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Let’s Use Our Abortion Stories to Push Policy Reforms in 2015

RH Reality Check - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 08:26

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

When Brittany Mostiller shared her abortion story in November as part of a 1 in 3 Campaign abortion speak-out, she talked about how the economic challenges she was facing informed her decision to have an abortion. Mostiller was 23 years old and working part-time at a grocery store to support her three daughters, all under age 7. She was having a hard time paying rent and feeding her family, and the thought of another pregnancy brought on thoughts of suicide.

Even though an abortion was the right choice for her, barriers like the Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid recipients from using their health insurance to cover an abortion procedure, were in her way. She eventually was able to receive financial assistance from her local abortion fund and have an abortion, but her financial situation and insurance provider shouldn’t have prevented her from accessing health care on her own.

Abortion stories like Mostiller’s dominated the media last year. But too often, the circumstances that led women to have an abortion were under-discussed; the fact that they had an abortion at all became the focal point. As Anu Kumar points out in a recent piece for RH Reality Check, this has the negative effect of putting the weight on the individual story and not on the collective action we can all take to remove systemic barriers to health care and other services benefiting low-income women and single mothers. As more of us move to share our stories in 2015, advocates should not only promote these stories as they work to reduce stigma around abortion, but also push for policy reforms that match the full spectrum of needs laid bare in these stories.

Last year, we saw people speak out about what went into their decision to choose an abortion, which has helped create a more complete picture of why 30 percent of women choose to have one by age 45. Lucy Flores, a Nevada State Assembly member, shared her story about not having access to comprehensive sexual health education in her community. Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis said her abortion decisions were based on the health of her pregnancies. We also heard from rapper Nicki Minaj, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, a writer at Salon, 26 women in New York magazine, the features director and four women at Elle, four couples in Cosmopolitan, eight women in Glamour, the young woman who filmed her abortion, and over 100 people, including myself, during the 1 in 3 Campaign’s eight-hour online speak-out. People even shared their stories at the front doors of strangers’ homes.

Many said they told their stories to highlight a different narrative about abortion, the people who have them, and what goes into the decision.

“I share my abortion experience because my lived experience is that of so many other women, particularly marginalized women,” Brittany Mostiller told me via email in December. “However, women on the margins have always been at the center of the reproductive health chopping block. We need policy change and we have to be a part of that process.”

Mostiller is now the executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, helping make sure other people can pay for their abortions. Her experience has come full circle; she went from being without the funds, and insurance coverage, needed to get an abortion to helping people get the money they need for their abortions. What we can learn from Mostiller and other storytellers is how to have a bias toward action: Take the lessons from their stories and turn them into political actions for pro-women policies.

When our friends speak about their abortions, we should listen to truly hear what they are sharing with us. Often, buried in each story is a heart-wrenching experience of economic injustice, discrimination, and oppression. When storytellers share their whole story, then, they’re able to tell us the role low wages, jobs without health insurance, racism, gender discrimination, and lack of access to food and child care may have played in their abortion experience. Not only will we gain a clearer sense of what many women are forced to endure, but by sharing their stories, and our own, we can help to eliminate stigma on an individual level while effecting change on a cultural and policy level.

As Anu Kumar explains, we need more than just stories to affect policy change and reduce stigma. “Certainly, sharing stories can be a powerful act and may reduce self-shaming. But are we making women alone responsible for stigma reduction?” she asks. “I fear that it distracts from the structural inequalities of race, poverty, age, and education by placing too much emphasis on the individual. And I worry that it lets our politicians and policymakers off the hook.”

She’s right—stories are important, and they must be connected to the larger issues affecting our everyday health experiences just as lawmakers must be held accountable.

As such, for families like Mostiller’s, we must renew the fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment. And for poor families across the country, we must repeal family cap laws, which refuse additional government aid for poor families who have children while on public assistance, and do nothing but stigmatize, keep poor families in poverty, and punish children because their families are poor. Families in poverty need support and compassion, not judgment and shame. The abortion stories that describe trying to make ends meet as a low-income parent should remind us of that, and serve as a catalyst for policies that ensure everyone has the economic stability necessary to raise healthy families.

If we looked back at other stories shared in 2014, we could come up with a host of other needed policy reforms. For example, Rep. Flores’ story elevates the issue of whether the nation’s students are receiving accurate, non-stigmatizing sexual health education so they can make informed decisions about their bodies. Texas Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ admission that she did not experience mental health issues after her abortion reminds us that pervasive myths about abortion are still, unfortunately, informing our policy. And the many Texas abortion stories about traveling hundreds of miles, skipping meals, and not having the ability to take time off of work tell us the fight to end economic and geographic barriers to health care is far from over, especially as lawmakers are working harder than ever to close clinics.

Abortion stories give us a glimpse into the lives behind the statistics and policies. But as advocates, it’s our job to put faces on the data and show the deep impact our policies have on abortion experiences—policies that everyone can take part in shifting. This year, let’s pledge to really hear these stories, and take action so that our truths and community needs are not lost in political rhetoric and stigma. Listening to a story is only the first step. The next step—doing something—is up to us.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Let’s Use Our Abortion Stories to Push Policy Reforms in 2015 appeared first on RH Reality Check.

We're part of the 7 in 10 who support Roe v. Wade because we believe everyone sh...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 08:20
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House GOP Cancels 20-Week Abortion Ban Vote, Introduces Another Anti-Choice Bill

RH Reality Check - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 08:02

House Republicans at the last minute on Wednesday decided not to take a vote on an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban bill.

The House was scheduled to vote on the ban Thursday, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and also the day of the annual anti-choice “March for Life” event.

But objections from up to two dozen female GOP members about the bill’s too-narrow exception for rape made leadership wary about how it would look to pass an abortion ban with several female GOP “no” votes.

To avoid disappointing the hordes of anti-choice marchers descending on Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, Republicans will pinch-hit with another bill from their deep bench of anti-choice legislation—a bill to restrict federal funding for abortion coverage.

The so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” is considered a “less extreme” abortion bill, but it would have sweeping effects on the ability of American women to afford abortion care.

The bill would not only restrict abortion coverage for low-income women by making the Hyde Amendment permanent, it would also take away tax credits and subsidies from anyone purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act that covers abortion care.

It’s unclear how many female GOP “no” votes leadership would have actually seen on the 20-week ban, given that Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who led the charge to change the ban’s rape exceptions and removed herself as a co-sponsor, said she would have still voted for the bill.

Ellmers said Wednesday on Facebook that the 20-week ban would still have her vote because “I have and will continue to be a strong defender of the prolife community.”

Given that Ellmers had also warned that the party risked turning off young voters by focusing on the abortion ban so soon after taking control of Congress, her concerns seem to have been more about optics and timing than substance.

A senior GOP aide told the Washington Post that concerns about the bill “still need to be worked out,” and Republicans “remain committed to continue working through the process” to successfully pass the unconstitutional 20-week ban, a popular measure among anti-choice lawmakers in many GOP-controlled state legislatures.

Image: Shutterstock

The post House GOP Cancels 20-Week Abortion Ban Vote, Introduces Another Anti-Choice Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Center for Reproductive Rights: War On Women Is Over, If You Want It

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 23:00
Center for Reproductive Rights: War On Women Is Over, If You Want It In honor of 42nd anniversary of historic Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, Center launches campaign inspired by Yoko Ono’s iconic “War is Over” campaign

01.22.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that recognized a woman's constitutional right to abortion, the Center for Reproductive Rights has launched a new campaign, “War on Women Is Over! If You Want It,” to educate and activate individuals on the profound threats to women’s freedom. 

Over the last four years, politicians across the U.S. have enacted 231 new restrictions on abortion. Now women are facing an unprecedented and dramatic loss of safe, legal abortion services due to these sham laws designed to eliminate access to reproductive health care—all under the pretext of protecting women’s health.

War on Women is Over! If You Want It” was inspired by the power and vision of Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s original 1970s “War Is Over” campaign, with permission from Yoko Ono.

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

“If the seven in 10 Americans who consistently support women's access to safe and legal abortion were to make their presence even more strongly known, we could end the cultural and political attacks on women's dignity, health and rights. 

“The war on women can be over, if we want it. But we have to want it, and we have to work for it.  

“We have to call on our elected leaders to advance measures that will restore access to basic health care for the millions of women who have had services taken away, not political measures that only deny more women critical care.”

To support the campaign, the Center for Reproductive Rights (@ReproRights) is urging individuals to join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #WarOnWomen and call on Congress to promote genuinely pro-woman policies like the recently reintroduced Women’s Health Protection Act.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is the only global legal advocacy organization dedicated exclusively to the advancement and protection of reproductive rights as fundamental human rights in constitutional and international law. For more than 20 years, we’ve been on the front lines of the most important battles for the future of reproductive freedom across the globe.


Pro-Choice Champions in Congress Reintroduce Historic Women’s Health Protection Act

El Salvador Issues Pardon of Woman Wrongfully Imprisoned for Pregnancy Complications

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 23:00
El Salvador Issues Pardon of Woman Wrongfully Imprisoned for Pregnancy Complications After a failed vote last week, Salvadoran Congress approves pardon for woman serving a 30 year sentence as a result of country’s extreme abortion ban

01.22.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) After failing to do so last week, today El Salvador’s Congress has finally approved a pardon for “Guadalupe,” a Salvadoran rape survivor wrongfully imprisoned for homicide after suffering a pregnancy-related complication. The Congress approved the pardon by 43 votes, after both the Human Rights Congressional Committee and Supreme Court Committee resubmitted their recommendation for her release.

For more than 16 years, El Salvador has criminalized abortion in all circumstances--even when necessary to save a woman’s life—imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians.  The ban has also resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of countless women who have suffered pregnancy-related complications and miscarriages.

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

“Guadalupe’s release from prison is an important step toward justice for her and many other women whose human rights have been violated by El Salvador’s extreme anti-abortion laws, but more must be done.

“A woman who seeks essential health care has committed no crime, and she should neither fear imprisonment nor be required to seek a pardon for her actions.

“Today’s action by the Salvadoran government must be followed in short order by the release of every woman wrongfully imprisoned under this oppressive law and decisive action toward the decriminalization of abortion for all Salvadoran women.”

In December, a coalition of NGOs led by Agrupación Ciudadana and the Center, launched the “Las17” campaign calling for the release of “Guadalupe” and 16 other Salvadoran women who all suffered obstetric emergencies and were later convicted of homicide. “Las 17” are each currently serving 30-40 year sentences.

In November, 12 countries denounced the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Salvadoran government has opted to postpone responding to the UPR recommendations until the next session in March 2015.

“El Salvador has finally heard the chorus of human rights advocates across the globe calling for the release of ‘Las 17,’” said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “For decades, El Salvador has blatantly violated the fundamental human rights of these women and countless others. We stand with ‘Las 17,’ Agrupación Ciudadana and our global partners in this fight to seek justice for all Salvadoran women.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than 12 years to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. The Center and Agrupación Ciudadana co-authored the report Marginalized, Persecuted and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion that documents the human rights consequences of the abortion ban, and includes the personal stories of five women who were unfairly prosecuted for illegal abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies without receiving medical attention. The report analyzes how El Salvador’s health, judicial and prison systems fail to guarantee women’s human rights.

12 Countries Call on El Salvador to Decriminalize Abortion Marginalized, Persecuted, and Imprisoned: The Effects of El Salvador’s Total Criminalization of Abortion

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What Would Change If ‘Roe’ Were Overturned?

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 16:01

Read more stories commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade here.

Anti-choice activists have never hid the fact that they want Roe v. Wade overturned. Now, 42 years after that landmark decision, with legal challenges to pre-viability abortion bans from states like North Dakota and Arkansas circulating in the federal courts, Republicans in Congress intent on passing similar federal restrictions, and an anti-choice majority on the Supreme Court, their wish has never been more likely to come true. That’s a terrifying thought, yes, but can we honestly say we’d notice?

If Roe were overturned and states suddenly had the power to re-criminalize abortion, would clinics be forced to close overnight? If the implementation of HB 2 in Texas is any indication, that answer is yes, at least in many parts of the country. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota already have laws on the books that would automatically criminalize abortion should the decision be overturned. Meanwhile, 11 other states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, have pre-Roe laws criminalizing abortion that are still technically in effect and could be resuscitated following a reversal. 

Would women face prosecution for stillbirths? Well, jury selection begins this week in the case of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman facing contradictory felony charges of neglect of a dependent and feticide after Patel admitted to hospital staff that she’d delivered a fetus she believed to be stillborn. So that’s already happening.

In fact, it’s hard to think of one of the many nightmare scenarios of what life would be like in a post-Roe world that isn’t already taking place somewhere in this country. As of 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of the states qualify as “hostile” to abortion rights, meaning they have at least four reproductive health-care restrictions on the books. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court is currently giving serious consideration to the argument that fetal viability begins at conception, because during in vitro fertilization a fertilized egg can “survive” on its own for a few days prior to implantation.

It’s worth noting that if the federal appeals court buys that argument, it would set the stage for the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade—and possibly reverse it for good.

“Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in Gonzales v. Carhart, the 2007 Roberts Court decision that upheld the federal ban on “partial birth abortions” by granting lawmakers the latitude to “pick sides” on matters that they determine to be in “scientific dispute,” like when a fetus can feel pain or if abortions cause cancer.

“While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” Kennedy wrote.

42 years after Roe v. Wade, it’s Justice Kennedy’s infamous “abortion-regret” passage from Gonzales that perfectly sums up the state of abortion rights jurisprudence in the federal courts today. Instead of decisions grounded in science and fact, the courts continue to reinforce motherhood as some mystical state of being—a “phenomenon,” to borrow Justice Kennedy’s words, that defies measurability by “reliable data.”

In other words, celebrating the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is tricky business. Before Roe, 30 states criminalized abortion outright while others, like Washington and New York, had much more liberal access to abortion services. On the one hand, the decision remains a historic recognition of the fundamental legal autonomy of women and the limits on state power to regulate our most private areas of life. On the other, abortion-rights advocates today face a largely hostile and conservative federal judiciary, which appears more willing than ever to roll back all historic civil rights achievements, including reproductive rights.

The abortion-rights landscape is an ever-shrinking map of concentrated access in urban centers and “blue” states. Thanks to the Hyde Amendment, poverty remains a primary indicator of who can and cannot access abortion care in this country. And thanks to decades of targeted campaigns by anti-abortion radicals who disguise themselves as soft-spoken grannies looking to counsel lost, wayward patients, providers must navigate increasingly treacherous waters just to do their jobs.

When I look at the myriad efforts by anti-choice advocates to undermine abortion rights—everything from “personhood” measures dressed up as so-called heartbeat bans, to restrictions on medication abortions that jail women like Jennifer Whalen, to attacks on family planning services and contraception access—I no longer see Roe v. Wade as a tale of victory for abortion rights. Instead, I see it as a tale of caution: Just because the courts say the right to an abortion exists does not make it so.

Instead of expanding on the basic premise of Roe—that no state has the power to make the ultimate determination for whether a woman continues a pregnancy—the federal courts have spent the last 40 years limiting that premise and endorsing obstacles like the above, which place abortion access out of reach for most of the country. Instead of creating a Roe doctrine that builds on that decision and recognizes the fundamental right to be free from state-compelled pregnancy, the federal courts have created a Roe hypothesis, where a right to abortion exists in theory with no discernible way to access it in reality. Instead of fully embracing women’s legal autonomy, they opened for debate the merits of rape exclusions in abortion bans and reinforced the social stigma surrounding all women’s sexual and reproductive health-care decisions, but especially abortion.

It’s not that this country risks going back to the patchwork of laws in place before Roe. It’s that, in too many ways, we never left.

Image: Shutterstock

The post What Would Change If ‘Roe’ Were Overturned? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Study: Medicaid for Children Pays for Itself

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 15:36

Low-income children with access to health insurance are more likely to attend college and live longer than poor children without insurance, according to a groundbreaking new study published this month.

Making health care available to children born into low-income families also pays off, quite literally, in the long run, as the program has proven a boon for the federal government’s tax rolls.

Using IRS data, a team of Treasury Department analysts and a Yale economist tracked the lives of 14.6 million children born in the early 1980s until they reached age 28, in an attempt to measure how Medicaid eligibility at a young age affects outcomes later in life.

The effects of Medicaid access on the lives of children are stark, the study found. Not only do those children live longer than those in similar households, they are also more likely to attend college and to get jobs with higher wages than children without Medicaid.

While it may not be a shock that access to health insurance can help people live longer, more productive lives, a fourth conclusion from the study is perhaps the most important: Children on Medicaid plans pay more into the system and take out less.

“We find that by expanding Medicaid to children,” wrote the study’s authors, “the government recoups much of its investment over time in the form of higher future tax payments. Moreover, children exposed to Medicaid collect less money from the government in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

These findings, though based on a decades-old change in policy, are still highly relevant today, as leaders in nearly half the states in the nation battle the expansion of Medicaid, for both children and adults, outlined by the Affordable Care Act.

High on the list of arguments made against Medicaid expansion is one about cost; specifically, that increasing eligibility of the public insurance would strain state budgets.

“History has repeatedly shown that the costs of many government healthcare programs far exceed early projections,” Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott wrote in 2012. “Medicaid expansion is bad for states because it would put a tremendous strain on state budgets and increase dependency on government programs.”

Scott, whose health-care company in the 1990s was charged with 14 felonies and fined $600 million for illegal Medicare billing practices, has since changed his opinion on Medicaid and started advocating for expansion.

Though Medicaid was created in 1965 as a way to help low-income people afford health insurance, it wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that significant reforms were made to the law to increase health insurance access for children. By 1996, nearly 21 percent of children in the United States were enrolled in Medicaid insurance plans.

The study published this month calls into question arguments like Scott’s by showing that not only do governments recoup a significant portion of the money spent on Medicaid, but low-income children with access to health insurance are also less likely to receive income tax credits.

“Although it will take years to know the long-term impact of current expansions of Medicaid undertaken as part of the Affordable Care Act,” Amanda Kowalski, the study’s co-author, said in a statement. “This study shows that the investments that the government made in Medicaid in the 1980s and 1990s are paying off in the form of higher tax payments now.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Study: Medicaid for Children Pays for Itself appeared first on RH Reality Check.

The history of the tactic anti-choice politicians in Congress are using to try t...

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Democrats Reintroduce Legislation to Protect Abortion Access

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 13:55

House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a response to an unprecedented onslaught of state-level restrictions on abortion providers that has restricted women’s access to reproductive health care.

The WHPA would prohibit any state or federal laws that single out abortion providers for restrictions that don’t apply to similar medical services, such as TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws, forced ultrasounds, waiting periods, or restrictions on medication abortion.

TRAP laws have become common policy proposals in state legislatures dominated by anti-choice lawmakers, who insist that the unnecessary laws are meant to ensure the safety of those seeking an abortion.

Legal abortion procedures have a “very low complication rate,” as a recent study notes, with less than 2 percent of all studied abortions resulting in complications within six weeks of the initial procedure.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), along with Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), reintroduced the bill the day before the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when House Republicans will also try to pass an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban bill.

This is not the first time the WHPA and a national 20-week ban have been in the news at the same time, sharply illustrating where each party stands on abortion rights. Last year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unsuccessfully tried to get the Senate to vote on the WHPA in exchange for a vote on his 20-week ban.

The WHPA almost certainly won’t get a vote in this Republican Congress either. The 20-week ban is very likely to get a Senate vote this time around, but it’s not clear whether it has the votes pass and head to President Obama’s desk.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it makes it that far.

“The Women’s Health Protection Act will ensure that every woman in America can exercise her constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion care without interference from the devious tactics of politicians bent on substituting their judgment for hers,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Democrats Reintroduce Legislation to Protect Abortion Access appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Don’t Be Fooled By Joni Ernst’s Minor Mention of Abortion in Her SOTU Response

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 13:44

In their official response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, Republicans returned to the well of selecting one of their rare congresswomen to deliver it. However, Sen. Joni Ernst’s speech was markedly different than the one given by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers last year. Rodgers put a huge emphasis on the “woman” thing, talking a lot about being a mother and a wife and hinting at domesticity by sitting in front of a fireplace. Ernst, on the other hand, stood in an office, only briefly mentioned that she is a mother, and spoke way more about her own childhood than about the raising of others. Not to be overly reductive about this, but the shift is, I believe, all because of reproductive rights.

Last year, Republicans, up in arms over the “war on women” meme, were trying to justify their attacks on Americans’ bodily autonomy. Subsequently, Rodgers really dwelled on the issue in her speech, talking about how she personally had three children, one with Down syndrome, while serving as a member of Congress. The implication was easy enough to grasp: Rodgers has had no need for reproductive choice in order to work, so why should you?

Ernst, however, mentioned abortion in the most perfunctory manner, saying, “And we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.” There were no other nods to the issue of restricting reproductive rights, despite Ernst’s long history of being obsessive and radical about the topic—including her support of “personhood” amendments, which could criminalize some miscarriages and potentially be used to attack legal contraception. Yet she seemed nearly indifferent to the issue in her rebuttal.

Based on this difference, it seems as if Republican tactics have shifted from trying to justify their extreme anti-choice views to trying to minimize them. That’s understandable in a country where support for legal abortion remains stable, despite a four-decade campaign draping the procedure in shame. This also appears to have been the strategy during the campaign season, where some Republicans like Scott Walker and, yes, Joni Ernst tried to imply that their “pro-life” views would not have any actual impact on your ability to get an abortion.

But just because the Republicans in Congress don’t want to be seen as anti-choice doesn’t mean they’re going to go so far as to actually stop trying to take away your access to abortion. The opposite, actually. While Ernst was fronting like Republicans can barely be moved to think about abortion, the reality is that GOP members of Congress can hardly think of anything but abortion. Between the House and the Senate, Republicans have introduced five new bills on the issue: A measure that would defund Planned Parenthood at the federal level, an admitting privileges bill that would dramatically reduce rural access, a 20-week abortion ban to make it harder to abort for fetal anomalies, a sex-selective abortion ban (even though this isn’t actually a problem in the United States), and a particularly frightening proposition that would allow emergency rooms to refuse you abortion-related care—even though such refusals can end in infertility, injury, and even death.

Sadly, the method of playing the “abortion who?” game in public while obsessing about it endlessly in Congress will probably be an effective one for Republicans. Part of the reason is a media environment that is far more focused on what people say than what people do. (Ask Todd Akin, who isn’t any more anti-choice than most of his Republican colleagues, but who lost a Senate election because he was less euphemistic than most when expressing ugly attitudes about women.)

As long as Republicans speak about abortion as little as possible and in the most oblique terms, they can signal to their fervent anti-choice base that they have their back while hoodwinking the pro-choice public into thinking things aren’t so bad. Ironically, this depends on Obama vetoing any anti-choice bills Congress coughs up, because the public’s interest in the issue is likely to rise if there are headlines about a national ban being enacted on a huge number of abortions.

The other reason this strategy will likely prove successful is, in a sick twist of fate, because of the relentlessness of the conservative obsession with abortion. The full-court press of these kinds of bills in the past few years has actually normalized the attacks on reproductive rights. Oh, the Republicans are trying to restrict abortion again? Must be Tuesday. The sheer number of bills has exhausted the public’s ability to give attention to the issue. It’s become boring. People want to talk about something else. They may even start to resent pro-choicers for harping on the issue, even though, in reality, we’re just trying to draw attention to the conservative fixation with the topic.

Say what you will, but Republicans are handling this issue masterfully right now. Stay silent about the abortion issue while passing more and more bills restricting it. And when feminists cry foul, let them take the blame for bringing that old issue up again, even though everyone is tired of hearing about it. Ernst was just playing her part—and right now, it seems like it will work in her, and other Republicans’, favor.

Image: The New York Times/Youtube

The post Don’t Be Fooled By Joni Ernst’s Minor Mention of Abortion in Her SOTU Response appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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Pope Francis’ Remarks About Birth Control ‘Methods’ Offend Pro-Choice Catholics

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 12:15

Pope Francis, on his way home from his visit to the Philippines this week, raised eyebrows when he said that Catholics don’t have to have so many children: “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits, but no.”

While his off-the-cuff comments may have garnered chuckles from some people, many others are offended and point to the Church’s central role in denying women access to birth control.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said the comments were anything but amusing.

“There’s no doubt that bunnies are furry, cuddly, and comedic. When you start talking about it, it’s sort of hilarious. But Catholics the world over have had to suffer discrimination and prejudice because of the idea that we can’t control our fertility,” O’Brien said in an interview with RH Reality Check. “I think that the Pope’s remarks were offensive. I don’t think he says them with malice. I think the problem for Pope Francis is that he has a blind spot in relation to women.

The Pope’s comments were said in reference to a woman he had met on the trip who has had seven cesarean sections and is now risking her life to have an eighth child. The Pope called this an example of “irresponsibility” and said that though the woman might argue that she had trusted in God, she’d be wrong.

“But God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said.

O’Brien said he was upset by the accusatory nature of those remarks: “To have Pope Francis pointing a finger as if to say that women are feckless and irresponsible is awful,” O’Brien said. “How dare he talk about this woman like that. Women have had to carry a huge burden in the Catholic Church because of an intransigent hierarchy that has waged war on contraception. Women have died.”

The Pope essentially suggested that this woman had had too many children. He went on to say that three children was the ideal number to demonstrate responsible parenting because it assured re-population.

O’Brien found these comments disrespectful of women and couples “who in good conscience are deciding how many children they should have.”

O’Brien and others noted that the Pope’s comments are particularly disturbing given that he was leaving the Philippines, a country that has used the Church’s doctrine against birth control to significantly restrict access to family planning, especially for poor women.

Emily Rauhala, a correspondent for TIME, has been following the politics of birth control in the Philippines for many years. She wrote:

The Philippines’ Catholic hierarchy has fought long and hard to restrict access to prophylactics. Over the past few decades, as most countries embraced family planning, the Philippines has moved in the opposite direction, discouraging the use of contraception and prohibiting abortion under any circumstance. They cast condom use as anti-Catholic and anti-Filipino, insisting that couples ought to use “natural methods.”

In fact, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has successfully fought a bill to help poor women access contraception. Even after the bill passed, the Church continued to fight it by involving the courts and challenging the law’s constitutionality.

Still, Pope Francis was confident that Catholics could control the number of children they have while sticking to the rules of the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which prohibits use of any modern methods of contraception.

“This is why there are marriage support groups in the Church with people who are experts on such issues. And there are pastors and I know that there are many acceptable solutions that have helped with this,” he said.

Presumably the Pope was pointing to natural family planning, which requires tracking a woman’s cycle and remaining abstinent on her most fertile days. O’Brien thinks this is ridiculous.

“Everyone knows that natural family planning is a phenomenal failure,” he said, pointing out that Catholic women with options choose anything else.

In fact, 99 percent of Catholic women in the United States have used modern methods of contraception. Perhaps so that they didn’t have to breed like bunnies.

Image: giulio napolitano /

The post Pope Francis’ Remarks About Birth Control ‘Methods’ Offend Pro-Choice Catholics appeared first on RH Reality Check.

We’re headed to Congress today to make sure anti-choice politicians hear this me...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:00
We’re headed to Congress today to make sure anti-choice politicians hear this message loud and clear.

On Muslims, No One at State of the Union Can Bring Themselves to Cheer

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 10:48

The State of the Union address can often feel like a cheer-fest. For the most part, each sentence is met with applause. It seems like it might be a good workout for many attendees: They’re on their feet giving standing ovations every couple of minutes, like they’re doing a very fancy form of squats.

But last night, there was one moment in which the audience met a sentence obviously intended to be an applause line with profound silence instead.

Here’s the section, with my annotations in bold (or watch the video, beginning at about 46 minutes in):

As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, [applause] and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained [applause]. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world [applause]. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslimsthe vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace [SILENCE]. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender [applause]. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer [applause].

As you can see, in the middle of an applause-sandwich, when the president referred to this country’s commitment to “reject[ing] offensive stereotypes of Muslims,” the room fell silent. The discomfort was palpable. It wasn’t that applause was tepid; there was no applause at all.

How is it that not even a single one of the self-identified progressive Democrats in the room was willing to express their approval of the president’s call to reject offensive stereotypes of a group of people?

It wasn’t as if he’d advocated for anything so “controversial” as welcoming Muslims as equal members of the American community, or standing up against discrimination. (And yes, I use the word “controversial” sarcastically. In a political democracy, there shouldn’t be any hesitancy on those points, whether they refer to a particular religious group as a whole or its individual members, each of whom has a varying relationship—or lack thereof—with their religion and its institutions.)

And yet, for every member of that audience—consisting of all members of Congress, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, and many other honored guests—the humble notion of rejecting offensive stereotypes didn’t garner a single clap.

I do not have a particular, greater point to make about this moment. But I wanted to point it out, so that we at least mark it. I didn’t want to stay silent about this curious, troubling silence; one layer of silencing is surely enough.

Image: ABC News/ Youtube

The post On Muslims, No One at State of the Union Can Bring Themselves to Cheer appeared first on RH Reality Check.

To Push Back Against Mounting Restrictions, We Must Be Honest About Abortion Care

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 10:31

Read more stories commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade here.

Mindy Kaling, creator and star of the Mindy Project, recently generated controversy by saying that abortion was too serious of a topic to address on her sitcom, a comedy about a South Asian OB-GYN who is also named Mindy. I share with the fictional Dr. Mindy a nationality and a profession, but that’s where the similarities end: I will celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by discussing abortion, in order to highlight just how unnecessary—and potentially dangerous—the anti-choice restrictions sweeping the country truly are for women and their families.

I agree that abortion is a serious issue, in that the decision to become a parent is a serious one. But considering how critical it is for people to be able to make their own choices about what is best for them and their families, we must be honest about what abortion truly entails to push back against the limitations forcing reproductive health care out of reach.

I’ve watched as, one by one, our country elects legislators who vow to use their power to restrict abortion access. It used to be that lawmakers who were trying to interfere with reproductive rights would use morality as their basis, trying to apply their religious standards to the rest of us. Their tactics have shifted; now, they make all kinds of false assertions about protecting women and families. As an abortion provider, though, I know the procedure is extremely safe. In fact, an abortion has a lower complication rate than a colonoscopy, for which I refer all my patients older than 50. I work with those patients to determine the course of treatment that is best for them; the situation is the same for those seeking abortions.

I am infuriated by the spiteful policies imposed on abortion providers that are designed to force us to close our doors, such as requiring ambulatory surgical center standards or hospital admitting privileges. These bills upset me not only because they decrease access, but also because they ignore the very real fact that abortion providers are already providing high-quality follow-up care. Legislators continue to assert they’re trying to keep patients safe, while falsely implying that the services I provide are inherently dangerous and limiting options for people in need.

Prior to performing an abortion, I review all pregnancy options, including continuation of the pregnancy and adoption, with each patient. In addition, I allow family or friends to be present for this process so that everyone’s questions can be answered in a medically accurate and comprehensive manner. While complications are rare, I elucidate the different possibilities and how we might respond to each situation to ensure the continued health of my patient. Yet around the nation, bills are also being pushed that include mandated scripts with medically inaccurate information. I am so upset that politicians think they should mess with the relationship and unique trust that a patient has placed in a doctor. Rather than empowering women to make a strong decision with the support of their medical provider, these abortion counseling mandates serve to discourage women from seeking abortion services by lying to them and scaring them.

These lawmakers seem to believe that our patients themselves need legislation to inform them about their different options. In reality, though, they are often media-savvy and ready to make their own decisions—and if they aren’t, I and my expert colleagues are the ones who should be advising them, not someone in a statehouse. A few days ago, a woman I’ll call “Kelly”—with a delicate nose piercing, wavy blond hair, and skinny jeans—came to me as a new patient. I provide Pap tests, prenatal care, and abortions all in the same setting, because all of those services are normal procedures that should require the same kinds of dignity and individual attention. Kelly, who had recently obtained insurance through her job, was excited and nervous about getting her first gynecological exam in many years. Her period had been late, but she’d thought nothing of it, because school and work had frequently caused irregular cycles. When she learned she was pregnant, she was shocked and resolute about her decision to terminate it.

When I counseled her about her pregnancy options, she was relieved that she would not have to navigate yet another system for services. As I performed an abdominal ultrasound on “Kelly” in preparation for her procedure, she asked, “Dr. Gupta, do I have to see the photos? I really don’t want to.” Kelly, like many of my patients, was an experienced consumer of health media, and she had seen reports of legislation requiring providers to force patients to view ultrasound images, or perform vaginal ultrasounds, or read aloud state-approved scripts—all non-medically necessary attempts to limit Kelly’s right and access to safe abortion.

Fortunately for both me and Kelly, that is not the case in California, where I practice. In fact, the state is one of the few places where there have actually been proactive advances in reproductive health. Certified nurse midwives, physicians assistants, and nurse practitioners (collectively known as advance practice clinicians) can now train in and offer first-term surgical abortions; minors can ensure confidentiality while seeking reproductive health services; and a provision requiring insurance coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods with no cost-sharing was recently passed. California is truly a model of safe abortion care and increasing reproductive health care access for the rest of the country. That being said, not all Californians can even access abortion care easily, for there is an undue burden placed on women living in rural and low-income areas. The anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a good reminder to all reproductive health advocates that we must continue to collaborate to ensure medically accurate, readily available care for women and their families.

In addition, the anniversary should also be a reminder to us that we are dangerously close to reversing the right to privacy enshrined in Roe. I am also an educator of OB-GYN residents and medical students, and most of them are in their twenties and never saw an OB-GYN hospital ward before Roe. In fact, during a recent lecture I gave, they had to look up “septic abortion” on their smartphones; not a single individual had ever encountered a patient with post-abortion sepsis. This is yet another example reinforcing how safe abortion is now. Women aren’t dying from abortion like they did in the bad, old days before Roe v. Wade.

While some people may roll their eyes at the supposed entitlement of this generation, I prefer to say many are enlightened and invigorated by the mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters who lost their lives through personal sacrifice. That history is also why I continue to help families and provide abortions—and that I will continue to do my job to the best of my ability despite mounting restrictions.

Image: Shutterstock

The post To Push Back Against Mounting Restrictions, We Must Be Honest About Abortion Care appeared first on RH Reality Check.

In State of the Union Address, Obama Makes Strong Case for Women’s Economic Issues

RH Reality Check - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 10:30

President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress made a forceful case for “middle-class economics,” equal pay, paid leave, and affordable child care as being “must-have,” not “nice-to-have,” necessities for families.

“It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us,” Obama said.

For a real-life example of why this is so, Obama pointed to Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minnesota, a couple who struggled when the housing and construction markets took a nosedive. Their child care, Obama noted, costs more than their mortgage and almost as much as a year of tuition at the University of Minnesota.

Obama called for creating more child care slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per year. He said that the United States provided universal child care when having women in the workforce was a national security priority in World War II—and that given today’s economy, where two parents have to work to support a family, affordable and quality child care is more important than ever.

He highlighted the fact that America is the only advanced country on Earth not to guarantee paid maternity or sick leave to its workers, and that 43 million Americans have no paid sick leave.

The lack of access to paid sick leave is especially a problem for tipped employees working in restaurants and other service industries. These workers also experience higher poverty rates and are disproportionately women.

Obama recently expanded paid family and sick leave for federal workers and has urged Congress to do the same, although that outcome isn’t likely as long as Republicans have the majority in both houses.

The president called for free community college for two years and reiterated his veto threat if Congress tries to rescind his immigration order. He called on Congress to pass legislation advancing equal pay for women—“It’s 2015. It’s time,” he said—and for raising the minimum wage.

“If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it,” Obama said, to laughter in the chamber.

Many Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), remained seated during standing ovations in the chamber at the passages on equal pay and minimum wage increases.

Republicans also remained seated after a line about the need to “restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity,” after Obama reminded Congress that this year was the strongest year for overall economic growth in more than a decade.

His ideas about “middle-class economics,” presumably a response to the conservative idea of “trickle-down economics,” focused on helping working families afford child care, college, health care, housing, and retirement, and doing these things at the expense of the “super-rich.”

Obama’s remarks on the need for “women’s issues” to be everyone’s issues echoed his speech at the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families last year, when he said that family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, and a decent wage “shouldn’t be bonuses.”

He put forth pro-government messages, which the Democratic Party is starting to get bolder about in general. He said the nation needs to “set our sights higher” and “do more than just do no harm” when it comes to government action.

The speech also marked the first time that the words “transgender,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual” were said in a State of the Union address.

The president’s comments about women’s health and abortion rights, however, were far more tepid than his defense of women’s need for economic security for their families.

“We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs,” he said.

Image: ABC News/ Youtube

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