We all know there are problems with how the media covers sexuality, broadly speaking. As recent research shows, there aren’t nearly enough women in positions of power at media organizations, not to mention reporters, editors, and senior-level media makers of color, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities who aren’t white and of some means—I could go on. This deficiency makes people without full representation vulnerable to ruthless attacks by privileged journalists and their careless editors and publishers.
Beyond how the media covers female sexuality and the sexuality of individuals whose gender expressions don’t fit neatly into society’s gender binary system, there’s another group that the media fails when it comes to coverage regarding sexuality: youth. It’s important that we think about how the media could be more thoughtful in its coverage of youth sexuality because equality doesn’t start and end with gender. “Youth” is just one of many identities we experience during our lives, and stigmatizing or shaming a person because of age fails any social movement fighting against oppression.
At a recent convening in Detroit, media makers, youth activists and advocates, and researchers got together to discuss the state of the media’s coverage of youth sexuality, where it falls short, and how these stakeholders could better work together. As Alex Kulick, project manager of Detroit Youth Passages, which hosted the event, told RH Reality Check, the Youth Sexuality Media Forum invited groups—including California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Camino PR, and RHRC—“to really think more about this process [for developing rich narratives about youth sexuality] that goes along with the types of content that youth-based organizations argue in a recent analysis might be better and more effective in media. But also, how do we generate that content in a long-term, sustainable way.”
Among the issues covered, the 50 or so participants—including young people between the ages of 16 and 24—discussed how articles about youth sexual behavior often do not include quotes from actual youth, that the conversations on these issues seem insular, especially when it comes to the question of young people’s autonomy and reporting on the laws meant to “protect” them, and how the media will focus on individual behavior but not always put that behavior into context.
These issues aren’t new. As RH Reality Check Editor at Large Erin Matson, who manages RHRC’s young writers program, explained, the media “talks about issues of sexuality as well as reproductive rights and LGBT rights in the frame of ‘this is how it’s going to effect young people’ and ‘this is what young people are thinking about it’ without ever consulting with young people themselves.”
While these issues aren’t new, shoddy coverage of youth sexuality persists. The Detroit event—the first of what I’m hoping will be many—brought together a unique group of media makers and activists to reinforce the point that something needs to change, and it’s up to each of us, in our various roles (activist, communications director, or journalist) to improve how we package youth sexuality.
A recent analysis of the messaging the general public receives on youth sexual behavior and youth sexual health will be crucial to these efforts.
A group of six organizations reviewed 100 articles from U.S. sources on related topics and came up with a list of messages that youth-supporting organizations should convey in their work. The analysis, which we received permission to share here, is an effort to get us like-minded adults on the same page about issue-specific framing.
The messages are:
As the analysis explains, “Current mainstream media coverage does not often convey these messages. Data and policy often lead stories, young people are depicted as being naïve and unruly, and conversations about sexuality and sexual health are portrayed as divisive and controversial.”
Erin McKelle, who recently participated in RH Reality Check’s young writers program, noted in an email, “There’s a lot of fear culturally about young people being sexual or having sex, and this is seen in basically every form of media imaginable.”
She added, “[O]n the other end of the spectrum, young people can be [overly] sexualized when they are shown to be sexual, and realistic expressions of sexuality and young people are hardly ever shown.”
Briana Dixon, a current RHRC young writer, agreed with McKelle, saying in an email:
I think the media often over-sexualizes teenagers and paints their decisions as immature, when the reality is that when young people are provided all the tools to make good decisions, more often than not they do and when they do make a mistake, it’s not just because they are young but because that’s part of the human experience. I also think that the media denies certain demographics good representation period, but when it comes to youth sexuality [it's exacerbated] because certain groups are either really over-sexualised or denied any sexuality at all.
Talking about youth sexuality can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. It starts with getting youth involved. And when youth are involved, we shouldn’t try to make them into mini versions of ourselves; we should work to help preserve their unique voices and experiences, whether that means including a youth quote in an article or having a young person write an article themselves.
“Another thing [people can do] is mentoring and offering [their time],” said Matson. “So, if you’re someone who either has editorial power or publishing power, or you’re someone who writes, one of the best things you can do is buddy up with young people and offer yourself as a resource and help them not necessarily to have your viewpoint—that’s not the goal—but help them work on how to package their ideas in a way that is likely to get published.”
In addition, news organizations need to provide coverage that represents the multiple identities youth inhabit. One way to do that is to create active, open space for young people to share their views, said Matson. “The fact is that it’s important to source individuals [representing a wide range of backgrounds], but nothing is going to give a comprehensive picture the way that young people themselves can,” she said.
Youth and youth advocates at the forum said they’d like to read, among other things, more articles about bi transgender youth, parenting teens, “young people as experimental with sex,” and men talking about sexual health and sexual behavior in a positive way.
The media could also do more to promote positive sexual experiences. As McKelle explains, “The media also fails by promoting unhealthy sexual practices, doing things like not showing contraceptive use, not showing conversations between the people having sex about the sex [they're] having, not showing what consent is/looks like, not addressing sexual assault properly, and not ever talking about abortion.”
Context is everything, especially if we aim to have productive conversations on these topics. That includes when we’re talking about race. In just one example, as the analysis explains:
When race was included in news coverage not about statistics, it also completely lacked context. For example, in a story about a mentoring program one reporter wrote, ‘McCaskill, a mental-health counselor in Raleigh, said he joined the mentoship program because he wanted to help young black males learn how to be a man and how to treat women.’ There is no additional discussion of race in the article, but the reader is left to imagine only black men when reading subsequent facts about dating violence.
When discussing sexuality and youth, media outlets should also acknowledge that there are myriad issues related to sexual health, beyond sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. So when looking for a new angle, try talking to youth about less reported issues.
As Matson put it: “Let the young people speak for themselves.”
The post Covering Youth Sexuality: How the Media Can Do Better appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The anti-choice Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Wednesday against the Jackson, Mississippi, police department. The suit, filed on behalf of Pro-Life Mississippi, accuses the department of “blatant and ongoing violation of free speech rights of pro-life advocates.”
The complaint cites incidents dating back to 1996 in which the Jackson police detained, threatened arrest, and arrested Pro-Life Mississippi members while protesting what is today the state’s only remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. According to the suit, in most cases the charges were dismissed but personal belongings confiscated by police were never returned, and there have been “frequent threats of arrest with no legal basis and continual harassment of pro-life advocates by police outside of the abortion vendor’s business.”
Life Legal Defense Foundation President and Executive Director Dana Cody said in a statement that the Jackson police “routinely harassed pro-life citizens, who have been peacefully exercising their legal right to oppose abortion in the public square and offer information about life-affirming alternatives to women seeking abortion.”
The Life Legal Defense Foundation is a California-based organization that has been targeting clinics that provide abortion care with lawsuits, including in neighboring Alabama, where the group has threatened to “[throw] up roadblocks” against the Alabama Women’s Center’s possible move to a new location in northwest Huntsville.
The Jackson clinic is faced with near constant protests from anti-choice activists, and neither the state nor the city has a buffer zone law to protect the safety and privacy of patients, clinic staff, and others entering and leaving the facility. Michelle Colon, a volunteer escort at the clinic, described the hostile environment around the clinic to the Huffington Post; incidents have included car accidents due to protesters blocking the driveway into the clinic’s parking lot and protesters taking photographs and video of patients and staff. “This is not any type of protest behavior that would be tolerated at any other facility for any other cause in any other part of the country,” she said.
Mississippi’s legislature has passed a number of laws to restrict access to reproductive health care in the state. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and state lawmakers have recently targeted the Jackson Women’s Health Organization with restrictions and regulations, including requiring abortion providers to get admitting privileges at a local hospital. Dr. Willie Parker, the physician who provides abortion care at the clinic, has been denied admitting privileges despite previously having had them in Chicago. During testimony before a U.S. Senate committee hearing earlier this month, he said that hospitals have declined to even evaluate his application.
It is common for hospitals to deny admitting privileges for abortion doctors for political or public relations reasons.
“Some people ask if I am concerned for my own safety,” Parker said in his testimony. “Of course I am. But I am less concerned for my safety than for what will happen to women if I am not there to provide the care [women] need and deserve.”
Gov. Bryant has said that it is his goal to “end abortion in Mississippi.”
Image: The Last Clinic / Vimeo
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The Massachusetts legislature has approved a bill designed to increase the safety of individuals accessing abortion clinics in the state. The bill is now headed to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.
SD 2106, called An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, sets up several guarantees of protection outside of clinics. For example, it prohibits impeding access to clinics, and makes it illegal to use force to impede access. It also give law enforcement the power to break up groups of two or more people who are impeding access; after being dispersed, the group then has to wait at least 25 feet from the clinic for several hours.
The legislation was filed in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June McCullen v. Coakley decision, which found Massachusetts’ 35-foot buffer zone law to be unconstitutional.
Gov. Patrick has supported the legislation from the beginning and is expected to sign it. In a statement last week, the governor said the bill will protect patients and clinic employees, and that he knows “the legislature shares my commitment to implementing these protections, and trust that my partners in the State House will act on this bill swiftly.”
The post Massachusetts Clinic Protection Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk appeared first on RH Reality Check.
25.07.14 - (COMUNICADO DE PRENSA) Las Naciones Unidas han hecho un llamado al gobierno peruano para que reforme sus actuales leyes en materia de aborto y reconozca las violaciones de derechos humanos, incluyendo la negación de servicios de aborto legal y la discriminación basada en género a la que las mujeres se enfrentan cuando buscan remedios legales.
En recomendaciones emitidas esta semana por el Comité de la CEDAW, expertos del Comité citaron cómo durante muchos años Perú ha negado a las mujeres el acceso al aborto legal y ha fallado en la provisión de reparaciones individuales y generales integrales en los casos de L.C. y K.L., adolescentes a las que les fue negado el aborto terapéutico legal. El Comité de la CEDAW instó a Perú expandir el aborto legal a casos de violación, incesto, y malformaciones fetales severas. Actualmente, el aborto es legal en Perú sólo en casos donde la salud o vida de la mujer está en riesgo.
El mes pasado, Perú adoptó un protocolo nacional para prestar servicios de aborto legal para dar claridad a los médicos y pacientes sobre el aborto legal terapéutico en el país, noventa años después de la despenalización del aborto terapéutico. Funcionarios del Estado anunciaron el cambio en la política poco antes de la sesión No. 58 del Comité de la CEDAW en Ginebra, Suiza. El Comité de la CEDAW recomendó diseminar el contenido del protocolo de aborto terapéutico a todo el personal de la salud.
Declaró Nancy Northup, presidenta y directora ejecutiva del Centro de Derechos Reproductivos:
“Una vez más las Naciones Unidas ha reconocido el principio vital que los derechos reproductivos de las mujeres son derechos humanos fundamentales, que incluye el derecho al aborto legal y seguro.
“Las experiencias de mujeres peruanas a las que se les ha negado cuidado en salud que es un derecho fundamental son inexcusable y no debe ser repetido en la vida de otras mujeres.
“Si bien Perú ha dado algunos pasos recientes para expandir los derechos de las mujeres, no está ni cerca de ser suficiente. Ahora es el momento en que el gobierno peruano debe construir sobre el progreso alcanzado y emitir legislación que realmente expanda el acceso a cuidado esencial en salud reproductiva para las mujeres”.
En sus observaciones el Comité de la CEDAW expresó su preocupación sobre las barreras significativas que las mujeres de escasos recursos y marginalizadas tienen que enfrentar al buscar acceso a la justicia en las cortes nacionales, regionales e internacionales –subrayando los casos de L.C. y K.L. El Comité instó al Estado para que capacite a la policía, los jueces y los abogados respecto de sus obligaciones en materia de derechos humanos, especialmente los derechos humanos de las mujeres y el derecho a la igualdad de género.
“Por demasiado tiempo a las mujeres en Perú les ha sido negado el acceso a servicios de aborto seguro, legal, y en ocasiones para salvar su propia vida”, dijo Mónica Arango, Directora Regional para América Latina y el Caribe del Centro de Derechos Reproductivos. “Las Naciones Unidas ha dejado en claro que Perú debe responder rápidamente para implementar el nuevo protocolo de aborto terapéutico e inmediatamente proveer reparación integral a L.C., K.L., y sus familias por el sufrimiento causado dada la falla del gobierno en la provisión de servicios médicos esenciales”.
De acuerdo con lo establecido por el Comité de la CEDAW, Perú debe también asegurar la disponibilidad de servicios de aborto y cuidado post-aborto. También instó a que Perú asegure el acceso a servicios de planificación familiar, en particular en las áreas rurales, y adopte todas las medidas necesarias para distribuir gratuitamente anticoncepción de emergencia dentro del sistema de salud pública, particularmente para las mujeres sobrevivientes de abuso sexual.
El Centro de Derechos Reproductivos, Planned Parenthood Federation of America y la ONG peruana PROMSEX presentaron un reporte en conjunto al Comité de la CEDAW, señalando las preocupaciones en materia de derechos humanos derivados de las leyes peruanas que restringen el aborto, la falta de acceso a anticoncepción de emergencia en los servicios de salud pública, y los obstáculos existentes en cuanto al acceso de adolescentes a servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva.
“Los defensores de la salud de las mujeres han sido sistemáticos en denunciar como los derechos de las mujeres y niñas en Perú han sido violados por demasiado tiempo,” dijo Rossina Guerrero, Directora de Incidencia Política de PROMSEX. “Ahora, con el foco global sobre las violaciones de derechos humanos en Perú, el gobierno debe actuar de forma rápida para poner en práctica la guía para el aborto terapéutico con el fin de que los servicios de aborto seguro sean una realidad para las mujeres peruanas.”
Actualmente el aborto es legal en el Perú solamente cuando la vida o la salud de la mujer está en riesgo, y no en casos de violación sexual. El impacto devastador de la criminalización del aborto en casos de violación tiene especial relevancia en el Perú, por ser el país con las más altas cifras de denuncia por violación sexual en América del Sur. Las niñas y adolescentes peruanas conforman una proporción mayoritaria (78 por ciento) de los casos de violación, y peor aún, los servicios de salud pública tienen prohibido suministrar anticoncepción de emergencia.
Un estudio de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y el Instituto Guttmacher reforzó el hecho que las leyes que restringen el aborto no están asociadas con menores cifras de aborto. De acuerdo con el estudio, la cifra de abortos para América Latina en 2008 –una región donde el aborto se encuentra altamente restringido en la mayoría de los países- era de 32 por cada mil mujeres en edad reproductiva, mientras en Europa del Este, donde el aborto está ampliamente permitido, la cifra es de 12 por cada mil.Cases: L.C. v. Peru (UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women)
07.25.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations (U.N.) has called for the Peruvian government to liberalize its current abortion law and to address human rights violations, including the denial of legal abortion services and gender-based discrimination faced by women when they seek legal recourse.
In recommendations released this week by the U.N. CEDAW Committee, committee members recognized Perú’s long history of denying women access to legal abortion and failure to provide comprehensive individual and general reparations in the cases of L.C. and K.L. In these cases, adolescent women were denied legal, therapeutic abortions. The CEDAW Committee also called on Perú to permit legal abortion in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal impairments. Currently, abortion in Perú is legal only when the health or life of a woman is at risk.
Last month, Perú adopted a national protocol for safe abortion services to provide clarity for physicians and patients on legal therapeutic abortion in the country, ninety years after therapeutic abortion was decriminalized. State officials announced the policy change leading up to Perú’s evaluation at CEDAW Committee’s 58th session in Geneva, Switzerland. The CEDAW Committee recommended that Perú disseminate the abortion guidelines included in the protocol to all health staff.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Once again, the United Nations has underscored the vital principle that women’s reproductive rights are fundamental human rights, which include the right to safe and legal abortion care.
“The experiences of Peruvian women denied the health care that is their fundamental right are inexcusable and must not be repeated in other women’s lives.
“While Perú has taken some recent steps toward expanding the rights of women, it’s nowhere near enough. Now is the time for the Peruvian government to build on this progress and bring forth legislation that will truly expand women’s access to critical reproductive health care.”
In its observations, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the significant barriers low-income and marginalized women face seeking legal recourse in national, regional and international courts—highlighting L.C. and K.L.’s cases. It called on the State to train police, judges and lawyers on its human rights obligations, specifically women’s human rights and the right to gender equality.
“Women in Perú have been denied access to safe, legal, and often life-saving abortion services for far too long,” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The United Nations has made it abundantly clear that Perú must work quickly to implement its new therapeutic abortion guidelines and immediately provide comprehensive reparations to L.C., K.L., and their families for the suffering caused by their government’s failure to provide essential medical care.”
According to the CEDAW Committee, Perú must also ensure the availability of abortion services and quality post-abortion care. The CEDAW Committee also recommended that Perú ensure access to family planning services, in particular in rural areas, and adopt all the necessary measures to carry out the free distribution of emergency contraceptives within the public health system, particularly to survivors of sexual abuse.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Perú-based PROMSEX submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee, addressing the human rights concerns stemming from Perú’s restrictive abortion law, lack of access to emergency contraception within the public health system, and limited sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents.
“Women’s health advocates have systematically denounced how the reproductive rights of women and girls in Perú have been trampled for too long,” said Rossina Guerrero, Director of Political Advocacy at PROMSEX. “Now with the global spotlight on human rights violations in Perú, the government must work diligently to put the therapeutic abortion guidelines into action so that safe abortion services are a reality for Peruvian women.”
Currently abortion in Perú is legal only when the health or life of a woman is at risk, and not in cases of rape. The devastating impact of criminalizing abortion in cases of rape is particularly far-reaching in Perú, which has the highest rate of reported rape in South America. Peruvian girls and adolescents account for an overwhelming proportion (78 percent) of rape cases and, adding insult to injury, public health services are prohibited from distributing emergency contraception.
A study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute reinforced the fact that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. According to the study, the 2008 abortion rate in Latin America—a region where abortion is highly restricted in almost all countries—was 32 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, while in Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the rate is just 12 per 1,000.Cases: L.C. v. Peru (UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) KL v. Peru (United Nations Human Rights Committee)
Leah Meredith had worked hard at Geico for four years and gotten several promotions, and she was up for another promotion when she got pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy, she said, and although by the third trimester she could barely walk, she still kept up her work. But when she was called into a meeting right before she took maternity leave, she was advised that she would not be receiving her promotion. She filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with human resources, and they said they would investigate.
After she came back from the four months of leave she needed to heal and bond with her daughter, Meredith said, “[the] response was that there was no response. They weren’t sure what my position would be. I had no desk, and my items were packed in broken boxes.”
Pregnancy discrimination on the job is common to this day, despite laws intended to prevent it, and that’s just one of many reasons to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, said Democratic legislators and women’s rights advocates at a Thursday morning rally in front of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court has made clear that women are not necessarily considered equal in the Constitution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) at the rally. Speier has introduced a resolution in the House that would make it easier to ratify the ERA.
Choosing the Supreme Court as a protest location rather than, say, Congress, sent the message that the 14th Amendment isn’t always enough to uphold women’s equality in the highest court of the land. A sitting Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, has said outright that the Constitution does not explicitly protect women: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
The Hobby Lobby decision was fresh in the mind of many speakers, who said it enables sex discrimination because religious employers can effectively force women to pay more for medical care. The Affordable Care Act marks the first time that insurers are not allowed to “charge [a woman] more and give her less,” said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, noting that before the ACA passed, women were discriminated against by because they were charged 50 percent more than men and because 80 percent of individual policies did not cover maternity care.
Speakers pointed to the Court’s 100-foot buffer zone as an example of both hypocrisy and unfairness to women, given the recent McCullen v. Coakley decision striking down a 35-foot buffer zone that protected women from protesters at reproductive health clinics. And the 2000 U.S. v. Morrison case, which struck down part of the Violence Against Women Act, was held up as an example of why women need stronger constitutional protections when local courts or schools fail to adequately address sexual violence.
With an ERA, Speier said, women would no longer have to prove not only that an offense occurred, but that it was an intentional act of discrimination. “No longer would legal arguments for women be doubly burdened,” she said.
The ERA was introduced in Congress every session from 1923 to 1972, when it was finally passed. Thirty-five states ratified it, three short of the threshold needed to be included in the Constitution, but conservative campaigns against the ERA stalled its momentum. It failed to reach 38 states before the 1979 deadline that Congress had imposed when the amendment was introduced, and failed again before 1982 when the deadline was extended.
The amendment has been reintroduced every year since 1982, as it has this year in the House by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-CA). But a newer strategy, called the “three-state strategy,” has been to try to get Congress to repeal the time restriction on ratifying the amendment. If passed, HJR 113 and SJR 15 would count the ratification votes passed in 35 states between 1972 and 1977, and only three more states would need to get on board for the amendment to be ratified. Illinois is scheduled to vote on the ERA in November, potentially making it state number 36.
A 2012 poll found that 91 percent of Americans supported a Constitutional guarantee of equal rights for men and women. In fact, said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, “Most people think we already have one!”
Advocates and legislators said they intend to make the ERA a campaign issue. “We could easily pass it next year if the women and like minded men in this upcoming election would make it a fundamental principle that they will not vote for any candidate who does not say and believe that equal means equal, not in rhetoric, but in the Constitution of the United States, for women and men,” Maloney said.
Attendees of the rally dressed as Rosie the Riveter, echoing another protest this year urging President Obama to pass a federal “Good Jobs” policy. The army of Rosies who took over men’s jobs when they went to war, speakers said, were paid the same wage as the men they replaced—but even that much is sometimes a challenge today.
“We have had to fight, and fight, and lose, and fight, and lose, and get up and fight again, and win, and have it cut back, and fight again, and do it over and over and over and over again,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, at the rally. “If we had an Equal Rights Amendment, we wouldn’t have to be spending all of our resources, and all of our energy, and all of our attention, just getting to a little bit more of equality.”
Image: Emily Crockett
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Sovaldi, a drug to cure Hepatitis C, made headlines when it was approved in December as a breakthrough in treatment for this chronic and potentially fatal liver disease. This week it is making headlines again, as the manufacturer announced sales of $3.5 billion for the second quarter alone, and many people, including two U.S. Senators, are questioning whether even a miracle cure should have such a high price tag.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that is spread primarily through contact with another person’s infected blood. Though it can be spread sexually, the risk of this is low. Most often, people become infected with Hepatitis C by sharing needles to inject drugs. The virus can also be transmitted from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy and childbirth. Though some cases of Hepatitis C are acute, meaning they pass quickly, most people who get the virus will have a chronic or continuing infection. Chronic Hepatitis C can lead to long-term health problems, liver failure, and liver cancer. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 3.2 million people in the United States living with Hepatitis C, and about 15,000 people die from it each year.
Sovaldi is definitely a game-changer. Before it was approved, patients relied on drugs that had numerous side effects and a cure rate of about 50 percent. In clinical trials, Sovaldi, which is taken as one pill a day for 12 weeks, had few side effects and cured nine out of ten patients. The problem, however, is that each pill costs $1,000, meaning the entire course of treatment comes at a price of $84,000.
Gilead, the manufacturer of the Sovaldi, is defending its price point by highlighting its cure rate, its research-and-development costs, and the other costly treatments—such as liver transplants—that Hepatitis C patients who take the drug will no longer need. But these arguments are not convincing to many in the health-care world, who say that with estimated 2014 sales of $10 billion, Gilead—which bought the start-up company that invented Sovaldi—will make back its investment many times over; Sovaldi is now one of the highest-selling prescription drugs of all time. Others note that costly treatments like liver transplants were not inevitable even without this new cure, as only about 1 or 2 percent of individuals with Hepatitis C ever get to that point.
In their letter to the manufacturer, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) note that before Gilead acquired the drug’s developer, the projected price for a 12-week course of treatment was $36,000 ($48,000 less than the current price tag). The letter reads in part, “It is unclear how Gilead set the price for Sovaldi. That price appears to be higher than expected given the cost of development and production and the steep discounts offered in other countries.” The letter asks the company to explain the price and requests that information within the next two months. Gilead has said it will comply with the request.
In the meantime, industry analysts and insurers have weighed in, suggesting that this drug alone could cripple the system by which we pay for health care, ruin all attempts to reign in related costs, and cause insurance premiums to rise for everyone in the United States. One estimate, included in the lawmaker’s letter, suggested that the drug would cost Medicare Part D, the drug benefit program for senior citizens, $6.5 billion in the next year or so, which would lead to an 8 percent increase in premiums. Another estimate, by Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the nation, set the cost to states at $55 billion to treat all Medicaid patients and prison inmates and called the drug “a tax on all Americans.” Executives at CVS Caremark, the nation’s second largest pharmacy benefit manager, wrote a commentary for the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which they argued that treating Hepatitis C patients would add $200 to $300 to every American’s premiums over the next five years.
The New York Times, however, points out that all of these estimates may be inflated because they assume that all three million individual with Hepatitis C will seek Sovaldi immediately. The Times notes that many of these people don’t know they are infected, and others have no symptoms so would likely not seek a cure right away. Moreover, it points out that the health-care system couldn’t accommodate treatment for everyone right away, so the costs would ultimately be spread out over a number of years.
Gilead also makes the HIV-prevention drug Truvada, and on Wednesday the Food and Drug Administration approved the company’s new drug, Zydelig, which is designed to treat three kinds of blood cancer.
The post Senators Among Those Questioning Cost of Drug to Cure Hepatitis C appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Three legal advocacy groups in Tennessee filed a class action lawsuit Wednesday against the state for adopting policies that delay and deny health coverage to people eligible for Medicaid.
The lawsuit makes several allegations, most basically that the state has created a series of bureaucratic hurdles that essentially prohibit access to the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, making it the most difficult state in which to enroll in Medicaid.
For example, according to the lawsuit, Tennessee has failed to provide in-person assistance for people trying to enroll in TennCare, and no longer accepts completed applications in person. It also has not set up a website for TennCare enrollment, instead forcing people to use the federal insurance exchange website, which was not designed to process state-level eligibility. In some cases, says the lawsuit, otherwise eligible Tennessee residents using the federal website to sign up for TennCare are actually denied coverage because the website cannot determine eligibility under certain categories outlined by state law.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is a baby, identified as S.G., who was born into coverage under a health program called CoverKids; when he left the hospital Tennessee revoked that coverage. S.G. was born premature and as a result has specific medical needs. Though his parents make less than $2,000 a month and re-applied for CoverKids days after his birth, they have still received no notification from the state.
Tennessee is one of 24 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which also required states to streamline and improve their Medicaid enrollment processes. Last month, the Obama administration warned six states, including Tennessee, that they were failing to comply with the federal law. In a letter dated June 27, the Department of Health and Human Services requested that Tennessee submit a plan to the government detailing how it will come into compliance with Obamacare. In a defiant response, a TennCare official blamed the state’s health-care woes on the federal website, saying that only “a small percentage of applicants have had difficulty completing the enrollment process, but almost all of those problems have been the result of flaws in the federal government’s healthcare.gov website.”
A staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the organizations that brought the suit, said in a press statement that Tennessee officials are intentionally sacrificing the health of its citizens in order to “score political points” with Republicans by making Obamacare look bad.
The post Tennessee Sued for Denying, Delaying Access to Medicaid appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Did you know that 7 in 10 Americans believe in a woman's right to choose? You might be shocked to learn that even though the majority of Americans are pro-choice, our values aren't represented in Congress.
Right now, only 4 in 10 members of Congress share our pro-choice values!
Imagine all of the ways we could improve access to reproductive-health care if anti-choice politicians weren't running the show.
Here are 7 things we could do if 7 out of 10 members of Congress were pro-choice:
These victories would just be the beginning.
If we elect a Congress that looks like the rest of America, we'll have champions who will fight for a country where all women can have the freedom to decide their own destinies, including when, how, and with whom to start a family.
Look, this isn't going to be easy, but we can make this dream a reality if the pro-choice majority refuses to stay silent. Join the community of 7 in 10 pro-choice Americans to help us win. And share our graphic on Facebook to help get the word out:
07.24.14 - The numbers are disturbing. According to a recent UNICEF study, one in nine girls in the developing world will marry before age 15; one in three will marry before 18. Some are as young as eight. Child marriage remains an all-too-common reality throughout large swaths of the world—particularly South Asia. And the repercussions are often devastating—both for the young girls and for their communities.
Early marriage usually ends a girl’s education. It leaves her vulnerable to sexually contracted diseases as well as domestic violence and marital rape as a result of the power imbalance in the relationship. It also exposes her to life-threatening complications. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth compared to women over 20. The risk is far greater for girls under 15.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has been working to combat the ravages of child marriage through legal advocacy. This week, this important issue takes center stage in London at the Girl Summit 2014, a first-ever event co-hosted by Unicef and the British government aimed at rallying efforts to end the practice of child marriage, as well as female genital mutilation, within a generation.
“The Girl Summit reminds us that much more needs to be done by governments across the world to end the egregious practice of child marriage and stronger action is needed to achieve this goal,” says Melissa Upreti, the Center’s Regional Director for Asia. “Governments must step up their efforts to end the impunity surrounding child marriage by using the law and legal institutions to effectively deter child marriage and to provide legal remedies to girls and women who suffer from its consequences. This includes not allowing religion to be used as a justification for the practice.”
The Girls Summit comes on the heels of a promising development in India, where—despite the country’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, it is estimated that a third of child marriages take place. This June, following testimony from human rights groups—including a shadow letter authored by the Center and our partners, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN)—the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued Concluding Observations urging India to take measures “to ensure the effective implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,” specifically by clarifying that that the PCMA supersedes India’s religious-based Personal Status Laws. One of eight UN human rights treaty bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child is the body responsible for ensuring children can enjoy their human rights and live with dignity, respect, and equality.
As detailed in the Center’s new Fact Sheet on Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia, personal status laws are among the greatest barriers to ending child marriage practices in India. Personal laws generally govern matters related to family affairs such as marriage and divorce for specific religious groups—Muslim and Hindi, among others. The laws accommodate the religious and cultural differences in a pluralistic society such as India’s, but are frequently discriminatory against women and can undermine human rights protections. Personal laws establish their own age of marriage, legal status for marriages conducted before the age of 18, and penalties for child marriage.
Although the PCMA states that all marriages of girls younger than 18 are voidable and penalizes involvement in child marriage, under the Hindu Marriage Act this is only an option to a girl who was married before 15 and who contests the marriage before she turns 18. In contrast, under the uncodified Muslim personal laws, a girl can only void a marriage performed before puberty—presumed to be age 15—if the marriage has not been consummated. These inconsistencies exemplify the legal maze faced by girls in these regions, as well as by human rights bodies attempting to enforce international human rights standards.
The UN Committee’s recommendation to India to clarify that the PCMA supersedes personal laws takes an important step towards eradicating this harmful practice that has been too long protected by the cloak of tradition.
“The Committee on the Rights of the Child has taken a bold step by trying to tackle a delicate issue—the problematic relationship between religion-based personal status laws and general secular law,” notes Upreti. “The PCMA could be a stronger law and diligent enforcement is needed to make a national law aimed at prohibiting child marriage work, however, a profound challenge to ending child marriage in India is the precedence and deference given to personal laws on marriage, despite the fact that they are outrightly discriminatory and perpetuate inequality within marriage. The Committee’s recommendations to India send a clear signal that this must end as a matter of human rights.”
In addition to stressing the PCMA’s supremacy over personal status laws, the Committee’s Concluding Observations also responded specifically to a recommendation articulated in the Center and HRLN’s shadow letter for more educational efforts promoting reproductive health and rights. The Committee recommended that India take steps to combat the practices of dowry payment, child marriage, and devadasi (a form of sexual enslavement) by “conducting awareness-raising programmes and campaigns with a view to changing attitudes, as well as counselling and reproductive education, to prevent and combat child marriages, which are harmful to the health and well-being of girls.”Child Marriage and Personal Laws in South Asia Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity (Press Release) Childhood Discarded Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity UN Takes Major Action to End Child Marriage
Over the past two years ultra-conservatives have seen a slate of victories in Kansas, long a bastion of political conservatism. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback instituted the most aggressive income tax cuts in state history, leading to extreme budget shortfalls; he cut public education funding so severely that the Kansas Supreme Court had to interfere; and he removed nearly 45 percent of poor families from state welfare.
Less noticed was Brownback’s move to change the way judges are selected for the state court of appeals—an action that had the full backing of the leading anti-choice group in the state.
“We have a pro-life house and a pro-life senate and a pro-life governor,” Mary Kay Culp, the executive director of Kansans for Life, told RH Reality Check. But, she said, there’s a problem. “We pass pro-life legislation—and we get sued. The next frontier is the courts.”
Stung by the wave of state court cases consolidating marriage equality across the country, conservative groups in many states are now focusing on judicial elections to ensure the array of laws they’ve passed are upheld when challenged in state courts.
The result is that judicial selection—once a relatively obscure topic—has emerged as the focus of a new conservative strategy to reshape the way people become judges at the local level, according to experts who monitor judicial fairness.
“We’re seeing more interest in merit selection in a number of states, especially as high spending and political pressure become a bigger issue in contested judicial elections,” said Laurie Kinney, director of communications and public education at the national nonpartisan group Justice at Stake. “Special interest groups of many stripes have known for years now that judicial elections can provide an opening for political influence and spending that they believe will advance their agendas.”
While RH Reality Check did not find large donations from anti-choice groups to judges in the campaign finance records we examined, our reporting exposed a more profound strategy at work: an effort to cement conservative policy by changing the rules of the game.
Currently, 22 states have contested elections for judges, while 16 have some type of merit selection or governor-appointed system, according to Justice at Stake. Merit systems are intended to insulate the judicial selection process from political and special interest groups. The systems take different forms; a popular iteration establishes a non-partisan commission that accepts applications for judicial posts, and recommends three candidates to the state governor.
Recognizing the potential to influence judicial elections in the era of unlimited campaign contributions and “shadow money,” conservatives in multiple states have begun agitating to switch from merit-based appointment systems to open elections for judges. These groups are also active in opposing efforts to move toward merit-based systems.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which lifted caps on campaign contributions, spending in state court races has skyrocketed. Total spending in 2011-2012 high court state races reached $56.4 million, up from just $31.7 million in 2001, with special interest groups and political parties spending 43 percent of that total, according to a joint report published in October 2013 by the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The New York Times recently published a story about the heated judicial election in North Carolina, where national groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee poured money into the state supreme court race as part of an effort to put more conservative judges on the bench nationwide. And as Dahlia Lithwick noted in Slate, “knocking off a state Supreme Court justice is one of the cheapest political endeavors going.”
But instead of knocking off particular judges, anti-choice groups seem to be mobilizing to change the entire system of judicial selection. Once they’ve successfully implemented contested elections or gubernatorial appointment, they can then fund judges and governors who will push a conservative agenda.
That’s why Kansans for Life supported the state legislature in 2013 when they moved to swap the court of appeals merit selection committee for a system in which the governor selects judges, which the senate then confirms. The bill, which became effective July 1, 2013, allows Gov. Brownback to hand-select justices, without making the application pool, interview process, or selection criteria public. The only oversight is that the Republican-controlled senate must confirm the nominee.
Now, Kansans for Life has its eyes set on the state supreme court.
Unlike the lower state courts, where the process for selecting judges could be changed with a simple majority vote, Kansas’s state constitution specifies the way that judges are selected for its highest court. Changing that system requires a constitutional amendment.
The state senate passed such a constitutional amendment—which would eradicate the merit selection nominating commission for the Supreme Court—in January 2013, but there was no vote in the house. The legislative session is now over.
Ryan Wright, the executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, is wary of the push by Kansans for Life to change the constitutionally mandated selection process.
“Take the actual issue of abortion out of it; anytime you have a special interest group that is championing and cheering the [judicial selection] process, I think that should give everybody pause. Wait a second—what have they been promised? What have they been told privately? And why are they so excited about this?”
In the past three years, state legislatures in 11 states, including Montana, Tennessee (where merit selection will be on the general ballot in November), and Arkansas have attempted to pass merit selection bills in response to growing concerns about the politicization of state judiciaries, RH Reality Check’s research shows.
But legislators in some states have found those initiatives opposed by anti-choice groups.
Early this June, Pennsylvania state Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Peach Bottom) received an e-mail from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation urging him to vote against HB 1848, a merit selection bill.
“This will be a scorecard vote for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, which represents more than 40 pro-life organizations and tens of thousands of members in Pennsylvania,” the email read. “A ‘yes’ vote will be considered a pro-abortion vote.”
As chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Cutler was aware of the intense politics involved in selecting judges.
HB 1848 did not appear to be a “pro-abortion,” or even a particularly charged, bill. It proposed adding an amendment to the state constitution so that Pennsylvania’s statewide appellate judges would no longer be selected by partisan elections, but instead by a citizen nominating commission, gubernatorial appointment, and senate confirmation. Periodic retention elections—where voters simply vote “yes” or “no” to keep an incumbent—would ensure that extraordinarily unpopular judges couldn’t stay on the bench.
Rep. Cutler, who is also the chairman of the Pennsylvania House Pro-Life Caucus, was unswayed by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation’s email.
“I respectfully disagree with some of the issues they raise,” he told RH Reality Check in an interview. Rep. Cutler introduced a bill to prohibit abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges, and he would like to see a law in Pennsylvania (similar to the Wendy Davis-filibustered HB 2 in Texas) requiring abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Even so, he doesn’t think “pro-life” groups should be able to choose Pennsylvania’s judges.
“I personally have concerns when judges have to go out and enter the political process in the way of traditional candidates. I’ve always thought that raised a lot of red flags, when they sit on cases at a later time,” he said. “From my perspective, this is not a pro-life or a pro-choice issue. It is really an issue around the integrity of the judiciary.”
Due in part to the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation’s email, the bill was never debated in the house. Because legislators are proposing a constitutional amendment, they will need to vote on the bill in two consecutive sessions before putting the question to the voters. Since the bill failed in this legislative session, it can’t appear on the general ballot until at least 2017.
In other states, merit selection of state judges appears to be a sleeper issue.
Minnesota hasn’t faced the same high-level spending on judicial elections that other states have, which means the push for reform has been less urgent. Still, the legislature came close last year to passing a bill that would present a merit selection constitutional amendment to voters in November.
The state’s main anti-choice group—Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL)—says on its website that it opposes merit selection because it believes citizens should be able to vote for specific judges, and because retention elections are equally politicized as open elections.
The group declined to comment for this story, but Sarah Walker, president of Minnesota’s Coalition for Impartial Justice, attributes the bill’s failure to strong opposition from MCCL.
“There was some fear about this becoming a campaign issue,” Walker said.
For the most part, MCCL, like its anti-choice counterparts around the country, did not launch active opposition to the merit selection bill until it was time for a hearing, Walker said. Then they sent last-minute letters to legislators promising to “score the issue”—present it to voters as an anti-abortion vote in election season voting guides—just as the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation did.
“Regardless of what side of issues you are on, I think that everyone should be able to agree that we want our judiciary to be accountable to the rule of law and the Constitution,” said Walker. “We don’t want anyone making campaign promises.”
Starting this month, transgender state employees in Maryland can access transition-related health care under the state insurance plans. The change came as the result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender employee of the University of Maryland.
FreeState Legal, the firm representing the university employee, Sailor Holobaugh, publicly announced the decision on Tuesday, but the changes technically took effect earlier in the month.
“Maryland has moved one step closer to achieving full equality and justice for transgender Marylanders,” said Aaron Merki, executive director of FreeState Legal, in a press release.
Holobaugh, a clinical research assistant in the neurology department at the university, decided to file the lawsuit with FreeState after being denied coverage for a mastectomy, which he had already undergone and for which he had paid out of pocket—the total cost of the procedure was $6,500. The state denied coverage of the treatment based on an exclusion barring treatment “designed to alter an individual’s physical characteristics to those of the opposite sex.”
In the complaint, filed last November, FreeState alleges that the failure to cover the cost of the surgery amounts to gender discrimination, which is prohibited in Michigan.
As part of the settlement agreement reached with Holobaugh this month, the state not only agreed to pay for the majority of the procedure’s cost, but also to remove the transgender exclusion it had used to justify its actions from all of its state employee health plans. In addition, the state agreed to add language to all insurance plans that guarantees coverage of transition care. Called the Gender Dysphoria Benefit, the provision ensures coverage of medically necessary treatment, “including hormone replacement therapy and a variety of surgical procedures,” according to FreeState.
The shift in policy makes Maryland only the third state in the country to allow coverage of transition-related care under state insurance plans. California and Oregon have similar policies.
In a press statement, Holobaugh said he is “thrilled that people who serve Maryland as State employees have increased access to services, and that they can extend these benefits to their dependents.”
The post Maryland to Cover Transition-Related Health Care in State Insurance Plans appeared first on RH Reality Check.