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How Farmworkers’ Fight for Fair Wages Is Emerging in Your Produce Aisle

RH Reality Check - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 10:35

Last month, workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms won the right to rest breaks for all Washington piece-rate farmworkers in a state supreme court ruling. The case came a year after the company agreed to pay an $850,000 settlement to employees in owed back pay, which the pickers’ lawyers reported as the largest of its kind on record in the state.

You may not have heard of Sakuma Brothers, but chances are high that you are familiar with one of its major commercial customers: Driscoll’s Berries. The multinational is one of the biggest heavy-hitters in the industry, and it’s square in the crosshairs of a boycott orchestrated by Sakuma Brothers employees. The state supreme court ruling was a victory for the workers, who formed a union in 2013, but they say Sakuma Brothers still won’t meet their demands. So they’re using a host of tools at their disposal to try to persuade their employer to meet them at the table—including court actions, the boycott, and strikes, the most recent of which began Monday.

The workers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which currently includes just Sakuma Brothers laborers but could expand to other farms as well, is being supported by groups like Community to Community Development, a nonprofit organization in Bellingham, Washington that works in solidarity with marginalized people to increase awareness of their campaigns and empower them to lead social justice movements. However, Familias Unidas is still fighting for an opportunity to bargain with Sakuma Brothers, as Edgar Franks of Community to Community Development told RH Reality Check. Sakuma Brothers management refuses to recognize Familias Unidas as a union, he says, and subsequently won’t agree to sit down and establish a collective bargaining agreement.

In 2013, workers began asking consumers to boycott Sakuma Brothers. But given that the average shopper may not know where their produce really comes from when it’s packaged under a generic corporate label, the workers are also calling for members of the public to stop purchasing Driscoll’s products in general, in the hopes that the corporation will stand with the workers and pressure the farm into negotiating with its employees.

Workers have walked off the job repeatedly in response to what they call Sakuma Brothers’ ongoing refusal to negotiate a union contract. But they’ve also done so in an attempt to raise awareness of other problems they say they face on the job. One such issue is poundage quotas: mandates on the number of berries they must pick per hour. Although Sakuma Brothers says it guarantees a minimum hourly wage of $10, workers claim they make under that amount if they’re unable to meet quota. In addition to being difficult to attain—Franks gives the example of 35 pounds of blueberries an hour—the workers say that Sakuma Brothers has randomly changed quotas, making it difficult to tell how much they’ll be making daily. They say, too, that the company isn’t flexible when fields are sparse, with few berries to harvest.

The quotas allow Sakuma Brothers to pay on a per-pound basis, rather than an hourly one. The company claims workers can make up to $40 an hour on their piecework pay system, which Franks says is effectively impossible given how quickly people can realistically pick. Instead, workers say they can end up earning less than minimum wage depending on their skill level, the poundage quota set on any given day, and the condition of the field. Under exemptions to labor laws that allow farms to pay on a piecework basis instead of an hourly one, such compensation is totally legal for farmworkers.

In response, workers are asking for a set hourly rate so they know how much they’re earning before they arrive at the job, rather than being confronted with such unreliable piecework-based pay. They also want health benefits, reflecting the fact that even after the Affordable Care Act, many people cannot afford health coverage and can’t pay for medical treatment out of pocket.

A walkout on July 23—the third this summer—in response to what they referred to as these “unattainable production standards” highlighted the fact that the workers are deadly serious about addressing pay and working conditions.

Workers at Sakuma Brothers say they don’t just face difficult poundage quotas. They’ve also reported abuse from supervisors, including the white youth who weight-check their berries and make judgment calls when weights need to be rounded up or down. As covered in the Stranger, farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers with years of experience have recalled being subjected to racial slurs and stereotyping by farm employees who earn more than them and are relative newbies in the agricultural sector.

As is often the case with agricultural labor, injustice in the fields can be a particular issue for women. Generally speaking, women must also contend with sexism in the fields and the burden of needing to care for their families in addition to working long days at farms. Lack of access to health care, a key issue for undocumented immigrants without labor protections, is a particular problem for women and children, who have a lot to lose when they can’t see doctors for routine visits.

Franks noted that things are changing. For one thing, the union’s legal wins are stacking up: In addition to the settlement and the win in the Washington Supreme Court, Familias Unidas also targeted Sakuma Brothers with a suit regarding alleged abuse of H-2A visas, those used to allow companies to import agricultural labor from other nations. The workers claimed that Sakuma Brothers was using replacement labor that violated federal law on how such visas should be used; the berry firm did not file a 2014 application for H-2A visas. Furthermore, workers successfully won an injunction last year when Sakuma Brothers attempted to bar striking workers from returning to work and using company housing.

The boycott of Sakuma Brothers’ products and of their customers—namely, Driscoll’s Berries—is also picking up steam. Familias Unidas, along with groups working in solidarity, are running pickets large and small on a weekly basis at the Sakuma Brothers Farms location as well as West Coast grocery stores, wholesalers like Costco, and events hosted by Sakuma Brothers. As a result of the growing number of pickets, Franks says, more consumers and produce buyers at stores like Whole Foods are starting to express awareness of the problem.

Sakuma Brothers did not return requests for comment. In a statement to RH Reality Check, Driscoll’s representatives claimed the company “proactively audit[s] our growers,” stating that independent auditors had found nothing out of order at Sakuma Farms during an inspection last fall—notably, however, the summer is the peak of berry season. Many workers had moved on to California to take advantage of seasonal jobs by the time auditors arrived, which would have given them an incomplete picture of the conditions on the farm.

The company also pointed to a meeting in the spring of 2015 facilitated by the Fair World Project, an organization working in solidarity with the farmworkers to draw public attention to the boycott and worker demands. During the meeting, Driscoll’s representatives met with Sakuma Brothers workers to discuss their concerns—but while the company says it’s committed to freedom of association, “we cannot insist on a union contract at any farm or play a direct role in any labor negotiations.”

Kerstin Lindgren of the Fair World Project told RH Reality Check that brand involvement like name-checking Driscoll’s—as well as Nestlé properties like Yoplait and Häagen-Dazs, which also source from Sakuma Brothers—is a powerful tool in agitation for better working conditions, as “Sakuma Brothers” isn’t a household name, but the multinational firms that buy from the company certainly are. The organization delivered a petition in March demanding that Driscoll’s suspend purchases of Sakuma berries until the labor dispute is resolved, with approximately 10,000 signatures, which led to the meeting with Driscoll’s executives. Through a coordinated consumer campaign, the organization also orchestrated nearly 7,000 emails directly to Danny Weeden, the CEO of Sakuma Farms. Though the company has started a public relations-orchestrated website, Sakuma Facts, in response to labor organizing efforts, its representatives haven’t appeared to respond to specific calls for comment from the media.

Still, Familias Unidas’ allies feel that the laborers’ requests are not unreasonable.

“I think what the workers are calling for is nothing really revolutionary or out of line, nothing that can’t be done,” the soft-spoken Franks remarked. 

Image: Shutterstock

The post How Farmworkers’ Fight for Fair Wages Is Emerging in Your Produce Aisle appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Report: 1 in 4 Women Return to Work Within Two Weeks of Childbirth

RH Reality Check - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 09:58

Data from an investigative report by Sharon Lerner at In These Times magazine has revealed that as many as one in four employed pregnant women return to work less than two weeks after giving birth.

Taking so little time to heal and bond with a new baby can have severe consequences for the whole family, advocates say.

“No one who would really be thinking about the needs of a baby, let alone a mother who just gave birth, would contemplate that a period of two weeks’ leave in any way shape or form is adequate,” said Matthew Melmed, executive director of Zero to Three, a nonprofit that educates parents and policymakers on early child development.

A diverse body of research shows both mothers and fathers need significant amounts of time in the first four to seven months of a baby’s life to promote healthy long-term development, Melmed told reporters on a Tuesday press call. That time allows both parents to bond with the child, deal with doctors’ appointments, and adjust to all the changes needed to properly care for a new life, along with letting the mother heal.

Lerner’s report noted that paid leave can be “a matter of life and death” for children, citing research that associated a 50-week extension of paid leave with a 20 percent drop in infant deaths.

Lerner stressed on the press call that this new report, an analysis of 2012 Department of Labor data by Abt Associates for In These Times, looks at data that wasn’t actually collected for the purposes of learning how much time new mothers take off from work.

There’s surprisingly little data on that subject, Lerner said—but this new analysis is “the best we’ve got.”

The data came from a Department of Labor survey of about 2,800 workers who took time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which guarantees 12 weeks of job-protected, but unpaid, time off for the care of a new child or a sick family member. Of those 2,800 people, 93 were women who took time off after childbirth. Nearly 12 percent of those women took off a week or less, and another 11 percent took one to two weeks off—23 percent, or nearly one in four, all told.

“Whether the number is slightly more or slightly less, it’s still disturbing,” Lerner said.

Lerner’s report profiles several mothers who went back to work a very short time after giving birth. Most did so out of financial necessity, and all experienced physical, emotional, or financial hardship as a result.

One woman went back to work with an infection from her cesarean section that hadn’t healed; another walked around in a haze, “walking really slow and wearing stretch pants and just making it happen”; another developed depression after working 14-hour days, including commute time, and crying while she pumped breast milk in her truck in the parking lot.

One woman meticulously planned the timing of her pregnancy, her disability insurance, and even the job she chose in order to make sure she had paid time off to take care of her second child—only to give birth so prematurely that her leave and insurance benefits hadn’t kicked in yet, forcing her to return to work two weeks after a c-section while worrying about how her son was doing in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I believe that this report signals a national emergency,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, which advocates for family-friendly work policies like paid leave.

About 13 percent of U.S. workers have any access to paid family leave of any kind, whether to care for a new child or a sick family member. Less than half of U.S. workers have access to paid sick days, which women sometimes use to cobble together maternity leave. Not all workers have access to paid leave under the FMLA, and those who do often can’t afford to take unpaid time off.

Frustrated by the nation’s inconsistent patchwork of paid leave policies, advocates are pushing for national policies like the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FAMILY Act).

The FAMILY Act would emulate successful models in states like California and New Jersey and set up a social insurance program guaranteeing up to 12 weeks of family leave that pays two-thirds of a worker’s normal income. The program would be funded by 0.2 percent paycheck contributions from employers and employees, and wouldn’t add to the federal budget.

“Paid family leave shouldn’t depend on where you live,” said Blue Carreker, organizer with the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign. “What we ultimately need is a federal policy, and we need it now—so no working American has to choose between caring for the people they love and their family’s economic security.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Report: 1 in 4 Women Return to Work Within Two Weeks of Childbirth appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Missouri’s ‘Committee On The Sanctity of Life’ Threatens a State Official

RH Reality Check - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 16:12

A Republican lawmaker in Missouri said during a committee hearing last week that the state health department director could be held in contempt if she refuses to name a hospital that grants admitting privileges to abortion providers.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), chairman of the Committee on the Sanctity of Life, made the threat while questioning Gail Vasterling, director of the state’s Health and Senior Services Department.

The formation of the committee was announced in July in response to a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

“Missourians deserve to know the truth behind this potentially atrocious violation of our state laws and humane values,” Schaefer said in a statement. “Over the next few months this committee will conduct a rigorous investigation into the monstrous and inconceivable acts carried out by Planned Parenthood.”

Schaefer is a candidate for attorney general. Attorney General Chris Koster (D), who is a candidate for governor, is also conducting an investigation.

Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations and hearings, but to date no investigation has found any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. The Missouri committee is expected to issue a full report to the state senate later this year.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said he would not investigate Planned Parenthood, despite calls to do so from Republican state lawmakers, including Schaefer, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Sen. Mike Parson (R-Bolivar).

“We’ve got to focus on what matters in this state—creating a good job environment, moving the economy forward, not taking the story of the day and trying to sensationalize it,” Nixon said, reported KOLR.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a statement that the committee meetings are “about political grandstanding, not facts,” reported the Associated Press.

“This is yet another orchestrated attempt to restrict access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri and to the needed services Planned Parenthood has provided for nearly 100 years,” McQuade said.

Along with investigating whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws concerning fetal tissue, the committee is investigating the re-opening of the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility. The facility stopped providing abortions services in 2012. A new physician began providing abortion care at the facility this month.

Prior to last week’s hearing, Schaefer sent a letter to Vasterling taking issue with the fact that DHSS had not sent a representative “with knowledge of the license issuance” to a committee hearing in July. In the letter, Schaefer requested that DHSS suspend the Columbia Planned Parenthood’s license “pending sufficient investigation” by the committee to  “determine whether the facility is in compliance” with Missouri law.

Members spent several hours during a committee hearing last week questioning Vasterling about abortion clinic regulations and oversight provided by DHSS.

Vasterling told the state senate committee investigating Planned Parenthood that the Columbia center or a doctor at the center has admitting privileges at an area hospital, but declined to identify the hospital because she said it is not a matter of public record.

“I don’t know that I can legally talk about what’s in the closed records,” Vasterling said.

Schaefer demanded that Vasterling name the hospital and gave her until August 21 to meet his demand, or face contempt charges. The Missouri Constitution allows the Senate to punish those who demonstrate “contemptuous behavior in its presence during its sessions” with a $300 fine, ten days in jail, or both.

“There’s no assurance that what was admitted in those videos isn’t occurring,” Schaefer said, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Schaefer has been accused of using intimidation tactics while campaigning for attorney general.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative think tank, filed an open records request with the University of Missouri to obtain any records they suspect might show Schaefer put pressure on the university to prevent associate professor Josh Hawley from entering the Republican primary campaign for attorney general.

Schaefer claims that the university may have given Hawley preferential treatment when it granted him an unpaid leave of absence to campaign for attorney general. “Everything I can see is they are giving him a sweetheart deal to run,” Schaefer told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Schaefer is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which oversees the budgets of state agencies, including the Department of Higher Education.

The University of Missouri has once again found itself in Schaefer’s crosshairs, as he is now questioning whether or not there is an agreement between the abortion provider at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic and the University of Missouri Hospital. Schaefer claims this would be a violation of Missouri law.

“It is against the law for the use of public funds to in any way promote or assist in the performance of abortions, and so I think that raises a real question if in fact it is the University that enabled this license to be issued by giving that agreement, I think there are some potential issues there with that law as well as others,” Schaefer told Missourinet.

Schaefer sent a letter to University Chancellor Bowen Loftin Monday requesting documentation regarding any agreement between the University of Missouri and the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate, reported the Missouri Times.

The next hearing of the Committee on the Sanctity of Life will take place on August 25.

Image: Shutterstock

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Judge Blocks Tennessee From Enforcing Clinic Shutdown Measure

RH Reality Check - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 14:16

The fight over a series of regulations designed to close Tennessee abortion clinics drags on as a federal judge ruled last week that prosecutors in Davidson and Sullivan counties cannot enforce new standards against abortion providers in those counties.

The injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp came as two abortion clinics, each owned by the same physician practice, work with state health regulators to comply with a requirement that all abortion providers in the state that perform 50 or more abortions annually meet architectural standards of an ambulatory surgical treatment center (ASTC), turning those facilities into mini-hospitals.

SB 1280 took effect July 1.

In late June and just before the measure took effect, a federal court temporarily blocked SB 1280 from applying to two clinics in Tennessee, the Bristol Regional Women’s Center in Bristol and the Women’s Center in Nashville, after attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit on behalf of those clinics. CRR argued SB 1280 was unconstitutional and that regulators in the state had failed to give clinics enough time to comply with the requirements.

Existing facilities were given 54 calendar days to get licensed under the new requirements, but the Tennessee Department of Health did not make the required application form available to the public until June 16. That left facilities 14 calendar days to become licensed, according to the plaintiffs.

Last week’s ruling effectively extends that order, blocking officials from enforcing the ASTC requirements against the Bristol and Nashville clinics while they both try to comply with the requirements and continue their underlying constitutional challenge to SB 1280.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the clinics also challenges a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges at area hospitals and a “delay requirement” that mandates an abortion patient attend an in-person meeting with a doctor to receive information and then wait at least 48 hours after the meeting before having an abortion. This latest ruling does not affect those provisions or claims.

Image: Shutterstock

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Texas Health Department Threatened With Contempt of Court Over Abortion Law

RH Reality Check - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 13:34

The Texas Department of State Health Services has been ordered to “cease and desist” in its attempt to block the reopening of a legal abortion provider in El Paso, according to federal court documents.

It’s a move that attorneys for the provider have called a deliberate attempt by the State of Texas to circumvent the authority of the Supreme Court.

Federal Judge Lee Yeakel issued a brief but strongly worded ruling Monday night telling the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to stop its attempts to enforce a federally blocked portion of the state’s omnibus anti-choice law.

“Failure to comply with this order shall subject defendants to sanctions for contempt of court,” Yeakel wrote.

The Roberts Court in June upheld Yeakel’s ruling, which enjoined Texas from enforcing the portion of the omnibus anti-choice law, HB 2, which requires abortion providers to operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). That Supreme Court order allowed Texas facilities to operate as smaller clinics, rather than ASCs.

Without the order, all but nine legal abortion facilities would have shuttered across the state.

But Reproductive Services of El Paso says that the state ignored the Supreme Court order and Yeakel’s standing ruling, and tried to block its attempts to reopen after shuttering for 18 months as a result of HB 2. Reproductive Services had begun the process of re-licensure in hopes of reopening, pending an ultimately favorable court decision.

In court documents filed in August, Reproductive Services—which operated as a legally licensed abortion provider, but not an ASC, for 37 years before it closed in April 2014—said that state health bureaucrats suddenly decided to walk back assurances that the provider would be reissued a license to operate. That’s when the state filed a motion asking a federal court to clarify its earlier ruling blocking the enforcement of HB 2’s ASC provision, a ruling further upheld in June by the Supreme Court.

Jan Soifer, local Austin-based counsel for the independent abortion providers challenging HB 2, said that during a July 30 meeting, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) told Reproductive Services that “everything appeared to be in order” with the clinic’s licensure.

Less than a week later, Soifer said, “suddenly there’s this change of heart.”

That’s when DSHS told Reproductive Services that the state considered the clinic a new abortion facility, not a previously licensed facility, and therefore that the El Paso clinic would have to make million-dollar renovations to comply with HB 2’s ASC requirement. DSHS then asked Judge Yeakel, who originally invalidated the state’s ASC requirement, to clarify his original ruling against the requirement.

In court documents, DSHS claims that it was not attempting to prevent Reproductive Services from reopening, only that it sought clarification on the law to ensure that the ASC provision—which was blocked by Judge Yeakel, whose decision was upheld in the Supreme Court’s June ruling—was not in effect.

Yeakel responded by issuing an order saying only that DSHS could not enforce the ASC provision and would be held in contempt if it attempted to do so.

Soifer told RH Reality Check that she expects her clients to be able to pursue reopening their facility shortly.

“The state’s been forbidden to play this game with them,” she said. “We expect that the state will grant its license and that they will reopen.”

Image: Shutterstock

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It’s Time Again to Eat a Taco, Drink a Beer, and Fund Abortion

RH Reality Check - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 08:03

Typically, there wouldn’t be anything unusual about me stopping by my local watering hole for a beer and a taco. That’s just about at “days that end in ‘y'” level of not-unusual for me.

But on August 18th, 2014, something remarkable happened when I did just that: Other people around the country joined me. Not just because they like tacos and beer. But because they supported legal abortion care.

And thus the Taco or Beer Challenge, a month-long celebration of reproductive freedom, became manifest in the world. The challenge (ToBC for short) is incredibly simple: You eat a taco or you drink a beer, and you donate to an abortion fund.

The 2015 Taco or Beer Challenge launches today—the anniversary of our unintentionally auspicious beginning—and lasts through September 18. Abortion funds, abortion funders, and reproductive freedom fighters around the world are hosting Taco Tuesday launch parties to celebrate. We’re calling it International Taco or Beer Challenge Day, and more than two dozen events are already planned around the world, with more to come in the next four weeks. You don’t need to complete your ToBC on Tuesday! You can do it any time before September 18.

Because the ToBC is fundamentally about freedom and choice, I don’t actually care if you eat a taco or you drink a beer (or if you do both). You can have a deviled egg and an iced tea for all I care. The only way to fail the challenge is to not donate to an abortion fund.

The abortion fund part, though, is very important. Why? Because abortion stigma is real, and the ToBC is about busting that stigma by directly funding legal abortion care for people who need it. It’s not about supporting politicians or lobby groups (though you should totally do that if you want! You do you! Freedom!). It’s about funding legal abortion care. You can’t complete the ToBC without donating to an abortion fund. It’s literally the only requirement, and therefore the most important one.

The National Network of Abortion Funds has a fantastic list of abortion funds, including non-U.S. funds based in Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, and in international waters. Can’t decide which of all of the many fabulous and mostly volunteer-operated funds to donate to? Spread the love around with this handy multi-fund donation link courtesy of RH Reality Check.

Once you’ve eaten your taco or consumed a beer and donated to an abortion fund, the next step is to tell the world about it by submitting a photo or video of your challenge to the official Taco or Beer Challenge Tumblr! The more folks we get talking about the ToBC, the more folks tackle the ToBC, and the more money we raise for legal abortion care. Submission is super easy, and here’s the link.

Last year ToBC participants helped raise a cool $30,000 for legal abortion care. I’d love to see that number matched or exceeded this year, but it’s going to take everyone’s best effort to do it. If you want to share your ToBC experience even further, be sure to tag your personal Instagram or Twitter or Tumblr posts with #ToBC15.

Tacos at the ready?

Beer at the ready?

Wallets at the ready?

Let’s do this, y’all.

Image: RH Reality Check

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Obama Administration: No Known Violation of Fetal Tissue Laws

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 17:16

As state-level investigations into Planned Parenthood continue to find that the health-care provider has not broken any laws by donating fetal tissue for medical research, the Obama administration is now saying that it has found no evidence of wrongdoing among either government researchers who work with fetal tissue or companies that supply it.

Politico reports that Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assistant secretary Jim Esquea sent a letter Friday to Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) confirming that HHS knows of “no violation” of federal fetal tissue laws “in connection with the research done at our agencies.”

Ernst and Blunt co-sponsored a failed bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood over spurious allegations of wrongdoing by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has released deceptively edited and possibly illegal undercover videos attacking Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program.

“Furthermore … we have confirmed that HHS researchers working with fetal tissue obtained the tissue from non-profit organizations that provided assurances to us that they are in compliance with all applicable legal requirements,” the letter said.

HHS noted that fetal tissue research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) makes up less than 0.1 percent of the agency’s research budget, and that HHS has gotten reaffirmations from government researchers and government-funded researchers that they are complying with the law.

GOP lawmakers are preparing to launch congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood based on the unsupported allegations in CMP’s videos, despite numerous state-level investigations that have so far come up empty.

The House Oversight Committee on Government Reform recently asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to break down exactly how much federal funding Planned Parenthood gets, and for which services.

The committee also demanded that HHS identify which medical services are available “only or exclusively” at Planned Parenthood affiliates, excluding any that “could otherwise be provided by a private health care provider.”

GOP lawmakers determined to defund Planned Parenthood have argued recently that the funding should simply be diverted to the nation’s other family planning providers. But critics, including moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), say that those providers are already overburdened and couldn’t possibly take on all of Planned Parenthood’s patients if the provider were to close.

Image: Shutterstock

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Iowa Could Join States Cutting Off Planned Parenthood’s Funding

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:59

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said Monday that he had directed state agencies to review the government funding of programs operated by Planned Parenthood in the state.

“We are to look at the contracts and see what our rights and responsibilities are. I want to protect the interests of the taxpayers,” Branstad said, reported the Des Moines Register.

The review ordered by Branstad comes as Republican governors from four other states have ordered contracts with Planned Parenthood to be cancelled, despite the warnings that cutting the reproductive health-care providers from their respective Medicaid programs likely violates federal law. The warnings were issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that runs the Medicaid program.

Many anti-choice activists and politicians have called for hearings and investigations into Planned Parenthood after the release of a series of videos published by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress, which feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

Branstad spoke Saturday at the “Truth Exposed” anti-choice rally at the Iowa capitol, which was held in response to the Center for Medical Progress video and sponsored by the Iowa Right to Life.

“We want to see that no tax money in this state has gone in the past or will in the future to fund abortion or abortion-related services,” Branstad said at the rally. “In the past two years I’m proud to say that no Medicaid-funded abortions have occurred in the state of Iowa.”

Branstad personally decides which abortions are covered by Medicaid.

Branstad said that he is working with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to defund Planned Parenthood on the federal level. Ernst took a leading role in the failed attempt by congressional Republicans to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for services unrelated to abortion.

To date, no investigations have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws with regard to fetal tissue.

Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that the organization plays an outsized role in providing affordable health care to nearly 38,000 women and men in Iowa each year. The organization provides health and sexual health education programs in the state, she continued, reaching 44,000 people through more than 2,500 programs in schools, community health centers, and correctional facilities.

“As Governor Branstad reviews the contracts that fund these programs, we certainly hope he will also carefully consider the impact that these programs have had on reducing rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections in Iowa, as well as increasing access to family planning services like well-woman exams and contraception,” de Baca said.

Image: Americans for Economic Freedom / YouTube

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Lawsuit: Florida Regulators Take ‘Unprecedented’ Step to Disrupt Abortion Services

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:04

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida asked a judge for an emergency injunction Monday to block what advocates claim are efforts by local regulators to disrupt abortion services at three of its facilities.

The complaint centers around facilities in St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers, and Naples that the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) claims improperly performed second-trimester abortions. AHCA is the licensing and regulatory agency responsible for overseeing health-care facilities in the state, including abortion clinics.

As alleged in the complaint, the AHCA inspected all 16 Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida following the release of heavily edited videos by anti-choice activists that describe the process of donating fetal tissue for medical research. The agency cited three clinics for unlawfully performing second-trimester abortions, a charge attorneys for Planned Parenthood vigorously deny.

At the heart of the fight between Planned Parenthood and state regulators is the definition of first trimester. In 2006, for purposes of regulating abortion clinics, AHCA proposed a rule to define first trimester as ending at 12 weeks’ gestation, according to the complaint.

Medical community standards routinely define first trimester as the completion of 14 weeks of pregnancy, measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. Because clinicians typically date a pregnancy from the last menstrual period, which in a normal menstrual cycle occurs about two weeks before fertilization, a pregnancy dated in menstrual weeks is generally two weeks longer than a pregnancy dated in weeks from likely fertilization.

Thus the medical community commonly defines the first trimester of pregnancy as extending through the completion of 14 menstrual weeks, or, put another way, the passage of the first 14 weeks from the date of the last normal menstrual period.

Because ACHA’s 2006 rule conflicted with established medical standards, Planned Parenthood was able to successfully challenge the agency’s proposed definition. ACHA amended the definition of first trimester to read “[t]he first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the first 14 completed weeks from the last menstrual period).”

The agency adopted that definition in September 2006 and has not amended it since.

AHCA reached the conclusion that the Planned Parenthood facilities were performing second-trimester abortions by deeming procedures in seven sampled patient records, performed at gestational ages documented as greater than 12 weeks gestational age but less than 14 weeks, according to the complaint filed Monday.

Deeming these procedures second-trimester abortions is an “unprecedented change of position” by the agency, said Planned Parenthood.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood allege the agency “imposed a new and unpublished definition of first trimester procedures upon Plaintiff, despite having agreed to, and adopted by rule, the definition used and followed by Plaintiff (in accordance with the agency’s rule) for nearly ten years with Defendant’s explicit approval.”

“The allegation that Planned Parenthood is performing procedures that we aren’t licensed to is completely false. The state of Florida’s own records from nearly a decade ago confirm that Planned Parenthood is following the law, and nothing has changed,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the filing of the lawsuit.

“Nearly a decade ago, state officials made it clear that Planned Parenthood is operating fully within the law, and nothing has changed. The state’s actions are patently disingenuous and constitute a wholly unwarranted political attack,” Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement. “AHCA’s claim that any Planned Parenthood health centers, including the health centers cited in St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers and Naples, are performing procedures we are not licensed to perform is simply false.”

A hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction has not yet been scheduled.

Image: Shutterstock

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GOP Lawmakers Cut Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid Funds, Despite Federal Warning

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 15:35

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Republican lawmakers in five states have now moved to defund Planned Parenthood by banning the organization from receiving payments from the Medicaid program, despite warnings from the federal government that doing so is against the law.

Legislators have justified cutting funding to Planned Parenthood by citing a series of videos published by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress. The videos feature heavily edited footage of secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

Republican governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah cancelled Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood. New Hampshire lawmakers recently voted to end a $640,000 contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the Medicaid program, issued a warning last week that efforts to defund Planned Parenthood by cutting the reproductive health-care provider from the Medicaid program likely violates federal law.

“CMS has notified states who have taken action to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood that they may be in conflict with federal law,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement, reported The Hill.

“Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider,” Wakana said. “By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.”

Two days after CMS issued its warning, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) directed the state Department of Human Services to terminate its agreements with Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, part of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Hutchinson said in a statement Friday that the organization does not “represent the values” of the people of Arkansas.

“It is apparent that after the recent revelations on the actions of Planned Parenthood, that this organization does not represent the values of the people of our state and Arkansas is better served by terminating any and all existing contracts with them,” Hutchinson said. “This includes their affiliated organization, Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.”

Hutchinson made the announcement after Rep. Nate Bell (I-Mena) sent a letter to the governor Wednesday requesting that the contract be terminated.

John Selig, director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, sent a letter to Planned Parenthood informing the organization that the contract will be cancelled, effective in 30 days. The organization was contracted to provide nurse practitioner, pharmacy, and family planning services through the state’s Medicaid program.

Planned Parenthood has 30 days to file a written appeal.

Planned Parenthood received more than $51,000 in Medicaid payments from the state over the past year, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Amy Webb told the Associated Press. None of the state funding was for payments for abortion services.

Angie Remington, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that the governor’s actions were “political grandstanding” and the organization will continue to protect women’s access to health care in Arkansas.

“Singling out Planned Parenthood and attempting to bar a woman’s access to our legal, constitutionally-protected healthcare services is clearly a violation of the Medicaid statute that requires that a woman have her choice among qualified providers,” Remington said. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has warned officials in other states that it’s against the law to bar women from accessing care at Planned Parenthood because the organization provides safe, legal abortion. Similar laws have consistently been struck down.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) directed state agencies Friday to stop funneling federal funds to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.

Karrie Galloway, executive director of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement that she was “appalled” by the governor’s decision to make policy decisions based on reported allegations.

“We have never erroneously used any state or federal money outside the rules,” Galloway said, reported the Salt Lake Tribune.

“The money he is talking about is for education,” Galloway added. “It’s federal money that we applied for through a [request for proposal] with the state health department to do evidence-based programs to reduce teen pregnancy. We celebrated those numbers going down about six months ago. Eliminating Planned Parenthood from participating in that is not the right move.”

The videos have sparked outrage from Republican legislators and anti-choice activists. Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations and hearings based on the series of deceptively edited videos, and inquiries have been announced in several states.

Investigations in Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Dakota have found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.

Image: Shutterstock

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Abortion Foes Use Misleading Videos to Pressure Planned Parenthood Contractors

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 11:29

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Sweat streaming into his cropped beard, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney stood alone on the steps of the United States Capitol on a recent Monday, beneath the sun’s noontime blaze, and livestreamed himself praying to God that the U.S. Senate would, later that day, vote to discontinue all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Prompted by a series of surreptitiously recorded videos produced by the California-based Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and deceptively edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood illegally harvests and sells aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, the vote failed. But Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister and longtime opponent of abortion rights, told RH Reality Check that he believes this video series will continue to influence the abortion debate at the national level, and hopes it will devastate Planned Parenthood’s reputation.

Meanwhile, Mahoney is leading a much more direct, grassroots campaign against the nonprofit network of reproductive-health centers, by trying to halt construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in Washington, D.C.

Sitting in the shadows of CMP’s high-profile video campaign is a lesser-known strategy abortion opponents have employed for decades—to cut off access to abortion directly at the source by trying to shut down existing Planned Parenthood abortion clinics and prevent new ones from opening. It’s just one element of the multipronged effort to curb abortion access and ultimately criminalize the procedure.

And the new videos represent a powerful messaging tool for grassroots campaigns like Mahoney’s.

“Certainly the videos give us more information to give out to the community and to press on why we wouldn’t want a Planned Parenthood in our neighborhoods and in our city,” said Mahoney, who is close friends with the leaders of CMP and who has been working to impede abortion access for nearly four decades.

A former national media director of the controversial anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, Mahoney now directs the Christian Defense Coalition and is the lead pastor of Church on the Hill D.C., a Christian activist group headquartered across the street from the Capitol. Last month, he helped launch a campaign called Abortion-Free DC after learning of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s plans to erect a new health center that will provide abortions in addition to other reproductive and sexual health services. The Planned Parenthood affiliate shuttered an older clinic (which did not provide abortions) last year and sold its 40-year-old downtown clinic in July as part of itx plans to center its services at a larger, revamped facility.

Abortion-Free DC is a loose network of local activists (Mahoney said about 10 to 15 people have been showing up to planning meetings) who are currently employing a range of tactics to stall the construction of the new facility, from praying and staging protests in front of the building site, to using the new CMP videos to try to convince construction workers to abandon their posts. They’re mining D.C.’s building and zoning codebook, hoping to find Planned Parenthood in violation of any regulations. Mahoney said the group intends to carry out these actions “prayerfully, peacefully, and publicly.” On August 22, they are planning a prayer vigil at the building site, and starting September 23, the group says it intends to stage 40 days and nights of prayer and protest in front of the building site as part of the national 40 Days for Life campaign that targets abortion clinics.

While the efforts of Abortion-Free DC are local in scale, the use of these strategies and techniques are national.

At the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans last month, Saint John’s Seminary theology professor Angela Franks, a socially conservative author and activist, outlined the strategies that she used to stymie the construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 2005. Upon learning of the plans for the new clinic, Franks also formed a local coalition—which she dubbed Planned Parenthood Hurts Girls—to help orchestrate boycotts and breed hostility against Planned Parenthood. Franks’ conference session was called “Fighting Goliath: How to Take Aim at Planned Parenthood.”

More recently, abortion opponents in New Orleans successfully stalled a new Planned Parenthood facility. In addition to frequent protests by abortion foes, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond threatened contractors working with Planned Parenthood that the Archdiocese of New Orleans would deny them future building contracts for churches and schools. And the Louisiana state health department initially denied Planned Parenthood’s operating license application based on a new law targeting abortion clinics. On appeal, the state recently cleared the way for Planned Parenthood to begin construction. (Soon after, someone not yet identified attempted to set the construction site on fire.)

In D.C., Mahoney’s group is attempting to use many of the same techniques to stop the construction of the new clinic.

As in Louisiana, Mahoney’s group is seeking help from the Catholic Church. Abortion-Free DC has asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Arlington to lean on a general contractor working on the site who also sits on a Catholic high school board in Arlington. Mahoney said the group is preparing to send an open letter this week asking the archdiocese to threaten to deny future contracts with anyone building the health center. When contacted, the contractor did not respond to our questions or confirm these details. Archdiocese spokeswoman Elise Italiano would not confirm these discussions with Abortion-Free DC or the contractor in question, but said in an email said that “the diocese is always disappointed to learn that any business has partnered with Planned Parenthood.”

“Because we remain committed to the protection of all life, we oppose all efforts that undermine that principle; instead, we support programs which offer a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy the medical, financial, and material resources she needs during her pregnancy and after her child’s birth,” Italiano said.

The protesters are also trying to sway public opinion by painting Planned Parenthood as insensitive to the needs of schoolchildren. The new facility is located in a commercial and residential neighborhood in Northeast D.C., next door to Two Rivers Public Charter School’s elementary campus and across the street from Two Rivers’ middle-school campus.

“They know that people demonstrate, that people come out there with signs,” said Mahoney. “Why would Planned Parenthood be so insensitive to create this kind of turmoil in a neighborhood?”

Those “people” turn out to include Mahoney himself: Prayerful demonstration is something in which the reverend takes considerable pride. When asked to provide RH Reality Check with a picture to accompany this story, Mahoney supplied an image of himself getting arrested in June 2010, after he trespassed at the former Planned Parenthood site in Northwest D.C. He was arrested (but not prosecuted) after praying on the clinic’s sidewalk entryway, shortly after the center had erected a short fence in front of the clinic to keep activists at bay.

(Source: Rev. Patrick Mahoney)

This was not the only time Mahoney has been arrested in his three decades of protesting at that facility, but he noted that his form of protest is to pray and that he himself has never held signs in front of an abortion clinic. In fact, he said he tries to discourage activists from using graphic signs.

Indeed, Dr. Laura Meyers, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., said she was very familiar with the frequent protesters—including Mahoney—at the old center.

“The irony is stunning,” she told RH Reality Check in an interview, when told that Mahoney had criticized Planned Parenthood for potentially subjecting school children to protesters at the new facility.

Meyers said the affiliate’s board has been planning for years to relocate and expand services at a bigger clinic, and that they purchased the new building two years ago. She said the affiliate is working to complete construction and reopen in the District in early 2016 and that they have discussed plans for the center with the Two Rivers schools and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

“We’re really excited about being embedded in that community, and our goal is to be great community neighbors, for both the charters and others living in the neighborhood,” Meyers said. “We provide preventive health care to thousands of men and women, and we are striving to be great community partners.”

Mahoney said his group is also exploring regulatory avenues to shutter or stall the building’s construction, but an initial strike fell flat.

Last month, activists filed a complaint with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, claiming Planned Parenthood was violating the District’s building rules by not properly displaying a permit sign. However, upon inspecting the property, inspectors determined that Planned Parenthood is complying with all building regulations, the department’s legislative and public affairs director Matt Orlins told RH Reality Check.

Of course, even if Abortion-Free DC were to succeed in stopping the new Planned Parenthood, the District would not actually be “abortion-free,” as there are a few independent abortion providers there.

But for longtime abortion foes, the opportunity to block the Planned Parenthood clinic in D.C. is symbolic.

And the group is leveraging the recent attack videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, whose co-founder is Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, where Mahoney worked before Newman became president of the organization.

Mahoney said one of the Abortion-Free DC activists has shown some of the videos to construction workers and repeated CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood unlawfully sells fetal tissue for profit. None of the unedited videos actually support this allegation, and the numerous state investigations into those accusations have so far returned no evidence of wrongdoing.

Mahoney dismissed criticism of CMP’s work, which he said his friend, Newman, revealed to him two weeks before it launched. He argued that critics’ claims that the videos were deceptively edited are baseless because the group has released the full unedited footage.

But Mahoney admitted that he has not watched most of the unedited videos, save for the first one that was released in mid-July.

“I haven’t bothered looking at any of the other unedited tapes, because it’s just so long and I trust the integrity of David Daleiden,” he said, referring to CMP’s president.

Ultimately, though, Mahoney and his fellow Abortion-Free DC activists believe the true power in the videos is not in their accusations that Planned Parenthood might have broken federal law.

After a recent Friday-night strategy meeting, Mahoney and seven of the Abortion-Free DC activists gathered for drinks at the Dubliner, an Irish pub near the Capitol. Many of the activists told RH Reality Check that the aspects of the videos that move them and are likely to sway people who generally support abortion rights are the graphic images of discernible fetal body parts and the seemingly casual manner in which some of the Planned Parenthood doctors and directors talk about fetal remains and the donation thereof.

Clutching her 2-month-old daughter, Michele Hendrickson explained the anger she felt watching the first Planned Parenthood video, wherein Planned Parenthood senior medical director Deborah Nucatola tells undercover CMP operatives that processing fees for fetal-tissue donation range from $30 to $100. In the edited version, though, she appears to be saying that affiliates sell specimens for about $30 to $100 each.

“Two months ago, her liver would be worth $30,” said Hendrickson, referring to her daughter, Lucy. Hendrickson serves as the capital regional coordinator for Students for Life of America, which advocates against abortion on college campuses. “Two months ago her body parts were worth something that were just casually discussed. I’m totally fine with calling that heartless.”

The videos contain no evidence of abortions occurring that close to viability, but rather, of predominantly first- and second-trimester procedures, including for fetuses with fatal anomalies and for victims of sexual assault.

At the end of the day, the Abortion-Free DC activists realize their effort to stop the new Planned Parenthood clinic is “a serious uphill battle,” Mahoney said. But he said they are committed to fighting regardless of what happens.

And Planned Parenthood is too. The D.C. affiliate’s director, Dr. Laura Meyers, said she is not fazed by these dedicated efforts to block construction of the new health center.

“Regardless of what swirls around Planned Parenthood, we continue to see patients; we continue to provide care no matter what,” Meyers said. “And we will build that building.”

Image: Sofia Resnick / RH Reality Check

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Tuscaloosa Abortion Clinic Can Reopen, Federal Court Rules

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 16:12

A federal judge Thursday temporarily blocked an Alabama law that had forced one of the last remaining abortion clinics in the state, the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, to be closed since January.

The ruling came in the ongoing battle over targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws in the state. In 2007, the Alabama State Board of Health issued the requirement for abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or to contract with a local covering physician with such privileges. In 2013, Alabama enacted HB 57, which would have replaced this regulation by requiring that every physician performing abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital, thus eliminating the alternative covering-physician arrangement.

Before HB 57 went into effect, the three clinics in the state relying on covering physicians brought a lawsuit challenging the admitting privileges requirement but not the covering physician requirement. A federal court found the requirement unconstitutional as it applied to those three clinics.

But that order did not apply to the West Alabama Women’s Center. Until December 2014, the center had no trouble complying with the admitting privileges requirement because its doctor, Louis Payne, had admitting privileges at an area hospital. But Dr. Payne retired in December 2014, and, although the center has found a replacement doctor, he does not have staff privileges at the local hospital. Nor has the center been able to find a covering physician—that is, a doctor who has local admitting privileges and who is willing to contract with the clinic.

Because the center cannot meet either requirement of the regulation, it has been closed since January 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued in July 2015 on the center’s behalf, arguing the provision was unconstitutional and requesting the court block it so the clinic can reopen. Thursday’s order grants that request. There is no time limit for the order; it will remain in place as the trial continues.

“[T]his court should not stand by to allow a woman’s fundamental right to obtain an abortion to be subverted” by a “confluence of violence and hostility to abortions,” Judge Myron H. Thompson wrote.

“The court’s decision preserves the health and safety of women throughout Alabama,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney in the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement. “The decision recognizes this regulation is completely unnecessary and that closing one of the last remaining abortion clinics in the state would have prevented women from receiving essential and high quality care.”

Judge Thompson is the same judge that previously ruled the admitting privileges requirement of the statute unconstitutional.

“With legal abortion under attack in Alabama, we are pleased with the court’s concern for the health and safety of women,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama in a statement following the decision. “This order restores the ability of West Alabama Women’s Center to provide much needed services.”

Image: Shutterstock

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With College’s Price Tag on the Rise, Democratic Candidates Aim for ‘Debt-Free’ Higher Education

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 14:34

The price of higher education is on the rise: The cost of attending a public four-year college rose by 39 percent between 2003 and 2013, and states across the country continue to reduce their public investment in education. With that in mind, Democratic presidential candidates are tackling the question of how to make college affordable (again) for American students. The big buzzwords: “debt-free” and “tuition-free.”

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton released what her campaign is calling a “New College Compact,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed his own version of a completely retooled public higher education mechanism in May. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley detailed his own “debt-free” plan in July.

While Clinton’s plan is currently garnering the most buzz, the three most visible Democratic candidates’ ideas are roughly similar: They would all significantly step up the role of the federal government in funneling money to states to assist students with tuition costs at public schools. In some students’ cases, this money could potentially cover tuition entirely—as long as university and college systems meet certain accountability standards.

This, experts say, reflects the downturn in public funding institutions have received over the last few decades, as states funnel taxpayer dollars away from higher education.

“There’s a recognition that one of the reasons why prices for students have gone up so dramatically over the past ten, 20, 30 years is that states have been disinvesting from higher education systems,” said Rachel Fishman, a policy analyst at New America, a nonprofit think tank that, according to its mission statement, specializes in “impartial analysis.” She said that because of tight recession budgets and mandated spending on items like health care, states have significantly dropped their spending on post-secondary education.

Fishman called the general tenor of the plans a kind of “new federalism for higher education,” with candidates trying to figure out “how to get states to reinvest back into their systems of higher ed.”

Clinton’s proposal, for example, focuses on that reinvestment throughout its major tenets. For states that “halt disinvestment in higher education” and “ramp up that investment over time,” according to Clinton’s proposal, the federal government would issue grants to cover tuition costs based on the enrollment numbers of low- and middle-income students.

It would also continue President Obama’s plan for tuition-free community college; cut student loan interest rates; dedicate money specifically for “modest-endowment private colleges,” especially those which “serve a high percentage of Pell Grant recipients” and which historically serve students of color; implement income-based loan repayment plans across the board; expand Americorps and services provided under the GI Bill; and extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Clinton’s plan has an estimated cost of $350 billion over the next decade—parents and families are expected to pick up an income-proportional cost of tuition—while Sanders’ plan has an estimated cost of $750 billion for the same time period and would effectively offer two free years of college to everyone, not just community college students.

While all three candidates’ proposals so far involve refinancing existing student loans, a popular idea that’s garnered bipartisan support, Fishman cautioned that refinancing doesn’t ultimately address the wider problem, which is the overall cost of schooling.

Refinancing, she said, “would certainly benefit some students, but it doesn’t buy a lot” because “the overall savings for the student is not really high.” Lower interest rates would be an advantage mainly, she said, to “those who borrowed the most, and who are most likely to graduate.”

“The question is, ‘What is your policy priority?'” she said. “If it’s degree attainment, we need to concentrate on low-income students and student loan interest rates are not the way to do it. But that’s what the middle class and upper middle class are really into.” Instead, says Fishman, it’s that state-federal partnership that’s key to giving states an incentive to keep tuition low so that low- and middle-income students can succeed.

Ditto for the tax credit, said Fishman—it’s another advantage that largely benefits middle- and upper-income student loan borrowers.

But the cost of tuition isn’t the only concern for America’s growing population of college students.

Gov. O’Malley’s plan also focuses specifically on implementing services like child care that could assist many students in maintaining enrollment and graduating.

That’s important, said Fishman, because the typical college student doesn’t look so much like the traditionally imagined 18-year-old who’s “going to the lovely campus with grass and sitting on the lawn and reading and then going back to the dorms.”

Forty percent of today’s college students are attending community college, she said, “which kind of blows people’s minds.”

“They’re commuting, and around 30 percent of community college students have children,” she said, which means they need more support outside of the classroom. Services like child care and assistance finding benefits like SNAP are essential. Otherwise, said Fishman, “for students, especially low-income students who have lives outside the classroom who are taking care of others and are the breadwinner for the family, it’s just not going to work for them.”

So far, no Republican candidate has proposed anything like the detailed plans from the Democratic side, though that may change once what Fishman called the “noisy field” of the GOP quiets some. But Fishman doesn’t expect conservatives to embrace the debt-free angle.

“I don’t see any of them saying, ‘Let’s do debt-free college,'” said Fishman. “They’re going to have a counterpoint.”

Nevertheless, Fishman said she was encouraged that conversations about solutions to state disinvestment are happening at all.

“If you’d told me a year ago we’d be having this discussion about federal-state partnerships,” she said, “I’d be surprised that so many candidates have come out to focus on this.”

But in any discussion about the rising cost of college and attendant student loans, she said, real solutions will have to address the disinvestment issue, as all three Democratic proposals do.

“The fear students are feeling over loans has everything to do with price they’re facing,” said Fishman. “Until you address the price question, the solutions you come up with for student loan problem are ad hoc.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Exclusive: Man Charged With Vandalizing Louisiana Clinic Appears To Be Son of Texas A&M Basketball Coach

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 13:34

The man accused of removing signs at a Metairie, Louisiana, abortion clinic on August 6 appears to be the son of a high-profile college basketball coach, according to an investigation by RH Reality Check.

Based on a review of public records and social media profiles, including on Facebook, William Kennedy, the 27-year-old charged with vandalizing an abortion clinic, seems to be the son of Texas A&M University head basketball coach Billy Kennedy. The date of birth provided on the booking sheet from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office matches the date displayed on medical documents that Will Kennedy III posted to his Facebook page

In response to a request for comment on the matter, Texas A&M University told RH Reality Check via email that, “Coach Billy Kennedy is currently in Europe with the Texas A&M men’s basketball team and the athletics media relations office will not address personal, family issues.”

The Texas A&M men’s basketball team is currently in traveling in Europe, and the team will play the Nigerian national team Saturday.

William is accused of removing signs from the Causeway Medical Clinic, a health center located in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. The arrest report states that surveillance footage allegedly shows William pulling the metal lettering off of the clinic in the early morning hours of August 1.

William was arrested by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies at his home on August 6, and released on a $10,000 bond on August 7. He was charged with simple criminal damage and with committing a hate crime, and if convicted of both he could be sentenced up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $500.

The Louisiana hate crimes law bans offenses against persons for reasons including race, age, gender, religion, creed, disability, or sexual orientation. It is also illegal to commit a crime against a person and property “because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization.”

Based on the reports so far, a hate crime charge appears appropriate, according to RH Reality Check’s senior legal analyst. Instead of criminalizing conduct, the statute allows a judge to increase an offender’s punishment if certain conditions are met.

Here, William is accused of stealing signage from a local abortion clinic. Louisiana’s hate crime law bans this kind of conduct, not just because targeting abortion providers and patients has a definite gendered component, but also because the law makes it illegal to commit a crime against a person or property because of their actual or perceived affiliation or association with a certain group of people, like abortion patients and providers in this case.

William is currently studying geology at University of New Orleans and is a student manager of the university’s basketball team, according to his Facebook profile. Some of his public posts reference Christian ideology; they are not explicitly anti-abortion. He did not respond to RH Reality Check‘s request sent via Facebook for comment by the publication deadline.

Coach Billy Kennedy was born in Metairie, Louisiana, and graduated from Delgado Community College, according to his Texas A&M biography. Billy was an assistant basketball coach at the University of New Orleans and Tulane University before being hired by his alma mater as head coach in 1999. He was hired by Texas A&M in 2011.

A devout Christian, the coach has cited his faith as a steadying force in dealing with life’s challenges, including being diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and has taken to social media to quote Bible verses. However, neither he nor his wife, Mary, appear to have said anything publicly about their stances on abortion.

Sofia Resnick contributed to this report.

Image: Shutterstock

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Planned Parenthood Doctors in Attack Videos Were Professional, Not ‘Cold’

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 11:14

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Unsurprisingly, there is a shock value to the anti-Planned Parenthood videos that were recently released by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress. Some viewers called the language used by the professionals in the video “cold and calculated.” But as a physician who provides abortion care, I did not perceive anything shocking. I attribute this to the context of the conversation: business among colleagues, or at least those pretending to be. Had the people who were unknowingly filmed been speaking to a patient during a health-care consultation in Planned Parenthood, I can see how their words or tone might be perceived as unsettling at the least. This, however, was not the case. In the given background, the language that was used is comparable to the language that is used amongst other medical professionals.

In medical school, we are told that we will learn a new language. And indeed, we do. Learning how to communicate is just one aspect of the art of medicine that I have been fine-tuning these seven years I’ve been in practice as an OB-GYN. Depending on whether I am speaking to a colleague or one of my patients, I will alter the words I use to ensure I will be understood by my audience. Not only must I choose the correct language, but I also have to use the correct and appropriate tone in order to communicate compassion to my patient or expertise to my co-worker.

Communicating effectively is a skill that may or may not be developed over time, as I am sure many physicians and patients can attest to. Physicians feel collegial trust in fellow doctors who are able to communicate clearly with the goal of ensuring appropriate patient care. Patients take comfort when they are able to understand the guidance of their physician. They are also more likely to trust a doctor who is relatable and compassionate, something that can only be perceived through effective communication.

For example, if someone is having a miscarriage and experiencing the loss of a desired pregnancy, it would be inappropriate for me to say to them: “You’re medically and clinically stable and have had a complete spontaneous abortion.” That is what I might say to a colleague, but to the patient I would say, “I am so sorry you are experiencing this loss. You are safe and though this will be a difficult time for you and your family, you will be well and able to try again in the future if and when you are ready.” Neither of these statements is more or less genuine than the other; they are just different ways of conveying the same facts in the best way for different situations.

When discussing surgical procedures, the same principles apply. I will discuss the basics of a cesarean section to my patient as well as the risks and potential complications, but I will not describe the minutiae of the procedure. I do not say, “First I use the scalpel to make a Pfannensteil incision in the skin which I take down through the subcutaneous fat to the fascia.” When teaching a medical student or a resident physician, I would be more anatomical and straightforward in this way to ensure clear and concise instructions, and in order to teach high-quality medical care. If my patient were to hear me speak this way, though, she would most likely be horrified at how cold and unfeeling I might seem when describing the process of delivering a baby. At the least, she would likely be confused or offended at the “grossness” of my terminology. But therein lies the difference in language when speaking to professional colleagues versus the general, non-medical audience.

When these two “languages” overlap, possible conflict and confusion can ensue. For example, a c-section is done while the patient is awake and alert; few, if any, other major surgeries are performed under these conditions. As a surgeon who performs this procedure on an awake patient who can hear me talking, I am actively cognizant of the words that I speak while performing the procedure. When I ask the scrub nurse to hand me instruments I need, I can only call them by their proper names to ensure I am handed the correct instrument. Only recently did I learn that when I ask for a “bladder blade,” my patient may be thinking I am asking for a cutting instrument to use on her bladder! This is absolutely not the case; in fact, it is an instrument used to cover and protect the bladder from inadvertent injury. So while I use medical terms that are unambiguous by necessity to someone working with me in the field, there may be a significant misinterpretation by someone else who is not medically trained or who does not have the same knowledge.

Such is the case with the Planned Parenthood attack videos, which show medical professionals in situations with supposed colleagues: ones that do not call for “sugar-coating” procedural aspects but instead require candid, straightforward explanations of the processes involved. Of course, to someone who is not a medical professional, this may be so alarming or unfamiliar as to cause queasiness and a visceral reaction of anger.

Additionally, those working in high-stress professions will often use dark humor in order to cope with the emotionally draining aspects of their jobs. Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, psychiatrists, trauma surgeons, fighter jet pilots, and others may make off-color jokes to colleagues in order to procure an emotional release of how horrible experiences in the real world can be. The stresses involved in being a physician are not easily explained to nor easily understood by non-physicians, and I imagine the same can be said for attorneys and non-attorneys. Especially in obstetrics and gynecology, we see the worst of the worst outcomes, as well as the best of the best. We may say things to each other that might appear insensitive to a non-OB-GYN, but there are many instances of needing to depend on each other for support that only another OB-GYN can give and understand. However, this does not mean that this dark humor is a precise example of how the person feels and thinks about everything and everyone on a daily basis. That would be like saying anyone using sarcasm means they are an inherently mean person, period. Of course, this is not the case.

In general, context plays an important role in the way we communicate, not only with our own colleagues and friends but also with the media or, as in the case of physicians, with our patients. I’d have a failed practice if I didn’t treat each of my patients as individuals with different life stories, who needed and deserved to have communication that was appropriate and individualized. Writing a prescription for a medicine that someone cannot afford, for example, has done absolutely nothing for them and I have failed them as their health-care provider. Someone having a miscarriage who had desired an abortion is very different from someone having a miscarriage who had desired to parent, even though they are both “having a miscarriage.” My genuine sympathies and compassion will be conveyed to both, but I may use different language for each depending on the individual I am treating.

The art of medicine not only includes knowing and understanding the human body, but also the human spirit and human experiences. We can communicate the same information to a variety of audiences but we may use different language to do so. Effectively communicating with colleagues is one aspect of medicine, while effectively communicating with patients is another. It is critical for my patients’ well-being that I do not speak to them as if they were a colleague, but rather as an individual with individual experiences and background, so that I can provide the best health care I can.

Not knowing this and not executing these distinct forms of communication in health care is detrimental to real people with real lives.

Image: Shutterstock

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New Orleans Abortion Clinic Vandal Charged With Hate Crime

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 09:14

A man accused of removing signs at an abortion clinic in Metairie, Louisiana, was arrested last Thursday and charged with committing a hate crime.

William Kennedy, 27, is accused of removing signs from the Causeway Medical Clinic, which is within the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The arrest report states surveillance footage shows Kennedy pulling the metal lettering off of the clinic in the early morning hours of August 1.

Kennedy was arrested by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies at his home on August 6, and released on a $10,000 bond on August 7. Policed charged him with simple criminal damage to property and with committing a hate crime. If convicted of both, he could be sentenced to up to six months in prison and fined up to $500.

An employee of the clinic said that on the video surveillance footage, Kennedy “looked like a really angry young man.” The employee spoke to the New Orleans Advocate but declined to give her name or position at the clinic. “He just jumped around and really looked angry,” she told the Advocate. “He actually scared me.”

The clinic employee added that Kennedy had been accused of pulling down a sign on another side of the clinic in May. “Because he’d been by twice, next time I was afraid that he would come while we were all here,” the employee said.

The employee did not recognize Kennedy as one of the anti-choice protesters who regularly target the clinic.

Kennedy was arrested just days after an unidentified person poured and ignited gasoline on a recently laid foundation and a security guard’s car early Saturday morning at the construction site of the Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans.

Planned Parenthood Louisiana issued a statement that it is working with the New Orleans Police Department and federal law enforcement to investigate the arson attack.

The Louisiana hate crimes law bans offenses against persons for reasons including race, age, gender, religion, creed, disability, or sexual orientation. It is also illegal to commit a crime against a person and property “because of actual or perceived membership or service in, or employment with, an organization.”

State law defines “an organization” as corporations, companies, partnerships, or associations.

Katherine Mattes, a criminal law professor at Tulane University Law School, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the law can apply to crimes based on the victim’s personal or professional associations. “The law enhances punishment for someone who targets a victim because of the victim’s association with a certain group of people, in this case, likely those providing abortion services,” Mattes said.

A report released in February found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that legislative attacks by anti-choice lawmakers have emboldened radical anti-choice activists.

Image: Shutterstock

The post New Orleans Abortion Clinic Vandal Charged With Hate Crime appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 17:16

Practically everyone in Chicago has a Patrick Kane story.

As a former bartender who was slinging drinks in the Windy City when hockey reappeared like magic on our televisions in 2007 turning a lost generation of Chicagoans into fans of the young, exciting team featuring first-year phenom Kane and his captain, Jonathan Toews, I certainly have mine. And though I’ve always been more of a Patrick Sharp girl (I’m almost done crying about the trade), I’ve appreciated Kane’s work on the ice—delivering three championships in six seasons. I’ve also sort of appreciated him in a bizzaro feminist way for having managed his party rep without his name being automatically associated amongst service staff with misconduct allegations à la Steelers champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Until now.

Blackhawks fans who had planned to spend the summer celebrating the return of Lord Stanley’s Cup must instead come to terms with the news that their star 26-year-old forward is an accused rapist. As criminal defense attorney turned sports reporter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro has covered so adeptly for the Chicago Tribune, some are handling it better than others.

“When it comes to the Kane investigation, Internet stupidity abounds,” writes DiCaro, below a list of representative examples. “And while it’s tempting to laugh off some of the comments as written by misguided juveniles with a serious case of hero worship, the problem is actually much bigger. Tweets, comments, rumors and news reports like those above are reflective of the way our society treats those who report rape.”

While local radio hosts and writers are largely handling the situation with grace and consideration for all involved, DiCaro’s words aren’t hitting home for a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan base. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a call screener for a local sports station right now.


Kane spent Saturday, August 2 at SkyBar, a popular nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, reportedly leaving around 3 a.m. with two women to continue partying at his house in nearby suburban Hamburg. Around 4 a.m., one of the women—whose name is being withheld (police say they are abiding by a gag order)—went into another room by herself; Kane reportedly followed and raped her.

The alleged victim then did what rape culture deniers demand of all sexual assault survivors: she found her friend, left, and called a family member on her way to the hospital, where she submitted to an exam and reported the attack to law enforcement. To their credit, Hamburg police appear to be taking her accusations seriously; they have searched Kane’s home and the case has been assigned to Roseanne John, head of the Special Victims Unit in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Research outlined in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence estimates that almost half of rape survivors who report experience “secondary victimization” by law enforcement. Being believed by enough personnel (most rape victims must tell their stories repeatedly) to prompt the search of a local celebrity’s home and the hiring of an expert SVU prosecutor before potential charges are filed shows a level of engagement and willingness to believe the victim we can’t, unfortunately, take for granted.

According to details obtained by the Buffalo News, the alleged victim even bears the marks rape apologists and perpetrators of the “stranger rape myth” expect of anyone truly not consenting to the encounter: bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg. She has behaved as a supposedly model victim, fighting back physically and then legally, risking the public ridicule that descends upon anyone who dare sully the name of a beloved athlete.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened that night; I’m not privy to the ongoing police investigation or hospital reports and I haven’t had interview time with Kane’s accuser. What I do know is that statistically, I can’t expect relief for the knot in my stomach that formed when I first saw headlines of the incident. Research tells us that more than 92 percent of rape reports are credible. Considering we hardly have a contingent of rape survivors who were granted fame and fortune as a reward for accusing a well-known man of assault, I’m inclined to eschew society’s unfortunate convention and simply believe her until I see evidence she put herself through this ordeal without cause.

I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.

And, listen. I’ll be uncomfortably honest: like any fan of any sport (or anything, really), my heart sank when I heard that an integral member of a team I have rooted for—whose jersey hangs in my closet—was being investigated for something heinous. Also like any fan, my first impulse was to close my eyes and utter the sentence, “Please don’t let it be true.”

For anyone who’s more than just a casual sports consumer, it’s understandable to hope your team isn’t tarnished or is about to lose a player so good, a mere seven years in he’s already past the 100-point mark in his playoff career. With a contract extension through 2022-2023, Kane is poised to become the most celebrated player in team history. Permanently breaking up the Kane-Toews line would likely usher in another championship drought.

So, of course I had the thought. As hard as it is to admit, that was my first impulse. I’m human, which means my brain automatically considers how unexpected news will affect me before processing what it means for other people. Because I am a justice-oriented survivor who’s educated on the effects of rape culture and understand what it takes for someone to report, I processed all of that in pretty rapid succession—but I have to admit to myself that even I started from a self-serving mental moment of disbelief.

What I haven’t done and won’t do is participate in the toxic pastime of victim-bashing as a show of support for my bro, Kaner. Almost as though he knew it was on the way, Chicago sportswriter Tim Baffoe published an outstanding critique of “He’s my guy!” style fandom the day before a rape apology-laden hashtag caught fire. Ostensibly designed to prop up #88, the #iSupport88 thread is a predictable haven for crass name-calling, rape “jokes,” and non sequitur love for Bill Cosby and other celebrities accused of sexual assault.

In his piece, Baffoe holds nothing back, saying, “Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro … And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him. Even under the guise of “innocent until proven guilty.’”

In a tight-knit sports town like Chicago that thrives on the perception of personal connection, those are fighting words. Baffoe was just getting started:

The reflex of “Leave Kaner alone—you’re ruining his reputation!” or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you’ve let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you’ve drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of [child-abuse enabler] Joe Paterno.

Well done, sir.

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist. And so, for the remainder of the off-season, I’m rooting for law enforcement, the Blackhawks organization, and the National Hockey League to break from rape culture and handle the case in a way that recognizes the needs of the alleged victim as more important than the reputation of the accused.

I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate action for the Blackhawks and the NHL to take would look like. How do they balance the uncertainty of an ongoing investigation with the rapidly approaching start of training camp? As writer Allan Muir succinctly paraphrased Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh yesterday, “Kane’s uncertain legal status puts the Hawks in an impossible position. With training camp less than six weeks away and the justice system moving at its own deliberate pace, the team may be forced to suspend the star winger.”

Do the Blackhawks wait? Do they hope the league steps in to suspend him, letting them off the hook? Would the team or the league be on solid ground legally to suspend a player before there are charges and/or a conviction, as Haugh calls for?

“In the post-Ray Rice era of professional sports, a first-class franchise such as the Hawks cannot allow a player facing serious allegations to represent it until more clarity about the case exists,” Haugh wrote. “The thing about setting a standard of excellence as high as the Hawks have is living up to it; no single player, not even a living legend, can compromise that commitment to integrity.”

I’m inclined to agree that the risk of sending Kane out on the ice despite the statistical probability that the accusations are true is more risky than suspending him and being forced to apologize later, should his accuser recant or turn out to be in the false reporting minority. And I certainly applaud the decision by EA Sports yesterday to pull Kane from their NHL 16 cover and promotional roll-out:

Official statement regarding Patrick Kane.

— EA SPORTS NHL (@EASPORTSNHL) August 12, 2015

For people who couldn’t care less about sports, why does the handling of a rape accusation by a professional sports team or league matter? I get this question on the regular every time another high-profile athlete is accused of assault or National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell does something detestable. The answer is simple: We are a nation of sports fans and human beings do not compartmentalize our experiences. It’s not just that athletes are disproportionately revered in our society; for better or worse, they’re recognizable public figures even outside their fan bases. According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last year, over 100 million people had watched the Super Bowl despite 25 percent of respondents saying football “has the most jerks” out of any professional league.

People are disinclined to believe someone they know is capable of a crime like rape. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their name as often as is typical of stars and champions leads people to feel, as Baffoe pushed back on, like we know them. Even if we don’t like a player very much, it’s quite a step to go from dislike to believing someone is the evil outlier our culture tells us commits rape.

Because of this culture of disbelief, the language that’s used as the investigation continues is extremely important—as evidenced by the somewhat predictable vitriol of the #ISupport88 crowd. Those close to Kane and the team have been tight-lipped, but the statements that have been made manage to walk the line of avoiding the kind of enthusiastic support that erases or gaslights victims while not openly condemning someone who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz briefly weighed in with firmer language than sports fans are used to hearing at an allegation stage of a potential public relations nightmare, saying, “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” Wirtz said. “Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to expound upon.”

If the team makes the move to suspend Kane preemptively, it’ll be sending a strong signal not just to players, but to fans—specifically female fans. The Blackhawks boast a 45 percent female fan base that’s well above the league average of 37 percent and is partly responsible for their ability to re-sign Kane and Toews for a combined $168 million. You can’t afford that price tag without both routinely selling every ticket in your stadium and bringing in massive merchandise sales numbers. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have as much of their team intact without us.

Simply continuing to refrain from hinting at motives on the behalf of the alleged victim or from promising to stand by the accused no matter what would be a bright spot in the very dark intersection of sports and rape culture. But Wirtz and the league owe more to both their female fans and to a city that welcomed them back with open arms after years of inaccessibility. If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.

I’m rooting for the NHL and the Blackhawks to do the right thing so I can buy a new jersey this fall and cheer without hesitation for a team I love.

Image: NHL / YouTube

The post Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape appeared first on RH Reality Check.

What the Planned Parenthood Attack Group Won’t Tell You About Its ‘Findings’

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 15:25

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Another week, another video from the anti-choice activists who have been waging a three-year undercover smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

The latest video from the Center for Medical Progress again features Holly O’Donnell, a former employee of StemExpress, a private company that helps procure tissue donation for medical research. The new video contains little by way of new allegations against Planned Parenthood, other than details that the avowedly “very pro-life” O’Donnell says she found troubling, such as the fact that a particular provider allegedly worked quickly.

By contrast, last week’s video contained a number of big claims that are demonstrably false, according to legal, medical, and scientific experts interviewed by RH Reality Check. The group made available the full six hours of secretly taped footage late last week. A careful review of that footage and the accompanying transcript makes clear that CMP’s central claims were wrong, and also that what the group left out of its edited work was just as important as what it included.

Given that CMP claims it will release at least another six films, it’s worth noting some of the more glaring fallacies from last week’s release.

CMP Knew That Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Was Not Donating Fetal Tissue

The entire premise of CMP’s campaign against Planned Parenthood is the false allegation that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue for profit, in violation of federal law.

A close reading of last week’s 119-page transcript, however, reveals that CMP knew that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast wasn’t even involved in donating fetal tissue.

That’s because their main contact at the facility, Melissa Farrell, the director of research at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, told the operatives that there was no fetal donation program occurring at her facility.

“I don’t know about the other Texas affiliates,” she says, about a third of the way through the transcript. “[A]t our affiliate, I mean we don’t have any ongoing fetal donation.”

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast confirmed that fact to RH Reality Check. And in an emailed statement, a spokesperson, Rochelle Tafolla, said the center has participated in research in the past—in particular, contributing tissue for a study on miscarriage by the University of Texas Medical Branch. The study was part of an attempt to understand ways to prevent miscarriage and other problems that can require the termination of a pregnancy.

According to Tafolla:

There was no financial benefit in fetal tissue donation for either the patient or the health center. In some instances, the study-specific procedures were reimbursed at cost, which is standard across the medical field. There was no direct payment for fetal tissue.

CMP’s Claims of “Born Alive” Abortions Are Unfounded

The second major claim from CMP’s leader, David Daleiden, is that his group found evidence that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has violated the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban because Farrell, the director of research, and Tram Nguyen, the ambulatory surgery center director at the clinic, said that they could, on occasion, provide intact fetal corpses to medical researchers.

Daleiden made this claim in a press release from the CMP, as well as on an earlier appearance on CNN, and it was repeated by CMP’s co-founder, Troy Newman, in his own press release last week.

“Partial-birth abortion” is a political term that has been used to demonize a particular technique for removing a fetus. The 2003 federal law makes it illegal for an abortion provider to act intentionally to end the life of a fetus whose head has either emerged from the birth canal, or—if the fetus is in breech position—any part of the fetus’ body past its navel is “outside the body of the mother.”

To make his claim, Daleiden stitched together a string of accusations against Planned Parenthood, each of which turns out to be incorrect.

First, he says that medical researchers cannot use fetal tissue that has been affected by substances that are sometimes used to terminate a pregnancy. Because Planned Parenthood said they could provide some intact fetuses that could be used for research, he continues, these fetuses must not have been affected by the use of any of these substances. Hence, Daleiden concludes, they could potentially have been delivered alive, and if the doctor intended to do so, he or she must have violated the federal law.

There are multiple problems with Daleiden’s logic, according to experts who spoke about the procedure with RH Reality Check.

The most fundamental problem is that there are many legal ways that an abortion could result in an intact fetal corpse.

For instance, some abortion providers do not use feticidal agents, but rather, cut the umbilical cord prior to delivery, which causes fetal death. If delivery is swift, the intact fetus could be available for donation to medical research. That is a simple and legal way that an abortion could result in an intact fetal cadaver, contrary to Daleiden’s claims.

Moreover, in later abortions it can be common to induce delivery, a procedure that may take a number of hours, or even days. Women frequently take medication (like misoprostol) to bring on symptoms of labor, including contractions. Some providers use devices, such as laminaria, to assist the cervix to open. This is because the procedure can require the woman to deliver the fetus vaginally, or to give her cervix enough time to soften sufficiently to allow the doctor to perform a dilation and evacuation procedure. Such procedures may be used in the case of a fetus that has died in the womb.

Like all deliveries, the combination of each woman’s body with other external factors can make it hard to predict how long it will take for her body to expel the fetus. As one provider told RH Reality Check, “It’s a bit of an art, giving [misoprostol] and then judging whether the patient’s cervix has become dilated and softened enough by just looking at her sitting in the chair.”

In some cases, if delivery occurs rapidly, the woman may expel her fetus intact. This scenario does not violate the federal law.

Simply put, Daleiden was also wrong in this claim.

What CMP Left Unsaid

Finally, it’s worth noting some of what CMP omitted from its selectively edited clips—material that shows the reality of why some women seek abortions, including later abortion.

Of course, reproductive rights advocates point out that there should be no hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to access abortion care. One abortion is not more deserving than another.

Yet these facts are relevant because polls consistently show that even people who claim to be anti-choice are likely to agree that any laws restricting abortion access should make exceptions for certain situations, including for fetuses with fatal anomalies, for victims of sex abuse, and for minors.

To the extent that the CMP’s campaign is really about turning public opinion against abortion, it’s therefore important to point out that Planned Parenthood is providing many services that even those uncomfortable with the right to abortion in general would support.

Fetal Anomalies

Toward the end of the full-length footage, a CMP operative posing as a buyer for a tissue procurement company is trying to goad Nguyen into saying that the clinic could provide tissue from later-stage fetuses.

“You know, I was going to ask you because you guys said that you could go up to twenty-four weeks for certain indications, how broad is that allowance,” the operative asks.

“It’s actually very narrow,” says Nguyen. “In order to be considered a lethal anomaly, the wording in the law is very specific so we require documentation from a maternal-fetal medicine doctor or a geneticist. It has to specifically say on the notes or on the ultrasound, you know, lethal, will not survive. The chances of viability are like zero-five percent. That’s when we do the cases over twenty-two weeks, so it’s between twenty-two and twenty-three six is the max.”

Nguyen explains that the most common cases of fetal anomaly they see include anencephaly, a condition that, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, “often results in a baby being born without the front part of the brain (forebrain) and the thinking and coordinating part of the brain (cerebrum). The remaining parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or skin.”

The causes of anencephaly are still not entirely understood, but the CDC concludes that “[a]lmost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth.”

Daleiden and his group did not mention that when presenting their highly edited footage, showing the remains of aborted fetuses.

Sex Assault Victims

Nor do they mention the fact that many of the abortions performed by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast are for victims of rape.

“We actually do quite a bit of evidence collection in terms of rape patients and stuff like that where everything has to be sterile, because it’s gonna go on to be analyzed outside of here,” says Farrell early in the transcript, where she is explaining the need for sterile lab processes to ensure that evidence is not contaminated.

Later in the transcript, Nguyen says the clinic does “a lot of cases for sexual assault cases.”

Neither Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast nor Planned Parenthood Federation of America provided RH Reality Check with information on what proportion of their procedures involve victims of sexual assault.


Finally, the CMP press release made no mention of the fact that some of the abortions performed at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast are delayed by the very laws that are drafted and supported by anti-choice activists and politicians.

For instance, the video includes footage of the remains of an 18-week fetus. What the edited version excludes is the explanation of why this procedure took place at that time.

“She was also a minor,” says Nguyen, in the full footage. “The reason she had to wait so long, was because originally she didn’t have parental consent [for the procedure]. So she was going through a judicial bypass process. And somehow or other, after she got it, then her mom found out, and then her mom came in to consent.”

Laws requiring minors to obtain parental consent before accessing an abortion are a popular tool of the anti-choice movement because the requirements may sound reasonable on their face. Many people might instinctively agree that parents should know about their minor child’s pregnancy, and be involved in any decision about medical treatment.

However, according to Advocates for Youth, these laws serve to further penalize and endanger girls who are already at risk.

Noting that 30 percent of girls who seek abortions without telling their parents fear violence or being forced to leave home, Advocates for Youth says on its website:

Most young women do consult their parents before seeking abortion care. Nonetheless, many teens live in dysfunctional family environments, and parental involvement laws cannot transform these families into stable homes nor facilitate communications. Forcing teens to involve parents in these circumstances puts them at risk.

The laws also delay access to abortion care, leading to the later abortions that CMP is capitalizing on to try to further restrict women’s access to medical care.

Image: Shutterstock

The post What the Planned Parenthood Attack Group Won’t Tell You About Its ‘Findings’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Ben Carson Says His Own Fetal Tissue Research Was Justified

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 13:34

Dr. Ben Carson, the anti-abortion neurosurgeon currently vying with more than a dozen other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, once conducted research on tissue collected from fetuses that had been aborted—and published a paper on his work in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Carson’s research came to light on Wednesday, when OB-GYN and writer Dr. Jen Gunter unearthed Carson’s co-authored 1992 paper on colloid cysts in the journal Human Pathology. According to the paper, Carson and his colleagues examined tissue from two fetuses “aborted at the ninth and 17th week of gestation.”

The news of Carson’s research might not have been revelatory but for the fact that Carson has joined his GOP colleagues in condemning Planned Parenthood for its practice of legally collecting fetal tissue for research purposes, following the release of a series of heavily edited attack videos produced by an anti-choice group seeking to put the health-care provider out of business. His official campaign website calls the content of the videos, which show Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue donation programs, “barbaric.”

Carson told Fox News last month that using fetal tissue in medical research is a “disturbing” practice that shows the “callousness with which we are treating human life.” He specifically condemned the use of tissue from fetuses at 17 weeks’ gestation—the same gestational age of those which he worked with in the early ’90s:

“At 17 weeks, you’ve got a nice little nose and little fingers and hands and the heart’s beating. It can respond to environmental stimulus. How can you believe that that’s just an irrelevant mass of cells? That’s what they want you to believe, when in fact it is a human being,” said Carson.

The Washington Post picked up Gunter’s story and contacted Carson for comment. He told the newspaper that his “intent” made his research acceptable, and that his opposition is to “killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

Carson told the Post that pathologists and researchers were not responsible for the origin of the tissue they worked with, and according to the newspaper, Carson said that he did not believe fetal tissue research was immoral or that it should be illegal. He also said research like his had medical and scientific value: “It’s one of the reasons why at the turn of the last century, the average age of death was 47. Now, the average age of death is 80. Using the information that you have is a smart thing, not a dumb thing.”

The comment comes a day after scientists told the Associated Press that fetal tissue is essential for some medical research, including Parkinson’s, AIDS, and Ebola. “If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said in an email to the AP.

Carson has been making modest gains in nationwide polling since his appearance at the first GOP presidential debate in early August, and he has said that he supports fully defunding Planned Parenthood because of their practice of providing fetal tissue for medical research.

Image: Christopher Halloran /

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Obama Administration Warns States Defunding Planned Parenthood Likely Is Illegal

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 11:36

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

A federal agency warned Louisiana and Alabama on Wednesday that their latest efforts to defund Planned Parenthood by cutting the reproductive health-care provider from their respective Medicaid programs likely violates federal law.

The warning came in a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that runs the Medicaid program. The agency warned officials in both Louisiana and Alabama that plans to terminate Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood likely violates a 2011 agency guidance that says that states cannot discriminate against Medicaid health-care providers simply because they provide abortion services with non-federal dollars.

The Medicaid statute defines which providers qualify for funding, and states that the only way funding can be limited is to establish that a particular provider is not “qualified” under the statute.

Conservative politicians across the country renewed defunding calls in the wake of a series of deceptively edited videos released by an anti-abortion group that has accused Planned Parenthood of violating federal law on fetal tissue donation. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was the first to announce his state would end Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood. Jindal is one of 17 Republicans seeking to be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.

Planned Parenthood insists the videos show it has not broken any laws. Initial investigations in five states—IndianaMassachusetts, Florida, South Dakota, and Georgia—show the health-care provider is compliant with U.S. law around fetal tissue donation.

Federal courts largely have been hostile to past efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, striking attempts in both Indiana and Arizona to strip the organization of federal funding. But other states like Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey have been successful at greatly reducing funding to Planned Parenthood, mostly by reducing state funds and grants to the health-care provider. In 2011 Texas also dropped out of an optional Medicaid program that provides federal funding for family planning services for low-income people who don’t otherwise quality for Medicaid.

“It’s good to hear that HHS has clarified what we already know—blocking women’s access to care at Planned Parenthood is against the law,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement.

Planned Parenthood has not yet said whether or not it will challenge Louisiana and Alabama’s most recent defunding efforts.

Image: Mark Van Scyoc /

The post Obama Administration Warns States Defunding Planned Parenthood Likely Is Illegal appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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