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Kentucky Judge Upholds Louisville Minimum Wage Increase

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 17:26

A Kentucky judge this week upheld a planned minimum wage increase in Louisville and called the corporate argument against increased pay “without merit.”

The Louisville mayor and Metro Council in 2014 reached an agreement to raise the city’s minimum wage to $9 an hour over a three-year period. The city had previously used the state minimum wage level, which is set at $7.25 an hour. This year, three Kentucky companies filed a civil suit to block the increase, saying the city did not have the authority to raise wages above state levels.

The companies argued that the wage increase would force them to forgo hiring new employees and would deter other businesses from relocating to Louisville.

But in a four-page ruling, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman wrote that those arguments are unfounded.

“It is no different than an employer’s duty to withhold occupation taxes for its employees, rates which vary from county to county in Kentucky,” she wrote.

The companies have appealed McDonald-Burkman’s ruling, but the law will take effect while the appeal is decided.

Since 2014, a handful of cities across the United States have passed ordinances raising wages above state levels, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, which have all passed $15 increases.

During the debate over the Los Angeles increase, a study by the Economic Roundtable found that the proposed increase would “put $5.9 billion more into the pockets of 723,000 working people, which will generate $6.4 billion in increased sales.”

“That means that every dollar increase in the minimum wage generates $1.12 in economic stimulus,” wrote Yvonne Yen Liu, one of the group’s researchers, in a blog post explaining the study. “Businesses will hire more in response to the greater demand, creating … new jobs.”

Research also suggests that wage increases are an economic boon on the state level. A 2014 Center for Economic and Policy Research study that reviewed Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that “employment growth was higher in states where the minimum wage went up.”

Those findings “provide evidence against theoretical negative employment effects of minimum-wage increases,” according to the center.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (R) issued an executive order in June raising the minimum wage for employees of the state government’s executive branch.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Kentucky Judge Upholds Louisville Minimum Wage Increase appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Powerless in the Face of White Supremacy and a Gun

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 17:21

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

While out shopping in Georgia at my favorite bookstore, the same day the Emanuel AME Church reopened its doors after the mass shooting, a white man in camouflage entered the store openly carrying a gun on his hip.

In my home state, we recently allowed licensed individuals to bring their guns into bars, churches, and college campuses, all for the sake of “safety.” Yet, in this moment, at the bookstore, I realized that such gun control laws only ensure certain people feel safe, while others who do not wish to own a gun are left feeling powerless.

This tense moment was still too soon. Too soon after Charleston, after the deaths of Eric Garner and Rekia Boyd—and even too soon after Emmett Till. Too soon after cops in Georgia attacked Kenya Harris until she miscarried.

Too soon because I haven’t processed the constant surveillance and prosecution I experience as a dark-skinned Black person navigating a society where I can be tried and executed in the streets without jury.

The gun-toting man had a wide-shouldered build and was probably shorter than me once he took off his combat boots. Looking back, I probably could have taken him on in a fair fight. Lord knows, I’ve fought men bigger than him before.

The bookstore employee, who will go down in history as my favorite bookstore employee ever, immediately said to the man, “Woah, that’s a gun! That makes me uncomfortable.”

Anywhere you stood in the store you could hear his reply: “Well, it shouldn’t be a problem so long as I don’t feel threatened.” The way his voice trailed off as his eyes panned the room froze me temporarily. I tucked myself behind a bookshelf where I could still see and hear what was happening. He also said he has an open carry license—as if that would make us feel safe.

And then to change the subject, as if carrying a gun in a bookstore is no big deal, he shared that he had been scoping out the bookstore for some time, but only just decided to come in. I popped my head over a bookshelf to lock eyes with the bookstore employee. We widened our gaze and raised our eyebrows at each other to non-verbally confirm that this situation was indeed absurd.

But what troubled me most about the situation as it was happening was the realization that our legislative system was working as intended in that moment.

Long before I walked in to buy a copy of Octavia’s Brood, so that I could think about a world where my body is free through activism-driven science fiction, the system set things up with discriminatory gun control laws.

The idea of openly carrying a gun to protect myself has never been a realistic option—only when I’m imagining myself as Storm from X-Men dismantling oppressive systems with Black feminist thunderstorms and a small silver glock just in case. In reality, if the cops saw me with a gun, a bag of Skittles, or even a loosey cigarette, they would probably shoot me and ask questions about my permit later. As a Jamaican-American whose parents had to navigate the country’s unjust immigration system, I’ve almost always known that papers and permits don’t save dark-skinned people.

And so now, Georgia’s open carry policy, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the whole foundation of America’s justice system works as it was always intended: allowing certain people to feel safe at the expense of others existing in fear. I was without arms and face-to-face with a man who may or may not have wanted to kill me—and a man who had the freedom to make that decision without repercussions.

As he approached me in a corner of the store, my heart raced as I thought about the families of the victims and the nine people who were being put to rest in Charleston. I kept thinking of Tywanza Sanders jumping to defend his aunt Susie Jackson. I wondered if I could drum up that courage. I wondered if Cynthia Hurd was as frozen as I was. I wondered if Ethel Lance felt as caught off-guard. I thanked the employee, a fellow woman of color, repeatedly in my head for maintaining calm in that moment of uncertainty. The man and I stood for a moment side-by-side browsing titles like Does Your Mama Know. It was a split second. Then I darted away to the middle of the store in three wide steps.

After he burrowed his nose into every corner of the bookstore, all he bought were two button pins with probably the most unpolitical messaging on them. I didn’t get to see them, but I know the store carries some very alluring pins of cats. Maybe he got those? At the counter, he showed the employee his Harry Potter tattoo. He made uncomfortable comments about how the tattoo reminds him of seeking truth and justice against liars, loud enough for all of us to hear. He talked about his “no good” ex. He said “open carry” ensures that his son respects him.

“Do you need a bag,” the bookstore employee interrupted, making it clear it was time for him to go.

Once he left, the rest of us still in the store let out a communal, belly-deep sigh. One customer noticed that subconsciously all the books they had collected to purchase were about men and violence. “They take up so much space,” the customer said with regard to the man who just left and the bundle of books in their arms.

Oppression can preoccupy our safe spaces, even in our minds.

My fellow customer’s comment allowed all of us in the store to laugh and begin the process of grasping what had just happened.

I don’t know why he came in armed. I don’t know what his intentions were. I don’t want to know. I want to know a world where I don’t have to be caught up in fear in the first place. I want a world where none of us feel the need to carry a gun. A world where the Confederate flag and a CVS aren’t more important to our political leaders than seven burning churches, the countless dead at the hands of militarized police, and those empowered with the false hubris of white supremacy.

People like me, and hopefully you, are trying to make that world a reality in the here and now. Bree Newsome, for example, took the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina statehouse with her bare hands. Emanuel AME Church reopened its doors when I’m sure domestic terrorists and other right-wing extremist groups were hoping they’d stayed closed. Not only are these activists not giving in to the pressure, but they’re reminding all of us that the world we’re fighting for uses love to overpower violence. Sanders’ 5-year-old niece, just by virtue of surviving the shooting by playing dead, is proof of Audre Lorde’s prophesizing.

No, we were never meant to survive, Lorde, and so whenever we end up doing so, we are being revolutionary, perhaps even futuristic.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Powerless in the Face of White Supremacy and a Gun appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Affirmative Consent Is Still Confusing to College Students

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 16:14

Read more of our articles on consent and sexual assault on U.S. college campuses here.

Most students seem to have heard of the affirmative consent—or “yes means yes”—standard, but it does not seem to be a common practice on campuses nationwide.

In fact, a new poll shows that college students are conflicted and possibly confused about what is and isn’t consent.

Poll respondents were given three scenarios and asked if they felt any of them constituted sexual assault. Ninety-six percent agreed that sexual activity involving a person who was incapacitated or passed out was indeed sexual assault. The answer seemed much less clear to respondents, however, in a scenario in which both people were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In this case, 21 percent said it was sexual assault, 19 percent said it wasn’t, and the majority (59 percent) were unsure. There was also a lot of uncertainty when a couple was said to have had sex without both people giving clear agreement—47 percent said it was sexual assault, 6 percent said it was not, and the other 46 percent were unsure.

The Washington Post partnered with the Kaiser Family Foundation to survey 1,053 undergraduate and graduate students ages 17-to-26 who were at a four-year college in the United States since 2011 and lived on or near campus. The survey was conducted by phone between January and March of this year.

The students were asked whether certain behaviors by one person would constitute consent. The results were mixed.

Fifty-four percent believed that nodding in agreement constituted consent, but 40 percent thought it did not, and 3 percent said it depended on the situation. Forty-seven percent of respondents believed that a person taking off their own clothes showed consent, while 49 percent did not. And 40 percent believed getting a condom showed consent, but 54 percent did not.

The results were clearer for two of the sample behaviors—74 percent of respondents said engaging in foreplay such as kissing and touching did not constitute consent for sex and 77 percent said that not saying no was also not consent for sex.

The question on foreplay was the only one in which there seemed to be a big difference between the answers of men and women. When broken out by gender, 30 percent of men said foreplay constituted consent, compared with 15 percent of women.

As for affirmative consent—a standard adopted by some college campuses across the country—83 percent of students had heard of it and 69 percent felt it was very or at least somewhat realistic. About three in ten students thought it was the best standard for determining whether sexual activity was consensual while 42 percent preferred a “no means no” standard, and 23 percent thought there wasn’t rmuch difference.

Allison Korman, executive director of Culture of Respect, said the debate over how best to convey consent shows that college kids need more education.

“A lot of students are coming to campus without training or education about what healthy and unhealthy communication is …. We have more work to do on educating students on consent and healthy relationships,” she told USA Today. “There is still a lot of gray, which is where these issues get really complicated, but it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post Affirmative Consent Is Still Confusing to College Students appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Sexual Liberation Is for White Women, According to ‘Orange Is the New Black’

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 15:19

Justine Izah is a high school senior in Muncie, Indiana, and is one of RH Reality Check’s youth voices.

Our society’s patriarchal gaze is rooted in the fulfillment of a man’s needs, whether emotional or physical, and completely overlooks or ignores a woman’s needs. There also is a certain stigmatization on women who opt for just as much attention as men. They’re called “needy” and “bossy,” while men demonstrating the same behavior or wants are described as being focused and in charge. However, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black flips the common narrative and instead focuses on the experiences of women who’ve seemingly rejected the expected traits that make a woman: submissive, quiet, and obedient.

It is ironic that a physical lockup of the women for their crimes allows a liberation of their bodies under other circumstances.

However, as revolutionary as OITNB is at showing the different lived experiences of women of many backgrounds with far less censorship than normal, the depiction of female sexuality is skewed toward whiteness and the Black and Latina characters are given less opportunity for sexual exploration, following in the tradition of the many shows that have come before it. OITNB fails to offer its Black characters the sexual liberation that is typically only associated with white characters. This is problematic because OITNB is perpetuating stereotypes in what is considered a safe environment (a “progressive” show) and these tropes are continuing to spread into the real world, as we’ve seen with two recent magazine covers featuring its characters.

In the first three seasons of the show, the white inmates are given more sexual freedom while still being afforded all terms of fragility associated with white femininity. There’s a contradiction in the fact that fewer sexual encounters among the Black women on the show is considered acceptable by most viewers, while the white inmates do the exact opposite of what is considered “ladylike” and yet are perceived as the “good girls.”

Two of the main white characters, Piper Chapman and Galina “Red” Reznikov, in particular are treated as breakable objects. They are each given a pedestal of privilege of which they do not recognize or deny. Piper is often stuck in a cycle of self-pity and narcissism that allows her to dismiss the feelings of others while still remaining a favorite. And when Red—the redheaded Russian and “mom” to some of the white inmates—is booted from her position as head chef in the prison for smuggling, she eventually weasels her way back into the kitchen by the end of the third season. However, when Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox’s character, a Black trans woman) is physically attacked by way of transphobia, she is sent to solitary confinement while no action is taken to prevent this type of hate crime from occurring again. Unfortunately, the violent intersections of transphobia and racism come together to allow the victim to be punished like a perpetrator. And sadly, to the viewer, it almost comes as no surprise because of the often deadly treatment that transgender women of color face every day.

So far, in 2015, over ten transgender women of color have been brutally murdered. Investigations have been completely botched and victims have been misgendered after death, thus further denying their womanhood. The show has such a large audience and either is missing or denying this opportunity to educate its viewers on these issues by presenting an alternative narrative.

In general, the Black characters are treated as asexual mammies. In U.S. history, the mammy trope arrived during slavery when slave women were forced to take care of white babies while their own children were denied care. It continued well into the 1960s when Black women were maids and nannies for white children but did not have the time or money to raise their own children. Historically, Black women have always been bestowed the responsibility of taking care of other people’s children while simultaneously deemed not good enough to be treated like a human. The portrayal of mammies cannot be ignored because the desexualization of Black women and their apparent undying loyalty to the stabilization of white families sells (e.g. Madea, Big Momma, Aunt Jemima, and so on). The trope even has been used on our current first lady, Michelle Obama. Critics say she should give up her position as “Mom-in-Chief,” and start caring for all Americans. This while critics simultaneously deny her womanhood by calling her a man and “Moochelle.” Writer and television host Melissa Harris-Perry defended the first lady by stating that she “has buried mammy,” and that it is not technically the first lady’s job to take care of other people. The push for a mammy to solve everyone’s issues is still a stereotype that runs rampant. In season three of OITNB, viewers can even observe Taystee recognizing herself as the “mom” of her group.

Non-heterosexual relationships also are more common amongst white inmates in the show. There are many more lesbian relationships between white inmates than within the Black inmate population, and there are none in the Latina population.

There is historical context that comes to play when assigning sexual agency to characters, whether done consciously or not. Throughout history, Black female sexuality has been constantly suppressed in order to uplift white female sexuality as more demure and obedient. Black women and other minorities have been forced to hide their bodies and their hair—out of fear that it will distract the white man—repress their desire for sex, and take care of other people’s children while having their own snatched away. Minority women have had to endure being viewed as sexually insatiable animals on top of the exploitation that comes along with just being a person of color. So, it comes as no surprise when two white characters, Nicky Nichols and Big Boo, have a sex competition. If other races had participated, the competition would have been viewed as animalistic and uncivilized. For these two characters, it was seen as raunchy and as, “girls finally doing what guys do.” It is also no shock that when two Black characters, Taystee Jefferson and Poussey Washington, start to engage in any sexual activity, much less a homosexual relationship, it is ended before it starts. For three seasons, we have seen no sexual activity involving any Black characters that wasn’t placed in a flashback.

For many people within the Black community, the notion of a same-sex relationship between Black women only assures what others already assumed: It cements the idea that Black women possess more masculine qualities, provoking the use of slurs like “dyke” toward Black women in a systemically biased way. So, when observing Taystee’s rejection of Poussey’s advances, it is not surprising as it follows a narrative given throughout our history. Given the context of Black female sexuality, being perceived as gay by others or even by herself denies her Black womanhood.

The tropes cannot be ignored because, unfortunately, they are a reflection of reality. Black female sexuality is continuously suppressed, except for when it is exaggerated for the benefit of others’ sexual fulfillment. However, white female sexuality is allowed to develop because the white lesbian relationships that occur on the show continuously deny the existence of women of color who aren’t heterosexual. The relationships are a symbol of rebellion and fail to reflect that for some, being Latina and gay or Black and pansexual is what’s normal. White female lesbianism is not in the same category as white heterosexuality; however, it is still a common trope because it’s white and especially because the show’s main couple, Piper and Alex Vause, possess feminine qualities and are attractive by society’s standards.

Recently, several of the show’s stars have taken the cover of magazines. In the July issue of Essence magazine, Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Vicky Jeudy, and Adrienne C. Moore donned the cover in all-orange ensembles. Their co-stars Laura Prepon and Taylor Schilling appeared on the cover of a June Rolling Stone. While both publications give access to the stories of and inspirations for women breaking glass ceilings, in ways that frankly will have greater appeal to their respective audiences, it is difficult not to create a juxtaposition between the two. The Essence cover features the Black women as matronly figures; it isn’t explicitly sexual. However, the two white stars on the Rolling Stones cover are striking a sexy pose. Taken together, the covers exhibit expected expressions of sexuality for these two groups. I am led to believe that white women are allowed to be openly sexual, while Black women must present themselves as respectable to be acknowledged as humans at all.

Essence is a magazine created for Black people—Black women specifically. Yet, in order to even exist in our own spaces, Black women must present ourselves in ways that hope to garner respect from others because of the historical perception of Black women.

Orange Is the New Black constantly pushes the idea that for women, sex matters too. There’s a reoccurring idea that women need to know about their own bodies and there should be no shame in doing so. Sophia Burset even goes as far as to educate the other inmates on the anatomy of their sexual organs with a diagram. The open conversations about female anatomy and sex even educate the audience, as the exploration of one’s female body is often shunned. The show is about women and certainly keeps the storyline focused on their voices.

However, the show and its writers still operate on maintaining many of the racial tropes often found in movies and on television. The writers have further separated people of color and allowed them and queer sexualities to be treated as completely non-intersecting facets. For white women, OITNB may serve as a groundbreaking narrative that they “don’t need men,” and can, “get things done,” but for women of color, it does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes that carry over into how we are treated in real life. Character developments in season three may have allowed viewers to see the women of color on the show as real people and not just Piper’s friends or enemies; however, the show can and should do more to break down stereotypes and reject these white supremacist narratives. Otherwise, the show is really only revolutionary for white women, while women of color remain as background characters to further plotlines.

Image: pepperbobepper via YouTube

The post Sexual Liberation Is for White Women, According to ‘Orange Is the New Black’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 12:10
U.N. Human Rights Council Passes Resolutions to End Violence Against Women and Child Marriage

07.02.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) This week the U.N. Human Rights Council—principal body at the U.N. that promotes and protects human rights for all—reaffirmed its commitment to women’s and girl’s human rights by passing key resolutions to end violence against women and eradicate child, early and forced marriage.

Today, the U.N. Council passed a resolution condemning all forms of violence against women and calling on states to implement policies that promote gender equality, prevent and protect women and girls from domestic violence, as well as improve legal procedures for women seeking justice from abusers.

The U.N. Council also unanimously adopted its first substantive resolution to prevent and end child, early and forced marriage, an illegal practice that affects 15 million girls every year.

Said Rebecca Brown, global advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Governments have a clear obligation to respect the human rights of women and girls by taking every step necessary to prevent violence, abuse, and forced marriage.

“Today’s critical U.N. resolutions fully recognize the impact this global pandemic has on the livelihood and rights of countless women and young girls, and rightfully calls on government officials to take immediate action.

“Domestic violence and child, early and forced marriage reinforce discrimination against girls and women across the globe. The UN needs to continue to be outspoken on these issues and show leadership in calling for advancements in the realization of women and girls human rights.”

The U.N. Council’s resolution on violence against women recognizes the human rights abuses that stem from domestic violence and how this is a societal problem and manifestation of gender inequality. The resolution urges states to condemn all forms of violence against women and girls, and to “refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination, including harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” It also underscores that domestic violence is of public concern and that states have the primary responsibility for protecting and promoting the human rights of women and girls facing violence, including those facing domestic violence.

In unanimously adopting the child, early and forced marriage resolution, the U.N. Council also urges governments to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls, including their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. The resolution calls on states to implement national action plans on child marriage, and encourages partnering with civil society groups to develop and implement a holistic, comprehensive and coordinated response to address child marriage and support married girls.

In 2013 the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the consequences of child marriage, which subjects girls to serious crimes, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and lives at serious risk. The report questions the failure of governments to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage. Since the launch of the report, the Center has supported the efforts of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC), in building a regional commitment to end child marriage and applauds the progress being made under the leadership of SAIEVAC to promote stronger legal accountability to end child marriage in the region.

The Center has played a part in some of the most important advances in reproductive rights worldwide. At the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Center secured historic financial reparations for the family of a young Brazilian woman who died from preventable pregnancy complications—the first time an international human rights decision named maternal health a human rights. And at the European Court of Human Rights, the Center called upon Poland to ensure adolescents’ reproductive rights after access to a legal abortion for a rape survivor was repeatedly obstructed.

Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity (Press Release)

Advocates Seek Pregnancy Prevention Program Funds Nixed by Colorado GOP

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:20

With Colorado’s embattled pregnancy-prevention program about to run out of money, women’s health advocates last week staged a bake sale to raise money for the initiative, offering cupcakes decorated with candies shaped like birth control pills.

But the $100 raised at the bake sale didn’t make a dent in the $5 million needed to run the program over the next year.

After being voted down in April by the Republican-controlled state senate, Colorado’s successful pregnancy-prevention program, which relied on intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other forms of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), ran out of funds July 1, despite efforts by state officials to find private funding that might sustain the program.

Funded privately over the past five years, the initiative provided more than 30,000 people with LARCs for little or no cost. It also lowered the teen pregnancy rate in Colorado by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent.

Over five years, while the Colorado Family Planning Initiative was run with private funds, Colorado avoided more than $80 million in Medicaid costs, according to state estimates.

“It is disgraceful that Republican Colorado senators this session voted to leave low-income teenagers and young women without access to contraception that will help them achieve their goals and stay financially independent,” said Cathy Alderman, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. “Funding for the program expired today—leaving a huge gap for hundreds of thousands of young women in Colorado.”

Colorado will now cut back on “training for health care providers, operational assistance for family planning clinics and financial assistance for IUDs and implants,” according to a Colorado Department of Health and environment news release.

“Long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) are the most effective reversible methods of contraception,” said Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). “Unfortunately, due to cost these methods are out of reach for many low-income women. Every person should be able to work with their health professionals to discuss the best option for their health and the unique circumstances of their life. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative works. As a result, less people in Colorado face the difficult situation of an unintended pregnancy.”

Colorado health officials are continuing to seek private funds for the LARC program.

“We are working closely with our partners who believe in this initiative to find the funding necessary to continue providing contraceptive choices to young women across Colorado,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), in a news release. “Making sure Colorado women have access to safe and effective contraception is an investment in their futures and ours.”

Republicans in the Colorado legislature made various arguments against the program, including the incorrect charge that IUDs cause abortions, the equally incorrect view that Obamacare covers the contraception and support offered by the program, and the debunked belief that contraception leads to more sex among teens.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Advocates Seek Pregnancy Prevention Program Funds Nixed by Colorado GOP appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Texas’ Omnibus Anti-Abortion Law Is Based on Empirically False Claims, So Why Don’t More Reports Say That?

RH Reality Check - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 10:05

When I see mainstream media sources try to grapple with maintaining “balance” in their reporting, I frequently circle back to Stephen Colbert’s now-famous joke at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” It’s especially evident in debates where one side is telling the truth and the other side is full to the brim with shameless liars—debates like the one taking place over Texas’ omnibus abortion law.

The problem with reporting on the law—which would require, among other things, that abortion-providing clinics conform to ambulatory surgical center (ASC) standards—is that those on the anti-choice side are lying through their teeth about the purpose of the regulations. There’s just no nicer way to put it. After 40 years of trying to restrict abortion access directly and not getting as far as they wanted, legislators in that state went at it sideways, passing laws that claim to be about women’s health and safety but are actually about making abortion too expensive and cumbersome to provide. It’s not surprising that people who have an unseemly desire to control the private lives of others might also have low moral standards when it comes to being truthful. What is frustrating, though, is that the mainstream media all too often plays along with this fiction.

Case in point: This recent NPR story about the recent Supreme Court decision to allow Texas clinics to stay open while the law is being litigated. The reporter takes great pains to quote both sides of this debate, which is not, in itself, an issue. Reporting should be objective, and part of being objective is giving everyone a fair chance to make their arguments. The pro-choicers quoted, Whole Woman’s Health clinic CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller and Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup, both argue that the regulations are there to shut down safe facilities.

The representative from Texas Right to Life, meanwhile, claims that the law is about women’s safety. “While we hope that she would not be compelled to choose abortion we hope that her life would of course not be at risk should she choose to do that,” Emily Horne says. “Pro-life does not just mean care for the life of the unborn child, it’s care for the life of the woman undergoing the abortion as well.”

In an ideal world, the reporter would ask her why, if she believes abortion is murder, she would want the murdering process to be safer for the murderer. The fact that anti-choicers are never asked this question is frustrating in the extreme. Surely we are all curious about what the answer is. But that’s neither here nor there. It’s a short segment and the quotes from both sides are equally perfunctory, so OK. (Though seriously, reporters: Follow-up questions! Ask them!)

What is more frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context with what’s going on here. Instead, NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence.

The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal—protecting women’s health—and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there. That puts this debate into the realm of empiricism. In other words, both sides have a claim that can be tested and measured. The audience deserves to hear the evidence both sides can offer.

Of course, as regular readers of RH Reality Check know, only the pro-choice side actually has a shred of evidence to back up their claim. There are two major facts that anyone needs to know in order to understand this debate: 1) Standard regulations that apply to all medical clinics have long been more than sufficient to make abortion safe, rendering it one of the safest outpatient procedures you can get. 2) Most medical experts believe that these regulations will not do anything but make abortion harder to get. These are objective facts, the most important objective facts in this debate, and they are nowhere to be seen in what is supposed to be a journalistic story about this.

These facts are necessary for the listener to evaluate the competing claims offered by the pro- and anti-choice sides in this. It would take only about 45 seconds to a minute of airtime to share them. Without them, the story is a trifle. All you would know as a listener unfamiliar with the subject is that two sides are saying stuff, but you have no information beyond that.

I combed through months of NPR coverage of this story, and while some pieces did a little better—giving experts an opportunity to note how safe abortion already is—it was always in that “he says, she says” format that presents this all as a matter of opinion. There really should be some indicator that one side has actual facts to offer, while the other side is blowing so much hot air.

Of course, sharing the facts does mean you run the risk of being accused of having “liberal bias.” Whether the fear of that accusation informed the choice to run a nearly fact-free piece on this controversy, I can’t say, but that such an accusation would be lobbed is not in doubt. That is, of course, how conservatives do things these days: Tell a bunch of lies, and if they’re fact-checked, scream bloody murder about how the media is out to get them.

It’s a superficially compelling argument. Journalism is, after all, supposed to be objective. And that can lull some into thinking that the best way to achieve that is to avoid any semblance of putting your thumb on the scale. The irony here is that, by not sharing the real-world evidence behind each claim, NPR is putting their thumb on the scale. Or perhaps the more accurate metaphor is that they’re giving the anti-choice side a handicap. That camp can’t bring evidence to the debate, so in the interest of “fairness,” the bringing of evidence will be banned.

But this is journalism, not kid’s league bowling. Just because the anti-choicers perform better with bumpers in the gutters doesn’t mean they should get them. The people that NPR and other media outlets should be most concerned about, with regard to fairness, are the people in the audience. You know, the ones they’re supposed to be working for? This debate is going to affect the level of health care that people in the audience can access. They deserve to know what the facts underlying this debate are. After all, a listener might actually get the impression that there is a trade-off between abortion access and having safe care. That’s simply not true, and voters have a right to know that.

It was one thing when the debate was framed as one of values, with anti-choicers claiming to be for “life” and pro-choicers arguing in favor of bodily autonomy. Sure, there’s ample reason to suspect anti-choicers are full of it, but without peering directly into their brains and reading their thoughts, you can’t really say for sure. But the debate has shifted to an empirical one—a shift, may I remind you, that anti-choicers prompted with this new strategy. Since they chose to have a debate over facts, then they really can’t complain if their claims are fact-tested. They will—as noted, not the most morally upstanding group of people—but who cares? That’s the way the game should be played, and they don’t deserve special dispensation.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Texas’ Omnibus Anti-Abortion Law Is Based on Empirically False Claims, So Why Don’t More Reports Say That? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

A Slew of Anti-Choices Laws Take Effect Today

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 16:25

Restrictions on reproductive rights passed by anti-choice state legislatures this year are set to take effect July 1, even as abortion-related legislative and legal battles rage on.

The courts have recently blocked several anti-choice laws passed by state lawmakers this year, giving reproductive rights advocates in states such as Kansas and Florida temporary reprieve as the laws are litigated.

Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that allowed lawmakers to pass legislation restricting reproductive rights and creating regulations for abortion providers. Republican legislators introduced several anti-choice proposals during this year’s legislative session.

Two laws passed by lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature take effect today.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law in May that mandates a 48-hour waiting period before a person can receive abortion care. The law will affect women seeking abortion care at all of the state’s seven abortion clinics. Tennessee is one of 28 states with a forced waiting period, and one of five states with a waiting period of more than 24 hours.

Haslam signed another bill into law in May that imposes new regulations on clinics that provide abortion care. SB 1280 requires facilities or physicians’ offices that perform more than 50 abortions in a calendar year to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers (ASTCs), mandating the conversion of such offices into mini-hospitals. Converting clinics into ASTCs is costly, and the policy is designed to force abortion providers to shut down.

Four Tennessee clinics that provide abortion care are already located in facilities that are licensed ASTCs.

However, two clinics located in Nashville and Bristol likely would have been forced to close if a federal judge last week hadn’t granted them a temporary restraining order. The two clinics argued before the court that they were unable to obtain the required licenses from the state Department of Health.

The lawsuit filed by the two clinics also challenged a 2012 law requiring that physicians providing abortion services obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and the 48-hour forced waiting period law that took effect July 1. Neither of those laws were affected by the judge’s ruling.

A hearing on whether or not to extend the temporary restraining order will be held on July 9.

Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law in May that created more regulations for abortion clinics. SB 546, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, amends state law to redefine an abortion clinic by excluding health-care providers that prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to fewer than five patients a year.

Abortion is already highly regulated in Indiana, and access is severely limited. As of 2011, 93 percent of Indiana counties had no abortion clinic, and 61 percent of Indiana women lived in these counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law in April that made his state the first in the nation to criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions. SB 95, which would outlaw dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, was scheduled to take effect today. It’s widely considered one of the country’s most radical anti-choice measures.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the law, and last week a state judge blocked the law. In the ruling the judge said that the law likely violated both the United States and Kansas constitutions.

The law was based on copycat legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), and redefined the D and E procedure as “dismemberment” abortion. The graphic and medically inaccurate language in the law describing the D and E procedure is key to NRLC’s strategy of passing similar anti-choice legislation in other states.

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation to ban the D and E procedure in April, and similar legislation was introduced but failed to pass in Missouri, South Dakota, and South Carolina. Anti-choice activists in Arkansas are already planning to push similar legislation during the state’s 2017 legislative session.

Republican lawmakers in Florida passed a law in June that would force a pregnant person to wait a minimum of 24 hours and make at least one additional trip to the physician before having an abortion. The law was set to take effect today, but a Florida state court judge issued a ruling Tuesday that blocked the law.

However, the Florida Attorney General’s filed an immediate appeal with the First District Court of Appeals that prevented the block on the law from taking immediate effect. The ACLU has filed a motion requesting that the block of the law take effect while the case proceeds. A ruling on that motion could be issued any time this week.

Until the ruling is issued, the law will go into effect today.

Image: Shutterstock

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Girl Scouts Council Returns $100,000 From Anti-Transgender Donor

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 15:18

The Girl Scouts council of Western Washington returned a sizable grant this week when it was asked by the donor to ensure that no funds would be used to support transgender girls.

Though the national organization supports working with transgender girls, it allows local organizations to make the final decisions on whether to accept donations, and the Western Washington group decided to take a $100,000 stand. The group then looked to replace the donation, ending up with more than double the original amount from those who supported the Girl Scouts’ stance.

The local council, which serves about 25,000 girls in Washington state, received the donation in May. The cash was slated to be used to send 500 girls to camp and fund other activities this summer.

As the media outlets began dedicating coverage to transgender issues—inspired in large part by the story of Caitlyn Jenner—the Girls Scouts’ policy of accepting transgender girls as members became public. The American Family Association, a right-wing group, launched an online petition in May asking the Girl Scouts to limit its membership to “biological” girls.

The national organization released a statement that rejected the anti-transgender call from conservative groups.

“If a girl is recognized by her family, school and community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe,” the group said. “Inclusion of transgender girls is handled at a council level on a case by case basis, with the welfare and best interests of all members as a top priority.”

Though the statement didn’t represent a shift in policy, it did not sit well with the donor, who sent a letter asking for reassurance that the $100,000 would not be used to serve transgender girls. The letter said that if the Girl Scouts council wanted to use the funds for transgender girls, it should return the donation.

“It was one of easiest decisions I’ve had to make. It was a sad decision, but it was a really quick one,” the council’s CEO, Megan Ferland, told BuzzFeed News. “Girl Scouts is for every girl. It always has been and always will be … I could not be put in a position where I would have to turn girls away.”

Ferland and her team were disappointed and did not want to give up on sending 500 girls to camp, so they launched a crowdfunding campaign on Monday hoping to raise $100,000 with no strings attached. They called it the #ForEVERYGirl campaign, and writing on their donation page, “By donating to our #ForEVERYGirl Campaign, you’ll help make sure that EVERY girl has the opportunity to participate in the life-changing opportunities that Girl Scouts provides.”

By Wednesday, the campaign had far exceeded its goal—raising upwards of $250,000 from more than 4,800 donors.

“The response has been so positive, supportive, and overwhelming,” Ferland told BuzzFeed News. “My team and I appreciate it so much, because what it means. So many girls are going to be able to have an amazing experience, and the impact of Girl Scouts is so profound. It is live-changing for so many girls. And that’s what it should be about.”

Image: Girl Scouts of Western WA/YouTube

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The Waiting Game

Center for Reproductive Rights - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 15:17
The Waiting Game Mandatory delays for abortion care hurt women. Yet they’ve become a popular weapon in the anti-choice assault on reproductive rights.

07.01.15 - Faith is a nurse from San Antonio, Texas. She has a full life—a challenging job, a fiancé, two daughters, a house, a couple of dogs. She also has a seizure condition that makes pregnancy especially risky and requires her to be under the care of an obstetrician for three to six months before conception.

A few years ago she became pregnant despite being on birth control. At the time, doctors told her that she had a 40 percent chance of suffering a life-threatening grand mal seizure if she did not end the pregnancy. She could lose consciousness at any time, she says, “while I’m driving to work, or while I’m at home by myself.”

“I want my two daughters to have a mother,” she says of her decision to have an abortion. “I’m just not willing to take that risk.”

However, Texas law required Faith to not only have an ultrasound before being permitted to have the abortion, but then wait 24 hours to return to the clinic to have the procedure.

In tears, Faith describes this process as nothing short of torture.

“You are made to feel like a criminal,” she says. “To go home and just sit there and ponder on this. You’re being tortured for that whole 24 hours.”

Waiting periods have become an increasingly popular restriction among anti-choice proponents around the country, with a number of states now looking to expand the mandated period of delay to up to 72 hours.

In 2015 alone, 23 pieces of legislation to create or worsen existing waiting periods were introduced in 16 states.

“Waiting periods are part of a web specifically designed to ensnare women and undermine their ability to make non-coerced decisions about their reproductive health,” says Kelly Baden, director of state advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “At bottom, these kinds of restrictions are about not trusting women. There is of course no medical reason to require a waiting period before an abortion.”

Comments from waiting-period proponents offer a telling view of the presumptions underlying this trend in anti-choice legislation. “We owe women the time to control their fear and emotion and make an informed decision,” said one supporter of the North Carolina legislation—as though women are incapable of making thoughtful decisions about their health and lives without government-mandated delays.

Last year, a Missouri state legislator underscored the demeaning and offensive attitudes behind that state’s 72-hour law by comparing the procedure to buying a car: “Even when I buy a new vehicle . . . I don’t go right in there and say, I want to buy that vehicle, and, you know, leave with it.”

“In some cases,” Baden points out, “states have simply run out of abortion restrictions to enact so they’ve turned their attention to making existing restrictions even harsher. We always see trends in abortion restrictions, and as laws aiming to force clinics to shut down are tied up in the courts, lawmakers are back to targeting women’s decision-making.”

Due to the shame and stigma that such restrictions create around abortion care, Faith felt that she could not be straightforward with her employer or family about what she was doing.

“I didn’t want to be made to feel like a bad person any more than I already do—and you have to go through that just to get through the process,” she recalls.

In order to navigate the increasingly complex web of requirements—finding a provider in a state where anti-choice laws and funding cuts have shut down more than half of the state’s clinics, taking time off work to make two trips to the clinic, as well as recovering from the procedure—Faith, who is the only nurse at the private practice where she works, had to wait until she was 17 weeks pregnant to be able to take the full week off work she needed.

“If I take time off, the clinic where I work shuts down,” she says. “Finding the time—because of what a lengthy process it is—is very hard.”

Although this delay increased health risk and created a logistical challenge, Faith was fortunate to be able to receive the care she needed. For some women—particularly those with little or no income—mandatory delays and two-trip requirements can be even more dangerous. The burden of additional child care, lost wages (or lost jobs), transportation, and a possible overnight stay can quickly turn a waiting period into an absolute barrier to obtaining an abortion at all.

“These medically unnecessary bills make it clear that these are simply thinly veiled political attempts to get women to try to change their minds,” Baden notes.

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights, together with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida, filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to block a recently passed Florida measure forcing a woman to wait at least 24 hours and make at least one additional trip before she is able to receive safe, legal abortion care. The state is appealing the decision.

Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU Challenge Unconstitutional Florida Law That Forces Mandatory Delay, Additional Visits for Women Seeking Safe, Legal Abortion Oklahoma Governor Signs Measure Tripling State’s Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services Missouri Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto, Triples Waiting Period for Women Seeking Safe and Legal Abortion Services

Fight Continues Over Florida’s Forced Abortion Delay Law

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:40

A Florida state court judge on Tuesday blocked an anti-choice mandatory delay measure, but an immediate appeal by the Florida Attorney General’s office means the measure can take effect anyway.

HB 633, passed by Florida GOP lawmakers in June, would force a patient to wait a minimum of 24 hours and make at least one additional trip to the physician before having an abortion. It takes effect July 1.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Richard Johnson of Tallahassee challenged the measure this month on behalf of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center, a Gainesville reproductive health-care provider, and Medical Students for Choice, an organization dedicated to making reproductive health care, including abortion, a part of standard medical education and residency training.

Leon County Chief Judge Charles A. Francis’ order temporarily blocked the measure while the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality proceeds. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office then filed an appeal with the First District Court of Appeals, triggering an automatic stay of Francis’ order. Attorneys for the ACLU then asked Francis to lift that automatic stay, which would allow his ruling to take effect while the case proceeds.

Francis could rule anytime this week.

“We are very pleased that the court saw this law for what it is: an unconstitutional attack on the right of Florida women to make their own choices about their healthcare, including abortion,” Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida Legal Director, said in a statement following Francis’ order. “The Florida Constitution’s guarantee of a right to privacy protects women from laws like this that create needless roadblocks between them and their healthcare decisions. We are pleased that no Florida woman is going to be subject to these dangerous and unconstitutional delays before getting the medical care they need as we complete the legal challenge to this destructive law.”

Florida law already requires physicians to provide patients with certain state-mandated information, including the nature and risks of the procedure and the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term, as well as the probable gestational age of the embryo or fetus, as verified by ultrasound.

HB 633, passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature, requires that information be provided in person at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed, a requirement that is both unnecessary and unduly burdensome, according to advocates challenging the mandatory delay measure.

“The court has recognized that this law serves only to demean women and the choices they and their families make about their own medical care,” said Renée Paradis, Senior Staff Attorney for the national ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This decision ensures that the right to privacy guaranteed to women by the Florida Constitution will be protected and allows women to receive the care they need while the courts hear our legal challenge to this unconstitutional law.”

HB 633 mandates that physicians and health-care facilities that fail to follow the mandatory delay requirements would be subject to disciplinary action, including license revocation, license non-renewal, and monetary fines.

Image: Shutterstock

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California Cracks Down on Vaccine Requirements

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:35

California this year was the site of one of the worst measles outbreaks in decades after an infected visitor to Disneyland in Anaheim made more than 150 people ill. Health professionals blamed the outbreak in part on low vaccination rates in some California communities.

In response, state lawmakers have debated doing away with some of the exemptions that have allowed parents to skip required vaccinations for school-age children. Though there was intense opposition from some groups who charged this would take away parental rights, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Wednesday that eliminates most exemptions, making it one of the strictest vaccination laws in the country.

Previously, California parents enrolling their children in school could state that vaccinations conflicted with their religious or personal beliefs. The Democractic-led legislature passed a policy in 2013 to discourage such exemptions. It required parents to sit down with a health-care provider to learn the risks of not vaccinating their children before they could claim a personal exemption.

Vaccination rates among kids entering school have increased by 20 percent since that legislation was enacted.

Some in the state, including the author of that legislation—state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) who is a pediatrician—felt that more needed to be done in light of the recent measles outbreak.

“We are seeing ever larger outbreaks of diseases like pertussis, whooping cough, measles, and we certainly don’t want to see those diseases or others that are prevented by vaccines to be spread into our communities,” Pan explained at an April press conference. “We have diseases that are showing up on public transit and restaurants and schools and shopping centers, theme parks, that is not what we want California to be.”

From a public health perspective, the only way to prevent outbreaks of diseases like measles is to vaccine a large enough percentage of the community to provide what’s called “herd immunity.” Most health professionals believe that vaccination rates of more than 90 percent are necessary to achieve that immunity, which is why most states require school children to be vaccinated before enrolling.

But mandatory vaccinations are unpopular with some parents who believe the state is usurping their parental rights. And all states except for Mississippi and West Virginia allow parents to opt out of vaccination for non-medical reasons.

Most allow for religious exemptions, and 12 states also allow for exemptions based on personal beliefs.

There has been a lot of misinformation spread about vaccines over the past decade, including the disproven idea that the MMR—the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella—causes autism. This has led parents to take advantage of personal exemptions and has lowered vaccination rates in some areas.

In California, for instance, 27 counties have measles vaccination rates lower than the 92 to 94 percent rate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set as the herd immunity target.

To try to reverse this trend, Pan introduced SB 277, which removes the personal and religious exemptions and leaves only exemptions for medical reasons. Children with medical conditions such as allergies and immune-system deficiencies would be excused from immunization if these conditions are confirmed by a physician.

The law allows for an exemption if a physician feels there is another reason, such as family history, that a child should not have the vaccinations.

Children already in school will be allowed to stay for now if they are unvaccinated, but proof of vaccination is expected again when the child reaches seventh grade. Vaccinations are not required for children who are home-schooled.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous disease,” Brown said in a statement. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Supreme Court Ruling Creates Renewed Hopes for Medicaid Expansion in Red States

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 09:47

From Alaska to Tennessee, there are renewed calls for Medicaid expansion from activists in Republican-controlled states after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Supreme Court last week issued a 6-3 decision ruling that the ACA does not prevent federal tax subsidies from assisting low-income people in purchasing health insurance in states that have refused to set up insurance exchanges under the health-care reform law.

The ruling could present new opportunities for supporters of Medicaid expansion in the 20 states that have not expanded the program.

Several studies and reports have documented the consequences of GOP-dominated legislatures that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. Under the ACA, the federal government covers the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, and 90 percent of the cost in subsequent years.

Data released last year by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that seven out of 11 major metropolitan areas with rates of uninsured people higher than the national average are in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA. A 2014 joint report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute found that Texas has a projected loss over ten years of $65.6 billion in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Alaska state Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) said that Gov. Bill Walker, an Independent, should move to expand Medicaid in the state without approval from state lawmakers, now that the Supreme Court has upheld insurance subsidies.

“It’s time for the governor to exercise leadership and just do it. We’ve got legal opinions saying he can do that and I think he should do that. I think that’s where Alaskans are, and that’s what Alaskans want,” Wielechowski told Alaska Public Radio.

Wielechowski points to two legal opinions, issued by the Alaska Department of Law and the legislature’s own legal office, charging that any attempt by state lawmakers to block the governor from unilaterally expanding Medicaid is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, health-care advocates and business leaders are calling for Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

Gene Meyer, president and CEO of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, told the Lawrence Journal-World that Medicaid should be expanded in the state, no matter the result of the latest Supreme Court ruling.

“Regardless of the decision, there is no reason for Kansas not to expand Medicaid,” Meyer said. “Kansas should expand Medicaid.”

Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled state legislature have refused to expand Medicaid through the state’s KanCare program as the state GOP’s economic policies have created a deep fiscal crisis in recent years. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said in a statement that it was not the state’s responsibility to expand the program.

“We will not spend one more penny fixing Congress’ mistakes, whether that means rejecting Medicaid expansion or a state exchange,” Pilcher-Cook said, reports the Lawrence Journal-World.

Renewed calls for expansion have also been seen in Utah, Virginia, and North Carolina. And a debate between a Republican governor and Republican state lawmakers appears to have been reignited in Tennessee.

“Now that the Supreme Court has given us the green light, it’s time for the state Legislature to move forward,” said Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

During a press conference Monday at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital in Nashville, state lawmakers joined with business leaders and other supporters of Medicaid expansion, and called for state lawmakers to take action as Tennessee Republicans steadfastly reject the expansion of health-care services.

Charlie Howarth, executive director of the Tennessee Business Roundtable, said that while they are “delighted with the Supreme Court decision,” there still are hundreds of thousands of people that remain without access to health care, reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income residents was rejected by fellow Republicans in the legislature.

Republican lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, opposed the expansion of Medicaid because they claim it would be too expensive and they distrust assurances from the federal government that the state could opt out of the program. Some lawmakers have called for waiting until the election of the next U.S. president, whom they hope will be a Republican, before further discussion of the program.

Conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity Tennessee (AFPTN) oppose any expansion of Medicaid under the ACA.

Andrew Ogles, the state director of AFPTN, said in statement after the high court’s ruling that the organization will continue to oppose any efforts to expand Medicaid in the state.

“Today’s decision only adds to the anxiety of Tennesseans who have already been harmed by Obamacare’s burdensome mandates and out-of-control costs,” Ogles said. “Our efforts to encourage Congress to bring state-based and patient-focused reforms to healthcare will not stop.”

State Sen. Richard Briggs, (R-Knoxville) said that those in favor of Medicaid expansion include a diverse coalition of business groups and health-care advocates, including the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Hospital Association.

Briggs said that the most powerful group of those in favor of Medicaid expansion was his constituency. ”We really have the most powerful group of all, and that’s the millions of Tennesseans who understand this is very important,” said Briggs, reported the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) told the Nashville Tennessean that there is building momentum in support of Medicaid expansion. “The momentum for Insure Tennessee didn’t stop when the special session was over and when the regular session of this General Assembly was over; it has really just gotten stronger,” Fitzhugh said. “So I think there is a groundswell.”

President Obama will visit the state to promote the ACA and the expansion of Medicaid, and will speak Wednesday at Taylor Stratton Elementary School.

The president said during a Tuesday press conference that the success of expanding Medicaid will be a decisive factor in determining the impact of his signature health-care law.

“If we can get some governors that have been holding out and resisting expanding Medicaid, primarily for political reasons, to think about what they can do for their citizens to have health insurance…then we could see even more improvement over time,” Obama said, reported the National Journal.

Image: Shutterstock

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When It Comes to Abortion Rights in Texas, ‘It Could Be Worse’ Isn’t Good Enough

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 08:26

We’re going to talk about abortion. I promise. But I want to talk about dinosaurs first.

See, there’s this scene in the original Jurassic Park film that I love.

Before everything goes to prehistoric hell in the handbasket of human hubris, the park’s mastermind, Hammond, gives Doctors Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm a perhaps ill-advised look at raptor feeding time. This is where we first meet Muldoon, the strapping raptor-handler who foreshadows the trouble to come by talking about the alpha-raptor’s incredible intelligence. He’s clearly developed a healthy fear of this “clever girl.”

Here’s the dialogue:

Muldoon: When she looks at you, you can tell she’s working things out. That’s why we have to feed them like this. She had them all attacking the fences when the feeders came.

Dr. Sattler: The fences are electrified though, right?

Muldoon: That’s right, but they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.

I’ve been thinking about this scene ever since the end of this year’s Texas legislative session, a session wherein, according to mainstream media reports, anti-abortion lawmakers passed “just one” anti-abortion law, because they’re “nearly out of ideas for abortion restrictions.”

Texas’ anti-choice lawmakers—almost all Republicans, joined by a few Democrats—have spent the last decade and a half or so testing the fences. Fifteen years ago, lawmakers started by restricting minors’ access to legal abortion care with the first iteration of Texas’ judicial bypass process. Then in 2003, they put forced, medically incorrect speech into doctors’ mouths via the state-mandated “Woman’s Right to Know” pre-abortion procedure booklet that wrongly links abortion with breast cancer. In the mid-aughts, they passed a law that prevents abortion providers or “affiliates” from receiving public funds. Then in 2011, they passed a mandatory pre-abortion sonogram law.

And then in 2013 they passed HB 2, a multi-pronged omnibus bill that contains the most restrictive combination of anti-abortion regulations in the country, an amalgamation of proposals that had not previously succeeded on their own. HB 2, challenges to which are currently on their way to the Supreme Court, bans abortion after 20 weeks, makes medication abortions logistically near-impossible to prescribe, requires abortion-providing doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and mandates that abortion clinics operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.

Omnibus bills are difficult to fight, in part, because they require so much effort and energy when resources are already spread thin. (Raptors in the kitchen! T-Rex in the atrium! That little screamy fellow who spits poison in the jungle!) Anti-choice lawmakers figured out that you don’t need to waste time futzing with the fence if you can knock out power to the entire system all at once.

And… they remember.

This year, we got HB 3994, that supposed “just one” anti-abortion law that passed in Texas’ 84th legislature (which is factually incorrect, by the way, as lawmakers also passed a TRAP law requiring abortion providers to take training on human trafficking).

HB 3994 is yet another omnibus bill that includes a whole host of provisions proposed in one-off bills filed throughout the session. It requires Texans who need abortion care to provide a government-issued ID for proof of age to their doctors or risk being reported to the Department of State Health Services, and it restricts the existing judicial bypass process to the extent that experts believe it will ultimately prevent the vast majority of abused and neglected minors with unplanned pregnancies, known in the court system as “Jane Does,” from being able to make a decision to end their pregnancies.

“Jane Does” can ask a judge to stand in for their parents in granting permission for them to seek abortion care if getting that parental consent would put them in danger. But HB 3994 will ensure that if these “Jane Does” are indeed being abused by their parents, their decision to seek legal abortion care will be reported to those same parents via mandated law enforcement intervention, effectively nullifying the entire point of the judicial bypass process.

It is a brutal bully of a bill that targets Texans who have no political recourse—they are, by virtue of their age, too young to vote—while allowing mean-spirited religious ideologues like Sen. Van Taylor (as seen here at 1:58) to scoff at the idea that some teenagers, indeed some children, experience sexual abuse in their own families.

But in reading legislative wrap-up coverage of the session, I got the sense that media onlookers were keeping a scorecard with categories for “wins” and “losses” with regard to reproductive rights—scorecards that seem inadequate to describe the aggregate impact of the bills.

The Texas Tribune seemed almost miffed by the fact that the deeply conservative 2015 legislature didn’t pass numerically more abortion bills than in previous sessions. The vastly over-quoted political scientist to whom the Trib turned to for a crack recap of the session’s reproductive politics even called HB 3994 “symbolic.” Here’s his take, which is the lead quote in the piece:

“If we look back at the 2013 session, [abortion opponents] were so successful that there was almost no room for additional success this session,” said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “So they were left with trying to reduce the number of abortions at the very margins, which then became far more symbolic than anything else.”

Never have I thought of forcing anyone, let alone an abused minor, to carry an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy to term as “symbolic,” but this is how we talk about abortion politics in Texas. Every time the anti-choice right doesn’t get literally everything it wants, the press runs to the reproductive rights crowd to gauge how grateful they are for just a little bit of oppression, instead of all the oppression.

This same thing happened in 2013, before Republicans broke their promise not to pass any new abortion restrictions. That year, before the GOP and their Democratic allies launched full-tilt into an anti-choice frenzy with the legislation that would become HB 2, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal called the session a time of “rare harmony,” because even though lawmakers had proposed all manner of new abortion restrictions, none of them had made it to the governor’s desk.

Rare harmony. For not actively doing more to force people to stay pregnant against their will.

The same pattern emerged this year. Despite the fact that HB 3994 is a legal monstrosity that does not provide the expeditious and confidential process required for a bypass law to pass muster, and that has a built-in denial that amounts, in no uncertain terms, to an unconstitutional, arbitrary veto of a minor’s petition for a bypass. Despite the fact that Planned Parenthood was again cut out of providing publicly funded reproductive health care. Despite the fact that abortion providers are now the only Texas medical professionals required to take human trafficking training. Reporters still wanted to know whether those in the pro-choice crowd were looking back on the session with the appropriate humble gratitude.

Hell, the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal appears to have actually worked up the astounding gall to ask NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ executive director Heather Busby whether she was happy with the moves from the 84th legislature. She told him:

“What is to be happy about?” asked Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “HB 3994 is devastating to abused and neglected teens, to orphans. It is a very cruel bill. There’s nothing to be happy about.”

This idea that because anti-choice lawmakers could have done more damage, pro-choice Texans and Texans who fight for reproductive justice ought to be glad that it wasn’t worse… boy howdy is that a song I’m real fucking tired of having sung at me.

I’m also gobsmacked when reproductive rights groups join in the chorus. Imagine me staring agog at my inbox a few weeks ago, when the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition (TWHC) announced it was naming state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) a “Women’s Health Hero” for the second biennium in a row. Yes, that Jane Nelson. The one who cast the first vote against establishing a Medicaid Women’s Health Program in Texas in 2011. She is also a co-author of the bill that became HB 2, an architect of Texas lawmakers’ 2011 cuts to family planning funds, and a relentlessly smarmy career politician who in 2013 hired washed-up pop country singer Sammy Kershaw to fundraise for the publicly funded family planning program she and her colleagues intentionally tore apart two years prior.

She’s a “Women’s Health Hero.”

A representative for the TWHC told me that because the organization is interested solely in preventive reproductive health-care access, Nelson received the award for her work adding more money to the state’s family planning budget this session. She has effectively been given a gold star just for making half-assed attempts to repair damage that she herself is partially responsible for.

If Jane Nelson is a “hero,” there be no villains in Texas.

I respect the TWHC, and I am saddened to see the passionate folks who work at the organization repeatedly pandering to lawmakers like Jane Nelson. But this is the political landscape we’re navigating: Anti-choice lawmakers can preen about their “Women’s Health Hero” awards because advocates for reproductive rights are constantly scrambling for petty scraps, afraid of provoking those ready and willing to make things worse.

And anti-choice lawmakers openly threaten to do just that whenever Democrats really come close to killing bad bills, or dedicate themselves to seriously challenging them. It happened just last month when HB 3994, this year’s omnibus judicial bypass bill, was up for debate in the Texas house. The GOP told Democrats they could either stop challenging the bill and let the dominant party get away with it as-written, or keep resisting it while Republicans tacked on “very divisive” amendments that would be certain to make it even more restrictive.

The petulance in that kind of attitude is appalling. If I’m really honest, it echoes the kind of emotional hostage-taking we often see in abusive relationships. And it belies anti-choice lawmakers’ claims that they’re at all concerned about “health and safety,” or predominantly interested in protecting “life.” The “health and safety” they are ultimately concerned with is that of their own political careers, the “life” of which they intend to extend as long as possible.

But what’s most frustrating to me is the fact that these understandable attempts at harm reduction and appeasement from a disempowered political left are ultimately impotent strategies when the opposing party, which grows stronger with every election, has no intention of stopping until it gets what it wants.

Anti-choice lawmakers could not possibly have made their intentions clearer: they intend to shut down abortion facilities. They intend to make legal abortion care “a thing of the past. They intend to “push every legal decision until Roe vs. Wade is overturned.”

Yet year after year, session after session, Texas progressives negotiate and compromise with people who have one singular goal in mind: the end of legal abortion care in Texas, and then in the United States. We may slow progress on these measures, and I am thankful for small victories, but I am tearing my hair out as I ask the question: At what cost? How many years of our lives, of Texan lives, have we given to providing lawmakers with the time to make us accustomed to our own oppression?

I cannot and will not say, “Back down and let them decimate us, let the people see what damage these monsters would do unchecked.”

Because I am thankful for every scrap we get when bad legislation is slowed or diluted. I still am thankful for every teensy piece that may mean a woman from Brownsville gets that critical mammogram; that means a teenage trans boy who survived a “corrective rape” by his own father gets a chance at planning his own future; that means somebody, somewhere, was able to make it to the clinic in time. I am thankful that more people are not dying more quickly.

I hate this terrible gratitude.

But appeasement is not a sustainable option. By definition, it just isn’t. Anti-choice lawmakers aren’t stopping until they get Roe v. Wade overturned. That’s their plan. They don’t care who knows it. It is the entire goal.

“It could have been worse!” doesn’t pay for an abortion at a clinic 300 miles away. “It could have been worse!” doesn’t detect cervical cancer. “It could have been worse!” doesn’t prevent unplanned pregnancy.

We need new strategies. Strategies that go beyond appeasement and beyond politics, a game that’s been deliberately rigged by right-wing legislators who are happy to cheat to keep their seats. We can hope the courts rule in favor of the most marginalized Texans, but we cannot simply wait and see. We can cheer on lawmakers who are stemming the tide and making incremental change, but they cannot be our only defense.

Which is why I’m heartened to see Texans taking a stand for reproductive freedom outside the capitol—folks like Amy Hagstrom Miller and Amanda Williams over at Shift, like the dozens of Texas abortion funders who spend hours monitoring hotlines and working out logistics to help Texans travel hundreds of miles for legal abortion care, and like the Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley who are sharing knowledge about how to induce miscarriage with misoprostol outside of a clinical setting.

Their work gives me hope when I’m damn tired of being told that things could always be worse, of narratives that focus solely on political wranglings in Austin at the expense of the actual Texans whose lives could be changed—or ended—on a whim. Because every year, things always get worse. Every session, I’m told to be thankful for something that didn’t happen, only to wait a year or two and see it come to fruition anyway. Now, we’re just nine judges away from leaving Texas with just nine legal abortion providers to serve 27 million people.

It is strange, even cruel, to be repeatedly asked if you’re glad you haven’t yet fallen over the cliff’s edge when what you need is to get off the fucking mountain.

Image: Shutterstock

The post When It Comes to Abortion Rights in Texas, ‘It Could Be Worse’ Isn’t Good Enough appeared first on RH Reality Check.

New Diaphragm Hits U.S. Market for First Time in 50 Years

RH Reality Check - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 08:01

A newly designed diaphragm is hitting the U.S. market for the first time since the mid-1960s. Known as Caya, the new, single-size contraceptive device is comprised of a coiled nylon spring, a silicone cup, and a removal tab.

Caya is already widely available in Europe and was approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September 2014. Its developers say Caya is easier to use than older models of diaphragms and believe that it’s a good option for women looking for non-hormonal methods of contraception.

The diaphragm was one of the original modern methods of contraception. Introduced in Europe in the 1880s, it was sometimes referred to as the Dutch Cap. It is a flexible dome-shaped cup that sits inside the vagina and covers the cervix, providing a barrier to sperm.

Women usually put a small amount of spermicidal jelly on the inside of the diaphragm for added protection, fold it in half, and insert it high into the vagina. It can be put in place hours before sex and used for multiple acts of intercourse over a 24-hour period.

Most diaphragms come in a variety of sizes and women need to have a pelvic exam where a health-care provider determines which size is best for them. If a woman gains or loses ten pounds, or has a baby, she is told to return to her provider to be resized.

The diaphragm is 94 percent effective if used perfectly, and 88 percent effective under typical use. That means that out of 100 couples who say this is their primary method of contraception, about 12 will become pregnant in the first year. In comparison, under typical use, the pill is considered 91 percent effective and the intrauterine device (IUD) is more than 99 percent effective.

Fewer and fewer women in the United States have turned to the diaphragm as birth control in recent years. In 1982, 17 percent of sexually active women had ever used a diaphragm, compared to 3.1 percent in 2010, according to the National Survey of Family Growth.

The developers of Caya hope that this new product might attract more users.

Caya was created through a collaboration between PATH (a Seattle-based global health nonprofit), CONRAD (a reproductive health product development organization operated through Eastern Virginia Medical School), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other partners. The ten-year development process included feedback from test users. The final product includes suggestions from those who tested prototypes, such as a removal tab that makes the diaphragm easier to remove, especially for new users.

In the United States, Caya is being produced and marketed by HPSRx.

“In talking with family planning providers about this single-size diaphragm over the past few months, their eyes ‘light up’ when they hear that a new diaphragm is coming to market and no fitting exam is required,” Bob Patane, HPSRx’s founder, said in a statement. “Reducing barriers at the provider level could help bring this new method to a whole new generation of women who have not known that diaphragms are even an option.”

Studies have shown that Caya has similar efficacy rates to traditional diaphragms and that correct use was easy.

“In the recently published contraceptive effectiveness study, 76 percent of women were able to insert and correctly position the diaphragm simply using instructions. With coaching, 94 percent of women were able to insert, correctly position, and remove the diaphragm,” Gustavo Doncel, scientific and executive director of CONRAD, said in a press release. “This should make it easier to provide and use consistently.”

Most of the new contraceptive methods introduced in recent years—such as the contraceptive ring or the new versions of the IUD—contain hormones similar to those found in the birth control pill.

Women who can’t use hormonal methods because of pre-existing medical conditions and those who don’t want to use hormones have few options in the market. The introduction of Caya may appeal to them.

Image: Fuz Jamall/ YouTube

The post New Diaphragm Hits U.S. Market for First Time in 50 Years appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Marriage Equality Could Be Health-Care Access Boon for LGBTQ Couples

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 16:23

Gay couples are likely to gain health insurance coverage now that marriage equality is the law of the land, according to a Kaiser Health News report.

Before the the Supreme Court’s historic decision last week to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, marriage equality advocates often shared stories of same-sex partners who were denied the right to visit their loved one in the hospital.

Unequal access to health coverage has been a less visible but no less important issue for same-sex couples, who are less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance than married heterosexual couples.

Groups like the American Medical Association opposed bans on same-sex marriage because they led to disparities in health-care access. Almost all companies who offer insurance cover employees’ spouses, but only about 39 percent also cover same-sex domestic partners, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers. The same percentage of employers also cover opposite-sex domestic partners.

Federal employees who have a legal same-sex marriage license have been eligible for partner benefits since 2013, even if they lived in a state that didn’t recognize their marriage.

“It’s going to increase coverage,” Jennifer Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the ACA’s subsidies.

It’s unclear how big the increase will be, but some research suggests the difference could be significant for LGBTQ couples.

After New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, about 6 percent more men and 9 percent more women in same-sex relationships gained employer-sponsored coverage, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

At the same time, Medicaid coverage decreased slightly for people in same-sex relationships, possibly because some Medicaid recipients were able to gain health coverage through their spouse.

It’s also unclear whether all employers will be required to add same-sex spouses to employee health plans, and whether employers might change their health benefits in other ways as a result of the ruling.

The ruling did not take as clear a stance as it could have on other forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, such as in the workplace, as RH Reality Check’s Jessica Mason Pieklo notes. But case law is favorable to equality advocates, and Obama appointees have argued that workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people violates federal laws against sex discrimination.

The gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal said that employers should not be allowed to refuse to add same-sex spouses to health insurance plans.

Another concern is whether employers will drop their domestic partner benefits entirely, since those benefits often served as a stopgap to cover gay couples who couldn’t legally marry.

Advocates for gay rights are urging employers to keep their domestic partner benefits as a commitment to family diversity and LGBTQ equality—especially since LGBTQ people still aren’t guaranteed full legal protection from discrimination.

“If an LGBT employee is, in effect, ‘outed’ by being required to obtain a public marriage license in a state that doesn’t provide explicit non-discrimination protections, it could place that employee and their family at risk of being denied credit, housing and public accommodation,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement.

Medical authorities point out that in addition to better health-care access, marriage itself provides health benefits like longer life spans and lower rates of depression. Research into these benefits focuses on heterosexual marriage, but experts believe same-sex couples would enjoy the same benefits.

Image: Shutterstock

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No, Teens Did Not Create a Working Condom That Changes Colors if You Have an STI, and Maybe They Shouldn’t

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 16:13

Last week, the story broke about teens who had invented a new condom that could detect sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and alert a partner by changing colors. Media outlets blared: “High School Students Come Up With Brilliant Way To Detect Sexually Transmitted Infections;” “Revolutionary Color Changing Condom Detects STDs;” and “Roses are red, condoms are blue … if you have syphilis;” just to name a few. 

Despite the attention-grabbing nature of these headlines, don’t be fooled: They—and sometimes the pieces they accompanied—do not carry entirely accurate implications. This condom-and-STI-test-wrapped-in-one is not coming soon to a pharmacy near you. It’s an interesting idea, but that’s all it is: just an idea. It’s a thought with theory behind it on how it might work. It has not gotten past the concept stage. There is no operational prototype.

That does not mean we shouldn’t celebrate potential innovation—and the young people who dreamt it up. But in the process of doing so, most media outlets didn’t bother to question whether it was scientifically possible to mass produce such an item or whether it was actually the best way to test for STIs. Nor did they bother to point out that until an option like this can actually be purchased, people need to continue going to their clinic or doctor for STI screening and treatment. As a sexuality educator focused on preventing STIs, I feel this leaves a pretty gaping hole in the commentary.

First, the true story. Three young teenagers who attend the Isaac Newton Academy in London had an idea for a condom that would not just protect against STIs but detect them as well. Inspired by the high rates of STIs in the United Kingdom, the teens theorized that they could make a condom that would include a layer of antibodies that would recognize a virus or bacteria—such as chlamydia—and cause the condom to change color. They cleverly called the concept the S.T. EYE; entered it into the TeenTech Awards, which encourages teenagers to explore science, engineering, and technology; and won £1,000 (or $1,568). In October, they will go to Buckingham Palace to be honored along with the other teen winners. The students told MTV that they hoped to have a working prototype by then.

In the interview with MTV, one of the teens explained more about how this condom could work. In a typical HIV test, he explained, “Antigens are attached to a dish—blood or seminal fluid is added and if HIV antibodies are present, they attach to the antigen.”

“With our concept,” he continued, “You would have to have the antibodies already attached to the latex of the condom, so once you add the fluid onto the latex, it would then trigger the reaction and cause a color change similar to the HIV test.”

In other words, in order for their idea to work, the teens would have to figure out a way to attach the antibodies to latex. It’s unclear whether this is feasible, but certainly no one has done it yet. William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), told RH Reality Check, “While I can applaud these smart young people’s ingenuity in approaching a serious sexual health issue, this is but a concept and one where I think the science would be elusive in making it happen.”

It’s also unclear how expensive such a device would be. Ward Cates, a researcher who has been studying condoms for years, applauded the idea as a way to promote testing among young people, but told CNN: “It would be quite sophisticated and my guess is quite costly.” He added that testing for more than one STI at a time might be cost-prohibitive. One of the benefits of condoms as a method of STI protection and pregnancy prevention has always been that they’re very inexpensive, and thus, widely available.

Even this condom were to be possible and affordable, I have some other practical concerns about the concept. It’s meant to detect STIs in both the male wearer and his partner, but that can’t happen until it comes in contact with blood, semen, or vaginal or cervical secretions. In most cases, this would mean the condom wouldn’t change colors until well into the sexual act—likely too late to provide added protection for that encounter.

After-the-fact knowledge isn’t entirely useless—the condom’s wearer or his partner would know moving forward that he or she had an STI, which could prompt them to seek treatment and also prevent the spread to any further partners. It is always good for people to be aware of their STI status, and we should keep thinking of innovative ideas to get people tested.

But I don’t think the heat of the moment is the best time to find out whether you or your partner has an STI. It’s a very vulnerable time to give or receive that kind of news, especially unexpectedly. At a minimum it could be painfully embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, I fear it could provoke a potentially violent reaction.

In his interview with RH Reality Check, Smith agreed that the timing would be all wrong. “STD testing should be a normal routine for sexually active people, not something that occurs after penile penetration. Does someone really want to discover their partner has an STD after sex begins? Frankly, I couldn’t think of a more ill-timed occasion for finding out your partner has gonorrhea or syphilis.”

These are things that I hope the teens who came up with this idea and anyone who wants to help them make it a reality would consider when moving forward with the concept. Perhaps it would be better to put the time and effort into creating an instant, at-home test kit that can test for a variety of STIs and can be used when you’re alone and haven’t yet initiated sexual activity. At-home kits exist, but most need to be sent to a lab for analysis. Instant results would be a huge step forward.

In the meantime, I think it’s important to remember that despite last week’s hype, we do not yet have a condom chameleon—but we do have good options for both condoms and STI testing.

Today’s condoms have been shown to provide protection against the very STIs we’re talking about, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. As Smith noted, “The point of condoms are to prevent disease transmission, which they do incredibly well, not to test for it.”

As for the testing we already have, it’s really not that bad. Many organizations help to cover the cost nowadays in cases when insurance doesn’t. It can involve peeing in a cup, being dabbed with a cotton swab, or giving blood. Smith noted, “In their rush to discuss this new idea, too many media reports got STI testing itself wrong, describing it as overly invasive and a dreadful experience. It’s not. It’s easy, highly accessible, and utterly noninvasive in almost all cases.”

And best of all, you don’t get the results when you’re already naked, potentially in someone else’s bed.

Image: Shutterstock

The post No, Teens Did Not Create a Working Condom That Changes Colors if You Have an STI, and Maybe They Shouldn’t appeared first on RH Reality Check.

How Do You Make a Safe Abortion Any Safer?

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 15:15

Read more of our articles on Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law here.

Earlier this month the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the final portion of HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill passed in Texas in 2013, may go into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a stay until it has determined whether it will review the case. If the circuit court’s decision eventually goes into effect, it will force all but one of the facilities that provide abortion services in the state to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), a move that will lead to the closure of about half of the remaining clinics. Applauding the circuit court’s decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said such regulation was needed to “establish safe, common-sense standards of care necessary to ensure the health of women.”

Around the same time, the Texas Department of State Health Services finally posted on its website the state’s abortion statistics for 2013. Although the vital statistics didn’t get much attention in the press, the report was newsworthy because it was so uninteresting. 2013 was the fifth year in a row without a death among women undergoing abortion in the state. Meanwhile, the number of women dying in childbirth and from other conditions related to pregnancy has increased in Texas in recent years; in 2013 alone there were 153 maternal deaths.

The 2013 Texas abortion report also includes information about complications, and less than 0.03 percent of procedures reportedly had a serious complication. Even if there is some under-reporting in Texas, these low complication rates are corroborated by evidence from other parts of the country. A recent analysis of more than 50,000 abortions in California that included data on follow-up care found that about 0.2 percent of abortions were associated with a major, or serious, complication. And again, there were no deaths.

All of this evidence points in the same direction: Abortion as currently practiced in the United States is very safe—and certainly safer than continuing the pregnancy to term. An analysis of national data found that the risk of death associated with childbirth was 14 times higher than the risk associated with abortion. Another study found that the low risk of mortality associated with abortion was similar to the risk of death with outpatient plastic surgery and dental procedures requiring anesthesia. The risk of death with abortion was also similar to running a marathon—and less than riding in a multi-day bicycle touring event.

But returning to the stated objective of HB 2, is there any evidence that performing an abortion at an ambulatory surgical center is any safer than having it done in a clinic like the ones that will be shut down when the law goes into effect? My colleagues and I at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) reviewed the complications associated with abortion up to 16 weeks of pregnancy at several facilities that are part of a clinic system in Texas that has both ASCs and non-ASC clinics. While we found that overall there were very few serious complications that required transfer from the facility to a hospital (and no deaths), these complications were actually slightly more common at the ASCs. We found no evidence that abortion care was intrinsically safer when performed at an ASC as compared to a non-ASC clinic.

Rather than making abortion safer, HB 2 may actually compromise the health of Texas women. First, there is some evidence that the closure of clinics in the state is leading to an increase in second-trimester abortion. While later abortion is still very safe, procedures in the second trimester are associated with a higher rate of complications compared to those done in the first trimester. Second, studies have shown that women attempt to self-induce their abortion in Texas at higher rates than the rest of the country, and this may only increase as clinic-based care becomes harder to access. And finally, as clinics close, more women have to drive farther to access abortion care, putting themselves at risk of motor vehicle accidents. A woman is more likely to die driving 800 miles than she is from having an abortion.

The political rhetoric behind HB 2 and similar laws that will end up restricting access to abortion care does not reflect the evidence of the safety of this procedure. If politicians were serious about improving the health of women, there are a lot of things they could do—including improving access to high quality health care for marginalized populations and addressing the high rate of maternal mortality, particularly among women of color. But it’s very hard to make abortion in Texas any safer.

Image: Shutterstock

The post How Do You Make a Safe Abortion Any Safer? appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Oregon Residents Can Now Get Birth Control Prescription Without Doctor’s Visit

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:03

Oregon lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill allowing women to get birth control prescriptions from a pharmacist instead of a physician, a shift that could vastly expand access to contraceptives throughout the state.

HB 2879, passed this month by the Democratic-majority state senate and house, is one of two Oregon bills approved in June that tackles access to the pill, patch, and ring. The other, HB 3343, will allow people to get a 12-month supply of birth control all at once, instead of the one- or three-month supply that most people receive.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed HB 2879 into law mid-June.

The proposals are meant to address barriers to accessing birth control, which include having to make multiple trips to a pharmacy and waiting hours at a doctor’s office for a new prescription.

In 2011, more than 13 percent of women delayed getting needed health care because of logistical factors, like long wait times and not having transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly two-thirds of women in the nation said in a 2013 survey that they favor making contraceptives available over the counter without a prescription.

Oregon’s birth control access boon comes as many states with GOP-led legislatures work to make contraception less accessible for women. Republican legislators in Colorado recently killed a successful teen pregnancy prevention program that had reduced teenage pregnancies by 40 percent over five years. Many GOP lawmakers in Colorado opposed the program because they mistakenly believe intrauterine devices (IUDs) cause abortion.

Oregon’s HB 2879 would still tie birth control access to a prescription, meaning it still won’t be available over the counter. And pharmacists can only prescribe birth control to minors who have had a previous prescription. Advocates of the proposal say that being able to get a prescription from a pharmacy instead of a primary care doctor or OB-GYN is a crucial distinction and a win for those in favor of expanding birth control access.

“As a doctor, I think birth control should be as easy and accessible as possible,” said one of the measure’s sponsors, Rep. Knute Buehler (R). ”It makes no sense that men have unrestrained access to contraception,” but women don’t.

California is the only other state that has passed a law allowing birth control prescriptions from pharmacists. That law was passed last year but has yet to be fully implemented.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Oregon Residents Can Now Get Birth Control Prescription Without Doctor’s Visit appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Obama’s Overtime Pay Overhaul to Have Big Impact on Women, People of Color

RH Reality Check - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:41

The Department of Labor announced a rule Tuesday the Obama administration claims will extend overtime protections to nearly five million employees within the first year of implementation. The rule change could have an outsized impact on women and people of color.

The revised rule would raise the threshold under which most salaried workers are guaranteed overtime. Under current regulations, only salaried workers who make $455 a week, or $23,660 a year, qualify for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week, and only if their job duties are not professional, executive, or administrative.

The Department of Labor estimates the overtime protections will affect women and people of color the most. About 56 percent of the affected workers are women, 53 percent of whom have at least a college degree, according to the federal government.

Salaried workers who earn below that threshold and who are not considered “white collar” must be paid time-and-a-half for each hour worked beyond 40 hours a week.

That threshold would be raised to a projected level of $970 a week, or $50,440 a year, in 2016, under the Obama administration’s proposal. The proposal also seeks to update the manner in which “white collar” employees are exempt from overtime rules. That update is designed to address the problem of employers like Walmart misclassifying employees in order to avoid paying workers overtime wages.

The Obama administration’s order comes as the national fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage ramps up. Seattle, which is on the front lines of the wage fight, has seen employment increase since policymakers there implemented a $15 hourly minimum wage. This stands in contrast to lawmakers who have steadfastly opposed any wage increases for fear of hampering employment rates.

Corporations spend about 91 percent of their earnings on stock buybacks and dividends, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). This boosts CEO compensation and contributes to wage stagnation, per EPI analysts.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Obama’s Overtime Pay Overhaul to Have Big Impact on Women, People of Color appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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