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Health Headlines - March 6

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
South Dakota governor signs key abortion measure

The governor of South Dakota on Monday signed into law severe restrictions on abortion, in a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of the practice 33 years ago.

The signing of the legislation touches off an expected legal battle that will take years to resolve, Gov. Mike Rounds said in announcing his action.

Abortion foes have said they hope to use the South Dakota law to eventually bring the issue back before the high court, where they believe conservatives added to the bench by President George W. Bush in the last year could weaken or dismantle the court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

Supporters of abortion rights said in advance that they would battle to keep current law from being overturned.

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society," Gov. Rounds said.

"The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree," the Republican governor added.

"Because this new law is a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade interpretation of the Constitution, I expect this law will be taken to court and prevented from going into effect this July," he added. "That challenge will likely take years to be settled."

The bill Rounds signed had been passed by the state legislature on February 24. He had reviewed it to make sure there were no technical problems and said its purpose simply was to "eliminate most abortions in South Dakota."


Rounds, who has described the legislation as a "frontal assault" on Roe v. Wade, had vetoed a similar measure two years ago, saying it would have wiped out existing state restrictions on abortion while it was fought in the courts.

The new law bans abortion in virtually all cases, punishing doctors who perform one with five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The measure bans abortion even in cases where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or if giving birth would damage the health of the mother. It creates a narrow exemption in cases in which a physician's effort to save a pregnant woman's life results in the accidental death or injury of her fetus.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the sole abortion clinic in South Dakota where about 800 of the procedures are performed each year by doctors from neighboring Minnesota, said it would challenge the new law.

"All options are being considered at this time," said Kate Looby, state director for the group. The governor, she said, "cares more about politics than about the reproductive freedom of women in South Dakota."

Looby said: "Our doors remain open. We will not be closing, hopefully never."

She said the group was looking at how best to challenge the law in court, and also at the possibility of putting the matter up for a statewide referendum. She said a majority vote against it would prevent the law from taking effect.

"Abortion has never been put before the voters before. I don't think they can win on either count," said Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue in Wichita, Kansas.

"The people are pro-life, particularly in South Dakota," Newman said. "The timing (of the law) couldn't be better and reflects the momentum the pro-life movement has today. It's not coming from the top, it's coming from the ground. It's a grass-roots movement that's propelling the legislatures, the governor, the president, and ultimately the Supreme Court to nullify the permissive abortion laws."

The issue is moving forward on other fronts nationally. There has been a state-by-state campaign in recent years by anti-abortion forces to find a vehicle by which to challenge the high court's 1973 decision.

State proposals to ban abortion are before legislatures in Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

For First Time, Flu Spreads From Birds

Three cats have tested positive for the deadly strain of bird flu in Austria's first reported case of the disease spreading to an animal other than a bird, state authorities said Monday.

The sick cats were among 170 living at an animal shelter where the disease was detected in chickens last month, authorities said.

The World Health Organization called bird flu a greater global challenge than any previous infectious disease, costing global agriculture more than $10 billion and affecting the livelihoods of 300 million farmers.

Poland reported its first outbreak of the disease, saying Monday that laboratory tests confirmed that two wild swans had died of the lethal strain.

Dr. Margaret Chan, who is spearheading WHO's efforts against bird flu, told disease experts meeting in Geneva to discuss bird flu preparations that the organization's top priority was to keep the deadly strain from mutating into a form easily passed between humans. That could trigger a global pandemic.

Since February, the virus has spread to birds in 17 new countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, she said.

"We truly feel that this present threat and any other threat like it is likely to stretch our global systems to the point of collapse," said Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO's director of epidemic and pandemic alert and response.

WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said experts hope to isolate outbreaks and establish agreements allowing international health authorities to respond quickly, testing viruses and putting in place measures to contain the disease.

In Austria, all the cats from the affected shelter have been moved to a location where they will remain under observation. The shelter has been closed, Health Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat told reporters in Vienna.

"We have decided to put all the cats in quarantine," Rauch-Kallat said. "Here they will be observed by veterinarians and experts in the coming days and weeks."

German authorities last month confirmed that a cat on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen had succumbed to the deadly virus, which it is believed to have caught by eating an infected bird.

That would be consistent with a pattern of disease transmission seen in wild cats in Asia.

German officials have warned pet owners to keep their cats indoors and dogs on a leash in areas where the disease has been detected

Austria confirmed the nation's first case of H5N1 in a wild bird last month and has since detected several dozen cases in birds, including 29 in Styria.

According to WHO, several tigers and snow leopards in a zoo and several house cats were infected with H5N1 during outbreaks in Asia in 2003 and 2004.

Poland announced that the infected swans were found dead Thursday in Torun, about 120 miles northwest of Warsaw. Samples were being sent to Britain for further tests.

According to the latest WHO figures, the H5N1 strain has killed at least 95 people since 2003, mostly in Asia, and devastated poultry stocks. Scientists are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form easily spread between people, sparking a pandemic.

Meanwhile, a top animal health official with the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said developed countries had responded slowly to bird flu, failing to control the disease in Asia and not doing enough to prepare poor countries, particularly in Africa, for its spread.

"In 2004 we said it will be an international crisis if we don't stop it in Asia, and this is exactly what is happening two years later," said Joseph Domenech, head of FAO's Animal Health Service.

"We were asking for emergency funds and they never came. We are constantly late."

Food Fact:
Rejoice, cocoa nuts!

Choose the right chocolate treat, and you can have all the flavor you savor with next-to-no fat. Three tablespoons of cocoa powder (the equivalent of 1 oz. of chocolate in flavor intensity) has only 1.5 grams of fat. By comparison, a 1-oz. square of premium unsweetened chocolate has 16 grams of fat. In addition, cocoa's main fat, stearic acid, may be heart-healthy. Our bodies convert it to a monounsaturated fat. Limit any chocolate that adds "hydrogenated oils," which add cholesterol-raising fats to the mix.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Getting to know you.

Saying "Hi" to your aerobics instructor may improve your group fitness experience. If you are joining a group exercise class for the first time, let your instructor know. Doing so will help the instructor ensure you get the most out of the class, and help protect you from injuries.

FAQ of the day:
Does variety in exercise matter?

Steve Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research says: I advise exercisers to engage in at least one aerobic activity and do some resistance exercise for musculoskeletal fitness, along with stretching to maintain joint flexibility. If there's one routine you like to do again and again in each category, that's OK. If you like to do different aerobic and musculoskeletal exercises at different times, all the better. What really counts is to find the exercise program you like enough to stick with over time. Keep it up, and you'll reap the incredible benefits that come from a fit, active way of life.
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