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Deceptive Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Spur More Anti-Choice Protests

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 17:13

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.


Thousands of anti-choice protesters gathered August 22 at Planned Parenthood clinics around the country during a “National Day of Protest,” in response to a series of videos spreading misinformation about the organization.

The videos, which have been released in coordination with anti-choice Republican lawmakers, have sparked outrage directed at Planned Parenthood from GOP legislators and anti-choice activists.

The videos were produced and published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group behind a series of videos seeking to defame Planned Parenthood. Questions have been raised about CMP’s deceptive tactics, ideological agenda, and connections to radical and violent anti-choice activists.

The August 22 protests were organized and coordinated by a host of prominent anti-choice outfits, such as Create Equal, Pro-Life Action League, 40 Days for Life, and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, and were co-sponsored by groups that included the Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council, and Operation Rescue. The more than 300 organized protests took place in 47 states around the country.

Many of the protests took place at Planned Parenthood clinics that are regularly closed on Saturdays, but at those that were open, volunteer escorts were there to walk visitors to the clinics through the anti-choice gatherings.

Planned Parenthood officials view the protests as an attempt to prevent patients from accessing reproductive health care.

“These rallies are meant to intimidate and harass our patients, who rely on our non-profit health centers for basic, preventive health care,” Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “The people behind these protests have a clear political agenda: they want to ban abortion, and block women and men from accessing basic reproductive health care.”

The organizers viewed the protests as a way to galvanize possible supporters and create grassroots activism in communities.  

“We don’t believe this will be solved in Washington D.C., or the state legislatures,” Mark Harrington, the national director of Created Equal, told USA Today. “This will be solved in local communities when they take ownership over their own communities. That’s why we are trying to empower local organizers and pro-life organizations.”

Created Equal is known for displaying graphic images during anti-choice protests, and both Harrington and Eric Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League, agreed that graphic images would be appropriate during Saturday’s protest.

“What’s really turning people’s stomachs about these videos is how real they’re making abortion,” Scheidler said, reported the Washington Examiner. “The thought of where you crush the baby … so we think showing the victims Planned Parenthood is exploiting is totally appropriate under the circumstances of this protest.”

Since the release of CMP’s heavily edited, misleading videos, anti-choicers across the country have compared Planned Parenthood to everything from drug dealers to Nazis. The protests on Saturday included much more of that same rhetoric.

At a protest in New York state, anti-choice protester Eric Quinones said that legal abortion would lead to the same consequences as marriage equality. “This death pit right here is the fuel for so many other horrible atrocities in our country as same-sex marriage, the slippery slope, this fuels it,” Quinones said, reported the Watertown Daily Times.

Quinones, who attended a protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Canton, New York, also appeared to call for spiritual warfare. “We need to have our spiritual armor on, so we’ll be able to pull down these strongholds and be able to lay waste to the enemy, and see an America that has no more Planned Parenthood anymore,” Quinones said. “Wouldn’t that be a glorious thing?”

Judi Scherban, who attended the Planned Parenthood protest in Boston, invoked Hitler and Nazi Germany. “I don’t understand how people are not as upset about what’s happening here, as historically they’re upset at what Hitler did,” Scherban told Boston public radio station WBUR.

At a protest in front of a construction site of a Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans, the Rev. Rod Aguillard said that the United States is “headed for destruction” because women have access to abortion care, reported the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“This is a Germany moment,” Aguillard said. “We are in a Hitler moment right now.”

With the heated rhetoric comes worries of possible violent actions against Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.

A man accused of removing signs at an abortion clinic in Metairie, Louisiana, was arrested last month and charged with committing a hate crime. A few days before that incident, an unidentified person poured and ignited gasoline on the recently laid foundation and a security guard’s car at the same New Orleans construction site where protesters gathered Saturday.

Part of advocates’ concerns stem from the attack videos’ publishers’ connections: Troy Newman, one of the founders of CMP, is the president of Operation Rescue, a radical anti-choice organization with connections to violent extremists within the anti-choice movement.

Organizers of the protest dismissed concerns of violence. Monica Migliorino Miller, of the Pro-Life Society, said she is “opposed to any kind of violence,” but that “the real violence is happening inside their abortion facilities, and [the videos released this summer] have shown they can’t run from that,” Miller told Michigan Radio.

A report released in February found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010. Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that legislative attacks by anti-choice lawmakers have emboldened radical anti-choice activists.

CMP has repeatedly charged that Planned Parenthood has engaged in illegally selling fetal tissue of aborted fetuses.

However, the unedited video footage, which CMP does not release until hours or days after the video “highlights” are published, has consistently shown Planned Parenthood officials saying that they do not sell or make a profit from fetal tissue.

Federal law explicitly allows for the donation of fetal tissue for research or transplant. The law allows entities involved to make and receive “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

Republican lawmakers in states around the country have called for investigations into the organization and hearings, but to date none have uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken any laws with regard to fetal tissue.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) directed the Department of Health to investigate Planned Parenthood in July. The investigation concluded that the clinic were in compliance with the state’s fetal tissue regulations. 

Despite the state clearing Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, anti-choice protesters in Indiana gathered Saturday outside the organization’s clinics.

Silas McClufor, the organizer of the protest outside of the Fort Wayne Planned Parenthood, estimated that about 500 people participated in the protest.

“Planned Parenthood is lying to women and not giving information that they are using the body parts of the aborted babies. They are not telling mothers they are selling these for a profit and we cannot stand for this. Planned Parenthood does not honor women and it doesn’t have respect for human life in the womb,” McClufor told WANE.

All 50 states have adopted the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, which also governs tissue and organ donation for therapeutic and research purposes from all dead humans, including aborted fetuses. Many states specifically require pregnant patients consent to the transplant or donation prior to the abortion as opposed to after.

Both Planned Parenthood and StemExpress have stated that all fetal tissue is donated with consent of patients.

Image: KRCG 13 / YouTube

The post Deceptive Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Spur More Anti-Choice Protests appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Marginalized Home Health Care Workers Now Eligible for Minimum Wage, Overtime Guarantees

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 16:04

A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated Obama administration labor protections for home health-care workers, paving the way for minimum wage and overtime benefits to be paid to the nation’s two million workers who provide in-home care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Home health-care workers are disproportionately women (more than 90 percent), people of color (more than half), and immigrants (one in four). One in five are single mothers.

These workers often make poverty-level wages for difficult work under stressful conditions, and for 40 years they have been classified by the Labor Department in such a way that they can’t qualify to make minimum wage or receive overtime pay.

“This ruling is a resounding victory for home health-care workers employed by agencies,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These are among the poorest workers in the United States and have been historically excluded from federal labor protections.”

The new regulation, which was upheld by a three-judge panel after being stymied by a district court ruling late last year, closes a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that exempted “companionship” workers from overtime or minimum wage requirements.

This loophole reflected an outdated view of home care workers as informal “sitters” for elderly or disabled people, advocates say. The loophole also ignored the reality of what home care work entails (feeding, bathing, rehabilitating, managing medications, and more) and how large the $84 billion home care industry is.

Home care work is among the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, but it has a 50 percent turnover rate partly due to low pay, long and unpredictable hours, and physical and emotional stress from the work itself.

“High demand makes home care one of our nation’s fastest-growing occupations—but finding skilled, committed workers for caregiving jobs is becoming increasingly difficult,” Deane Beebe, media relations director for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a first step to addressing this labor shortage.”

Even when home care workers technically make the minimum wage, they may effectively make less because they don’t get compensated for travel or overtime, and they often can’t get enough hours to make ends meet. Three out of five home care workers rely on public assistance.

The regulation expands protections to workers serving private households and hired by “third party” employers, which describes the vast majority of home care workers today.

Home health care industry officials are reportedly still considering their options, including whether to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, as BuzzFeed News notes, implementation will be the next challenge once the rule goes into effect. Wage theft is rampant even in industries that have wage and overtime protections. And there are still certain classes of workers who don’t enjoy those basic legal protections, including many agricultural and domestic workers as well as employees of small businesses with annual gross sales of less than $500,000.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Marginalized Home Health Care Workers Now Eligible for Minimum Wage, Overtime Guarantees appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Costa Rica debe cumplir sentencia de la Corte IDH y garantizar la Fecundación in Vitro

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 13:31
Costa Rica debe cumplir sentencia de la Corte IDH y garantizar la Fecundación in Vitro

24.08.15 - (COMUNICADO DE PRENSA) Las organizaciones de derechos humanos abajo firmantes instamos al Estado costarricense a cumplir lo ordenado por la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Corte IDH) en el caso Artavia Murillo y otros y aplicar una normativa que permita la realización de Fecundación in Vitro (FIV) en el país sin ningún tipo de discriminación.

La prohibición de la FIV fue decretada por la Sala Constitucional de la Corte Suprema de Justicia en el año 2000. Por esta situación la Corte IDH condenó al país en diciembre de 2012 por violar los derechos a la vida privada, los derechos reproductivos y los derechos a la integridad personal de sus ciudadanos. El tribunal internacional ordenó a Costa Rica ejecutar una ley que permita la FIV e incluir esta opción gradualmente en su sistema de salud pública.

Costa Rica siempre ha manifestado disposición para cumplir con sus obligaciones internacionales de respetar y garantizar los derechos humanos de su población. Cabe destacar que además de ser sede de la Corte IDH, ha ratificado casi todos los instrumentos interamericanos de derechos humanos y ha tenido un rol destacable de apoyo al sistema interamericano; en sintonía con esto, deben reconocerse los significativos avances implementados para cumplir con la sentencia del caso Herrera Ulloa adecuando el sistema procesal penal vigente.

Considerando la trayectoria del Estado costarricense, nos preocupa que algunas voces de actores internos aboguen por el incumplimiento de la sentencia poniendo en tensión la histórica posición de respeto a los derechos humanos que representa Costa Rica a nivel internacional. Más grave aún, el incumplimiento de la sentencia afecta a las personas a quienes se les sigue violentando sus derechos humanos al privarlas del acceso a este importante método reproductivo.

En su reciente visita a Costa Rica, Tracy Robinson, Relatora sobre los derechos de las mujeres de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, manifestó: “Ahora es el momento de cumplir con la sentencia de la Corte. Esto no sólo es un aspecto fundamental del Estado de Derecho, sino que es un principio básico del derecho internacional: que todos los tratados celebrados por un Estado son vinculantes para el Estado y deben ser realizados por el Estado, de buena fe. La integridad y legitimidad del Sistema Interamericano de Derechos Humanos depende de la aplicación efectiva de las decisiones de los órganos del Sistema de modo que los derechos garantizados en la Convención Americana se ejecuten”.

Las organizaciones firmantes nos sumamos a las declaraciones de la Relatora Robinson y exigimos la acción pronta y oportuna del gobierno para asegurar el cumplimiento de lo ordenado por la Corte IDH en el caso FIV y que en la audiencia de cumplimiento, a realizarse el próximo 3 de septiembre, el Estado exprese de manera indiscutible su voluntad política de acatar los compromisos internacionales en materia de derechos humanos.

Abogadas y Abogados para la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos, A. C., México
Agrupación Ciudadana por la despenalización del aborto terapéutico, ético y eugenésico, El Salvador

Amnistía Internacional (AI), organización internacional
Asociación Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans (COMCAVIS TRANS), El Salvador
Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desparecidos de Guatemala
Asociación LGTB Arcoiris, Honduras
Asociadas por lo Justo (JASS), organización internacional
Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM), México
Centro de Derechos Reproductivos (CRR), organización internacional
Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes Mozo S.J.” (CSMM), Ecuador
Centro de la Mujer Acción Ya, Nicaragua
Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos (PROMSEX), Perú
Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), Nicaragua
Centro para el Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer, A.C. (CADIMAC), México
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), organización internacional con sede en Costa Rica
Coalición Salvadoreña para la Corte Penal Internacional, El Salvador
Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local, El Salvador
El Refugio de la Niñez, Guatemala
Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC), Honduras
Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios, Costa Rica
Fundación Justicia y Género, Costa Rica
Hijas de la Negrita, Costa Rica
Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (MAM), Nicaragua
Movimiento contra el Abuso Sexual, Nicaragua
Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (PIDHDD), organización internacional
Programa Mujer, Justicia y Género del ILANUD, programa regional
Red feminista contra la violencia hacia las mujeres, Costa Rica
Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Guatemala

Federal Appeals Courts Unanimous in Support of Obamacare’s Birth Control Accommodation

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 11:55

A federal appeals court on Friday reaffirmed a ruling that the accommodation process to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The decision came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a challenge brought by six Catholic groups in Tennessee and Michigan, which argued the process of completing the paperwork to receive the accommodation unduly burdened their religious rights.

This is the second time the Sixth Circuit has considered the request from these organizations to exempt them from the process of completing the the government’s form that self-certifies them as religious employers and makes them eligible for an accommodation to providing contraception coverage in their employee health insurance plans.

The ACA requires some employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception as part of a package of preventive care services provided to employees at no additional cost or co-pay. President Obama’s health law includes an exemption for churches and other houses of worship. It also contains an accommodation process for religiously affiliated nonprofits, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, which are not churches but maintain a religious objection to providing plans with contraception coverage.

That process allows the objecting employers to complete a form, or otherwise notify the government in writing, of their religious objection. Completion of the form triggers a process whereby the insurance company contracts directly with people who want contraception coverage at no additional cost.

The plaintiffs in Michigan Catholic Conference argued that completing the form to qualify for the exemption violates RFRA because the act of completing the form “triggers” or “facilitates” the ability of their employees to get contraceptive coverage elsewhere, which the plaintiffs claim makes them “complicit” in the sin of facilitating contraception.

But a three-judge panel from the Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments and unanimously affirmed its earlier ruling that completing the paperwork is not a RFRA violation.

That previous ruling was issued before the Supreme Court decided the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled that some secular, for-profit businesses can take advantage of the religious accommodation to the birth control benefit available to nonprofits like the plaintiffs in Michigan Catholic Conference.

“The Courts of Appeals have unanimously concluded that filling out a form requesting an exemption from the contraception regulations does not substantially burden the free exercise of religion,” Gregory Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told RH Reality Check. “The message from the Courts of Appeals is, ‘Read my lips: no new challenges.’ Perhaps one day the challengers will get the message.”

Meanwhile, the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued another ruling in the nonprofit contraception challenges, granting a request by the Little Sisters of the Poor to put on hold its earlier decision that the accommodation process does not burden the organization’s religious rights while the Little Sisters asks the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.

The earliest the Roberts Court would take up a challenge to the accommodation process is this fall, when the Court is back in session.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Federal Appeals Courts Unanimous in Support of Obamacare’s Birth Control Accommodation appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Illinois Latest State to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ for Minors

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 10:36

Illinois became the fourth state to protect LGBTQ youth from the dangers of so-called conversion therapy after Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed into law last week a bill banning the practice.

Illinois follows California, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Oregon in prohibiting mental health providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ youth. HB 217, known as the “Youth Mental Health Protection Act,” makes it illegal for any “mental health provider” to engage in “sexual orientation change efforts” with a person younger than 18 years old.

The law prohibits providers from referring a patient to anyone else for the purposes of attempting to change their sexual orientation and prohibits advertising of conversion therapy services in a manner that represents homosexuality as a “mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

HB 217 also adds such therapy to the list of services covered under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, giving the right to sue to those injured as a result of therapy.

The law will go into effect January 1.

“We are thrilled that Illinois has joined the rapidly growing number of states leading the way to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy,” National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator and Staff Attorney Samantha Ames said in a statement. “Illinois families can now have confidence that the mental health professional they turn to in times of uncertainty may not use their state license to profit from their children’s pain.”

Opponents of the practice claim those LGBTQ youth who have been put through conversion therapy have higher incidents of substance abuse, extreme depression, and suicide. The Obama administration in April called for a nationwide ban on the practice.

“Discredited by every major mental health, medical, and child welfare organization, conversion ‘therapy’ uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

Image: Shutterstock

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Improving Reproductive Care for Women in Jail Is Not an Impossible Task

RH Reality Check - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 09:05

Millions of the most medically underserved women in America enter local jails each year, where their reproductive health care and family planning needs are grossly overlooked. Women in city and county jails frequently face barriers to accessing contraception, abortion, prenatal care, and disease screening and treatment. But preventive family planning can be improved in jails around the United States by implementing a few core tenets for those incarcerated there.

Although the direct results of improving such care have not yet been studied, it seems a safe guess that releasing healthier, more empowered women with control over their fertility would have positive outcomes for them and the families and communities to which they return.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that the female jail population has been the fastest-growing correctional population. In 2012, women accounted for more than 26 percent of all persons arrested, primarily for drug-related charges. Regardless of the growing rate of female incarceration, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care has stated that women’s sex-specific health-care needs remain unmet due to their minority status in a male-dominated jail population.

There are no federally mandated guidelines for women’s health care in jails. Correctional health-care arrangements vary; contracted providers may deliver health services at jails on site, or incarcerated persons may be transported to local hospitals or clinics for care. Often, these health care arrangements do not include appointments with obstetrics and gynecological health providers. The scholar and lawyer Kendra Weatherhead argues that the medical inadequacies incarcerated women face infringe on their rights established in the Eighth and 14th Amendments.

Although some members of the public may believe that contraception and other reproductive care needs aren’t necessary because of facilities’ sex-segregation, discontinuing women’s birth control and not providing contraceptives before release may increase the likelihood of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy post-incarceration. Jails are different than prisons in that they are designed for short-term stays of people in pretrial detention or who have been sentenced to less than one year for low-level felonies. The average length of stay in America’s jails is around 30 days, but while jail time is short, it is also frequent. Recidivism rates are alarmingly high in the United States—half of women who have been incarcerated return to jail at least once within three years after their release.

Unfortunately, many women have a revolving-door experience with incarceration. An unintended pregnancy may further complicate a woman’s efforts to meet her probation or parole requirements; thus, helping women avoid unintended pregnancies may lead to a reduction in recidivism, or at least a reduction in women returning to jail with unwanted pregnancies, for which they may be unable to decide the outcome.

Overall, most women in jail are between the reproductive ages of 18 and 45; are sexually active; and already have children, for whom they are the primary caregivers. It is also estimated that 25 percent of incarcerated women are either pregnant or gave birth in the year prior to their arrest. Compared to women who have never been arrested, women with a history of involvement in the corrections system experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies, abortion, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic and sexual violence—again displaying the need for improved health care in jails.

To assess women’s family planning needs and desires for contraception, the following recommendations should be initiated in all local jails housing women.

Upon booking into jail, all women should be asked if they are sexually active with men and currently using a method of birth control.

If she is using a hormonal birth control method, ensure it is continued. Women incarcerated in U.S. jails are subject to discontinuation of their current contraceptive methods because of an assumption that birth control is an unnecessary medication in a sex-segregated jail. Generally, women experiencing incarceration are not given previously prescribed birth control pills, or kept on schedule with other hormonal methods such as Ortho Evra (the patch), NuvaRing (the ring), or Depo-Provera (the shot). In the case of managing a health issue such as endometriosis, a woman may be allowed to remain on birth control, but even then, discontinuation is common. This practice carries risks: Because hormonal birth control can take time to become effective, this puts women at risk of unintended pregnancy if they have to reinitiate birth control after release rather than continuing on a jail’s prescription. Furthermore, women’s health insurance and income are suspended during incarceration, which could further postpone a woman’s re-initiation of birth control while she waits for her insurance to activate or a first paycheck and an appointment with a family planning provider.

All reproductive-aged women should be asked if they are interested in initiating birth control during their jail stay.

An unintended pregnancy after incarceration could hinder a woman’s ability to successfully reintegrate into her community and increase her likelihood of returning to jail. After incarceration, most women have children they need to care for or regain custody of, and they often have to find housing and jobs—things that an unintended pregnancy could make more complicated. Most incarcerated women are sexually active and plan to have sex with male partners soon after their release and hope to avoid unintended pregnancies. However, women who are incarcerated are more likely to come from poor communities where access to contraceptive education and services is limited. Because health care in jail is subsidized, women experiencing incarceration who wish to could receive free family planning counseling and services, especially effective, reversible, long-term methods such as the arm implant, Implanon, or intrauterine devices such as Mirena, Skyla, Liletta, or ParaGard—methods that are especially difficult for disadvantaged, uninsured women to access in the community. At least two jails in the United States are providing incarcerated women with access to contraception during their stay, one in Rhode Island, the other in San Francisco, California. But two facilities on opposite sides of the country are not nearly enough.

If a woman had unprotected sex within five days prior to arrest and is eligible and interested in taking emergency contraception, it should be offered to her.

A 2009 study surveyed women within 24 hours of their arrest in San Francisco. They found that 29 percent were eligible for emergency contraception based on the above guidelines, and among those women, almost half were willing to take emergency contraception if it was offered to them in jail. Additionally, 71 percent of all women surveyed said they would accept an advance supply of emergency contraception upon release from jail. The researchers estimate that access to emergency contraception at time of arrest and upon release could potentially benefit more than 750,000 women entering the criminal justice system every year.  

Administrators should establish whether a woman is currently pregnant or if they would like to take a pregnancy test.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that at any given time, approximately 6 to 10 percent of incarcerated women are pregnant, many of whom find out they are pregnant in a correctional facility. Unfortunately, pregnant women in jail are inconsistently counseled on their options for pregnancy outcome and access to termination services. Incarceration impedes women’s ability to access abortion in the case of unintended pregnancy and causes additional stress to women who desire to deliver and parent. If a woman is pregnant, she should be asked what her intentions are for the pregnancy outcome and should be provided with resources to accomplish her intentions. Women’s rights to prenatal care, humane treatment, and abortion services do not cease because of incarceration; however, incarceration greatly complicates their access to such services. This may result in pregnancy and delivery complications or a woman being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy because she was unable to access an abortion.

If women want to become pregnant after release, they should be offered preconception counseling, prenatal vitamins, and information about parenting resources, such as Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Women with a history of incarceration often face pregnancy complications and deliver low-birth weight babies due to poor prenatal nutrition or mother’s drug use. Providing women with resources and services promoting healthy pregnancies benefits women, their children and communities.

The fight for reproductive rights is difficult enough for women who have never experienced incarceration—the millions of women who enter U.S. correctional facilities have it worse and the problem is growing. We must challenge the system of mass incarceration occurring in America and fight to keep women out of jail for nonviolent offenses through advocating for better substance abuse treatment and alternatives to incarceration. Unfortunately, women already in these facilities often have few resources to advocate for themselves. We must engage with jail administrators and local legislators to ensure incarcerated women have access to reproductive health-care services and family planning resources. Jails are our jails. People from our communities are held there, and our money funds what they do and don’t have access to.

It is our responsibility to ensure reproductive rights and autonomy for those behind bars.


Image: Shutterstock

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Largest-Ever Transgender Survey Launches

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:29

The largest-ever survey of transgender Americans started collecting data on Wednesday, launching an attempt to gain the most comprehensive understanding to date of the lives of U.S. transgender people.

The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey (USTS), an initiative of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), will build on the data collected by the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey to provide a “360-degree view of trans lives,” the survey’s coordinator told RH Reality Check. 

“This is the largest study of its kind, following up on a study that gave us almost everything we know about trans people, so it’s incredibly important,” said Sandy James, survey project manager at NCTE. “This is a community survey. It’s a survey that’s for us and by us.”

The lack of data collected about transgender people by the federal government is a serious omission and a major barrier to crafting policies that promote equality, advocates say.

“We’re at a critical moment for trans people in America, but there is basic, fundamental knowledge that we do not have,” NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. “While we’re aware that trans people face extraordinary challenges, we cannot discern how frequent or widespread they are without up-to-date data. The survey will provide us with robust, fresh data, which will translate into significant knowledge about the trans community.”

The survey, projected to be released in the spring of 2016, will cover a range of topics, including employment, housing, healthcare, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, immigration, sex work, and police interactions.

The 2011 discrimination survey returned striking findings about poverty and discrimination.

Ninety percent of respondents reported being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, and they were four times as likely as the general population to live in poverty. Widespread discrimination was also reported in health care, education, and other public services.

The 2015 survey, James said, will build on the questions asked in the 2011 survey and include more “nuanced” ones that delve deeper into the transgender experience. The new survey will draw on existing survey data to make more detailed comparisons between the transgender population and the general population on issues like income.

It’s a large survey with specific sampling needs, James said, so it’s important to get the word out through the initial launch and other avenues.

“It’s a big part of letting people know that the survey is for them,” James said. 

Image: Shutterstock

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Michigan Republican: Ban Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 16:10

A Michigan GOP lawmaker introduced two bills that would criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.

Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia), who was elected to her first term in the Republican-majority Michigan house during the 2014 midterm elections, on Thursday introduced HB 4833 and HB 4834, bills that would ban “dismemberment abortions.”

The ban would target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.

Legislation to ban the common medical procedure has been introduced by Republican legislators in six states this year, and was signed into law by the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma. The bills have all been copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

The bill does not appear to be based on NRLC copycat legislation, and the anti-choice Michigan Right to Life has not endorsed or taken credit for the bills. Cox has stated that she has “worked with and supported Right to Life in Michigan,” according to her campaign website.

HB 4833 would amend state law to include a ban on so-called dismemberment abortion. The legislation defines a dismemberment abortion as an abortion that uses “any instrument, device or object to dismember a living fetus by disarticulating limbs or decapitating the head from the fetal torso.”

The bill also seems to include contradictory language by defining a dismemberment abortion as taking place “regardless of whether the fetal body parts are removed by the same instrument, device or object or by suction or other means,” but then clarifies that the definition does not include any abortion that “uses suction to dismember or remove the body of a fetus.”

The bill’s broad and vague language and lack of medical terminology makes the possible implications on abortion care unclear.

Prior to 14 weeks’ gestation, abortions are usually performed using suction aspiration, but after 14 weeks, the D and E procedure must be used, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

HB 4834 would change the state’s criminal code; violation of the law would constitute a class G felony punishable by a maximum of two years in prison or a maximum fine of $50,000.

Cox claims that the bills would not “prevent or inhibit” a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. “This is not a debate about choice, but dismembering fetuses as a means to abort them,” Cox said in a Facebook post. “I think we can all agree that this practice is inexplicable, gruesome and should never happen.”

Reproductive rights activists believe such bans make it more difficult for women to receive the care they need, as RH Reality Check has reported. “Every pregnant woman faces unique circumstances, challenges, and potential complications,” Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement after the Oklahoma house passed a similar ban there. “We must trust each woman to make the decisions that are right for her, and enable her to get the care she needs according to the best medical counsel—not the agendas of politicians who presume to know better.”

Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Criminal Justice for further consideration. Republicans hold a 63-47 majority in the state house and a 27-11 majority in the state senate.

Image: Rep. Laura Cox

The post Michigan Republican: Ban Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure appeared first on RH Reality Check.

U.S. Congressman Says Feminists of Color Promote ‘Racist’ Agenda

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 15:53

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) on Friday tweeted comments accusing a Black anti-rape activist, along with other feminists and journalists who write about women’s health, of promoting a “racist” agenda by accepting awards from Planned Parenthood.

Huelskamp fired off five tweets attacking 19 journalists and activists—several of whom are women of color—who either accepted a 2015 Maggie Award for Media Excellence from Planned Parenthood, or who merely attended the ceremony this week.

The award is given in 15 categories to “journalists, activists, and social media innovators for their exceptional coverage of reproductive rights, social justice, and women’s health care issues.”

“I fight for Life while @ArielAzoff @wagatwe @lolololori & @jennyalyse push racist Planned Parenthood’s death agenda #prolife,” read one of Huelskamp’s tweets, which was still online at the time of publication. The other four tweets followed the same format.

One of the women mentioned in that tweet, Wagatwe Wanjuki, received the “Social Media Campaign” Maggie Award for her activism against campus rape.

Wanjuki, a Black woman, campus rape survivor, and former RH Reality Check employee, coined the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag after George Will wrote a controversial column suggesting that victims of sexual assault on college campuses enjoy a “coveted status that confers privileges.”

Wanjuki fired back at Huelskamp on Twitter.

“Using me as a tool to make a political statement for your personal gain is racist,” Wanjuki tweeted.

She also called out the congressman for “publicly trying to shame and embarrass me for accepting an award I received to help survivors,” and for his indifference to Black rape survivors in other contexts. Wanjuki added that after her rape at Tufts University and subsequent expulsion, Planned Parenthood was the only place she could get health care.

“I didn’t think it was him [Huelskamp], at first I thought it was a satirical account or something,” Wanjuki told RH Reality Check. “But then I saw the little blue check [indicating a verified Twitter account], and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually real life. I can’t believe this.’” 

Wanjuki noted that two of the women mentioned in the tweet with her, Lori White and Ariel Azoff, are colleagues of hers at Upworthy and were her guests at the ceremony, not award recipients.

Some Maggie Award recipients whom Huelskamp called out as promoting the “racist” agenda of Planned Parenthood were given awards for their work on such diverse topics as racial justice, a profile on a transgender woman in Uganda, accurate sexual health information for teens, and a feminist video series. Others covered the topic of abortion from a variety of viewpoints, from personal storytelling, to profiling an abortion provider, to exposing the false information provided by anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers.”

“We live in the kind of country where a [Planned Parenthood] event for journalists who write about women’s health has to hide the location for ‘security,'” noted another award recipient,’s Elizabeth Plank, in a tweet on Thursday.

Prior to naming the Maggie Award recipients, Huelskamp tweeted a link to a piece on that named the recipients and called them “bought and paid for” by Planned Parenthood.

The RedState post asserted that the journalists it named “don’t cover” the recent series of deceptively edited videos about Planned Parenthood’s legal fetal tissue program, despite the fact that several journalists who accepted awards have written explicitly about the issue.

RedState founder Erick Erickson is known for making sexist remarks, most recently comparing pregnant women to “female animals.”

As RH Reality Check’s Imani Gandy has noted, attacking Black women’s reproductive health rights in the guise of anti-racism is a common and offensive anti-choice trope. A related tactic is to use false narratives about Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, as Huelskamp did after tweeting about the Maggie Award recipients.

Wanjuki said it was “upsetting” to be personally attacked by a sitting U.S. congressman, and found his comments offensive as a Black woman and a sexual assault survivor.

“To use a survivor as some sort of example is in really poor taste, and shows that they didn’t even bother to look at the issue to see what I’ve done and what I’ve gone through,” Wanjuki said. “And it’s just very clear that they’re using race when it’s convenient to them as part of their agenda.”

Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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‘Asking for It': Why We Need to Get Angry About Rape Culture

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 14:39

“[F]alse rape reports are zebras.” Zebras on a highway, to be exact.

Feminist author Kate Harding wields metaphors like these with unrivaled mastery in her new book, Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Cultureand What We Can Do About It, due out August 25. In doing so, she roots out the causes and effects of the way an internalized set of myths about sexual assault leaves victims suffering largely in silence and without justice, lest they risk being blamed and persecuted themselves by reporting their attackers.

Accented by snark, punctuated by profanity, and sprinkled with pop culture and literary references, Harding’s writing is accessible in addition to being weighty and informative. My heart leapt with nerdy joy at her inclusion of Kurt Vonnegut’s “grandfalloon”—“a proud and meaningless association of human beings”—to describe the self-professed trolls of GamerGate who tried to spin relentless harassment of female gamers into “ethics in journalism.” Others will find themselves cheering while Harding takes down the celebrity they most love to hate. Daniel Tosh, Tyler Perry, CeeLo Green, Ben Roethlisberger, and Roman Polanski all get the treatment—with plenty of side-eye left over for Woody Allen.

As she tells stories of famous victims and assailants (both admitted and repeatedly accused) as well as her own story, Harding doesn’t shy away from graphic imagery of assault. She explains in the introduction that this choice was made for a very specific reason: to move away from what we ask of those adjacent to victims and potential victims when we implore them to imagine what their “wife, mother, daughter, or sister is hypothetically feeling.” 

Our culture is in dire shape and more direct and personal visualization is needed. You don’t have to be highly engaged with the news cycle, a sports fan, or a pop culture consumer to have heard about the high-profile cases in recent years. Rape culture has become so unavoidable, that the phrase itself—once tossed around only by feminist and academic circles—is now part of everyday discourse. Of course, there is a sizeable contingent who use it sarcastically in a fact-free attempt to discredit the silly women being all emotional and overreacting to a tiny problem not worth anyone’s time.

People, albeit some subconsciously, widely feel that there is some truth to victim-blaming myths. Harding starts the first chapter, “The Power of Myth,” with this common thought pattern: “If the only thing that happens … is that someone decides to use your body without your consent, well—it’s not like he hurt you. It was basically just bad sex, wasn’t it?” Nearly 2 percent of men are raped in their lifetimes and a full 20 percent report having been victims of other sexual violence, making them, as Harding puts it, “far more likely to be victims of sexual assault than of lying, vindictive [false reporting] women.” But the “bad sex” trope is so pervasive that Harding lets readers know up front in the introduction that she’s going to challenge them beyond the typical exercise of considering how they’d feel if someone they knew was violated:

With this book, I’m asking you to do better than that. I’m asking you to imagine it’s you who was raped. And I’m asking you to get angry about it.

And if you aren’t yet angry five pages in, Harding will guide you step by step.

Asking for It comprises three parts that build on each other. Part I, “Slut Shaming, Victim Blaming, and Rape Myths,” details the tropes embedded in our attitudes and actions that perpetuate disbelief of victims; Part II, ”Law and Order,” outlines the epidemic of mishandled cases and victimization perpetrated by our supposed criminal justice system; and Part III, “The Culture of Rape,” is a much-needed indictment of us all for our participation in a society that perpetuates and even amplifies the myths that allow a rape to occur every seven minutes in this country.

The myths and themes overlap, flowing seamlessly between stories and sections. The seven basic rape myths identified by researchers whose work is cited in the book are:

  1. She asked for it.
  2. It wasn’t really rape.
  3. He didn’t mean to.
  4. She wanted it.
  5. She lied.
  6. Rape is a trivial event.
  7. Rape is a deviant event.

Harding puts together an LOLsob moment with a “Someone has reported a rape” flowchart that demonstrates the power of these rape myths. No matter your choose-your-own-adventure style path, the flowchart inevitably leads to “Everything’s fine! No need to be upset!” It’s an illustration that makes clear that we are all susceptible to at least one of them, making us prone to disbelief and/or self-blame.

The overwhelming and destructive need of human beings to not be uncomfortable, to not have to consider that (unlike in every other crime) the violation has been committed by someone—a rapist—is so powerful that we as human beings bend over backwards to maneuver through whatever series of moves gets us to a place where we don’t have to worry.

“If you’re the person who was raped, you might find you’re still upset after all that,” Harding writes. “But the rest of us can breathe easy, knowing that it never happened, you wanted it, he didn’t mean it, and it was no big deal anyway.” 

Harding touches on the white supremacy of our “justice” system, doesn’t avoid the glossed-over or ignored truth that sending a rapist to prison oftens creates another victim, and wades into the murkiness that is our entertainment industry’s effect on how we think and what we believe. In exploring intersections like those that can derail discussion about rape culture through conflation and hard to unpack contributing factors, Harding somehow emerges with new clarity and effective talking points for dismantling victim blaming—both the sort done by those in the victim’s life and by the victim themselves.

One of her most poignant analogies (it struck me especially hard, being one of my lingering self-blame issues) comes in the chapter titled “Virgins, Vamps, and the View From Nowhere.” Harding is taking on the “personal responsibility” trope that leads even the well-meaning to pile up a can’t-do/must-do list for every woman and individual belonging to an at-risk community, such as transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Specifically, she goes after the idea that someone who is intoxicated has some measure of blame for their assault.

“[T]here is no Bad Personal Choices threshold past which someone deserves to be raped,” Harding writes.

After excoriating the cast of Fox News’ Outnumbered on this point, she employs a comparison that should make the irrelevance of a victim’s blood alcohol content to their worthiness of justice and care clear for everyone:

It is everyone’s responsibility to remain on the side of not committing crimes while drinking. Women and men are held to exactly the same standard, in that respect. But no, victims are not typically held to the same standard as criminals. Our legal system does not (technically) require victims to make only impeccable life decisions or else forfeit their right to protection under the law. If a frat boy gets plastered, wanders into the street, and gets hit by a drunk driver, the driver is the criminal.

Clearly. The driver committed the crime, the assault, the violation—of both the law and of the Golden Rule that says we treat each other with care. It is practically impossible in that situation to envision reporters, police, and school officials immediately drilling the victim on their clothing choices, number of beverages consumed, or what in hell they were thinking wandering out near the road by themselves so late at night!

The same courtesy should be shown to any victim no matter their condition, no matter their past, no matter the choices they made right up until the moment they did not give or withdrew consent. It is, in fact, incumbent upon us to not perpetrate a crime while drinking rather than to avoid being victimized while drinking. Harding’s emphasis shift in the “drunk victim” scenario, which personal responsibility advocates and victim blamers like the Fox News crew use continually, was one of the many moments of clarity I had while reading her book.

In the final chapter, “Reasons for Hope,” Harding makes good on the promise of her subtitle, using her own campus rape story as a vehicle for describing what has changed since she was a college freshman in 1992.

“[I]t just so happens that one of the worst things that ever happened to me is a good way to introduce all of the recent changes that give me hope for our culture,” she writes. That hope centers around three things: the rise of student activists revolutionizing the way Title IX law is exercised in this country (i.e., forcing the federal government to actually exercise it), the recent wave of “yes means yes”—aka “affirmative consent” laws, and the way young people utilize a tool she didn’t have 20 years ago: the Internet.

Not only are survivors’ stories being told every day online, but the telling and retelling has awakened would-be activists, joining together to demand comprehensive sex education, recognition from authorities, and form groups like Know Your IX, which puts the “how-to” of filing Title IX complaints in students’ hands.

When dozens of ED Act Now organizers descended on the capitol in July 2013 with more than 100,000 signatures, they didn’t just speak on the steps—they dropped the petition at the doorstep of the Department of Education and prompted the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. Almost overnight, federal officials went from investigating zero colleges and universities for Title IX sexual assault violations to 85 open cases.

As Harding puts it: “Survivors did that. Students did that. The young people who are going to be running everything before we know it did that. That gives me hope.” 

That you can complete her 200-some pages on one of the most common and most violent crimes in our culture feeling optimistic is quite a feat. That I could do it as a rape and abuse survivor makes her book not just informative, but extraordinary.

Asking for It is a must-read for advocates and activists who have to break down rape culture for new, often resistant, audiences, as well as for journalists who desperately need to understand the role they play in perpetuating myths under the guise of impartiality. I also recommend it for survivors—those who can safely read the purposely direct descriptions, particularly those who have been unable to confide in anyone and may feel they’re alone or partially to blame. Harding will likely disabuse you of both feelings and leave you, like me, not just better informed, but hopeful about the direction the cultural discourse is taking at long last: “It feels as if maybe, finally, this conversation won’t taper off until sexual violence does.” 


The post ‘Asking for It': Why We Need to Get Angry About Rape Culture appeared first on RH Reality Check.

‘Female Viagra’ Sounds Promising, But Might Not Be All It’s Cracked Up To Be

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 13:57

After two previous rejections, Sprout Pharmaceuticals finally hit the jackpot when it got FDA approval for flibanserin, a drug that promises to relieve hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). HSDD is a recent coinage to describe a disorder in which women lose much, if not all, of their previous interest in sex. Flibanserin, which will be sold under the name Addyi, is supposed to restore that lost libido. Sprout is declaring this a feminist victory, a way to “even the score” by creating what they claim is a kind of “female Viagra.”

Sounds like a straightforward win, right? Women who want to restore a lost libido now have a way to do so. If only it were that simple. Flibanserin has been plagued by criticism, a lot of it coming from feminists. And while some of the feminist criticism is misguided, many of the objections raised legitimately call into question not just the drug itself, but how it’s marketed, both to the FDA and now to consumers.

So is this really such a feminist achievement? There’s a lot of reasons to think not.

To be clear, one of the most popular feminist objections to this pill is misguided. That’s the view being advanced by psychology professor Leonore Tiefer, who objects to the very idea that there’s a problem when a woman loses most or all interest in sex. “What’s wrong with losing sexual desire?” Tiefer asked Jill Filipovic of when interviewed about her anti-flibanserin campaign. Instead, Tiefer argued in PLOS Medicine, treating low desire as a medical issue is “a textbook case of disease mongering by the pharmaceutical industry and by other agents of medicalization.”

“There’s no damage, there’s no harm, there’s no medical consequence [from losing sexual desire],” Tiefer continued.

“This is the great advantage of having lived a number of decades longer and having been raised in a different time with different norms,” Tiefer told Filipovic. “Having sex was not considered a mental health need. Having sex was not considered proof of being a real person, a real woman.”

Considering how much pressure there is on women to mold our sexual identities and behaviors around the desires of men, one can see the surface attraction to Tiefer’s concerns that this is just another form of trying to police female sexuality. But ultimately, her argument is condescending and unfair to women. There are plenty of good reasons, outside of being some kind of victim of an oversexed culture, for a woman to desire sex. For one thing, it’s fun. A lot of women rightly believe life is too short to simply accept the loss of something as life-affirming and good for the spirit as sexual pleasure.

Women get shamed all the time for wanting to have sex, and feminists shouldn’t add to that pile by suggesting that there’s something wrong with them if they want a libido-boosting pill. Nor is it fair to suggest that women are wrong to want sex to continue in their relationship, any more than it would be to suggest they should feel bad about wanting communication or cuddling to continue in their relationship.

So much of the feminist agenda, especially around reproductive rights, is about trusting women. We trust that women who choose contraception and abortion in order to have sex for pleasure know what they’re doing, and so we should trust that women who want to have more sexual desire know what they’re doing.

That said, one reason Sprout’s marketing of this pill as a “fix” to a “disease” is so frustrating is because it does not display that trust in women’s ability to define their own lives for themselves. Tiefer is right about one thing: By giving low sexual desire a name and suggesting it’s a disorder, that implies that there’s a “right” amount of sex to want.

But what if you have a low libido and you don’t mind? What if you’re not in a relationship or don’t want to be in one, or are in a relationship where no one wants sex and that’s fine by both of you? Women are constantly being told that their sexualities are wrong somehow—that they want it too much or too little or the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. The marketing, including the invention of HSDD, adds to this problem. Why should a woman be told she has a disorder if all she wants is a boost to her libido? Why imply, conversely, that someone who doesn’t want more sex is somehow failing?

To be fair to Sprout, it doesn’t seem like the company has much of a choice. There continues to be a lot of hostility in our culture to the idea of using drugs to enhance your life, rather than only as a way to “fix” something that’s broken. Take coffee, for instance. When I type “is drinking coffee” into Google, the top search fills out “bad for you.” The top hits are things like “13 Proven Health Benefits of Coffee” and “Health Benefits of Coffee.” It’s not enough to drink coffee because you like it and because you like the alert feeling it gives you. Oh no, Americans still feel this need to justify it for “health” reasons.

This mentality is why contraception, by the way, continues to be controversial, and why the pill keeps getting defended by articles that highlight the “medical” reasons to take it. Simply wanting to have sex for fun without the worry of getting pregnant is still seen, by many, as not good enough. We need a “medical” reason for it.

And so this new pill is being slotted into that mentality. It scares people to think women might just want more sex for its own sake, so instead we’re told that they have a “disorder” that needs fixing.

Which might be not that big a deal—hey, you can’t change a culture overnight and women need relief now—if the pill actually worked, like Viagra actually works. But the real reason that feminists should be suspicious of this pill has nothing to do with whether or not women should or should not want sex at all. It’s because this pill is being oversold. As Julia Belluz of Vox explained, this pill barely performs better than a placebo at increasing sexual desire. Only 8 to 13 percent of women saw an improvement over a placebo at all. The average bump in sexual frequency? About one more sexual encounter every two months. Considering that it’s an expensive, everyday pill that has serious potential side effects, the payoff just doesn’t seem worth it.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take a pill that makes you hornier. Sex is fun. Wanting sex is fun. If there was a pill out there that could make women want more sex, I’d be all for it. Just like it’s okay to drink coffee just because it wakes you up or to drink alcohol (in moderation) because it loosens you up, people should be able to take drugs, especially safe drugs, for sexual pleasure. The problem is that this drug doesn’t appear to be that drug. And feminists, regardless of our disagreements elsewhere, should be able to come together to denounce drug companies who appear to be selling women a bill of goods.

Image: Shutterstock

The post ‘Female Viagra’ Sounds Promising, But Might Not Be All It’s Cracked Up To Be appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Ohio’s Uninsured Rates Plummet After Obamacare Embrace

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 13:07

The number of Ohioans without health insurance has dropped by about half since 2012, after the state’s GOP Gov. John Kasich drew the scorn of fellow Republicans when he expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The 2015 Ohio Medicaid Assessment Survey, released this week, showed that Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid—a central piece of the ACA—was key in dropping the adult uninsured rate to 8.7 percent and children’s uninsured rate to 2 percent from 16 and 4.7 percent, respectively.

The survey showed that making Medicaid more widely available helped boost Ohio’s Medicaid rolls to three million people.

Ohio stands in stark contrast to other Republican-dominated states that have roundly rejected key provisions of the ACA designed to bolster health-care availability to those who can’t afford high private insurance premiums but have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Republican governors, including Rick Scott in Florida, took hard-line stances against the ACA and said they would take no action if the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the law this summer and left millions without access to health care. Scott said Floridians losing health insurance through the ACA was a “federal problem.”

Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid and the state’s falling rates of uninsured adults and children has proven a political liability for Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential nominee. Kasich defended his stance on the ACA during the first Republican presidential debate.

“And finally, the working poor, instead of having them come into the emergency rooms where it costs more, where they’re sicker and we end up paying, we brought a program in here to make sure that people could get on their feet,” he said.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, criticized Kasich’s ACA stance, charging that the federal government’s financial assistance in expanding Medicaid wasn’t “free money” because the United States borrows from China. The right-wing group Club for Growth has also leveled harsh critiques of Kasich’s decision to make health care more widely available to those who couldn’t afford it.

One other GOP candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, expanded Medicaid, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker opposed efforts to make health care more widely available to his state’s uninsured.

Walker, in a policy paper released this week, said he would repeal the ACA if he were to win the White House in 2016, though his proposal did not include details about how he would replace the health-care expansion. More than 13 million Americans would have their health insurance taken away if the ACA were repealed.

States with Democratic governors and Democratic-majority legislatures moved quickly in implementing central parts of the ACA meant to slash uninsured rates. California, for example, has seen encouraging results of the state’s embrace of the ACA.

More than two-thirds of Californians who were uninsured at the start of the ACA’s implementation have since gained health-care coverage. Prior to the coverage expansions created by the ACA—also known as Obamacare—California had the nation’s largest population of uninsured non-elderly adults at nearly six million.

Most of those Californians who wanted health coverage felt they couldn’t afford it, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released this summer.

Image: Shutterstock

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Editor’s Note: Our Reporting on CMP and Holly O’Donnell

RH Reality Check - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 10:52

Over the last two months, we have been doggedly reporting on the newest efforts to destroy reproductive and sexual health care in the United States. We’ve published well over 30 stories on the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), a sham company set up with the express purpose of destroying Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as part of a longer-term effort to eliminate public funding for all sexual and reproductive health care.

Last night, as many know, we published a piece on the background of Holly O’Donnell, the former StemExpress employee featured as a so-called whistle-blower in one of the numerous videos created and edited by CMP. That and other videos have been used to fuel a new wave of attacks on federal and state funding of Planned Parenthood and to create a public panic about fetal tissue donation that has already affected public health—and will continue to do so for years to come.

The O’Donnell piece, which has now been taken down, was controversial and upset a number of our colleagues and allies. Indeed, there was vociferous internal disagreement even on our staff about the piece.

As with everything we publish, I am responsible for the final product and therefore both for explaining the rationale behind what we do when sincere questions are raised as well as admitting when we’ve made errors. I therefore take full responsibility for what was an ill-considered decision to publish this article.

RHRC is devoted to evidence-based reporting on sexual and reproductive health and justice. One part of our mandate is to influence other media reporting on these issues for the sake of accuracy and to fight against the false equivalencies around sex, sexuality, and reproduction represented in so much of media today. Another part of our mandate is to fight back against false narratives perpetuated by the anti-choice movement. These and our other goals mean we are making decisions, often quick ones, about how and what to report with integrity.

The far right, of which the anti-choice movement is a central part, focuses on shaming people who engage in sex for pleasure, for managing their fertility, or for loving whom they love. The obsessive focus of the right on eliminating access to birth control and abortion is but one part of this agenda. The movement works assiduously to deny millions of people throughout this country access to critical health care and sexual agency whether through fighting access to birth control under the ACA, denying women access to safe abortion care, denying same-sex couples the right to adopt, or denying health care to transgender persons. Their daily work is based on stigma and shame—of women, sex workers, LGBTQ persons, and youth—or really anyone who exercises sexual agency and seeks sexual pleasure on their own terms.

Our reporting on O’Donnell was intended to focus on the hypocrisy of a person who has and wants to enjoy sexual freedom and autonomy all while seeking to deny this right to others. Full stop.

We believed answers to the question, “Who is Holly O’Donnell,” were germane to the political debate in which she has placed herself front and center, and from which she has never sought to recuse herself in the weeks since the videos including her came out.

That said, our piece clearly crossed a line by providing far too much information about her personal life, which in turn made it seem like we were engaging in the same practice of shaming someone for sex we decry on the right. Targeting O’Donnell’s personal life is, unlike, say, Josh Duggar, unlikely to influence public perceptions of the anti-choice movement as a whole. To target her and open her up to harassment based on her sexual preferences was wrong.

It was also a mistake to include these preferences framed in a similar light as her apparent fascination on public social media accounts with Adolf Hitler, as if all of those behaviors were equal.

During the course of our work following this story, we have found and reported on the actual and false identities of the perpetrators of the sham videos disseminated by CMP and on their allegedly illegal activities now under investigation by the state of California. We’ve reported on the background of David Daleiden, the head of CMP, and on his use of the name of one of his high school acquaintance’s without their knowledge for the purposes of procuring a false driver’s license to infiltrate meetings with medical professionals. We’ve investigated the backgrounds of everyone affiliated with CMP we could find. And we’ve consistently reported these findings as would any other journalistic enterprise. That is our job. Reporting on O’Donnell’s personal dating life was not part of our job.

Again, I take full responsibility for these mistakes and we have recommitted ourselves to and reinforced the editorial processes we normally have in place to ensure these kind of things do not happen.

We understand that at times, as a publication, we may either disappoint or anger people, or we may make mistakes, for which we will take responsibility. We also understand that at times our assessment of what is fair reporting may differ from others. We deeply respect and appreciate the opinions of all of those engaged in assuring that everyone in the world can exercise their basic human rights, including to a healthy, safe, consensual sex life, and do not wish to suggest otherwise.

The post Editor’s Note: Our Reporting on CMP and Holly O’Donnell appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Exclusive: Posting on OKCupid and FetLife, Face of Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Enjoys Sexual Freedom Otherwise Decried by Anti-Choice Movement

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 18:01

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Holly Kaitlyn O’Donnell has made herself the face of the ongoing series of attack videos against Planned Parenthood and StemExpress, a private company that contracted with Planned Parenthood to facilitate donations of fetal tissue.

In three videos, O’Donnell has made unsubstantiated allegations about the conduct and motivations of staff at StemExpress, and at multiple Planned Parenthood locations in California. O’Donnell, who claims to have previously worked at StemExpress, painted a picture of immoral individuals and organizations that she accused of trading in baby parts.

Of her former colleagues, for example, O’Donnell said “they are probably some of the coldest people I’ve met. They’re in it for the money.” And when it came to the women who obtained abortions at the Planned Parenthood facilities where she was stationed, O’Donnell unilaterally determined that “you can just see this look in their eye of a part of them was just ripped from them and they didn’t know how important it was, and now it’s gone.”

Until now, not much has been known about O’Donnell. She claimed to have been a phlebotomist (a specialist at drawing blood), but her tracks had been difficult to trace, especially for an American in her mid-20s who grew up in the digital age.

That changed yesterday, when RH Reality Check identified O’Donnell’s accounts on the dating site OkCupid, and using the same handle, her account on the photo-sharing site, Instagram. We also identified her account on (which appears to be short for “fetish life”), a site that provides the “easiest ways to find new kinky friends.” These accounts contain material that has been posted over years and months, and RH Reality Check has matched some of the personal information posted on them with information about O’Donnell gleaned from public records. Photographs from different accounts also show O’Donnell’s distinctive tattoos on her upper arm and shin, in some cases include the same photos, and feature pictures of family members.

The material O’Donnell has posted publicly gives some insight into the person who, at this stage, remains the only so-called whistleblower that David Daleiden and his group, the Center for Medical Progress, have been able to produce after three years of “investigating” Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. O’Donnell’s posts indicate that her views may not be as politically palatable as the wholesome, socially conservative image that Daleiden and his tightly run PR machine have sought to cultivate over the course of their seven-week PR campaign against Planned Parenthood.

Instead, O’Donnell is vocally in favor of same-sex rights and describes herself as “heteroflexible” and looking for a “Mistress.”’

Her accounts contain images of Hitler, include posts indicating eugenicist sympathies, references to abortion that are most accurately described as ambivalent, as well as considerable sexually explicit material.

Of course, on one hand, the fact that O’Donnell does not conform to the anti-choice stereotype suggests that perhaps the 24-year-old drew her own conclusions about fetal tissue donation after observing the practices she claims to have witnessed in her prior job, and not because of any pre-existing ideological or political views. StemExpress is involved in litigation with the Center for Medical Progress, attempting to prevent Daleiden’s group from releasing video recordings that feature StemExpress employees.

However, many of the anti-choice politicians who have openly supported the Center for Medical Progress’s campaign against Planned Parenthood and have aligned themselves with O’Donnell—including some of the nation’s most prominent Republicans and evangelical leaders—would be quick to condemn O’Donnell’s other views and conduct as immoral. Yet they are happy to support O’Donnell in anointing herself as the moral arbiter of millions of women who seek abortion care in the United States every year.

O’Donnell did not reply to RH Reality Check‘s requests for comment by deadline. In an emailed statement, Daleiden said: “Holly is a normal Millennial woman who found herself in an extraordinary and harrowing situation, and now you’re bullying her for telling her story. Your close-mindedness is showing.” He did not address our other questions.

For her OkCupid profile, O’Donnell uses the handle Algernon90, an apparent reference to Flowers for Algernon, which she lists as one of her favorite books, along with a smattering of science fiction titles as well as more canonical authors.

The plot of Flowers for Algernon bears some strange parallels to O’Donnell’s recent experiences. The book focuses on Charlie Gordon, a man stuck in a menial job. Using the same technique they applied to increase the intelligence of a mouse—named Algernon—a group of scientists transform Gordon into a genius, but only fleetingly; therein lies the tragedy.

Of course, those who have followed the Planned Parenthood attacks would remember that David Daleiden, while posing as an employee of a sham tissue procurement company, talked at length about his interest in research on mice.

Elsewhere in her OkCupid profile, O’Donnell says that the “six things I could never do without” are: “Morning sex, Chinese food, Running, sex, love, sex and more love.” But, she notes, she “Doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t want any.”

O’Donnell’s responses to the OkCupid dating survey echo the anti-choice views she has stated in the videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress.

One question reads, “For you personally, is abortion an option in case of an accidental pregnancy?”

O’Donnell’s response: “No. I work at Planned Parenthood, and if you are OK with this, sorry it makes me sick.”

She also refers to Planned Parenthood in response to questions that seem irrelevant to family planning.

One such question asks: “Would you consider having an open relationship (i.e., one where you can see other people)?”

O’Donnell replies: “No. Sorry, tried it before and didn’t work. I work at Planned Parenthood, not OK with dating someone who is Polygamous.”

She says she believes there are circumstances “in which a person is obligated to have sex with you” and that the world would “be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce.” She indicates that she is a Christian who believes in God, but that religion is not the most important thing in her life.

In several other responses, O’Donnell indicates that she is interested in sex that would include bondage or humiliation, and this personal preference is borne out in her profile on another site,

On that site, O’Donnell goes by the handle Hanz1990, and has included her address as being located in Citrus Heights, California, a town to the northeast of Sacramento. These details match the address for O’Donnell in public records databases reviewed by RH Reality Check, as well as names of family members that accord with those listed on O’Donnell’s social profiles.

From left to right, images of O’Donnell in the CMP video; O’Donnell on her OkCupid Profile; an image of O’Donnell from the Hanz1990 profile on

O’Donnell’s FetLife profile features several revealing photographs, displaying her bare breasts with pierced nipples and wrists bound, as well as a nude photograph presenting her derriere to the camera, with the caption, “ass men, beware.” It also includes a photograph of a hand holding an erect penis. It is unclear whose penis or hand are featured in that photograph.

As might be expected, the interests that O’Donnell lists on FetLife are racier than those she includes on OkCupid. Among the things O’Donnell says she is “into” on FetLife are: anal (receiving); anal training (everything to do with it); ben wa balls (wearing); blow jobs; butt plugs; deep throating; face fucking; shackles and strap-ons. When it comes to double penetration, fucking machines, and sex in the cemetery, O’Donnell says she is “curious.”

While there is nothing wrong or shameful about an adult’s consensual sexual preferences or practices, the fact remains that O’Donnell is an unusual choice as the face of a campaign that has so far only otherwise been represented by the buttoned-up Daleiden, who has carved a career as a conservative Catholic anti-choice activist, and whose allies oppose LGBT equality and speak in terms of moral absolutism when it comes to the sex lives of other consenting adults, especially women.

O’Donnell too has demonstrated a willingness to judge and condemn others, and to assume that she knows the motivations of Planned Parenthood providers with whom she worked and countless women who have had abortions, in some cases, donating the resultant tissue to medical research. Her sexual practices would not themselves be of note, but for her decision to step forward as a moral arbiter of the private decisions of others.

Regardless of how one views O’Donnell’s sexual preferences, when it comes to her Instagram account, certain posts are more difficult to defend.

In particular, O’Donnell displays a recurring interest in Hitler and Nazi-themed photographs.

One image shows the ripped abs of a male fashion model, nipples and navel visible above his jeans. However, the model’s head has been photoshopped, and replaced with the recognizable face of Hitler. The caption reads, simply, “Adolf, 20.”

In another post, O’Donnell shared a comic strip with four panes. The first two show a person approaching a street, with the instructions, “Approach the curb” and “signal for cab.” The third pane shows a photograph of an arm in a Nazi uniform, with the caption, “Wait … not that signal!” The fourth pane has a picture of the war criminal standing in a Volkswagon, hand to forehead, with the caption, “Oh great you heiled Hitler.”

The nature of Instagram makes it difficult to determine O’Donnell’s intentions in posting these images—or others, that criticize Black protesters at Ferguson, Missouri, rallies or the multiple pictures that feature guns. Some posts could be interpreted as racist, mocking names most frequently associated with Black culture. Her account is also interspersed with more quotidian fare, like pictures of cats and of hash browns.

Like her OkCupid profile, O’Donnell’s Instagram stream indicates that she is in favor of same-sex marriage. But it also indicates that she is a critic of President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Public records reviewed by RH Reality Check did not disclose whether O’Donnell has an official party affiliation.

When it comes to abortion, O’Donnell’s views appear to be significantly less clear-cut than those of Daleiden. In one post, the text reads, “It’s easy to support abortion when you’re not the one being killed.”

Another, though, appears ambivalent about abortion.

This ambivalence is apparent in interviews that O’Donnell has given to conservative outlets since becoming, along with Daleiden, one of only two people willing to publicly identify themselves with the Center for Medical Progress’s campaign.

During an interview on the Splintered Caucus podcast, O’Donnell espoused views about abortion that are inconsistent with those of Daleiden and his allies.

“I don’t believe in abortion,” she said on the Splintered Caucus podcast, but added, “It’s every woman’s choice. That’s your opinion. But mine, I’m pro-life.”

Later in the same interview, O’Donnell made comments that are squarely at odds with the central thrust of Daleiden’s campaign, which seeks to shut down Planned Parenthood.

When one of the podcast’s hosts asked O’Donnell what she hoped this video campaign would accomplish, she did not have a clear answer.

“I don’t think I have any authority to outright say, ‘Oh yeah, shut down Planned Parenthood,’ because they do good for women,” O’Donnell said. “At the same time, how many low-cost clinics in the USA do good for women, as well?”

Image: Center for Medical Progress / YouTube

The post Exclusive: Posting on OKCupid and FetLife, Face of Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Enjoys Sexual Freedom Otherwise Decried by Anti-Choice Movement appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Low-Wage Colorado Workers Win Wage Theft Case

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 14:47

Between 40 and 50 low-wage workers at a grocery store in the Denver suburb of Aurora will collect a total of $305,000 in back wages and penalties, thanks to a U.S. District Court ruling July 31 affirming the employees were underpaid.

The decision is based on often under-utilized federal and state “wage theft” laws, which allow employees and employers to sue businesses that effectively steal money from employees by not, for example, paying required minimum or overtime wages.

In the Aurora case, one employee at the Carniceria y Verduleria Guadalajara approached the group Towards Justice, which works to defend “the economic stability of working families,” and claimed to have been habitually underpaid. The grocery store did not realize it was breaking any laws, and did not appear to have malicious intent, worker advocates said.

After an investigation confirming this allegation, Towards Justice represented the employee and others at the store in a class action lawsuit.

“It’s really courageous for an employee to vindicate not only their rights but the rights of their colleagues,” Towards Justice Executive Director Nina DiSalvo told RH Reality Check. “Wage theft disproportionately affects immigrant workers, who are less likely to complain because they are unsure what their rights are in a foreign country. All workers, regardless of immigration status, are protected by wage laws.”

Studies show that wage theft is common, and most incidents often go unchallenged by employees.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute reported last year that in Colorado alone, $750 million in “wage nonpayment” is withheld from workers annually with only a “small fraction” being reported. This translates to $25 million to $47 million in lost taxes for Colorado, the study estimates.

“Our next big push is to make sure that the folks who are victimized can do something about it,” Felicia Griffin, executive director of FRESC, said in an interview with RH Reality Check.

Griffin’s organization and others helped pass a law in Colorado last year that added staff at the Colorado Department of Labor to process wage theft cases.

“Before last year there was no staff and no recourse,” Griffin said. “You could call and nothing would happen. But most people still don’t know you can get help from the Department of Labor.”

Griffin added that groups like Towards Justice and a law clinic at Denver University provide other avenues for workers and employers to seek help.

“We can talk a lot about raising the minimum wage, but if workers don’t actually receive it, it’s meaningless,” DiSalvo said.

Asked why an employer would sue another based on wage theft laws, DiSalvo said, “A legitimate employer that follows the law simply cannot compete if their competitors are violating the wage and overtime laws.”

Wage theft prosecution has come to the forefront in several states over the past year. A judge ruled in February that a Papa John’s pizza franchise in New York must pay its workers nearly $800,000 in unpaid wages over allegations the business underpaid employees and failed to pay overtime.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Low-Wage Colorado Workers Win Wage Theft Case appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Coalition Calls on Obama to End Taxpayer-Funded Religious Discrimination

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 12:52

A coalition of more than 130 organizations representing religious, education, civil rights, and labor organizations called on President Obama on Thursday to review a Bush-era legal memo the groups claim is used to justify taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.

The request came in a letter signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Federation, NAACP, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and hundreds of others.

A June 29, 2007 memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reaches the “erroneous and dangerous conclusion” that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) provides a “blanket override of a statutory non-discrimination provision,” such as Title VII and others, according to the letter.

The letter cites several examples in which religious conservatives are trying to use the OLC letter to avoid complying with federal civil rights laws. The OLC memo is, according to advocates, being used to permit certain religiously affiliated organizations that receive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funds to use religion as a criterion when hiring employees using taxpayer dollars, despite VAWA’s clear nondiscrimination requirement.

Advocates also claim religious organizations are citing the OLC memo as support for their claims that RFRA should broadly exempt religiously affiliated government contractors from complying with an executive order barring such employees from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Advocates additionally point to the way religious conservatives use the OLC memo to claim that the government should create a blanket exemption that allows religious objectors to refuse to provide any reproductive health services or referrals while still receiving federal grant money.

Religious conservatives most recently made this argument in the fight over providing medical care for unaccompanied immigrant children who experienced sexual abuse.

“Contrary to the conclusion in the OLC Memo, RFRA is not a tool to categorically override statutory protections against religious hiring discrimination,” the letter states. “Nor does it create an absolute free exercise right—without regard to countervailing compelling interests, as required by RFRA—to receive government grants without complying with applicable regulations that protect taxpayers and participants in federally funded programs.”

The letter calls on President Obama to legal direct the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to review and withdraw the memo.

The fight over the scope of RFRA is not likely to end soon. Last year the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby that RFRA could be used by some secular for-profit companies to avoid complying with the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act.

Religious conservatives hope to build on that ruling as they continue their resistance to this summer’s Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, arguing that RFRA insulates business owners from having to serve to LGBT couples at their businesses.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Coalition Calls on Obama to End Taxpayer-Funded Religious Discrimination appeared first on RH Reality Check.

How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:08

In the wake of the attacks by the Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood’s origins and its founder, Margaret Sanger, have once again become the center of conversations regarding Black women and abortion. And since anti-choice fanatics seem utterly incapable of making an honest argument in support of their position that Black women should be forced into childbirth rather than permitted to make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies, they resort to lies, misinformation, and half-truths about Sanger and the organization she founded.

Anti-choicers wield misattributed and often outright false quotes about Sanger as weapons to shame Black women for exercising their right to choose, and even more nonsensically, to shame them for supporting Planned Parenthood.

“Margaret Sanger was a racist and a eugenicist! She wanted to exterminate the Black race!” Such is the clarion call of these anti-choicers.

At the outset, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that whether or not Planned Parenthood had its roots in anti-Blackness is irrelevant in a discussion of the services that Planned Parenthood provides in 2015, ranging from abortion care to prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, to Pap smears and other forms of cancer screening. The United States is rooted in anti-Blackness. Anti-Blackness was built into the U.S. Constitution by this country’s Founding Fathers. Nearly every major corporation that exists today was either founded by racists, employed racists, built their business on anti-Blackness and slavery, or all of the above. Any argument that Black women in America should disavow Planned Parenthood because of some history of anti-Blackness would necessarily require that Black women disavow the very country in which we live.

But on to the truth about Margaret Sanger.

Sanger was pro-birth control and anti-abortion. This may surprise you, considering that Planned Parenthood opponents frequently accuse Sanger of erecting abortion clinics in Black neighborhoods, a practice they claim the organization continues to this day.

But this is simply not true.

Sanger opposed abortion. She believed it to be a barbaric practice. In her own words, “[a]lthough abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious.” Her views are, ironically, in keeping with the views of many of the anti-choicers who malign and distort her legacy.

In fact, Planned Parenthood did not even begin performing abortions until after 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized the practice. Margaret Sanger had been dead for seven years by then. And currently, less than 4 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics that offer abortion services are located in communities where more than one-third of the population is Black, according to a recent analysis conducted by Planned Parenthood that Alencia Johnson, assistant director of constituency communications at Planned Parenthood, shared with me via email. A broader analysis conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2011 based on data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that fewer than one in ten abortion providers overall are located in neighborhoods where more than half of residents are Black. It is simply false that Planned Parenthood is targeting Black women by setting up clinics primarily in Black neighborhoods.

It is true that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, and pro-choice advocates do themselves no favors by attempting to whitewash this fact and paint Sanger as some infallible feminist hero. Sanger was passionate about contraception—perhaps to a fault—and her fervor about promoting her birth control agenda led her to align herself with eugenicists, along with racists and an assortment of people of questionable character.

But it is simply untrue that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race. This is a flat-out lie. Yet it is one that is repeated ad nauseum, both by anti-choice activists and the politicians who support them, most recently Ben Carson.

In propagating this lie, anti-choicers infantilize Black women and strip them of their agency: They portray Margaret Sanger’s birth control agenda as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community as a whole enthusiastically participated.

The Negro Project

In her seminal book Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts points out that leaders in the Black community actually welcomed Sanger’s birth control agenda in the 1930s, and even criticized it for not going far enough to serve Black people.

W. E. B. Du Bois, who was one of the first Black leaders to publicly support birth control and who worked closely with Sanger to advocate for it, even serving on the board of a clinic that Sanger opened up in Harlem, criticized the wider birth control movement because of its failure to address Black people’s needs as well.

It was this failure that gave birth to the sinister-sounding Negro Project.

Due to segregation policies in the South, the birth control clinics that opened in the 1930s were for white women only. Sanger wanted to change that. She sought to open clinics in the South staffed by Black doctors and nurses, and to educate Black women about contraception. In 1939, after she had been named honorary chairman of the board of Birth Control Federation of America (the precursor to Planned Parenthood), Sanger launched the Negro Project. The Federation’s Division of Negro Services, a national advisory council, which included prominent Black leaders like Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier, Walter White, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, worked to manage the Negro Project.

The Negro Project had nothing to do with some nefarious plot to exterminate Black people or to “sterilize unknowing Black women,” as claimed by—which is a widely read website seemingly dedicated to spreading false information about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Rather, the Negro Project was a concerted effort by Sanger and Black community leaders to bring birth control to the South in a way that would assuage the deep-seated fears of Black birth control opponents like Marcus Garvey, who believed that the use of birth control in the Black community was tantamount to Black genocide.

Many opponents of Planned Parenthood purposefully obfuscate this history in order to paint Sanger, and in turn Planned Parenthood itself, as spearheading a plot to kill off Black people. Anti-choice fanatics typically rely on two quotes as their bread and butter in this claim, even as they use Black women as weapons in their war against abortion. It’s high time to set the record straight.

The first is a Sanger quote in which she defends the Negro Project in seemingly racist language: “The mass of Negroes particularly in the South still breed carelessly.”

The second quote can be found in Sanger’s infamous letter to Clarence J. Gamble: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”

The first quote, even when read in full and in context, certainly sounds damning:

The mass of Negroes particularly in the South still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear children possibly.

But what anti-choicers either don’t know or willfully obscure is that Sanger borrowed this quote directly from W. E. B. Du Bois.

Du Bois was a passionate advocate of civil rights and a defender of Black women, specifically. He also publicly supported birth control. Nevertheless, as Dorothy Roberts wrote, “Du Bois and other prominent Blacks were not immune from the elitist thinking of their time. As reflected in Du Bois’s statement borrowed by Sanger to promote the Negro Project, they sometimes advocated birth control for poorer segments of their own race in terms painfully similar to eugenic rhetoric.”

Does the fact that Sanger borrowed the quote from Du Bois excuse her actions? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly provides some much-needed context.

The second quote, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” might be Planned Parenthood opponents’ favorite. It is culled from a 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence J. Gamble, heir to the Proctor & Gamble fortune, and is even more damning than the borrowed Du Bois quote—if you ignore the context in which it was written, that is.

That context wasn’t about hiding the “true exterminatory purpose” of the Negro Project from Black people. Rather, it was about elucidating the true purpose of the project—disseminating birth control in Black communities in the South—and training Black doctors to work within their own communities:

It seems to me from my experience where I have been in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts. They do not do this with the white people and if we can train the Negro doctor at the Clinic he can go among them with enthusiasm and with knowledge, which, I believe, will have far-reaching results among the colored people. His work in my opinion should be entirely with the Negro profession and the nurses, hospital, social workers, as well as the County’s white doctors. His success will depend upon his personality and his training by us.

The minister’s work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.

A related memo written by Dr. Gamble in 1939 clarifies the point:

There is great danger that we [the Negro Project] will fail because the Negroes think it a plan for extermination. Hence let’s appear to let the colored run it.

Sanger’s full quote in context has the exact opposite meaning that anti-choicers like to attribute to it.

Moreover, Sanger also held some rather forward-thinking views about the oppression of Black people, especially for a white feminist in the early 20th century. In an oft-ignored interview with Earl Conrad for the Chicago Defender in 1945, Sanger said:

Discrimination is a world-wide thing. It has to be opposed everywhere. That is why I feel the Negro’s plight here is linked with that of the oppressed around the globe.

The big answer, as I see it, is the education of the white man. The white man is the problem. It is the same as with the Nazis. We must change the white attitudes. That is where it lies.

In that same article, Sanger described an encounter with an “anti-Negro white man”:

When we first started out an anti-Negro white man offered me $10,000 if I started in Harlem first. His idea was simply to cut down the number of Negroes. ‘Spread it as far as you can among them,’ he said. That is, of course, not our idea. I turned him down. But that is an example of how vicious some people can be about this thing.

Not exactly the words of a woman hell-bent on exterminating Black people, are they?

It is undeniable that Sanger espoused some problematic and racist views about Black people. Certainly her paternalistic attitudes about Black people’s ability to disseminate information about birth control in their own community—along with Sanger’s view that, as Dorothy Roberts wrote, “many Blacks were too ignorant and superstitious to use contraceptives on their own”—were indubitably racist. And although you’d be hard-pressed to find any white person at the time who was completely free of racist thinking, and some of her problematic views echoed the views of prominent Black leaders, that still doesn’t absolve her.

But as Jay Smooth pointed out in his viral video How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist, there’s a difference between being a racist and making racist remarks. Margaret Sanger, without question, made a lot of racist remarks. But was she a capital-R racist? I don’t think so, and that’s a question on which the answer scholars like Dorothy Roberts, Linda Gordon, Carole McCann, and others have been unable to agree.

The truth about Sanger and her birth control crusade is far more complex, and requires a nuanced discussion of the type that your average anti-choice crusader is either incapable or unwilling to engage.

Sanger and Eugenics

Margaret Sanger held many abhorrent ideas about population control and eugenics, ideas that any decent person today would find horrifying.

Yes, she believed that the “reckless breeding” of the “feebleminded” was “the greatest biological menace to the future of civilization.” Yes, she believed that Americans were “paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” Yes she believed that “morons” should be forcibly sterilized to ensure that they could not breed. She also believed that these “morons” could not be trusted to properly use birth control. Frankly, Sanger was far more ableist than she was racist.

But she was also a product of her time. The terms “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot” were all medical classifications back then. And eugenics—the theory that intelligence and other traits are genetically predetermined—was very popular at the turn of the century. The concern that “inferior stock” was reproducing at a faster rate than “superior stock,” was widespread. Inferior stock included anyone not viewed as a descendant of good breeding: Black people, immigrants, mentally and physically disabled people, the poor, criminals, and the “feebleminded.”

This widespread concern gave way to a panic about “race suicide,” which saw white people fretting about the deterioration of the race as a result of immigrants and Black people outbreeding good upstanding white Anglo-Saxon Americans. (Echoes of this fear exist today: white conservatives are still urging red-blooded patriotic Americans—i.e., white Americans—to breed, dammit, breed and the Quiverfull movement is very popular among Christian extremists.)

So strong was the fear of “race suicide” that even President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to shame white women of “superior stock,” also known as wealthy white women, into having more children. In his 1903 State of the Union address, Roosevelt proclaimed that “willful sterility is, from the standpoint of the nation, from the standpoint of the human race, the one sin for which there is no atonement.”

The flip side of shaming wealthy white women into reproducing more quickly was figuring out a way to keep the “inferior stock” from breeding, so that healthy and wealthy white women could catch up and forestall the deterioration of the race. The answer to that quandary was forced sterilization on a massive nationwide scale in order to keep “undesirable” people from procreating.

The principle targets of the programs included not only women of color (primarily Southern Black women, although California’s sterilization program targeted many Latina women), but also criminals, the poor, and any women—including white women—who were believed to be “feebleminded,” with feeblemindedness often corresponding to sexual promiscuity.

All of this is to say that concerns about population control weighed heavy on the minds of Americans in the early 20th century. Classes on eugenics were taught in colleges nationwide; eugenics was presented as scientific fact in biology textbooks; and the American Eugenics Society held “Fitter Families Contests” at state fairs throughout the 1920s, during which rural American families were encouraged to compete with one another to determine which family had the best “human stock.” Medals that read “Yea, I have a goodly heritage” were awarded to families that were deemed genetically favorable.

It may seem bizarre and Orwellian to us now, but that was the United States in which Sanger lived. And given the enthusiasm with which ordinary Americans embraced eugenics, it is no surprise that Sanger eventually joined up with them.

Sanger didn’t begin her campaign for birth control as a eugenicist, though. She started out as a relatively hardcore feminist. She believed that women had the right to sexual gratification and the right to choose when to become mothers.

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Those are Sanger’s own words.

But feminists at the time disapproved of Sanger’s insistence on women’s rights to sexual gratification. They largely believed that Sanger’s views were unchaste and immoral, and that a woman’s place was in the home, serving her husband and being virtuous. (Not unlike many anti-choicers today who believe that if you are unwilling to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, or as they like to call it “the consequences of sex,” then you should just abstain—forever, if necessary.)

And because Margaret Sanger was passionately committed to her birth control crusade, her fervor led her away from feminism and toward an allyship with racists and eugenicists. This included, as this favored anti-choice meme suggests, giving a speech at a KKK rally in Silver Lake, New Jersey, in 1926.

But before you recoil in abject horror, remember that the KKK was a powerful political movement at the time—five U.S. presidents were members of the KKK at one point or another—and if Sanger could convince the ladies of the KKK of the benefits of birth control, then it was worth it to her. That certainly doesn’t excuse her turning to this country’s most notorious domestic terrorist group for support (and personally, I find it deplorable) but there was no one whom Sanger wouldn’t talk to about birth control.

Certainly, many of the prominent eugenicists with whom Sanger worked were virulently racist. Their attraction to birth control was that it would lead to “racial betterment” if promoted in immigrant and Black communities, and Sanger was OK with that.

Sanger herself promoted birth control as a way to reduce the birth rate of undesirable classes—“morons” and such—but the fact that many eugenicists viewed Black people as an undesirable class didn’t seem to bother her. In other words, so long as eugenicists continued to disseminate information about birth control, she didn’t appear to care about their reasons for doing so. (Notably, many prominent eugenicists at the time didn’t believe that all Black people were unfit, but rather they believed in “selective migration”—that the intelligent and desirable Black people tended to migrate to the North, leaving the less intelligent Black people behind.)

Some scholars have called her allyship a savvy political move. It enabled her to couch her birth control agenda in terms that the “race suicide” fearmongerers could understand. Other scholars view it as racist.

Whether or not she was a capital-R racist is ultimately of little concern, because as Dorothy Roberts points out, her allyship with eugenicists facilitated the goals of eugenicists, and that is something that the reproductive rights community should never gloss over:

It appears that Sanger was motivated by a genuine concern to improve the health of the poor mothers she served rather than a desire to eliminate their stock. Sanger believed that all their afflictions arose from their unrestrained fertility, not their genes or racial heritage … Sanger nevertheless promoted two of the most perverse tenets of eugenic thinking: that social problems are caused by reproduction of the socially disadvantaged and that their childbearing should therefore be deterred. In a society marked by racial hierarchy, these principles inevitably produced policies designed to reduce Black women’s fertility.

Alas, such nuanced arguments are not suitable for the 140-character soundbite world in which the abortion wars are currently being waged.

Ultimately, Margaret Sanger was a complicated woman living in a complicated time.

But to hear anti-choice zealots tell it, she was the American version of Hitler, proposing a “final solution” to the “Black question.” This is nonsense.

Anti-choicers also like to claim that Sanger was closely associated with the eugenics program in Nazi Germany. While she may be loosely associated with the program, in the same way that every American who promoted eugenics was loosely associated with the Nazis, the Nazis specifically modeled their eugenics laws on California’s sterilization law, not on Sanger’s beliefs or writings. The United States, after all, led the world in compulsory sterilization until Hitler took up the practice.

In 1927, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s compulsory sterilization law was constitutional in Buck v. Bell, a stunningly awful decision in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed “[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough.” That decision set the stage for state after state to enact compulsory sterilization laws. By the time the Nazis embarked on their eugenics program, more than 30 states had such laws on their books. It wasn’t Sanger personally who influenced the Nazis. It was the United States as a whole.

In fact, the Nazis were not fans of Sanger. They even burned her books, as Gerald V. O’Brien points out in his article, “Margaret Sanger and the Nazis: How Many Degrees of Separation.” Moreover, as Amita Kelly writing for NPR recently pointed out, “Sanger herself wrote in 1939 that she had joined the Anti-Nazi Committee ‘and gave money, my name and any influence I had with writers and others, to combat Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.’”

Undoubtedly, Sanger held a lot of beliefs that are repugnant to us now.

But that doesn’t mean supporters of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights activists shouldn’t push back on the abject falsehoods that anti-choicers spread about Planned Parenthood and its founder while at the same time reckoning with Sanger’s more deplorable beliefs.

We can do both. We must do both.

Image: Bio / YouTube

The post How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Florida Regulators Back Down From Claims Planned Parenthood Performed Illegal Abortions

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 10:43

Florida regulators have backed down from allegations that three Florida Planned Parenthood clinics were unlawfully performing second-trimester abortions.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida filed an emergency injunction Monday and stopped performing some abortions after the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) cited Planned Parenthood facilities in St. Petersburg, Ft. Myers, and Naples for performing abortions on patients greater than 12 weeks’ gestational age but less than 14 weeks, the time period the medical community understands as the first trimester.

Florida regulators had claimed those procedures were actually second-trimester abortions.

But in a letter to Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, the agency conceded that its definition of the first trimester includes 14 weeks from the last menstrual period.

“We’ve said all along that Planned Parenthood follows all laws and has very high medical standards,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following Florida regulator’s decision. “The state of Florida’s own records from nearly a decade ago clearly state that Planned Parenthood is following the law. This underscores what this smear campaign is really about—blocking women’s access to birth control, cancer screenings, STD tests, and safe, legal abortion.”

As a result of that letter, Planned Parenthood dropped its request for an injunction and has resumed performing later first-trimester abortions at the facilities in question.

Florida regulators had investigated all 16 Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida following the release of heavily edited videos by anti-choice activists that describe the process of donating fetal tissue for medical research. The agency’s investigation found no evidence any of the clinics were improperly disposing of fetal remains.

“In every state where these investigations have concluded—in Georgia, South Dakota, Indiana, and Massachusetts—officials have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing,” Laguens said. “Planned Parenthood will not back down from the politicians and anti-abortion extremists who are using every underhanded tactic they can to politicize these critical medical issues. Planned Parenthood will keep fighting to protect access to care for our patients in Florida and across the country.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Florida Regulators Back Down From Claims Planned Parenthood Performed Illegal Abortions appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Getting Republicans on Record About How Fetal Tissue Research Has Helped Them

RH Reality Check - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 10:42

See more of our coverage on the effects of the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Imagine if the next debate among the Republican presidential candidates started with the moderator asking all the participants who are parents to raise their hands if their children received the polio vaccine as infants. Then the candidates should be instructed to lower their hands if they would have refused this vaccination if they knew that it was developed from research using fetal tissue. Assuming the candidates responded honestly, I speculate that none would report a willingness to have forgone protecting their children against polio.

If the debate were to start this way—and sadly it probably won’t—it would expose the candidates’ hypocrisy on fetal tissue research (as well as how tortuous the larger issue of vaccines is for Republicans, leading to mixed statements on the part of many of the contenders). Americans as a whole believe in vaccines, though a vocal minority, most of which is associated with the Republican base, do not; similarly, Planned Parenthood, which has been relentlessly demonized because of the false charges of “selling” fetal tissue to researchers, is far more admired by the public than any of the Republican candidates. Yet to satisfy its base—who are the most likely to vote in primaries—the Republican candidates have been compelled to outdo each other in bashing Planned Parenthood, and by extension, fetal tissue research.

The fact that the candidate Dr. Ben Carson, currently running second in the polls behind Donald Trump, was discovered to have himself conducted such research, did not seem to matter; reminiscent of anti-abortion women who show up in a clinic for an abortion and claim that their abortions are morally justified, but that everyone else in the waiting room is a slut, Carson confusingly and erroneously tried to claim that his research using fetal tissue was legitimate, while other research of this type was obtained from abortions done specifically to obtain such tissue.

As this sorry spectacle of manufactured hysteria about Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue research plays out, it occurs to me that many Americans now alive simply do not remember the absolute terror of contracting polio that was rampant before the vaccine became widely available in the mid-1950s. As a very young child in that era, I have memories of horror stories of children and adults in “iron lungs” ( a large respirator which allowed polio patients, whose lung muscles had been paralyzed by the polio virus, to breathe), of people’s fears of going to swimming pools and other public places because of the chance of contagion, and hearing the unspeakably sad news of deaths from this scourge. As an adult, I have seen the considerable difficulties of post-polio syndrome, progressive muscle weakness, atrophy, and fatigue, which can strike those who were fortunate enough to survive the disease—sometimes 40 years after contracting the disease itself.

In short, the development of the polio vaccine (which won a Nobel Prize for its discoverers) was one of the greatest public health triumphs of history. By 1979, the disease was eradicated in the United States. Progress in the rest of the world has been slower, but very encouraging. Africa, for example, recently marked a polio-free year, and public health experts are hopeful about a complete global eradication by the year 2018. As these experts point out, if this campaign is successful, it would only be the second time in history that a disease affecting humans has been eradicated (the other being smallpox).

And the polio vaccine was not the only one to come from fetal tissue research. Other vaccines, including those for hepatitis A, chickenpox, rubella, and rabies, have resulted from studies based on donated fetal tissue. Furthermore, fetal tissue research may also bring promising future developments, such as in the study or treatment of juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, and breast cancer.

Dismayingly, those who should be leading the defense of fetal tissue research—the scientists in the more than 50 institutions where this research takes place—have, with a few exceptions, been intimidated into silence because of fears of anti-abortion harassment and violence. A science editor for BuzzFeed recently wrote about contacting 70 researchers in this field and not finding one who would speak with her for attribution.

One scholar who has not been afraid to speak up is R. Alta Charo, a noted bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin. In a stirring defense of fetal tissue research in the New England Journal of Medicine, Charo denounced the politically motivated attacks on this research as “a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research and a violation of that most fundamental duty of medicine and health policy, the duty of care.”  

As Charo’s words suggest, the current battle over fetal tissue research is but the latest example of a longstanding feature of American politics: the war on science by the right. This includes the denial of climate change, the skepticism about evolution, the insistence that birth control pills cause abortions—the list goes drearily on. And, of course, the eagerness of the candidates to bash Planned Parenthood is an equally fundamental tenet of right-wing politics—an opposition to this organization not only because of its abortion services, but also because of its support for non-procreative sexuality that occurs outside of heterosexual marriage.  

It is an open question, however, as to how these harsh attacks on both fetal research and Planned Parenthood will fare once Republican candidates must appeal to those beyond their most fervid primary voters. One might be cautiously optimistic that even in a degraded political environment such as ours, most voters will think that getting rid of diseases is a good thing.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Getting Republicans on Record About How Fetal Tissue Research Has Helped Them appeared first on RH Reality Check.

White House Hires First Openly Transgender Staffer

RH Reality Check - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 15:45

The White House announced Tuesday that it has hired its first openly transgender staff member, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan.

Freedman-Gurspan, a 28-year-old Latina trans woman, is a former National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) policy advisor and will serve as an outreach and recruitment director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

The administration has several transgender employees, but Freedman-Gurspan will be the first to work in the White House.

“President Obama has long said he wants his administration to look like the American people. I have understood this to include transgender Americans,” NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. “That the first transgender appointee is a transgender woman of color is itself significant. And that the first White House transgender appointee is of a friend is inspiring to me and to countless others who have been touched by Raffi’s advocacy.”

In her work for the Racial and Economic Justice Initiative at NCTE, Freedman-Gurspan advocated for undocumented transgender immigrants, calling on the government to release them from detention because of their high risk of being targeted for sexual assault and violence.

Freedman-Gurspan was somewhat critical of new administration guidelines to consider gender identity in detention issues, which came out shortly after Obama was heckled by a transgender immigrant protester.

“This is all interesting on paper, to say the least, but we need to see how this actually plays out,” Freedman-Gurspan said in June. “We don’t think these folks should be in detention centers, period.”

Freedman-Gurspan has also urged the government to address the high rate of transgender homicides.

Senior Obama administration advisor Valerie Jarrett said in a statement that Freedman-Gurspan’s “commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans—particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty—reflects the values of this administration.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post White House Hires First Openly Transgender Staffer appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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