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This Week in Sex: New Research on Casual Sex, Rising STI Rates Among Seniors, and Caffeine for Erections

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 17:51

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Women Are Interested in Casual Sex Too

It has long been thought that men would be much more likely to accept an offer of sex from a stranger than women would. As Rebecca Adams of the Huffington Post explains, at least among academics, this belief is based on experiments done in 1978 and 1982 (and published in a 1989 study) in which men and women were asked one of three questions by an attractive stranger: “Would you go out tonight?” “Will you come over to my apartment?” or “Would you got to bed with me?” In those experiments, not one woman said yes to sex, while numerous men did.

Researchers in Germany, however, believe that the design of these experiments was flawed, because it didn’t take into account the real issues those women who said no might have been weighing, such as personal safety, sexual violence, and damage to their “reputations.” So they attempted to create a modern-day study that eliminated some of these risks.

The researchers gathered 60 heterosexual men and women, telling them they were testing for an online dating site. Participants were shown pictures of people of the opposite gender and told that some of the people wanted to date them and others wanted to have sex with them. Participants were left alone to decide with which of these potential partners they wanted to date or sleep with. To eliminate (or at least diminish) women’s fears for their own safety, participants were told that the first 30 minutes of any in-person encounter would be “supervised.”

The results: exactly the same proportion of men and women opted for sex. It turns out that if you create a safe environment, women really will opt for casual sex.

Rising Rates of STIs Among Arizona’s Seniors

The Arizona Department of Health Services released new statistics this month showing that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise among what some people might see as an unlikely segment of the population—senior citizens. Statewide gonorrhea rates among those older than 55, for example, rose from 4.9 cases per 100,000 in 2012 to 6.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2013. In Maricopa County, gonorrhea rates among older adults more than doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 6.1 cases to 12.7 per 100,000.

Experts believe that a combination of factors are leading to STIs among this age group. People are living longer and staying healthy longer. This generation of older people came of age at a time when sex outside of marriage was acceptable. And men now have access to drugs like Viagra and Cialis, which help them to perform well into their later years. Plus, as sociologist Pepper Schwartz told the Arizona Daily Star, older people are taking advantage of online dating. “The fabulous thing about the Internet is they can find out who’s really out there they might never have run into otherwise,” Schwartz said.

Living longer, finding partners, and having a healthy sex life is all good news, but these seniors do not appear to be practicing safer sex. Jennifer Bass, communications director at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, pointed out that many people this age are coming out of decades-long relationships because of divorce or the death of a spouse. “They’ve been out of the market for quite a while. So they don’t really know about protecting themselves,” she said. “They’re not worried about becoming pregnant, but they might not think about the consequences relating to STIs.”

So maybe it’s time we turn the tables on sex education. The next time you go to visit Grandma and Grandpa in the Arizona desert, have a talk about today’s birds and the bees, and hand them a box of condoms just in case.

Two to Three Cups of Coffee a Day May Keep Erectile Dysfunction Away

A new study should have java lovers and, well, lovers, cheering, because it turns out that caffeine may be good for erections. Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston analyzed data from more than 3,700 men who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that men who consumed 85 to 170 milligrams of caffeine a day were 42 percent less likely to report erectile dysfunction (ED), and men who drank 171 to 303 milligrams were 39 percent less likely to report ED, than those who drank under 7 milligrams a day. (A cup of brewed coffee has somewhere between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine.)

Caffeine is known to dilate blood vessels, which can increase blood flow—in this case to the penis. So go ahead and pour that second cup. Don’t like coffee? Perhaps a strong pot of tea will do the trick.

Image: Shutterstock

The post This Week in Sex: New Research on Casual Sex, Rising STI Rates Among Seniors, and Caffeine for Erections appeared first on RH Reality Check.

GOP Introduces ‘Sham’ Birth Control Access Bill

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 16:52

Women’s health advocates are harshly criticizing a new bill sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) intended to help make birth control available over the counter (OTC), calling it a cynical move that would make birth control less affordable.

“This bill is a sham and an insult to women,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “It would give women fewer birth control options and force women to pay twice for their birth control.”

Gardner was one of many Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections who campaigned on expanding “access” to birth control by making it available over the counter. Reproductive health advocates said that this was a cynical way for candidates to downplay their extreme anti-choice views on issues like anti-choice fetal “personhood,” which Gardner has supported throughout his political career.

The proposed Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act would waive the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) filing fee and expedite the application review process to encourage manufacturers of “routine-use contraceptives” to apply to the FDA for over-the-counter (OTC) status, according to Gardner’s website.

The bill appears intended to limit the sale of OTC pills to adults ages 18 and older.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supports over-the-counter birth control access because the hassle and expense of going to the doctor for a prescription deters some women from using birth control, and because the benefits of avoiding unwanted pregnancies outweigh the risks of not having a doctor inform women of the potential side effects.

ACOG president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco came out strongly against the new bill, saying that it would undermine the gains of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that have expanded access to contraception by making it available to women at no extra cost.

“Unfortunately, instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive,” DeFrancesco said in a statement.

The ACA’s birth control benefit only applies to contraceptives covered by insurance. The bill would allow insurance to cover the pills, according to Gardner’s statement, but that’s no guarantee that it will.

Birth control can cost up to $600 per year. As writer Katie McDonough notes at Salon, the stubbornly high cost of OTC emergency contraception suggests that market forces are unlikely to bring down the cost of birth control pills—and no market forces can compete with the “zero dollars” offered under the ACA.

“This effort is nothing but political pandering to trick women and families into thinking we are covered while dismantling one of the most critical gains in the Affordable Care Act,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement.

Only the FDA has the power to make a drug available over the counter, so all Congress can do is offer incentives. Amanda Marcotte argues on Slate that among its various problems, the Gardner/Ayotte bill probably wouldn’t offer enough incentives to change the status quo:

Even on the slim chance it passes, it doesn’t actually do anything. Drug companies that make the pill have never applied for OTC status, and there’s zero reason to think they will start now just for a minor fee waiver and a promise that their applications will be read promptly.

Image: Shutterstock

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Losing My Lege: ‘Jane Doe’ Seeks Abortion Care At The Texas State Capitol

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 16:44

Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.

On Friday, a young person going by the name of “Jane” donned a hospital gown, walked into Texas state Rep. Geanie Morrison’s office, and asked for an abortion.

“Jane” could only assume, from the debates held in the state legislature over the past several weeks, that since anti-choice lawmakers apparently believe they’re in the best position to tell Texans whether they can, or should, access legal abortion care, “Jane” would just go straight to the source. In this case, that source was Morrison, a Republican lawmaker from Victoria, Texas who sponsored HB 3994, a bill that would make accessing legal abortion nearly impossible for the most vulnerable Texans—pregnant minors who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents, and who therefore can’t obtain the parental consent necessary to obtain a legal abortion in Texas.

“Jane” was, perhaps unsurprisingly, ushered out quickly by Morrison’s staff, along with eight other similarly dressed reproductive justice activists posing as fellow “Janes,” who had come to the capitol on Friday to protest HB 3994. And so they trudged on to visit the office of pro-choice Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) to thank her for her opposition to HB 3994, before ending with a visit to the governor’s office itself.

In Texas, there’s a system in place to help teens, in some cases kids, who are pregnant and without parents, or who are pregnant and have been abused by their parents. It’s called judicial bypass, and it allows a pregnant minor—who, for example, might have been kicked out of their home because they are transgender, or who was raped by their father, or whose mother might be absent and struggling with drug addiction—to be able to decide whether or not to continue their pregnancy. A minor, called “Jane Doe” by the court, appears before a judge and tells their story. If a judge feels the minor is mature enough to make that decision, especially if that minor would be in danger if their parents found out about their pregnancy, the judge can stand in for the absent parent in granting consent for the procedure.

Without a bypass, and without parental consent, a minor has no choice but to carry their pregnancy to term. A bypass isn’t a guarantee that a minor will get an abortion, and it doesn’t obligate them to do so. All it does is empower that minor, legally, to seek safe abortion care if that’s what they ultimately decide to do.

Supporters of HB 3994 in the legislature have said that minors in Texas are deliberately deceitful, intentionally inserting themselves into the court system because they want to lie to their loving, caring parents. But there’s no evidence that the judicial bypass process, developed by bipartisan consensus 15 years ago, is being abused by selfish minors.

Instead, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests between 200 and 300 minors per year in Texas cannot safely tell their parents about their pregnancies. We know this, in part, because of the work of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that assists minors in getting judicial bypasses.

The “Jane” activists who visited the capitol on Friday were there to share those stories as part of a grassroots protest called #HereForJaneTX. They carried signs, spare but poignant, that read: “Jane Doe. Age 15. Incarcerated Parent.” “Jane Doe. Age 16. I don’t want to be pregnant.” “Jane Doe. Age 15. Undocumented.” “Jane Doe. Age 13. Incest.”

I followed the “Janes” during their somber protest today; I was also part of the grassroots group that consulted on the action, which was organized in about 24 hours. The quick turnaround was mostly due to the time constraint on the bill itself: Lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. on May 31 to pass the law, which passed out of the house last week and which could be debated by the senate.

The “Janes” drew attention wherever they went, mainly in the form of capitol tourists, mouths agape, staring at their signs. Some passersby said they supported the protest. Others seemed to inch uncomfortably away from the activists in gowns. And the “Janes” even passed an anti-choice lawmaker, Rep. Molly White (R-Belton), who sniped at them as they walked by, saying: “I’m for life.”

The “Janes” are for life too. They’re for the lives of pregnant Texas teens who don’t have the kinds of loving, involved parents we’d hope for them to have, but who deserve the opportunity to take charge of their own futures, anyway.

Image: Andrea Grimes/ RH Reality Check

The post Losing My Lege: ‘Jane Doe’ Seeks Abortion Care At The Texas State Capitol appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Anti-Choicers Buy Into Myths About Women ‘Crying Rape’ to Get Abortions

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 16:01

Rape and incest exceptions used to be fairly normal in proposed abortion bans. Since anti-choice initiatives have never really been about “life,” these exceptions were necessary to make already unpopular abortion restrictions more politically palatable. In the past year or so, however, rape and incest exceptions have become more contentious, with more legislators than ever agitating to take them out of abortion restrictions.

Is this a sign that anti-choicers are actually buying their own hype about every fetus being a “life,” regardless of the circumstances of its conception? Nah, that will never happen. If you look at the actual political struggles over this issue, it becomes clear that the increasing hostility to rape exceptions is part of the larger strategy to demonize women seeking abortions as untrustworthy, immature, lazy, and, of course, oversexed.

It’s probably not a coincidence that anti-choicers are increasingly demanding bills with no rape exceptions or extremely restrictive ones right at the time when there’s an increase in public discourse about rape in general. There’s a real danger of feminist progress on this issue, meaning conservatives are reacting by pushing the myth that women routinely lie about rape to cover up for consensual sex.

That is starting to shape the kind of abortion legislation we’re seeing.

The most recent example comes from South Carolina, where the GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban this week that did have rape exceptions. But not without a huge amount of controversy: state Sen. Lee Bright (R) has gone on the warpath, first threatening to filibuster in an effort to eliminate rape exceptions and then demanding that voters oust all of his colleagues deemed too soft on alleged rape victims. Bright’s reasoning, evidently, was that women are liars who can’t be trusted when they say they’ve been raped.

“After 20 weeks if you wanted to get an abortion you could go and say you were raped and you could have the abortion,” he complained, according to the Huffington Post. This is what he thinks of women: Not only that they are so lazy that they blow off abortions for months, but that they will just breezily say, “Oh yeah (gum snap), I was like raped or something. Can I like, get my abortion so that I can get in shape for bikini season (gum snap)?”

In reality, most women who want abortions try to get them as early as possible, which is why 89 percent of women get their abortion in the first 12 weeks, despite all the hassles anti-choicers put in front of them. There’s also zero evidence for the claim that women cavalierly say they were raped as some sort of “get out of jail free” pass.

Bright is only the most recent example of this kind of hyper-misogynist logic amongst anti-choicers. The idea that women pull the rape card to wiggle out of being punished with pregnancy for consensual sex has been invoked over and over again by state legislators in the past few months.

In Texas, state Sen. Donna Campbell (R) suggested women would claim to have been raped to get around a proposed ban on insurance coverage for abortions. She argued that women should be forced to produce a police report to get the coverage so that “we have something measurable”, an argument that implies a woman must be assumed lying until proven otherwise.

In Tennessee, state Rep. Sheila Butt (R) struck a similar note, saying that rape was “not verifiable” and therefore the default must be that women are lying if they say they are raped. She was rejecting a rape exception to an abortion waiting period of 48 hours.

On a federal level, Republicans are usually smart enough to avoid outright saying they think women lie about rape to avoid the consequences of consensual sex, but the House’s original 20-week abortion ban had that idea baked right into it. The bill required rape victims who wanted an exception to produce a police report. This not only requires filing one, which may not be in the best interest of all rape survivors, but also being able to get the paperwork from the police, a time-consuming process that might prevent the abortion altogether—and it’s not like rape exceptions were easy to get in the first place.

Even though female Republicans, worried about optics, killed that version of the bill, the new version the House passed still treats rape victims like they’re duplicitous children by requiring a 48-hour waiting period to think the procedure over. Perhaps they will decide they weren’t raped, after all! The fantasy that rape victims are liars may not be as explicit, but the unnecessary scrutiny that stems from that belief persists.

Throughout all this, the assumption that women are morally and psychologically children is evident. Most of the time, that attitude is displayed in the right’s phony claims to be “protecting” women by making it hard to get an abortion. Waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, condescending lectures, crisis pregnancy centers: It’s all part of a larger effort to paint women as silly children who don’t know what they really want, and who need a firm, guiding hand of a conservative legislator to show them what they really want to do is have that baby. (Why conservatives think people whom they apparently believe to be the mental equivalent of children should be raising children is another question entirely.)

This attitude about rape shows the darker side of this women-are-children mentality. Instead of viewing women as errant children who need adult guidance to know their own hearts, conservatives see women instead as naughty ones who tell lies to cover up their bad behavior. In this scenario, a pregnant woman is a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. As a child might tell silly fibs to get out of trouble, in this narrative, the child-women start squalling “rape!” because they heard that’s how you wiggle out of getting grounded for indulging your appetites without permission.

Except, of course, the “grounding” in this case is forced childbirth, and the “cookie” is having had sex.

Which is why this issue isn’t really about rape exceptions at all—it’s the problem with abortion bans in general. Rape exceptions or no rape exceptions, abortion bans are based on the premise that women are children and need, like children, to have their decisions micromanaged lest they misbehave. The fight over rape exceptions just proves how true that is. The real answer is to treat women like adults and let them, not some sex-phobic conservative sitting in a statehouse somewhere, decide if now is the right time to have a baby. Regardless of how that pregnancy started in the first place.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Anti-Choicers Buy Into Myths About Women ‘Crying Rape’ to Get Abortions appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Nevada GOP Revives Forced Parental Notification Bill

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 15:41

A Nevada forced parental notification bill unexpectedly cleared a legislative hurdle Thursday, and appears set for a committee hearing next week.

AB 405, sponsored by Assemblyman John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas), would require physicians to send a written notification to parents or guardians of a minor seeking an abortion before they can start the procedure. The physician would have to wait an additional 48 hours after the notification has been sent before performing the abortion.

The bill includes exceptions if the physician certifies that there is a medical emergency that requires an immediate abortion; a parent or guardian certifies that they have already been notified; or a court has been given judicial authorization to waive the notification.

After being passed by the Nevada Assembly, the Senate Finance Committee blocked the anti-choice bill, appearing to shelve it until the 2017 legislative session. However, that committee revived the bill after anti-choice activists reportedly lobbied lawmakers to reconsider, according to the Las Vegas-Review Journal.

Republicans hold a slim 11-10 majority in the Nevada senate, and enjoy an eight-seat edge in the house.

The Senate Finance Committee voted to pass the bill along party lines, and referred it to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) said that he plans to hold a hearing on the bill next week, reports the Associated Press.

Melissa Clement, president of Nevada Right to Life, blamed GOP friendly fire for the bill’s initial legislative roadblocks. Clement claims she was told by Republican officials that the bill would cost the state $2 million, however, it is expected to cost $71,000 over two years.

“Republicans are giving us problems,” said Clement, the Las Vegas Sun reports. “There is no reason why this shouldn’t pass.”

Republican legislators nationwide have introduced forced parental notification measures this year, including in New Mexico, where Democrats blocked the bill in committee before it reached the full senate.

Nevada Right to Life was behind organizing the lobbying efforts, reports the Associated Press. The organization has called the bill their “top priority.”

During the floor debate in the assembly, pro-choice opponents of the forced consent bill argued that the legislation unnecessarily increases barriers to abortion care access.

“AB 405 is a bill that endangers vulnerable young adults in our state,” said Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz (D), reports the Associated Press. “It requires and forces them against their will to make a deeply personal and private decision with other people.”

If approved in committee, the bill will head to the full senate.

The Nevada legislature begins its last week of the 2015 legislative session after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The deadline for the legislature to adjourn is midnight on June 1.

Image: Shutterstock

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Obamacare’s Birth Control Benefit Notches Another Legal Win

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 14:52

Religiously affiliated nonprofits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit lost another legal battle this week as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear claims by Priests for Life charging the opt-out process unduly burdened their religious rights.

Priests for Life had asked the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review a ruling that the birth control benefit’s accommodation process did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law designed to shield certain conduct from regulatory overreach.

Judge Nina Pillard authored the November decision that unanimously upheld the accommodation. She wrote for the majority Wednesday in rejecting, again, claims by Priests for Life that the accommodation was unduly burdensome.

“Indeed, it bears emphasis that the whole point of the challenged regulation is to scrupulously shield objecting religious nonprofits from any role in making contraception available to women,” Pillard wrote. “The accommodation is itself evidence of the fundamental commitment of this Nation to religious freedom that RFRA embodies.”

This is the second loss this week for religious conservatives challenging the accommodation process to the ACA’s birth control benefit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Tuesday rejected identical claims by the University of Notre Dame.

The Obama administration on Thursday notified the Roberts Court of its victories in a letter submitted by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.

In the one-page letter, the administration notes the decisions are the first from appeals courts to analyze the accommodation process in light of the Court’s ruling last summer in Hobby Lobby. The letter was filed in connection with Zubik v. Burwell, a case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the accommodation process.

In that case, the Third Circuit rejected the claims from a religiously-affiliated nonprofit that the accommodation violated RFRA. Justice Samuel Alito in April put the Third Circuit decision on hold until the Department of Justice had replied to requests that the Supreme Court intervene in Zubik or until further order from the Court.

So far the Roberts Court has taken no action in Zubik since the April order.

Image: shutterstock

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A Dangerous Limit

Center for Reproductive Rights - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 13:52
A Dangerous Limit Women need abortion options after 20 weeks. Here’s why.

05.22.15 - Last week the U.S. House passed a bill prohibiting most abortions after 20 weeks, with only narrow exceptions for women with life-threatening conditions and for rape survivors. No exceptions are included for cases when the woman’s health is at risk or in cases of severe fetal anomalies.

Aside from being unconstitutional, legislation that disregards the thousands of variables that can arise in any given pregnancy ignores a central concern of reproductive health:

Every pregnancy is different.

When a woman finds out she is pregnant, her universe explodes with questions and unknowns: How far along am I? What will this mean for my family? My health? My job?

Can I afford this? Do I want this? Is the fetus healthy? 

“There has never been—and never can be—a one-size-fits-all answer to navigating such variables,” says Angela Hooton, vice president of the U.S. Policy and Advocacy Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Blanket legislation like this 20-week ban intrudes on the importance of these questions as well as on a woman’s constitutionally protected right.” 

While the overwhelming majority of abortions take place before 20 weeks, there are a number of situations and circumstances that demand more time to become clear.

"The women we serve for abortion care past 20 weeks present with a myriad of complex situations,” says Texas reproductive health provider, Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.  “Some women don’t find out they are pregnant until much later than others. Some women need time to save money to end their pregnancy. Some women’s life circumstances change drastically during the course of their pregnancies. No matter the reason, women need access to safe, compassionate care.” 

Hagstrom Miller adds, “We also see women who face logistical challenges such as arranging child care and getting adequate time off work to both negotiate the web of state-imposed abortion restrictions—such as two-trip waiting period requirements and limited clinic access—and make time for a healthy recovery. When anti-choice legislation shuttered more than half of Texas’s clinics last fall, we saw women forced to wait up to four weeks just to get an appointment."

House Subcommittee to Hear Testimony on Unconstitutional Federal Bill Banning Abortion at 20 Weeks House Subcommittee Amends Federal Legislation to Ban Abortion at 20 Weeks Nationwide House Subcommittee to Hear Testimony on Unconstitutional Federal Bill Banning Abortion at 20 Weeks

Is the ‘Panic’ Over Sexting Really Warranted?

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:10

University of Colorado Denver professor Amy Adele Hasinoff’s Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent, out last month from the University of Illinois Press, is a reasoned, if academic, look at the ways teens use social media and the Internet to flirt, seduce, and tease, often transmitting sexual images that are intended for private viewing. While occasionally glib, the book is nonetheless a thoughtful entry point for those interested in how new media technologies can be used and misused.

Hasinoff did not, herself, interview teens for the text. This is a disadvantage, since first-person narratives would have made the book more compelling. Instead, she distills numerous reports, studies, and news accounts about the phenomenon and the panic that ensues whenever adults get word that young people are swapping naked photos. Her starting argument addresses the fact that “teen sexting is often framed as a form of child pornography or as part of a cyberbullying epidemic … yet for many people, the practice is a form of interpersonal intimacy.” The truth, Hasinoff writes, is that people of all ages and persuasions sext, willingly and playfully—a reality that critics of the practice tend to ignore in favor of hyperbolically dire commentary.

That said, problems routinely arise when a photo recipient decides that she or he wants to share the images with others. When pictures that are meant to be private become public without the consent of the sender, Hasinoff notes, the person who spreads the images is violating implicit assumptions about privacy, trust, and the relationship itself. As Hasinoff sees it, just as medical records cannot be shared without the explicit consent of the patient, violators should face legal consequences for any infraction—no matter with whom they share the photos, or how innocent they believe their intent to be. Sexting is an issue of consent and privacy, Hasinoff writes: simultaneously a sex act and a speech act.

The unauthorized sharing of pictures can present tremendous problems for teens, she continues, because it can lead to law enforcement involvement; this is especially problematic since the law defines any and all explicit images of a person under the age of 18 as child pornography. In terms of practical implications, Hasinoff writes that “a number of teenagers the United States involved in sexting have been charged with producing, possessing, and distributing” illegal imagery—in other words, pictures of their friends in various states of undress. This leaves consensual sexters extremely vulnerable: Although the numbers are small, it’s worth noting that in 2009, 134 people younger than 18 were arrested for, Hasinoff writes, “consensually creating or sharing images in the context of romantic relationships or for sexual attention-seeking.” Yes, you read this correctly: 134 young people were arrested for texting images of themselves to someone else. Surprisingly, it did not apparently matter whether the recipient was their age or an adult.

Although Hasinoff offers no hard facts about the who, what, when, or where of most of these arrests—which weakens her argument somewhat—she does offer a realistic assessment of the probable enforcement patterns. “Since texting is a relatively common behavior and decades of research have demonstrated systemic racism and homophobia in the justice system, both new sexting misdemeanors and existing child pornography laws are likely being disproportionately applied to queer youth, lower-income youth, and youth of color.”

Hasinoff illustrates the irrationality of current law-enforcement behavior with several anecdotes. One takes readers into Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania—recent census reports describe it as a middle-income borough of about 1,800 people—where in 2009, parents of nearly 20 kids attending the local high school received a letter from the Wyoming County district attorney’s office informing them that a random search of student cell phones found their children in possession of “child pornography.” At issue were photos of three then-13-year-old girls in white bras, standing outside a shower with towels covering their torsos. The photos of the girls were found on the phones of every child whose parents were contacted.

The DA offered the parents a deal: The charges would be dismissed if their kids spent six months on probation, submitted to random drug tests, and completed an unspecified “education program.” Most accepted the offer but the three bra-wearers did not. They contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania to contest the charges.

According to Hasinoff, the ACLU bungled the case by arguing that “forcing the girls to attend [the] education program would violate their parents’ right to control the upbringing of their children and the girl’s right to freedom from compelled speech.” Although Hasinoff concedes that the ACLU was sympathetic to the teens, the lawyers’ exclusive focus “on desexualization and innocence—that the girls took the photos for ‘fun’ and were topless only because of the summer heat—precludes a larger discussion about teenagers’ right to freedom of expression.”

Perhaps unwittingly, she writes, the ACLU reinforced the notion of teen girls as irresponsible, hormonally driven, and flighty, too young to be aware of their sexual prowess. Although the ACLU triumphed by avoiding criminal charges for the arrested teens, Hasinoff believes it was a hollow victory since it did not reinforce the idea that girls had a right to send photos in a deliberately flirtatious manner to whomever they pleased. What’s more, she is annoyed that schools, parents, and lawmakers typically “punish girls who sext consensually while ignoring boys who violate their privacy.” And of course, policymakers typically place far less emphasis on boys who send photos of themselves to friends or potential hook-ups.

Nonetheless, while Hasinoff is clearly right to acknowledge the blatant gender disparity, she is a bit off the mark in other ways. By not differentiating 13-year-olds from 17- or 18-year-olds, she sidesteps the enormous developmental differences between the two cohorts in terms of maturity levels and knowledge of legal and social systems. Still, she is correct that “the idea that innocent girls need to be protected from themselves—from their innately irrational brains and the overwhelming biological forces of their sexuality” is pure bunk. This notion of girls who send photos as suffering from low self-esteem and a need for attention—the mantra of many child advocates—needs to be turned asunder, since many girls know exactly why they are sexting potential hook-ups.

Additionally, the idea of “girls gone wild,” reinforced by the disproportionate punishment of female sexters, ignores the fact that many teenagers and young women responsibly manage their sexuality.

This is actuality the crux of the matter, since far too many adults continue to believe that it’s normal for boys and young men—but not girls or young women—to seek sexual expression. Needless to say, victims of sexual assault have long been blamed for provoking attacks, and Hasinoff points a finger at a similar tendency when it comes to sexting. That is, “out of control” girls are blamed for photos going viral, whether by peers or by adult men who somehow gain access to them. The implication of this punishment framework, she writes, is that posting images online is always dangerous and should always be avoided. A better approach: Teaching young people that they should never share photos non-consensually, and creating a system of justice to reinforce that.

Sadly, she writes, this message is rarely promulgated since the bulk of youth programs “focus on changing girls’ attitudes and behaviors instead of trying to modify male behavior to reduce the incidence of sexual violence and harassment.”

In addition, Hasinoff notes that the mistaken assumption that all digital images are public is pervasive, which is why she argues for a legal crackdown on those who share images without the explicit consent of the person depicted. Unfortunately, she makes it sound simple, but it is not. Indeed, the issue of consent in this context is incredibly complicated and layered, at least for me. For example, what happens when a person receives a photo and then forwards it without first asking permission, and the second recipient then forwards it to his/her friends, with the cycle repeating? How might we enforce consent laws? Would every person who forwarded the image be considered complicit and at fault? What would an appropriate punishment look like? If such consequences were to be put in place, these and other questions need to be considered by policymakers, youth leaders, parents, and child advocates.

In the absence of much legal precedent, Hasinoff’s alarm about the way sexism is used to punish and police girls who sext, rather than cracking down on those—mostly, but not exclusively, men and boys—who violate privacy by sharing images without authorization, provides a cogent reminder about the magnitude of concerns governing digital etiquette. Many of Hasinoff’s insights are spot-on in this respect: “The idea that criminalizing sexting protects teens, especially girls, from their own ill-considered decisions,” lies at the core of contemporary responses to sexting, she writes. To date, the response has rested largely with girls: Telling them not to sext, as if this alone will protect them from being harassed, menaced, raped, stalked, or intimidated. Hasinoff further explains that “men and boys are rarely asked to do any work to resist the ill effects of sexualization; this task falls almost entirely to girls and women.”

Although I am certainly sympathetic to Hasinoff’s argument that telling kids not to sext is meaningless—they’ll clearly do it anyway—I’m simultaneously sympathetic to parents who want to caution their children about the behavior’s potential to wreak havoc. As Hasinoff herself says, there are presently few consequences for recipients who spread sexts nonconsensually.

To her credit, Hasinoff does offer a list of sexting tips and recommendations that zero in on present-day realities about rape, rape culture, and the prevalence of sexual assault. It shouldn’t be necessary to do these things, she writes, but it is nonetheless wise to crop or blur one’s face or other identifying marks out of suggestive photos; delete old photos often and ask partner(s) to do the same; and consider using an app that deletes pictures automatically after they’ve been viewed. She further urges state legislatures to decriminalize consensual sexting, repeal age-specific sexting misdemeanors, and add age-span exemptions so that if there are fewer than four years between partners exchanging photos no one can be prosecuted for distribution of child pornography. Likewise, she tells adults to learn the difference between consensual texting and privacy violations and suggests the development of a “harm-reduction approach to deal with privacy violations and harassment.” Finally, she prods us to demand that media companies build privacy protections into the design of their devices so that it becomes more difficult to forward photos from person to person.

Common sense? Absolutely.

Although Sexting Panic diminishes sexting’s downside by paying too little attention to the psychological and physical abuse that can result when images meant to be private go viral—whether post-break-up, as an act of revenge, or simply by accident—it is a solid counter to moralists who can’t fathom anything good coming from the practice. This makes it an important contribution to an important social issue. Indeed, as Hasinoff argues, sexting is not likely to go away, so we’d best figure out how to maximize the joy it can bring while minimizing the harm it can cause.

Image: University of Illinois Press

The post Is the ‘Panic’ Over Sexting Really Warranted? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Senate Bill Would Prohibit LGBT Discrimination in Adoption and Foster Placement

RH Reality Check - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:38

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation this week that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ people who want to adopt and against LGBTQ children who want to be adopted.

The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would prohibit any federally funded adoption or foster placement agency from discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of the potential parent or the child involved. Gillibrand has introduced the bill in the Senate twice before.

The legal status of adoption rights for same-sex couples is inconsistent from state to state, and most states don’t specifically address foster care. Only seven states, including Gillibrand’s home state of New York, explicitly prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in adoption, and only five states prohibit discrimination in foster care.

An estimated two million LGBTQ people are interested in adopting, while more than 400,000 children are in foster care and about 100,000 are available to be adopted because they can’t return to their original families.

“We need to support the loving, caring, and responsible adults who want to welcome children in need of families into their homes,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “This bill removes outdated and discriminatory barriers that have kept thousands of children within the welfare system instead of connecting them with devoted parents.”

Not only does discrimination against LGBTQ parents reduce the number of homes for children, advocates say—it reduces the number of likely safe, accepting homes for LGBTQ children, who are disproportionately mistreated in the foster system.

“It’s a sad reality that most of the stories we hear about how LGBTQ youth are treated in foster care are pretty grim,” Celeste Bodner, executive director of FosterClub, said in a statement.

An estimated 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ, and about 60 percent came out of the foster system. Many are rejected by their families for their identity or orientation, and some drop out of school due to bullying and harassment.

“Safe and affirming families are key to LGBTQ youth succeeding and thriving,” Ellen Kahn, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Children, Youth and Families Program, said in a statement. “It’s time for the system to do better for these youth.”

Image: Kristen E. Gillibrand/YouTube

The post Senate Bill Would Prohibit LGBT Discrimination in Adoption and Foster Placement appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Charges of Child Molestation

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 23:15

Josh Duggar, oldest son of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, the family profiled in the reality TV juggernaut 19 Kids and Counting, resigned his position as Executive Director of the Family Research Council today after reports surfaced that as a young teen he had fondled the breasts and genitals of several girls, including his own sisters, over an unknown period of time beginning in at least 2002.

The Duggars rose to fame based on their brand of “biblical family values,” which as described by writer Vyckie Garrison, are based on the premise that “God designed males and females to fulfill distinct roles [in which] men are to be leaders, teachers, initiators, protectors and providers. Women are created to be “helpmeets” to the men in authority over them (husbands, fathers, older brothers) ~ they are to be submissive and yielding.” The Duggars home-school their kids, place very heavy emphasis on chastity—couples don’t even hold hands before they are engaged to be married—and the “proper” role of women and girls, and eschew birth control, and strongly embrace other so-called Christian conservative values.

The Duggars quickly became big business. Based primarily on the size of their family and the apparent willingness of Michelle and Jim Bob to keep getting pregnant irrespective of the documented dangers to both Michelle and the babies she carries, the cable channel TLC gave them a reality show from which they make a reported $25,000 to $40,000 per episode. From that show grew incessant coverage of the Duggars in People magazine and a range of tabloids, which have documented ad nauseum the weddings of the three oldest Duggar children and the subsequent and, in turn, the rapid birth of their own kids. Add to all of this money from book sales, promotional appearances, and their other family businesses, including real estate, and the Duggars are making a considerable income peddling their values.

Given their visibility and their fundamentalist beliefs, it’s not surprising that the Duggars then became the poster family for all things anti… anti-choice policies, anti-LGBT rights, anti-birth control coverage and anti-women’s rights. Jim Bob and Michelle have made campaign appearances for numerous conservative candidates, and as reported by Media Matters for America, Michelle famously recorded a robocall in 2014 urging voters in the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas to repeal an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories. The Duggars contributed $10,000 to the campaigns of opponents of the ordnance, and it was repealed by a vote 52 to 48 percent.

In June 2013, Josh Duggar was hired as executive director of the Family Research Council (FRC), a Washington-based group that lobbies vociferously against efforts to expand the rights of women, LGBT persons, and undocumented immigrants. They promote abortion bans and limits on access to birth control, support bills to overturn Obamacare, and are against expansion of Medicaid to those in need. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FRC as a hate group. Josh Duggar not only came with the Christian right cred of his family name, but had also previously campaigned for 12 week abortion bans and for Rick Santorum, so Tony Perkins snatched him up as the poster boy for an organization based on spreading stigma, discrimination, and other similar “family values.”

It’s not clear whether Perkins knew when he hired Duggar that as a teen, Duggar had been accused of multiple instances of child sexual molestation, including molestation of some of his sisters while they were sleeping. According to In Touch magazine, which broke the story this week, the molestation first came to light in 2002 when Jim Bob became aware of the first of what apparently several instances of child sexual molestation perpetrated by Josh. The details and timeline as reported in this article are not completely clear, but it appears there were several delays between when Jim Bob found out about the first and subsequent acts of molestation and when he first spoke to church elders about the incidents and then even further delays of several months or even years before authorities were contacted, followed by the refusal of Jim Bob to allow Josh to be questioned by authorities. Then, in another twist, In Touch reports “the state trooper who originally took the report about Josh shortly before 2005 never followed up. That state trooper was later convicted on child pornography charges and is serving a 56-year prison sentence.” According to In Touch, the three-year statute of limitations had passed by the time other authorities found out about the case and the investigation was discontinued.

Further confusion arises from what appears to be dissembling by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar in regard to the steps they took to address what clearly in any functional family could only be seen as a serious problem. While it is unclear what steps Jim Bob actually took and when, Michelle Duggar at first told authorities and others that she had sent Josh for “counseling and hard labor” when in fact she had merely sent him to live with a family friend who was working on a home remodeling project.

Josh Duggar posted a statement on Facebook today, which read:

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

He also published a resignation letter, published by People magazine, in which he speaks to his regret for the effects of this news on FRC and its agenda.

Each of the statements made by Josh Duggar, his parents, and by FRC focus on “actions Josh took as a teen,” and “mistakes he made.” At no point do either he or his parents express concern for the victims of his actions nor do they or FRC address the broader issue of sexual abuse and coercion or condemn it.

In her robocalls to voters against the Fayetteville anti-discrimination ordinance, Michelle Duggar, who clearly knew about her son’s past, said:  “I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space.”

Apparently, in addition to fomenting hatred and undermining public health and human rights, Christian family values Duggar-style involve projecting unfairly and unjustly onto others the actions of those under your own roof.

The post Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Charges of Child Molestation appeared first on RH Reality Check.

California Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Ruling Underscores Need to Connect Policy to Practice

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:39

My first trip to the principal’s office happened not as an erstwhile student, but as a sex educator working in a range of public schools in California’s Bay Area. The mother of one of my students had requested a meeting over concerns about the “explicit” nature of the curriculum. After listening to her concerns, I patiently explained the goals and objectives of the program and walked her through the lessons I would cover in her daughter’s freshman health class. Then I sat dumbfounded as the principal assured her the curriculum emphasized abstinence above all else and, while it included information on condoms and birth control, the main message would be it is always best to wait to have sex. The approach described by this well-intentioned principal, sometimes termed “abstinence-based” or “abstinence-plus” education, was, in fact, against California law.

This meeting took place in 2005, two years after California passed the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act. The law requires sex education in the state’s public middle and high schools to be comprehensive, providing unbiased instruction about both abstinence and the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods, without giving preference to any one option. This approach is in alignment with decades of research demonstrating the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education. Abstinence-only programs, on the other hand, have failed to achieve their stated goal of helping teens wait to have sex.

Another ten years would pass before a judge affirmed the law, ruling just last week that “access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right.” In the intervening period, I witnessed myriad examples of spotty implementation, such that I was no longer shocked by schools’ misinterpretations and failures to comply with the law.

In addition to requiring comprehensive and medically accurate education, the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act also aims to reduce barriers to students accessing such education by allowing parents to opt their children out of the classes if they object, rather than requiring them to proactively opt into the instruction. However, nearly every school in which I taught simply ignored this piece of the statute, sending home opt-in permission slips in an attempt to avoid perceived controversy. (In reality, research suggests the vast majority of parents support comprehensive sexuality education; even the parent who requested the meeting with the principal kept her daughter in the class.)

What concerned me even more were frequent requests from schools where I taught to omit lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, despite the expressed intent of the law to “encourage a pupil to develop healthy attitudes concerning … sexual orientation.” School administrators assured me that those topics were covered elsewhere in the curriculum, but my students told a different story. For example, one school held an annual assembly with a theater troupe performing skits about HIV and AIDS that featured one gay character. Students reported that this was the only time sexual orientation was specifically addressed in a formalized way at the school. While such programs offer an important opportunity to normalize depictions of LGBT individuals, deeper discussions in classroom environments are necessary to help students develop a more thorough understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity than what is possible in a large assembly. This understanding is essential in creating inclusive and safe school environments for all students. (LGBT students in schools with LGBT-inclusive curricula hear fewer homophobic and transphobic remarks, are less likely to miss school, and feel more connected to their school community.)

Last week’s ruling, while an important victory, was also a stark reminder of the limitations of public policy as a tool for achieving social change. Although strong policies provide important backing for schools’ decisions about curricula, they do not automatically translate into implementation at the classroom level. Sex education policies rarely have any teeth; enforcement mechanisms are usually slim or lacking entirely, and there are limited resources to support implementation. In the case of California, one state employee is charged with monitoring implementation for the state’s roughly 1,000 school districts. It’s no wonder it took a lawsuit brought by outraged parents, with the assistance of the ACLU, to force the Clovis Unified School District to comply with the law.

I do not discount the essential role of public policy in creating the enabling environment for the implementation of sexuality education. Indeed, without the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act, Judge Donald S. Black would have had no legal grounds for his ruling. Rather, I believe this case underscores the need to better connect policy to practice by providing funding for implementation; creating systems for enforcement; and encouraging parents, young people, and advocates to be ever vigilant in their activism. If we agree with Judge Black that sex education is a public right, it will take all of these efforts to ensure that right is protected and fulfilled.

Image: Shutterstock

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It Shouldn’t Take a Chlamydia ‘Epidemic’ in Texas to Make Us Care About Teens’ Sexual Health

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:29

In recent weeks, numerous media reports have questioned whether abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are failing our high school students and leaving them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. Interestingly, it was not new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing the record high number of STIs among teens across the country, nor was it the mountains of research showing abstinence-only programs don’t work that made news. It wasn’t even the increased funding that Congress quietly passed for these failing programs last month that put this type of sex education in the spotlight. Instead, it was an outrageous—and ultimately false—story of 20 teens in a small high school in Texas having chlamydia that got media outlets, including the Washington Post, the U.S. News and World Report,, and The View, to discuss whether kids need medically accurate information.

I appreciate the attention on this issue, and I hope the debate can go on even as we begin to learn the truth about what’s happening in Crane, Texas. But I am disappointed that yet again, the mainstream media and general public seem only to pay attention to teens’ sexual health needs when we can tie them to a situation so alarming or scandalous it can practically write its own headline.

This story began in early May, when the superintendent of the Crane Independent School District, Jim Rumage, sent a letter to parents alerting them that chlamydia was “on the rise” in the local high school. According to reports, the letter said that about 20 students out of the 300 in the school had tested positive for this bacterial STI. The article that ran on a local news website said that the CDC had declared this to be “epidemic proportions.” Rumage told reporters, “We do have an abstinence curriculum, and that’s evidently ain’t working. [sic] We need to do all we can, although it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their kids on sexual education.”

From there the story took off, with articles and television pieces across the country and even internationally questioning how so many students could have an STI. (RH Reality Check covered it in a podcast.) Most, like Rumage himself, ended up blaming the school’s poor sex education. Raw Story, for example, scoured the district’s website and pointed out that although the school does not offer a human sexuality course, it does run an optional three-day program that focuses on remaining abstinent until marriage. That story also noted that in 2012, an advisory panel recommended that the school adopt Worth the Wait, an abstinence curriculum produced by Scott and White Hospital in Texas that relies on fear and shame and suggests condoms provide very little protection from STIs.  

This is not out of the ordinary for Texas, which has a long history of abstinence-only programs. When former President George W. Bush was governor, he started the Lone Star Leaders, one of the first state programs promoting abstinence until marriage. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Texas has spent a total of $156 million in state and local funds on abstinence-only programs since 2003. And in March, the Texas House of Representatives voted to cut $3 million of funds currently allocated for HIV and STI prevention and devote them instead to abstinence-only programs, despite the fact that their state has the third-highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country.

Though much of this abstinence funding is used outside of schools, Texas schools do often take a similar approach to sexuality education. State law does not mandate any sexuality education, but does say that it must focus on abstinence if it is taught. Though schools can discuss contraception and STIs, the law says that class must “devote more attention to abstinence from sexual activity than to any other behavior.” Moreover, the laws says that courses must “emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity, if used consistently and correctly, is the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.”

It appears that superintendent Rumage agrees with this aspect of the law. He told a local paper: “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease … That’s not a bad program.”

I suppose he’s not entirely wrong. If his students weren’t having sex, they could not get chlamydia. But clearly they are not being abstinent, nor are their peers across Texas. According to the CDC’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 43 percent of high school girls and 49 percent of high school boys in Texas have engaged in sexual intercourse. Texas also has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy across the country. And, in 2012, there were nearly 40,000 cases of chlamydia among teenagers 15 and older reported in Texas.

These statistics should be enough to get everyone paying attention to the poor sexual health of teens in Texas, and similar statistics are available for states across the country. But the media tends to gloss over these health indicators or report them in a brief news story without ever investigating what we are doing wrong. Apparently, it takes a story like Crane to make the general public take notice.

Only what we have learned since the story broke is that the “outbreak” of chlamydia that was reported in Crane was greatly exaggerated. Some reporters began questioning the numbers because the local health department listed only eight cases of chlamydia in the whole county. Rumage has since agreed that his number was incorrect and explained that he got his information from a local doctor and that he misheard or possibly misunderstood. When the doctor said that more than 20 students had been tested for chlamydia he took that to mean they all had the infection. In fact, only three cases have been confirmed among students, though not all test results have come back.

But three high school students with chlamydia is bad news. Chlamydia is an easily treatable bacterial infection, if caught early, but it often has no symptoms and young people won’t know they have it unless they know to get tested for it. If they don’t get tested and treated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which, in turn, can lead to infertility. Moreover, the fact that three have chlamydia means that they are having unprotected sex and putting themselves in danger of contracting other STIs that can’t be cured, such as herpes and HIV. Given that we don’t know their gender, they are also at risk of getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy.

But is three students with chlamydia bad enough news to have made international headlines?

I doubt it. My guess is that if it had been clear from the start that this was not actually an epidemic, it wouldn’t have gotten past the local newspaper. Three chlamydia cases in one school is certainly alarming, but it’s not scandalous, and it doesn’t make for much of a headline.

I would argue, however, that it should. Every case of chlamydia or gonorrhea or herpes among teenagers should make headlines, or at least make us demand change, as should every teen who becomes unintentionally pregnant. These things can be prevented, and it is our responsibility as adults to give teens the information and tools necessary to prevent STIs and unplanned pregnancy. We also have to help them think critically about their sexual decisions, because if more than 20 kids in one high school needs to be tested for chlamydia, it means that at least some of them are having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Teens are capable of making responsible choices, but they can’t do it without the help of adults and education.

We may never have heard of Crane, Texas, or questioned its sexuality education if the truth had been known going in. Now that we have, though, we should not let the conversation drop. According to some reports, the school board in Crane was set to reexamine its sex education program early this week. I hope that the recent scrutiny on the town—whether deserved or not—spurs the board to improve its program and I hope that media stays on the story to keep the pressure on. I also hope that moving forward, it will not take an epidemic to get us to focus on the sexual health needs of teens—because the next epidemic will likely be real and it will be the teens who suffer.

Image: Shutterstock

The post It Shouldn’t Take a Chlamydia ‘Epidemic’ in Texas to Make Us Care About Teens’ Sexual Health appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Can YOU decipher exactly what Rand Paul is trying to say about where he stands o...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:00
Can YOU decipher exactly what Rand Paul is trying to say about where he stands on reproductive freedom?

Just What Is Rand Paul Saying About Abortion?
The senator says we ‘have to figure out when we agree life begins.’ But two years ago he pushed a fetal personhood bill—and then said there would be ‘thousands of exceptions’ to it.

South Carolina Senate Advances 20-Week Ban, Despite GOP Squabbling

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 14:38

The South Carolina Senate has moved forward with a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, despite efforts by a GOP senator to block the legislation because it includes exceptions for rape and incest.

HB 3114, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would create an unconstitutional ban on abortion before a fetus is viable, a point before which abortion is legally protected by Roe v. Wade.

Proposals like the one in South Carolina rest on spurious claims that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. That belief has been discredited by major medical institutions, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The bill passed the Republican-majority state house in February in a 71-22 vote, with a long list of sponsors. The 20-week ban received pushback in the state senate after Democrats added exceptions for rape and incest to the bill. State Sen. Lee Bright (R) attempted to filibuster the bill because he claimed the amendments were too lenient on pregnant people.

“The founders never intended for us to kill our own children,” Bright said at the senate chamber podium.

Other anti-choice state senators, who favored the bill with the exceptions, sought to get Bright away from the podium and were eventually successful after voting to interrupt and end the debate. South Carolina’s anti-choice advocates roundly criticized Bright.

The amended bill was passed on Tuesday in a 37-7 vote. The amended version will be sent back to the house for final approval, after which it will go to anti-choice Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who is expected to sign the bill.

Proposals to ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization have been a common anti-choice tactic this year. The U.S. House last week passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, and GOP-controlled state legislatures have pushed similar bans: The legislation has been introduced this year in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia.

A 20-week ban was made law this year in West Virginia, after the state legislature overrode its governor’s veto.

Image: The State Newspaper/YouTube

The post South Carolina Senate Advances 20-Week Ban, Despite GOP Squabbling appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Enough is enough.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 14:00
Enough is enough.

Enough with the Mandatory Vaginal Exams, Florida
(Men, you don't get to answer this one.)

"Everyone should have equal constitutional rights. The way these state laws have...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:03
"Everyone should have equal constitutional rights. The way these state laws have been working, [access] really depends on where you live."

Your right to an abortion may depend on your zip code
Lawmakers across the country are making it harder for women to access abortion care.

Missouri Fines Aetna for Not Charging Women Enough for Abortions

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 12:39

Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies in Missouri, agreed to pay $4.5 million in fines for violations of state law that include paying for elective abortions and failing to cover certain autism benefits.

A 1983 Missouri law prevents insurers from covering elective abortions unless an individual has purchased a separate policy, known as a rider, to cover the procedure.

Riders contain premium costs in addition to what people pay in premiums for their comprehensive health-care coverage. Aetna, according to the settlement document, paid for nine elective abortions in cases where the insured did not purchase a separate abortion rider, as mandated by Missouri law.

The settlement document also outlines Aetna’s violation of a 2010 law that mandates insurance companies pay for certain autism treatments. Aetna is reviewing claims of those potentially affected and the company will pay for those claims that were incorrectly denied at 9 percent interest, according to the settlement agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Missouri Department of Insurance will monitor the insurer for three years. Should no other issues occur during that period and so long as Aetna complies with all the terms of the settlement agreement, the company will not lose its state license. During the monitoring period, though, the Department of Insurance can stop Aetna from conducting business in Missouri for up to a year if the company continues to violate state insurance regulations.

The department agreed to waive $1.5 million of the $4.5 million fine if Aetna fully complies with state law and the settlement agreement during the monitoring period.

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced the agreement, reportedly the largest against an insurance company in Missouri.

“When an insurance company chooses to do business in our state, they agree to follow our laws,” Nixon said in a statement. “These were serious violations that deserved serious punishment—and that’s what Aetna received.”

This is reportedly the second time Aetna has been fined for violating Missouri law. In 2012, the state recovered $1.5 million in fines for similar claims that Aetna violated state laws on insurance coverage for abortions, contraceptives, and autism treatments.

Image: Katherine Welles /

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Navigating the Military System to Get an Abortion: Olivia Pope Can’t Fix This Scandal

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 11:39

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This season’s Scandal episodes have tackled some of today’s most pressing social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, gun control, and feminism. Recently, sexual assault and abortion have taken center stage. In the episode titled “A Few Good Women,” Vice President Susan Ross travels to the USS Montana for a photo op with enlistees and notices that a young woman, Ensign Amy Martin, has bruises on her wrists. Privately, the vice president questions Ensign Martin about her injuries and it is revealed that a high-ranking admiral, and friend of the president, raped her. When the president tells Vice President Ross not to intervene in the military jurisdiction, she turns to everyone’s favorite fixer, Olivia Pope, to ensure Ensign Martin receives justice.

While Olivia Pope and her team fight to prove that the rape occurred, Ensign Martin realizes that she became pregnant and wants to seek an abortion immediately. “I have to get off the ship. I need you to get me an abortion,” Ensign Martin says to Pope. Their conversation is cut short by an officer who charges Ensign Martin with “conduct unbecoming,” which restricts her ability to leave the ship. With the creativity of her team, Olivia Pope cites an ill relative to free Ensign Martin from the ship so that she can seek abortion care. The most powerful image in the episode is when Pope stands tall holding Ensign Martin’s hand during Martin’s abortion.

The episode highlights a few barriers when attempting to seek an abortion, but what’s a service member to do when she doesn’t have Olivia Pope’s help navigating the system?

Currently, about 14 percent of the U.S. military on active duty are women and 97 percent are of reproductive age. (It is estimated that about 15,000 military personnel identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, but due to regulations and lack of inclusion under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they are still unable to serve openly. Therefore research statistics do not include trans or gender nonconforming service members seeking abortion care for any number of reasons.) Due to the persistent rape culture within the military ranks, an estimated 20 to 43 percent of women experience “rape or attempted rape” during their military careers. Even more startling, the Department of Defense believes that over 85 percent of rapes are not reported due to fear of retaliation. According to the Department of Defense, over 60 percent of survivors who reported their rapes experienced some form of retaliation—exactly the storyline of that recent Scandal episode.

Whether or not a service member reports their rape, they may face a myriad of psychological and physical health effects, including unintended pregnancy. Acknowledging the serious sexual assault risks to service members, Congress passed the Shaheen Amendment in 2013 allowing TRICARE funds to be used for abortion care, though only in the cases of rape, incest, and health. Prior to the amendment, service members and their dependents could only use their TRICARE health insurance for abortions in the case of life endangerment. This bipartisan bill sought to bring the military policy in line with the overall federal policy governed by the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used for abortion unless under specific circumstances such as rape. While the Shaheen Amendment is a win for service members who have been raped and want an abortion, it doesn’t clear access for people in the military who become pregnant from having consensual sex and seek an abortion—a majority of whom do not want to have children at that moment and desire to finish their military career. Why are we as a nation asking service members to honor their country through military duty, yet systematically denying them abortion access and the very rights for which they are fighting?

As research shows, pregnancy while serving in the military is common, particularly among less privileged service members. In a recent study, Dr. Daniel Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, found that servicewomen experience unintended pregnancy at higher rates than the national average—54 percent as compared to 49 percent. Mirroring national statistics, women of color, personnel who are enlisted at a lower pay grade, younger members, and those without a college degree tend to experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies. A majority of respondents cited lack of access to contraception and sexual health education as a barrier to preventing pregnancy. They also cited challenges in obtaining refills for birth control or in visiting a provider while deployed. Additionally, many said they were confused by the laws as to whether or not they could seek birth control.

Similarly, in a 2011 study, Dr. Grossman looked at the experiences of service members seeking abortion while serving abroad. Similar to the civilian population, 56 percent already had one or more children and 78 percent said it was not a good time for them to have a child. About half said their unintended pregnancy was a failure of their contraceptive method, and many cited lack of access to contraception, emergency contraception, and gynecological care as major barriers. For its part, the House of Representatives passed a new policy stating that military clinics and hospitals must dispense all FDA-approved forms of contraception and give service members a “sufficient supply” of their birth control method as part of the annual defense policy bill last Friday.

“Deployed women face additional barriers, since they may be on a ship at sea or in countries where abortion is legally restricted and/or where security issues make travel off-base to obtain care very difficult,” Dr. Grossman told RH Reality Check.

“Other barriers are related to lack of geographic proximity to providers, since many bases are located in more remote areas, and active-duty service members can only travel so far depending on how long their leave is for,” Dr. Grossman explained. If a service member becomes pregnant and wants an abortion, they must notify their chain of command to request leave and, if the pregnancy was not the result of rape or a danger to their health, cover the entire cost of the abortion and the evacuation from their deployment, which can amount to more than $10,000 per person. “It would take too much time for me to be sent back to the States and processed for me to meet the 9-week requirement for [a medication abortion],” explained one woman stationed in Iraq. If a pregnant person is deployed in an active war zone, it can take weeks to coordinate the evacuation, which increases the cost of the abortion and limits their clinic options, since not all providers offer later abortion care.

Even for those who do have the financial means to pay for their abortion out of pocket, the country in which they are stationed may prohibit abortion except in cases of life endangerment. It is very common for the Department of Defense to follow the laws of a host country, forcing service members to travel for legal abortion care, seek illegal care, or self-induce. In Dr. Grossman’s 2011 study, 68 percent of the women seeking abortions were deployed in countries where the health procedure is banned.

Further, notifying the chain of command infringes on their privacy around their decision, can get them in trouble for having sexual relationships while serving, and can put them in additional danger for retaliation if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Dr. Grossman said there’s a “lack of confidentiality if they say they’re pregnant and ask for leave for an abortion.”

For others, abortion stigma and fear of losing their job force them to seek an abortion outside of the military. “If the Army finds out that I am pregnant they will kick me out of the Army. The salary I earn supports my mother and two sisters at home. I cannot afford [for] this to happen. Please, please help me,” wrote one woman stationed in Iraq, whose consultation data was included in Grossman’s study.

Abortion stigma also results in limited access to abortion care in military treatment facilities. Due to lack of training in abortion care in military medical schools, few abortion providers, and refusal to provide abortions by military medical staff, access is low. According to the Department of Defense, an average of 3.79 abortions were performed on military facilities each year for the past 15 years. A woman stationed in Iraq said, “the Army makes it impossible to keep my pregnancy confidential and not everyone is open-minded about abortions.”

Image: ABC

The post Navigating the Military System to Get an Abortion: Olivia Pope Can’t Fix This Scandal appeared first on RH Reality Check.

On Tuesday, California will vote on a bill that would require crisis pregnancy c...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 10:06
On Tuesday, California will vote on a bill that would require crisis pregnancy centers to tell women the truth about their reproductive health options. One politician asked why a lawmaker cared so much about the bill, and her response is PERFECT.

Baltimore, Detroit ‘Criminalizing’ Low-Income People, Shutting Off Their Water

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:17

The Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) was preparing to shut off water to homes around the city during the uprising over the death of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died while in police custody. The shutoffs would disproportionately affect many of the people in racially segregated, economically distressed communities embroiled in conflicts with law enforcement.

The DPW water shutoff crackdown focused on households, while businesses, government offices, and nonprofits accounted for the vast majority of the unpaid water fees.

City officials announced in March that upwards of 25,000 residents would receive notices that their water services may be shut off. The notices would be sent to customers who have outstanding water bills of $250 or more, and residents would have ten days to pay the entire bill before service was shut off.

More than 1,600 Baltimore residents have had their water shut off in the past six weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun. The vast majority of the notices were sent to residences in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city.

“We want to make sure all of our citizens pay their fair share,” Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow said in an interview. “When we don’t collect the necessary revenues, it causes us to raise water rates as a result. The citizens who are paying their bills are, in effect, subsidizing those who are not paying.”

Less than half of the $40 million in delinquent water bills are from residents. Unpaid bills from 369 businesses account for more than $15 million and government offices and nonprofits account for another $10 million of the unpaid water bills, according to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun.

Since the shutoffs began, the city has collected about $5 million in overdue water bill payments, reports the Baltimore Brew. Only about $1 million has been collected from commercial customers. None of those commercial customers have had their water shut off. Only residential customers have had their water service suspended, according to a review of public records by the Baltimore Sun.

A private firm is conducting a financial audit of the DPW and four other Baltimore city agencies. The audit was in response to mounting evidence that suggested the DPW has been over-billing customers. It is the first time city agencies have been audited in 25 years.

The water shutoffs, leaving many in the city’s low-income communities without water, could have serious public health consequences. Mary Grant, a researcher with Food and Water Watch, told ThinkProgress that the water shutoffs could allow for diseases to propagate throughout densely-populated neighborhoods.

“There is direct risk associated with lack of access to water,” Grant said. “When you lose your water service, you lose water to wash your hands to flush the toilet, there is risk of disease spreading.”

Another issue facing residents: those who rent homes are seeing landlords shift the burden of paying water bills onto tenants who have outright not paid water bills for rental properties. The city refuses to open new water accounts for anyone who isn’t a property owner, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Activists have protested the policy as “inhuman,” charging that the policy punishes people living in poverty.

“We’re in a state of shock and outrage,” Sharon Black, an activist with the People’s Power Assembly, told the Baltimore Sun during a protest outside city hall in March. “People aren’t paying their water bills, because they can’t afford to.”

Residents who have delinquent accounts could face action by the city in the form of a tax sale. Property could face foreclosure if an owner owes at least $500. Baltimore city officials have said they are planning to hire an ombudsman to help residents avoid such measures.

The city put 8,278 properties up for tax sale in 2014.

Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, told the Baltimore Sun that the policy is not being equally applied to residential and commercial customers. “If most of the debt is owned by commercial properties, why would they get the white glove treatment,” Hill said. “Did Baltimore City not learn anything from Detroit?”

The Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) last year shut off water service to residents with unpaid bills in an effort to collect more than $119 million in delinquent payments from more than 150,000 customers. Like in Baltimore, Detroit’s commercial customers represent more than half of the unpaid water dues.

Detroit announced this month that it would send out water shutoff notices to 25,000 households with overdue water bills, and give them ten days to seek assistance from the city or lose water service, reports Al Jazeera.

The shutoffs are set to begin next week.

According to a city report, there are more than 73,000 residential accounts with bills that are at least two months late, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Tawana Petty, a spokesperson for Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, told RH Reality Check that the mayor and the DWSD have conducted a public relations campaign to distract residents and those who want to report the truth about what is happening to low-income people in Detroit.

While Baltimore is not going through bankruptcy nor under the rule of an emergency manager—as Detroit is—there are similarities between the water shutoffs in the two cities.

There were reportedly efforts to privatize water services in both cities. Activists in Detroit and Baltimore were alarmed by former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s exploration of privatizing the DWSD and the Baltimore Department of Public Works’ requests for proposals from consulting firms for a study of the water system.

“What they do is, they come in and do an efficiency study, and then two years from now what they will do is say that we want to downsize the workers, contract them out of their jobs,” Glenard Middleton, a local labor leader, told the Baltimore Sun.

Both cities have large communities of color that have disproportionately high rates of unemployment and poverty, significant infrastructure problems that include crumbling water systems, and long histories of discriminatory housing policies and incidents of police brutality.

Activists believe that these similarities are not accidental.

“If you look at the cities where they are doing these mass overhauls, where they are shutting water off and criminalizing people, they are in predominately Black communities,” Petty said.

Maureen Taylor, chairwoman for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told RH Reality Check that while efforts to privatize water services are taking hold in low-income communities of color, they will affect all low-income communities, regardless of race.

“They start by coming to the door of the African-American community,” Taylor said. “The larger white community won’t fight or get involved because they’ll think, ‘It’s not on our doorstep.'”

The population of Detroit is 82.7 percent Black. Baltimore is 63.7 percent Black. In Detroit, 38.1 percent of residents live below the poverty line, while in Baltimore, 23.8 percent live in poverty. The average annual income of a Black Baltimore household is about half a white household in Baltimore.

Corporate interests have lobbied for water privatization in communities across the country and across the world, despite privatization often being more costly and less efficient.

Police brutality, often against people of color, is also common in Baltimore and Detroit. Baltimore has paid out more than $5.7 million to victims of 100 police brutality lawsuits since 2011.

“The problems reflect a long-standing dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement and citizens, structural poverty, and the legacy of discrimination in housing and finance policy,” wrote Leana Wen and Joshua Sharfstein in a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors note that there is a large amount of data that shows significant disparities between low-income communities of color and Baltimore’s more affluent and predominately white communities.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now told RH Reality Check that systemic inequalities all interact to create deep-seated injustice.

“If Black lives matter, then Black wages have to matter, then reproductive justice for Black women has to matter, then all Black lives have to matter, not just some Black lives,” she said.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Baltimore, Detroit ‘Criminalizing’ Low-Income People, Shutting Off Their Water appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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