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Ohio GOP Once Again Pushes Anti-Choice Measures In Budget Bill

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:56

Ohio senators on Thursday dealt a blow to abortion access in the state with the approval of a budget amendment that advocates say is designed to force the closure of at least one clinic.

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday added the measure to the state’s $71 billion budget bill. The full Republican-majority senate approved the measure a day later.

The amendment would deny by default certain clinic licensing applications if the state Department of Health doesn’t act on the application within 60 days.

The Ohio legislature in 2013 passed a law, also added as a budget bill amendment, requiring that abortion clinics in the state have a transfer agreement with a local, private hospital willing to accept clinic patients in an emergency. First-trimester abortions are an extremely safe medical procedure, with only 0.05 percent ended in hospital visits.

Alternatively, clinics can apply for variances, which are essentially transfer agreements with physicians instead of hospitals and are subject to re-application every two years. The Women’s Med Center abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio applied for a variance more than a year ago but has not heard back from the state. Before yesterday’s amendment, it could operate while the application was pending.

Under the measure passed yesterday, if the department takes no action on the Dayton clinic’s application, it will be denied by default.

An abortion clinic in Cincinnati also operates with a variance. Advocates worry that when the Cincinnati provider must reapply for its variance permit, the state will ignore the application and let it be denied by default.

During a floor debate of the amendment on Thursday, state Sen. Peggy Lehner said that the variance amendment is meant to pressure the Department into deciding on applications more promptly.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said that the measure would allow GOP Gov. John Kasich’s administration to more easily close clinics without having to take any direct actions. “It allows Kasich to look like he doesn’t have his hands on this,” Copeland told RH Reality Check. “Kasich and the department can shirk their responsibilities.”

Kasich is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

A second abortion restriction amendment was added to the budget bill on Wednesday but was removed Thursday evening. That proposal would have defined the word “local” for the purposes of the 2013 transfer agreement law as within 30 miles. Advocates contend that definition is a clear attempt to force the closure of Capital Care Network (CCN), Toledo’s only remaining abortion clinic, which has a transfer agreement with a hospital 50 miles away in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

CCN originally had a transfer agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center, but lawmakers nullified that contract after the 2013 law required transfer agreements be made with private hospitals only. CCN was unable to find another in-state hospital that would sign a transfer agreement. The clinic is fighting to stay open and is in the middle of a legal battle in county court that centers on the question of whether 50 miles is too far.

The 30-mile amendment would have resolved that question. But Democratic state Sen. Sandra Williams removed the proposal from the budget bill. Williams offered an amendment to strike the language.

State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) had earlier in the day introduced an amendment to remove both the transfer agreement and variance language from the budget bill. “My colleagues believe this is a direct attack on women,” she said.

Her amendment was voted down along party lines.

Since the passage of the 2013 restriction, half of Ohio’s abortion clinics have closed, and the other half continue to struggle to comply with the rule. These restrictions and closures have forced pregnant people in the state to go to Michigan for abortions.

Michigan is one of two states that saw abortion rates rise between 2010 and 2014, according to a recent study, and out-of-state patients drove that increase.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Ohio GOP Once Again Pushes Anti-Choice Measures In Budget Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Indiana’s Looming Gubernatorial Race Should Act as a Lesson for Democrats on the National Stage

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:11

Indiana’s reputation took a drubbing after the legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Republican Gov. Mike Pence, however, took the brunt of the vociferous national blowback. Once considered a potential presidential candidate, the chances for higher office collapsed for the conservative Republican, who officially launched his re-election campaign on Thursday night.

In the face of growing controversy and media coverage of the bill as it moved through the Indiana legislature, the governor defiantly signed the state RFRA in a private ceremony surrounded by anti-gay religious right lobbyists and leaders. Within days, however Pence had started to waffle between vehemently defending the law and admitting it needed to be “fixed.” He bumbled his way through multiple interviews and press conferences, blaming the media for sensationalizing the legislation. While he signed the new legislation specifying that the RFRA law could not be used to deny service to LGBTQ people, Pence was still pointedly clear when he said that protecting them from discrimination was not a priority of his administration.

Messaging against the law, meanwhile, was remarkably consistent for an uncoordinated campaign. Businesses nationwide decried the RFRA, canceling or postponing plans to build or expand in the state. Conference organizers threatened to pull conventions; celebrities started trashing the state on social media and canceling upcoming appearances; politicians took to the bully pulpit; and Hoosiers took to the streets by the thousands for a protest in Indianapolis.

One voice from the opposition was conspicuously absent as the public relations catastrophe unfolded, however. John Gregg, a Democrat and Pence’s opponent in the last gubernatorial election, remained silent through most of the controversy. When he did put out a statement, hours after legislators passed the bill through both chambers, it spoke primarily about his religious faith and expressed concern “about others who mock me because of my faith.” Gregg’s statement hardly mentioned LGBTQ people, except for a single reference that he once campaigned for a gay man.

Gregg, who has already announced his intention to pursue a rematch with Pence in 2016, has tried to dance a delicate line on gay rights over the past few years but continues to trip over his own feet. Abandoning a chance to not only score political points, but win support from LGBTQ voters, Gregg hesitated to speak on the issue at all. Instead of acknowledging the law was rooted in animosity toward LGBTQ people, Gregg said Republicans pushed it “because they don’t want us to look at their failure to govern the state in a responsible manner.”

Other political watchers and players weren’t as coy.

Richard Sutton, the former president of Freedom Indiana, the group that led the 2014 effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, didn’t hesitate to speak up. “He issued a RFRA statement and it was windy and limp,” Sutton said in an interview with RH Reality Check. “He’s a great person. I respect his track record in the house and at Vincennes University,” where he was interim president, “but his record on civil rights issues is rotten.”

Pushback like this from Indiana progressives against Gregg’s recent gubernatorial campaign announcement can and should act as a microcosm for the upcoming presidential election. Populism has started to spread throughout the Democratic base in recent years, as seen by the rise of Elizabeth Warren as a progressive leader, and with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign kickoff. More moderate Democrats are now eyed with wariness. Cozying up to Wall Street and the military industrial complex are out. Social issues like LGBTQ civil rights, as well as reproductive rights and other progressive causes, now require strong supporters instead of lukewarm lip service.

Who Is John Gregg?

Gregg, a former speaker of the house in the state legislature, is a conservative Democrat known by both allies and opponents for his big bushy mustache. His RFRA response was the latest in a dismal record on social issues: During his tenure as the head of the house, legislators passed the first attempt to write discrimination against gay and lesbian couples into the Indiana Constitution. Gregg supported the bill.

He continued to oppose same-sex marriage through his gubernatorial campaign in 2012. After President Obama announced his evolution on marriage equality, Gregg rushed to the cameras to assure Hoosiers that he hadn’t changed his position and he still supported a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. When Democratic party officials decided to include opposition to the proposed amendment into the party platform, Gregg advocated for it.

Zach Adamson, Indianapolis’ only openly gay city-county councillor and a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, a governing body representing LGBTQ Democrats, is hardly enthusiastic about a potential rematch between Pence and Gregg given Gregg’s history.

“If I have a choice, I’ll support a Democrat who embraces our platform and did not throw us under the bus for no reason,” Adamson said.

“He was a consistent antagonist during the 2012 campaign. He fought us on platform language at the Democrat state convention,” recalled Sutton. “He says he favors full marriage equality now, but that train has left the station. Our community would prefer Governor Gregg over Governor Pence any day of the week, but he has a lot of making-up to do to prove to us that he’s serious on important civil rights issues.”

Gregg’s allies in the state maintain, meanwhile, that the candidate has taken a laissez-faire stance on marriage equality. “Gregg says that the issue of same-sex marriage has been fought and it has been won by the supporters. He says that he’s told many ministers around the state that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in Indiana, and it’s not going to change,” according to Jon Easter, a gay Indianapolis city-county council candidate who supports Gregg’s candidacy and spoke with the candidate about the issue in May. “As governor, Gregg said he would veto any bill curtailing that law,” Easter wrote in a blog post describing the conversation.

On reproductive rights, as well, Gregg has tried to hold fast to his personal views while maintaining an illusion of true progressivism. Easter noted in the same blog post that Gregg agrees with “96 percent” of what Planned Parenthood does, citing birth control and cancer screenings as examples, while he neglects to mention what it is about the reproductive health organization he disagrees with. Easter also wrote that Gregg is a “pro-life Democrat, and that comes out of his religious beliefs.”

Former state Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Monroe), who ran alongside Gregg for lieutenant governor in 2012, denied that there was a struggle on the ticket over Indiana Democrats’ LGBTQ-inclusive party platform. “We had a private conversation about it and decided that the party platform was the party’s business and we wouldn’t involve ourselves in that argument. We focused on our campaign and our message,” she told RH Reality Check.

“I don’t think people give him enough credit for how far he’s come on some of these issues,” Simpson continued. “Just like society as a whole and individuals such as President Obama, Hillary Clinton and [Indiana Senator] Joe Donnelly, John’s positions have been evolving. We all are different people than we were a decade ago, and that is true of John as well. His willingness to listen and consider other viewpoints should be acknowledged.”

Gregg did not respond to multiple requests for comment from RH Reality Check.

Populist Persuasion

Indiana Democrats, Gregg included, have long suffered from what state progressives call “Evan Bayh syndrome.” Bayh, a former governor and senator from the late ‘80s through 2011, was notorious among leftist Hoosiers for his milquetoast positions and his insistence that he was a “moderate” in an attempt to woo Republican voters.

As the highest elected Democrat in the state for years, Bayh’s handpicked leaders for the party followed his lead and the tone of the party became more conservative. Instead of advocating for solid principles that championed the working class, LGBTQ people, and people of color, they focused on courting right-leaning Democrats and moderate Republicans, refusing to challenge conservative proposals. The two parties became practically indistinguishable until recently, when extremist social conservatives and the Tea Party took over the Republican base in the state.

At this point, it is useful to remember President Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which he focused on a message of inclusion and issues important to the Democratic base. He was the second Democrat presidential candidate in history to win the state’s majority vote. Hoosier Democrats seem to have forgotten that recent example as they continue to mount stunning losses in nearly every election with candidates who refuse to take strong progressive stances on social justice. The last gubernatorial race was no exception.

“In 2012, a group of Democratic leaders from across the state met, looked at polling results, determined the candidate profile we needed to run against Pence and settled on Gregg as the nominee. The field was cleared, and he had his shot,” Jennifer Wagner, former communications director for the Indiana State Democratic Party, said.

Now, Wagner says that her support of Gregg would be nothing more than window dressing.

“If Gregg is our nominee, I will devote my efforts to Democratic candidates who share my beliefs and whom I believe should be in public service,” she continued.

“Naturally, I’ll support our nominee, but I think, for all of my memory, the political machine has given the voters a choice between right-wing fascist and a diet Republican,” Adamson agreed. “I mean really … What’s the worst that could happen? We could lose? How is that different from the last 12 years? You can’t keep doing what you’ve always done and expect a different outcome—especially when the population is trending towards your issues.”

Clearly, a change is necessary in order for Democrats to have any chance of succeeding in Indiana’s gubernatorial race—because the status quo of Democrats more concerned with fundraising and mollifying corporate interests just isn’t working. Instead of settling for the candidate who is Not-A-Republican, many progressive voters are clambering for a chance to vote for someone who actually reflects their own values. If the party wants to inspire voters to choose their candidate, they need to select someone who stands out instead of going with more of the same.

Simpson, a former state senator from one of the state’s most liberal areas, is considering a run for the office herself. Many progressive pundits and organization leaders across the state include her when ticking off potential candidates they would support; most list her first.

Simpson, for her part, has been beating the populist drum for years, in addition to her support for LGBTQ and reproductive rights.

“The inequalities in personal income of Indiana families concerns me greatly,” according to Simpson. “When incomes go down, families have less to spend and that has a negative impact on business and the economy, generally. Indiana’s average family income has lagged behind the nation for more than a decade, and we must commit ourselves to turning this trend around,” she told RH Reality Check.

“The Democrat bench is very deep, and our state is fortunate that we have so many talented, energetic people in our ranks. However, running for statewide office is a very personal decision that requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment,” Simpson said. “My plans are uncertain at this time. I am weighing my options based on what is best for my family and how I can best serve the people of Indiana.”

State Sen. Karen Tallian, meanwhile, has already announced she will seek the Democrat nomination, but most insiders don’t think she’s quite ready for a statewide campaign yet. Her lack of name recognition and small base of supporters would make her a tough sell to voters across the state, they think.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has been involved in several high-profile scuffles with Gov. Pence over the past few years, also announced her candidacy earlier this month. Recent polling has Ritz tied with Pence in a head-to-head matchup. She has the support of the teacher’s union and could attract progressive voters with her pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ positions.

Wagner, for her part, favors former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson, but he hasn’t announced any intention to run yet. Peterson has flown under the radar since losing his last campaign for a third term as mayor, but played a prominent role in the bipartisan “fix” to the disastrous RFRA law.

“I’d like to see Bart Peterson run because I think he would be a good governor. For me, the entry-level litmus test for wanting any elected office is being able to articulate why—and being able to do the job. That’s my chief issue with Gregg: He has never been able to clearly say why he wants the job or how he’d get it done,” Wagner said.

This kind of discontent with “middle-of-the-road” Democrats is not limited to red states like Indiana; in fact, the situation there reflects the one on the national stage. While Clinton was seen as the frontrunner for the 2008 election, Barack Obama clinched the nomination by appealing to more progressive voters and youth. This time around, although it is still early in the presidential election season, a challenger on Clinton’s left has emerged once again in the form of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is drawing the largest crowds in Iowa and bringing in big bucks from small donors.

As Americans have wised up to the increasingly conservative social policies of the newly remade Republican majority, civil rights and reproductive rights, in addition to immigration reform, income inequality, fixing a broken prison system, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure have risen to the top of many voters’ priority list. And as next November draws nearer, Democrats in both state races—including Indiana’s gubernatorial fight—and presidential campaigns will need to support more populist candidates and lead on these issues.

Last-minute maneuvering to appease progressives, such as empty statements of support after any political risk has vanished, simply won’t work. Voters want more—and they’re increasingly turned off by social conservatives and those who seek to emulate them.

As Adamson said, “With a shift in the popular perception on how disconnected the social conservatives are, the time to give the voters a contrasting choice has never been better. I’ll back the candidate that does that.”

Image: John Gregg/YouTube

The post Indiana’s Looming Gubernatorial Race Should Act as a Lesson for Democrats on the National Stage appeared first on RH Reality Check.

"All the research shows the single most effective way to reduce abortion is cont...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 15:05
"All the research shows the single most effective way to reduce abortion is contraception."

Anti-abortion advocates have a logic problem
Broadening use of contraceptives would seriously reduce abortions, but many pro-life groups won’t back that.

Oh, the hypocrisy.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 13:03
Oh, the hypocrisy.

Rand Paul Is Fighting for Your Privacy—Unless You’re a Woman
If he really believed in “the right to be left alone,” he’d fight for women to have as much control over their bodies as their phone records.

Iowa Supreme Court: Telemedicine Abortion Ban Is Unconstitutional

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:56

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that telemedicine abortions in the state may continue, handing reproductive rights advocates a victory that was years in the making.

The justices ruled unanimously that regulations put in place in 2013 by the Iowa Board of Health, effectively banning Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine system over purported safety concerns, created an undue burden on abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s video-conferencing technology was the first in the nation to deliver abortion care to rural patients and has been the target of anti-choice activists in Iowa from its inception. The remote-controlled technology allows physicians at rural clinics to use a closed circuit video-conferencing system to see patients and dispense abortion medications.

The Iowa Board of Health in 2010 determined Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine practice was safe and consistent with prevailing standards of care.

Following the Iowa Board of Health’s 2010 decision, Gov. Terry Branstad (R), an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, replaced the entire health board with new members, all of whom are anti-choice, including a Catholic priest.

The new board members in August 2013 reversed the Board of Health’s 2010 determination that Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine practice was safe. It also moved to ban the practice with an administrative rule that requires in-person meetings between doctors and patients for the provision of medication abortions and direct after-care services.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued to block the rule in October 2013, arguing it was politically motivated and directly and improperly targeted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine practice.

An Iowa judge ruled against Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, finding that board did not abuse its authority in passing the rule. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland appealed that decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, which in September issued a stay, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue with its telemedicine practice while its appeal of the Iowa ruling proceeded.

But on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the medical board’s 2013 rule imposed an unconstitutional undue burden on abortion rights. The court noted that national standards of care do not require a physician to perform a physical examination on a woman before providing a medication abortion.

The state failed to provide proof that an in-person exam by a doctor would “provide any measurable gain in patient safety,” according to the court.

“This ruling is a big victory for Iowa women,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the decision. “Similar restrictions and bans on abortion are being pushed through in other states, and this ruling sends a strong and clear message to politicians across the country. Restrictions and bans on abortion are unconstitutional and deeply unpopular, and we will continue to fight them in every state in this country.”

“We applaud the court for ruling to protect women’s access to safe, legal abortion. Medical experts opposed this law because it harms women by blocking access to safe medical care,” said Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “When it comes to health care, politics should never trump medicine.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) had urged the court to block this rule, writing in a brief that the ban is “not justified by any medical evidence” and “undermines its own stated purpose ‘to protect the health and safety of Iowans.’”

ACOG also urged the court to block the rule because it would “result in immediate and significant harm to Iowa women’s health, dramatically curtailing their access to safe healthcare and unnecessarily exposing them to increased risk of serious clinical complications and other health risks.”

More than one-third of Iowans live in rural areas. Had this rule been allowed to take effect, it would have imposed multiple trips of up to 400 miles round-trip to access medication abortions.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Iowa Supreme Court: Telemedicine Abortion Ban Is Unconstitutional appeared first on RH Reality Check.

The Problems for Reproductive Rights Advocates in the Confederate Flag License Plate Decision

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:49

The question of government speech rights has a problematic history for reproductive rights advocates, and Thursday’s ruling in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans is no different.

The Supreme Court’s first attempts at defining the scope of government speech came in Rust v. Sullivan, the case that in 1991 upheld abortion-related restrictions on Title X family planning funds. At issue in Rust was whether or not regulations that prohibited Title X family planning dollars from being used for abortion services or referrals violated the First Amendment by preventing certain content-based conversations, in this case related to abortion care, from occurring. The Supreme Court ruled the prohibitions didn’t violate the First Amendment because when the government chooses to speak, it can, like private citizens, pick and choose the speech it makes, and one way the government choses to “speak” is by allocating funding.

While Rust did not set forth an entire picture of what government speech is and all the various ways the government can “speak,” whether it be through funding or even direct messages, lower courts have interpreted Rust to mean that when the government chooses to speak it has nearly as much First Amendment protection as private individuals. That is because the government can more or less pick and choose which of its own messages to broadcast and which to suppress.

But it is not always clear when it’s only the government speaking, or when it is some combination of government and private voices, which means the law around what constitutes government speech versus private speech is a mess. Federal appellate courts have been all over the place on this issue: In the leadup to Walker, only the Sixth Circuit has ruled specialty plates constitute government speech. Other circuits have ruled the speech is private, or some kind of hybrid between government speech and private speech. The Supreme Court took up the case this term presumably to settle the question.

Every state has some form of a specialty license plate program like the one at the center of the case in Texas. There, the state’s vanity license plate program offers car owners a choice between ordinary and specialty license plates, which include messages approved by the legislature such as “Choose Life.” If people do not see their particular cause or message represented in the current selections, they can design their own vanity plates by proposing a design that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board must approve. If the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board approves the design, which may include a slogan, a graphic, or usually some combination of both, the state will make it available for anyone to purchase.

In 2011 the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans proposed a specialty license plate design featuring a Confederate battle flag to honor, they claimed, the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy. The board rejected their proposal, saying “a significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, arguing the refusal to approve their proposed plates violated their free speech rights. A panel of judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2014 and held Texas could not reject the proposal.

On Thursday the Supreme Court reversed, holding 5 to 4 that states can limit the content of specialty license plates without running afoul of the First Amendment. This means that Texas can rightfully reject the Confederate plates.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, rejected the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s argument that specialty plates are private speech, ruling instead that they are government speech. “When government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says,” Justice Breyer wrote. “Indeed, a person who displays a message on a Texas license plate likely intends to convey to the public that the State has endorsed that message. If not, the individual could simply display the message in question in larger letters on a bumper sticker right next to the plate.”

“[J]ust as Texas cannot require SCV [Sons of Confederate Veterans] to convey the State’s ideological message, SCV cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates,” wrote Breyer.

Let me be the first to say I am so very glad there will be fewer public displays of the Confederate flag thanks to this opinion. The flag is a symbol of tyranny and racial hatred that this country has yet to reckon with, and its supporters should not be given any more of a platform than the hundreds of years of white supremacy they already enjoy. Not to mention, the decision came down in the backdrop of the critically important Black Lives Matter movement and the morning following the racial hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina, a state that still flies the Confederate flag at its statehouse. So I’ll admit to more than a little bit of schadenfreude at the racists’ loss here and the chance to diminish a platform of hate that this country has tolerated since its inception.

But I also know that historically, government speech has gone against progressive causes and values, like it did in Rust, which made today’s decision in Walker possible. And I know the scope of Thursday’s decision is likely not limited to banning Confederate flag vanity plates. In 2011, North Carolina lawmakers approved “Choose Life” license plates as one of 80 specialty plates to be offered in the state, but rejected proposals for plates with messages such as “Respect Choice” and “Trust Women.” Each “Choose Life” plate was to cost $25, with $15 of the proceeds from each plate going to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an association of anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers. Both the federal district and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the plates unconstitutional. According to the Fourth Circuit, North Carolina’s decision not to offer a license plate with an alternative message to the “Choose Life” plates constituted “blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment.” Attorneys from the anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, and the Roberts Court sat on that request while it heard and decided Walker.

Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, whose organization is involved in the “Choose Life” litigation currently sitting before the Roberts Court and filed an amicus brief in the Walker case, explained in an interview with RH Reality Check that despite the fact that the decision was issued by the liberal wing of the Court, it is the kind of decision that causes real problems for progressives.

“The decision is a real step backwards for the First Amendment,” said Brook. “If the First Amendment means anything it means private individuals get to engage in unpopular, and oftentimes hurtful, speech. The First Amendment doesn’t mean very much if it only protects popular speech that isn’t very controversial.”

For reproductive rights advocates, the reality is that in many conservative legislatures, pro-choice and pro-abortion rights speech is considered unpopular. 

If the State of Texas can ban vanity license plates with depictions of the Confederate flag under the Court’s logic today—that license plates are government speech—it should also be able to offer “Choose Life” license plates that directly fund crisis pregnancy centers too, with no requirement to offer a pro-choice alternative. And given the number of state legislatures that are openly hostile to abortion rights, this is not just a messaging problem for reproductive rights advocates. It’s also a fiscal one. The reason states have vanity plate programs is because the programs make the states money. The reason anti-abortion advocates love “Choose Life” funding streams is because they siphon public funds to specifically anti-choice organizations—funding streams prohibited by law from going to organizations that provide abortion care.

This is the legacy of Rust, the economics of abortion politics where states can simultaneously fund crisis pregnancy centers while starving reproductive rights clinics of funding, forcing more patients to turn to a nonprofit system of grassroots abortion funds. And this is the reason why despite the fact that Thursday’s opinion narrowed the platform available for racists to spew their hate, it’s not a decision we should necessarily embrace.

Image: 360b /

The post The Problems for Reproductive Rights Advocates in the Confederate Flag License Plate Decision appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Report: Paid Leave for Dads Improves Family Life

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:31

A new report, released during the week of Father’s Day, finds that public policy and research often ignore men’s role in caregiving, and that paid parental leave is key to increasing gender equality worldwide.

The first-of-its-kind “State of the World’s Fathers” report examines data from 193 countries and was released by MenCare, a global campaign to promote responsible fatherhood coordinated by Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice and steered by Save the Children, Rutgers, and the MenEngage Alliance.

Some Democratic lawmakers are using the report’s findings to push for paid family leave in the United States, the only developed country that doesn’t have guaranteed paid maternity leave.

“Too often we focus on leave and child care as women’s issues, but these are family issues affecting both fathers and mothers,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said at a press conference Wednesday.

The report finds that worldwide, fathers who take an active role in child-rearing and household duties are a benefit to their entire family. Involved fathers report being happier and have fewer mental and physical health problems; mothers are more likely to access important maternal health services both before and after birth; and children achieve more and are less delinquent in school.

Fathers matter not specifically because they are men, the report notes, but because children need nurturing caregivers, which research shows men are capable of despite gender norms to the contrary.

The best kind of involved fatherhood, according to the report, is one where the unpaid responsibilities of caregiving are equally shared between mother and father. Those values get passed on to the next generation—boys are better able to accept gender equality and become more involved in care work as adults, and girls have more freedom to work outside the home and aspire more often to less traditional, possibly higher-paying jobs.

Domestic violence also tends to be passed down to the next generation, but promoting equal caregiving seems to be one way to combat that. Research from Norway found that equitable homes had three times less domestic violence than father-dominated homes.

There are barriers to fathers being equally involved. Even though increasing numbers of men are involved in care work, the report notes, women still take on two to ten times more of that unpaid burden.

Part of this disparity is due to deeply ingrained gender norms that associate fatherhood with work and motherhood with child care. Another key factor is access to paid parental leave.

Global surveys find that most fathers want to spend more time with their children, and that they would work less in order to do so if they could. Many can’t, however; poverty and economic instability often mean that men spend more time working or finding work.

“Well-designed leave policies, when combined with free or affordable child care, show the strongest potential for shifting the care burden,” the report says.

The benefits of paid paternity leave have mostly been studied in wealthier countries, and conditional cash transfers and social insurance seem to be better strategies for poorer countries where most workers don’t have formal employment.

But the studied benefits of paid leave are significant, according to the report. Fathers in the United Kingdom who took leave after the birth of a child were 19 percent more likely to feed and wake up with the baby a year later than fathers who did not take leave.

One study from Sweden found that four years after the birth of a child, mothers earned 6.7 percent more for every month of paternity leave their partner took after the child’s birth. Mothers also report better mental health and reduced parenting stress when their partners take leave.

Ninety-two countries offer any leave that a father can take. Those policies are wildly different in terms of whether the leave is paid, how it’s paid for, which partner can take it, and how long it lasts.

Few fathers take leave if it isn’t specifically designed for fathers or isn’t adequately funded. The most effective programs, according to MenCare, are longer, specifically tailored to fathers, and use collective risk pools instead of relying on employers to pay for the leave.

These kinds of policies also help prevent a backlash against women in the workplace, where employers react to mandatory paid leave policies by hiring and promoting fewer women or paying them less in order to save money.

The collective risk pool model shows up in one prominent Democratic leave proposal in Congress, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), which would create a trust fund within the Social Security Administration funded by a 0.2 percent tax on wages.

“It is inexcusable that the U.S. is the only developed country without paid leave,” Maloney said. “Our leave policy should be the best in the world.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Report: Paid Leave for Dads Improves Family Life appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Montana Abortion Clinic Vandal Sentenced to Prison

RH Reality Check - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 10:39

Following three days of hearings, a man with connections to a local anti-choice group was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison for vandalizing a Kalispell, Montana reproductive health-care facility in 2014.

Zachary Klundt broke into and vandalized All Families Healthcare, a family medicine and reproductive health-care facility, on March 3, 2014. Klundt originally pleaded not guilty to six felony charges, changed his plea after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.

Klundt pleaded guilty to felony burglary, criminal mischief, and theft on April 2. The other three charges, related to break-ins at two other local businesses, were dropped by prosecutors as part of the plea deal.

Judge Ted Lympus handed down a sentence that was in line with the recommendations of prosecutors, who had asked for a 20-year prison sentence, with 15 years suspended, for burglary. Prosecutors recommend two 10-year suspended sentences for theft and criminal mischief to run concurrently, which the judge also followed.

Klundt read a statement as part of his not guilty plea, apologizing to the owner of All Families Healthcare as part of the plea deal.

“I harmed and hurt many people by what I did last March, but no one was hurt more by my actions than Susan Cahill,” Klundt said, reported the Flathead Beacon. “It is true that I am pro-life… [but] what I did to you Susan does not reflect my values.”

The damaged caused by Klundt included smashed family photos, destroyed paperwork and medical equipment, patient files covered in iodine, and broken sewer lines. The damage was so severe that Cahill has been forced to close the clinic indefinitely.

“Zachary Klundt destroyed my office because he and his family are against abortions,” Cahill, a physician assistant who also managed the office, said while testifying at the hearing, reported the Flathead Beacon. “Destroying someone’s property because of a difference in beliefs is called terrorism.”

Judge Lympus also ordered Klundt to pay Cahill damages of $669,000.

The sentencing hearing began Tuesday and continued on Wednesday before concluding on Thursday.

Defense attorney Peter Leander called on witnesses to testify that Klundt had past struggles with drug addiction, but that he has changed since the incident. “He was a monster that night,” Klundt’s cousin, Dr. Mark Elliot, said, according to the Flathead Beacon. “But Zach is not a monster. What happened that night was the result of a heavy mix of drugs and depression.”

Leander made the case that the vandalism of the clinic was an effort by Klundt to find drugs. Leander said Klundt, who was being treated for anxiety and depression, had stopped taking his medications and began drinking heavily.

Kate Aly testified that her brother had mental issues that were never properly addressed and he was on a “crazy amount of antidepressants,” and that the separation from his wife had pushed him over the edge. “The divorce was devastating for Zach,” Kate Aly said, reported the Flathead Beacon. “March 1, 2014 would have been his sixth wedding anniversary and that was when he took a turn for the worst.”

Details emerged during the sentencing hearing this week that seemed to suggest that the vandalism of All Families Healthcare was not simply the action of a troubled young man, as he was portrayed by the defense.

Kalispell Police Department detective Capt. Scott Warnell, the investigating officer, testified that he had not seen such extensive property damage during his 21 years in law enforcement. He said that after Klundt was arrested, investigators found a series of text messages on his phone linked to the clinic vandalism.

Warnell testified that hours before the clinic break-in, Zachary Klundt sent a text message to his mother, Twyla Klundt, asking for the “abortionist’s name.” His mother responded with with Susan Cahill’s name.

Twyla Klundt is a former board member of the local anti-choice crisis pregnancy center Hope Pregnancy Ministries. She resigned from Hope’s board after her son’s arrest.

Cahill previously told RH Reality Check that she believed the break-in was part of a coordinated effort to intimidate the facility into no longer providing abortion care.

Cahill opened All Families Healthcare in August 2007. In early 2013, Cahill says she was approached by someone with connections to the Kalispell anti-choice Christian conservative community who offered her money to stop providing abortion services. She says she refused.

Then in November 2013, her landlord told her that he was selling the property and that she would have to find another location. Michelle Reimer, the executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, and her husband had bought the property.

Cahill began seeing patients at the new location in February 2014, just weeks before it was vandalized.

NARAL Pro-Choice Montana executive director Maggie Moran said in a statement that Thursday’s sentencing sends a strong message that violence against abortion providers will not be tolerated.

“The threat to abortion providers is real—harassment, assaults, bombings, and assassinations—these are terrifying realities that people like Susan Cahill endure,” Moran said. “Not in the distant past, but every day. Part of the sentencing phase of our judicial system is designed to deter future criminals or violent acts. It was important to us that this case be taken very seriously.”

A report this year found that abortion clinics nationwide face significant threats, and that threats of violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.

Image: Democracy Now!/ YouTube

The post Montana Abortion Clinic Vandal Sentenced to Prison appeared first on RH Reality Check.

BREAKING: Iowa Supreme Court strikes down telemedicine abortion ban!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 10:36
BREAKING: Iowa Supreme Court strikes down telemedicine abortion ban!

Iowa Supreme Court overturns state medicine board, allows remote dispensing of abortion pill
The Iowa Supreme Court has issued a ruling that allows doctors to continue dispensing abortion-inducing pills remotely via a video teleconferencing system.

Fifth Circuit Refuses to Stay Ruling That Could Immediately Shutter All But 9 Abortion Clinics in Texas

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 23:00
Fifth Circuit Refuses to Stay Ruling That Could Immediately Shutter All But 9 Abortion Clinics in Texas Center for Reproductive Rights to ask Supreme Court to block ruling before it takes effect on July 1

06.19.15 - (PRESS RELEASE)  Following an emergency request from Texas women’s health care providers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today refused to suspend its June 9 ruling—a decision which could force the closure of all but nine abortion clinics in the state on July 1.

The women’s health care providers—represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights—will now submit an emergency application to the U.S. Supreme Court later this evening requesting the justices stay the appellate court’s June 9 ruling and ensure the Texas clinics can remain open while the providers ask the nation’s highest court to review the case (filing will be sent to press once available).

While today’s order modified the June 9 ruling as it applies to the last clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, the injunction is still so narrow that it may be of limited benefit to the women served by the clinic.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“As the Fifth Circuit once again turns a blind eye to the devastating consequences of Texas’ clinic shutdown law, it is imperative that the Supreme Court step in.

“No woman should be forced to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles for essential health care. And millions of Texas women cannot simply wait for months as this legal battle continues, with severely restricted options for safe and legal abortion services in the state.

“Once again, the Supreme Court needs to halt this underhanded, unjustified and extremely harmful law.”

Major medical groups oppose the types of restrictions found in Texas’ clinic shutdown law The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) submitted a joint amicus brief opposing the law, stating that “H.B. 2 does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”  Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, and that laws like Texas’ would do nothing to make it safer.  Meanwhile, real problems concerning women’s health in Texas, especially the state’s skyrocketing death rate for women in pregnancy and childbirth, continue to go unaddressed by Texas politicians.

Clinic shutdown laws have swept the South in recent years, threatening to further devastate abortion access in a region already facing limited availability of reproductive health care services.  The last abortion clinic in Mississippi is awaiting a decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review that state’s clinic shutdown law in the next two weeks and trial begins in the challenge to Louisiana’s clinic shutdown law on Monday.

June 9th Ruling

The Fifth Circuit’s June 9 decision allowed the state’s requirement that every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) to go into effect on July 1 for nearly all clinics in the state—a measure that amounts to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion services and would close all but nine abortion providers in the state.  While the court partially enjoined the ASC requirement as applied to the last clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, its injunction is narrow and may be of limited benefit to the clinic and the women it serves.

The ruling also reverses the lower court’s injunction blocking the state’s admitting privileges requirement except as applied to a single doctor.  This provision has already forced approximately half the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. 

The court ruled that women in El Paso—who will face a round-trip of over a thousand miles to obtain an abortion in Texas—could travel to neighboring state New Mexico – where there are no ASC or admitting privileges requirements – to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion.

Case History:  Whole Woman’s Health v Cole (formerly Whole Woman’s Health v Lakey)

On August 29, 2014 a federal district blocked two of the most harmful restriction of Texas’ House Bill 2 (HB2):  the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting privileges requirement.  On October 2, 2014, the Fifth Circuit issued an order staying the lower court’s injunction .  For 12 days, all but seven reproductive health care facilities in the state were prevented from offering safe and legal abortion services—until October 14, 2014, when the United State Supreme Court responded to an emergency application by Texas health care providers and reinstated the injunction in large part, allowing many of the previously closed clinics to reopen their doors.

The clinics and physicians in this challenge are represented by Stephanie Toti and David Brown of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a team of attorneys from the law firm Morrison & Foerster led by J. Alexander Lawrence, and Austin attorneys Jan Soifer and Patrick O’Connell of the law firm O’Connell & Soifer.


TX Gov Signs Package of Harmful, Unconstitutional Measures to Make Abortion Practically Non-Existent Fifth Circuit Greenlights Texas Law Which Will Immediately Shutter All But Seven Abortion Clinics in the Entire State Fifth Circuit Upholds Texas Clinic Shutdown Law, All But 8 Abortion Clinics At Risk of Closure New Report Debunks Politicians’ Disingenuous Claims about Protecting Women’s Health and Safety in Passing Abortion Restrictions Mississippi Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Clinic Shutdown Law Federal Court Blocks Enforcement of Louisiana Law Threatening Women’s Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

African Union Commits to Ending Child, Early and Forced Marriage

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 23:00
African Union Commits to Ending Child, Early and Forced Marriage

06.19.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) African nations this week pledged to eradicate child and forced marriage in the region at the African Union Summit, according to African Union Goodwill Ambassador to End Child Marriage Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda.

Goodwill Ambassador Gumbonzvanda announced this political commitment to eradicate child, early and forced marriages at a panel event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday hosted by state delegations, UN agencies and NGOs including the African Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, UNFPA, WHO and the governments of Sierra Leone, Italy, Belgium,  and Uruguay. 

In 2013, the U.N. Human Rights Council—principal body at the UN that promotes and protects human rights for all—adopted a procedural resolution dedicated to ending child marriage. The event this week called for the Human Rights Council to adopt a substantive resolution that recognizes the human rights implications of child, early and forced marriage, and encourage states to use their national and regional experience, to influence and promote the strongest possible inclusion of language addressing CEFM within a comprehensive human rights based approach

“The illegal and unconscionable practice of child and forced marriage has been ignored by too many governments for far too long, violating the human rights of countless young girls and women across the globe,” said Rebecca Brown, global advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s action by the African Union echoes the many U.N. resolutions and regional initiatives developed to end child marriage, and it is an important and positive step toward change. It’s time governments fulfill their promises and take the necessary next steps to ensure these policies are implemented and enforced.”

During the panel event, Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center, discussed how South Asia is making strides to end child marriage. Last year the government of Nepal hosted a convening on using the law to end child marriage, particularly focusing on the need for legal accountability for child marriage. Ms. Upreti also introduced the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC), which has led the development of a regional action plan to end child marriage that reflects the commitment of all eight South Asian states to take steps to end child marriage as a matter of human rights from 2015-2018.

In 2013 the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the consequences of child marriage, which subject girls to serious crimes, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and lives at serious risk. The report questions the failure of governments to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage. Since the launch of the report, the Center has supported the efforts of SAIEVAC, in building a regional commitment to end child marriage and applauds the progress being made under the leadership of SAIEVAC to promote stronger legal accountability to end child marriage in the region.

The Center has played a part in some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured historic financial reparations for the family of a young Brazilian woman who died from preventable pregnancy complications—the first time an international human rights decision named maternal health a human rights. And at the European Court of Human Rights, the Center called upon Poland to ensure adolescents’ reproductive rights after access to a legal abortion for a rape survivor was repeatedly obstructed.

File Upload:  CESCR Submission Brief Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity

This is a good step forward, but it could be better.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 19:02
This is a good step forward, but it could be better.

A Woman On The $10 Bill Is Great, But She'll Still Have To Share With A Man
In a somewhat bewildering move, the U.S. Treasury announced on Wednesday that it will put a woman’s face on the $10 bill in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020, but the choice of bill surprised many. The Women on 20s campaign had long sought to have a woman

Reproductive freedom for D.C. residents is being attacked yet again by anti-choi...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 18:14
Reproductive freedom for D.C. residents is being attacked yet again by anti-choice zealots in Congress.

House Republicans rebuff D.C. on budget; reproductive law under threat
House GOP on Wednesday could upend many policies priced by D.C. Democrats.

"Reproductive justice can only be achieved when all people — regardless of race...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 17:30
"Reproductive justice can only be achieved when all people — regardless of race or gender — have the economic, social and political power to make their own decisions about their bodies, sexuality, reproductive health and their families. This cannot be achieved when racial, gender and class inequities continue to deeply affect people’s lives."

#BlackLivesMatter to Maine’s reproductive justice organizations
“I never knew that … this was how things operated [and] that the system could fail you so much.” — Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother For months, we’ve heard the names Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray recited at protests, events and public talks. Last week, we [...]


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