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Texas Attorney General Defends Hospital That Employed ‘Sociopathic’ Neurosurgeon

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 09:44

Texas hospital patients who have been injured by their doctors already face a rugged legal landscape when they seek restitution in medical malpractice suits, but a new intervention by the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, may limit their options even further.

Abbott has asked a federal court for permission to defend four civil lawsuits—none of which name the State of Texas—that have been filed against a hospital that plaintiffs say did nothing to stop a “sociopathic” neurosurgeon from practicing in its facility.

Dr. Christopher Duntsch, who was granted surgical privileges at Baylor Regional Medical Center of Plano in 2011, practiced medicine and performed “minimally invasive” procedures in North Texas hospitals for two years before his license was revoked in 2013, at which time he’d left two patients dead and four paralyzed.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs allege that Baylor knew that Duntsch had substantial substance abuse issues and was a dangerous doctor, but did nothing to stop him. Duntsch, who now lives in Colorado and has filed bankruptcy, is effectively judgment-proof: He has no money to go toward compensating his victims for their injuries.

That leaves the hospital, but the only way the hospital can or will contribute is if plaintiffs can prove their case, which under Texas law requires them to prove that Baylor acted with actual intent to harm patients by not properly supervising Duntsch or by keeping him a credentialed surgeon as long as it did.

Duntsch’s former patients argue that the hospital is being protected by a Texas law, HB 4, which they argue is unconstitutional. But unlike lawsuits involving abortion regulations, for example, the plaintiffs are not suing the state to block the law. That means the State of Texas is not a party to this dispute and could, if it wanted to, let this private lawsuit move forward without devoting a single state dollar to it.

Instead, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is coming to the law’s, and the hospital’s, defense—at the same time that he is defending HB 2, Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law that was enacted, conservatives say, because the hospital admitting privileges that the law requires of abortion-providing doctors will guarantee a higher standard of care.

In inserting his office into this case—one in which admitting privileges not only did not increase the standard of care, but created a situation wherein a hospital appears to have had a vested interest in protecting a negligent, and potentially deliberately harmful but money-making doctor to whom it had granted admitting privileges—Abbott is seeking to make it harder for patients who are victims of bad doctors at hospitals to obtain restitution for harm done.

If Abbott cares about Texans who would be harmed by bad doctors—bad doctors with hospital admitting privileges—it seems a strange move to go out of his way to ensure that patients have as little recourse as possible to address that harm.

As it turns out, Republicans in Texas have a long history of attacking health-care access in the state, and it’s a history not confined to only curbing abortion access and cutting off family planning services.

Back in 2003, Texas conservatives drastically re-shaped the state’s medical malpractice laws with HB 4, to the extent that, for most Texans, the possibility of holding negligent doctors and hospitals liable for bad medical care just simply isn’t an option. This is the law Abbott is defending.

Medical malpractice claims are often complex and expensive. To prove a claim of medical malpractice, a plaintiff typically must show that a provider violated the standard of care in their treatment and that the violation injured them. Medical malpractice claims are also typically claims of negligence, which means the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the doctor or provider’s mistake was intentional, just that it deviated enough from what should have happened that it’s fair to have the doctor or provider help pay for the damages that the mistake caused. This is especially true in the context of medical negligence, because the costs related to an injury are often extreme. In the worst cases, a patient dies; but in other cases, the patient and their family can be left carrying the cost of their uninsured medical expenses and future care, which in cases of severe injury tops millions of dollars in a lifetime.

Like other tort reform measures, which seek to reform personal injury law, HB 4 did little to advance patient safety but did much to insulate negligent doctors and hospitals from malpractice damage awards. HB 4 restricts the rights of patients in several dangerous ways. First, it imposes a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in a malpractice suit. Non-economic damages are the only kind of compensation a jury can award for the injury itself, as opposed to compensation for things like lost wages, attorneys’ fees, and medical bills.

“This bill was passed despite there being no data to support that these kinds of damages caps keep costs down or help patients,” Alex Winslow, executive director of the consumer protection advocacy group Texas Watch, explained to RH Reality Check. “The data just isn’t there.”

Think of non-economic damages as awards for pain and suffering, as they can be tied to how at fault a jury believes the negligent party to be. When conservatives complain about “runaway jury verdicts” they’re usually talking about non-economic damages. Conservatives hate them because they can’t be specifically tallied and ordered up (and therefore limited) in a neat and tidy fashion the way economic damages can. Lost wages? Check. Hospital bills? Check.

But a non-economic damages cap means those who do not earn significant incomes (think the elderly, hourly-wage workers, and stay-at-home parents) are at a distinct disadvantage under Texas tort reform since their economic damages are usually much less. This acts as a significant deterrent to bringing a malpractice claim to begin with, because in order to prove their case, a plaintiff is usually going to need at least one medical expert to explain both what went wrong and what should have gone right. Those experts are expensive and non-economic damage awards help defray those costs. It’s entirely reasonable that in a medical malpractice claim involving a significant injury, expert fees alone would approach $250,000.

To make imatters even worse, this non-economic damages cap is not indexed to inflation, which means that it is effectively worth less and less each year. So even the most obvious cases of medical malpractice may not get pursued because the expense of bringing a lawsuit is simply too much.

HB 4 doesn’t just take away the economic means for many injured Texans to find justice, it takes away important legal means as well. Instead of keeping medical malpractice claims under a negligence standard for doctors and hospitals alike, HB 4 effectively immunizes hospitals by requiring plaintiffs to prove that the hospital acted with an intent to harm patients. That means the only way hospitals have to compensate victims harmed by their doctors and staff is if the injured person can show the hospital essentially wanted the injury to happen.

This impossible standard, the plaintiffs claim, deprives them of due process and their right to access the courts, since it effectively took away their well-recognized common law negligence claim against the hospital. That means there is no real way under Texas law to hold hospitals accountable when they make bad credentialing decisions.

But Greg Abbott disagrees that immunizing hospitals like this has taken away any patient rights, and he wants to defend the law in federal court—even though, legally speaking, he doesn’t have to.

“The state has no obligation to defend this law,” said James Girards, a Dallas lawyer who filed one of the lawsuits.

“State statutes get challenged all the time, and the attorney general has discretion which lawsuits to join and which to ignore,” he said. “But instead, Abbott is pandering to big money donors like Baylor and the insurance industry and protecting their interests.”

Image: Doctor via Shutterstock

The post Texas Attorney General Defends Hospital That Employed ‘Sociopathic’ Neurosurgeon appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Tennessee politicians want to treat pregnant women who abuse drugs as criminals...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 09:40
Tennessee politicians want to treat pregnant women who abuse drugs as criminals instead of getting them the help they need. You can do something to stop this. Sign the petition now -->

Texas Congressman Calls for Export of Anti-Choice Doctrine as Cure for Terrorism

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 08:43

At a hearing titled “Women’s Education: Promoting Development, Countering Radicalism,” Rep. Randy K. Weber (R-TX) had a burning question about building peaceful societies in countries riven by sectarian violence and religious extremism.

Addressing Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Gender and Peacebuilding Center of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), at an April 3 hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Weber seemed unimpressed by her account of the institute’s training for local community leaders. “Do you teach in that process a respect for the sanctity of life?” the congressman asked.

The term “sanctity of life” is commonly used by anti-choice activists as a rationale for opposing abortion.

As Kuehnast began explaining that she is personally not a trainer, Weber interrupted.

“I mean, if you’re gonna have peace, isn’t the ultimate goal not to kill somebody else?” he asked. “That’s not very peaceful.”

In the House of Representatives these days, the subject of abortion is introduced in the most unlikely contexts.

The hearing was called by committee chair Edward R. Royce (R-CA), just hours before the committee marked up HR 3583, the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act, named for the young woman and Nobel laureate who survived a devastating shooting in Pakistan by a Taliban gunman in retaliation for her activism on behalf of education for girls. The bill would increase the number of needs-based college-level scholarships for Pakistani students administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which currently average about 180 per year, and require that half of such aid go to women.

Though not specifically about the USAID scholarship program, the hearing seemed premised to provide a rationale for the bill that might placate Tea Party-allied members of Congress, who are typically unenthusiastic about foreign aid, by framing the education of women as critical to combating terrorism promulgated by Islamic extremists.

“[W]omen’s central role in families and communities makes them uniquely positioned to intervene and stop the radicalization of their children,” Royce said in his opening statement. “Mothers are most likely to spot the signs that something is off. Simply put, if angry young men are to be stopped before they strap on a suicide vest, women will be key.”

Joining Kuehnast on the witness panel were Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of the World Organization for Resource Development and Education, and Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, an American Muslim think tank with a mission of preventing violent extremism.

Khan noted women’s low literacy rates in Pakistan (around 60 percent nationwide) and Afghanistan (estimated at 12.6 percent) as an impediment to their full participation in countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, but also asserted that men must be engaged in creating an environment that makes women’s education possible. She told of how, without her father’s approval, her own education would have been impossible, and highlighted the role of Malala Yousafzai’s father in the young woman’s education activism. “These are patriarchal societies,” she reminded committee members.

Mirahmadi emphasized what she saw as the crucial role of mainstream religious institutions and clerics in combating the influence of violent extremists. If religion was the problem, she said, it was also “the antidote.” The United States, however, she contended, was a bit hamstrung in addressing that need because, she said, “the U.S. doesn’t do religion” in its development programs.

Weber took exception to Mirahmadi’s comments.

“You said … that some of the extremists use religion, and if I’ve got it down correctly, you say that the anecdote [sic] is religion, and then you follow that with, the problem is that the United States doesn’t use religion,” Weber said. “Dear God, what are we doing?”

“If the anecdote [sic] is religion, what does that look like?” he continued. “You said that the United States doesn’t use religion. Expound on that. Would you prefer—expound on that.”

“No,” Mirahmadi replied, “I have no intention of changing the Constitution. England does religion, but the—”

Weber interrupted her. “Well, the Constitution doesn’t prevent us from using religion,” he said. “Let me just make sure we get that out there.”

(The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with two official religious bodies, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution forbids Congress from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”)

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) turned the conversation back to the realm of the practical, noting that many extremist groups provide needed services to poverty-stricken populations, a means of gathering support. He asked the panel if any had seen effective alternatives available to the people who needed the services.

The replies were not encouraging: Mirahmadi said she had seen none. Khan explained that there were legal problems for the United States and other Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in providing such services, because if it turned out that a single member of family receiving such aid were found to be involved in extremist activities, the NGO could be charged with “providing material support to terrorists.”

Instead of funding outside NGOs to create programs designed to counter the services provided by unsavory groups, Khan said, it was better to fund and empower local organizations. “If you ask communities how to solve their own problems,” she said, “they come up with answers.”

The congressman then asked how to empower women as leaders in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

By “making sure they’re on the guest list” when the United States and international bodies are convening conferences and events, Mirahmadi said. “[W]hen we help elevate their profile and other countries help elevate their profile, they become players,” she added.

Before the hearing closed, Khan reminded the committee of the primary reason for supporting women’s education around the world. “Education is a human right for all,” she said.

The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship bill was later passed by the committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the House floor. A Senate version, S. 120, was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in January, and has seen no further action. The bill-tracking website rates its chances of enactment at 24 percent.


The post Texas Congressman Calls for Export of Anti-Choice Doctrine as Cure for Terrorism appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Health Care Providers Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Texas Law that Blocks Abortion Access

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 23:00
Health Care Providers Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Texas Law that Blocks Abortion Access

04.10.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have filed a petition (case number 13-51008) asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the constitutionality of the provision of Texas’ HB2 which requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. This is a measure that has forced some health centers to close and others to stop providing abortions, making access to abortion services scarce in the state.

While the federal district court struck down the requirement as unconstitutional, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that ruling, allowing the law to take effect and forcing abortion providers across the state to stop providing abortions or close altogether, leaving thousands of women without access to care. Two weeks ago, the Fifth Circuit panel issued a final decision upholding the law.

Today’s filing asks the full Fifth Circuit to reconsider this decision.

“Thousands of Texas women are teetering on the brink of a pre-Roe reality, when the options for women seeking to end a pregnancy were illegal at best and deadly at worst,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We look to the full court to enforce the Constitution, follow Supreme Court precedent, recognize the real life harms to the women of Texas, and block this law from being enforced."

“We’re asking the court to acknowledge what is crystal clear—this law hurts women,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the ACLU. “Because of this law, women are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and traveling hundreds of miles to get the care they need. This law does absolutely nothing to further patient safety.”

“The politicians behind this law are the same politicians who slashed funding for cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care for Texas women. Make no mistake, the intent of this law is to eliminate access to safe, legal abortion, plain and simple. Planned Parenthood will do everything we can to stop politicians from imposing their agenda on Texas women. A woman’s rights and her ability to access medical care should not depend on her zip code,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The law at issue singles out abortion providers, requiring them to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they provide abortion services. This requirement is extremely difficult for many to meet for reasons that have nothing to do with their medical qualifications. Major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these types of laws because they do not improve patient safety but instead harm women by shutting down abortion providers throughout the state.

Courts have blocked similar provisions in other states across the country. Admitting privileges requirements aimed at shutting down all or most of the abortion providers in Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin have been halted before they took effect.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Texas from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

One-Third of Texas Women Will Soon Lack Access to Safe, Legal Abortion Following Appellate Court Ruling

Beyoncé has some wise words on feminism, equality, and women's sexuality. http:/...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 19:00
Beyoncé has some wise words on feminism, equality, and women's sexuality.

Beyoncé Talks Sexual Liberation & Gender Equality With Out Magazine
Beyoncé talks sexual liberation & gender equality with Out magazine.

Black Women & Bodily Autonomy

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 17:23
Black Women & Bodily Autonomy by Rebecca Brown

04.09.14 - The May edition of Essence magazine takes a look at what’s at stake for African-American women in the battle over reproductive rights. With extremist politicians passing an inordinate number of laws that target providers of abortion services, according to the magazine, Black women are among those paying the consequences.

Safe and legal abortions are under attack, and Black women—who seek out family planning services at a rate four times higher than White women—may face greater limitations in getting the procedure.

“Whether a woman has a job, access to health care or the ability to take care of a family are all huge parts of her decision to have an abortion,” says Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization in Atlanta. The barrage of recent antiabortion laws only compounds the difficulty in maintaining control of our bodies.

Essence points to the recent health crisis in Texas where a number of clinics have been forced to close down following the passage of a set of radical abortion restrictions, and dozens more are likely to meet the same fate in the coming months. By the fall, Texas may have fewer than 10 clinics providing abortion services for 13 million women across the state.

Last summer, the Texas state government passed legislation requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals—a requirement which serves no medical purpose, and gives hospitals, including those run by administrations with anti-choice leanings, the power to decide whether abortion is available at all in certain communities, and parts of the state.

In addition, the legislature passed a law that imposes unnecessary physical building requirements on abortion providers. Again, the requirements simply target reproductive health facilities with ridiculous renovations that have nothing to do with promoting health and safety. Instead they are so cost-prohibitive, a number of clinics will have to close entirely.

Downton Abbey & Black History Month

How is considering abortion like buying a car? It's not. At all.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 16:27
How is considering abortion like buying a car? It's not. At all.

GOP Lawmaker Compares Abortion To Buying A Car
A Republican state lawmaker in Missouri defended his controversial bill forcing women to have ultrasounds before abortions by comparing abortion to purchasing a new vehicle. “In making a decision to buy a car, I put research in there to fin...

Washington Policy Disclosures Provide Little Clarity on Reproductive Health-Care Access at Hospitals

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 15:36

As required by a new state mandate, most hospitals in Washington have submitted their policies on patients’ access to a variety of health-care options, including reproductive health care, to the Washington State Department of Health. However, the policies that have been submitted vary significantly in format, information provided, and availability of access for people seeking reproductive health care at the state’s nearly 100 hospitals.

In addition to reproductive health-care policies, hospitals were also required to submit end-of-life care, non-discrimination, charity care, and admissions policies to the Department of Health. The disclosures were part of a policy initiative by Gov. Jay Inslee, in response to recent transactions in which hospitals were being acquired and purchased by other hospital associations, often Catholic associations. These mergers have lead to a lack of transparency surrounding changes to hospital policies.

Several hospitals missed the deadline to provide their policies to the health department. However, as of this writing, the majority of hospitals have provided their policies. The policies have been published in a clearing house on the Washington State Department of Health website. Hospitals are also required to publish these policies on their individual websites, but many hospitals have yet to comply with this requirement.

A review of published policies by RH Reality Check found that the lack of standardized format and required information resulted in documents submitted by hospitals that made their policies unclear. In some cases, the information provided would be of little or no relevance to patients. Reproductive health-care policies often included vague language about specific services provided, but it was evident that the full range of reproductive health care was only available at a handful of hospitals.

Among the 97 hospitals that are listed on the health department website, only nine provided policies that specifically indicate a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion services, as available at those facilities. About one-third of the policies included access to abortion care as part of their reproductive health care, which in many cases included providing abortion care only for reasons deemed medically necessary and referring patients to outside providers for elective abortion care.

Four hospital systems that manage multiple facilities in the state—PeaceHealth, Providence, Swedish, and the Franciscan Health System—provided identical reproductive health-care policies for each of the hospitals within their system. These policy statements are not comprehensive in nature, but they make clear each system’s policy on access to reproductive health care, including abortion and birth control.

Most often, policy disclosures included no specific information on available reproductive health care or access to abortion care. Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center submitted not a policy document but a hospital pamphlet on “patient rights and responsibilities.” Both Mulitcare hospitals submitted only a document on procedures for care of sexual assault victims. Three Rivers Hospital submitted a document stating the relevant laws and regulations and that the hospital was compliant with them.

Sheila Reynertson, advocacy coordinator at the MergerWatch Project, which tracks hospital acquisitions, told RH Reality Check that she’s not surprised hospitals are not passing the new posting requirement with “flying colors.” Reynertson said there are a variety of reasons why hospitals may be struggling to meet the new requirements. “Some may be dragging their feet on this issue, but more likely they just don’t have built-in website design elements that make it easy for consumers to shop and compare, and others don’t seem clear about what they are supposed to post,” she said.

A coalition of organizations in the state came together to advocate for transparency and access to health care: NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Legal Voice, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, People for Healthcare Freedom, and Compassion and Choices, all of which have different entry points into the work around hospital mergers.

Megan Burbank, a spokesperson at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, told RH Reality Check that NARAL and other coalition members are currently reviewing the policies. She said the coalition has compiled a checklist of information about what services are offered that should be included in hospital policy disclosures. “Right now what we’re doing is using our checklist in comparison to the policies that have been released to see what measures up,” she said. “If our checklist had been used initially as an organizing principle to make sure that the policies addressed each point, we wouldn’t have this confusion.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Washington Policy Disclosures Provide Little Clarity on Reproductive Health-Care Access at Hospitals appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Panel Recommends Low-Dose Aspirin Regimen for Women at Risk of Preeclampsia

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 15:08

New recommendations suggest that pregnant women at risk for preeclampsia should take a low-dose aspirin every day during their second and third trimester. The recommendations come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and are based on findings suggesting that aspirin can lower the risk of preeclampsia, preterm birth, and low birth weight babies.  

Preeclampsia, which develops in about 4 percent of pregnancies, can be life threatening for both the woman and the fetus. Signs of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, protein in the urine, liver issues, and abnormal blood clotting. The condition causes blood vessels to constrict, which in turn causes high blood pressure and reduces blood flow to a woman’s organs. Women with preeclampsia are at immediate risk of a stroke and organ damage. As the name suggests, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a rare and dangerous condition in which pregnant women have seizures.

Once a women is found to have preeclampsia, the only way to protect her health is to deliver the baby regardless of how far along she is in her pregnancy, which is why the most common outcome for preeclampsia is preterm births and low birth weight babies. Preeclampsia also constricts blood flow to the uterus, which can cause the fetus to grow more slowly than expected, limit the amount of amniotic fluid, or cause the placenta to separate from the uterine wall before delivery (a life-threatening condition for both mother and fetus called placental abruption).

Even after delivery, women who have had preeclampsia have an increased lifetime risk of cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure and stroke—in fact, a study released in February found that women who’ve had it have twice the risk of stroke and four times the risk of high blood pressure later in life.

The good news is that research now confirms that a simple aspirin regimen may be able to prevent the condition from developing. A systematic review of research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the low-dose aspirin regimen (81 milligrams per day after the first trimester) reduced the incidence of preeclampsia by 24 percent. Ira M. Bernstein, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Vermont, put it this way when he spoke to the New York Times: “For every four women who would have gotten pre-eclampsia, one case is prevented. The ability to prevent a quarter of disease is substantial.” The review also found that the aspirin regimen reduced incidences of premature birth by 14 percent and slow fetal growth by 20 percent.

The aspirin regimen was found to be safe; it did not increase the risk of bleeding after delivery, placental abruption, or bleeding inside the newborn’s cranial cavity.

Based on the review, the task force recommends the regimen for anyone at high risk of preeclampsia, which includes women who have already had a pregnancy in which they developed the condition, especially if they delivered preterm; women who are carrying multiple fetuses; and women who already had diabetes or high blood pressure when they got pregnant. It noted that women with other factors considered to be a moderate risk for preeclampsia—including women who are obese, have a family history of preeclampsia, are over 35, or are African American—may want to consider the aspirin regimen and discuss it with their obstetricians.  

Image: Pregnant Woman via Shutterstock

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What I Learned by Parenting a Text Message ‘Baby’ for a Day

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 14:19

Do Something, a youth development organization that wants young people to help “make the world suck less” through advocacy, has relaunched its Pregnancy Text campaign, which is running now through June. Here’s how it works: You go to the website and “impregnate” a friend’s phone by entering their name and cell number. Then, for 14 hours the next day, you and your friend will receive demanding but adorable texts from virtual babies.

The goal of the campaign is to get teens thinking about what their lives would be like if they had a baby. A press release from the organization calls the campaign “the 2014 take on carrying an egg around school.” Well, I never thought egg babies were a good way to teach teen pregnancy prevention—not only is an egg nothing like a baby, but programs that focus on how hard it is to be a teen parent do little to educate kids and do a lot to stigmatize teen parents. Having now carried around my pregnant (or is it parenting?) phone for a day last weekend, I can firmly say that the 2014 take on the “egg baby” is little improved.

The concept of the egg baby pre-dates my high school years, in the late 1980s—though in my school they did give students a five-pound sack of flour, which kids used to put baby clothes on and carry around wrapped in a blanket. The more modern equivalent of this is an infant simulator often sold under the brand name Baby Think It Over. These computerized dolls have to be “fed,” “changed,” “burped,” and “held” by pressing a button or turning a key. The chip inside the doll can record how long it cried before its needs were attended to so that the teacher can know how good a parent each student really was. I suppose the dolls are more realistic than eggs or flour, which could be easily ignored, and the chip forces kids to be honest. (How many eggs do you think have been broken and secretly replaced with an identical twin over the years?) But within just a few minutes of starting the project, the message kids get is that having a child who needs constant attention is annoying and time consuming. What do kids get out of that, and how exactly does it help prevent pregnancy?

The research into whether infant simulators “work” is mixed, in part because there is a lack of agreement on what it would mean for these projects to “work.” Is it enough for participants to realize that having a kid is hard, or do we need to see that kids who’ve taken home a “baby” are more likely to stay abstinent or use contraception? Or should we really be following them until they’re 20 to see if they’re less likely to have a baby as a teen?

One set of girls studied in 2010 at a low-income, urban middle school in the Midwest, actually reported that the experience made them want to become teen parents more than they had in the past. The researchers in this study speculated that since these young girls had experience with babies, “they also knew that real babies provide some positive payback for all the hard work: a human response to being cared for and loved, such as a genuine smile.”

For the most part, however, researchers find that young people who take home a computerized baby agree that taking care of it was difficult, that they are not ready to be a parent at their age, and that they want to wait to have a baby. But most young people in these studies went into the project knowing that teen parenting was hard and that they wanted to put parenthood off until they were adults. The experience of taking home the computerized baby may cement that belief, but it’s not clear that it translates into any pregnancy prevention action—whether it is delayed sexual behavior or increased contraception use. As one participant in a 2004 study put it, “That baby shows you what it’s like to have one, but it doesn’t show you how to prevent it.”

The central problem with the text message baby is that is shows you neither. Granted, my text baby arrived on a Saturday, when it had to compete with two flesh-and-blood siblings whose demands, though not as well-scripted, were much more immediate. Still, it barely registered as a nuisance in my day. The first text at 6:30 a.m. failed to wake me up. When I did wake up, I had two texts: one to tell me the baby was hungry (“WAHHH. Oh good, you’re up! I haven’t eaten for like 3 hours…in baby times that’s a week. Bring me breakfast!”), and a second apologizing for spitting up on my shirt on my way out the door (“I know you’re running late but—GRRRGLRBARFFF. Oops, sorry about your shirt. Rappers spit rhymes but I spit up.”) Two more texts followed throughout the morning, one about poop and a second pointing out that babies cry for no reason.

I got the afternoon off after I replied to a text message that said, “Why do your teachers keep looking at me like I don’t belong here? See if one of your friends can babysit. Text me their # and I’ll ask,” with what was supposed to be my husband’s cell number. (My apologies to whoever has the number I accidentally punched in and got an undoubtedly confusing text about babysitting.)

The baby was back around 3:15 p.m., peeing, pooping, and asking to be entertained and fed. At 7:30 p.m., it asked for a lullaby and fell asleep. (What I wouldn’t give for my real kids to be asleep at such as civilized hour!) Minutes later the wrap-up text came in, saying, “Being my parent was hard, but you’re done! I’m a baby, but if you want real info about the issue, txt WAIT (tips on waiting), SAFE (safe sex), RIGHTS, or PARENTS.”

I have to disagree with that text message; being the parent of a text baby wasn’t hard.

I understand the desire to use texting to communicate with young people. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with teenagers knows they rarely put down their phones. But not everything can be done in short, cute sound bites, and this campaign just didn’t work for me. If pretending to be a teen parent for a day is going to do anything, it has to be a somewhat realistic experience. According to the studies I mentioned earlier, the thing that got most noticed by teens who took home computerized dolls was sleep deprivation, because the dolls require middle-of-the-night attention. In one study, some teens reported changing their sleeping habits for the weekend they had the doll, and others reported being exhausted beyond belief. Other teens in that study reported having to change their schedules and missing events with their friends because of the doll.

The texts, while witty, barely register as an interruption and can be ignored entirely without consequence. They didn’t force me to change my habits, miss events, or even stop what I was doing.

The other goal of the campaign is to get kids talking about teen pregnancy. This is a good objective, but I’m not sure the texts are substantive enough to start a meaningful conversation. It is interesting to note that one of the studies on Baby Think It Over Dolls found no increase in parent-child communication about teen pregnancy when the doll was home. If having a doll that actively cries in the middle of the night can live in a teens’ house for the weekend without starting a conversation between the students and their parents, I doubt the text campaign can. As for friends, it may get teens talking, but I don’t see the conversation going further than “What did you sign me up for?”

That’s just not enough—nor are the short replies I got when I texted for more information about waiting and safer sex. One text told me to talk about my desire to be abstinent early in a relationship, while another told me that if I use condoms, lubricated ones are the way to go. Neither are bad pieces of advice, but little tidbits like this are nowhere near sufficient. To have an impact, conversations about teen pregnancy prevention need to provide much more information and spur real critical thinking.

As with any program that focuses on how hard it is to be a teen parent, I also worry about stigmatizing teen parents. The “look at how hard their life is” message can be empathetic if done correctly, but in the absence of deeper discussions it can simply come across as finger-pointing or relishing in the notion that “my life is better.” Empathy can come from going through the motions of teen parenting—in fact, some of the kids who’ve done Baby Think It Over reported a new-found respect for teen parents. The lighthearted texts won’t do that, and the texting campaign does not provide a space for deeper discussion. The campaign website, if users choose to explore it, does link to a site run by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, called Stay Teen, which includes a letter to teen parents that reads in part:

On another note, we know that our message might unintentionally offend teen parents—we hope that you don’t take our message the wrong way. While your experiences as a teen parent may be very positive, we know that the majority of teen moms and dads have an incredibly difficult road ahead for themselves and for their children. We are by no means trying to insult teen parents, but are instead hoping to help all teens realize the consequences of having children too early.

That is a noble but difficult path to walk, but I don’t think this campaign has done it.

There is a role for texting in teen pregnancy prevention. Organizations can answer simple questions via text, like where to get a condom or what to do if you miss a pill, and can help young people find services. There also may be roles for online interventions to prevent teen pregnancy. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America recently released digital tools designed to take kids through decision-making processes around both delaying sex and using contraception. Two of these tools (one for younger teens and one for older teens) ask teens to think about their future goals for education, career, family, and living situations, and then pose a few questions about how having a baby as a teen would get in the way of these plans. These tools are based on research that shows teens who have future plans are less likely to become teen parents. Moreover, looking at the impact of early parenthood on future plans seems better than focusing on how diaper changing may get in the way of your social life, especially because most teens already realize they don’t want to have a baby right now.

Do Something is a good organization that aims to empower youth to make the world a better place; other current campaigns are focused on preventing bullying, getting schools to donate uneaten cafeteria food, reminding moms to get mammograms, and hosting dance parties for senior citizens. I believe the same good intentions behind these campaigns drove the organization to create Pregnancy Text. Unfortunately, the campaign fails, in both concept and execution.

Image: Screenshot via

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The CDC reinforces just how important it is to make sure teens get comprehensive...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:34
The CDC reinforces just how important it is to make sure teens get comprehensive sex education.

Record Low Teen Birth Rate Not Low Enough, CDC Says
Only four out of 10 teens said they had been given information both on how to say no to sex and about birth control. And 83 percent of the boys and girls who had sex said they had not received any sex education before their first time.

State Policy Trends: More Supportive Legislation, Even as Attacks on Abortion Rights Continue

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:32

The 2014 legislative session got off to a fast start, with legislators introducing a combined 733 provisions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights in nearly all the states that have legislative sessions this year (legislatures in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas will not meet in 2014). See here for the full analysis of the first quarter of 2014.

Significantly, legislators quickly showed a clear interest in protecting or expanding access to sexual and reproductive health care. Some 64 provisions have been introduced so far this year to expand or protect access to abortion, more than had been introduced in any year in the last quarter-century. And only three months into the year, two new provisions protecting abortion rights have been enacted, and three others have passed one legislative chamber. Similarly, seven measures designed to expand access to other sexual and reproductive health services have passed at least one legislative body in six states and the District of Columbia.

As in recent years, however, state legislatures continued to take aim at abortion rights. Legislators in 38 states introduced 303 provisions seeking to limit women’s access to care. By March 31, three new abortion restrictions had been enacted, and 36 had passed one legislative chamber.

Expanding Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care

In 2013, California and Colorado enacted the first state laws since 2006 to protect and expand access to abortion services. The California law allows appropriately trained nurse-practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives to provide first-trimester abortion services, while Colorado repealed its pre-Roe abortion ban. Building on that momentum, governors in two other states have already signed measures protecting abortion rights into law this year. Vermont repealed its pre-Roe abortion ban and Utah waived its counseling and ultrasound requirements when an abortion is necessary to protect the woman’s life or health or in cases of severe fetal impairment.

In addition, proactive measures have passed at least one legislative chamber in three additional states, including bills that would establish a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics (NH); permit abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy when the woman’s life or health is at risk (NY); and require insurance plans to cover abortion services if they cover maternity care (WA). Legislators in other states have also taken steps to expand access to sexually transmitted infection (STI) and family planning services (see the full analysis for details).

Restricting Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care

In sharp contrast, but mirroring the trend in recent years, legislators moved quickly to reduce abortion access as this year’s sessions opened: three laws were enacted in the first three months. Indiana accounted for two of these measures, banning nearly all abortion coverage in private insurance plans and also requiring inspections of abortion clinics at least once a year; South Dakota banned abortion for the purpose of sex-selection (see the full analysis for details).

Legislators in 16 states have introduced provisions that would conflict with U.S. Supreme Court holdings by banning at least some abortions prior to viability. Five of these measures have passed at least one legislative chamber. One of these five, a measure in West Virginia that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization (the equivalent of 22 weeks past the woman’s last menstrual period) was approved by the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D). This runs counter to the recent trend of signing so-called 20-week bans into law, which has occurred in 12 states over the last four years.

Several states have continued their attempts to enact burdensome and unnecessary requirements aimed at shutting down abortion providers (known as TRAP [targeted regulation of abortion providers] laws), which would require an abortion provider to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and direct the state to develop standards for abortion clinics (OK).

In addition, five measures to expand existing counseling and waiting period requirements have passed at least one legislative chamber so far this year. These measures would lengthen existing waiting periods (AL and MO); mandate that pre-abortion counseling take place in person at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure, meaning that a woman would have to make two separate trips to obtain an abortion (KY); and require counseling about perinatal hospice care for women who are seeking an abortion because of a diagnosed fetal impairment (AL and OK). In addition, legislative chambers in three states that already require parental consent approved measures designed to make it even more difficult for a minor to obtain an abortion (AL, AZ, and MO).

Legislators have sought to limit access to abortion services in other ways by attempting to reduce access to medication abortion (OK and IA); banning abortion coverage in plans sold on the insurance exchange (GA); and requiring an ultrasound before a woman may obtain an abortion (KY).

Finally, legislators in several states have moved to impede access to other sexual and reproductive health services; some examples include measures that would: disqualify independent family planning clinics, such as those operated by Planned Parenthood, from receiving any family planning funds that flow through the state, including federal Medicaid reimbursement (MO); require minors younger than 17 to have a prescription to obtain emergency contraception (OK); and expand the ability of health-care providers to refuse to provide services (AL and MO).

See the full analysis for additional details.

Gewndolyn Rathbun and Yana Vierboom also contributed to this analysis.

For more information:

Guttmacher State Center
State Policies in Brief
State Policy Developments in 2013
Analysis: A Surge of State Abortion Restrictions Puts Providers—and the Women They Serve—in the Crosshairs

Image: Stethoscope medical via Shutterstock

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South Carolina State Senator Compares Planned Parenthood to Hitler

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:01

After Planned Parenthood Health Systems released a poll finding that a majority of South Carolina voters oppose 20-week abortion bans once they understand the real-world reasons for seeking later abortion, state Sen. Mike Fair (R-Greenville) dismissed the poll’s findings and compared Planned Parenthood to Hitler.

“I have no more confidence in Planned Parenthood than I do in Adolf Hitler, if he were around, to ask about whether his signature is binding,” Fair said. “He would say, ‘Yeah, it is.’ It’s not, it wasn’t. He, by the way, had the same philosophy of Planned Parenthood and that is that some people deserve to live more than other people based on what the culture says.”

Conducted by Public Policy on behalf of Planned Parenthood, the poll asked voters in three state senate districts whether they would support access to abortion after 20 weeks, after informing them that such abortions are very rare (about 1 percent of all abortions) and often involve fetal anomalies.

South Carolina is currently pursuing a 20-week ban on abortion that would harm women who are seeking the procedure for medical reasons. The state’s stand-alone abortion clinics do not perform the procedure after 14 weeks, which means that only hospitals perform later abortions as it is. And since the bill only provides an exception to preserve the woman’s life, women whose long-term health is threatened, or who are carrying a fetus with fatal abnormalities, would not be able to access safe abortion care.

A majority of voters across party lines said that such bans are the wrong issue for legislators to be spending time on.

In Republican Sen. Ray Cleary’s district in Georgetown, 65 percent of respondents said that abortion should be legal after 20 weeks if a woman’s long-term health would be put at risk. In Columbia, which is represented by Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson (R), 67 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal after 20 weeks if the fetus is not yet viable, and the woman and her family should be able to determine that she should not continue her pregnancy due to her health and personal circumstances. Fifty percent of voters surveyed in Gaffney, in the district represented by Republican Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, said abortion after 20 weeks should be legal in cases of rape or incest.

When asked about Sen. Fair’s Hitler comment, Melissa Reed, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund, told RH Reality Check in an email, “Unlike Sen. Fair, we replace fear with facts, and misinformation with education.”

“Planned Parenthood believes, as do South Carolina voters, that the decision to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child is best left to a woman, her family and her faith—not her South Carolina legislator,” she said.

Image: Fox Carolina

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The Story of HB 2: How Multiple Failed Bills Became One Bad Law

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 11:44

In January 2013, during a speech at the Texas Alliance for Life rally, Republican Gov. Rick Perry set an agenda for the legislative session to come. “As supporters of life,” he said during his keynote address, “Texas will continue to take the necessary steps to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain, in hopes of one day making abortion at any stage a thing of the past.”

With those words, the 83rd legislative session, which would ultimately signal the death knell for abortion rights in Texas, was off to an inauspicious start.

Emboldened by Perry’s soaring declaration, Republicans, led by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg and Sen. Glenn Hegar—two staunch anti-choicers with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—introduced a seemingly relentless deluge of bills restricting abortion access. There were bills banning safe abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation based on junk science related to fetal pain; bills restricting medication abortion and banning telemedicine; bills imposing onerous TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) requirements on providers of safe abortion care; bills banning “coerced” abortion; bills banning putative sex-selective abortions; and on and on.

The number of proposed bills was so staggering that, until now, attempts to track the legislative journey that ultimately led to the passage of one of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country, HB 2, would have been a daunting task. With the launch of RH Reality Check’s interactive database, however, a picture of the long road to HB 2 begins to emerge. In particular, the chronology, when viewed in hindsight, suggests that anti-choicers used a strategy of swarming the capitol. They were able to pass this draconian law through a combination of tenacity, disregard of failure, and a belief that if they kept proposing anti-choice laws, eventually one would prevail.

In addition, our analyses show that the key players in Texas’ path to HB 2 were deeply connected to conservative lobby groups like ALEC and Americans United for Life (AUL), which, as recently reported by RH Reality Check, frequently hosts an exhibitor booth at ALEC conferences and offers a variety of model anti-choice legislation in its Defending Life compendium.

Many of the bills introduced during the infamous 83rd session of the Texas legislature failed and never saw the light of the day. That included a trio of marquee bills—a 20-week abortion ban, a bill to restrict medication abortion, and a TRAP law imposing admitting privileges requirements on doctors who provide abortions and requiring abortion facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers—which were introduced time and again, and failed time and again.

Eventually, however, the provisions in this trio of bills were cemented into law by HB 2, notwithstanding a heroic filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, and a powerful surge of grassroots and online activism from pro-choice forces led by passionate Texas activists.

While HB 2 leapt to national attention with Davis’ filibuster in June, our research shows that the road to HB 2 actually began long before the 83rd legislative session was called to order.

In December 2012, Sen. Dan Patrick, one of Texas’ staunchest anti-choice legislators, prefiled a bill, SB 97, that would require providers of early safe abortion care to follow the inferior and outdated Food and Drug Administration protocol for medication abortion, and would ban telemedicine—a procedure by which physicians use a remote-controlled system to see patients and dispense medication abortion pills.

In that particular incarnation, the bill failed to pass, but it was a harbinger of the oncoming anti-choice free-for-all; a new version of that bill would reappear months later in the midst of the summer melee.

Once the 83rd legislature was called into session, the onslaught of anti-choice legislation began in earnest.

In February 2013, Sen. Bob Deuell, a legislator who had ties to ALEC until he left the organization in 2012, introduced SB 537, a bill that would require abortion facilities to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center in order to be licensed by the state. Anti-choice legislators claimed this law was necessary to protect the health and safety of women when, in reality, because legal abortion in the United States is overwhelmingly safe, there is no medically accepted standard of care that requires such facilities for abortion care. That bill also failed, but like the telemedicine ban, it would be back in the near future.

In early March, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, ALEC’s state chair, and Sen. Larry Taylor, another legislator with ties to ALEC until he left the group in 2012, introduced companion admitting privileges bills (HB 2816 and SB 1198) requiring doctors who provide abortions to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital. These bills were also touted as necessary to protect the health and safety of women in Texas, though again, according to medical consensus, admitting privileges requirements provide no medical benefit. These bills also failed.

Also in early March, Rep. Laubenberg and Sen. Glenn Hegar introduced the “Preborn Pain Act” (HB 2364 and SB 25), which sought to ban safe abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s clear ruling in Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to choose an abortion up until the point of fetal viability, generally recognized as occurring at approximately 24 weeks of pregnancy. Once again, these bills failed to make it out of committee.

By the end of the regular session, nearly 20 anti-choice bills had been proposed. Each would make access to legal, safe abortion out of reach for thousands of women in Texas by imposing medically unnecessary abortion restrictions designed to discourage women from seeking safe abortion care and to make it virtually impossible for abortion clinics to continue providing such care. And while each had failed, they would soon lay the groundwork for a super-bill that effectively made abortion inaccessible—though not illegal—in most of Texas.

Image: Paper stack via Shutterstock

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Tennessee missed a chance to help pregnant women who are substance abusers and w...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:26
Tennessee missed a chance to help pregnant women who are substance abusers and who need treatment. Instead, lawmakers are moving a bill that would charge these women as criminals.

Treat, don’t jail, drug-addicted mothers-to-be
HB 1295/SB 1391 could have included new or expanded treatment programs and beefed up the state’s drug courts, which do have a proven track record against substance abuse. Instead, the bill sets the stage for mothers-to-be with criminal records and adding to the number of terminated pregnancies.

Ninth Circuit Blocks Arizona Medication Abortion Rules

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 09:28

Late Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an injunction blocking new Arizona regulations on medication abortion. Challengers of the regulations say they threaten to cut off access to medication abortion for thousands of Arizonans.

The injunction will remain in effect while the federal appeals court considers Planned Parenthood’s appeal of a lower court’s decision denying a preliminary order blocking implementation of the rules, which require physicians to follow an outdated and less effective regimen for administering abortion-inducing medications. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights jointly filed the lawsuit challenging the rules. However, a federal district court in Tucson ruled that Arizona’s law restricting medication abortion and regulations implementing that law could take effect on April 1. After that ruling, attorneys representing Planned Parenthood filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in response a panel of the court issued a temporary injunction while the court evaluated that request. Tuesday’s order will keep that injunction in place while the lawsuit on the merits proceeds.

“Planned Parenthood applauds the court’s decision to protect a woman’s access to safe, legal abortion in Arizona,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a statement following the decision. “We are all better off when physicians—and not politicians—decide what care is best for their patients. If implemented, these misguided restrictions would force doctors to provide care to their patients that goes against 13 years of research and practice in the medical field.”

Restrictions on medication abortion have occupied a lot of time in federal and state courts recently. Courts have enjoined similar laws on medication abortion in Oklahoma and North Dakota, while a federal appeals court allowed similar restrictions in Texas to remain in effect. Meanwhile, in the last three months, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review lower court decisions that struck down two other extreme Arizona laws—including a ban on abortion at 20 weeks that was related to HB 2036, a 2012 package of restrictions that also included the medication abortion restrictions now blocked by court order.

Oral arguments in this case will take place on May 13 in San Francisco.


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Ex-CIA Chief Dismisses Damning Report as Work of ‘Emotional’ Woman

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 08:55

Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), really doesn’t care for the work of a Senate committee that has been investigating the CIA’s presumably now-defunct torture program, and whose chair has accused the CIA of illegally spying on the committee. Lacking an adequate defense for his aversion to scrutiny, Hayden went sexist. When questioned about the investigation during his appearance on the April 6 edition of Fox News Sunday, he dismissed it as the imaginings of an “emotional” woman.

The woman is Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, long known as a champion of the national security establishment and hardly a progressive. At issue: a 6,000-page report by Feinstein’s committee on the post-9/11 CIA program of “enhanced interrogation”—which includes methods that human rights advocates describe as torture. Feinstein, as reported by The Guardian, “called its findings ‘shocking’ and the CIA’s behavior ‘in stark contrast to our values as a nation.’” She is calling for the public release of a 400-page summary of the report’s findings, and on April 3 her committee voted to do just that, by a vote of 11 to 3.  (Eight of the 11 committee members who voted for the summary’s release are men.)

The gendered cast of Hayden’s comment seemed to surprise even Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, whose show every week promotes the latest right-wing attack on anything smacking of liberalism.

From the show’s transcript:

HAYDEN: [Washington Post columnist David Ignatius] said that Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.

Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.

WALLACE: I mean, forgive me, because you and I both know Senator Feinstein. I have the highest regard for her. You’re saying you think she was emotional in these conclusions?

HAYDEN: What I’m saying is — first of all, Chris, you’re asking me about a report. I have no idea of its content…

In the meantime, Feinstein has also been staring down current CIA Director John Brennan, accusing the agency of breaking into the computers used by her committee in order to spy on its doings.

Brennan has all but called Feinstein a liar (you can’t trust women to tell the truth!), so safely ensconced in his maleness that he rightly expects to brush off the obvious hypocrisy of his judgment of the chair’s truthfulness, given the fact that he appears to have lied outright to Congress, without consequence, when questioned about the killing of civilians by CIA drones. He denied that it ever happened, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

As for Feinstein’s alleged emotionalism, the charge is almost laughable, given the senator’s typically steely delivery in the face of crisis, and her nearly flat affect in conversation.

Take, for example, Feinstein’s appearance before the television cameras, during her term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, immediately following the 1978 murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

You’d never know by her announcement that it was Feinstein who found Milk dead. Here’s how she recounted it, 30 years later, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I went down the hall. I opened the wrong door. I opened (Milk’s) door. I found Harvey on his stomach. I tried to get a pulse and put my finger through a bullet hole. He was clearly dead.

“I remember it, actually, as if it was yesterday. And it was one of the hardest moments, if not the hardest moment, of my life,” Feinstein said Tuesday. “It was a devastating moment. For San Francisco, it was a day of infamy.”

She put her finger through a bullet hole, and then went out to face the cameras, dropping nary a tear.

Now, here’s Hayden’s justification for the U.S. government’s legally questionable program of scooping up so-called enemy combatants and detaining them indefinitely at Guantanamo, during a 2010 panel discussion:

[M]y epiphany that we are a nation at war took place about 10 minutes after 10:00, September 11th, 2001. It became clear to me at that point and I believe in few things more firmly than I believe in the fact that we are a nation at war.

For Hayden, that’s enough cause for defying international norms.

Who’s the emotional one?

In fact, Hayden’s inability to contain his ego—often the source of emotional behavior—became apparent when former Director Tom Matzzie, in a famous Twitter scoop, sat behind Hayden on an Amtrak Acela train while the former CIA director “bragged” while talking on his cell phone, Matzzie reported, “about rendition and black sites.”

“Rendition” refers to the practice of moving a detainee to a country in which torture is not forbidden; “black sites” are the secret locations in which the torture takes place.

Hayden was apparently talking to a reporter “on background” while traveling in a vehicle of public transport, not worrying his pretty little head about any consequences to national security.

Matzzie also reported that Hayden was making “disparaging” remarks about the Obama administration, and the security problems posed by the president’s insistence on using a BlackBerry.

Apparently, Hayden hasn’t forgotten that, as a U.S. senator, Obama voted against Hayden’s nomination to the post of CIA director (ironically, for Hayden’s role in a controversial NSA spying program). And did I mention that Obama recently voiced support for making Feinstein’s report public?

How much easier it is to implicitly dismiss a powerful and inconvenient woman for her gender than to complain of the wounding of one’s ego at the hands of the man who is now the president of the United States.

Sounds kind of emotional to me.

Image: Fox News Sunday

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On Equal Pay Day, Obama Takes Executive Action to Close Gender Wage Gap

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 08:13

President Obama signed two executive actions on Tuesday, National Equal Pay Day, that are designed to help close the gender wage gap for federal contractors, the day before Congress votes on whether to pass similar measures for the private sector as well.

One executive order will prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share information about their wages with each other. Goodyear became famous for prohibiting such disclosures when long-time employee Lilly Ledbetter, who appeared with the president at a press conference Tuesday, learned from an anonymous note that she had been making thousands of dollars less than her male coworkers for almost 20 years. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, the first bill signed by the president after he took office, loosened restrictive statute of limitations laws that had prevented Ledbetter from suing her employer for back pay.

The other new executive action is a presidential memorandum requiring federal contractors to provide data about employee compensation, including breakdowns by sex and race.

“There are plenty of employers out there who are absolutely certain that there’s no pay discrimination happening in their offices. But then sometimes when the data is laid out, it paints a different picture,” Obama said at the event on Tuesday before signing the new measures.

The National Women’s Law Center estimates that, on average, white women make 78 percent of white men’s full-time wages, which is close to the often-cited average of 77 percent (or “77 cents for every dollar”) for all women. But African-American and Latina women make only 64 percent and 54 percent, respectively, of what a white man makes. Women of color also face a gender gap, albeit a smaller one, compared to Black and Latino men, who face their own wage gap of 73 cents and 61 cents, respectively, for every dollar made by white men.

About one-quarter of the U.S. workforce is made up of federal contractors.

Obama urged Congress to follow his lead by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would amend the 1968 Equal Pay Act to say that pay differentials must be based on “bona fide factors” other than sex that are job-related and necessary for business. The act would also make employers civilly liable for unequal pay.

Obama didn’t mince words in accusing Congressional Republicans of “gumming up the works” on not just equal pay, but any and every piece of legislation designed to help working families. He argued that equal pay for women will benefit the economy as a whole because women make up half the workforce and are often family breadwinners. He also chided Republicans for ignoring the three-quarters of Americans who support raising the minimum wage, and noted that the majority of minimum-wage workers are women.

“If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they, in fact, do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me,” Obama said. “They can start tomorrow. They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.”

The 77-cents-on-the-dollar figure is sometimes disputed in discussions of the wage gap. The overall gap changes somewhat depending on whether you count annual wages or weekly wages, and the gap is not explained by outright wage discrimination alone. The gap also exists because of “life choices” such as taking time off for child care, only working part-time, or working in lower-paying fields—”choices” that many advocates argue are not neutral.

As writer and activist Soraya Chemaly notes, “Women’s ‘choices’ remain defined and constrained by institutionalized sexism and racism [and] implicit biases … that start at birth and never end.” Chemaly also notes that the United States has one of the worst gender pay gaps in the world, and that it has gotten worse since 1990 due to poor family and work policies.

“It’s not a myth; it’s math,” Obama said Tuesday, responding to commentators who claim that the pay gap is not real. “I mean, Lilly Ledbetter didn’t just make this up.”

The White House itself also has a gender wage gap of about 88 cents on the dollar.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) tweeted in support of Equal Pay Day on Tuesday. His office did not return requests for comment on whether he will also support the Paycheck Fairness Act, but such support seems unlikely given his previous opposition to the act, and its unpopularity with Republicans.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has failed to pass twice before and may fail again this year if it faces a filibuster, but some states have taken similar action on their own. New Hampshire, for instance, has an equal pay law that has already passed the state senate and appears poised to both pass the house and be signed by the governor.

Image: The White House

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Survey: Most Pennsylvanians Want State to Accept Medicaid Expansion

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 07:42

Pennsylvania is one of 24 states rejecting Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite the fact that the state has an increasing number of uninsured residents, bucking the national trend.

A new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for reveals that 59 percent of respondents want Gov. Tom Corbett to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid. Thirty percent think he shouldn’t expand Medicaid, and 11 percent are undecided.

Only 34 percent of respondents said they would vote to re-elect Corbett, a Republican, if casting a vote today, while 56 percent said they’d vote for whatever Democratic candidate wins the primary. (Forty-nine percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 40 percent as Republican, and 11 percent as independent or other.)

The ACA was designed to provide a continuum of coverage for people across the socioeconomic spectrum. But without the Medicaid expansion part, people who earn too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for a tax subsidy to purchase a private plan are left in the “Medicaid gap,” with no coverage at all. Approximately 500,000 Pennsylvanians fall into the Pennsylvania Medicaid gap, according to Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

Just this week, citizens and activists gathered in Harrisburg to rally for Medicaid expansion. The rally came in the wake of Corbett’s comments that he is “reaching his breaking point” regarding negotiating his proposed alternative to expansion, called Healthy PA, with the federal government.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“We’ve been negotiating for a year and I am starting to feel like a yo-yo,” Corbett told reporters after addressing doctors and health professionals at a state-sponsored public health conference. “You go down one lane and then they pull you back.”

Experts have consistently expressed concern that the federal government would reject Healthy PA because it includes several provisions that federal officials already rejected in other states. Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare Beverly D. Mackereth has said Pennsylvania officials “had the impression” that Healthy PA would be approved.

The new poll revealed that voters in other states with Republican governors that rejected expansion, such as Kansas, Florida, and Georgia, also want to expand Medicaid.

via The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation.

Image: Caduceus Money via Shutterstock

The post Survey: Most Pennsylvanians Want State to Accept Medicaid Expansion appeared first on RH Reality Check.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Protects Arizona Women’s Access to Non-Surgical Abortion

Center for Reproductive Rights - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 23:00
9th Circuit Court of Appeals Protects Arizona Women’s Access to Non-Surgical Abortion Access to critical health care remains intact during court challenge

04.09.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Late last night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked Arizona’s unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion—ensuring that women in the state will continue to have access to a method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages using medication that has been proven safe by more than a decade of scientific evidence and medical practice.

Said David Brown, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The appeals court has recognized that Arizona women should not be denied access to critical reproductive care while yet another clearly unconstitutional attack on their health and rights makes its way through the courts. At least for the moment, women throughout the state can be assured that their ability to get the services they need from the health care professionals they trust remains intact.”

The regulations—which went were issued by the Department of Health Services on January 27, under the authority of a law signed by Governor Jan Brewer in April 2012­—unconstitutionally restrict medication abortion in such a way that doctors will only be able to offer medication abortion with an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol, the result of which will deny most Arizona women access to an alternative to surgical abortion that has been widely recognized as safe and effective by medical experts and organizations worldwide for over a decade.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, filed the lawsuit in Arizona federal district court in March 2014 on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Arizona and the Tucson Women’s Center.  On March 31, a federal court failed to protect Arizona women’s constitutional right to non-surgical abortion and women’s health care providers and advocates immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse that decision.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Arizona from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

Arizona Women to Lose Access to Non-Surgical Abortion on April 1st Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women


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