Protesters hold signs as they rally in support of Planned Parenthood and protest a state decision that would effectively halt abortions by revoking the center's license to perform the procedure, near the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri, May 30, 2019.

Planned Parenthood Withdraws From Federal Funding Program Over Abortion Restrictions

Protesters hold signs as they rally in support of Planned Parenthood and protest a state decision that would effectively halt abortions by revoking the center’s license to perform the procedure, near the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri, May 30, 2019. Visual: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Planned Parenthood announced this week that it would withdraw from a federal family planning program rather than comply with restrictions that would limit its providers’ ability to counsel women on abortion.

For nearly 50 years, Planned Parenthood has received funding from Title X to help low-income women afford birth control, breast exams, and testing for sexually transmitted infections, among other services. But in February, the Trump administration stated that it would no longer permit organizations receiving money through the program to refer women for abortions.

While Planned Parenthood and other groups were quick to begin fighting the policy change and sought to delay its implementation, a federal appeals court ruled in July that the restrictions would be allowed to stand while legal challenges are ongoing.

According to the new rule, Title X recipients will still be allowed to discuss abortion with their patients, but can only provide a referral for the procedure in the case of a medical emergency. Furthermore, recipient organizations will still be allowed to perform abortions, but must do so at a separate facility from their regular operations. Planned Parenthood and other groups say such strictures will inhibit their ability to provide their patients with medical advice.

“When you have an unethical rule that will limit what providers can tell our patients,” Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting director, told The New York Times, “it becomes really important that we not agree to be in the program.”

Planned Parenthood serves 40 percent of all Title X patients nationwide and its withdrawal will result in a loss of $60 million in funding per year. The impacts of this loss will vary by state, but in Utah, where Planned Parenthood is the only Title X provider, clinics are considering charging fees for services that it would have previously provided for free.

In Minnesota, the organization is considering similar measures.

“We’ll continue to offer all services, and keep clinic doors open, but we’ll be charging patients on a sliding scale who we didn’t charge before,” Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood North Central States, told the Associated Press. “Vulnerable people who previously were able to access birth control and STD testing for free will no longer be able to do so.”

Also in the news:

• A record number of fires are burning in the Amazon rainforest — an ecosystem often referred to as “the lungs of the planet” for its immense capacity to produce oxygen and store carbon. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, there have been 72,843 fires in the country so far this year, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest, representing an 80 percent increase over last year and the greatest annual number since the agency began keeping track in 2013. Apocalyptic scenes of darkened skies, burning trees, and vast smoke plumes have spread across social media, many accompanied by the hashtag #PrayforAmazonia, as citizens and environmentalists seek to draw attention to the crisis and protest the inaction of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. Citing no evidence, Bolsonaro accused environmental groups on Wednesday of deliberately starting the fires to embarrass his government and bring attention to their plight. Many activists have cited Bolsonaro’s pro-business rhetoric and weakening of key environmental agencies as emboldening farmers to clear larger areas of forest — sometimes with the illegal technique of setting fire to trees — making the entire ecosystem more vulnerable to forest fires. (Multiple sources)

• In addition to receiving $177 million from Purdue Pharma to endow a center for addiction research and treatment as part of a settlement reached between the state and the drug maker in April, Oklahoma State University (OSU) announced this month it will also receive thousands of the company’s proprietary molecules, patient samples, and other data. The new center plans to probe, among other areas, the biological roots of pain and addiction, both major factors in the opioid addiction crisis. It remains to be seen what kinds of insights can be derived from the molecules and data, but the information could help the center shorten its research ramp-up timeline, Jason Beaman, head of OSU’s psychiatry department, told Science. Still, “[i]t’s unprecedented for any major biotech firm to hand over such volume of molecules to an academic institution,” said Beaman. Under the agreement with Purdue, OSU will receive sole rights to any new treatments developed with the shared molecules. (Science)

• In Afghanistan, sex with a man outside of marriage is illegal and a punishable offense, leading countless women (and even girls who have been raped) to be subjected to the violent and scientifically dubious practice of virginity testing. The test, which involves examining the hymen or laxity of the vagina, is unreliable and often traumatic, and a declaration of impurity can lead to beatings, jail time, or even death. After Soraya (whose real name has been withheld) was raped as a young teenager, she was forced by her father to submit to a virginity test, during which she recalled the doctor took advantage of the situation. “I hate men,” she says now at 25. “I hate my father too.” After declarations by the World Health Organization and the United Nations failed to halt the practice, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued an order last year banning its use without a woman’s consent. Doctors and activists are now working to spread the word. (Undark)

• Analysis of a newly released database from a study published in PLOS Biology earlier this month has found a considerably high rate of self-citation among hundreds of scientific researchers. Reportedly at least 250 scientists had over 50 percent of their citations come from either themselves or their co-authors. Among the roughly 100,000 researchers listed in the data set, the median self-citation rate was found to be 12.7 percent. In the study’s most drastic example, one researcher obtained a total of 94 percent of his citations from himself or collaborating co-authors. The researchers responsible for the study are hopeful that it will help draw attention to prolific self-promoters and so-called ‘citation farms’, which refers to groups of scientists that cite each other with extreme frequency. “I think that self-citation farms are far more common than we believe,” said Stanford University physician John Ioannidis, who led the study’s research team. Consensus on what should be done about self-citation however remains a highly divisive issue, with some researchers arguing that metric data lacks context that could clarify why particular instances of self-citation might make scholarly sense. (Nature)

• Federal scientists prepared a report this summer warning that the Trump administration’s new plans to divert California water supplies to wealthy farmers would endanger threatened species — but the government suppressed that information almost immediately. This week, however, the Los Angeles Times obtained and reported on the unpublished report. According to the 1,123-page document, researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that the government plan to reduce river flows in order to provide irrigation supplies would risk the already endangered populations of steelhead trout, winter-run salmon, and the orcas that feed on the salmon off the California coast. The report was prepared for release on July 1, but was pulled by an official at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service two days later, who requested a new report. Critics of the action, including commercial fisherman, linked the decision to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, who was previously a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, a network of powerful industrial farmers on the westside of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley. While representing that group, before becoming interior secretary, Bernhardt argued in court against legal protections for salmon. Revision of the report is “unquestionably an effort to subvert the best available science,” Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, told the newspaper. (Los Angeles Times)

• And finally: Microplastics in drinking water don’t currently pose a threat to human health, concludes a report released this week by the World Health Organization (WHO), though the authors caution that more high-quality studies are needed to understand how the pervasive particles move through the water supply chain. The report reviewed dozens of recent studies on microplastics, including nine that specifically measured the particles’ concentrations in drinking water. Although those concentrations were as high as 1,000 particles per liter in some instances, the report determined that the levels weren’t high enough to pose serious risks of toxicity or infection. Still, with plastics production projected by some to quadruple by 2050, WHO indicated that the long-term problem of microplastics shouldn’t be ignored. The organization called for halting the use of “single use” plastic products, and it has initiated a more sweeping assessment of the risks posed by microplastics from various environmental sources, including food and air. (BuzzFeed)