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New Arkansas Abortion Policy Could Prove Confusing for Physicians

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 18:37

New anti-choice regulations drafted by the Arkansas State Medical Board cleared an administrative hurdle Wednesday when the Arkansas Legislative Council subcommittee reviewed the proposals, the Associated Press reports.

The regulations include the requirement to use an “abdominal ultrasound” to detect a fetal heartbeat—a policy that could prove unclear to physicians who provide abortion care in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Legislative Council, comprised of 20 state representatives and 16 state senators, oversees the Bureau of Legislative Research and acts as an organizing committee for the GOP-majority state legislature. Republicans outnumber Democrats on the council 21 to 9.

The regulations were created in response to the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, legislation passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013. The bill only became law after the Republican-controlled state legislature voted to override the veto of former Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

The proposed regulations would codify the law in Arkansas.

An abortion can’t be performed in the state until the physician determines if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, under the proposed regulations. The physician is required to use an “abdominal ultrasound” to test for a detectable heartbeat, “as determined by standard medical practice.”

The original language of the bill, which required an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, was amended after lawmakers were criticized for the requirement.

A transvaginal ultrasound often is used within the first six to eight weeks of gestation, and can typically detect a fetal heartbeat, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). However, a transabdominal ultrasound is used after eight to ten weeks of gestation, and does not consistently detect a fetal heartbeat when used earlier in pregnancy.

Since typically a transvaginal ultrasound is required to detect a fetal heartbeat, the language of the regulations may cause uncertainty for abortion providers attempting to comply with the regulations. The guidelines seemingly conflict with the use of medical devices as determined by “standard medical practice.”

The regulations also state that if a fetal heartbeat is detected, the physician must inform the pregnant person in writing that the “unborn human individual” has a heartbeat and report the statistical likelihood of the pregnancy being carried successfully to term.

The pregnant person must also sign a form acknowledging receipt of the information.

Absent from the regulations was the requirement included in the original legislation that prohibited a physician from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat was detected and if the fetus was at least 12 weeks’ gestation.

A federal court in March 2014 permanently blocked the portion of the law banning abortion at 12 weeks, but allowed to stand the portions of the law requiring women to undergo an abdominal ultrasound.

Several bills to ban abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat have been introduced in recent years, including five this year, but few have been passed by state lawmakers. A North Dakota law that banned abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat was detected was temporarily blocked while a legal challenge to the law’s constitutionality proceeds in court.

Image: Ultrasound via Shutterstock

The post New Arkansas Abortion Policy Could Prove Confusing for Physicians appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Poor Women Suffer Most From Restrictive Abortion Policies

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 16:18

There are those who view poverty as if it were a choice, as if poverty could only be the result of a series of bad decisions. Poverty is many things. It is linked to hypertension and diabetes; it’s a carcinogen. For many, poverty results from a single event, such as job loss, a serious illness, or the birth of an unexpected child.

It is not a character flaw.

I continue to be amazed at how some people can ignore the all too common circumstances of life that throw us into poverty. In my work, I often speak with wealthy individuals to solicit donations. In conversations too numerous to count, a well-meaning donor has said to me: “Well, if they would only take proper precautions, then they wouldn’t have children they can’t afford.” I suppose the donor was saying, if “they,” meaning poor women, would only take the pill, or have an IUD implanted, or just wouldn’t have sex they would not be in this situation. There are many problems with this statement—I got stuck on “they.” I wondered if the donor realized that the “they” whom she referred to look like me.

Of course, every able woman has the responsibility to do her best to avoid unplanned pregnancies; the vast majority try. But if she doesn’t have access to information and reproductive care services, then she can’t make the best choices for her health and well-being. If she doesn’t have health insurance, then she likely can’t afford contraceptives. If a woman is poor and lives in a state without Medicaid expansion, she may not be able to afford to buy health insurance from the exchange. That apparently leaves her with one choice: abstinence.

Should she be condemned for engaging in the most basic human activity?

I wonder what my donor would say to Natalie—not her real name—who in 2011, as a single mother of three working a low-wage job, experienced two life-changing events. First in July, just four days after moving into a rental home with her children, her boyfriend set fire to the house and burned it to the ground, destroying all of their possessions. She had not yet had the chance to secure insurance and so was unable to replace anything. Two weeks later, while living in an emergency shelter, she went to the hospital because she was not feeling well and found out she was HIV-positive and had been for some time. Her absences due to illness resulted in her losing her job, and for the next eight months, she moved from one friend’s house to the other. Now, imagine if Natalie had been pregnant.

Thirty-nine years ago, the Hyde Amendment began creating significant barriers to health for women, particularly low-income women, who are disproportionately women of color. This law bans the use of federal funds for abortion services for women who need them most—women most likely to face barriers to these services because of cost, lack of health insurance, and the inability to access abortion providers because they live in racially segregated or rural communities. Because of lack of access to abortion services and the many state restrictions that make accessing abortions so time-consuming, thousands of women have been forced to have children they are physically, psychologically, and financially ill-prepared to raise.

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned and 21 percent end in abortion. Tracy Weitz, an abortion researcher and investigator on the “Turnaway Study,” a five-year examination of the effects of unintended pregnancy on women’s lives by ANSIRH (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health), has found that the main reason women terminate their pregnancies is because they can’t afford to have a child.

That’s understandable. In 2014, the Department of Agriculture reported the average cost of raising a child by a couple whose income is between $61,530 and $106,540 per year was $245,000. For couples earning less than $61,530 per year, that cost was $176,550.

When a low-income mother is able to plan her pregnancies, she is much more likely to be able to provide for her baby. When she cannot get an abortion, if that is her choice, she is three times more likely to descend into and remain in poverty.

Women of color are more likely to live in poverty, and more likely to suffer the consequences of an unintended pregnancy. Women who cannot afford to pay for abortion services out of pocket are forced to delay or postpone the procedure for up to three weeks, if not longer. Forty-two percent of women obtaining abortions live below the federal poverty line, according to the 2008 report, Characteristics of US Abortion Patients. States such as Mississippi and Texas, with high poverty rates, have the most severe restrictions on abortion services.

A July 2014 report published by the Guttmacher Institute showed the overall incidence of abortions has fallen to the lowest level since the landmark Roe vs. Wade 42 years ago. This implies that many women who seek abortion care have been able to find and obtain services. However, one in four Medicaid-eligible women who seek an abortion must carry the child to term because there are no state funds available.

Grotesque billboard campaigns, sponsored by the anti-abortion group Life Always, have been placed in African-American neighborhoods, declaring “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American Is in the Womb.” Black women and Latinas face attacks from anti-choice groups running so-called crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as legitimate health centers for women, but whose sole purpose is to deter women from getting abortion care services. These federally funded facilities misinform pregnant teens about the health risks of abortion, for example, by claiming abortion increases the risk of severe mental illness or that, contrary to science, there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.

After the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, conservative politicians moved quickly to deny abortions to women in greatest need. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) said, “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.” (Emphasis added.)

Anti-choice lawmakers have introduced hundreds of new restrictions on abortions since January. Who will advocate for poor women? Of 535 members of Congress, 27 are Black women and Latinas. Of the 7,382 members of state legislatures, only 337 are Black women and Latinas. We need lawmakers who are more likely to understand the realities of life for low-income women, regardless of political party. These are the men and women who will be inclined to enact legislation to ensure women get the care they need.

For those of us who care about the health and wellness of poor women, our challenge is to be critical but not to blame; to observe the reality of women’s choices while acknowledging the external forces that limit those choices; and to create a culture where every woman can do her best.

Image: Caduceus money via Shutterstock

The post Poor Women Suffer Most From Restrictive Abortion Policies appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Colorado Women’s Health Advocates: Republican’s Pro-Choice Claims Shouldn’t Be Trusted

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 16:17

Colorado Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts, who says she supports abortion rights but backed a so-called fetal personhood law, told the Durango Herald Monday that she’s considering a 2016 run against pro-choice U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Pro-choice advocates say Roberts’ votes in the state legislature this year undermined her claims of supporting abortion rights in Colorado.

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado last week included Roberts, who represents the southwestern corner of Colorado around Durango, on the group’s “Colorado Women’s Health Wall of Shame” website.

“In past years, Roberts has voted pro-equality and pro-choice, but had a rocky session on women’s health this year,” states the website, adding that Roberts’ “priorities and values took a significant turn this session, helping her make our list as the Worst of the Western Slope.”

The website points to Roberts’ sponsorship of failed fetal “personhood” legislation, introduced after a nightmarish attack on a pregnant woman in a Denver suburb. The bill, modeled on legislation pushed by a national anti-choice group, would have given legal standing to zygotes and fetuses, allowing the courts to consider them victims of crimes, including murder.

The bill was defeated in the Democratic-led state house.

“Colorado has a longstanding, mainstream belief that politicians should stay out of our personal, private medical decisions, but given her recent words and actions we don’t think Sen. Roberts can be trusted to stand up for Colorado voters and values on reproductive rights,” Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said to RH Reality Check, citing the unsuccessful personhood push.

Cathy Alderman, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, said supporting fetal “personhood” legislation and being pro-choice are mutually exclusive.

Roberts still considers herself pro-choice.

“It’s disappointing to me when a group decides to divide women from each other,” Roberts told the Durango Herald this week. “When they apply their litmus test, if someone doesn’t pass their litmus test, does that mean I don’t care about women’s health? That’s untenable.”

“I do think it’s important to be vigilant and caring about the advancement of women in society in general,” she added. “But if we want to talk about erosion, I would say it’s eroding credibility to try to insist that everybody is going to think in one monolithic way.”

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado’s Wall of Shame website also cited Roberts’ 2015 vote for so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights legislation, which would have affirmed parents’ rights to opt out of vaccination requirements. She also sponsored a bill loosening laws against discrimination.

Roberts voted against Colorado’s much-publicized teen pregnancy prevention program, when Democrats attempted a last-minute floor vote to fund it via an amendment to the state budget bill. Colorado’s GOP legislators proved successful in ending the lauded program.

Roberts, in her interview with the Herald, described the prospects of her potential bid as a “longshot,” in part because her previous support for civil unions and pro-choice measures. Republican primary voters in Colorado have a track record of throwing their support behind more ideologically conservative candidates.

State observers say her candidacy could be attractive to establishment Republicans who deem her appealing to general-election voters.

Bennet, who won election to the U.S. Senate in 2014, is regarded as a formidable opponent, in part because of his strong fundraising skills, honed as chair of the powerful Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

His seat is nonetheless seen by Republicans as one of their few possible pickups for 2016. Others mentioned as possibly seeking the seat are Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), Rep. Mike Coffman (D-Aurora), and state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Image: Colorado state capitol via Shutterstock

The post Colorado Women’s Health Advocates: Republican’s Pro-Choice Claims Shouldn’t Be Trusted appeared first on RH Reality Check.

The GOP: Fiddling With Your Uterus While Our Country Burns

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 15:06

In early May, I headed out to Patapsco Valley State Park near Baltimore, Maryland, for a cycling event. The park opens at 9:00 a.m., the same time the event was scheduled, so I arrived early, hoping to get to the event on time. When I got there at 8:00 a.m. with coffee and book in hand, there was already a long line of cars, including bicyclists, families hoping to hike, people with fishing poles, and others just wanting to enjoy a beautiful day. When the gate opened, it took a very long time for cars to actually enter the park (and I ended up missing the cycling event), and at first I could not understand why.

It turned out that every car reached the ranger station only to be told that the park was closed, because overnight one of the stone bridges that carries freight trains into and out of Baltimore had begun crumbling onto the park road, and the rangers were, rightly, afraid someone might get injured or worse. Before making a U-turn to leave, I looked at the bridge—a beautiful old stone railroad bridge with a very long and heavy freight train sitting immobilized on top of it—and thought “this is our future… a nation of neglected and crumbling infrastructure that will begin to affect all of us.” In this case, no one was hurt but the potential for disaster was great, had the park opened before evidence of the crumbling bridge was discovered.

My experience, of course, pales in comparison to the crash earlier this week of an Amtrak train out of Philadelphia, which was responsible for at least eight deaths as well as injuries suffered by hundreds of others, not to mention the closure of a main transportation and economic artery in what is known as the Northeast Corridor. While an investigation is under way and the full story may not come out for as long as a year, there are several things we already know about this crash, many of which we’ve known for a long time.

One is that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, a system known as “positive train control”—which checks and can control the speed of a train—could have prevented the crash. Another is that the lack of such a system also killed four people and injured dozens in a New York City crash, this one involving a Metro-North train in 2013. A third is that positive train control is both technically complex and very costly, requiring by some estimates more than $10 billion to implement fully. And there are many other problems with the nation’s train system, including, for example, old tracks and crumbling bridges. According to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, speaking Thursday on the Diane Rehm Show, there are at least ten railroad bridges used by Amtrak, some over 100 years old, that are badly in need of replacement or repair, and require $1 billion each to replace. The situation will only get worse: Replacing these bridges now will cost many times what it would have cost in the 1990s. And those costs, which do not include the increasing human toll in death and injury, will continue to rise each year we delay.

These problems are by no means limited to Amtrak bridges or even just to our broader railway system. A 2011 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers stated that decaying infrastructure—roads, rails, bridges, ports—was then costing the United States $129 billion per year in lost economic activity, and would cost $430 billion within ten years. We are already halfway there.

This is a national crisis and one that would sensibly engender the question: What is the U.S. Congress doing to address it?

Yesterday, it provided us with an answer.

House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to cut Amtrak’s budget and refused to approve funds for hastening the installation of positive train control across the nation’s railroads.

Meanwhile, the House GOP took the time to pass a 20-week abortion ban that would increase the emotional, economic, and physical costs of abortion care and would ultimately cost some women their lives. It is interesting to note that some of the most vociferous attacks on women and their bodies this year and last came from Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), whom the Baltimore Sun called “obsessed with abortion,” and who spent countless hours this year and last leading the charge to overturn democratically approved abortion funding in the District of Columbia. Harris is on the appropriations committee, which voted to cut Amtrak funding, and also appeared on Diane Rehm’s show to argue against funding for rail and transportation safety. Congressman Paul Ryan, author of one of the most cruel budgets in U.S. history and another supporter of abortion restrictions, because “life,” appeared on Fox News, also to defend budget cuts to Amtrak.

In starkest terms these two votes tell us a lot about the real agenda of the Republican Party. In its quest to protect corporate power and profits and by extension its own interests, the GOP seeks to defund every public service, erase all forms of regulation, and render toothless every public enforcement agency under its jurisdiction. In short, the party follows a fundamentalist ideology in service of corporate interest and profits and the “market system” that is in turn leading to cuts and deregulation so severe Republicans are actively undermining the health, safety, welfare, and livelihoods of an untold number of American citizens. People will die and become injured and seriously disabled as a result of the neglect of the nation’s infrastructure and as a result of budget cuts and deregulation in many other areas. (And I am purposely leaving aside for another time other ways in which GOP policies lead to higher rates of death and illness, such as denial of Medicaid expansion, preventable outbreaks of disease, and other measures that endanger public health and welfare.)

To both divert attention from the slow motion train wreck that is our crumbling infrastructure, economy, and broader threats like climate change, the GOP has adopted and pursued another fundamentalist ideology: the obsessive, one might say pathological, campaign to control women’s bodies no matter the cost to women’s lives and health. In short, they have the time, inclination, and desire to regulate your body, but not to protect it from known threats over which they have legal purview and for which they are accountable.

Ironically, for this they call their party “pro-life.”

Image: Associated Press via YouTube

The post The GOP: Fiddling With Your Uterus While Our Country Burns appeared first on RH Reality Check.

More statewide abortion restrictions have been passed over the past four years t...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 15:00
More statewide abortion restrictions have been passed over the past four years than ever before.

5 Ridiculous Things Women Have to Do to Get an Abortion in America
Healthcare, or a bureaucratic circus?

Women are being forced into longer and longer waits at fewer and fewer clinics.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 13:00
Women are being forced into longer and longer waits at fewer and fewer clinics.

U.S. women face harder path to abortion as states extend waiting periods
North Carolina is one of several states looking to mandate lengthier and stricter delays for abortions.

Texas GOP Passes ID Requirement for Abortion Care

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 12:48

The judicial bypass process—by which some orphaned, abandoned, or abused teens can obtain legal permission for abortion care from a judge, instead of attempting to obtain consent from a deceased, absent, or abusive parent—was one of the first ways Texas anti-choice lawmakers first attempted to restrict abortion access more than 15 years ago.

The state’s conservative leadership has successfully implemented one of the most restrictive packages of anti-choice laws in the United States, passed in 2013 despite state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster. That omnibus anti-choice bill shuttered dozens of legal abortion facilities from the Red River to the Rio Grande, and anti-choice lawmakers are again turning their attention to making it harder—some critics say close to impossible—for the state’s most vulnerable teens to end their pregnancies.

After a three-hour debate late Wednesday evening, the GOP-majority Texas House of Representatives voted to pass HB 3994, which requires physicians who provide abortion care to assume that every one of their patients is younger than 18 unless those patients can present “valid government record of identification” showing otherwise. Thursday morning, the House gave its final approval to the measure and sent the bill to the Texas Senate.

The originally filed version of HB 3994, sponsored by state Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), was less restrictive than the version that eventually passed Wednesday night. The engrossed version includes a nine-page amendment that, in essence, substitutes a more stringent bill in place of Morrison’s original.

That amendment, proposed by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), would bring the judicial bypass law in line with a bill he had proposed in March, but had been unable to get passed out of committee hearing.

As passed, HB 3994:

  • limits the location and type of court in which a minor can seek an abortion
  • forces the minor to reveal her home address and telephone number to a judge
  • prevents the minor from removing her application for a judicial bypass after she has filed it with the court
  • mandates that a physician who provides abortion care to a minor who says they have been sexually assaulted or abused report that sexual assault, and the identity of the suspected abuser, to law enforcement regardless of whether the minor wants to report their assault or feels it is safe to do so
  • mandates that a judge who hears a judicial bypass case in which a minor says they are being abused must report that abuse to law enforcement, along with the identity of the suspected abuser, regardless of whether the minor wants to report their abuse or feels it is safe to do so
  • gives a judge five business days, rather than two days, before they must rule on the judicial bypass application
  • presumes that if a judge does not rule on the judicial bypass, that permission for the minor’s abortion is denied

Current judicial bypass law allows a minor to obtain legal abortion care if a judge fails to rule on their bypass application, and allows minors who live in small or rural counties to maintain some confidentiality by avoiding filing petitions in their home counties, where they might be recognized at the courthouse.

But a 2014 survey conducted by Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that helps teens navigate the judicial bypass process, found that the vast majority of Texas courts either willfully do not, or ignorantly cannot, provide factually correct information to minors about the bypass procedure. According to that survey:

A mere 26% of counties provided the caller with factually correct information. Even more frightening, 37% of counties denied entirely their office’s involvement with judicial bypass filings, and a vast 81% of counties had no immediate knowledge of the existence of judicial bypass. A stunning 43% of counties provided the caller with blatant misinformation. Several district clerks went a step further and provided the caller with personal, religious advice, referencing “God’s plan” for the minor. One clerk announced she was an “advocate for Crisis Pregnancy Centers” and wanted to meet with the minor in person after work. Other clerks simply told the caller to “pick up the phone and call a lawyer” with one abruptly hanging up the phone.

Texas Democrats—and one Republican, Houston Rep. Sarah Davis—fought the new restrictions at length on Wednesday, proposing more than a dozen amendments that would have reduced HB 3994’s impact on especially vulnerable teenagers, or allowed most Texans to obtain abortion care without presenting government identification.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) proposed an amendment that would have included an exception to the new bypass rules for a minor who is a survivor of rape or incest. Throughout the debate on this, Republicans in the chamber appeared to talk and joke loudly, prompting Democrats to call for order in the chamber.

“I’ve never seen the chamber be so disrespectful when we’re talking about cases of rape and incest,” said Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin).

Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) proposed an amendment that would have loosened the bill’s mandatory identification restrictions, and said she was concerned about provisions in the bill that would make it easier for anti-choice extremists to find out the identities of judges who grant bypasses.

“We are putting judges’ physical lives in danger,” Gonzalez said.

Morrison refused to accept any of the Democrats’ amendments. At one point she appeared to be missing from the floor debate, but in the brief period during which she answered questions about the bill, she appeared unsure about its content, saying only that “the bill is very clear on what it says.”

“Clear as mud,” retorted Dallas Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia.

Morrison later told Rep. César Blanco (D-El Paso) that she couldn’t “speculate” about what a judicial bypass case might look like and that she had no knowledge of the average age of minors who need judicial bypasses.

“You have no knowledge, but you’re filing the bill?” Blanco asked Morrison.

“That is correct,” Morrison replied.

The house voted on the bill around 11 p.m. Wednesday night, after Republicans threatened to add even more onerous amendments if Democrats continued to challenge HB 3994.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), who has a reputation for delaying or derailing bills with his exhaustive knowledge of parliamentary procedures, withdrew a point of order he’d called just before 11 p.m. to enable the vote, and later told reporters that his party wanted to avoid the addition of “very divisive” amendments to the bill.

The Texas Senate—widely considered to be a chamber more hostile to legal abortion than the house—has just a couple of weeks to pass HB 3994 before the end of Texas’ regular legislative session June 1.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Texas GOP Passes ID Requirement for Abortion Care appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Kansas Senate Committee Passes Telemedicine Ban Fix

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 11:24

An anti-choice bill passed Wednesday by a Kansas legislative committee could have broad implications for how all health care—not just reproductive care—is provided.

SB 304, introduced Monday by the GOP-controlled Senate Ways and Means Committee, would amend the state law regulating the use of medication abortion.

The bill as introduced would require that when a drug is administered through the use of an intravenous (IV) drip or intravenous intermittent infusion and the “administration of such drug results in inducing an abortion, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the prescription for such drug shall be given to the patient in the same room and in the physical presence” of the prescribing physician.

Medication abortion is not induced by the delivery of drugs through an IV.

However, any number of medications that could be delivered through an IV could “unintentionally” cause an abortion. Given the common practices associated with IV medication prescription, the practical effect seems to be that it would require a pregnant person’s attending physician to be present when medication was delivered through an IV.

The intent of the legislation is an apparent attempt to end an injunction on a law passed in 2011 that banned telemedicine abortion care. The law prohibits a physician from prescribing medication such as RU-486 without being in the physical presence of the patient.

Kathy Ostrowksi, Kansans for Life’s legislative director, said she supports the bill and that the legislation keeps the original intent of the 2011 law—prohibiting doctors from providing access to an abortion from a computer screen miles away.

“[The bill] will clarify an exemption that will hopefully allow the court to at least grant this anti-webcam protective provision to come out from under the injunction and go into effect,” Ostrowski told the committee, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Jeff Chanay, chief deputy attorney general, said in written testimony that he supported the legislation, citing the addition of an exception to the law in case of a medical emergency.

“In the 2011 case, the plaintiffs have filed claims based upon the lack of a medical-emergency provision in the statute and an undue burden claim based on the current medication-in-person requirement,” said Chanay, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Both claims assert that these provisions violate patient rights of privacy under the Kansas Constitution.”

Stephanie Toti, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press that the bill does not fix the constitutional problem with the law, and that specific requirements for physicians usually “aren’t medically appropriate.”

There were no witnesses that testified against the bill, which was granted a committee hearing one day after being introduced.

The bill was passed unanimously by the GOP-led committee, and now awaits consideration by the full senate. Republicans hold a 32-8 senate majority.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Kansas Senate Committee Passes Telemedicine Ban Fix appeared first on RH Reality Check.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Video of Domestic Violence Wasn’t a ‘Mistake’

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 10:52

A minute-long video played during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff game against the Chicago Bulls last week started off in a cute, albeit corny, fashion: An apron-clad woman and a man wearing an “All In” Cleveland Cavaliers shirt begin to dance to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” mimicking the moves Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze made famous in Dirty Dancing, as a Cavs game plays on TV in the background.

Then, the woman removes her apron, revealing a Bulls shirt underneath. Her partner sees the shirt, gets upset, and throws her away from him and onto the floor. Looking over and down at her, he says with anger and disbelief, “Bulls fan? I didn’t know you were a Bulls fan.” She is lying on the ground, in obvious pain, grunting and grasping her arms. Over the image of her writhing on the ground, the words, “All In” appear, accompanied by a voiceover that warns, “When it’s playoff basketball time, you have to be all in. Don’t make the same mistake she made.”

The final shot is of her next to the man on the sofa, his arm wrapped around her shoulders as she holds an ice bag to her injured head. Her Bulls shirt is gone, replaced by one supporting the Cleveland Cavaliers. He looks at her and says, “I thought you were all in.” She replies, “Well, I’m all in now.” Gesturing to the screen with the hand not holding the ice, she says, “Let’s just watch the game.” The final image is a close up on the man’s satisfied face as he says, “Go Cavs.”

This video, which spread like wildfire across social media last week, was just the latest example of the way organizations continuously downplay the impact of domestic violence and rape culture. In turn, this betrays how little we as a society care for, or even think of, victims of interpersonal violence.

The video, a parody of a United Healthcare commercial in which a couple has a moment of miscommunication and a failed lift before ending up injured on the floor, was shown on the Cavaliers arena’s Humongotron: a “four-sided scoreboard,” according to the team’s media guide, that “is the largest center-hung screen in any arena in the country.” The screens are all high-definition, and “are tilted and uniquely curved to provide optimal viewing angles for all fans in the arena.” In other words, if you were in view of the Humongotron that night, you saw the video.

And that video, unmistakably, portrayed abuse: The woman acquiesces to her partner’s demands because he beat her up and intimidated her into it. The final image is the abuser smiling over his win.

After it was roundly condemned on Twitter and across the web, the Cavaliers released a statement the next day that read in part:

While the video was not intended to be offensive, it was a mistake to include content that made light of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a very serious matter and has no place in a parody video that plays in an entertainment venue. We sincerely apologize to those who have been affected by domestic violence for the obvious negative feelings caused by being exposed to this insensitive video.

But in order for this video to get made, someone had to think of the concept. The set had to be created, actors cast, parts learned. Visual had to be filmed, the entire thing had to be edited down, and graphics and voiceover had to be added. To say that it was simply a “mistake” is to downplay and nearly erase the amount of approval that had to happen for that video to get made. It did not “whoops!” into existence.

The people behind that video did not accidentally show abuse in its full form; if anything, they had too good an idea of what domestic violence looks like for it to be a mistake. It’s a near-perfect rendering of the cycle of abuse. That no one flagged this as a problem in a parody video played during an NBA game reflects how members of the public tell the story of abuse more often from the perspective of the abuser than the victims. This means many don’t see the violence present in media at all, and they most certainly don’t stop to consider the portrayal of or impact on victims.

When bad marketing and public relations incidents like this happen, many people ask, “How did all those people who OK-ed it along the way not say or do something to stop this? How did everyone miss this red flag?” We saw the questioning after the Cavs video aired. But there was even more of this commentary only a week earlier when a horrible Bud Light , titled “Up For Whatever,” led the company to put labels on its beer bottles that read, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever. The perfect beer for whatever happens.”

“No Means No” has been the most recognizable phrase associated with anti-sexual assault work for decades now, and so when people are trying to determine if a sexual assault occurred, one of the first and most frequent questions asked is, “Did you say ‘no’”? The implication there is that if you didn’t say “no,” then consent existed; this very problematic framing is why “yes means yes” campaigns are becoming more popular. In many cases, the victim and/or perpetrator being drunk complicates the understanding of boundaries and the presence or absence of consent. So for Bud Light to put on its labels that its beer will “remove ‘no’” from someone’s vocabulary in the midst of this longstanding, well-known cultural context was irresponsible, at the least. The criticism of the label was widespread; even a Fox News contributor referred to the label as “rapey.”

This reactive questioning seems useless in the long run, though, given that victims or people advocating for them apparently have to be the ones to speak up in order to even force the questions. The change needs to happen on the front end before any of these messages make it to the public. Otherwise we will remain in this same cycle.

On the May 3 episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver suggested a reason for how those words ended up on the Bud Light bottle, despite going through five levels of approval. Each of those levels, his joke went, consisted of a white dudebro wearing a polo shirt (some with their collar popped) who looked like he just stepped out of a fraternity house, saying “Yeah boy!” or giving the idea the thumbs-up.

The bit worked so well because that is what most of us imagine the process is actually like: A bunch of men without a concern for anyone but other men, who have an idea of rape culture but just don’t care about participating in it. We are right to imagine this, too, given that only 3 percent of all creative directors are women. We also come by our belief because companies and organizations continually fail on this topic; Bud Light had just taken heat for encouraging sexual assault with its Up For Whatever campaign in March, when it tweeted on St. Patrick’s Day that it was okay to pinch someone who was not “#UpForWhatever.”

This could be an unfair assessment, though. Women do make up 60 percent of the public relations workforce, though men dominate the top-level positions in that field. Compared to other professional sports, the NBA does the best overall job of including women within the organization and on teams; it’s a low bar, but they still jump over it. In the end, the problem, as it is, is systemic, which means no one is immune from participating in the myriad ways we sanitize and excuse violence.

We, as a culture, approach issues of interpersonal, domestic, and sexual violence most often from the perspective of the perpetrator. No one who created that Bud Light label or that Cavs video was thinking about the people against whom violence is done. The Cavaliers noted in their statement that they made light of domestic violence and that in doing so, caused “obvious negative feelings” for people who have been affected by domestic violence. Like the Cavs, Bud Light pulled the label in response to the criticism and issued a statement saying its “message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.” Except, well, it did do just that. And based on what we know about beer companies and their marketing campaigns, it’ll probably do it again.

Here’s the huge breakdown in these marketing and public relations failures: No one cares about the victims. That is why, when cases of violence arise, we are obsessed with determining whether it happened at all—as a society, we err on the side of believing the victim to be lying rather than someone to be an abuser. This is why media outlets write sympathetic stories about abusers, even when their violence is horrific. It is also why there is always inevitably a push to move on, move forward, move past the violence as soon as given the chance to do so.

And we live in a society that does not need even one more reason to remind abusers that we don’t care about their violence and that we don’t see their victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010, “More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” The 2013 National Census of Domestic Violence Services says that in a single day, domestic violence programs in the United States provided services to nearly 67,000 people, and that “local and state hotlines answered 20,267 calls and the National Domestic Violence Hotline answered 550 calls, averaging more than 14 hotline calls every minute.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States—more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.”

In a perfect world where our society took this kind of violence seriously and actively worked to dismantle the cultural structures that prop it up, there would be few victims. That is the ideal. Outside of that pipe dream, here’s a simpler one: It would be nice if there was always someone in the room to remind everyone that a victim of the violence they are portraying will undoubtedly witness their product, and their interpretation should be considered.

That this does not happen is not just a sports problem (though it is that, too, but only in the way that sports are a microcosm reflecting ourselves back at us). This is a problem with a culture that does not care about victims and that tolerates—even sanctions and encourages—abuse. We are a culture who privileges the perspective of abusers. That is most evident in moments like these, when we find ourselves asking, “How did so many people approve this ad, this label, or this video?”

The night the Cavs showed the video in the arena, statistics tell us that the odds were high that a woman was sitting next to her abuser, their shoulders or knees probably touching. We can imagine her turning her eyes to the Humongotron upon hearing the first bars of “I’ve Had The Time of My Life.” Then she would have seen a scene unfold onscreen that probably would have caused her back to stiffen, shifting away from her partner as she recognized too well the dynamic she was seeing. And then she would have had to watch and listen to the people around her laugh and perhaps even cheer the satisfied smirk of the man at the end of the video as he said, “Go Cavs.”

Then she might have looked over at her partner, her abuser, and seen him, a dedicated Cavaliers fan, enjoying that video. He, too would have recognized the dynamic—but for him, the message he received would have been “Yeah boy!,” with a double thumbs-up from the Cavs. Neither one would have thought they were looking at a “mistake.”

Image: YouTube

The post The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Video of Domestic Violence Wasn’t a ‘Mistake’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Learn more about the dangerous abortion ban that’s headed to the Senate.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 09:45
Learn more about the dangerous abortion ban that’s headed to the Senate.

3 Appalling Details In The 20-Week Abortion Bill That Would Only Hurt Women
Americans don’t send their representatives to D.C. to waste time and money restricting women’s reproductive rights.

Politicians shouldn't be making decisions like these for you - but that’s exactl...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 20:00
Politicians shouldn't be making decisions like these for you - but that’s exactly what the House of Representatives voted to do this afternoon.

House Passes ‘Disgustingly Cruel’ 20-Week Abortion Ban

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 19:53

The Republican-dominated U.S. House voted 242 to 184 Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks nationwide, with no exceptions for a woman’s health or fetal anomalies, and with rape and incest exceptions that advocates call callous and cruel.

“This bill is a danger to women’s lives and well-being, an affront to their dignity, and a threat to the rights and liberties all Americans hold dear,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement after the bill’s passage.

While supporters said the bill is necessary because 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain, medical experts disagree. Critics charged that the bill is unconstitutional and intended to help end legal abortion in America by challenging Roe v. Wade.

“It’s the beginning of the end of abortion—at 20 weeks, at 17 weeks, at 12 weeks, at one week, at conception,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) said on the House floor. “This is an anti-abortion bill. It’s not about fetal pain, it’s not about 20 weeks.”

This isn’t the first time the House has passed a 20-week abortion ban, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised the unprecedented step of taking the bill up in the Senate.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the bill “disgraceful” at a press conference Wednesday, and said that the president “strongly opposes” it.

An earlier version of the 20-week ban was pulled from the House floor in January after objections from some Republicans that it was too burdensome to rape victims who needed later abortion care. The new version is no better, advocates say—it forces rape victims to wait 48 hours and see two different providers before having an abortion.

The bill passed after an impassioned floor debate, during which female representatives testified both to their own and others’ experiences with complicated pregnancies. They said that only about 1 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, usually in difficult and personal circumstances that are impossible to legislate around.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) talked about her own two abortions, and how it felt to have to “carry around a dead fetus for two days” while waiting for her medically necessary abortion procedure.

“Women who go through these experiences go through them with so much pain and anguish,” Speier said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) called the bill “disgustingly cruel” and read aloud the stories of real women whose struggles with medical and financial hardship brought them to the difficult and expensive decision to have a later abortion.

Some women had fetuses with no chance of survival or medical conditions like lupus that made the pregnancy too dangerous to continue. Another had to borrow money from friends because she was already living in a homeless shelter with two children, couldn’t care for another, and was further along than she realized.

One woman was desperate enough to ask her rapist to help fund the abortion.

“If you haven’t talked to any of these women, you don’t know what they have been through,” Slaughter said.

Anti-choice Republicans on the House floor like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) repeatedly urged their colleagues to pass the 20-week ban because it would protect “unborn babies” who can “feel pain and survive outside the womb.” They invoked a recent study finding that a small minority of premature infants survived after just 22 weeks in the womb.

Medical professionals point out that only 5 percent of the infants in that study who were born at 22 weeks’ gestational age survived, and many had health complications. Further, doctors don’t agree that these dismal outcomes are any reason to redefine fetal viability—the point before which a woman has a guaranteed right to an abortion.

“In no way, shape, or form is a 20-week-old fetus viable,” Dr. Hal Lawrence, who has practiced as an OB-GYN for nearly 30 years and is the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told reporters on a press call Wednesday.

“There is no medical milestone associated with 20 weeks,” Lawrence said. “The 20-week mark is simply not notable from a fetal development standpoint.”

Anti-choice advocates and legislators are notorious for writing abortion bans with medically inaccurate language about gestational age, and Congress’ “20-week ban” could potentially include fetuses of up to 22 weeks’ gestational age. But even at 22 weeks, Lawrence said, “we’re not dealing with fetuses that are going to be viable.”

He added that it’s “outrageous” the bill has no exceptions for fetal anomalies, since they are a major reason women need later procedures.

“I became a doctor to care for women, and so I take issue with cold-hearted legislation intended to interfere with my patients,” Lawrence said.

Christie Brooks, a stay-at-home mom in Virginia, told reporters on the call about her experience with a later abortion.

Brooks, at her routine 20-week ultrasound, learned that her fetus had a serious condition in which the stomach, intestines, and liver migrate into the chest cavity, push the heart out of position, and prevent the lungs from developing. Survival would have been uncertain at best, even with major surgery immediately after birth.

“Because there was no 20-week ban in place at the time, I was given the time and space to research my options,” Brooks said. “I wasn’t coerced or influenced in either direction by my doctors.”

She had an abortion just shy of 22 weeks, and said it was the best decision for her and her family.

Not all women are so lucky, Brooks said. She moderates an online forum for women who have had abortions for medical reasons. Many are abandoned by their doctors forced to scramble to find another provider, often out of state and at great cost.

“A federal 20-week ban would have a devastating effect on so many families like mine and the many women I’ve come across while sharing my story,” Brooks said.

Ironically, she added, a 20-week ban could have the opposite effect its sponsors hope for. Faced with a pressing deadline imposed by the GOP legislation, some might hurry to abort before it’s too late.

“It could actually rush some families into a decision before they have the time to properly research and make an informed decision,” she said.

Image: Shutterstock

The post House Passes ‘Disgustingly Cruel’ 20-Week Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Our sex education can get so much better.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 18:00
Our sex education can get so much better.

5 Places Around The World Where Sex Education Is Improving, Because Comprehensive And...
The incredible work of activists across college campuses has opened up a long overdue conversation about consent and sexual education in schools. At the same time, horrifying rapes at high schools in Steubenville, Maryville, and Texas have become national news stories. STD outbreaks are happening

A growing group of activists in Texas aren’t giving up the fight.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 16:00
A growing group of activists in Texas aren’t giving up the fight.

In Abortion Law's Wake, a Patchwork of Services Rises
As access to abortion services in Texas erodes, a growing network of volunteer-led organizations is providing resources for women seeking abortions.

“A Texan’s health and safety should come before politics. Many things can happen...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 16:00
“A Texan’s health and safety should come before politics. Many things can happen in pregnancy that are beyond a person’s control, so it’s important to make sure everyone has coverage for the health care they may need.” - NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director Heather Busby

Texas May Create Separate 'Abortion Insurance' Today
Yes, abortion insurance. A Central Texas legislator named Marsha Farney authored a bill being debated today that would require Texans to purchase separate "abortion insurance"...

Satanic Temple: Missouri Anti-Choice Restrictions an ‘Affront’ to Religious Freedom

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 15:45

Satanic worshipers are using a conservative religious argument in defense of abortion rights.

The Satanic Temple last week filed a lawsuit against Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D), alleging that the state’s abortion restrictions violate temple members’ freedom of religion.

A woman, identified in the lawsuit as Mary Doe, had gone to a Planned Parenthood in Missouri seeking an abortion. Mary, a member of the Satanic Temple, handed a clinic employee a waiver requesting that Planned Parenthood allow her to bypass the state’s 72-hour abortion waiting period and informed consent laws, restrictions that Mary claimed go against her religious beliefs.

“My body is inviolable and subject to my will alone,” Mary’s waiver reads. “I—and I alone—decide whether my inviolable body remains pregnant and I may, in good conscience, disregard the current or future condition of any fetal or embryonic tissue I carry in making that decision.”

“It is my deeply held religious belief an abortion does not terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” the waiver read. “I respectfully request that you provide me with an abortion today.”

When the exemption waiver was rejected, the Satanists filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri, saying that the waiting period law passed by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature poses an undue burden on Mary’s ability to exercise her religious beliefs, in violation of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

If that argument sounds familiar, it’s because it is: The federal RFRA was central in the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision allowing the Green family to deny its employees access to contraception because of their religious beliefs. Since then, lawsuits from organizations alleging that covering birth control violates their religious freedom have flooded the federal court system.

Indiana’s GOP-led legislature recently passed its own RFRA, which supporters hailed as a victory for companies with Christian owners who want to refuse services to LGBTQ people.

It remains unclear whether the Satanic Temple’s argument that the RFRA should protect the right to abortion will hold up in court. Regardless, the temple’s lawsuit highlights possible contradictions in “religious freedom” arguments. As Amanda Marcotte wrote for Rolling Stone:

It’s an obvious, and brilliant, ploy to test how serious conservatives are about their supposed belief that a person’s “religious liberty” rights mean they can opt out of laws they simply don’t like. The Satanists are trying to prove that conservatives are hypocrites whose interest in religious exemptions only applies to situations where they can take away someone’s birth control, or ruin a same-sex couple’s wedding.

A spokesperson for the Satanic Temple whose pen name is Lucien Greaves wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Weekly that the temple plans to see the case through and fight “for bodily autonomy and personal sovereignty.”

“No matter the outcome, however, we we feel that The Satanic Temple has already done much to reframe the ongoing debate regarding Religious Liberty, its uses and limits,” Greaves continued. “Suddenly gone are the days in which Religious Privilege seemed to exist to the benefit of a single creed. All at once, the all-too-numerous flagrant theocrats holding public office across the nation are made to sullenly realize that Religious Liberty isn’t theirs alone. Hail Satan.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Satanic Temple: Missouri Anti-Choice Restrictions an ‘Affront’ to Religious Freedom appeared first on RH Reality Check.

We went to the hill today to deliver petitions to U.S. House Speaker John Boehne...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 15:00
We went to the hill today to deliver petitions to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, but he refused to welcome the input of 224,000 people who want to stop the bans and trust women instead.

Thanks to Planned Parenthood Action for the graphic!

Federal Court: Challenge To Louisiana Admitting Privileges Law Can Proceed

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 14:52

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed claims from reproductive rights advocates that a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges was medically unnecessary, but refused the state’s attorneys requests to dismiss the challenge to the requirement altogether.

HB 388, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) last summer, requires all abortion providers carry admitting privileges at area hospitals to practice in the state. Reproductive rights advocates challenged the requirement in August, arguing it was impossible to comply with and unduly burdened abortion rights.

The requirement provided 81 days for doctors to obtain the required admitting privileges, which can take anywhere from 90 days to seven months to obtain, depending on each hospital’s process.

A federal court in August issued a temporary restraining order allowing the provision to take effect but blocking enforcement of the law while the providers tried to obtain the required privileges. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles continued that line of split decisions and threw out a portion of reproductive rights advocates’ challenge to the law but refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

Tuesday’s ruling came on a motion for partial summary judgment, a procedural method of narrowing the legal issues a court considers for trial.

Attorneys defending Louisiana’s requirement asked the court to dismiss providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement “imposes a medically unreasonable requirement,” and that it has “the improper purpose of placing an undue burden on abortion access in Louisiana.”

Citing earlier decisions from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in similar admitting privileges challenges in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court dismissed providers’ claims that the admitting privileges requirement was medically unreasonable, ruling states only need to provide a “rational basis” for such restrictions.

Because the Fifth Circuit had previously held admitting privileges requirements reasonable in Texas and Mississippi, the Louisiana court ruled that it was required to do the same here.

But deGravelles refused to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, ruling there was still a question as to whether the GOP-majority Louisiana legislature passed the law with an improper purpose, and the effect the law would have on abortion access.

Ilene Jaroslaw, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney in the case, was pleased with the ruling despite the minor setback.

“Yesterday’s ruling elevates facts over misinformation and provides another important victory in exposing the sham of Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law,” Jaroslaw said in a statement. “Women should never have their rights stripped away based on false pretenses and we are confident the court will continue to protect the health and safety of Louisiana women as the case continues.”

Advocates’ challenge to the law will proceed, but with a slightly narrower focus, thanks to Tuesday’s order. In the meantime, DeGravelles ordered the state not to enforce the admitting privileges requirement against those doctors who have applied for privileges and are still waiting on responses.

The admitting privileges requirement remains in effect, however, while the legal challenge to its constitutionality proceeds.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Federal Court: Challenge To Louisiana Admitting Privileges Law Can Proceed appeared first on RH Reality Check.

FDA Releases New Guidelines on Blood Donations From Gay Men

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 14:07

The FDA released draft guidelines Tuesday that would change the rules preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Current rules, instituted at the beginning of the HIV epidemic in 1985, prohibit all men who have sex with men from donating blood regardless of their sexual histories.

Advocates have argued that the rule is discriminatory and unnecessary, given what we now know about HIV and how fast it can be detected in the blood. The federal draft guidelines reflect recommendations by an advisory panel that suggested lifting the lifetime ban and instead allow donations from gay and bisexual men who had not had sex with another man for at least one year.

While some are hailing this as a success, others see it as continuing discrimination and entrenched homophobia in federal policy.

Since 1985, potential blood donors have been asked to fill out a questionnaire about their lives and behaviors. Men who identify as gay or bisexual are automatically excluded from donation blood.

Public health experts and AIDS activists have called on the FDA for years to change the lifetime ban on blood donation, saying it reflected outdated information and added to HIV stigma. Activists have staged “gay blood drives” to call attention to and protest the ban. In 2013, gay men showed up at 52 blood donation sites across the country to give blood, knowing their donation would be rejected.

“This ban is medically unwarranted, and this drive is the only way we can motion for change,” the organizer of the event explained to CNN at the time. “The gay community shouldn’t be written off as diseased.”

A similar event was held in 2014; another one is scheduled for July 10.

Activists and medical experts believe it makes more sense to look at behavior instead of focusing on sexual orientation as a blanket category. A gay man in a decades-long monogamous relationship with another man, for example, is less likely to have HIV than a heterosexual man or woman who has had numerous partners in the past few months or years.

The American Medical Association in 2013 issued a formal opposition to the lifetime blood donation ban and suggested a new policy of rational, scientifically based deferral periods that are fairly and consistently applied to blood donors.

“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA Board Member William Kobler explained at the time. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

The American Red Cross, the American Association of Blood Banks and American Blood Center—the three organizations that together supply almost all of the blood in this country—are opposed to the lifetime ban and support a policy of deferrals. They issued a joint statement last fall that said, in part:

The blood banking community strongly supports the use of rational, scientifically-based deferral periods that are applied fairly and consistently among blood donors who engage in similar risk activities .… We believe all potential donors should be treated with fairness, equality and respect.

This proposed “one-year deferral policy” is similar to rules that have been adopted in other countries, such as Australia, Britain, Japan, and Sweden. It is also similar to the current rules in the United States for other groups considered to be at a higher risk of HIV.

For example, sex workers and injection drug users are both allowed to donate blood if they have not engaged in that behavior for one year and have tested negative for HIV. People who have traveled to certain parts of Africa where HIV rates are high also need to wait one year and have a negative HIV test before donating blood.

Experts suggest that the one-year policy is sufficient to protect the safety of the nation’s blood supply.

While many activists are calling the draft guidelines a step in the right direction, they are expressing disappointment that the plan still focuses on potential donors’ sexual orientation and not behavior.

“This policy prevents men from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply,” David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “It simply cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology.”

The FDA has now opened a 60-day comment period for the public to provide feedback on the draft document.

Image: Shutterstock

The post FDA Releases New Guidelines on Blood Donations From Gay Men appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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