Florida state Rep. Larry Ahern (R-St. Petersburg) has never managed to get his “Offenses Against Unborn Children” bill passed through both chambers of the Florida legislature, but he is hoping that with a new name and help from the woman whose boyfriend allegedly tricked her into taking medication that caused her to have an early abortion, 2014 may be the year he finally succeeds.
Rep. Ahern told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview published Sunday that he is considering refiling his bill next month to be considered for the 2014 legislative session, but this time he may name it after Memphis Remington, the name that Remee Lee was reportedly going to give to her child, if she hadn’t lost her pregnancy at almost 7 weeks. Ahern said he will consider the name change to “personalize the issue and help gather the support it needs to pass.” He added, “It could help keep this issue out there.”
Lee’s lawyer said Lee will lobby lawmakers during the trial, and will consider public statements in support of a bill once the trial is complete if a bill has not yet passed.
If the new “Memphis Remington” bill is to be anything the most recent version of Ahern’s bill, it would change the legal code to say that if a pregnancy ends or a fetus or embryo is injured as a result of a crime, there will be an additional criminal charge, regardless of the viability of the pregnancy at the time the crime occurs. That bill also stated that the perpetrator of the crime does not need to have knowledge that the person is pregnant at the time the crime occurs in order to be charged. The bill specifically sought to strike language in the current law, which applies only to “quick” pregnancies, or pregnancies that have reached the point of fetal viability.
The post Drug Tampering Case May Give New Life to Long-Stalled Florida Anti-Choice Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Supreme Court will not intervene in a Colorado dispute over barring anti-abortion protestors from displaying graphic images in places where they may be seen by and upset children.
The decision lets stand a state supreme court order preventing anti-choice activists Kenneth Tyler Scott and Clifton Powell from protesting with graphic anti-abortion images outside a Denver church. According to documents from the state court proceedings, the two protesters set up an anti-choice, anti-homosexuality demonstration outside of St. John’s Church in the Wilderness on Palm Sunday in 2005. The demonstration mostly took place on the sidewalk across the street from the church, but during church services Scott and Powell took their demonstration onto church property and began disrupting services. At the time of the protest, about 200 children were present and became visibly upset. Some were so bothered by the signs and the protestors that they asked to leave the church.
The church sued the protestors, and a Colorado court issued an injunction preventing Scott from “displaying large posters or similar displays depicting gruesome images of mutilated fetuses or dead bodies in a manner reasonably likely to be viewed by children under 12.” In issuing the injunction, the Colorado court acknowledged it was limiting Scott’s speech based on its content, something the government can do only under compelling circumstances. In the case of Scott and his fellow protestors, the Colorado court ruled that the compelling circumstance was the government’s interest in “protecting children from disturbing images.”
The protestors had argued that the injunction should be overturned based on Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court case that affirmed the First Amendment right of Westboro Baptist Church members to protest the funerals of military service members. By refusing to take up the case, the Supreme Court has let stand the Colorado court’s analysis, which means for now there’s a question as to whether or not First Amendment issues involving graphic images will be analyzed differently when children are involved.
The case is Scott v. St. Johns Church in the Wilderness.
Image: Law via Shutterstock
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Legal Wrap is a round-up of key legal and reproductive justice news
The fight over emergency contraception took a significant step forward last week as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Obama administration to make some forms of emergency contraception (EC) available immediately for over-the-counter sale. The ruling denied in part the administration’s request that availability be delayed while it appeals a lower court ruling that found the administration improperly played politics when it first decided, contrary to Food and Drug Administration recommendations, to place age and point-of-sale restrictions on EC.
Last week marked the 48th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court decision that decriminalized the use of contraception for married couples. The decision has become known as one of the most important cases in personal privacy rights and in the fight for family planning access, but it’s final legacy could be in supporting the institution of marriage.
On that note, according to a new poll by the New York Times/CBS, just 20 percent of American adults believe the Supreme Court decides its cases “based on legal analysis” and without regard to the personal or political views of the sitting justices.
After a protracted legal battle, nonsurgical abortion access will return to Planned Parenthood clinics in Wisconsin.
A federal judge in Mississippi set an August 15 status conference in the fight to keep open the state’s only abortion clinic. The state passed a targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) law the clinic has admitted it cannot comply with, and the judge has been trying to find a compromise between the parties, to no avail so far.
Anti-abortion advocates in Minnesota have appealed a ruling dismissing a lawsuit challenging the use of state funds to provide some abortion care to women in the state.
Residents of North Dakota are finding out just how expensive it is defending blatantly unconstitutional abortion restrictions. The state has allocated $400,000 to defend the laws, but if these early legal bills are any indication, that’s not going to be nearly enough money.
A Texas case went viral last week after a Gawker headline proclaimed “Texas Says It’s OK To Shoot an Escort if She Won’t Have Sex With You.” But, as Bridgette Dunlap explains, that’s not what the Texas law says, and it’s not what the jury decided either.
The National Women’s Law Center filed sex discrimination complaints against five employers that exclude pregnancy coverage from the health insurance benefits provided to their employees’ dependent children. These complaints, believed to be the first to challenge dependent pregnancy coverage exclusions under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), were filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination in health-care programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sex stereotypes, gender identity, age, or disability. Health insurers, hospitals, the health insurance exchanges, and any other entities that receive federal funds are covered by this law, and this is the first time that federal law has prohibited sex discrimination in health care.
Do religious restrictions in treating reproductive health issues force doctors to commit malpractice in treating pregnant patients?
Finally, let’s end on some good news. Austin, Texas, looks like it will be the first city with paid parental leave for city employees, while in New York a new bill would allow minors to consent to getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine without parental consent.
The post Legal Wrap: Another EC Win, and State Legal Challenges Add Up appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Emma Weinstein-Levey is the press intern at NARAL Pro-Choice America
June is National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* (LGBT) pride month and, while the connection between reproductive rights and LGBT equality activism may not be immediately obvious, I've always known that the two are inextricably linked.
At their core, both issues are about privacy. A woman's right to reproductive-health care entitles her to decide whether, when, and with whom to have a family without politicians' interference. Similarly, the right to love who you want and be who you are entitles people to build a family in a way that will bring them the most joy, fulfillment, and freedom.
I was particularly struck by the connections between LGBT* and reproductive rights activism a few weeks ago when the organization Strong Families launched their Mama's Day campaign. This beautiful celebration of diverse families reminded me that the right to choose means so much more than just the availability of abortion.
In a time when we hear about legislative attacks on birth control and abortion on every single news outlet, coalition building between reproductive rights activists and LGBT* activists is more important than ever. Just as we encourage lawmakers to trust women to make their own health-care choices, we must trust each other - partners in the struggle for full equality - to champion each others' causes and be allies in the fight for justice.
At NARAL Pro-Choice America, we fight to protect and expand the rights of women across the country. This proactive approach to advancing reproductive rights is one that necessitates and encourages inclusion of all people. That's why the staff at NARAL Pro-Choice America knew it was important to support federal marriage equality, as we have since 2004.
As an LGBT-identified individual working in the reproductive rights/reproductive justice movement, I owe a great debt of gratitude to those who create space in this movement for people of all identities. Leaders like Kierra Johnson of Choice USA and Miriam Perez inspire me daily with their devotion to bridging the perceived gap between issues.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced Friday that he expects to sign the state’s budget into law, including a new rule that will allow him to decide on a case-by-case basis whether Medicaid funds will be used to reimburse for abortion services when pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, when there are fetal abnormalities, or to protect the life of the woman.
The rule will give the anti-choice Republican governor complete control over federal Medicaid funding for the roughly two dozen Medicaid-eligible abortions that are performed in the state each year. It could also make many providers unwilling to offer abortions in cases that should be covered, because they won’t know if Medicaid reimbursement will occur.
As RH Reality Check reported in May, restricting access to safe abortion care for Medicaid patients has been a multi-year debate in the Iowa legislature, with anti-choice legislators repeatedly proposing bills or amendments, and even a direct query to the governor, in an attempt to deny reimbursement for almost all abortions that are eligible for Medicaid funding. This new tactic of allowing the governor to approve each case allegedly came about as a compromise between warring factions anxious to get final budget approval. However, it offers the potential for abortion opponents to get the all-out ban they wanted—Gov. Branstad’s could refuse to allow Medicaid reimbursements, or the lack of clarity regarding what he will and will not approve could make doctors afraid to offer services to begin with.
Branstad appears to have no desire to address that lack of clarity. When asked during an appearance on Iowa Public Television how he would approach the new protocol, he touted his opposition to abortion in all instances, though he admitted he would need to consider whether the funding rules apply. “As I understand it, the decision is not whether there’s an abortion or not, the decision is whether the state is going to approve funding, which is a decision that is made after the fact,” said Branstad, according to the Sioux City Journal. “So I’m not really going to have any say in whether this procedure occurs or not—I would discourage it wherever possible—but then I’ll have to make a decision whether or not it’s appropriate under the circumstances and under the guidelines that we have.”
It remains unclear what those “guidelines” are. Under the federal Hyde Amendment, all abortions performed in cases of rape, incest, or health of the pregnant person should be covered—though how those rules play out in practice leaves much to be desired. Iowa has traditionally also included cases of fetal anomaly, and for this year at least, those have been the majority of the abortions in question. As the Journal reports, there have been nine Medicaid abortion payment requests this year, of which eight were for medical issues with the fetus. Under Iowa’s traditional rules, all such procedures should be reimbursed, and under Hyde only one of them should be. Without specifically saying which “guidelines” he would consider, Branstad leaves most of this fiscal year’s cases in legal limbo.
Even more problematic than those ambiguities, and putting so much power over people’s reproductive decisions into one person’s hands, is the reinforcement of the idea that there are “worthy” and “unworthy” abortions—putting a value judgement on when it is appropriate to allow a person access to have an abortion. If and when Branstad does make his guidelines clear (which he would likely do out of fear that a denial in payment for a sexual assault case could put the state’s full Medicaid funding in jeopardy, not because of concern for reproductive rights), those value statements would get passed on to the public.
“This law seems to harken back to those days [when] outsiders get to determine if a woman’s reason for an abortion fits their prescribed list of ‘good enough’ reasons,” reproductive justice activist Steph Herold told RH Reality Check. Herold, who has focused much of her work recently on helping to reduce stigma surrounding abortion, noted that the governor’s new role isn’t unlike that of the original “hospital approved” abortion panels women often had to endure prior to legal abortion, where the pregnant patient would be required to prove herself worthy of needing the procedure.
“Medicaid should cover abortion. Period,” said Herold. “No one should have to be subject to a politician’s review to determine if their abortion warrants coverage. Iowa falls under the Hyde Amendment, meaning that Medicaid can only cover abortion in the case of rape, incest, or life threat. This is already unjust. Now the governor wants to make Hyde even more cruel by asking survivors of rape, incest, and medical emergencies to let him decide if their circumstances merit insurance coverage? What a callous law. It perpetuates the idea that some abortions are more deserving of insurance coverage than others, when really, all types of insurance—Medicaid and private health insurance—should cover abortion no matter the circumstance. No one should have to forgo rent to be able to access the health care they need.”
Image: RootComm / Shutterstock
The post Branstad to Approve Medicaid Abortion Cases Individually, Says He’ll Be ‘Thoughtful’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Oklahoma can’t catch a break lately. Between several tornadoes and flash floods, it seems like every community has been affected by the awesome power of severe weather this past month. I’m heartbroken to hear my own family and their friends and neighbors have to rebuild their lives completely after losing their homes and clothes and personal belongings. My aunt had to wear pajama pants for three days after losing her home in the May 20th tornado, but the cowboy hat signed by my cousin’s favorite country music artists survived, completely unscathed.
We’re sure to hear a lot of amazing stories about the cleanup and recovery, how the local governments and the state might address public shelter needs in the future, weather tracking and trends, etc. But what I haven’t heard nearly enough of is how natural disasters like these put the most vulnerable members of our communities in even greater danger, and how the dynamics of natural disasters are most harmful to groups like women and undocumented people.
Circle of Health International is working in Oklahoma to extend resources and assistance to women who experience violence and abuse at the hands of male partners, of whom many were likely abused before, during, and in the aftermath of the tornadoes that hit the metro last month. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, reports of intimate partner sharply increase in the wake of natural disasters. Women who suffer abuse in addition to surviving disasters also report higher incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and post-disaster major depression. The link here between natural disasters and violence and mental health means that reuniting with family might be the opposite goal for people trying to flee an abusive home or relationship.
Undocumented families also suffer unique impacts after natural disasters. For folks who might not be homeowners but renters (which include many folks without economic resources), tornado shelter and insurance might be unavailable, inaccessible, or prohibitively expensive, leaving many without preventive measures before a natural disaster strikes. Undocumented families are also unable to access federal aid through FEMA and thus are left with very few institutional options to rebuild their lives after losing everything. Undocumented folks might also fear deportation and legal action when interacting with government officials, and as a result be wary of pursuing state assistance. In Oklahoma, the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City is specifically taking donations to distribute to undocumented folks who can’t access federal and state assistance – if you’re in a position to donate money or time, perhaps doing so for either of these groups would impact folks who suffer most in both disaster and non-disaster contexts.
Attention to these dynamics is how reproductive justice as a framework can appropriately alter public crisis response. I certainly hope folks who read OK4RJ will raise these issues as they talk about recovery and future planning for natural disasters. We can’t leave Tornado Alley, but we can certainly take steps to deal with reproductive oppression before and after tornadoes strike.
Jen is not living in Oklahoma right now, but everyone knows where their heart is – on their sleeve, on some acreage on SW 83rd.
Residents of North Dakota are getting a lesson in just how expensive it is to defend an unconstitutional abortion ban. According to reports, the state has spent more than $52,000 defending the state’s 2011 medication abortion ban, and the state attorney general’s office is expect to ask the state’s Emergency Commission for an initial $30,000 this week to begin covering the costs.
According to reports, North Dakota lawmakers have set aside approximately $400,000 in all to defend against any legal challenges that spring up from a host of new restrictions passed this year, including the state’s fetal heartbeat ban, which could ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Other restrictions passed this year include a law banning abortions sought because of a genetic defect and a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) provision that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges. North Dakota also passed a so-called fetal pain ban that criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks. Each restriction is set to take effect August 1.
A judge has already temporarily blocked the state’s medication abortion ban, calling the law “simply wrongheaded” and preventing it from taking effect August 1. A written opinion detailing the injunction is expected later this month, but lawyers for the state have promised an appeal.
The legal expenses defending these laws represent a fraction of the state’s budget surplus, which has accumulated thanks to a boom in oil exploration and development in the state. Among the expenses associated with defending the law is a bill for more than $49,000 for Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who testified in April as an expert witness for the state in the trial challenging the law.
The expenses are likely just a taste of the legal bills to come now that anti-choice activists have decided North Dakota is the newest staging ground for the battle to overturn Roe v. Wade. Given that lawmakers have already spent $52,000 without even making it to the appeals stage, it seems likely that they may go over $400,000 when all is said and done.
The post North Dakota Accrues Steep Legal Fees Defending Medication Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The following article based on a presentation by Alice Welbourn at the Women Deliver Conference, which took place earlier this month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I was recently invited to take part in a panel discussion at the Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the theme of which was “More than mothers: upholding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in the Global Plan.”
The plan in question is the “Global Plan Towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections in Children and Keeping their Mothers Alive,” about which I have co-written before. Since maternal mortality among women living with HIV is still so very high, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, it is critical that we have a Global Plan which works for women as well as for their children.
According to UNAIDS, over 40 percent of maternal deaths in some hyper-endemic countries are attributable to AIDS-related illnesses. Despite these extraordinary figures, sessions on HIV and AIDS still play a rather minor role in this conferences, and this was reflected by a rather sparsely populated hall for this session, despite the presence of such great advocates for women’s rights as politician and lawyer, Dame Carol Kidu of Papua New Guinea, UNAIDS Ambassador Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Sia Nyama Koroma, the First Lady of Sierra Leone (who is also an organic chemist and psychiatric nurse), and Helena Nangombe a dynamic young AIDS activist from Namibia, one of the Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders.
During the panel, Jan Beagle put this question to me: “Alice, we have seen significant progress through the Global Plan but we know we need to do more. Can you tell us what you consider has worked and what needs to be improved, to ensure that the HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls are adequately addressed?
This is what I replied:
What has worked is a scientific revolution. It is fantastic that the science is there now for anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) to support women with HIV to fulfill our sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to motherhood, if we wish. When I was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, when I was expecting a baby, it was feared that I might die, because ARVs didn’t exist in those days and it was also feared that the baby would die. So I was advised to have an abortion. Many women of my generation with HIV had no children at all. So it is wonderful now to see younger women with HIV able to fulfill their dreams of motherhood, since with ARVs it is now possible to have 99 percent HIV-free births, even with a normal vaginal delivery. So this is a brilliant breakthrough and huge cause for celebration for us all.
In terms of what could be improved, I would like to focus on three areas today, namely language, care and support and safety.
Firstly, language matters. Just reflect – please read out the following words to yourself aloud: “blame, stigma, fear, prevention, violence, discrimination, sickness, death.” How did that feel? We are learning from neuroscientists now that very negative language increases cortisol levels in our bodies, which in turn make us feel stressed. We are also learning from neuroscientists that if we use positive language this increases levels of oxytocin and serotonin in our bodies, which both make us feel happier and more positive in outlook. From this springs feelings and thoughts of hope, opportunities and possibilities, which we can harness to “think outside the box” and create new ways of addressing old challenges.
So what has this got to do with the Global Plan? Well the Global Plan is made up of four “prongs”, about more of which below. I am afraid the very word “prongs” rather makes me squirm. It feels invasive, sharp, attacking, threatening, and reminds me of pitchforks and damnation, abortions gone wrong or impalement.
Presumably because they also preferred more positive language, Anandi Yuvaraj and Aditi Sharma, the authors of an inspiring report from India last year, presented the Global Plan using the idea of four pillars instead of four prongs. To me the word pillars immediately invites an image of something strong, uplifting, bigger than us all, building up the best in us all, in all our societies worldwide.
So how does this shift of language play out in practice? Well the Indian report authors shifted the whole language of the Global Plan as follows. Instead of Prong 1 (which covers “preventing HIV among women of reproductive age”) the proposed “Pillar One: My Health.” Rather than Prong 2 (“Meeting unmet Family Planning needs of women with HIV”) they proposed “Pillar Two: My Choice.” They replaced Prong 3 (“Preventing HIV transmission to Infants”) with “Pillar Three: My Child.” And instead of Prong 4 (“Treatment, care and support for women and families”) they proposed Pillar Four: “My Life.”
Can you hear the difference? If not, just read that last paragraph out loud to yourself. If you were a woman living with HIV, which would you rather hear?
There is a complete about-turn shift from negative prongs, prevention and needs to positive, women-focused pillars and possibilities. Wow. And these possibilities are now open to us all.
So how do we weave care and support and safety into all this?
Well as I have explained previously with other co-authors, there is no mention of the words “voluntary,” confidential,” or “informed consent” in the Global Plan, which has now been adopted by quite a few states around the world. Sadly, care, support and safety are hugely wanting, both from the Global Plan and from peri-natal services for women in general, as well as for women with HIV around the world. Yet these ingredients are also paramount in an effective response to infant and maternal mortality, with or without HIV.
So to expand on Pillar One, instead of the existing language above, we could seek to ensure informed choice and access to condoms, needle exchange program and negotiation skills training for all women and girls, including girls born with HIV, who often feel very excluded by this “prevention” language.
We could describe Pillar Two as “access for all women and girls to dual protection (i.e. from unplanned pregnancy and from transmission of sexually transmitted infections, through, for instance, use of a condom and the contraceptive pill) that is judgment-free, youth- and women-centered.” In Asia now our colleagues tell us that many women with HIV are just being told by health staff to use condoms, since they shouldn’t be having sex anyway, in their view, and certainly shouldn’t be thinking of having children. Just imagine the power of a replacement “pillar” like this to counteract that message.
Pillar Three could be to “support all women with HIV in our deep commitments to keep our children HIV-free.” What a transformation that would be.
And Pillar Four could be “ensure care, support, love, respect, food, shelter and treatment (when we need it and not before) for all women with HIV and for our families. Louise Binder has written eloquently previously about our concerns regarding the “treatment as prevention” movement.
As an aside, there is also on-going and increasing concern out there about the “Option B+” roll-out, which puts all women in a country when pregnant on ARVs for life, whether they actually need them yet for themselves or not and whether they want them or are ready to start them or not. The “option” bit is only for each government to decide, there is no real option for women at all. It’s a bit of a post-code lottery writ large. We hear of some women throwing their package of ARVs away as soon as they have passed through the health centre gates en route home – for them the idea of being found with ARVs is too terrifying for them to contemplate and outweighs any possible good the medication might do.
I’m all in favor of options for women when they are real options, but not when they are just wrapping up lack of choice in something pretty. Policy makers and practitioners: please mind your language.
WHO tells us that gender-based violence (GBV) occurs during pregnancy worldwide – especially in circumstances where the pregnancy is unplanned. Add HIV into this mix and it is like throwing a match into dry grass. We have a potential conflagration of physical, sexual, and psychological violence. We know already that GBV increases women’s vulnerability to HIV. It is also clear that an HIV diagnosis can provoke or exacerbate GBV globally.
Therefore “safety, safety, safety” must be our mantra, at home, in the workplace, and in health care settings. It is vital to turn the tide on the “cascade effect” of women dropping away from health services during pregnancy or after child-birth, once they have been diagnosed, because of their fear of this diagnosis and their terror of what it will bring to themselves and their children. Safety, safety, safety is the mantra. Maybe then we could start to avoid the awful tragedy of so many women dying through AIDS-related issues connected to maternity. Then we could truly have a really powerful and effective Global Plan.
The post The Pillars and Possibilities of a Global Plan to Address HIV in Women and Their Children appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A misreading of the verdict in a strange and upsetting Texas case has gone viral, since Gawker claimed: “Texas Says It’s OK to Shoot an Escort If She Won’t Have Sex With You.” Texas law does not say that, and the jury didn’t say that either. Pushing the idea that an “Insane Texas Law Made it Legal for a Man to Kill a Prostitute” is irresponsible; it misinforms the public and sends a terrible message to violent misogynists.
It is not in dispute that the defendant, Ezekiel Gilbert, paid the victim, Lenora Frago, $150 for 30 minutes of escort services advertised on Craigslist. After Frago refused to have sex with him, the defendant shot her. Frago was paralyzed and the defendant was charged with aggravated assault. When she died seven months later Gilbert was indicted for murder instead.
At trial, defense attorneys made the shocking argument that Gilbert was justified in shooting Frago because she had stolen from him and Texas law permits the use of deadly force to defend one’s property at night. That a defense was raised in this case based on Texas’ awful defense of property law is certainly newsworthy and even more reason to reform that law. But there is no evidence that the jury acquitted based on the defense of property law in the first place.
The much more plausible reason for the verdict is that the jury believed the defendant’s claim that he didn’t intend to shoot the victim. Per Texas’ homicide statute, the prosecution needed to prove that Gilbert “intentionally or knowingly” killed Frago or intended to cause her “serious bodily injury.” The defense argued that Gilbert lacked the requisite intent for murder because when he shot at the car as Frago and the owner of the escort service drove away, he was aiming for the tire. The bullet hit the tire and a fragment, “literally the size of your fingernail,” according to Defense Attorney Bobby Barrera, hit Frago. Barrera does not believe the jury acquitted because of the defense of property law. He believes they acquitted because they believed Gilbert didn’t mean to shoot her.
Unless someone has interviewed a juror or can read minds, they cannot claim the jury agreed the killing was justified. And the juries do not “cite” laws. They find facts and decide “guilty” or “not guilty.” And it isn’t accurate to call Frago a “prostitute.” Witnesses for the prosecution testified she was an escort who never agreed to have sex. Rather than siding with the killer’s characterization, writers should at least say “alleged.”
One would expect the jury to find that shooting at a car with an AK-47 is at least “reckless,” in which case he could have been convicted of manslaughter. But the prosecution didn’t charge him with manslaughter, only murder. Manslaughter is a “lesser included offense” of murder and the judge is entitled to instruct the jury if the evidence supports that charge, but it appears she did not. The jury can’t convict on a charge that isn’t before them.
I think Texas’s defense of property law is abhorrent and my gut reaction was that it was a reprehensible defense. This reaction suggests, that you should think twice before hiring me as your defense attorney, sadly. As Professor Michael W. Martin of Fordham Law’s Federal Litigation Clinic reminded me: “If the law allows the defense, the lawyer must use it, if it is viable, unless there is a good strategic reason not to. Otherwise, it is ineffective assistance of counsel. If the lawyer feels like he is ethically barred from using a legal, viable defense, he should ask to be relieved.”
This story looks very different depending on whether you are looking at the law or at the reporting. Remember reporting? People used to get paid to go find facts and tell the public about them. That happens a lot less now. With many commentators and too few reporters, an alarmist story can have a long life in the echo chamber. But there are still some reporters, and a number of them, though probably stretched pretty thin, have engaged in that old-fashioned practice of going to court, making phone calls, interviewing people and checking facts for this very case. The San Antonio Express did not just start covering this case last week, that’s where to start if you want to follow this story as it develops.
This is a terrible story, a woman was killed and no one is going to prison. It is reasonable to be suspicious that prejudice based on her gender, race, or occupation led to that injustice. But all we know thus far is that the defendant received due process and a zealous defense. We don’t know that Texas’s terrible defense of property law had anything to do with him getting off. The vilification of this jury isn’t justified—we should give them the benefit of the doubt that they spent those 11 hours deliberating in good faith and did what they thought the law required. And in our concern for women and victims of violence, we must remember that even admitted killers still have rights.
The post No, Texas Law Does Not Say You Can Shoot an Escort Who Refuses to Have Sex appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Sexual Health Roundup is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.
Michael Douglas Backtracks on Claim That Cunnilingus Caused His Cancer
Michael Douglas made headlines last Monday after seeming to suggest to a reporter at The Guardian that he blamed the human papillomavirus (HPV)—not drinking or smoking—for his throat cancer diagnosis. As Douglas mentioned in that interview, HPV can be transmitted through oral sex. At the time, I suggested that Douglas’ announcement was probably good for public health as he was, purposely or not, raising awareness of HPV, the resulting health problems (which include cervical cancer and cancers of the head and neck), and the availability of a vaccine.
Since then, Douglas has issued two statements backtracking from his initial comments. First, his publicist clarified that “Michael did not say cunnilingus was the cause of his cancer. He certainly discussed oral sex in the article, and oral sex is a suspected cause of certain oral cancers, as the doctors in the article did point out. But he did not say this was the specific cause of his personal cancer.”
It is probably more accurate to say that the precise cause of his cancer is not known or that it was, in fact, caused by a number of factors, HPV being one of them. As Kent Sepkowicz noted in a piece for the Daily Beast, the epidemiology of cancer is complicated, and a straight cause-and-effect relationship is hard to pin down.
Then, on ABC’s The View, Douglas’ friend Barbara Walters said, “The feeling was that perhaps he was blaming his wife for giving him the HPV virus. Michael would like everyone to know that his wife, Catherine [Zeta-Jones], is healthy. She does not have the HPV virus. He doesn’t know how he got cancer. … He does not want anyone to think it was from Catherine. … He is happy it is raising awareness about HPV.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 79 million people in the United States have HPV, and 14 million contract it each year. In fact, the CDC estimates that 50 percent of sexually active individuals will contract HPV at some point in their lives. That Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones felt the need to clarify that she’s part of the other 50 percent illustrates the stigma HPV and other sexually transmitted infections continue to carry.
Parents in China Want More Sex Education
A recent survey of 1,200 Chinese parents of children ages 6 to 14, conducted by the Beijing News and the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center, found that parents in China overwhelmingly support sex education in schools, but few schools are providing it.
The survey comes after research suggest that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in China and that 13 million unintended pregnancies end in abortion in that country each year. While the government still keeps close tabs on fertility and enforces a one-child policy (though there are now some exceptions), it apparently does not teach young people how to prevent pregnancy. Moreover, a recent spate of child molestations near Beijing has made the lack of sex education more worrisome.
The majority of parents in the survey (68 percent) said they have discussed some aspects of sex with their child, but only 38 percent had discussed inappropriate sexual advances and what to do about them. Parents say the schools are not currently educating children about sex at all; only 8.3 percent of parents surveyed were sure that their child had received sex education in school. A much larger percentage (43.5 percent) knew there were no such classes at their child’s school.
Parents in China would like this to change; 90 percent of those surveyed said they support school-based education about birth control and sexual abuse.
Children of Same-Sex Couple Are Doing Just Fine (in Australia)
Initial findings from an Australian study of families shows that there are no statistical differences between children of same-sex couples and children in other types of families when it comes to measures of self-esteem, emotional behavior, or the amount of time spent with parents. Children of same-sex couples, however, scored better on measures of overall health and family cohesion (how well the family gets along). The study’s lead researcher believes that same-sex couples are aware of the teasing or bullying their children might face and develop open communication to deal with it, which in turn creates better family cohesion.
Australia’s parliament was set to vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage this week but the vote has been postponed to allow more time for debate.
Durex Social Media Campaign Goes Awry
The condom maker took to Facebook to launch a new public relations campaign called SOS Condoms, which was designed to send condoms via rush delivery to couples who are on the verge of having sex but are unprepared. The company asked its Facebook fans to vote on which city should receive this service. Unfortunately, it did not make this a multiple choice question. Internet pranksters hijacked the vote and decided to send the condom service to Batman, a conservative Muslim province in Turkey that shares the name with the caped crusader.
Had Paris, London, or New York City won, we might be seeing online ads for the SOS Condom service right now, but instead the company has decided to abandon the campaign. A Durex spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the service won’t be offered in Batman or anywhere else and that the company’s social media efforts are moving “on to a new sphere.”
Think that anti-choice politicians and activists aren’t trying to outlaw contraception? Think again. Follow along in an ongoing series that proves beyond a doubt that they really are coming for your birth control.
The murder trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell has been cited as the rationale behind a number of anti-choice bills, ranging from bills meant to close abortion clinics to those that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Now one Catholic bishop in Nebraska has suggested that the Gosnell case shows that society needs to ban contraception.
Arguing that the Gosnell case is a result of what the church refers to as society’s “contraceptive mentality,” Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes:
[T]he link between infanticide and abortion is not the only issue raised by this case. There is also the larger question of how human life is regarded, in a culture where contraception is widespread and abortion becomes “backup birth control.” …
The Gosnell case suggests that our society’s view of human life is deeply wrong. It suggests that a culture of contraception cannot avoid becoming a “culture of death”—in which some lives are seen not as gifts, but as burdens.
The piece does not represent Bishop Conley’s first attack on contraception. He has been one of the more outspoken opponents of the Affordable Care Act mandate to include no co-pay birth control coverage in employee insurance plans. “The Catholic Church is not going to back down,” Conley said in November. “We are never going to compromise our principles. We will defy it and face the consequences.”
Conley’s opposition to contraception appears to stem from the belief that by trying to control one’s own life, a person rejects God’s all-powerfulness. As he said in 2008, “The reality is that we belong to God. … If we are under the illusion that we are in total and absolute control of human life, when it begins and when it ends, and we think that ‘this is my life, my body, my choice,’ then there is an organic progression to abortion, euthanasia, acceptance of homosexual acts, pornography, embryonic destructive research, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse of women and a host of other social ills and moral evils.”
Now, Bishop Conley argues that a doctor who endangered women with limited options for safely ending unwanted pregnancies should be used as the impetus to block access to birth control that would help women avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
As he writes in the last line of his recent piece, “That is why we must raise awareness of this case, to help the world see the consequences of contraception and abortion.”
The post They Are Coming For Your Birth Control: Contraception Gave Us Gosnell appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin announced Friday that it will restore access to medication abortion services at three clinics in Milwaukee, Madison, and Appleton.
The announcement followed an injunction ordered by the Dane County Circuit Court in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood; it claimed 2011′s Wisconsin Act 217, which imposed new statutory requirements on providers of nonsurgical abortions, was unconstitutionally vague because it was unclear how providers were to comply. Planned Parenthood had originally challenged the law in federal court, but after a judge refused to approve a settlement agreement between Planned Parenthood and the state over how to interpret Act 217 that lawsuit was dismissed and a new one brought in state court.
Under the terms of the injunction, the judge clarified the compliance provisions of the law enough to satisfy Planned Parenthood’s concerns and resume providing medication abortion services to women without fear of prosecution. “Planned Parenthood is pleased to announce the restoration of woman’s access to safe and legal nonsurgical abortion services at Planned Parenthood,” Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “This is a significant step in the right direction recognizing that medical professionals should be trusted to determine the safest and best medical care for their patients. We are heartened that the ability of women and their doctors to decide which medical procedure is best for them has been restored for now as the court works to resolve the case.”
While returning nonsurgical abortion to Planned Parenthood clinics is a win for reproductive access in Wisconsin, the process of actually getting a nonsurgical abortion in the state remains burdensome and complicated. Those seeking nonsurgical abortion in Wisconsin can only access services after meeting a state-mandated examination and counseling session with a physician and satisfying the state-mandated 24-hour waiting period. Nonsurgical abortion using medication is a safe and noninvasive abortion method only available to women within the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
The injunction will remain in place while a trial on the merits of the law moves forward.
Image: plannedparenthood / YouTube
The post Nonsurgical Abortion Access to Return to Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Today is the 48th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court case that first identified the constitutional right to privacy and defeated a law that barred the use of birth control.
This ruling was monumental because it struck down a barrier that blocked women from controlling their futures. It gave them the power to choose whether and when to start and family.
Access to birth control is essential for millions of women and their families. Not only does birth control prevent unplanned pregnancy, it allows women to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, and advance their educational and career goals.
Studies show that using birth control is highly effective in reducing unintended pregnancies, and therefore the need for abortion care. Improving access to birth control is truly a win for everyone.
That's why we're so excited about the no-cost birth control policy under Obamacare, and the recent ruling that made some emergency contraception available over the counter without age restrictions for all women!