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Native American Women Still Don’t Have Access to OTC Emergency Contraception

RH Reality Check - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 11:30

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 approved over-the-counter access to certain emergency contraceptive pills without any age restrictions, Indian Health Service (IHS) promised that it would update its policies to make this pregnancy-prevention method available in the pharmacies it runs.

Two years later, the IHS policy remains the same, and a group of U.S. senators last week sent a letter to the secretary of Health and Human Services urging her to look into the matter.

Emergency contraception (EC) is a high dose of hormones that can prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation if taken within three to five days of unprotected intercourse. The sooner it is taken, the better it works, which is why immediate access without a prescription is so important.

Efforts to win FDA approval for over-the-counter status, however, took the better part of a decade with opponents falsely suggesting that emergency contraception causes abortions (it will not, in fact, affect an established pregnancy) and arguing that making it readily available—especially to teens and young women—will increase promiscuity.

One of the available versions of EC—marketed as Plan B One-Step—was approved in July 2009 for over-the-counter sale, but such sales were limited to women 17 and older. Younger women still needed a prescription.

The age restriction was dropped to 15 in April 2013. Finally, in June 2013 the FDA—complying with a district court ruling—declared that Plan B One-Step would be available without a prescription for “all women of reproductive potential,” regardless of age.

At the time, a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) reached out to then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius urging her to create a long-term solution that would ensure EC was available over the counter in pharmacies run by the IHS.

Sebelius and her staff replied, promising that they were already working on updates to IHS pharmacy policy. So far, however, no policy has been released.

Boxer’s staff recently conducted a survey of 20 IHS pharmacies and found that EC was not readily available. Some pharmacies did not offer EC at all, others still required a prescription, and others wouldn’t provide it to certain women based on their age.

A similar survey by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resources found that access to EC varied widely at 69 IHS centers.

This is particularly disturbing because Native American women who rely on these health centers often live in rural areas where access to other health care and even pharmacies is limited. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, “The nearest commercial pharmacy may be hundreds of miles away.”

The ACLU also notes that access to EC is particularly important to Native American women because they face rates of sexual assault that are more than twice as high as other women in this country. EC is often given to sexual assault survivors to reduce the chance that they will become pregnant from their attack.

Last week, to try to spur action, Sens. Boxer, Patty Murray (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote another letter to HHS.

“We request that you share the steps your Department has taken towards updating its policy and provide a clear timeline for when that process will be completed,” the letter reads. “Further, we ask that you share with us data from surveys of pharmacies the IHS has undertaken in order to assess access to emergency contraception and the steps that the Department and IHS plan to take to monitor patient access moving forward. We appreciate your consideration of this request.”

“Native American women have waited too long for access to emergency contraception, which is now much more easily available to women across the country,” the ACLU wrote. “The federal government is legally and morally obligated to ensure that these women and communities are not left behind.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Native American Women Still Don’t Have Access to OTC Emergency Contraception appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Here’s the deal: when you actually talk to religious women, you learn that they...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 10:00
Here’s the deal: when you actually talk to religious women, you learn that they overwhelmingly support birth control coverage.

What Do Religious Women Think of the Contraceptive Mandate?
"We tend to hear from certain religious and political leaders, but the voices of religious women aren’t really well-represented."

Teaching About Affirmative Consent in High School Is a Good Place to Start

RH Reality Check - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 09:12

Throughout the country, our most recent conversations about consent have largely focused on higher education. However, sexual assault is a problem among high school students too. Now, some California lawmakers want to make sure that students learn about sexual assault before they ever arrive on a college campus for their freshman year. Last week, two state senators introduced a bill that would require some high schools to teach about affirmative consent. In other words, these programs will teach young people that consent is not about whether or not someone said “no”; it requires both parties to explicitly agree on what they are doing.  

This legislation is bound to have opponents on many sides of the issue: those who think sexual assault is not an appropriate topic for high school students; those who think affirmative consent laws will be used to blame the victim; and those who think “yes means yes” is an untenable standard for intimate relationships.

I still have doubts about whether affirmative consent standards can work in the real world, but as I said last year when California was set to adopt it as a requirement for sexual relations on state-run college campuses, it is a good catalyst, at the least, for making people think about the way rape culture permeates our daily lives. Laws requiring education around affirmative consent will hopefully start many much-needed conversations, including when kids are still in high school.

This Problem Starts Before College

We only need to look at research and media reports to know that sexual assault happens in high school.

The most recent study, which was published in JAMA Pediatric this month, had some pretty startling results. For this, researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk and Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which investigated all kinds of potentially risky behaviors—including sex, drinking, and drug use. It also asked adolescent respondents, “How many times in the last 12 months did somebody you were dating or going out with force you to do something sexually that you did not want to do?”

The results found that among high school students who had dated, around 6 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys reported experiencing both physical and sexual dating violence in the last 12 months. In addition, 8 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys reported experiencing sexual violence only in the last year.

Of course, teens may not be dating the people who assault them. In addition to such research, there have also been some highly publicized cases of rape among high school students in recent years. In Steubenville, Ohio, two teens were convicted of raping an intoxicated girl at a party while classmates looked on and recorded the incident on video. Daisy Coleman, a young woman from Missouri, has also spoken out publicly about being raped by a classmate at 14. She, too, said she was assaulted at a party, and an onlooker also captured the incident on a cell-phone video. A similar case that occurred in 2012 is being tried now in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A young woman there says she was raped by four young men at a party while she was fading in and out of consciousness. The young men admit to having sex with her, but say it was consensual.

Sexual violence can have a negative impact on young people’s lives moving forward, which further reinforces the idea that we do need to address the issue early on. The JAMA Pediatric research found that students who reported both physical and sexual violence were most likely to engage in health risk behaviors such as eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, and drug and alcohol use. They were also more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms and report suicidal thoughts. Students who had not experienced any kind of dating violence were the least likely to engage in these risky behaviors or exhibit these symptoms.

Learning About Consent Is a Good Place to Start

Too often, as seen in the Coleman and Steubenville cases, the survivors of assaults were intoxicated at the time of their attacks and could not give consent. As I said in an article for RH Reality Check when the details of Coleman’s rape first came out:

Too many boys think it is OK to have sex with girls who have not consented. They think it is OK to have sex with girls who are so drunk they could not possibly consent. They think it is OK to have sex with girls who are completely unconscious. They are so convinced that this behavior is OK that they record the behavior and release it for all the world to see.

Indeed, the other thing that many of these cases have in common is witnesses who did nothing but cheer or take pictures, which suggests that too many teens share the opinion that sex with an unconscious person is acceptable.

I have hopes that discussions around affirmative consent that aim to set a community standard in which both parties have to say yes rather than one having to say no will make it very clear that sex with someone who cannot give consent is unacceptable. It is always rape. This may not be enough to stop someone intent on committing a violent act, but at the very least maybe it will spur their peers to step in and take a stand.

Of course, sexual assaults can occur in a variety of situations. Some say no and are assaulted anyhow; some may be too afraid to refuse; and some may be coerced into saying yes. Again, affirmative consent won’t prevent any of the scenarios from occurring, but it could establish a community standard that gives both parties the vocabulary and the right to say no.

Discussions of affirmative consent—if done well—have the potential to make young people think critically about the ways in which we set adolescents up to fail when it comes to sexual relations. The message we too often send boys and young men is this: Boys are supposed to be the sexual aggressors. They must always want sex. It is their job to try to get girls to say yes, even if that means ignoring what she’s saying or getting her drunk. Watch any number of movies and you’ll learn that if boys try hard enough, girls will probably give in and like it.

This is, obviously, not an accurate or well-rounded portrayal of healthy sexual relationships. Still, it sets girls up to be the “gatekeepers” of sorts—as if all sexual decision-making is their responsibility in the eyes of the public. Girls, meanwhile, are frequently struggling with the internalized misogyny of balancing being perceived as a “prude” (who doesn’t have sex enough) with being perceived as a “slut” (who has sex too much). This, in turn, creates a harmful dynamic: When girls say no, boys think that they should keep pushing until they say yes. That’s not consensual; it’s coercive.

Under a community standard of “only yes mean yes,” partners would have to communicate. They would learn that silence is not consent; that checking in with each other every now and then should be the norm, even with a simple “Are you OK?”; and that speaking up about what they want is healthy, not shameful.

California’s New Bill

Combating harmful dynamics seems to be what the president of the California senate, Kevin de León, had in mind when he and his colleague, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, put forth the bill to teach affirmative consent in high school. de León (D-Los Angeles) explained to the Associated Press: “I’d like to decrease the amount of misogyny that’s taking place. We’ve created a culture that’s become so normalized, that’s so anti-young woman. It has gotten to the point where young men are going to have to stand up…. They can’t remain voiceless on this issue, and it’s going to have to start in high school.”

California schools are not required to teach health education, but the standard for schools that do take on the topic say students should learn to “recognize potentially harmful or abusive relationships, including dangerous dating situations,” “describe California laws regarding bullying, sexual violence, and sexual harassment,” and “use effective communication skills for preventing and reporting sexual assault and molestation.” The new bill, SB 695, would add discussions of affirmative consent in the schools that require health education credits for graduation.

Co-sponsor Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) told the Associated Press, “This bill will ensure that discussions about healthy relationships and consent are taking place in high school, with young women and young men, so we can help establish boundaries of acceptable behavior.”

I think this is a good start precisely because it sets up discussions about healthy relationships. We can tell young people that sexual assault is wrong until we’re blue in the face, but I don’t think we can change the cultural norms until we tell them what’s right.

And that’s what this law does. It explains to young people that a healthy sexual encounter involves discussions and negotiations. It is not about one partner convincing the other to do something, but about both coming to a mutual agreement about what’s going to happen. And it explains it early, which both research and experience tells us is necessary.

Will laws like this one solve the issue of sexual assault? Of course not. Rape culture is deeply ingrained in our society, and many acts of sexual assault are not about sex at all but about violence. But teaching young people that the healthiest relationships and sexual experiences are the ones in which both people actively engage in deciding what to do—in which they are not adversaries trying to get their way but partners figuring it out together—just might whittle away at the attitudes that make rape and sexual assault so very prevalent in our society.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Teaching About Affirmative Consent in High School Is a Good Place to Start appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Congressional Progressives: Economy Should Serve Americans, Not the Other Way Around

RH Reality Check - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 09:08

Congress will debate and amend GOP budget proposals this week that make deep cuts in social spending while keeping low taxes for the wealthiest Americans. A staggering two-thirds of cuts in both the House and Senate GOP budgets shrink programs for people with low or moderate incomes, slashing funding for health care, food stamps, and education.

Those cuts are worth it, Republicans suggest, because the budgets will balance in ten years.

Progressive advocates and members of Congress argue that this is a backwards way to think about budgets—that the economy should serve the people, and not the other way around. They say the economy no longer works for people who work, given that wages have stagnated for the past 30 years while productivity, corporate profits, and economic inequality have all skyrocketed.

The progressive budgets proposals have widespread support among Americans too.

“Any reasonable budget looks at the needs of the American people and figures out a fair way to pay for those needs,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Friday on a call with progressive bloggers.

Sanders is the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, and a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). The CPC last week released its alternative “People’s Budget,” which promises “a raise for America” by investing up front in infrastructure, wage growth, social insurance, and full employment.

It won’t pass in this Congress, but supporters hope that it will get about 100 votes in the House and show voters the stark difference between conservative and progressive priorities.

The budget includes some ambitious proposals. It invests in education and family economic security with universal pre-kindergarten, debt-free four-year college education, minimum wage increases, more funding for affordable housing and food stamps, a direct public works hiring program, and initiatives for paid family leave and child care.

The People’s Budget proposals aren’t radical.

There’s a more comprehensive family leave insurance proposal in Congress right now, for instance. Many of the proposals have already been suggested by President Obama or more mainstream congressional Democrats, who have also released their own alternative budget that closely tracks with the president’s. For the first time, that budget also includes a financial transaction tax on the wealthy, also a feature in the CPC budget.

The CPC’s People’s Budget invests $820 billion in infrastructure upgrades, more than Obama or congressional Democrats—but the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1 trillion is needed just to make required upgrades, and $3.6 trillion by 2020 to make more robust improvements.

The CPC budget wouldn’t raise tax rates for the wealthy to sky-high levels. It would only return those taxes to Clinton-era rates for higher income households. The CPC’s budget gains other new revenue by ending corporate tax loopholes and establishing more progressive estate and capital income taxes.

Many of its ideas are more popular with voters than with the current Congress, which won’t even pass a modest minimum wage increase favored by 80 percent of Americans.

Polls show that 66 percent of Americans think the wealthy pay too little in taxes, 70 percent oppose the cuts to food stamps that Republicans favor, and large majorities favor paid leave, equal pay, and affordable child care, and say the government has a responsibility to ensure employers treat employees fairly by providing those policies.

The GOP budgets don’t include any new funding for job creation, wage increases, or family-friendly policies like paid leave and affordable child care. The budgets would cut the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, cut Pell grants for low-income college students, and repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it the health-care coverage of 16 million Americans, all while either lowering corporate tax rates or not changing them at all.

The People’s Budget doesn’t “balance” like the austerity-minded Republican budgets do, but it reduces deficits nonetheless. And many economists say that’s just fine, especially because the economy is fundamentally unbalanced right now when it comes to inequality.

“Why would we need a balanced budget?” Thomas Hungerford, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told RH Reality Check. “The thing is, you want to have a budget with deficits that are sustainable.”

The CPC budget achieves that, he said, while also cutting poverty, boosting GDP, and working to reduce income inequality.

“This argues that there is a need for higher spending levels for public investments, for the general welfare, that this rich country can afford,” Hungerford said.

Progressive lawmakers are also attempting to shift the discussion from budget deficits, which are abstract to many Americans, to something more real: the “deficits” in the nation’s education, infrastructure, wages, and social safety net.

The obsession with “balanced budgets,” Sanders said, is like the old saying, “The operation was a success, but the patient died.” Prioritizing balanced budgets instead of accepting a reasonable level of debt and sustainable budget deficits, he said, causes millions to suffer and leads to higher wealth inequality.

“In the Congress, we operate in a frame of scarcity, as if there’s just not enough money,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said on the call with bloggers. “And I think it’s really important to note that the United States of America has never been richer.”

It’s just that the distribution of that wealth is skewed toward the top, Schakowsky said.

The most important question for any budget, Schakowsky said, is: “Does it lessen income inequality, or worsen it?”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Congressional Progressives: Economy Should Serve Americans, Not the Other Way Around appeared first on RH Reality Check.

American women deserve SO much better than Ted Cruz.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 20:30
American women deserve SO much better than Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz Just Laid Out The Most Anti-Woman Agenda Yet
On nearly every issue the Texas senator named in his presidential announcement speech, women are less likely to be on his side.

What do birds have to do with abortion?!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 19:00
What do birds have to do with abortion?!

Lawmaker Brings Up Abortion in Conversation With 4th Graders
What was supposed to be a simple civics lesson quickly soured.

The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill makes it so ALL Oregon women and their fam...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 17:30
The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill makes it so ALL Oregon women and their families will be covered for reproductive health needs. If you believe women should be able to decide what’s best for them and their health, join NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon to lobby for The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill!

3/25 BRAVE and United: Lobby Day — Western States Center
Be BOLD, Be BRAVE Lobby Day: empowering all Oregonians with the freedom to access reproductive health care through the stories of Oregon's residents.

Did you hear the great news out of Wisconsin this weekend? Read the full story:...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 17:00
Did you hear the great news out of Wisconsin this weekend? Read the full story:

Arkansas GOP Makes Obtaining Abortions for Teen Rape Survivors More Burdensome

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 16:33

Lawmakers in the Arkansas house passed a bill Friday that would further restrict a minor’s ability to receive safe abortion care by tightening the state’s mandatory parental consent law.

HB 1424, sponsored by Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), would change the state’s parental notification policy to require more proof that parental consent is given by the minor’s parent or guardian.

The bill would also remove the exception for minors who become pregnant through rape or incest. The bill retains an exception for a medical emergency, but includes the additional requirement that a parent or guardian be notified at least 24 hours after the abortion.

The bill also modifies the judicial bypass process, by which a minor can seek an abortion without parental consent. Under current law, a minor seeking an abortion can seek a judicial bypass ruling from any judge in the state, but HB 1424 would require ruling to come from a judge in the county where the minor lives.

The bill passed the GOP-dominated house by a vote of 68-6, with all six votes against coming from Democrats.

The bill’s sponsor has received significant criticism for re-homing his adopted daughters to a man who allegedly raped the oldest of the two. The same man who allegedly raped Harris’ adoptive daughter worked at a preschool owned by Harris.

Harris owns the Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool, which has received more than $4 million in state funds since 2010. The school has been criticized for using taxpayer money for religious indoctrination.

Ashley Wright, an Arkansas lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the new draconian parental consent requirements can place a minor who may be in a violent or unsafe living situation at greater risk.

“We’re concerned about it because it makes that process much more onerous,” Wright said. “A judicial bypass is only sought when a minor feels they’re in a dangerous situation. Currently those minors can seek that bypass in any circuit court. With this bill, the minor would have to seek a bypass within her own county. This poses a great risk for that information getting back to the minor’s parents, which is exactly what she is trying to prevent in a dangerous situation.”

Jerry Cox, executive director of the Arkansas-based Family Council, told the Democrat-Gazette that the anti-choice bill simply upgrades the current law.

“Right now there is really no way to know… if a 40-year-old man goes into an abortion clinic with a girl and he says, ‘This is my daughter. She needs an abortion.’ There’s no way to really verify if he’s the parent or not,” Cox said. “Under this legislation, they would have to show verification.”

The bill was introduced Monday in the senate, where Republicans enjoy a 23-11 majority, and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor, where it awaits further action.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Arkansas GOP Makes Obtaining Abortions for Teen Rape Survivors More Burdensome appeared first on RH Reality Check.

After picking out a baby name and decorating a nursery, the last thing you expec...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 15:00
After picking out a baby name and decorating a nursery, the last thing you expect to do is have an abortion.

Women Who Experience ‘A Socially Unacceptable Kind Of Grief’ Find Community Online
What do you do when you feel like your experience is totally outside the entire conversation about reproductive rights?

Arkansas Republican Wants Low-Income Women to Have Fewer Children

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 13:14

An Arkansas lawmaker has introduced a bill that would create a “contraception incentive” for low-income women in the state’s Medicaid program, intending to offer a “breather to think about their life decisions that are affecting us as taxpayers.”

HB 1868, sponsored by Rep. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), would create a one-time contraception incentive from the Arkansas Department of Human Services for unmarried women who has one child and who is receiving Medicaid benefits.

To qualify, women would need to consent to have a surgically implanted contraceptive device or other similar reversible birth control device with a period of effectiveness lasting at least five years, or receive a reimbursement after providing documentation of having a long-term birth control device implanted.

The incentive offered is for the state to cover the costs of the contraceptive device.

“Often young people make decisions and they get a sense that they don’t want to make that decision again for a while. We need to give them a little bit of a breather to think about their life decisions that are affecting us as taxpayers,” Hammer told Arkansas News.

The bill comes in the wake of controversial comments made by another Republican lawmaker. Former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce was forced to resigned over remarks he made that women on public assistance should be required to use contraception.

“You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get [female recipients] Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations,” Pearce said, according to the Phoenix New Times. “Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.”

The bill is reminiscent of the so-called family cap laws that were passed after welfare reform during the Clinton administration. These laws restricted the amount of government assistance low-income families could receive if they had more children.

Reproductive justice advocates in recent years have successfully lobbied for the repeal of many of these laws.

Hammer, since being elected to the state house in 2010, has compiled a staunchly anti-choice voting record. Hammer voted for the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, and voted to override the veto of former Gov. Mike Beebe (D) after the GOP-controlled legislature passed a ban on abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Hammer also voted for the state’s ban on health plans offered through the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act from including coverage for “elective abortion” except through purchase of an optional rider, which the policyholder must pay for with an additional premium.

Hammer sits on the state’s Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, where HB 1868 has been referred to for further action.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Arkansas Republican Wants Low-Income Women to Have Fewer Children appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Maybe you've already heard the news: Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he’s running f...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 13:00
Maybe you've already heard the news: Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he’s running for president today.

This is the same Ted Cruz who’s so radically anti-choice that he obsesses about ways to deny abortion access to women. And, this is the same Ted Cruz that has even called birth control, “abortifacients.”
Add your name and tell Ted Cruz that women matter and to trust women!

Tell Ted Cruz: Women Matter. Trust Women.
Maybe you’ve already heard the news: Sen. Ted Cruz announced that he’s running for president today, at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Introducing RH Reality Check Board Member Shanelle Matthews

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 12:04

We are proud to announce the appointment of Shanelle Matthews to the RH Reality Check board of directors. She brings a wealth of expertise and energy to the organization, and we cannot wait to see her in action. We wanted to introduce Matthews to our readers so you can learn more about RH Reality Check leadership.

RH Reality Check: Let’s start with the basics. Tell us about what you do and your affiliations.

Shanelle Matthews: I’m a communications strategist. That is a fancy way of saying I help people distill complex issues and ideas and make them palatable for the people they are trying to reach. My philosophy is that my passion drives my desire to communicate about my work but it is not what makes my work successful. That takes strategy. And if you’re doing it right the same is probably true for your work.

I went to the Manship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University, where I studied journalism.

I do a lot of things, perhaps too many; here are a few:

I am the vice chair of the board of directors for the National Network of Abortion Funds. We work in collaboration with our nearly 100 member grassroots abortion funds in 38 states and five countries to make sure that all women and girls can get the abortions they seek.

I am a co-founder and member of Black Women Birthing Justice. We are a collective of African-American, African, Caribbean, and multiracial women who are committed to transforming birthing experiences for Black women.

I am the Bay Area chapter lead for Women, Action and the Media (WAM!). We’re dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media.

And I am a member of Echoing Ida, a program of Forward Together that supports the leadership and amplifies the voices of Black women, developing generations of thought leaders and skilled communicators for the social justice movement.

RHRC: Why are you excited to serve on our board?

SM: When I was a senior in college I was fired from the school newspaper. I was warned once, possibly more, by the editor-in-chief that my activism, on and off campus, had to take a backseat to my writing—that journalists were to report the news, not make it. For me, being a journalist and an activist weren’t mutually exclusive. My commitment to the issues I wrote about was rooted in my experiences. One informed the other and separating the two was fundamentally impossible.

RHRC is the manifestation of what I wanted for myself, and activists like me, when I was in college. It is a place where people who are committed to information sharing, accountability, innovation, and racial, economic, reproductive, and gender justice can go and have earnest dialogue. There are outlets, editors, and journalists who have convinced themselves, under the pretext of journalistic ethics and privilege, that there is only one kind (their kind) of journalism. They believe that journalists look a certain way, behave with haughty decorum, and never color outside the lines. Fuck them. They’re impeding progress in the most egregious way and I’m incredulous of their ability to ethically and effectively communicate with integrity. That is why I joined the board of RH Reality Check. RHRC is, with integrity and ethical soundness, turning journalism on its head. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of its leadership.

RHRC: What are your thoughts on the reproductive health and rights movement?

SM: The future success of the reproductive rights movement lies squarely in the hands of those who can effectively frame and communicate about it. We’re in desperate need of a well-funded overhaul of our communications strategies. That notwithstanding, there are organizations like RHRC that are turning the page on our movement work—who are ditching the ego-driven prototypical style of work for a more collaborative, forward-thinking model. It’s refreshing to see and experience.

RHRC: What else is there to know about you?

SM: I love authentic ramen. A lot. I once made it from scratch and documented it here. I am a twin. She’s my better half for sure. I love cheese. And bourbon.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Image: Shanelle Matthews

The post Introducing RH Reality Check Board Member Shanelle Matthews appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Federal Court Permanently Blocks Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Requirement

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 10:34

A federal judge on Friday permanently struck down Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers, ruling the law was motivated by the improper purpose of restricting access to abortion throughout the state.

District Court Judge William Conley rejected every one of the reasons offered by the Wisconsin attorney general’s office in defense of the 2013 law that requires doctors providing abortions in Wisconsin have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or face felony charges.

Presidential hopeful and Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 37 into law July 5, 2013, mandating providers to have privileges in place by July 8.

The “sudden adoption” of the permitting requirements, without giving providers enough time for compliance, “compels a finding that its purpose was to impose a substantial obstacle on women’s right to abortions in Wisconsin,” Conley wrote.

“While the court agrees with the State that sometimes it is necessary to reduce access to ensure safety, this is decidedly not one of those instances,” said Conley. “In particular, the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating through credible evidence a link between the admitting privileges requirement and a legitimate health interest.”

Conley ruled the state’s medical evidence offered in defense of the admitting privileges requirement unsound and held “the only reasonable conclusion is that the legislation was motivated by an improper purpose, namely to restrict the availability of abortion services in Wisconsin.”

The law, Conley wrote, is “a solution in search of a problem, unless that problem is access to abortion itself.”

Judge Conley also noted that should the requirement be allowed to take effect, poor patients would bear the biggest burden as many would be forced to travel to Chicago to have an abortion.

“While a trip from Milwaukee to Chicago may not pose an issue for women of means (even relatively modest means) women seeking abortions nationally, particularly in Wisconsin are poor, very poor,” he wrote, noting that 62 percent of abortion patients in Wisconsin fall below the federal poverty line.

“Politicians, not doctors, crafted this law for the sole purpose of shutting down women’s health care centers and preventing women from getting safe, legal abortions,” Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement following the decision. “The justifications states offer for these laws, which are opposed by major medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are a sham.”

The admitting privileges requirement has been on hold since July, when a lower court temporarily blocked it. Conley’s 90-page ruling followed a trial this summer on the merits of advocates’ claims that admitting privilege requirements are unconstitutional.

“Once again, the courts have ruled that politicians have no place in a woman’s personal medical decisions,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We all want to protect women’s health and safety—and these laws don’t do that, which is why medical experts oppose them. Let this ruling be a lesson to lawmakers across the country that a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion should not depend on where she lives.”

Attorneys for the state are reportedly planning to appeal Conley’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit has once already rejected Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement, ruling in December 2013 to uphold the temporary injunction blocking the requirement from taking effect.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Federal Court Permanently Blocks Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Requirement appeared first on RH Reality Check.

A crisis pregnancy center’s idea of good advice: “In order to not get pregnant,...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 10:05
A crisis pregnancy center’s idea of good advice: “In order to not get pregnant, it would be best to stop whoring around.”

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Lie to, Scare and Shame Women, New Study Confirms
Imagine going to a health clinic and having an ultrasound under the insistence of staff only to be told that your IUD was actually your baby.

Illinois Bill Would Subject Abortion Clinics to Medically Unnecessary Restrictions

RH Reality Check - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 09:35

Illinois lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would increase inspections of abortion clinics and subject them to new architectural rules that could threaten to close many of the state’s clinics.

HB 3274, introduced by six Republicans and one Democrat, is a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) bill; it would create what abortion access advocates say are unnecessary restrictions designed to close clinics and create stigma around abortion.

Facilities that perform at least 50 surgical abortions in one year, or just more than four per month, would be defined as “pregnancy termination specialty centers” under the law and would be required to be licensed to by the state.

Such centers would be required to abide by strict architectural standards set up by the bill, including related to the size of exam rooms, the number of recovery beds, the size of hallways and corridors, and the availability of toilets, among other requirements.

“The point of the bill is not to shut down any clinics,” Emily Zender, executive director of the anti-choice group Illinois Right to Life Committee, told the Chicago Sun Times.

Yet similar laws have shut down clinics in other states. Most famously, the number of abortion clinics in Texas dropped to just eight last September, after a provision in the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law went into effect requiring clinics follow ambulatory surgical center regulations. (There are currently 16 abortion providers in Texas, as the law makes its way through the courts.) And the only abortion clinic in the northern part of Alabama decided to give up its license after failing to comply with harsh TRAP laws passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.

“These laws were designed with one purpose in mind: to shut down women’s health centers and prevent patients from accessing safe and legal abortion along with the comprehensive preventive health-care services that women’s health-care centers provide,” Katherine Greenier, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said about a Virginia TRAP law similar to the one proposed in Illinois.

That law is being re-written by state health officials.

HB 3274 would also subject Illinois abortion clinics to a minimum of one state-run inspection per year. Clinics are currently inspected every three to four years.

Proponents of the bill say it will make conditions safer for women, while opponents contend that the inspections are unnecessary and restrictive.

As the ACLU of Illinois has pointed out, the bill would create a double standard by subjecting abortion clinics to “regulations not applied to other health care providers.”

The state legislature is considering a number of other anti-choice bills this session, including an ultrasound bill and a proposal to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

Democrats hold a 71-50 advantage in the Illinois house and a 40-20 advantage in the senate.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Illinois Bill Would Subject Abortion Clinics to Medically Unnecessary Restrictions appeared first on RH Reality Check.

North Carolina Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Coercive Ultrasound Law

Center for Reproductive Rights - Sun, 03/22/2015 - 23:00
North Carolina Asks Supreme Court to Review State’s Coercive Ultrasound Law Unanimous decision from federal appeals court found law violates First Amendment, interferes in doctor-patient relationship

03.23.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) North Carolina has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a state law that would force women to undergo a narrated ultrasound before receiving an abortion—a measure that has been blocked by both a district court and federal appeals court as unconstitutional.

Today’s filing follows the unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in December 2014 affirming that the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians by forcing them to deliver politically motivated communications to a patient even over the patient’s objection, declaring that "transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes."

The law was preliminarily blocked in October 2011 following a lawsuit filed on behalf of several North Carolina physicians and medical practices by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the firm of O’Melveny & Myers.  The measure was later permanently struck down as unconstitutional by a federal district court in January 2014.

“The only purpose for this intrusive and unconstitutional law is to shame and demean women who have made the very personal, private decision to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the First Amendment and ensure doctors are never forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians.”

 “As the court has recognized, a doctor shouldn’t be forced to humiliate a patient just because some politicians disagree with her decision,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “It’s just mean-spirited for a politician to make a woman who has already decided to have an abortion feel bad because he doesn’t like her decision.”

“We all want a woman to have the information and support she needs to make the personal medical decisions that are best for her health and well being—and this cruel law does just the opposite. Politicians are not medical experts, yet politicians have written this law as part of a broader effort to end access to safe, legal abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We are hopeful that the Court will reaffirm that it is unconstitutional for government to interfere in personal medical decisions about abortion that should be left to a woman and her doctor.”

The North Carolina mandatory ultrasound law, passed in 2011 by the General Assembly over the veto of then-Governor Bev Perdue, is one of the most extreme ultrasound laws in the country.  In November 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a similar law from Oklahoma, allowing the ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocking the measure as unconstitutional to stand.

While the law would allow the woman to “avert her eyes” from the ultrasound screen and to “refuse to hear” the explanation of the images, the provider would still be required to place the images in front of her and describe them in detail over her objection. The North Carolina law applies even if a woman does not want to see the ultrasound, and makes no exception for rape, incest, serious health risks or severe fetal anomalies.

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like North Carolina from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care p1roviders that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.​

File Upload:  Walker-McGill v Stuart Petition for Certiorari Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Coercive North Carolina Ultrasound Law Federal Court Blocks Demeaning North Carolina Ultrasound Law Federal Court Permanently Strikes Down Coercive North Carolina Ultrasound Law as Unconstitutional Supreme Court Declines to Review Oklahoma "Choose Life" License Plates Case

U.S. House of Representatives Attempting to Attach Abortion Restrictions to Medicare Bill

Center for Reproductive Rights - Sun, 03/22/2015 - 23:00
U.S. House of Representatives Attempting to Attach Abortion Restrictions to Medicare Bill Center for Reproductive Rights calls on House leadership to reject this clear “political game”

03.23.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Ignoring the current gridlock in the U.S. Senate over abortion coverage restrictions slipped into an anti-human trafficking bill, the House of Representatives is prepared to follow suit by adding similarly harmful language in a bill designed to change how Medicare reimburses physicians. 

The bill, known as the “SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2015” or commonly the “doc fix” bill, would also extend funding for community health centers.

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

“This is nothing more than a political game for anti-choice politicians to find every nook and cranny they can to sneak in harmful restrictions on abortion care.

“Important policy decisions to expand health care services for Americans should not be held hostage to a relentless agenda to deprive women of essential reproductive health care services. It’s time our leaders in Congress put an end to these political games.”

Senate Blocks Federal Bill That Would Have Denied Survivors of Human Trafficking Safe and Legal Abortion


NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sun, 03/22/2015 - 16:00

Four States That Are Actually Working To Protect Abortion Rights
As Congress fights over taxpayer funding for abortion, some local lawmakers are quietly working to change the conversation.

The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill makes it so ALL Oregon women and their fam...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Sun, 03/22/2015 - 15:00
The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill makes it so ALL Oregon women and their families will be covered for reproductive health needs. If you believe women should be able to decide what’s best for them and their health, join NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon to lobby for The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill!

3/25 BRAVE and United: Lobby Day — Western States Center
Be BOLD, Be BRAVE Lobby Day: empowering all Oregonians with the freedom to access reproductive health care through the stories of Oregon's residents.


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