A decision due soon from the European Parliament could trigger a wave of legislative change about how sex work is policed in Europe. Following a debate scheduled Monday about a report submitted by UK politician Mary Honeyball, politicians from around Europe must decide Wednesday whether they should adopt her position and formally recommend that European states criminalize the act of buying sex.
Often referred to as the Swedish or the Nordic model, this criminalization approach is becoming an increasingly applauded policy—by everyone except sex workers and the people who work with them.
“Most societies who work with sex workers are against criminalizing the work. It’s a very ideological approach and not practical,” Luca Stevenson, coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), told RH Reality Check. “But it’s the well-funded, politically connected state organizations that can be the loudest.”
In the weeks leading up to the European Parliament debate, the ICRSE has been trying to get the voices of sex workers in Europe heard in the hope that it will prevent politicians from adopting these recommendations. The group’s call for Honeyball’s report to be rejected has been signed by over 550 organizations, from those representing transgender and HIV/AIDS groups to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Around 60 academics have also shown their support, criticizing the scientific quality of the report and arguing that many references cited by Honeyball have been refuted time and time again.
This is the latest development in a debate that has been going on in Europe for more than a decade. A law criminalizing the purchase—but not the sale—of sex was first introduced in Sweden in 1999. Although different countries vary over how they implement such a law, the “criminalization model” works by arresting or penalizing customers of sex workers. While some have argued this would reduce the demand for and supply of sex workers, as well as making them less subject to violence and abuse, in fact the result has been just the opposite, driving sex workers underground and making them more vulnerable.
Over the next decade, similar legislation was put in place in Norway and Iceland and is currently being pushed through the French parliament. In addition, it has been frequently referenced by politicians in other countries, including Scotland and England, as a potential model. The praise heaped on the Nordic model in Honeyball’s report repeats similar claims made by many politicians and police in Sweden and other European countries, such as France, celebrating the fact that it is legislation to tackle prostitution that doesn’t criminalize sex workers.
However, critics argue that because a law has to be broken in order for sex workers to work, by de facto they are perceived to be working in a criminal environment. According to groups representing sex workers, one of the effects this has is to reduce tolerance and increase stigma directed at sex workers.
“They say that these laws are about criminalizing the buyers of sex and not against sex workers themselves, but in reality in the street that does not work,” Stevenson said. He noted that in France, a week after a bill was approved by the national assembly that would introduce a €1,500 fine (about $2,065) against people who purchase sex, residents in one town rallied in the streets with signs, intending to drive sex workers out of town. “They could do that because the state agreed with them. Criminalizing sex work reinforces the stigma against it,” he said.
According to Stevenson, although the Swedish law acts under the guise of protecting sex workers, it’s actually an ideological position against prostitution and the people who work in that industry. He sees this reflected strongly in the attitude of the police concerning migrant sex workers.
“In Sweden, they can deport migrant prostitutes even though they are from countries in the European Union,” he said. “It’s OK for Swedish sex workers to be there, but if you’re a sex worker from Poland you get deported, even if you try to argue that it’s legal to work there as a European sex worker.”
This is legislatively backed up with the Swedish Aliens Act, which makes it illegal for foreigners to work in Sweden as sex workers, contradicting the assumption by international applauders, particularly pro-women groups, that the Swedish model is friendly to sex workers.
Advocates for criminalization also claim that it is a success because the number of sex workers has dropped in countries where it was introduced. However, a widely referenced 2010 Swedish government report, the Skarhed report, that claimed street prostitution had dropped has been refuted by academics who questioned the scientific rigor of its statistics and the fact that it ignored the longer ongoing trend of prostitutes moving off the streets and underground, which some researchers have recorded since the 1970s.
“The Skarhed report even ignores governmental reports” that provide opposing conclusions, May-Len Skilbrei, a professor at the University of Oslo, told RH Reality Check. “In this field, as in many, policy makers and implementers ignore what doesn’t fit their world view, and hype what does.” She also pointed out that there has been little research on the situation in Sweden in the first ten years, although this is now beginning to pick up.
In a 2008 report on prostitution in Sweden, professor Skilbrei also critiqued studies based on data drawn only from sex workers who had had contact with support services. Swedish police themselves have admitted in a press release that because much of the trade is conducted over the Internet, “none of the inspecting authorities have a complete picture of the scope as they are not engaged in continuous or structured reconnaissance.”
Perhaps even more important than the divisions in ideology and criticisms of the validity of scientific evidence, researchers, NGOs and, sex workers argue that criminalization negatively affects the physical well-being of sex workers.
“A major issue for me, the absolute bottom line, is the health and safety of sex workers,” Maggie O’Neill, a professor of criminology at Durham University in the UK, told RH Reality Check. “It’s this—the health and safety—that binds us together. I respect there are different ideological perspectives on this, but what does unite us is health and safety.”
Sex workers themselves have reported that this type of legislation creates heightened dangers. Interviews carried out with sex workers in Norway after the criminalization of the purchase of sex was introduced there found that sex workers consistently reported a change in customer base. “Nice” customers who stick to the correct boundaries are often law-abiding “average” people. “With criminalization many believe that fewer of this type of man buys sexual services,” a report by the organization Pro-Sentret notes.
The hope from pro-criminalization groups was that as the customer base narrows, it would drive sex workers away from the work. People who work with sex workers report that the reality is somewhat different. “What the police and campaigners like Honeyball don’t seem to realize is that if a sex worker hasn’t made enough money to pay for a room or whatever then they will just stay out longer,” said Stevenson. “If you’re on the street, you’re not going to go unless you have the money.”
Fewer opportunities to make money also can lead to an increase in taking risks. “Many people don’t know that sex workers choose clients,” said Stevenson. “If you get in a car with someone and you decide they are not safe, you can say no if you know that there will be someone else along in 15 minutes. But if you think that no other people are going to come by in the next half hour, you go with someone who you wouldn’t normally.”
The interviews carried out by Pro-Sentret also support the idea that risk taking has increased. “More and more of our users report that they take ‘trips’ without a condom,” the report notes, citing a drop in customers as the reason for this.
Increased health risks are a key reason why so many HIV and AIDS organizations are against criminalization. This includes the UNAIDS Advisory Groups on HIV and Sex Work, which in a 2011 update to a 2009 report stated that “states should move away from criminalizing sex work or activities associated with it,” including removing criminal penalties for the purchase and sale of sex.
“AIDS organizations are all saying that criminalizing sex work will increase the risk of HIV for sex workers. There is no understanding of this by pro-criminalization campaigners,” said Stevenson, pointing to the fact that in Honeyball’s report she mentions the risk of HIV for sex workers just once but fails to point out that HIV and AIDS organizations believe this risk becomes worse with criminalization. Among other criticisms, this misunderstanding is why so many of the signatories of the ICRSE petition against the Honeyball report are organizations who work with people living with HIV.
If the European Parliament decides to vote in Honeyball’s recommendations it won’t force countries to change their policies, but it will pressure them to revisit those policies and will give pro-criminalization groups much more leverage with politicians in their countries. Whatever the result on Wednesday, the future of sex work in Europe will become clearer, one way or another.
Image: WikiMedia Commons
The post Why the European Parliament Shouldn’t Criminalize Buying Sex appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Another attempt to remedy the sexual assault epidemic in the U.S. military was brought to a halt Monday when two different measures—one sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and another by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)—were denied preliminary votes after Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) insisted on tying the votes to a controversial measure on Iran.
All of the measures were crafted as amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let the Iran measure go forward. This had the effect of shutting down a vote on whether to proceed to debate on the sexual assault measures, since neither had enough support to overcome a filibuster. Late in the afternoon, Reid sent out a tweet that laid the blame for the thwarted vote on Republicans.
The Iran measure, which has support from some Democrats, would have added the threat of additional economic sanctions to the already heavily sanctioned Iran if its government did not hold up its end of an agreement with the United States and other nations to restrict its development of nuclear material and technology to non-military applications. What makes it controversial is the potential to scuttle current diplomatic efforts being conducted by the Obama administration.
The Gillibrand measure (originally introduced as S. 1752), which would remove the adjudication of sexual assault and other serious crimes from the chain of command, currently has the support of some 54 senators—six shy of the 60 needed to overcome the current obstacle to moving forward to a floor debate.
Currently, if a member of the military who is the survivor of sexual assault by another member wishes to report the crime, the survivor must make the report to his or her commander, who gets to decide whether or not to bring the case to trial.
If the amendment moved forward to debate, supporters believe that the additional votes might be found among currently undecided senators.
“Nowhere else in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted, except in the U.S. military,” Gillibrand said in speech on the Senate floor Monday night.
McCaskill’s amendment (last introduced as S. 1917) would not remove the adjudication and prosecution of sexual assault crimes from the chain of command, but instead seeks to prevent retaliation against those in the military who report a sexual assault by a fellow member, and to prevent a member’s military record from entering into a verdict.
Gillibrand and McCaskill have been at odds over how best to address the assault epidemic in the military. McCaskill is the lone Democratic woman in the Senate who opposes Gillibrand’s measure.
In June 2013, the Pentagon estimated that some 26,000 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” took place in the armed forces at the hands of fellow military members, and reported that fewer than 3,400 of those incidents were reported.
Garrette Silverman, a spokesperson for Sen. Moran, told the Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff in an email that Moran actually supports allowing votes on the Gillibrand and McCaskill measures, but objects to Reid deciding which proposed amendments to the NDAA get a vote.
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“Burque, I have one question for you: Se pudo?” Those were the first words I could manage to say to a crowd full of smiling New Mexican faces on November 19, as we received the joyful and shocking news that Albuquerque voters had defeated the harmful anti-abortion ballot measure by a ten-point margin.
Mamas hand-in-hand with their babies, young people jumping, and families holding closed fists in the air responded “Si se pudo, que viva la mujer!”
As a queer Xicana, and daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico, the joy in my heart at the sight of families like mine who showed up in droves to defend our bodies, our lives, and our decisions was unmatched by anything else I’d ever felt.
This ballot measure was the first municipal referendum in the country aimed at restricting access to safe abortion care. Albuquerque is one of four cities across the country that is home to a clinic providing abortions past 20 weeks. The ballot sought to eliminate access to such abortions under any circumstance other than a direct threat to a pregnant woman’s life. If it had passed, the ordinance would have eliminated access to abortion care at and beyond 20 weeks across the entire Southern corridor of the United States.
We knew that attacks on access to abortion care in our city were part of a new strategy to restrict abortion access at the municipal level and that, if successful, the same tactics would be used in other cities and states. Early polling showed that the popular vote favored the ban by a wide margin. We faced a daunting task: Mobilizing voters in fewer than 12 weeks for a special election, just six weeks after a mayoral election. When we started out, a victory by more than ten points was unthinkable.
This incredible win is a testimony to the strength of local organizations that have been building a strong movement for justice in New Mexico for many years. These organizations were at the nexus of the formation of the Respect ABQ Women campaign, the New Mexican-led effort of allied organizations that came together and defeated the ballot measure. Organizations on the campaign’s steering committee provided the strategic direction for all campaign efforts. The groups included the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Southwest Women’s Options, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and the Southwest Women’s Law Center.
From the beginning, the Respect ABQ Women campaign made the clear decision to prioritize the leadership of women of color. Much of this leadership came from Young Women United (YWU) and Strong Families New Mexico (SFNM), two reproductive justice organizations led by and accountable to women of color. Together, we played pivotal roles serving on the Respect ABQ Women campaign’s steering committee, fulfilling essential leadership positions, and implementing core parts of the campaign strategy.
YWU and SFNM decided early on that our goal in this campaign would be to move away from how short-term campaigns are usually run. Our model sought to ensure New Mexican leadership shaped and steered the campaign, shift the narrative on abortion, center the voices of those most affected, and garner the solidarity of national support and resources.
Leading With Local Infrastructure and Strategies
SFNM and YWU were clear that this campaign needed to be uniquely local, and uniquely New Mexican, to have any chance of succeeding. The Respect ABQ Women campaign came out of the pre-existing relationships between organizing and advocacy groups within the New Mexico Coalition for Choice, a longstanding coalition defending reproductive rights in New Mexico.
These relationships had been hard fought, coming from years of reproductive rights and health groups working alongside one another in their successful work to keep bills that would have restricted abortion access from ever leaving committees in the legislature. But this work has not been without challenge, and tensions had grown over the years when strategies and tactics would sometimes conflict.
Fortunately, a number of years ago, with the support of Strong Families, we worked actively with partners from the Coalition for Choice to address these challenges and develop a new way to work together, one that set the stage for our win this fall. This included clear agreements on how we would work together, and a commitment to prioritizing the perspectives of those most affected by our issues—particularly low-income women of color.
With our internal collaboration strengthened, and our external wins each year preventing at least six anti-abortion bills from moving through the legislative process, we were poised to take on the ballot initiative.
Shifting the Narrative on Abortion
YWU and SFNM are proud of the contributions we made to shape messages that reflected New Mexican values. While this ballot measure threatened access to abortion within and beyond the city of Albuquerque, the Respect ABQ Women campaign made a concerted effort to move framing of the issues beyond the polarizing “pro-life” vs. pro-choice language often used in national movements. We knew that language wouldn’t bring our communities out because it presented a falsely black-and-white portrayal of what are complex personal decisions about abortion.
Instead, the Respect ABQ Women campaign’s lead message held that “deeply personal and complex decisions about abortion should remain in the hands of women, families and their doctor without government interference.” This frame spoke directly to the real lives of women and families and provided an opportunity to respect the individual circumstances, faith traditions, and life challenges affecting women and families who face the decision to continue or end a pregnancy. This message acknowledged and embraced the complexity of abortion and created an opening for various communities to participate in the election.
Centering Those Most Affected
The primary goal of ballot measure campaigns is almost always to do “whatever it takes” to get the votes necessary for the win. This mentality often results in campaigns created in a bubble, isolated from long-term social change goals and disconnected from the larger political climate.
Campaigns to defeat anti-choice ballot measures are often reluctant to engage young people and communities of color because of widely held perceptions that these voters will not turn out or that they hold opposing views on abortion.
YWU and SFNM made sure the Respect ABQ Women Campaign would steer clear of tactics that would compromise or marginalize our communities, and instead in all our efforts made long-term organizational decisions to focus closely on those most affected.
For example, our message of abortion as a complex and personal decision was tailored specifically to reach communities of color—specifically speaking to the value our community places on respect for individual and family decisions. This also played out in decisions about what imagery to use, whose faces should represent the campaign, and how to reach folks where they were at in terms of their feelings about abortion. The campaign allowed our leadership, alongside other groups led by women of color, to guide the strategies that brought our community into the discussion. We also worked with Dolores Huerta, a well-respected New Mexican and Chicana activist—another example of how we focused on reaching the communities we felt needed to be at the center of the campaign.
YWU led the integration of art and imagery into the communications strategy and maintained a constant social media presence for the campaign reflecting the lived experiences of our communities. We did this by working with local photographers and designers to create a photo campaign centered on the strength of Albuquerque families and neighborhoods standing against the ban. YWU centered the voices of Albuquerque’s communities by leading the Spanish-language efforts of the Respect ABQ Women Campaign.
We were so inspired by the solidarity of Dolores Huerta, who complemented our work on the ground knocking on doors, and leveraging her reputation as a trusted community leader to build an intergenerational collaboration with Young Women United. With her help, YWU developed radio ads with us in English and Spanish to engage our Latina/o communities in this conversation.
In the Field
For decades, many in the reproductive rights movement have labeled Latina/o and Hispanic communities as inherently conservative and have chosen to ignore communities of color in civic engagement efforts.
Strong Families New Mexico led a field strategy that focused on neighborhoods that were predominantly people of color. Phone banks and canvassing hosted by SFNM and YWU not only reached out to young people, queer and trans* communities, and communities of color, but also created a welcoming space for volunteers who were active in progressive movements but had not previously worked on the issue of abortion. SFNM and YWU managed more than 153 volunteers, nearly 40 percent of Respect ABQ Women’s total volunteer base. We used this as an opportunity to engage our communities to speak about reproductive justice, the need to defeat anti-abortion measures, and the need to build their capacity to mobilize their own communities for change. Of the 153 volunteers we engaged, nearly half were people of color, a significant portion were young people, 20 percent were men (many were young men of color), and more than 30 percent were LGBTQ.
Garnering National Solidarity and Resources
The strategic direction of the Respect ABQ Women campaign was supported by the solidarity of national organizations and resources. Effective national-local partnerships are going to be key to winning other local and state-level battles, and we’re proud to be creating a model for how to do that in a way that builds power and respects local expertise.
Early on, for example, Strong Families held a joint press conference with national reproductive justice leaders from Black, Latina, and Asian communities delivering a message of solidarity for Respect ABQ Women and connecting the local campaign to other attacks across the country.
Organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Advocates for Youth also stood in solidarity with New Mexican women of color leadership by supporting radio ads developed by YWU to engage Latina/o communities.
For YWU and SFNM, the win was one moment in time in the effort to build a larger vision of reproductive justice. We know that the work doesn’t end here. Although this election is over, we are committed to continued mobilization of our communities and the resources we built during the campaign to increase access to the rights, resources, and recognition that all people and families need to thrive. While this campaign was a true testament to New Mexico’s leadership, it serves as a learning moment for our reproductive justice work. We learned that we can win if we build local leadership, while tapping national resources, focusing on those most affected, and shifting the abortion narrative.
As I came off the stage on election night, my cheeks rattling with adrenaline and emotion, I felt a soft hand squeeze mine in solidarity. Dolores Huerta, a woman who has fought many battles and celebrated numerous victories in her time, held my hand and whispered into my ear, “Gracias, our communities really needed this.”
Young Women United is a reproductive justice organizing project by and for young women of color in New Mexico working to ensure all people have the resources necessary to make real decisions about their bodies and lives. YWU works with women of color ages 13 to 35 to advance an intersectional vision of reproductive justice.
Strong Families New Mexico is the first state-based action site of the National Strong Families Initiative, staffed by Forward Together. Strong Families nationally is home to more than 120 organizations across the country that are changing the way we think, feel, and act on behalf of families. A key part of Forward Together’s movement-building model is to partner with strong, local organizations, so that the local is lifted to influence the national agenda. SFNM is building a network of organizations across the state that can grow a broader social justice movement in New Mexico.
Image: Young Women United / YouTube
The post We Respected Albuquerque Women and Won: Lessons Learned From Albuquerque appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A state senate committee in Georgia voted Thursday to approve a bill that would ban many health insurance plans from covering abortion care except in a narrowly defined “medical emergency.”
The bill, SB 98, would make Georgia the 25th state to ban insurance coverage of abortion on the health exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. (That number includes Michigan, where such a ban has passed but has not yet gone into effect.) It would also prevent Georgia’s more than 600,000 state employees from accessing insurance coverage for abortion. More than 100,000 Georgians are already enrolled in health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Georgia state employees are already forbidden from accessing insurance coverage of abortion care, but the ban is an administrative one that the state health board pushed through last year after a similar bill failed to gain enough votes to pass the legislature. SB 98 would codify that ban into law, and would only marginally expand the exceptions. Currently, state employees can only receive coverage for life-saving abortions; the new law would allow either state employees or women purchasing insurance on the exchanges to get coverage if an abortion prevents the “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
“It’s a health exception so narrow that it’s practically nonexistent,” Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check. The exception, Allen said, only covers immediate threats to a woman’s health, not complications from health conditions. A woman would not be covered, and face prohibitive costs, if she needed an abortion to start chemotherapy, to avoid exacerbating a heart condition, or to protect her mental health.
This narrow definition of “medical emergency” was also used in Georgia’s 20-week abortion ban, which is currently blocked by courts, and shows up frequently in so-called health exceptions to other restrictive abortion laws around the country.
Bans on insurance coverage of abortion, reproductive rights advocates say, are a common anti-choice strategy to undermine abortion access in a piecemeal fashion.
“We know that state politicians want abortion to be illegal, and they aren’t always able to do it outright,” Gretchen Borchelt, director of state reproductive health-care policy at the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check. ”So what they are doing is pushing restrictions that make abortion more unaffordable, or interfere with a woman’s ability to get access to abortion.” Borchelt noted that banning abortion coverage on the exchanges is also one of many attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
Abortion insurance bans gained national attention late last year when Michigan passed a law that opponents called “rape insurance,” because it bans all insurance coverage of abortions, including in cases of rape or incest, unless a woman purchases an additional insurance rider. Allen called the proposed Georgia insurance ban “slightly less extreme” than Michigan’s; Michigan’s is one of the most extreme laws in the nation. Like Michigan’s ban, the Georgia ban would not affect all private insurers, and it would provide no exceptions for rape or incest (it would not provide an option to purchase additional coverage for such cases). Unlike Michigan’s, the Georgia bill would provide at least a marginal health exception.
Image: Healthcare via Shutterstock
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Two South Dakota bills that would have imposed severe restrictions on abortion procedures as well as penalties on abortion providers, including possible life in prison, will not move forward in the legislature after a hearing this weej of the House Health and Human Services Committee.
HB 1241, sponsored by Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea), would have made illegal any abortion performed in which a “living” fetus is “dismembered” during an abortion. The legislation appeared to target dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, which may be used in a second-trimester abortion. Physicians told RH Reality Check the bill could, in practice, have the effect of banning all surgical abortions in the state past seven weeks’ gestation.
Latterell also sponsored HB 1240, which would have banned abortions in cases when the fetus was “diagnosed with, or has had a genetic screening indicating that the unborn child may have Down syndrome.” During his testimony, Latterell cited his sisters, both of whom have Down syndrome, as examples for why the bill should be passed. “We must stop killing children simply because they have Down syndrome,” said Latterell.
Susie Blake, a former South Dakota state representative, testified against the bill, saying the issue at hand is not about whether people with Down syndrome have value, but rather “a woman’s ability to have a choice.”
Abbie Peterson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, testified that the bill would “insert the government into a woman’s medical decisions, by making a list of when and why a woman can exercise her right to legal abortion care.”
Committee members voted 8 to 4 to defer HB 1240, blocking it from being considered for a vote by the full house. Lawmakers said that the bill created legal complications for ongoing litigation on previously passed abortion restrictions in the state. “It’s too risky in my estimation to compromise that legal progress that we’ve made,” said Rep. Steve Hickey (R-Sioux Falls).
Latterell was the lone person to testify on behalf of HB 1241; he said he drafted amendments to the bill to address legal concerns about the language, but that he would not submit them to the committee. He went on to say that he would introduce a similar bill next year after working with physicians and attorneys to “come up the correct language to be successfully introduced and passed.” After his testimony, Latterell requested that the bill be tabled, and committee members voted 11 to 1 approving his request.
Image: gavel via Shutterstock
The post South Dakota Legislature Tables Bill That Could Have Banned Abortion at Seven Weeks appeared first on RH Reality Check.
When media consumers read an op-ed shaming rape victims, when fans follow fictional narratives that exaggerate the risks of abortion, when viewers encounter no women of color on TV screens or elided depictions of queer sexuality in films, when articles about and interviews with transgender individuals treat their lives as salacious rather than sensitive material, when readers flip through the pages of glossy magazines and see only tiny, thin, white bodies—in all these instances, they are consuming the choices of media makers.
So much of this damaging media content comes from creators who are not women. Women are more absent than they should be in positions of power for nearly every form of media imaginable, from sports reporting to op-ed pages to Hollywood meeting rooms. The annual VIDA Count came out Monday, revealing a male-dominated “byline count” in major “thought leader” publications that, with the exception of a few places, has barely budged. Meanwhile, last week, the Women’s Media Center released its annual report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014, and despite some prominent gains, the numbers are downright dismal in category after category.
As a writer with one foot in the media world and another in the activism world, I sometimes wonder if I overhype the sexism in the former, or have too critical an eye. But the numbers don’t lie. When feminists raise havoc and draw attention to these kinds of omissions, we are confronting a male-dominated industry that favors its own status quo.
All of us who love creating and consuming media, from TV shows to podcasts to newspapers, have a stake in solving this problem. Diversity shouldn’t just be encouraged for equality’s sake, but also for the sake of quality: The whiter and more male the reporters, staff, and executives are, the more likely audiences are to encounter stereotypes and cliches, monochrome casts, and stale content.
Often, the numerical imbalance these reports pinpoint reinforces itself. As detailed below, many of the disparities highlighted by the WMC report and VIDA Count, as well as other recent studies, indicate the existence of mini-ecosystems for white male media privilege. If men are writing the most op-eds, for instance, they’re most likely to be on Sunday talk shows. And if more men are directing movies, then more men get speaking roles in movies. The beast of misogyny feeds itself.
Some of the studies the WMC report uses in its compilation delve into race, while some are strictly about gender. But the results across the board are clear: The media has far to go in both categories, as well as in terms of including more diversity across the LGBT and ability spectrum. (It is also clear that the researchers who look into these statistics need to find a model to better examine all those intersections.)
Read on for a detailed look at some of these findings.
Opinions Are Dominated by Dudes—Even on Women’s Issues
Opinions: We all have them. Yet men—white men, in particular—are more likely to get theirs broadcasted, whether as a quote in an op-ed or as a “talking head” on news shows. The WMC report cites a Gawker reckoning of big-shot editorial page columnists: There were only 38 women out of the 143 columnists at the largest newspapers and syndicators in the country. And the same holds when opinions from “sources” are sought in front page news stories. “Men were quoted 3.4 times more often than women in Page 1 stories published in The New York Times during January and February 2013,” the report notes.
OK, this is all rather dispiriting, but what about opinions on women’s issues? Surely women must be ahead on this! Unfortunately, another report by watchdog group the 4th Estate found:
Among 35 major national publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, men had 81 percent of the quotes in stories about abortion…
In stories about birth control, men scored 75 percent of the quotes, with women getting 19 percent and organizations getting 6 percent…
Women fared a bit better in stories about women’s rights, getting 31 percent of the quotes compared with 52 percent for men and 17 percent for organizations.
This particular finding demonstrates that the disparity is not just about who’s available and qualified to talk, but a real systemic bias in favor of male voices. It should be noted that numbers for Sunday talk shows, another huge opportunity for opinions to be aired, are even worse—with the saving grace of Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show.
I find it particularly egregious that opinion journalism, which is by its very nature subjective, would be so lopsided—one would think that the basic rules of fairness would dictate that reporters and editors get responses from people with different backgrounds and “takes” on any given issues.
What Happens Offscreen Affects What We See On It
Opinions about world events are rivaled in gender unevenness by film criticism, which is after all just opinion writing about popular culture. The VIDA Count revealed that in book criticism, a number of behemoths won’t budge from their 75 percent male byline count:
Drumroll for the 75%ers: The Atlantic, London Review of Books, New Republic, The Nation, New York Review of Books (actually holding steady at 80% men for four years) and New Yorker. We get it: you’re mighty, unmovable giants.
Similarly, a count of film review bylines during two consecutive months last year took a look at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the site filmgoers hit when they want to determine whether a film has “critical buzz.” In that sample time period, counters determined that men had written 82 percent of the reviews, and of the “top critics” at high circulation publications, the number was 78 percent.
But what are they writing about? The report notes that back in the mid-1990s, women were making more top movies than they are today. (As if we needed more grist for the mill of 90s nostalgia.) In 2013′s top-grossing movies, women accounted for only 16 percent of important positions behind the scenes, including directors, writers, executive producers, producers, cinematographers, and editors. Likewise, in one television category, forward movement has been so incremental as to be nearly immeasurable: “the number of episodes directed by white men fell from 73 percent to 72 percent.” Progress? Only a percentile.
Unsurprisingly, this bad news behind the scenes has had an effect on what appeared onscreen. Female actors in the top 2013 films garnered barely more than a quarter of the speaking roles and narration opportunities. On the other hand, in those films where women did have roles, actresses received “more roles with speaking parts and fewer gigs zeroing in on their sexuality.”
The fact that critics, filmmakers, and speaking roles are all imbalanced, gender-wise, creates a closed and self-reinforcing circle inside of whose borders male experience is centered, reinforced, and overvalued. And when women do attract praise and attention, as this infographic of Oscar winners shows, it’s often for roles that are defined by male relationships, whether as wives, mistresses, or maids.
Sports Coverage: A Man’s Man’s Man’s World
With all the disappointing results highlighted in the WMC report, the worst by far were in the arena of sports journalism, from talk radio to the Web to the paper. Only two sports talk radio hosts in the top 100 were women, while the number of female sports columnists actually dropped from 9.9 percent to 9.7 percent. But if ESPN staff were removed, “the percentage of female columnists would slip from 12.8 percent to 4.8 percent of all columnists.“ It’s enough to make film criticism look positively egalitarian!
That said, the sports journalism world has seen steady improvement too. Between 2010 and 2013:
When there’s a long way to go, gains can look dramatic—doubling the representation of women, and going a long way toward making an environment more hospitable for women and minorities in sports newsrooms.
So What Are We To Do?
Obviously, all editors and reporters need to be conscious of their own biases, and the existence of closed circles when it comes to covering, hiring, and quoting people who are like them. It should be noted that VIDA has been counting for several years running, and several magazines like Tin House and the Paris Review have actually shifted their “counts” dramatically, while the New York Times Book Review hiring a female editor has made a huge cultural difference in that publication’s pages.
But when VIDA surveyed smaller magazines, the group found less lopsided numbers. This feeds into my growing belief that women and other underrepresented groups need to make their own media pipelines, build their own companies and enterprises, and create their own stars who will then be hired by the mainstream—and also make the big enterprises compete for female and minority audiences. It’s a classic example of a situation where pressure from both within and without “the system” should be leveraged to effect change.
The post The Numbers Don’t Lie: White Men Still Dominate the Media appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The debate over the contraception mandate has raged on for more than a year with virtually no input from the women who stand to gain the most if the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the claims of organizations seeking exemptions from the requirement on the basis that it violates their “religious liberty.” The media is saturated with claims about the reputed harms to those challenging the mandate, whether those organizations are for-profit, secular companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, or nonprofit religiously affiliated organizations like the University of Notre Dame and Little Sisters of the Poor. “We are being penalized for practicing our faith!” is the clarion cry of these organizations.
Even if it is true that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) permits the religious exemptions sought by these organizations—and I have argued extensively that it does not—what of the harm imposed on those whom the mandate is intended to benefit? Where are the women in this debate? What legal argument centers their concerns?
In recent weeks, several legal commentators and scholars have declared that the Establishment Clause is the answer.
In an amicus brief recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood lawsuit, a group of church and state legal scholars, including professors Frederick Gedicks and Elisabeth Sepper, argue that the Establishment Clause prohibits the for-profit companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood from imposing the costs of their religious liberty on to women. (You can hear an interview with Sepper on RH Reality Check’s new legal podcast.) And, earlier this month, the New York Times editorial board argued that in considering Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood’s case, the U.S. Supreme Court “should at least recognize that the establishment clause takes precedent over the restoration act.” It seems that the Establishment Clause argument, while late out of the gate, is becoming the little argument that could.
The church and state legal scholars’ effort in raising the issue before the Supreme Court notwithstanding, no affected women have intervened in any of the cases involving for-profit secular companies to argue on behalf of themselves and others who would be affected by the outcome of the case. (When a party “intervenes,”she inserts herself into a lawsuit between others in order to protect her own interests.) Since no Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood employee is asserting his or her rights in the lawsuit, the Supreme Court is not bound to even consider the claim.
On the nonprofit organization front, however, things are a little different. The University of Notre Dame is being forced to answer to three women who have recently intervened in the university’s lawsuit to assert their rights as students to contraceptive access in student health plans. The three students are arguing that permitting the University of Notre Dame to opt out of the mandate imposes a significant burden on them, and therefore violates the Establishment Clause.
These students aren’t asking for much. They’re not asking that the University of Notre Dame provide contraceptive access or even pay for it. Rather, they are simply asking that the university do what it has always done and what it says it would have done anyway: inform its health plan administrator that it will not be offering contraception. After the university does so, it has no further obligation under the Affordable Care Act. At that point, third parties—Notre Dame’s health plan administrator and the government—will step in to provide the contraceptive access to which Notre Dame objects, at no cost to Notre Dame.
But that’s not enough for the university. Notre Dame still protests, claiming that the mere act of stating its refusal to provide contraceptive access will lead to third parties providing that coverage instead, and Notre Dame objects to being involved in any scheme that leads to women taking birth control, even when that involvement is nonexistent.
The University of Notre Dame wants to have its cake and eat it too: It doesn’t want to provide contraception, but it doesn’t want anybody else to provide it either.
Privileging the University’s religious interest in an indirect association with contraceptive coverage over the interest of literally thousands of women in actually receiving that benefit—and giving the University veto power over the flow of such benefits from independent third parties to affected women—would, as applied in this case, place RFRA at odds with the Establishment Clause.
Indeed it would. But the same principle applies to the lawsuits brought by for-profit companies. The question becomes, then: Why has this argument gone woefully ignored in the cases brought by companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood?
Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and an attorney for the student-intervenors in the Notre Dame lawsuit, has a theory. “This isn’t a matter of people being asleep and not realizing that it would be helpful to have interests of affected women heard,” Lipper says in an interview for RH Reality Check’s RJ Court Watch podcast. “It’s just difficult to find people willing to come forward.”
Considering that AU is representing the three student-intervenors anonymously, it is easy to imagine that employees of companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood would be hesitant about intervening in these lawsuits, especially in this economy, out of fear of retaliation. But then why isn’t the government making the Establishment Clause argument?
According to Lipper, it’s a matter of litigation tactics. “The government has an obligation to defend federal statutes and they don’t want to be making an argument that RFRA has Establishment Clause problems because that could come back to bite them in future cases in which they want to defend the application of the statute,” he said.
While that makes sense from a legal standpoint, it is of little comfort to the thousands of women who will be harmed if courts fail to sufficiently consider the consequences to women of religious liberty objections.
Fortunately, as a result of the recent surge in media interest in the Establishment Clause, it is conceivable that the Supreme Court will address this argument in the upcoming oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case, even though no party to the case has made the argument, only the church and state scholar amici have. And should the University of Notre Dame case make it to the Supreme Court, the Establishment Clause argument will be front and center, thanks to the three women who have stood up to Notre Dame.
The post Where Are the Women in the Contraception Mandate Cases? appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A ban on abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization is considered likely to pass the full West Virginia House of Delegates after passing out of a second house committee on Friday.
HB 4588 passed the House Judiciary Committee on a voice vote with no discussion. It passed the House Health and Human Services Committee, also on a voice vote with no discussion, last Monday. Before that vote, a contentious debate over a procedural move that would have forced the bill out of committee led anti-choice advocates to falsely claim that house Democrats had killed the bill. While that motion failed 48 to 48, some anti-choice Democrats indicated they would have voted for the bill itself even though they voted against the attempt to subvert the normal legislative process.
The 20-week ban “appears greased to pass the house,” Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the pro-choice organization WV Free, told RH Reality Check. She said she anticipates a hard fight with all of her group’s allies to prevent the bill from passing the senate as well.
Bans on abortion at 20 weeks like the one proposed in West Virginia are unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, rely on medically debunked notions that 20-week fetuses can feel pain, use medically inaccurate terminology such as “post-fertilization age” and “unborn child,” and would ban only about 1 percent of abortions, most of which are performed for medical reasons.
Chapman Pomponio noted that the West Virginia legislature has become markedly more conservative over the last few years.
“There is an appetite among many in the legislature to use women’s health legislation as a political bargaining chip,” she said.
Image: West Virginia Legislature
The post 20-Week Abortion Ban Likely to Pass West Virginia House appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Monday, the Supreme Court again turned back efforts to strip Planned Parenthood clinics of Medicaid funding, this time rejecting a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to overturn a federal appeals court ruling blocking its attempts to disqualify the women’s health-care provider from state Medicaid funds.
HB 2800, passed in 2012, would have excluded physicians who provide safe, legal abortion from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s Medicaid system. In February 2013, a federal district court found that the law violated the federal Medicaid Act, which protects patients’ rights to make their own decisions about health-care providers and permanently blocked the law from taking effect. Last August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed that decision.
“This ruling is a victory for Arizona women and their families,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a statement. “The men and women of this state have the right to see the health care provider they deem is best for them. Thousands of low-income women rely on Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care. Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to vital services.”
In defending the law, attorneys for the state had argued that the term “qualified” in the Medicaid statute was “too vague for the court to enforce” and therefore the state was free to come up with its own definition of qualified, including one that would block any provider offering access to or referrals for abortion care from receiving state funds. This argument, the Ninth Circuit held, would have effectively gutted the “provider-choice” provision of the Medicaid Act, the portion of the law that allows Medicaid recipients to chose which providers they want to see.
“Let this be a lesson to politicians across the country: These dangerous and unconstitutional laws won’t be tolerated by the courts or the voters,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Over and over again, courts have clearly said that states can’t block people from getting preventive health care at Planned Parenthood.”
According to Planned Parenthood, prior to the State of Arizona asking the Supreme Court to intervene, the litigation over the funding ban already cost the state approximately $279,000 in legal fees alone, which is what it would cost for Arizona to provide clinical breast exams or cervical cancer screenings to thousands of AHCCCS patients. Those costs would have increased had the Roberts Court taken the case.
Monday’s decision marks the second time the Supreme Court has refused to overturn such lower court decisions. Last year, the Roberts Court declined a request to review a similar decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals permanently blocking Indiana’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Federal courts have also blocked similar state efforts in Kansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
The post Supreme Court Turns Away Arizona Planned Parenthood Funding Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled against the University of Notre Dame’s challenge to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, holding that the university hadn’t demonstrated that complying with the exemption process for religiously affiliated nonprofits substantially burdened any religious interests the school had.
The decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s refusal to grant Notre Dame’s request for an injunction, which would have allowed Notre Dame to avoid complying with the contraception mandate while its challenge to the constitutionality of the exemption to the mandate for religiously affiliated nonprofits proceeds. Notre Dame is one of a handful of religiously affiliated nonprofits arguing that the self-certification process through which nonprofits identify that they object to providing insurance plans that cover birth control for their students and/or employees substantially burdens their religious rights because it “triggers” outside insurance administrators from making such coverage available.
Friday’s 2-1 decision rejected that claim, noting that the university had already notified the administrator of its employee and student plans that it objected to providing coverage, which meant it was complying with the law and its legal obligations were met. Essentially, the court said, what Notre Dame was asking for was an order blocking the insurance companies from providing that contraception coverage. Judge Richard A. Posner wrote for the majority:
We imagine that what the university wants is an order forbidding Aetna and Meritain to provide any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame staff or students pending final judgment in the district court. But we can’t issue such an order; neither Aetna nor Meritain is a defendant (the university’s failure to join them as defendants puzzles us), so unless and until they are joined as defendants they can’t be ordered by the district court or by this court to do anything.
While concluding that Notre Dame hadn’t made the case for a preliminary injunction, Judge Posner’s opinion did note that there were some open questions on the constitutionality of the mandate and its exemption, but that a trial on the merits was the appropriate venue to sort those out.
The university could appeal Friday’s decision to the full Seventh Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The post Appeals Court Rejects Notre Dame’s Challenge to Contraception Mandate appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released a report this month recommending that “unnecessary restrictions on abortion should be removed and governments should provide access to safe abortion services.” It’s not really a big surprise—UNFPA has been making solidly pro-choice recommendations for a long time now—but perusing the document, I realized the thing that really jumps out is how much this recommendation is based on facts and research; the report looks at abortion through a public health lens instead of through an ideological one. While the UNFPA wants to reduce the overall abortion rate—and the group recommends the fact-based method of improving contraception services to get there—it accepts as fact that not every unwanted pregnancy can be prevented. Uruguay is held up as a country that has made great strides in reducing the maternal mortality rate by decriminalizing abortion, bringing its maternal mortality rate from unsafe abortion down to zero.
What becomes clear is that the abortion debate has shifted away from being a clash of values and is now better understood in many ways as a struggle between the evidence-based worldview and the fantasy-based worldview. Just as evolution happened and climate change is a man-made phenomenon, the fact that safe, legal abortion is necessary for women’s health and safety is unassailable, if you have respect for reality. Which means that anti-choicers shouldn’t just be regarded as sex-phobic misogynists, though there will always be that, but also as denialists, just as those who deny things like climate change, evolutionary theory, and the safety of vaccinations.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a clash of values between pro- and anti-choice sides, of course. But that’s also true when it comes to other issues where denialists hold sway. The climate change battle is a fight between those who value the environment and those who value profits and convenience over long-term sustainability. The battle over evolutionary theory is between those who value scientific research and those who value arbitrary religious authority. The clash over vaccines is between those who value science-based medicine and those who appear to value their own egotistical need to feel they’re invincible against germs, or that’s the best read I have on it.
But the difference between a denialist and someone who just has a reactionary or unpleasant opinion is that a denialist realizes that their actual values are so repulsive they cannot be stated out loud, and so instead resorts to distorting or even outright lying about the facts instead. The climate change denialist will not admit to being indifferent to environmental destruction, since that’s borderline evil, but instead will claim that greenhouse gases are not a problem. Creationists do the same thing, pretending that there’s a scientific dispute to avoid admitting out loud their true motivations.
So it goes with abortion denialists. As the evidence accumulates to show that safe, legal abortion is necessary to prevent maternal mortality and injury, anti-choicers are ramping up the false claims that safe, legal abortion is the real cause of maternal mortality and injury. The favorite strategy of anti-choicers lately, most evident in Texas, is to pass medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that shut down clinics while pretending that it’s for women’s safety. It’s as if climate change denialists decided to start arguing that we need more greenhouse gases and started to pass laws requiring cars to have low gas mileage. (Not to give them any ideas.) It’s actually quite a bit like creationists fronting like they are science-based critics of evolutionary theory, when, of course, close examination shows they are just making a bunch of stuff up. Lying has become such a central component of the anti-choice strategy that the Susan B. Anthony List is suing to be able to use blatant lies in violation of campaign laws.
The thoroughly denialist bent of the modern anti-choice movement was on full display in the reaction to this UNFPA report. LifeNews.com went after this in its typical way, misrepresenting the arguments to give the false impression that maternal mortality from illegal abortion is not a big deal. It claims, based on the fact that the absolute number of abortion deaths is going down worldwide (which is because of increased contraception use, something LifeNews generally opposes), that “there is every reason to think that maternal mortality can be reduced by the full 75% called for by ICPD, and all without creating a right to abortion.”
Except that is not what the report says at all. On the contrary, the report is clear that while maternal mortality is going down overall, abortion death actually seems, percentage-wise, to be going up:
As of 2008, an estimated 47,000 maternal deaths were attributed to unsafe abortion, a decline from 69,000 deaths in 1990. But given that the number of deaths due to unsafe abortion has declined more slowly than the overall number of maternal deaths, unsafe abortions appear to account for a growing proportion of maternal deaths globally.
If LifeNews wanted to be intellectually honest, it could simply argue that a high death rate from illegal abortion is a price the site and its followers are willing to pay to send the message that abortion is wrong by banning it. (It would also admit that abortion bans are about nothing else but “sending a message,” as abortion bans are correlated with higher abortion rates.) Instead of just owning these beliefs and the consequences of them, and admitting that dead women is a price these anti-choicers are willing to pay in order to maintain sexual control and shame, LifeNews instead misleads and distorts. As with other denialists, this choice to favor dishonesty appears to be due to the fact that stating one’s moral priorities bluntly—admitting that one is more worried about policing sexuality than saving lives—makes a person seem pretty awful. So, in order to seem less awful, denialists lie. Which, ironically, makes them more awful, adding dishonesty to the list of moral transgressions necessary to uphold their ideological worldview.
Judge Michael Boggs of the Georgia Court of Appeals is an anti-choice former state legislator who co-sponsored bills that would have made it harder for young women to get abortions, and that would have funded anti-choice groups, including the so-called crisis pregnancy centers known for dispensing misleading or outright false information to pregnant women, through the sale of “Choose Life” license plates. In addition, Boggs voted to amend the Georgia constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and to preserve the symbol of the Confederate flag in the state flag of Georgia. And he’s President Barack Obama’s nominee to the federal district court in Georgia.
The nomination was made as a concession to Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who are both Republicans.
On Thursday, 27 progressive organizations, including RH Reality Check, sent a letter to members of the United States Senate, urging them to reject the Boggs nomination. The letter campaign was spearheaded by NARAL Pro-Choice America, and signatories include civil rights groups such as Color of Change and LGBTQ rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund. Also signing on are a range of pro-choice organizations, including Advocates for Youth and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as well as general-interest progressive groups such as CREDO Mobile/CREDO Action and Democracy for America.
The letter reads, in part:
During his time as a legislator in the Georgia General Assembly, Boggs demonstrated a troubling lack of concern for individuals whose experience and personal history differ from his own, creating a record that lacks a demonstrated commitment to fairness and equal justice with respect to issues of reproductive freedom, civil rights, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality.
At least one Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), is voicing reservations about the Boggs nomination. In reply to a request from RH Reality Check for his response to the letter sent by the NARAL-led coalition, Blumenthal provided a brief written statement.
“This letter raises legitimate and important questions about Judge Boggs’s record,” Blumenthal wrote. “I look forward to hearing him explain his positions fully before the Judiciary Committee when that time comes.”
“Blue-Slipping” and a Backroom Deal
The Boggs nomination, made as part of a deal to unsnarl the nomination of attorney Jill Pryor to the same court, a nomination blocked by Chambliss and Isakson. The pair have been able to stall the Pryor nomination with a tradition called “blue-slipping,” which allows an individual senator to effectively veto a federal judicial nominations to federal courts in their home states. (RH Reality Check’s Jessica Mason Pieklo has the backstory on blue-slipping here.)
The deal made by the Obama administration to move forward with the Pryor nomination involved allowing Chambliss and Isakson to sign off on four judicial nominations to the federal bench in order to grant the administration a mere two picks.
“These positions on the federal bench are too important for a backroom political deal,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue in an interview with RH Reality Check. “Each nominee needs to stand or fall on their demonstrated ability to hold the rule of law above their own personal beliefs.”
As Pieklo reports, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) could choose not to abide by the blue-slipping tradition—as his Republican predecessor, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) refused—since it is not a constitutionally-mandated rule. But Leahy has so far declined to shun the tradition, even if it means putting Boggs on the federal district court in Georgia, which reviews the decisions of courts in three Southern states.
“Michael Boggs has a track record of not only doing the wrong thing, but leading the wrong thing on reproductive freedom, on civil rights, on LGBT rights,” Hogue said. “And it is really connecting those dots that gives us grave concern that he would be able to separate his own personal beliefs from the cases he would be hearing from the bench.”
When asked if it was fair to give Boggs’ legislative record greater weight than his judicial record as a measure of how he would act on the federal appeals court, Hogue noted that NARAL had found no cases on matters of reproductive freedom that had come before him in his current post on the state court.
“So, there is nothing in his history as a judge that would negate his actions as a state [representative],” Hogue said. “One point that I think is really important for your readers to understand, and for the senators to understand, is that … cases that come before state judges rarely involve constitutional issues in the same way that we expect of a federal court, and therefore we do actually hold federal judges up to a higher standard because they’re talking about core fundamental rights and equality.”
Civil Rights and Reproductive Freedom: “Our Shared Connection”
Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, suggested that the Boggs nomination was an affront to the very coalition of voters who elected Obama to the presidency based, he said in an interview with RH Reality Check, on “a vision that we would be able to see America truly represented, not just through our legislative and executive branches, but through our judicial branch … We’ve got to make our voices heard for reproductive freedom, for the rights of LGBT folks, and for civil rights.”
Among the many aspects of Boggs’ record Robinson found troubling, he said, was the nominee’s support for the inclusion of the Confederate standard in the Georgia state flag. “Some see the Confederate flag as just a symbol,” Robinson said, “but for those of us whose ancestors suffered under a regime that considered them less than human and treated them as such, it is not just a symbol, but it’s a sign of a really dangerous and problematic past.”
Indeed, among the first to oppose the Boggs nomination was Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his leadership in the Civil Rights movement, during which he endured numerous beatings at the hands of law enforcement during protests, including one that fractured his skull during the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
In December, together with civil rights veterans Rev. Joseph Lowery and Rev. C.T. Vivian, Lewis called on Obama to withdraw the Boggs nomination, as well that of Mark Cohen, another of Chambliss’ and Isakson’s picks for the federal bench.
If there was any upside to the controversy surrounding the Boggs nomination, Robinson told RH Reality Check, it was that it made clear among the coalition partners, representing the reproductive freedom, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights movements, “our shared connection together.”
“Sometimes we have to push back against something and then find those aspirational moments for us to drive something bigger together,” Robinson said.
During Thursday’s daily press briefing, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to a question from the Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery about the progressive coalition’s letter by saying he was unfamiliar with the coalition’s efforts to see the Boggs nomination withdrawn.
The post Progressive Coalition Calls on Senate to Reject Anti-Choice Judicial Nominee Michael Boggs appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The State of South Dakota has spent $170,000 in taxpayer money since 2011 defending a single anti-choice law, according to new figures from the state attorney general obtained by RH Reality Check.
The amount is based on the number of hours that staff attorneys in South Dakota’s Office of the Attorney General have spent working on HB 1217, a bill linked to controversial lawyer Harold Cassidy.
That bill contains numerous provisions that have been slammed by doctors and reproductive rights advocates. It forces women seeking abortions to wait 72 hours between their first consultation with a doctor, and when the doctor may perform the abortion. It also obliges doctors to “inform” the woman that abortion is linked to suicide, even though the medical consensus is that such claims are false.
Possibly the most controversial provision, however, is the requirement for women to receive “counseling” from an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center as a condition of accessing abortion.
The latter requirement remains the subject of litigation in Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota v. Daugaard. The case has taken more than 2,000 hours of work by lawyers in the state’s attorney general’s office to date, according to Sara Rabern, a spokesperson for the attorney general.
The office of the attorney general calculates the hourly billing rate for their staff attorneys at $84, a rate—though not close to what private attorneys typically charge—that “is figured to be similar to court appointed council in criminal cases set by our Supreme Court,” Rabern wrote in an email to RH Reality Check.
However, Rabern said the “fair market value” of the state attorneys’ services would be closer to $200 per hour, based on what “attorneys in private practice with the same level of experience would charge.” That would bring the expense so far to $406,000.
“It all depends on how you characterize what the state has ‘spent’ on the litigation: the true ‘fair market value’ of the services, or the ‘discounted’ rate we would use to actually bill an agency for our services,” Rabern wrote.
South Dakota is not the only state facing ballooning costs from defending anti-choice laws. Texas, Kansas, and Idaho have each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation relating to restrictive abortion laws, some of which were drafted by groups that are usually affiliated with stridently “free market” groups, which usually oppose government spending.
The tab for defending South Dakota’s HB 1217 could balloon. Already this year, spending has occurred at a far higher rate than in the previous three years.
And when the attorney general was asked in 2011 to estimate how much it could cost to defend HB 1217, the figures ranged from $1.75 million to $4.15 million, according to a document obtained by RH Reality Check. The higher figure contains a $1.75 million contingency to cover Planned Parenthood’s costs, in the event that Planned Parenthood wins the litigation.
Should the case wind its way to higher courts of appeal, South Dakotans will face ever higher costs. For the moment, the litigation remains in early stages, with the parties still requesting documents from each other. No trial date has yet been set.
The post South Dakota Spends $170,000 Defending Anti-Choice Law appeared first on RH Reality Check.
For many years, the term “unprotected sex” has been synonymous with “sex without a condom,” and we’ve been told that the only real way for sexually active individuals to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, is to use a condom every time during sex.
Though we know everyone hasn’t followed this advice, the idea became so ingrained in our conversations about safer sex that it was clear protected sex equaled sex with a condom, while unprotected sex equaled sex without one. Some HIV advocates argue, however, that in this day and age of HIV treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and behavior changes that can decrease risk, this language is no longer accurate or precise. To that end, in December, a group of advocates, spearheaded by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requesting a terminology change.
In January, the CDC announced on a call with more than 80 advocates that it would indeed change the decades-old language. Now, instead of referring to “unprotected sex” to mean sex without a condom, the CDC will refer simply refer to it as “condomless sex.”
The advocates’ argument hinges on the fact that there are now multiple ways to have safer sex when the goal is preventing HIV transmission. Condoms obviously still play an important role, but there are other ways individuals can protect themselves as well. Many HIV experts, for example, talk about treatment as prevention. Individuals who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART), which suppresses the replication of HIV, often have an undetectable viral load (a measure of the number of copies of HIV in a given blood sample). Though it is possible to transmit HIV even when one’s viral load is very low, it is much less likely.
Another, newly available prevention method for HIV is referred to as PrEP. In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of an existing HIV medication called Truvada, a once-daily pill designed to prevent infection. Studies have shown that it is effective. For example, one study among men who have sex with men (MSM) found that those who were given PrEP were 44 percent less likely to contract HIV than those who weren’t. Moreover, those who remembered to take their medication every day or almost every day saw a reduction in risk of 73 percent or even more (some up to 92 percent). Similar studies of HIV discordant, heterosexual couples found that PrEP reduced the risk of the uninfected partner becoming infected by 75 percent, or as much of 90 percent among those who took the pill every day or almost every day.
Advocates also note that some couples, men who have sex with men in particular, use practices knows as serosorting and seropositioning to reduce their risk. Serosorting essentially means limiting condomless anal intercourse to those partners with the same HIV status as themselves. The CDC, however, does not consider this to be a safer sex practice:
Serosorting is not recommended because: (1) too many MSM who have HIV do not know they are infected because they have not been tested for HIV recently, (2) men’s assumptions about the HIV status of their partners may be wrong, and (3) some HIV-positive men may not tell or may misrepresent their HIV status. All of these factors increase the risk that serosorting could lead to HIV infection.
Seropositioning is the practice by which men who have sex with men choose their position (as the insertive or receptive partner) based on sero-status; the HIV-positive partner would be receptive, as there is less risk that he transmits HIV in that position. Again, this assumes partners have accurate knowledge of their own and each other’s status.
Though there is some disagreement over the safety benefits of these behavioral practices, there is agreement that the landscape of HIV prevention has changed. Suraj Mandoori, coordinator of the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, told RH Reality Check via email that the language change “opens doors for us to discuss the myriad of challenges and progress on effective methods of HIV prevention. By continuing to use ‘unprotected sex’ to mean ‘condom-less sex’ you fail to acknowledge and lose the breadth of the entire prevention narrative in how individuals and groups choose to protect themselves and mitigate risk.”
Jim Pickett, director of prevention advocacy and gay men’s health at the same organization, said in an email, “Of course, there are gradations of risk and safety. The only truly ‘safe’ act is to not have sex, right? Anything else has some level of risk—even oral sex (though you are more likely to get hit by lightning twice than get HIV from oral sex).”
A spokesperson for the CDC told the Bay Area Reporter that the changes have been under assessment for some time because, as “HIV prevention strategies evolve, the terminology needs to evolve as well.”
Other HIV experts welcomed the change as well. Dr. Kenneth Mayer, medical research director and co-chair of the Fenway Institute at Boston’s Fenway Health, told the Reporter, “Unprotected sex conveys a sense of irresponsibility that may not accurately reflect a person’s decision about how to avoid HIV and other STD’s.”
“For example,” he added, “someone in a committed monogamous relationship may decide not to use condoms after having been screened for HIV and STDs, and coming to an agreement with a partner about not engaging in intimate relations with others. It would be rare to refer to a heterosexual couple trying to conceive as engaging in ‘unprotected sex.’”
Todd Heywood echoes this in his piece for HIV Plus Magazine in which he writes:
Ultimately, this change holds the opportunity to shift the conversation in the gay community about clean and dirty gays, and good and bad gays — and instead put the focus on actual risk and prevention.
How this language change will play out in the long term is not yet known. For example, it’s not clear whether the CDC will continue to use the phrase “unprotected sex” to refer to sex in which no HIV prevention methods are used or when discussing STDs other than HIV, or whether it will simply retire the term altogether. The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance says it plans to meet with the agency later this month to discuss the change further.
It is also not clear how the rest of the public health community, specifically those who focus on other STDs, will react to the change or how likely they will be to adopt it, as the new prevention methods it is designed to include apply only to HIV. Condoms still remain the only way for sexually active couples to reduce their risk of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and other diseases, which means that sex without a condom leaves individuals unprotected against these diseases. Moreover, many public health experts have feared that as alternative HIV-prevention methods become more popular among men who have sex with men, condoms will become less popular, leaving men open to other STDs. A recent study, however, shows that this fear may be unfounded, as people on PrEP were not more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. That said, rates of other STDs are on the rise, and men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected.
It will be interesting to see how the new language becomes incorporated in messages about HIV and other STDs and if other organizations will follow the CDC’s lead.
Image: Red condoms via Shutterstock
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