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Watching the U.S. Women’s National Team Win Drove Home Decades of Fighting for Dignity

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 16:00

When the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the World Cup on Sunday, I sat in my seat at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia and ugly cried. By the time the match was called, I’d already lost my voice from cheering. But there I was anyway, in my ridiculous stars-and-stripes pinwheel headgear and temporary American flag face tattoos, making a sound like a barking seal as I sobbed uncontrollably. I knew at that moment we had reached a tipping point in the fight for gender equity and against LGBTQ discrimination, one that in my 30-plus years as a feminist and as an athlete I hadn’t been sure I would ever see.

Congress passed Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funding educational programs, in 1972. I started playing soccer eight years later. I was in first grade and my dad signed me up for a co-ed team at the YMCA because it was the only team available. By the time I reached junior high, a small group of soccer clubs had sprouted up in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska; by the time I was a senior in high school, they had produced an impressive batch of elite players.

We were, in many ways, the implementation generation: the girls that grew up alongside the first round of Title IX opportunities that included high school and college athletics. We had the benefit of Title IX programs in place, but they were embryonic and usually not well supported. Despite a batch of enthusiastic players, parents, and fans, my high school girls’ soccer team practiced and played on smaller, adjacent fields to the boys’ team. Our coaches were not as experienced, sometimes learning the sport on the fly. Playing soccer helped me develop self-esteem and the belief that, even as a teenage girl in conservative Nebraska, I deserved to take space and claim it as my own. But that self-confidence didn’t just happen because I learned to appreciate the strength of my body on the field; I also had to foster the presence of mind to deflect comments that playing soccer would make my thighs too big or might, gasp, make people think I was gay.

That’s changed in the 43 years since Title IX has been in place. Not only has the law been an important part of developing the kind of elite athletes represented on the USWNT, it’s become a vital tool in combating the more insidious forms of gender discrimination in education. It guarantees accommodations for pregnant students and student-mothers and has become the vehicle through which campus activists are challenging institutional inaction on campus rape. It’s a way to express and achieve fundamental fairness when it comes to educational access.

The impact of Title IX on gender equity is undeniable, as is the fact that it has grown up alongside a very successful wave of LGBTQ activism. The two go hand-in-hand. As Title IX succeeded in breaking down barriers related to gender, athletics, and education, those first beneficiaries succeeded in breaking down stereotypes about femininity, sexuality, work, and sports. And while it’s hard to disentangle the protections and benefits conferred by Title IX and the groundswell of support for marriage equality, I think there are some common threads that we saw in the Obergerfell v. Hodges decision—namely, the dominance of Justice Kennedy’s “dignity doctrine.” With its passage, Title IX allowed girls to be full agents in their education, a benefit fundamentally grounded in the idea that it is unfair to deny us anything less.

In other words, Title IX and marriage equality work because they are grounded in human dignity—the dignity of women and the dignity of LGBTQ people.

Not coincidentally, the Women’s World Cup has marked a high point of LGBTQ acceptance in sports, with the USWNT among those leading the way. The coverage blew all other sporting events out of the water, with women’s soccer drawing the kind of viewer numbers men’s professional sports spend a lot of money pining after. Their coach, Jill Ellis, is openly gay, as are a number of players. The image of Abby Wambach kissing her wife Sarah Huffman following the USWNT win is perhaps one of the most iconic from the tournament in part because it was just so darn normal. And as I saw it happen, and watched the replay over and over and over again, I couldn’t help but think of the timing of it all. On June 26, the conservative Roberts Court ruled in favor of marriage equality; a week and a few days later, Abby Wambach shared a celebratory kiss with her wife for the world to see. And in each case, millions cheered on in support.

To get there took decades of activism that is far from over, of course. It took decades of players overcoming misogyny and homophobia in sports culture and litigators filing lawsuits that never reached the Supreme Court. In other words, it took decades of implementation and convincing others of our dignity and self-worth.

The result, the wins at both the World Cup and the Supreme Court. were spectacular. But they must be just the beginning. Kennedy’s marriage decision is, at its heart, a conservative one, prioritizing above all else the idea that a person’s worth is measured in relation to another—in this case, a spouse. As Imani Gandy points on in this must-read piece, Kennedy’s “dignity doctrine” may be great for gay rights, but it has not been so great for abortion rights or other issues of gender equality. It won’t do anything to push back against the discrimination the LGBTQ community faces every day. And the dominance of women’s soccer in the United States is definitely something to celebrate, but we’ve got to talk about the sport’s undeniable tie to privileged white culture in this country also.

We’ve come so far with still so far to go. But as I sat in the stadium ugly crying for USWNT I felt for the first time that was a distance we will cover, and soon. USWNT player Megan Rapinoe has made the call for transgender acceptance in the sport; following the Obergerfell decision, the New York Times made the call for gender acceptance in the workplace, lighting the path forward for the next round of Title IX advocacy. In a little more than 40 years, we’ve gone from working to end blatant sex-based discrimination in education to understanding the ways in which discrimination based on sex stereotypes also stymies basic equality. This is the success of Title IX. Its importance goes well beyond the pitch of the World Cup fields.

Image: Jessica Mason Pieklo / RH Reality Check

The post Watching the U.S. Women’s National Team Win Drove Home Decades of Fighting for Dignity appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Obama Administration Takes on Racial Housing Segregation

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 15:52

The Obama administration announced on Wednesday new requirements designed to aggressively reduce racial segregation in residential neighborhoods.

Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968 to address the problem of systemic discrimination, especially on the basis of race, in housing. FHA prohibits racial discrimination in housing and requires that the federal government take steps to actively dismantle segregation and promote integration.

For decades the FHA has fumbled with implementing the affirmative desegregation portion of its mandate. Wednesday’s rule change is designed to provide clarity for how the administration plans to move ahead.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro explained that under the new requirements, cities and localities must account for how they use federal housing funds to reduce racial disparities in housing. The rules will require cities and localities across the country to scrutinize their housing patterns for racial bias. Those municipalities will then publicly report the results of these studies every three to five years.

Communities will also have to set desegregation goals, which HUD will track over time. Those municipalities that fail to reduce segregation will face penalties, including the loss of federal fair housing dollars.

HUD issued the rules in response to recommendations from a 2010 Government Accountability Office report and input from HUD program participants. The rules clarify and simplify fair housing obligations and, Castro said, create a streamlined Assessment of Fair Housing planning process, which will help communities analyze challenges to fair housing choices.

The rules are designed to promote local control, with cities and localities establishing their own goals and priorities to address the fair housing barriers in their respective communities.

While the requirements will take effect in about a month, they will not be fully implemented immediately. Castro said HUD will provide support to program participants that need to complete an Assessment of Fair Housing to ensure they understand the process and to identify best practices across a diverse group of communities.

“As a former mayor, I know firsthand that strong communities are vital to the well-being and prosperity of families,” Castro said in a statement. “This important step will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity.”

Asking cities and localities to detail how they plan to use funds to reduce segregation will foster cooperation with the federal government, according to the administration. HUD, as part of that effort, will make available a database with a trove of geographic data compiled from Census data and other government sources. The data covers every community in the country, including their racial makeup, poverty rate, concentration of housing vouchers and public housing, as well as the quality of schools and public transit. And while much of this data is already publicly available, HUD hopes centralizing the data will enable cities and municipalities to better map racial segregation in their communities.

The rules are also part of the administration’s anti-poverty efforts that include overhauling overtime pay and classifications, and are designed to address broader structural racism that the administration attributes to the unrest in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

The administration announced the rules just weeks after the United States Supreme Court ruled the 1968 Fair Housing Act can be used to target housing policies or practices that may appear racially neutral but when implemented have the effect of perpetuating racial discrimination in housing.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Obama Administration Takes on Racial Housing Segregation appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Obama Administration Revises ACA Contraception Rules—Again

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 15:19

The Obama administration on Friday released final rules for employers claiming a religious objection to complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.

The new regulation specifies that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, closely held for-profit corporations are eligible for an accommodation to the federal contraceptive rule previously extended to religiously affiliated nonprofits.

The final rule defines a for-profit company as one that is not publicly traded, is majority-owned by a relatively small number of people, and objects to providing contraceptive coverage based on its owners’ religious beliefs. The definition includes for-profit entities “controlled and operated by individual owners who are likely to have associational ties, are personally identified with the entity, and can be regarded as conducting personal business affairs through the entity.”

The final regulations exclude publicly traded entities from the definition of a for-profit company eligible for religious accommodation.

Under the new rule, a closely held for-profit company that objects to providing employer-based health insurance that covers contraception at no additional cost can write a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services stating its objections to birth control.

HHS will then notify a third-party insurer of the company’s objections. The insurer will step in and provide the contraception coverage directly to the employees at no additional cost to the company.

The rule also addresses the accommodation process for religiously affiliated nonprofits, many of which have filed lawsuits objecting to the process of completing a form in order to be exempt from coverage.

Just days after the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court in Wheaton College ruled the evangelical college could complete an alternative process in order to benefit from the accommodation. The rule announced Friday codifies that Wheaton College interim order.

Based on current litigation challenging the contraceptive coverage requirement, the Obama administration stated in the rules that it anticipates at least 122 nonprofits and 87 closely held for-profit entities will seek an accommodation.

“What this means for women is that you will be able to get birth control without a copay, no matter where you work,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement following the release of the rule. “Your boss shouldn’t decide whether or not your birth control is covered by insurance, and this guidance from the federal government will ensure women get birth control at no cost.”

While the latest accommodation offers objecting employers a variety of methods to avoid complying with the birth control coverage requirements, there is no guarantee the latest rules will satisfy those who argue any process that allows their employes to access contraceptive coverage violates their religious beliefs.

Image: Shutterstock

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House GOP Sneaks Hyde Restrictions Into Another Unrelated Bill

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 14:29

House Republicans tried to expand the anti-choice Hyde Amendment for the fourth time in 2015, this time with a last-minute change to a medical research bill.

HR 6, the 21st Century Cures Act, is a bipartisan effort to speed the development and delivery of new medical treatments and enhance funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

After the bill had already been extensively negotiated and unanimously passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, anti-choice legislators quietly added to the bill language that would have applied the Hyde Amendment, which severely restricts federal funds for abortion care, to the allocations.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who worked on the Cures bill with Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and is co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, said on the House floor that she was “disappointed” in the move.

“I think it is unnecessary, and I think it distracts our attention from the important mission this bill brings,” DeGette said.

The House easily passed HR 6 on Friday, after rejecting an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would have stripped out the Hyde language.

The first time House Republicans tried to expand the Hyde Amendment this year was through a sweeping anti-choice bill that would have both made Hyde permanent and drastically limited private insurance coverage of abortion care.

That bill, an attempt to appease the right-wing base after Republicans canceled a vote on a 20-week abortion ban bill, went nowhere after the House passed it.

“When that didn’t work, when they couldn’t get [Hyde] everywhere, they started putting it into every bill that comes along,” Sharon Levin, director for federal reproductive health policies at the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check.

This “Hyde and sneak” strategy, as pro-choice advocates call it, has been used in two other high-priority bipartisan bills this year—a human trafficking bill and a bill that addressed the long-standing “doc fix” problem in the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR).

In those bills, as in the 21st Century Cures bill, Hyde restrictions were added by reference—citing other places in the law where Hyde would apply, instead of explicitly writing new language into the bill that restricts abortion funding.

Pro-choice Democrats in Congress saw the original Hyde restriction in the human trafficking bill as a dangerous expansion worth putting up a bitter public fight for, but they seemed to think that the hard-won bipartisan compromises in the long-awaited Medicare and Cures bills weren’t worth torpedoing over restrictions that were both more temporary and more theoretical in their application.

While pro-choice Democrats say they aren’t happy about the addition to the Cures bill and would like to see it stripped out, most seem to think that it wouldn’t change much about the Hyde fight in practice. Democrats still lack the votes to get rid of Hyde, which still applies to programs like Medicaid that matter the most to women’s access to abortion care.

Some House Democrats are working to end the Hyde Amendment entirely so that this problem won’t come up again.

Along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Lee and DeGette introduced a bill this week, the EACH Woman Act, that would both override Hyde and guarantee equal access to abortion insurance coverage for all women. The bill has no chance of passing the GOP-dominated House, but it represents a significant shift in Democratic messaging and strategy on the issue as new polling shows that a majority of Americans support public funding for women who can’t afford abortion care.

“The point here is that we have to get Hyde out,” a House Democratic aide told RH Reality Check, adding that the Hyde language that ended up in the Cures bill is “more nimble” and less harmful than that in either the SGR bill or the original human trafficking bill.

“For example, if we have a great year in 2016 and we have the votes to suddenly overturn Hyde, then in subsequent years for that Cures funding, Hyde is gone,” the aide said. It’s also highly unlikely that research funds for the NIH and the FDA would have any practical effect on abortion access, the aide said.

But pro-choice advocates are most concerned about what will happen in the long term as Republicans continue to insert Hyde language into new parts of the law. Right now, Hyde is added every year to spending bills as a sort of tradition, but it could become even more deeply embedded and harder to extinguish if Republicans stay their current course of stealthily inserting Hyde into bills seen as essential to pass.

“They keep doing this over and over again, in order to embed the law wherever they can,” Levin said. “And each time it gets put in, it’s precedent that they can then look back to and say, ‘Well it was in here, why can’t we put it in there?’”

Image: Shutterstock

The post House GOP Sneaks Hyde Restrictions Into Another Unrelated Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Pro-Choice Senators Defend International Family Planning

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 10:17

A group of pro-choice legislators on Thursday helped stop a Senate committee from cutting international family planning funding and reinstating the “global gag rule.”

Human rights advocates vigorously oppose the global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, because it harms the health and lives of poor women in developing countries and leads to more unsafe abortions.

The gag rule forbids foreign organizations that take any U.S. funding from using their own money to provide services or even information related to abortion.

The gag rule has not been in effect since President Obama took office, but it could be reinstated at any time by another president since its repeal is not codified into law. The Helms amendment, also opposed by pro-choice advocates, is still in effect. It does not go as far as the gag rule but still prevents the United States from directly funding abortion care abroad.

The original version of the Senate’s fiscal year 2016 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill included a provision that would have permanently codified the global gag rule into law; cut international family planning funding by $149 million, about 25 percent; and entirely prohibited any U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which does not fund abortions but is a leading provider of basic maternal and reproductive health services worldwide.

However, a bipartisan majority on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 17-13 to accept an amendment proposed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would permanently repeal the gag rule, as well as restore the international family planning funding.

The permanent legislative repeal of the gag rule is based on the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which was reintroduced in the Senate this year by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

All of the Appropriations Committee Democrats voted for the amendment along with three Republicans, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

The amendment has the same funding levels and policy provisions that have been in the Senate version of the SFOPS bill for the past five years.

Also identical to the past five years is the harshness with which anti-choice House appropriators have attacked family planning programs. This year’s House version of the SFOPS bill, which the House Appropriations Committee passed, was identical to the initial Senate version in the cuts and restrictions it placed on international family planning.

It’s unlikely that a conference version of the bill will be reached between the House and Senate, particularly since Democrats have vowed to block floor consideration of spending bills until Republicans agree to repeal the severe, across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration.

Image: Shutterstock

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Women’s World Cup May Seem Like a Feminist Fairy Tale, But the Fight’s Not Over

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 09:52

The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada began with 24 teams, the most in tournament history, playing with passion and pride in order to achieve ultimate soccer glory. The exhilarating matches ignited discussion and debate while drawing attention to social issues surrounding the beautiful game. But despite the joyful ending for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) and the increased media attention toward women’s soccer, there is far more to achieve and attain for equality within the game—including the need to address the sexism inherent in pay disparity for players and in commentary surrounding the sport.

In spite of fears that the recent scandalous allegations involving the World Cup’s governing organization, FIFA, would hurt ticket sales, the Cup took off in thunderous form with host nation Canada already on its feet. The Canadian Soccer Association confirmed that attendance for this tournament would be a record 1.25 million people over the 52 matches. The final between 2011 World Cup Champions Japan versus the United States was watched by 25.4 million viewers, according to FOX Sports, making it the most-watched soccer game in United States sports history. From the initial blow-out matches, to the unexpected upsets, to the riveting and incredible football, to some teams’ heartbreaking endings, people around the globe were captivated by this World Cup.

The proof of importance of women’s soccer is in the pudding—or in the case of the USWNT, the World Championship. And was the country ever-ready to celebrate and revel in this spectacular win.

All of this might make the 2015 Women’s World Cup seem like a fairy tale, in which the ongoing success of women’s soccer might defeat the evil sexism that is so deeply rooted in organized sport. At Mashable, for example, journalist Rebecca Ruiz wrote that this tournament “was a victory for women warriors everywhere.” And while she is correct in asserting that watching the USWNT rise to glory has been an inspiration for many young girls and women, a World Cup win for the United States does not guarantee a “win” for female players on a global scale.

Despite a grand tournament distancing itself from a governing body steeped in patriarchy and headed by the blatantly sexist Sepp Blatter, the financial outcomes for the teams, for instance, are not exactly shining. World Champions USWNT received $2 million in total for their championship prize money. This is in stark contrast to the $8 million that the U.S. national men’s team received at last summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They were awarded four times as much as their female counterparts for only reaching the 16-team round—not even the quarter-finals. There was no discussion about the matter from FIFA; these were evidently just normal allocation procedures. As in all other industries, equal compensation for women athletes is a huge issue. In this instance, there is a dim silver lining: In the last week, discussions of gender inequality in pay have been prevalent in mainstream, male-dominated sports media that would otherwise not even discuss such topics.

Beyond pay inequity, female players are still inundated by sexist behavior in sports culture. The trophy ceremony at the WWC itself, for example, unnecessarily featured models in tight-fitting, black dresses to award the players their medals—unfortunately often considered the “norms” for such events by organizers. The Edmonton Sun, the news site of one of the host cities, posted an article during the tournament on the “hottest women at the World Cup,” unnecessarily drawing attention to the physical appearance of certain players. And in a horrible attempt to laud England’s women’s team for their solid third-place finish while beating the German team for the first time in history, the Football Association in England came under fire for a sexist tweet focusing on the players going back to being “mothers, partners, and daughters”—despite the fact that they do not stop being athletes at any point. The Lionesses ended a drought of pride in English soccer, only to be welcomed home with condescending compliments.

Sadly, this kind of behavior is not uncommon. Soccer can be the playground for a lot of misogynist behavior that is considered acceptable and even humorous. There are often incidents of male coaches, advisers to top football clubs, and players making ridiculous statements that can be discouraging and disheartening for women. And young players must endure tropes that often emphasize the physical looks of a player, instead of her skills. This adds undue pressure on young girls to not only perform brilliantly but to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards.

Sexualizing female athletes or a sport is common all over the world. Such behavior is unhelpful and potentially psychologically dangerous for women: Body image issues and eating disorders are already rampant for young female athletes. In addition, supporting the personal choices of a female player to dress a certain way is paramount. Some players, including USA’s Sydney Leroux and France’s Louisa Necib, enjoy wearing make-up while playing and that is their prerogative. Criticizing them for that choice is not acceptable.

To present the players in a demeaning manner is not a way to applaud their achievements. It propels a system of intimidation and misogyny in sports.

Perhaps this lazy sports journalism strategy is applied in order to attract more readers and viewers. Fortunately, there has been growing pushback to many outright displays of misogyny. The English Football Association deleted its aforementioned tweet after a social media outcry rightly cited the team’s strong, character-displaying performance in Canada. When Andy Benoit, an NFL analyst for Sports Illustrated, tweeted that he thinks that women’s sports “are not worth watching,” retribution was swift. Much of the Internet replied to Benoit’s comments with sarcasm. Comedian Amy Poehler, accompanied by her colleague Seth Meyers, spoofed Benoit’s remarks on “Late Night.” Ironically (and that is being very generous), Benoit supported his claim by arguing that TV ratings of women’s sports were low. As the USA celebrates its highest viewership ever and a World Cup championship, he might be in his man cave eating humble pie.

As we move forward, players, fans, and policymakers must continue to call out sexism in mainstream sports media, urge decision-making federations to support development of the game, and to recognize and act on the needs of female players, including where pay is concerned. During the Women’s World Cup, FIFA hosted a symposium on women in football, featuring former and current players, executive members, academics, and advocates. The objective, according to FIFA-appointed executive committee member Moya Dodd: to grow the game on every level. In order to expand women’s soccer, developing programs for young girls and women is critical—not only on the pitch but in all aspects of soccer. FIFA, for example, recently launched a program encouraging women to take roles in leadership: a move that can not come soon enough.

More than 30 million girls and women play soccer around the world. It is a sport that is revered across cultural lines showcasing different styles of play with charisma and love. This must be nurtured and supported, particularly in the wake of the Women’s World Cup, when different leagues and tournaments will continue to delight fans. At the same time, one need not look further for future sports heroines beyond our own schools and neighborhood parks. Equality in sports is an intersectional feminist issue. In order to support young players at a grassroots level, supporters must work to also make the game more accessible in marginalized or low-income communities; advocate for more visibility of players of color; and ensure women’s soccer does not remain, as former USWNT player and current ESPN commentator Julie Foudy called it, “a middle-class, white sport” in America.

One of the most compelling sentiments among fans from this tournament has been: “Can we just call it ‘soccer’ from now on instead of ‘women’s soccer’?”

We certainly can. We definitely should.

Image: FIFATV/ YouTube

The post Women’s World Cup May Seem Like a Feminist Fairy Tale, But the Fight’s Not Over appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Do We Live in a Christian America? Not Quite

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 09:29

For many conservative American politicians and members of the fundamentalist right wing, the idea that our nation is God’s “chosen land,” resting on a bed of Christian laurels, is a frequently invoked trope.

Take David Lane, a self-described conservative political consultant with ties to Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz. “If America is going to be saved it will be done by Christian men and women restoring a Judeo-Christian culture to the country,” he told the Washington Times in 2014, arguing that the United States was unassailably established, as the Times summarized it, as a “Judeo-Christian nation.”

His friend, former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, takes this agenda one better. If elected, he promises to stop what he calls “the criminalization of Christianity” by liberal courts and legislatures and says that he intends to put God front-and-center through national repentance and public school prayer. “Our rights and freedoms come directly from God, not the government,” Huckabee tells viewers in a video called Learn Our History. What’s more, he fervently believes that “God’s special relationship with America makes us different from the rest of the world.”

Similarly, Flip Benham, head of the virulently anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-gay Operation Save America, is giddy at the thought of returning the United States to God and restoring the nation to its allegedly Christian foundation. His argument is based on the Mayflower Compact, a famous document penned by the Pilgrims as they sailed from the Old World to the New in 1620. In the World According to Flip, the Compact—and its emergence in the country’s governing documents—proves that the Europeans who settled America valued Christian piety and biblical values, and intended to create a hierarchical, God-fearing, society (regardless of the Native people already present).

The problem with this analysis, writes Willamette University professor Steven K. Green in Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding, out this month from Oxford University Press, is that it is false, reflecting a serious misreading of U.S. history and a misunderstanding of the Compact’s intent and subsequent influence on documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Green notes that the Compact’s frequent references to the Almighty bolster the idea—accepted as gospel by the right—that the cornerstone of U.S. government comes directly from heaven.

In reality, however, heaven’s role was a bit more complicated, and the rationale for the Compact was a bit more opportunistic.

“The Compact was largely a pragmatic device for diffusing dissention among the passengers of the Mayflower,” Green writes, “caused, in part, by the decision to settle in New England rather than in the Hudson River Valley, as was planned and authorized by their patent.” Green also points out that nearly half of the passengers on board were not what he calls “religiously regenerate … In order to secure their commitment to the enterprise, the Pilgrim leaders had the passengers ‘Covenant and Combine themselves together into a Civil Body Politic,’ … a body politic to which they ‘promise[d] all due submission and obedience.’”

And herein lays the crux of the misinterpretation, Green writes, for the Pilgrims did believe that a rigid theocracy, led by a “spiritual aristocracy,” was the best system of governance. “Based on their biblically centered worldview,” Green explains, “Puritans argued that divine law … served as the basis and authority for all law, with applications extending to even mundane matters.” Some, like Plymouth Colony minister John Cotton, unsuccessfully lobbied for the death penalty to be imposed on anyone found guilty of idolatry, witchcraft, or Sabbath-breaking.

This strict theology did not endure, Green notes: By the early 1700s, Massachusetts had effectively silenced advocates of such severe punishment. Instead, the new government imposed the same secular Common Law practices that were by then in place in Virginia and in settlements of “nonconforming” Quakers. “By the time of the American revolution,” Green adds, “the Puritan-inspired Biblically based legal system was a relic of the past. There is no evidence that politicians and jurists of the founding era considered the Puritan experiment when they developed their legal system.”

Indeed, Green concludes that the flowery religious-sounding language of the Declaration of Independence, for example, may have been little more than kowtowing to the vernacular of the day. “Members of the founding generation lived in a social milieu in which religion played a prominent role, both privately and publicly,” he writes, “Religious terminology, metaphor, and allusion were a large part of popular discourse. Some of the more common religious language was ceremonial and customary (e.g., ‘in the year of our Lord’); other usages were habitual or were expected ingredients in exchanges between people.” Green believes this explains the religious references in the Declaration of Independence; still, he makes clear that by the time of the Constitutional Convention, the consensus was that government had no business interfering with people’s privately held ideas about God or faith, and hence had no business in the Constitution itself, except to state, once and for all, that the federal government could not impose any type of religious test on candidates for public office.

Oops. I sure hope someone breaks the news to David Lane and company—and the sooner the better.

But let’s get back to the real question: How did the myth of America’s Christian foundations develop and why it has been so hard to shake off?

The answer, Green writes, rests with longstanding and near-constant religious declarations by politicians—whether in stump speeches or when campaigning for office—that “perpetuate the impression that America was specially ordained by God and that the nation’s governing documents and institutions reflect Christian values.” Numerous misconceptions bolster this faulty belief system: among them, that God wanted the nation’s so-called founders to create a New Israel; that every founder was a devout and pious churchgoer; and that the founders’ faith was so ingrained that it infused everything they said and did.

But this wasn’t just the work of today’s 21st-century right-wingers, or even their fathers or grandfathers. Green argues convincingly—albeit in academically stilted and often repetitious language—that “the idea of America’s religiously inspired founding was a consciously created myth created by a second generation of Americans in their quest to forge a national identity, one that would reinforce their ideals and aspirations for the new nation.”

That’s right: According to Green, putting forward the idea of the United States’ Christian roots was basically a public relations stunt to fuel national cohesion and unite disparate groups of people. Indeed, clergy members and politicians spewed these messages so frequently—and the media repeated them with such vigor—that rank-and-file Americans simply began to believe that they were true.

In fact, in Green’s account, the initial impulse to conjure a mythical Christian history came in the immediate aftermath of George Washington’s death in 1799. “Politicians,” he writes, “praised his military exploits and political leadership, comparing him to Caesar and Cincinnatus, while clergy highlighted Washington’s moral virtues and religious piety.” In more than 550 separate eulogies, he was equated with Moses, Joshua, King David, and Jesus; some went so far as to claim that he had been selected by God to lead the nation into war and later, the presidency. A spate of hagiographic books celebrated his life and described him as a Scriptural literalist, a man whose every action was divinely inspired. Conveniently absent, Green quips, were references to the actual Washington whose beliefs were more in tune with “rational theism”—a philosophy steeped in the idea that “knowledge and goodness could be achieved through reason rather than through revelation and redemption.”

Nonetheless, the first president’s sanctification became the stuff of legend. In addition, endless repetition of stories glorifying him led many people to conclude, Green writes, “that God’s providential anointment of Washington as an agent of change meant that God had also been instrumental in the creation of America.”

This interpretation has rarely waned. For hundreds of years the idea that God is an indispensable partner in government—and that civil law is inadequate to counteract depravity and sin—has been repeatedly articulated by politicians, political aspirants, and Christian social-issue activists. These arguments have also been boosted in popular culture, such as by the influential writer and evangelical minister Tim LaHaye, whose popular Left Behind books and movies—which are available in 33 languages and have sold more than 60 million copies—make it seem as if there is a “Christian consensus” on American history. In other words, they promote the meme that ours is a blessed land, one that will be favored by the Almighty if we live Godly, Jesus-centered lives.

Which brings us back to today’s political terrain. For David Lane, Mike Huckabee, Flip Benham, and other conservative evangelicals, contemporary Christians are locked in a war against secularism. They see this as a high-stakes battle in which a “pagan” victory will damn America and render God, Christianity—and them—irrelevant. By using fear-based notions of damnation and wrath, they purport to know what God wants for the country and aim to reclaim the social restrictions that the Puritan supported.

Steven Green does not weigh in on these matters. In fact, he barely mentions the ongoing culture wars, the evangelical right-wing, or the religiously-inspired schisms that exist in 21st-century U.S. politics. This is unfortunate, since the issues raised in Inventing a Christian America are timely and important: In fact, we hear them from modern political figures on a regular basis. By confining the text to historical interpretation, Green missed an opportunity to link past and present. Then again, if Shakespeare was right, and the past really is prologue, there will be much to gain from looking back and grappling with the founders’ real desires and aspirations.

Image: Amazon.com

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Wisconsin Republican: 20-Week Abortion Ban ‘Isn’t About Abortion’

RH Reality Check - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 09:20

The Republican-majority Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that will ban abortion at 20 weeks’ fertilization after a GOP lawmaker contended that the measure is not actually about abortion.

During the debate preceding the assembly’s vote, state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) said that his Democratic opponents had misunderstood the measure.

“It’s being portrayed as, ‘It’s banning abortion,’” Sanfelippo said on Thursday. “This bill isn’t about abortion, this bill is about protecting children who are capable of feeling pain from going through an extremely excruciating and painful experience.”

The claim that fetuses can feel pain starting at 20 weeks’ fertilization, invoked on Thursday by Sanfelippo, is often cited by anti-choice activists. A letter from 99 OB-GYNs to the Wisconsin government, as well as available medical evidence, says “fetal pain” claims are not true.

About 1.4 percent of U.S. abortions are performed after 21 weeks’ gestation, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“We’re not telling a doctor what he can and can’t do,” Sanfelippo added. “Everything in this bill leaves decisions up to a doctor and a mother.”

SB 179, passed by the state senate in June, will ban all abortion after 20 weeks except in cases in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger. The bill contains no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker in June said he would sign the bill without exceptions for rape or incest because women are only concerned with those issues “in the initial months” of a pregnancy. SB 179 will now be sent to Walker’s desk for a signature.

Walker, who is expected to announce his 2016 bid for president on Monday, had until this spring declined to comment on his opinion of 20-week bans, even saying that he recognizes a person has the legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

But following pressure from prominent conservative anti-choice organizations, Walker wrote a letter in March saying he would sign a 20-week ban if it came to his desk and would support such legislation on the federal level.

Walker’s signature on SB 179 would make Wisconsin the 16th state to enact a 20-week abortion ban.

Image: Shutterstock

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Report Details Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline for Girls

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/09/2015 - 17:29

While girls make up the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population, their experiences behind bars are rarely at the center of the national youth imprisonment conversation.

A report released this week, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story, seeks to change this. The report shows how instead of getting help, girls who experience sexual abuse are often funneled into the juvenile justice system, where their traumas are ignored or retriggered.

The report is based on interviews with girls and individuals who work with at-risk youth across the country, as well as reviews of state and federal data.

“It is our hope that this report will establish the uniquely defining impact that sexual abuse and trauma has on juvenile justice involvement for girls,” Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, said on a press call.

Epstein wrote the report along with authors from the Human Rights Project for Girls and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Though girls make up 14 percent of incarcerated youth, their numbers are on the rise. This is especially true for girls of color. Nationally, African-American girls constitute 14 percent of the general population but 33.2 percent of girls detained and committed; Native American girls make up only 1 percent of the general youth population but 3.5 percent of detained and committed girls.

Evidence suggests these numbers aren’t going up because girls are committing more crime or becoming more violent. Instead, increasingly aggressive enforcement of petty offenses has led to more girls behind bars.

Girls in the juvenile justice system have extraordinarily high rates of past sexual abuse, and have often entered prison for related crimes. While national data remains scarce, regional studies are damning: In a 2009 study of juvenile-justice-involved girls in South Carolina, 81 percent reported a history of sexual violence. In a similar study from California in 1998, 56 percent reported they had experienced one or more forms of sexual abuse.

The leading causes of arrest for girls in juvenile detention—including running away, truancy, and prostitution—are often inextricably linked to abuse.

“By the time I was 13 years old I began to run away,” Esché Jackson, a formerly incarcerated youth from Los Angeles and a co-chair of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said on a press call. “I ran to escape the abuse.”

When she was 14, Jackson was arrested on a status offense of running away.

“But no one asked me why I was running or tried or save me from what I was running from,” Jackson said. “Instead I was locked up.”

The report focuses on girls younger than 18 who were arrested on prostitution charges, even though federal law defines any act of commercial sex with a person under the age of 18 as a severe form of trafficking.

The authors of the report argue that the juvenile justice system can be a particularly brutal place for survivors of sexual abuse and trauma. Juvenile detention centers generally lack adequate resources to respond to girls who have survived trauma.

In 2004, fewer than half the juvenile detention facilities in the nation were compliant with recommended health screenings and assessments, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence. And often the routine processes of juvenile detention—such as strip searches, restraints, and solitary confinement—can re-traumatize girls. Girls may even experience new incidents of sexual abuse behind bars.

“It is unconscionable that once inside the juvenile justice system, the trauma that these girls have suffered is routinely undiagnosed, untreated, or simply ignored,” Teresa Younger, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, said in the press call.

RH Reality Check‘s Women, Incarcerated series documents the problems that occur when girls become adults and cycle back through the criminal justice system. Women in prison have exceptionally high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, drug dependency, and mental illness, and often cannot receive the medical care they need behind bars.

The authors of the report put forth a comprehensive list of recommendations, including that girls who have been victims of sex trafficking should not be jailed on prostitution charges. Other recommendations include the adoption of gender-specific, trauma-informed care models for juvenile detention centers, and the reauthorization and strengthening of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, a federal law that regulates confinement for young people.

Often juvenile detention can exacerbate the trauma girls have experienced, leaving them more, not less, vulnerable.

“We were not violent girls,” Nadiyah Shereff is quoted as saying in the report. “We were girls who were hurting. Being confined to a tiny cement room was one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience.”

Image: Metal fence via Shutterstock

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GOP-Led South Carolina Legislature Votes to Remove Confederate Flag From Capitol

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/09/2015 - 14:28

The South Carolina House voted 94 to 20 Thursday morning to remove the confederate flag from state capitol grounds after 12 hours of debate and Republican attempts to stall the measure.

One of the debate’s most impassioned moments came when state Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne (R-Charleston), a descent of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, took the dais to counter colleagues’ claims that the flag is an important symbol of Southern heritage.

“I’m sorry. I have heard enough about heritage. I have a heritage: I am a lifelong South Carolinian. I am a descendant of Jefferson Davis. OK? But that does not matter. It’s not about Jenny Horne,” she said. “It’s about the people of South Carolina who have demanded that this symbol of hate come off of the statehouse grounds.”

Her voice swelling with emotion, Anderson Horne said that any attempt to keep the flag flying is insulting to Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine people killed last month by a white supremacist in Charleston while attending church.

“I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful—such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday—and if any of you vote to amend, you are ensuring that this flag will fly beyond Friday,” Anderson Horne. “And for the widow of Sen. Pinckney and his two young daughters, that would be adding insult to injury—and I will not be a part of it.”

GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who a week ago called for the flag’s removal, is expected to sign the legislature’s bill Thursday afternoon.

Despite her support for removing the Confederate flag from the capitol, Haley has repeatedly rejected calls to accept more than $12 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid access—a move that would have an outsized impact on South Carolina’s Black communities. Some South Carolina legislators, including U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R), have mentioned race as a reason for opposing Medicaid expansion in the state.

The Confederate flag will be removed on Friday at 10 a.m., according to local reports.

Watch the full video below:

Image: Shutterstock

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House Republicans Sneak Sex-Ed Restriction Into ‘No Child Left Behind’ Rewrite

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 18:16

The U.S. House voted Wednesday afternoon to pass a major education bill that includes a ban on funding for any sex education programs that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior.”

The Student Success Act (HR 5) is a Republican rewrite of No Child Left Behind, a controversial education initiative that was one of President George W. Bush’s key policy priorities.

Debate over the rewrite has focused mainly on issues like the overuse of standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, and the role of federal and state governments in education.

But tucked away in the more than 600-page bill is language that seems intended to strip funding for evidence-based sex education in schools.

The bill prohibits funding for programs or materials “directed at youth, that are designed to promote or encourage sexual activity, or normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior, implicitly or explicitly, whether homosexual or heterosexual.”

Funds also cannot be used to help distribute materials on school grounds that are either “legally obscene” or, again, that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior.”

The bill also prohibits funding for contraceptive distribution in schools, or for sex education or HIV-prevention education programs that don’t teach “the health benefits of abstinence.”

The problem with this approach, advocates say, is that sex education is most effective when it acknowledges how normal teen sexual behavior actually is. Sixty-one percent of young people have already had sex by the time they turn 18, and 95 percent of Americans have sex before marriage.

A report by Advocates for Youth, an organization promoting adolescent sexual health, finds that effective sex education “should treat sexual development as a normal, natural part of human development” in order to help young people make healthy decisions about not just sex, but also relationships and bodily autonomy.

“Our young people deserve medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education so they can live healthy lives and have healthy relationships,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told RH Reality Check. “Sadly, this bill goes in the exact opposite direction by prohibiting funding for proven health and sex education curriculum that keep young people healthy.”

Lee has introduced another bill, the REAL Education for Healthy Youth Act, that would promote comprehensive sex education for young people.

“These restrictions, prohibiting sex education programs or materials that even acknowledge that young people engage in sexual activity, are a recipe for disaster,” Lara Kaufmann, director of education policy for at-risk students at the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check. “This is just one of many things in HR 5 that would take education in this country in the wrong direction.”

Abstinence-only education programs, which often use shame and scare tactics to urge teenagers not to have any sex before marriage, have been repeatedly proven ineffective by researchers. Such programs have failed to reduce the number of teens having unprotected sex, and they are even correlated with higher teen birth rates.

Yet the federal government continues to fund abstinence-only programs, at a total cost of $1.7 billion since 1982, and Congress passed a first-ever funding increase for abstinence-only education earlier this year.

Republicans also proposed spending bills last month that would cut evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs by 80 percent.

Image: Shutterstock

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Marriage Equality Backlash: Kansas Governor Issues Anti-LGBTQ Executive Order

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 15:15

Kansas’ Republican Governor Sam Brownback on Tuesday issued an executive order allowing clergy members to refuse to perform marriages of same-sex couples and permitting the continued discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

Brownback’s order is part of a widely anticipated conservative backlash against the Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Writing in a public statement that his office disagrees “with the decision of the Supreme Court,” Brownback said that his order “protects Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.”

The anti-LGBTQ state policy goes well beyond sanctioning churches who refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples, say advocates. According to the ACLU of Kansas, “a homeless shelter that received a state contract or grant could refuse family housing to a gay couple with a child, or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child in their custody with the child’s family member just because the family member was in a same-sex relationship.”

As courts and state legislatures continue promoting protections for LGBTQ people, conservatives have countered with religious exemption laws.

The Utah state legislature in March passed a bill banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, but the text included an exception for the free exercise of religion. Twenty-one states already have “religious freedom” laws on the books; this year, 33 states either amended existing Religious Freedom of Restoration Acts or proposed new ones.

Some states with GOP-led legislatures have pushed LGBTQ protections strictly for economic purposes, while including religious exemptions that explicitly allow discrimination against the local LGBTQ community.

Following the SCOTUS marriage equality decision, conservatives have said that churches and organizations won’t be able to follow their religious beliefs and could lose tax-exempt status or funding from the state.

Every Republican presidential candidate has said they do not support marriage equality, and many have explicitly said they will fight against marriage equality if elected to the White House.

Image: Sam Brownback/YouTube

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A Vision of Health

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 15:06
A Vision of Health Many of the nation’s top reproductive rights voices convened in Washington, DC, to nourish our shared vision of reproductive health policy for the future.

07.08.15 - The audience clusters attentively around her as she describes a morning two years ago—taping a catheter to the inside of her thigh, lacing up her pink running shoes, and assembling a binder of emails from hundreds of women.

Right now she is standing in stylish heels, while behind her—out the giant windows of the United States Institute of Peace—one airplane after another makes its steady descent over the Potomac as another steamy summer dusk settles on the nation’s capital.

The “she” here—of course—is former Texas state senator Wendy Davis, sharing the story of her fabled filibuster against the sham law that now threatens to shutter all but nine abortion clinics in the state.

The rapt audience includes more than 150 state legislators, state advocates, and national allies from across the country who have gathered for the day at the Center’s State Leadership Summit. They’re here to share innovative ideas and strategize about moving forward a proactive vision for reproductive health, rights, and justice in the states.

While the mood was upbeat, the day was not without tearful moments. Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson told the heartbreaking story of a woman who was unable to end a pregnancy due to a fetal heartbeat bill and spent 6 torturous weeks waiting to miscarry.

Under an enlarged black-and-white photograph of a woman handcuffed to a hospital bed while in labor, reproductive justice activist La’Tasha Mayes talked about the groundbreaking work her organization, New Voices Pittsburgh, has done to stop the inhumane practice of shackling of incarcerated women who are giving birth.

Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores recalled the difficult but empowering experience of sharing on the statehouse floor the story of her abortion at age 16.

There was also plenty of laughter. Comedian Lizz Winstead reminded the group of the power of humor and creativity to shift the reproductive health narrative during the lunchtime keynote speech. Referencing the current trend of sham laws aimed at shutting down clinics across the country, she quipped, “If a politician wants to legislate abortion, make them get hospital admitting privileges.”

But mostly there was valuable networking, exciting panel discussions, and energized breakout sessions. Topics ranged from effective messaging on reproductive rights issues to sharing promising new state policies such as the recently passed Oregon bill allowing for women to obtain a year’s supply of birth control at once.

“There is an ongoing need to come together and recognize the areas where we have had success as a movement so that we can capitalize on and replicate them,” says the Center’s director of state advocacy, Kelly Baden, one of the key organizers of the summit. “If the ideas and policies that emerge from the summit are any reflection of its participants, they will be smart, diverse, inclusive, and bold.”

More details of the day—including pictures and quotes from summit participants such as U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Gwen Moore (D-WI), MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Texas abortion provider Amy Hagstrom Miller, and many more—can be found at the State Leadership Summit Storify page.

Without a Prescription

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 14:57
Without a Prescription Over-the-counter birth control. It’s a great idea in theory. But how do we get there?

07.08.15 - On the first day of her first year in college, Savannah remembers feeling “extremely uneasy”—and it wasn’t just freshman jitters or homesickness.

She was headed to the student health clinic to ask for birth control, and she only had $25 in her bank account. She knew that was not nearly enough pay for both the visit and the contraception she needed.

Four hundred dollars later, Savannah was right. And she spent the next three months using her paychecks from her job at Subway to pay off the balance.

“I am absolutely tired of having to choose between buying groceries and maintaining my reproductive health,” Savannah says.

For millions like Savannah across the country, the contraceptive care benefit under the Affordable Care Act—which requires most private health plans to fully cover contraception and well-woman visits with no cost to the patient—has provided much-needed relief from this all-too-familiar dilemma.

Now women’s health advocates and federal lawmakers would like to expand access even further by making oral contraceptives available without a doctor’s prescription. Although the authority to permit over-the-counter birth control ultimately lies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two different bills proposed in Congress in the past month seek to encourage this process.

Senator Patty Murray recently introduced the “Affordability Is Access Act,” which requires that insurance companies cover over-the-counter birth control pills without co-pay and with no restriction on age. The bill notes that 1 in 3 women report having struggled to afford birth control at some point in their lives.

A recent study indicated that over-the-counter birth control pills coupled with insurance coverage could decrease the rate of accidental pregnancies by 25 percent—a significant drop in a country where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

“Senator Murray’s bill is a bold move in the right direction,” says Amy Friedrich-Karnik, the Center’s interim director of federal policy and advocacy. “More than 99 percent of sexually active women have relied on birth control at some point in their lives. It is absolutely central to a woman’s ability to determine her future and manage her health. We know from research that some birth control can be provided safely without a prescription.  Any other barrier—including price tags, doctors’ schedules, and pharmacy hours—should be examined and addressed so women can get the care they need without delay.” 

Another bill, introduced by Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Kelly Ayotte, falls short in key areas. While the “Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act” would make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to apply to the FDA for certain birth control drugs to be available without prescription, it would limit over-the-counter access to women over the age of 18. It also does not include any provisions to ensure the pill remains affordable for the millions of women who currently benefit from the contraception coverage required by the ACA.

Oral contraception costs can amount to as much as $600 each year, in addition to insurance premiums—a potential deal breaker for countless women. Yet reliable, affordable birth control is particularly essential for women in precarious financial situations and for teens, where the added expense and burden of an unplanned pregnancy could be catastrophic.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has long been involved in supporting efforts to make birth control more accessible. We led a decade-long battle with the FDA to make emergency contraception available without a prescription for women of all ages.  From a Citizen Petition filed in 2001 to a suit in federal court, the battle eventually concluded when a federal judge denied the government’s request to delay the availability of emergency contraception for over-the-counter use. 

Today we are proud to support state measures such as Oregon’s new law allowing women to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at one time—as well as federal legislation to restore access to affordable health coverage and care—including birth control—for immigrants. We are also working to address the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows some companies to deny their employees coverage for birth control based on their employer’s personal religious beliefs.   

Senator Murray Introduces Bill to Dramatically Expand Birth Control Access

Contraceptive Pill Users Save $1.4 Billion on Birth Control After ACA Implementation

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 14:52

Americans who use birth control pills saved $1.4 billion on the cost of their contraception in 2013 after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, according to a new report published in the policy journal Health Affairs.

In fact, out-of-pocket spending on most reversible contraceptive methods has gone down as of January 2013, and the savings are being passed on directly to families.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed claims data from a nationwide provider of private insurance, and found that on average, contraceptive pill and IUD users spent 20 percent less out-of-pocket on their chosen family planning methods post-ACA.

According to the report:

We estimated average out-of-pocket savings per contraceptive user to be $248 for the intrauterine device and $255 annually for the oral contraceptive pill. Our results suggest that the mandate has led to large reductions in total out-of-pocket spending on contraceptives and that these price changes are likely to be salient for women with private health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage isn’t “free” birth control—the ACA’s mandate requires insurance companies to provide contraception without additional out-of-pocket costs beyond those already paid through premiums that go toward preventive care, which includes contraception.

Some contraceptive brands are still not required to be covered by the ACA, but researchers found that their sample group—nearly 800,000 women—cut their pill expenses by 50 percent during the first half of 2013, and by 70 percent on intrauterine devices (IUDs).

While researchers did not draw a direct causal relationship between the ACA and out-of-pocket contraception savings, the director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation told the New York Times that the Pennsylvania study was “persuasive and consistent with what other studies are finding,” and that there was a “clear pattern in the research.”

In an attempt to derail the ACA’s contraceptive coverage mandate despite its documented savings potential, some congressional Republicans have begun a push to make some birth control available over the counter, which could increase costs by significantly reducing access to prescription-covered contraception, since insurers are not required to cover over-the-counter drugs.

Democrats have responded by proposing a bill that would close the over-the-counter coverage loophole, requiring insurers to do just that.

Image: Shutterstock

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Keep Wanjiku Safe

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 14:46
Keep Wanjiku Safe Every year, thousands of Kenyan women and girls are forced to risk their lives to end a pregnancy. Now they’re fighting back to ensure their safety.

07.08.15 - This past winter, a 14-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl found herself in a desperate situation. After being coerced by an older man into her first sexual relationship, she discovered she was pregnant and feared she would be blamed and rejected by her family if she were to reveal her condition.

Wanjiku is not her real name. In Kenya, Wanjiku is symbolic of an ordinary person: any woman, every woman. In a country where one in three girls under 18 experience sexual violence and over 40 percent of pregnancies are unintentional, Wanjiku represents the stories of many.

Living away from home in order to attend a good school, Wanjiku turned to a friend, an older girl, for advice on how to end the pregnancy. The older girl knew of someone nearby who could help. 

This is how Wanjiku found herself doing what hundreds of thousands of women in Kenya are forced to do each year: seeking abortion care from an unqualified provider. 

Although abortion is technically legal in certain circumstances in Kenya, women are largely unable to get legal abortions due to an atmosphere of intimidation and confusion generated by mixed messages from the government.

“Without clear standards and guidelines, many qualified health workers refuse to treat women for fear of possible prosecution,” says Jade Maina, executive director of the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH), a Kenyan women’s health rights group advocating on Wanjiku’s behalf. “Abortion has been pushed back to being a clandestine activity and a risky venture for health care providers—hence exorbitant fees that women cannot afford—making a woman’s chances of falling into the hands of a quack higher.”

In 2010, Kenya’s new constitution eased the country’s severe restrictions on abortion, legalizing safe abortion services when the life or health of a woman is in danger and in cases of emergency—a measure aimed at decreasing the country’s high rates of maternal death and injury due to unsafe abortion. 

In 2013, however, the Ministry of Health withdrew the established standards and guidelines for reducing unsafe abortion and then issued a memo a year later stating that “the Constitution of Kenya 2010 is clear that abortion on demand is illegal”—without clarifying the grounds under which abortion is legal. The memo also imposed a ban on abortion trainings for health care professionals and threatened punishment of those who continue to receive trainings.

But without trained professionals, approximately a quarter of the estimated 465,000 illegal abortions performed in Kenya each year result in severe complications and hospitalizations. Thousands of women and girls do not survive—or are injured for life.

Tragically, Wanjiku is one of these girls. Two days after seeking an abortion from a “doctor” in the backroom of a local pharmacy, she began vomiting and bleeding heavily. She was taken to a hospital where she was found to be experiencing kidney failure. 

After she was stabilized, she was detained by the hospital because her mother—a poor tea farmer—could not pay the hospital bills. There, Wanjiku was forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor, where her health again deteriorated.

Six months later, she continues to fight for her life. If she survives, she will face dialysis and an eventual kidney transplant. Her life will never be the same.

This week the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case on behalf of Wanjiku and her mother, as well as two women’s rights advocates and the Federation of Women Lawyers–Kenya, affirming that the Kenyan Ministry of Health is undermining women’s constitutional rights and contributing to cases of maternal death by denying countless women access to safe, legal abortion.

“It is time for the Ministry of Health to take decisive action to protect the health, lives, families, and future of Kenyan women before more women are needlessly harmed by its policies,” says the Center’s regional director for Africa, Evelyne Opondo, who is also the head litigator in the case before Kenya’s High Court. “Women are dying, and, even more alarmingly, many of these deaths are eminently preventable. The Kenyan government must restore standards and guidelines for medical professionals to provide abortion care as soon as possible.”

Widespread sexual violence against women and a dearth of contraception access makes the need for safe, legal abortion all the more urgent in Kenya, yet abortion remains highly stigmatized across the country due to conservative religious beliefs.

As the Center pursues policy reform in the Kenyan court, groups on the ground such as TICAH are drawing national and international attention to the issue by sharing Wanjiku’s story and petitioning Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to take the necessary steps to keep her—and the thousands of other Wanjikus across Kenya—safe.

Add your voice to the call to #KeepWanjikuSafe today.

Congressional Call to End Hyde Amendment Puts Pro-Choice Advocates on ‘Offense’

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 13:49

Members of Congress for the first time are pushing comprehensive legislation to overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care, regardless of which state she lives in, what type of insurance she has, or whether she can afford the procedure.

On Wednesday morning, three Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Diana DeGette (D-CO), introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act.

The new bill, which has 70 co-sponsors in the House, would ensure that anyone who has health care or health insurance through the federal government also has coverage of abortion care.

The bill would keep states from restricting insurance coverage of abortion and would repeal laws in 25 states that prohibit private insurers, both within and beyond the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from covering abortion.

The bill would also lift restrictions on abortion funding for low-income women in the District of Columbia.

Many state-level restrictions on abortion insurance coverage have passed in the past five years as part of an unprecedented wave of anti-choice legislation. The ACA allows states to restrict abortion coverage within their borders, and it requires any plans that cover abortion to collect those funds separately from other premiums. The EACH Woman Act would repeal these restrictions in the ACA.

Pro-choice advocates and Democratic cosponsors of the EACH Woman Act said the bill would put a stop to the Hyde Amendment, which they said has discriminated for decades against the most vulnerable women who are least able to afford either an abortion or a new child.

“It’s past time for all women to be treated equally, regardless of her income, the color of her skin, or where she lives,” said Lee, the bill’s lead sponsor, at a press conference Wednesday.

“Latinas and other women of color are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy and less likely to pay for an abortion out of pocket,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Enough is enough.”

The federal government has withheld funds for most abortions since 1976, when the Hyde Amendment was first introduced. The amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion care except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, has been added as a rider to must-pass spending bills every year since then.

Rep. Henry Hyde, the amendment’s author, said at the time that he would like to “prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill,” which restricts access only for low-income women and disproportionately for women of color.

One in four poor women on Medicaid seeking an abortion go through with an unwanted pregnancy because they could not afford the abortion, and women who are denied abortion care are three times more likely to fall into poverty than women who can access the procedure.

Research also shows that Hyde’s exceptions for rape often don’t work as intended.

The new pro-choice bill would affect millions of women who receive health coverage through the federal government, including the one in six women who are enrolled in Medicaid; about one million female federal employees; women in the military or in the Peace Corps; young women under age 19 who are insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Native American women covered under Indian Health Services; and women covered under these programs through a spouse or a parent.

“It’s past time to be bold. It’s past time to repeal Hyde,” Lee said. “This decision to restrict a woman’s right is a choice Congress makes each and every year.”

While the spread of Hyde Amendment language into other bills on human trafficking or Medicare has caused recent controversy, most Democrats have come to see Hyde as an inevitable restriction that is too politically toxic to oppose.

All Above All, a coalition of advocacy organizations, has pushed back against this conventional wisdom and urged Democratic legislators to start actively working to end the Hyde Amendment.

Standing alongside coalition members at the Wednesday press conference, Schakowsky thanked advocates for helping pro-choice members of Congress “feel bold and supported and on the winning side of this issue,” after too many years of having “acquiesced” to demands from Republicans to attach anti-choice riders to must-pass spending bills.

“I can’t tell you how great it feels to be on offense on the issue of reproductive health care,” Schakowsky said.

Conservative legislators and advocates often argue that Americans oppose “taxpayer-funded abortions,” but new polling suggests the opposite.

A survey conducted by Hart Research Associates found that more than half (56 percent) of voters would support legislation like the EACH Woman Act that would require Medicaid to cover all pregnancy-related care, including abortion.

Three in four voters, including 62 percent of Republicans, agreed that “as long as abortion is legal, the amount of money a woman has or does not have should not prevent her from being able to have an abortion.”

Advocates for reproductive choice in communities of color praised the legislation Wednesday.

“The EACH Woman Act puts the power back in the hands of Black women, in varying financial and life situations, and gives options that best suit their families’ needs,” Michelle Batchelor, national director for In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, said in a statement.

“Many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women already face cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing health care,” Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said in a statement. “With over one million AAPI women living in poverty, a number that has grown over the past several years, Medicaid coverage for the full range of reproductive health services is more crucial than ever for our community.”

“I talk to Latinas every day who live with the injustice of coverage bans,” González-Rojas said. “We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”

Image: Shutterstock

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All Straight Men Must Go See ‘Magic Mike XXL’ Right Now (Well, After Reading This)

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 10:16

I do not love Magic Mike XXL because its combination of ripped abs and freaky dancing is my particular cup of sexy tea. It isn’t. I don’t love MMXXL for its plot, which my friend Rachel called “Blues Brothers with dancing.” I definitely don’t love MMXXL for its dialogue.

I love Magic Mike XXL because I see myself in the faces of its women characters: those who find themselves perched in a chair, on a lounger, or in one case, on a countertop holding a massive red velvet cake, as they are charmed, wooed, and worshipped by men who derive pleasure from giving pleasure. 

Too many men, I fear, do not know what the face of a joyfully turned-on woman looks like. Moreover, too many men do not care. “Smile,” they leer at her, as she walks by on the street. Not because she looks sad, but because she is not pretending to be happy. Because she is not outwardly focused on presenting an appealing facade for the guy at the corner store, the boy in the pick-up truck, the suit picking up his latte.

Or, you know, maybe they don’t harass women in public. Maybe their carelessness is more casual—the assumption of an orgasm, the presumption that she’ll put the dishes away, the expectation that she’ll quit her job when it’s time for kids to come along.

Perhaps these men do not know to care. Perhaps they have never been shown how to care about a woman’s smile, about her satisfaction, about the whole history of herself and her body and her life that culminates in every last glowing grin and giggle emanating from the women of Magic Mike XXL.

Perhaps these men have been told, too many times over by too many movies, books, stories, rock songs, that their own desire is paramount, and that women are the ones who must strive to stroke, as it were, their egos. Perhaps they’ve been told that “sexy” is something women do at men and for men, but never for themselves. Perhaps they’ve been told that men are just “more visual” or “more physical,” and have been mistakenly and maddeningly led to believe that taking pleasure in giving pleasure is somehow, some mysterious somehow, unmanly.

For this reason, men—especially straight cisgender men—must see this movie. The good dudes, the ones who already care, are probably already getting their asses in theater seats. I say “probably,” but I know it to be true: I myself watched Magic Mike XXL with three excellent men, three guys who treat their partners, not all of whom are cisgender women, with respect and courtesy. We had a wonderful time. It was, as overwhelmed critics have gushed on so many movie posters, a veritable romp.

Because some men do care, of course. That’s another reason I love MMXXL.

In many of the film’s scenes, I see reflections of the best of the men I have known and loved throughout my life. I see snippets of the most satisfying relationships I’ve had—though they were largely devoid of thong-wearing, be-mulleted glitter-painters—in the many, many moments when the guys in “Mike’s” crew treat women as whole beings with real loves, desires, wants, and needs. For this reason, I implore straight dudes to go see Magic Mike XXL. Maybe with a pen light and a notebook.

Yes, the ladies of the world—and in my circle, queer, gay, and nonbinary folks too—are blocking off evenings to see the movie with their moms, sisters, and friends. This is a wonderful and exciting thing to share with fellow appreciators of the dude bod. It’s an opportunity to bond and gush over a shared experience of celebratory sexuality in real-time: a feat difficult to achieve in, say, even a romance book club. In the first weeks of the film’s opening, 96 percent of the viewership has been female—and the film doubled its operating budget with those women’s ticket sales. There’s no doubt that women want, and need, to see this movie, to see themselves reflected in the faces of the women on screen.

But I’d like to make the case for sharing Magic Mike XXL with havers of the dude bod, whether or not that dude bod comes with enticingly globular buttocks or a well-waxed chest. Because while Magic Mike XXL is a visual wonder to behold, what I hear from my friends—every last one of whom is currently in the process of actively raving about this movie—is how much they love the film for who and how the men are, rather than what they look like.

Sure, it is a movie about strippers—er, “male entertainers”—who make their living off of presenting wild and wonderful sexual fantasies to a gorgeously diverse array of eager women. But what’s beautiful about Mike Lane, “Tarzan,” “Big Dick” Richie, Ken, and Tito is that they’re as earnest offstage in their efforts to understand and please women as they are dedicated to a flashier version of the same thing onstage. It is what makes them more than entertainers. It is what makes them artists. Glorious, spray-tanned artists who travel across the South in a fro-yo food truck.

And dudes, you can and should emulate the bros of MMXXL! It will make you happier and it will make your partners happierI don’t mean take up welding and choreograph elaborate dance routines to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” I mean trust your partners, ask them what they want, and give them a reason to feel safe telling you the truthful answer to that question! Listen to your partners! Give their desires to them, and do it with all the gusto of a man unafraid to make simulated love to a convenience store refrigerator!

If men see this movie and learn anything at all from it, there’s every chance that the women in their lives won’t need to buy a $10 ticket and an $8 bucket of popcorn in the future to experience the film’s thrill of being seen, of being appreciated, of being wanted not for what they can give to a man, but for the joy a man can, and should, take in making his lady-partner happy on her own terms.

Guys, we love this shit. And we are trying to tell you that we love it and we want more of it and we don’t want to have to booze through a two-drink minimum at our local gentlewoman’s club to experience it.

We want it now! At home! With you! This is a good thing!

The mainstream conversation about MMXXL has, for the most part, looked askance at women’s enthusiastic response to the film, with critics and think-piecers assuming that because women have zealously embraced the film, it is necessarily a “turn-off” for men.

That idea? That idea right there? That if women like something it must necessarily be distasteful to men? That is precisely the crux of the problem, and precisely the abhorrent idea that MMXXL challenges with humor, grace, and a lot of pelvic grinding.

I spend a fair bit of time writing and thinking about rape culture, and the ways in which the seemingly unbeatable beast of patriarchy persists in privileging male dominance—not desire, but dominance—as the end-all narrative of sexual politics and prowess. I am tired, so tired, of the onus being put on rape and sexual assault victims and survivors to prevent their own abuse and harassment. I believe, as deeply as I believe anything, that the solution to rape culture is to teach men to treat women like people, and not only to value their enthusiastic consent but to derive their own incredible pleasure from it.

But I have (too) often wondered: How? How, when so many stories we tell about romance and sex fail to show this version of empathetic, differently empowered masculinity to the men who need to see it most?

Magic Mike XXL is the narrative I’ve—we’ve—been looking for.

The film is raunchy and raucous, yes, but it is tremendously funny. As much as it is a story about strippers, it is a story about bros who love each other, who trust each other, who fail hilariously when they try to embody mainstream machismo (there’s an attempted fight scene that beautifully lampoons the idea that guys gotta “fight it out” or some asinine shit like that). And yet, they are no less men for it! A revolutionary idea, with bonus drug-induced buffoonery!

It is a story of impossibly handsome, impossibly goofy straight men who can go to a drag club and end up getting high with a beach full of queer folks. It is a story of men who, in the relentless pursuit of excellence in their own careers, can stop to listen to a room full of middle-aged women air lifetimes of sexual mishaps and disappointments—and get laid doing it.

Magic Mike XXL is a lad movie! It’s a bro-story about dudes doing dude stuff! ON A ROAD TRIP. It’s about a pack of bros on a mission of self-actualization!

That, to me, is particularly where MMXXL deviates from even the best, most egalitarian-minded romances. Magic Mike XXL isn’t about one man’s journey, some kind of special experience finding love with one remarkable woman. If it were that—the story of a singularly talented Prince Charming-in-a-banana-hammock searching for his dollar-tossing Cinderella (if you’ve seen the movie, this is funnier than it reads here)—it would be perhaps an entertaining and surprising rom-com.

But Magic Mike XXL is not that. It’s not even about a single man’s mission to put a smile on every face from Miami to Myrtle Beach.

Magic Mike XXL is about a whole LOAD of dudes who have two main priorities: think up new ways to make women happy, and dance. (And also to open an artisanal fro-yo truck, and to find true love and a family with kids, and to do yoga on the beach, and to do it all while making women happy.)

Magic Mike XXL isn’t “I fell in love with a stripper” with the typical gender roles reversed. It’s how a load of strippers—er, “male entertainers”—fell in love with an entire geographical region full of beautiful, remarkable, enthusiastically sexual, capital-Q Queens.

It is, without doubt, a movie for women. But it is, not at all subtly, also a movie for the men who would, could, and should love them.

Image: MOVIECLIPS Trailers/ YouTube

The post All Straight Men Must Go See ‘Magic Mike XXL’ Right Now (Well, After Reading This) appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Congresswomen Introduce Historic Bill to Ensure Coverage of Abortion Services for All Women

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 09:22
Congresswomen Introduce Historic Bill to Ensure Coverage of Abortion Services for All Women EACH Woman Act would restore abortion coverage to millions, regardless of income, insurance plan, or zip code

07.08.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) today introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that would ensure all women have access to health insurance coverage for abortion services, no matter how much money they make, what insurance plan they have, or where they live.

Today’s new legislation would finally put an end to the Hyde Amendment, a policy prohibiting federal Medicaid coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. First passed in 1976, this discriminatory policy has had a severely disproportionate impact on women who already face significant barriers to health care, including abortion services, such as low-income women, immigrant women, young women, and women of color.

The EACH Woman Act would restore coverage for abortion services to women enrolled in insurance plans and programs offered or managed by the federal government, including Medicaid, Medicare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Indian Health Services, and TRICARE, the federal health care program for military families. The bill would also prohibit political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage of abortion care.

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

“No woman should ever be denied critical reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion, simply because her health insurance refuses to cover her care. Yet for decades, politicians have allowed discriminatory policies to block low-income women from the full range of reproductive health care coverage they need and deserve.

“The EACH Woman Act would finally guarantee every woman can get the reproductive health care she needs, no matter how much money she makes or where she lives.

“It’s time for our government to put an end to the discriminatory policies that unjustly target women who are hit hardest by tough economic circumstances, especially young women and women of color.

“We are proud to stand with the co-sponsors of the EACH Women Act and the committed reproductive health and justice leaders who have made history today in defense of the health and safety of all women across the U.S.”

Restrictions on coverage for abortion services seriously impact women across the U.S. According to recent data, approximately 1 in 6 women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid and more than 1 million women are federal employees. And studies show that when politicians place severe restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion, it forces one in four poor women seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

In response to discriminatory bans on health care coverage for abortion, reproductive justice, health, and rights organizations—including the Center for Reproductive Rights—launched a bold new campaign, All* Above All, in 2013 to build support for lifting bans on abortion coverage that disproportionally harm low-income women and communities of color.

Earlier this year, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL)—all original cosponsors of the EACH Woman Act—reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (S217/HR 448), a bill that would prohibit states 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.​.

Together, these two proactive legislative measures would remove many of the significant, and too often insurmountable, barriers to affordable, safe, legal, and high-quality abortion services that face millions of women throughout the United States.

Navy Triples Maternity Leave to 18 Weeks for Sailors, Marines

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 08:58

Women serving in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps now have the right to take 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, three times the amount they had previously.

The change is effective immediately, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Thursday, and will apply retroactively to any woman who has been granted maternity leave since January 1, 2015.

“We have incredibly talented women who want to serve, and they also want to be mothers and have the time to fulfill that important role the right way. We can do that for them,” Mabus said in a statement. “This flexibility is an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members.”

The policy change will make the Navy and Marine Corps the first military services to provide more than six weeks of paid maternity leave.

A woman’s unit commander can now authorize an additional 12 weeks of convalescent leave, or sick leave, following the birth of a child. Before this policy change, only a hospital commander could authorize a service member to take more than 42 days of leave after childbirth.

Female sailors and Marines don’t have to take their leave all at once, but they do have to take it within a year after the child’s birth.

Other branches of the military require the six weeks of maternity leave to be taken consecutively. Service members are also exempt from deployment for 4-12 months after giving birth, and have the option of transferring out of active duty for 1-3 years.

New fathers will still get ten days of paternity leave, taken consecutively, for married active duty members whose spouse gives birth to a child. New adoptive parents can still take three weeks of leave.

The United States is only one of two countries, along with Papua New Guinea, that does not offer any guaranteed paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows some workers to take 12 weeks of leave without the risk of losing their job, but those workers aren’t guaranteed any pay.

Other federal employees still have no official paid maternity or paternity leave, although Democrats in Congress have tried to pass legislation changing that. President Obama signed an executive order in January that lets federal workers take up to six weeks of sick time after the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a new child—but that leave is an advance on future sick time that workers would have to pay back later.

Mabus had announced in May that he hoped to double maternity leave from six to 12 weeks, as well as increase female recruitment to 25 percent from the current 18 percent in the Navy and 5 percent in the Marines.

“When the women in our Navy and Marine Corps answer the call to serve, they are making the difficult choice to be away from their children—sometimes for prolonged periods of time—so that they can do the demanding jobs that we ask them to do,” Mabus said. “With increased maternity leave, we can demonstrate the commitment of the Navy and Marine Corps to the women who are committed to serve.”

Image: Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

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