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Reproductive Rights News

A Slew of Anti-Choices Laws Take Effect Today

RH Reality Check - 6 hours 7 min ago

Restrictions on reproductive rights passed by anti-choice state legislatures this year are set to take effect July 1, even as abortion-related legislative and legal battles rage on.

The courts have recently blocked several anti-choice laws passed by state lawmakers this year, giving reproductive rights advocates in states such as Kansas and Florida temporary reprieve as the laws are litigated.

Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that allowed lawmakers to pass legislation restricting reproductive rights and creating regulations for abortion providers. Republican legislators introduced several anti-choice proposals during this year’s legislative session.

Two laws passed by lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature take effect today.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law in May that mandates a 48-hour waiting period before a person can receive abortion care. The law will affect women seeking abortion care at all of the state’s seven abortion clinics. Tennessee is one of 28 states with a forced waiting period, and one of five states with a waiting period of more than 24 hours.

Haslam signed another bill into law in May that imposes new regulations on clinics that provide abortion care. SB 1280 requires facilities or physicians’ offices that perform more than 50 abortions in a calendar year to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers (ASTCs), mandating the conversion of such offices into mini-hospitals. Converting clinics into ASTCs is costly, and the policy is designed to force abortion providers to shut down.

Four Tennessee clinics that provide abortion care are already located in facilities that are licensed ASTCs.

However, two clinics located in Nashville and Bristol likely would have been forced to close if a federal judge last week hadn’t granted them a temporary restraining order. The two clinics argued before the court that they were unable to obtain the required licenses from the state Department of Health.

The lawsuit filed by the two clinics also challenged a 2012 law requiring that physicians providing abortion services obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and the 48-hour forced waiting period law that took effect July 1. Neither of those laws were affected by the judge’s ruling.

A hearing on whether or not to extend the temporary restraining order will be held on July 9.

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law in May that created more regulations for abortion clinics. SB 546, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, amends state law to redefine an abortion clinic by excluding health-care providers that prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to fewer than five patients a year.

Abortion is already highly regulated in Indiana, and access is severely limited. As of 2011, 93 percent of Indiana counties had no abortion clinic, and 61 percent of Indiana women lived in these counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law in April that made his state the first in the nation to criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions. SB 95, which would outlaw dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, was scheduled to take effect today. It’s widely considered one of the country’s most radical anti-choice measures.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the law, and last week a state judge blocked the law. In the ruling the judge said that the law likely violated both the United States and Kansas constitutions.

The law was based on copycat legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), and redefined the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion. The graphic and medically inaccurate language in the law describing the D and E procedure is key to NRLC’s strategy of passing similar anti-choice legislation in other states.

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation to ban the D and E procedure in April, and similar legislation was introduced but failed to pass in Missouri, South Dakota, and South Carolina. Anti-choice activists in Arkansas are already planning to push similar legislation during the state’s 2017 legislative session.

Republican lawmakers in Florida passed a law in June that would force a pregnant person to wait a minimum of 24 hours and make at least one additional trip to the physician before having an abortion. The law was set to take effect today, but a Florida state court judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocked the law.

However, the Florida Attorney General’s filed an immediate appeal with the First District Court of Appeals that prevented the block on the law from taking immediate effect. The ACLU has filed a motion requesting that the block of the law take effect while the case proceeds. A ruling on that motion could be issued any time this week.

Until the ruling is issued, the law will go into effect today.

Image: Shutterstock

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Girl Scouts Council Returns $100,000 From Anti-Transgender Donor

RH Reality Check - 7 hours 13 min ago

The Girl Scouts council of Western Washington returned a sizable grant this week when it was asked by the donor to ensure that no funds would be used to support transgender girls.

Though the national organization supports working with transgender girls, it allows local organizations to make the final decisions on whether to accept donations, and the Western Washington group decided to take a $100,000 stand. The group then looked to replace the donation, ending up with more than double the original amount from those who supported the Girl Scouts’ stance.

The local council, which serves about 25,000 girls in Washington state, received the donation in May. The cash was slated to be used to send 500 girls to camp and fund other activities this summer.

As the media outlets began dedicating coverage to transgender issues—inspired in large part by the story of Caitlyn Jenner—the Girls Scouts’ policy of accepting transgender girls as members became public. The American Family Association, a right-wing group, launched an online petition in May asking the Girl Scouts to limit its membership to “biological” girls.

The national organization released a statement that rejected the anti-transgender call from conservative groups.

“If a girl is recognized by her family, school and community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe,” the group said. “Inclusion of transgender girls is handled at a council level on a case by case basis, with the welfare and best interests of all members as a top priority.”

Though the statement didn’t represent a shift in policy, it did not sit well with the donor, who sent a letter asking for reassurance that the $100,000 would not be used to serve transgender girls. The letter said that if the Girl Scouts council wanted to use the funds for transgender girls, it should return the donation.

“It was one of easiest decisions I’ve had to make. It was a sad decision, but it was a really quick one,” the council’s CEO, Megan Ferland, told BuzzFeed News. “Girl Scouts is for every girl. It always has been and always will be … I could not be put in a position where I would have to turn girls away.”

Ferland and her team were disappointed and did not want to give up on sending 500 girls to camp, so they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Monday hoping to raise $100,000 with no strings attached. They called it the #ForEVERYGirl campaign, and writing on their donation page, “By donating to our #ForEVERYGirl Campaign, you’ll help make sure that EVERY girl has the opportunity to participate in the life-changing opportunities that Girl Scouts provides.”

By Wednesday, the campaign had far exceeded its goal—raising upwards of $250,000 from more than 4,800 donors.

“The response has been so positive, supportive, and overwhelming,” Ferland told BuzzFeed News. “My team and I appreciate it so much, because what it means. So many girls are going to be able to have an amazing experience, and the impact of Girl Scouts is so profound. It is live-changing for so many girls. And that’s what it should be about.”

Image: Girl Scouts of Western WA/YouTube

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The Waiting Game

Center for Reproductive Rights - 7 hours 15 min ago
The Waiting Game Mandatory delays for abortion care hurt women. Yet they’ve become a popular weapon in the anti-choice assault on reproductive rights.

07.01.15 - Faith is a nurse from San Antonio, Texas. She has a full life—a challenging job, a fiancé, two daughters, a house, a couple of dogs. She also has a seizure condition that makes pregnancy especially risky and requires her to be under the care of an obstetrician for three to six months before conception.

A few years ago she became pregnant despite being on birth control. At the time, doctors told her that she had a 40 percent chance of suffering a life-threatening grand mal seizure if she did not end the pregnancy. She could lose consciousness at any time, she says, “while I’m driving to work, or while I’m at home by myself.”

“I want my two daughters to have a mother,” she says of her decision to have an abortion. “I’m just not willing to take that risk.”

However, Texas law required Faith to not only have an ultrasound before being permitted to have the abortion, but then wait 24 hours to return to the clinic to have the procedure.

In tears, Faith describes this process as nothing short of torture.

“You are made to feel like a criminal,” she says. “To go home and just sit there and ponder on this. You’re being tortured for that whole 24 hours.”

Waiting periods have become an increasingly popular restriction among anti-choice proponents around the country, with a number of states now looking to expand the mandated period of delay to up to 72 hours.

In 2015 alone, 23 pieces of legislation to create or worsen existing waiting periods were introduced in 16 states.

“Waiting periods are part of a web specifically designed to ensnare women and undermine their ability to make non-coerced decisions about their reproductive health,” says Kelly Baden, director of state advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “At bottom, these kinds of restrictions are about not trusting women. There is of course no medical reason to require a waiting period before an abortion.”

Comments from waiting-period proponents offer a telling view of the presumptions underlying this trend in anti-choice legislation. “We owe women the time to control their fear and emotion and make an informed decision,” said one supporter of the North Carolina legislation—as though women are incapable of making thoughtful decisions about their health and lives without government-mandated delays.

Last year, a Missouri state legislator underscored the demeaning and offensive attitudes behind that state’s 72-hour law by comparing the procedure to buying a car: “Even when I buy a new vehicle . . . I don’t go right in there and say, I want to buy that vehicle, and, you know, leave with it.”

“In some cases,” Baden points out, “states have simply run out of abortion restrictions to enact so they’ve turned their attention to making existing restrictions even harsher. We always see trends in abortion restrictions, and as laws aiming to force clinics to shut down are tied up in the courts, lawmakers are back to targeting women’s decision-making.”

Due to the shame and stigma that such restrictions create around abortion care, Faith felt that she could not be straightforward with her employer or family about what she was doing.

“I didn’t want to be made to feel like a bad person any more than I already do—and you have to go through that just to get through the process,” she recalls.

In order to navigate the increasingly complex web of requirements—finding a provider in a state where anti-choice laws and funding cuts have shut down more than half of the state’s clinics, taking time off work to make two trips to the clinic, as well as recovering from the procedure—Faith, who is the only nurse at the private practice where she works, had to wait until she was 17 weeks pregnant to be able to take the full week off work she needed.

“If I take time off, the clinic where I work shuts down,” she says. “Finding the time—because of what a lengthy process it is—is very hard.”

Although this delay increased health risk and created a logistical challenge, Faith was fortunate to be able to receive the care she needed. For some women—particularly those with little or no income—mandatory delays and two-trip requirements can be even more dangerous. The burden of additional child care, lost wages (or lost jobs), transportation, and a possible overnight stay can quickly turn a waiting period into an absolute barrier to obtaining an abortion at all.

“These medically unnecessary bills make it clear that these are simply thinly veiled political attempts to get women to try to change their minds,” Baden notes.

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida, filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to block a recently passed Florida measure forcing a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion care. The state is appealing the decision.

Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU Challenge Unconstitutional Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion Oklahoma Governor Signs Measure Tripling State’s Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services Missouri Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto, Triples Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services

Fight Continues Over Florida’s Forced Abortion Delay Law

RH Reality Check - 10 hours 51 min ago

A Florida state court judge on Tuesday blocked an anti-choice mandatory delay measure, but an immediate appeal by the Florida Attorney General’s office means the measure can take effect anyway.

HB 633, passed by Florida GOP lawmakers in June, would force a patient to wait a minimum of 24 hours and make at least one additional trip to the physician before having an abortion. It takes effect July 1.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Richard Johnson of Tallahassee challenged the measure this month on behalf of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center, a Gainesville reproductive health-care provider, and Medical Students for Choice, an organization dedicated to making reproductive health care, including abortion, a part of standard medical education and residency training.

Leon County Chief Judge Charles A. Francis’ order temporarily blocked the measure while the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality proceeds. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office then filed an appeal with the First District Court of Appeals, triggering an automatic stay of Francis’ order. Attorneys for the ACLU then asked Francis to lift that automatic stay, which would allow his ruling to take effect while the case proceeds.

Francis could rule anytime this week.

“We are very pleased that the court saw this law for what it is: an unconstitutional attack on the right of Florida women to make their own choices about their healthcare, including abortion,” Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida Legal Director, said in a statement following Francis’ order. “The Florida Constitution’s guarantee of a right to privacy protects women from laws like this that create needless roadblocks between them and their healthcare decisions. We are pleased that no Florida woman is going to be subject to these dangerous and unconstitutional delays before getting the medical care they need as we complete the legal challenge to this destructive law.”

Florida law already requires physicians to provide patients with certain state-mandated information, including the nature and risks of the procedure and the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term, as well as the probable gestational age of the embryo or fetus, as verified by ultrasound.

HB 633, passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature, requires that information be provided in person at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed, a requirement that is both unnecessary and unduly burdensome, according to advocates challenging the mandatory delay measure.

“The court has recognized that this law serves only to demean women and the choices they and their families make about their own medical care,” said Renée Paradis, Senior Staff Attorney for the national ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This decision ensures that the right to privacy guaranteed to women by the Florida Constitution will be protected and allows women to receive the care they need while the courts hear our legal challenge to this unconstitutional law.”

HB 633 mandates that physicians and health-care facilities that fail to follow the mandatory delay requirements would be subject to disciplinary action, including license revocation, license non-renewal, and monetary fines.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Fight Continues Over Florida’s Forced Abortion Delay Law appeared first on RH Reality Check.

California Cracks Down on Vaccine Requirements

RH Reality Check - 10 hours 56 min ago

California this year was the site of one of the worst measles outbreaks in decades after an infected visitor to Disneyland in Anaheim made more than 150 people ill. Health professionals blamed the outbreak in part on low vaccination rates in some California communities.

In response, state lawmakers have debated doing away with some of the exemptions that have allowed parents to skip required vaccinations for school-age children. Though there was intense opposition from some groups who charged this would take away parental rights, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Wednesday that eliminates most exemptions, making it one of the strictest vaccination laws in the country.

Previously, California parents enrolling their children in school could state that vaccinations conflicted with their religious or personal beliefs. The Democractic-led legislature passed a policy in 2013 to discourage such exemptions. It required parents to sit down with a health-care provider to learn the risks of not vaccinating their children before they could claim a personal exemption.

Vaccination rates among kids entering school have increased by 20 percent since that legislation was enacted.

Some in the state, including the author of that legislation—state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) who is a pediatrician—felt that more needed to be done in light of the recent measles outbreak.

“We are seeing ever larger outbreaks of diseases like pertussis, whooping cough, measles, and we certainly don’t want to see those diseases or others that are prevented by vaccines to be spread into our communities,” Pan explained at an April press conference. “We have diseases that are showing up on public transit and restaurants and schools and shopping centers, theme parks, that is not what we want California to be.”

From a public health perspective, the only way to prevent outbreaks of diseases like measles is to vaccine a large enough percentage of the community to provide what’s called “herd immunity.” Most health professionals believe that vaccination rates of more than 90 percent are necessary to achieve that immunity, which is why most states require school children to be vaccinated before enrolling.

But mandatory vaccinations are unpopular with some parents who believe the state is usurping their parental rights. And all states except for Mississippi and West Virginia allow parents to opt out of vaccination for non-medical reasons.

Most allow for religious exemptions, and 12 states also allow for exemptions based on personal beliefs.

There has been a lot of misinformation spread about vaccines over the past decade, including the disproven idea that the MMR—the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella—causes autism. This has led parents to take advantage of personal exemptions and has lowered vaccination rates in some areas.

In California, for instance, 27 counties have measles vaccination rates lower than the 92 to 94 percent rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set as the herd immunity target.

To try to reverse this trend, Pan introduced SB 277, which removes the personal and religious exemptions and leaves only exemptions for medical reasons. Children with medical conditions such as allergies and immune-system deficiencies would be excused from immunization if these conditions are confirmed by a physician.

The law allows for an exemption if a physician feels there is another reason, such as family history, that a child should not have the vaccinations.

Children already in school will be allowed to stay for now if they are unvaccinated, but proof of vaccination is expected again when the child reaches seventh grade. Vaccinations are not required for children who are home-schooled.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous disease,” Brown said in a statement. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Supreme Court Ruling Creates Renewed Hopes for Medicaid Expansion in Red States

RH Reality Check - 12 hours 44 min ago

From Alaska to Tennessee, there are renewed calls for Medicaid expansion from activists in Republican-controlled states after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Supreme Court last week issued a 6-3 decision ruling that the ACA does not prevent federal tax subsidies from assisting low-income people in purchasing health insurance in states that have refused to set up insurance exchanges under the health-care reform law.

The ruling could present new opportunities for supporters of Medicaid expansion in the 20 states that have not expanded the program.

Several studies and reports have documented the consequences of GOP-dominated legislatures that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. Under the ACA, the federal government covers the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, and 90 percent of the cost in subsequent years.

Data released last year by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that seven out of 11 major metropolitan areas with rates of uninsured people higher than the national average are in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. A 2014 joint report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute found that Texas has a projected loss over ten years of $65.6 billion in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Alaska state Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) said that Gov. Bill Walker, an Independent, should move to expand Medicaid in the state without approval from state lawmakers, now that the Supreme Court has upheld insurance subsidies.

“It’s time for the governor to exercise leadership and just do it. We’ve got legal opinions saying he can do that and I think he should do that. I think that’s where Alaskans are, and that’s what Alaskans want,” Wielechowski told Alaska Public Radio.

Wielechowski points to two legal opinions, issued by the Alaska Department of Law and the legislature’s own legal office, charging that any attempt by state lawmakers to block the governor from unilaterally expanding Medicaid is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, health-care advocates and business leaders are calling for Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

Gene Meyer, president and CEO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, told the Lawrence Journal-World that Medicaid should be expanded in the state, no matter the result of the latest Supreme Court ruling.

“Regardless of the decision, there is no reason for Kansas not to expand Medicaid,” Meyer said. “Kansas should expand Medicaid.”

Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled state legislature have refused to expand Medicaid through the state’s KanCare program as the state GOP’s economic policies have created a deep fiscal crisis in recent years. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said in a statement that it was not the state’s responsibility to expand the program.

“We will not spend one more penny fixing Congress’ mistakes, whether that means rejecting Medicaid expansion or a state exchange,” Pilcher-Cook said, reports the Lawrence Journal-World.

Renewed calls for expansion have also been seen in Utah, Virginia, and North Carolina. And a debate between a Republican governor and Republican state lawmakers appears to have been reignited in Tennessee.

“Now that the Supreme Court has given us the green light, it’s time for the state Legislature to move forward,” said Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

During a press conference Monday at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, state lawmakers joined with business leaders and other supporters of Medicaid expansion, and called for state lawmakers to take action as Tennessee Republicans steadfastly reject the expansion of health-care services.

Charlie Howarth, executive director of the Tennessee Business Roundtable, said that while they are “delighted with the Supreme Court decision,” there still are hundreds of thousands of people that remain without access to health care, reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income residents was rejected by fellow Republicans in the legislature.

Republican lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, opposed the expansion of Medicaid because they claim it would be too expensive and they distrust assurances from the federal government that the state could opt out of the program. Some lawmakers have called for waiting until the election of the next U.S. president, whom they hope will be a Republican, before further discussion of the program.

Conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity Tennessee (AFPTN) oppose any expansion of Medicaid under the ACA.

Andrew Ogles, the state director of AFPTN, said in statement after the high court’s ruling that the organization will continue to oppose any efforts to expand Medicaid in the state.

“Today’s decision only adds to the anxiety of Tennesseans who have already been harmed by Obamacare’s burdensome mandates and out-of-control costs,” Ogles said. “Our efforts to encourage Congress to bring state-based and patient-focused reforms to healthcare will not stop.”

State Sen. Richard Briggs, (R-Knoxville) said that those in favor of Medicaid expansion include a diverse coalition of business groups and health-care advocates, including the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Hospital Association.

Briggs said that the most powerful group of those in favor of Medicaid expansion was his constituency. ”We really have the most powerful group of all, and that’s the millions of Tennesseans who understand this is very important,” said Briggs, reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) told the Nashville Tennessean that there is building momentum in support of Medicaid expansion. “The momentum for Insure Tennessee didn’t stop when the special session was over and when the regular session of this General Assembly was over; it has really just gotten stronger,” Fitzhugh said. “So I think there is a groundswell.”

President Obama will visit the state to promote the ACA and the expansion of Medicaid, and will speak Wednesday at Taylor Stratton Elementary School.

The president said during a Tuesday press conference that the success of expanding Medicaid will be a decisive factor in determining the impact of his signature health-care law.

“If we can get some governors that have been holding out and resisting expanding Medicaid, primarily for political reasons, to think about what they can do for their citizens to have health insurance…then we could see even more improvement over time,” Obama said, reported the National Journal.

Image: Shutterstock

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When It Comes to Abortion Rights in Texas, ‘It Could Be Worse’ Isn’t Good Enough

RH Reality Check - 14 hours 6 min ago

We’re going to talk about abortion. I promise. But I want to talk about dinosaurs first.

See, there’s this scene in the original Jurassic Park film that I love.

Before everything goes to prehistoric hell in the handbasket of human hubris, the park’s mastermind, Hammond, gives Doctors Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm a perhaps ill-advised look at raptor feeding time. This is where we first meet Muldoon, the strapping raptor-handler who foreshadows the trouble to come by talking about the alpha-raptor’s incredible intelligence. He’s clearly developed a healthy fear of this “clever girl.”

Here’s the dialogue:

Muldoon: When she looks at you, you can tell she’s working things out. That’s why we have to feed them like this. She had them all attacking the fences when the feeders came.

Dr. Sattler: The fences are electrified though, right?

Muldoon: That’s right, but they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.

I’ve been thinking about this scene ever since the end of this year’s Texas legislative session, a session wherein, according to mainstream media reports, anti-abortion lawmakers passed “just one” anti-abortion law, because they’re “nearly out of ideas for abortion restrictions.”

Texas’ anti-choice lawmakers—almost all Republicans, joined by a few Democrats—have spent the last decade and a half or so testing the fences. Fifteen years ago, lawmakers started by restricting minors’ access to legal abortion care with the first iteration of Texas’ judicial bypass process. Then in 2003, they put forced, medically incorrect speech into doctors’ mouths via the state-mandated “Woman’s Right to Know” pre-abortion procedure booklet that wrongly links abortion with breast cancer. In the mid-aughts, they passed a law that prevents abortion providers or “affiliates” from receiving public funds. Then in 2011, they passed a mandatory pre-abortion sonogram law.

And then in 2013 they passed HB 2, a multi-pronged omnibus bill that contains the most restrictive combination of anti-abortion regulations in the country, an amalgamation of proposals that had not previously succeeded on their own. HB 2, challenges to which are currently on their way to the Supreme Court, bans abortion after 20 weeks, makes medication abortions logistically near-impossible to prescribe, requires abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and mandates that abortion clinics operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.

Omnibus bills are difficult to fight, in part, because they require so much effort and energy when resources are already spread thin. (Raptors in the kitchen! T-Rex in the atrium! That little screamy fellow who spits poison in the jungle!) Anti-choice lawmakers figured out that you don’t need to waste time futzing with the fence if you can knock out power to the entire system all at once.

And… they remember.

This year, we got HB 3994, that supposed “just one” anti-abortion law that passed in Texas’ 84th legislature (which is factually incorrect, by the way, as lawmakers also passed a TRAP law requiring abortion providers to take training on human trafficking).

HB 3994 is yet another omnibus bill that includes a whole host of provisions proposed in one-off bills filed throughout the session. It requires Texans who need abortion care to provide a government-issued ID for proof of age to their doctors or risk being reported to the Department of State Health Services, and it restricts the existing judicial bypass process to the extent that experts believe it will ultimately prevent the vast majority of abused and neglected minors with unplanned pregnancies, known in the court system as “Jane Does,” from being able to make a decision to end their pregnancies.

“Jane Does” can ask a judge to stand in for their parents in granting permission for them to seek abortion care if getting that parental consent would put them in danger. But HB 3994 will ensure that if these “Jane Does” are indeed being abused by their parents, their decision to seek legal abortion care will be reported to those same parents via mandated law enforcement intervention, effectively nullifying the entire point of the judicial bypass process.

It is a brutal bully of a bill that targets Texans who have no political recourse—they are, by virtue of their age, too young to vote—while allowing mean-spirited religious ideologues like Sen. Van Taylor (as seen here at 1:58) to scoff at the idea that some teenagers, indeed some children, experience sexual abuse in their own families.

But in reading legislative wrap-up coverage of the session, I got the sense that media onlookers were keeping a scorecard with categories for “wins” and “losses” with regard to reproductive rights—scorecards that seem inadequate to describe the aggregate impact of the bills.

The Texas Tribune seemed almost miffed by the fact that the deeply conservative 2015 legislature didn’t pass numerically more abortion bills than in previous sessions. The vastly over-quoted political scientist to whom the Trib turned to for a crack recap of the session’s reproductive politics even called HB 3994 “symbolic.” Here’s his take, which is the lead quote in the piece:

“If we look back at the 2013 session, [abortion opponents] were so successful that there was almost no room for additional success this session,” said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “So they were left with trying to reduce the number of abortions at the very margins, which then became far more symbolic than anything else.”

Never have I thought of forcing anyone, let alone an abused minor, to carry an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy to term as “symbolic,” but this is how we talk about abortion politics in Texas. Every time the anti-choice right doesn’t get literally everything it wants, the press runs to the reproductive rights crowd to gauge how grateful they are for just a little bit of oppression, instead of all the oppression.

This same thing happened in 2013, before Republicans broke their promise not to pass any new abortion restrictions. That year, before the GOP and their Democratic allies launched full-tilt into an anti-choice frenzy with the legislation that would become HB 2, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal called the session a time of “rare harmony,” because even though lawmakers had proposed all manner of new abortion restrictions, none of them had made it to the governor’s desk.

Rare harmony. For not actively doing more to force people to stay pregnant against their will.

The same pattern emerged this year. Despite the fact that HB 3994 is a legal monstrosity that does not provide the expeditious and confidential process required for a bypass law to pass muster, and that has a built-in denial that amounts, in no uncertain terms, to an unconstitutional, arbitrary veto of a minor’s petition for a bypass. Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood was again cut out of providing publicly funded reproductive health care. Despite the fact that abortion providers are now the only Texas medical professionals required to take human trafficking training. Reporters still wanted to know whether those in the pro-choice crowd were looking back on the session with the appropriate humble gratitude.

Hell, the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal appears to have actually worked up the astounding gall to ask NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ executive director Heather Busby whether she was happy with the moves from the 84th legislature. She told him:

“What is to be happy about?” asked Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “HB 3994 is devastating to abused and neglected teens, to orphans. It is a very cruel bill. There’s nothing to be happy about.”

This idea that because anti-choice lawmakers could have done more damage, pro-choice Texans and Texans who fight for reproductive justice ought to be glad that it wasn’t worse… boy howdy is that a song I’m real fucking tired of having sung at me.

I’m also gobsmacked when reproductive rights groups join in the chorus. Imagine me staring agog at my inbox a few weeks ago, when the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition (TWHC) announced it was naming state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) a “Women’s Health Hero” for the second biennium in a row. Yes, that Jane Nelson. The one who cast the first vote against establishing a Medicaid Women’s Health Program in Texas in 2011. She is also a co-author of the bill that became HB 2, an architect of Texas lawmakers’ 2011 cuts to family planning funds, and a relentlessly smarmy career politician who in 2013 hired washed-up pop country singer Sammy Kershaw to fundraise for the publicly funded family planning program she and her colleagues intentionally tore apart two years prior.

She’s a “Women’s Health Hero.”

A representative for the TWHC told me that because the organization is interested solely in preventive reproductive health-care access, Nelson received the award for her work adding more money to the state’s family planning budget this session. She has effectively been given a gold star just for making half-assed attempts to repair damage that she herself is partially responsible for.

If Jane Nelson is a “hero,” there be no villains in Texas.

I respect the TWHC, and I am saddened to see the passionate folks who work at the organization repeatedly pandering to lawmakers like Jane Nelson. But this is the political landscape we’re navigating: Anti-choice lawmakers can preen about their “Women’s Health Hero” awards because advocates for reproductive rights are constantly scrambling for petty scraps, afraid of provoking those ready and willing to make things worse.

And anti-choice lawmakers openly threaten to do just that whenever Democrats really come close to killing bad bills, or dedicate themselves to seriously challenging them. It happened just last month when HB 3994, this year’s omnibus judicial bypass bill, was up for debate in the Texas house. The GOP told Democrats they could either stop challenging the bill and let the dominant party get away with it as-written, or keep resisting it while Republicans tacked on “very divisive” amendments that would be certain to make it even more restrictive.

The petulance in that kind of attitude is appalling. If I’m really honest, it echoes the kind of emotional hostage-taking we often see in abusive relationships. And it belies anti-choice lawmakers’ claims that they’re at all concerned about “health and safety,” or predominantly interested in protecting “life.” The “health and safety” they are ultimately concerned with is that of their own political careers, the “life” of which they intend to extend as long as possible.

But what’s most frustrating to me is the fact that these understandable attempts at harm reduction and appeasement from a disempowered political left are ultimately impotent strategies when the opposing party, which grows stronger with every election, has no intention of stopping until it gets what it wants.

Anti-choice lawmakers could not possibly have made their intentions clearer: they intend to shut down abortion facilities. They intend to make legal abortion care “a thing of the past. They intend to “push every legal decision until Roe vs. Wade is overturned.”

Yet year after year, session after session, Texas progressives negotiate and compromise with people who have one singular goal in mind: the end of legal abortion care in Texas, and then in the United States. We may slow progress on these measures, and I am thankful for small victories, but I am tearing my hair out as I ask the question: At what cost? How many years of our lives, of Texan lives, have we given to providing lawmakers with the time to make us accustomed to our own oppression?

I cannot and will not say, “Back down and let them decimate us, let the people see what damage these monsters would do unchecked.”

Because I am thankful for every scrap we get when bad legislation is slowed or diluted. I still am thankful for every teensy piece that may mean a woman from Brownsville gets that critical mammogram; that means a teenage trans boy who survived a “corrective rape” by his own father gets a chance at planning his own future; that means somebody, somewhere, was able to make it to the clinic in time. I am thankful that more people are not dying more quickly.

I hate this terrible gratitude.

But appeasement is not a sustainable option. By definition, it just isn’t. Anti-choice lawmakers aren’t stopping until they get Roe v. Wade overturned. That’s their plan. They don’t care who knows it. It is the entire goal.

“It could have been worse!” doesn’t pay for an abortion at a clinic 300 miles away. “It could have been worse!” doesn’t detect cervical cancer. “It could have been worse!” doesn’t prevent unplanned pregnancy.

We need new strategies. Strategies that go beyond appeasement and beyond politics, a game that’s been deliberately rigged by right-wing legislators who are happy to cheat to keep their seats. We can hope the courts rule in favor of the most marginalized Texans, but we cannot simply wait and see. We can cheer on lawmakers who are stemming the tide and making incremental change, but they cannot be our only defense.

Which is why I’m heartened to see Texans taking a stand for reproductive freedom outside the capitol—folks like Amy Hagstrom Miller and Amanda Williams over at Shift, like the dozens of Texas abortion funders who spend hours monitoring hotlines and working out logistics to help Texans travel hundreds of miles for legal abortion care, and like the Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley who are sharing knowledge about how to induce miscarriage with misoprostol outside of a clinical setting.

Their work gives me hope when I’m damn tired of being told that things could always be worse, of narratives that focus solely on political wranglings in Austin at the expense of the actual Texans whose lives could be changed—or ended—on a whim. Because every year, things always get worse. Every session, I’m told to be thankful for something that didn’t happen, only to wait a year or two and see it come to fruition anyway. Now, we’re just nine judges away from leaving Texas with just nine legal abortion providers to serve 27 million people.

It is strange, even cruel, to be repeatedly asked if you’re glad you haven’t yet fallen over the cliff’s edge when what you need is to get off the fucking mountain.

Image: Shutterstock

The post When It Comes to Abortion Rights in Texas, ‘It Could Be Worse’ Isn’t Good Enough appeared first on RH Reality Check.

New Diaphragm Hits U.S. Market for First Time in 50 Years

RH Reality Check - 14 hours 30 min ago

A newly designed diaphragm is hitting the U.S. market for the first time since the mid-1960s. Known as Caya, the new, single-size contraceptive device is comprised of a coiled nylon spring, a silicone cup, and a removal tab.

Caya is already widely available in Europe and was approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September 2014. Its developers say Caya is easier to use than older models of diaphragms and believe that it’s a good option for women looking for non-hormonal methods of contraception.

The diaphragm was one of the original modern methods of contraception. Introduced in Europe in the 1880s, it was sometimes referred to as the Dutch Cap. It is a flexible dome-shaped cup that sits inside the vagina and covers the cervix, providing a barrier to sperm.

Women usually put a small amount of spermicidal jelly on the inside of the diaphragm for added protection, fold it in half, and insert it high into the vagina. It can be put in place hours before sex and used for multiple acts of intercourse over a 24-hour period.

Most diaphragms come in a variety of sizes and women need to have a pelvic exam where a health-care provider determines which size is best for them. If a woman gains or loses ten pounds, or has a baby, she is told to return to her provider to be resized.

The diaphragm is 94 percent effective if used perfectly, and 88 percent effective under typical use. That means that out of 100 couples who say this is their primary method of contraception, about 12 will become pregnant in the first year. In comparison, under typical use, the pill is considered 91 percent effective and the intrauterine device (IUD) is more than 99 percent effective.

Fewer and fewer women in the United States have turned to the diaphragm as birth control in recent years. In 1982, 17 percent of sexually active women had ever used a diaphragm, compared to 3.1 percent in 2010, according to the National Survey of Family Growth.

The developers of Caya hope that this new product might attract more users.

Caya was created through a collaboration between PATH (a Seattle-based global health nonprofit), CONRAD (a reproductive health product development organization operated through Eastern Virginia Medical School), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other partners. The ten-year development process included feedback from test users. The final product includes suggestions from those who tested prototypes, such as a removal tab that makes the diaphragm easier to remove, especially for new users.

In the United States, Caya is being produced and marketed by HPSRx.

“In talking with family planning providers about this single-size diaphragm over the past few months, their eyes ‘light up’ when they hear that a new diaphragm is coming to market and no fitting exam is required,” Bob Patane, HPSRx’s founder, said in a statement. “Reducing barriers at the provider level could help bring this new method to a whole new generation of women who have not known that diaphragms are even an option.”

Studies have shown that Caya has similar efficacy rates to traditional diaphragms and that correct use was easy.

“In the recently published contraceptive effectiveness study, 76 percent of women were able to insert and correctly position the diaphragm simply using instructions. With coaching, 94 percent of women were able to insert, correctly position, and remove the diaphragm,” Gustavo Doncel, scientific and executive director of CONRAD, said in a press release. “This should make it easier to provide and use consistently.”

Most of the new contraceptive methods introduced in recent years—such as the contraceptive ring or the new versions of the IUD—contain hormones similar to those found in the birth control pill.

Women who can’t use hormonal methods because of pre-existing medical conditions and those who don’t want to use hormones have few options in the market. The introduction of Caya may appeal to them.

Image: Fuz Jamall/ YouTube

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Marriage Equality Could Be Health-Care Access Boon for LGBTQ Couples

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 16:23

Gay couples are likely to gain health insurance coverage now that marriage equality is the law of the land, according to a Kaiser Health News report.

Before the the Supreme Court’s historic decision last week to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, marriage equality advocates often shared stories of same-sex partners who were denied the right to visit their loved one in the hospital.

Unequal access to health coverage has been a less visible but no less important issue for same-sex couples, who are less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance than married heterosexual couples.

Groups like the American Medical Association opposed bans on same-sex marriage because they led to disparities in health-care access. Almost all companies who offer insurance cover employees’ spouses, but only about 39 percent also cover same-sex domestic partners, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers. The same percentage of employers also cover opposite-sex domestic partners.

Federal employees who have a legal same-sex marriage license have been eligible for partner benefits since 2013, even if they lived in a state that didn’t recognize their marriage.

“It’s going to increase coverage,” Jennifer Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the ACA’s subsidies.

It’s unclear how big the increase will be, but some research suggests the difference could be significant for LGBTQ couples.

After New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, about 6 percent more men and 9 percent more women in same-sex relationships gained employer-sponsored coverage, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

At the same time, Medicaid coverage decreased slightly for people in same-sex relationships, possibly because some Medicaid recipients were able to gain health coverage through their spouse.

It’s also unclear whether all employers will be required to add same-sex spouses to employee health plans, and whether employers might change their health benefits in other ways as a result of the ruling.

The ruling did not take as clear a stance as it could have on other forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, such as in the workplace, as RH Reality Check’s Jessica Mason Pieklo notes. But case law is favorable to equality advocates, and Obama appointees have argued that workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people violates federal laws against sex discrimination.

The gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal said that employers should not be allowed to refuse to add same-sex spouses to health insurance plans.

Another concern is whether employers will drop their domestic partner benefits entirely, since those benefits often served as a stopgap to cover gay couples who couldn’t legally marry.

Advocates for gay rights are urging employers to keep their domestic partner benefits as a commitment to family diversity and LGBTQ equality—especially since LGBTQ people still aren’t guaranteed full legal protection from discrimination.

“If an LGBT employee is, in effect, ‘outed’ by being required to obtain a public marriage license in a state that doesn’t provide explicit non-discrimination protections, it could place that employee and their family at risk of being denied credit, housing and public accommodation,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

Medical authorities point out that in addition to better health-care access, marriage itself provides health benefits like longer life spans and lower rates of depression. Research into these benefits focuses on heterosexual marriage, but experts believe same-sex couples would enjoy the same benefits.

Image: Shutterstock

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No, Teens Did Not Create a Working Condom That Changes Colors if You Have an STI, and Maybe They Shouldn’t

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 16:13

Last week, the story broke about teens who had invented a new condom that could detect sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and alert a partner by changing colors. Media outlets blared: “High School Students Come Up With Brilliant Way To Detect Sexually Transmitted Infections;” “Revolutionary Color Changing Condom Detects STDs;” and “Roses are red, condoms are blue … if you have syphilis;” just to name a few. 

Despite the attention-grabbing nature of these headlines, don’t be fooled: They—and sometimes the pieces they accompanied—do not carry entirely accurate implications. This condom-and-STI-test-wrapped-in-one is not coming soon to a pharmacy near you. It’s an interesting idea, but that’s all it is: just an idea. It’s a thought with theory behind it on how it might work. It has not gotten past the concept stage. There is no operational prototype.

That does not mean we shouldn’t celebrate potential innovation—and the young people who dreamt it up. But in the process of doing so, most media outlets didn’t bother to question whether it was scientifically possible to mass produce such an item or whether it was actually the best way to test for STIs. Nor did they bother to point out that until an option like this can actually be purchased, people need to continue going to their clinic or doctor for STI screening and treatment. As a sexuality educator focused on preventing STIs, I feel this leaves a pretty gaping hole in the commentary.

First, the true story. Three young teenagers who attend the Isaac Newton Academy in London had an idea for a condom that would not just protect against STIs but detect them as well. Inspired by the high rates of STIs in the United Kingdom, the teens theorized that they could make a condom that would include a layer of antibodies that would recognize a virus or bacteria—such as chlamydia—and cause the condom to change color. They cleverly called the concept the S.T. EYE; entered it into the TeenTech Awards, which encourages teenagers to explore science, engineering, and technology; and won £1,000 (or $1,568). In October, they will go to Buckingham Palace to be honored along with the other teen winners. The students told MTV that they hoped to have a working prototype by then.

In the interview with MTV, one of the teens explained more about how this condom could work. In a typical HIV test, he explained, “Antigens are attached to a dish—blood or seminal fluid is added and if HIV antibodies are present, they attach to the antigen.”

“With our concept,” he continued, “You would have to have the antibodies already attached to the latex of the condom, so once you add the fluid onto the latex, it would then trigger the reaction and cause a color change similar to the HIV test.”

In other words, in order for their idea to work, the teens would have to figure out a way to attach the antibodies to latex. It’s unclear whether this is feasible, but certainly no one has done it yet. William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), told RH Reality Check, “While I can applaud these smart young people’s ingenuity in approaching a serious sexual health issue, this is but a concept and one where I think the science would be elusive in making it happen.”

It’s also unclear how expensive such a device would be. Ward Cates, a researcher who has been studying condoms for years, applauded the idea as a way to promote testing among young people, but told CNN: “It would be quite sophisticated and my guess is quite costly.” He added that testing for more than one STI at a time might be cost-prohibitive. One of the benefits of condoms as a method of STI protection and pregnancy prevention has always been that they’re very inexpensive, and thus, widely available.

Even this condom were to be possible and affordable, I have some other practical concerns about the concept. It’s meant to detect STIs in both the male wearer and his partner, but that can’t happen until it comes in contact with blood, semen, or vaginal or cervical secretions. In most cases, this would mean the condom wouldn’t change colors until well into the sexual act—likely too late to provide added protection for that encounter.

After-the-fact knowledge isn’t entirely useless—the condom’s wearer or his partner would know moving forward that he or she had an STI, which could prompt them to seek treatment and also prevent the spread to any further partners. It is always good for people to be aware of their STI status, and we should keep thinking of innovative ideas to get people tested.

But I don’t think the heat of the moment is the best time to find out whether you or your partner has an STI. It’s a very vulnerable time to give or receive that kind of news, especially unexpectedly. At a minimum it could be painfully embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, I fear it could provoke a potentially violent reaction.

In his interview with RH Reality Check, Smith agreed that the timing would be all wrong. “STD testing should be a normal routine for sexually active people, not something that occurs after penile penetration. Does someone really want to discover their partner has an STD after sex begins? Frankly, I couldn’t think of a more ill-timed occasion for finding out your partner has gonorrhea or syphilis.”

These are things that I hope the teens who came up with this idea and anyone who wants to help them make it a reality would consider when moving forward with the concept. Perhaps it would be better to put the time and effort into creating an instant, at-home test kit that can test for a variety of STIs and can be used when you’re alone and haven’t yet initiated sexual activity. At-home kits exist, but most need to be sent to a lab for analysis. Instant results would be a huge step forward.

In the meantime, I think it’s important to remember that despite last week’s hype, we do not yet have a condom chameleon—but we do have good options for both condoms and STI testing.

Today’s condoms have been shown to provide protection against the very STIs we’re talking about, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. As Smith noted, “The point of condoms are to prevent disease transmission, which they do incredibly well, not to test for it.”

As for the testing we already have, it’s really not that bad. Many organizations help to cover the cost nowadays in cases when insurance doesn’t. It can involve peeing in a cup, being dabbed with a cotton swab, or giving blood. Smith noted, “In their rush to discuss this new idea, too many media reports got STI testing itself wrong, describing it as overly invasive and a dreadful experience. It’s not. It’s easy, highly accessible, and utterly noninvasive in almost all cases.”

And best of all, you don’t get the results when you’re already naked, potentially in someone else’s bed.

Image: Shutterstock

The post No, Teens Did Not Create a Working Condom That Changes Colors if You Have an STI, and Maybe They Shouldn’t appeared first on RH Reality Check.

How Do You Make a Safe Abortion Any Safer?

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 15:15

Read more of our articles on Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law here.

Earlier this month the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the final portion of HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill passed in Texas in 2013, may go into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay until it has determined whether it will review the case. If the circuit court’s decision eventually goes into effect, it will force all but one of the facilities that provide abortion services in the state to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), a move that will lead to the closure of about half of the remaining clinics. Applauding the circuit court’s decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said such regulation was needed to “establish safe, common-sense standards of care necessary to ensure the health of women.”

Around the same time, the Texas Department of State Health Services finally posted on its website the state’s abortion statistics for 2013. Although the vital statistics didn’t get much attention in the press, the report was newsworthy because it was so uninteresting. 2013 was the fifth year in a row without a death among women undergoing abortion in the state. Meanwhile, the number of women dying in childbirth and from other conditions related to pregnancy has increased in Texas in recent years; in 2013 alone there were 153 maternal deaths.

The 2013 Texas abortion report also includes information about complications, and less than 0.03 percent of procedures reportedly had a serious complication. Even if there is some under-reporting in Texas, these low complication rates are corroborated by evidence from other parts of the country. A recent analysis of more than 50,000 abortions in California that included data on follow-up care found that about 0.2 percent of abortions were associated with a major, or serious, complication. And again, there were no deaths.

All of this evidence points in the same direction: Abortion as currently practiced in the United States is very safe—and certainly safer than continuing the pregnancy to term. An analysis of national data found that the risk of death associated with childbirth was 14 times higher than the risk associated with abortion. Another study found that the low risk of mortality associated with abortion was similar to the risk of death with outpatient plastic surgery and dental procedures requiring anesthesia. The risk of death with abortion was also similar to running a marathon—and less than riding in a multi-day bicycle touring event.

But returning to the stated objective of HB 2, is there any evidence that performing an abortion at an ambulatory surgical center is any safer than having it done in a clinic like the ones that will be shut down when the law goes into effect? My colleagues and I at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) reviewed the complications associated with abortion up to 16 weeks of pregnancy at several facilities that are part of a clinic system in Texas that has both ASCs and non-ASC clinics. While we found that overall there were very few serious complications that required transfer from the facility to a hospital (and no deaths), these complications were actually slightly more common at the ASCs. We found no evidence that abortion care was intrinsically safer when performed at an ASC as compared to a non-ASC clinic.

Rather than making abortion safer, HB 2 may actually compromise the health of Texas women. First, there is some evidence that the closure of clinics in the state is leading to an increase in second-trimester abortion. While later abortion is still very safe, procedures in the second trimester are associated with a higher rate of complications compared to those done in the first trimester. Second, studies have shown that women attempt to self-induce their abortion in Texas at higher rates than the rest of the country, and this may only increase as clinic-based care becomes harder to access. And finally, as clinics close, more women have to drive farther to access abortion care, putting themselves at risk of motor vehicle accidents. A woman is more likely to die driving 800 miles than she is from having an abortion.

The political rhetoric behind HB 2 and similar laws that will end up restricting access to abortion care does not reflect the evidence of the safety of this procedure. If politicians were serious about improving the health of women, there are a lot of things they could do—including improving access to high quality health care for marginalized populations and addressing the high rate of maternal mortality, particularly among women of color. But it’s very hard to make abortion in Texas any safer.

Image: Shutterstock

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Oregon Residents Can Now Get Birth Control Prescription Without Doctor’s Visit

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:03

Oregon lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill allowing women to get birth control prescriptions from a pharmacist instead of a physician, a shift that could vastly expand access to contraceptives throughout the state.

HB 2879, passed this month by the Democratic-majority state senate and house, is one of two Oregon bills approved in June that tackles access to the pill, patch, and ring. The other, HB 3343, will allow people to get a 12-month supply of birth control all at once, instead of the one- or three-month supply that most people receive.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed HB 2879 into law mid-June.

The proposals are meant to address barriers to accessing birth control, which include having to make multiple trips to a pharmacy and waiting hours at a doctor’s office for a new prescription.

In 2011, more than 13 percent of women delayed getting needed health care because of logistical factors, like long wait times and not having transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly two-thirds of women in the nation said in a 2013 survey that they favor making contraceptives available over the counter without a prescription.

Oregon’s birth control access boon comes as many states with GOP-led legislatures work to make contraception less accessible for women. Republican legislators in Colorado recently killed a successful teen pregnancy prevention program that had reduced teenage pregnancies by 40 percent over five years. Many GOP lawmakers in Colorado opposed the program because they mistakenly believe intrauterine devices (IUDs) cause abortion.

Oregon’s HB 2879 would still tie birth control access to a prescription, meaning it still won’t be available over the counter. And pharmacists can only prescribe birth control to minors who have had a previous prescription. Advocates of the proposal say that being able to get a prescription from a pharmacy instead of a primary care doctor or OB-GYN is a crucial distinction and a win for those in favor of expanding birth control access.

“As a doctor, I think birth control should be as easy and accessible as possible,” said one of the measure’s sponsors, Rep. Knute Buehler (R). ”It makes no sense that men have unrestrained access to contraception,” but women don’t.

California is the only other state that has passed a law allowing birth control prescriptions from pharmacists. That law was passed last year but has yet to be fully implemented.

Image: Shutterstock

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Obama’s Overtime Pay Overhaul to Have Big Impact on Women, People of Color

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:41

The Department of Labor announced a rule Tuesday the Obama administration claims will extend overtime protections to nearly five million employees within the first year of implementation. The rule change could have an outsized impact on women and people of color.

The revised rule would raise the threshold under which most salaried workers are guaranteed overtime. Under current regulations, only salaried workers who make $455 a week, or $23,660 a year, qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week, and only if their job duties are not professional, executive, or administrative.

The Department of Labor estimates the overtime protections will affect women and people of color the most. About 56 percent of the affected workers are women, 53 percent of whom have at least a college degree, according to the federal government.

Salaried workers who earn below that threshold and who are not considered “white collar” must be paid time-and-a-half for each hour worked beyond 40 hours a week.

That threshold would be raised to a projected level of $970 a week, or $50,440 a year, in 2016, under the Obama administration’s proposal. The proposal also seeks to update the manner in which “white collar” employees are exempt from overtime rules. That update is designed to address the problem of employers like Walmart misclassifying employees in order to avoid paying workers overtime wages.

The Obama administration’s order comes as the national fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage ramps up. Seattle, which is on the front lines of the wage fight, has seen employment increase since policymakers there implemented a $15 hourly minimum wage. This stands in contrast to lawmakers who have steadfastly opposed any wage increases for fear of hampering employment rates.

Corporations spend about 91 percent of their earnings on stock buybacks and dividends, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). This boosts CEO compensation and contributes to wage stagnation, per EPI analysts.

Image: Shutterstock

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It’s Not Black People Who Need to Change

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:22

The white terrorist who gunned down six Black women and three Black men, peaceful worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, announced his murderous intentions by first declaring, “You rape our women.” We all know that he meant white women, like me. “His” women, as a white man like him would think of us.

But the thing is, white people are the ones who need to change in the United States. I read the grief-stricken request of a Black woman who asked that white women call this out and repudiate it, so that’s why I’m writing.

There is something terribly, disastrously wrong with how white people tolerate racism among other whites, how we interact with people of color, how we interact with the Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved by our ancestors. This is not something we can fix by promising to renounce racial slurs, nor even by promising to correct each other’s racist speech in private. The rot goes deeper.

Firstly, because it’s important to emphasize: White men are the ones who are most likely to rape white women. Especially those white men who think of us as their own, particular property. The majority of rapes, like the majority of all crimes, are committed by people known to the victims. White men have built a parallel society in the United States to keep white women and children in a society where a white person can often go for days, weeks, or longer, without meeting a single person of color who is presented to us as a peer. Whom else do white women usually know?

These segregated, insular, white communities so many of us live in, we are told, were set up so white women and children could be “safe” in “good” neighborhoods, and many of us enthusiastically bought this story too. “Good” neighborhoods protected by police forces who are enjoined to act like white people’s personal enforcers—sometimes as agents of terror against Black children, women, and men, and against other people of color—rather than as public servants with a lawful duty to every citizen. “Good” neighborhoods where the only men around who have the social standing to rape with impunity are white men. And they do.

White men tell white women to be afraid of Black men. They ask us to call the police in the event of a “suspicious” non-white man in the neighborhood, especially a Black man, whatever he may be doing. We white women have often been eagerly complicit in this false, learned fear that has unleashed such devastating white terrorism on Black communities. It’s so much simpler for us to believe anything besides the truth, so we do. Too many of us have bought this slander of Black men, even as the men who usually rape us, and who so often get away with raping non-white women, are white men.

The tragic massacre of peaceful Black women and men at the AME church is exactly where these attitudes and behaviors were meant to lead. They are meant to produce a vicious, hateful willingness to destroy whatever a white person can’t “protect” through ownership.

There’s no possible legacy for a society run with such brutality other than mass murder and wanton destruction. If we would not be held responsible for these atrocities, we must rid ourselves of the attitudes that got us there. That means much, much more than legislators agreeing to take down the idols of Confederate treason in the South.

Every one of us must reject these white supremacist attitudes, these claims to ownership over other people’s lives and well-being for the gratification of our own egos. We need to reject the moral authority of anyone whose ethics begin and end with their own rights to amass property. We have to look very hard at every part of our society where we perpetuate the idea that people can own each other.

And we must certainly look at the part of white women in all of this, since we’ve also been here, all along. Was it not white women who came in like locusts to loot the homes and businesses after the white male rioters and the National Guard burned Black Wall Street in Tulsa? Was it not white women who would have set out the family’s Sunday best and brought along the picnics for the lynchings that can be seen in those old postcards? We were there. How long did it take after the fall of Jim Crow for white women to even begin to think of mourning murdered Black children as if they were our own nieces and nephews, the children of our sisters?

In slave-owning white households, was it not also white women who made the lives of the enslaved Black women around them miserable and sometimes unimaginably tragic out of jealousy, instead of seeing the rape of their sisters and finding a way to act from compassion? Indeed, in the Jefferson household, as in countless others, Sally Hemings was in fact Martha Jefferson’s half-sister, because their father raped the women he enslaved. When the freed descendants of these enslaved Black women first took up paid labor in white households doing similar work, they were often still subject to the same threat of rape by white men and treated with scarcely more compassion by white women.

White men have spent hundreds of years raping Black women in the United States. White women have long refused to face this, helping hide the truth behind victim-blaming stereotypes of hypersexual Black women. Just as we have refused to face that we often have more to fear from the white men who live with us than dark-skinned strangers walking down the street.

Before white men could own slaves, they could take wives. A wife is not a slave, but in much of historical white culture, neither was she a free person. Under the doctrine of coverture in English law, she was not quite a person at all, and the last of the laws that stemmed from coverture were stricken down in U.S. courts in the 1970s. Marital rape could not even be conceived of as a crime in white culture until the middle of the 20th century. And from the start of Western literature, it was already established that a wife and mother was not even supposed to speak in public, as an act of modesty and humility in honor of the family patriarch, while a first rite of manhood was to claim the authority to shut her up.

From the social fantasy of the model, upper-class, white wife comes the ideal of the passivity of white women. She is quiet, meek, pale with hiding indoors, she reacts, she supports. She gives, and loves, and simpers. Instead of acting, she asks, and so she acts under permission, under his authority as a good little girl ought to. The story she remembers of her own life is a story of things done around or near or to her, things witnessed from a remove, except the blur of menial tasks and social obeisance. She is helpless, unaccountable in the innocence of that helplessness, and in constant need of rescue by the white male hero. She is necessarily insecure, because what can she do?

Yet while white women can be trained into creating a convincing simulacrum of such a person, that has never been anyone’s authentic self. It’s a box built for women’s personalities so that white men could believe that we naturally exist as objects for their conquest and ownership, whereas no such thing is true.

As Andrea Dworkin said, “Genocide begins, however improbably, in the conviction that classes of biological distinction indisputably sanction social and political discrimination.” White women have sat for too long as passive spectators to brutality and genocide committed by our own families, in our names, because we have been full of such false convictions. Even if we did not start them, we can decide now to end them.

It doesn’t deny the misogyny we’ve been subjected to for us to acknowledge any of this. That isn’t how it works.

Because this fantasy of our “natural” passivity, so convincing a lie told about white women by white men that we often come to believe it ourselves, must go. We must give up being objects before we can seek a basic decency greater than that of those who would own us. And where we cling to these myths from fear, which is often, it’s a lie that turning ourselves into wish-fulfillment objects for white men will make us safe. Objects can’t love, nor can they be loved. Only love can make people truly safe with each other.

And we must all learn to be moved from love to act with terrible urgency. The deadly present crisis of white racist brutality toward the Black community demands it.

So we need to call each other to walk away from learned passivity and towards love, as many times as it takes. We must stop forgiving each other’s bad behavior, or asking for forgiveness, and insist on change, following the example of the dearly beloved Black women and men our nation is in mourning for right now.

It’s not Black people in the United States who need to change.

Every one of the AME worshippers died as a model of the kind of person all white people should strive to be. I hope my son will want to grow up to be like them. I hope he will be like the loved ones they left behind, people who showed incredible forbearance as cameras were shoved in their faces by white people who were asking for forgiveness before the bodies were even cold.

In the aftermath of white supremacist terrorism, white people must absolutely listen to the requests of the Black community that we stop asking them to act like the Rev. Martin Luther King, another peaceful Black person murdered by a white supremacist. Black people, like the murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, already knew how to act like that. The slain worshippers lived as a testament to the church’s 200-year-old legacy of standing in fellowship against white supremacist terror. They easily extended their hospitality to a complete stranger, a hateful man who would sit with them for an hour before gunning them down, just like his white supremacist idols who had murdered other Black people they could not own or control.

Have Black people not been terrorized over the last few hundred years into a meekness toward white people that runs so deep, African-American men have been seen to politely ask their white attackers to stop hurting them even as they were taking their last breaths?

White people would do better to start listening to King’s request of us throughout his life and works, and throughout the life and works of the other women and men in the Civil Rights Movement, that we learn to listen to and love our Black sisters and brothers. That we make white society decent and humane at long last.

What is white fear of the “angry” Black person besides a worry that we will be held to account for the merciless slander and persecution of Black people by whites that each and every white person bears responsibility for tolerating as if it were not a deadly emergency?

We must do everything we can to put an end to white supremacist attitudes. It should be clear by now that this ideology won’t just fade away in time with the old, it must be rejected and extinguished as a matter of deliberate intent.

It helps no one to wallow in shame or guilt. Act in honor of the beloved dead. Do your part to put an end to the evil of white supremacy so that we can all live together in peace and dignity.

Image: AAraujo / Shutterstock.com

The post It’s Not Black People Who Need to Change appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Influential Christian Group’s Real View of ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws: They Could Undermine LGBTQ Rights

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:08

At an event in Phoenix, Arizona, last September, a senior attorney at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was asked by an audience member whether laws that purport to protect religious freedoms could also be used by a restaurant that didn’t want to serve a same-sex couple.

The lawyer, Joseph Infranco, gave an answer that could have enormous implications for how Americans now grapple with the development of LGBTQ rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on same-sex marriage.

“Even if you have certain rights, I just think it’s a lot clearer for people when the objection is, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a ceremony that my religious beliefs prohibit,’” said Infranco, referring to the commonly made distinction between wedding ceremonies, versus the denial of general services to LGBTQ people.

RH Reality Check obtained an audio recording of the 2014 event—held at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce—which was a discussion of the then freshly minted U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. That ruling said that certain companies have religious freedoms that can trump individual rights created by state and federal laws.

Infranco continued: “The sort of general idea that there’s people I don’t want to serve just because I don’t like those sort of people is a much more societally, a much more problematic … I don’t doubt that there are people who have that view, but that’s not been the cases that we’ve seen. The cases have been limited to, ‘I don’t want to be a part of the event.’ But you know there’s always this matter of individual conscience,” Infranco said. “The publicity will be a major headache.”

Infranco’s views on the meaning of religious liberties laws matter because of his position of power at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the radical fundamentalist Christian group that has been the legal architect of some of the most important lawsuits that have tested the limits of those liberties. Their lawyers played a central role in shaping the winning arguments in Hobby Lobby, and the group is now a central player in pushing to expand the use of so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (known as RFRAs) to thwart efforts to protect LGBTQ rights.

Infranco’s answer is telling because of what he did not say. He did not condemn the idea that a restaurant would refuse service to LGBTQ people; nor did he say that RFRAs would not cover that scenario. Instead, he coyly followed the public story that has been told by ADF and other LGBTQ foes—that they are really concerned about religious people being forced to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, in violation of their conscience.

But at the same time, Infranco’s answer indicates a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more” admission that RFRAs could indeed be used to assert religious “freedoms” that extend far beyond the narrow confines of wedding ceremonies.

In a written statement in response to RH Reality Check’s questions about Infranco’s comments, ADF spokesperson Greg Scott maintained Infranco was explaining the “important distinction between general services and participating in an event (such as a wedding) that violates one’s conscience.”

“It’s not the identity of the customer, but the nature of the event that matters,” Scott wrote. Referring to the scenario presented by the audience member about a restaurant refusing service to a same-sex couple, Scott said, “ADF would not take the case of a business owner who kicked someone out of their establishment.”

Perhaps.

But legal experts on RFRAs told RH Reality Check that there are many plausible scenarios where these laws could allow exactly that kind of discrimination.

Marci Hamilton is a professor at the Cardozo School of Law and a leading expert on extreme religious liberty. She said that each of the 21 states that already have RFRAs have drafted them slightly differently. Courts could also interpret these laws in a variety of ways, leading to a patchwork of laws and decisions around the nation.

Hamilton said, however, that the underlying strategy of RFRA backers is the same.

“They’re trying to set up a universe where they can continue to be in their bubble where they don’t have to deal with people they don’t like,” Hamilton told RH Reality Check. “That’s why you’re seeing such a fast and furious drive to get laws in place to permit discrimination against LGBT people.”

Indeed, recent years have seen a rush by states to pass RFRAs, according to an analysis by RH Reality Check. In addition to the 21 states that already have RFRAs in place, this year 33 states moved to introduce or amend their religious freedom laws. That’s a marked increase in activity since 2012 when only ten states sought either to introduce or amend their religious freedom laws.

LGBTQ rights advocates are keenly aware of the threat posed by RFRA laws, and have launched a new campaign to pass federal laws protecting LGBTQ people from all forms of discrimination.

On the other side of the divide, anti-LGBTQ activists are attempting to claim the moral high ground, casting their arguments in genteel language and almost friendly tones, arguing in favor of a “balance” between competing rights.

In a speech entitled, “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” ADF’s senior vice president Kristen Waggoner called for “toleration” of religious beliefs.

“We’re getting to a place where Americans are being forced to surrender their constitutionally protected freedoms, their freedom of association, their freedom of expression, the freedom of religion, the freedoms that have made our nation great, that have given us a cherished diversity,” Waggoner said in the speech, which was posted by the organization to YouTube in March.

“But here’s the good news for you,” she continued. “In this nation we also have a strong, noble, rich history of successfully balancing religious liberty against other important governmental interests.”

And in an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is widely expected to declare himself a Republican presidential candidate in the near future, also called for striking a “balance.”

“Look, I believe in traditional marriage, but the Supreme Court has ruled, and it’s the law of the land, and we’ll abide by it,” he told host John Dickerson. “Religious institutions, religious entities, you know, like the Catholic Church, they need to be honored as well. And I think there’s an ability to strike a balance.”

However, as the decision in Hobby Lobby showed, what religious fundamentalists consider to be a “balance” can frequently result in the outright denial of rights to citizens who don’t conform to an extremist view of Christianity.

In the absence of federal and state laws that specifically protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals, the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday could, in retrospect, appear to be a very narrow ruling that does little to ensure that LGBTQ people will be free from discrimination at work, in housing, and in service from general businesses.

Certainly, that is what fundamentalist Christian organizations are banking on.

Brie Shea contributed research to this report. 

Image: Shutterstock

The post Influential Christian Group’s Real View of ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws: They Could Undermine LGBTQ Rights appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Will the Supreme Court Take up Another Contraception Challenge?

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:07

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday temporarily pushed back efforts by religiously affiliated nonprofits to block their employees from accessing contraception insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The order came in Zubik v. Burwell, a case brought by a group of Pennsylvania organizations who argue the self-certification accommodation process required to avoid complying with the benefit violated their religious rights by “triggering” contraceptive coverage for staff and students.

A three-judge panel from the Third Circuit in February rejected those claims and unanimously held that the certification process did not substantially burden the religious nonprofits’ religious rights in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Third Circuit on April 6 denied requests from the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh for the full bench to review the panel decision.

Attorneys for the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represent the plaintiffs in Zubik, then filed an emergency motion with the Roberts Court asking the Third Circuit decision be blocked. Justice Samuel Alito granted that request in April.

Though the Roberts Court refused to extend its April order on Monday, it also refused to affirm the Third Circuit’s decision. Instead, Monday’s order mirrors the requirements the Roberts Court set out last year in the Wheaton College case.

In Wheaton College, the Court issued an interim order ruling the religiously affiliated nonprofit did not need to complete the self-certification form in order to take advantage of the accommodation to the ACA’s birth control benefit. All that was required, the Court ruled in Wheaton College, was that the nonprofit provide some type of notice to the Department of Health and Human Services that they are claiming a religious objection to complying with the birth control benefit.

From that point, it is up to the Obama administration to figure out how to provide contraceptive coverage for the organization’s employees.

The Wheaton College interim order was issued days after the decision in Hobby Lobby granting for-profit businesses the right to object to the birth control benefit on religious freedom grounds.

The Roberts Court on Monday set out the same conditions for the Zubik plaintiffs, ruling that so long as the administration has notice of their religious objections, the Obama administration cannot enforce the contraception coverage requirements against them. In the meantime, the Roberts Court will consider whether to take up the Zubik case next term.

If it does, it would be the fourth time in four years the Roberts Court has heard a challenge to all, or part, of the Affordable Care Act.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Will the Supreme Court Take up Another Contraception Challenge? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

City of Manila Health Official Apologizes for the Denial of Reproductive Health Services and Violations Against Women

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 23:00
City of Manila Health Official Apologizes for the Denial of Reproductive Health Services and Violations Against Women 06.30.15 - 

(PRESS RELEASE) This week, a Manila City Health Office official has apologized for the barriers facing women with unplanned pregnancies when seeking reproductive health services after hearing from community activists.

Dr. Benjamin Yson, acting City Health Officer of Manila, made the remarks during a convening with Philippine government officials and civil society organizations—including the Center for Reproductive Rights and EnGendeRights—to address the U.N. recommendations that the Philippines ensure universal and affordable modern contraceptives, decriminalize abortion, and implement the country’s Reproductive Health Law.

Although Dr. Yson recognized the grave and systematic rights violations suffered by women seeking reproductive health services in Manila City, he stated the government sees no need to revoke prior local policies that restricted access to modern contraceptives. Despite passing the Reproductive Health Law in 2012, other local government units have continued to introduce and implement restrictive reproductive health ordinances, including recently in Sorsogon City where a local ordinance has been relied upon to provide trainings stigmatizing contraceptives.

Said Payal Shah, senior legal adviser for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“While the health official’s apology is a welcome first step, much more needs to be done to address the injustices and harms suffered by countless women and families under Manila’s contraceptive ban.

The promise of the Reproductive Health Law must be made real for the women throughout Manila City who still face significant ongoing misinformation about contraceptive access and barriers to reproductive health care.

“The passage of the Reproductive Health Law was a victory for millions of Filipino women. The city of Manila must immediately address these strong U.N. recommendations and take action to implement the law and undo the years of suffering caused by the contraceptive ban.”

Said Clara Rita Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights:

“The City of Manila should allocate funds, source contraceptive supplies, and designate medical providers to address the prevailing reproductive rights needs of its residents particularly poor women and adolescent girls who are unaware of contraceptive methods, many of them ended up giving birth at early age even as young as 15 years old.

“Although the EOs have already been declared moot, a new EO or ordinance providing universal access to contraceptives including allocation of funds is a definitive action that clearly manifests its commitment to implement programs to implement the RH Law and the recommendations of U.N. Committee on the inquiry.”

Government representatives from the Departments of Health, Justice and Foreign Affairs, alongside the Philippine Commissions on Women, Human Rights and Population and the National Anti-Poverty Commission sat down with reproductive health groups to discuss reproductive health violations and systemic human rights violations women have faced in the Philippines for decades. These groups included Catholics for Reproductive Health, Women’s Health Care Foundation, KAKAMMPI, SAMAKANA, ZOTO, Philippine Center for Population and Development, The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Population Services Pilipinas, Inc., and PROCESS.

The reproductive health groups called for the government to implement recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW), including by clarifying the revocation of the Manila City executive orders, introducing a mechanism for oversight of local government policies on contraceptives, establishing a local complaints mechanism where women can seek remedies for violations of their right to reproductive health care, and creating awareness and education campaigns to address misinformation and misconceptions about contraceptives as guaranteed under the Reproductive Health Law.

The Filipino government’s long-standing hostility towards modern contraception contributed to an estimated 610,000 illegal abortions in 2012, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In May 2015, U.N. CEDAW released a report criticizing the government for failing to prioritize women’s human rights over religious ideology and cultural stereotypes, which has led to widespread discrimination against women and hindered access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. For the report, designated members from U.N. CEDAW traveled to the Philippines in November 2012 to conduct the inquiry after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other NGOs raised concerns over the human rights violations women in the country were facing mainly due to Executive Order 003, which effectively banned women’s access to modern contraceptives inManila City.

The Center has worked on reproductive health issues throughout Asia, with major initiatives addressing issues ranging from maternal mortality in India to access to modern contraception in the Philippines. Residents of Manila City filed a case against the government in 2008 challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 003 and demanding its revocation. It was quietly dismissed in 2014 after a judge determined that the case is “a moot point,” given the passage of the 2012 Reproductive Health Law. To date, women in Manila City do not have access to a full range of modern contraceptives and related information and services.

Philippine Supreme Court Upholds Historic Reproductive Health Law U.N. Committee Finds Women in the Philippines Face Reproductive Rights Violations and Discrimination Download Report: Imposing Misery (Updated Edition)

State Court Blocks Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 23:00
State Court Blocks Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion

06.30.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) A state court judge today blocked a recently passed Florida measure forcing a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion care.  The law—which was slated to take effect on July 1, 2015 and will remain blocked while the case proceeds--  fails to include any protections for a woman whose pregnancy threatens her health or a meaningful exception for survivors of rape, incest, or intimate partner violence.

“Women are fully capable of making thoughtful decisions about their lives, families, and health care, and this ruling will keep them from being second-guessed or delayed by politicians who presume to know better,” said Autumn Katz, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We will continue to fight this demeaning law until the courts permanently strike it down and ensure no Florida woman is ever forced to wait for purely political reasons to get the health care she needs.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Richard Johnson of Tallahassee challenged the unconstitutional measure earlier this month on behalf of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center—a Gainesville reproductive health care provider—and Medical Students for Choice—an organization dedicated to making reproductive health care, including abortion, a part of standard medical education and residency training.

“The court has recognized that this law serves only to demean women and the choices they and their families make about their own medical care,” said Renée Paradis, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This decision ensures that the right to privacy guaranteed to women by the Florida Constitution will be protected and allows women to receive the care they need while the courts hear our legal challenge to this unconstitutional law.”

“This decision supports the right of all women patients to make the healthcare decisions they feel are most appropriate for them and enables their physicians to support their decisions,” said Lois Backus, Executive Director of Medical Students for Choice.  “We are grateful for the court’s decision today.”

Waiting periods can create a variety of burdens on a woman who needs safe and legal abortion care—from stigmatizing women and abortion providers, to requiring additional trips to the clinic, which means additional travel time, transportation costs, child care, and time off work.  Women of color, low-income women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships already face challenges when they seek health care services, and waiting periods only increase these barriers.  Additionally, mandatory waiting periods can lead a woman to delay the abortion to later in pregnancy, which can increase the risks of the otherwise extremely safe procedure.

In a region devastated by similarly underhanded restrictions, Florida’s strong state constitutional protections have ensured the state serves as a safe haven for women from neighboring states seeking safe and legal abortion services.  From clinic shutdown laws—which have closed clinics in Texas and threaten to shutter abortion providers in LouisianaOklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama—to outright bans on abortion, women in the South often face innumerable hurdles when trying to exercise their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services. 

Harmful restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like Florida from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.​

Center for Reproductive Rights, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Call on Florida Governor to Veto Bill Forcing Women to Delay Abortion Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU Challenge Unconstitutional Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion Texas Clinics Closed by Fifth Circuit Can Reopen in Light of Supreme Court Ruling Federal Court Blocks Enforcement of Louisiana Law Threatening Women’s Access to Safe and Legal Abortion Oklahoma Supreme Court Blocks Two Unconstitutional Measures Designed to Severely Restrict Access to Abortion Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Clinic Shutdown Law Federal Court Permanently Strikes Down Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban as Unconstitutional

Recent SNAP Restrictions Are Another Reminder That Poverty Is a Reproductive Issue

RH Reality Check - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 16:40

My decision to have an abortion in 2010 wasn’t influenced by a lack of financial stability; I knew at 30 years old that I didn’t want children of my own. The circumstances that led to my unplanned pregnancy, however, were entirely due to almost a decade of living with food insecurity.

We use the word “choice” constantly in the reproductive rights movement. Almost always, this is to indicate the legal right to choose what happens to us, as though life is so easily reduced to such technicalities. But the existence of a right does not ensure that those who need to exercise it will have access to it. I didn’t choose my economic circumstances or the discrimination inherent in the pre-Affordable Care Act for-profit insurance industry, which together allowed the pregnancy to happen. So I have always bristled at the way an overuse of “choice” implies that options are a guarantee. In order for health and true equality to be in reach for all, we must understand what poverty is, who is affected by it, and deal with our discomfort as a culture acknowledging the millions who live and struggle under its weight.

When you are one of the 49 million United States residents who can’t be sure they’ll eat tomorrow or next week, every aspect of your life is about economics. The longer you live with uncertainty and instability, the more you realize that those who don’t share your experience are unaware that all issues, movements, and public policy are rooted in economic justice—or injustice. I know firsthand that for many people, poverty is often related to a lack of access to basic health care, including abortion. This growing burden, carried primarily by poor people, is a blind spot for many legislatures and courts around the country, particularly where restrictions on abortion and other kinds of reproductive care are concerned.

I was reminded of the link between health-care access and poverty yet again in the face of the justifications from the current wave of governors and state representatives proposing rules undercutting vital food assistance programs. Maine’s governor is worried about pickles; a Missouri lawmaker thinks Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients are living large on crab legs; and the Wisconsin legislature can’t continue to abide poor people eating potatoes and jarred pasta sauce. Every week, it seems, another lawmaker is trying to find a guilt-free way to shave one percentage point off the budget by cutting programs that keep people alive and create economic growth.

Earlier this month, when the latest of these restrictions trickled down through the media, I found myself brimming with anger in response to the stigmatizing language and the pervasive focus on the middle class with no mention of the poor. Eventually, this spilled over into a hashtag on Twitter, #PovertyIs, which managed to trend briefly, despite the rarity of this topic in public conversations. People from around the world defied stigma and shaming to share their everyday experiences with poverty—the emotion, the strain, the stress, the hunger, the physical discomfort, and the decisions our friends and neighbors don’t have to weigh constantly.

As I read the responses, I was reminded of my own abortion story—how for me, like many others, poverty meant deciding between food and other necessities. In my case, that was birth control.

Five years ago, I was still living in Chicago when the generic birth control pill began to fail at countering my monthly migraines, debilitating cramps, and other symptoms that made working on my feet impossible. So I was prescribed the NuvaRing. It worked like a charm—at almost $80 per month, because it was name-brand-only and the prescription plan I paid for out of pocket wouldn’t cover it. At a healthy, pre-existing condition-free 28 years of age in the years before the Affordable Care Act, my health care was costing me an outrageous total of $350 every month, assuming I didn’t actually use it to see a doctor or fill additional prescriptions. Following my third job loss that year, I was forced to choose between food and birth control—certainly a health “care” system failure.

When I became pregnant as a result, I was relatively lucky in terms of getting to the procedure itself. My Chicago address had made it relatively easy to access care; even though many of the clinics in the city are picketed, there are, in fact many clinics. I was also lucky to have managers and co-workers at both jobs that either understood or didn’t care that I needed a couple days off for a medical procedure. I even had my own OB-GYN with whom to discuss my circumstances. I only ended up at Planned Parenthood because my insurance didn’t cover the elective procedure, so I went where I could find a way to afford the appointment.

Still, the most expensive part of my abortion wasn’t the $400 or so I charged to my credit card at the clinic; it was the unpaid time off from four shifts at two jobs. The ACA may have improved matters in some respects by eliminating the co-pays for contraception and annual exams—for which I am very grateful every day I enjoy the freedom of my IUD—but people still have to be able to physically access a clinic in order to appreciate this policy upgrade. When doctors’ appointments require travel, time off, child care, follow-up prescriptions, follow-up appointments, and trips to the pharmacy, co-pays were never the only expense. And those of us living in poverty feel every payout. I wouldn’t have been in a position where $80 could break me if my economic circumstances had been at all stable before the prescription upgrade or losing that third job.

Recently, an unexpected medical bill led me to a new perspective on my unplanned pregnancy from five years ago. I’m one of many long-term underemployed United States residents with little-to-no room for error in my monthly budget. This latest health surprise put me over the edge completely. I wasn’t able to play bill roulette or juggle basics or max out a credit card to bridge the gap this time around, so I applied for CalFresh, California’s food assistance program.

After two years of covering the fight to keep Mississippi’s only clinic open and spending time with activists in the Rio Grande Valley, my new situation, combined with the flood of proposed SNAP restrictions and the #PovertyIs responses, has re-centered economic justice in my advocacy and reporting. It’s also refocused my abortion story, leading me to be bolder about the root causes of my unplanned pregnancy. I always cared about people’s economic circumstances, but I now have a fundamentally different relationship to those affected by abortion restrictions and to the phrase used to measure the unnecessary ordeal they endure to attain access.

The undefined, unequally applied “undue burden” standard makes the disproportionate effect of abortion restrictions on the poor especially evident. The Fifth Circuit’s most recent ruling again moves the goalposts on “undue burden” by deeming the ambulatory surgical center requirements of the Texas omnibus anti-abortion law HB 2 valid. Though the Supreme Court has stayed the ruling for now, according to advocates, if implemented, this provision of HB 2 could shutter all but nine clinics in the state.

Simply looking at the second largest state in the union on a map is enough to grasp some level of how disastrous this would be for its 27 million residents. Living in the center of West Texas already meant at least a five-hour drive in one direction or another to access a clinic in either San Antonio or New Mexico. Add in waiting periods, ultrasounds, counseling, admitting privileges that limit the number of doctors available to perform procedures in any given region, and my two days off work and $1,000 grand total in out-of-pocket cost and lost wages seems like a drop in the bucket. My ordeal five years ago was enough to go through, considering it shouldn’t have been necessary. But my white, cis, documented, able-bodied privilege all stacks up to a comparatively easy road. Even my finances were less strained thanks to timing and hard work coming together; I didn’t have $1,000 lying around to throw away, but I was able to find it.

Texas is hardly an anomaly—it’s simply a powerful visual depiction of how abortion restrictions affect a population over an enormous area. But the corridor stretching from the western border of Idaho to the eastern borders of North and South Dakota is a nearly 1,200-mile-wide clinic desert. Some states only have a single full-scale reproductive health clinic. Defunding Planned Parenthood through cuts to family planning services has caused five clinics to close in Indiana—none of which even provided abortion care. These “pro-life” policies have created a public health crisis in an area currently dealing with an HIV outbreak.

Meanwhile, on a federal level, House Republicans are attempting to eliminate Title X funding, a program that has provided millions of low-income people with STI testing, cancer screenings, contraception, and treatment since President Richard Nixon championed and signed it into law in 1970.

Nixon matter-of-factly explained why he was backing the law at the time: “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Almost everything seems to have changed in the past 45 years. The more I watched people on the #PovertyIs thread discuss putting off medical care despite having insurance because they couldn’t get off work or couldn’t afford the co-pays, the more absurd the debate about burden became to me. HB 2 alone has been in appeals for two years. How long does it take, exactly, for a handful of judges to decide whether 500 miles over three days or more, hundreds of dollars in lost pay and child care, and the emotional strain of navigating the ever-changing landscape is too much to put people through when they have the power to prevent all of it from happening in the first place? Why do those in power see the concept of “burden” as solely a political and/or legal issue, without direct connection to people’s economic condition?

To those with modest or substantial means, the burden is automatically attached to the concept of our rights: how far is too far and how much is too much to exercise a constitutional right? But for those of us without a safety net, burden is a word that feels heavy. It sounds like the keys of a calculator clicking to determine whether this month’s math means we eat, have heat, and can put enough gas in our cars to get to work. That heaviness is the intersection of reproductive justice and economic justice, and it should be given equal weight in policy discussions, in advocacy, and in our media.

Just as SNAP funding provides a lifeline to those who need it, access and funding to reproductive health care provide a basic level of bodily autonomy and the opportunity to determine one’s own present and future. You can’t be a functional, autonomous human without the ability to eat, just as you can’t be fully human and free without the ability to control if, whether, and when you become a parent. These connections have long been clear and foundational to the reproductive justice movement built by women of color too-often sidelined and silenced by mainstream feminist and reproductive rights advocates. It’s long past time that their voices and approach to culture change became the standard for advocacy work.

Bodily autonomy is about more than just controlling what is happening right now in your reproductive system. Having final say over what happens within and around your body determines whether or not you are the one who decides the direction of your life. Ensuring self-determination for all people is the foundation to achieving economic justice; acknowledging this reality strengthens our movement and ensures that we strive to help people in need today as we secure the rights of everyone for the future.

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Roberts Court: Texas Abortion Providers Can Stay Open for Now

RH Reality Check - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 16:19

Read more of our articles on Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law here.

The Supreme Court declared Monday in a 5-4 decision that Texas’ legal abortion facilities will be allowed to stay open for now even if they are not operating as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.

The Roberts Court will consider hearing an appeal on the anti-choice legislation designed to make abortion inaccessible across most of Texas.

The decision came just two days before the most restrictive provision of HB 2, the 2013 omnibus anti-choice law passed despite a 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), was set to go into effect. The law, passed by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature, would have forced abortion providers to operate as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), essentially forcing many clinics to shut down.

In addition to the ASC provision, HB 2 bans abortion after 20 weeks, limits the prescription of medication abortion, and requires abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a group of comprehensive reproductive health-care clinics and one of several plaintiffs in the case against HB 2, said in a press release that she is “relieved” the court has “prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for Texas women.”

“We at Whole Woman’s Health know that reproductive care is not some political bargaining chip—that’s part of why we’re fighting this,” Hagstrom Miller said. “With today’s ruling, we remain hopeful that the justice system too will stand with Texas woman and Whole Woman’s Health.”

The deeply conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld HB 2’s ASC provision earlier this month, and the Center For Reproductive Rights, which represents Whole Woman’s and a coalition of other independent Texas-based abortion providers, petitioned the Supreme Court to hold the Fifth Circuit’s decision until the high court could ultimately rule on the case.

Monday’s Supreme Court order blocking HB 2 will “terminate automatically” if the Court does not take up Texas abortion providers’ case. If the Court does take up the case, the order will “terminate” upon the Court’s ultimate decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, dissented from the order and would have allowed the Texas law to go into full effect pending further legal challenge.

It is the final provision of the law, dealing with ASC mandates, that could cost providers millions of dollars in changes to their facilities, operations, and staffing requirements.

Nine existing abortion facilities in Texas operate as ASCs. The mainstream medical community has declared HB 2’s ASC provisions, as well as its mandated admitting privileges, to be medically unnecessary and dangerous to Texans’ reproductive health because of the likelihood that the law will reduce access to legal abortion care by shuttering clinics.

Dozens of legal abortion facilities have already closed in the two years since GOP Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 2 into law in the summer of 2013.

Image: Shutterstock

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