive for HIV last week. His diagnosis sent shockwaves through the San Fernando Valley's porn industry because the actor was reportedly a star who worked with a lot of big names in an industry where condoms are the exception rather than the rule.

The case has reignited controversy over the fact that straight porn companies aggressively flout California law that mandates condoms on porn sets. The industry maintains that it doesn't need condoms because it has a rigorous testing program for talent. As I report in Working In These Times the industry is being allowed to investigate the HIV outbreak on its own, which is a little like asking BP to monitor oil spills. The same industry-allied non-profit that administers the tests, and does PR about how great the testing program is, also investigates cases of HIV in the industry. Does anyone else see a potential problem?

Concussions in the NFL

Football season is in full swing, but for Dave Zirin of The Nation and many other football fans, it's getting harder and harder to reconcile their love of the game with our growing awareness of the toll that it takes on players:

In August, to much fanfare, NFL owners finally acknowledged that football-related concussions cause depression, dementia, memory loss and the early onset of Alzheimer's disease. Now that they've opened the door, this concussion discussion is starting to shape how we understand what were previously seen as the NFL's typical helping of off-field controversy and tragedy.

Zirin appends a list of over 30 players who have sustained concussions since the pre-season. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is calling for the NFL to start kicking excessively violent players out of the game, but Zirin says that's not enough to stem the tide of concussions. Devastating brain injuries can come from routine, legal hits. A lot of the cumulative brain trauma leaves players demented in their fifties is actually sustained during practice.

The carnage is built into the game. Concussions are unavoidable given anatomy of the human brain and the physics of huge guys crashing into each other. Helmets only help so much because they can't prevent the brain from smashing against the cranium. Zirin thinks football fans need to do a lot of soul searching. He argues that every fan should think hard about whether it's really that much fun to watch guys get their brains pulped in the name of sport. Zirin's not ready to give up football yet, but he thinks the gnawing guilt may eventually outweigh his love of the game.

Cephalon spokesdoc: "Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don't know"

Mother Jones and Propublica have a blockbuster exposé of crooked doctors on pharmaceutical company payrolls. They found that a shocking number of "white coat sales reps" (doctors paid by pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs to other doctors) have checkered pasts and dodgy credentials.

For examples, in 2004, a court upheld a Georgia hospital's decision to fire Dr. Donald Ray Taylor, an anesthesiologist who had a habit of giving vaginal and anal exams to young female patients without documenting why. According to court records, Dr. Taylor explained himself to a hospital official as follows, "Maybe I am a pervert, I honestly don't know."

For reasons that are themselves murky, Dr. Taylor went on to become the highest paid speaker for the pharmaceutical giant Cephalon, earning $142,050 in 2009 and an an additional $52,400 through June. It turns out that Dr. Taylor is far from the only shady doc to make big bucks as a shill for big pharma. The investigators found 250 pharma docs with serious blemishes on their records for such offenses as inappropriately prescribing drugs, providing poor care, or having sex with patients. Some were just playing doctor on the pharma circuit, having lost their licenses.

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