The “Moral Mondays” movement in North Carolina, which captured attention last year for its weekly protests against far-right policies passed by the state legislature, announced this week that it will hold a “Moral Week of Action” from August 22 to 28.
A broad coalition of faith, labor, and social justice organizations will hold events in 12 mostly Southern states—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—with a different social justice theme every day. Friday kicked off with discussions of labor rights, fair and living wages, and economic justice. The weekend will feature actions on education and criminal justice, then equal protection under the law. A “Youth Moral Monday” will start the work week, then women’s rights will take the stage on Women’s Equality Day (August 26), followed by health care and environmental justice actions, and finally voting rights.
Moral Mondays, which have been going on for almost 70 weeks, have always protested against a diversity of issues, from cuts in social spending to gutting teachers unions to defending reproductive rights against onerous restrictions. Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and the charismatic face of the Moral Mondays movement, called for a “moral fusion movement” to defeat the far-right in a speech at this year’s Netroots Nation political conference. Barber said America is currently in a “Third Reconstruction,” and that the two before us—the Civil War Reconstruction as well as the Civil Rights era—were defined both by “a vision of reconstructing the nation along our deepest moral values,” and by the racist backlash against them. Those backlashes have always attacked the same group of issues, Barber said—first voting rights, then public education, then labor rights, then fair tax policies that would lift up the poor, and finally attacks on progressive leaders themselves.
Barber uses his skills as as preacher to advocate for progressive ideas, urging his supporters to seek “higher ground” and calling for a movement that goes “forward together, not one step back.” But the movement has a wonkier side as well, as evidenced by a press conference on Wednesday. Barber cited the North Carolina Constitution, which reads that “Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate, and the orphan is one of the first duties of a civilized and a Christian state.” And his remarks were followed by three policy experts going into the nitty-gritty of all the bad bills passed by North Carolina’s legislature, which Rob Schofield of North Carolina Policy Watch called “strikingly dysfunctional.” There were cuts to early child-care education and care for homebound seniors, letting the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit expire for 900,000 low-income households, the well-known refusal to fund Medicaid expansion—all apparently sacrificed to fund personal income tax cuts that were going to cost more than expected, and all contributing to what the speakers called a fiscally unsustainable situation.
Barber often invokes the work of Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches, drawing parallels between his local organizing in the South and what must be done today to achieve similar goals. At this week’s press conference, Barber said that 51 years after the March on Washington, we are seeing “a modern form of interposition and nullification” from some politicians. The Moral Week of Action, Barber said, continues in King’s tradition of organizing.
Some states will feature daily, livestreamed actions at the state capitols, followed by voter registration drives. Other participating states have one-day events, like the big “Vote Your Dreams and Not Your Fears” rally planned for August 28 in New York.
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The Obama administration has consistently bent over backwards in its efforts to appease the religious liberty concerns of employers who complain that the birth control benefit and the existing workaround are violations of their religious faith. And on Friday, with the release of yet another set of interim final regulations, the Obama administration has ostensibly provided another option for eligible organizations to avail themselves of the accommodation. But in reality, what the administration has done is shot itself in the foot—again.
What exactly is the Obama administration’s strategy here? To keep offering more and more accommodations—more and more compromises in the hopes that religious objectors to contraceptive coverage will be mollified?
If history is any indication, that’s not going to happen any time soon.
As any good negotiator will tell you, when you’re in a negotiation with an obstinate party, it is important to assess the goals of that party and come up with a strategy for making sure that you get what you want. This is called a “concession strategy.” If one party to a negotiation is immovable and the other party is a pushover, the immovable party will inevitably walk away having gotten everything they want while the pushover is left with nothing.
Usually, pushovers are so eager to make a deal that they begin the negotiation without a concession strategy; they will offer a deal, and when it is rejected they will immediately concede their position and offer another deal. When that deal is rejected, pushovers will concede their position again and again until there’s nothing left to concede.
In the battle between the Obama administration and the religious right, the Obama administration is the pushover, and the religious right is the immovable party.
The Department of Health and Human Services has made concession after concession in an effort to ensure all women have access to affordable birth control, while the religious right has remained immovable, demanding acknowledgement of their religious beliefs above the health, well-being, and rights of women.
Friday’s concession—detailed here by my colleague Jessica Mason Pieklo—is no different.
In a traditional negotiation, the concessions being made harm the party making them. In the case of the birth control benefit, however, the concessions that the Obama administration keeps making aren’t really harming the Obama administration itself—they are harming the women that the policy is intended to benefit.
For two years, the administration has attempted to work in its own version of good faith with religious objectors—primarily the religious right and the Catholic bishops—who claim that requiring employers to provide birth control to their employees violates the religious faith of those employers. And for two years, these religious objectors have remained unsatisfied with each and every concession offered to them, even when those concessions were originally suggested by the religious objectors themselves.
After an outcry by the religious right and the Catholic lobby when the birth control benefit was first announced back in February 2012, the administration’s willingness to work with these religious objectors and to take their religious feelings into account seemed like a good idea, at least politically.
The 2012 presidential election was less than a year away, and Republicans were busy trying to fire up their base by accusing President Obama of waging a war on religion.
In March 2011—a few months before he jumped into the presidential race—Newt Gingrich, who had been yowling about President Obama’s supposed anti-colonial views, warned thousands of evangelical churchgoers that Christianity was under attack and that the country was on the road to domination by secular atheists and radical Islamists.
In early December 2011, Republican presidential nominee Rick Perry released a truly ridiculous television ad, in which he bemoaned the fact that gays can serve openly in the military but kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school, and pledged to end Obama’s “war on religion.”
Later that month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops took out full-page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times in which 151 Catholic leaders of all stripes responded to the HHS “Preventive Services” Mandate—scare quotes and all—and demanded that the Obama administration protect conscience rights.
A day after that, a large group of “pro-life,” evangelical, and other leaders of faith-based organizations joined the fray to let the administration know it wasn’t just Catholic organizations that were opposed to the birth control benefit; they, too, feared infringement on their religious freedoms.
The Obama administration was being slammed by claims from Catholics and evangelical Christians alike that its contraception policy demonstrated that the administration was hostile to religion. And at the time, with headlines like “Catholic Church vs. Obama in Election Year Showdown” saturating the news cycle, doing something—anything—to appear respectful of religious freedom while at the same time making certain its policy of ensuring that women would have access to preventive services, including contraception, without co-pay seemed like the best course of action for the administration.
And so the administration blinked. It crafted an accommodation for religious objectors and set itself up for a series of legal disasters that would follow.
Under the accommodation, certain religious groups who oppose providing contraceptive coverage can simply hand that job over to their insurance companies after declaring their religious opposition by filling out a form—Form 700.
This accommodation seemed sensible enough. Unfortunately, it initially satisfied some religious groups but not others.
The Catholic Health Association (CHA), which represents over 600 hospitals and 1,400 other health facilities, and is the largest group of nonprofit health-care providers in the United States was appeased. “The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions,” said the group’s president and CEO, Carol Keenan, when the accommodation was first announced in February 2012.
Four months later, however, the CHA did an about-face: It sent a five-page letter to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing the compromise.
The Catholic bishops, on the other hand, remained stalwartly opposed to the compromise throughout the Obama administration’s attempt to negotiate a compromise that would appease all involved parties, claiming that compliance with the accommodation would be “material cooperation with evil.”
According to the bishops, it doesn’t matter whether you’re taking birth control, providing birth control to women, or facilitating some process by which birth control is provided to women; all of these violate the Catholic faith, no matter how distant or uninvolved the Bishops are from “the act.” Never mind that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of Catholic women ages 15 to 44 who have had sex have used a contraceptive method other than natural planning, 68 percent of Catholic women and 74 percent of Evangelical women use “highly effective” methods of birth control—sterilization, hormonal birth control, or intrauterine device (IUD)—and 69 percent of women of all religious faiths use such highly effective methods.
Ultimately, the religious right’s staunch opposition to contraception does not reflect the reality of its use among women, some of whom work for the very organizations that are seeking to deny them the birth control benefit.
To date, 65 cases challenging the accommodation have been filed by non-Catholic and Catholic religious organizations, many of which receive federal funds and/or tax breaks to be in the business of denying benefits for the people who work for them. They argue that the accommodation essentially works as a “permission slip” for contraception, and does not adequately separate the religious organization from the flow of contraception between their insurers and their employees.
The most notorious of the lawsuits challenging the accommodation was filed by the evangelical Wheaton College, which, like the University of Notre Dame, offered contraception coverage in its health insurance plans before deciding that to continue to do so in compliance with the birth control benefit would violate its religious liberty. A mere four days after the Supreme Court ruled against the government in Hobby Lobby—citing the accommodation as the reason—the Supreme Court signaled in its Wheaton College order that the accommodation itself might also be a violation of religious liberty.
In blocking the government from applying the accommodation to Wheaton College, the Court said Wheaton College did not have to fill out the self-certification form, Form 700. Wheaton College could simply inform the Department of Health and Human Services of its religious objections in writing.
That ruling prompted outrage from Justice Sonia Sotomayor—Sharona Coutts and I published a story about that last week—but it also prompted the government to capitulate once again to the religious caterwauling of those opposed to its contraception coverage policy.
Some commentators took the Court’s ruling in Wheaton College to be an invitation to further tweak the accommodation to the birth control benefit. And given today’s release of further tweaks to the birth control benefit and accommodation, the government did too.
I fail to see why.
Even though the Court blocked application of the accommodation to Wheaton College, it expressly stated that its ruling was not on the merits: “[T]his order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.”
In other words, after full consideration, the Court very well could have found that Wheaton College’s objections to filling out the self-certification form have no merit and might have allowed the government’s accommodation to stand.
But the Obama administration—pushover that it is—didn’t bother waiting for the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling in the Wheaton College case. (That will likely happen during the Supreme Court’s next term.)
Instead, taking its cue from the Supreme Court’s Wheaton College order, the administration released new regulations allowing eligible organizations to inform the Department of Health and Human Services in writing of their religious objection to contraceptive coverage so that, as before, a third party can step in and provide that coverage in the religious objector’s stead. In its rush to appease these religious objectors, did the Obama administration stop to think that perhaps these religious objectors cannot be appeased because they are immovable? Has the administration learned nothing from its previous negotiations with the religious right?
The Obama administration’s willingness to accommodate religious objectors has done enough damage.
First and foremost, offering more and more concessions simply sanctions employers’ efforts to deny employees their right to earned health benefits, all in the name of “religious liberty.”
In addition, these concessions have led to disastrous results in court: The accommodation provided the U.S. Supreme Court the ammunition it needed to rule in favor of closely held for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, which had complained that they were “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that the birth control benefit forced them to violate their faith. According to the Supreme Court, the very existence of the accommodation allowing for religious exemptions from the birth control benefit necessarily meant that the birth control benefit itself was not the “least restrictive means” of ensuring that women would have access to contraception without co-pay. And that was the key reason for the administration’s profound defeat in Hobby Lobby.
By further tweaking the accommodation, the administration has all but admitted that the current iteration of the accommodation will fail the “least restrictive means” test once the Wheaton College case winds its way back up to the Supreme Court, just as the birth control benefit failed that test in the Hobby Lobby case.
So why is the administration forcing the error? Does the Obama administration have a concession strategy, or is it simply going to keep bending to the religious right’s will and, in so doing, undermining women’s reproductive rights?
The Obama administration should have allowed the courts time to sort out the current contraception conundrum because if history is any indication, there’s no concession that the Obama administration can offer the immovable religious right that will make them happy.
So rather than try, the Obama administration should have just let the legal chips fall where they may.
Instead, the Obama administration has opened itself up to a host of new lawsuits that jeopardize its ability to maintain its commitment to providing a full range of reproductive health-care benefits—including contraception—to the women who have earned them.
The post The Obama Administration Should Stop Bending to the Religious Right’s Will appeared first on RH Reality Check.
On Friday, reproductive rights advocates filed a new federal lawsuit challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers in the state to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The lawsuit, filed by the law firm Morrison & Foerster and joined by the Center for Reproductive Rights, was submitted on behalf of Louisiana health-care providers in federal district court in Baton Rouge and seeks an immediate injunction against HB 388, which Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in June. According to the complaint, the law, which gives doctors only 81 days to obtain the required admitting privileges, is impossible to comply with because it can take anywhere from 90 days to seven months for a hospital to decide on a doctor’s admitting privileges application.
The law is set to take effect September 1.
“Louisiana is the latest state to advance the unconstitutional objective of denying women safe, legal abortion care under the phony pretext of protecting their health,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “We intend to demonstrate why this law must be the latest to be blocked by a federal court order.”
According to advocates, if HB 388 goes into effect at least three of the state’s five clinics will be forced to stop providing abortion services or close altogether. These closures would further reduce care options for patients, especially those women in the central part of the state who would be forced to travel hundreds of miles to access a provider.
Louisiana is the latest state to pass a requirement that abortion providers obtain hospital admitting privileges as a means to try and close abortion clinics and curtail access to services. Reproductive rights advocates have filed two challenges to a similar Texas law, while lawmakers in Mississippi hope to overturn a federal appeals court decision preventing them from enforcing their own admitting privileges law and closing the only clinic in that state. Meanwhile, earlier this month a federal court found a similar Alabama law unconstitutional while another federal court considers a similar fate for Wisconsin’s admitting privileges law.
The post Lawsuit Filed Challenging Louisiana Admitting Privileges Law appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Twitter came under criticism this summer for allegedly censoring ads for condoms or sexual health information, even though the company’s policy allows those kinds of ads. RH Reality Check reported in June about four companies and organizations that claimed Twitter had not only censored their ads, but also blocked their accounts from advertising.
The controversy resurfaced last week when Washingtonian.com reported that Washington, D.C.’s Department of Health had similar trouble, and RH Reality Check has learned that Lucky Bloke, the company that started a petition over these issues, still can’t advertise on Twitter to promote safe condom use.
D.C.’s health department wanted to advertise its “Rubber Revolution” free condom distribution program with “promoted tweets” on its @FreeCondomsDC Twitter account. Doing so could increase the Twitter account’s reach four-fold, said Michael Kharfen, director of the department’s HIV/AIDS office, in a written statement. “The more people we reach, the more people can get important free health information and resources,” he added.
But an automated reply from Twitter said the tweet violated Twitter’s ad policy, and as with Lucky Bloke and other groups, Rubber Revolution had its account barred from advertising. Unlike Lucky Bloke, though, the account got its advertising capabilities back after just about a day—a few hours after Washingtonian.com inquired about why it had been refused.
“I appreciate the media calls to Twitter that resulted in its decision to not ban our essential public health messages,” Kharfen said via email to RH Reality Check. “We are also appreciative of Twitter in acknowledging that the work we are doing benefits Twitter users.”
“It is a standard practice for our ads policy team to review all ads that run on our platform,” a Twitter spokesperson told RH Reality Check via email. “If they find that the ad violates our policies, the advertiser will be notified and not allowed to advertise until they remove the offending Tweet or content.”
The sticking point with all of these bans, temporary or otherwise, has been Twitter’s rather nonspecific prohibition against “sexual content” in advertisements for condoms or safer sex campaigns. Confusingly, Twitter also prohibits ads for “contraceptives”—a category that, by most accounts, includes condoms. Plus, the rule against “sexual content” in condom ads doesn’t just cover the text and image in the would-be promoted tweet itself—Twitter’s spokesperson said that an advertiser’s website can’t contain or link to objectionable content either.
Bedsider, an online source for birth control information that has had success advertising with Twitter, only discovered the website part of the policy when it got temporarily booted from advertising last year. An innocuous tweet about how 99 percent of U.S. women use birth control was flagged not for racy language but for its link to Bedsider’s home page, which featured a link in its footer to the sex advice column “Frisky Friday.” Bedsider finally got around that issue by sending users linked from Twitter to a version of the site that hid the “Frisky Friday” link.
Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, takes issue with the whole concept of banning “sexual content” in condom ads, since condoms involve sex by definition—and if you’re not allowed to discuss sexual pleasure, she says, people will stick to their negative stereotypes about how condoms don’t feel good, and they will be less likely to use them. She sees promotion of proper condom use, including discussions of pleasure, as a sexual health and social justice issue. White’s company sells condoms in three different size categories because she says a better-fitting condom both feels better and is safer. “Educating around condom fit and pleasure works,” White told RH Reality Check. “When people enjoy condoms they use them more effectively and consistently.”
White didn’t know when she started her #Tweet4Condoms campaign (nor did RH Reality Check in its initial reporting) that Twitter’s standard practice was to immediately ban accounts upon submission of one ill-received tweet. The response seemed out of proportion to her, she said—wouldn’t it make more sense just to reject the tweet, explain why, and ask the user to try again?
The Twitter spokesperson said that there’s recourse for people with suspended ad accounts—just contact the ads policy team through the “Help” button in their ad account: “There, they can describe their issue (for example, ‘I was previously rejected per X policy, and have removed the offending content. Can you re-review my ad copy and website’). If the revised Tweet and website content then abides by our policy, the advertiser will be able to run ads.”
Indeed, The STD Project, a sexual health group that RH Reality Check spoke to in June about being blocked, has now had its account reinstated through that process. But White’s repeated attempts to reach out to Twitter when her ad account was first blocked months ago were met with silence. “I have reached out to [Twitter CEO] Dick Costolo, as well as their Ads Policy team, on numerous occasions. Their lack of response over several months has been frustrating,” she said.
She finally did get a response from one employee recently, but said that response amounted to “cutting and pasting their policy—the one I am already quite familiar with.” When White asked for an actual contact to work with and help make Lucky Bloke’s account eligible, the employee directed her to fill out a Help ticket online.
White also couldn’t get a straight answer about which content exactly was inappropriate, either from her website or her tweet (which seemed innocuous—”Tired of lousy condoms?”). The response was that “sexual content” violations could include “nudity, partial nudity, sexual aids and toys, as well as adult/sexual language.” White wrote back that Lucky Bloke’s site includes no nudity (indeed, no pictures of people at all), no sexual aids or toys, and only “sexual language” that’s specific to condom use. The material on her site is even less explicit than what she’s seen from other Twitter advertisers, she said. Durex, which has advertised on Twitter through one of its Spanish-language accounts, also sells sex toys and writes about better orgasms, sexual positions, and kink. And the D.C. health department’s Rubber Revolution website contains a somewhat explicit drawing of how to put a condom on a penis.
White stressed that these examples show inconsistency on Twitter’s part, not any fault of Durex’s or Rubber Revolution’s, and that the content on their sites is relevant to their work. “I applaud any time that a company is able to advertise sexual health messaging,” White said. “I simply want the same opportunity for the rest of us.”
Even groups allowed to advertise with Twitter have at some point gotten on the wrong side of the company’s seemingly inconsistent, confusing policy—like Rubber Revolution, or like Bedsider, which a Twitter spokesperson specifically pointed to as proof that Twitter doesn’t ban sexual health ads even though Twitter has twice blocked Bedsider’s ad account in the past.
If Help tickets and poorly clarified policies are all Twitter has to offer her, White said, “it remains an enduring, de facto ban for Lucky Bloke.”
Account blocks also intimidate users who don’t realize they can, at least in theory, do something to get their ad accounts reinstated. Jenelle Marie, founder of The STD Project, spoke to RH Reality Check in June about having her account blocked. When RH Reality Check contacted her again for this piece asking if her status had changed, or if she had reached out to Twitter, she said she decided to try reaching out using the Help button—”I figured it can’t hurt, right?” she said. And in less than 24 hours, her account had been reinstated.
But that wasn’t her attitude when she was first blocked. The dire-looking red “Account Ineligible” error message told her to send a message using the Help button for “any questions,” but didn’t volunteer that this is the best way to get a block reversed. She didn’t think reaching out would do any good, and felt that her voice wouldn’t matter as a small organization.
“I believe in picking my battles,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d have much sway, and I figured, if they didn’t want to support progressive organizations such as my own, there were people who would, so I’d rather put my energy into reaching out instead of fighting back.”
Image: Safe sex via Shutterstock
The post Twitter Faces Renewed Criticism for Condom Ad Policies appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The rules, released in part in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order in the Wheaton College case, which threw into doubt the current exemption process for religiously affiliated nonprofits, provide an alternative process for those institutions to follow in order to exempt themselves from providing contraceptive coverage for those employees and students who want it.
The rules start out by making the economic case for contraceptive coverage and the compelling government interest in equal access to health care before detailing the new accommodation process, which shifts the burden of coordinating coverage from third-party administrators to the federal government. According to the new rules, those objecting institutions can now send opt-out notification directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), rather than their third-party administrator. HHS and the Department of Labor (DOL) will then notify insurers and third-party notifiers of the objection so that those enrolled in health insurance plans of those organizations can receive separate coverage for contraceptive services, with no additional cost to the enrollee or the employer. The accommodation process also applies to student health plans like those at the University of Notre Dame. The rules also make it clear that plan participants can always decline contraceptive coverage.
The administration also announced that it was beginning the process of addressing the Hobby Lobby decision in crafting still another accommodation process. Along with the latest accommodation for religiously affiliated nonprofits, HHS will begin soliciting comments on how it might extend to certain closely held for-profit entities like Hobby Lobby the same accommodation that is available to religious nonprofits. Under the proposal, these companies “would not have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.”
The proposal also seeks comments on how to define a closely held for-profit company and whether other steps might be appropriate to implement this policy.
Those institutions challenging the birth control benefit are not likely to be satisfied by the administration’s latest attempts to address their objections given that they argue the very act of having to identify as a religious objector for purposes of receiving an accommodation to the law unduly burdens their religious beliefs, and many object to their employees accessing contraception at all. The new rule also presents some administrative challenges for HHS in oversight and compliance. Organizations simply need to notify HHS of their objection. They do not need to provide the federal government with any additional information, such as which insurance company provides coverage for their employees. That means it will be up to HHS and the DOL to figure out which insurer to contact and coordinate that coverage.
In a previous court filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the Obama administration asked that those institutions challenging the nonprofit accommodation notify the court by September 2 if they will continue with their legal challenges.
Image: White House via Shutterstock
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Former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan captured the Republican nomination in the GOP Senate primary Tuesday, defeating Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Tea Party favorite Joe Miller. Sullivan was considered the Republican establishment favorite; his campaign contributors included former President George W. Bush.
Sullivan now faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich on the ballot in November.
The U.S. Senate campaign in Alaska may play an integral role in determining which party controls the Senate after the mid-term elections; Republicans need to pick up six seats in November to regain control. Since Begich represents a traditionally Republican state, the campaign there, which political observers view as very close, will likely play an important role in Republicans’ efforts to regain Senate control.
“I look forward to painting a clear contrast between Mark Begich’s inability to move our state forward and my vision for a brighter and better Alaska,” Sullivan said in a statement following the primary election, reported Reuters.
Begich and Sullivan had exchanged political punches before Tuesday’s primary that showed reproductive rights would be a major campaign issue.
Prior to the primary election, Begich released an ad saying that Sullivan has “positions on women’s health that are truly frightening.” The ad points to Sullivan’s opposition to taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and companies denying birth control coverage to employees through their health insurance plans.
The ad cites Sullivan’s answers to Alaska Family Action’s candidate survey. Among the responses given by Sullivan was his support for banning abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Senate Republicans introduced legislation in May that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, and are reportedly using the issue to strategically target vulnerable Senate Democrats.
Sullivan responded with his own ad calling Begich’s claims “flat out lies.” The ad also charges that Barack Obama’s “political machine” and Begich’s “liberal Washington friends” are the driving force behind his campaign.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization’s political arm, is purchasing online ads, as part of a $65,000 ad campaign in the state, to target Sullivan for his record on reproductive health. “Dan Sullivan has been slippery on some of his positions, so we want to make sure that when people are looking at this race … they have the information readily available from somebody they trust to give it to them,” Dawn Laguens, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told the National Journal.
Begich has built a record of supporting reproductive rights in his first term in the Senate after defeating embattled former senator Ted Stevens (R). The Begich campaign is also drawing a broader distinction between his record on women’s rights and his Republican rival’s.
While Begich touts his support of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Violence Against Women Act, Sullivan has avoided answering questions on his position on either pieces of legislation. Begich released an ad in April saying that Sullivan was on the wrong side of women’s issues, including fair pay.
The latest polling shows Begich with a four-point lead over Sullivan.
Image: RHRC / wikimedia commons
The post Anti-Choice Dan Sullivan Wins GOP Senate Primary in Alaska appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The most important thing for abortion rights coming out of Richmond, Virginia, this fall isn’t likely to be a piece of legislation, but rather a decision from the state Board of Health: Should punitive abortion clinic regulations shoved onto the books by Ken Cuccinelli during his term as attorney general be repealed and rewritten, amended, or upheld?
The stringent regulations adopted in May 2013 classify abortion clinics as a “category of hospital,” and an executive directive signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) requires a periodic review be completed by October 1, 2014. The board must decide whether to keep the rules, change the rules, or start over.
Let’s start with the wrong answer. Upholding Virginia’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law would be a nightmare for public health in the commonwealth, because the clinic regulations exist solely for the purpose of shutting abortion clinics down. Making abortion more difficult to access does not wave a magic wand that converts women with unwanted pregnancies into beaming mothers-to-be.
Instead it forces women to carry pregnancies they do not want for longer periods of time, in some cases making abortion more expensive and more time-intensive. It also makes it more likely that women will be forced to seek unsafe abortion methods. That’s ironic. Proponents of TRAP laws like to concern-troll for women’s health and safety, because that plays better with the public than stating their real goal: shutting clinics down so as to physically eliminate access to abortion—a procedure they claim is immoral and unnecessary. Since the adoption of the regulations in Virginia, five clinics offering abortion have closed, and 18 remain vulnerable to closure should the state Board of Health neglect its duty to act to “[promote] and [protect] the health of all Virginians.”
Yes, Virginia, there will always be people who need abortions within your borders. It is your duty as a commonwealth to ensure that those abortions can be legally, safely, and swiftly obtained free from state coercion and third-party harassment—something considered a given for other health-care procedures.
TRAP laws are local problems, but national in reach and impact. More than half the states now have a TRAP law on the books creating onerous, unnecessary, and often unattainable licensing standards or hospital admitting privilege requirements for doctors, prohibitively expensive structural requirements for facilities, or both. What follows is both predictable and wrong: the closure of clinics. In one example, the omnibus anti-abortion law in Texas, HB 2, forced nearly half of the state’s clinics to close within a year, leading to a dramatic reproductive health-care crisis in the state.
It’s immoral to attack access to abortion, because it creates grave human suffering and is a proxy for attacking the legal status of women as persons. It’s especially a proxy for attacking the legal status of women of color and poor women, because they are both more likely to seek abortion and less likely to have the resources to buy their way past state-sponsored restrictions on abortion.
In the case of this TRAP law and restrictions upon abortion more generally, it’s important not just to take the moral high ground but also to step outside of an opposing framework that paints abortion as a matter of naughty behavior, because abortion is neither naughty nor properly understood as a behavior.
Yes, you read that right. It’s time to stop focusing on abortion as a behavior, because the availability of abortion, whether people use it or not, is just one aspect of reproductive autonomy that is central to identity. In the words of University of Texas Professor John Robertson:
Reproductive experiences … are central to personal conceptions of meaning and identity. To deny procreative choice is to deny or impose a crucial self-defining experience, thus denying persons respect and dignity at the most basic level.
So yes, TRAP laws are immoral and oppressive, and it’s important to say that first, because we need a new dialogue on abortion. But it’s also important to consider there’s a convincing case to be made that TRAP laws are unconstitutional by virtue of their design to force abortion clinic closures, a case made recently by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in his decision striking Alabama’s admitting privileges requirement:
The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics .… Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.
So what’s next? It’s time for Virginia to do the right thing and repeal and replace the current clinic regulations law, or amend it so that it is not used as a blunt force instrument for closing clinics down.
That position appears to be the side of Virginians. A statewide survey found 58 percent opposing the clinic regulations when it was explained they would require existing abortion clinics, which are outpatient facilities, to be reconstructed as if they were new hospitals. Last year’s election of Gov. McAuliffe was largely seen as a referendum on the harsh anti-abortion rights agenda of Governor Bob McDonnell (R) and attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Cuccinelli. Shortly before the closure of a public comment period on the review this July, The Washington Post reported that about 7,000 comments were sent to the Virginia Department of Health. According to a blog post published by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, 4,844 of those comments were pro-choice, anti-TRAP comments it hand-delivered in concert with allied organizations ProgressVA, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. An email sent the afternoon of the deadline by the Family Foundation of Virginia—an organization that lobbies for the TRAP law—said just 828 supporters had sent messages through their system.
The regulations have consistently been the subject of outcry; Indeed, it has been alleged in a pending lawsuit filed by the Falls Church Healthcare Center that Cuccinelli inappropriately pressured the board of health to drop a “grandfather clause” that would have exempted existing facilities from having to comply with the new regulations. Allegations of inappropriate pressure and politics surrounding the adoption of the regulations also led to the resignation of Dr. Karen Remley as Virginia’s health commissioner in 2012, and public dissent from multiple medical experts who had provided formal recommendations that were ignored.
Dr. Marissa Levine currently leads the Virginia Department of Health and will be charged with approving the results of the state Board of Health’s review expected by October 1. If the right decision is made—to amend or repeal and replace the regulations—the regulatory process could take another two years. It is clear advocates must keep watching and weighing in, and we cannot stop until clinic regulations are no longer used as an immoral political instrument with only one song: shutting down legal abortion facilities.
Note: Erin Matson serves on the board of directors of the NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation. The opinions expressed here are her own.
Image: Injustice via Shutterstock
The post Forcing Abortion Clinic Closures Is Immoral—the Virginia Board of Health Should Make Changes Now appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Legislation banning the sterilization of inmates in California state prisons is awaiting the governor’s signature after gaining overwhelming support from both the state assembly and senate this week.
The bill, SB 1135, was introduced early this year after the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) found that women in California prisons were being sterilized under potentially illegal circumstances. Between 2006 and 2010, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation gave tubal ligations to almost 150 women without required state approval, according to the CIR investigation.
California has a long history of forced sterilization, an issue covered by SisterSong Co-Founder Loretta Ross for RH Reality Check earlier this year. During the 20th century, tens of thousands of forced sterilizations occurred and were backed mostly by a 1909 law that sanctioned the sterilization of people deemed unfit to have children—by and large they were mentally ill, poor, and incarcerated.
Forced sterilization was banned 70 years later, when new guidelines for sterilization were put in place, including a 72-hour waiting period and informed consent requirements. And in 1994, the state passed a law requiring that a committee of medical professionals review and approve each sterilization request on a case-by-case basis.
Yet the CIR investigation a year ago found that no such requests were made to the committee. Incarcerated women also told CIR that they were repeatedly pressured by prison doctors to get tubal ligations, including when they were about to give birth.
The bill passed by the California legislature this week tightens the restrictions on the sterilization of inmates by banning the practice, with few exceptions. Sterilization procedures like tubal ligations would only be allowed if the person’s life is in danger or if the procedure is deemed “medically necessary” to treat a diagnosed condition. The bill also requires that jails and prisons publish data on instances of sterilization, broken down race, age, and medical justification, on their websites.
The text of the bill also acknowledges that the sterilization of inmates is a reproductive justice issue. “It is the intent of the Legislature … to ensure safeguards against sterilization abuse within the coercive environment of prison and jail, and to positively affirm that all people should have the right to full self-determine their reproductive lives free from coercion, violence, or threat of force,” the bill reads.
Both the senate and assembly unanimously voted in favor of its passage. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has up to 12 days to sign the legislation, before it takes effect by default.
The post California Legislature Votes to Ban Sterilization of Inmates appeared first on RH Reality Check.
08.22.14 - The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the law firm of Morrison & Foerster in a new federal lawsuit today challenging a Louisiana state law signed by Governor Bobby Jindal in June specifically designed to shutter abortion clinics across the state.
The suit—which was filed on behalf of Louisiana health care providers in federal district court in Baton Rouge—seeks an immediate injunction against House Bill 388, a measure signed into law in June 2014 that forces any doctor who provides abortion care to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Specifically, the suit seeks to enjoin the law before it is allowed to go into effect, as the physicians providing abortion services have not been given enough time to secure admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Admitting privileges requirements have devastated access to abortion services throughout the South. Scores of clinics have closed in Texas, and clinics in Mississippi and Alabama are hanging on by the thread of a court order. Admitting privileges are not necessary for the treatment of the fewer than 1% of abortion patients who experience complications and they can also be impossible to satisfy because of hospitals’ inclination to deny admitting privileges to abortion providers for reasons not related to the doctors’ qualifications.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Louisiana is the latest state to advance the unconstitutional objective of denying women safe, legal abortion care under the phony pretext of protecting their health. We intend to demonstrate why this law must be the latest to be blocked by a federal court order.
“Leading national medical associations oppose admitting privileges requirements and federal courts nationwide have blocked them, recognizing them as the underhanded attempts to ban abortion that they really are.
“We are confident this court will see through the disingenuousness of the politicians who passed this law to the unconstitutional attack on women’s rights and health care that lies beneath, and block its enforcement before it denies safe, legal abortion care to a single woman in Louisiana who needs it.”
Ilene Jaroslaw of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Demme Doufekias of Morrison & Foerster, and William E Rittenberg of Rittenberg, Samuel, and Phillips, LLC represent Hope Medical Group for Women, Causeway Medical Clinic, and Bossier City Medical Suite in today’s challenge. If the law is permitted to go into effect, at least three out of the state’s five clinics will be forced to stop providing abortion services or close altogether, leaving thousands of women—especially those in the central part of the state—hundreds of miles from a safe and legal abortion provider.
With this law, Louisiana joined the ranks of other states that have attempted to use admitting privileges requirements as an underhanded way to shutter high-quality clinics and severely limit women’s access to abortion services. Women’s health care providers and advocates are currently involved in twochallenges to Texas’ unconstitutional admitting privileges requirement which has already closed health centers across the state while the last clinic in Mississippi is fighting to keep its doors open. A similar law in Alabama was found unconstitutional earlier this month and Wisconsin’s admitting privileges requirement has been preliminarily blocked; nevertheless, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a similar measure into law earlier this summer.
Major medical groups oppose laws like Louisiana’s that require hospital admitting privileges for physicians providing abortion services. In an amicus brief filed in the challenge to Texas’ admitting privileges requirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) write that the law “jeopardizes women’s health in Texas,” doing “nothing to protect the health of women.” Medical experts confirm that legal abortion care in the U.S. is extremely safe, with fewer than 1% of patients requiring treatment at a hospital.
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Louisiana from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.File Upload: Louisiana Admitting Privileges Complaint Louisiana Governor Jindal Signs Law Designed to Shutter Reproductive Health Clinics Health Care Providers Ask Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Texas Law that Blocks Abortion Access Two More Texas Health Centers Forced to Close in Wake of Unconstitutional Abortion Restrictions Passed Last Summer Fifth Circuit Court Continues to Block Mississippi Anti-Abortion Regulation, State’s Only Clinic to Remain Open While Legal Battle Continues Oklahoma Governor Fallin Signs Law Designed to Shutter Reproductive Health Clinics
New research published in the August issue of the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that virginity pledges—which involve youth promising to remain abstinent until marriage—only worked for young people who were committed to that religious belief in the first place.
Most pledgers, including youth who are active in their religious community, engaged in vaginal or oral sex before marriage. Only those young people with strong religious conviction who had internalized their religious beliefs were less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than other youth after they pledged.
This study confirms what many of us have been saying for years—asking young people to promise not to have sex does nothing to actually help them make good decisions about their sexual health.
Virginity pledges began to gain attention in the early 1990s with True Love Waits, a project of the Southern Baptist Convention, and became even more widely recognized when Silver Ring Thing began staging splashy events from which young people would leave with a sliver ring—a public symbol of their promise. But participants of the Silver Ring Thing events weren’t the only ones who signed pledges; research found that by 1995 approximately 2.2 million young people took such a pledge. In fact, federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs frequently ended with ceremonies in which whole classes of middle school students promised not to have sex until their wedding day.
Such rings were very publicly worn by a number of young celebrities—including Miley Cyrus, Jordin Sparks, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, and Jessica Simpson—who said they promised to remain abstinent until marriage.
Young people across the country are still taking virginity pledges, though research emerged more than ten years ago showing that such pledges were ineffective at preventing kids from engaging in risky sexual behaviors. The first of two studies by Peter Bearman and Hannah Bruckner found that 88 percent of pledgers had sex before they were married. Moreover, those who took a pledge were one-third less likely to use condoms or other contraceptive methods when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged.
Though the limited data did not allow researchers to determine why pledgers were less likely to protect themselves, it always seemed pretty obvious to me. If a person promises they’re not going to do something, they can’t take any steps to prepare for doing it. Slipping a condom in one’s pocket or going on the pill shows an intent to break that promise, but if breaking the promise just kind of happens, well, that’s a different story. This is why it was not surprising when Bearman and Bruckner’s second study came out showing that pledgers had the same rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as those who hadn’t pledged.
The new research adds to this evidence that virginity pledges are not an effective strategy to help young people avoid STIs or unintended pregnancy. Researchers surveyed a sample of 1,380 young people ages 18 to 24 who went to a “large, public, Southeastern state university.” They found that 27 percent of respondents reported having taken a virginity pledge. Among those who signed a pledge, 65 percent said they had engaged in vaginal intercourse and 77 percent said they had engaged in oral sex.
Researchers also asked respondents about their level of religious commitment and tried to separate out those who participated in religious activities—like Sunday school or youth groups—from those who had actually internalized religious beliefs. They found that virginity pledges worked for those who had high levels of religious commitment, but pledgers with low religious commitment (regardless of the amount of religious participation) had more intercourse and oral sex partners than even non-pledgers. Virginity pledges, therefore, increased the likelihood of risky sexual behaviors among those with low religious commitment. In particular, pledgers with low religious commitment were more likely to have oral sex perhaps in an effort to maintain their so-called virginity.
Again, these results make perfect sense to me. Those who believe strongly in the ideal of abstinence from premarital sex even before they take the pledge are more likely to stick to that ideal afterwards. But young people who are on the fence become more conflicted when they take a virginity pledge—now their decisions are not only about whether to have sex but whether to break a promise. And once that promise is broken, why not break it again?
The researchers explain it this way:
With an “all or nothing” abstinence approach to sexual decision making, once the pledge has been broken or violated, there is little reason not to continue to have sex with other partners. Pledge signers without the necessary beliefs to reinforce the abstinence pledge (e.g. those with high religious participation but low religious commitment) are especially vulnerable to making ill-informed decision about sex when they find themselves confronted with sexually charged situation.
And if “maintaining virginity until marriage is the only goal and most individuals ‘fall short’ of that goal,” the researchers go on to say, “they may be at additional threat of pregnancy, STI transmission, cervical cancer and other problems associated with risk sexual behaviors.”
I completely agree. Virginity pledges set young people up for failure. Asking a 13-year-old or even a 16-year-old to make a promise that he or she is going to have keep for over a decade (the average age of marriage in this country is almost 27 for women and over 28 for men) is pretty ridiculous. And such a promise is made dangerous when it is done instead of giving youth the information and negation skills they need to think critically about sexuality. Moreover, placing so much importance on one decision is counterproductive when what we really want is to help young people make a lifetime of healthy decisions.
The post Just Sign No: More Evidence Virginity Pledges Don’t Work appeared first on RH Reality Check.
It's back-to-school school time for students and families across the country. And that means young people will be filing into classrooms to expand their minds and learn.
But when it comes to reproductive health, many students are censored from getting the facts to help them avoid unintended pregnancy until they're ready, prevent STIs, and have a positive self-image. That's because anti-choice politicians have forced teachers to teach "abstinence-only" programs in classrooms across the country, even though they're a huge disaster:
Thankfully, cities and school districts are thinking twice about gambling with young people's futures and are putting a stop to the "abstinence-only" approach.
Just look at Baltimore. The city has developed a program that teaches students about reproductive health by having them create their own comic book about STIs and birth control. Talk about an innovative way to engage young people while also teaching them the facts!
The school district of Lawrence, Kansas is ditching the state's "abstinence-only" programs and are instead following national standards, which include information about birth control and sexual orientation and teaches that sexual development is a natural and normal part of becoming an adult.
And the second-largest school district in Oklahoma gave up on "abstinence-only" when it found that the state had the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate.
It's time for even more states to stand up to anti-choice politicians who are pushing "abstinence-only" programs that jeopardize young people. Withholding information about their reproductive health is never the way to go.