Some 90,000 women in Pennsylvania could lose family planning health-care coverage next year if the state government does not continue its unqiue Medicaid program.
In Pennsylvania, a state-run health-care program called SelectPlan provides free family planning services, including birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and routine checkups, to women ages 18-44 and with incomes up to 214 percent of the federal poverty level.
But the program is set to expire at the end of this year, leaving those receiving benefits from the program without coverage.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett opted out of expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, instead expanding coverage through a program called Healthy PA, which will use federal money to subsidize private insurance plans for some of the state’s low-income residents.
Corbett also reformed the state’s Medicaid plans offered by slashing benefits.
Many of the women receiving coverage through SelectPlan will likely be eligible for subsidies through Healthy PA, and those who aren’t will need to apply for private insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance exchanges.
Advocacy groups in the state are asking the state Department of Public Welfare to automatically transition SelectPlan recipients who are eligible for Healthy PA into the new system, so that there is no gap in their coverage.
For now, women will have to apply for new coverage after their benefits expire in January.
The fate of Healthy PA is also unclear, as Democrat Tom Wolf vies for Corbett’s governor’s seat. Wolf has said he will expand Medicaid eligibility, though if he were to win the election, the Healthy PA program would already be well underway.
Wolf has maintained a comfortable lead in the polls.
The post Women at Risk of Losing Crucial Family Planning Health Coverage in Pennsylvania appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Red Oak), candidate for U.S. Senate, has quickly become a national figure by making outlandish statements that appeal to the far right, including comments charging that she would use a gun to defend herself “from the government.”
“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst reportedly said in 2012 at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family—whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”
Other attention-grabbing statements Ernst has made include support for legislation that would allow “local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), voicing supporting for the fringe “nullification” theory that says states could ignore laws passed by Congress, and calling President Obama a “dictator” who should “face the consequences,” including impeachment.
Iowa’s senate battle has become one of the most important—if not the most important—contest in the 2014 midterm elections.
Ernst’s support for “personhood” legislation, which would grant full legal protections to an embryo from the moment of conception, has become a campaign issue. After backtracking on her support for the radical “personhood” measure, Ernst recently changed course and forcefully supported the position during an interview with the Sioux City Journal editorial board.
Allegations have surfaced that Ernst witnessed male colleagues sexually harass a female employee while she was serving in the Iowa Senate and “did and said” nothing to stop the abuse. The claim comes from a lawsuit filed by a former Republican senate staffer, according to reporting by Mother Jones.
The lawsuit does not name Ernst as a defendant.
Ernst has not answered questions, according to reports, about the allegation or any of the other controversial statements she reportedly made. She cancelled her endorsement interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register on Thursday, and also snubbed meetings with other Iowa papers, including the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.
Ernst campaign spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel released a statement blaming the Des Moines Register’s perceived bias as the reason for the cancellation: “Recent editorials in the Des Moines Register make their position in this race perfectly clear, and it’s one that many voters across our state seem to disagree with. With less than 12 days to go, time is precious and Joni wants to spend every minute talking to undecided voters, hearing their concerns, and demonstrating why we need a change in Washington.”
Control of the U.S. Senate could come down to a few increasingly close races in traditionally red states such as Kansas, Georgia, and Iowa. The election forecasters at FiveThirtyEight are predicting that Iowa will be a “key” factor in determining if the Republicans can gain control of the Senate.
Ernst holds a two-point advantage over her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.
The direction the 4 percent of undecided voters break in the last week of the campaign may have a significant impact on determining who wins the Iowa race and, ultimately, which party controls the Senate come 2015.
Image: Joni Ernst / YouTube
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Lizzie Fierro is a high schooler in Austin, Texas, and one of RH Reality Check‘s youth voices.
Enter “scientist” on any Internet image search engine. I’ll wait.
Now try “engineer.” And “mathematician,” too.
What do the most popular results have in common? Notice anything strange?
Most of the people in the photos are middle-aged. Some of the images, particularly those of mathematicians, are simply faded black-and-white photos of long-deceased historical figures. The subjects are also, unsurprisingly, usually white.
And women consistently make up less than one-quarter of the first 16 results.
A Widening Gulf
Unfortunately, these search results are indicative of the typical gender disparity in real-world science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. The National Girls Collaborative Project reports, for instance, that women make up about 22 percent of chemical engineers in the American workforce—the highest number in all of the engineering fields. By contrast, only 5.5 percent of mechanical engineers are women. Meanwhile, according to the president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Telle Whitney, only 20-to-23 percent of Silicon Valley tech workers are women.
And even when women do enter these typically high-paying industries, they often suffer from prejudice surrounding hiring and wage practices. For example, the National Academy of Sciences found in 2012 that faculty members hiring for a lab manager position rated men applicants more favorably than women ones, despite the women having the exact same credentials. In addition, the mean starting salary offered to the men was more than $3,500 higher than that offered to the women.
Clearly, women interested in pursuing STEM careers face numerous obstacles on a systemic level. However, they must also confront biases in individual relationships too. Although boys and girls show equal interest in STEM subjects until about the sixth to eighth grade, those numbers begin to tilt with age in favor of boys. This suggests that attitudes from teachers, parents, other authority figures, and even peers can contribute to this imbalance as early as primary school. Fortunately, with education and awareness, adults can help foster girls’ participation in STEM subjects by taking steps to increase their confidence and break down gender stereotypes—and, in turn, create a more equal workforce in the future.
I work at a children’s science museum, where every employee orientation includes the same search-engine activity presented at the beginning of this piece. As staff members, we discuss what it means to be a scientist, an engineer, or a mathematician, and how the pervasive, sexist stereotypes of each can affect children in American society.
The stereotypes of what STEM professionals “should” look like are so ingrained into our culture that most parents don’t even notice the differences in how they treat their sons and daughters. When the entire world looks a lot like those search-engine results to parents, they can often either consciously or subconsciously reproduce the same social norms in their children. So, in turn, girls who may be just as passionate about dissecting a squid or engineering a paper rocket as boys may eventually begin to confine themselves to explorations of history or literature instead. Of course, not all parents are overtly sexist toward their daughters’ interests in STEM subjects. But even those who fail to support young girls’ expressed curiosity about science or math contribute to a social dynamic that teaches young girls to pursue other topics.
While subjects like history or art are certainly noble pursuits, as a gallery educator at the museum whose job consists of facilitating activities and interpreting exhibits, I only had to see parents nudge their daughters toward a craft project over a science experiment two or three times to realize that women’s unequal participation in STEM subjects is a logical consequence of an entire childhood of conditioning. And as a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to minimize these microaggressions and close the gap between men and women in STEM subjects.
The museum makes heroic efforts toward such a goal: We offer girls-only engineering camps, sponsor events designed to introduce girls to STEM career prospects, and train all employees to recognize the sexism that pervades the scientific field and the early age that it begins. Officials also teach staff members ways to engage girls during museum-hosted activities. Simply valuing their ideas and allowing them the freedom to work on projects about STEM topics at their own pace can do wonders for girls’ enthusiasm; providing a safe environment in which adults prioritize their daughter’s explorations may greatly increase girls’ desire to pursue STEM subjects further.
However, when our students, who are generally 3-to-8 years old, leave the museum, they’ll continue to face ingrained misogyny from a number of fronts. Our anti-sexist efforts, after all, don’t continue in every household, and definitely not in every school. According to statistics compiled by the National Girls Collaborative Project, though female high school students take advanced math classes at similar rates to male students, those numbers plummet once young women reach university—suggesting that they face oppressive ideas as young girls and teenagers that emerge when they contemplate their future careers.
I see this trend taking place in my own life too. I’m still in high school, and each year that I take a more advanced math class, I see the number of girls enrolled dwindling. Meanwhile, my ability to relate to my men STEM teachers decreases, as does their support and encouragement toward me. For example, one instructor spent 20 minutes explaining a problem to a boy while telling me to look in the textbook about the same one; another teacher made assumptions about my future career path, presuming that I would not be interested in a STEM profession even though I’d never indicated a preference toward any particular field. These actions are subtle, but they still undermine the validity of my academic pursuits.
And I’m lucky, because I am passionate—about children, about equal opportunity, and about my own interest in math and science that I noticed shrinking as the people in my life began to guide me toward humanities. Not everyone has the same passion that I have. For that matter, many also do not have access to the information and strategies provided to me and my co-workers in our museum training. As such, a great number of people do not have the ability to combat microaggressions such as those pervading our homes and classrooms.
A Shift in the System
So we need awareness at a broader level. Those of us equipped with information about sexism in STEM need to teach the general public why girls should be encouraged to participate in STEM activities. We need these lessons to be consistently reinforced by adults in the children’s lives: parents, teachers, mentors, authority figures, and, of course, museum educators like me.
We must, too, put pressure on companies in the STEM industry to use their influence to battle sexism. Recently, Google invested $50 million in a coding education initiative for girls, Made With Code. This announcement came shortly after the company revealed that 83 percent of its tech employees are men.
Is 17 percent enough for a company with such reach? No. By making this disclosure and investing their money in this project, though, Google has acknowledged an issue that many companies refuse to touch on. Made With Code, aimed at high school girls, will not change the company’s employee ratio or the number of female professionals in STEM at Google. But the company is directing its initiative where the seed of interest takes root: youth. With hope, the girls of today will grow into the computer scientists—employed by Google and elsewhere—of tomorrow.
Working to abolish the attitudes and systems that make it difficult for girls to participate in STEM subjects early on will allow girls to gain more confidence and, eventually, higher leadership positions. Including more women may help to expose and resolve systems that are inherently sexist, such as the wage gap, or the practice of hiring men more often than women; it may also discourage sexist microaggressions in the workplace that discourage female applicants.
And having more women in STEM fields is important for the entire population, not just those in the industries. After all, men aren’t the only ones affected by policies enacted and popularized by science and technology. Increasing the participation of women in STEM careers, for example, would increase the pool of women experts available to rebut unscientific arguments often given by politicians to regulate abortion and contraception. Additionally, the current prejudiced idea that male subjects are the “average” in science would be expanded, which may help to make scientific research and discoveries safer for women. Recently, the National Institute of Health adopted policy that explicitly works toward the inclusion of females in scientific studies. We need more of this.
Perhaps if schools, individuals, and organizations across the country commit to combating misogyny, our scientists, our engineers, and our mathematicians will eventually defy the stereotype that even Google Images itself reinforces—proving that our STEM professionals do not have to be one age, one race, and certainly not one gender.
The post Sexism in STEM Starts Early—So We Must Combat It Early Too appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Being in New York, a state with a left-of-center reputation and laws that generally uphold reproductive rights, the city of Buffalo might not seem a natural fit for anti-abortion extremists.
But “pro-life” activism in the large upstate city is storied. Sixteen years ago, Dr. Barnett Slepian, then an abortion provider at Buffalo Womenservices in New York, was shot dead in his home by an anti-abortion sniper. Six years before Slepian’s murder, almost 200 protesters from around the country descended on the city, picketing and blocking access to abortion clinics, as part of Operation Rescue’s “The Spring of Life.”
During a similar anti-choice effort in the late 1980s, hundreds more were arrested.
“There is this history of hostility in Buffalo,” says Sally Heron, services coordinator and office manager of the Buffalo Womenservices, a health clinic that offers abortion and birthing services, along with other reproductive care, to women and queer people in upstate New York.
Decades later, four abortion providers serve the Buffalo area, including Womenservices. And while picketing has subsided over the past decade, Heron says there are still protesters in front of the clinic every day.
“We get this feeling that they own the space, the sidewalk in front of the clinic,” Heron told RH Reality Check. “It’s easy to feel frustrated by them taking up that space every day.”
Supporters of the clinic have wanted to fight back for a long time, but were waiting for a window of opportunity to take a stand. That moment came this week, when clinic staff found out that anti-choice leader Steve Karlen would be traveling to Buffalo to give a speech in front of protesters at the clinic.
Karlen was to arrive on behalf of 40 Days for Life, a nationally coordinated protest event against abortion in which anti-choice activists picket and hold vigils outside abortion clinics across the country. By the time Karlen was set to arrive, the protesters had already been stationed in front of Womenservices for more than three weeks.
Once Heron got word of Karlen’s arrival, she and a friend decided to organize a counter-protest, with the theme “circus disco”—the idea being that a lively protest could drown out the speaker and distract from the negative energy created by the usual picketers.
It worked: The next day, some 100 people streamed in front of Womenservices, dancing with fire poi and hoola hoops and cheering with reproductive rights banners.
Heron also says that the raucous, party-like nature of the protest was meant to create a fun, open, and happy environment around a procedure so often mired in stigma and secrecy. In the vein of glitter-bombing, the circus disco theme of the protest would be a fabulous way to call out the absurdity of anti-choice activists and point to the normalcy of abortion as a medical procedure.
Heron said Womenservices plans to continue the counter-protests. “It was so much fun it’s hard to imagine not doing it again,” she said. “And people were so hungry for it. We’re clearly so hungry to come out and make this point.”
“It really felt like it was an important thing that was happening, like we were reminding them that we are the majority,” she added. “We felt really supported and like we had a whole community that was behind us.”
Womenservices has been doing much more than playing defense against relentless anti-choice activists. On Valentine’s Day, the facility opened a birthing center, becoming the first in the nation to house a birth center alongside an abortion clinic.
Plans are also in the works to create a reproductive justice advocacy nonprofit, to connect the dots between direct service and change.
“We already have a center where people can receive care regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy,” Heron said. “It’s about so much more than providing medical care though. It’s about economic justice, trans care, and prison justice. We’re really on our way to increase access and build community around reproductive justice and rights in Buffalo.”
Image: Courtesy of Anthony Brown
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10.24.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) A state district court judge failed today to block an unconstitutional Oklahoma abortion clinic shutdown law similar to others that have devastated access to safe, legal abortion services across the region. The Center for Reproductive Rights—who filed a legal challenge against the measure earlier this month—is planning an emergency appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to ensure that the physician providing nearly half of the abortion services in the state can continue providing safe and legal care.
Senate Bill 1848—which is scheduled to take effect on November 1— was signed by Governor Mary Fallin in May and forces reproductive health care clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a local hospital on-site when abortion procedures are performed.
Admitting privileges requirements like Oklahoma’s are opposed by national and state medical groups and have devastated access to abortion services throughout the South. Scores of clinics have been forced to close in Texas, with clinics in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama hanging on by a court order. Admitting privileges are not necessary for the treatment of the fewer than 1 percent of abortion patients who experience complications requiring hospital treatment and they can also be impossible to satisfy because some hospitals deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Today’s ruling rubberstamps the false pretenses of Oklahoma politicians attempting to insert themselves into women’s personal, private decisions in which they have no business.
“If allowed to take effect, access to safe legal abortion in Oklahoma will be drastically reduced on November 1.
“This copycat clinic shutdown law would put Oklahoma among the ranks of several states in the region that have endangered women’s health and safety by eliminating critical services for those who have made the decision to end a pregnancy.
“We will take every legal step necessary to ensure this law never takes effect, and now look to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to step in and immediately protect women’s rights and access to safe, legal abortion.”
Ilene Jaroslaw, Janet Crepps, and Genevieve Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Blake Patton of Walding & Patton and Martha Hardwick of Hardwick Law Office, represent Larry A. Burns, D.O. in this challenge—a physician with over 41 years of experience providing safe abortion care in Norman, Oklahoma. To date, Dr. Burns has been unable to obtain privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of his office, with many hospitals even refusing to process his application. Dr. Burns provides abortions at one of only three clinics in the state and provides nearly half of abortion services for Oklahoma women.
With this law, Oklahoma joined the ranks of other states that have attempted to use admitting privileges requirements as an underhanded way to shutter high-quality clinics and severely limit women’s access to abortion services. Women’s health care providers and advocates are currently involved in two challenges to Texas’ unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement which has already closed health centers across the state while the last clinic in Mississippi is fighting to keep its doors open. Louisiana clinics are also challenging a similar law which could shutter the majority of their clinics. A similar law in Alabama was recently found unconstitutional and Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement has been preliminarily blocked.
Major medical groups oppose laws like Oklahoma’s that require hospital admitting privileges for physicians providing abortion services. In an amicus brief filed in the challenge to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health,” and does “nothing to protect the health of women.” Medical experts confirm that legal abortion in the U.S. is extremely safe, with fewer than 1% of patients requiring treatment at a hospital. The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposed Senate Bill 1848 because it “would result in the Legislature and unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Health interfering in the physician/patient relationship and crafting more burdensome regulations that . . . may not reflect medical science or the best interest of the patient.”
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Oklahoma from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.New Lawsuit Challenges Unconstitutional Oklahoma Abortion Restrictions Oklahoma Governor Fallin Signs Law Designed to Shutter Reproductive Health Clinics Full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Consider Texas Law Shuttering Abortion Clinics Statewide, Leaving Women without Safe, Legal Health Care Options Texas Clinics Closed by Fifth Circuit Can Reopen in Light of Supreme Court Ruling New Lawsuit Seeks to Block Restrictions on Non-Surgical Abortion in Oklahoma Health Care Providers Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Texas Law that Blocks Abortion Access Federal Court Protects Texas Women from Further Loss of Abortion Access Two More Texas Health Centers Forced to Close in Wake of Unconstitutional Abortion Restrictions Passed Last Summer Fifth Circuit Court Continues to Block Mississippi Anti-Abortion Regulation, State’s Only Clinic to Remain Open While Legal Battle Continues
News about Silicon Valley’s egg-freezing perk has ignited many much-needed conversations about the tech industry’s family-unfriendly workplaces and policies that make it hard to reconcile being a mother and having a job. But of dozens of articles and blog posts, only a few have noted that establishing egg freezing as an employee benefit for a small number of privileged women is a bad idea across the board. For women who opt to freeze their eggs, the procedure’s safety is dubious; for everyone else, the practice shifts the focus away from the social changes that working families urgently need.
Defenders of the egg-freezing offer have welcomed it as an “option” for women lucky enough to work for Facebook or Apple—itself a highly limited career path, as recently compiled statistics about the lack of diversity in high-tech companies can attest. Like its lexical sister “choice,” “option” often functions as a trump card in potentially fraught debates like this one. I’m not arguing that “choice” or “options” are unimportant, but we need to to situate them in broader social contexts, too, including those of class, race, and gender.
Perhaps it’s unfair to link upscale frozen eggs to the overwhelming issue of economic inequality. But it’s worth noting that the dilemma of “work-family balance,” which seems to have spurred these corporations’ initiatives, is connected to the struggle for reproductive justice. Through that lens, we need policies that support women—all women—if and when they decide to have children, as well as if and when they decide not to bear a child.
Companies like Apple and Facebook are trend-setters, and their decisions about how to spend human resources budgets may well affect other corporate employers. That influence could be wielded in any number of ways. Imagine, for instance, that instead of upping the ante in the escalating “perk war” to attract and retain high-end employees, Apple and Facebook had worked with the HR departments of the security firms, caterers, and other companies with which they contract to develop basic parent-friendly benefits.
After all, it’s safe to say that few working women in Silicon Valley or elsewhere would otherwise spend an unexpected $20,000 to put their eggs on ice. In every state in the country, $20,000 is more than a year’s salary at the hourly minimum wage. Even middle-income women would be far more likely to allocate such a windfall toward enrolling a toddler in a higher quality preschool, putting more food on the table, taking time off to take care of a newborn or sick parent, or signing up for a better health-care plan. Yet rather than committing to strategies that could conceivably aid families at all points on the employment spectrum, Facebook and Apple evidently chose to put time and money toward an extremely narrow slice of the population.
Furthermore, because egg freezing is a medical procedure, we need to assess its safety as well. In that context, the procedure is an “option,” all right—but one that is risky, invasive, and highly unreliable.
Egg retrieval itself is neither simple nor safe. It involves weeks of injections with powerful hormones, some used off-label, to hyper-stimulate the ovaries. Nausea, bloating, and discomfort are common. More serious reactions requiring hospitalization—including severe pain, intra-abdominal bleeding, and ovarian torsion—occur at low, but not negligible, rates. Deaths, though fortunately rare, have been reported.
Some studies suggest that egg retrieval is associated with higher rates of infertility and cancer. But shockingly, though the fertility industry has harvested eggs for decades, there have been too few follow-up studies to ascertain the extent of these longer-term risks.
With so much that is unstudied or under-studied about the safety of egg retrieval, meeting the bioethical standard of “informed consent” for patients is actually quite challenging. Of course, women who freeze their own eggs for possible later use, like those who undergo egg retrieval when they’re actively pursuing a pregnancy, often say they’re willing to take risks because of their deep desire for a genetically related child.
But even the motivating strategy here—work and freeze now, then mother later—carries low odds of success. According to a 2013 meta-analysis, even the newest flash-freezing method fails up to 77 percent of the time among women age 30, and close to 90 percent of the time in women age 40.
Then there’s the matter of safety for children who result from frozen-and-thawed eggs. The chemicals used in the freezing process are toxic, but no one knows whether they’re absorbed by embryos, or whether that might cause problems as children get older. Even the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, whose fertility clinic members have an arguable financial interest in promoting expensive new procedures, discourages egg freezing for elective, non-medical reasons.
Though it’s unfortunate that Facebook and Apple are endorsing an unproven technique that puts their own employees’ health at risk, it makes sense that this quick-fix engineering approach would appeal to high-tech giants used to reshaping the world with gadgets and gizmos. And while they probably weren’t expecting the backlash, covering the egg-freezing tab to keep more of their female employees “leaning in” for more hours, and more years, may turn out to be a net plus for the companies. A lucky few women among this already tiny minority may also wind up winners, with higher-powered careers, and babies too.
But egg freezing is an individualized, questionably effective technical fix for what is fundamentally a social problem—or, rather, a whole raft of them. Let’s hope the next round of conversations about work and families includes strategies for confronting those issues, too, such as public policies and family-friendly workplaces that support reasonable and gender-equitable wages, paid parental leave, quality health care, and affordable child care for all of us.
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