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Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 16:59

The dysfunctional Medicaid privatization program championed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) known as KanCare continues to face public scrutiny and federal investigations into claims that patients experienced long waits and subpar care.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas is ongoing, according to a statement by a department spokesperson last week.

George Hornedo confirmed that the agency is investigating Brownback’s troubled privatization gambit, but declined to elaborate. “The department declines to comment due to this being an ongoing investigation,” Hornedo said, reported the Kansas Health Institute.

KanCare, a Republican-backed program, launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents.

Representatives from the National Council on Disability this month heard hours of testimony about KanCare’s disability services during a forum in Topeka. The National Council on Disability is a federal agency that advises the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policies.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, testified that KanCare has steadily reduced services for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“We’re talking about personal care support services to help a quadriplegic get out of bed in the morning, to go about their activities of daily living,” Nichols said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “It’s just that constant battle, and it seems like there are a lot of battles and it’s having an impact.”

During the forum, much of the blame was directed toward the three managed-care companies contracted by the state: Amerigroup Kansas, the United Healthcare Community Plan, and the Sunflower Health Plan.

Last year, Democrats on the state legislature’s KanCare Oversight Committee called for the appointment of a separate committee to determine whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Brownback approved $3 billion in contracts with the managed care companies. Republicans on the committee blocked the proposal.

The three companies donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of current Kansas lawmakers since the KanCare program began in 2013, according to reporting by KCUR. Seven of 11 lawmakers who are members of the KanCare Oversight Committee received campaign contributions from one or more of the companies.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) was the only member who received campaign contributions from all three companies.

National Council on Disability members Clyde Terry and Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas lawmaker, heard testimony from 70 people at the forum, and the lone representative from the state was Kari Bruffett, secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Service.

“We really want KanCare to be able to meet the promise of ensuring that we’re focused on the person’s needs and we’re not limiting access to services that help people stay in homes and communities,” Bruffett said, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Bruffett testified that 428,000 residents are enrolled in KanCare and about 105,000 of those enrolled are seniors or people with disabilities. Bruffett said 1,448 residents are on a waiting list for physical disability waivers, and 3,319 Kansans are on a waiting list for developmental disability waivers.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) manage and provide oversight for KanCare.

Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, told the Kansas Health Institute that he is pleased that the Justice Department is continuing its investigation.

“This is good news, because there are issues in Kansas that need to be addressed,” Nichols said. “We are glad that DOJ is maintaining an active and ongoing investigation into this important area.”

A federal whistleblower lawsuit filed last week alleging Sunflower directed employees to shift KanCare patients away from high-cost health-care providers was dismissed. It is unknown if the lawsuit was settled out of court.

The lawsuit was filed by Jacqueline Leary, a former Sunflower executive who claims she was fired after objecting to the companies policies that she said were unethical and possibly illegal. Sunflower claims that Leary was terminated for poor job performance and the lawsuit was an attempt extort the company.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Federal Investigation Continues Into Kansas GOP’s Medicaid Privatization Program appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Nationwide, Anti-Choice Ralliers Liken Planned Parenthood to Crack Dealers, Auschwitz

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 14:11

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Standing outside the U.S. Capitol in front of about 150 anti-choice supporters, conservative blogger Matt Walsh said he had a message for the “elitist cowards” in Washington about what he called the “cartel of serial killers” at Planned Parenthood.

“You betray us when you force the American people to be sugar daddies for a criminal conglomerate of liars who say they are in the business of health care, but who push abortion, like dealers push crack on a street corner,” Walsh said Tuesday at an anti-choice “Women Betrayed” rally in Washington, D.C.

The rally was one of more than 50 anti-choice gatherings taking place throughout the country Tuesday, organized by the group Students for Life of America, which recruits anti-choice activists from college campuses.

If Walsh’s talk of sugar daddies and crack dealers came off as racially tinged, other speakers made racial issues explicit.

“There was a time in this country when there were people who thought it was OK to own other people, and they thought they could do anything they want with them, because they belong to me,” said 2016 presidential hopeful Ben Carson, drawing an explicit connection between abortion and slavery when discussing how America is “capable of changing.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he was “disgusted” by Planned Parenthood’s “targeting of minority communities,” repeating a common anti-choice falsehood about why Black women have high abortion rates.

Walsh’s drug-dealer diatribe continued: “Planned Parenthood claiming it’s a health-care organization because it occasionally stops killing babies to hand out a packet of birth control to a teenage girl is like that very same street dealer saying he’s really in the medical supplies business because sometimes he also sells syringes.”

It was an ironic comment for an event inspired by people who pretended to be in the biomedical research business in order to achieve their political aims.

Deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a front group for anti-choice activists whose sole purpose appears to have been attacking Planned Parenthood, have caused a stir in the media and an uproar on Capitol Hill as Republicans line up to call for investigations and for the organization to lose its federal funding.

Some of the loudest cries are coming from 2016 presidential hopefuls like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both of whom spoke at the rally along with fellow candidate Ben Carson.

Cruz called for the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood, and urged the media to ask Hillary Clinton if she is “pleased to have so much passionate support from Planned Parenthood, an entity that appears to be a national criminal enterprise.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the department will review the information available and determine next steps. House Democrats called on Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP for the laws it may have broken while making its videos, and Harris responded saying she would review those allegations.

Paul, asked by RH Reality Check what he thought of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) 1993 vote to legalize fetal tissue donation programs like Planned Parenthood’s, avoided answering the question by talking about his own bill to defund the organization.

“All I know is that the Senate leadership … have announced that there will be a vote, that I will get a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood,” Paul said.

Paul echoed common themes from other speakers at the D.C. rally—that CMP’s videos offer some kind of revelation about fetal personhood (“That liver had to come from somewhere,” Paul said), and that Planned Parenthood’s health services for low-income women like contraception and well-woman exams would be acceptable collateral damage if the organization lost its federal funding.

“Everything people say they do other than abortion is done by community health centers,” Paul said. “It’s a duplication of something already being done by government agencies.”

“You don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood,” urged Meg McDonnell, communications director of Women Speak for Themselves. “To begin with, there’s 9,000 community health centers around this country. There’s about 4,500 Title X clinics. And there’s certainly Medicaid for poor women. But beyond that, there’s also crisis pregnancy centers.”

McDonnell didn’t acknowledge that many Planned Parenthood clinics are included in those 4,500 Title X clinics, that anti-choice Republicans in Congress would like to eviscerate the Title X program as well as cut teen pregnancy prevention funds, that many anti-choice Republicans are also hostile to Medicaid expansion or propose cuts to the program, or that crisis pregnancy centers usually don’t offer professional medical care or contraception.

Moreover, existing public funding for contraceptive services don’t come close to meeting the needs of low-income women, with only 42 percent of the need for those services being met in 2013. Still, Title X clinics prevent about a million unintended pregnancies per year.

The idea that women can and should go elsewhere for their care during pregnancy was also a prevalent theme at Tuesday’s #WomenBetrayed rally in Chicago, where about 100 anti-choice activists gathered in Millennium Park across from Planned Parenthood’s Loop clinic.

“A lot of people don’t know how unsafe abortion can be. It’s a blind procedure,” said Jackie Chism, an anti-choice activist who carried a clipboard through the crowd with a petition addressed to elected officials. “We would like to see women go into pregnancy centers where they can be supported.”

Studies have shown that abortion as currently practiced in the United States is very safe. Staff at abortion clinics also typically provide patients with the full spectrum of their options before obtaining consent for a procedure.

As assembled teenage parishioners from the St. John Cantius church on the Near North Side sang anti-choice adaptations of songs, such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and “The Moose Song,” popular at summer camps, activists clapped and cheered for a handful of speakers, who were often barely audible amid the sounds of bustling downtown.

Adriana Morales, a client advocate at Aid for Women, a crisis pregnancy center two doors down from the Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s Loop, told the crowd, “We are able to provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and also housing for the women who are facing possibly getting kicked out or don’t have a safe and stable place to be. … Abortion is not the solution. There are programs out there, such as Pregnant on Campus, that help women … who are pregnant and who are currently parenting,” she said, referring to the Students for Life-created directory.

Like those in Washington, D.C., the assembled anti-choice activists in Chicago strongly advocated for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, suggesting that the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress are proof that the organization has been misusing taxpayer funds.

“This organization, Planned Parenthood … has told us for years that they have been for women’s health, to take care of women and their needs and helping women first. Turns out that their main market, and their main business plan, so to speak, is harvesting human organs and selling them is a large source of profit for them,” Jeremiah Rauwolf, who organized the rally, said in an interview with RH Reality Check.

“There’s a price tag on every woman’s head who walks in there,” said Rauwolf, vice president of the Chicago chapter of Pro-Life Future, an anti-choice group founded by Students for Life of America directed at recruiting support from young adults after college.

“In the America I grew up in and know and love, people who lie and deceive and murder and hurt for profit go to jail. They do not get a half-billion dollars of profit,” Rauwolf said. “I mean half a billion dollars of tax donations.”

When asked about the non-abortion services Planned Parenthood provides, Rauwolf said that the medical care the organization offers is almost always in the context of abortion, such as “pre-abortion ultrasounds.”

Planned Parenthood’s federal funding cannot legally be used to pay for abortions. But as several anti-choice activists pointed out to RH Reality Check, that money is “indirectly” going toward the procedure by keeping the organization’s door’s open.

Mary Hallan-FioRito, who sits on Aid for Women’s Board of Directors, suggested during her speech, “Let’s take that $500 million and put it where American women really want it to go: safer neighborhoods, better housing, and better education for their children.”

Thomas Olp, board member for the anti-choice law firm Thomas More Society, suggested during his speech to the crowd that Planned Parenthood, or possibly its supporters, is “delusional.”

“I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie Blue Jasmine; it’s a movie by Woody Allen. It’s a story … about living a life of fantasy and delusion,” he said. “Some people, as Woody Allen pointed out, never leave their lives of illusion and delusion.”

“And being here at Planned Parenthood has caused me to think of that movie, because what an example of living in illusion and fantasy and delusion,” he continued, pointing to the clinic’s approximate location across busy Michigan Avenue.

Cindy Morales, an anti-choice activist passing out flyers advertising the film 40, told RH Reality Check after the rally that she wasn’t surprised by the contents of CMP’s videos. “I like the videos because I think they’re shining a light, like the little ashes coming down from Auschwitz, on people,” she said.

Anti-choice protesters in Baltimore, meanwhile, chanted at Planned Parenthood officials and clinic escorts gathered outside the health-care facility just across the steaming Baltimore street.

Anti-choice activist Frank Richardson’s voice boomed, with the cadence of a preacher in full throat.

“We’ve seen the Wikileaks of aborted fetuses,” Richardson said to an audience of about 50 people attending the #WomenBetrayed rally, calling for the defunding of the health-care organization after a misleading video released this month showed officials discussing a legal fetal tissue program.

“The culture of death is right here,” Richardson yelled over the cheers of attendees. “They are a death cult. … Our babies are being ripped apart and sold on the street. … They say Black lives matter. How about unborn lives?”

Joanna Diamond, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said that while the misleading videos released by CMP have renewed calls for the elimination of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, Tuesday’s rally was hardly original.

“They use deceitful and dishonest tactics over and over,” Diamond said. “We’ve seen this time and again. We just want to make it clear that these accusations [in the CMP videos] are false. They’re put forward by extremists who want to score political points with these heavily edited videos.”

Speakers at the Baltimore anti-choice gathering compared legal abortion to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust, and the murder of children in the street.

Attendees were encouraged to call their congressional representative and demand the immediate defunding of Planned Parenthood’s health-care programs.

“These protests are generally designed to prevent people from accessing the vital services we offer,” Diamond said. “We provide life-saving services … and we need to make sure that these critical services are provided to anyone and everyone who needs them.”

Rebecca Cramer, who attended the #WomenBetrayed rally with her husband, John Cramer, said Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is a violation of her religious freedom.

“My taxes are going to [Planned Parenthood],” she said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Cramer said she had seen the edited CMP videos, and wasn’t surprised by what the videos claimed: that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

“I think organ donation is a wonderful gift of life,” Cramer said, “and [participating] in a fetal tissue program might make some women feel better about what they’re doing—to mask the fact that they killed their own child.”

Cramer said the editing of the CMP videos raised some questions about the veracity of the group’s claims, but that “didn’t change my perspective on it.”

“We live in a culture of sound bites and one-minute comments,” she said.

Although the focus of the rallies was largely on Planned Parenthood, many participants made no secret of their long-term goal: to end legal abortion care throughout the country.

As Walsh said in Washington, D.C., “Let this moment be the catalyst, let it be the gasoline on a fire that’s been raging for 40 years.”

“Let it start with taking the funding away from Planned Parenthood, but let it not end there. Let it end when every Planned Parenthood clinic is boarded up, when abortion is outlawed,” he continued. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to merely take some money from Planned Parenthood. I want to smash it to pieces and banish it from the Earth.”

Image: Kat Jercich / RH Reality Check

The post Nationwide, Anti-Choice Ralliers Liken Planned Parenthood to Crack Dealers, Auschwitz appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Lawsuit: Dave & Buster’s Cut Worker Hours to Avoid Providing Health Insurance

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 13:04

A new class action lawsuit claims restaurant chain Dave & Buster’s cut workers’ hours to avoid providing them health insurance as required under the Affordable Care Act.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, proposes a class of about 10,000 Dave & Buster’s employees who allege the company moved them to part-time status in 2013, eliminating their health insurance coverage in the process.

The employees claim this action violates section 501 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law governing employee health and pension plans.

The employees allege that Dave & Buster’s reduced worker hours to avoid the ACA’s so-called employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalents to provide ACA-compliant health insurance coverage for those employees and their dependents, or face financial penalties.

One worker saw her hours go from more than 30 per week to around 17, according to the complaint. Dave & Buster’s then dropped that worker from its health plan because she failed to work enough hours to qualify for coverage.

The complaint cites a portion of the company’s recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in which the company expresses concerns that ACA compliance would increase corporate expenses. Those same filings indicate Dave & Buster’s payroll and costs have decreased.

The plaintiffs attribute that decrease to the company forcing employees to part-time status to avoid complying with the health care law.

Section 510 of ERISA makes it unlawful for any person to discriminate against any participant or beneficiary for exercising a right under ERISA or an ERISA benefit plan. The plaintiffs allege that by reducing employment hours, Dave & Buster’s interfered with the attainment of a right under ERISA—in this case, the right to be eligible for health insurance as part of the company’s employee benefits plan.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind to test the limits of how far employers can go in avoiding their obligations under the ACA. It comes as the Department of Labor, the federal agency in charge of enforcing employer workplace obligations, targets other employer wage theft practices such as intentionally mis-classifying workers as independent contractors.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Lawsuit: Dave & Buster’s Cut Worker Hours to Avoid Providing Health Insurance appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Attorneys: Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Could Threaten Physical Safety of Abortion Providers

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 09:04

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

In a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 32 attorneys from across the country asked that her investigation of the anti-choice front group behind the Planned Parenthood attack videos be conducted with the “utmost urgency,” due to what they call “a real threat to abortion provider safety.”

Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, announced on Friday that her office will review whether the Center for Medical Progress, a group with ties to violent anti-choice extremists, violated California law when it posed as a fake biologics company and recorded Planned Parenthood officials without their consent.

The now-notorious videos show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the organization’s fetal tissue donation program. Although tissue donation is legal in the United States, CMP and conservatives have said the videos are evidence of illegal trafficking. CMP has said it plans to release a new video every Tuesday for at least the next few months.

California law requires the consent of all parties before a confidential conversation is recorded.

On Tuesday, the group of attorneys argued that in exposing the identities of abortion providers, CMP may have put them at risk of harassment, intimidation, or worse. Abortion providers and clinic staff often face personal attacks by anti-choice extremists because of the work that they do.

CMP’s attacks against Planned Parenthood come months after a national survey found that there have been significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of clinic doctors and staff in recent years. The survey found that 25 percent of all clinics report they experience anti-choice protest activity at their facility on a daily basis.

Writing for RH Reality Check, David S. Cohen, one of the letter’s signatories, discusses the threat of violence abortion providers must live with:

This kind of individual targeting takes on a variety of forms—from hate mail and death threats, to regular large-scale demonstrations in front of people’s homes and stalking providers outside of work. At its most extreme, this kind of targeting has resulted in eight abortion providers murdered since 1993, the most recent being Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his Wichita, Kansas church in May 2009.

California has long acknowledged the threat faced by abortion providers. The state in 2002 expanded its Safe at Home program to include abortion providers, allowing them to protect their identities from public disclosure. The program is available only to people in fear for their safety, victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault, and reproductive health care employees, patients, and volunteers.

“Given the unique risks that abortion providers face of being targeted by anti-abortion extremists, abortion providers whose images and names are blasted across the internet in this fashion face grave threats to their and their family’s safety,” say the 32 lawyers, who express worry that more providers’ identities will be revealed in the coming weeks as CMP releases new videos.

The group believes Harris’ investigation into the legality of CMP’s scheme could effectively halt the promised stream of videos.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Attorneys: Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Could Threaten Physical Safety of Abortion Providers appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Anti-Choice Group Posts Another Deceitful Planned Parenthood Video

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 16:26

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

A video published Tuesday purported to expose the industry of selling fetal tissue as part of an ongoing campaign against Planned Parenthood by an anti-choice front group.

The Center for Medical Progress, which has published a series of videos that claim to show illegal and unethical activities by Planned Parenthood, posted the video to its YouTube channel. Tuesday’s video, the first episode of CMP’s Human Capital documentary web series, includes interviews with a former clinic worker and previously released film footage, along with some new footage.

Questions have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.

An RH Reality Check investigation found that David Daleiden, the head of the organization, and his associates may have violated California and federal laws—including forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft—when filming the videos.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is reviewing whether CMP should be investigated for violating any laws in making the deceitful recordings.

The newest video prominently features footage from an interview with Holly O’Donnell, a phlebotomist who described her work as a “procurement technician” at the fetal tissue company StemExpress in late 2012. O’Donnell said her job was to identify pregnant people at Planned Parenthood who met criteria for fetal tissue orders and process the fetal tissue.

O’Donnell recounted anecdotes about her time working at StemExpress and her interactions with Planned Parenthood employees. She made several claims about the actions and motivations of unnamed people with whom she interacted.

O’Donnell claimed that Planned Parenthood was receiving “some kind” of financial benefit from their partnership with StemExpress.

“For whatever we could procure, they would get a certain percentage,” O’Donnell said. “The main nurse was always trying to make sure we got our specimens. No one else really cared, but the main nurse did because she knew that Planned Parenthood was getting compensated.”

Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied the charge that the organization profits from the selling of fetal tissue.

The video includes footage from the first two undercover videos released by CMP, and also shows previously unreleased edited undercover footage of Dr. Savita Ginde, the vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. The footage was reportedly taken in the Planned Parenthood clinic pathology laboratory. Ginde said in the video that Planned Parenthood has a relationship with Advanced Bioscience Resource (ABR), an Alameda-based nonprofit that obtains and delivers fetal tissue to medical researchers.

CMP has not released the unedited footage of Ginde.

StemExpress is a California based company that provides biomedical researchers with human blood, bone marrow, tissue products and primary cells. A statement was previously issued by StemExpress regarding CMP’s undercover videos which state that the company complies “with all laws” and “written donor consent is required for any donation.”

O’Donnell said that Cate Dyer, the founder and CEO of StemExpress, used to be a procurement tech before she founded the biotech company. “Now she’s making a lot of money based off of the poor girls who half the time don’t even want to get abortions,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a pretty sick company.”

It is unclear if O’Donnell is claiming that half of the women who have abortions are being coerced.

Companies like StemExpress operate in a legal “gray zone,” according to reporting by the New York Times, because while federal law prohibits companies from selling fetal tissue for profit, it does not specify how much companies can charge for processing and shipping.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dyer said that StemExpress obtains fetal tissue in accordance with the rules of the ethics boards at the institutions who purchase it, and that the process of procuring the fetal tissue is highly expensive.

“These are hard processes, expensive processes that take millions of dollars of equipment,” Dyer told the New York Times. “Just to attempt to do some of these isolations can cost us thousands of dollars, and it may not even work.”

Daleiden recently attended the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) annual conference in San Diego and commented on the attack videos, reported the Guardian.

“For the first time, all of the American public, and the whole world, is getting to see the truth about Planned Parenthood’s abortion services,” Daleiden said. “There is a lot more to come.” Daleiden claimed that CMP will release about a dozen more videos and between 100 to 200 pages of documents from Planned Parenthood and its “proxies.”

Daleiden claimed that his videos prove that a “high volume” abortion clinic can “easily make” $120,000 a year. “They’ll never admit it’s for profit but if you look at how the business is sustained it’s clear,” Daleiden said.

To date, CMP has published 26 pages of documents from Planned Parenthood, including the 2000-2001 annual report and fetal tissue donation consent form. It has published another 28 documents from other companies, including an ABR company description and fee schedule, and a StemExpress jobs listing, compensation policy, and procurement forms.

The explicit target of the videos is Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers have called for investigations, members of Congress have called for hearings, and anti-choice activists staged rallies in cities around the country on Tuesday calling for Planned Parenthood’s federal funding to be eliminated.

Image: The Center for Medical Progress / YouTube

The post Anti-Choice Group Posts Another Deceitful Planned Parenthood Video appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Texas Lawmaker: Fetal Tissue Donations for Research ‘No Different Than What Happened in Nazi Germany’

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 15:00

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

A Texas Republican told a crowd gathered for an anti-choice rally at the state capitol Tuesday morning that Planned Parenthood’s practice of legally collecting fetal tissue for medical research is “no different than what happened in Nazi Germany.”

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), who in 2013 sponsored Texas’ highly restrictive omnibus anti-choice law, said she was proud to be leading efforts to “turn back Roe v. Wade.”

About 150 people attended the rally, held the day before a Texas senate committee is set to hear testimony concerning fetal tissue collection for medical research at Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates, none of which collect fetal tissue for medical research.

Health and Human Services Committee Chair Sen. Charles Schwertner called the hearing after the release of a series of heavily edited videos produced by an anti-choice front group calling itself the Center For Medical Progress (CMP), which recorded Planned Parenthood officials and employees without their consent, likely illegally. CMP, which has ties to violent abortion opponents and religious extremists, is currently under investigation on allegations of tax fraud in California.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is “investigating” Planned Parenthood, sent his chief of staff Bernard McNamee to represent him at the rally by giving a brief speech in which he claimed that “over 57 million babies” have died “since the Supreme Court imposed abortion on America through Roe v. Wade.”

“We must accept these videos as a reminder of the horror that is abortion in America,” McNamee told the crowd. “These are dead babies.”

McNamee described legal abortion as “depravity.”

“One can only wonder at how this depravity affects the soul of this great nation,” he said, before thanking the crowd on Paxton’s behalf.

Professional anti-choice activist and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson also spoke at the rally, saying that “we will not stop until every Planned Parenthood is shut down,” as did Corey Tabor, an Austin pastor who runs a crisis pregnancy center.

Tabor said that it was a myth that abortion opponents did not concern themselves with babies and children after they are born, and that his crisis pregnancy center is proof. If pregnant women who come to the center take the classes he offers, he said, they can “earn vouchers called ‘baby bucks'” for items like cribs and diapers in order to learn the value of “earning.”

Wednesday’s Planned Parenthood hearing at the state capitol is scheduled for 9 a.m.; in advance of the invite-only testimony, lawmakers are reviewing a video “obtained by the Office of the Attorney General as part of their ongoing investigation into the activities of Planned Parenthood in Texas.”

Planned Parenthood requested the video from Schwertner’s office on Sunday, but were then referred to the attorney general. The organization then asked for, but has not yet received, a copy of the video from Paxton’s office, requested “in fairness to Planned Parenthood as the subject of the investigation.”

Paxton, who is under investigation on allegations of first-degree felony securities fraud in North Texas, is expected to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

Image: Andrea Grimes / RH Reality Check

The post Texas Lawmaker: Fetal Tissue Donations for Research ‘No Different Than What Happened in Nazi Germany’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Complaint: Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Attended Anti-Choice Rally With Domestic Terrorists

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:53

Reproductive rights advocates filed a judicial ethics complaint against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore alleging Moore showed public support for domestic terrorism by speaking at a rally held by the radically anti-choice group, Operation Save America.

Moore attended the July 11 rally in Montgomery, Alabama, the complaint reads, as did convicted abortion clinic bomber John Brockhoeft, according to photos shared by Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, a reproductive rights advocacy organization. Brockhoeft, an affiliate of the extremist organization the Army of God, served seven years in federal prison for setting fire to two Cincinnati abortion clinics in 1985 and planting a pipe bomb at another in 1987.

The Alabama rally was one of several taking place over a week in the state. Organizers said their short-term goal was preventing patients from accessing abortion care in Montgomery, with a long-term goal of closing the clinic there altogether.

ARRA filed the complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission following Moore’s appearance at the July 11 rally.

“By affiliating with members of Operation Rescue, Army of God, and OSA he has aligned himself ethically with people and organizations who meed the federal criteria of domestic terrorists,” AARA stated in a release following filing the ethics charge. “By aligning with them, Moore is guilty of domestic treason by association, conflict of interest, misconduct, collusion, and consorting with the enemy.”

Other anti-choice extremists were in attendance at the OSA rallies, many of whom believe in justifiable homicide against anyone working in an abortion clinic. As alleged in the complaint, the Rev. Matthew Trewhella, a Milwaukee anti-choice leader and co-founder of the Missionaries to the Preborn, was among those in attendance.

Trewhella, a convicted arsonist, was investigated in the 1990s for abortion clinic violence and served 14 months in prison for violation of the federal FACE Act. Convicted rapist and anti-choice extremist Scott Heldreth also attended the rally in Montgomery, the ARRA notes.

Moore is no stranger to anti-choice extremism. In April 2014 he wrote a concurring opinion in Ex Parte Hicks calling for the jailing and prosecuting of patients who choose abortion care. Ex Parte Hicks involved the conviction of Sarah Janie Hicks under Alabama’s child endangerment statute for giving birth to a healthy baby that later tested positive for cocaine.

Moore also faces an ethics complaint related to his calls for a “confrontation” with the federal courts over marriage equality, including orders disallowing probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed that complaint, requesting Moore face a formal ethics inquiry.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission has not yet responded to this latest ethics complaint.

Image: Top News / YouTube

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Busywork to Keep Teens From ‘Getting Busy': High School Students Asked to Sign an Abstinence Contract

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:34

A picture of an abstinence-only-until-marriage workbook distributed in a Utah high school is making the rounds on social media, thanks to PopSugar. As the apparent homework for students on Day 12 of a so-called sex education program, the assignment asked them to choose their top five (or more) reasons to remain abstinent out of a list of 28. Students were then told to write those reasons neatly on the next page and sign it as a “contract.”

There are many reasons that I hate this activity, including how closely it resembles virginity pledges—which, though they don’t often go through the same trouble of outlining reasons for abstinence, we all know don’t work. Research has shown that 88 percent of young people who take those pledges end up having sex before their wedding night. And worse, according to those studies, once pledgers become sexually active, they are one-third less likely to use contraception than their non-pledging peers.

What upsets me the most, however, is the degree to which young people are supposed to accept the premise of the 28 so-called justifications for abstinence without question. If they were allowed to think critically about what they are being asked to sign, they might notice that the statements are based on the assumption that all premarital relationships are unhealthy, morally wrong, and overwhelmingly likely to lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unintended pregnancy. The statements are also based on the flawed idea that abstinence until marriage would be the only way to fulfill the promises they’re putting in the contract.

I would love to believe that the students in these classes would be brave enough to challenge much of what’s written on the page but just in case, I decided to explain why some of the most outrageous statements just don’t make sense. Maybe my arguments can help other kids faced with homework like this challenge assumptions or, even better, help adults realize why this kind of program does not meet the needs of students.

#1. I refuse to use others for my physical needs.
#2. I refuse to be used by someone else to satisfy his/her physical needs.
I suppose we can give the authors credit for acknowledging that teens have physical needs, but they lose those points for assuming that all teenage sexual relationships involve using each other purely for physical intimacy. Sure, some teens enter into unhealthy relationships in which one person is being used, but this is true of adults as well. Teens can and do have sexual relationships that are based on mutual love, trust, and respect. And some of these relationships include mutually pleasurable sexual experiences. Instead of assuming such relationships can’t exist, we should be teaching teens what is and isn’t healthy, and why mutual consent and pleasure is important. This understanding is critical even for teens who decide to stay abstinent in high school or until they get married, because they’ll need it in adult relationships as well.

#3. I refuse to risk getting pregnant or a girl pregnant.
Awkward phrasing aside, this is a good risk to avoid. But while abstinence is the surest way to ensure that no one gets pregnant, there are other ways to do so. Condoms, if used consistently and correctly, are 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Yes, some teens use them wrong, but the most common mistake is leaving it in their purse or night table drawer. Teaching teens the importance of consistent condom use could allow them to keep this piece of their promise even if they end up having sex before marriage, which the majority of Americans do. Or, we could teach about (and give them access to) contraceptive implants and IUDs, which are over 99 percent effective without any effort on the part of the user and last for at least three years. These methods are a near-guarantee that teens will keep the promise of avoiding pregnancy whether or not they choose abstinence.

#6. I refuse to live through the trauma of an abortion.
First, we have to question the premise that abortion is traumatic. A recent study of women who’d had abortions found that 95 percent believed they’d made the right decision. Moreover, the most common emotion of the women after their abortion was relief. The study found no evidence that “post-abortion trauma syndrome”—a scare tactic frequently used by crisis pregnancy centers—exists. But #6 is flawed for another reason as well: It assumes, again, that sex before marriage is going to end in pregnancy. As I just discussed, a teen can refuse to live through abortion and can do so by using a highly effective form of birth control.

#12. I refuse to lose my self-respect.
This one really galls me because it goes back to the dichotomy set up by many abstinence-only curricula that says teens who are abstinent are model citizens and teens who have sex lack character, dignity, and self-respect. Abstinence programs have compared teens who have already had sex to things like used tape, to a cup full of spit, a mushed-up Peppermint Patty, chewed pieces of gum, or a rose with no petals. A person’s value is not wrapped up in their virginity. And teens who have had sex should know that they are no less valuable than any of their peers.

#16. I refuse to disrespect other’s physical boundaries/limitations.
This is a great promise that all teens should make. It is the basis of a lesson on consent. Teens need to learn that everyone has the right to make their own choices when it comes to sexual activity and they must respect those choices. Such a lesson, however, has little to do with staying abstinent until marriage. It’s about respecting an individual’s own boundaries, whatever they may be. So if your partner doesn’t want to have sex until marriage, then yes, you have to abide by that decision. But it’s equally important to abide by their decision if they tell you they don’t want to have sex until, say, next Thursday.

#18. I refuse to enter into marriage with unnecessary baggage from past relationships.
Abstinence-only curricula often focus on the idea that all sexual relationships outside of marriage leave memories and scars that will haunt you forever. You may lose your ability to bond (again, think about the tape game) or you may have flashbacks of prior partners during sex with your spouse. The average adult between the ages of 30 and 44, however, has had between four and eight opposite-sex sexual partners. Although I can’t tell you what images were going through their heads the last time they made love to their husband or wife, many seem to manage marriage without daily PTSD flashbacks of the ones who came before. While some people might consider past relationships as baggage, others see them as opportunities to learn the communication, negotiation, and emotional skills needed to be a good life partner.

Though this assignment might seem extreme, it is actually the kind of thing kids have been made to do in abstinence-only programs for years. Making young people blindly adopt tenets like these and then promise to follow them for years is not going to help them learn to protect themselves against STIs, pregnancy, or even heartache. Nor is it going to help them develop the critical thinking skills they need to make responsible sexual and relationship decisions as they mature. Good programs aim to educate young people rather than indoctrinate them. These teens would be much better off with one that let them think for themselves and question the basic premise that all sex before marriage is wrong.

This contract, as they say, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Image: Shutterstock

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Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:12
Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

Group Might Have Committed Identity Theft, Credit Card Fraud, New Evidence Suggests

Image: Shutterstock

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Exclusive: The Faces and Fake Names of People Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:06

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

When operatives from the Center for Medical Progress sat down for lunch with Planned Parenthood officials last February at the a/k/a Bistro in Pasadena, a city just outside of downtown Los Angeles, their hidden cameras caught over an hour of conversation between themselves and Dr. Mary Gatter, the medical director at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley.

Parts of that conversation have since become notorious. Gatter’s comments about how Planned Parenthood clinics are reimbursed for facilitating donations of various parts of fetal tissue have been edited to give the false impression that she was bartering over body parts. Her self-deprecating joke about a Lamborghini has been twisted to make it sound like she was serious about buying a luxury car. (In context, it appears she was making the opposite point—that there was no profit to be made in any of these transactions.)

Based on a careful review of the tape, as well as documents provided by sources with direct knowledge of the sham company used by the activists—BioMax Procurement Services—RH Reality Check has identified at least three names that appear to have been used as pseudonyms by these operatives. One of these names appears to belong to a childhood acquaintance of the group’s apparent ringleader, David Daleiden.

We can reveal that the full names used by three operatives were: Robert Daoud Sarkis, the alias used by Daleiden, according to multiple sources who met with him at events in California and other states; as well as Susan Tennenbaum and Brianna Allen, both of which appear to be aliases of as-yet unidentified operatives.

Two of these names appear on business cards that were provided to attendees of private events that were infiltrated by Daleiden and his associates under false pretenses.

At some of the private events infiltrated by “Sarkis” and “Tennenbaum,” attendees were required to show photo identification, according to organizers who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

A third associate also attended these events. Calling herself Brianna Allen, this woman registered for the event on behalf of the company, according to multiple sources. She also furnished what appeared to be a bona fide photo identification. The photograph below shows the woman who identified themselves as Susan Tennenbaum (left) and Brianna Allen (right).

News reports that BioMax operatives presented what appeared to be California driver’s licenses when they visited a Texas Planned Parenthood affiliate lend further weight to the claims of event organizers that Daleiden and his group did indeed present forged ID cards.

To be sure, it’s possible that Robert Daoud Sarkis, Brianna Allen, and Susan Tennenbaum are real people who are in fact associated with BioMax, despite BioMax now being known to have been a front company.

However, RH Reality Check has been unable to locate any such individuals, and neither the Center for Medical Progress nor BioMax itself produced any individuals by those names with ties to BioMax.

RH Reality Check called all phone numbers listed on the business cards. The office number for BioMax goes directly to voicemail. The cell number listed for Susan Tennenbaum is disconnected. A voicemail left on Sarkis’ cell phone was not returned by deadline. We also left messages for other people named Susan Tennenbaum throughout the United States, and all Brianna Allens in California, listed in databases of public records. Emails to the addresses provided on the business cards did not receive a reply. We were unable to locate a single listing for “Robert Daoud Sarkis” in databases of public records.

This new evidence obviously raises the question of whether any of this conduct is illegal.

Already, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress. Her investigation seems to be geared toward whether the group violated any laws in connection with its registration with the state’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, but she also said her office would look at whether the group had committed “any violations of California law.”

According to a California criminal defense attorney, Michael Kraut, there is some reason to believe that Daleiden and his associates may have violated California and federal law on forgery, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

If Daleiden and his accomplices did in fact provide fake government ID cards, they could have violated California laws that prohibit forgery, fraud, and perjury, said Kraut whose firm, Kraut Law Group, represents defendants in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

It is illegal to forge the state government seal, as well as to obtain state driver’s licenses using false names, said Kraut, who worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and for the United States Attorney’s Office before starting his own practice. Both crimes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on a range of circumstances. They are both easy for the prosecution to prove, added Kraut.

“A false seal is an easy prosecution because it either is or isn’t,” Kraut said. “And if they went to the DMV and got licenses under a false name, they’ve committed perjury. … That is very easy to prove, because one of the things they have to do in California is you have to fill out a document when you’re doing that, saying ‘I don’t have a license in any other name, and the name I’m using is my true and correct name.’ Each one would be a felonious statement.”

Prosecutors would have more difficulty charging Daleiden and his associates under California’s false impersonation statute if all they did was misrepresent themselves using fake names and fake business cards, Kraut said. Under California law, prosecutors must prove that a defendant deliberately used the identity of another and either directly benefited as a result or directly harmed that person in order to successfully convict on false impersonation charges.

In other words, if both Sarkis and Tennenbaum are fictional personas, then Daleiden and his operatives are unlikely to face charges of false impersonation.

However, another detail from the a/k/a Bistro video suggests Daleiden’s group may have gone beyond simply concocting identities, and might have co-opted the identity of a real person—one who shares the name of a California woman who went to the same elementary and high schools as the leader of this attack campaign.

Toward the end of the film, the woman who identifies herself as Susan can be seen removing a Bank of America card from her wallet, and using it to pay the bill.

Yet the name on the credit card is not Susan Tennenbaum, but rather, appears to be Brianna Allen.

BioMax’s alleged employees refer to “Brianna” in the three videos that have been released so far. RH Reality Check emailed the address provided by the BioMax operative who called herself Brianna Allen but received no response. BioMax has not connected RH Reality Check with any real person who will publicly identify herself as Brianna Allen.

However, RH Reality Check has obtained evidence that suggests the group’s leader, Daleiden, does know a woman named Brianna Allen.

After seeing her name referenced in our earlier reporting, Brianna M. Allen of Davis, California, contacted RH Reality Check to let us know that she had no ties to Daleiden’s organization and has not been in contact with him for 15 years.

Allen was the president of the student feminist club at Davis Senior High School at the same time that Daleiden was a student there, she said.

“Even in high school I knew he was adamantly against it [abortion]. He was very outspoken about being Catholic and more conservative. And we were very open about being liberal and pro-choice,” she told RH Reality Check. “Last night I just thought, ‘Oh God, what if that’s why he chose my name?’ But I kind of wrote it off as, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’”

If Daleiden’s group used Brianna M. Allen’s information to open a credit card account, they could have violated state or federal laws that prohibit credit card fraud, which carries a potential three-year prison sentence and would be easy to prove, Kraut said.

Allen stressed that she does not feel any ill will toward Daleiden personally, nor does she have definitive proof that Daleiden created a credit card in her name. Indeed, Brianna Allen is a fairly common name in the United States. Yet, Allen has been unable to access her credit reports online in the past few days, despite having been able to do so in the past.

“If it is just a weird coincidence, it would be a really, really weird coincidence,” Allen said.

Allen said her objection to Daleiden’s current campaign is not about her personal views on abortion rights.

“I definitely believe in a woman’s right to choose, but I understand it’s a very sensitive subject,” she said. “But I certainly don’t agree with him trying to expose lies by lying, and spying on people. It’s just wrong to me. The fact that he was basically just using media to heavily edit these videos for his own agenda, it’s just shady. I just don’t agree with it, personally.”

Planned Parenthood is also under investigation, with a congressional committee and at least eight states announcing inquiries to explore whether the nonprofit health-care network has engaged in the illegal practice of harvesting and profiting from the sale of fetal body parts, or any associated wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood has denied all allegations.

With more undercover videos expected for the remainder of the summer, pro-choice groups are bracing for additional fallout. However, as evidence of the Center for Medical Progress’ questionable tactics comes to light, it becomes more difficult to give their sensationalist claims much credence, Allen said.

“If he really felt this way, I think there are better ways to go about expressing your opinion than to basically scam people into saying whatever he wants them to say,” she said of Daleiden. “It’s just manipulative.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Religious Right’s Grip on Republican Party Makes Planned Parenthood a Prime Target

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 11:24

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

As reproductive politics are once again consumed by an attack on Planned Parenthood, it is worth stepping back and asking why this organization is so particularly reviled by the anti-choice movement. This is a demonization that goes well beyond the shady outfit, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), that organized the latest undercover filming, or its affiliated group, Live Action, infamous for releasing other debunked videos over the last decade. True, Planned Parenthood was reportedly not CMP’s only target, but the videos taken of its physicians have been the only ones to be released. Some Congressional Republicans, we now know, had prior knowledge of these videos, and predictably have issued calls for an investigation of the organization, joined by various Republican presidential aspirants. The videos have also given new ammunition to Republicans’ annual efforts to withhold all funds from Planned Parenthood for Title X services (primarily contraception and cancer screenings), which are subject to a yearly review. In short, the puzzle is why a national health-care organization—in which, as its spokespersons repeatedly point out, abortion only comprises 3 percent of all services delivered—is such a prime target of abortion opponents.

One answer, of course, is size: Even if only 3 percent of its services are abortion, Planned Parenthood still performs a healthy share of all the procedures occurring in the United States. But the answer goes well beyond that. It speaks to an interesting historical split among Republicans over matters of reproduction and sexuality—and the eventual triumph of the most socially conservative wing among the party base.

Before it became seemingly mandatory for Republican political figures to condemn Planned Parenthood, many were enthusiastic supporters. In a step that would be unheard of today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former Republican president, agreed in 1965 to to co-chair an honorary Planned Parenthood board along with Harry Truman, a former Democratic president. The conservative icon Barry Goldwater and his wife, Peggy, were stalwart supporters of the Planned Parenthood chapter in Arizona. Sen. Prescott Bush was a strong advocate of the organization and of contraceptive services in general, as was his son, George H.W. Bush, during his time as a Texas congressman, though the latter had to renounce his support in order to become acceptable as a vice-presidential candidate for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (who himself had some years earlier signed a bill liberalizing abortion in California). Mitt Romney, who famously said in the 2012 presidential campaign that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, had attended a fundraiser for the organization with his wife some years earlier, where she had made a donation. And of course it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who in 1970 signed into law the aforementioned Title X, the nation’s only legislation specifically for family planning services. Planned Parenthood became a significant grantee of this new program.

To be sure, this mainstream conservative support for Planned Parenthood’s widespread ability to provide contraceptives was not always rooted in the best of motives. The field of family planning has always contained contradictory impulses of population control as well as women’s liberation, and some of the early supporters of Planned Parenthood were involved with the eugenics movement that was prominent in the first part of the 20th century. Later, the disproportionate location of Title X clinics (some associated with Planned Parenthood) in Black areas shortly after the bill was passed, along with the history of racism and classism in many arenas of medical care, created a lingering distrust of the organization in some sectors of that community, on which the anti-abortion movement has long tried to capitalize. Prominent Black leaders, however, including Martin Luther King Jr. (who accepted Planned Parenthood’s first Margaret Sanger Award in 1966) supported the organization and were, as King put it, “sympathetic” with its “total work.”

The real hardcore animosity toward the organization that lasts to this day, though, has its roots in the emergence of the religious right as a force in Republican politics in the 1970s. As a fundraising appeal of an anti-abortion group put it in 1980, “Planned Parenthood promotes sexual perversion, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, family destruction, population control.” As the quote makes clear, far more than Planned Parenthood’s connection with abortion caused such wrath. The organization’s provision of contraception and its commitment to offering confidential services to teenagers, both made possible through its Title X funding, have been particularly enraging to sexual conservatives. Though abortion may have served as the “battering ram,” as Rosalind Petchesky aptly put it, to mobilize the religious right, in fact, conservative groups oppose all sexuality that does not take place within heterosexual marriage in order to procreate.

Because of its size and history as a recipient of public funding, Planned Parenthood, of course, serves as a useful symbol of an enabler of out-of-control sexual behavior. Contraception’s brief moment of acting as “common ground” between abortion supporters and opponents shortly after the Roe decision in 1973 broke down as the religious right gained strength throughout the 1970s and beyond; the religious right increasingly began to frame contraception as “supportive of the abortion mentality” rather than as something that prevented abortion.

It is too soon to tell what the political fallout will be from this latest attack on Planned Parenthood. Right now, there are two competing narratives about this incident. There is that of CMP and its political allies, which attempts to convince the public that Planned Parenthood is “selling” fetal tissue, in spite of clear evidence, even on the edited tapes, that this is not the case; and that of Planned Parenthood, which is that the undercover operatives used unethical and illegal means to promote lies about the organization’s practices. (A third narrative that this case could have evoked is disappointingly missing thus far—scientists testifying to the importance of research using fetal tissue and the social good that donation by abortion patients represents). Anti-abortionists’ efforts to use Planned Parenthood as a wedge issue in the 2012 election cycle were a dismal failure; analysts acknowledge that the organization’s support of Obama, symbolized by the high visibility of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s telegenic president, at campaign events, was a plus. Thus far, polling data have not shown any appreciable drop in support for Planned Parenthood as a result of the videos, and most Americans continue to support the organization, which at least one in five U.S. women will visit at some point.

How U.S. residents will ultimately come to view this controversy—that is, which of the two competing narratives mentioned above will prevail—might be an interesting test case of whether the realities of people’s sexual and reproductive lives in the 21st century are making the religious right an increasingly irrelevant force, in spite of its current hold on Republican politicians.

Image: Shutterstock

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Advocates: Six Years With No Minimum Wage Increase Is Too Long

RH Reality Check - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 08:24

Friday marked six years since the last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage, from $5.15 an hour in 2007 to $7.25 an hour in 2009.

Advocates for a living wage and congressional Democrats used the occasion to argue that six years is too long for the wage to be stuck at $7.25, which isn’t enough money to keep a single parent working full-time out of poverty. That wage is worth about 8 percent less than it was in 2009, due to inflation.

Some advocates and liberal policy analysts pushed for increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, which is in line with a proposal in Congress introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA).

Others pushed for $15 an hour by 2020, in line with the demands of striking “Fight for 15” workers and with a new proposal introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

“It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills,” Sanders told a crowd of striking federal contract workers on Wednesday, the same day the bill was introduced.

“We can’t survive on $7.25” is a common slogan in the “Fight for 15” movement. Buoyed by the voices of the women and people of color who disproportionately hold low-wage jobs, Fight for 15 has helped push numerous cities and states to raise their wages in the past several years.

The movement may have also helped congressional Democrats to push for ever-higher minimum wage targets, even as Republicans continue to block any attempt to raise the wage. If Republicans aren’t even willing to consider a modest raise to $10.10, why not push back with a strong argument for wages that families can actually live on?

Research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that the economy can support raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, and that doing so would raise pay for one-third of African-American and Hispanic workers and one in four working mothers. A report from the National Women’s Law Center found that states with higher minimum wages also have lower pay gaps between men and women.

“The lowest paid worker in 1968 was making 24 percent more than that same worker today, almost 50 years later,” David Cooper, senior economic analyst at EPI, told RH Reality Check.  “That’s particularly important for women and workers of color, because they tend to be more of these low-wage workers.”

EPI’s analysis has focused on Murray and Scott’s $12 proposal and hasn’t taken a closer look at the $15 one Sanders and Ellison just put forward, but Scott said that it’s worth considering.

“I think that it’s still an open question as to how long it would take for us to reasonably get to 15,” Scott said. If wages had kept pace with productivity for the last several decades, he said, we could have easily had a $15 minimum wage by now—but since that didn’t happen, it’s a bit more challenging.”

A raise to $12 by 2020, Scott said, would help reduce inequality. One measure of this is the relationship between the minimum wage and the median wage, which gives economists a sense of how much the average worker makes in comparison to the lowest-paid workers. The lowest-paid workers made a little more than half of what the typical worker made in the 1960s, but now they only make about 38 percent.

That’s low by both historical and international standards.

Wage increases have marked big wins for labor groups and advocates, but even $15 minimum wages will have limited benefits when they’re fully implemented, especially for workers in big cities.

For example, New York’s possible $15 minimum wage, if approved, would be fully implemented by 2021 and worth $11.27 in the New York City area. Once Los Angeles’ minimum wage reaches $15 per hour in 2020, it will be roughly equivalent to $9.75 for the average American worker today, according to projections published by FiveThirtyEight.

Both the $12 and $15 proposals in Congress would index the minimum wage to the median wage going forward to help address that issue, and would also close a loophole that lets bosses pay tipped workers much less than the standard minimum wage.

Specific proposals aside, research suggests that raising the minimum wage doesn’t hurt job growth and that employers can afford to pay higher wages, given that corporate profits are at record highs while the share of revenues going to workers are at record lows.

Image: Shutterstock

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Supreme Court of India Allows Medical Panel to Grant Legal Abortion to Pregnant 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 23:00
Supreme Court of India Allows Medical Panel to Grant Legal Abortion to Pregnant 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor

07.28.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Four gynecologists will determine whether a pregnant 14-year-old rape survivor can obtain a legal abortion, according to a ruling today by a two-judge panel in the Supreme Court of India.

The young girl, known as X, was allegedly raped by a doctor treating her for typhoid earlier this year and only discovered the pregnancy at the end of June. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 abortion is only legal within 20 weeks of pregnancy—including in cases of grave injury to physical or mental health, rape, incest, fetal impairment and contraceptive failure—or any time during a pregnancy where it is “immediately necessary” to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Although doctors determined she was not physically or mentally prepared to continue with the pregnancy, the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad denied X a legal abortion since she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. The Supreme Court overturned the Gujarat High Court ruling and the medical panel will examine X on July 30 in Ahmedabad and determine whether there is risk to her life that justifies an abortion under the current law.

Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Forcing any woman or young girl to continue with an unwanted pregnancy is a serious violation of human rights.

“We commend the Supreme Court for stepping in to protect the reproductive rights of this young rape survivor.

“Now these medical experts must act quickly to ensure this young girl receives the reproductive health services she needs. Their failure to recognize the imminent risks to her life and future well-being will lead to further violations of her human rights.”

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 legalized abortion on broad grounds but with strict time limits. Decades later, more than half of the estimated 6 million abortions that take place each year are unsafe according to theAbortion Assessment Project-India.

This is not the first time that the Gujarat High Court has denied a young rape survivor an abortion. This case underscores the urgent need to adopt current proposals to amend the abortion law and make it more humane by permitting abortions even beyond 20 weeks.

Group Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Sees Scrutiny From California Attorney General

RH Reality Check - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 17:02

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris will review whether the group behind the Planned Parenthood attack videos violated any laws in making the deceitful recordings, which depict Planned Parenthood officials talking about the organization’s legal fetal tissue donation program.

The group behind the videos, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group based in southern California, posed as employees of a fake biologics company. CMP representatives met with Planned Parenthood officials, and goaded them into talking about the specifics of the health-care organization’s fetal tissue donation program, including the fees and the types of abortion procedure best suited to tissue donation.

Planned Parenthood officials did not know they were being recorded by the individuals, who have deep ties to the anti-choice movement’s radical and violent fringe.

Tissue donation is legal, so long as a profit is not being made. It’s a longstanding practice that has contributed to medical research. Even so, CMP has said the heavily edited attack videos are proof that Planned Parenthood, the largest women’s health-care network in the country, is trafficking fetal tissue for profit.

Anti-choice lawmakers, including a handful of Republican presidential hopefuls, have initiated investigations into Planned Parenthood and introduced legislation to defund it.

Four House Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris asking them to investigate whether CMP had broken any federal or state laws.

The lawmakers said they believe David Daleiden, the head of CMP and the face behind the first video, may have illegally misrepresented the purpose and intention of his fake corporate entity.

“It is unclear from these reports what specific paperwork Mr. Daleiden’s group filed, whether the address listed ever hosted any legitimate business concern, the extent to which this group may have submitted false statements to governmental entities, whether the group transmitted fraudulent information through the mail or electronic communications, or whether this fake company filed tax returns or other documents with the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agencies,” the letter reads.

The representatives said that the group likely violated California’s two-party consent law by surreptitiously videotaping Planned Parenthood employees.

Harris, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, responded to those claims on Friday, writing in a letter that her office “will carefully review the allegations raised … to determine whether there were any violations of California law.

“This office will also review any materials filed by the Center for Medical Progress with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts to determine whether the organization violated laws including, but not limited to, our registration and reporting requirements,” she added.

Lynch on Wednesday stopped short of announcing an investigation, but said the Department of Justice would “review all the information and determine what steps, if any, to take at the appropriate time.”

Image: The Sacramento Bee / YouTube

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Lawsuit: Texas Denies Birth Certificates to U.S. Citizens With Undocumented Parents

RH Reality Check - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 15:38

Elena, we’ll call her, is Rio Grande Valley lawyer Efrén Olivares’ “favorite” client. Elena works whenever she can, harvesting cotton, onions—whatever’s in season—in South Texas. When there’s “no picking,” says Olivares, Elena cleans houses.

“She’s incredibly resourceful,” Olivares told RH Reality Check.

Elena came to Texas from Mexico years ago. She’s undocumented. So is her infant daughter. But Elena’s baby is a United States citizen—as much an American as anyone else born on U.S. soil.

Elena is one of more than a dozen Texas parents who live in the Rio Grande Valley and who say their children have been wrongly denied birth certificates by the state’s vital statistics unit and therefore discriminated against because of their parents’ immigration status. Eighteen South Texas parents in May filed suit in federal court hoping to get the documentation to which their U.S.-born kids have a right, and which they need in order to enroll in school and to receive civic services.

Some, said Olivares, even need their kids’ birth certificates so they can get a proper baptism.

At issue is the matricula consular, a piece of photo identification issued by the Mexican consulate to Mexican-born residents of the United States. It looks a lot like a drivers’ license, and its use and acceptance has been hotly debated by law enforcement, anti-immigration groups, and conservatives, who question the Mexican government’s ability and willingness to verify the identities of the Mexican nationals to whom it issues the cards.

For her older child, Elena was able to show her matricula consular to the local authorities and obtain a birth certificate, establishing her relationship to her child along with her child’s U.S. citizenship.

“Even though [Olivares’ clients] have social security for the kid, all the hospital records that prove without a doubt the child was born here in Texas,” Olivares said, “the representatives from the vital statistics unit which are located at city hall in various cities are refusing to issue those birth certificates to the parents, claiming that they don’t have the necessary ID documents.”

Elena and her co-plaintiffs say that sometime last year—around and after the time that a wave of undocumented children arrived in Texas—local authorities, under the direction of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), stopped accepting the consular IDs even though, according to the plaintiffs, they’d accepted it for years.

The plaintiffs’ older children, according to court documents, are proof of that. The older kids have birth certificates. The infants—including Elena’s new baby, born last fall—don’t.

“The timing is a little interesting,” Olivares said. “Right after the influx of many immigrant children last summer, right around time the president announced DACA and DAPA.”

President Obama in November 2014 announced an expansion of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to temporarily defer deportation and get work permits, along with a DAPA program expansion for parents. Those expansions are now held up in federal court.

But a representative for DSHS told RH Reality Check via email that the department has long had a policy not to accept the consular cards.

“The Vital Statistics Unit (formerly Bureau of Vital Statistics) has never considered consular IDs to be an acceptable form of ID to obtain copies of vital records,” said DSHS press officer Chris Van Deusen. “That policy has been applied uniformly by DSHS. We can’t speak to how it has been applied by local registrars.”

The Texas attorney general has responded to the lawsuit by asking the Western District court to dismiss the suit entirely, claiming that the federal government has no right to dictate to Texas the terms of its policy for issuing birth certificates to U.S. citizens, essentially making a “states’ rights” argument that echoes Texas leaders’ opposition to legalizing gay marriage.

The plaintiffs, argue the attorney general, have no legal standing to bring a complaint against the state or its employees.

Elena and her co-plaintiffs—on behalf of their children, who are not identified by name in the suit—argue that their U.S. citizen kids are entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin.

They say that local entities, which operate under the direction of DSHS, have stopped accepting matricular, and that because of the restrictions on forms of identification the vital statistics unit will accept, they can’t fulfill the requirements to get their kids’ records.

Olivares said that many Mexican and Central American immigrants—his clients—were told by the coyotes who charge large sums to guide immigrants across the border that they should throw away their drivers’ licenses and other identification documents before they cross the Rio Grande River.

When they arrive in Texas, they arrive wholly without identification.

And now that these immigrants have built lives in Texas, working and raising families, their U.S.-born children lack access to the documents that children of U.S.-born parents can more easily obtain.

In order to secure a birth certificate, a parent can present one form of “primary” identification or two forms of “secondary” identification. The list of acceptable primary forms of ID are, in Texas, unavailable to undocumented people. The acceptable “secondary” forms of identification largely present the same challenge, though state statute says that “foreign identification with identifiable photo of applicant” is acceptable.

But not, according to DSHS officials, the matricular, despite the fact that it is a foreign identification with an identifiable photo of an applicant.

Van Deusen told RH Reality Check that DSHS does not accept consular IDs because “the documents used to obtain the matricula are not verified by the issuing party.”

Olivares’ clients are not only challenging DSHS and the local registrars’ denial of birth certificates to the plaintiffs’ children, but are also challenging the state’s policy of not accepting the consular IDs themselves, and asking for clarification as to what identification undocumented parents can use to get their kids’ certificates.

Olivares told RH Reality Check that his goal is to “first of all, to get birth certificates for these children and second, to get a clearer guidance from vital statistics unit to clarify what they will require of undocumented parents who have U.S. citizen children.”

Even if the vital statistics unit concedes to issuing birth certificates to the named plaintiffs’ kids, Olivares said, his office hears from more and more parents dealing with this problem every day.

So far, all of his clients live in the Valley area, but they’re already getting calls from parents along the border toward Laredo and West Texas, and Olivares says he and his colleagues expect to add more plaintiffs to the suit in the coming weeks.

Image: Shutterstock

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Fighting for Girlhood

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 14:23
Fighting for Girlhood Child marriage violates the rights of millions across the world each year. But the UN just took notable steps to end its ravages.

07.27.15 - At age 15, Gita should have been cramming for math tests and gossiping with friends. Instead, she was forced to leave her family and the school she attended in the midwestern hills of Nepal to marry a man eight years older.

With that marriage, Gita’s trials had only begun. Not long after arriving at her new home, her mother-in-law pushed Gita into a room with her husband—of whom she was terrified—and locked the door from the outside. Before long, Gita was pregnant. She delivered her child at home with no help and suffered numerous complications.

Gita is one of more than 15 million girls worldwide subjected each year to child marriage, a centuries-old practice with often disastrous repercussions for young girls and their communities.

As noted in a 2013 report from the Center for Reproductive Rights, early marriage can instigate a range of human rights violations, leaving girls and women vulnerable to sexually contracted infections as well as domestic violence and rape. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women over 20, and the risk is far greater for those under 15.

“Child marriage is premised on patriarchal norms and harmful stereotypes of women and girls as subordinate to men and reflects deeply rooted gender inequality “ says Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center. “It institutionalizes violence against girls and women and serves as a veil for unthinkable crimes which routinely go unrecognized and unpunished.”

Approximately half of child marriages currently take place in South Asia, and—unless the practice is abolished immediately—as many as 130 million South Asian girls will be forced into marriage by 2030.

The Center has been working closely with the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), which spearheaded the development of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action, a call for governments in the region to denounce child marriage as a human rights violation, to bring their laws in line with international human rights standards, and truly enforce those laws.

To promote stronger legal accountability in the region, the Center organized a convening this past November in collaboration with SAIEVAC, where participants representing civil society and government bodies from eight South Asian states endorsed the Kathmandu Call for Action.

In a huge victory last month for women and girls across the globe, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the principal body at the U.N. that promotes and protects human rights for all, welcomed these regional commitments and unanimously adopted a groundbreaking resolution to eradicate child, early, and forced marriage. The resolution calls on states to implement national action plans on child marriage, and encourages partnering with civil society groups to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls.

“The Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action—recognized and reinforced by the UN Council’s resolutions—generate hope for millions of women and girls like Gita in the region who have been forced to endure countless indignities and abuses,” says Upreti.

Ahead of the UN Council’s session, the Center and our partners advocated to strengthen the resolution by ensuring that it adequately recognized the human rights dimension of child marriage and built on regional initiatives and commitments already made by governments to end child marriage.

We hosted a side event at the UN co-sponsored by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and other high-profile agencies that highlighted these concerns, featuring a panel with powerful voices from the affected regions, including Upreti and Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA and African Union goodwill ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage.

One day when Gita’s husband learned she was pregnant again, he accused her of adultery and attempted to electrocute her. It was then she decided to escape. She was able to return to her family home and—eight years after being forced to leave school—she reenrolled in the eighth grade.

At first, returning to middle school as a mother in her twenties was difficult. But Gita gathered courage and studied hard to pass the standard exams and continue her education. Her husband later filed for divorce when he married another girl.

Upreti emphasizes that while Gita survived one ordeal after another as a child bride and a young wife, child marriage causes irreparable harm and there are some wounds that simply never heal. Legal remedies can help women and girls get out of situations that are abusive or life threatening and, with the right support systems in place, give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

However, such remedies cannot give them back their lost childhood. Where girls suffer serious repercussions to their reproductive health, their physical integrity can never be fully restored. It is important for violations associated with child marriage to be prevented altogether by enacting and enforcing laws that prohibit child marriage. 

“Stopping the continuum of harm that is triggered by early marriage is only possible when governments fully implement laws and policies that prohibit child marriage, and when women are aware of their rights and empowered to make decisions about marriage,” says Upreti.  

Moving forward, the Center is working to support the implementation of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia and the Kathmandu Call for Action. This will ensure that governments in the region are able to play a central role in shaping a better future for millions of women and their families across the world.

Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

Indiana Clerk: Processing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses Violates Religious Rights

RH Reality Check - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 13:47

An Indiana court clerk who was fired for refusing to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples has sued, alleging she was discriminated against because of her religious beliefs.

Linda Summers, a former Harrison County employee in the clerk’s office filed the lawsuit in federal court, alleging the decision to fire her violates her First Amendment rights. Summers wrote and hand-delivered a letter to Harrison County Clerk Sally Whitis, telling her that processing licenses for same-sex couples is against her sincerely held religious beliefs against same-sex marriage, according to the complaint.

Summers requested she not be required to process those applications.

Summers made her request after Whitis had sent a mass email to county clerk employees telling them they are required by state law to process applications for marriage licenses by same-sex couples even though it may be against their personal beliefs. Whitis sent the email last October and a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied petitions to hear same-sex marriage cases in five states, including Indiana.

That decision allowed lower-court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage to stay in place before the Supreme Court eventually ruled in June that state-level same-sex marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution.

Summers is asking to be compensated for lost earnings and for the county to be ordered to examine or modify existing employment practices to account for religious objections like the one raised by Summers.

The Indiana lawsuit is the latest legal challenge from religious conservatives who argue that recognizing marriage equality violates their constitutional religious rights. A federal court in Kentucky is considering the case of a Rowan County clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing a religious objection.

Image: Shutterstock

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Cleveland Transit Officer Pepper-Sprays ‘Black Lives Matter’ Activists

RH Reality Check - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 12:04

A three-day convening last week designed to provide Black organizers and community activists with a space to heal, mourn, and strategize around the Black Lives Matter movement ended in indignation following an aggressive interaction with a transit authority officer.

The Movement for Black Lives Convening, held July 24-26 at Cleveland State University in Ohio, ended violently Sunday evening when a Cleveland transit officer took a local Black teenager into custody. The officer believed the teenager was “intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself.”

Witnesses said the officer slammed the young man to the ground before moving the teen into a police vehicle.

Local law enforcement responded, joining the transit authority officer and other officials on the street as the crowd swelled with locals and activists who had attended the Movement for Black Lives Convening.

The officer confronted a crowd of activists who had begun locking arms and chanting in protest over the way he forcefully detained the 14-year-old. “The crowd was determined that the youth would NOT be harmed or killed and were fierce, as we know it’s a real possibility,” explained one witness, Kimberly Ellis, on Twitter.

The officer pepper-sprayed a group of about 30 people, according to reports.

“At some point, based on what I saw, I felt that the police reaction was focused on reacting to the protesters as opposed to deescalating the situation,” Kimberly Ellis told RH Reality Check in a phone interview.

While some activists worked to treat pepper-spray victims, the handcuffed teen, with his mother, was escorted into an ambulance by the police to get checked out. A witness said the mother told officers that her son wasn’t intoxicated like the officer had claimed.

Ellis, who said she joined a small group of activists trying to “focus in on the mother and what we could do for the teen,” told RH Reality Check that the officers hesitated to release the teen because of the crowd of people who had gathered around the ambulance.

“I was trying to find out what was happening and how I might be able to help … but everything changed when I heard one of the officers say, ‘Well, even if I were to release him, I can’t because there’s too many people around.’ And I just thought to myself, well wait a minute, I mean, now the dynamics have changed because if you’re even thinking about releasing him and now you’re sort of victim blaming … it’s just kind of like, but the protesters were there because some of them saw what happened and thought the arrest was unwarranted or extreme.”

The officers ended up releasing the teen to his family after the crowd cleared space for a relative to drive her truck to the ambulance.

The conflict comes nearly two weeks before the one-year mark of 18-year-old Michael Brown‘s death in Ferguson, Missouri, which set off a spate of protests across the country in response to police violence against Black women, men, and children.

It also follows the recent deaths of Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman, who died while in police custody in Waller County, Texas, and Homewood, Alabama, respectively.

The national convening began on Thursday and attracted more 1,000 attendees, including “movement elders” such as the niece of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer and Miss Major, a leader in the trans community; #BlackLivesMatter co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi; community leaders representing labor unions and international delegations; and families of victims of police violence.

Speakers placed the movement in its historical context, as part of an ongoing fight for freedom that began before the attendees were born and will continue after they have perished.

Along with numerous panels on the various ways in which Black people are seeking justice, the event offered spaces for healing, a Youth Freedom program, which included “activities for children around political education, art and healing,” and tours of the Black-owned Rid-All urban farm.

The event closed on Sunday with a performance by Voices in the Valley youth and chants of “Black Youth Matter.”

Closing ceremony of @mvmt4bl conference! THIS IS BEAUTIFUL! #M4BL

— Devin T. Murphy (@TheDevinMurphy) July 26, 2015

Shortly after the closing ceremony, the transit authority officer detained the 14-year-old Black teen.

Following the police attack on Sunday, conference attendees who were still in Cleveland and those who were on their way home responded on social media.

To the folks from Cleveland,the folks from Ohio…thank you for protecting our own. #M4BL

— Elle Hearns (@SoulFreeDreams) July 27, 2015

Our skin is burning but our resilience & passion for our people is burning even more! We must love each other & protect each other. #M4BL — BLACK POWER ranger (@MalcolmLondon) July 26, 2015

They just let the teenager go. "This is what community looks like." #M4BL

— Mvmt 4 Black Lives (@mvmt4bl) July 26, 2015

“The whole point was we weren’t going to let another Black teenager be hurt, be abused, be killed, be maligned, be railroaded and swept into the criminal justice system. I mean there were so many reasons to be there,” Ellis said. “I don’t think [the teen] really understood what was going on, but I am sure that he has never had a crowd full of Black people just surrounding him and shouting at him, ‘We love you.’ And like, caring for him and chanting, supporting him the whole way … He had the biggest and the best support group ever.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Laws to Protect LGBTQ Students Fail to Gain Traction on Federal or State Levels

RH Reality Check - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 09:18

Legislation that was intended to prevent discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ students in public schools failed to pass in the Senate this month, despite bipartisan support. Similar legislation introduced in state legislatures in recent years has suffered the same fate.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, originally introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) as a standalone bill, would have prohibited public school students from discrimination on basis of their “actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or that of their associates.”

The bill, which was first introduced by Franken in 2011, is modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

LGBTQ youth experience bullying and harassment at much higher rates than non-LGBTQ youth and are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion, and physical attacks at school, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Franken introduced the legislation as an amendment to the Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. During a speech on the Senate floor Franken said that the amendment was not simply about teasing or “playground behavior,” but that it was about preventing discrimination.

“If a gay child is relentlessly harassed by his classmates, if a principal tells a girl that she can’t go to her senior prom because she wants to bring another girl as her date, or if a school just stands by as teachers, students, and other administrators refer to a transgender child as not he or she but ‘it’—there is no law that was written to protect those children,” Franken said. “Our laws fail those children. And that is just wrong. But we can change that.”

The amendment did not receive the 60 votes necessary for adoption and failed in a 52-45 vote, with seven Republicans joining Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.

“The inability to put in place meaningful protections for some of our most vulnerable children is an enormous disservice to LGBT students all across the country who face terrible bullying every day,” Franken said, reported the Washington Blade. “Right now, there are federal laws on the books to protect kids against discrimination or harassment based on things like gender, race, national origin, and disability. My measure simply would have extended those protections to LGBT kids.”

Ian Thompson, the legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that it was disappointing that lawmakers failed to protect LGBT students from discrimination, but the bipartisan support of the legislation was encouraging.

“The fight for explicit protection for LGBT students under federal law will continue,” Thompson said. “In the meantime, the Departments of Education and Justice must continue to use their existing legal authority to protect LGBT students from discrimination and harassment.”

Reducing the occurrence of bullying and harassment in public schools has been a priority over the past decade for state lawmakers. Since 2006, 49 states have enacted some type of legislation aimed at preventing bullying and protecting students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The legislation introduced and laws enacted have varied widely in scope and focus. A handful of other bills have been introduced this year in state legislatures that address bullying or harassment in schools, but most of these bills focus on cyberbullying and not on bullying or harassment of LGBTQ students.

Washington State Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) introduced SB 5526, which would require public schools to incorporate a model transgender student policy and procedure created by the state school directors’ association and to share the policy with parents or guardians, students, volunteers, and school employees.

Since being appointed to the state senate last year, Liias has made legislation that focuses on bullying in the LGBTQ community one of his top priorities. SB 5526 did not pass during the state’s regular legislative session, but has been introduced during all three of the special legislative sessions and is currently pending.

In Hawaii, Rep. Roy Takumi (D-Pearl City) introduced HB 819, which would require state and county agencies that serve youth to adopt bullying prevention policies and establish a task force to assist the governor with bullying prevention policies in the state. Alison Gill, the senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said in written committee testimony that the bill would protect the safety and well being of all young people in Hawaii, including LGBTQ youth.

“Bullying and harassment has become a serious public health crisis in our nation’s schools,” Gill said. “Nationally, 65 percent of teens have been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted based on a characteristic that makes them different from some of their peers, like their race, religion, or gender, and 65 percent of junior high school teachers report that bullying and harassment is a serious problem in their school. In Hawaii in 2013, nearly 19 percent of students reported being bullied on school property and more than 15 percent reported experiencing cyberbullying.”

Versions of the bill were passed by both the state house and senate, but a conference committee was unable to reconcile differences in the bills before the legislature adjourned.

Iowa Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) introduced legislation to provide for training for school personnel, establish a bullying and violence prevention student mentoring pilot program, and provide for a school climate and bullying work group. SF 345 was part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s comprehensive anti-bullying agenda.

“Every child in Iowa deserves to go to school in a safe and respectful learning environment,” Branstad said, reported the Iowa Statesman. “The passage of SF 345 will give schools the tools they need to prevent bullying. I’m hopeful that the bill will receive support in the Iowa House and come to my desk for final approval.”

While the bill was passed by a wide margin in the Democratic-controlled senate, it failed to gain traction in the Republican-majority house.

Image: Shutterstock

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U.N. Committee Calls on Croatia to Expand Reproductive Health Services and End Discrimination Against Women

Center for Reproductive Rights - Sun, 07/26/2015 - 23:00
U.N. Committee Calls on Croatia to Expand Reproductive Health Services and End Discrimination Against Women

07.27.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has called on the Croatian government to take concrete steps to improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women during child birth. It also called on Croatia to ensure women can access reproductive health services in practice, including legal abortion, regardless of health professionals’ personal objections.

In its concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee urged Croatia to guarantee that women’s rights and autonomy and informed consent requirements are upheld during childbirth. It further recommended that Croatia ensure that health professionals’ refusals to provide services on grounds of  conscience not be allowed to impede women’s effective access to reproductive health care services, especially abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI) and Parents in Action (RODA), made a joint submission to the CEDAW Committee regarding the failure of the Croatian government to ensure women have access to quality reproductive health services, including abortion services and modern contraceptives. The submission also addressed serious concerns about the treatment of pregnant women during childbirth in Croatian hospitals including deficits in ensuring full and informed consent to medical interventions during childbirth as well as frequent disrespectful and abusive treatment of women by medical professionals.

“Croatian women have a right to receive quality reproductive health services, but instead they face abuse, disrespectful care, and a range of obstacles to critical services, said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Croatia must take effective steps to ensure pregnant women giving birth receive medical care that respects their needs and wishes.”

Abortion in Croatia is legal within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter under limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy is a result of a crime, if the pregnancy put a woman’s health or life at risk and in cases of severe fetal impairments. However, women are facing increasing difficulties in accessing legal abortion services in practice. According to 2014 research by the Gender Equality Ombudsperson, more than half of gynecologists in Croatia do not provide legal abortion services due to their personal objections.

The joint submission to the CEDAW Committee also included findings from RODA’s 2015 Survey on Experiences in Maternity Services that reported a large number of pregnant women being subjected to procedures that can be harmful to their physical and mental health, including 54 percent of women alleging that health professionals applied heavy pressure to their abdomens to speed up the delivery, a procedure not supported by medical evidence.


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