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Reproductive Rights News

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas isn’t done fighting to protect and expand reproductive ri...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 18:00
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas isn’t done fighting to protect and expand reproductive rights in Texas.

The Election Was Just the Beginning: The Future of Women’s Rights in Texas
Although Wendy and Leticia didn't win, the work leading up to the election has created a foundation for future support of progressive candidates and opportunities for collaboration between organizations

This can - and needs to - be fixed.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 17:30
This can - and needs to - be fixed.

Why Are Native American Women Still Being Denied Access to Plan B?
Last fall, Indian Health Services, the federal agency charged with administering healthcare on tribal lands, announced that it would finally make Plan B available over the counter.

Ohio state law requires that the director of the Ohio Department of Health to ha...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 16:30
Ohio state law requires that the director of the Ohio Department of Health to have a degree in medicine or experience in public health. Rick Hodges has neither.
Cc: Naral Pro-Choice Ohio

Kasich’s Pick For Ohio Health Department Defends Lack Of Medical Degree
Rick Hodges testified before Ohio lawmakers on his qualifications today.

Backlash Continues Against Right-Wing Legislation Mill ALEC

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 16:18

There’s been a sea change in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing lobbying group that has crafted wide-ranging legislation proposed and enacted by conservative legislatures across the country.

AOL on Monday became the latest tech giant to leave the group’s membership, a coalition of legislators and corporations that craft template legislation proposed in state houses as a way for lawmakers to work around federal laws and policies. AOL had been among the country’s corporate leaders in pushing for open Internet laws, as ALEC in recent years has fought against those policies.

AOL officials had served on ALEC’s communications and technology task force and its tax and fiscal policy task force.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt announced in September that the company was severing ties with ALEC, accusing the right-wing coalition of “lying” about climate change.

AOL’s departure from ALEC comes as the nation prepares for an onslaught of conservative legislation sure to come in the wake of GOP gains across much of the country. AOL cut ties with ALEC thanks in large part to an online organizing group, known as Common Cause, collecting more than 21,000 signatures imploring the company to distance itself from ALEC, which has become known for its secrecy.

“The facts of climate change are not in question anymore,” Schmidt of Google told National Public Radio. “Everyone understands climate change is occurring, and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people—they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

Since Google’s move, a handful of corporations have left ALEC, including Yahoo!, Yelp, and Occidental Petroleum, the fourth-largest oil and natural gas company in the United States.

But climate change isn’t the only issue on which ALEC has drawn widespread criticism. The group is behind some of the most conservative legislation in the country, including Wisconsin’s union-busting legislation, Florida’s “stand your ground” law and many states’ voter ID laws, designed to suppress turnout among reliably Democratic constituencies.

ALEC, despite its claims to the contrary, isn’t agnostic when it comes to abortion. Though it hasn’t explicitly taken a stance on the issue, ALEC has worked closely with Americans United for Life (AUL), a group that is essentially a smaller, anti-choice version of ALEC.

AUL in August 2010 participated in ALEC’s 37th annual meeting, offering anti-choice bills as a method to diminish the success of the Affordable Care Act. Many state lawmakers have introduced and passed the model legislation crafted at that meeting, particularly laws banning or restricting abortion coverage in insurance plans.

This isn’t the first time ALEC has faced backlash over its legislation. ALEC’s “stand your ground” law played a major role in the discourse around the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. In the wake of his killer’s trial, several companies, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and the Gates Foundation, dropped their affiliations with the group.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Backlash Continues Against Right-Wing Legislation Mill ALEC appeared first on RH Reality Check.

The battle is on to make sure Cincinnati doesn’t become the largest urban area w...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 16:00
The battle is on to make sure Cincinnati doesn’t become the largest urban area without an abortion clinic. Like Naral Pro-Choice Ohio to find out what you can do to help!

The Legal Fight to Save Cincinnati's Last Clinic
Cincinnati is a metropolitan area of more than two million residents, and if state Republicans get their way, it will become the nation’s largest urban area without a single abortion clinic.

Important news!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 15:00
Important news!

Lawsuit Challenges Votes for Tennessee's Anti-Choice Amendment 1
A federal lawsuit claims election officials improperly counted ballots of those who voted in favor of Amendment 1 but abstained from casting a vote in the gubernatorial election.

Amazon suddenly stopped selling the more affordable emergency contraception Afte...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 14:00
Amazon suddenly stopped selling the more affordable emergency contraception AfterPill and now only offers the more expensive Plan B One-Step. Tell Amazon to make sure there’s an affordable option for emergency contraception on their website!

Bring Back AfterPill to
If you believe that should make AfterPill available again as a more affordable option, please take a moment to e-sign this petition that we’ll be submitting to the site.

Obama Plans Deportation Protection for Five Million as Many in GOP Call for Government Shutdown

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 13:28

President Obama will announce an executive order as early as next week that will protect up to five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation and allow them to obtain work permits, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Administration officials told the Times that the order will allow many parents of children who are citizens or legal residents to live free of the fear of being deported and separated from their families.

That provision could affect up to 3.3 million people, or 2.5 million if limited to those who have lived in the country for at least a decade.

The order could also extend to about a million parents of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

The order marks a shift in the priorities of Department of Homeland Security officials and the Border Patrol. Agencies will be directed to place a low priority on unauthorized immigrants with strong family ties and no serious criminal history, and instead focus on convicted criminals, national security risks, and recent border crossers.

Obama had been starkly criticized by immigrant rights groups for waiting to take action until after the November elections, but he now appears poised to follow through on his latest promise to take action before the end of the year.

It will be a move that enrages Republicans, some of whom have sent signals in recent days that they may be willing to shut down the government over the president’s immigration plan.

The push for this course of action is growing. Fifty Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee asking them to include a rider in the upcoming spending bill that preemptively blocks funds for any executive action on immigration.

The coming weeks will determine whether the GOP-dominated House passes an omnibus spending bill—which will fund the government through October and include new funding for rape kit testing and equal abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers—or a continuing resolution (CR), which maintains current funding levels and could last either three months or the full year.

Passing a shorter-term CR could allow Republicans to wage a budget war over immigration or the Affordable Care Act early next year, once they take over the Senate.

The appropriations committee, however, isn’t sending signals that it will heed more radical calls to fight over the budget in this way.

“We’re moving forward full-steam ahead to develop an Omnibus by December 11th and making progress,” Matthew Dennis, spokesperson for the committee’s Democrats, told RH Reality Check.

Committee chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) told reporters Thursday that he thought Republican calls to use the budget to fight over immigration were empty threats.

“Well, we’re not going to shut down the government,” Rogers said. “So there’s no use talking about using that as a threat. We’ve been down that road before.”

Image: Everett Collection /

The post Obama Plans Deportation Protection for Five Million as Many in GOP Call for Government Shutdown appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Asylum-Seeking Women and Children Are Treated Like Dangerous Criminals When They Arrive

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 13:15

A private prison company could be making hundreds of dollars each day keeping 7-year-old Nayely Beltran under lock and key.

Instead, on one warm October morning, Nayely is zooming around a home in East Austin, Texas, showing off her new braids and handing out hugs to anyone who’ll take one. She’s finding a lot of takers at Posada Esperanza, a nonprofit shelter for immigrant moms and kids—currently about 20 people—who are seeking asylum in the United States.

“She’s learning more positive patterns,” Nayely’s mom, Sara Beltran, told RH Reality Check. Beltran speaks only Spanish for now, though she’s learning English at Posada Esperanza. A staffer helps translate her story to RH Reality Check.

Beltran says that seeing her daughter happy and healthy is why the two of them spent weeks taking buses, trains, and, eventually, a floating rubber tube across the Rio Grande to the United States. They did it all in the hopes of escaping from their dangerous and troubled home in El Salvador, where they faced both domestic abuse and drug cartel violence.

But Beltran’s arrival in late July coincided with a new federal push to incarcerate immigrants escaping violence in Central and Latin America. When Beltran sought asylum from officials after reaching McAllen, Texas, she and her her daughter were placed in a cold, sparse holding cell—”like jail,” she said—with no beds, for five days. Then, authorities transferred them to a central Texas prison-turned-detention facility, the Karnes County Residential Center, where they were held with more than 500 other immigrants for two months without the opportunity to seek bond.

The treatment Sara and Nayely received at the hands of government officials is reportedly far from uncommon. According to a new report from an Austin-based immigrant justice group Grassroots Leadership and the research organization Justice Strategies, thousands of asylum-seekers will soon be detained in American facilities run by profit-driven private prison companies—at the instruction of the Obama administration.

A Move Toward Incarceration

Beltran’s lawyer, Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, who works for a private immigration law firm, says that from the moment Beltran arrived on American soil, she did everything right in seeking legal asylum. She’d presented herself to authorities and made a solid case for her reasons to flee, explaining the extreme perils she and her daughter faced back in El Salvador. And yet, immigration officials treated Sara and Nayely like dangerous criminals for months. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership has said that it expressly intends this kind of behavior to act as a deterrent to people fleeing into the United States.

The latest push toward immigrant and family detention began in the summer of 2014, as people from Central America—many of them unaccompanied minors—crossed the Rio Grande into South Texas, seeking refuge from increasing violence in their home countries. Texas politicians took the opportunity to be seen on patrol with border agents and called for increased militarization along the United States-Mexico border; humanitarian and religious groups worked to house and feed minors and families in their own communities.

According to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 36,000 people—about 30 percent of all unauthorized immigrants—sought asylum in the 2013 fiscal year by requesting “credible fear” interviews in the United States. The majority of those asylum-seekers came from the “triangle” of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala; U.S. authorities found those immigrants’ claims of danger to be legitimate in 85, 86, and 75 percent of cases, respectively. Those numbers have only increased since then: From October 2013 to July 2014, more than 52,000 unauthorized Central American children were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

Lincoln-Goldfinch told RH Reality Check that immigrants who do not make asylum claims—usually caught within two weeks of their arrival—are placed in “expedited removal,” with little access to legal representation. If unauthorized immigrants want to stay in the United States, asylum is their best option.

Asylum-seekers need to show that they fall into one of five protected categories in order to stay; for decades, immigrants fleeing domestic violence have argued, often with little success, that their abuse qualified as persecution. In August of this year, a landmark ruling from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) finally confirmed that domestic abuse survivors can be eligible for asylum, a move that could give thousands of women like Sara Beltran firmer legal footing in their own cases. Many women, like Beltran, fear both domestic violence and cartel threats.

“Almost everyone in those triangle countries are fleeing cartel violence,” explained Lincoln-Goldfinch. “They’re all afraid of gangs. Even the domestic violence cases I’ve seen also have a gang violence component.” When it comes to abuse cases, Lincoln-Goldfinch said, “Now we have a real firm court decision that backs us up.”

However, thanks to stricter government policies, women and children could now face weeks or months in detention before getting the opportunity to make their asylum cases. From 2009—when the Obama administration stopped holding families at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Central Texas—until this summer, the general protocol for most immigrants seeking asylum was to give them court dates, then release them into the wider community.

This strategy was largely effective: Data shows that 74 percent of immigrants who aren’t detained do appear for legal hearings. When they are given access to legal representation—something often difficult to find in crowded detention facilities—those numbers rise even higher. Even now that the government is moving toward incarceration, single immigrant men without criminal records are still often allowed to walk free.

Immigrant women and children, however, are a different story. They’ll likely be detained in a privately run facility, sometimes for up to six months, while they go through the asylum process and attempt to obtain legal representation through pro-bono lawyers like Lincoln-Goldfinch or, if they have enough money, private attorneys.

The ostensible reasoning for the shift back to detention? Immigrants who come to the United States with their children are part of what DHS calls “active migration networks,” which some officials believe can act as a smoke screen for drug cartels.

Grassroots Leadership’s Cristina Parker, however, called that “network” terminology just “government speak” for “families.”

“It’s all cloaked in ‘national security,'” said Parker, but “these are vulnerable women and children.”

And the women and children detained in these facilities have little to do with themselves during the waking hours they spend behind locked doors. Sara Beltran said she was “depressed” during her two-month stay in Karnes, and that her daughter would cry “all the time,” and hide under the covers in her bed.

“[Immigration officials] see detention as a deterrent, and they mean for it to be punitive,” said Parker. “They want people to know that if you come here, you’ll be locked up.”

Lincoln-Goldfinch, who is one of about three dozen lawyers who are working pro bono for the 532 immigrants currently detained in Karnes, pointed out that the incarceration model won’t stop people from running for their lives; it’ll just make things harder for them once they arrive. “They’re fleeing murder,” Lincoln-Goldfinch argued. “That’s not going to stop them from coming here.”

It didn’t stop Beltran from traveling thousands of miles with Nayely, after all, even though the 7-year-old had a growing brain tumor—a condition for which she wasn’t able to get treatment when officials placed both of them in Karnes. After Lincoln-Goldfinch and Grassroots Leadership contacted local media and implored their supporter base to make repeated calls to ICE, the Beltrans were released to Posada Esperanza in late September; Nayely was able to have surgery to slow the growth of her tumor.

Lincoln-Goldfinch credits public outrage over Nayely’s incarceration as the main reason for Nayely and her mom’s release. Nayely’s medical condition alone wasn’t enough for officials to take action, she maintains: She reports that law enforcement had access to Nayely’s MRI scans from El Salvador before she even got the Beltrans’ case. “Nothing was done,” she said, until more people got wind of the story and put pressure on ICE.

“It wasn’t until the media campaign started, and the phone campaign started, that the deportation officer called me,” she said. “Literally after it went public.”

But Nayely and Sara were lucky, in a sense—often, people are left in detention for months, with little outside support and for no crime beyond trying to save themselves and their children.

And the number of those people is likely to increase. At the beginning of the year, Parker estimates that fewer than 100 people were in family detention; by the end of 2014, advocacy groups forecast that number will have skyrocketed to around 4,000. ICE will fill beds—they must keep 34,000 full at any given time—and the private companies tasked with operating these centers will see their profits swell.

“At every level, their bosses are shareholders,” said Parker about the corporations. “The only thing they really have to do at the end of the day is be profitable.”

Putting a Price on Detention

The two most powerful prison operators, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) both have a sordid, documented history of abusing the people in their care. Immigrants—mostly men—detained in GEO facilities in Texas and Washington went on hunger strikes earlier this year to protest prison conditions.

The last time the federal government detained families seeking asylum at anything close to present numbers, it was at the CCA-run T. Don Hutto Residential Center outside of Austin, a facility that stayed open for family detention until September 2009. The ACLU reports that CCA received $2.8 million a month from ICE to detain immigrant families there.

The facility, which opened in 2006, echoed norms established at other privately run detention facilities. Sexual violence, refusal of medical care, and limited access to legal representation had reportedly become the status quo, prompting numerous lawsuits and investigations from human rights groups. According to these organizations, Hutto had hundreds of families packed in cells with open toilets, forced to eat and bathe in 15- and 30-minute blocks; children were given little access to toys or education. An ACLU counsel told Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies that she had spoken to children there who had not been outside in four weeks.

The ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration Clinic filed suit against Hutto and settled with DHS in 2007. As part of the settlement, Hutto operators pledged to improve conditions, removing requirements that immigrant children wear prison uniforms, and increasing the amount of time immigrants could spend outside and the kinds of toys children could keep. They also promised to serve more nutritional food. Guards were “instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.”

External groups continued to monitor conditions at Hutto, and human rights organizations organized daily protests and opposition events during Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office in 2009. Even after the last family was released in September of last year, officials have still used the facility to house women detainees.

Despite the litigation and controversy, the government has continued to contract with major corporations to run their facilities. It is unclear just how much private prison companies stand to make, in total, off of immigrant detention, though just two family detention facilities—one in New Mexico, and another in Pennsylvania—are currently operated by the federal government. The Grassroots Leadership report credits GEO Group CEO George Zoley with telling shareholders on an August 2014 “earnings call” that his company projected annual revenues of around $26 million after taking on the family detention contract at Karnes—up from the $15 million it received when the institution only housed men.

And soon, CCA will open a 2,400-bed facility in Dilley, Texas, remodeling an area used for a state prison and a “man camp” intended to house oil and gas workers into a detainment center for women and children escaping violence south of the border.

Grassroots Leadership has called the Dilley facility “the largest family detention project in the U.S. since Japanese internment.”

This doesn’t bode well for those seeking asylum. In these privately run facilities, said Parker, “We see sexual abuse as such a recurring thing, and abuse and violence seem to happen all the time.” Indeed, just weeks after Karnes began to detain families, allegations of assault began to crop up.

This mistreatment and abuse is a consequence, Parker suggested, of management companies “cutting services, cutting corners when they need to,” and paying lower wages to guards than those earned by peers in government-run facilities.

In addition to the safety and well-being of those in detention, Lincoln-Goldfinch said she worries, too, about “the precedent we’re setting, and also the history we’re writing” by returning to a detention model.

“We’re doing something shameful that’s going to haunt us for years in our memories,” she says. “That our response as a nation is to detain people, the children who come here, seeking help, is really shameful.”

Beltran told RH Reality Check that she brought Nayely to the United States so that her daughter could “learn that violence is not okay.” But living in a prison—albeit one with a few cartoon characters painted on the walls in common areas, an attempt to liven up a facility previously used to house detained men—only caused her to act out in frustration.

Now that they’re both living at Posada Esperanza, Beltran says that they’re drawing strength from the other immigrant women that surround them and learning skills to help them build what they hope will be a new life here in the United States.

Beltran enjoys working with her hands. In addition to wanting to find work as a hairdresser, she said, she wants to help “other people like me” who’ve come to the United States seeking asylum. Her eyes welled up with tears when she thought about being deported—something that she still fears, even though her lawyer has told her she has a good case.

“I don’t want to go back,” she said. “No puedo.”

Image: (Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch)

The post Asylum-Seeking Women and Children Are Treated Like Dangerous Criminals When They Arrive appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Congratulations Senator Jon Tester on your new role as DSCC chair! So glad to ha...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:51
Congratulations Senator Jon Tester on your new role as DSCC chair! So glad to have a pro-choice pick who understands the needs of working families!

"Republicans don't have a branding problem with women, they have policy problem...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:16
"Republicans don't have a branding problem with women, they have policy problem with women.” Spot on, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Gillibrand: Democrats Did Not Talk Too Much About 'Women's Issues'
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) insisted Wednesday that Democrats didn't run too hard on so-called "women's issues" during the midterms, on the same day that a new poll was released backing up her point. Gillibrand said t...

The FDA’s Hesitation to Approve ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ Drugs Isn’t About Sexism

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:13

The cultural impact and multibillion-dollar profitability of male-targeted impotence drugs has prompted a rapidly accelerating race to create a similar drug treatment for women. Despite more than a decade of research and millions of dollars spent on development, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve a single drug treatment for cis women dealing with sexual problems. In response, the pharmaceutical industry launched a campaign in January of this year to persuade the agency to approve such medications in the name of equality—which overlooks the fact that most of the drugs being considered simply don’t work.

This campaign, called Even the Score, hinges on the fact that drugs to treat so-called female sexual dysfunction (FSD)—an umbrella term for a number of disorders, such as hypoactive sexual disorder, female sexual arousal disorder, orgasm disorder, and sexual pain disorder—are disproportionately unavailable when compared to those for erectile dysfunction. Therefore, the campaign’s supporters claim, the FDA is holding drugs meant to treat women’s sexual problems to a higher standard—which, they say, is preventing women from making informed choices about their sexual health. And their tactics are working: Even the Score’s backers don’t just include Sprout Pharmaceuticals, Trimel Pharmaceuticals, and Palatin Technologies, all of which have worked to develop medications for FSD. Its website also lists several prominent women’s rights and reproductive justice groups as supporters, and it has enlisted many legislators in the fight too.

No amount of slick marketing, however, can get around the fact that the drugs currently being proposed for FSD just don’t work. There are many reasons why the proposed drugs may not have been effective in increasing women’s sexual enjoyment; chief among them are the heterogeneity of female sexuality and, of course, research demonstrating that sexual problems are mostly shaped by interpersonal, psychological, and social factors. Nevertheless, pharmaceutical executives will continue to drum up hype over the possibility of a “pink Viagra,” because the potential market is estimated to be over $2 billion a year.

As this push continues, it’s vital to consider how much of the discussion around female sexuality is fact—and how much is fiction.

Myth: 43 percent of women suffer from female sexual dysfunction.

Fact: Even the Score and others urging the FDA to weaken its standards claim that there is an enormous unmet need for medical treatments for FSD. The claim that 43 percent of women suffer from a sexual dysfunction was first made in 1999 in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This “43 percent” figure emerged from an analysis of responses by 1,749 women and 1,410 men to a set of questions about their sex lives. Women who reported lack of sexual desire, difficulty in becoming aroused, inability to achieve orgasm, or anxiety about sexual performance within the last two months were labelled as having a sexual dysfunction. The researchers also noted that women were more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction if they were single, had less education, had physical or mental health problems, had undergone recent social or economic setbacks, or were dissatisfied with their relationship with a sexual partner—all reasons why someone might be less inclined to become aroused that have little to do with physiology. In the years since the report’s publication, scientists have revisited the validity of this study and rightly challenged its problematic conclusions.

Myth: There is a norm of female sexual function.

Fact: The implied parallel between female sexual dysfunction and male impotence is inaccurate and problematic. The word “dysfunction”—medical jargon for anything that doesn’t work the way it should—suggests that there is an acknowledged norm for female sexual function. That norm has never been established. Although male sexuality is more complex than sheer physical arousal, erections are quantifiable events that scientists can measure in objective terms. By contrast, cis women’s sexual response is, by and large, qualitative, and difficult to subject to clinical trials. Furthermore, as we all already know, sexual desire differs over time and between people for a range of reasons largely related to relationships, life situations, past experiences, and individual and social expectations—and “normality” can vary widely from person to person. Without downplaying the significance of any woman’s pain or distress, there can be real danger in defining difference as “dysfunction.”

Myth: Female sexual dysfunction is a defined disease category.

Fact: Without an empirical standard by which we can assess female sexual function, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come up with an effective treatment criteria for FSD—which, again, is an umbrella term for many different disorders. But that hasn’t stopped drug manufacturers from trying. In fact, every time a drug sponsor claims to have a new solution for women’s sexual concerns, the supposed reasons for the dysfunction changes. Over the past 15 years, drugs affecting vaginal blood flow were tested on women who were deemed to be suffering from FSD due to “insufficient vaginal engorgement.” Then, corporations and the media hailed testosterone patches as a magic bullet because FSD allegedly resulted from hormone deficiencies. Most recently, re-purposed antidepressants have gained scientific currency, as women are being told that their low libido is due to a chemical problem in their brains. 

Myth: Drug developers are searching for a solution for women’s sexual concerns.

Fact: The pharmaceutical industry is driven by profit. As such, if a solution is not found at the bottom of a pill bottle, its front-runners are simply not interested. If product development-driven research were happening in a balanced context, with proportionate attention being paid to all the causes of women’s sexual concerns, the focus on only biomedical causes and solutions might not be so damaging. The focus on pharmaceutical rather than emotional solutions has serious limitations, including the fact that they are simply unlikely to be effective. And the way the industry has shaped the FSD discussion threatens to make women’s sexual experience a “performance” issue, much like it has with men’s.

Myth: There are 26 drugs approved for men, and none approved for women.

Fact: On its website, Even the Score continues to inaccurately claim that there are 26 drugs approved for men, and zero for women. This claim perpetuates a miscalculation. It counts each brand-name drug and many of its identical counterparts as unique treatment options, which artificially inflates the number of drugs available for men. In fact, there are six different FDA-approved drugs available for male sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction. Nevertheless, the inflammatory claim of gender bias has garnered press and political attention. 

Myth: The standard for FDA review of male impotence drugs should be the same for FSD drugs.

Fact: Even the Score’s gender equity argument ignores the real safety difference between FSD drugs that are currently being tested and the drugs approved for men: a different indication for use, specifically the dosage and administration. All but one of the drugs approved for men are taken on an as-needed basis, whereas the most recent drug being tested for women is very similar to an antidepressant. Sponsored by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, flibanserin is a central nervous system serotonergic agent with effects on adrenaline and dopamine in the brain; it requires daily, long-term administration. This raises toxicological concerns that make it appropriate for the FDA to subject that type of drug to an elevated safety scrutiny. Substantial adverse events reports and dropout rates in the latest flibanserin trial also need to be taken seriously. Women have answers to the age-old question, “What do women want?” Just ask us: We want and demand products that are rigorously evaluated, safe, effective, and meet our real needs.

Even the Score’s attempts to make this a conversation about gender equality are misleading and dangerous; although the FDA should be held accountable for gender equality, it should not compromise the safety of women’s health by approving a drug that is not effective and not safe. The FDA should continue to balance a serious and respectful incorporation of patient input while maintaining a rigorous, science-based review standard for drugs and devices they approve.

Image: Shutterstock

The post The FDA’s Hesitation to Approve ‘Female Sexual Dysfunction’ Drugs Isn’t About Sexism appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Anti-Choice ‘Science': The Big Tobacco of Our Time

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:57

To view the full False Witnesses gallery, click here.

First Big Tobacco, then climate change denial, and now, the anti-choice movement.

The issues might have changed, but the techniques now widely used by conservatives to distort science and, with it, public policy, remain the same.

They create nonprofits, staffed with die-hard ideologues, and set about producing and promoting bogus science, to build the illusion of dissent or doubt over conclusions drawn by peer-reviewed scientific or medical research. They develop their own “research findings” to suit their ideological views. Then they deploy scare tactics, all with the goal of passing laws that suit their agenda.

In this case, the agenda is to promote the theory that abortion harms women’s health—physically and mentally. It’s a strategy anti-choice activists have been working on for decades, but in recent years, sympathetic state attorneys general have been increasingly relying on a cadre of so-called experts who will defend and promote anti-choice laws.

RH Reality Check has detailed the various organizations and individuals involved in what might best be called the “False Witness” industry. We reviewed scores of public records from state attorneys general and health departments, interviews of officials and legitimate researchers, and a close examination of both the tax filings and the scholarly works of these organizations and individuals.

Our investigation reveals the close connections between many of the ostensibly independent “research” groups that feature prominently in the anti-choice movement. Several groups, such as the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the Reproductive Research Audit, and the World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education, share many of the same officers and experts.

Our work details how the scientific and medical claims of these groups and individuals have been publicly discredited in episodes ranging from lying to the public, presenting false data in scientific journals, and being forced to retract articles that proved to be works of fiction presented as fact. Other doctors and professors catalogued in this gallery carry impressive credentials, appear to be apt in their fields, and are technically qualified to testify on reproductive-health issues. However, fueled by their religious or political beliefs (or both), many of these professionals have testified in support of unproven or discredited theories.

Our research shows also shows that, despite the documented problems with these “experts,” states have paid members of this group nearly $658,000 dollars since 2010 for testimony in both legislative and court hearings—paving the way for laws, policies, and legal opinions that are buttressed by “facts” that are “truthy” at best, or explicitly false at worst. That number is likely the tip of the iceberg, since it is based only information from states that complied with our records requests.

The impact of these False Witnesses has been wide-reaching: According to Aziza Ahmed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law, who has studied the use of evidence in abortion litigation, courts are now accepting as fact what were once recognized as shoddy, “fringe” notions.

“The courts are acting politically and you’ll see that they’re doing a lot of work to legitimize what they call ‘conservative evidence,’” Ahmed said. She said this has put progressives in a “quagmire” of disputing unscientific claims—a debate that simply sows more doubt in the public’s mind. “The only way to deal with that is to acknowledge the politics of the courts and how the courts in today’s very anti-choice environment are making it possible for conservative ‘scientific’ arguments to have so much legitimacy.”

RH Reality Check’s research has identified 14 people who have played an outsized role in creating and spreading key falsehoods about abortion. We have found that they are affiliated with a small number of key groups that give these bogus notions an official gloss but which are little more than vehicles for manufacturing doubt.

WECARE, Founded by Discredited Researcher

WECARE was founded in June 2011 by Priscilla K. Coleman, a professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, to further the idea that abortion harms women. In addition to publishing questionable research and analysis, WECARE advertises ideologically driven scholars and professors to testify against abortion rights during legislative hearings or in the courts.

Coleman, who has a PhD in life-span developmental psychology from West Virginia University, has dedicated her career to establishing a causal relationship between abortion and mental illness. She is one of the small number of individuals whose incessant and unscientific claims have contributed to state laws that repeat that falsehood as a legislative “finding.”

In recent years, Coleman has testified in Alaska, Ohio, South Dakota, and even before the U.S. Congress, our research has found. Records obtained from these states show that she has earned a minimum of $10,875 for her work in North Dakota alone.

In February 2013 Alaska state Sen. John Coghill (R-Fairbanks), invited Coleman to testify in support of a bill he sponsored that would have eliminated the use of state Medicaid funding for abortions deemed medically necessary due to mental illness.

“I am of the opinion that abortion is never justified based on mental health grounds and abortion should not be paid for by the state of Alaska due to the presence of any form of mental illness in women,” said Coleman, as reported by the Anchorage Daily News; she was armed with citations from her large body of research, which she claimed documents “the association between abortion and declining mental health status.”

The problem with Coleman’s supporting research was that most of it was her own work, which had been thoroughly and embarrassingly debunked back in 2009.

The article in question appeared in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research and was co-authored by Catherine T. Coyle, Martha W. Shuping, and Vincent M. Rue (another member of our False Witnesses gallery.)

The study purported to analyze the relationship between induced abortions and a range of diagnosed mental health disorders using data from the National Comorbidity Survey for the years 1990 through 1992. Coleman’s team concluded that women who had reported having one or more abortions were likelier than those who had not reported having abortions to have been diagnosed with panic disorders and attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, mania, depression, and a dependence on alcohol and drugs.

Coleman’s study has been referenced by states’ attorneys to defend various state laws requiring doctors to tell women that abortion increases their risk to mental disorders. Among those is a 2005 South Dakota law that forced doctors to to tell women an abortion will put them at risk for depression or suicide—even though this alleged connection is at odds with the medical consensus on this issue. Coleman was also widely cited in a South Dakota legislative task force report that helped to inform that law.

Other researchers quickly pounced on major problems with Coleman’s article, and even Alan F. Schatzberg, a Stanford University psychiatry professor who edits the journal, along with Harvard Medical School professor Ronald C. Kessler, determined that Coleman’s analysis did not support her “assertions that abortion led to psychopathology in the NCS data.” Yet, for reasons it has declined to state, the journal did not retract Coleman’s article, a fact she repeats in defense of her otherwise eviscerated work.

Despite this public disgrace, Coleman is regularly called as an expert witness to testify about abortion-related policies, and has done so on the taxpayer’s dime. For a month’s work in the fall of 2013, for example, the state of North Dakota paid Coleman more than $10,000 for expert testimony for abortion litigation, according to records RH Reality Check obtained through a public records request. The state has been embroiled in litigation related to a series of anti-abortion bills since 2011.

And Coleman is not alone. Since founding WECARE in mid-2011, she has fortified relationships with other anti-choice researchers who have also been caught playing fast and loose with science, or outright lying, and yet who continue to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars to jet around the country, peddling their falsehoods in state houses and courtrooms.

Other WECARE affiliates include: Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, who has lied about the rates of abortion-related injuries in West Virginia; Dr. Elard S. Koch, whose attempts to disprove well-established links between lack of access to safe abortion care and higher rates of maternal death and illness have been challenged by a federal judge; Dr. Monique Chireau, an assistant professor of obstetrics-gynecology at Duke University, who promotes abstinence-only sex education; Dr. Martha Shuping, who has co-authored discredited research with Priscilla Coleman; and Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, who promotes the unfounded theory that abortion causes breast cancer.

Nearly all are members of the False Witnesses gallery and more information about them can be found in their individual profiles.

Two other groups that—like WECARE—supply lawmakers and reporters with medical professionals who hold minority views on abortion, are the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), an organization of approximately 2,500 obstetrician-gynecologists who oppose abortion rights (by contrast, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has approximately 57,000 members) and the Molecular Epidemiology in Life Sciences Accountability (MELISA) Institute in Concepción, Chile, which bills itself as a “private non-profit institution for advanced biomedical research.”

AAPLOG houses three False Witnesses: Executive Director Donna Harrison, who frequently claims that emergency contraception is abortion, and at-large board members Calhoun and Chireau.

Elard Koch founded and directs the MELISA Institute, which also houses three False Witnesses: Calhoun, Chireau, and Dr. John Thorp, a North Carolina-based obstetrician-gynecologist who serially testifies in court unfounded assumptions that problems from abortion are likely grossly under-reported. Thorp’s expert witness reports have also been influenced by anti-choice activist Vincent Rue.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute and Reproductive Research Audit

Whereas WECARE exists to lend credibility to the minority viewpoint that there is a significant, direct correlation between induced abortion and mental health disorders, the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Reproductive Research Audit exist to throw doubt on the majority viewpoint that abortion is a safe procedure that does not present physical and mental risks at a significantly higher rate than other procedures or life events.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute is the “education and research arm” of the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a Beltway nonprofit that focuses on electing anti-choice politicians to Congress. The SBA List has been around since the early 1990s, but the Charlotte Lozier Institute was only founded in 2011—in an attempt by the anti-choice movement to rival the widely respected Guttmacher Institute as a trusted source of abortion-related research. It boasts as members several of the same people who work with Priscilla Coleman.

Though it masquerades as a research institute, the Charlotte Lozier Institute has so far produced little in the way of original research and data-gathering and has instead published more commentaries and analyses of others’ research that support its agenda on abortion and end-of-life issues. The group has also called for more standardized and robust reporting of abortion statistics by state health departments—under the guise of better understanding the risks of abortion. Yet, all the while, its parent organization, the SBA List, works every day to criminalize abortion. The Charlotte Lozier Institute reported spending $11,411 in 2012 seeking out academic and policy experts to provide oral and written testimony in favor of policies that restrict access to legal abortion, and boasts several False Witnesses members as “associate scholars.”

These include Calhoun, as well as Jacqueline C. Harvey, “a scholar of public policy and bioethics” with a PhD in public administration and public policy, and Michael J. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michael-Dearborn, who has a PhD in political science and a master’s degree in statistics. According to their Twitter updates, New and Harvey appear to be involved romantically.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute files with the Internal Revenue Service as the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund. The Fund’s public tax filings show that it is far from a true research institute, but is instead a political organization aligned with the Republican Party and intended to argue against reproductive rights.

Charles A. Donovan serves as president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He’s worked in the Beltway for decades for a variety of national conservative and religious right organizations, including the National Right to Life Committee, the Family Research Council, and the Heritage Foundation. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Family Research Council and Heartbeat International, a crisis pregnancy center network based in Columbus, Ohio.

In 2012, the group reported spending approximately $688,000 on the “Free Speech Project” it launched in 2010, donating most of that money to the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the ActRight Legal Foundation in Plainfield, Indiana.

The James Madison Center is associated with James Bopp, Jr., who is involved with the infamous Citizens United case. Bopp was previously counsel for ActRight, an umbrella organization intended to help fund Republicans’ political campaigns, created by officers of the National Organization for Marriage, a national nonprofit that since 2007 has been campaigning against marriage rights for gay men and lesbians in the United States and abroad.

Charlotte Lozier also reported spending more than $46,000 collecting data on abortion and on collecting state and county-level data “to evaluate the effectiveness of marketing and other communications strategies to increase patient traffic to care centers,” referring to so-called crisis pregnancy centers designed to dissuade women from having abortions. The group reported spending approximately $44,000 on focus-group and polling research in 2012, exploring among other things “public attitudes toward the legal permissibility of abortions performed for the person [sic] of destroying an unborn child of a particular sex.”

Reproductive Research Audit (RRA) is a project of the Center for Morality in Public Life, a nonprofit based in Fairfax, Virginia, and founded in 2010, whose stated purpose is “to integrate good ethics with daily living.” Two of RRA’s regular contributors are Harvey and New, who are also affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

RRA’s stated mission is “to shine a light on the methodology of scientific studies on reproductive health issues, exposing their bias, flaws and propensity to ignore data that does not support a pre-determined political agenda. Too often, such articles, rife with error, are cited as legitimate research, and are used to further efforts in favor of increased access to abortion and contraception.”

As with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, RRA works to undermine research that supports abortion rights policies, particularly research produced by the Guttmacher Institute. But in some cases, RRA’s research critiques misrepresent the study or analysis in question. And in other cases, RRA contributors completely distort the research they are purporting to “audit.”

For example, we have documented an instance where RRA’s Harvey tried to debunk a Guttmacher study, which documented the lengthy distances women traveled to access abortion services in 2008. Harvey inadvertently distorted the study, because she had not actually read it, but rather made assumptions based on the abstract alone.

“I regret that I worked from an incomplete source when a complete source was available and for the subsequent errors that caused,” wrote Harvey in a Reproductive Research Audit article dated July 31, 2013, in which she attempted to correct errors she had made in a critique of a Guttmacher Institute study after admitting to not having read the Guttmacher study.

Yet Harvey, like her fellow False Witnesses, continues to publish work that has an impact not only on the public debate, but on the constitutional rights of millions of Americans who wish to exercise control over their own reproductive health and future.

Image: Shutterstock / RHRC

The post Anti-Choice ‘Science': The Big Tobacco of Our Time appeared first on RH Reality Check.

How Shoddy Evidence Finds Its Way From State Legislatures to the U.S. Supreme Court

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:56

If you were a South Dakota legislator looking for expert evidence on how abortion affects women, the obvious choice would be an electrical engineer based in Illinois.


It may sound absurd, but that is precisely who lawmakers cited in 2005, when they gathered testimony for a report by the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion.

The legislators relied on evidence from David C. Reardon, one of the people who in the early 1980s helped concoct a faux mental illness that he calls “post-abortion syndrome.” But, as detailed in RH Reality Check’s False Witnesses series, Reardon lacks any credentials as an authority on reproductive health care, and to call him such would be specious, to be polite.

Reardon has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and according to his public LinkedIn profile, he focuses on IT. Some of his patents have been used by a Texas-based firm called NovelPoint Security LLC, which claims that major tech companies have violated his patents, conduct also known as patent-trolling.

In addition to his electronics degree, Reardon used to claim that he had earned a Ph.D. in biomedical ethics from Pacific Western University-Hawaii, but that “school” was shuttered by the state in 2006 after an investigation concluded that it was a diploma mill. Reardon makes no mention of that credential on his current LinkedIn profile.

Yet, testify he did, along with Vincent M. Rue, Priscilla Coleman, and Joel Brind—all members of the False Witnesses group whose work has since been thoroughly discredited.

The South Dakota report concluded that abortion leads to serious mental illness, as well as risk of suicide and breast cancer—claims that have all been debunked by reputable professional research organizations. Those “findings” helped frame a 2005 South Dakota law that requires doctors to give women warnings about depression and suicidal ideation, despite the fact that medical evidence does not support any of those claims. This and other laws based on Reardon’s bogus notions have transformed South Dakota into a state where the constitutional right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term now hangs by a filament.

It’s a pattern that is all too familiar in state legislators around the United States, said Caitlin Borgmann, a law professor at the City University of New York who is an expert in the role of courts and legislatures in protecting constitutional rights.

“There’s a risk of this whenever you have a hot-button social issue because advocates know that social science matters,” Borgmann told RH Reality Check. “You’re always at risk that they’re going to try to find evidence that support their position, even if it’s not based on sound methods or from someone who has the right example to give that opinion.”

Once a legislature accepts these bogus facts, a larger problem can arise: Courts will frequently defer to the factual findings of state legislatures, which provides a gaping loophole for junk science to wend its way into judicial decisions all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Unfortunately it is true that the courts sometimes do look to the legislative record, and in fact they did that when they looked at the partial-birth abortion ban, in Gonzales v. Carhart,” Borgmann said. “The effect of that is that you can have decisions that affect people’s constitutional rights being made on very shoddy factual findings.”

Experts in One Area, Testifying in Another

Of the many uses for a law degree, Teresa Stanton Collett has developed a new one: She is frequently called upon to testify in favor of forced pregnancy laws, yet her evidence has trampled into the terrain normally left to sociologists, psychologists, and, well, people who understand data.

In 2012, Collett testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice and suggested that pregnant minors are often pressured into having an abortion by their older boyfriends. Collett cited figures from a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “suggesting that there is [sic] in fact differences in power and status between the sexual partners.”

Collett has also testified in Alaska, in two lawsuits challenging restrictions on minors’ ability to obtain abortions without the involvement of their parents. Since 2010, Collett has earned $176,000 from just two states—Alaska and Oklahoma—that hired her to support laws intended to strip away the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.

In her testimony in these cases, Collett assessed data from a wide range of sources, which she used to bolster claims that requiring minors to obtain parental consent in order to have an abortion affects the rates of teen pregnancy and teen abortions.

While there’s nothing wrong with lawyers citing statistics, Janet Crepps—senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood of Alaska, in these cases—told RH Reality Check that the problem was that Collett went beyond citing statistics, and used them to do her own analysis and draw her own conclusions.

“What she did was she went onto the website where there is publicly available information, like how many births there were to a certain age group, how many abortions there were, and she offered testimony that the parental involvement requirement in Texas had had a certain impact,” Crepps said. “Our objection was that she was not qualified to offer that kind of information, because she’s not a social scientist and she couldn’t take into account confounding variables, such as a reduction overall in the abortion rate throughout the country, whether there had been a change in sex education or access to birth control. And she was just offering raw numbers the way you or I could go to the website and say, ‘Oh, look, here’s how many abortions that were before the law, and here is how many that were after the law, so the law must be having X effect.’”

“We objected again because she’s not a social scientist, and the fact that she’s read a bunch of studies doesn’t in my opinion make her an expert,” Crepps concluded. “But the judge let that testimony in.”

When Ideological Bias Trumps Expertise

One member of the False Witnesses group who does have expertise in statistics is Michael J. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who holds a master’s in statistics and a Ph.D. in political science, both from Stanford University, according to his official online biography.

New has also testified before Congress in favor of anti-choice laws. In March 2012, for example, he testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), which would prohibit the act of transporting a minor across state lines in order to obtain an abortion. In his testimony, New told the committee, “I am confident the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act would lead to both fewer abortions and better public health outcomes for teen girls.”

New claimed that “the knowledge that their parents will be involved with an abortion decision provides teen girls with a strong disincentive to engage in unprotected sexual activity,” based on a 2003 Journal of Health Economics study, which he says found that parental involvement laws reduced the pregnancy rate of 15- to 17-year-olds by 4 to 9 percent.

However, New’s true intention is not simply to provide objective evidence of how laws will affect women and girls. As he has publicly admitted, his real goal is to effectively ban abortion.

In 2012, New spoke on a panel at the socially conservative Values Voter Summit, an annual conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Family Research Council. During his PowerPoint presentation, New explicitly stated that laws often cloaked in the pretense of protecting women are in fact intended to make abortion impossible to access.

“The best thing you can do when you get home is support a variety of state pro-life bills, and essentially, if your state has them, they can be strengthened,” New said. “Require the woman to see an ultrasound, or require two trips to the clinic. That raises the costs; that stops the abortion from happening.”

Borgmann, of the City University of New York, said that ideology is highly relevant, as it can affect an expert’s credibility. And while legislative hearings are not bound by the same rules as courts, it’s still important for lawmakers to ask tough questions to discover if ideology is trumping the objective view of experts appearing at legislative hearings.

“You can’t compare legislatures to courts or expect them to have the same procedures because they serve a very different function,” she said. “The most you could hope for is that legislators would recognize the flaws in the process and take things with a grain of salt, and take a look at the background of the people testifying.”

Judges Wise Up to Some False Witnesses

Courts, said Borgmann, are a different forum: They should view factual “findings” by legislatures with a heavy dose of skepticism, especially given that anti-choice activists have clearly realized that state legislatures provide a gaping loophole in the otherwise strict rules about what judges will allow as expert evidence.

In certain cases, judges are already calling out these experts for their failure to disclose the fact that they are anti-choice zealots, or that their research has been discredited.

In September and October 2014, judges lambasted both Texas and Alabama for hiring a collection of so-called experts to testify in favor of repressive abortion laws. The experts in question were John M. Thorp and James C. Anderson—both members of the False Witnesses group. Their testimony was orchestrated by a third False Witness, Vincent M. Rue.

According to Molly Redden’s report about the Alabama case in Mother Jones, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson obliterated Anderson’s claims about the risks of abortion:

“Either [Anderson] has extremely impaired judgment; he lied to the court as to his familiarity with Rue; or he is so biased against abortion that he would endorse any opinion that supports increased regulation on abortion providers. Any of these explanations severely undermines Anderson’s credibility as an expert witness.”

This type of scrutiny is not only welcome, but is in fact the way that courts are supposed to operate, said Borgmann. Recent studies have found that some appellate courts have broken their own rules about evidence, and have gone so far as to do their own online research—a step that opens the judicial process up to the influence of propaganda, especially in contentious areas such as reproductive rights.

A better approach, said Borgmann, would be for lower courts to cast a doubtful eye over any findings from state legislatures, and to aggressively test the qualifications and biases of any purported expert testimony.

“Courts should be very careful when they are looking at laws where the legislature has limited constitutional rights,” she said. “Testimony that happens in court has a much better chance of revealing problems like that someone doesn’t even have an education in the area they’re talking about, or that their theories are widely discredited. These things should come out in trial.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post How Shoddy Evidence Finds Its Way From State Legislatures to the U.S. Supreme Court appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Could This Mobile App Help Keep Police Accountable?

RH Reality Check - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:15

National attention has been given to the impunity with which law enforcement targets and treats communities of color following the killing of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer three months ago, and the protests that followed.

A new mobile app, launched last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, is designed to address those actions by police.

The app, called Mobile Justice, gives users a way to record police behavior and archive it in an ACLU database. A function called “Witness” allows people to alert other Mobile Justice app users when they’re stopped by the police, so that the person can travel to the location and film the interaction.

The video files, though they can be recorded anonymously, will be sent automatically to the ACLU—a function meant to prevent police officers from deleting the material after they realize they’re being recorded.

“Today the combination of an excess of deadly force and near-total lack of accountability is more dangerous than ever,” Frank Serpico, the center of the notorious New York Police Department corruption scandal of the late 1960s, wrote in a Politico Magazine article this October. “Most cops today can pull out their weapons and fire without fear that anything will happen to them, even if they shoot someone wrongfully.”

A fourth function, Know Your Rights, gives people an overview of the rights protecting them when they’re stopped by police. The app is currently only available for download on Android phones, though the ACLU says an iPhone version will soon be available.

“Since Michael Brown was fatally shot in August, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of complaints from people who are routinely stopped, searched, humiliated and bullied into compliance by law enforcement officers,” explained Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, in a press release. “This app will empower Missourians who have traditionally felt powerless, regardless of whether they live in Ferguson, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, or in rural Missouri.”

Versions of the app were also rolled out by the ACLU affiliates in Oregon, Nebraska, and Mississippi.

ACLU officials say the organization would archive the video footage and use the footage only when necessary. “We would plan to share the videos in instances where civil liberties could be furthered, for example with lawmakers or news organizations, but we will respect the privacy of those who have taken the videos,” Sarah Armstrong, outreach coordinator of the ACLU-Oregon, told the Oregonian.

The Mobile Justice app is similar to the New York Civil Liberty Union’s Stop and Frisk Watch app, which was intended for bystanders of New York police’s controversial stop-and-frisk encounters. As of February 2013, 20,000 New Yorkers had downloaded the Android version alone.

The Mobile Justice app, in less than a week, has been downloaded 1,000 times, Mittman told CBS St. Louis.

The death of Michael Brown incited calls for increased police accountability. One idea, that all police should wear cameras on their bodies during their shifts, gained significant traction as a method both to deter cops from acting hastily and with violence, and to shine light on the details of encounters like the one Michael Brown had on the street.

The Ferguson police department, like many others, has a stash of body-worn cameras, according to Salon. The cameras have never been issued, though the City of Ferguson announced in late August that it would look into their use. Months later, though, there’s still no indication on whether the department will deploy the cameras.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Could This Mobile App Help Keep Police Accountable? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

TIME missed the mark when they put “feminist” on a list of slang terms we should...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 10:09
TIME missed the mark when they put “feminist” on a list of slang terms we should ban in 2015. Sign our petition and tell TIME to take it OFF the list!

TIME suggests banning the word “feminist”
TIME just came out with their annual word banishment poll, which asks their readers to vote for the word they think should be banned in 2015. And guess what word is currently in the lead. "Feminist."

Center For Reproductive Rights Opens Geneva Office

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 23:00
Center For Reproductive Rights Opens Geneva Office

11.13.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) With the United Nations and human rights bodies being called upon frequently to protect women’s reproductive rights, the Center for Reproductive Rights is expanding its presence at the United Nations with the opening of a new office in Geneva, Switzerland.

For over 20 years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has used the power of the law to advance and defend reproductive rights as fundamental human rights, working with the U.N. bodies to define women’s human rights. With a Geneva office, the Center will further engage with the United Nations and local-based NGOs to amplify the voices and experiences of women seeking reproductive health care across the globe.

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

“Geneva is where global human rights standards are set and where critical litigation and advocacy over the years has enshrined reproductive rights as fundamental human rights.

“For more than 20 years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has stood at the forefront of this effort to shine a bright light on the injustices women face worldwide, bringing their cases to international courts, human rights bodies and the United Nations.

“With this expanded presence in Geneva and at the United Nations, we are deepening our commitment to work with civil society and U.N. missions to ensure reproductive rights are realized for every woman worldwide.”

The Center has played a part in some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured historic financial reparations for the family of a young Brazilian woman who died from preventable pregnancy complications—the first time an international human rights decision named maternal health a human rights. And at the European Court of Human Rights, the Center called upon Poland to ensure adolescents’ reproductive rights after access to a legal abortion for a rape survivor was repeatedly obstructed.

In its first few years, the Center’s Geneva office will deepen its work promoting a rights-based approach to the full range of reproductive health care—including contraception, maternal health, and safe abortion—through advocacy initiatives within U.N. committees and working with local NGOs with international presence.

“The United Nations has repeatedly recognized that reproductive rights are human rights and that to deny women these rights—from criminalizing abortion to discrimination, coercion, and violence in health care settings—is unacceptable,” said Rebecca Brown, director of global advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We hope to build on this strong foundation through our work here in Geneva.”​  

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“Abortion is a crucial cornerstone in women’s reproductive health care, not a po...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 20:00
“Abortion is a crucial cornerstone in women’s reproductive health care, not a political tool.”

Let's Just Say It: Women Matter More Than Fetuses Do
Abortion isn't about fetuses. It's about women. Time to change the conversation.

But it DOES include repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 19:00
But it DOES include repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of women.

GOP Governing Agenda Doesn't Include Birth Control Access
Although many Republican candidates campaigned on making birth control available over the counter without a prescription, it's unlikely that the GOP will make that issue a priority in the new Congress.

No, this isn’t an article from The Onion. This is real.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 17:30
No, this isn’t an article from The Onion. This is real.

Georgia city bans abortions in cases of rape and incest because mayor doesn’t want the ‘drama’
The city of Rossville, Georgia has banned abortions — even in the case of rape and incest — because Mayor Teddy Harris said that the town did not need any “drama.”


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