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Reproductive Rights News

Blue State Not Immune to 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals

RH Reality Check - 6 hours 1 min ago

An Oregon lawmaker this month introduced a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, adding the Democratic-controlled legislature to the list of states across the country introducing similar bans this year.

The bill, HB 2388, would allow physicians to perform abortions past 20 weeks post-fertilization only if there is a medical emergency.

Under the proposed law, physicians must report the details of any abortion performed, before or after 20 weeks post-fertilization—including the post-fertilization age of the fetus, the method used to terminate the pregnancy, and whether the abortion “provided the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive”—to the Oregon Health Authority.

The Oregon legislature has seen at least two iterations of HB 2388 in earlier years, both of which failed. Democrats have a 16-14 edge in the Oregon Senate, along with a 34-26 advantage in the house.

Oregon in 2014 received an A grade for choice-related issues from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Another anti-choice bill was introduced in the state senate this month. That bill, SB 108, would ban so-called sex-selective abortions—pregnancy terminations done because of the sex of the fetus—during the third trimester.

Though evidence does not exist as to the prevalence of sex-selective abortions, anti-choice advocates have pushed such legislation in recent years, building off racist stereotypes that some communities of color prefer male children.

Sex-selective abortion bans have this year been proposed in Iowa and Indiana, as well as in Congress.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Blue State Not Immune to 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Justice Undone

Center for Reproductive Rights - 7 hours 8 min ago
Justice Undone Under El Salvador’s extreme abortion ban, 17 women have been wrongfully criminalized and imprisoned. Take action to free them.

01.29.15 - With one of the world’s most extreme abortion bans, El Salvador prohibits women from receiving an abortion under any circumstance—not in cases of rape or incest, not even to save their lives. Since 1998, dozens of women have been wrongfully criminalized and imprisoned under this law—even when the pregnancy ended due to natural causes.

They come from small coastal villages, rural farms, and crowded cities. They are teenagers, wives, and mothers. They are seamstresses, maids, and factory workers.

Collectively, they have unjustly served over 130 years in prison.

They are Las 17—17 women who are currently held in prison cells across El Salvador. Their stories are varied, but with one overwhelming common thread: they have each been tried and imprisoned after experiencing traumatic pregnancy-related complications. Many have been convicted of murder and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

The following are just a few of their stories.

*****

Twenty-nine-year-old Teresa worked in a sweatshop in San Salvador and lived in a working-class neighborhood with her 8-year-old child.

In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, she went into early labor, giving birth in a toilet. The baby did not survive. Following this trauma, Teresa experienced heavy bleeding and eventually fainted. Her family summoned emergency services. At the hospital, she was reported to the police on suspicion of having induced an abortion.

Despite inconsistencies and lack of proof that Teresa performed an intentional act leading to the miscarriage, she was convicted of murder and condemned to 40 years in prison.

She’s been in prison for over two years. Teresa’s elderly grandmother is currently caring for her young child. 

*****

Mirian had learning difficulties in school and is illiterate. At age 25, living in the isolated town of Morazan, Mirian became pregnant and then experienced a miscarriage.

Although the autopsy was unable to determine the cause of the miscarriage, authorities accused Mirian of inducing an abortion.

She could not afford to pay a lawyer, and her public defender provided an inadequate legal defense. Charged with murder, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where she has remained for the last 13 years.

*****

When 21-year-old Alba found out she was pregnant with her third child, she and her mother together strategized ways to sustain Alba’s growing family. When her mom passed away a short while later, Alba was left alone to take care of her two children and her sister, who was ill.

One day, Alba went into early and intense labor at home and fainted while giving birth. When she came to, she sought help from a neighbor, who said that the baby breathed for a half hour but later stopped breathing. They held a vigil and prayed in a nearby house. The following morning, before burying the baby, they called the authorities to report the death.

While no proof exists that she did anything to cause the death of the baby, Alba was sentenced to 30 years in prison. So far, she has served more than four months, leaving no one to care for her two children and her sister.

*****

After 11 years in jail, Verónica is not yet halfway through her 30-year sentence. 

At age 19, while employed as a domestic worker, Verónica became pregnant. Shortly before reaching full term in her pregnancy, she experienced an obstetric emergency that resulted in a miscarriage.

Her employers took her to the Chalchuapa Hospital, where she was reported to the police. Without witnesses or any direct proof, Verónica was swiftly convicted of murder. Even the judgment acknowledges the lack of evidence and states, “the motives the subject had for committing [murder] are unknown although it can be deduced that her motivation was to avoid social reproach.”

*****

Even when a social worker described Mirna’s home as “stable, with support, respect, and responsibility,” the judges at her trial refused to believe either Mirna or her husband—when they said they were looking forward to having another child.

Thirty-six weeks into her pregnancy, Mirna went into sudden labor and gave birth in the toilet at her home. Her family quickly rushed her to the hospital. The baby had been hurt falling into the toilet, but fortunately survived.

Although the attending gynecologist confirmed that the baby’s injury was not due to attempted abortion, Mirna was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months in prison for attempted homicide.

She has served 11 years in prison, and was released after having fulfilled most of her sentence.

*****

Cinthia remembers that it was about 11:30 at night when the pain began. Eight months pregnant and only 17 years old, she was home alone. Realizing she was experiencing a rapid, early labor, she went out to the patio to give birth. The baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. She tried to cut it away with scissors, hurting the baby in her desperate effort to save its life.

Cinthia’s baby died, and she was charged with murder, despite the fact that no evidence was presented proving that she was the direct cause of the baby’s death or that the baby’s death was intentional.

She is six years into her 30-year sentence.

*****

There are almost a dozen more—Maritza, Salvadora, Ena, Guadalupe, Marina, Evelyn, Carmen, Mariana, Teodora, Johana, Maria—all with similarly haunting stories, similarly broken lives. Las 17 are the victims of a system so harsh it threatens the human rights of thousands of other women who live in fear of its reach.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and our partners La Agrupacion Ciudadana continue a relentless campaign to expose the severe violations of women rights as a consequence of El Salvador’s abortion ban—on the ground in El Salvador, in front of UN human rights bodies, before the Inter-American Court, and now to the U.S. State Department.

Take action today to pressure the Salvadoran government to release Las 17 in time to go home to their families for the holidays.With one of the world’s most extreme abortion bans, El Salvador prohibits women from receiving an abortion under any circumstance—not in cases of rape or incest, not even to save their lives. Since 1998, dozens of women have been wrongfully criminalized and imprisoned under this law—even when the pregnancy ended due to natural causes.

They come from small coastal villages, rural farms, and crowded cities. They are teenagers, wives, and mothers. They are seamstresses, maids, and factory workers.

Collectively, they have unjustly served over 130 years in prison.

They are Las 17—17 women who are currently held in prison cells across El Salvador. Their stories are varied, but with one overwhelming common thread: they have each been tried and imprisoned after experiencing traumatic pregnancy-related complications. Many have been convicted of murder and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

The following are just a few of their stories.

*****

Twenty-nine-year-old Teresa worked in a sweatshop in San Salvador and lived in a working-class neighborhood with her 8-year-old child.

In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, she went into early labor, giving birth in a toilet. The baby did not survive. Following this trauma, Teresa experienced heavy bleeding and eventually fainted. Her family summoned emergency services. At the hospital, she was reported to the police on suspicion of having induced an abortion.

Despite inconsistencies and lack of proof that Teresa performed an intentional act leading to the miscarriage, she was convicted of murder and condemned to 40 years in prison.

She’s been in prison for over two years. Teresa’s elderly grandmother is currently caring for her young child. 

*****

Mirian had learning difficulties in school and is illiterate. At age 25, living in the isolated town of Morazan, Mirian became pregnant and then experienced a miscarriage.

Although the autopsy was unable to determine the cause of the miscarriage, authorities accused Mirian of inducing an abortion.

She could not afford to pay a lawyer, and her public defender provided an inadequate legal defense. Charged with murder, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where she has remained for the last 13 years.

*****

When 21-year-old Alba found out she was pregnant with her third child, she and her mother together strategized ways to sustain Alba’s growing family. When her mom passed away a short while later, Alba was left alone to take care of her two children and her sister, who was ill.

One day, Alba went into early and intense labor at home and fainted while giving birth. When she came to, she sought help from a neighbor, who said that the baby breathed for a half hour but later stopped breathing. They held a vigil and prayed in a nearby house. The following morning, before burying the baby, they called the authorities to report the death.

While no proof exists that she did anything to cause the death of the baby, Alba was sentenced to 30 years in prison. So far, she has served more than four months, leaving no one to care for her two children and her sister.

*****

After 11 years in jail, Verónica is not yet halfway through her 30-year sentence. 

At age 19, while employed as a domestic worker, Verónica became pregnant. Shortly before reaching full term in her pregnancy, she experienced an obstetric emergency that resulted in a miscarriage.

Her employers took her to the Chalchuapa Hospital, where she was reported to the police. Without witnesses or any direct proof, Verónica was swiftly convicted of murder. Even the judgment acknowledges the lack of evidence and states, “the motives the subject had for committing [murder] are unknown although it can be deduced that her motivation was to avoid social reproach.”

*****

Even when a social worker described Mirna’s home as “stable, with support, respect, and responsibility,” the judges at her trial refused to believe either Mirna or her husband—when they said they were looking forward to having another child.

Thirty-six weeks into her pregnancy, Mirna went into sudden labor and gave birth in the toilet at her home. Her family quickly rushed her to the hospital. The baby had been hurt falling into the toilet, but fortunately survived.

Although the attending gynecologist confirmed that the baby’s injury was not due to attempted abortion, Mirna was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months in prison for attempted homicide.

She has served 11 years in prison, and was released after having fulfilled most of her sentence.

*****

Cinthia remembers that it was about 11:30 at night when the pain began. Eight months pregnant and only 17 years old, she was home alone. Realizing she was experiencing a rapid, early labor, she went out to the patio to give birth. The baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. She tried to cut it away with scissors, hurting the baby in her desperate effort to save its life.

Cinthia’s baby died, and she was charged with murder, despite the fact that no evidence was presented proving that she was the direct cause of the baby’s death or that the baby’s death was intentional.

She is six years into her 30-year sentence.

*****

There are almost a dozen more—Maritza, Salvadora, Ena, Guadalupe, Marina, Evelyn, Carmen, Mariana, Teodora, Johana, Maria—all with similarly haunting stories, similarly broken lives. Las 17 are the victims of a system so harsh it threatens the human rights of thousands of other women who live in fear of its reach.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and our partners La Agrupacion Ciudadana continue a relentless campaign to expose the severe violations of women rights as a consequence of El Salvador’s abortion ban—on the ground in El Salvador, in front of UN human rights bodies, before the Inter-American Court, and now to the U.S. State Department.

Take action today to pressure the Salvadoran government to release Las 17.

The Republican Stronghold of the Senate Judiciary Committee

RH Reality Check - 8 hours 8 min ago

A proponent of discriminatory voter ID requirements leading a subcommittee on the Constitution, a man who lost a federal judicial nomination for being “racially insensitive” leading a subcommittee on immigration, and a champion of “states’ rights” leading a subcommittee of federal interests: Welcome to your Senate Judiciary Committee under Republican leadership and the front line in the conservative campaign to undo as much as possible the gains of the civil rights movement.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who now chairs the Judiciary Committee, announced the assignments this month.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) now heads the subcommittee on the Constitution. This used to be the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, but Cornyn’s first order of business was to cut “Civil Rights” and “Human Rights” from the subcommittee’s title, because who needs those, amirite? As subcommittee head, Cornyn announced his job was to be a “watchdog against unconstitutional overreach” and promised to “hold the Obama administration accountable for its actions.”

What kind of unconstitutional overreach has the Obama administration engaged in, according to Sen. Cornyn?

It was defending the voting rights of marginalized groups in Texas, rather than allowing states like Texas to run their elections in whatever discriminatory manner they choose to; it is unclear how Cornyn plans to hold the administration “accountable” for that. Maybe by obstructing bipartisan legislation that would restore federal oversight in local and state elections in those jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination (like in Cornyn’s), in response to the Roberts Court gutting a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013? After all, there would be no better way both to thwart Democrats and help halt the growing tide against voter ID measures than to make sure the current bipartisan efforts to bring back voter protections go nowhere.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) now heads the subcommittee on “Immigration and the National Interest.” This used to be the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security, but apparently Sessions thought his subcommittee needed a Republican rebrand as well. Sessions has the dubious distinction of being the only ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to be rejected as a judicial nominee by the same committee he now sits on. Sessions, who was nominated for a federal judgeship during the Reagan administration, had his nomination rejected because he has a history of doing things like calling a white lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases and confiding in a colleague that he didn’t think the Klan was all that bad until he found out some of them smoked pot.

So yeah, that guy is helping take the lead for Senate Republicans and steer their immigration policies through committee.

Tea Party favorite and federal government detractor Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) now heads the Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights, and Agency Actions, which is almost too absurd a sentence to finish. Cruz, as you may know, has rallied against the so-called federal tyranny of the Affordable Care Act and supported a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.

I haven’t even mentioned Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). At one point during his Senate campaign, Tillis—an ardent defender of voter ID laws—complained that unlike for Blacks or Latinos, birth rates for “traditional” North Carolinians were not expanding, so the GOP would have to do a much better job with “minority” voter outreach. Um, yeah. Tillis is now on the Judiciary Committee as a freshman senator, because of course he is.

I’ll give the Republicans this: The committee assignments, and their Republican rebrands, show an honesty among Senate Republicans as to the party’s priorities and constituents. One would think the idea of Jeff Sessions heading up a subcommittee directed at refugees, when a central tenant of the GOP platform on immigration is to deport as many people as possible, or the idea of John Cornyn leading a subcommittee charged with advancing civil rights, when he’s among the most strident supporter of racist, discriminatory voter ID laws, would immediately have been chucked out the window. Nope!

As Judiciary Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, the GOP is great for rich white guys.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Under Republican control, the Senate Judiciary Committee represents an old-guard conservative approach to fighting against civil rights at the very time when debates over police brutality and voter discrimination are back in both the national spotlight and the federal courts. “States’ rights” and “the national interest” have always been code among conservatives for reinforcing white supremacist structures—and they always will be. Reminding the public of that truth will be progressives’ task for the next two years.

Image: Shutterstock

The post The Republican Stronghold of the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Ohio Legislators to Consider 20-Week Abortion Ban

RH Reality Check - 8 hours 11 min ago

Ohio anti-choice advocates are pushing to pass a state ban on abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization. The legislation will be introduced in the coming weeks.

“This is our legislative priority,” Michael Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life and vice president of Ohio’s state board of health, told the Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio Right to Life, the anti-choice group that drafted the legislation, wrote in a press statement that the bill is meant to chip away at Roe v. Wade, which protects access to abortion up until the fetus is “viable”—a point typically identified as about 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

The group also said the proposed legislation will be similar to the 20-week ban recently introduced, and then pulled, in Congress, after some two dozen women in the GOP said they would not support the bill due to its narrow exception for rape.

Similar legislation has also been introduced this month in South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Proponents of the 20-week bans, all dubbed the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” say fetuses can start to feel pain at 20 weeks. But that claim is based on discredited scientific research. The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, among others, have disputed the hypothesis that “fetal pain” begins at 20 weeks.

“Ohioans trust women to make the most important decisions about when, where, and how to have families – without political interference,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. “This trust only grows when people find out that women seeking abortion care later in pregnancy often face difficult, complicated situations. This decision should be made in consultation with a doctor who knows her circumstances and not by a politician who doesn’t.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Ohio Legislators to Consider 20-Week Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Amid Measles Outbreak, California School Tells Unvaccinated Students to Stay Home

RH Reality Check - 9 hours 2 min ago

California school districts are taking action in the fight to ensure students are fully vaccinated.

When a student at Palm Desert High School was found to have been exposed to measles, school officials told the student to stay home. Meanwhile, the Desert Sands Unified School District announced this week that 66 classmates who had not been fully vaccinated would be banned from school until the threat had passed.

California is in the midst of the largest measles outbreak in 15 years, with 73 reported cases. Fifty of these cases appear to be linked to Disneyland Parks in Anaheim, according to data released this week by the state’s department of health.

Numerous people who visited the park between December 15 and December 20 have come down with virus. There have also been five cases reported in Arizona, one in Colorado, one in Nebraska, one in Oregon, three in Utah, and two in Washington. A case in Mexico has also been linked to the theme parks.

Though known for its all-over body rash, measles is a respiratory disease that starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. The rash appears about three-to-five days after symptoms begin. Those symptoms are often mistaken for a cold.

About three out of ten people who get measles will develop complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. Ear infections caused by measles can result in permanent hearing loss in children, and pneumonia is the most common cause of death from measles in young children.

About one out of every 1,000 children who contract measles will get encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with mental disabilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

This potentially dangerous disease is also highly contagious. The virus is airborne and can live on surfaces for up to two hours. People who touch those surfaces and then touch their own eyes, nose, or mouth can become infected. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of people who are not immune and are close to a person who has the disease will also become infected.

A vaccine to prevent measles has been available in the United Sates since the 1960s. The CDC recommends that all children receive two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and many states require the vaccine before students can enroll in school, though certain exemptions apply.

Widespread use of the MMR vaccine meant that by 2000 the CDC declared the disease eliminated based on an absence of continuous disease for more than 12 months. This success did not last, however, in large part because of phony research that blamed the measles vaccine for causing autism in children.

British researcher Andrew Wakefield in 1998 published a study in the medical journal The Lancet suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. Over the next decade, study after study failed to replicate this link, but distrust of vaccines grew as celebrities like Jenny McCarthy publicly blamed vaccines for their children’s autism.

Despite repeated assurances from health and medical experts, many parents took this celebrity-driven misinformation to heart and stopped vaccinating their children. The anti-vaccine trend does not seem to have stopped even though Wakefield admitted in 2011 that he fabricated his data.

The anti-vaccination movement is a part of the reason schools like Desert High School have so many students who have not been vaccinated and why administrators have to make tough choices when outbreaks occur. Other schools have made similar decisions. School officials in Huntington Beach asked two dozen students without proof of immunization to stay home for 21 days after a student with measles came to school.

The un-vaccinated are not the only ones who can get sick when exposed to measles, but they are far more likely to become infected and serve as vectors of the disease, causing outbreaks to continue and spread. We should remember that some people cannot be immunized because they are too young—the MMR vaccine is usually not given until somewhere between 12 and 15 months—or have already compromised immune systems.

One father whose son falls into the latter category is asking his California school to take action.

Carl Krawitt’s 6-year-old son, Rhett, is in remission from leukemia, but his immune system is still rebuilding after years of chemotherapy, so he is not eligible for the MMR vaccine. Rhett lives in Marin County, where 6.47 percent of students have received “personal belief exemptions,” allowing them to go to school without having been vaccinated.

This is one of the highest rates of exemptions in the state. Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have asked the superintendent to revoke these exemptions for the sake of their son and only allow un-vaccinated students to attend school if they have medical reason to have not received the MMR vaccine.

As of early this week, school officials have said only that they are monitoring the situation.

What protects people like Rhett and communities as a whole from outbreaks like the one in California is “herd immunity.” When between 90 and 95 percent of people in a given community are immunized against a disease like measles, it generally won’t spread to those who have not been vaccinated.

Lawmakers in California and elsewhere are looking to make the requirements for vaccines stricter so fewer un-vaccinated students attend school. State Sen. Richard Pan (D–Sacramento), who is a pediatrician, authored a bill that requires a health-care practitioner’s signature on the personal belief exemption form confirming that parents have been informed of vaccines and diseases.

The bill passed and took effect on January 1, 2014. Pan says there has been a large drop in these exemptions since. He is now working on legislation that would require districts to disclose a school’s immunization rates when parents enroll their children.

Pan said he is considering legislation similar to what exists in Florida and Texas, states that require a notarized form signed by a health-care provider as well as a letter of explanation as to why a parent is requesting a personal exemption from the vaccine requirement.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Amid Measles Outbreak, California School Tells Unvaccinated Students to Stay Home appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Republicans Grill Loretta Lynch on Immigration in Confirmation Hearing

RH Reality Check - 9 hours 31 min ago

The first day of confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch, who could be the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, included dueling references to the civil rights movement and Selma, Alabama.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said he found it “ironic and painful” that states are making it more difficult to vote with voter ID laws and other restrictions at the same time that America watches the movie Selma and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), on the other hand, used the march to argue against using the term “civil rights” to apply to the struggles of unauthorized immigrants.

“On the 50th anniversary of the Selma march, people were denied, systematically, fundamental rights as citizens of the United States of America,” Sessions said. “But I will just tell you, it’s quite different to demand your lawful rights as an American than to ask for and insist that civil rights apply to those who enter the country unlawfully to have these benefits.”

Sessions also asked Lynch “who has the most rights,” a citizen or a non-citizen, when it comes to work permits, and asked whether her office would institute a kind of affirmative action by reprimanding employers who hire citizens over non-citizens.

There would be no “greater access” for non-citizens, Lynch replied. Yes, citizenship is a “privilege,” not a right, for those not born here. Yes, she would personally prefer that anyone participate in the workforce regardless of status, but that doesn’t mean there is a federal “right to work” for non-citizens.

Lynch and her questioners touched on numerous issues relating to criminal justice: the problems with police-community relations and mandatory minimum sentencing, the human rights implications of solitary confinement, and the need to reform the juvenile justice system.

But persistent Republican outrage over President Obama’s executive action on immigration ruled the day at Lynch’s hearing, as did the legacy of outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder is known for his work on civil rights, including voting rights issues and police abuses, and Lynch is expected to carry on that legacy. But Holder is wildly unpopular with Republicans, and GOP members of the judiciary committee wouldn’t let that be forgotten.

“How do we know you are not going to perform your duties of the office of attorney general the way Eric Holder has performed his duties?” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said.

“I will be myself. I will be Loretta Lynch,” the nominee said, pledging to listen to the committee’s concerns and have an open dialogue with its members, in an implied break from Holder’s more combative style.

Lynch, who was poised and unflappable during the hearing, is the daughter of a Baptist preacher father and a schoolteacher mother who refused to comply with Jim Crow laws that segregated restrooms. Lynch is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Black sorority, and dozens of her sorority sisters dressed in bright crimson came to the hearing to support the attorney general nominee.

Lynch was twice unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, but this confirmation is sure to be more difficult.

In addition to more than one inquiry like Cornyn’s about how Lynch would differ from Holder, Lynch faced endlessly repetitive lines of questioning from Republican legislators about whether she thinks the doctrine of “prosecutorial discretion” applies to the president’s actions to temporarily relieve up to five million immigrants from the threat of deportation.

The Obama administration argues, and Lynch confirmed, that it’s simply not feasible to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants, meaning law enforcement has to prioritize the most violent and criminal offenders to be prosecuted and deported.

The president’s executive action is a way of setting those priorities so immigration enforcers don’t waste their time on peaceful, well-established residents.

Republicans argue that by creating a broad category of people who are protected from prosecution, the president has actually undermined prosecutorial discretion by taking away the choice to prosecute people in that category. The administration counters that immigrants are still being considered on a case-by-case basis because people eligible for deferred deportation have to apply for protection and receive a criminal background check.

Lynch repeatedly said in the hearing that she finds the administration’s legal argument for the actions “reasonable.” When pressed by Sessions on whether the action is legal and constitutional, she said, “As I’ve read the opinion, I do believe it is, senator.”

Asked by Sessions about the president’s “amnesty”—a word used repeatedly by the Republican committee members—Lynch said, “With respect to temporary deferral, I did not read it as providing a legal amnesty, but a temporary deferral.”

Peppered by hypotheticals from Republicans about the theoretical limits of executive authority, including a scenario from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) about pardoning people who violate the speed limit, Lynch didn’t rise to the bait and repeated the need to look for a “legal framework,” or said that she would need to more closely analyze the facts of the case before responding.

One of the more attention-grabbing hypotheticals came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who took issue with Holder having declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

“What’s the legal difference between a ban on same-sex marriage being unconstitutional, but a ban on polygamy being constitutional?” he asked.

Graham and Cornyn both asked about an amicus brief Lynch signed supporting Planned Parenthood in a Supreme Court case about so-called partial birth abortion.

“We were not focused on the actual issue involving the procedure itself,” Lynch said of herself and the other prosecutors who signed the brief. “In fact, it was our concern that as lawyers we did not have medical information … and could be dealing with a situation where a doctor may say something different from what the law might require us to do.”

Lynch’s supporters praised her and scoffed at the Republican lines of questioning as distracting from her capability as a nominee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called Lynch a “prosecutor’s prosecutor” with “qualifications beyond reproach.”

“No one can assail Loretta Lynch, and no one has,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Some are trying to drag extraneous issues … into the fray to challenge her nomination because they can’t find anything in her record to point to.”

“If we can’t confirm Loretta Lynch, then I don’t believe we can confirm anyone,” Schumer said.

Image: CBS News/ Youtube

The post Republicans Grill Loretta Lynch on Immigration in Confirmation Hearing appeared first on RH Reality Check.

What’s Next for the Rest of the Salvadoran Women Imprisoned on Abortion-Related Charges?

RH Reality Check - 9 hours 47 min ago

Read more of our coverage on the campaign for Las 17, the 17 Salvadoran women imprisoned on abortion-related charges, here.

The Legislative Assembly of El Salvador voted in a “ground-breaking” decision last week to grant its first-ever pardon to a woman imprisoned on abortion-related charges. Guadalupe, who has served seven years of her 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide after an obstetrical complication she suffered in 2007, is expected to be released within four-to-six weeks. But 15 of the women known as “Las 17” are still in prison—and activists hope increased international attention will spur the Salvadoran government into taking just action.

On January 28, experts from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) joined in the conversation, releasing a statement declaring that the legislative action in Guadalupe’s favor must not be the end of progress on this matter. The decision, wrote the OHCHR representatives, “must mark a turning point for the authorities to review the sentences against all women jailed for pregnancy-related complications.” These experts included Emna Aouij, chair-rapporteur of the working group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and Mads Andenas, chair-rapporteur on the working group on arbitrary detention, as well as several other human rights specialists.

This was only the second time in the past few years, activists say, that the OHCHR has explicitly called the Salvadoran government to action on matters of sexual and reproductive rights—the first being for Beatriz, a then-22-year-old woman whose pregnancy was putting her life in danger. Given the fact that El Salvador became a member of the UN Human Rights Commission last year, many feminists hope statements like these will demonstrate the disconnect between passing judgment on other countries’ practices and not observing internationally recognized treaties at home. In fact, the OHCHR did not limit its response to Las 17 alone. The agency’s release also pointed out that its representatives had urged El Salvador to rescind its blanket abortion ban more than a decade ago:

“We further urge the authorities to repeal legislation which criminalises abortion in all circumstances,” they added. … The experts noted that they had previously communicated their concern to the Government of El Salvador that the 1997 abortion law violates the right of women to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, in particular the need to ensure equitable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly to therapeutic abortion. … “El Salvador must comply with its international obligations and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including maternal health care and access to all methods of modern contraception,” the experts stressed.

For activists, the OHCHR’s statement displays how heavily Las 17’s story is beginning to resonate with influential figures and the general public on a global scale.

“The news about Guadalupe has reached many corners and made a striking impact,” Alejandra Burgos, coordinator of the Salvadoran Network of Women Human Rights Defenders, told RH Reality Check. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, she continued, “was here on January 16 for the anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords … and we met with him and discussed these matters.” In addition, Burgos pointed out that last October, the Costa Rican lawyer Alda Facio, an expert on human rights, women’s rights, and international law, “made an unofficial visit to El Salvador and met with us. She came in her capacity as a legal expert, but she also serves as a member of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women, which was represented in this group of experts.”

Overall, Burgos was heartened by the broad view the OHCHR took on the impact banning abortion care has on marginalized populations. “It seems they have listened to us. Even their language reflects a feminist perspective when the experts say, ‘The total ban on abortion disproportionately affects women who are poor. Furthermore, matters relating to an obstetric complication can sometimes mistakenly be considered as abortion,’” she said. “These experts are recognizing that the absolute prohibition on abortion not only affects poor women, but it ties the hands of health providers.”

The statement also affects the petitions for pardon that have not yet been decided by the Supreme Court. As Morena Herrera, president of the feminist group Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion), explained, euphoria over Guadalupe’s pardon comes coupled with the knowledge that decisions for many of the rest of Las 17 are still pending. Six other petitions for pardoning have been denied so far by the Supreme Court; nine remain. If the Court makes a positive recommendation, then the petition will go to the legislature, as did Guadalupe’s.

The fact that the vote in favor of Guadalupe was the bare minimum of 43 shows the reluctance and fear many legislators have around being labeled “pro-abortion,” especially with national legislative elections coming up on March 1. Agrupación recognizes that even if more petitions reach the legislature in the next few weeks, they may well be set aside until after the elections.

However, Burgos sees the OHCHR statement providing strong support to those legislators who have voted in favor of a pardon. “This lets them know that what they are doing has international backing,” she said. “It supports other public officials too.”

“I interpret the UN statement as saying, ‘So go step-by-step. First, free the women who are in prison. Then, stop judging every obstetrical problem as an abortion. Then work on changing the law,” she continued.

These priorities, in fact, reflect the strategy of local activists working on behalf of women throughout El Salvador. For those whose petitions were denied, Agrupación is looking into other legal pathways toward justice. Now that the realities of the groundless legal cases the state mounted against the women have started to be revealed through the details of the Supreme Court hearings and media coverage, Agrupación will have clearer legal arguments and more national and international support as they explore and exercise other options.

Bolstered by international statements of support, organizations including Agrupación also intend to continue exploring potential avenues for reforming the country’s abortion laws. One possibility would be to try to reintroduce into law one or more of the three legal grounds for abortion that existed before the 1997 prohibition passed: when a woman’s life is at risk, when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest, and when there is a fetal anomaly incompatible with life outside the uterus.

Currently, the Salvadoran legal system has no way of tracking how many women have been sentenced on abortion-related charges, or what has happened to them. Part of pushing for broader measures to release women means having the data on who they are. To that end, Agrapución members plan to go to every jurisdiction in the country and search court records in order to update their 2012 report From the Hospital to the Jail. For now, the group will continue to work with the rest of Las 17, as well as other women who face abortion-related charges who are at various stages of the legal process. And in a month or so, Guadalupe will regain her freedom—a potential glimmer of hope for the more than a dozen women who still await justice.

Image: Shutterstock

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‘Personhood’ Bill Introduced in Mississippi, Despite Repeated Failures

RH Reality Check - 11 hours 1 min ago

A Mississippi lawmaker has introduced a bill that would define life as beginning at fertilization, marking the latest attempt to pass “personhood” legislation in the state, despite the previous failed attempts there and around the country.

State Rep. Randy Boyd (R-Mantachie) introduced HB 1309, which would redefine “person” in Mississippi state law to include “every human being from the moment of fertilization.”

Personhood legislation has been introduced in several state legislatures and in Congress over the past few years. The intent of the legislation is to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people in order to grant them full legal protection, including the right to life from the moment of conception.

The law would criminalize abortion with no exceptions, and effectively ban many forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive health-care measures.

Personhood legislation or ballot initiatives have failed to pass in states around the country. Ballot measures to amend the state constitutions to include personhood language in both Colorado and North Dakota failed to pass by wide margins during the November 2014 elections.

Personhood ballot measures and legislation have also failed to pass multiple times in Mississippi.

Initiative 26, which would have amended the state constitution by adding personhood language, was roundly rejected by Mississippi voters in 2011. A campaign to put a personhood initiative on the ballot in November 2015 ended unsuccessfully last May when organizers failed to turn in petitions with the required number of signatures.

HB 819 and HCR 14 were both introduced in the GOP-controlled Mississippi legislature during the 2013 legislative session, and both died in committee.

Lawmakers in Virginia have also introduced a controversial personhood proposal. Colorado’s anti-choice lawmakers have once again pushed personhood legislation despite its repeated failures.

Lawmakers in recent years have passed several laws and introduced more to restrict access to abortion in Mississippi. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said it is his goal to “end abortion” in the state. This year, state Sen. Phillip Gandy (R-Waynesboro) introduced SB 2138, which would increase the minimum waiting period before someone can have an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

HB 1309 has been referred to the house judiciary committee, where it awaits further action.

Image: Shutterstock

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Threats Against Abortion Providers Have Doubled Since 2010, Report Finds

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 16:46

Abortion clinics nationwide face significant threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence, according to a new report showing that threats of violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.

The survey of 242 abortion providers in the United States found that there has been significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of doctors and staff in recent years. The report comes as widespread intimidation tactics were deployed against clinics during the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision affirming a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

More than 500 plastic handcuffs placed inside “care packages” were reportedly delivered to abortion clinics throughout the country last week, according to The Christian Post. The packages were sent by the anti-choice organization Pro-Life Action League.

The packages included a postcard mentioning the recent arrest of Naresh Patel, an Oklahoma physician, and the ominous handwritten message: “Could you be next?”

Patel was arrested in December and charged with racketeering and three counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, according to reporting by the Oklahoman. An undercover investigation found that Patel was providing abortion-inducing drugs to patients without verifying that they were pregnant.

The message was written by Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. “I thought this could really be a strong message to abortionists who really think seriously about the business that they’re involved in,” Scheidler told The Christian Post.

Pro-Life Action League received assistance in mailing the packages from the radical anti-choice organization Operation Rescue, whose members identified the clinics across the country that received the packages.

The use of similar intimidation techniques is on the rise, according to the National Clinic Violence Survey, conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation. The report is the first comprehensive nationwide survey of violence at women’s health clinics since 2010.

The survey found that nearly one in five clinics experienced severe violence. Severe types of anti-choice violence affected 19.7 percent of clinics nationwide, down from the 23.5 percent of clinics nationwide that reported experiencing severe violence in 2010.

Incidents of wanted-style posters of abortion providers, pamphlets targeting doctors and clinic staff, and harmful information and pictures of doctors posted on the Internet have all significantly increased over the past four years, according to the report. The posters and flyers often include phrases like “Killers Among Us,” “Wanted For Killing,” and “Stop This Abortionist Now.”

The rate of clinics reporting stalking of physicians has also increased, from 6.4 percent of clinics in 2010 to 8.7 percent in 2014.

“The most stunning result in the survey, really, is this surge in serious threats that are being carried out against providers nationwide,” duVergne Gaines, the director of the National Clinic Access Project and one of the authors of the report, told ThinkProgress. “Those threats have almost doubled since 2010.”

The survey findings mirror reports by clinic staff and escorts from around the country who said they have seen an increase in clinic harassment. Other examples of anti-choice harassment, intimidation, and even acts of vandalism against abortion clinics have been reported around the country over the past year.

Abortion clinic physicians, staff, and escorts in Louisiana faced a barrage of harassment from anti-choice activists during July. Hundreds of activists with Operation Save America (OSA) descended on New Orleans to stage a week of protests throughout the city.

The activists targeted reproductive health-care clinics, personal residences, and even houses of worship in the hopes of intimidating abortion providers and reproductive rights supporters.

OSA activists were at the headquarters of the Jackson, Mississippi, police department a week after the protest in New Orleans, while fellow activists were facing criminal charges associated with protest activities outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Three of the four activists were found guilty of charges including obstructing the sidewalk entrance to the clinic.

All Families Healthcare, a family medicine and reproductive health-care facility in Kalispell, Montana, was broken into and severely vandalized in March. The man who allegedly vandalized the facility is the son of a former board member of the local anti-choice crisis pregnancy center.

Susan Cahill, a physician assistant who manages the Kalispell office, told RH Reality Check at the time that she believed the break-in was part of a coordinated effort to intimidate the facility into no longer providing abortion care. Cahill has been forced to close the facility indefinitely, while the suspect stands charged with four felonies, including burglary, criminal mischief, theft, and attempted burglary.

Increases in the incidents of harassment of abortion clinics appear to coincide with the increasing amount of legislation passed to restrict access to reproductive health care. Lawmakers across the country have returned to state houses this month and have renewed their legislative assault on women’s rights.

Image: Allen Graham - PDImages / Shutterstock.com

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Restriction on Minors’ Abortion Access Introduced in Connecticut

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 15:47

Two Connecticut state legislators this month introduced identical bills that would require physicians to notify parents or legal guardians 48 hours in advance of giving a minor child an abortion.

The bills, HB 5220 and HB 5216, introduced in early January by Reps. Rob Sampson (R-Wolcott) and Al Adinolfi (R-Cheshire), respectively, would prohibit abortions performed on minors unless the parents have been told beforehand.

If either of the bills passes and is signed into law, it would represent the first time the state has on the books a parental involvement law. Similar legislation also has been introduced this year in Maine.

Acknowledging that many young people will be deterred from seeking needed services if they first must tell an adult, most states allow people under the age of 18 to consent to a range of reproductive-related services, including contraception, STI screening and treatment, prenatal care, and adoption.

Abortion, however, is treated differently in most states. Only two states and the District of Columbia have laws that explicitly allow minors to consent to abortions services, while 13 states require parental notification prior to an abortion, 21 states require that at least one parent consents to a minor’s abortion, and five states have both notification and consent laws on the books.

Most states with parental involvement laws include a “judicial bypass,” allowing minors, who either don’t want to tell their parents or whose parents have refused to consent, to petition a judge for a waiver.

Though judicial bypass provisions are ostensibly meant to give minors a way around notifying their parents, as RH Reality Check has reported, in fact the laws subject young people to a legal catch-22:

The whole point of judicial bypass is to allow a minor to participate in confidential proceedings where a judge will ask her a bunch of questions to determine whether she’s mature enough to decide to get an abortion on her own. If the court determines that, no, this child is not mature enough to decide to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, then it will decide that the child is, apparently, mature enough to be a parent.

In Alabama, the court can appoint a lawyer for the fetus, and can call witnesses, including sexual partners and parents, to testify against the pregnant minor.

Image: Shutterstock

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Texas Latinas Send Reproductive Justice ‘Blueprint’ to Lawmakers

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 14:47

A new report from a Texas reproductive rights advocacy group calls on state lawmakers to increase access to contraceptives, cancer screenings, and abortion care; strengthen the social safety net; and narrow the reach of the Texas border patrol in order to increase the health, safety, and wellbeing of Texas Latinas.

The report, A Reproductive Justice Agenda for Latinas, released by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and the Center for Reproductive Rights, provides concrete policy recommendations that follow up on their 2013 Nuestro Texas report, in which Texas women living in the Rio Grande Valley told stories of their struggles to access, and pay for, reproductive health care, and the impact those struggles have had on their communities and families.

The new report, and an upcoming lobby day at the state capitol building where Latina activists will share recommendations directly with lawmakers, marks a historic moment in Latina activism, said NLIRH’s Texas policy and advocacy director, Ana DeFrates.

“In many ways, it’s an introduction to lawmakers of who we are and what we care about,” DeFrates told RH Reality Check. “I’m very proud about this report starting some conversations that even really well intentioned, very smart people haven’t thought about.”

The groups’ recommendations are sweeping, drawing on a reproductive justice framework that touches on issues ranging from health-care policy to transportation challenges to immigration reform.

“We’re trying to talk about what needs to shift politically and culturally to make Texas better for Texas Latinas,” said DeFrates, who hopes that the report will address “misconceptions about what Latinas care about.”

Texas Latinas living in the Rio Grande Valley, who experienced a disproportionately negative impact from lawmakers’ drastic cuts to family planning funds in 2011 and who have so far lost two of three local abortion providers after the passage of the state’s 2013 omnibus anti-abortion law, have higher incidence rates of cervical cancer than white or Black women in the state.

They also face extremely limited access to public transportation, particularly in rural areas and colonias, which makes it especially difficult for them to travel to doctors’ appointments. And Texas Latinas without legal U.S. immigration status are unable to travel past interior border patrol checkpoints, further limiting their ability to access services outside of a 100-mile demarcation from the U.S.-Mexico border.

But DeFrates said “it’s precisely those challenges that are mobilizing Latinas to get active and get involved.”

Some of the report’s recommendations could garner bipartisan approval—for example, ensuring that community health workers, or promotoras, are better supported and utilized, or developing a Texas-specific solution to the state’s insurance coverage gap.

Some suggested changes, such as expanding abortion care access, ask legislators make a complete turnaround from their past legislative stances.

But it’s all part of a longer-term plan, DeFrates said, to build a better Texas for Latinas.

“We couldn’t avoid talking about the glaring need that exists,” DeFrates said. “While some of the recommendations are more forward thinking, they set the ground work for the Texas we’re organizing for and working towards.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Demanding Chemical Policy Reform Is a Way to Protect Girls’ Health

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 10:23

If you think early puberty is just a concern for families with young girls, think again. The fact that many 7- and 8-year-olds now have breasts should matter to everyone, particularly reproductive health and rights activists.

Girl Interrupted

For several decades, researchers have noticed that the onset of puberty, typically signaled by breast buds and pubic hair, is starting earlier. This trend disproportionately impacts girls of color—studies have shown that almost 25 percent of African-American girls and 15 percent of Latina girls had breast development by age 7, compared to just 10 percent of white girls. Though girls don’t necessarily get their first period much sooner than they did in the 1970s, for all groups, the number of girls starting puberty early has doubled since then.

Early puberty isn’t just about the inconvenience of getting breasts or pubic hair sooner. A whole cascade of reactions happens when an 8-year-old girl looks like a 15-year-old. First and foremost, she is treated like a teenage girl. As a society, our teenage girls are highly sexualized through media and other cultural messages. Research demonstrates that girls internalize observer’s perspectives of their physical appearance, which is especially true for younger girls. So if people view them, too, as sexual beings, then they start viewing themselves that way.

In this kind of environment, it’s perhaps no surprise that, according to leading experts Drs. Louise Greenspan and Julianna Deardorff in their book The New Puberty, girls who experience early puberty have a higher likelihood of engaging in a host of risky behaviors including relationships with older boys or men, early sexual activity, and drug and alcohol abuse. These factors also contribute to high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy. Early puberty can also lead to anxiety, depression, eating orders, and poor academic outcomes. At the very least, early puberty is a serious problem affecting women’s and girls’ reproductive health and healthy sexuality—making it highly relevant to activists in the reproductive rights movement.

The effects of early puberty are not limited to adolescence, either. Girls who experience early puberty have a higher risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared to those who don’t, as well as heart disease and diabetes later in life. Thus, early puberty can impact a woman’s health throughout her life.

Combating the Chemical Component

As Greenspan and Deardorff document, exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is one major factor that seems to be contributing to early puberty, along with obesity and social-psychological stressors. All of these factors may be intertwined, and none may be under families’ control. Not even a “perfect” parent, for example, can prevent her child from being exposed to harmful chemicals that may impact early puberty. First of all, chemical exposure starts even before a woman becomes pregnant and is intensified in utero. Second, chemicals are ubiquitous. There are more than 84,000 chemical substances on the market today—the vast majority of which haven’t been tested for safety. Under our dysfunctional regulatory system, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can’t even remove the worst chemicals from commerce.

Low-income communities and communities of color are much more likely to be directly exposed to toxic chemicals—including endocrine-disrupting ones—at work, at home, and through consumer products. And this extends beyond early puberty, too: Exposure to these chemicals means women in these communities are also more likely to experience infertility, uterine fibroids, and other reproductive health problems that have been linked to toxic chemicals.

A bill to reform TSCA is likely to be introduced in Congress in the next week. It is unclear whether this bill will help or hurt efforts to improve the regulatory system. RHTP will be monitoring the process and encourages advocates of every stripe to contact members of Congress to ensure that TSCA reform will remove harmful chemicals from the market, including endocrine disruptors that contribute to early puberty.

Coming of Age

Coming of age can be stressful for kids and parents—whatever the gender or timing. And while there is a lot parents can do to prevent and ameliorate the effects of early puberty, as advocates for women’s health, and women’s reproductive health, we need to demand better chemical policy reform as a way to address these issues before they begin.

Image: Shutterstock

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Virginia Senate Moves Forward With Campus Mandatory Reporting Bill

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 08:26

The Virginia Senate this week moved forward with a bill that would require nearly all full-time staff at public universities to report sexual assault to the police within 24 hours of notification.

The bill, SB 712, which would make failing to report to the police a misdemeanor, would also create some exceptions, including for campus crisis counselors.

The legislation comes on the heels of one of the most high-profile college sexual assault scandals in the country, prompted by a Rolling Stone article detailing rampant sexual violence on the University of Virginia campus. Some details from the article were later called into question.

Mandatory reporting laws, which require staff to report up the chain or to law enforcement instances of sexual assault, are controversial among victim’s rights advocates and sexual violence prevention activists.

Though they appear tough on sexual assault, advocates say that mandatory reporting requirements disempower survivors and may even discourage reporting. Survivors could be compelled to take part in a legal case against their attacker whether or not they want to press charges, and many people might choose not to report or get help at all.

In a 2002 study on the effectiveness of higher education policy toward sexual assault, several criminal justice professors and a researcher wrote:

Any policy or procedure that compromises, or worse, eliminates the victim’s ability to make her or his own choices about proceeding through the reporting and adjudication process—such as mandatory reporting requirements without an anonymous reporting option—not only reduces reporting rates but may be counter-productive to the victim’s healing process.

Proponents of mandatory reporting on college campuses say that it’s a surefire way to tackle assault, at least on campus.

“Instead of having colleges just sweep things under the table,” Virgina state Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), the sponsor of SB 712, told the Washington Post. “We force them to go into the law enforcement arena, where they’re handled in a routine fashion.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Study: Evidence-Based Protocols for Medication Abortion Are Safe, Effective

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 08:19

An expansive study released Monday in the journal Contraception found that evidence-based alternatives to the Food and Drug Administration-approved regimen for medication abortion are safe and effective.

The distinction between “evidence-based” and “FDA-approved” matters a great deal for women in early pregnancy who want to use the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol to induce a miscarriage. The FDA protocol requires a higher dose of medication and more doctor’s visits—both of which make the process more expensive and harder to access—and has an earlier cut-off date in pregnancy for using the protocol.

The distinction also matters because many anti-choice laws try to restrict women’s access to medication abortion by forcing doctors to use the FDA protocols. The new study adds to a robust body of evidence that these restrictive laws have no scientific basis.

The study, which spanned five years and followed 13,000 women who used evidence-based protocols for medication abortion at Los Angeles-area Planned Parenthood clinics, found that the protocols were more than 98 percent effective for pregnancies of up to 42 days’ gestation, and more than 95 percent effective up to 63 days.

The FDA protocols only recommend using medication abortion up until 49 days of gestation, or about seven weeks, and are less than 85 percent effective after 49 days.

Doctors and experts say the FDA protocol—which is based on a regimen developed in France 25 years ago and used 15 years ago in clinical trials to approve the drug in the United States—is outdated and out of step with best medical practice.

“Off-label” prescription of drugs is both common and necessary in medicine. The FDA approval process for a drug is long and cumbersome, while evidence on the safe uses of a given drug may evolve much more quickly. As a result, drug manufacturers don’t often go through the expense and hassle of petitioning the FDA to update its guidelines on every drug on the market because it is accepted that clinicians can and routinely do rely on evidence-based protocols that evolve in the years after initial drug approval as new and better evidence emerges from the field.

“The way a medication is administered often evolves after the FDA has first approved it for use based on new medical research and professional experience,” Kelly Cleland, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

This is how aspirin came to be used to prevent heart attacks, Cleland noted.

The FDA explicitly allows doctors to use off-label drugs, cautioning only that they base the use “on firm scientific rationale and on sound medical evidence.”

There have been a number of other anti-choice efforts to to try to force doctors to practice outdated medicine. For instance, 16 states restrict the use of telemedicine for medication abortion, which has also been shown to be safe and helps patients in rural areas who live far from a clinic.

In just the past two months, legislatures in South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, and Iowa have introduced measures to restrict or ban medication abortion.

Image: Shutterstock

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Sexism is actually ruining our health.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 19:30
Sexism is actually ruining our health.


Sexism Affects Women’s Mental Health, So Maybe It’s Time To Stop Normalizing It
www.bustle.com
Instances of sexism, as well as the perceived risk of crime and fear of rape, are strongly linked to psychological distress in American women.

YES!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 17:00
YES!


Another Republican Governor Agrees to Expand Medicaid

RH Reality Check - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 16:54

Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday that the state will expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, making him the latest Republican governor to support the expansion of benefits under President Obama’s signature health-care reform law.

The expansion will cover 350,000 low-income residents of the state, Pence said, or about 46 percent of the state’s 765,600 uninsured residents.

Indiana joins 27 other states in expanding Medicaid, according the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Pence’s decision is part of a growing trend of GOP governors expanding Medicaid using a federally facilitated marketplace. This comes after years of opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.

Pence made a point of saying that Indiana’s expansion of Medicaid was done in hopes that residents would eventually buy private health-care plans. Before implementation of the ACA, 14.8 percent of Indiana residents were uninsured.

“We have worked hard to ensure that low-income Hoosiers have access to a health care plan that empowers them to take charge of their health and prepares them to move to private insurance as they improve their lives,” Pence said in a statement.

Federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a waiver allowing Indiana to implement the plan. The request was granted after months of negotiations between Pence and the Obama administration. Indiana joins states such as Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan, which have all received approval by the CMS for their alternative plans for Medicaid expansion.

Iowa and Michigan expanded their plans by including eligibility changes and requiring monthly contributions. Arkansas expanded Medicaid with a plan called the Private Option, in which low-income residents purchase health insurance through a private market.

The Arkansas plan is similar to a plan proposed by Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The approval of the Indiana plan may affect the debate concerning Medicaid expansion in several Republican-controlled states, especially those in the West, such as Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 expands the state’s seven-year-old Healthy Indiana Plan, which covers 60,000 low-income residents with high-deductible health insurance and health savings accounts.

Residents with incomes of up to $16,297 annually for an individual, $21,967 for a couple or $33,307 for a family of four are generally eligible to participate in the plan.

Those enrolled in the plans will be required to make monthly contributions ranging from $1 to $20 or face losing benefits such as vision or dental care, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal. Those enrolled in the plan will have co-pays of of up to $25 for repeat emergency room use.

The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of the plan through 2016, and 90 percent of the cost in 2020 and beyond. The estimated $1.5 billion in costs to the state during that time will be paid for by the state’s cigarette tax and from a tax on hospitals.

Hospital officials and health and other advocacy organizations supported Pence’s plan to expand Medicaid. Hospitals were perhaps the most strident proponents, as they would stand to lose federal reimbursement payments through the ACA. Indiana state hospitals would have lost nearly $1 billion in 2016 without the expansion, according to the Urban Institute.

Enrollment for the expansion begins immediately and coverage for those who enroll begins on February 1.

Image: Shutterstock

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New Abortion Play Could Spur Difficult Discussions Among Audiences and Activists—and That’s a Good Thing

RH Reality Check - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 16:53

There was a time when “vagina” was more of a whisper at universities than a word, when communities and administrators were not engaged in high-profile debates on how to better address sexual violence. The Vagina Monologues helped, in part, to change that with annual stagings in campus theater houses around the country. The play has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that some feminists are ready to move on, or at least raise critiques of it and call for greater inclusion in its messaging.

Even so, the Vagina Monologues’ vignette-driven format has been an inspiration for activists seeking to use a similar mechanism to draw attention to other issues. Most recently, the reproductive rights group Advocates for Youth dramatized 14 real stories submitted to its 1 in 3 Campaign for Out of Silence, a new play designed for use on college campuses that aims to destigmatize abortion, honor the diverse range of experiences that come with ending a pregnancy, and encourage others to share their abortion stories.

A world in which society prioritizes comprehensive reproductive health care and does not shame abortion is a bold vision indeed. The usual trifecta of grassroots movement building, public policy initiatives, and electoral strategy cannot, alone, achieve it. Something squishier needs to happen, too—culture change. And perhaps the same thing can take place with abortion rights as has happened with the Vagina Monologues: that, at the least, Out of Silence can act as a jumping-off point for activism that may push even further than abortion storytelling itself in the future.

In late January in Washington, D.C., an audience of abortion-rights advocates were present for a preview of Out of Silence, poised to gobble up both the concept and the stories themselves.

The first story began as a woman named Ruah and her friend sipped beer, listened to Bikini Kill, fretted over a missed period and the idea of taking a pregnancy test, and wondered whether abortion is wrong. The immediate message was that abortion was going to be discussed beyond talking points and abstract debates about constitutional rights and religious beliefs, with more nuance and in the context of the lived experiences of multidimensional—and sometimes contradictory—people.

The characters had a variety of reasons for seeking abortions, and feelings about having them: A young woman, age 15, had an abortion and no problem with it. A devastated lesbian couple sought abortion after receiving unexpected prenatal testing results. A new opposite-sex couple that could barely stop making out chose abortion because they simply didn’t know each other well enough. A mother and a daughter fought about rape, abortion, and the support one could—or should—expect from other people.

Each story was chosen from the nearly 700 abortion stories collected by the 1 in 3 Campaign because it spoke to one of ten playwrights who read through them and created the vignettes. Still, it is an artistic production, and so while some of the fictionalized narratives may include words and details from the original stories, others may be largely drawn from the imagination of the artists.

This does not mean the play was apolitical. In the current environment, sharing abortion stories is in itself political, a fact evidenced by the handful of protesters with graphic signs gathered outside the theater on the evening of the premiere (one said “here come the killing women” as I walked inside behind a small group of people). The production itself also included chiffon-like banners in the background, on which footage of both abortion-rights and anti-abortion-rights protests were silently screened in between stories.

It is in these spaces where art may offer the most hope, with its ability to articulate realities that don’t fit neatly on unified protest signs, and through its representation and re-creation of the inner lives and complex experiences of women. Character, in the sense that it includes the idiosyncrasies that make a person who they uniquely are, is pretty much the antithesis of a story that has been focus-grouped or edited to be indistinguishable from talking points for a political point of view. The multi-page blocks of didactic “dialogue” in Ayn Rand’s novels showcase precisely what goes wrong, artistically, when characters are viewed as vessels for political messages rather than representations of people who do human things like take out a bad night’s sleep on their coworkers, or get crushes on people who snort when they laugh. In a panel discussion after the production, one of the playwrights, Anu Yadav, expanded on her view of theater’s role in advocacy, including that theater can help “smash stereotypes with good character development.”

That’s a heavy lift with vignettes surrounding an action the audience already knows: that the main character of each story will have an abortion. It was, however, indeed clear the playwrights were striving to flesh out who the characters were not just in the context of their pregnancies, but in their lives as people. They largely succeeded, although there were occasionally times when it appeared that the desire to convey a specific political message was overpowering a natural flow of dialogue.

Overall, from an artistic and activist perspective, there are advantages and disadvantages to this Vagina Monologues-style model of theater, in which individual characters speak to her—or perhaps his—truth. Recently, in fact, the Vagina Monologues found itself the focus of scrutiny that many of the pioneering student actors and women’s studies professors who championed its first productions could not have imagined.

Earlier this month, a student-run theater board at the women’s college canceled its production of the Vagina Monologues, explaining its view that the play does not effectively include transgender women. “At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” said Erin Murphy, a representative of the board, in a campus-wide email obtained by the conservative blog Campus Reform. “Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.”

The student group’s decision on the play came on the heels of the college’s announcement at fall convocation that Mount Holyoke was adjusting its admission policy to explicitly include transgender students. “Mount Holyoke remains committed to its historic mission as a women’s college,” according to its website. “Yet concepts of what it means to be a woman are not static. Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology.”

It is not surprising to see a 20-year-old feminist play dropped by students because it rallies for women’s empowerment under the banner of vaginas, in both the specific context of Mount Holyoke this academic year, as well as the broader context of youth activists often leading the demand that traditional feminist spaces grow to include a conception of gender that does not depend on genitalia. This critique is not explicitly new; in 2005, Ensler wrote an additional, optional monologue featuring a transgender woman. 

Quickly after the news of the removal of the play hit the blogosphere, playwright Eve Ensler responded with a piece in TIME. “The Vagina Monologues never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman,” she wrote. “It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina. In the play, I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina.” Ensler also referenced transgender women performing the play, and the inclusion of a new monologue that features the story of a transgender woman.

While many may have nodded their heads in response to Ensler’s viewpoint, her response overlooked that art is in the eye of the beholder. This is one reason why art plays such a powerful role in liberation. Storytelling art is not just about building empathy with others; it is about viewers having the freedom to interact with, interpret, and project their needs into artistically created lives. Art is created to provoke reactions, and some of those reactions might include calls for better artistic representations of people who do not see their realities reflected.

To that end, what is revolutionary for some is reactionary to others. It is perfectly legitimate to not interpret art according to the maker’s intentions, and Ensler missed that point by sharing what she envisioned and using “I” statements in her response to Mount Holyoke. For whatever flaws it is perceived to have, one of the greatest beauties of the Vagina Monologues is that it became something much bigger than Eve Ensler sitting at a keyboard with the aim of empowering women with vaginas.

It is perfectly acceptable, and beautiful even, if after the passage of two decades that something bigger is not big enough for younger feminists who want more inclusion. It means that some are ready to move past destigmatizing vaginas and onto transgender inclusion—or the inclusion of a more diverse range of stories, period. In this way, Ensler may have succeeded in driving a feminist conversation beyond her wildest dreams.

As far as Out of Silence is concerned, then, the production of an abortion play would likely be greeted differently depending on the community. On some campuses it might be revolutionary just to stage an abortion play, period. On others, the play might help destigmatize abortion and encourage the sharing of stories. On still others, it might serve as inspiration for campus activists to continue their work to increase access to abortion, defang sexuality as a weapon for discriminators, and realize gender equality or racial equality or reproductive justice.

If it really succeeds, however, Out of Silence will spur difficult discussions about the nature of inclusion—and that is a positive thing. In fact, such discussions are already taking place. During a panel following the premiere, for example, a member of the audience identified as having a disability. With regard to the prenatal testing vignette, this person urged the playwrights to expand their thinking about what quality of life can mean for people with disabilities. The comment was not met with Eve Ensler-style defensiveness; it was acknowledged and not rebutted. In this way, the comment itself was allowed to hang in the room for further reflection by the audience and the playwrights.

That moment gave me the most hope for Out of Silence and the groundbreaking activism it aims to spur. Messy, raw, and honest conversations from multiple perspectives are among the best things liberatory art can inspire. It is not possible to tell the abortion story, or represent women as a whole, and those who try will fail and do harm to the community, especially to those left behind. But when more people are inspired to raise their unique voices fearlessly, and to pursue further justice? That’s magic. 

Image: Shutterstock

The post New Abortion Play Could Spur Difficult Discussions Among Audiences and Activists—and That’s a Good Thing appeared first on RH Reality Check.

San Francisco Making Gains in ‘Getting to Zero’ New HIV Infections

RH Reality Check - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 15:07

San Francisco Supervisors David Weiner and Scott Campos last week held a hearing to discuss the efforts of a coalition formed to end HIV in a city that was once seen as a center of the epidemic in this country.

The ultimate goal of the Getting to Zero program is for San Francisco to be the first jurisdiction in the United States to have no new HIV infections, deaths, and stigma. Advocates and public health experts believe this could be possible based in large part on the success the city has already had in fighting HIV.

The hearing reviewed the coalition’s three-pronged strategic plan, which was originally announced on World AIDS Day in December. As Weiner and Campos explained, the first part of the plan is a 90 percent reduction in new infections, which the coalition hopes to achieve by increasing the number of at-risk San Franciscans who are using Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

The Food and Drug Administration in 2012 approved Truvada, a once-daily pill recommended for HIV-negative people who are at high risk of contracting the virus. The drug is highly effective—some studies have found that it is 99 percent effective in those who use it correctly—but very expensive, with a price tag of about $1,300 a month.

Last September, Weiner made news when he announced that he takes Truvada every morning.

The second strategy is to get those who are newly diagnosed with HIV into treatment as soon as possible. A program at San Francisco General Hospital, called RAPID, provides counseling and anti-retroviral (ART) drug therapy to patients as soon as they are diagnosed. So far, about 50 participants have gone through the RAPID program, but the coalition plans to expand RAPID so anyone diagnosed with HIV can start treatment within five days.

Getting treatment for people quickly is not only good for their own health—it also works as a prevention method.

ART can reduce an HIV-positive person’s viral load, which in turn makes them less infectious. Of course, ART only works for as long as person continues taking the medication. That’s why the final part of Getting to Zero’s plan focuses on retention and filling the gaps in treatment that can happen when a person faces challenges such as losing health insurance, employment, or housing.

San Francisco officials dedicate a lot of resources toward fighting the HIV epidemic—in the current fiscal year, the city is set to spend $57 million on services, prevention, and research—and this investment has paid off. For instance, the number of new HIV cases dropped by 30 percent from 2006 to 2013, and deaths from the disease dropped by 50 percent during the same period.

San Francisco, when compared to the United States as a whole, is having much more success in identifying and treating those who are HIV-positive. In 2012, 94 percent of HIV-positive people in the city knew their status, compared to 82 percent nationwide. About seven in ten HIV-positive people were linked to health care in the city, compared with 66 percent nationwide. And perhaps most notably, 66 percent of HIV-positive San Franciscans were virally suppressed, compared to just 25 percent nationwide.

The strategy proposed by the coalition will require an additional investment of more than $2 million.

“We do have a path to ending new HIV infections,” Weiner said at the hearing. “If we can do it here, it will spread to other parts of the country, it will spread to other parts of the world. In order to make this successful, we have to put the resources behind the effort.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post San Francisco Making Gains in ‘Getting to Zero’ New HIV Infections appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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