A South Carolina bill that passed a senate committee on Thursday would expand the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law to include fetuses.
Under the new law, pregnant women would be protected from prosecution if they use lethal force to defend their “unborn children,” defined as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.”
Reproductive rights activists say the bill is unnecessary because current law already allows any person, including pregnant women, to use lethal force to protect themselves.
While the law would not actually ban abortion or contraception, as suggested in some news reports, it still “could be a strategy of the anti-abortion movement to chip away at rights,” Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check.
Allen said the bill does not grant fetuses full legal “personhood” rights, and doesn’t touch on abortion or contraception. But, she said, “The threat is whether the personhood language could be exploited down the line to restrict access to reproductive health.”
The anti-choice group Americans United for Life wrote model language for the bill, and has long advocated for laws that create harsher penalties, or even a separate crime, for harming fetuses.
A fetal homicide bill currently advancing in Florida, HB 59, would create a separate crime for harming a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman, and, like South Carolina’s proposed law, applies to the earliest stages of pregnancy. At least 38 states have fetal homicide laws, and at least 23 of those apply to the earliest stages of pregnancy.
The proposed laws in Florida and South Carolina are different: while Florida’s has to do with creating a separate crime, South Carolina’s deals with expanding that state’s self-defense law. But both bills “raise the specter of personhood in the law,” Allen said, and neither is necessary.
“For both bills, the question is not whether pregnant women should have sufficient protection under the law,” Allen said. “The question is really how to do that in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize reproductive rights down the line, and both the South Carolina and the Florida bills fail to strike that balance appropriately.”
The post Proposal to Include Fetuses in ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law Moves Forward in South Carolina appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Legal Wrap is a weekly round-up of key legal reproductive rights and justice news.
Tennessee lawmakers are poised to make history in prosecuting pregnant women struggling with drug use and chemical dependency issues. Meanwhile in South Carolina, a woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly killing her 6-week-old by breastfeeding it while taking prescription narcotics.
Florida lawmakers are looking for yet another way to try and ban abortion outright, this time with a bill that could subject every woman who has a miscarriage to criminal investigation.
Virginia created a “conscience clause” for genetic counselors that could become a model for other states nationwide.
Andrea Grimes has this chilling portrait of an anti-abortion “abolitionist.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has decided to come to the defense of a “sociopathic” neurosurgeon with a history of killing and maiming patients.
Reproductive rights advocates have asked the entire panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to review a recent decision that upheld Texas’ admitting privileges requirements and restrictions on medication abortions.
On a related note, Imani Gandy has this must-read piece on the origins of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.
Don’t think for a second the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act are slowing down anytime soon.
Conservatives push against marriage equality while making divorce harder to obtain for same-sex couples that are already married.
The Arkansas Attorney General announced plans to appeal a lower court ruling striking as unconstitutional the state’s 12-week abortion ban.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has done a good job at holding back the worst of the anti-choice legislation passed by conservatives there, which naturally makes the court the next target for Republican lawmakers.
Virginia lawmakers are in a stalemate over expanding Medicaid, which Catholic bishops see as an excellent opening to try and force new abortion funding restrictions through.
Lawmakers in Louisiana advanced a measure that would prevent abortion providers and their affiliates from instructing or providing materials about sexual health in public schools.
Reproductive health-care advocates filed a second lawsuit challenging an Arizona law that restricts the use of abortion-inducing medications. This lawsuit was filed just as a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the measures on different grounds while a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality moves forward.
All these examples lead to one troubling question: In an age of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws and the undue burden standard, what does a “right to chose” really even mean?
Good news! While state lawmakers continue to push anti-abortion legislation, at least 64 provisions designed to protect or expand access have also been introduced.
Case in point: Colorado lawmakers advanced legislation that would forbid state and local governments from interfering with reproductive health-care decisions or with access to reproductive health care.
The post Legal Wrap: States Turn to Prosecuting Pregnant People appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Florida house passed two anti-choice bills on Friday, one that would restrict access to later abortion in the state, and another that would make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.
As the Herald Tribune reported last week, fewer abortion-related bills have been filed in Florida this year than in the past, and these two, the only ones currently moving, are less extreme than other anti-choice bills passing out of other conservative state houses lately. The caution Florida state legislators are showing on choice issues may be a political hedge to protect Gov. Rick Scott (R) from dealing with controversial legislation while he prepares for a tough fight at the polls this fall against Democrat Charlie Crist.
Nonetheless, both new bills are unnecessary and problematic, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check.
HB 1047, which would impose restrictions on later abortions, is “detrimental to women’s health as well as unconstitutional,” Allen said, because it doesn’t allow broad enough exceptions to protect the health of the pregnant woman. The new health exception now only covers “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” This would exclude numerous health issues, including psychological conditions, Allen said, and the Supreme Court has never defined health exceptions this narrowly.
Florida law currently bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened. In addition to narrowing that health exception, HB 1047 would also add a requirement for doctors to determine whether a fetus is viable (able to live outside the womb through “standard medical measures,” in the bill’s language), and forbid performing abortions on a viable fetus. If life or health reasons require an abortion after that point, two doctors have to certify in writing that this was the case, or one doctor has to certify that an additional doctor wasn’t available to consult.
“A health exception written in a constitutional manner doesn’t tie the doctor’s hands either,” Allen said.
Adding this viability requirement appears to be an attempt to restrict some abortions earlier than 24 weeks, the typical standard for viability. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), who sponsored a companion senate bill that is still in committee, said that viability could be determined as early as 20 weeks due to advanced technology.
Banning abortion after 20 weeks has been a major goal for anti-choice legislators and advocates. Several states, as well as the U.S. House, have either pushed for or passed such bans, several of which have been struck down as unconstitutional because they ban abortion at a specific point in time before viability.
Meanwhile HB 59, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” has been introduced before in Florida but hasn’t passed. This year, however, emotional appeals from Remee Jo Lee, who lost a wanted pregnancy after her boyfriend slipped her abortion drugs, may have persuaded some lawmakers to move the bill forward, which would create a separate crime for killing or injuring a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
While the new law would not in itself create “personhood,” or separate legal rights for fetuses, Allen said it would “raise the specter of personhood” in state law and could be exploited down the line by those wishing to restrict reproductive freedom.
“The bill is problematic in that it adds an additional victim to a crime when the answer is really to increase the sentence for the perpetrator of a crime against a pregnant woman,” Allen said.
Both bills now head to the senate for consideration.
The fight over the Texas Women’s Health Program is not over for Planned Parenthood: Last week a Texas appeals court ruled that a lawsuit filed in state court challenging Texas’ “Affiliate Ban Rule,” which barred the reproductive health-care provider from the state-run program, may proceed.
Over two years ago Texas Republicans, led by Gov. Rick Perry, undertook a campaign to ban Planned Parenthood from its Women’s Health Program (WHP). The program was designed to provide health-care services to women who otherwise might not qualify for Medicaid, unless they were pregnant.
The WHP was originally funded mostly by federal dollars, but Texas had wide discretion in how to spend those dollars. Since the program’s inception, the Texas legislature had prohibited the state agency that administers WHP from contracting with “entities that perform election abortions or are affiliates of entities that perform or promote abortions.” Planned Parenthood and its affiliate clinics had operated for decades under that restriction, understanding it to mean that if they did not recommend abortion as a health procedure, and if they maintained a separate legal entity from abortion clinics, they could receive WHP funds. And up until 2012, the State of Texas had continuously funded Planned Parenthood clinics despite this restriction.
In 2012, however, Texas Republicans drafted a new rule governing the recipients of funding in the WHP, which redefined the word “affiliate” broadly enough so that even Planned Parenthood clinics that do not perform abortions are considered affiliates of the clinics that do, even if that affiliation is nothing more than a shared name. State lawmakers then used that new rule to cut off funding for those entities, effectively killing off the WHP program all-together and launching a new Texas Women’s Health Program, entirely funded by the state.
Planned Parenthood challenged the new rule in federal court, arguing it was an impermissible restriction on their First Amendment rights because typically the government cannot condition the participation in health services on giving up free speech rights and association rights. Federal district court judge Lee Yeakel agreed and blocked the rule from going into effect. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit did not, ruling the state could go forward with its efforts to defund the reproductive health-care provider.
But Planned Parenthood also filed a lawsuit in state court, arguing the “Affiliate Ban Rule” also violated state law and requested the court issue an order blocking it from going into effect. Attorneys for the State of Texas defended the rule and asked the court to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s claims, arguing both that Planned Parenthood lacked standing to sue and that state agencies and officials were protected by sovereign immunity and could not be sued. The lower court denied both Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary injunction and Texas’ request to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of standing, a ruling that also allowed the reproductive health-care provider to be excluded from the state’s health-care program.
Despite the fact that the state court refused to block the law from taking effect, attorneys for the State of Texas appealed the lower court’s ruling that state officials were not protected by sovereign immunity and that Planned Parenthood had standing to sue. The impact of that appeal was to give time for the new WHP to take effect without Planned Parenthood, all the while delaying a full trial on the substance of Planned Parenthood’s claims. Last week’s ruling finally allows that lawsuit to move forward.
“Whatever the merits of their claims might ultimately prove to be, the Planned Parenthood entities have sufficiently demonstrated the minimum threshold interest that confers standing under the Texas Constitution to assert the claims in court,” the court’s opinion states.
Unless attorneys for the state appeal the ruling, the lawsuit will return to Travis County district court for a trial to determine if Planned Parenthood should be granted a permanent injunction blocking Texas from excluding them from the state-operated and funded program. A trial date for the matter has not been set yet, and the Texas attorney general could appeal this ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which means this case is months, if not years, away from a resolution.
Image: Lawsuit via Shutterstock
The post Court Rules Lawsuit Challenging Planned Parenthood Funding Ban in Texas May Proceed appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In spite of growing opposition to the unpopular and extreme policies being passed by the state’s conservative legislature, Kansans most generally stay at home and keep their opinions to themselves. This undue politeness, also known as “Kansas nice,” often renders the good people of Kansas silent. All of that changed, however, when the public school teachers of the state recently converged upon their capitol building in Topeka and collectively stated, “No more Kansas nice.”
The teachers’ outcry was in reaction to a proposed school-funding bill that was drafted to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The ruling ordered the legislature to equalize school funding between districts by providing additional funding for poorer school districts. The court encouraged the legislature to revert back to the education formulary that had been relied upon for years to offset disparities caused by reliance on local property taxes. This equalization mechanism had been abandoned by Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislature during the recession, and instead massive tax cuts for the wealthy were passed.
The court ruling was made in response to a lawsuit brought against the state on the grounds that suitable funding for schools, as required by the Kansas Constitution, was not being provided. Those who brought the suit did not view Gov. Brownback’s “real live experiment” with great fondness. His “experiment” to drastically cut state income taxes, with higher income earners receiving the highest cuts, and to offset those cuts by cutting core state services, is what precipitated the school funding lawsuit.
Alan Rupe, the lawyer representing schools, argued that the Legislature’s own actions undercut the argument that the recession forced the cuts. Rupe said lawmakers cut $511 million per year from the schools and at the same time passed an income tax cut worth $2.5 billion through 2018.
In Kansas, the term “small government” has become politically popularized to the point of romantic adoration among those who prescribe to the notion. So the fact that the initial ruling was even being complied with by the legislature, to avoid the closure of schools, was met with some relief. Teachers and other supporters of public education welcomed the consideration and appropriation of additional funding by the state.
However, other components inserted into the initial bill were enough to motivate these teachers to spend their weekend at the capitol, lining the hallways ready to spend the night if necessary and leaving notes for their governor (who was conveniently missing in the midst of the debate). They filled the house and senate galleries with their hands raised. These teachers were not asking for permission to speak, however; they were demanding recognition and fairness for their profession.
These additional politically motivated and unnecessary components, which were crafted to appease their campaign financiers, included a reduction in property taxes for families that home-school or pay for private schooling; tax credits for corporations that fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private school; the removal of funding for the teaching of Common Core educational standards, which have been an anti-public school education rallying point for Tea Party fear-mongering since their inception in 2009; and the elimination of due process and tenure rights for school teachers. Due process rights for teachers, once teachers reach the point of tenure, can protect them from being fired under the auspices of a wide range of trumped up allegations and undue dismissals by offering the option to have a review of their peers prior to dismissal.
These policy pursuits were not plucked from the midst of the wide-open blue Kansas sky, but rather plucked from the midst of an Americans for Prosperity policy paper.
Groups like the Koch Brother’s Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Policy Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been providing anti-public school talking points and encouragement to the Kansas legislature for some time now. That “encouragement” has come in the form of anti-Common Core consortiums, trips to Chicago to attend ALEC’s national convention, and lots of cash from the Koch brothers. Kansas is the birthplace of Koch Industries, and the Kochs have not been shy about pushing their conservative agenda here. In fact, their cash was instrumental in purging the senate of the moderate Republicans of which that chamber was once comprised.
It is somewhat surprising that an assault on public education took this long. Orchestrating such offensives, in fact, are one of the Kochs’ favorite pastimes and they have had lots of motivation to push for this reform in Kansas. The Kochs are already big donors to the private school Wichita Collegiate. As corporate donors, they will happily reap the benefits of tax breaks, while the common people of Kansas see nothing but a bleak fiscal future ahead due to the implementation of Gov. Brownback’s tanking budget.
The original education bill was extreme enough that the Kansas House of Representatives voted it down and worked in conference committee to remove the proposed defund of Common Core implementation of local school districts, along with the removal of the proposed private and home school property tax credits. The legislature did hold fast to presenting and passing a final bill that includes the corporate scholarship tax credits and the elimination of teacher tenure. While the furthering of Kansas corporate welfare at a time when inequity and underfunding in the public school system exists appears seemingly untenable, the attack on the due process rights of beloved and respected schoolteachers is seen as abhorrent.
The backlash of Kansans has been swift and quite public. Legislative leaders scrambled to defend the bill, claiming that it “wasn’t as harsh as portrayed.” Then later in the week were forced to recant their statement and admit that the “district is no longer required to document specific reason for the termination.”
Teachers are understandably fearful about their future ability to teach, work, and thrive in Kansas with great uncertainty about the true effects that the legislation will have upon their contracts. Thomas Witt from the state’s gay rights advocacy group, Equality Kansas, relayed the following concern to lawmakers regarding the legislation:
In my work as executive director for Equality Kansas, I have talked to several teachers whose jobs were threatened when their building or district administrators discovered they were gay or lesbian. These are fine teachers, who were targeted for dismissal for no other reason than their sexual orientation. It was only through the exercise of their due process rights that they were able to keep their jobs, their careers, and their professional reputations.
Meanwhile, the underlying fiscal intent of the bill, to rectify inequities in the system, is being called into question and districts are predicting layoffs. It would seem that the only place where the Kansas legislature succeeded was in alienating a great deal of Kansans and providing them with greater incentive to vote, volunteer, and contribute to moderate, pro-education candidates in November’s election.
This should be cause for concern for the governor, as he stands in defense of these anti-teacher policies. National headlines speculate upon the political fallout, and polling has continued to show his challenger, Paul Davis, taking a lead and vowing to continue his support of public education.
It looks as if “Kansas nice” will continue to be on hiatus, at least through election season, as the teachers of Kansas stand poised to take back their state and undue the destruction caused under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback, with the help of his friends and funders the Kochs.
The post The Battle Against Koch-Funded, Anti-Teacher Policies in Kansas appeared first on RH Reality Check.
It’s a perfect storm for opponents of reproductive rights in Virginia: Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made Medicaid expansion his signature goal, house Republicans haven’t budged, and now the Virginia Catholic Conference says it supports expanding Medicaid—and that a new abortion funding restriction should be enacted.
In a statement issued Friday, four weeks into special session, the Diocese of Richmond Bishop Francis DiLorenzo and Diocese of Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde lent backhanded support to Medicaid expansion. “Our advocacy is informed by the Church’s teaching that, first, everyone has a right to life and second, that healthcare is a right,” they said.
The bishops urge repealing a section in the Code of Virginia that provides state funding for abortions in the Medicaid program in the event of a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency in a fetus.
Currently, Virginia Medicaid includes abortion coverage in four circumstances: life endangerment, rape, and incest is covered by federal Medicaid dollars; gross and totally incapacitating fetal impairment is covered by the commonwealth.
In an interview with RH Reality Check, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene noted that the bishops’ statement argues for Medicaid expansion by expressing concern for the poor and vulnerable. Then, as she paraphrased it, it continued to say: “These pe ople, if they have a tragic pregnancy—screw them.” Keene said the commonwealth spent $13,058 to cover 14 abortions due to gross and totally incapacitating fetal impairment in 2013.
The bishops’ belated support for Medicaid expansion comes at a time when Virginia Democrats are grasping for negotiations. A special session began March 25 and Virginia Republicans have yet to relent on their opposition to Medicaid expansion. In response, hospitals have helped to lead the charge in lobbying them to soften their stance.
Joining this effort to lobby Republicans to expand Medicaid on behalf of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is Matt Cobb, a notable anti-choice official from the administration of former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). In his capacity as a deputy health secretary, Cobb helped to lead the implementation and interpretation of an onerous clinic regulations law that has forced clinics to close. Cobb’s former boss Bill Hazel continues to serve as secretary of health under McAuliffe. These relationships, coupled with McAuliffe’s recent signing of a new conscience clause for genetic counselors into law, make the prospect of an abortion-related bargain not entirely out of the question.
As previously reported in RH Reality Check, 400,000 low-income Virginians will gain access to health coverage if Medicaid is expanded. The senate budget includes a measure called “Marketplace Virginia” that would take advantage of the funding offered under the Affordable Care Act; the house budget does not. If a budget agreement is not reached by July 1 the government will shut down.
Image: Bishops via Shutterstock
The post Virginia Bishops Use Medicaid Stalemate to Call for New Abortion Funding Restriction appeared first on RH Reality Check.
When the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1992 that states could regulate a woman’s right to choose abortion, it introduced a constitutional virus that has taken some 20 years to fully take hold.
The case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, introduced the notion of the so-called balancing test in cases concerning a woman’s right to choose abortion. The court, while maintaining the constitutional protection of a right to choose abortion that it had established in Roe v. Wade in 1973, said for the first time that this right was to be balanced against another, seemingly competing legal interest: the state’s interest in protecting maternal and fetal health.
And so was born the notion that states can regulate the right to choose abortion, so long as those regulations do not pass the nebulous line of creating an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose.
Relying on the “undue burden” doctrine, federal courts in the last 20 years have upheld everything from forced waiting periods and ultrasounds to ”informed consent” provisions.
For example, in 2012, when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the state’s admitting privileges law, which had been introduced under the guise of “patient safety,” he proclaimed it a “historic” moment.
“Today you see the first step in a movement I believe to do what we campaigned on to say we’re going to try and end abortion in Mississippi,” Bryant told reporters.
Late month, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the portion of a Texas law that requires abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges or face civil fines, it pushed further the limits of that “undue burden” doctrine, which has in 2014 become the anti-choice community’s most potent weapon.
The reason the “undue burden” doctrine is so dangerous for choice, is because of its corollary: so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, which impose a bewildering array of medically unnecessary and prohibitively expensive requirements on abortion providers, all in the name of protecting women and fetuses. The real aim, of course, is to make abortion unavailable, even if it remains theoretically legal.
An analysis by RH Reality Check shows that courts increasingly find in favor of the interests of the state, over the interests of the pregnant person generally, even when the evidence strongly disputes lawmakers’ claims that TRAP laws are important tools in protecting patient safety.
TRAP laws, in other words, are now being used in many states to undermine any meaningful constitutional right to choose abortion—a de facto defeat of Roe v. Wade, without the need for the Supreme Court to explicitly say so.
There are three main categories of TRAP laws. The first requires abortions facilities to meet special licensing requirements, and subjects clinics to procedures like ”surprise inspections.” The second kind requires all abortion clinics to meet the same architectural and regulatory standards as ambulatory surgical centers, regardless if the clinic performs only medical abortions, like a battle embroiling North Carolina recently. And the third type, like the law recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit, requires doctors who perform abortions in the state to enter into special agreements with local hospitals, in the form of transfer arrangements or admitting privileges.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients in the United States experience any complication that would require hospitalization. By way of comparison, the risk of dying from a legal abortion in the first trimester is no more than four in a million, whereas the risk of death from childbirth is about 14 times higher than that from abortion.
Additionally, these restrictions are designed to add expenses to providers, to either price them out of business or make the cost of obtaining an abortion too expensive for women to bear.
And TRAP laws are not confined to states like Texas and North Carolina. RH Reality Check’s analysis of state laws shows that 24 states now require facilities that provide abortions to meet standards intended for ambulatory surgical centers, with 13 states specifying the size of the room in which those abortions are performed. At least 13 states go further, specifying the width of the corridors in abortion facilities. Ten states require abortion facilities to be located within a set distance from an area hospital, the new analysis shows. So far, 22 states require either an abortion facility or an individual provider to have a relationship with a hospital.
Since Casey, courts have floundered at finding a limit to what constitutes an “undue burden.” But so far, with the exception of the Fifth Circuit, laws requiring hospital admitting privileges requirements have mostly failed. In Kansas, a law that resembled the Texas law at the center of the Fifth Circuit’s recent ruling remains blocked. In North Dakota, the only abortion clinic in the state recently settled its lawsuit challenging that state’s admitting privileges requirement once its providers were finally granted privileges.
Meanwhile, one federal court is currently reviewing Mississippi’s admitting privileges law, while another ordered a trial in the legal challenge to Alabama’s admitting privileges law.
Should anti-choice lawmakers succeed in defending those laws, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic will be forced to close, while Alabama’s three most populous cities will be left without any abortion clinics.
The Fifth Circuit’s decision makes it more likely that the Roberts Court will step in to answer just how far is too far to have to travel for abortion care. Is 500 miles too far? What about out-of-state? Is there a limit to the expense and inconvenience to which a state can subject someone who needs to terminate a pregnancy? And if the stated purpose of the law is to protect women’s health, what if it does the opposite?
The problem, of course, is that this is in its nature a subjective inquiry, to be performed by a Supreme Court with a solidly anti-choice majority. It’s also an increasingly irrelevant inquiry since it ignores the impact of all the other restrictions a woman must navigate to terminate a pregnancy or a provider must navigate to perform abortions.
Put another way, how many “undue burdens” on accessing abortion must exist before we consider the protections of Roe to be effectively overturned? If we’re not there already, we’re getting close.
The conservative Fifth Circuit believes the law places only a minimum obligation on the state to support its abortion restrictions with actual evidence. A less conservative Seventh Circuit has initially disagreed, finding in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Van Hollen that the state must have at least some connection between its purported interest in women’s health and passing onerous TRAP restrictions that the medical community insists do the opposite.
Those cases, while coming to different conclusions, are on different procedural footing. The decision by the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court after a three-day trial, whereas the Seventh Circuit decision was in review of a grant of a preliminary injunction—a temporary order blocking the law while a trial on the merits proceeds. The trial in the Wisconsin challenge is currently set for later this spring. Should that law go into effect, at least two Wisconsin clinics would be forced to close, including one in Milwaukee.
The “geography of abortion access” is increasingly a zone of concentrated coastal and urban access and nothing else. If we understand the right to choose abortion to be a federally protected right, then this should not be our reality. It should not matter whether you live in Massachusetts or Mississippi: There should be a baseline of access that is guaranteed.
But because of Casey, we’ve largely removed abortion rights conversation out of the context of federal rights and into the power of the state. The result has been to sideline the role of pregnant women even further than the Roe decision did by intertwining the rights of a pregnant woman with those of her doctor. We don’t have to look any further than Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and the rights’ efforts to increase that access desert to see the unmistakable tragedy that results.
Image: Doctor law via Shutterstock
Would you put kids in driver’s ed only after they’ve been getting behind the wheel and driving around with no instructions for a year? Before kids start playing a sport, don’t we teach them the rules of the game and how to use the equipment safely? Of course! It’s just common sense to establish safety measures before kids get immersed in a risky activity. So why on earth do we only start sharing informationabout sexual safety with young people after many of them have been having sex for months or even years?
Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress recently wrote an article pointing out an interesting tidbit she gleaned from a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on teen sexual health: Most teens don’t get any formal sexual health education until after they start having sex. In fact, among sexually active teenage girls, a whopping 83 percent had not received any formal sex education before they started having sex.
The problem is a matter of timing, really. Teens get over their squeamishness with teen sexuality before adults do. Because the topic of sex is considered so adult, there’s a lot of pressure to put sex education into the later years of high school. It makes a lot of emotional sense to adults to wait to have sex education until kids are “ready,” in our eyes, to start exploring their sexuality.
But since they already are having sex, what we adults deem as old enough to be “ready” is moot. It’s not like driving a car, where we can and should have a mechanism to keep them from doing it until we believe they’re ready. There’s no license to have sex, and even if there was one, kids would ignore it.
This is anecdotal, but I’ve noticed the same tendency in our culture when it comes to contraception use and teenagers. For a lot of parents, the discussion about contraception use—or the actual act of providing teenagers with contraception—if it happens at all, occurs after evidence is discovered that a child is sexually active. Or, if parents are trying to be a little more progressive, they won’t wait until the discover their kids are having sex, but may wait until the kids start having a formal dating relationship to start providing contraception.
The problem with the first approach is obvious, in no small part because sometimes the evidence you get of sexual activity is a sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy that requires medical attention. Starting the conversation because a boyfriend or girlfriend is in the picture is better, for sure. But, I hate to break it to parents: Sometimes the sex precedes the formal dating relationship. Or at least, the sex may precede revealing a boyfriend or girlfriend to the parents. This is certainly true of most adults—most of us prefer to have a few months of hitting the sheets with someone before we’re certain enough to share the fact that we have a someone with our families—so it follows that some teenagers are going to see it that way too. While all families are different, it would be wise for parents to seriously consider using age as a metric to open up the contraception provision lines, making condoms or the pill available without pushing a child to reveal personal details about their plans to have sex or not.
But as a matter of public policy, we need to set aside this belief that innocence is a thing to be preserved as long as possible, and start thinking realistically about when kids actually start having sex, so we can make sure young people get sex education before then. After all, research shows that giving kids sex ed while they’re still virgins doesn’t lead them to have sex earlier; if anything, it may cause them to put off having sex a little longer.
The truth is, teenagers are both smarter and more mature than adults give them credit for. Look, I get it. When I walk down the street as a high school lets out, I too marvel at how funny it is to see teenagers who practically look like babies to me strutting and showing off and trying to act cool (and usually failing). They seem really immature, and in many ways they are. But they are mature enough to handle basic lessons on how to use contraception and have sex responsibly. (We adults need to stop flattering ourselves by pretending it’s harder than it is.)
In fact, teenagers are already ahead of adults on this issue. Despite the terrible state of sex education in the United States, Guttmacher Institute research shows that the age of first sex and the age of first contraception use are finally coming together. Throughout most of recent history—because of this obsession with preserving innocence—first sex has generally preceded first contraception use. Kids start having sex and often wait weeks or even months to finally suck it up and get some contraception—no wonder our teen pregnancy rates have been so high. But in recent years, kids have gotten really good about using contraception the first time they have sex and keeping up the habit.
Adults really can’t take credit for this change, as made obvious by the fact that schools don’t even bother to provide sex education until a huge chunk of the class is already having sex. I suspect this is a result of a number of factors that have made it easier for young people to take the initiative to plan for sex. Research is clearly needed in this department, but the fact that things started to improve dramatically when kids started to get unimpeded access to the Internet, where they can ask hard questions about contraception without having to embarrass themselves, is probably a big, if not the biggest, factor.
What schools need to learn from this is not to just foist responsibility off onto kids themselves and let the Internet do the work, but that kids have questions—and sex—long before many adults may want them to. And the only real result of getting that information to them earlier is that they use the information. Kids clearly want to be responsible, and are taking initiative. Schools should take a hint and start giving them more and better help with that, at younger ages.
Image: Safe sex via Shutterstock
The post Here’s a Novel Idea: Let’s Teach Kids About Safe Sex Before They Have Sex appeared first on RH Reality Check.