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vt planned parenthood
Planned Parenthood refuses to comply with abortion referral 'gag rule'

Planned Parenthood clinics around the state and region are encouraging patients to seek their help despite the Trump administration enforcing of what many are calling an abortion referral “gag rule” one week ago.

Title X was implemented in 1970 and helps health care facilities gain access to a portion of over $250 million in funding for health processes including cancer screenings, family planning, birth control, sexually-transmitted disease testing and treatment.

While the funds help health care facilities provide services to low-income patients, none of the money is or can be used for abortion care. Eileen Sullivan, communications director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the funds currently help 10,000 Vermonters access health care through their clinics.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would start enforcing a new rule that effectively withholds federal grant money from clinics that provide abortion referrals. The administration walked that back Saturday night, giving clinics more time to comply with the rule.

The latest timetable from the administration says clinics must submit a compliance plan next month, and by mid-September must show they are carrying out most of the new requirements. Clinics have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions.

Planned Parenthood, Vermont’s sole beneficiary of the federal grant money, stopped using the $1 million it normally receives annually, choosing instead to rely on emergency funds to keep clinics open and providing literature on all patient options.

“Using those dollars would mean complying with the gag rule, that would mean providing health care that doesn’t comply with our ethics,” said Lucy Leriche, vice president of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood of Vermont. “This is something we are taking day-to-day. People have been incredibly generous, and donors are supporting us.”

“There’s no way we can replace the nation’s decades-old program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care,” Sullivan said in an email. “However, we have been very clear that we will not compromise our patients’ ability to get the best care and we will not comply with the gag rule.”

As litigation continues with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the rule, Leriche said the organization is bracing for whatever results on a federal level despite the fact that Vermont has enshrined the unalienable right to an abortion this spring with the passage and signing of H.57.

“We will keep our doors open,” Leriche said. “Our patients come first. We will do everything in our power to continue providing reproductive, timely health care. Vermonters ... We expect we will win on the merits (of the program): this is a direct and clear violation of medical ethics, and a violation of the program and bill that was created.”

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association was granted an emergency motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 3 for another hearing to reinstate an injunction that would halt the enforcing of the new rule, but the panel of judges denied the request to put the injunction in place while hearings continue regarding the rule, according to the NFPRHA website.

Ben Truman, public health communication officer for the Vermont Department of Health, said the state is waiting on guidance from a federal level, but that many things are still up in the air.

“This is a ridiculous example of the world of politics interfering with a doctor’s ability to inform their patient what their options are,” said Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate with Vermont Legal Aid. “We’re very concerned.”

Fisher said his office assists around 300 cases per month helping Vermonters negotiate health insurance discrepancies and find adequate health care regardless of their income.

Fisher said his office would continue to help Vermonters find clinics that provide abortion health care, and would continue to do so both in and out of state regardless of whether or not current health care facilities were able to remain open in the future.

“I am heartened to hear PP has found the funds to provide the services,” Fisher said.

Leriche stressed in a previous interview that withholding Title X funds would restrict funding for health care services, such as cervical cancer screenings and ultrasounds only for clinics that offered literature and information about abortion health care, forcing the patient to seek out information about abortion health care elsewhere.

None of the Title X funds, Leriche said, funded abortion, and clinics who did not offer information on abortion would still have access to millions of dollars in grants.

Truman said the state receives all of its guidance on the Title X rule from the federal office of Health and Human Services, from the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs Diane Foley, MD, FAAP, who was appointed in 2018.

Foley was previously president and CEO of Life Network, a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after directing the Life Network’s Sexual Risk Avoidance education program for eight years, where she oversaw grant management, program development and instructor training.

According to its website, Life Network describes its mission as “presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ, Providing life-affirming alternatives to abortion, Promoting sexual integrity & healthy decisions...Giving hope and healing to post-abortive, and Engaging the community to advance life.”



This article has been updated to correct the name of the federal office of Health and Human Services.

Photo by Jon Olender  

Rollin’ through the rain

Barry Alger, of Rutland, directs traffic along Route 7 south of Brandon on a rainy Monday evening as construction continues on the Segment 6 Project.

Specific to Rutland store
Hannaford issues ground beef recall

Rutland’s Hannaford needs about 10 pounds of beef back.

The supermarket chain has issued a recall notice on 91% lean Angus ground beef due to the potential of metal fragments being mixed in with the meat. The recall is specific to the Rutland store and to packages with a sell-by date of July 20 and a use-by date of July 22. Customers with packages from that time-frame should not eat the meat and may return it to the store for a full refund. In an exchange of emails Monday, Hannaford spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said store officials believe about 10 pounds of the beef — which retails for $6.39 a pound — was affected and that it was likely divided among six to eight packages.

Dodge said the recall was triggered over the weekend when the employee grinding the meat noticed bits of metal in the grinder. She said it was unclear how the metal got into the grinder.

“We have some speculation that perhaps it was something that the associate was wearing like the magnetic backing of his name tag,” she said. “There are very stringent clothing and safety requirements so that’s a working thesis.”

Rutland Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Peg Bolgioni said Monday that the hospital had not had any reports of people hurt from ingesting metal shards.

Dodge said that by mid-afternoon Monday, about one-third of the suspect meat had been returned and that they hoped media attention would inform customers with the remaining packages so that they could return them and claim their refunds.

Dodge said it was the first time anyone at the company was aware of a recall specific to the Rutland store.



In Benson, sheep give blood for science

BENSON — When new sheep arrive at Pleasant Valley farm, they have at least a month to adjust to their new environment.

“They have a settling in period so we can ensure they are in the best of health,” said Dulcie Griffith, a veterinary technician and the farm’s manager. “Every day we check each animal is healthy, happy, well fed and comfortable.”

Then, the sheep are put to work. Rather than being used for meat, milk or fleece, the animals create a more complicated product: antibodies that test for serious diseases in humans.

Pleasant Valley is owned by an English company called The Binding Site, which creates laboratory tests for immunodeficiency disorders and an incurable bone marrow cancer called “multiple myeloma.”

The company’s name refers to the point of contact between the antibody and its target.

Pleasant Valley was founded in 2001 after The Binding Site’s original farm in the United Kingdom was lost to a foot-and-mouth epidemic. When Pleasant Valley opened, Griffith said they had a handful of employees and about 100 sheep. Now, they keep 2,000 sheep on 650 acres of land and employ over 50 people, including animal laboratory technicians, animal husbandry technicians and farm workers.

Together, the staff works to ensure the animals are happy and healthy because, as Griffith put it, “only healthy animals will produce the best antibodies.”

The sheep go through between two and 10 rounds of immunization in their lifetime, depending on the antibody the staff is trying to produce, and the process works similarly to vaccines in humans.

“To generate the antibodies, we immunize the sheep with very small quantities of the protein we want our reagent to measure,” Griffith said. “The sheep make antibodies to the immunization.”

The immunization process starts when the animals are walked out of the farm’s housing barn and into the working barn. They then receive the immunization injection from a team of four or five people.

“Weeks later, they will come back to the same barn with the same team members to have a small blood sample taken to determine if they are making the antibody. If they then are selected to provide an additional blood donation, they are brought inside one of our buildings where two technicians will take the blood, in a process very similar to a human blood donation,” Griffith said.

Much like human blood donors, the sheep get a snack after — high-quality hay and extra grain, Griffith said — before they are released back to the herd. The blood is sent to the UK to be processed into diagnostic tests.

After each round of immunization, the sheep get a mandatory break before the process starts again. During this break period, which can last from one to six months, Griffith said the animals are able to enjoy life on the farm.

Animal-produced antibody tests are standard in the medical industry. Griffith explained that while it is sometimes possible to use chemical or genetic tests for the diseases their company detects, antibody tests are still the norm.

Griffith said The Binding Site is involved in developing technologies that will reduce the need for animal-produced antibodies, but these new options are far from ready for regular use. Until new options enter the market, Griffith said the company’s sheep will continue to produce antibodies under the best conditions.

When sheep are no longer able to produce effective antibodies, Griffith said they have two options.

“Some of the sheep go on to be part of the breeding flock and continue to live on the farm until they die of old age,” she said. “Some sheep are euthanized using the very strict guidelines set by the American Veterinary Medical Association.”

Euthanized sheep at Pleasant Valley have an average lifespan of two years, which Griffith pointed out is 12 to 18 months longer than sheep that are raised for meat, although the average life expectancy for sheep is closer to 10 years.

Through their work, Griffith said the farm has partnered with local businesses and farms. Griffith, who grew up in Danby, understands the importance of supporting local agriculture.

“We are happy to engage with local farmers to buy feed and contract services, which in turn has provided support during some of the challenges faced in the current agricultural industry,” she said.

The Binding Site also supports research by the International Myeloma Foundation’s Black Swan initiative aimed at finding a cure for myeloma and improving early diagnosis.

“We are also involved in the development of a new technology which will bring even greater benefits to myeloma patients across America with more sensitive tests which are up to 100 times better than the current technology,” Griffith said. “It is amazing that our sheep and colleagues here in Vermont are helping to lead the world in new technologies to help patients fight cancer.”



Local workshops
Rutland NAACP branch looks at action priorities

After a day of workshops, members of the Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP on Saturday moved toward finalizing an early list of priorities including ongoing training for area police and elected officials, education at local schools and increased political participation.

The workshop, “How to Talk to Your Racist Neighbor,” started with three sessions focused on the premise of the title and ended with the day’s participants, about 30 people, narrowing a list of goals.

“I was really pleased to see how people were engaging. I always worry and wonder if people are getting what they want or need out of our events. I’m really hopeful at the priorities that people came up with,” said Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland NAACP after the workshop ended.

Moore led the people at the workshop in compiling three lists, one about concerns people about racial justice in the Rutland area, one about the obstacles in the area and one about resources that were available in the area.

The list of worries included bias in the media, racism among law-enforcement officials, the lack of funding for a bill that would have brought ethnic studies to Vermont and “hatefulness.”

Workshop participants listed the “Vermont way,” or the traditions in Vermont that make some outsiders feel excluded, economics and the lack of diversity as obstacles.

Assets in Rutland County included groups like Project VISION, Rutland Welcomes and Castleton Indivisible.

Moore explained to the group before they made the list that they were being asked to help set priorities.

“What do we want to focus on when it comes to serving, supporting those who are most vulnerable among us? Obviously, race is one facet of that. We also have economics and homelessness. We have LGBTQ issues we want to address. We have fair and impartial policing, immigration issues,” she said.

One participant asked what might happen if representatives of the NAACP chapter attended a meeting of the city’s board of aldermen.

Lisa Ryan, a member of the aldermen and the NAACP, responded that participants at the workshop should do more than discuss the possibility and said they should “stop with the what-ifs and just do it, just show up.”

“Please come to our meetings. If you care at all about Rutland City, you should come to the meetings. I don’t care if you speak or not but showing up means a lot especially for the (aldermen) who are younger and don’t have the backing of the rest of the board, who are trying to move Rutland forward and not backwards,” Ryan said.

Moore added that while she supported that idea, she didn’t want to forget that the Rutland chapter was one of only two NAACP chapters in Vermont and serves more than just Rutland City or even Rutland County.

Hosted at the Grace Congregational Church, the morning workshops were led by Moore, Julio Thompson, director of the Civil Rights Unit for the Vermont Attorney General’s Office; and Bor Yang, executive director and legal counsel for the state of Vermont’s Human Rights Commission.

Moore’s session included discussion about how people might respond when they hear troubling comments, especially comments that are racially based. Participants engaged in role play to try and find ways to respond constructively.

Thompson explained how his office responded to complaints about possible civil rights violations, some of which, he said weren’t crimes but were nicknamed by some in the legal community as “lawful but awful.”

Yang talked about how participants might respond if they were bystanders and witnessed actions that left someone, especially people of color, feeling violated. Yang urged the people at her session to intervene by believing the person of color and showing support, rather than “playing devil’s advocate.”

On Saturday, the people at the workshop agreed that pursuing ongoing training for fair and unbiased policies among Rutland County elected officials and law-enforcement personnel was one goal but they agreed to meet again on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the community room at the Diamond Run Mall to take further action on some of the other priorities, which include ongoing political engagement.

Moore told participants she thought the group’s goals were important because Rutland area residents shouldn’t count on the government and law enforcement officers to carry the burden alone.

“Somebody earlier was talking about how society was moving away from kind of a moral center. I feel like this is a way for us to try to start to recreate that or beef up what we already have here in Rutland and to add to it so that everybody feels they belong here and that they’re taken care of here,” Moore said.




Fun at Sunrise

Local scouts enjoy summer fun and learning at Camp Sunrise in Benson, in this week’s People and Places. B8

Theater review

The Weston Playhouse production of the classic ‘Oklahoma!’ is refreshing and reassuring. A3

Origin story

Connections are drawn between presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Brooklyn boyhood and his political career. A5

JLowe / Photo by Hubert Schriebl  

Weston Playhouse has created an “Oklahoma!” for today’s America, which runs through Aug. 10.

RHD Hotspot


Blues for Breakfast

Known for its “grateful Americana” blues, the group loves to mix classic rock, reggae, Motown and originals into their shows. Rain or shine. CU will be collecting non-perishable food items to support the Castleton food shelf. 7-8 p.m. Castleton University Pavilion, South Street, Castleton, elicia.mailhiot@castleton.edu, 802-468-1013.