07.15.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hear testimony today regarding the Women’s Health Protection Act— a historic piece of legislation that would enforce and protect a woman’s right and access to safe, legal abortion care no matter where she lives.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—who introduced the legislation last November with Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge in the House—will chair today’s hearing. Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, will testify in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Today, women’s access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual laws that do nothing to protect women’s health and safety. They are designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through brute force—the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive health care to the women of this country.
“And now millions of women’s constitutional rights are hanging by a thread—and entirely dependent on where they happen to live.
“The Women’s Health Protection Act will ensure that the fundamental right to safe, legal abortion services is unhampered by regulations passed by politicians designed to choke off women’s access to reproductive health care under the guise these laws protect their safety and well-being. This bill will fulfill the promise of our Constitution, guaranteeing that all women are able to make private, personal decisions about their health care without intrusion from politicians who presume to know better.
“Congress has the unique opportunity to truly act on behalf of women’s health and safety, and to push aside downright dishonest claims that fail to hold water against decades of medical and scientific facts. Today I stand before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act and to call on our elected leaders to put an end to the games politicians have been playing with women’s health care.”
The Women’s Health Protection Act ensures women's access to essential reproductive health care services, including abortion. Designed as a response to the unrelenting assaults on women's reproductive health care in recent years, the bill would prohibit states from: imposing restrictions on abortion providers that apply to no similar medical care; interfering with women's personal decision making; or blocking access to safe and legal abortion services. It is a crucial step toward defending access to safe, legal, essential health care and the constitutional rights of every woman in the U.S.
According to a recent report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, politicians in nearly forty states have attempted to restrict women's access to their constitutionally protected right to abortion since the start of 2014—introducing more than 250 pieces of anti-choice legislation. Women in many states already face extremely limited options when needing to access the full range of reproductive health care services. For example, some states—including North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi—have but a single remaining clinic offering abortion care to women, who often must travel hundreds of mile to reach it.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has been on the frontlines of defending women’s access to reproductive health care for over twenty years. The Center is currently challenging harmful and unconstitutional restrictions on women’s access to essential reproductive health care across the country, including admitting privileges requirements in Texas and Mississippi which threaten to severely restrict—if not completely eliminate—safe, legal, and high-quality abortion services.
The Women’s Health Protection Act currently boasts 35 sponsors in the Senate and 125 in the House. The Center for Reproductive Rights will live stream today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at http://www.drawtheline.org/File Upload: Testimony of Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women Women's Access to Constitutionally Protected Health Care Still Under Siege in 2014 Fifth Circuit Considers Mississippi Law Designed to Shutter Last Clinic in the State Texas Continues to Fight Back: Center for Reproductive Rights To File Second Lawsuit Against HB2’s Devastating Abortion Restrictions
A pregnant Central Texas woman who was jailed last week in Guadalupe County has been released to begin electronic monitoring at home, where she can continue receiving the medical treatment she needs to continue a healthy pregnancy.
According to a representative with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), which last week launched a public campaign to help 30-year-old Navy veteran Jessica De Samito get the methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) necessary to keep her from going into withdrawal and seeing her pregnancy possibly end in stillbirth, outside pressure helped De Samito convince a parole board to let her return home and to her regular treatment program.
Kylee Sunderlin, NAPW’s Soros Justice Fellow, told RH Reality Check that a “confluence” of factors contributed to De Samito’s release: De Samito’s own forethought in enlisting help from NAPW before she knew she would be returned to jail, public pressure from private citizens, and legal work and support from NAPW.
De Samito, who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder and an anxiety disorder, is six months pregnant. In May 2011, she was charged with possession of a controlled substance and was jailed, and in February she was released on parole. She then became pregnant and started attempting to self-medicate to treat her opioid addiction with methadone and heroin in hopes of preventing withdrawal while looking for an official MMT program. MMT is the doctor-recommended treatment for pregnant people who have opioid addiction.
De Samito was able to enroll in an official methadone treatment program in mid-June, but that was after she had already failed a drug test following her self-medication attempts.
In advance of her parole violation hearing last week, De Samito contacted the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, correctly anticipating that she would be unable to continue her MMT in jail without official approval, which could take weeks. According to an official court statement that Sunderlin gave in support of De Samito, Guadalupe County Jail officials told Sunderlin that they require detoxification for all inmates, a process that would put De Samito’s pregnancy at risk of ending in stillbirth.
NAPW filed requests on De Samito’s behalf, asking jailers to continue MMT—the jail does not have an MMT treatment program in-house—and began their public campaign, using the hashtag #JusticeForJessica and inviting citizens to telephone the jail to demand that De Samito get her medication. Last Friday, NAPW confirmed that De Samito had begun receiving MMT while in detention, but hoped for a home monitoring release so that De Samito could return to her regular MMT program.
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A Kansas man will stand trial on first-degree murder charges after he allegedly laced his pregnant girlfriend’s pancakes with an abortion pill that caused her to miscarry.
Bollig reportedly confessed to crushing up the abortion-inducing medication mifepristone and mixing it into pancakes he served to Naomi Abbott, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time. According to reports, Bollig told investigators he purchased five pills online but used only one to induce Abbott’s miscarriage. Prosecutors charged Bollig with aggravated assault for lacing Abbot’s food and with first-degree murder in the death of the eight- to ten-week fetus Abbott was carrying.
In a preliminary hearing on the charges against Bolling, WaKeeney, Kansas, police chief Terry Eberle testified that an investigation into the miscarriage began almost immediately because an officer had informed him that Abbott, a jailer in Trego Couty, had expressed concerns to another officer that Bollig might be putting something into his girlfriend’s food to end the pregnancy. Dr. Lyle Noordhoek, a pathologist who performed an autopsy on the fetus and analyzed a blood sample from Abbott, testified that Abbott tested positive for mifepristone.
Bollig’s attorney questioned the admissibility of Bollig’s statements, including why no audio or video recordings were made of the interview that concluded in his alleged confession and his arrest, and claimed his client’s statements were made before he was properly advised of his rights. Trego County District Judge Glenn Braun will schedule a hearing at a later date to hear arguments by Bollig’s attorney that those statements should be suppressed.
Bollig is expected to enter a plea to the charges on September 9.
While unusual, Bollig’s case in not the only one of its kind. Earlier this year, a Florida man who admitted to tricking his pregnant girlfriend into taking abortion-inducting medication was sentenced to more than 13 years in a federal prison and ordered to pay his former girlfriend approximately $28,000 in restitution, on charges of tampering with a consumer product resulting in bodily injury and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In response, the Florida legislature passed the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which makes it a crime in the state to kill or injure a fetus at any stage of development during an attack on a pregnant woman. Such laws are part of a broader push for fetal “personhood” in a number of states around the country.
Image: White pills via Shutterstock
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The latest evidence that many U.S. colleges are badly bungling their responsibility to effectively investigate and address sexual assault on campus came Sunday in the form of a lengthy New York Times report on a 2013 incident at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.
In that incident, a student named Anna (she gave the Times permission to use her first name) who was two weeks into her first semester on campus, reported she was sexually assaulted twice in one night by members of the college football team. Despite witness testimony and physical evidence, however, the college took just ten days to exonerate all three of the accused. Worse, the process by which it did so was slapdash, biased, and riddled with error.
The Times investigation of Hobart and William Smith comes at a time when the failure of U.S. higher education to address campus rape is coming under high scrutiny. In January of this year, President Obama created a Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, and in April that task force released its first report, along with resources aimed at strengthening colleges’ sexual assault policies.
The standards for sexual assault investigation promulgated by the task force so far are preliminary and partial, but even these initial materials make clear that Hobart and William Smith’s policies were deficient in the most basic ways.
The task force’s Checklist for Campus Sexual Misconduct Policies, for instance, says such policies should be organized in a “clear, logical” way, and offers no-contact orders as an example of the “immediate steps” colleges should use to “protect complainants.” At Hobart and William Smith, however, the disciplinary panel overseeing Anna’s complaint apparently misread its own policies when advising her on appeals procedure and took five months to rule on her complaint that one of her attackers had violated its no-contact order.
Even more disturbing than these lapses, however, are the ways in which Hobart and William Smith’s defective procedures are in compliance with current federal regulations. In this regard, three concerns stand out: denial of counsel, inadequacy of training, and interference with ongoing investigations.
The federal government regulates campus sexual assault adjudications in a variety of ways. Campuses are required, for instance, to inform students of their right to make a complaint to law enforcement, and to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in resolving all complaints that are addressed on campus. No federal law or regulation, however, gives students the right to have a lawyer, counselor, or other adviser present during their appearances before such judicial bodies.
At Hobart and William Smith, both Anna and the men in the case were permitted to bring an “adviser” with them when they testified before the committee, but in accordance with college rules those “advisers” were forbidden to speak at any time. As a result, Anna had no one present to assist her when members of the committee misrepresented witness statements to her detriment, asked her inappropriate questions about her behavior on the night in question, or invited her to speculate about events that transpired while she was blacked out due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Federal law requires that members of campus judicial boards such as Anna’s be trained in adjudicating sexual assault complaints, and Hobart and William Smith says the members of its panel receive “significant, multi-day trainings conducted by national experts.” Transcripts of Anna’s hearing obtained by the Times, however, reveal an astonishing lack of competence. In addition to the lapses discussed above, members of the panel interrupted Anna and each other at crucial, sensitive points in her testimony; on two separate occasions, members of the panel interrupted her description of the sexual assault itself to initiate questioning about unrelated, subsidiary issues.
The panel members’ incompetence was not restricted to the tone or content of their questioning. They held the hearing before Anna’s rape kit had been processed, and only one of the panel’s three members reviewed the medical report completed on the night of the incident—a report that indicated that Anna had been the victim of sexual assault. They failed to confront the alleged assailants about fundamental contradictions in their statements to college officials. They pressed Anna to explain her initial reluctance to submit to a rape kit, apparently unaware of the physical and emotional trauma involved in such an examination. One even asked whether a witness who had seen her being sexually violated might have mistaken close dancing for sex—until Anna reminded the questioner that the witness had described seeing the assailant’s pants around his ankles.
That the members of the panel were not expert in addressing sexual assault complaints is not surprising. Such panels at Hobart and William Smith are staffed by volunteer faculty and staff members, and Anna’s complaint was heard by a human resources administrator, a junior faculty member from the psychology department, and the director of the campus bookstore.
A third egregious lapse in procedure at the school concerned the football team. All three of Anna’s alleged assailants were members of the team, and two days after the initial incident the coach of the team brought the three together for a locker room meeting with himself, two team captains, and a teammate who claimed to have witnessed one of the assaults. Two days after that meeting, one of the accused recanted his initial statement to the college, bringing it more in line with the evidence that had been gathered.
Shockingly, none of this—the refusal of counsel or assistance to complainant and accused, the lax training and shoddy questioning by the panel, the coach’s apparent interference with an ongoing investigation—violates federal law or regulation as currently written. But that may be about to change.
In its April task force report, the Obama administration offered a roadmap of its future plans. This September, the Department of Justice will be launching a new training program for campus officials tasked with investigating and adjudicating sexual assault complaints, and in October the department will begin a review of standards for such investigations. It is likely that these processes, and others underway within the administration, will lead to new legislation and regulation in the future.
The content of such laws and regulations will be absolutely essential to protecting the rights of students who are victimized by sexual assault on campus, as well as those who are accused of such crimes. But mere compliance with law and regulation should never be seen as disposing of a college’s obligations to its students.
There is, of course, intense debate on when, how, and whether responsibility for addressing campus sexual assault should be taken out of the hands of the college and given to police and prosecutors. Whatever one’s position on that question, however, the college will always have a vital role to play in the process. When an incident is brought to the police there will always be a delay—often a lengthy one—in resolving the case, and during that time there will be decisions to be made about what restrictions should be placed on an alleged perpetrator. After a conviction, if a jail sentence is not imposed, the college will have to decide what disciplinary action to take, and after an acquittal the college will have to determine how to proceed.
Colleges will always be involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault complaints, as they must. And while the federal government—and the states, and university governance bodies—can and should do more to set and enforce high standards for such processes, the ultimate obligation for meeting them rests with the campus, and with the individual faculty, staff, and students tasked with the responsibility of putting them into action.
Image: Injustice via Shutterstock
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund has sent a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles in West Virginia on behalf of two transgender women who say they were discriminated against by the DMV and want the department to stop humiliating trans people.
The women allege that they were harassed in two separate incidents and turned away while trying to update their driver’s licenses to reflect their gender identity. Both women, Kristen Skinner, 45, and Trudy Kitzmiller, 52, went to the DMV as part of their gender transition after having had their names already changed through the court system.
According to the letter:
[Skinner] was called “it” by DMV staff who ordered her to take off her wig, makeup and jewelry before they would allow her to be photographed for her new license. … She has been forced to retain her old driver’s license that does not reflect her legal name or appearance.
According to the letter, Kitzmiller received almost identical treatment. After being told that “men cannot be photographed for a driver’s license photo wearing makeup,” Kitzmiller eventually capitulated to the DMV and took her license picture without wearing makeup. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund points out that the license photo she now has portrays “an altered appearance that does not reflect how she looks on a daily basis.”
“This is who I am—a transgender woman—and I have overcome many obstacles to become my true self,” Kitzmiller said in a statement. Skinner echoed that thought, saying, “It has taken me a long time to become the woman that I am today, and it has not been easy. The DMV treated me horribly.” Both women are asking the DMV to let them take their photos so they appear as they do every day.
The letter is dated June 30, the same day President Obama announced an executive order to protect transgender federal employees from discrimination.
Transgender people face “a wide variety of discriminatory barriers” in every aspect of life, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result, trans people “face difficulties meeting their basic needs (getting a job, housing, or health care) or in having their gender identity respected (like in the simple act of going to a public restroom).”
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It’s actually kind of sad how exciting this news is: The BBC, under fire from an external investigation from the independent BBC Trust, has been told its coverage of science issues should put more of a priority on scientific accuracy over “impartiality.” The BBC has been criticized for trying to give “both sides” of the climate change debate equal coverage, when one of those sides—the one arguing against climate change theory—is composed of a bunch of junk scientists making stuff up, while the other side has the force of scientific consensus behind it. It’s the equivalent of having a “debate” about whether or not gravity exists with a scientist explaining Einstein and Newton on one side and the other side headed by someone who claims to be a wizard who’s figured out how to fly.
While the decision of the BBC Trust to push for factual accuracy over giving every random person a shot at airtime was spurred by the problem of climate change denialism, the way scientific issues are covered more generally was called into question. Referencing a series of workshops that BBC senior staff members began attending after the review began in 2010, the BBC Trust reported, “The key point the workshops tried to impart is that impartiality in science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views, which may result in a ‘false balance.’”
The report led some American journalists to wonder what, if anything, U.S. media might do to institute similar practices , since our news media is arguably a much more egregious offender when it comes to treating someone who is speaking fact as equivalent of someone spouting fantasy.
It’s hard not to wonder how different the debate over reproductive rights in this country would look if pundits were restrained from, or just felt duty-bound, to accept scientific fact—or facts in general! (If I hear one more right-wing pundit claim that the Hobby Lobby case is about “the government” buying women “free” contraception, I will scream. It’s about women using their own earned benefits to buy contraception, no government funding involved.) Likewise, what if every news story covering the issue made a point of correcting scientific misinformation spouted by anti-choicers? It wouldn’t do anything to change anti-choice minds, but it could go a long way toward clearing up some confusing issues and allowing the actual values debate to be understood for what it is.
Here are some simple fixes to media coverage of reproductive rights that would do wonders for improving audience understanding of the issue:
1. In stories about regulations on abortion clinics, remind audiences that abortion is very safe and that abortion clinics are already subject to the same regulations as other clinics providing similar services. Because of anti-choice misinformation, many viewers/readers may be unaware that legislative efforts to pass a bunch of regulations on abortion clinics have nothing to do with improving safety. What would go miles in clarifying what’s really at stake here? A statement like this: “Abortion clinics are currently regulated under the same rules as all other clinics, which medical experts believe is appropriate since abortion is an extremely safe outpatient procedure.”
2. Be clear on the difference between a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus. Even stalwart pro-choicers sometimes make this mistake, so I’m not pointing fingers. But invoking the word “fetus” when referring to abortion implies that most abortions happen later in pregnancy than they do. Most abortions terminate an embryo, not a fetus.
3. Birth control is not abortion. I’ve seen, in mainstream media, some improvement when it comes to reporters using the word “belief” to describe the claim that the pill or intrauterine device (IUD) is an “abortifacient.” This is a good first step. But for audience clarity, reporters need to be clear that this “belief” is 100 percent not true. “Hobby Lobby’s owners wrongly believe that emergency contraception is an abortifacient; in fact, emergency contraception works by preventing pregnancy through suppressed ovulation,” is a helpful sentence that will help audiences gain clarity.
4. Non-procreative sex is normal behavior in the United States. In every story about the battle over contraception access, it is important to put the battle into context. Here are two facts that should be in most—and ideally all—stories reporting on anti-contraception activism: 99 percent of Americans have sex in their adult lives, and 99 percent of women who have heterosexual intercourse have used contraception.
Here are some more stats, if you really want your audience to understand what, exactly, anti-contraception forces are attacking: The chance of pregnancy in a given year if you don’t use contraception is 85 percent. Married women use more contraception than single women, with 77 percent of married women using contraception and only 42 percent of never-married women using contraception.
People who paint contraception use as a weird, esoteric hobby instead of mainstream health care to address a normal part of everyday life are on the wrong side of science.
5. Abortion is also very common. Audiences should never be allowed to assume abortion is rare or something that only “some kinds” of women seek out. Three in ten women will have an abortion in her lifetime. One in five pregnancies end in abortion. A little over one in 60 women of reproductive age has an abortion every year. That abortion is a normal part of health care is a fact, not something up for debate. While not every story about abortion needs these stats in it, they should still be used regularly to prevent any confusion about what, exactly, is being debated here.
None of these scientific facts should be construed in any way as a slight against the value of impartiality. (After all, many anti-choicers know most of this and somehow haven’t changed their minds.) Indeed, part of the problem with the “debate” as it stands is there is so much conflict over facts that the actual philosophical arguments aren’t being heard. While it’s understandable that anti-choicers might chafe when put in a position where they have to trot out their real objections to widespread contraception use instead of spouting blatant lies about “abortifacients,” true impartiality requires not allowing one side to put their thumb on the scale by lying. More importantly, as the media is supposed to be there to help ordinary citizens understand the issues and how they affect them, having a clear picture of what is at stake in these debates over reproductive health care is critical.
Image: Lies via Shutterstock
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Late last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced plans to sue President Obama over delays in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
According to reports, the lawsuit will challenge the president’s decision to delay imposing penalties on employers with 50 or more workers who do not offer health insurance to their employees. According to Boehner, the decision to delay until 2016 the employer mandate was a change in the Affordable Care Act that required congressional approval. But by delaying the implementation of that portion of the law by executive order, the lawsuit alleges, the president “unilaterally” changed the law. That delay, Boehner claims, was an abuse of executive power. “The current president believes he has the power to make his own laws—at times even boasting about it,” Boehner said in a statement announcing plans of the lawsuit. “He has said that if Congress won’t make the laws he wants, he’ll go ahead and make them himself, and in the case of the employer mandate in his health care law, that’s exactly what he did.”
“The Constitution states that the president must faithfully execute the laws and spells out that only the Legislative Branch has the power to legislate,” Boehner’s statement continued. “If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the legislative branch, and the Constitution, and that is exactly what we will do.”
House Democrats have brushed off the lawsuit as political theater. “This lawsuit is just another distraction from House Republicans desperate to distract the American people from their own spectacular obstruction and dysfunction,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement.
The Constitution does not directly authorize the kind of lawsuit contemplated by Boehner; instead, one must be approved via the legislative process. House Committee on Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) released a draft resolution last week that authorizes the House to move forward with the lawsuit. As reported by Politico, the committee has scheduled a hearing on the resolution for Wednesday, which will feature Republican-selected witnesses to testify on the merits of the proposed lawsuit. The committee will then hold a mark-up of the actual resolution, with a vote on the resolution by the end of July. Assuming the resolution passes the House, Boeher will be authorized to then file the lawsuit in federal court, which means arguments on the merits of the lawsuit will take place in the fall ahead of midterm elections, when Republicans hope to hold on to control of the Republican-dominated House and take control of the Senate.
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