Health Highlights: Nov. 1, 2013

Health Highlights: Nov. 1, 2013

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Appeals Court Ruling Forces One-Third of Texas Abortion Clinics to Close

One-third of abortion clinics in Texas will no longer be able to perform the procedure as of Friday after a federal appeals court overturned a previous court ruling on the state's new abortion restrictions.

On Thursday evening, a panel of judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said that Texas can enforce its law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital while a lawsuit challenging the restrictions goes ahead, the Associated Press reported.

The panel's decision comes a few days after District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the requirement was unconstitutional and served no medical purpose. After Yeakel's ruling on Monday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made an emergency appeal to the 5th Circuit.

He argued that requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is a constitutional use of the Legislature's authority, the AP reported.

The appeals court ruling is not final. A different panel of judges will likely hear the case in January. But until then, abortion clinics will have to obey the new restriction. That means that 12 of the 32 clinics will no longer be able to perform abortions, but will be able to provide other services.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers had argued that the regulations do not protect women, and Planned Parenthood said the 5th Circuit panel's ruling means "abortion will no longer be available in vast stretches of Texas," the AP reported.

"This fight is far from over," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement. "This restriction clearly violates Texas women's constitutional rights by drastically reducing access to safe and legal abortion statewide."

The appeals court decided to keep a part of Yeakel's order blocking the state from enforcing an 18-year-old U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocol for abortion-inducing drugs in cases where a woman is 50 to 63 days into her pregnancy. Doctors testified that these women would be harmed if the protocol were enforced, the AP reported.

In recent months, several conservative states have approved broad abortion limits. However, federal judges in Wisconsin, Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama all have found problems with laws that prevent doctors from performing abortions if they don't have hospital admitting privileges.

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Germany Allows 'Indeterminate Sex' Option on Birth Certificates

Germany is the first country in Europe to permit babies with characteristics of both sexes to be registered as neither female nor male. Instead, parents will be allowed to leave gender blank on birth certificates.

A third gender designation -- X for intersex people -- will be added to German passports, BBC News reported.

The birth certificate change is meant to remove pressure on parents to make a quick decision about sex assignment surgery for intersex newborns so that they can be registered as either male or female.

As many as 1 in 2,000 people have a mixture of male and female chromosomes or even genitalia which have characteristics of both genders. The law in Germany was changed after a review of cases involving intersex people showed high levels of unhappiness, BBC News reported.

Earlier this year, Australia began allowing any person -- not just newborns -- to be identified as intersex on personal documents, and also made gender identity a protected category under anti-discrimination laws, Deutsche Welle reported.

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Kraft Removes Artificial Dyes From Some Mac & Cheese Products

Artificial dyes will be removed from three child-specific types of Kraft's Mac & Cheese products sold in the United States, the company says. The dyes will be replaced by paprika and other spices for coloring.

The changes will be made to the SpongeBob Squarepants, Halloween, and winter shapes varieties of Mac & Cheese, but not to the original elbow shaped pasta versions, CBS News reported.

Kraft says the decision has nothing to do with a campaign by Change.org to convince the company to remove Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 dyes from its Mac & Cheese products sold in the U.S.

The highly-publicized Change.com petition was launched in March. Petition author Vani Hari, founder of the blog FoodBabe.com, welcomed Kraft's decision and said she hopes the company will extend the dye changes throughout all products, CBS News reported.

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Sesame Street Characters Will Promote Fruits, Veggies to Kids

Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters have been recruited to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Under an agreement announced Wednesday, Sesame Workshop will allow the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America to use Sesame Street characters free of charge to promote produce to youngsters, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

The Partnership for a Healthier America is a nonprofit group that supports Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.

The produce association will develop guidelines for how members should use the Sesame Street characters, which could start appearing on produce as early as next spring, the CBS/AP reported.

"Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle," the first lady was to say at Wednesday's announcement. "Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips."

 
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