Reproductive rights advocates were disappointed Tuesday when the U.S. Senate passed a bill reforming Medicare payments that also included anti-choice language.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2) passed the Senate overwhelmingly on a 92-8 vote, with only Republicans voting against the bill. Some conservatives complained that not all of the bill’s costs were offset with other cuts.
The bipartisan bill, a deal brokered in the House between Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), ends the much-loathed annual tradition of the “doc fix” that requires Congress to act every year to prevent drastic cuts in Medicare payment rates to doctors. It also reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.
But a provision of the bill used Hyde Amendment language to bar community health clinics from using federal funds for abortion services. Pelosi argued that it didn’t change the status quo since a 2010 executive order does the same thing, but Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the language was unacceptable because it would expand Hyde’s reach.
Pelosi reached a compromise with Boehner on the abortion language, a clarification that the provision was temporary and only maintained the status quo.
That seemed to satisfy pro-choice Democrats, but advocates warned that the language still sets a dangerous precedent for expanding the Hyde Amendment, which also started off as “temporary” before becoming an annual routine. For 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has discriminated against low-income women by denying them coverage for abortion care through programs like Medicaid.
“It is shameful that legislation to fix the SGR became another vehicle for denying women the health care they need,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced an amendment to the bill called the “Women’s Access to Quality Health Care Act,” which was voted down. That amendment would have stripped the Hyde language as well as increased funding for Title X family planning programs and supported training programs for women’s health nurse practitioners.
“Despite the best efforts of the champions of women’s rights and well-being in the Senate, yet another bill in Congress has been cynically used as an opportunity to score political points by denying women coverage for essential health care,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
President Obama released a statement that he will be “proud” to pass the bill into law and that it “strengthens our country’s health care system for the long term.”
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California lawmakers this week introduced a bill that would regulate the information anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) provide to clients, forcing some of them to offer resources on abortion services.
AB 775—the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act—is being backed by the groups Black Women for Wellness and NARAL Pro-Choice California, which in March published a report on the deceptive misinformation given by the state’s 167 CPCs to pregnant people seeking services.
CPCs in California, like those in the rest of the country, have the either explicit or unstated goal of preventing clients from obtaining abortions. To meet that aim, CPC workers regularly dole out misinformation about the procedure, telling pregnant people that an abortion would negatively affect their health and that they shouldn’t go through with the procedure because they will likely miscarry anyway.
The centers, which in many states receive government funds, attract people by disguising themselves as abortions clinics, advertising their services as unbiased counseling and buying up or leasing space near abortion clinics.
Some cities in California have taken steps to curb the influence of CPCs. In San Francisco, anti-choice centers are prohibited from engaging in false or misleading advertising, and a judge can order the center to post notices saying that they do not offer abortion services or referrals.
The FACT Act, introduced by Democratic California Assemblymembers David Chiu and Autumn Burke, would require all licensed facilities in the state that “provide family planning and pregnancy-related services to inform patients about available assistance for affordable contraception, abortion, and prenatal care, including how to obtain that assistance,” according to NARAL Pro-Choice California.
The proposal would require facilities without medical licenses that offer similar services to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. CPCs in California are a mix of licensed and unlicensed facilities.
“Thousands of women do not know the legal options they have, or the funding resources available to them,” said the American Nurses Association of California in a written statement during a Tuesday Health Committee hearing on the bill. “This bill will help ensure that pregnant women receive the information they need to make an informed decision.”
Also supporting the bill at Tuesday’s committee hearing were California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the California Council of Churches IMPACT, and the California Primary Care Association.
Meanwhile, anti-choice groups in the state have begun a campaign against AB 775, calling it a “Bully Bill” on a newly created opposition website.
In a defense of CPCs during the Tuesday hearing, a California Right to Life Committee spokesperson compared the centers to car dealerships.
“What if they were to be seen as anti-environmental with misleading advertising, selling too many cars, and making citizens not anxious to take high speed rail?” the person asked. “Would it not be possible that the California High Speed Rail Authority require that car dealerships advertise High Speed Rail locations, schedules, and fees?”
The Health Committee approved AB 775 on Tuesday and referred it to the Judiciary. Both chambers of the California legislature are Democratic-dominated.
“The Reproductive FACT act is a piece of legislation that takes us one step closer to full reproductive freedom,” Janette Robinson Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness, said in a statement. “By ensuring women not only have access to reproductive health information free from coercion, and informing women of the full range of choices available to live healthy full lives regardless of race, income or geographic locations, we continue to actualize the ideas of reproductive justice.”
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The family of Marlise Muñoz, the pregnant Texas woman who was declared brain-dead in 2013 but whose body was kept on mechanical support against her wishes for months, testified on Wednesday in support of a proposed bill that would give end-of-life decision-making rights to pregnant Texans.
HB 3183 would strike a line in the state’s advance directives code that bars the code from applying in cases where a patient is pregnant. Had such a law been in place in 2013, Marlise Muñoz’s family would have been allowed to refuse mechanical support for her corpse. Instead, they were forced to take a North Texas county hospital to court in January 2014 to allow Muñoz—who was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed at home from a pulmonary embolism—to be taken off of machines.
“Our daughter was not in a coma or unconscious,” said Marlise Muñoz’s mother Lynne Machado, testifying in front of the state House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday afternoon. “Our daughter was dead.”
Currently, Texas law blocks pregnant people from being able to issue advance directives about their end-of-life care, requiring doctors and hospitals to keep pregnant Texans on mechanical support against their consent and regardless of their, or their families’ instructions.
Erick Muñoz, Marlise’s husband, also testified in front of the committee, saying these end-of-life decisions should be “completely up to the family,” and not the state government.
“I could not do anything to help my wife,” he said. “Literally. Could not do anything to help my wife.”
Erick Muñoz testified that his wife’s health insurance paid for most of her forced medical interventions, and that John Peter Smith Hospital, where her body was held against her and her family’s will, waived the fees that he would have been responsible for on top of those insurance payments.
Representatives from anti-abortion groups testified against the bill, often drawing gasps from audience members in the hearing room who came out to support the Muñoz and Machado family.
Cecilia Wood, of the right-wing Concerned Women for America group, testified that she did not intend any “disrespect” for Marlise Muñoz’s family, but said that the “life of a pre-born child” necessitates that pregnant Texans be forced to remain on mechanical support against their wishes. Wood said she believed that it might “sound really horrible,” but in her opinion, “it would never have been okay to abide by the wishes of the family” in Marlise Muñoz’s case.
Wood said that the state should pay for these forced medical interventions, just as it pays to incarcerate people in jails and prisons.
Jeremy Newman, a representative from the anti-choice Texas Homeschool Coalition argued against HB 3183 because he believes it would infringe upon parental rights. Newman also testified that he “assumed” Marlise Muñoz, who worked as an EMT, could not have been aware of the meaning of her wishes to refuse mechanical support.
Later, an anti-choice doctor and representative from the Texas Alliance for Life testified that the law amounted to “micromanaging” and was legally unnecessary.
“I’m not an expert on this sort of medicine,” testified Dr. Beverly Nuckols, “but I do read a lot.”
When closing on the bill hearing, HB 3183 sponsor Rep. Elliott Naishtat asked aloud, “How can you give life-sustaining treatment to a person who is dead?”
The bill was left pending in committee, though another bill, HB 1901, directly counters the intention of “Marlise’s Law” and would force families like the Muñozes and Machados to take the state to court in order to remove their loved ones from mechanical support. It has not yet been assigned a hearing.
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Despite pressure from advocates and members of Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will not allow uninsured women to enroll in Obamacare if they become pregnant outside of the three-month window of open enrollment.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and 36 other senators sent a letter last month to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking for a special enrollment period for pregnant women, since prenatal care is both expensive and essential for the health of both mothers and children.
The current rules allow a woman to sign up for Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage outside of the open enrollment period if she is “having a baby,” but that only takes effect after she gives birth. Even a healthy pregnancy can easily cost $10,000-$20,000 out of pocket, and advocates say that such high costs might make women forgo the prenatal care they need to avoid expensive or even fatal complications.
Burwell, in a response sent Friday, said that HHS does not have “the legal authority to establish pregnancy as an exceptional circumstance.”
“It is absolutely critical that all pregnant women have access to health care coverage, so I am disappointed by today’s announcement,” Murray said in a statement. “I will continue looking for ways to get this done so that more women can get covered and get the affordable, high quality care they need for themselves and their young children.”
Burwell’s letter didn’t go into detail about why HHS lacks this legal authority. An HHS spokesperson told RH Reality Check that the department is allowed to create new special enrollment periods for exceptional circumstances, like a natural disaster, that would keep people from signing up in a timely fashion during open enrollment.
HHS concluded that pregnancy doesn’t fit that description.
Asked why HHS can’t just expand the definition of “qualifying life events” to include pregnancy, the spokesperson noted that life events like birth, adoption, and marriage introduce new people into a covered household, and a special enrollment period lets them get coverage.
Burwell’s response said that low- and moderate-income women who become pregnant outside of the ACA open enrollment period can get maternity coverage under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The ACA requires insurers to cover maternity care to help eliminate discrimination against women in health insurance. But there remain exceptions to that rule, according to a report by Young Invincibles—women might not have maternity coverage if they are insured under certain grandfathered or transitional plans, self-funded student health plans, or a parent’s job-based insurance plan that doesn’t require maternity coverage for dependents.
Medicaid and CHIP eligibility levels also vary considerably state by state, and in many states, $20,000 could still be half the yearly income of someone who makes too much money to qualify for either program.
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Nigerian activists and citizens are demanding more action as the country marks the one-year anniversary of the abduction of more than 200 teenage school girls.
Boko Haram kidnapped about 276 girls from their school dormitory in the northeastern town of Chibok on the night of April 14, 2014. Fifty-seven girls escaped, but others remain missing.
Since then, Nigerians have criticized the government’s response to the situation, urging officials to rescue the girls. The hashtag campaign #BringBackOurGirls gained global attention and eventually became the name for their nationwide movement.
But activists are now looking beyond social media for action.
“We are pleased with the support worldwide but we need to move beyond hashtag activism,” said Aisha Oyebode, coordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls movement in Lagos, in a statement. “We expect both the international community and our government to rise up to the expectation that they have a responsibility to protect our children from what one can only define as a mass atrocity crime and gross human rights violations.”
Oyebode was among hundreds of Nigerians who gathered and held a vigil in Lagos on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the abduction of the school girls. At the vigil, activists reiterated their resolve to maintain pressure on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls.
“I cannot imagine what it must be like every night [to] not know what’s happening to your child. … Posterity will judge us if under our watch 200-plus Nigerian girls go missing and we don’t do anything,” Oyebode told RH Reality Check.
On the day of the anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok school girls, Amnesty International released a report saying at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014, with many forced into sexual slavery and trained to fight.
“The evidence presented in this shocking report, one year after the horrific abduction of the Chibok girls, underlines the scale and depravity of Boko Haram’s methods,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims have been killed, abducted, and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions,” Shetty said. “Recent military successes might spell the beginning of the end for Boko Haram, but there is a huge amount to be done to protect civilians, resolve the humanitarian crisis, and begin the healing process.”
Eight hundred thousand children have had to flee their homes due to the conflict in Nigeria’s northeast, according to a recent report by UNICEF.
The report, Missing Childhoods, found that “the number of children running for their lives within Nigeria, or crossing over the border to Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has more than doubled in just less than a year.”
On March 28, President Goodluck Jonathan lost his re-election bid to the major opposition candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari. Jonathan’s defeat, activists believe, happened partly because of his government’s poor handling of the Boko Haram insurgency, despite significant gains in recovering territory taken by the militant days before the poll.
“We were clear by the time they started campaigning that this was going to define the 2015 elections, and it did,” Oyebode told RH Reality Check. “That says a lot about the power of the people, and more importantly about the power of women.”
The president-elect has vowed to crush Boko Haram, but fell short of guaranteeing the return of the girls.
“It’s important to manage expectations,” Oyebode said. “But the least we can ask for is that every girl must be accounted for, which means: rescue as many as you can and tell us what happened to those you can’t rescue. But every girl must be accounted for.”
Yemisi Ransome Kuti, a member of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, says she hopes that the outgoing and incoming administrations will have the issues of the insurgency in the northeast and the missing Chibok girls as their priority agenda items.
The rights activist, however, thinks Nigerians need to do more in holding the government accountable.
“The buck stops with us, as we are the ones that have to demand for good governance,” she said. “If Nigerians had come out en mass as they did when government removed the fuel subsidies, our government would have done something. We must remember that the responsibility of good governance does not lie in the government. So let us take responsibility as well.”
At the Tuesday, one-year anniversary commemoration of the abduction of the missing girls, Ransom Kuti called on citizens to remain vigilant and ensure the country doesn’t breed another generation of disaffected young men who could grow up to do exactly the same as Boko Haram has done.
She said: “As we tell government to bring back our girls, we must remember the underlying issues around unemployment, girl child education, good governance, and make sure that every young child, boy or girl, sees his or her future in this great country. That is what we must do as we continue to say, ‘Bring back our girls.'”
Image: Samual Okocha
The post Activists Demand More Action One Year After Nigeria School Kidnappings appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A Texas Republican has proposed a small wording change to a law that allows abused and abandoned teenagers to obtain abortion care in the state without a parent’s permission. His critics say that change could effectively end abortion access for some of the state’s most marginalized and vulnerable youth.
The Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee heard the bill on Tuesday afternoon, when more than 90 Texans signed up to oppose the new restrictions and a dozen registered support in favor of the bill. The bill’s author, state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), opened the hearing by saying that so much opposition to his bill had to be a computer “glitch.”
King then emphasized that the bill was not brought to him “by any right-to-life group”—a potentially veiled reference to lobby groups like Americans United for Life and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which write legislation for anti-choice lawmakers—but said that HB 723 came out of his own interest in the issue.
HB 723 would change the word “or” to “and” in a state statute that allows some adolescent Texans—many of whose parents abuse them, have abandoned them, or are deceased or incarcerated—to obtain a “judicial bypass” that allows them to access abortion without a parent’s consent. The bill would thereby require youth to prove that they satisfy all three, rather than just one, of the requirements for a bypass.
Current state requirements are such that Texas minors can show they are “mature and sufficiently well informed” about their abortion decision, that notification of a parent would not be in the teen’s best interest, or that notification of a parent “may lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.”
“Many teenagers cannot meet all three grounds,” said Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit that helps teens navigate the judicial bypass process.
In a press release issued by Texas’ new Trust. Respect. Access. coalition, Hester said King’s bill would especially affect younger teens.
“Particularly younger abused teenagers who may not necessarily be able to prove maturity,” said Hester. “Or mature teens living on their own because the parents aren’t in the picture, who cannot prove abuse but are logistically unable to get parental consent.”
During Tuesday’s committee hearing, Rep. King said he might be amenable to removing the “and” language from HB 723 because of concerns about potential “constitutional problems,” an issue raised after he filed the bill earlier this year. King acknowledged that the “and” language had the potential to render the bill unconstitutional.
King’s bill would also mandate that a teen seeking a judicial bypass be appointed a guardian ad litem and an attorney ad litem who are not the same individual; current law allows an attorney ad litem to also serve as a teen’s guardian ad litem. King said that he believed this allowance did not encourage “best practices.”
After an hour-long hearing, house judiciary chair Rep. John Smithee struggled to list all the names of Texans who had registered in opposition to the bill, adding that he “appreciated” members of the public not extending the length of the hearing by testifying and offering their input.
The bill was left pending in committee.
The post Texas Republican Looks to Restrict Abortion Access for Vulnerable Youth appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A panel of federal court judges has rejected yet another conservative legal attack on President Obama’s signature health-care reform law, while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the fate of health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans who purchased policies through state-based exchanges.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously rejected claims brought by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson that challenged the federal government’s ability to offer subsidies to members of Congress and their staff for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The federal Office of Personnel Management in 2013 established regulations for how members of Congress and their staff members could obtain insurance coverage under the ACA. Under those rules, congressional employees must get their coverage through an insurance marketplace set up for small businesses in the Washington, D.C., area.
Congressional staff who are not considered part of the official office receive their insurance as an employee benefit, as those staff members had in the past. Johnson’s lawsuit claimed that those rules create a loophole for members of Congress to sidestep Obamacare provisions on providing insurance to their employees.
Johnson sued to keep himself and his staff on the exchanges, arguing he would suffer “reputational and electoral injury” that many of his constituents believe to be illegal.
A lower court dismissed Johnson’s lawsuit in July, ruling the senator and his aide didn’t have standing to bring the case because they had not been injured by the health-care law.
Tuesday’s ruling from the Seventh Circuit affirms that lower court’s ruling.
“Respectfully, we do not see how Senator Johnson’s reputation could be sullied or his electability diminished by being offered, against his will, a benefit that he then decided to refuse,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote for the panel of Seventh Circuit judges. “He could not be accused of participating in an illegal scheme if he declined to participate.”
“For the second time, my attempt to restore the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative co-equal branches of government has been stymied by the courts,” Johnson said. “With this decision today, another executive action by the administration will go unchallenged, all based on the legal technicality of standing.”
“My legal team and I will carefully review the decision before determining our next step in this important constitutional dispute,” Johnson said. “We’ve lost a battle in court, but we will continue to move forward in our effort to return sanity, fairness and balance to government on behalf of the American people.”
Johnson could ask the panel of judges on the Seventh Circuit to review Tuesday’s decision, or he could ask the Roberts Court to intervene.
Meanwhile, a decision from the Supreme Court on the fate of state-based health insurance subsidies is not expected until this summer.
The post Federal Court Tosses GOP Senator’s Lawsuit Challenging Obamacare appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Department of Labor on Tuesday announced a series of proposed rules designed to protect consumers against conflicts of interest in retirement advice from financial advisers that White House advisers claim cost middle class and working families billions each year.
The proposal targets business practices of retirement account advisers and brokers who, under current law, can recommend retirement investments and products that make those brokers more money then they do their client, often in the form of hidden fees passed on to employee-investors in the fine print of their retirement plans.
A White House Council of Economic Advisers analysis found that these conflicts of interest result in annual losses of about $17 billion per year in total.
The Obama administration’s proposal would expand the number of people who are subject to fiduciary best interest standards when they provide retirement investment advice. The proposal would include a package of proposed exemptions that allows advisers to continue to receive payments that could create conflicts of interest if the conditions of the exemption are met.
Under the Labor Department’s proposal, those brokers who wish to receive payments from companies selling products they then recommend to their employee-investors will need to rely on one of several proposed “prohibited transaction exemptions” set forth by the federal government.
The proposed “best interest contract exemption” would be available to advisers who make investment recommendations to individual plan participants, IRA investors and small plans, which according to the Labor Department are most at risk from conflict-of-interest losses.
“This boils down to a very simple concept: if someone is paid to give you retirement investment advice, that person should be working in your best interest,” Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. “As commonsense as this may be, laws to protect consumers and ensure that financial advisers are giving the best advice in a complex market have not kept pace.”
“Our proposed rule would change that,” Perez continued. “Under the proposed rule, retirement advisers can be paid in various ways, as long as they are willing to put their customers’ best interest first.”
The proposals require retirement investment advisers and their firms to formally acknowledge their fiduciary status and enter into a contract with their customers in which they commit to fundamental standards of impartial conduct.
These include giving advice that is in the customer’s best interest and making truthful statements about investments and their compensation. If fiduciary advisers and their firms enter into and comply with this type of contract, clearly explain investment fees and costs, have appropriate policies and procedures to mitigate the harmful effects of conflicts of interest, and retain data on their performance, they can receive common types of fees that fiduciary advisers could otherwise not receive under the law. These include commissions and revenue sharing. If they do not, the proposals state brokers must refrain from recommending investments for which they receive conflicted compensation.
The federal government proposal includes other new exemptions and updates some exemptions available for investment advice.
Conservatives came out strongly against the proposed fiduciary rules, describing them as an assault on Americans’ fundamental freedoms.
“The new Department of Labor fiduciary rule, which Obama officials have said will mandate that brokers and others only give investment guidance that serves savers’ ‘best interest,’ will likely resemble Obamacare for your IRA and 401(k),” said John Berlau, senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Just as patients should be able to choose doctors, savers should have the freedom to weigh the potential risk and return of various investment plans. But imposing ‘fiduciary’ liability on a broad swath of financial professionals who don’t provide regular investment advice, as this new rule may do, would threaten this fundamental freedom of savers and investors.”
Now that the Labor Department’s proposed rule has been released, it will take public comment before issuing its final regulation.
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Colorado Republicans, in response to a nightmarish crime during which a pregnant woman was attacked and her fetus cut from her womb, introduced a bill Tuesday allowing prosecutors to file murder charges for destruction of a fetus.
The proposed law, SB 15-268, expands the definition of “person” in specific state laws, including Colorado’s murder statute, to include an “unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”
Democrats immediately denounced the legislation, accusing Republicans of taking advantage of the March 18 attack on Michelle Wilkins to try to pass a so-called personhood bill in a state that has seen voters reject such amendments three times, most recently in November.
“I am disappointed that the Republicans are choosing to use what happened to the Wilkins family to get ‘personhood’ into law,” said state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) in a statement after the GOP bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon.
“The Senate Democrats want to relay our deepest condolences to Michelle Wilkins and her family,” Steadman said. “What occurred in Longmont was horrible, and the perpetrator deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, which if found guilty could result in a sentence of over 100 years in prison. Using this tragedy to promote new laws that Colorado voters have soundly rejected is out of bounds.”
State Senate President Bill Cadman last week promised to introduce a bill that would “provide a protection for a woman to do with her body as she desires.”
The actual bill, sponsored by Cadman and 14 other Republicans, excludes from prosecution acts “committed by the mother of her unborn child,” “a medical procedure” performed by medical professionals or doctors, or the “administration” of legal medicine.
The legislation does not define “medical procedure,” leaving open the possibility that it does not include abortion, which is not mentioned in the bill’s text, either allowing for it or forbidding it. In contrast, Colorado’s existing Crimes Against Pregnant Women law, which does not give legal rights to fetuses, states that “nothing in this act shall be construed to confer personhood, or any rights associated with that status, on a human being at any time prior to live birth.”
“Colorado’s current law protects pregnant women from violence and does not punish them,” Steadman pointed out in his statement, adding that fetal homicide laws in other states have been used to prosecute pregnant women. “[The current law] protects pregnant women from prosecution while providing our justice system with proper tools to prosecute individuals that attack pregnant women.”
But Cadman has insisted that fetuses must be recognized as victims.
“I think at its core, we would all agree that there is no justice if you cannot prosecute for a victim,” Cadman said during a radio interview.
The post GOP Response to Nightmarish Attack on Pregnant Women: ‘Personhood’ Legislation appeared first on RH Reality Check.
An Oregon bill that would have codified the right to affordable, full-spectrum reproductive health care was killed by the state’s Democratic leadership last week because of a provision that would have increased access to abortion.
Backed by a coalition of progressive lawmakers and activists, SB 894, the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill, appeared strong coming out of the gate in the Democratic-led legislature.
“I’m proud to be working with such a wide range of legislators and advocates on this issue,” state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Beaverton), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, told RH Reality Check when the bill was introduced in February. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats, men and women, and advocates from across the spectrum who care deeply about this bill.”
The proposal would have required all health insurance plans to cover a wide range of reproductive health services, including contraception, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care, at low costs. It would also have allowed pharmacies to dispense a 12-month supply of birth control at one time, and reduced cost sharing and deductibles for abortion care.
But the language on abortion proved a sticking point even for the Oregon legislature, which has a Democratic super-majority and a track record of supporting abortions rights. Senators in the health committee failed to even give the bill a hearing date, killing it by default.
Health committee chair Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), who was also a sponsor of the bill, “did not schedule it because she didn’t think she could get the votes from her caucus, and it was absolutely because of the inclusion of abortion in the bill,” Aimee Santos-Lyons, director of programs for Western States Center, told RH Reality Check. The Western States Center backed the bill. “Senators didn’t want to be asked to vote on abortion and have that on their record. They find it a difficult issue to go public on.”
Monnes Anderson told local media outlet the Lund Report as much:
Monnes Anderson said some members objected that the language about abortion be included alongside protections for contraception, pregnancy and post-partum care. Both Monnes Anderson and Steiner Hayward declined to say who opposed this part of the bill.
Monnes Anderson said the abortion language was so toxic that ‘leadership’–her caucus leaders–Courtney and Rosenbaum, would not even allow her to have a public hearing on SB 894, let alone move it to the Senate floor. She said House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussion over whether the bill could see the light of day…
Steiner Hayward, who also serves on the health committee, refuted these claims, telling the Lund Report that all Democrats in the caucus support abortion rights.
Lawmakers suggested the bill would go forward if the abortion language were removed, said Santos-Lyons, but backers refused.
“Our coalition stood firm with our values and refused to continue the stigma of abortion,” Santos-Lyons told RH Reality Check. “Had we accepted that compromise we would have thrown under the bus the many courageous women who shared their abortion stories in support of the bill.”
Though the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill has died, lawmakers are continuing to look for a way to increase contraceptive access. HB 3343, which is in the House Committee on Health Care, would require insurers to give women up to a year’s worth of birth control at a time.
The post Oregon Democrats Kill Reproductive Health Bill Because It Included Abortion Provision appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day, representing the extra 104 days it would take for the average full-time, year-round working woman in the United States to be paid as much as the average man was in the previous year.
“I’ve been at this a while, and I’m really getting frustrated, and I’m really getting volcanic,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the longest-serving woman in Congress, at a Tuesday press conference with advocates and Democratic congresswomen.
Mikulski said it’s long past time to pass her Paycheck Fairness Act, which would update the original Equal Pay Act of 1963 to make it easier for women to share information with their coworkers about salaries and harder for employers to legally justify paying women less for the same work, and to give women better legal remedies if they find out that they’re discriminated against.
Equal Pay Day dates back to 1996, and the wage gap remains high even though it’s been more than 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Equal Pay Act into law.
“Women are still fighting the same battles,” Mikulski said. “We are tired of being sidelined, red-lined, pink-slipped, harassed, and intimidated.”
Skeptics of the gender wage gap say it’s misleading to cite the statistic that women overall are paid 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. It doesn’t account, they say, for women’s choices—whether it’s working fewer and more flexible hours, or in industries or college majors that happen to pay less.
But advocates say that misses the point. It’s true that the 78 cents figure doesn’t account for different industries and education levels, for instance. But controlling for those factors still doesn’t erase the gap—women are paid 7 percent less than men a year out of college even controlling for just about every possible difference other than gender.
“The pay gap is not myth. It is math,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women, at the press conference.
The wage gap varies greatly by occupation, geographic region, and race and ethnicity. For instance, women of color have it the hardest, especially if they’re mothers—Black mothers are paid 54 cents to the dollar, and Latina mothers are paid 49 cents.
But whatever the reason—whether it’s outright discrimination, reduced opportunities for women, or social biases that burden women with more family caregiving duties—women are paid less than men, which hurts families who depend on women’s income.
The 78-cent figure is “not an apples to apples comparison, and we’ve never claimed that it was,” Maatz said. “What it should be, though, is a red flag.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted that according to the latest Census data, men are paid more than women in 264 out of 265 job categories.
“That is not an accident. That is discrimination,” Warren said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) noted that unlike in the “Mad Men” era, 40 percent of women are their family’s primary or sole breadwinner.
Eight in ten moms are also working, and they suffer an even larger pay gap. Mothers are paid 71 cents to the dollar compared to fathers. For single mothers, that plummets to 58 cents.
It’s also true that public policy shapes women’s “choices.”
“We talk equal pay for equal work, but we also need to talk about the fact that jobs that are traditionally female are undervalued,” Maatz said. The top three jobs for women in 2015 are the same as they were in 1960: secretary, teacher, and nurse.
And even those low-paying, female-dominated fields have pay gaps. Ninety percent of nurses are women, but male nurses are still paid $5,100 more per year.
The Paycheck Fairness Act bans employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their wages. A Republican alternative introduced this week would do the same, but advocates say it wouldn’t close the loopholes that let employers discriminate in the first place, or that let employers write off pay discrimination as a “cost of doing business” because it’s cheaper to pay women less than to settle the occasional lawsuit.
AnnMarie Duchon, a member of Moms Rising, told her story of trying to recoup more than $12,000 of lost income after she found out that her male coworker—who had the same job and a nearly identical resume—was paid more.
Duchon finally got a raise, but it took seven years. And this was at a progressive public university that prided itself on diversity, she said.
“All of this occurred in an environment where I could have open conversations about my salary without fearing repercussions,” Duchon said. “Many employees are not so lucky.”
Todd Lamonia, a small business owner, spoke to that reality. He talked about the gender pay disparities he saw in the corporate IT world. There was no official policy barring discussions about wages, he said, but the culture strongly discouraged it.
He was building his career and didn’t feel empowered enough to speak out about the wage discrepancies, he said, but he knew he could at least subtly raise wages for his own team to make them fair.
“This shouldn’t have been an act of subterfuge,” Lamonia said.
04.15.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Last night the U.S. Senate approved a bill designed to change how Medicare reimburses physicians that includes harmful abortion coverage restrictions—despite laudable efforts by Senators who support women’s affordable access to reproductive health care.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015—known as the “doc fix” bill, which also extends critical funding for community health centers—passed the House of Representatives in late March with unnecessary restrictions on health care coverage for abortion, similar to the Hyde Amendment.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and several of her colleagues offered the Women's Access to Quality Health Care Act amendment to the measure, which would have removed the abortion coverage restrictions from the measure, provided $500 million for the Title X family planning program, extended enhanced Medicaid reimbursements for OB/GYNs, and supported training programs for women’s health nurse practitioners. The amendment failed by a vote of 43 to 57.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Despite the best efforts of the champions of women's rights and well-being in the Senate, yet another bill in Congress has been cynically used as an opportunity to score political points by denying women coverage for essential health care.
"We applaud the Members of Congress who have continued to stand strong against these attacks on affordable reproductive health care services. It’s long past time the rest of their colleagues join them in focusing on policies that would make a real difference in the lives of women and their families—not measures that put safe and legal abortion care out of reach for millions of women.”
Last night’s vote—and the failure to adopt Sen. Murray’s amendment—is yet another example of anti-choice Members of Congress hijacking legislation to insert harmful and politically-motivated abortion restrictions into any bill they can, including the recently stalled human trafficking bill.Senate Blocks Federal Bill That Would Have Denied Survivors of Human Trafficking Safe and Legal Abortion