The Case for Birth Control


Since June 30—when the Supreme Court ruled that companies such as Hobby Lobby could refuse to pay for some forms of contraception that violate the religious tenets of business owners—it seems that you can’t mention birth control without getting an opinion on the giant craft store.

What the case means
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, or the Hobby Lobby Case as it is often called, has sparked many an op-ed and news story since the chain store filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Oklahoma over the federal mandate to provide specific forms of contraceptives such as Plan B, Ella and IUDs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all qualified employers (those with 50-plus full-time or full-time equivalent employees) need to provide health care that includes all forms of contraception at no cost.

The evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby—the Green family—aren’t denying coverage of contraception, but more specifically the forms of emergency contraception. The quote used in many stories says their “religious beliefs prohibit them from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception.”

Dr. Julie DeCesare, obstetrics and gynecology residency program director and associate professor at Florida State University of College Medicine, said the case doesn’t just make her worry about birth control, but women’s health in general.

“Our health is getting worse, not better,” DeCesare said.

More than birth control
The FSU obstetrics and gynecology residency program is housed at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

As a member of the nation’s largest Catholic non-profit health system, the hospital does not offer contraceptive care unless it is needed for a medical purpose, which is then brought to an ethics committee for discussion. DeCesare says she is respectful of the hospital’s beliefs.

Off the top of her head, DeCesare said she believes that of the women that come to the clinic for family planning, about 25 percent do so for are medical needs.

She lists all of the uses that birth control offers beside the self-explanatory one.

“If a woman has irregular bleeding or blot clots, metabolic syndrome, acne—that’s a huge one—or endometrial cancers, birth control can treat it,” she said.

In some cases, IUDs—which Hobby Lobby does not cover—can save a woman from endometrial cancer.

“When we’re limiting availability to treatments that could prevent cancer, we’re taking a step in the wrong direction,” she said.

For 32-year-old Carol Rice, birth control isn’t an elective medicine. It’s an imperative daily routine.

“I was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis the beginning of 2012,” she said. “Since then, my doctor has had me on a strict birth control regimen. Birth control helps keep my disease under control—it prevents the disease from spreading, which causes severe pain and possible surgeries.”

DeCesare also mentioned the use of birth control for women with developmental delays. A woman with severe autism, she said, could have hygiene issues during menstruation.

“Birth control offers cycle patrol. Sometimes a woman doesn’t get her period at all,” she said.

As a parent of a mentally handicapped daughter, Janet Castellano sees birth control as a necessity.

“Some parents of handicapped daughters use birth control because if you think of it—if they are in a residence there is always a chance of something happening, and it is used as a protective measure,” Castellano said. “I know of someone whose sister was institutionalized with autism and was raped, so I would venture to say that it’s not just the mainstream girls that the Hobby Lobby case would affect.”

Getting covered
It’s arguable to say that if an employer doesn’t give you the benefits you want, or if the hospital doesn’t offer the care you want, you can just go somewhere else. However, with the U.S. unemployment rate at 6.1 percent and less than half of the country’s states offering Medicaid expansion, it’s hard to be choosy about your job or your doctor.

There are a few options for care for those under insured or without any insurance. Sacred Heart Women’s Clinic, Escambia Community Clinics, Inc. and Escambia County Department of Health offer care based on ability to pay.

“In this economy, it’s just important for women to know they have access to care,” said Sherri Hutchinson, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health.

The out-of-pocket cost of birth control can vary. Some prescriptions are as inexpensive as $4. An IUD can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 out-of-pocket.

The health care mandate on birth control has not only provided more access to birth control for employees, but has made it more affordable.

“My birth control would have been $1,800 out-of-pocket, which I was prepared to pay,” Yasmin Massey said. “Instead, it was covered thanks to ACA and now I can spend that $1,800 in our local economy instead of lining the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies.”

Babies vs. Birth Control
No matter how expensive birth control is (no matter its purpose), giving birth and then raising a child are far more costly. According to the CNN Money website, it costs an estimated $241,080 to raise a child in the United States. The cost is up 3 percent from 2011 and doesn’t include the cost of college.

In 2011 the national average charge of giving birth in a hospital with no complications was $10,657. Medical bills are on a short list of reasons that Americans apply for bankruptcy.

“Fifty-one percent of pregnancies are unplanned [in the United States],” DeCesare said. “It’s appalling.”

Without easy and affordable access to contraceptives, it no longer becomes the patient’s problem, but everyone’s problem.

“Everyone has to take on the burden,” DeCesare said. “It’s not just a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue. Wouldn’t it be better to not have the children you can’t take care of?”


Birth Control Breakdown
•IUD (Intrauterine Device) is a small “T”-shaped device inserted into the uterus. IUDs work mainly by affecting the way sperm move so they can’t join with an egg. The cost is between $500 and $1,000, but they last up to 12 years.
•Implant The implant is a matchstick rod inserted in the arm releasing progestin. Cost is $400 to $800 and lasts up to three years.
•Patch The small, beige patch sticks to your skin releasing the same hormones as the pill, estrogen and progestin.
•Pill The pill is taken every day to release estrogen and progestin, which keep the eggs from the ovary. Cost varies.
•Shot One shot in the arm prevents pregnancy for three months. Cost $35 to $100 per injection, plus any exam fees.
•Sponge The sponge is made of plastic foam and contains spermicide and inserted deep into the vaginal before intercourse. Cost is $9 to $15 for a pack of three sponges.
•Vaginal Ring The ring is a small, flexible ring a woman inserts into her vagina once a month. The ring contains the same hormones as the pill. Cost is $15 to $80 a month.
•Morning-After Pill You can use the morning-after pill up to five days after unprotected sex. There is also an IUD insertion. Cost is $30 to $65 for the pill and $500 to $900 for the IUD.

Information provided by

Where to go
For comprehensive, low-cost care, these are a few of the clinics you can visit in Pensacola.
•Sacred Heart Women’s Hospital Located at 5045 Carpenter Creek Dr. in Pensacola, directly behind Olive Garden near Cordova Mall. For appointments, call 416-2400 or visit
•Escambia Community Clinics, Inc.There are nine locations in Escambia and Santa Rosa County. Visit or call 436-4630 for more information.
•Escambia County Department of Health Visit for locations or call 484-5040 ext. 1125 to make an appointment.


As seen in Independent News

See the Classics in a Classic


Just like the beach and road trips, keeping cool inside a movie theater is a summertime ritual. However, if you’re not too keen on popcorn flicks, why not stick to the classics?

Back for its third year, the Saenger Classic Movie Series will begin this weekend.

“The public has really become pretty faithful followers of the series,” said Kathy Summerlin, marketing director for the Saenger Theatre. “The first year we averaged about 550 in attendance. The second year, we increased our attendance by about 45 percent averaging close to 800 in attendance.”

For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to visit the Saenger Theatre, the movie series is the perfect introduction. Tickets are affordable and you don’t have to dress up.

“It also gets foot traffic downtown on the weekend when normally summers are a little less busy because a lot of the locals are heading out to the beach for entertainment,” Summerlin added.

And if you haven’t yet enjoyed a film that was made before the Internet was even imagined, you’ll find the films are timeless—even classic.

“We are not allowed to compete with the local theaters with first-run movies either,” Summerlin said. “So we are somewhat limited in what we can show, but we prefer showing the classics. It just fits with the atmosphere of the Saenger.”

And since the Saenger is just as packed as a blockbuster opening, it’s safe to say film fans enjoy the movie choices as well.

“I think people are hearkening back to a slower-paced time when we weren’t bombarded with cell phones, social media, emails, etc,” Summerlin said. “They just want to unplug and see a movie on the big screen the way movies were meant to be seen. We have one of the largest screens in Pensacola besides the IMAX screen at the Naval Aviation Museum, and it’s just nostalgic.”

For the second year in a row, the Saenger has made the movie series an interactive event by letting the community choose the films to be shown.

“It’s our way of letting the public speak out and choose exactly what they want to see,” Summerlin said.

This years picks run the gamut from westerns, comedies, thrillers and more. And for just $5 a pop, you can see all of them. Not a bad way to spend the summer.

Saenger’s Classic Movie Series

July 12 “Yankee Doodle Dandy” 1942
James Cagney, famous for his gangster films, shares his singing talents in this musical that tells the story of renowned composer, actor, playwright and songwriter George M. Cohan.

July 19 “Psycho” 1960
Perhaps one of the most famous Alfred Hitchcock’s films, the story involves a woman on the run, a creepy motel and even creepier innkeepers.

August 2 “King Kong” 1933
See the original “King Kong” that spawned several remakes throughout its 81-year history.

August 9 “Rebel Without A Cause” 1955
James Dean plays a troubled teen who has just moved to a new town. Think of it as the “Twilight” of the 1950s.

August 16 “American Graffiti” 1973
There’s no spaceship or gold robots, so you might be surprised to know that this film was written and directed by George Lucas. The film pays homage to his teenage days in the 1950s.

August 23 “Dr. No” 1962
You might think of Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig when you think of James Bond, or 007. But the original was Sean Connery.

August 30 “How the West Was Won” 1962
America’s cowboy, John Wayne, or The Duke, leads this story that depicts the Gold Rush, the Civil War and the industrial revolution.

September 6 “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” 1963
This adventure comedy follows an all-star cast (Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy and Ethel Merman to name a few) as they search the country for some treasure.

September 20 “Vertigo” 1958
Another Hitchcock classic tells the story of a retired San Francisco detective getting back into the investigating game to follow an old friend’s wife.

September 27 “Blazing Saddles” 1974
From the crazy mind of Mel Brooks, “Blazing Saddles” is about a corrupt political boss who hires a black sheriff to ruin the western town. But all does not go as planned.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturdays
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $5


As seen in Independent News

The Super Girl with the ‘Super Eye’

Hannah Baker and her siblings sprawl out in the living room with their toys while “Veggie Tales” plays in the background. From an outsider’s point of view, it’s a routine afternoon.

But Hannah is not your typical 2-year-old.

At just 5 months of age she was diagnosed with stage 5 retinal blastoma, a rare form of cancer in her right eye.

Her doctor had tears in his eyes when he shared the diagnosis with her parents, Ryan and Becka.

After chemotherapy and multiple visits to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Hannah’s right eye was removed last July. She has been cancer free ever since.

“It’s been a tornado,” said Becka.

Hannah’s body rejected a prosthetic eye and her right eye remains sewn shut for now.

“It’s her boo-boo eye,” said identical twin sister Ayslynn.

Hannah and her family travel monthly to Memphis for visits to St. Jude. On most visits, Hannah has to go through surgery.

“Now that she’s older, she knows what’s going on,” said Hannah’s grandmother, Jennifer Agerton. “One of her last visits, on the bus to the hospital she whispered to me ‘I want to go back home.’”

But Hannah is a fighter. Her mom often records her visits as a way to show Hannah how strong she is.

Although Ayslynn and older brother Coltyn, 5, are cancer-free, they are regularly screened at the hospital as a precaution.

“We’re all going through this,” Becka said, adding that she worries that Hannah’s siblings may feel neglected by all of the focus on Hannah’s illness. “It’s a family thing.”

Outings like a visit to the playground can be a challenge for Hannah. She has to adjust to her impaired vision, which can make her hesitant going down the slide.

And then, there are the innocent comments from other kids.

“I let her handle that on her own,” Becka said. “Usually Coltyn will just say ‘She had cancer.’ There was a period of time when she would look in the mirror and call herself u-g-l-y. But I’ve told her that she’s special.”

“We call her good eye, the super eye.”

As seen in Daily News

Have Some Pride



Over the past four decades, there has been a positive shift for the LGBT community, most of it quite recent—the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, 19 states have the freedom to legally marry same-sex couples and earlier this month, President Barack Obama released a proclamation declaring June as LGBT Pride month.

The country has come a long way since the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969 when a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City, turned violent. The event led to the founding of gay activist organizations and the first Gay Pride Marches, which is why pride events are typically held in June.

But it’s not enough to take these events in stride, said Doug Landreth, president of Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida.

“I don’t know if there is more support as there is more resolve, but society as a whole has changed their understanding of what LGBT rights are all about,” he said. “As a gay man in my 50s, I feel an obligation to those that brought us to where we are now. There’s going to be a time that the torch has to be handed off to someone.”

After the Memorial Day parties on the beach, Gay Grassroots aims to educate the community as a whole about LGBT issues with PensacolaPRIDE, a whole week of pride events ranging from a ball, to a film festival and even a night of line dancing this month.

Growing up in the closet

Before Landreth was a gay rights advocate, he was a boy living in a small town in Tennessee who was fearful someone would discover his secret.

“Being in the closet, I spent every single waking moment calculating every move, carefully choosing every piece of clothing I wore to make sure no one would know,” he said. “It was a horrible existence.”

Fast forward to adulthood, Landreth met someone and eventually the two bought a house together. Yet even as a grown man, he still couldn’t find the strength to come out to his parents.

It wasn’t until 2004, when Landreth heard that Rhea County, Tenn., where he grew up, was seeking to amend the criminal code to charge homosexuals with crimes against nature, he found himself not just coming out to his parents, but to everyone.

“I heard that a high school sophomore was holding a pro-gay rally in the area,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, that sweet little girl is never going to get anyone to show up.’”

Wanting to support the young girl’s efforts, Landreth did show up (as well as many others) and ended up becoming a keynote speaker at the rally.

Finding a Voice

In the 1990s, Landreth co-founded the CoastalPRIDE in Fort Walton Beach, which was the area’s first LGBT organization. Even after joining forces with the similar organization Gulf Coast TIDE, Landreth was not satisfied by the efforts being made in the community.

“Neither groups were more than a social organization,” he said.

Instead, Landreth wanted to advocate, “for the rights we should’ve been born with.” So in 2008, the same time Florida voted for a same-sex marriage ban, about 100 members of the LGBT community publicly rallied in downtown Pensacola. And Gay Grassroots was born.

Since 2008, Landreth has seen a rapid change in attitudes.

“One public event we did was holding a big picnic on National Coming Out Day, which is Oct. 11. So many people were concerned with their safety that we would go to Naval Live Oaks Park and have the picnic in a hidden pavilion,” he said.

Since hiding only defeated the message behind Coming Out Day, the organization has since moved the event to Bayview Park and even stretched the picnic into a three-day event. When the City of Pensacola voted for the domestic-partnership registry last December, Gay Grassroots members were there in red to support its passage.

“That’s what we’ll be honoring at this year’s Celebration Ball,” Landreth said.  “But there’s more work to be done.”

The meat and potatoes

Within Gay Grassroots of Northwest Florida are “meat and potatoes” events, said Landreth. They are not just about pride, but education and advocacy. And they’re not just for members of the LGBT community.

PensacolaPRIDE’s mission is “To celebrate and promote the history, courage, diversity, and worth of the Pensacola area gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons, individually and collectively as the LGBT Community,” Landreth said.

Whether the organization is urging the school system to include LGBT students in anti-discriminatory laws or offering sensitivity training, the event in June and throughout the year help Northwest Florida to progress as an accepting community.

“It’s important for people to know about the LGBT community in a safe, non-hostile environment,” Landreth said.

Thinking back to his childhood, Landreth said he would never have guessed that the gay rights movement would have come this far.

“It’s the fastest growing civil rights movement,” he said. “I don’t know if my generation is going to be the one to finish it, but it has to be finished.”

Landreth says he will continue his advocacy for the future leaders of the movement. Kids such as the 15-year-old boy from Milton who volunteered time to create logos for PensacolaPRIDE events.

“He won’t like the Facebook page or receive the emails for fear of his family seeing, but he told me that he has found comfort in knowing that there were people who have his back,” Landreth said. “I look forward to the day he has the strength to come out. That’s why we keep doing what we do.”

As seen in Independent News 

Vampires on the Beach


Maybe vampires don’t like to bask in the sunlight and breeze from the beach, but their creators — well that’s another story.

Anne Rice, author of the best-selling “Vampire Chronicles” series, among others, has spent many years enjoying the Emerald Coast, first with a house in Destin and then, a condo on Navarre Beach that she purchased in the 1990s.

Since Rice put the condo on the market last month, you can now own the space for $829,000.

“We stayed in Destin for a long time, but eventually sold the house,” Rice said. “It was the 1990s and I wanted to get back to the beach. I love it so much.”

As luck would have it, she ended up visiting a space in the Belle Mer Condominiums on Navarre Beach.

“As soon as I saw it, I fell totally in love,” she said.

Keeping traveling companions in mind — whether it be assistants or family — Rice expanded her beachside getaway by purchasing the condo next door to create a 4,000-plus square-foot, five bedroom, six and a half bath home away from home.

Growing up in New Orleans, Rice was always attracted to the beach, although she says she likes to stay out of the water.

“I just enjoyed living with the sound and smell of the Gulf and walking on the beach,” she said.

Navarre in the 1990s was quite different from Navarre today, and even today some residents complain that there are too few options, but Rice said she never wanted for anything during her stay.

“There were great restaurants to go to, I went to the churches, sometimes I went to Pensacola Beach,” she said.

Navarre Beach provided inspiration for her 2002 best-seller “Blackwood Farm,” the second to the last book in the “Vampire Chronicles” series. Rice also spent time researching for her “Christ the Lord” series.

“I guess you could say I got my money’s worth,” Rice said jokingly.

Although it’s been years since the author has visited Navarre Beach, selling the condo is bittersweet, she said. Since her last visit, Rice has opened up her condo to friends and family as well as renting it out.

“I’m in a different phase in my life,” she said. “I so miss the beach, but it’s time to let it go.”

Rice lives full-time in Palm Desert, Calif., close to her son, Christopher. She has put her famous 7,000 square-foot New Orleans 1800s mansion on the market, but has been quoted in news articles and her website as saying she’d like to return to The Crescent City with a small pied a terre.

Having lived in and traveled around the world, Rice said Navarre Beach is still one of the most special places she’s ever been.

“It’s just three and a half hours from New Orleans, the people are mellow and friendly,” she added. “Navarre Beach is idyllic as a vacation and to live there.”

CHECK THE LISTING: Visit for more information on Anne Rice’s Navarre Beach condo.

As seen in Daily News 

It’s a Wild World: Gulf Breeze Zoo Celebrates 30 Years


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It’s been 30 years since the Gulf Breeze Zoo first opened and it’s still going strong.

With the summer season in swing and a No. 1 rating on Trip Advisor as the best attraction in Gulf Breeze, there should be no problem keeping the parking lot full.

“Since new management took over in 2010, we’ve had a more personal feel,” said Megan Heiden-reich, the zoo’s lead keeper. “There’s an understanding of a symbiosis with the community. One doesn’t exist without the other. We really try to make our guests a priority.”

The zoo has continued to expand its offerings with daily activities and special events held throughout the year.

Later this month, the zoo will celebrate World Giraffe Day with a special Meet-a-Keeper talk where guests can learn more about giraffes and even see Gamba — the baby giraffe and one of the newest members of the zoo — get bottle fed.

Although the zoo has had to decrease it’s staff — there are now about a dozen zoo keepers compared to 38 in 2009 under the previous ownership — there hasn’t been a decrease in interaction with guests.

“I’ve been fortunate to visit a lot of different zoos throughout the county,” Heidenreich said. “I don’t think you get this level of attention anywhere else.”

It isn’t just another attraction for tourists. Locals regularly support the zoo throughout the year with record numbers at every event this past year, said Valerie Pennock, the zoo’s marketing director.

“It’s been years since I’ve been here,” said Gilton Bell of Pensacola. “It’s really impressive.”

Being a part of the zoo’s milestone is gratifying, Heidenreich said.

“We’ve had a lot of guests visit throughout their lives saying it’s the best it’s ever been,” she added. “Working here feeds the soul more than anything else.”

The zoo was originally opened in May 1984 by local businessmann Pat Quinn, Bobby Switzer, Bill Pullum and Dr. Jim Potter. Virginia Safari Park of Natural Bridge, Va., bought it in December 2010.

Tour the zoo like a pro
First time at the zoo? Follow these tips to make your wild adventure a success

*Spring for the train ride — The 15-minute train ride might be extra, but it’s certainly worth it with a closer look at chimpanzees, gorillas and the huge Nile hippos.
*Schedule a be-hind the scenes tour — One of the Behind the Scenes Animals Tours you can get up close and personal with the animals with a personal animal care profes-sional.
*Read the signs — Check for the Meet-a-Keeper talks held throughout the day to learn more about the animals and get premier photoops. The times are posted in the train sta-tion.
*Stay for lunch — The Giraffeteria serves delicious amusement park fare such as burgers, hot dogs and chicken tenders. While you can’t bring food or drink in the zoo, there is a shaded picnic pavilion the zoo parking lot.

As seen in the Daily News 

On the Appalachian Trail…

 Lucas Varnadore in Grayson Highland, Va., where he encountered a group of wild ponies.

Lucas Varnadore in Grayson Highland, Va., where he encountered a group of wild ponies.

With just a backpack of essentials, one local young man is hiking through the Appalachian Trail.

Lucas Varnadore, who is 19, first got the itch to hike the A.T. back in 2007 when he was camping in Vermont with his family.

“I saw hikers on the trail and I kept thinking about how I wanted to do that,” he said.

Years went by and he couldn’t shake the idea of the trail.

So last year, Varnadore began doing some research, reading blogs and watching YouTube videos of other hikers.

By the time he left March 14, he’d saved $4,000.

His mom Kathi drove him from their home in Shalimar to Springer Mountain, Ga., the southern tip of the trail.

“My first thought was ‘Go for it!’ ” said Kathi. “I was also frightened for his safety, worried he wouldn’t have a job when he got back, and concerned he would be alone.”

Apart from exploring the eastern part of the United States, Varnadore hopes to do a little soul-searching on his journey.

At press time, he is more than 500 miles in, about 25 percent of the way through the trail.

“I was hoping to become closer to God,” he said. “Through my childhood, I had kind of lost my faith. When I was in school and things would get hard I would quit.”

In his first two months on the A.T., Varnadore has already experienced setbacks. A few weeks in, he had to rest for five days due to an open wound on his foot.

Last week, he took another three days off after contracting a bacterial infection from unfiltered water. Despite moments of wanting to give up, he didn’t.

“I feel like I have to finish the trail,” he said. “I don’t want to let myself down. And since I’m blogging about my journey, I don’t want to let my followers down.”

Certain milestones, like reaching the 500 mile mark or seeing snow for the first time in North Carolina have inspired him.

Perhaps the most surprising inspiration has been the people he’s met along the trail. His mom didn’t have to worry about him being alone after all.

“This trip has actually restored my faith in humanity,” he said. “There are so many kind, generous people who help hikers along the trail handing out food and water. We call them trail angels.”

Hikers along the trail often form a bond.

Varnadore earned his trail name from fellow travelers — Smokie — after being attacked by thick smoke during a camp fire.

“There is so much camaraderie on the trail. Everyone has the same goal, you just become automatic best friends,” he said. “There’s a good mix of people out here. I met someone who is 79 trying to hike the trail.”

Living out of a backpack for the past two months has also taught Varnadore to live simply.

“It was big transition,” he said. “But I’m surprised at how easy it’s been to adapt.”

The hardest part of the trip hasn’t been the 11 miles he averages a day, the infections or lack of material things. It’s the transition to life off of the trail.

He’s already thinking of hiking a different trail someday.

“Once I get back home, I’m not sure what I’ll do,” Varnadore said. “There’s not a lot of mountain hiking in Florida.”

FOLLOW ALONG: Follow Lucas’ adventures along the Appalachian Trail on his blog,