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With birth control, US not alone grappling with reproductive rights and religious freedom

Wider reproductive health care coverage has been one of the more contested outcomes of the new Affordable Care Act. Here’s how other countries with deep religious roots -- Ireland, Argentina, and Israel -- have navigated the tension between reproductive rights and religious freedom.
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Demonstrators protest a requirement that most employers provide health care insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization as part of the federal health care overhaul, during a "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rally, part of what organizers say will be a series of rallies in over 100 US cities on the second anniversary of the signing by US President Barack Obama of the Affordable Care Act, at Federal Hall National Memorial in New York on March 23, 2012. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

When significant parts of the US Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect earlier this year, key among the reforms was the expanded provision of free birth control. While many religious organizations were exempted from this mandate, the legislation has sparked protest and outrage, including litigation at the highest level, the Supreme Court.

But the US is not alone in attempting to strike a balance between offering reproductive health care services and respecting religious organization’s rights. In recent months, Ireland, Argentina, and Israel – three countries with deep-seated religious ties – all have tried to better navigate this thorny space as well. 

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Male birth control by killing sperm with ultrasound?

New research on rats indicates that ultrasound machinery could be used to kill off sperm-growing cells.
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The testis is composed of many tubes called “seminiferous tubules.” The seminiferous tubule on the left is from a testis that was not treated with ultrasound while the tubule on the right is from a testis that was treated with ultrasound. (JK Tsuruta, et. al., Live Science/Courtesy)

Good news for gender-balanced family planning advocates worldwide.

Zapping sperm with sound waves has been successfully tested on rats and it’s apparently only a matter of time before it is unleashed on human males, Live Science reports.

Noninvasive ultrasound treatment reduced sperm reserves in rats far below levels normally seen in fertile men, the study researcher James Tsuruta, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released in a statement. Further studies are needed to determine how long the contraceptive effect lasts, if it is safe to use multiple times and what specific settings work best on humans.

Sperm develops in the testes and goes through multiple intermediate stages. The male birth control method should work on the basis of destroying the earliest stages of sperm development, so the treatment would last a few months.

It’s worked well with rats, but rats are much more fertile than humans, as reported in another Live Science article. Not to mention they don’t have much of a choice here. In the rats, the sperm concentration attained — 3,000 motile sperm or fewer per milliliter — would still allow them to reproduce. In humans that low of a sperm count would be considered infertile. In humans, a low sperm count is defined as anything under 15 million sperm per milliliter. Other permanent sterilization procedures, such as a vasectomy, decrease sperm concentration to 3 million sperm per milliliter.

In other words, they key is to zap, but not to over-zap.

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Obama grants church groups grace period on birth control

Women’s groups called the decision “a huge and important victory for women."
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