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NARAL Pro-Choice California, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and UC Hasti...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 17:35
NARAL Pro-Choice California, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy hosted a sold out panel discussion on reproductive rights and the challenges we're facing right now. Bravo!

Alaska Law Limits Which Abortions Can Be Deemed ‘Medically Necessary’

RH Reality Check - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 16:05

Alaskan Gov. Sean Parnell signed a bill Thursday that will limit the circumstances under which doctors can deem an abortion “medically necessary”—a term that is used to determine which procedures can be funded by Medicaid in the state.

Under the federal Hyde Amendment, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is banned from funding abortion services under Medicaid, with an exception for abortions that are deemed medically necessary or when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Whether an abortion is “medically necessary” is determined by a pregnant person’s doctor.

The new law, SB 49, requires doctors to select a reason for the procedure being “medically unnecessary” from an approved list. The law says that a procedure is “medically necessary” if it is to “avoid a threat of serious risk to the life or physical health” of a patient, according to a physician’s “objective and reasonable professional judgment.” The law creates a list of 21 reasons why a pregnancy may be a “serious risk to the life or physical health” of a patient, including eclampsia, pulmonary hypertension, and epilepsy. A “catch-all” provision is included in the law stating that an abortion can be performed for “another physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy that places the woman in danger of death or major bodily impairment if an abortion is not performed.”

The list does not include anything about the mental health of the patient.

“There shouldn’t be a list at all. It’s up to women and their doctors to make these personal medical decisions—not an arbitrary list drafted by politicians and bureaucrats in Juneau,” Erik Houser, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, told RH Reality Check.

According to the Alaska Dispatch, Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage) said during the floor debate over the legislation that SB 49 would add “special burdens on a woman’s right to choose.” French also questioned the constitutionality of the bill, saying he has “little doubt that this bill we’re passing here today will never go into effect because it’s contrary to our Constitution.”

In 2001, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state must pay for medically necessary abortions if it pays for other procedures deemed medically necessary. In that decision, the court ruled that medication needed by women with conditions like bipolar disorder and epilepsy “can be highly dangerous to a developing fetus.”

Without funding for medically necessary abortions, pregnant women with these conditions must choose either to seriously endanger their own health by forgoing medication, or to ensure their own safety but endanger the developing fetus by continuing medication.

The new law is similar to regulations approved by the state health commissioner, which are currently in litigation after a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

The bill passed the state senate with a provision establishing a women’s health program to provide state-funded “family planning services, health screening examinations, and related services,” but the house stripped that provision from the legislation before it was signed.

“When he signed SB 49 into law today, Governor Parnell reaffirmed his commitment to politicians coming between women and their doctors,” said Jessica Cler, Alaska Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, in a statement. “Not only is this legislation unfair, restrictive, and harmful for low-income women and families, it’s also unconstitutional.”

“SB 49 is a blatant attempt to put politicians between low-income women and access to abortion, and by removing the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the legislature has made it clear that their only interest is restricting women’s pregnancy decisions—not promoting women’s health or reducing unintended pregnancies,” said Cler.

Image: Alaska government via Shutterstock

The post Alaska Law Limits Which Abortions Can Be Deemed ‘Medically Necessary’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

We <3 our pro-choice lawmakers in the states! They're how we stop attacks and ex...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:47
We ♥ our pro-choice lawmakers in the states! They're how we stop attacks and expand access to reproductive health care - and we need more leaders like them in 2014. Show that you have their backs by sharing our graphic.

Suit Claiming Doctors Performed Sex-Assignment Surgery Without Consent Can Move Forward

RH Reality Check - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:39

A South Carolina judge has ruled that a historic lawsuit can move forward alleging that the South Carolina Department of Social Services and two hospitals performed medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on a 16-month-old child.

The case involves a child referred to in court filings as M.C. who was born with an intersex condition in which reproductive or sexual anatomy does not fit typical definitions of male or female. Doctors referred to M.C. as a “true hermaphrodite,” and while the child was in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, doctors, in cooperation with social services employees, decided to surgically remove M.C.’s male genitalia. According to the complaint, the child, now 8 years old, has shown signs of developing a male gender and identifies himself as a boy.

In May 2013, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC), and pro bono counsel for the private law firms of Janet, Jenner & Suggs and Steptoe & Johnson LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of M.C.’s adoptive parents, Mark and Pam Crawford, alleging that the decision to medically assign M.C. a biological sex amounted to medical malpractice and a violation of M.C.’s constitutional rights.

According to the lawsuit, filed in both state and federal court, the State of South Carolina violated M.C.’s constitutional rights when doctors surgically removed his phallus while he was in foster care, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function. The lawsuit describes how the defendants violated M.C.’s substantive and procedural due process rights, outlined in the 14th Amendment, by subjecting M.C. to the unnecessary surgery “without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.’s best interest.” The lawsuit also charges that the doctors committed medical malpractice by failing to obtain adequate informed consent before proceeding. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants told M.C.’s guardians to allow the sex-assignment surgery but failed to provide information regarding the surgery’s significant medical risks. Most important, the Crawfords contend, state officials and doctors did not disclose that the procedure was medically unnecessary.

Attorneys representing the defendants moved to dismiss the federal case, but a court denied that motion. The defendants then tried to delay the state court medical malpractice claims while they appeal the denial of the motion to dismiss; the state court denied that request as well.

“Our young client was profoundly harmed when doctors and state agents decided to remove his penis and testicle,” said Anne Tamar-Mattis, co-counsel and executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice, a nonprofit advocacy organization that specializes in advocating for the rights of intersex children, in a statement. “We look forward to continuing the fight on M.C.’s behalf and to ensuring that no child ever has to undergo such life-altering surgeries without informed consent.”

According to Tamar-Mattis in an interview with RH Reality Check last May, approximately one in 2,000 children are born with an intersex condition. Many children with these conditions develop as a boy or girl as they grow. But, according to Tamar-Mattis, since the 1950s doctors have performed this type of sex-assignment surgery on infants, even when the child’s ultimate gender remains unknown and despite the fact that many doctors and advocates recommend that children with intersex conditions be assigned a gender at birth but postpone any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender and participate in making medical decisions about their own bodies.

That medical recommendation is in line with the heart of M.C.’s legal complaint, which is that he was not given a voice and therefore had no ability to consent to the procedure doctors performed on him. “The court’s decision moves M.C. a step closer to justice,” said Kristi Graunke, SPLC senior supervising attorney, in a statement. “This ruling holds doctors accountable when they recommend such drastic and irreversible procedures for infants but fail to ensure caregivers are fully informed about the risks and options.”

Image: Lawsuit via Shutterstock

The post Suit Claiming Doctors Performed Sex-Assignment Surgery Without Consent Can Move Forward appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Hey GOP, try changing your policies, not just your look. It's going to take more...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:00
Hey GOP, try changing your policies, not just your look. It's going to take more than just showing off female candidates to win women voters.

GOP’s new class of jokers: Meet the “rising stars” of the dumbest rebrand ever
Welcome to the lamest reinvention in modern history. Why these "young guns" are just as scary as the old male ones

This Week in Sex: New Research on Sperm and Egg Attraction, Viagra and Skin Cancer, and Facebook and Body Image

RH Reality Check - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 12:31

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

Why Are Sperm and Egg Attracted to Each Other?

So we all know the basic story of fertilization. A man has sperm. A woman has eggs. The man and woman have intercourse. His sperm swim up to her egg, one lucky sperm gloms on, and voila, we have a zygote.

Well apparently it’s not only not that simple, but no one knew exactly what happened between the two until now because researchers had not yet determined exactly what drew the sperm to the egg and how they attached to each other.

Half of the puzzle was figured out in 2005, when Japanese scientists found a molecule jutting out of the surface of mammalian sperm that docked on to the surface of eggs. They named the molecule Izumo after a Japanese marriage shrine.

Since then, scientists around the world have been trying to elucidate the other side of the equation—the protein on the egg’s surface that sticks to Izumo. An article just published in the most recent issue of Nature says that they finally can explain it. A team of researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom discovered that a protein called folate receptor 4 is responsible for hooking on to Izumo and beginning the process of fertilization. They propose renaming the protein Juno after the Roman goddess of fertility and marriage. Juno has another role as well—it disappears from the surface of the egg within 30 to 40 minutes of fertilization, which prevents more than one sperm from getting into the egg. A zygote with more than one sperm would have too many chromosomes and could not develop normally.

What is particularly interesting about these findings is the discovery that without Juno, fertilization cannot happen. Female mice without Juno were healthy but could not reproduce. Researchers believe this has immediate implications for infertility treatment. Women having trouble getting pregnant could be tested for the presence of Juno. Those who don’t have it could skip other types of fertility treatments and go straight to intracytoplasmic sperm injection, in which a single sperm cell is injected directly into an egg. It’s still not clear, however, how many women are lacking Juno.

The researchers also believe that this discovery could lead to new forms of contraception that block Juno and/or Izumo, thereby preventing fertilization.

Viagra May Increase Men’s Risk of Melanoma

Since it was introduced in 1998, 23 million prescriptions have been written for the little blue pill that can help with erectile dysfunction (ED). Immediate side effects of Viagra and other similar ED medications include headaches, flushing, indigestion, nasal congestion, dizziness, and vision problems such as seeing a blue haze, increased brightness, or temporary loss of vision. Of course, the most famous side effect might be the erection lasting four hours or longer, which is warned about in every commercial. That is actually a painful and dangerous condition known as priapism. It is a rare side effect of ED drugs, but can happen when they are taken recreationally by men who do not have erectile issues.

Until now, studies suggested that there was no risk of long-term health conditions caused by these drugs. But a new study published online in JAMA Medicine demonstrates a link between Viagra use and the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, melanoma. (The study did not look at other similar ED drugs, such as Cialis or Levitra, because they did not exist when the data was first being collected.)

Researchers analyzed data from more than 25,000 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They found that men who had used sildenafil, better known as Viagra, were twice as likely to develop melanoma as men who had not. This finding held up even after controlling for known melanoma risk factors, including family history of the cancer, sun exposure, and UV intensity in the state in which the men lived. There was no link between erectile dysfunction itself and melanoma.

The researchers caution that their findings show a correlation but do not prove that Viagra causes melanoma and that more research has to be done before experts would suggest changes to the guideline for prescribing Viagra.

There is, however, a scientific explanation for how Viagra could increase melanoma risk. Viagra belongs to a class of medication called PDE5 inhibitors, which also includes Cialis and Levitra. By blocking the PDE5 enzyme, the medications help the smooth muscles in the penis relax and increase blood flow. In his article for Everyday Health, Dr. Adam Friedman explains that inhibiting the PDE5 enzyme, which is also done by a mutation found in many melanoma tumors, enhances melanoma cells’ ability to invade and metastasize. He concludes, “The punchline: It is possible that by inhibiting this enzyme, Viagra may promote development of primary melanoma tumors.”

Again, this has not been proven, and no one is suggesting that men stop taking Viagra because of this one study. However, Dr. Abrar Qureshi, a professor of dermatology at Brown University and co-author of the new study, told NBC News, “But people who are on the medication and who have a high risk for developing melanoma may consider touching base with their primary care provider.”

Is Facebook Bad for Your Self-Image?

New research presented last week at the International Communication Association conference suggests that in addition to being a time-suck, Facebook may actually be damaging to some users’ self-image.

Researchers surveyed more than 800 college women to assess their Facebook habits and their body image. Respondents were asked how often they visited the site, how long they typically spent there, what they looked at, and what they were thinking about as they looked. For example, one question asked, “When looking at someone else’s photos on Facebook, how much attention do you pay to: 1) how they dress, and 2) their body?” They were then asked how they felt about their own body, including what their current weight was and what they ideally would like to weigh. Other questions touched on eating habits and school success.

On average, respondents spent 80 minutes on Facebook reading their news feed and looking at photos. Their average weight was about 149 pounds, but most respondents wanted to weigh 20 pounds less than they actually did. Women who spent more time on Facebook were more likely to feel bad about their own bodies and compare themselves to others. This was especially true for women who felt like they needed to lose weight. Women who wanted to gain or maintain their weight did not feel bad about themselves after using Facebook.

Of course, the study does not prove that Facebook causes low self-image but it did suggest that spending time on the site could exacerbate body image issues. Petya Eckler, lead author of the study, pointed out to HealthDay, “Women tend to present their ideal self on Facebook, not necessarily their actual, true self.”

We all know at this point that pictures of models in magazines are retouched to make them look thinner, but Eckler says friends may do that as well by using Photoshop or other apps, such as Skinneepix, that are specifically designed to “shave pounds” off of pictures. Comparing themselves to these idealized photos of friends can make women feel inferior. Eckler worries that this can ultimately lead to an eating disorder. “Feeling negatively about yourself and increased body comparison is sort of the first step towards disordered eating,” said Eckler.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all log off of the social networking site. But we should become more knowledgeable consumers of photographs, and remember that comparing ourselves to possibly retouched photos of others—even photos of friends—is not really fair.

Image: Sperm and egg via Shutterstock

The post This Week in Sex: New Research on Sperm and Egg Attraction, Viagra and Skin Cancer, and Facebook and Body Image appeared first on RH Reality Check.

See how two abortion providers in Texas are using the anti-choice attorney gener...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 12:01
See how two abortion providers in Texas are using the anti-choice attorney general's own words to regain their ability to provide abortion care.

2 Dallas abortion doctors’ hospital privileges temporarily reinstated
The doctors are suing University General Hospital, noting that Texas law prohibits action against physicians based on whether they perform abortions.

Standing Our Ground: Reproductive Justice for Marissa Alexander

RH Reality Check - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 10:01

Marissa Alexander did not get a chance to see her youngest daughter take her first step. She didn’t get a chance to hear her say her first word, or blow out the candles on her first birthday cake. These and many more memories that mothers are excited to photograph or catch on film weren’t possible for Alexander because she was living behind bars—all because she fired a warning shot in the air, harming no one, to ward off Rico Gray, her abusive estranged husband and the father of her youngest child.

Each year, approximately 1.5 million women in the United States are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has found, and of that number, 324,000 were pregnant when the violence occurred. Unfortunately, according to a recent report by the Violence Policy Center, Black women like Alexander experience intimate partner abuse 35 percent more than their white counterparts. Moreover, the Urban Justice Center found that when Black women use deadly force to defend themselves from abusive partners, they are less likely to succeed at using as their defense being a battered spouse, making it more likely they will be convicted and sentenced for homicide.

Gray beat Alexander repeatedly over the course of their relationship, even head-butting her and giving her a black eye while she was pregnant with his child. Her youngest daughter was born premature, and just nine days after Alexander gave birth, Gray attacked her again. This time he strangled her and threatened to have her murdered. It was this incident that led her to defend herself and her family by firing a warning shot upward into the wall. Alexander was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. She was forcibly removed from her children’s lives, including her breastfed infant.

According to Barbara Bloom in her testimony before the Little Hoover Commission in 2004, approximately 70 percent of people in women’s prisons are mothers, and the majority of them were the primary caretakers of their children before they were sent to prison. The over-policing and over-criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is becoming a major issue in this country, and the safety of mothers is at stake.

From women dealing with substance abuse issues, to women living with HIV and AIDS, to women who are abused, incarceration rates among some of the most marginalized communities are increasing and even more harmful legislation is being enacted, causing more women to lose their freedom and thus lose their parental rights.

Incarcerated mothers are leaving behind children to be cared for by family members who are forced to deal with the emotional and financial strains from the addition to their lives, or these now parentless children are left to be raised by the state. But as the report Children of Incarcerated Parents, prepared by the Council on Crime and Justice, notes, children who have imprisoned parents are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system and prison themselves, which furthers the dismantling of families across the country.

Unlike many of the women who are serving time, Alexander was given a second chance. Last November, due to national attention resulting from statewide protests to repeal the “stand your ground” law, Alexander was released on bond and granted a retrial.​

Not only has Alexander been granted a second chance, but we as activists are given another opportunity to organize across movements in political solidarity to support her, and to demand an end to violence against women and the over-criminalization of mothers. This is a reproductive justice issue that cannot be ignored.

Alexander’s case is the epitome of a reproductive justice issue. It was because of these types of human rights violations, coupled with the ways reproductive oppression continues to be perpetuated in our communities and within racist and sexist legislation, that Black women came together 20 years ago to create a new, more intersectional framework that stretched beyond the narrow focus on legal access and choice to a more broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power and ability to protect our bodies, our families, and our lives.

Alexander’s prosecutor, Angela Corey, has threatened to increase Alexander’s sentence from 20 to 60 years if convicted in her retrial. Black pastors in her hometown are encouraging her to take a plea deal as opposed to going to trial. These pressures—along with an understanding of the costs associated with maintaining her freedom and the emotional strain of being isolated from her children, who reside with the person who abused her—are the exact reasons SisterSong and the Free Marissa Now Campaign have partnered to host “Standing Our Ground: Raising Our Voices Against Reproductive Oppression and Violence Against Women” July 25-28 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The weekend will begin with a community-wide “Reproductive Justice 101″ training, followed by a full-day institute, where SisterSong’s national member organizations as well as activists across social change movements, human rights advocates, academics, and scholars will address the intersections of reproductive justice and the criminal justice system, child welfare system, and the violence against women movement and how race, gender, and sexuality play out in legislation such as the “stand your ground” laws. The weekend will culminate with a march on July 28, the day of Alexander’s retrial, to the Duval County Unified Courthouse to stand in solidarity with Alexander and in opposition to the reproductive injustices that this case and legislation has made public.

Alexander’s case reminds us of the very reason the reproductive justice framework was needed. It also gives reproductive justice activists an opportunity to lean into the intersectionality of our framework and to take another bold step forward in eradicating reproductive oppression.

Image: CNN / YouTube

The post Standing Our Ground: Reproductive Justice for Marissa Alexander appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Dallas Hospital Revokes Privileges, Tells Abortion Providers They Damage Its ‘Reputation’

RH Reality Check - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:05

Two North Texas doctors have filed suit against a Dallas hospital that told them it had revoked their admitting privileges because they provide legal abortion care.

Federal and state laws prevent hospitals from discriminating against doctors who perform abortions.

Doctors Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia received identical letters, dated March 31, from the CEO of the University General Hospital of Dallas (UGHD), who wrote that because the doctors performed legal abortion procedures at locations wholly separate from the hospital, the doctors were engaging in “disruptive behavior,” in violation of the hospital’s bylaws.

The two doctors’ “practice of voluntary interruption of pregnancies,” wrote hospital CEO Charles Schuetz, “creates significant exposure and damages to UGHD’s reputation within the community.”

For now, a Dallas County judge has temporarily granted a restraining order that forces the hospital to reinstate the doctors’ privileges until the case can receive a full hearing, which has been scheduled for April 30.

Texas’ new omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, requires doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of where they perform procedures, a mandate that went into effect last November and which has now ended legal abortion care at about a third of Texas’ existing abortion clinics.

During debate over HB 2, reproductive rights supporters predicted that hospitals would refuse to grant privileges to abortion providers out of fear of retaliation from anti-choice protesters; in subsequent court challenges to the law, the State of Texas argued that because federal and state laws prevent hospitals from discriminating against abortion providers, doctors who provide abortions would have plenty of legal recourse in the unlikely event they were denied privileges.

Now, Robinson and Ahluwalia are suing on precisely those anti-discrimination statutes, alleging that UGHD revoked their privileges not only because they are abortion providers, but at the behest of anti-choice activists who threatened the hospital with negative publicity if it continued to employ the doctors.

Opponents of reproductive rights in Texas have been developing templates for anti-abortion activists to follow in hopes of convincing hospitals to revoke abortion providers’ admitting privileges, including contacting hospital boards and advising those who seek to get doctors de-credentialed that “you will want to inform the CEO of your plans to hold a prayer vigil outside of their hospital.”

In court documents, the doctors allege that anti-choice protesters had threatened to picket UGHD on April 1, leading to the hospital’s decision to revoke the doctors’ privileges:

On information and belief, activists opposed to abortion contacted the hospital and demanded that it revoke Dr. Robinson’s admitting privileges and sever any relationship with physicians who provide abortion. On information and belief, the hospital was threatened with an April 1, 2014 protest outside its Dallas facility if it refused to give into the activists’ demands. The day before the threatened protest, March 31, 2014, UGHD did exactly what the protestors had demanded.

UGHD’s Schuetz, a Republican political donor who lives in Houston, claims in his March 31 letter that the hospital does not provide gynecology services and “does not have the capacity to treat complications that may arise from voluntary interruption of pregnancies.”

Calls and emails to UGHD were not immediately returned, but the hospital’s website says it provides a “full array of services” and “the ultimate in modern medical treatment.” Both Robinson and Ahluwalia say they were admitted specifically to provide gynecological services such as the “identification and treatment of abscesses, cysts and cancers.”

In the March 31 letter, Schuetz also writes that “it has come to [UGHD's] attention” that doctors Robinson and Ahluwalia perform legal abortion procedures, implying that the hospital was previously unaware it had granted privileges to two abortion providers.

Both Robinson and Ahluwalia say they were clear about their off-site abortion services when UGHD granted their admitting privileges in December and January, respectively. Dr. Robinson even says in court documents that he applied directly to perform “certain second-trimester surgical abortion procedures.”

Doctors Robinson and Ahluwalia were not the only abortion providers who went to court this week to fight for revoked admitting privileges. Lawyers for an El Paso abortion provider appeared in federal court in Austin on Wednesday after their client found that her hospital admitting privileges had been revoked without warning or explanation, causing the city’s Reproductive Services clinic to stop seeing patients on April 11, canceling 30 appointments.

Below, read the March 31 letter that UGHD sent to Robinson and Ahluwalia, calling their abortion practices damaging to the hospital’s “reputation.”

Image: Doctor via Shutterstock

The post Dallas Hospital Revokes Privileges, Tells Abortion Providers They Damage Its ‘Reputation’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Thanks to our amazing volunteers who helped make calls last night in support of...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 18:45
Thanks to our amazing volunteers who helped make calls last night in support of expanding health care in Virginia! Proud to stand with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

Discriminating on the Basis of Gender Norms, and the Possible Reach of Hobby Lobby

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 16:19

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

It’ll be months before we have an outcome in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases and know just how far the Roberts Court is willing to go to protect corporate interests at the expense of employee rights. The Court has before it a host of possible outcomes, from a narrow ruling finding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not cover claims made by “corporate persons” to a broad ruling creating sweeping religious exercise “rights” for corporations. But whatever the outcome, the decision is likely to raise more questions than it answers.

Among those big unanswered questions lurking in the shadows of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties is whether or not RFRA could be used to undermine existing protections against discrimination, like those under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the federal law that outlaws discrimination on the basis of a host of factors, including sex. Add to that question the role of state-level RFRAs like the one recently passed in Mississippi, which appears to be an open invitation for businesses to discriminate in the name of religious belief, plus the fact that state and local anti-discrimination laws, when they exist at all, ofter a patchwork of protections, and the legal landscape that emerges is frankly a mess.

Title VII prevents employers from discriminating in their employment practices (such as hiring, firing, and promotions and pay) based on race and color, sex, national origin, and religion. The law includes a broad exemption for religious employers and provides that houses of worship and religiously affiliated organizations like universities and hospitals may discriminate in employment practices on the basis of religion, allowing them to prefer members of their own faith in hiring regardless if the employee’s work is religious in nature or not.

But Title VII does not recognize a religious exemption to its prohibition on sex discrimination. That’s important in the context of the contraception challenges, and as more and more employers voice workplace objections to gender equality as an issue of religious freedom.

During oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked Paul Clement, the attorney for Hobby Lobby, directly what would happen should the Court find for his client—could a religious objection be raised to anti-sex-discrimination laws, for example? Wouldn’t religious objections to other workplace protections “come out of the woodwork,” Kagan asked? After all, what incentive would an employer have for following any anti-discrimination measure if the Supreme Court rules the RFRA can be used as a defense? Clement dodged the question. He brushed off Justice Kagan’s concerns and what he called “the government’s parade of horribles,” referencing possible legal challenges to other anti-discrimination measures. But at the end of the exchange, he finally conceded that while hypothetically someone could raise such an objection, we had to trust the courts that they would not support them. “Just because free exercise claims are being brought doesn’t mean that the courts can’t separate the sheep from the goats,” said Clement. ­­

That’s not exactly comforting—and it wasn’t designed to be. Conservatives understand full well the possibility that a broad decision in Hobby Lobby could open the door for further attacks on Title VII in addition to any pushing back advancing workplace equality measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

As it stands, Title VII’s protections against sex discrimination include claims based on sex stereotyping and sexual harassment, including same-sex sexual harassment. But claims based on gender identity and sexual orientation have come out mixed, which means the law here is in flux and vulnerable. Just last month, a federal district court ruled that Peter TerVeer’s lawsuit against his former employer, the Library of Congress, could move forward. TerVeer argued that once his boss found out he’s gay, the boss subjected TerVeer to a “hostile environment in which he imposed his religion and sexual stereotypes” on TerVeer. When TerVeer complained about the hostile environment to supervisors, he claimed he was subjected to a “campaign of retaliation.” TerVeer sued the government, arguing that he was discriminated against because he’s gay, in violation of Title VII. The government tried to dismiss TerVeer’s claims, arguing that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination claims did not protect against being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. But U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied the government’s request; which she didn’t rule on the merits of TerVeer’s claims, she allowed them to move forward.

Despite the fact that the government moved to dismiss TerVeer’s claims, it is important to note that Chai Feldblum, commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and key advocate behind advancing workplace protections for the LGBT community, has made the case that marriage equality helps pave the way for workplace protections under existing laws like Title VII. Feldblum argues:

[A]ssume a male employee is fired because he marries another man. The reason for that employee’s firing makes reference to the sex of the people involved, and the antipathy to marriage by a same-sex couple is deeply embedded in a history of gender roles and sex stereotypes. From my perspective, that is a simple case of sex discrimination.

In other words, like the administration’s position on marriage equality, its position on workplace protections for the LGBT community appears to be evolving.

If that’s the case, and if we have arrived at the moment where federal courts recognize Title VII claims on the basis of sexual orientation, that means employers can’t justify workplace discrimination on the basis of their religious objections to homosexuality and nonconforming gender identities. That is, unless the Roberts Court recognizes broad religious corporate rights under the RFRA in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases. Then all bets are off.

Image: DerekTGreen/flickr

The post Discriminating on the Basis of Gender Norms, and the Possible Reach of Hobby Lobby appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Arizona Governor Signs Bill Authorizing Warrantless Surprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:52

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Tuesday that would allow state Department of Health Services officials to conduct warrantless surprise inspections on any of the nine clinics that provide abortion services in the state. Under the new law, officials will be allowed to inspect any clinic during business hours, even if there is no reasonable cause to believe the clinic is violating regulations. 

HB 2284, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria), repeals a section of Arizona law that requires a judge to approve any spot inspections of abortion clinics. The law did not apply to inspections of any other medical facilities. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Arizona joins ten other states that allow the warrantless surprise inspection of abortion clinics.

In the state house, the bill was approved with a 34-22 vote. The senate approved the legislation on a 17-13 vote along party lines, with supporters citing everything from protecting women’s health to religious opposition to abortion. The legislation could go into effect as early as next week. 

The legislation was backed by the conservative think tank the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), which “promotes and defends the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty.” Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told The Arizona Republic that the Center for Arizona Policy has a history of promoting unconstitutional legislation that costs Arizona taxpayers money for the state to defend. “These are laws that were one after another an effort by CAP to impose their own religious and moral views on the women of Arizona,” said Soler.

A 1999 law passed in Arizona also approved the warrantless inspections of abortion clinics in the state, but this law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. The judges ruled that the statute’s authorization of “warrantless, unbounded inspections of their offices“ violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

If challenged, this would be among a series of cases in which anti-choice bills passed by the Arizona legislature have been challenged in the courts. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked regulations on medication abortion, and another lawsuit has also been filed challenging those regulations. The Supreme Court refused to hear Arizona’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, which lower courts struck down previously.

In a statement, the governor’s spokesperson, Andrew Wilder, said that the legislation will “ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients.”

Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement that while Planned Parenthood supports laws that protect patient safety, this law “does nothing but open the door to provider and patient harassment. This is yet another law that is in search of a problem rather than a positive solution.”

Image: Signature via Shutterstock

The post Arizona Governor Signs Bill Authorizing Warrantless Surprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Must-read from The New York Times: Tennessee could become the first state to put...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:45
Must-read from The New York Times: Tennessee could become the first state to put pregnant women in jail instead of helping them get the treatment they need to overcome substance abuse. The governor still has time to veto this bill.

Criminalizing Expectant Mothers
A bill awaiting the governor’s signature in Tennessee could make pregnant women who use illegal drugs too scared to seek medical care.

Phyllis Schlafly: Still Wrong (and Mean) After All These Years

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:41

“The best way to improve economic prospects for women is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap.”

The above quote is from a recent column by Phyllis Schlafly, arguably the nation’s, if not the world’s, most famous hater of the feminist movement. I had not seen mention of her in the media for some time, and this column has caused me to reflect both on her long career and her relevance. Her column also sparked thoughts about the larger problem that U.S. conservatism has had in finding credible spokeswomen.

I confess to some grudging admiration for Schlafly, given that at nearly 90 she is still active politically—but that is the only thing about her I can admire. Ever since the 1970s, Schlafly has devoted her considerable energies to vilifying the women’s movement and those who identify with it. Here are some of her positions on various items of the feminist policy agenda:

On marital rape:By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.”

On sexual harassment:Non-criminal sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for the virtuous woman except in the rarest of cases.”

On domestic violence: “When marriages are broken by false allegations of domestic violence, U.S. taxpayers fork up an estimated $20 billion a year to support the resulting single-parent, welfare-dependent families.”

To be sure, Schlafly is hardly unique as an opponent of feminist policy initiatives. What is particularly off-putting, however, in both her writing and her personal appearances, is the vitriol with which she attacks her enemies. Schlafly, with her frequent cattiness, may in fact be the original “mean girl.” When I saw her address a conservative student organization at UC Berkeley a few years ago, she took pains to tell the audience that after feminists pressured the airlines to modify appearance guidelines for female flight attendants, “they all looked fat.” As a press account of her speech two years ago to an all-male group at the Citadel, a military college, reported, “She told the all-male group that ‘feminist is a bad word and everything they stand for is bad.’”

“Find out if your girlfriend is a feminist before you get too far into it,” she said. “Some of them are pretty. They don’t all look like Bella Abzug.” At the same event she said, “Feminists are having a hard time being elected because they essentially are unlikable.”

Though Schlafly’s influence has peaked, as has, apparently, her political savvy—what portion of contemporary Citadel cadets know who the late Bella Abzug was?—at one time, she did wield significant political power. Her most successful political venture was the Stop the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, which she led throughout the 1970s, when the measure was close to ratification by the requisite number of states. She also in the early ‘70s established the Eagle Forum, a national “pro-family” organization with numerous state chapters. In addition to the issues mentioned above, the organization has over the years taken strong stands against abortion, gay rights (despite having a gay son), and attempts at gender equality in public schools.

But, as her statement calling for a widening gender gap in wages suggests, not only has Schlafly’s moment passed as a credible leader—she and other younger conservative women leaders, trapped as they are by the Republican Party’s free-market ideology, simply are unable to address the economic realities facing women today. When Schlafly emerged as a political activist in the ’70s, there still existed the possibility for many American families to function on one man’s salary. Furthermore, a key message of the emergent women’s movement of that period—which urged women to pursue careers—was met defensively by those who were “just housewives,” to use a phrase of that period. So Schlafly’s messages, which glorify women who stay home, raise children, and support their husbands’ endeavors, deeply resonated with many.

But, to put it mildly, the world of 2014 is very different, in both economic terms and cultural ones, from that of the 1970s. The stagnation in wages for most American workers means that most families need two paychecks, where once one would have sufficed. And, of course, there has been a continual rise in single-parent households, the vast majority of which are headed by women. There now exist many more households, compared to the 1970s, of same-sex couples, many of which are composed of two women—not to mention single women, without children, who also could hardly be expected to endorse the idea of a widening gap between male and female pay.

But the most visible women in the contemporary Republican Party are as helpless as Schlafly in acknowledging these realities. Both Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House, and “rising star” Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee have opposed raises in the minimum wage—though, much to observers’ amusement, the latter inadvertently made the case for a raise, failing to realize that her teenage years’ wage of $2.15 an hour, which she idealized in a speech opposing such a measure, in today’s dollars would be worth somewhere between $12.72 and $14.18.

In the lived reality of American women, reproductive issues and economic ones are deeply entwined. Women need access to reproductive services, among other reasons, to be able to participate in the paid labor force. And women, like their male counterparts, need jobs that pay a living wage. Phyllis Schlafly and the conservative spokeswomen who have followed her are woefully out of touch on both counts. Let’s hope that those who disagree with them show up for the midterm elections, as they did in 2012.

Image: WikiMedia Commons

The post Phyllis Schlafly: Still Wrong (and Mean) After All These Years appeared first on RH Reality Check.

When Hospitals Put Patients Last

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:45
When Hospitals Put Patients Last A Dallas hospital has chosen to discriminate against two good doctors rather than protect women’s health.

04.17.14 - A Dallas hospital has chosen to discriminate against two good doctors rather than protect women’s health.

Two weeks ago, the hospital revoked the doctors’ admitting privileges, specifically because—and they said as much—they provide abortion services.

That’s illegal, and we are fighting against the hospital’s decision in court.

Here’s what the hospital told them:

“[Your] practice of performing [abortions] is disruptive….[and] creates significant exposure and damages to [our] reputation within the community.”

It’s insane for a hospital to deny women care because it believes performing abortions “damages” its reputation. This lawsuit will remind the hospital—and the Texas government—that it must put women’s health first.

Right now, Texas law requires doctors providing abortion to have admitting privileges at a local hospital—a requirement with far-reaching and dangerous consequences.

As we’re seeing in Dallas, hospitals can discriminate against providers. And if enough providers are denied privileges, clinics will close. Women seeking essential reproductive health care will have nowhere to turn.

This is no hypothetical “worst-case scenario.” Patients in McAllen, TX, for example, must drive 300 miles roundtrip just to see a doctor since their only local clinic has been forced to close.

We’ve already filed a lawsuit on behalf of the McAllen clinic, and we’re in the appeal stages of yet another legal battle over Texas’s admitting privileges requirement. Now we’re putting everything we’ve got to winning all three of these crucial court battles.

Texas Health Care Providers in Court to Protect Abortion Access in Texas Court Decision Protects Abortion Access for Most Women in Texas, But Upholds Restrictions on Medication Abortion Fifth Circuit Ruling Deepens Health Crisis Facing Texas Women by Continuing to Deny Texas Women Safe, Legal Abortion Services Health Care Providers Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Texas Law that Blocks Abortion Access Texas Continues to Fight Back: Center for Reproductive Rights To File Second Lawsuit Against HB2’s Devastating Abortion Restrictions

What the Contraceptive Coverage Challenge Means for STD Prevention

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:25

Read more of our coverage on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases here.

Cross-posted with permission from the National Coalition of STD Directors.

On March 25, the Supreme Court heard two cases brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two privately held, for-profit corporations. The corporations and their owners claim that their religious rights are violated by the preventive services requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—namely that new plans must cover, without cost-sharing, FDA-approved contraceptive services and supplies as prescribed. Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, HIV, and sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening and counseling are also required preventive services under the ACA, although they are not the main focus of the corporate objections.

You may recall that the Obama Administration has already provided an exemption to nonprofit “religious employers,” such as religious hospitals or universities, and for those organizations, payments for objectionable services and procedures (namely birth control, including emergency contraception), are issued through the insurance-issuer or the administrator. This accommodation means that covered employees (and their insured dependents) can still access contraceptive coverage at no cost, regardless of the religious belief of their employer. Because the insurer, not the employer, is providing contraceptive services, the employer does not have to pay for services that they deem objectionable or immoral along religious grounds.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties argue that corporations have religious rights (not unlike political speech rights protected under the First Amendment, as ruled by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) and that the individuals that own these closely-held corporations also have religious rights that are burdened by the contraceptive coverage requirement.

The controversy and media attention around this case undoubtedly, and understandably, focuses on contraception. However, there are several important implications for STD prevention as well.

First, because female condoms are an FDA approved barrier method, they can be covered by an insurance provider at no-cost to the patient if the patient has a prescription. If a woman decides that female condoms are her contraceptive method of choice—a wise one, since they also protect against HIV and STDs—she will have to pay about $4 per condom per sexual encounter, over the approximately 40 years of a woman’s reproductive life. If a woman is denied coverage, she may not be able to choose a contraceptive method that she can control that also protects her from STDs and HIV. Male condoms are also an approved FDA barrier method.

Second, allowing an employer to impose their religious beliefs on employees leaves the entire spectrum of sexual health care vulnerable. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted, what if an employer believes that vaccination is against their religion? Vaccines have long been a cornerstone of public health, and they are among the most cost-effective preventive services available. Because HPV can lead to cervical cancer, HPV vaccine has joined the long list of immunizations that can save lives—however, not enough children are being vaccinated. In 2012, only about a third of girls ages 13-to-15 and less than 7 percent of boys had received the shots. A recent piece in the New York Times highlighted the expansion of HPV vaccination in North and South America; more than 170 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given worldwide, and young women in Australia and Denmark, which introduced the vaccines early, have had sharp declines in precancerous lesions. HPV vaccination is critical to reducing the burden of HPV and the poor health outcomes associated with HPV, such as external genital warts, and it is critical that we protect vaccine coverage as part of preventive services.

The slippery slope concerns on this case go beyond vaccination. What if a business owner believes that HIV and AIDS are a punishment and refuses to cover HIV screening and treatment for employees and their insured dependents? And, one could reason that corporations could decline to provide spouse and partner benefits in states that recognize same-sex marriage, which would be discriminatory against LGBT individuals, a population already disproportionally affected by STDs and HIV.

This issue has ignited the reproductive and justice communities. Demonstrators rallied around the message “Not My Boss’s Business,” and while the crowd at the Supreme Court last month was decidedly pro-women and pro-choice, it is important to note that STD prevention is a critical piece of reproductive health and justice. When an individual makes a decision to be pro-active about their health care—by going on birth control, by using female condoms, by receiving the HPV vaccine—we should celebrate a victory for public health. The families that own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want to make sure that their religious beliefs come before the health of their employees.

As with many social issues, the Supreme Court is divided and Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the deciding vote in this case, which will be announced later this year. In the meantime, get tested, get vaccinated, and get to know your health benefits!

For more information on the case, I recommend the article, “Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.,” and also this Washington, D.C. briefing on the contraception coverage challenge sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Image: Condom via Shutterstock

The post What the Contraceptive Coverage Challenge Means for STD Prevention appeared first on RH Reality Check.

"[In El Paso], there’s one clinic to service approximately one million people."...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:30
"[In El Paso], there’s one clinic to service approximately one million people." - The Texas Deputy Attorney General's justification for ending abortion care at yet another Texas clinic.

Legal Abortion Care Ends at Another Texas Clinic After Hospital Revokes Privileges Without Notice
A clinic in El Paso was forced to stop providing legal abortion care, and found no relief in a federal court on Wednesday when it asked for a restraining order against Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law.

Why Both Republicans and Democrats Are Wrong About the ‘War on Women’

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:02

Many Republicans insist that there is no “war on women.”

When asked recently about the subject, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “Well, you know, I think we have a lot of debates in Washington that get dumbed down and are used for political purposes. This whole sort of ‘war on women’ thing, I’m scratching my head because if there was a ‘war on women,’ I think they won. You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful.”

Republicans routinely cite the anecdotal success of the women they know as evidence that gender inequality is a relic of the past. The GOP has also tried to spin the “war on women” as a rhetorical political device that hypocritical Democrats are using to trick women into voting for democratic candidates. On this, Republicans are wrong.

What’s more, many Democrats insist that the “war on women” begins and ends with the massive wave of Republican sponsored anti-choice legislation sweeping the nation since 2010. Predictably, at the start of the 2014 legislative session, Republicans introduced more than 300 pieces of legislation to restrict access to legal abortion procedures. State after state is proposing and passing abortion restrictions, some of which clearly violate the Supreme Court precedent set in Roe v. Wade 41 years ago, but that also make certain forms of birth control illegal.

When women are unable to control their reproduction (when to have children and under what circumstances), they are left as passive bystanders in their own lives. The risk of pregnancy is forever present, despite the fact that Roe is supposed to allow women the freedom to make their own choices about a private matter such as their health.

These legislative assaults on women’s rights at the state level since 2010 have stripped away much of the feminist progress of the past generation. Yes, we may just be on the cusp of the return of the “back alley” abortion. Texas, West Virginia, and Alabama are just a couple of the states attempting to codify abortion restrictions that clearly violate the precedent in Roe v. Wade. Many of the new restrictions, most notably TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws, unfairly burden low-income women who already have limited resources and access to necessary care and abortion services.

But Democrats are also wrong about the “war on women.” The war on women is not only about access to reproductive health care, it’s a multifaceted and structural perpetuation of second-class status for women in all aspects of American life. Reproductive justice is intertwined with economic justice.

Physical safety and bodily autonomy are an essential part of any human’s quest for self-determination. Women who are not safe to walk the streets because of persistent catcalling and sexual harassment are not really free citizens. Rape culture is real, and a culture that blames victims, empathizes with perpetrators while failing to hold them accountable, and forces many women into shame and silence may not be considered engaged in a “war on women,” but it certainly is an assault on their right to move about the world with their dignity intact.

More broadly, the “war on women” also includes the fight for minimum wage. Since the majority of low-wage work is performed by women (and, more specifically, women of color), increasing the minimum wage will not only help these women and their families, it will improve the economy overall.

The “war on women” also includes the ongoing fight for pay equity. While the GOP decries women for being poor negotiators, the gender pay gap remains unchanged for nearly a decade as women in all facets of life move up into leadership positions. That women on average make 77 cents for every dollar a white man earns is a stubborn statistic that is no match for the social and structural factors that have even those women doing the same job as a man earning less.

Immigration reform is rarely an issue put under the umbrella of the “war on women,” largely because there is little intersectional analysis by the mainstream media. Rarely is there a mainstream news segment about the impact of mass deportations, beyond the statistics. The media fails to go into depth regarding the details and Americans are left without the facts and not feeling the necessary urgency to get a humane immigration reform package through Congress immediately.

To listen to conservatives tell the story about the “war on women,” there is no assault on women’s bodily autonomy that deems it unsafe to walk in the street and attend a college or university. To listen to conservatives tell the story about the “war on women,” there are no threats of gender-based violence that leave nearly a quarter of American women traumatized by sexual violence. To listen to conservatives tell the story about the “war on women,” there is no gender pay gap that leaves women with $400,000 less in lifetime earnings. To listen to conservatives tell the story about the “war on women” is to pretend it doesn’t exist at all.

To listen to Democrats, though, is to limit the fight for gender equity to the issue of abortion, which, while important, is part of a larger fight for justice on all fronts.

There may not be a “war on women” in the traditional sense. There is, however, an all-out and persistent assault on women’s bodies, choices, equality, freedom, and rights.

Image: Gender equality via Shutterstock

The post Why Both Republicans and Democrats Are Wrong About the ‘War on Women’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Tennessee’s Pregnancy Criminalization Law Will Hit Black Women the Hardest

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 12:13

Read more of our coverage on the Tennessee Pregnancy Criminalization Law here.

In Tennessee, pregnant Black women have much to fear as a bill that would subject them to disproportionately higher rates of incarceration and detention sits on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, awaiting his signature.

The bill, SB 1391, would impose criminal penalties on mothers of newborns who have been exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs in utero. While the bill appears race-neutral, prosecutors and judges will wield the law against Black women more so than white women, based on a long tradition of deeply embedded racial stereotypes about Black motherhood. Should Gov. Haslam ignore the growing outcry against SB 1391 from pro-choice and anti-choice advocates alike, the law would likely lead to Black women being thrown in jail for up to 15 years for aggravated assault should they choose to carry a pregnancy to term while struggling with an addiction to illegal narcotics.

SB 1391 is an attempt by the Tennessee legislature to reduce the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of problems that occur in newborns who are exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs in utero. Current law in Tennessee prevents pregnant women from being prosecuted for a newborn child’s addiction or birth defect resulting from drug use during pregnancy. Indeed, just last year, Gov. Haslam signed into law the Safe Harbor Act, a law meant to help drug-addicted pregnant women get treatment and prenatal care so they can beat their addictions, give birth to healthy newborns, and retain their parental rights. SB 1391 would change that by criminalizing women who suffer from drug addiction. And given the stereotypes that pervade about Black motherhood, that change will hurt Black women the most.

Stereotypes about Black women—that they are promiscuous, that they procreate irresponsibly, that they are unfit for motherhood—are perpetuated by a media that routinely presents disparaging images and narratives about Black motherhood while rarely, if ever, presenting positive views. They are rooted in a historical assault on Black women that began during slavery and continues today, and they contribute to what Professor Dorothy E. Roberts calls in her seminal book, Killing the Black Body, “the degradation of Black motherhood.” This degradation leads to social policies that punish Black women for their reproductive choices while simultaneously eschewing any responsibility for societal forces that create the hostile birthing environment that far too many Black women find themselves in.

The media’s obsession with so-called crack babies is a perfect example. In the 1980s, the media was saturated with tales of “crack babies,” babies born to Black women who were defective from birth and, according to widespread media reports, destined to fail as soon as they exited the birth canal. At the time, an explosion of medical research into crack-exposed newborns suggested that these babies would suffer long-term medical, developmental, and behavioral problems, problems that could never be fixed and that stemmed exclusively from the poor choices that pregnant Black women made. Media reports portrayed pregnant Black women as entirely lacking in any maternal instinct—drug-addled women whose concern was primarily for their next fix, and not for their children.

Notably, the concern during the “crack baby” hysteria was not for the mothers who were addicted to drugs and in need of help so that they could beat their addictions, carry their pregnancies to term, and give birth to healthy babies, but rather on the ways in which the so-called crack babies themselves were a drain on society and taxpayer dollars. Rather than eliciting sympathy, the ways in which, for example, children born with Down syndrome or other genetic anomalies do, “crack babies” were viewed with disdain.

It wasn’t until 30 years later that the “crack baby” myth was debunked. It turns out that poverty, more so than drug use, is a key factor in determining how well so-called crack babies succeed later in life, according to a long-term study on the affects of in utero cocaine exposure on children. Of course by the time these sorts of long-term studies were completed, the stereotypes that had proliferated during the 1980s and ’90s were implacable and the incarceration of drug-addicted pregnant women had become the only solution to a problem that society viewed as endemic in the Black community.

In South Carolina, for example, under a state-sanctioned mandatory drug-testing program, prosecutors arrested and charged drug-addicted Black women for child abuse and neglect at a rate that was far higher than that of white women; 41 of the 42 women arrested under South Carolina’s program were Black. In Florida, a study suggested that Black women were ten times more likely than white women to be reported to authorities, even though the rate of substance abuse between the two groups is about the same. And according to a study conducted in 2001, of the 200 pregnant women or mothers who were arrested and charged with crimes related to illegal drug use during pregnancy, 80 percent were Black or Latina. This is so even though a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that most women who use illegal drugs while pregnant are white.

Why the disconnect? Chalk it up to pernicious stereotypes about Black motherhood, which take root in the American consciousness and lead to prosecutors and judges tasked with upholding laws like SB 1391 to apply the laws in discriminatory ways.

Certainly SB 1391 does not target Black women specifically, just as none of the laws that were enacted in states across the country in the wake of the “crack baby” media hysteria did. However, history tells us that laws that do not specifically target people of color nevertheless tend to disparately affect people of color.

This sort of disparate impact is to be expected should Gov. Haslam sign SB 1391 into law. In an interview with Lauren Rankin for Cosmopolitan, Farah Diaz-Tello, a staff attorney at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, makes the point: “I can almost guarantee that this [law] will be used disproportionately against African-American women because, even though we know that fewer African-American women than white women use drugs, they are more likely to be blamed for the outcomes of their pregnancies.”

Image: Woman arrested via Shutterstock

The post Tennessee’s Pregnancy Criminalization Law Will Hit Black Women the Hardest appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Huge news: North Dakota's 6-week abortion ban was struck down!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 11:14
Huge news: North Dakota's 6-week abortion ban was struck down!

North Dakota abortion ban ruled unconstitutional
A federal judge has struck down North Dakota's strict abortion ban, one of the nation's harshest.


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