06.18.13 - (PRESS RELEASE) The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a blatantly unconstitutional bill that would impose a nationwide ban on nearly all abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with only narrow exceptions to save a pregnant woman’s life and in cases of rape or incest that have been reported to legal authorities.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced HR 1797 in April 2013 in an attempt to restrict legal reproductive health care services for women living in the District of Columbia—but the bill was amended earlier this month to apply its restrictions across the United States.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Today the opponents of reproductive freedom in Congress proved themselves every bit as hostile to women’s health and constitutional rights as their extremist counterparts in state legislatures nationwide.
“An intrusive and patently unconstitutional ban on abortion —which has already been blocked everywhere it has been challenged in court—now has the approval of a majority of U.S. House of Representatives.
“Rather than protecting the health, lives, and constitutional rights of women across the U.S., they have assaulted them, and they should be deeply ashamed. “
We strongly urge the leadership in the Senate to do what the House failed to do and refuse to consider this harmful and blatantly unconstitutional attack on women’s reproductive rights.”
Following a lawsuit filed by the Center and the ACLU, a similar ban enacted in Franks’ home state of Arizona was permanently struck down by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 21. A similar law in Idaho was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge earlier this year and a state court temporarily blocked a 20-week ban in Georgia in December 2012.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
What could be more extreme than politicians in Ohio trying to take tax dollars from low-income families and give them to anti-choice "crisis pregnancy centers" that lie to women?
Thirty-five politicians (and counting) are pushing this bill, which is so egregious that it will force providers to knowingly mislead pregnant women and in some cases even tell them that they do not need medical care at all.
This is truly an anti-choice monster of a bill, so we've broken it down. If passed, the "Politicians Playing Doctor Act" would:
Shocked yet? It gets worse: there is no exemption from any of these requirements if a woman is a survivor of rape, incest, or if her health depends on accessing abortion care sooner.
Politicians think lying, shaming, and even withholding care is medicine, and it's inexcusable. This bill demonstrates just how little regard anti-choice politicians have for women's safety - and how far they're willing to go to restrict a woman's right to choose in Ohio.
If you live in Ohio or have friends there who are as appalled as we are, join NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and ask them to tell Ohio Gov. Kasich to stop these politicians from playing doctor and block this bill if it comes to his desk. You can also stand with Ohio women and tweet your disapproval of this bill to Gov. Kasich's twitter handle: @JohnKasich
On Thursday the Roberts Court will decide whether or not to intervene in a case that is widely seen as the first major challenge to abortion rights since the landmark 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The case, Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems, challenges a December 2012 decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court that declared the Oklahoma Ultrasound Act, which requires the performance, display, and explanation of a pre-abortion ultrasound, to be facially unconstitutional. Like other mandatory ultrasound laws, Oklahoma’s law, HB 2780, claims to give women who seek abortions the benefit of an “informed decision” and makes the procedure part of the necessary “informed consent” required before a patient can access health care. The specific requirements of HB 2780 mandate physicians perform an ultrasound at least one hour before proceeding with an abortion, display the ultrasound images to the pregnant woman, and also provide a simultaneous medical description of the ultrasound images. This medical description has to include the dimensions of the fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, if any, and the presence of internal organs, if viewable. The physician is then required to obtain from the woman her written certification that the physician complied with HB 2780. The law contains exceptions for the ultrasound requirements if a woman faces an immediate medical emergency in which her life or physical health were in danger because of the pregnancy and specifies that nothing in the law’s requirements may be construed to prevent the woman from averting her eyes from the ultrasound images, meaning the state can’t force her to watch against her will.
As soon as the law was enacted, Nova Health Systems, a non-profit corporation that operates an abortion clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, sued in state court, challenging HB 2780 under the Oklahoma constitution. The trial court granted summary judgment to Nova Health Systems and issued a permanent injunction blocking the state from enforcing the law. In issuing the injunction, the trial court reasoned that the law was unconstitutional in part because “it is improperly addressed only to patients, physicians, and sonographers concerning abortions and does not address all patients, physicians, and sonographers concerning other medical care where a general law could clearly be made applicable.”
In a somewhat unusual move, the Oklahoma supreme court decided to retain the appeal of that injunction directly from the trial court rather than wait for an intermediate appellate court to decide the case. The Oklahoma supreme court rules state that the Oklahoma supreme court will retain a case upon consideration of three factors: (1) whether a case involves an area of law undecided in Oklahoma; (2) whether a split exists between the lower state appellate courts on the matter; and (3) whether the issue raised on appeal “concern[s] matters which will affect public policy” that, when decided by the Oklahoma supreme court, are “likely to have widespread impact.” Because no lower appellate courts had yet decided a challenge to HB 2780 and there had been no other abortion ultrasound laws in the state before HB 2780, the Oklahoma supreme court must have taken the appeal either because HB 2780 involved an area of law undecided in Oklahoma, or because the issue concerned a matter that would affect public policy and have widespread impact. This is just one of the possible discrepancies the Roberts Court could chose to address.
In a cursory and unanimous opinion the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court but overturned HB 2780 under the U.S. Constitution, not the Oklahoma constitution. In its opinion striking the law as unconstitutional the court cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case that invalidated a Pennsylvania spousal notification requirement but upheld a 24-hour waiting period and informed consent and parental consent requirements under an “undue burden” standard as the sole basis for its decision. The court held:
Upon review of the record and the briefs of the parties, this Court determines this matter is controlled by the United States Supreme Court decision in [Casey], which was applied in this Court’s recent decision of In re Initiative No. 395, State Question No. 761. Because the United States Supreme Court has previously determined the dispositive issue presented in this matter, this Court is not free to impose its own view of the law. … The challenged measure is facially unconstitutional pursuant to Casey. The mandate of Casey remains binding on this Court until and unless the United States Supreme Court holds to the contrary. The judgment of the trial court holding the enactment unconstitutional is affirmed and the measure is stricken in its entirety.
“[U]nless the United States Supreme Court holds to the contrary”—it’s as if the Oklahoma supreme court was intentionally dishing the issue up for the Roberts Court to dig into.
Because the Oklahoma supreme court chose to strike down HB 2780 under the federal rather than the Oklahoma constitution, its ruling in Pruitt creates a potential split with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that has previously upheld a similar ultrasound requirement in Texas. This apparent disagreement in whether mandatory ultrasound laws represent an undue burden on abortion rights under Casey is just the kind of question the Supreme Court likes to answer. In Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld a Texas ultrasound law in an opinion written by notorious ultra-conservative Judge Edith Jones, who is currently under investigation for judicial impropriety related to racist comments made at a recent speaking event. The Texas law upheld in Lakey is similar to HB 2780 in that it requires physicians to perform and display the ultrasound image of the fetus and exempts women facing medical emergencies. But the Texas law goes further than the Oklahoma law by requiring physicians to make the heart tones of the fetus audible to women, and then wait at least an additional 24 hours before proceeding with an abortion. Under the Texas law, a patient may decline to view the images or hear the heartbeat, but they may only decline to hear the explanation of the ultrasound images if their pregnancy meets one of three narrow exceptions. And just like HB 2780, under the Texas ultrasound law, pregnant women seeking an abortion have to certify their doctor’s compliance with the requisite procedures. From a legal perspective that means that one federal appeals court has ruled a mandatory ultrasound law that is more stringent than the Oklahoma law constitutional, but using the same reasoning employed by the Oklahoma supreme court to strike that state’s ultrasound law.
The Firth Circuit decision upholding the Texas ultrasound law is an example of conservative co-opting constitutional law coupled with the cognitive dissonance required to find an expensive, unnecessary, and invasive medical procedure “empowering” to women, and just the kind of decision abortion-rights advocates would like to keep away from the Roberts Court. In reaching its decision that the Texas law was constitutional, the Fifth Circuit expressly relied on Casey’s holding that an informed-consent statute does not consume any First Amendment right against compelled speech, in this case providers who are forced to recite the ultrasound script or women who are forced to listen to fetal heart tones, when it requires the giving of “truthful, non-misleading information” that is “relevant” to the woman’s decision regarding the abortion. The Fifth Circuit found that the images and audio produced by an ultrasound are the “epitome of truthful, non-misleading information,” and are not different in kind, though admittedly “more graphic and scientifically up-to-date,” than the disclosure requirements upheld by the Supreme Court in Casey, despite the fact that they have no direct bearing on the issue of whether a woman needs an abortion and can legally choose abortion care.
It is with this backdrop that the Roberts Court will consider stepping into the ultrasound debate, and with this reasoning supplied by Judge Jones the Court could weigh in next year. Should the Court decline to review the case then the Oklahoma supreme court decision permanently blocking the law will stand. But should the court decide to review the decision then by this time next year we will have a much better idea just how far abortion rights have receded in this country.
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The attempt to get an amendment granting legal rights to fertilized eggs on the Ohio ballot has not been an easy one for Personhood Ohio. Their first amendment was rejected for being “not fair and truthful” by the state’s Republican attorney general. The group has resorted to offering citizens entry into a $5,000 drawing for each set of petitions returned or donation made to the organization.
Now, the group wants to do a mass mailing but is running a few thousand dollars short of what it needs To make up for the deficit, the leader of the group has offered to sell off some of his most prized possessions: his assault rifles and ammunition.
“I’m selling some of my favorite things—some powerful rifles and ammo,” Personhood Ohio Director Patrick Johnston wrote in a recent fundraising email. “I’m a firm believer that the Second Amendment protects the future of freedom, but not as much as justice for the preborn. See, if God’s against you, your guns won’t help you at all. The shedding of innocent blood will bring God’s wrath on the land – and then you can wave freedom goodbye. So protecting Ohio’s children is more important than securing your right to keep and bear arms.”
Johnson has put his weapons up for sale on his Facebook page, and will provide safety lessons to go with the “high capacity magazines and a ton of ammo” he is offering.
Image: Personhood USA
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A ten-point plan that was meant to support equality between men and women in New York is now a nine-point plan, as a group of “breakaway” Democrats in the state senate have sided with the state’s Republicans to ensure the failure of a measure that would reinforce abortion rights.
As one portion of the Women’s Equality Act, the Reproductive Health Act would have stripped abortion from the criminal code and inserted it instead into the health code, established a state-declared right to an abortion that would be unaffected should the national right established by Roe v. Wade ever be overturned, and established that after 24 weeks pregnancies can be terminated for the sake of a person’s health, not just if the pregnant person’s life is in danger, as the law currently states.
But the abortion plank was removed from the rest of the platform by a group of Democrats who have sided with the state’s Republican senators to control legislation in the body. According to the New York Times, state Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein (D-Bronx) introduced a new version of the bill that did not include the reproductive rights language, saying, “I’m not going to bring a bill to the floor to fail.” He referred to senate Republicans as a “right-to-life conference” that would never pass the bill as it was originally written.
The post Effort to Strengthen Abortion Rights in New York Fails Amid Bipartisan Pushback appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Here they go again.
Once more, the Republican controlled House is seeking to limit women’s access to safe reproductive health care through the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” While it is couched in the language of protecting unborn fetuses from pain, this bill is nothing more than a poorly disguised effort to force women and their families to give up their constitutionally protected rights (so far). The bill is not going anywhere and it inflames an issue that is among the most sensitive.
Roe v. Wade, which was decided 40 years ago, is the law of the land. But still we have to go through this annual charade as Republican leadership tries to force those of us who support women’s control over their health and potential to have children in the future to take a “hard vote.” I am no political Pollyanna; I understand the politics behind this strategy. But let me say, unequivocally, that this is no “hard vote” for me.
It is not hard for me to stand with the millions of women who depend on access to safe, legal abortion. It is not hard for me to vote against any bill that imposes the will of an intolerant, albeit vocal, minority on our mothers, sisters, and daughters. It is not hard for me to protect freedom of choice, because it is right and it is just.
We have real challenges to address as a country, and yet Republican leadership is choosing to focus its efforts on this bill that would trump women’s health, override family decisions, and compromises the ability to decide when and if to start a family. It’s a blatant attack on women and it’s not hard for me to say that it is wrong.
Image: Earl Blumenauer
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According to a report released Tuesday by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and A Better Balance (ABB) pregnant workers face systemic discrimination on a routine basis that significantly affects their ability to do their job.
The report shows that many employers refuse to make even basic accommodations that they routinely give workers with disabilities or on-the-job injuries, such as lifting requirements or the ability to carry a bottle of water. Yet despite the minimal imposition on employers and existing legal protections, albeit scant, discrimination remains intransigent.
As the report notes, three-quarters of women entering the labor force will be pregnant and employed at some point in their lives. While many women will work through their pregnancies with no need for changes or accommodations in their jobs, others will need temporary adjustments to job rules or duties as a result of their pregnancy. These adjustments, such as taking additional bathroom breaks, being allowed to sit instead of stand, or honoring a lifting restriction, can mean the difference between a pregnant worker keeping their job or protecting their health during pregnancy, a choice nobody should ever have to make.
The report describes in detail how pregnant workers, especially those who work in low-wage jobs or jobs traditionally held by men, are all too often fired or forced to take unpaid leave when they request these kinds of temporary, reasonable modifications to job duties so they can continue working. “Women make up almost half of the labor force, but all too often they are forced to make an impossible choice: risk their own health and pregnancy to keep a job or lose their income at the moment they can least afford it,” NWLC Vice President and General Counsel Emily Martin said in a statement.
The reason employers fail to accommodate pregnant workers remains somewhat of a mystery. According to Martin, some employers either misunderstand or ignore their legal obligations to make the same types of accommodations for pregnant women that they do for other similarly situated workers, such as those with disabilities. “Pregnant workers are ready, willing and able to continue working but they are often forced out by employers who refuse to make minor accommodations,” she said. “These women and their families pay a steep price when they’re pushed out of jobs. There’s no reason for pregnancy to be a job-buster.”
The report features personal accounts of women who lost income, their jobs, and their health insurance or continued to work at risk to their health when they were denied temporary accommodations. As the workers note, the types of accommodations denied the pregnant women were frequently given to co-workers with injuries or disabilities. For example, the report tells the story of a food preparer at a fast food restaurant in Washington, D.C., who describes being fired after she was denied permission to drink water on the job and eat during her breaks. In another example, a cashier at a Dollar Tree store on Long Island recalls not being allowed to sit on a stool, although workers in other Dollar Tree stores did. Instead, she was required to stand on her feet for eight to ten hours at a stretch, which landed her in the emergency room several times. Later, the report details the story of a letter carrier in Minnesota who used up her paid leave when her employer refused to let her work inside on extremely hot days, despite offering that option to employees with on-the-job injuries. By the time her baby was born, her depleted sick leave left her with no income during her maternity leave. When a truck driver in Maryland was denied help with occasional heavy lifting, she was forced to take unpaid leave and lost her health insurance, even though truck drivers with disabilities and on-the-job injuries, or who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses, were accommodated.
“Seeing this many pregnant women denied equal opportunity in the workplace in the year 2013 is shocking,” said Dina Bakst, who is ABB’s co-founder and co-president and the author of the new book Babygate: What You Really Need to Know about Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workplace. “Providing basic rights should not be a heavy lift. And it just makes good business sense for employers to meet their legal obligations. By keeping their pregnant workers healthy and on the job, they will keep down costs, retain experienced workers and build loyalty among employees. Let’s step out of the dark ages and recognize that pregnant women are an important part of the workforce and are treated accordingly.”
Employers and all too often courts misunderstand the legal protections pregnant people enjoy, scant as they may be. The American Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 expands the definition of those disabilities employers must accommodate to include temporary impairments like pregnancy. Additionally, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant women as well as they treat other employees who are similar in their ability to work.
While some protections for pregnant workers at the federal level exist, on the state level, only eight states have laws that expressly require some or all employers to provide certain types of accommodations to some pregnant workers. Those states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Texas. The New York legislature has recently considered a Women’s Equality Act, which would include such a provision.
As the report explains, thanks to the seeming widespread confusion in the legal community about the scope of protections afforded pregnant workers and thanks also to an absence of clear federal agency guidance on the matter, pregnant workers are often illegally treated worse than those with similar limitations arising out of disability or injury. For example, in many workplaces, while a back injury preventing a worker from lifting is accommodated, a lifting restriction arising out of pregnancy is a basis for termination.
So what can be done about it? The report outlines recommendations to ensure fair treatment for pregnant workers, including the need for federal agencies, like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to issue strong and clear guidance on employers’ legal obligation to accommodate pregnant workers. The report also calls for passage of the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to extend to their pregnant employees the same commonsense adjustments they already provide workers with disabilities, and expansion of state law protections guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
At the state level voters can push their representatives for state anti-discrimination laws to fill in the gaps left behind from the broad federal civil rights protections currently in place. Normally these kinds of legislative recommendations would be considered routine, but in a political climate that is currently debating the value of making emergency contraception widely available, that continues to endorse widespread gender pay discrimination, and where the idea of woman’s economic autonomy is considered outside the norm of conservative ideology, for now we’ve still got a long way to go before many pregnant workers can feel secure in their jobs.
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Earlier today, I heard a radio story about a group of people who have become accustomed to state monitoring – probably Muslim folks, post 9-11. Oddly enough, they had interviewed not the people who are being indefinitely detained without cause at Guantanamo Bay, but their defense attorneys. That’s right. Lawyers. Last week, Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald broke a story involving United States government surveillance that covers a wide swath of the American population. A swath including the very last members of the public who are not accustomed to state control: white men.
Unsurprisingly, the words and actions of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks were immediately co-opted to express feelings of repression, as if people of color no longer need them for anything and now it’s time to fight for the civil rights of the long-suffering white men. They’ve had enough of this abstract problem that will very likely never manifest in any meaningful way in their lives! We can take this a step further and suggest that the current policies of the United States government will generally benefit the already-privileged. Maybe leave the privacy complaints to people seeking abortion care, or folks for whom the spectre of incarceration under the drug war looms large from jump.
At Take Root this past February, Loretta Ross pointed out that arguments for reproductive justice based on “privacy” will always fall flat, because the most marginalized members of society rarely experience legal privacy in the way more privileged groups do. A person can escape control by institutions and systems such as the military/medical/prison industrial complex – not to mention simple state power – mainly by possessing inherent characteristics consistent with Western hegemonic values. Whiteness and maleness are tops, with a huge caveat for young men of color (especially black and Latino men), who are designated criminals at birth and will very likely come under the control of our criminal justice system by the time they are 18.
Ross also pointed out that the U.S. Constitution is a document interested in benefiting people like those who originally drafted and signed it – namely, white men – and it’s for that reason we’ve had to fix it up with amendments and Supreme Court decisions that explicitly extend Constitutional rights to other groups. Roe v. Wade comes to mind. But I’ve said it before: that court case does not protect “a woman’s right to choose,” nor does it protect universal privacy rights. It does nominally protect the rights of doctors – at the time, mostly privileged white men – to make medical decisions and retain private medical records for their patients. Patients’ privacy rights, on the other hand, are constantly subject to violation. The first reproductive rights rally I ever attended was in opposition to a bill in the Oklahoma house that required each person securing abortion care to fill out an eleven-page questionnaire, which would then be posted on a public website for “data research” purposes. The only information obscured being the person’s name and SSN, possibilities for public shaming and harassment increased a hundredfold, especially in poor small-town and rural Oklahoma.
Civil libertarian men would do well to shine their Freedom Light in a bit wider of an arc. The type of government overreach Greenwald and others focus on is despicable, but it is far from out of the ordinary. Those who wish to prevent expansions of police, state, and institutional control cannot continue waiting to act until that control touches the most privileged members of society. Those who are interested in speaking out against police brutality, entrapment, and surveillance should look at where these things are seen as mundane aspects of life rather than plot points in one’s own personal antihero science-fiction tale. A central tenet of the reproductive justice framework is that by prioritizing the autonomy of those at the margins, we can ensure the autonomy of all. This isn’t a single-shooter game, nerds – more than ever, true solidarity and collaboration will win this fight.
Pearl knows that Beyonce Acres is real.
After a 82-15 vote, the Senate is poised to debate a major overhaul of the nation’s immigration system Tuesday. As immigration reform takes center stage, discussion about border security or DREAMers tends to dominate. Yet one ignored aspect of immigration reform is that a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship for immigrant women could help improve women’s economic security in the United States in the long term.
Immigrant women in the United States, sometimes undocumented or on temporary visas, are filling some of the fastest-growing and lowest-paying jobs, particularly in the care sector. Often immigrant women are brought to the United States to toil in private homes—on visas that tie them to their employer. As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) noted in a paper earlier this year:
Immigrants on temporary work visas are subject to unethical employers who do not need to provide fair wages and good working conditions to retain immigrant employees. In some instances, workers who lack the freedom to change jobs experience violence, abuse, and even trafficking at the hands of employers.
Even though IWPR’s study focuses on in-home elder care workers, the themes their study discuss apply to many immigrant women workers in the United States.
RH Reality Check recently spoke with Fatima Cortessi, a 22-year-old woman who came to Washington, D.C., two years ago from her native Paraguay. Her contract with her husband-and-wife employers promised her $1,000 per month to clean, cook for, and care for the couple’s children. The couple had secured Cortessi a temporary business (B-1) visa.
But they wouldn’t always pay her. When she asked to be paid, Cortessi says she would receive $100 or $150 at a time. Cortessi says she worked from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. feeding the children and sending them to school, caring for the family dog, and cleaning the house. At 2 p.m. the children would come home from school and she’d care for them, cook for the family, and clean up after everyone. She’d be in bed by 9:30 or 10 p.m. every night, and she worked every weekend.
She says she slept in the couple’s basement on a sofa, which she shared with the family dog.
After over a year of this employment situation, the couple said they couldn’t afford to pay her, so Cortessi began working for other families in the neighborhood. She began working for one local woman who spoke with RH Reality Check on the condition that she be referred to only as Jones. Jones noticed that Cortessi seemed unwell and learned about the mistreatment she experienced working for her former employers. “They can’t do this to you,” Jones said.
She told Cortessi about a local immigrant rights organization called Casa de Maryland, where attorney Sheena Wadhawan helped Cortessi sue for back wages. Wadhawan said Cortessi was owed upwards of $30,000, but she ultimately settled for $10,000 and focused on moving forward with her life.
We rarely think of immigration reform as being a solution to the economic disparities for women—which are unrelenting, as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) pointed out in a study published last week. Released in time for the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act—legislation signed by President John F. Kennedy to combat wage discrimination—NWLC’s study notes that women’s wages continue to be fall below men’s in part because two-thirds of all minimum wage and tipped jobs are held by women, including many jobs in the care sector.
Immigration probably was not on President Kennedy’s radar when he signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963; the number of immigrants in the United States was far lower then than it is today. Yet today, immigrants are essential to understanding most demographic statistics in the United States. And if the growing number of home care workers who are underpaid and vulnerable to the whims of their employers cannot be granted legal status that enables their security, women’s collective economic status cannot improve.
The Center for American Progress noted earlier this year that a pathway to citizenship—not just legal status, but citizenship—can improve women’s incomes. Specifically they found that “citizenship [has been] associated with a statistically significant boost in the incomes of immigrants—an average of 16 percent (17.1 percent for women and 14.5 percent for men) in 2011.”
IWPR recommends that the United States increase the number of visas available to care workers as well as visas that allow for job mobility. This policy recommendation is also critical given the growing population of aging Americans and the increased demand for caregivers.It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming debate in Congress will tackle an increase in visas for home care workers—visas that could ensure women like Cortessi are paid fair wages and work in better conditions.
The post How Immigration Reform Could Help Improve Women’s Economic Security appeared first on RH Reality Check.
As the House of Representatives gears up for Tuesday’s debate on HR 1797, a bill that would outlaw virtually all abortions 20 weeks post fertilization, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) argued in favor of banning abortions even earlier in pregnancy because, he said, male fetuses that age were already, shall we say, spanking the monkey.
“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
That observation led Burgess to say he had argued for the abortion ban to start at a much earlier stage of gestation, 15 or 16 weeks. (This is less than halfway through a pregnancy.) He appeared to liken Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, to the 1893 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that formally legalized racial segregation, and was not fully reversed until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The rationale for the Republican bill, which advanced through the House Judiciary last week on a near-total party-line vote, is one scientifically disputed study, touted by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) in his opening remarks at today’s Rules Committee hearing, that asserts fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks after sperm meets egg.
“Well, I think all the members are cognizant of the fact that this is not a Congress that cares much about science,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the Rules Committee’s ranking member, in her questioning of Goodlatte, who refuted that claim by saying that since 1973, the year when the Supreme Court legalized abortion, much more had been learned about fetal development.
Major medical bodies in the United States and the United Kingdom have refuted the claim of fetal pain before the third trimester.
The 20-week abortion ban, if passed into law, would set up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which allows abortion up to the point of fetal viability outside the womb, and mandates exceptions for abortions in the case of pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman.
When first drafted, the 20-week ban was meant to apply only to the District of Columbia, over which Congress has a great deal of control. But with the arrest and murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal abortion clinic in Philadelphia, right-wing forces have sought to use justifiable public revulsion at Gosnell’s actions to further restrict women’s rights—and in contradiction to the common right-wing assertion of state sovereignty.
Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, speaking before a right-wing gathering in Washington, DC, last week, put it this way: “This is a time for the pro-life movement like we have not had in decades. We must seize the moment.”
Goodlatte, in his opening statement, framed the ban as a measure to prevent practices such as Gosnell’s, a conflation that Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) termed “a red herring” which, he said, had nothing to do with the way abortion is practiced in legal clinics.
Rebutting Goodlatte’s pronouncements on the stage of development at which fetuses feel pain, Nadler (D-NY) noted doubts that the study’s own author, Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, MD, had about its assertions, having stated in 2005 testimony that evidence of fetal pain in the second trimester of pregnancy “was uncertain.”
Nadler also took issue with the tepid exception to the ban for women who were pregnant through rape or incest—a measure added last minute after Rep. Trent Franks, the bill’s sponsor, said at last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low. With the 2014 midterm elections looming, GOP leaders scrambled to avoid the kind of fallout encountered in 2012 when Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin (MO) and Richard Mourdock (IN) saw their campaigns tank after making comments about rape, pregnancy, and abortion.
The exception applies only to women who “first reported the rape or the incest to the authorities,” Nadler said, and, in the case of incest, the exception applied only to minors, even if an adult woman had been abused by the relative who had impregnated her since she was a child.
“It would be great if every rape or assault would be reported,” Nadler said, but the Republicans’ last-minute amendment—made after Republicans in the Judiciary Committee rejected a rape-and-incest exception offered by the Democrats—made no allowance for the toll often taken on rape victims in the judicial system, he said, including sometimes facing death threats from the friends and neighbors of the perpetrator.
“So, the authors of this bill apparently believe that women are too dishonest to be believed when they say they were raped or the victims of incest,” Nadler said. “It is Congress siding with her abuser…”.
There is also no protection for the health of the woman in the bill, nor an exception allowing for saving the life of the woman, except in terms defined so narrowly, Nadler continued, as to be virtually useless.
Democrats have been quick to note, as Slaughter did in the Rules Committee hearing, that the Republicans who voted the bill to the floor in the House Judiciary Committee were all men, due to the fact that the GOP hasn’t appointed a single woman to one of Congress’ most important committees.
So, when the 20-week abortion ban bill—deceptively titled the “Pain-Capable Infant Protection Act” —comes to the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, you won’t find Trent Franks managing the floor debate. Instead, GOP leaders have tapped the ardently anti-choice Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to lead that charge.
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In the last few weeks, emergency contraception (EC) has gotten a lot of attention as the courts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Obama administration worked out their differences (or put them aside) and agreed that one version of EC, Plan B One-Step, would be made available over-the-counter to women of all ages. This is a big step forward in efforts to expand access to contraception and, in turn, to prevent unintended pregnancies. Still, we have to remember that emergency contraception is not meant to be anyone’s primary method of birth control—it is taken after an act of sexual intercourse in which the couple forgot to use another method or used a method incorrectly, or in which the method failed. Here’s a quick review of methods that can be used effectively to prevent pregnancy.
The birth control pill revolutionized contraception (and perhaps sexual relations) when it was introduced in the 1960s. Birth control pills were the first kinds of hormonal contraception. They work primarily by preventing ovulation (if there is no egg, there can be no fertilization and no pregnancy). Birth control pills and subsequent hormonal methods also thicken cervical mucus in order to prevent sperm from getting into the uterus.
Today, young women have numerous hormonal methods to choose from. The pill remains hugely popular, and there are many different kinds available; some run on a 21/7 cycle (meaning women take hormones for 21 days and then break for seven, during which time they get their period), others 24/4, and still others limit menstruation to just four times a year.
For women who don’t want to swallow a pill every day or think they’ll have trouble remembering to do it, there are other hormonal methods that do not require daily action. The contraceptive patch, for example, which is sold under the brand name Ortho-Evra, is a bandage-like sticker that a woman wears on her upper arm, buttocks, back, or abdomen. It releases hormones through the skin. Women using the patch change it every week for three weeks. During the fourth week, they wear no patch and then get their periods.
Women can also choose the contraceptive ring. Sold as NuvaRing, this is a flexible piece of plastic that looks a little like a bracelet and is inserted into the vagina (the exact position isn’t important). It is left in for three weeks while it releases hormones. The user can then remove it, get their period, and put in a new one a week later. If inserted properly to begin with, most users don’t even feel it.
One of the older and more well-known hormonal methods is Depro-Provera, sometimes called the contraceptive shot. Women get an injection from their health-care provider every three months and are protected from pregnancy during that time.
If used perfectly, hormonal methods are all over 99 percent effective. People do make mistakes, however: they may forget to take a pill, forget to pick up a prescription for the patch, or forget to make an appointment to get a shot in time. For these reasons, the typical use failure rates are a little higher—they are between 91 and 94 percent effective. This means that out of every 100 couples who use hormonal methods, six to nine will experience an unintended pregnancy during their first year of use. Continuing users have lower rates of contraceptive failure than first-year users, as they become more accustomed to use.
Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) Methods
Contraceptive implants, which are now sold under the brand names Implanon and Nexplanon, are also hormonal methods, but last much longer. A single rod—about the size of a matchstick—is implanted by a health-care professional under the skin on the inside of a woman’s upper arm. It steadily releases hormones into a woman’s body for three years. These long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods last a long time but can be removed at any time and fertility will return quickly.
Implants were developed in the early 1980s and first approved by the FDA in 1990 under the brand name Norplant, which worked well but was taken off the market in 2002. At the time, the manufacturer cited “limitations on component supplies,” but difficulties with the removal process and negative public opinion were also clearly a factor in the decision.
The new generation of implants was approved by the FDA in 2006. These single-rod implants are much easier for health-care providers to insert and remove.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs), which are also considered to be LARCs, are flexible plastic devices that are inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. IUDs prevent pregnancy by interfering with the movement of sperm toward eggs, thereby inhibiting fertilization. They may also change the lining of the uterus, preventing implantation of a fertilized egg (though this theory has not been proven) and thicken cervical mucus.
There are currently three IUDs on the market in the United States. ParaGard (also known as the Copper-T) releases a small amount of copper into the uterus and lasts ten years. Mirena releases a hormone similar to that in some birth control pills, which means it may also prevent ovulation in some women; it lasts for five years. The newest introduction to the market is called Skyla. It is also a hormonal IUD; it has been designed to be smaller and is specifically meant for younger women. Skyla lasts for three years.
IUDs have a bit of a sordid history in the United States. They were first introduced in the 1960s and became quite popular. In fact, by the next decade there were over 17 models in development by 15 different companies. One model, the Dalkon Shield, had serious design flaws which resulted in higher rates of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in users, causing scarring in the uterus and fallopian tubes and, for many of these women, increased infertility. The Dalkon Shield also had a higher failure rate than expected, and women who became pregnant while using it risked spontaneous septic abortions (miscarriages followed by infection). Eighteen deaths were attributed to the Dalkon Shield, and more than 400,000 lawsuits were brought against the manufacturer. Though the design flaws were unique to the Dalkon Shield, public opinion of all IUDs soured, and by 1986 there was only one model of IUD on the market in the United States, and few women were using it.
ParaGard and Mirena became available in the early 2000s, but the FDA initially only approved them for use in women who had already had children. Research has shown, however, that they are safe for women of all ages, regardless of whether they’ve had children. Last summer, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended that IUDs be among the first line of contraceptives offered to adolescents.
LARC methods are highly effective in part because user error is essentially taken out of the equation. The “get it and forget it” aspect of these methods means that perfect use and typical use rates are the same—IUDs are more than 99 percent effective.
For this reason, some in the public health world have started to see LARCs as the magic bullet for teen pregnancy—put one in at 15 and without changing her behavior or managing any medicines a girl can make it out of her teen years pregnancy-free. Though there has been an increase in the number of teens using both IUDs and implants over the past few years, these methods are not yet extremely popular with teens. Between 2008 and 2010, for example, only 4.4 percent of teens who were using contraception were using an IUD.
Don’t Forget the Condom
Condoms may be the original “plan B” for many teenagers, because unlike all the other methods they require almost no forethought. For those teens who find themselves hot and heavy but are not on the pill and don’t have an IUD, there is always the condom. Even if she doesn’t already have one in her purse and he doesn’t have one in his wallet, a teen is never far from a condom because this inexpensive form of birth control, which works by going over the penis and preventing sperm from entering the vagina, can often be purchased at a drug store, convenience store, or even a gas station.
If used perfectly, condoms are 98 percent effective, which is similar to hormonal methods. Typical failure rates are higher than those of other methods (about 18 of 100 couples using condoms as their primary method will experience a pregnancy in the first year of use) because people make mistakes—like putting it on too late, taking it off too soon, or opening the package with something sharp. Typical use rates for condoms also include those couples who say condoms are their primary method of contraception but weren’t actually using a condom when they got pregnant.
Using a condom correctly is not difficult, so instead of waiting until the next day to go to the drug store for emergency contraception, couples can hit the RiteAid or CVS for condoms before sex (even if it means taking a quick break from all the kissing and groping).
In fact, even those people who are on other birth control methods should consider hitting the condom aisle before a big date because—other than not having sex—condoms are the only way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). None of the other methods we talked about here prevent STIs.
The ideal situation, of course, is dual use, where couples who want to avoid pregnancy use LARC methods for birth control and continue to rely on condoms to prevent STIs, including HIV. The good news is that more young couples are doing so; according to a recent National Survey of Family Growth 23 percent of teens reported dual use between 2008 and 2010 (up from 16 percent between 2006 and 2008).
Expanded access to emergency contraception is critical and represents a huge step forward in preventing unintended pregnancies. Still, we have to remember that, in the ideal world, emergency contraception would hardly ever be needed, because everyone would have the information and access they needed to use other reliable methods correctly and would be able to protect themselves against pregnancy and STIs in the moment every time they had sex.
Image: Plan B via Shutterstock
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Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news.
The legal battle over emergency contraception is limping toward conclusion. Last week a federal judge approved the Obama administration’s proposed plan to make one form of emergency contraception available over-the-counter and without age restrictions, despite the fact that the plan does not comply with an early court order to make all emergency contraception widely available. The proposal is a step in the right direction for the administration, which has been playing politics with emergency contraception access from the beginning. But it’s also an enormous give-away to the pharmaceutical industry and blocks generics and other forms of emergency contraception from being widely available for at least the next three years.
Legal representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed suit last week to block an Alabama law designed to close most of the clinics in the state.
The Supreme Court has let stand a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that bars protesters with graphic anti-abortion signs from protesting outside of a Denver-area church and in the presence of children.
The attention President Obama has paid to the federal judiciary may be a disappointment to some, but there is no denying that under his watch the federal bench has grown more diverse. In fact, President Obama has successfully appointed a greater percentage of women to federal judgeships than any other president in history.
In case it wasn’t clear just how much judicial appointments matter, consider the case of Edith Jones, the federal appeals court judge who gleefully ruled Texas’ forced ultrasound law constitutional and who has a bit of a race problem.
The transgender community got a significant victory last week when the Social Security Administration announced it would be much easier for transgender people to change their gender identity on Social Security records. It may not be apparent, since Social Security cards don’t display gender, but that information must match other data for individuals seeking benefits under programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
Meanwhile, in Maine, the state’s supreme court is set to decide whether public schools can forbid transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Nicole Maines, a 15-year-old transgender girl, did not have an easy time in high school. In addition to the harassment she faced from other kids, Maines met intolerance from school officials, who refused to allow her to use the girls’ bathroom. Her parents eventually sued the school, claiming their daughter’s treatment was a violation of the state’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. After an investigation, Maine’s Human Rights Commission held that the transgender girl was entitled to use the girls’ bathroom, but a state court judge disagreed. The Maine supreme court will now settle the dispute.
In Wisconsin, the state supreme court has decided to hear a challenge to the state’s domestic partner registry, which grants same-sex couples a handful of basic legal rights. Members of the fundamentalist Christian, pro-corporate group Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit claiming the registry violates a 2006 state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage.
A fight in Kansas over the future of the state judicial system shows anti-choice conservatives want control at every level of government and are prepared to stop at nothing to get it.
The future of affirmative-action programs in this country may be in doubt, but in New York five women who claim gender discrimination prevented them from advancing beyond the rank of lieutenant or captain in New York’s Emergency Medical Service has settled a lawsuit with the city for more than $1.25 million.
According to ThinkProgress, a new study that looks at campaign contributions from big business to state supreme court rulings in more than 2,000 cases from 2010 to 2012 concludes that “a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time.” The correlation between significant campaign contributions and pro-corporate verdicts was strongest in the handful of states like Texas with partisan high court elections. Not surprisingly, Republican judges receive much more funding from big business interests and are more likely to vote in favor of corporate litigants than their Democratic counterparts.
Last week a federal district court in Georgia dismissed religious discrimination claims brought by a Baptist nursing supervisor against a hospital that disciplined her for proselytizing to a co-worker. The woman was accused of giving a lesbian nurse she sometimes supervised a pamphlet and sending her an email emphasizing the sinfulness of homosexuality. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the disciplinary action against her violated Title VII, the equal protection clause, and her First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights, noting that the Constitution does not create license to harass coworkers in the name of religious conversion.
Finally, in Ohio, a Catholic school teacher was fired for using in vitro fertilization. Bridgette Dunlap explains why the local archdiocese argued the computer science teacher was still considered a minister of the Catholic Church, and why a jury awarded the woman $171,000 in response.
Image: bean rgb / flickr
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While the Wisconsin legislature has been fast-tracking multiple bills that would significantly alter the doctor-patient relationship and medical best practices—at least, when it comes to abortion—many lawmakers, activists, and media outlets have been asking “Where are the doctors?”
According to Wisconsin Right to Life, many doctors are on their side—they just aren’t being public about it. Susan Armacost, the legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, told the Capitol Times that when it came to SB 206, the forced ultrasound bill that was just approved by both arms of the state legislature, “many doctors advised us” on the bills, and “tons of doctors” disagree with the major Wisconsin medical groups, all of which have publicly condemned the bill.
Traditionally, physician groups, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, have avoided taking sides on abortion restrictions, despite the effect such bills often have on their members. But in the face of extreme anti-choice bills flooding state legislatures, that trend is changing. Most recently, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a blistering condemnation of politicians legislating medical best practices during abortion, calling government mandated “counseling” and “informed consent” scripts, rules on what type of procedures, tests, and medications can be administered, and other anti-choice regulations an “assault” on practicing medicine.
“Given the relentless legislative assault on the patient-physician relationship that we’ve seen in the past few years—and unfortunately continue to see—we were compelled to issue a formal Statement of Policy,” said ACOG President Jeanne A. Conry in a statement earlier this month. “A disproportionate number of these types of laws are aimed at women’s reproductive rights and the physicians that provide women’s health care services. … We are speaking out not just on behalf of ob-gyns, but for all physicians and patients. Many of these laws are dangerous to patients’ health and safety. As physicians, we are obligated to offer the best evidence-based care to our patients. Government should stay out of imposing its political agenda on medical practice.”
Condemning anti-choice bills may be new ground for the national organization, but some Wisconsin medical groups entered the fray a year earlier. Aware that the medication abortion rules that were being proposed in 2012 were likely to result in practitioners not being able to safely offer RU-486 without putting their careers in jeopardy, the Wisconsin Medical Society publicly opposed the bill, marking the first time the group had ever taking a stand on abortion legislation.
The Wisconsin Medical Society is just as open about opposing this year’s bills, especially SB 206, which not only would force every patient seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, listen to a detailed description of the embryo or fetus, and hear a heartbeat, but would require doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges to a local hospital. Calling these “unacceptable” intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship, the group testified that “[p]hysicians should be deciding with their patients what tests and procedures are needed and will be performed based on the best available medical evidence, guidelines of care, and shared decision making between the patient and physician.”
“Whether you approve or disapprove of abortion, you should be appalled by this,” agreed Peggy Breister, editor of The Reporter. “Why? Because it puts government, not the patient, in the driver’s seat when it comes to making your personal, private health care decisions.”
It is exactly for those reasons that the Wisconsin arm of ACOG also publicly opposed the bill, despite acknowledging their members’ varied stances on performing abortions. As the group said prior to the vote:
The medical practices surrounding elective abortion, including the role of ultrasound when medically indicated, are the domain of the physician-patient relationship, in which the government has no valid role. To force a physician to recite a scripted oral description of the findings if the pregnant woman declines is abusive. The proposed requirements do not make abortion safer for women, but do create unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and add both emotional and financial stress to an already difficult decision.
The bill still needs to be signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he supports its passage.
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