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Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Charges of Child Molestation

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 23:15

Josh Duggar, oldest son of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, the family profiled in the reality TV juggernaut 19 Kids and Counting, resigned his position as Executive Director of the Family Research Council today after reports surfaced that as a young teen he had fondled the breasts and genitals of several girls, including his own sisters, over an unknown period of time beginning in at least 2002.

The Duggars rose to fame based on their brand of “biblical family values,” which as described by writer Vyckie Garrison, are based on the premise that “God designed males and females to fulfill distinct roles [in which] men are to be leaders, teachers, initiators, protectors and providers. Women are created to be “helpmeets” to the men in authority over them (husbands, fathers, older brothers) ~ they are to be submissive and yielding.” The Duggars home-school their kids, place very heavy emphasis on chastity—couples don’t even hold hands before they are engaged to be married—and the “proper” role of women and girls, and eschew birth control, and strongly embrace other so-called Christian conservative values.

The Duggars quickly became big business. Based primarily on the size of their family and the apparent willingness of Michelle and Jim Bob to keep getting pregnant irrespective of the documented dangers to both Michelle and the babies she carries, the cable channel TLC gave them a reality show from which they make a reported $25,000 to $40,000 per episode. From that show grew incessant coverage of the Duggars in People magazine and a range of tabloids, which have documented ad nauseum the weddings of the three oldest Duggar children and the subsequent and, in turn, the rapid birth of their own kids. Add to all of this money from book sales, promotional appearances, and their other family businesses, including real estate, and the Duggars are making a considerable income peddling their values.

Given their visibility and their fundamentalist beliefs, it’s not surprising that the Duggars then became the poster family for all things anti… anti-choice policies, anti-LGBT rights, anti-birth control coverage and anti-women’s rights. Jim Bob and Michelle have made campaign appearances for numerous conservative candidates, and as reported by Media Matters for America, Michelle famously recorded a robocall in 2014 urging voters in the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas to repeal an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories. The Duggars contributed $10,000 to the campaigns of opponents of the ordnance, and it was repealed by a vote 52 to 48 percent.

In June 2013, Josh Duggar was hired as executive director of the Family Research Council (FRC), a Washington-based group that lobbies vociferously against efforts to expand the rights of women, LGBT persons, and undocumented immigrants. They promote abortion bans and limits on access to birth control, support bills to overturn Obamacare, and are against expansion of Medicaid to those in need. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed FRC as a hate group. Josh Duggar not only came with the Christian right cred of his family name, but had also previously campaigned for 12 week abortion bans and for Rick Santorum, so Tony Perkins snatched him up as the poster boy for an organization based on spreading stigma, discrimination, and other similar “family values.”

It’s not clear whether Perkins knew when he hired Duggar that as a teen, Duggar had been accused of multiple instances of child sexual molestation, including molestation of some of his sisters while they were sleeping. According to In Touch magazine, which broke the story this week, the molestation first came to light in 2002 when Jim Bob became aware of the first of what apparently several instances of child sexual molestation perpetrated by Josh. The details and timeline as reported in this article are not completely clear, but it appears there were several delays between when Jim Bob found out about the first and subsequent acts of molestation and when he first spoke to church elders about the incidents and then even further delays of several months or even years before authorities were contacted, followed by the refusal of Jim Bob to allow Josh to be questioned by authorities. Then, in another twist, In Touch reports “the state trooper who originally took the report about Josh shortly before 2005 never followed up. That state trooper was later convicted on child pornography charges and is serving a 56-year prison sentence.” According to In Touch, the three-year statute of limitations had passed by the time other authorities found out about the case and the investigation was discontinued.

Further confusion arises from what appears to be dissembling by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar in regard to the steps they took to address what clearly in any functional family could only be seen as a serious problem. While it is unclear what steps Jim Bob actually took and when, Michelle Duggar at first told authorities and others that she had sent Josh for “counseling and hard labor” when in fact she had merely sent him to live with a family friend who was working on a home remodeling project.

Josh Duggar posted a statement on Facebook today, which read:

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

He also published a resignation letter, published by People magazine, in which he speaks to his regret for the effects of this news on FRC and its agenda.

Each of the statements made by Josh Duggar, his parents, and by FRC focus on “actions Josh took as a teen,” and “mistakes he made.” At no point do either he or his parents express concern for the victims of his actions nor do they or FRC address the broader issue of sexual abuse and coercion or condemn it.

In her robocalls to voters against the Fayetteville anti-discrimination ordinance, Michelle Duggar, who clearly knew about her son’s past, said:  “I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space.”

Apparently, in addition to fomenting hatred and undermining public health and human rights, Christian family values Duggar-style involve projecting unfairly and unjustly onto others the actions of those under your own roof.

The post Josh Duggar Resigns From Family Research Council Amid Charges of Child Molestation appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Take Action

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 23:00
Take Action

05.22.15 - For over 20 years, the Center has been working in and out of the courts to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right. The Center engages with policymakers to promote progressive ideas and defeat proposals that are discriminatory or dangerous to women's health.

You can help strengthen our efforts by taking action today!

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Mark Ruffalo shares the story of his mother's illegal abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and tells why the Women's Health Protection Act must become law. Watch the video and share with your representative.

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This summer, Texas passed four new abortion restrictions, adding to its deplorable record of sacrificing the health and safety of women in the name of politics. Find out how much you know about the dire state of reproductive health care in Texas. Take the quiz.

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Congress has introduced landmark legislation that ensures that every woman has access to abortion services, no matter where she lives. Tell your representatives to support the Women’s Health Protection Act.

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Extremist anti-choice policies in Texas are threatening to take away a woman's right to make personal decisions about her life and future. Let your voice be heard. Speak out against new proposed regulations on health care clinics.

What Health And Safety Really Mean in Texas Governor Perry claims that he supports "the health of Texas women," but he passed a sweeping law that medical experts confirm will put women's lives at risk.Tell Perry that you won’t stand for his ideological agenda.
The Attacks Must End Today, millions of women in the U.S. cannot access the full range of reproductive health care because of the relentless assault on their constitutional rights by extremist politicians. We’re on Capitol Hill urging Congress to safeguard reproductive freedom for all. Tell Congress to protect women’s rights to reproductive health care.
Stop an Unconstitutional Bill Rep. Trent Franks has a long history of attacking reproductive health care. Now he’s proposed an outrageous, unconstitutional ban on abortion at the time when women can get critical tests that tell them about the health of their pregnancy. Tell your representative to beat back this assault on reproductive rights.

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We’re putting the U.S. government on notice: reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. Sign the Bill of Reproductive Rights today.

California Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Ruling Underscores Need to Connect Policy to Practice

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:39

My first trip to the principal’s office happened not as an erstwhile student, but as a sex educator working in a range of public schools in California’s Bay Area. The mother of one of my students had requested a meeting over concerns about the “explicit” nature of the curriculum. After listening to her concerns, I patiently explained the goals and objectives of the program and walked her through the lessons I would cover in her daughter’s freshman health class. Then I sat dumbfounded as the principal assured her the curriculum emphasized abstinence above all else and, while it included information on condoms and birth control, the main message would be it is always best to wait to have sex. The approach described by this well-intentioned principal, sometimes termed “abstinence-based” or “abstinence-plus” education, was, in fact, against California law.

This meeting took place in 2005, two years after California passed the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act. The law requires sex education in the state’s public middle and high schools to be comprehensive, providing unbiased instruction about both abstinence and the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods, without giving preference to any one option. This approach is in alignment with decades of research demonstrating the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education. Abstinence-only programs, on the other hand, have failed to achieve their stated goal of helping teens wait to have sex.

Another ten years would pass before a judge affirmed the law, ruling just last week that “access to medically and socially appropriate sexual education is an important public right.” In the intervening period, I witnessed myriad examples of spotty implementation, such that I was no longer shocked by schools’ misinterpretations and failures to comply with the law.

In addition to requiring comprehensive and medically accurate education, the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act also aims to reduce barriers to students accessing such education by allowing parents to opt their children out of the classes if they object, rather than requiring them to proactively opt into the instruction. However, nearly every school in which I taught simply ignored this piece of the statute, sending home opt-in permission slips in an attempt to avoid perceived controversy. (In reality, research suggests the vast majority of parents support comprehensive sexuality education; even the parent who requested the meeting with the principal kept her daughter in the class.)

What concerned me even more were frequent requests from schools where I taught to omit lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity, despite the expressed intent of the law to “encourage a pupil to develop healthy attitudes concerning … sexual orientation.” School administrators assured me that those topics were covered elsewhere in the curriculum, but my students told a different story. For example, one school held an annual assembly with a theater troupe performing skits about HIV and AIDS that featured one gay character. Students reported that this was the only time sexual orientation was specifically addressed in a formalized way at the school. While such programs offer an important opportunity to normalize depictions of LGBT individuals, deeper discussions in classroom environments are necessary to help students develop a more thorough understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity than what is possible in a large assembly. This understanding is essential in creating inclusive and safe school environments for all students. (LGBT students in schools with LGBT-inclusive curricula hear fewer homophobic and transphobic remarks, are less likely to miss school, and feel more connected to their school community.)

Last week’s ruling, while an important victory, was also a stark reminder of the limitations of public policy as a tool for achieving social change. Although strong policies provide important backing for schools’ decisions about curricula, they do not automatically translate into implementation at the classroom level. Sex education policies rarely have any teeth; enforcement mechanisms are usually slim or lacking entirely, and there are limited resources to support implementation. In the case of California, one state employee is charged with monitoring implementation for the state’s roughly 1,000 school districts. It’s no wonder it took a lawsuit brought by outraged parents, with the assistance of the ACLU, to force the Clovis Unified School District to comply with the law.

I do not discount the essential role of public policy in creating the enabling environment for the implementation of sexuality education. Indeed, without the Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Prevention Act, Judge Donald S. Black would have had no legal grounds for his ruling. Rather, I believe this case underscores the need to better connect policy to practice by providing funding for implementation; creating systems for enforcement; and encouraging parents, young people, and advocates to be ever vigilant in their activism. If we agree with Judge Black that sex education is a public right, it will take all of these efforts to ensure that right is protected and fulfilled.

Image: Shutterstock

The post California Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Ruling Underscores Need to Connect Policy to Practice appeared first on RH Reality Check.

It Shouldn’t Take a Chlamydia ‘Epidemic’ in Texas to Make Us Care About Teens’ Sexual Health

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:29

In recent weeks, numerous media reports have questioned whether abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are failing our high school students and leaving them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. Interestingly, it was not new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing the record high number of STIs among teens across the country, nor was it the mountains of research showing abstinence-only programs don’t work that made news. It wasn’t even the increased funding that Congress quietly passed for these failing programs last month that put this type of sex education in the spotlight. Instead, it was an outrageous—and ultimately false—story of 20 teens in a small high school in Texas having chlamydia that got media outlets, including the Washington Post, the U.S. News and World Report,, and The View, to discuss whether kids need medically accurate information.

I appreciate the attention on this issue, and I hope the debate can go on even as we begin to learn the truth about what’s happening in Crane, Texas. But I am disappointed that yet again, the mainstream media and general public seem only to pay attention to teens’ sexual health needs when we can tie them to a situation so alarming or scandalous it can practically write its own headline.

This story began in early May, when the superintendent of the Crane Independent School District, Jim Rumage, sent a letter to parents alerting them that chlamydia was “on the rise” in the local high school. According to reports, the letter said that about 20 students out of the 300 in the school had tested positive for this bacterial STI. The article that ran on a local news website said that the CDC had declared this to be “epidemic proportions.” Rumage told reporters, “We do have an abstinence curriculum, and that’s evidently ain’t working. [sic] We need to do all we can, although it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their kids on sexual education.”

From there the story took off, with articles and television pieces across the country and even internationally questioning how so many students could have an STI. (RH Reality Check covered it in a podcast.) Most, like Rumage himself, ended up blaming the school’s poor sex education. Raw Story, for example, scoured the district’s website and pointed out that although the school does not offer a human sexuality course, it does run an optional three-day program that focuses on remaining abstinent until marriage. That story also noted that in 2012, an advisory panel recommended that the school adopt Worth the Wait, an abstinence curriculum produced by Scott and White Hospital in Texas that relies on fear and shame and suggests condoms provide very little protection from STIs.  

This is not out of the ordinary for Texas, which has a long history of abstinence-only programs. When former President George W. Bush was governor, he started the Lone Star Leaders, one of the first state programs promoting abstinence until marriage. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), Texas has spent a total of $156 million in state and local funds on abstinence-only programs since 2003. And in March, the Texas House of Representatives voted to cut $3 million of funds currently allocated for HIV and STI prevention and devote them instead to abstinence-only programs, despite the fact that their state has the third-highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country.

Though much of this abstinence funding is used outside of schools, Texas schools do often take a similar approach to sexuality education. State law does not mandate any sexuality education, but does say that it must focus on abstinence if it is taught. Though schools can discuss contraception and STIs, the law says that class must “devote more attention to abstinence from sexual activity than to any other behavior.” Moreover, the laws says that courses must “emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity, if used consistently and correctly, is the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.”

It appears that superintendent Rumage agrees with this aspect of the law. He told a local paper: “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease … That’s not a bad program.”

I suppose he’s not entirely wrong. If his students weren’t having sex, they could not get chlamydia. But clearly they are not being abstinent, nor are their peers across Texas. According to the CDC’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 43 percent of high school girls and 49 percent of high school boys in Texas have engaged in sexual intercourse. Texas also has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy across the country. And, in 2012, there were nearly 40,000 cases of chlamydia among teenagers 15 and older reported in Texas.

These statistics should be enough to get everyone paying attention to the poor sexual health of teens in Texas, and similar statistics are available for states across the country. But the media tends to gloss over these health indicators or report them in a brief news story without ever investigating what we are doing wrong. Apparently, it takes a story like Crane to make the general public take notice.

Only what we have learned since the story broke is that the “outbreak” of chlamydia that was reported in Crane was greatly exaggerated. Some reporters began questioning the numbers because the local health department listed only eight cases of chlamydia in the whole county. Rumage has since agreed that his number was incorrect and explained that he got his information from a local doctor and that he misheard or possibly misunderstood. When the doctor said that more than 20 students had been tested for chlamydia he took that to mean they all had the infection. In fact, only three cases have been confirmed among students, though not all test results have come back.

But three high school students with chlamydia is bad news. Chlamydia is an easily treatable bacterial infection, if caught early, but it often has no symptoms and young people won’t know they have it unless they know to get tested for it. If they don’t get tested and treated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease which, in turn, can lead to infertility. Moreover, the fact that three have chlamydia means that they are having unprotected sex and putting themselves in danger of contracting other STIs that can’t be cured, such as herpes and HIV. Given that we don’t know their gender, they are also at risk of getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy.

But is three students with chlamydia bad enough news to have made international headlines?

I doubt it. My guess is that if it had been clear from the start that this was not actually an epidemic, it wouldn’t have gotten past the local newspaper. Three chlamydia cases in one school is certainly alarming, but it’s not scandalous, and it doesn’t make for much of a headline.

I would argue, however, that it should. Every case of chlamydia or gonorrhea or herpes among teenagers should make headlines, or at least make us demand change, as should every teen who becomes unintentionally pregnant. These things can be prevented, and it is our responsibility as adults to give teens the information and tools necessary to prevent STIs and unplanned pregnancy. We also have to help them think critically about their sexual decisions, because if more than 20 kids in one high school needs to be tested for chlamydia, it means that at least some of them are having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Teens are capable of making responsible choices, but they can’t do it without the help of adults and education.

We may never have heard of Crane, Texas, or questioned its sexuality education if the truth had been known going in. Now that we have, though, we should not let the conversation drop. According to some reports, the school board in Crane was set to reexamine its sex education program early this week. I hope that the recent scrutiny on the town—whether deserved or not—spurs the board to improve its program and I hope that media stays on the story to keep the pressure on. I also hope that moving forward, it will not take an epidemic to get us to focus on the sexual health needs of teens—because the next epidemic will likely be real and it will be the teens who suffer.

Image: Shutterstock

The post It Shouldn’t Take a Chlamydia ‘Epidemic’ in Texas to Make Us Care About Teens’ Sexual Health appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Can YOU decipher exactly what Rand Paul is trying to say about where he stands o...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 16:00
Can YOU decipher exactly what Rand Paul is trying to say about where he stands on reproductive freedom?

Just What Is Rand Paul Saying About Abortion?
The senator says we ‘have to figure out when we agree life begins.’ But two years ago he pushed a fetal personhood bill—and then said there would be ‘thousands of exceptions’ to it.

South Carolina Senate Advances 20-Week Ban, Despite GOP Squabbling

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 14:38

The South Carolina Senate has moved forward with a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, despite efforts by a GOP senator to block the legislation because it includes exceptions for rape and incest.

HB 3114, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would create an unconstitutional ban on abortion before a fetus is viable, a point before which abortion is legally protected by Roe v. Wade.

Proposals like the one in South Carolina rest on spurious claims that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. That belief has been discredited by major medical institutions, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The bill passed the Republican-majority state house in February in a 71-22 vote, with a long list of sponsors. The 20-week ban received pushback in the state senate after Democrats added exceptions for rape and incest to the bill. State Sen. Lee Bright (R) attempted to filibuster the bill because he claimed the amendments were too lenient on pregnant people.

“The founders never intended for us to kill our own children,” Bright said at the senate chamber podium.

Other anti-choice state senators, who favored the bill with the exceptions, sought to get Bright away from the podium and were eventually successful after voting to interrupt and end the debate. South Carolina’s anti-choice advocates roundly criticized Bright.

The amended bill was passed on Tuesday in a 37-7 vote. The amended version will be sent back to the house for final approval, after which it will go to anti-choice Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who is expected to sign the bill.

Proposals to ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization have been a common anti-choice tactic this year. The U.S. House last week passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, and GOP-controlled state legislatures have pushed similar bans: The legislation has been introduced this year in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia.

A 20-week ban was made law this year in West Virginia, after the state legislature overrode its governor’s veto.

Image: The State Newspaper/YouTube

The post South Carolina Senate Advances 20-Week Ban, Despite GOP Squabbling appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Enough is enough.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 14:00
Enough is enough.

Enough with the Mandatory Vaginal Exams, Florida
(Men, you don't get to answer this one.)

"Everyone should have equal constitutional rights. The way these state laws have...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:03
"Everyone should have equal constitutional rights. The way these state laws have been working, [access] really depends on where you live."

Your right to an abortion may depend on your zip code
Lawmakers across the country are making it harder for women to access abortion care.

Missouri Fines Aetna for Not Charging Women Enough for Abortions

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 12:39

Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies in Missouri, agreed to pay $4.5 million in fines for violations of state law that include paying for elective abortions and failing to cover certain autism benefits.

A 1983 Missouri law prevents insurers from covering elective abortions unless an individual has purchased a separate policy, known as a rider, to cover the procedure.

Riders contain premium costs in addition to what people pay in premiums for their comprehensive health-care coverage. Aetna, according to the settlement document, paid for nine elective abortions in cases where the insured did not purchase a separate abortion rider, as mandated by Missouri law.

The settlement document also outlines Aetna’s violation of a 2010 law that mandates insurance companies pay for certain autism treatments. Aetna is reviewing claims of those potentially affected and the company will pay for those claims that were incorrectly denied at 9 percent interest, according to the settlement agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Missouri Department of Insurance will monitor the insurer for three years. Should no other issues occur during that period and so long as Aetna complies with all the terms of the settlement agreement, the company will not lose its state license. During the monitoring period, though, the Department of Insurance can stop Aetna from conducting business in Missouri for up to a year if the company continues to violate state insurance regulations.

The department agreed to waive $1.5 million of the $4.5 million fine if Aetna fully complies with state law and the settlement agreement during the monitoring period.

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced the agreement, reportedly the largest against an insurance company in Missouri.

“When an insurance company chooses to do business in our state, they agree to follow our laws,” Nixon said in a statement. “These were serious violations that deserved serious punishment—and that’s what Aetna received.”

This is reportedly the second time Aetna has been fined for violating Missouri law. In 2012, the state recovered $1.5 million in fines for similar claims that Aetna violated state laws on insurance coverage for abortions, contraceptives, and autism treatments.

Image: Katherine Welles /

The post Missouri Fines Aetna for Not Charging Women Enough for Abortions appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Navigating the Military System to Get an Abortion: Olivia Pope Can’t Fix This Scandal

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 11:39

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This season’s Scandal episodes have tackled some of today’s most pressing social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, gun control, and feminism. Recently, sexual assault and abortion have taken center stage. In the episode titled “A Few Good Women,” Vice President Susan Ross travels to the USS Montana for a photo op with enlistees and notices that a young woman, Ensign Amy Martin, has bruises on her wrists. Privately, the vice president questions Ensign Martin about her injuries and it is revealed that a high-ranking admiral, and friend of the president, raped her. When the president tells Vice President Ross not to intervene in the military jurisdiction, she turns to everyone’s favorite fixer, Olivia Pope, to ensure Ensign Martin receives justice.

While Olivia Pope and her team fight to prove that the rape occurred, Ensign Martin realizes that she became pregnant and wants to seek an abortion immediately. “I have to get off the ship. I need you to get me an abortion,” Ensign Martin says to Pope. Their conversation is cut short by an officer who charges Ensign Martin with “conduct unbecoming,” which restricts her ability to leave the ship. With the creativity of her team, Olivia Pope cites an ill relative to free Ensign Martin from the ship so that she can seek abortion care. The most powerful image in the episode is when Pope stands tall holding Ensign Martin’s hand during Martin’s abortion.

The episode highlights a few barriers when attempting to seek an abortion, but what’s a service member to do when she doesn’t have Olivia Pope’s help navigating the system?

Currently, about 14 percent of the U.S. military on active duty are women and 97 percent are of reproductive age. (It is estimated that about 15,000 military personnel identify as transgender or gender nonconforming, but due to regulations and lack of inclusion under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” they are still unable to serve openly. Therefore research statistics do not include trans or gender nonconforming service members seeking abortion care for any number of reasons.) Due to the persistent rape culture within the military ranks, an estimated 20 to 43 percent of women experience “rape or attempted rape” during their military careers. Even more startling, the Department of Defense believes that over 85 percent of rapes are not reported due to fear of retaliation. According to the Department of Defense, over 60 percent of survivors who reported their rapes experienced some form of retaliation—exactly the storyline of that recent Scandal episode.

Whether or not a service member reports their rape, they may face a myriad of psychological and physical health effects, including unintended pregnancy. Acknowledging the serious sexual assault risks to service members, Congress passed the Shaheen Amendment in 2013 allowing TRICARE funds to be used for abortion care, though only in the cases of rape, incest, and health. Prior to the amendment, service members and their dependents could only use their TRICARE health insurance for abortions in the case of life endangerment. This bipartisan bill sought to bring the military policy in line with the overall federal policy governed by the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used for abortion unless under specific circumstances such as rape. While the Shaheen Amendment is a win for service members who have been raped and want an abortion, it doesn’t clear access for people in the military who become pregnant from having consensual sex and seek an abortion—a majority of whom do not want to have children at that moment and desire to finish their military career. Why are we as a nation asking service members to honor their country through military duty, yet systematically denying them abortion access and the very rights for which they are fighting?

As research shows, pregnancy while serving in the military is common, particularly among less privileged service members. In a recent study, Dr. Daniel Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, found that servicewomen experience unintended pregnancy at higher rates than the national average—54 percent as compared to 49 percent. Mirroring national statistics, women of color, personnel who are enlisted at a lower pay grade, younger members, and those without a college degree tend to experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies. A majority of respondents cited lack of access to contraception and sexual health education as a barrier to preventing pregnancy. They also cited challenges in obtaining refills for birth control or in visiting a provider while deployed. Additionally, many said they were confused by the laws as to whether or not they could seek birth control.

Similarly, in a 2011 study, Dr. Grossman looked at the experiences of service members seeking abortion while serving abroad. Similar to the civilian population, 56 percent already had one or more children and 78 percent said it was not a good time for them to have a child. About half said their unintended pregnancy was a failure of their contraceptive method, and many cited lack of access to contraception, emergency contraception, and gynecological care as major barriers. For its part, the House of Representatives passed a new policy stating that military clinics and hospitals must dispense all FDA-approved forms of contraception and give service members a “sufficient supply” of their birth control method as part of the annual defense policy bill last Friday.

“Deployed women face additional barriers, since they may be on a ship at sea or in countries where abortion is legally restricted and/or where security issues make travel off-base to obtain care very difficult,” Dr. Grossman told RH Reality Check.

“Other barriers are related to lack of geographic proximity to providers, since many bases are located in more remote areas, and active-duty service members can only travel so far depending on how long their leave is for,” Dr. Grossman explained. If a service member becomes pregnant and wants an abortion, they must notify their chain of command to request leave and, if the pregnancy was not the result of rape or a danger to their health, cover the entire cost of the abortion and the evacuation from their deployment, which can amount to more than $10,000 per person. “It would take too much time for me to be sent back to the States and processed for me to meet the 9-week requirement for [a medication abortion],” explained one woman stationed in Iraq. If a pregnant person is deployed in an active war zone, it can take weeks to coordinate the evacuation, which increases the cost of the abortion and limits their clinic options, since not all providers offer later abortion care.

Even for those who do have the financial means to pay for their abortion out of pocket, the country in which they are stationed may prohibit abortion except in cases of life endangerment. It is very common for the Department of Defense to follow the laws of a host country, forcing service members to travel for legal abortion care, seek illegal care, or self-induce. In Dr. Grossman’s 2011 study, 68 percent of the women seeking abortions were deployed in countries where the health procedure is banned.

Further, notifying the chain of command infringes on their privacy around their decision, can get them in trouble for having sexual relationships while serving, and can put them in additional danger for retaliation if the pregnancy was a result of rape. Dr. Grossman said there’s a “lack of confidentiality if they say they’re pregnant and ask for leave for an abortion.”

For others, abortion stigma and fear of losing their job force them to seek an abortion outside of the military. “If the Army finds out that I am pregnant they will kick me out of the Army. The salary I earn supports my mother and two sisters at home. I cannot afford [for] this to happen. Please, please help me,” wrote one woman stationed in Iraq, whose consultation data was included in Grossman’s study.

Abortion stigma also results in limited access to abortion care in military treatment facilities. Due to lack of training in abortion care in military medical schools, few abortion providers, and refusal to provide abortions by military medical staff, access is low. According to the Department of Defense, an average of 3.79 abortions were performed on military facilities each year for the past 15 years. A woman stationed in Iraq said, “the Army makes it impossible to keep my pregnancy confidential and not everyone is open-minded about abortions.”

Image: ABC

The post Navigating the Military System to Get an Abortion: Olivia Pope Can’t Fix This Scandal appeared first on RH Reality Check.

On Tuesday, California will vote on a bill that would require crisis pregnancy c...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 10:06
On Tuesday, California will vote on a bill that would require crisis pregnancy centers to tell women the truth about their reproductive health options. One politician asked why a lawmaker cared so much about the bill, and her response is PERFECT.

Baltimore, Detroit ‘Criminalizing’ Low-Income People, Shutting Off Their Water

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:17

The Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) was preparing to shut off water to homes around the city during the uprising over the death of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died while in police custody. The shutoffs would disproportionately affect many of the people in racially segregated, economically distressed communities embroiled in conflicts with law enforcement.

The DPW water shutoff crackdown focused on households, while businesses, government offices, and nonprofits accounted for the vast majority of the unpaid water fees.

City officials announced in March that upwards of 25,000 residents would receive notices that their water services may be shut off. The notices would be sent to customers who have outstanding water bills of $250 or more, and residents would have ten days to pay the entire bill before service was shut off.

More than 1,600 Baltimore residents have had their water shut off in the past six weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun. The vast majority of the notices were sent to residences in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city.

“We want to make sure all of our citizens pay their fair share,” Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow said in an interview. “When we don’t collect the necessary revenues, it causes us to raise water rates as a result. The citizens who are paying their bills are, in effect, subsidizing those who are not paying.”

Less than half of the $40 million in delinquent water bills are from residents. Unpaid bills from 369 businesses account for more than $15 million and government offices and nonprofits account for another $10 million of the unpaid water bills, according to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun.

Since the shutoffs began, the city has collected about $5 million in overdue water bill payments, reports the Baltimore Brew. Only about $1 million has been collected from commercial customers. None of those commercial customers have had their water shut off. Only residential customers have had their water service suspended, according to a review of public records by the Baltimore Sun.

A private firm is conducting a financial audit of the DPW and four other Baltimore city agencies. The audit was in response to mounting evidence that suggested the DPW has been over-billing customers. It is the first time city agencies have been audited in 25 years.

The water shutoffs, leaving many in the city’s low-income communities without water, could have serious public health consequences. Mary Grant, a researcher with Food and Water Watch, told ThinkProgress that the water shutoffs could allow for diseases to propagate throughout densely-populated neighborhoods.

“There is direct risk associated with lack of access to water,” Grant said. “When you lose your water service, you lose water to wash your hands to flush the toilet, there is risk of disease spreading.”

Another issue facing residents: those who rent homes are seeing landlords shift the burden of paying water bills onto tenants who have outright not paid water bills for rental properties. The city refuses to open new water accounts for anyone who isn’t a property owner, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Activists have protested the policy as “inhuman,” charging that the policy punishes people living in poverty.

“We’re in a state of shock and outrage,” Sharon Black, an activist with the People’s Power Assembly, told the Baltimore Sun during a protest outside city hall in March. “People aren’t paying their water bills, because they can’t afford to.”

Residents who have delinquent accounts could face action by the city in the form of a tax sale. Property could face foreclosure if an owner owes at least $500. Baltimore city officials have said they are planning to hire an ombudsman to help residents avoid such measures.

The city put 8,278 properties up for tax sale in 2014.

Matt Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, told the Baltimore Sun that the policy is not being equally applied to residential and commercial customers. “If most of the debt is owned by commercial properties, why would they get the white glove treatment,” Hill said. “Did Baltimore City not learn anything from Detroit?”

The Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) last year shut off water service to residents with unpaid bills in an effort to collect more than $119 million in delinquent payments from more than 150,000 customers. Like in Baltimore, Detroit’s commercial customers represent more than half of the unpaid water dues.

Detroit announced this month that it would send out water shutoff notices to 25,000 households with overdue water bills, and give them ten days to seek assistance from the city or lose water service, reports Al Jazeera.

The shutoffs are set to begin next week.

According to a city report, there are more than 73,000 residential accounts with bills that are at least two months late, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Tawana Petty, a spokesperson for Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, told RH Reality Check that the mayor and the DWSD have conducted a public relations campaign to distract residents and those who want to report the truth about what is happening to low-income people in Detroit.

While Baltimore is not going through bankruptcy nor under the rule of an emergency manager—as Detroit is—there are similarities between the water shutoffs in the two cities.

There were reportedly efforts to privatize water services in both cities. Activists in Detroit and Baltimore were alarmed by former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s exploration of privatizing the DWSD and the Baltimore Department of Public Works’ requests for proposals from consulting firms for a study of the water system.

“What they do is, they come in and do an efficiency study, and then two years from now what they will do is say that we want to downsize the workers, contract them out of their jobs,” Glenard Middleton, a local labor leader, told the Baltimore Sun.

Both cities have large communities of color that have disproportionately high rates of unemployment and poverty, significant infrastructure problems that include crumbling water systems, and long histories of discriminatory housing policies and incidents of police brutality.

Activists believe that these similarities are not accidental.

“If you look at the cities where they are doing these mass overhauls, where they are shutting water off and criminalizing people, they are in predominately Black communities,” Petty said.

Maureen Taylor, chairwoman for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told RH Reality Check that while efforts to privatize water services are taking hold in low-income communities of color, they will affect all low-income communities, regardless of race.

“They start by coming to the door of the African-American community,” Taylor said. “The larger white community won’t fight or get involved because they’ll think, ‘It’s not on our doorstep.'”

The population of Detroit is 82.7 percent Black. Baltimore is 63.7 percent Black. In Detroit, 38.1 percent of residents live below the poverty line, while in Baltimore, 23.8 percent live in poverty. The average annual income of a Black Baltimore household is about half a white household in Baltimore.

Corporate interests have lobbied for water privatization in communities across the country and across the world, despite privatization often being more costly and less efficient.

Police brutality, often against people of color, is also common in Baltimore and Detroit. Baltimore has paid out more than $5.7 million to victims of 100 police brutality lawsuits since 2011.

“The problems reflect a long-standing dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement and citizens, structural poverty, and the legacy of discrimination in housing and finance policy,” wrote Leana Wen and Joshua Sharfstein in a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors note that there is a large amount of data that shows significant disparities between low-income communities of color and Baltimore’s more affluent and predominately white communities.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now told RH Reality Check that systemic inequalities all interact to create deep-seated injustice.

“If Black lives matter, then Black wages have to matter, then reproductive justice for Black women has to matter, then all Black lives have to matter, not just some Black lives,” she said.

Image: Shutterstock

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House Passes Problematic Human Trafficking Bill

RH Reality Check - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 08:55

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) on Tuesday, sending the bill to President Obama’s desk.

The vote was 420-3, with only Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) voting against the bill.

The JVTA cleared the Senate late last month on a 99-0 vote, but that bipartisan consensus only came after a protracted battle over anti-choice language in the bill.

A compromise in the Senate kept Republicans from expanding the Hyde Amendment’s ban on the use of federal funds for abortion care. The final bill still denies funding for abortion services to underage victims of sex trafficking, who are overwhelmingly likely to become pregnant after enduring multiple rapes per day.

Pro-choice representatives praised the passage of the JVTA without referencing the abortion restriction.

“Today marks a monumental step forward for human trafficking and sexual assault survivors all across the United States,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (R-FL) in a statement.

Wasserman Schultz noted that the final bill contained three amendments she authored that deal with terminating rapists’ parental rights, training wounded veterans to investigate child exploitation, and training health-care providers to identify trafficking victims.

Kate D’Adamo, national policy advocate at the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, told RH Reality Check in an interview that the parental rights provision seemed promising, but that the wounded veterans idea was “flawed” and “ineffective” because it asks traumatized veterans with no experience to take a “vigilante” role on behalf of traumatized children.

Another amendment to the bill is raising alarms among civil liberties advocates for its potential to harm Internet freedom.

The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act could hold website owners criminally liable if someone advertises sex trafficking on their site. Advocates note that this could chill free speech on the Internet, and even backfire if sites stop exercising oversight so they can’t be accused of having knowledge of illegal activity.

Shutting down online advertising spaces for prostitution is said to be ineffective because online advertising helps law enforcement track traffickers, and dangerous because it forces people engaged in consensual sex work to solicit on the streets instead of vetting clients beforehand.

Advocates for sex workers and victims of trafficking say that at its core, the JVTA focuses too much on unproven law enforcement efforts and too little on the needs of survivors or measures that would prevent victimization.

Image: Shutterstock

The post House Passes Problematic Human Trafficking Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

“At the start of the academic year, Sulkowicz vowed to carry the mattress with h...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 18:00
“At the start of the academic year, Sulkowicz vowed to carry the mattress with her everywhere on campus as long as the man whom she accuses of raping her remained at Columbia.”

Activist Emma Sulkowicz Carries Mattress Across Stage At Columbia Graduation
Columbia University student and anti-sexual assault activist Emma Sulkowicz walked on stage at graduation on Tuesday, holding the mattress she's been carrying in protest since September. A video po

Texas Legislators Are Putting Pregnant Teens in Harm’s Way

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 17:37

I remember my first time answering the hotline for Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. Holding back tears, I listened anxiously to a young woman, whom I will call Gaby, explain her home life and her pregnancy, asking me to help her obtain a judicial bypass, which would allow her to obtain an abortion without a parent or guardian’s consent. She was just as mature as I am—probably more. “Well the thing is,” she said to me, her voice exuding a kind of tough conviction, “I just can’t bring a baby into this world right now.” 

Sadly, some Texas legislators think this is not Gaby’s decision to make. If HB 3994 passes through the senate, Texas’ parental consent law will be even stricter than it is already, forcing minors who cannot obtain permission to navigate a slew of complicated, humiliating, and sometimes impossible hurdles to receive reproductive health care.

Parental notification laws presume that young women like Gaby are incapable of making their own pregnancy decisions and must defer to a parent—even if doing so is logistically impossible or downright dangerous.

Gaby’s story, a composite of the stories I often hear through the hotline, is just one example of whom this bill affects—and why, really, parental consent requirements just makes no sense.

Gaby grew up without a father. To this day, at age 16, she has no idea where he might be, or if he even knows she exists. Gaby generously articulated that her mother “tries”; she is addicted to methamphetamine, which causes her to be uninvolved at best, and emotionally and physically abusive at worst. Gaby has four younger siblings, all of whom live under one roof in a small, two-bedroom apartment. She attends high school, works at a fast-food restaurant, and takes care of her younger siblings, making sure there is always enough food for everyone—especially when her mother disappears periodically or is too high to function. Gaby is in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, who helps her with her younger siblings and her mother. When she discovered she was pregnant, her boyfriend reacted as all partners should—with a promise of support regardless of her pregnancy decision. 

Gaby immediately knew that she did not want to continue her pregnancy. “On top of the fact that I actually just have no way of raising a baby right now,” she told me, “I really just really don’t want one. I need to finish school and get out of here.” When I asked her if she thought her mom would agree to consent to an abortion, she laughed a sort of sad and bitter chuckle: “Ha. My mom can’t even get up in the morning to give my 4-year-old brother cereal. You think she’s going to drive two hours to the abortion clinic and sign papers for me? Not a chance. She’d just use this as a good excuse to kick me out—one less mouth to feed.” 

Thanks to the judicial bypass law currently in place, Gaby was able to receive the help she needed. But HB 3994, which is now awaiting a senate hearing, will make the judicial bypass safety net inaccessible for most pregnant teens in Texas, effectively banning abortion for this population.

Ostensibly, the purpose of parental consent laws is to ensure that stable adult figures are involved in the important decisions in their children’s lives. As Rep. Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), the author of HB 3994 stated on the house floor, “It would be traumatic for a teen to have an abortion without her parents there.” This may be true for some. I know that when I had an abortion at age 20, I wished that my mom could have been there. But I am not Gaby, and my mom is not Gaby’s mom.

This kind of presumptuous and utopian rhetoric from politicians such as Rep. Morrison is exactly what prohibits other legislators and the general public from having a realistic understanding of whom these laws impact. Not all teens have a supportive and stable parent—or even a parent at all. This rhetoric is so misleading precisely because it is disingenuous; these politicians are not actually concerned with the lives of pregnant teens. Instead, they are on a crusade to stop abortions, even when the decision to end the pregnancy is agreeably pragmatic and reasonable. At the very least, politicians should not justify their intrusion into these girls’ lives under the guise of sincere empathy.

It is a new low for anti-choice legislators to insert themselves so callously into the complicated and unique lives of each of these young women. Those who voted for HB 3994, most without engaging in meaningful conversation with opponents of the bill, cannot possibly understand the circumstances that exist within this vulnerable population or the grave dangers to which they are exposing these young women.

After a long night at the capitol listening to a one-sided debate on the house floor, I returned to answering the Jane’s Due Process hotline as usual. A 17-year-old was calling, in tears, from the bathroom stall at her high school. Her mother had just died and her father was in prison. She needed an abortion, as she put it. Come January 1, 2016, if the bill is signed into law, I will have to tell people in her situation, “That may not be an option.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Texas Legislators Are Putting Pregnant Teens in Harm’s Way appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal Legalizes LGBTQ Discrimination

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 17:06

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an executive order Tuesday that legalizes religious discrimination against the state’s LGBTQ community.

The executive action is in response to the failure of the GOP-majority state legislature to pass the so-called Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act, which would codify discrimination of LGBTQ people by those who oppose marriage equality.

HB 707, sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City), would have prohibited the state from taking action against a person, organization, or business if they acted in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction about marriage.

The House Civil Law Committee voted 10-2 Tuesday to effectively kill the bill through a procedural move.

“There’s never a convenient time to stand up for liberty,” Johnson said after the bill’s defeat in committee, according to the New Orleans Advocate. “This issue’s not going away, though.”

As in Indiana and Arkansas, Louisiana faced a backlash against the legislation from LGBTQ advocates and those in the business community who warned the anti-gay policy would be bad for the bottom line.

Stephen Perry, the President and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Associated Press that the bill would make the state “complicit in officially state-sanctioned bigotry” and hurt the state’s economy to the tune of $65 million per year.

“We’re attempting to … carve out the ability to discriminate, the ability to be bigoted,” Perry said.

Businesspeople this spring in Indiana urged the Republican-dominated legislature there to vote against a discriminatory religious freedom bill, expressing similar sentiments about the impact of such a policy on the state’s economic health. The bill nevertheless passed, mostly along partisan lines.

Jindal issued a statement after signing the executive order, in which he said that the state should not be able to take adverse action against a person for their belief in so-called traditional marriage.

“That’s why I’m issuing an Executive Order to prevent the state from discriminating against people, charities and family-owned businesses with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Jindal said. The order will remain valid from now until 60 days after the start of the next legislative session.

Jindal has criticized President Obama for issuing executive orders in response to the inability of Congress to pass legislation. Jindal issued a statement attacking the president’s executive action on immigration as bypassing Congress.

“Granting amnesty by executive order is wrong,” Jindal said of Obama’s immigration policy. “If the President wants to make the case that the law should be changed, he should go make the case to Congress and our people. This is an arrogant, cynical political move by the President, and it’s why so many Americans no longer trust this President to solve the problems we face.”

The executive order in Louisiana prohibits all departments, commissions, boards, agencies, and political subdivisions of the state from taking action against a person who “acts in accordance with his religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

Micah Caswell, a spokesman for Equality Louisiana, said in a statement that Jindal was “abusing his executive power” and suggested that the governor cared more about his own presidential aspirations than about the people of Louisiana.

“Gov. Jindal is clearly trying to leave the biggest mess possible, as he readies himself to spend even less time in Louisiana and to launch his presidential campaign,” Caswell said. “In the end, his extreme ideology is only making the state a worse place for those of us who actually plan to live here past his last day in office.”

Jindal, over the past year, has courted the religious right while positioning himself for a possible GOP presidential campaign.

This year he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and gave a speech that attacked Obamacare and Common Core, expressed controversial comments about the Muslim community in England, and was a prominent figure at the Christian prayer rally called The Response.

Jindal announced Monday that he is forming an exploratory committee while he considers a possible campaign for the Republican nomination for president, reported the New York Times.

“While other Republican leaders are talking about change, I’ve published detailed plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, rebuild America’s defenses, make America energy independent, and reform education for our nation’s children,” Jindal wrote in an email to supporters.

Image: CNN/Youtube

The post Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal Legalizes LGBTQ Discrimination appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Impact of Admitting Privileges Case Before Supreme Court Extends Beyond Mississippi

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 16:31

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider taking up Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case challenging a Mississippi law that mandates any doctor performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at a local hospital or face criminal sanction. Last year, a deeply divided Roberts Court refused to intervene in the fight over the constitutionality of Texas’ admitting privileges requirements. This time, however, the effect of the restrictions would close the only abortion clinic in a state, thus forcing patients to travel elsewhere for care. That could be the difference that compels the Court to step in now.

Obviously, there’s a lot at stake should the justices take up the case. But like much of the law around abortion restrictions, the fight in Currier is about more than just the immediate impact of declaring this particular requirement constitutional or not. Thanks to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case is also about anti-choice advocates making it more difficult to challenge abortion restrictions in the future.

Admitting privileges requirements are among the most popular—and devastating—anti-abortion restrictions to sweep conservative state legislatures in the national wave of copycat legislation designed to shutter clinics. Admitting privileges requirements are particularly insidious because the process by which hospitals grant them is often political and arbitrary. In states like Wisconsin and North Dakota, Catholic consolidation of health-care facilities exacerbates this problem because those institutions are even less likely to grant them, leaving abortion-rights advocates turning to the federal courts for relief. Fortunately for them, the federal courts have been mostly hostile to admitting privileges requirements, finding anti-choice lawmakers’ justifications for the restrictions to be flimsy and the impact on abortion access to be unacceptable.

That is, of course, with the notable exception of the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Last year, the court granted an emergency request by attorneys from the State of Texas to overturn the results of a four-day trial that found Texas’ admitting privileges requirement unconstitutional. In Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, the Fifth Circuit ordered the Texas law take effect immediately and then in a subsequent decision upheld its constitutionality. The result devastated abortion access in the state, especially in the low-income Rio Grande Valley, which saw it all but wiped out altogether.

But the fight over Texas’ admitting privileges didn’t just trigger a wave of clinic closures. It also set a new legal standard for judging anti-abortion restrictions, designed by the conservative Fifth Circuit to bait the Roberts Court to further restrict access to the procedure.

Typically when legal analysts discuss the constitutionality of an abortion restriction, we ask if the law unduly burdens abortion rights, not just because that’s the standard from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but because after dozens of legal challenges post-Casey “undue burden” is also the short-hand in public discourse for talking about abortion restrictions. Naturally, there’s even more to it. When determining if an abortion restriction is an undue burden, courts must ask whether it has the purpose or effect of restricting abortion access. In other words, did lawmakers implement it for the express goal of restricting access, or is that a (perhaps unforeseen) consequence? As you might expect, the law is a mess there too—enough to make it the subject of its own piece.

But in reality, asking if an abortion restriction is an undue burden is only half the analysis. For an abortion restriction to be constitutional, it must also be rationally related to a legitimate state interest, such as advancing patient safety or promoting an interest in fetal life. An abortion restriction has to clear both the rational basis hurdle and the undue burden hurdle to be upheld by the courts.

When it comes to hospital admitting privileges, supporters have claimed the requirements support the legitimate state interest in promoting patient safety. Challengers, meanwhile, rightly point to the mountain of evidence from the medical community itself that says hospital admitting privileges do not promote patient safety and, in fact, can cause harm to patient health. In the trial over Texas’ admitting privileges law, the trial court ruled the state had failed to meet even this low constitutional threshold because it did not produce any evidence during the four days that a rational relationship existed between this requirement and improved patient care, nor did the state produce evidence that the requirement “address[ed] issues of patient abandonment, hospital costs or accountability.” Essentially, the trial court ruled that lawmakers can’t just say a policy is related to something like patient safety. They have to produce at least a modicum of evidence that it is.

That seems like a reasonable requirement for lawmakers who are legislating medical practices—be able to defend with science the claims embodied in their abortion restrictions. And it’s exactly the kind of requirement that has sunk targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws in other jurisdictions like the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

But it is not the requirement the Fifth Circuit decided, on its own, would apply within its jurisdiction. In its review of the Texas admitting privileges, it held that it was not the court’s job to second-guess the legislature when it came to their reasons for passing abortion restrictions. If lawmakers had a “rational speculation” that an anti-abortion restriction would promote patient care, that was enough, according to the court, to determine that the law in question promoted the state’s interest. So if a lawmaker pronounces an abortion restriction promotes patient health, that is good enough for the Fifth Circuit. Even more, challengers were prevented from presenting evidence to rebut this “rational speculation.” So if lawmakers swear their anti-abortion laws are designed to help women—no matter if they actually do—there’s nothing much pro-choice advocates can do to challenge that assertion in court.

Given that the Fifth Circuit ruled that courts must accept almost verbatim lawmakers’ assertions their anti-abortion restrictions are reasonable, and challengers are not allowed to present any evidence to combat those claims, then what about the “undue burden” prong of the analysis? Do pro-choice advocates get a similar pass from the court when it comes to claiming that a particular restriction would unduly burden abortion rights?

Of course not. When the Fifth Circuit ruled in the Texas cases that lawmakers have basically zero evidentiary burden in supporting their anti-abortion restrictions, it also ruled that abortion rights advocates must be able to produce tangible evidence that lawmakers passed the restriction with an improper purpose of unduly burdening abortion rights. It said that their claims that closing clinics would decimate reproductive health-care access and have the effect of unduly burdening abortion rights were too speculative and told advocates they needed to offer more proof before it would block the law. Because pro-choice advocates didn’t have lawmakers on the record as saying their true motivation in passing HB 2 was to punish pregnant people, and because the court didn’t see patients in need of care that turned away en masse or unable to locate it all together, the Fifth Circuit ruled advocates could not show the law failed the undue burden test.

That’s the backdrop going into Thursday as the Roberts Court considers whether or not there’s an undue burden on abortion rights if a state has no open abortion clinic. Unlike the Texas case, the Fifth Circuit in Currier reluctantly upheld the lower court’s decision to block Mississippi’s admitting privileges requirement, in part because lawmakers were on record as wanting to pass the legislation specifically to close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and in part because if the Mississippi law goes into effect then women have essentially no legal right to abortion in the state. So essentially the same law analyzed by the same federal appeals circuit but with a totally different outcome.

In their petition to the Roberts Court asking the Court to hear its case, attorneys for the State of Mississippi argue the Fifth Circuit not only contradicted itself in allowing the Texas law to take effect while blocking Mississippi’s, it did so because it mucked up the undue burden standard and now the Roberts Court has to fix it.

If the Roberts Court agrees to take Currier, then it will address the very important constitutional question of whether or not the fundamental right to abortion means anything in states intent on regulating it out of existence. And to come to an answer it will have to wrestle with this “we don’t need no stinking evidence” standard set out by the Fifth Circuit, which basically blocks the opportunity to rebut anti-choice lawmakers’ assertions on the safety or necessity of an abortion restriction—any abortion restriction—with medical-based evidence to the contrary.

Of course the Roberts Court could decline to take up Currier, in part because the Fifth Circuit’s decision affirms a preliminary order keeping the state’s last remaining clinic open while the suit challenging the law proceeds. The Court could decide that while the issues in Currier need to be addressed, the appropriate time to do so is after a trial and with a fuller record. That decision would delay, rather than decide, the issue of the constitutionality of admitting privileges requirements and keep in place the conflicting federal appeals court rulings on whether they are constitutional and what level of proof is required to challenge them. These are questions the Court is going to have to answer at some point, which is exactly what the Fifth Circuit’s decisions in both Abbott and Currier, with its conflicting outcome, were designed to prompt.

In the interim, conservative lawmakers in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana would continue to enjoy the cover of a Fifth Circuit decision that cuts off evidence contradicting lawmakers’ claims that anti-abortion restrictions are medically reasonable or that they help women. Who knows what kinds of restrictions lawmakers would come up with in response, but with anti-choice activists offering testimony that a fetus is capable of feeling pain as early as eight weeks’ gestation, we do know they will continue to have nothing to do with patient health or safety.

The Court could announce its decision whether to take up Currier as early as next week.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Impact of Admitting Privileges Case Before Supreme Court Extends Beyond Mississippi appeared first on RH Reality Check.


NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 16:02

S. Carolina Repub: Drop 20-week abortion ban because women will fake being raped to get one
Republicans in South Carolina’s state Senate had to work to outmaneuver one of their own on Tuesday after he threatened to filibuster a ban on abortions.

Los Angeles City Council OKs $15 Minimum Wage

RH Reality Check - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 15:10

Los Angeles, the country’s second most populated city, will see its minimum wage increase to $15 by 2020 after the city council voted Tuesday for the wage hike, marking a major win for labor groups and working people who have seen the cost of living rocket past their hourly pay.

The city council will increase the city’s wages to $10.50 an hour by July 2016, followed by planned increases, according to the Los Angeles Times. The city council in 2014 approved a wage increase of more than $15 an hour for some 10,000 of the city’s hotel workers.

The citywide increase approved in a 14-1 vote on Tuesday will affect more than 700,000 workers in Los Angeles, according to some estimates. Los Angeles is the biggest city to raise its minimum wage above state levels.

“Today, help is on the way for the one million Angelenos who live in poverty,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who last year announced his own proposal to raise the city’s hourly minimum to $13.25 by 2017. This year, Garcetti threw his support behind the city council’s $15-an-hour plan.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor last January bought a series of billboards reading “Los Angeles: City Limited, Poverty Wage Pop. 810,864,” in conjunction with a report that found that the average pay for the city’s full-time, low-wage workers is $9.55 an hour, or about $19,000 a year.

One study by the Economic Roundtable, found that an increased wage would be exceedingly positive for the city, rebutting wage increase opponents who say a higher minimum wage will damage local economies and drive away businesses.

“We found that a phased-in increase to $15.25 by 2019 will put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales,” wrote Yvonne Yen Liu, one of the group’s researchers.

“That means that every dollar increase in the minimum wage generates $1.12 in economic stimulus,” Yen Liu wrote. “Businesses will hire more in response to the greater demand, creating 46,400 new jobs.”

Efforts to increase wages on the municipal level have gained traction across the country over the past few years, in part thanks to the Fight for $15 campaign, which seeks to draw attention to the low wages of fast-food workers.

In June 2014, Seattle became the first major city to pass a $15 minimum wage increase. Since then, a handful of cities across the country have enacted wage increases, including San Francisco, which passed a $15 hourly wage by ballot initiative in November, and Chicago, which approved an increase to $13 an hour.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this month announced that he plans to take executive action to push through a minimum wage increase for fast-food workers in the state, after Republican legislators opposed to a living wage cut a statewide increase from a budget proposal.

The fight for wage increases has more recently drawn in the technology world, after Facebook announced last week that it will increase the hourly wages of contractors to $15 minimum, as well as giving them 15 paid days of vacation.

Three in four adults favor a $12.50 national minimum wage, according to a survey released in January by Hart Research Associates. Ninety-two percent of those who identified as Democrats favored that higher minimum wage, while 53 percent of self-identified Republicans were proponents of the increase. Those in traditionally red states were slightly less likely to support a national minimum wage bump.

Los Angeles’ wage hike will face one more city council vote after the city attorney drafts a final plan.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Los Angeles City Council OKs $15 Minimum Wage appeared first on RH Reality Check.

“The parents’ rights they’re trying to protect are parents who are often neglige...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 15:00
“The parents’ rights they’re trying to protect are parents who are often negligent or abusive.” - Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas

Mandatory Abortion ID Bill Advances in Texas Legislature
Republicans want abortion providers to assume every patient is underage unless the patient can present an unspecified "valid governmental ID," which could end legal abortion care for undocumented Texans.


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