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Roberts Court Clears Way for Home Care Workers’ Wage Protections

RH Reality Check - 3 hours 15 min ago

Business interests challenging an Obama administration rule making some home care workers eligible for minimum wages and overtime pay stumbled last week as the Roberts Court turned away a request from industry groups to delay implementation of the rule.

Historically, home care workers were not eligible for basic wage and labor protections because the Department of Labor treated home care workers as informal “sitters” for the elderly or people with disabilities in their care. That changed in 2013 when the labor department issued new rules guaranteeing minimum wage and overtime protections for those home care workers who are hired by agencies.

Home health care is an $84 billion industry with its workers traditionally excluded from wage and hour protections. The work is difficult and stressful, with workers often making poverty-level wages. More than 90 percent of home health-care workers are women and more than half are people of color. One in four home care workers is an immigrant, and one in five is a single mother.

The new rules do not apply to home care workers hired directly by patients or their families.

Industry groups challenged the federal rules, arguing that if they were implemented they would have a “destabilizing effect on the entire industry.”

A district court judge agreed and blocked their implementation late last year. But in August, a three-judge federal appeals court panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated those protections, overturning the district court. Industry groups filed an emergency appeal of the appellate decision with the Supreme Court, which the Roberts Court rejected.

The Supreme Court order paves the way for the rules to go into effect, but this likely does not represent the end of the legal fight. Industry groups against offering protections to home care workers have said they will appeal the merits of the August ruling to the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That means the rules could eventually make their way back to the Roberts Court.

Image: WikiMedia Commons

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How ‘Best Practices’ in Neonatal Care Endanger Mothers Seeking Drug Treatment and Their Babies

RH Reality Check - 5 hours 43 min ago

Emily Baker, a Florida mother, was prescribed buprenorphine by her doctor to manage her opiate addiction. She’d been opiate-free for three years when she conceived her second child. Despite taking a medication that was prescribed and monitored by her doctor, the hospital reported her to the state Department of Children and Families immediately after she delivered.

For women who use drugs during pregnancy, the stakes are high. Women who give birth to babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) are being criminalized—and their babies are suffering as a result. In Tennessee, mothers are being arrested if their baby is born with NAS, even if the dependency is a result of the mother taking medication prescribed and monitored by her doctor. In Alabama, prosecutors are using a law initially intended to keep children away from meth labs to charge women with “chemical endangerment” of their babies. Texas and Wisconsin are seeing similar cases.

Women, particularly poor women and women of color, are having their babies taken by child protective services, sometimes while they are thrown in jail, for an alleged addiction that needs treatment, not punishment. While this isn’t a new problem, mainstream recognition of a national “opiate epidemic” has politicians scrambling for solutions. But these carceral and punitive responses are dangerous and attack the symptom, not the root cause. With so much at stake, the NAS treatment babies are getting in the hospital after their birth may be contributing to the problem.

How did we get here?


Neonatal abstinence syndrome is the condition that occurs when babies are born with a physical dependence on a drug because they received that drug in utero. This transmission could have occurred because the baby’s mother used illicit drugs or because she was taking certain medications as prescribed by a doctor. It can also occur if a mother is working with a doctor who prescribes her methadone or buprenorphine as medication-assisted treatment for her opiate addiction.

In 1975, Dr. Loretta Finnegan developed a scale to measure withdrawal symptoms in drug-exposed babies, and it’s still used today to diagnose the condition in newborns. Symptoms of NAS include tremors, excessive crying, yawning, sneezing, diarrhea, and poor sucking, among other things. Often, NAS is treated with morphine, which the baby is given in small doses and slowly tapered off of over the course of several weeks (or longer).

Finnegan was one of the pioneers in the field of NAS research. She’s been called “the godmother of NAS” by the Nation magazine, and with good reason. She is credited with coining the term “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” and for years, her work has set the standard for how babies born with NAS are treated in hospitals across the country.

At Pregnant Women, Drug Use, and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Research & Policies that Support Mothers, Babies, and Families, a recent symposium in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Davida Schiff from Boston’s Children’s Hospital moderated a panel on improving guidelines and protocols for managing NAS. Schiff asked an audience comprised predominantly of medical professionals how their hospitals currently treat babies born with NAS. The results showed that not much has changed since Finnegan made her recommendations in the 1970s.

Though groundbreaking at the time, the recommended protocols are hard on both mom and baby. Worse, they may actually contribute to or exacerbate NAS symptoms in babies. Babies born to mothers known to be using opiates or other drugs are typically separated from their mother and taken to the NICU, where they are observed in a quiet, dimly lit room. They are monitored for signs of withdrawal by having their Finnegan score measured on a regular basis. The mother is often discouraged from breastfeeding.

Baker says that during her second pregnancy, her daughter was kept in the NICU for two weeks and treated for NAS with morphine. Says Baker, “[My baby] was doing great, she was breastfeeding awesome. She had no signs of withdrawal and no trace of buprenorphine in her system. But the hospital said, ‘this is our policy, we’re going to watch her in the NICU for 48 hours.’” Baker had hoped to take her baby home without needing NAS treatment, which her obstetrician had assured her she would be able to do as long as her baby was doing OK.

Some medical professionals, however, feel there is a better way to test for and treat NAS, and they’re doing research to back up their claims. Dr. Ron Abrahams, who has been practicing in Vancouver, Canada for 30 years and founded the FIR (Families In Recovery) rooming-in program at B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, believes that “when you put a baby in a special care nursery, you’re putting it in an abnormal environment. And when you put a baby in an abnormal environment, it will exhibit abnormal behavior.”

Baker says that this is exactly what happened to her daughter. “She had no signs of withdrawal until they discovered that she had jaundice the third day we were there. They threw her under the bili lights [to treat her jaundice] and then all of the sudden she’s having withdrawal symptoms.”

Dr. Mary Hepburn has been working with pregnant women who use substances in Glasgow, Scotland for the last 40 years. And, according to her, “when the mother can stay with her baby, the Finnegan score goes down. Scoring a baby away from its mother results in a different score than scoring the baby when it is with its mother.”

She believes putting the baby with the mother immediately after birth is the best practice. Abrahams agrees—and so does his research. In a 2007 study, he found that “rooming-in”—allowing babies to remain in the room with their mothers following birth—improves outcomes for these babies and reduces the symptoms of NAS by as much as 50 percent.

It makes logical sense that the things that benefit all babies—breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, and bonding with their mother—benefit drug-exposed babies too. Women who give birth to a baby generally want to stay with that baby, hold that baby, nurture that baby, and love that baby. Putting their baby in a room far away from them goes against their instincts and wishes. And it turns out that trusting those instincts may actually be beneficial for both mom and baby.

At the NAS symposium, both Abrahams and Hepburn expressed their belief that the Finnegan score should be thrown out altogether. Hepburn explains that when you’re looking for a sneeze or a yawn to document, you’re more likely to not only see those things, but view them as abnormal or problematic. Baker called it “confirmation bias.” She says, “My baby did yawn and she did cry—but, hell yes she cried; she was naked and under the [bili] lights!”

The subjectivity of the scale is one of its biggest liabilities. Each nurse is likely to score a baby just a little bit differently. Baker says that her baby could have been jaundiced because she was breastfeeding, like so many other babies are. But she believes that because she was on buprenorphine to treat an opiate addiction, the nurses chose to see a baby in withdrawal. Abrahams says that the score looks at normal baby behavior that can be interpreted subjectively as withdrawal, “particularly if it’s a brown baby or a poor baby.” He believes that the scoring leads to diagnoses influenced by racial biases.

So what is a good objective indicator of whether or not a baby is doing well? Weight gain. Hepburn says that as long as mom can settle the baby so that it can feed, the baby most likely doesn’t need treatment. Both Hepburn and Abrahams say that neither of them operate under the assumption of withdrawal, and that all other causes for infant behavior should be ruled out before diagnosing a baby with NAS. Abrahams explains that “NAS is a diagnosis of exclusion.”

And excluding NAS as a diagnosis can be the difference between a mother going to jail or a baby being taken into state custody, and a mom leaving the hospital with her child. The women in Abrahams’ study who roomed-in with their babies were more likely to be discharged with custody of their babies too.

Baker says it took over six months to convince the Florida Department of Children and Families that she was a fit parent. She describes countless home visits, DCF interviews with her family and friends about her parenting, and intrusive searches of her cabinets and refrigerator. Though she never officially lost custody of her daughter to the state, she describes the experience as incredibly stressful. “Psychologically, the damage that does to not just me, but my family, my other daughter, you know, the stress that put on my family was unreal.”


It turns out that the benefits to mom and baby aren’t the only upsides to adopting the rooming-in model of care. It’s actually cheaper too. A 2013 study conducted at Dartmouth found that rooming-in decreased the average cost of a mother’s hospital stay by half, partly due to the shortened length of hospital stays for babies that had roomed-in with their mothers. Canada is moving toward a standard of care that consists of rooming mom and baby together.

The United States is just starting to catch on. The Vermont Oxford Network has started a pilot project to improve care of opioid-exposed newborns. According to their website, leaders in quality improvement from three states have adopted their model of care and are working to develop coordinated statewide collaboratives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Michigan. These collaboratives seek to improve the quality of NAS treatment in their state by developing goals, measures, and education events.

At the same time, conservative lawmakers are championing policies that criminalize women for using drugs—whether those drugs are licit or illicit. In 2014, Tennessee’s existing fetal assault law was amended to permit the arrest of pregnant and postpartum mothers based on the argument that this would encourage mothers to seek treatment for their addiction. But making a health-care issue a criminal justice one introduces human rights violations that infringe on a person’s right to health, non-discrimination, and privacy, according to Carrie Eisert of Amnesty International, who spoke on a panel at the Pregnancy, Drug Use, and the Law conference the day prior to the NAS symposium. She says that this criminalization also impedes access to needed health-care services and makes a woman less likely to seek prenatal care for fear of punishment. And we know that these laws disproportionately impact marginalized women from underserved areas, women living in poverty, and women of color.

These conservative lawmakers may not care about the humanitarian arguments, they may or may not care about the scientific arguments, but they very well may care about the cost arguments. Those numbers may be enough to convince the people with power to adopt rooming-in as the standard of care for drug-exposed babies—with, of course, the side effect of benefitting everyone involved.


At the NAS symposium in Nashville, the old guard and the new went head-to-head. After Abrahams presented his research, Finnegan raised her hand to argue that rooming-in wouldn’t work in the United States. Citing the Dartmouth program, Abrahams countered that it would and it does. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we now have evidence that shows it’s cheaper to keep the babies with their mother postpartum rather than putting them in the NICU.”

Finnegan shot back that “without evidence-based research,” the United States can’t adopt his model because “we have the issue of malpractice here.” Tension in the room was high as two leaders in their field challenged each other.

But Abrahams didn’t miss a beat, “In the next five or ten years, if we develop a protocol that says rooming-in is the national standard of care, it will [and should] be malpractice to separate a baby from their mother whether she is drug exposed or not.” Abrahams got not only the last word with his comment, but a round of applause from the room.

This is about more than pride or professional reputations. This is about the mothers and babies who are suffering every day, due to draconian laws and oppressive, outdated protocols. The best we could do 40 years ago is not the best we can do now—we know better, and it’s time to do better. Rooming-in, breastfeeding, and skin-to-skin contact have been shown to drastically improve the outcomes for babies with NAS and decrease the number of babies being diagnosed with it too. Lives depend on these new protocols being implemented in hospitals around the country, and it can’t happen soon enough.

Image: Shutterstock

The post How ‘Best Practices’ in Neonatal Care Endanger Mothers Seeking Drug Treatment and Their Babies appeared first on RH Reality Check.

U.N. Committee Calls on Bangladesh to End Child Marriage and Address Adolescent Health

Center for Reproductive Rights - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 23:00
U.N. Committee Calls on Bangladesh to End Child Marriage and Address Adolescent Health

10.13.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on the government of Bangladesh to take active measures to end child marriage and to improve access to adolescent friendly health services.

In light of recent draft legislation seeking to lower the legal age of marriage or permit judicial authorization for girls below the age of 18, the U.N. Committee called for the government of Bangladesh to keep the minimum legal age of marriage at 18 years and prosecute anyone who authorizes child marriage. The Committee also urged the state to adopt a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for adolescents and to ensure that sexual and reproductive health education is part of the mandatory school curriculum for adolescents with “special attention to preventing early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”

The Center submitted a letter to the U.N. Committee condemning child marriage and the continuum of reproductive rights violations stemming from the illegal practice, including early pregnancy, lack of access to reproductive health services, denial of reproductive autonomy and marital rape.

Said Melissa, Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“All women and girls deserve to decide for themselves when to get married and start a family—and get the reproductive health services they need when they need it.

“Yet discriminatory practices and cultural norms still hinder young girls from making these choices, placing their health, and even their lives, at serious risk.

“The government of Bangladesh should abide by these U.N. recommendations to ensure that young girls aren’t given away in marriage as children and that victims of child and forced marriages receive adequate legal protection if they decide to end the marriage.”

In its recommendations, the U.N. Committee called for the government of Bangladesh to eliminate cultural norms, practices and traditions, including child marriage, that exacerbate gender stereotypes, discrimination, and violence against women and girls. The Committee also called for the state to develop awareness campaigns and sensitization programs on the harmful effects of early marriage on the physical and mental health and well-being of girls, as well as the establishment of protection schemes for victims of child and forced marriages who file a complaint. 

According to UNICEF, more than half of girls are married by age 18 in Bangladesh and the country has the highest rate of girls married under the age of 15. Bangladesh's 2011 Demographic and Health Survey found that sixty percent of women are mothers by the age of 19.

In 2013, the Center issued the report Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the Impunity examining the human rights implications of child marriage, which subjects girls to heinous abuses, including domestic violence and marital rape, placing their reproductive health and survival at serious risk. The report criticizes the failure of governments in South Asia to prevent and prosecute cases of child marriage, which has led to a situation of impunity and egregious violations of human rights.​ The Center has contributed to the development of the Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage in South Asia, spearheaded by the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children, and the Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia in 2014.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has built a significant presence throughout Asia, with major initiatives such as the South Asia Reproductive Justice and Accountability Initiative which focuses on promoting the use of the law and legal strategies to protect and promote women’s reproductive rights in the region. The Center—which opened a Nepal office in 2012—has undertaken advocacy at the U.N. as well as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to strengthen regional accountability for child marriage.

Letter to Committee on the Rights of the Child Re: Supplementary information on Bangladesh Kathmandu Call for Action to End Child Marriage in South Asia

Staunchly Anti-Choice Lawmaker to Run for U.S. Senate in Colorado

RH Reality Check - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 16:54

Colorado Republicans are in the national spotlight as they choose a candidate to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the few Democratic U.S. senators deemed vulnerable in next year’s election.

But the state GOP has had difficulty fielding a candidate, with leading prospects, such as anti-choice Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, and state Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, withdrawing their names from consideration.

A leading GOP candidate who’s entered the race, state Sen. Tim Neville, is considered by observers to be one of Colorado’s most conservative state senators, and he makes no effort to conceal his staunch anti-choice positions.

Neville recently sponsored a bill that would have forced a woman to wait 24 hours and have a vaginal ultrasound prior to having an abortion.

Neville drew fire from Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado last week, when he officially entered the U.S. Senate race.

“All of Tim Neville’s anti-choice proposals have had one goal—putting up barriers for Colorado women seeking abortion care,” said Cathy Alderman, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, which included Neville earlier this year in its Colorado Women’s Health Wall of Shame. “Neville is well-known for being out of step with Coloradans’ core values, including the right to make personal and private decisions about our own health care.”

Colorado voters have repeatedly rejected so-called personhood ballot initiatives pushed by anti-choice lawmakers across the state. “Personhood” laws define life as beginning at fertilization and ban all abortion or other procedures that would destroy a zygote or fetus prior to birth.

“We’re not going to shy away from issues, whether it be issues we brought up last year in the Parent’s Bill of Rights, issues that are important to life,” Neville told Rocky Mountain Community Radio’s Bente Birkeland last week. “We don’t feel we need to shy away from those. We need to actually have the honest debates there. And we feel the American people are ready to have those debates too.”

Birkeland reported that Steve House, Colorado’s Republican Party chair, refused to label the House as “too far to the right” to win in the swing state of Colorado, but that Democrats believe he’s too conservative for the purple state.

Other Republicans who already are in the U.S. Senate race, but with a lower profile than Neville, include Robert Blaha, a businessman, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez. Attorney Dan Caplis is reportedly considering about a run, as is Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith.

Image: ColoradoSenateGOP / YouTube

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California Requires Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Tell the Truth

RH Reality Check - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 14:47

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Friday that would require crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to offer pregnant people information about state programs providing reproductive health-care services, including abortion.

CPC groups reacted to the new law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, by filing a lawsuit Saturday to block the measure, reported the Sacramento Bee.

AB 775, known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, would require licensed clinics that provide family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to consumers regarding their reproductive rights.

The legislation targets CPCs, requiring them to inform patients that California has public programs that provide immediate and free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women.

The bill would also require CPCs without medical licenses that advertise and provide pregnancy testing and care to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. CPCs, supported by anti-choice lawmakers on the state and federal levels, have been found to dole out misinformation about abortion. They are often staffed by people dressed in lab coats offering medical advice to pregnant women.

There are more than 300 CPCs in California, according to the Heartbeat International directory.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that CPCs are “ground-zero” in the fight for reproductive freedom.

“Gov. Brown and the California legislature can be proud of leading the first successful statewide effort to ensure that no woman is tricked into walking through doors of a CPC to be manipulated and shamed again,” Hogue said. “This is the kind of change that 7 in 10 Americans have been clamoring for—to expand access, not reduce it.”

NARAL Pro-Choice California last year sent undercover investigators into CPCs to document common practices. A report released in March found that CPCs strategically misinform and deceive pregnant people, always with the same underlying message: bring the pregnancy to term.

Ninety-one percent of centers visited by NARAL doled out misinformation about the effects of abortion on a person’s physical and mental health, saying that having an abortion would increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage, and/or depression that results in suicide.

“She told me that for some women, [abortion clinics] dilate them too fast and they might miscarry a lot because the cervix might not close up all the way,” said one investigator, whose name was concealed. “So I might have a lot of miscarriages if I aborted the baby.”

In another instance, a CPC employee mistook an investigator’s intrauterine device (IUD) for a fetus during an ultrasound, telling the investigator that it was “her baby.” CPC employees told undercover investigators that going through with an induced abortion is unnecessary, because the chance of a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is 30-50 percent.

The lawsuit filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of two religiously affiliated CPCs, the Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding, claims that the law violates the organizations’ First Amendment rights.

The Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for conservative and religious organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the institute as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The complaint states that the law “unconstitutionally compels (the clinics) to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak.”

The bill was passed with large majorities in the Democratic-led California legislature. The senate passed the bill in September with a 24-14 vote, and the assembly approved the bill in May with a 49-26 vote.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Sacramento Bee that bill is about ensuring women are fully informed of all of their reproductive health-care options, regardless of where they seek that information.

“It’s hard to understand how those who claim to care about women find it so threatening to inform them about accessing affordable health care,” Burke said.

Opponents of the legislation have claimed that it is intended to “bully” CPCs and that it infringes on freedom of speech and religious liberty.

“You may not like the message that these people are putting forward, you may not like what they have to say, but they have every right under our Constitution for freedom of speech just like anyone else,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), reported the Sacramento Bee.

A coalition of more than 100 religious leaders signed a letter supporting the bill, and encouraging Brown to sign the bill.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, wrote that the legislation does not violate religious freedom. “It respects the definition of religious freedom—freedom of and freedom from—by allowing women of every faith, and women of no faith, in California to access affordable health care,” Ratcliffe wrote.

Image: Shutterstock

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Heavily Edited Attack Videos Endangering Fight for Women’s Rights Abroad

RH Reality Check - Mon, 10/12/2015 - 09:14

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

The effects of conservative efforts to spread falsehoods about Planned Parenthood are not just limited to the United States. In El Salvador, where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape, incest, and maternal danger, on-the-ground feminist organizations have been targeted by mainstream news media outlets publishing articles based on the Center for Medical Progress’ deceptive, heavily edited undercover videos. These are, in turn, increasing the fear and resistance around the push for safe and legal abortion in the country.

In its August 16 Sunday edition, La Prensa Gráfica (LPG), a conservative major mainstream daily newspaper, published an article headlined in Spanish, “Money from NGO linked to organ trafficking is used in pro-abortion campaign.”

The piece, written by frequent LPG contributor Byron Sosa, relies on patently false information. In addition to regarding as factual CMP’s allegations that Planned Parenthood “sells baby parts,” Sosa wrongly ties the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), whose affiliates are featured in the undercover videos, to groups in El Salvador—namely, the Agruapación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) and a sister organization, the Colectiva Feminista para el Desarrollo Local (Feminist Collective for Local Development).

The Agrupación in particular has attracted attention in the last few years for defending the right of a woman named “Beatriz” to interrupt a pregnancy that put her health and life at risk. The organization also works to free Las 17, a group of women unjustly imprisoned with aggravated homicide convictions when they suffered miscarriages or obstetrical complications that led to the deaths of their fetuses. The Colectiva Feminista, which works closely with the Agrupación and shares office space with them, is a national feminist organization that works with several local groups in the country around issues of local development, violence, human rights, the environment, and more. Many of the volunteers who work with the Agrupación are also part of the Colectiva.

In his piece, Sosa quotes Sara Larín, president of the Movimiento VIDA SV, an anti-choice group. Noting that the Agrupación receives funds from the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF), Larin claims this money comes from PPFA, itself, she says, an organization that profits off the “sale” of fetal tissue. She says the Agrupación is working to “promote the practice of abortion in El Salvador,” and that this work is of a “criminal nature.” Though Larín is referring to the Agrupación’s efforts to modify the total ban on abortion, she also uses the false claims around PPFA to bolster her argument.  

To date, investigations in the United States have failed to find any evidence of Planned Parenthood breaking the law with its fetal tissue donation program. In addition, the Salvadoran groups in question do not receive any funding from PPFA. Rather, the SAAF money they receive comes from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), an international organization that works with non-governmental organizations around the world. 

The conflation of PPFA and IPPF is a frequent theme throughout Sosa’s article; he also names PPFA officials who appeared in the videos as working for IPPF.

The LPG writer cites ACI Prensa, a conservative Catholic information agency in Lima, Peru, as saying that the videos “proved” Planned Parenthood sold “baby parts.” That agency also failed to distinguish between the IPPF and the PPFA.

The reporter also claims that he attempted to contact the Agrupación, but did not receive a response. Agrupación representatives told RH Reality Check that neither were contacted.

Nowhere in the piece does Sosa mention the fact that experts say the videos were edited or that there has been no evidence of PPFA breaking the law.

The LPG article, however, was just the most recent in a series of media accusations inspired by the CMP videos. A July 27 ACI Prensa article quoted Larín as claiming that “the abortion lobby in El Salvador is being financed by [Planned Parenthood’s] sale of the organs of aborted babies.” She also criticized the Salvadoran government for having granted the Agrupación nonprofit status in 2014, implying that the Agrupación was sharing in the profits of those alleged sales.

The ACI Prensa followed up on August 5 with an article “revealing” the existence of a letter of support for Planned Parenthood in the wake of the CMP videos, a letter that was indeed signed by at least 37 groups which defend reproductive rights in Latin America, including the Agrupación and the Colectiva Feminista. The article, a clear effort to drum up backlash against the groups, also claimed to link many of these organizations to “Planned Parenthood” funding, although distinctions were not made among IPPF, PFFA, and “Planned Parenthood.”

On August 15, in another right-wing Salvadoran mainstream daily paper, El Diario de Hoy, an anti-choice columnist published accusations linking the Agrupación with Planned Parenthood, again not noting whether she meant PPFA or IPPF. The writer, who has a history of defamatory columns, called the Agrupación “abortionists”—a potentially criminal accusation in a country where the procedure is illegal—and called their work “sinister.” She included the initials of Agrupación leader Morena Herrera, potentially to accuse Herrera without putting herself at risk by naming Herrera outright.

The Agrupación and the Colectiva Feminista refute all these claims. In a document they issued as part of a call for solidarity after the LPG piece, they explained:

The Agrupación and the Colectiva Feminista oppose the attacks on PPFA because they place at risk the rights and the health services that the organization offers, especially to women in the poorest sectors in the U.S., including our immigrant population.

The two Salvadoran groups do have a grant which runs from 2014 to 2017 from SAAF, which is linked to IPPF, an organization separate from PPFA.  The goals of that grant do indeed include efforts to discuss publicly the consequences of the absolute ban on abortion and to explore the possibilities for legislative change.  

The document also pointed out that the LPG had not mentioned the fact that “multiple journalistic investigations … reveal the lack of credibility and the intense manipulation used by the CMP campaign.”

Overall, they conclude, “the reporting from this news media has not contributed to providing balanced and credible information to the Salvadoran society, but rather a sensationalist treatment that generates uncertainty and anxiety.”

Under Salvadoran law, the groups have the right to demand space in the LPG to write a response letter.” The “right to response” demand from the Agrupación and the Colectiva Feminista, which was provided to RH Reality Check, states that the daily published “untrue news against our organizations,” that the news outlet demonstrated “little professionalism,” and that it acted with “pernicious intentions that harm our institutional and personal safety.”

The document continues, “Your statements are defamatory and intend to slow our work as human rights defenders, putting at risk the personal security of our members.”

The Agrupación and the Colectiva Feminista requested space for an article of the same dimensions and location (in a Sunday edition) as the original article in order to respond to the false accusations made. They also made clear that they invoked the “right to response” not only for the immediate situation, but for a possible future legal action against the newspaper.

The request for a right to response was delivered to the newspaper on August 21. Although by law the LPG has three business days to respond, as of more than a month later, the Agrupación has not received a response, according to an email from Morena Herrera, Agrupación president, to RH Reality Check. The Agrupación is now exploring other legal avenues.

Representatives from other human rights organizations feel that the resurgence of articles in outlets like these signal another push to limit reproductive rights for Salvadoran women.

After the LPG article was published, Axela Romero Cardenas, executive secretary of the Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Mesoamerican Initiative of the Women Human Rights Defenders), sent a statement to Michele Frost, the special rapporteur from the United Nations, notifying her of the situation. Cardenas characterized it as a “reactivation of a campaign of disparagement that fundamentalist religious groups are carrying out internationally against defenders and organizations that defend women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America,” in particular, those who work to eradicate the consequences of the absolute criminalization of abortion in their respective countries.  

Romero also emphasized that these groups have had total freedom to spread their false statements without evidence. Thus far, she noted, the Salvadoran government has not stepped in to take “any type of provisional means to preserve the security, the safety and the work of the groups of defenders.”

She went on to detail how the fundamentalist campaign “has exposed private documents of the organizations, but above all has mentioned their names, inciting the exacerbation of violence against them when they refer to them as terrorists and abortionists.”  

These expressions polarize the public, she continued. She requested that the rapporteur be alert to any needs for urgent actions “to protect defenders at obvious risk of aggressions.”

Though the members of the Agrupación and the Colectiva have not reported any credible threats in response to this latest campaign, violent backlash against human rights defenders does happen in El Salvador. As Romero noted, this negative media environment could potentially heighten that environment of fear and oppression to a dangerous degree.

In one of numerous letters of solidarity received by the Agrupación, and provided to RH Reality Check, another Salvadoran organization, Mujeres Transformando (Women Transforming), explained that the anti-choice campaign in El Salvador includes groups “with great economic power and with the capacity to generate public opinion by means of the conservative media and with the objective of criminalizing and delegitimizing the defense of sexual and reproductive rights … in this country that is so fundamentalist.”  

In the meantime, the Agrupación continues its campaign to defend the rights of women and to counter the power of mass media. In a radio interview on August 27 Alejandra Burgos, coordinator of the Network of Women Human Rights Defenders, part of the Colectiva Feminista, emphasized, “What we do is legal. This is a democratic country. We work to change a law we consider unjust.”  

She was joined by Katya Recinos, an attorney with the Agrupación’s legal team, who explained, “We have the right to talk about abortion, even though it has been a taboo topic. The right attempts to create an environment of misinformation and fear. We make a call to the public to seek out objective information. Don’t buy into the stigmatizing of human rights defenders.”

Image: Shutterstock

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GOP Congressmen Admit: No Evidence Planned Parenthood Broke the Law

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 17:20

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

House Republicans have held four hearings since September investigating Planned Parenthood. They claim that deceptively edited videos released by an anti-choice front group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), raise serious questions about whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.

They’ve said these questions justify creating a new select committee looking into the issue indefinitely.

Yet several Republican members of Congress admitted at Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee Hearing that there’s either no evidence Planned Parenthood broke the law, or that the point of the congressional investigation is really to debate the morality of abortion.

“Did we find any wrongdoing? The answer was no,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in reference to a recent hearing he chaired in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Chaffetz was trying to clarify recent comments he made to the media that he “wasn’t suggesting [Planned Parenthood] broke the law.” Democrats have repeatedly cited this quote as evidence that the “investigation” into Planned Parenthood is a politically motivated witch hunt.

Chaffetz argued that his comments shouldn’t have been taken as “some grand conclusion” about every facet of the Planned Parenthood investigation, since his particular committee hearing was “narrowly focused” on Planned Parenthood’s finances, not other issues like fetal tissue research.

“Did I look at the finances and have a hearing specifically as to the revenue portion and how they spend? Yes. Was there any wrongdoing? I didn’t find any,” Chaffetz said.

Asked whether he knows of any evidence that Planned Parenthood broke the law in any way, Chaffetz cited none.

“I think some of the video that’s been out there, the rumors that have been swirling, some of the testimony that we’ve heard, causes a lot of people to legitimately ask and dive into whether what they’re doing is illegal,” Chaffetz said.

This has been a consistent pattern in the Republican-led Planned Parenthood hearings.

Democrats (and major media outlets) will point out that even the “unedited” CMP videos were altered and are thus unreliable as evidence. They will then demand that Republicans offer any real evidence they may have that Planned Parenthood broke the law.

Republicans will dodge this by insisting that the investigations are not complete (even though seven states investigating Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of lawbreaking), and argue that the discredited videos still “raise questions” about whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) admitted that the “purpose” of the Planned Parenthood hearings are to question the morality of legal abortion and legal fetal tissue donation, not to investigate whether any laws have been broken.

Forbes had just grilled American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson on whether a passage from the first CMP video described something “too brutal” for her. She didn’t answer to his satisfaction, so Forbes asked the record to reflect that she hadn’t answered the question.

“They won’t say that any procedure is too far, or not enough, or is too brutal. And that’s the purpose of these hearings,” Forbes said. “Because there’s a big difference between saying there may not be a law to protect against something, it may not be illegal, and to say there was no wrongdoing done. Because I think what we heard on that tape was wrongdoing.”

Forbes’ comment was similar to recent testimony from Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest, who was forced to admit that she was not making a legal argument about Planned Parenthood’s misdeeds, but a moral one.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who earlier in the hearing used a tiny diaper for a premature infant as a visual aid, also acknowledged that the real point of the hearing was to discuss the morality of abortion.

“The central question is, does abortion kill a little baby?” he said. “If abortion doesn’t kill a little baby, then I am here to pretty much suggest that we shouldn’t be having such a hearing, or anything like that.”

The hearing, which was called “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining Abortion Procedures and Medical Ethics at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider,” featured three witnesses who are long-term anti-choice activists, and Fredrickson, who argued the pro-choice side from a legal perspective and in her personal capacity.

None of the anti-choice witnesses offered credible testimony that Planned Parenthood has broken any laws.

One witness, Dr. Anthony Levatino, played a video that allegedly featured abortion clinic staffers discussing very late abortions, at 25 and 27 weeks, with women on the phone.

But after Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) forced Levatino to admit that the video wasn’t from Planned Parenthood, and since the hearing’s purpose was to discuss Planned Parenthood, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) successfully moved that the video be stricken from the record. Republicans who had left the room returned in order to overrule that motion, however.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) asked Levatino whether he, in his experience as an OB-GYN, knew of anyone from Planned Parenthood who had lost their medical license. Levatino did not.

“Case closed!” Cohen said.

Cohen played a video, edited by Democratic staff, that showed every time Deborah Nucatola explicitly said that fetal tissue donation is not intended or allowed to make a profit for Planned Parenthood affiliates. All but one of those comments were entirely edited out of the first CMP video.

Image: RepTrentFranks / YouTube

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Arkansas Urges Roberts Court to Rethink ‘Roe’

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 16:42

States have been trying to regulate abortion rights out of existence since the Supreme Court first recognized them in Roe v. Wade. So far, fetal viability has been the one immovable legal fixture holding those attempts back. Not even the anti-choice majority on the Roberts Court has been willing to revisit the rule that up to fetal viability, the fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy belongs to the pregnant person. But all that could change this term.

Attorneys for the State of Arkansas filed a petition Tuesday with the Roberts Court urging it to step in and uphold an Arkansas law that bans abortions at 12 weeks’ gestation. Act 301, the “Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act,” outlaws abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected—which can be as early as six weeks’ gestation—and at 12 weeks, with narrow exceptions for the life of the pregnant person, cases of rape or incest, and those that involve a “lethal fetal disorder.” The law, considered to be among the most radically restrictive in the nation, has been blocked by a federal judge since March 2014.

Attorneys for the State of Arkansas argued at both the trial court and appellate level that even though the law, if enacted, would outlaw nearly all abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, Act 301 was not an unconstitutional pre-viability ban. Instead, because of the narrow exceptions within the act, attorneys said the ban was merely a regulation on the abortion procedure. A three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit rejected that argument, but not because the judges disagreed with the Arkansas attorneys. Rather, the judges felt their hands were tied by Supreme Court precedents like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prevent states from banning abortions prior to viability. They used the appellate opinion as a call on the Supreme Court to rethink its abortion rights jurisprudence.

With that opening, attorneys for the State of Arkansas jumped to action.

“Just as Casey reevaluated the wisdom and constitutional necessity of the rigid trimester framework imposed by the Court in Roe,” the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office brief states, referring to the fact that Casey’s viability rule replaced Roe‘s structure for evaluating when abortion restrictions early in pregnancy are constitutional, “it is now time for the Court to reevaluate the rigid viability rule imposed in Casey.

That “rigid viability rule” of Casey is the portion of the decision in which the Court re-affirmed the essential holding of Roe v. Wade: that patients have the right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability without undue interference from the state. The fetal viability rule is a problematic one for reproductive rights advocates. Viability is not a fixed medical standard and can vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. As technology advances allow prematurely born infants to survive outside the womb earlier in pregnancy, fetal viability’s continued use as a fixed legal standard to judge the constitutionality of abortion restrictions means pregnant people will see the window of time to access legal abortion continue to shrink. On the other hand, it has proven to be the only bright-line abortion rights rule preventing the most draconian restrictions—like Arkansas Act 301—from becoming law.

Clearly, states have already created plenty of interference with the right to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability. Nearly every kind of restriction—clinic closure laws, procedure bans, regulations on medication abortions, the Hyde Amendment, the list goes on—interferes with that right. So what Arkansas is really talking about here is the idea that until the fetus has reached viability, the liberty of the pregnant person outweighs the power of the state to regulate that pregnancy to the point of making accessing abortion care an explicit impossibility.

Put yet another way: The State of Arkansas wants the Roberts Court to overturn Roe v. Wade while pretending it’s not overturning Roe v. Wade.

That’s a big ask of the Roberts Court, which is why attorneys for the State of Arkansas frame their request as an incremental one. This case, they argue, is not a challenge to the “foundational” principles of abortion rights jurisprudence. Nor are they attacking the fundamental right of reproductive privacy by asking for unfettered state power to regulate, and even ban, abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Rather, this is a case about “the impropriety of a judicially-imposed rule,” one they argue is “free from any serious constitutional mooring” and “sets in stone ‘viability’ as the point before which the State’s profound interests must give way to a woman’s desire to terminate her pregnancy.”

In fact, the attorneys argue in their brief, the State of Arkansas sees this as an opportunity for the Court to explain just why fetal viability has been a legal standard for the past four decades.

“The Court has never explained why viability is an important milestone from a pregnant woman’s perspective – at least with respect to her having ‘some freedom to terminate her pregnancy,’” the brief states.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say one of the reasons why the Court has never explained the relationship between pregnancy and the pregnant person, or the importance of viability both medically and legally, is because it has never had a majority of its justices personally experience a pregnancy, wanted or not, carried to term or not.

But just like clinic closure laws are not really about advancing patient safety, the State of Arkansas is not really looking for the Court to explain the nature of pregnancy. Instead, it wants the Court to confirm the power of the government to regulate it.

“The Court has also never explained why a viability rule should override the State’s profound interest in restricting abortions prior to viability in order to protect the lives of unborn children,” the brief continues. “The Court has never sufficiently explained, for example, why a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy is paramount until a fetus reaches viability, despite the Court’s recognition that the State’s interest in protecting the life of the fetus begins at the outset of pregnancy, when the life of the fetus begins.”

If you ever questioned the idea that restricting legal abortion is about anything other than the power of the state to regulate women’s lives, I invite you to reread that paragraph again. At no point does the state recognize a pregnant person’s own agency, let alone their humanity.

There’s also the practical question of what legal standard would replace fetal viability if the Roberts Court bought Arkansas’ arguments and revisited it. As problematic as the viability standard may be, courts as institutions are just not going to yank one rule without replacing it with another. Here, attorneys for the State of Arkansas have an answer. And it is truly terrifying.

“A State should be allowed to advance its profound interests in protecting the life of the unborn child, protecting the health of the mother, and upholding the integrity of the medical profession by enforcing a restriction on abortion prior to viability especially where, as here, a woman is given a reasonable amount of time to terminate her pregnancy and the State provides a safe haven statute allowing a woman to abandon an unwanted child carried to term,” the brief states.

“By overruling the viability rule, the Court can protect the individual liberty interest declared in Roe and Casey while simultaneously affording states the latitude to protect their profound interests.”

That’s right. Only by overturning the cornerstone of women’s liberty interests can we protect them. And we will use a judicial standard of “reasonableness” by which to measure abortion restrictions. You thought the “undue burden” standard for what makes an abortion restriction unconstitutional was effectively meaningless? Imagine the decisions from the Fifth Circuit on a “reasonable” amount of time to terminate a pregnancy.

And when a woman misses her window of “reasonableness,” the attorneys are offering safe haven laws as a legitimate alternative—one of the most brazen and radical arguments in favor of Arkansas’ restriction. They’re claiming that through these laws, the state has completely taken on the burden of an unwanted pregnancy, rendering the need for legal abortion care irrelevant.

Safe haven laws provide a window of time—30 days, in Arkansas’ case—in which a person can surrender their newborn to the state without facing criminal prosecution. And because every state and the District of Columbia has some form of a safe haven statute, attorneys for the State of Arkansas argue the time has come to grant states the power to re-criminalize abortion. “By allowing any woman to abandon an unwanted child without consequence, the State of Arkansas completely assumes a pregnant woman’s burden of unwanted parenthood and child care,” the brief states.

“Accordingly, even if abortions were prohibited in Arkansas, no pregnant woman would be forced to endure the burdens of “additional offspring” and “a distressful life and future[,]” or mental and physical health “taxed by child care[,]” or general distress associated with an “unwanted child,” or “the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it,” the brief continues. “The safe haven statute completely eliminates the pregnant woman’s burden of parenthood.”

Let’s be very clear here about what the State of Arkansas is advancing here. In 2014 the state had over 7,500 children in its foster care system. Eleven percent of children in Arkansas live in extreme poverty. The National Women’s Law Center ranked Arkansas near the very bottom for positive health indicators for pregnant women, with about a fifth of them receiving no prenatal care in the first trimester. Almost 80 percent of Arkansas women live in a county with no abortion clinic, and the state is in the middle of trying to cut off Medicaid funding to the Planned Parenthood health-care facilities in the state. And remember the case of Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), who “rehomed” two adopted daughters into another family where one of them was sexually abused? That scandal helped draw attention to the myriad of problems, from underfunding to racial disparities in placements and adoptions, plaguing the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Clearly, the state is not equipped to handle the “burden” of parenthood.

We will not know for months if the Roberts Court agrees to take the Arkansas case. And assuming the Court takes up Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the fight over clinic closure laws and the undue burden standard, it is not at all clear whether the Court will be interested in having multiple abortion-rights cases on its docket in one term, especially after mostly avoiding the subject since 2007. It’s entirely clear, however, that conservatives plan to keep trying to erode abortion rights all the way through the 2016 election, providing a steady drumbeat of anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-choice propaganda for the Court’s deliberation.

Image: Shutterstock

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California Schools Required to Teach Comprehensive Sex Ed in 2016

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 15:07

A new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown early this month, will make California’s sex education among the most comprehensive in the country as it mandates that all schools address certain topics in ways that are accurate, unbiased, and affirming of LGBTQ students and families.

Schools in California today are required to teach about HIV/AIDS, but can decide whether to provide any additional sexuality education. Though most schools provide some sex education, the instruction was uneven throughout the state, with some students getting a comprehensive course and others receiving just some lessons on abstinence.

In fact, as RH Reality Check reported, one school district was sued for teaching an abstinence-only program that relied on an inaccurate textbook, a fear-based video, and speakers from a local crisis pregnancy center (CPC). The judge ruled that the district was not in compliance with state laws which, though they didn’t require schools to provide sex education, did require any education provided to be medically accurate and free of bias.

Educators and advocates in the state saw this as an example of how the laws that were in place were insufficient. “The previous law was important, but there were districts that were out of compliance with it. [The new law] takes us to a new level,” Phyllida Burlingame, reproductive justice policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told EdSource.

The new law spells out what young people across the state must learn and includes information about “sexual harassment, sexual assault, adolescent relationship abuse, intimate partner violence, and sex trafficking.” The law explains that the goal is to provide young people with “the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and family.”

The law specifies that students engage in an “an objective discussion of all legally available pregnancy outcomes, including, but not limited to, parenting, adoption and abortion.”

Information provided must “affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations and, when discussing or providing examples of relationships and couples, shall be inclusive of same-sex relationships.”

This could bring about a big change in a number of school districts.

The previous law, which let schools decide if they addressed sexual orientation at all, meant that LGBTQ students in some schools were “made to feel invisible—or worse, stigmatized—in health classes,” as Burlingame explained to EdSource.

“Our schools are a critical environment for providing young people with the knowledge and skills that they will need to protect their sexual health,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) said in a statement. “This is about empowering all young men and women—whatever their orientation or gender—to make the healthiest decisions possible.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson added that this education would make LGBTQ youth safer in school.

Burlingame believes that the law “really vaults California into a leadership role nationally on this issue, particularly in terms of the content related to LGBTQ youth and needing to affirmatively address gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Not everyone is pleased with the change.

“School districts now have no choice based on their own community attitudes whether sex education is appropriate and the degree of sex ed is appropriate,” Brad Dacus, president of the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dacus noted his concern with the new law’s call to tell students that if treated, HIV-positive individuals can have a normal life expectancy. He feels that this is putting a “positive spin” on AIDS. “At no time should political agendas shortchange a straightforward and truthful education,” he said. “The controversial provisions, without question, make this legislation a huge mistake for the health and safety and balanced truth that is needed for students in our public schools.”

Despite the opposition, the Democratic-controlled California legislature passed the bill—largely along party lines—in September and Brown signed it October 1. It goes into effect on January 1.

Advocates across the country hopes it is used as an example. “Comprehensive sexuality education is more than just information about abstinence and contraception and condoms, it’s empowering young people with the knowledge and skills they need—and have the right to—to lead healthy lives,” Jesseca Boyer, interim president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, told RH Reality Check. “We hope more states are able to follow California’s lead in supporting the health and well-being of all young people.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Kevin McCarthy Smear Campaign Was Engineered by Anti-Abortion Zealot Steven Baer

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 14:59

The email that killed Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker of the House went out Thursday morning to wealthy donors, various Republican representatives, and conservative members of the press, “threatening to expose an alleged affair with a colleague,” according to the Huffington Post.

Rumors about Representatives Renee Ellmers and Kevin McCarthy’s affair have been intensifying in D.C. for months, though some say the rumor itself has been around since 2013. There is no evidence of said affair, but if you’re a Republican loathed by GOP extremists, the rumor itself is as bad as if it were confirmed.

Adding insult to injury, the affair story was “broken” by Charles C. Johnson, the disgraced racist blogger who has been permanently banned from Twitter for his offensive and harassing tweets of people he doesn’t like.

More important, however, is that the email was sent by Steven Baer, a Chicago-based GOP donor and operative known for mass-emailing high profile conservative donors and Republican lawmakers as a matter of routine.

Steven Baer has one apparent goal: to end legal abortion in this country forever. To do that, he is unafraid to use his email account, rumors, and his electronic Rolodex to destroy the careers of anyone he perceives as standing in the way. And it seems he’s just getting started.

Who Is Steven Baer?

The picture at the top of this article is a newspaper photo of Baer in 1990, the year he ran for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor. His primary backer was secretive Chicago millionaire Barre Seid, who is closely affiliated with the Koch-funded Heartland Institute. Seid is also one of the primary funders of Islamophobic organizations around the country.

Baer was 30 years old when he declared his candidacy for governor. The executive director of the United Republican Fund of Illinois, which was created to promote conservative principles in Illinois, Baer ran on a platform of cutting taxes for the wealthy and opposing all abortion rights. In a state where Republicans running for office depend on getting Democratic votes, Baer was the designated candidate to yank the GOP to the far right. He lost his bid to Gov. Jim Edgar, who won with 63 percent of the vote.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Baer left the United Republican Fund in a financial shambles after his failed bid for the gubernatorial nomination. He left politics for awhile, but came back in 1994 with a third-party bid, bankrolled primarily by Seid. They named their new party the Term Limits and Tax Limits Party, but were disqualified from the ballot because too many petition signatures could not be verified. Chicago Tribune writer Thomas Hardy went so far as to allege that the petition signatures were evidence of overt election fraud.

Baer’s campaign, short-lived as it was, consisted of visual stunts and taunts against the mainstream—those the press might characterize as serious—politicians. One of his more memorable stunts was to dress his wife and children in pig snouts to parody his opponents.

Other conservatives in Illinois felt betrayed by his third-party bid, and ultimately separated themselves from him, alleging that he routinely stabbed them in the back by refusing to support them after they supported him.

The years between 1994 and 2015 are a cipher, but reports say Baer sold reverse mortgages after leaving the front line of Illinois politics. Apparently he did quite well in that industry, since he now has the means to offer $500,000 donations for groups willing to attack Republicans he views as “squishes.”

Steven Baer Is an Anti-Abortion, Single-Issue Zealot

Abortion is the centerpiece of Baer’s political zeitgeist. He uses the debt ceiling and budget initiatives as his hammer, but his goal is to ban abortion forever. In 2014, he sent a mailing to church pastors, rabbis, and leaders promising them donations in exchange for distribution of voter guides targeting all candidates who supported any abortions, including those sought in cases of rape and incest. And as he stated in his four-page pitch, he has no problem taking down Republicans who finance “baby-killing”:

Abortion appears to be the only issue that fires Baer up, and it stretches all the way back to when Robert Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court. Baer was serving as executive director of the United Republican Fund (URF), and he used that position to beat any senator who might have opposed Bork. Specifically, he zeroed in on Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE) and Paul Simon (D-IL), according to Ethan Bronner’s book on the Bork nomination.

According to Bronner’s book, Baer “set up Senators Biden and Simon as targets since both were committee members running for President and were against Bork.”

“Baer’s group sent a plane with a banner over the Iowa State Fair during a debate, saying BIDEN AND SIMON, BORK BASHERS, LIBERAL LAPDOGS,” Bronner wrote, adding:

At the Illinois fair [URF] handed out large tickets to a Biden and Simon Puppet Show, “starring Joe ‘Absolutely Open Mind’ Biden and Paul ’50 Ways to Leave Your Principles’ Simon, produced by bootlicking, sycophantic political ambition, directed by the liberal special interests that control the Democratic presidential primary process and the activist agenda of the Supreme Court.”

Abortion was the key reason Democrats opposed Bork’s nomination. There was a very real fear that if Bork were elevated to the court, he would reverse Roe v. Wade, consigning women to die at the hands of back-alley abortionists or forcing them to give birth to children they did not want.

Baer was a pioneer in what we recognize today as the usual Tea Party Taliban politicos, and he wants to see a debt default and a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding. To that end, it’s necessary for him to use any resource at his disposal to remove from leadership anyone who might actually govern responsibly.

Baer, Serial “Email Harasser”

These days, Baer is famous for firing off bombastic emails to a number of wealthy donors and congresspeople at their personal email addresses. In 2013, the National Review called him a “serial email harasser.”

According to reporter Jonathan Strong, “Baer has mocked those who try to unsubscribe and seemingly has no bounds to the language he will employ in exhorting conservative and Republican officials to take a harder stance against President Obama, particularly over the matter of abortion.”

His “Who’s Who” of email recipients is quite impressive, including David and Charles Koch, Foster Friess, Matt Kibbe, Tony Perkins, Grover Norquist, Erick Erickson, and Rick Santorum, whom he personally supported in his 2012 bid for the Republican nomination.

Using graphic subject lines like “Feast on RINO flesh,” Baer acts as a behind-the-scenes agitator and strongman, threatening on the one hand to mete out discipline to anyone in the party who strays from the extreme conservative line, and on the other, offering to donate up to $500,000 to anyone who will run ads against “squish” RINOs who dare to govern.

In an email about John Boehner’s decision to fund the government and not default on the national debt, the subject line called Boehner a “child-sacrificing, Baal-worshiping bow-down to Obama.”

Baer claims that, “House Republicans are actively financing abortion subsidies.” Not content to stop there, he further claimed that “John Boehner’s House Republicans have become the world’s biggest abortion financiers.”

Baer Won a Round. Now What?

Whatever the outcome of the speaker race, it’s fair to assume we are staring into the face of a government shutdown, which will come about as a result of conservatives’ claim that federal funding for Planned Parenthood pays for abortions. Worse yet, we have a renegade group of Republicans who are beholden to Baer and his donor friends who have no compunction about defaulting on the national debt rather than increasing the debt ceiling.

All of this, because one anti-abortion extremist worked behind the scenes to undo Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker. Whether McCarthy’s real sin was exposing the true motive behind the Benghazi committee or failing to dispel rumors of an affair with Rep. Renee Ellmers, who is also being primaried because she is now viewed as a “squish” over her refusal to vote for a 20-week abortion ban, Baer succeeded.

That success wasn’t enough for Baer, though. After Baer sent the first email with links to the Ellmers rumors, he sent a second email out to the same group. This one was more threatening than the first, because he clearly didn’t intend for McCarthy to only walk away from the speaker’s chair. This time, Baer wanted his congressional seat too.

The subject line read, “Kevin, why not resign like Bob Livingston?”

Steven Baer is not finished. Not by a long shot.

Image: The Daily Herald via Illinois Periodicals Online

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Campaign Week in Review: ‘Ben Carson Said WHAT?’ Edition

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 14:36

It was apparently “Condescend to Women Week” on the 2016 campaign trail. Ben Carson said that the private sector needs to come to the rescue of undereducated women who have unplanned pregnancies, and John Kasich treated young women’s interest in politics like a joke.

Plus: Bobby Jindal blames gun violence on abortion, and Carly Fiorina beats Hillary Clinton in a new poll.

Ben Carson: “We’re Killing Babies All Over the Place,” Women Need “Private Sector” to Help With Unwanted Pregnancies

Ben Carson had a busy week of gaffes that left the press dumbfounded. He said that Hitler could have been stopped if the German public were armed. He recommended that people attack active shooters, even though he didn’t take his own advice when he was once held at gunpoint. He also came under fire for appearing to have no idea how the federal debt limit works.

On top of all that, Carson made condescending remarks about women who have abortions during a sit-down with The View, and once again refused to back down on his comments that Obamacare is like slavery.

Host Whoopi Goldberg asked Carson about his earlier comments that there is no war on women, but there may be a war on “what’s inside of women.” Carson enthusiastically replied that those remarks were accurate, adding, “We’re killing babies all over the place.”

Goldberg asked Carson if he was “empathetic” to women who feel they cannot bring a child into the world. Carson said he was, and that helping women who have unplanned pregnancies is “a job for us in the private sector.”

“What we need to do is make sure that we provide adequate day-care centers for these mothers so that they can get their GED, their associate’s degree—“

Goldberg interjected: “Wait, you’re assuming that these are mothers who aren’t educated.”

“Well, most of them,” Carson said, eliciting boos and shrieks of outrage from the audience. Carson went on to discuss “young girls who are having babies out of wedlock” and stopping their education in order to do so.

“We’re not talking about them, actually,” Goldberg said.

About half of the women who have abortions in the United States are over the age of 25, and 60 percent are already mothers. Only 17 percent are teens and 13 percent don’t have a high school degree or a GED, while more than half have completed at least some college.

When an incredulous Joy Behar asked Carson about his comparison between Obamacare and slavery, Carson stood by his remarks.

“I’ll tell you why,” Carson said. “This is supposed to be a country that is of, for, and by the people. The government is supposed to be there to facilitate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With this particular act, the government comes along and says, ‘Don’t care what you people think, this is what we’re doing, we’re cramming it down your throat.'”

Carson has compared abortion to slavery, which is a common anti-choice meme.

John Kasich Talks Down to Female College Student

At a University of Richmond town hall forum, Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a joke out of one female student’s enthusiasm to ask him a question.

“I don’t have any Taylor Swift tickets,” Kasich told sophomore Kayla Solsbak, who was standing halfway out of her seat with her hand raised to get noticed.

Kasich at one point told a female student seated in the front row, “I’m sure you get invited to all of the parties.”

Solsbak then wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper titled, “No, John Kasich, I don’t want Taylor Swift tickets.”

Kasich “barreled through a Planned Parenthood question, dismissing the young woman who posed it, and derided me when I had the audacity to raise my hand,” Solsbak said.

She called out Kasich for mostly taking “softball” questions from older community members instead of students, and for his “condescending” attitude to young people:

In a half-hearted attempt to connect with young voters, Kasich entered the town hall forum with the 2014 hit song “Shut Up and Dance With Me” blasting from the speakers. While my friends all found it out of place, I realized that the song’s title accurately reflects Kasich’s message to young voters: shut up and elect me. If the candidate wants to connect with my peers, he can’t do it through superficial pop culture references. If he wants our votes, he needs to listen to our voices and address the issues we care about.

This kind of condescension to young women as “dumbbells” who only care about pop culture is a troubling trend among politicians, Rebecca Traister notes at New York Magazine—particularly when young, unmarried women are a key demographic for anyone who wants to win a national election.

Bobby Jindal Blames Gun Violence on Abortion and Other “Cultural Decay”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal blogged a screed against the “cultural rot” and “garbage”—including abortion access—that he said is the “root cause” of mass shootings like the recent tragedy at a community college in Oregon.

“We devalue human life, we have no regard for the sanctity of human life in any regard, from the unborn, to the old, and to every single person in between, we devalue it and act as if we have almost no regard for humanity,” Jindal wrote.

Jindal listed violent video games, movies, TV, music, and other elements of pop culture, which “promote evil” and “promote the degradation of women,” as a root cause of gun violence.

Jindal never mentioned guns as a cause of gun violence, but he spent four bullet points in his list attacking the shooter’s father for not having a close relationship with his son. Meanwhile, reproductive rights activists pointed out that many “pro-life” states regulate abortion much more heavily than they regulate guns.

Carly Fiorina: “I Am Distinctly Horrifying to Liberals”

A recent poll put Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton in a theoretical matchup, and Fiorina won 52 percent to 38 percent.

Fiorina said this meant she is “distinctly horrifying to liberals” because she is a conservative woman who could beat Hillary Clinton despite not hewing to “liberal orthodoxy” about what a woman and a feminist should believe.

Fiorina has tried to brand herself as an iconoclastic feminist who doesn’t need identity politics and who champions a woman’s right to choose her destiny.

Yet she opposes reproductive rights, going so far as to repeatedly lie about the Planned Parenthood smear videos released by an anti-choice front group in coordination with Republican legislators. She does in fact use identity politics, even if she doesn’t see it that way, by talking about how being a woman affects her life and her candidacy.

Image: CNN / YouTube

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Maine Republicans Will Target Fetal Tissue and Planned Parenthood

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 14:11

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

Lawmakers in Maine are preparing a legislative agenda that includes bills intended to restrict reproductive rights and ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding.

Nearly 400 bills were pre-filed in Maine last week in preparation for the legislative session, which begins on January 5. While the text of the bills is not yet available, the sponsors of the bills and the bill’s titles shed light on the intent of the proposals. 

Republicans, who control the state senate, are poised to push anti-choice legislation. It remains unclear how much success they will have in a divided legislature, as Democrats hold the state house.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage is staunchly anti-choice, and his administration recently targeted a family planning organization with allegations that state funds were used for abortion services.

Any anti-choice bills will face an initial legislative hurdle. All bills must first be accepted by the bipartisan legislative council in order to be considered before the full house or senate.

LR 2169, pre-filed by Rep. Eleanor Espling (R-New Gloucester), would regulate the “disposition of fetal tissue from abortions.”

Espling, the assistant Republican leader, co-sponsored a bill during the 2013 legislative session that would have made the sale and purchase of human fetal tissue a Class C crime. The bill defined “human fetal tissue” as any tissue or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus after an abortion.

The bill appears to be motivated by a series of deceptively edited videos released by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress. The videos, released in coordination with GOP lawmakers, feature heavily edited footage of surreptitiously taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

Congressional Republicans used the videos to justify a series of hearings targeting Planned Parenthood and abortion more generally, and have used the videos to justify failed attempts to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding. Republicans in Maine are now calling for their state to ban the organization from receiving state funding.

Anti-choice lawmakers around the country have introduced legislation that bans the use of fetal tissue for research since the release of CMP’s smear videos.

Three state lawmakers co-authored an op-ed calling for Planned Parenthood to be banned from receiving state or federal funding. Rep. Richard Pickett (R-Dixfield), Rep. Mary Anne Kinney (R-Knox) and Rep. Beth P. Turner (R-Burlington) wrote “we are this day asking the Republican leadership in Maine to assist in defunding any and all Planned Parenthood activities in Maine using any Maine taxpayer money from any source.”

The trio of lawmakers justified their call to action based on CMP’s videos, which they claim “clearly show how Planned Parenthood employees are carefully and deliberately removing baby organs and body parts and selling them on the open market.”

To date, investigations in at least seven states have not uncovered any evidence that Planned Parenthood affiliates have broken fetal tissue laws.

The Maine Republicans claimed in their op-ed that legislation will not be intended to target a “woman’s right to choose or the amount of money spent on women’s health services,” and that any state funds Planned Parenthood would not receive should be “diverted to other community-based programs providing the same services for women.”

Kinney pre-filed LR 2182, which would “prohibit state funding of health care services provided by certain health care providers.” Another lawmaker pre-filed similar legislation. LR 2531, pre-filed by Rep. Stacy Guerin (R-Glenburn), would “prohibit the payment of state funds to entities that perform abortions or operate facilities at which abortions are performed.”

Sen. Dawn Hill (D-York) told Maine Public Radio that the push to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds is overreaction to secretly recorded, highly edited videos. “That does not happen in Maine,” Hill said. “There is no fetal tissue being marketed in Maine, so it’s not even an issue for us.”

Image: The Heritage Foundation / YouTube

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Shaming Women About Having Sex Doesn’t Stop Us From Having Sex

RH Reality Check - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 11:41

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

I ask about 100 people, either by phone or by knocking on doors, the same question each week as an organizer at a reproductive health nonprofit.

“Are you a supporter of women’s health services such as breast cancer screenings and birth control?” I say. Typically people will tell me “sure,” say they aren’t interested in taking my survey, or tell me that they are already strong supporters of the movement and will fill out whatever I have for them that day.

One particular morning while out canvassing, I knocked on a door and a woman answered. After running through my usual spiel, I was taken aback by her answer. “No, I practice abstinent sex and depend on the Lord for my health services,” she told me.

I smirked to myself as I tried to interpret “abstinent sex,” which I assumed meant that she is celibate now to strengthen her spirituality.

But then I remembered she sounded a lot like me nearly a decade ago.

When I was 14, I decided to wait until marriage to have sex. I was so proud of this revelation that I wore it like a badge of honor, as part of my identity as a teen. Sometimes I would try to determine who the virgins in my school classes were, and the non-virgins—of course, the latter were, in my mind, the bad kids.

I held the moral high ground as a “good girl.” The premise was simple: Good girls were girls who did well in school and did not pay attention to boys. Good girls were those who waited for love and marriage, and took the time in our youth to develop other interests in academia and community service (in our churches). It was as if as soon as a young woman had sex, she would become disinterested in school, church, and volunteer activities, I was taught by faith leaders to believe.

I was playing by the rules of my Protestant upbringing. I learned in church that sex was bad, unless I was married, because the Bible said so. Preachers referred to scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that is within you, whom you have from God?”) and Galatians 5:19 (“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality.”) to support their claims that sex outside of marriage is sinful in the eyes of God and makes one dirty.

And yet, as a minister now, I realize that these scriptures do not speak directly to sex inside modern marriage as we know it, and “sexual immorality” could mean many things. For example, many biblical scholars agree that porneia, from which the word fornication is loosely translated, does not necessarily mean premarital sex. It can refer to many sins of sexuality. As Boykin Sanders explains in True to our Native Land, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 the word porneia refers to men being sexually involved with their father’s wife, and other forms of adultery.

But for many churchgoing young people, the pressures to abstain from sex, based on inaccurate interpretations of scripture by preachers and other church leaders, are compelling. For me at least, abstinence meant that I could stay spiritually and physically pure, and able to focus on things that were important to me, such as school, deciding on a career, and loving myself outside of a relationship. These are positive teachings from church, but it is also important for young people to understand that having sex doesn’t necessarily mean that we lose those parts of ourselves just by doing it.

I’ve frequently heard in church the idea that our bodies are “temples” to discourage individuals from having sex. But, I wondered, how does having sex dishonor our temples? This question made more sense to me when I learned in divinity school about Western philosophy and the idea that our bodies and souls are separate, and that in order to be a good Christian, we have to give into the desires of our spirits by denying desires of the body.

That philosophy didn’t make sense to me, because not only is it used to encourage women to be abstinent, it encourages people to pray about illness instead of seeking treatment or taking measures to be healthy (such as healthy eating, exercise, and annual doctors’ visits), encourages Christians to ignore mental health issues, and doesn’t allow Christians to grieve in their own unique ways. Growing up, I frequently heard sermons for people who were in real pain, where they were told to pray and God would give them strength. Indeed, prayer can give us strength, but prayer as a quick fix without acknowledging pain and grief can invalidate human pain.

Over the years I also came to understand that abstinence is a spiritual practice, and while it is a fine one, all of us do not have to adopt such a practice in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. It’s actually impracticable to seek to attain the exact spiritual practice of others since we all walk different paths in life. A starving person, for example, would not be able to fast, nor would someone with diabetes or another medical condition that affects their diet. They would need to adopt other methods to practice their religion. Many people who choose not to abstain from sex adopt other spiritual practices to fulfill their religious experience as well.

Abstinence would not help me in my advocacy work fighting back against poverty, inequality, racism, and the patriarchy. Yes, I could hold the badge of honor that I was celibate, but if that was the only thing I did to practice my religion, I knew I was doing it wrong.

Ultimately, shaming me from having sex did not improve my spiritual journey, it just made me feel guilty about my own natural urges.

The first time I had sex I thought it was going to be life-changing—and it wasn’t. We did it and held each other after, and the next morning, as I usually do as a young minister on Sunday mornings, I went to church.

I always thought I would feel differently, that it would change me, or that I would feel an incredible loss. Or worse, that I would be forever attached to the person (I’m not). It was an important milestone in my life, and I was careful about choosing the person with whom I would experience it. But it didn’t change who I was as a person.

As much as I was discouraged by faith leaders from having sex before marriage, I still did it, like many spiritual women who have come before me. In fact, a 2011 study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 80 percent of young people who self-identified as evangelical Christians are having sex. Additionally, an overwhelming majority of African-American regular church attendees support access to contraception and abortion. Why? Because we are having sex and understand that contraceptives and abortion are essential parts of our health care.

These fights against women’s health care—such as the recent attempts to defund Planned Parenthood or the refusal of Catholic hospitals to provide basic reproductive health care and perform tubal ligations for women who need them—come down to the fact that women are having sex, and men in leadership, whether they are faith leaders or elected officials, don’t agree with it. Instead of saying they don’t agree, they depict sex as a traumatic experience and stigmatize reproductive health care, painting abortion as a sinful and regrettable act. Most recently, the Pope instructed priests to forgive women for having an abortion, suggesting their decisions about their own bodies and families were wrong.

Many people in leadership believe women should be punished for having sex. They believe pregnancy is a consequence of acting irresponsibly, so women must endure it whether they want to or not. They believe women who have had sex should be deemed ineligible for dating and future relationships. Some faith leaders believe women should be punished by experiencing spiritual turmoil and feeling separated from God. But we don’t have to—and shouldn’t—feel shame. I don’t feel bad about living out my humanity in this way.

I’m glad women are fighting back against slut-shaming. Sexuality does not have to be a secret, and religious individuals should not have to feel guilty for having sex. There are many reasons to have sex, just as there are many reasons women may opt for contraception or choose to terminate a pregnancy. For many of us, these decisions are not shameful, they are simply a normal part of being human.

Image: Shutterstock

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Texas Policy Harms Undocumented Women

Center for Reproductive Rights - Fri, 10/09/2015 - 10:07
Texas Policy Harms Undocumented Women TxsDeport.png

10.09.15 - Undocumented women in Texas often do not seek needed health care for fear of being stopped at checkpoints, while others are refused care due to their undocumented status. But in an op-ed in the Houston Chron, Center vice president of U.S. policy and advocacy Angela Hooton and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health executive director Jessica González-Rojas speak out about ways to address the disproportionate harms to women and immigrants inflicted by Texas policies.

Hooton and González-Rojas advocate a human-rights-based approach to health policy:

Reproductive health care should be treated as a fundamental human right in our state. This means Texas should strengthen the investment in preventive care so clinics can serve women in all parts of the state, not just those in urban areas. It means expanding affordable reproductive health services so women never have to choose between paying for contraception and feeding their families. Further, it means training and recruiting health-care providers to treat all who come through their doors with respect and dignity.

The article coincides with a new report detailing how the state of Texas has systematically created a human rights crisis for women and immigrants.

Nuestra Voz, Nuestra Salud, Nuestro Texas: The Fight for Women's Reproductive Health in the Rio Grande Valley Raising Voices for Women’s Health: Reproductive Rights Advocacy & the Nuestro Texas Campaign

LePage Administration Goes After Family Planning Group

RH Reality Check - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 17:07

The Family Planning Association of Maine (FPAM) asked a judge to overturn a Maine state government order that the organization repay more than $180,000 the government claims it overpaid the nonprofit.

FPAM was reimbursed $184,000 for reproductive health-care services that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) claims were related to abortion services. The reimbursements were made through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, from January 2006 through August 2010.

DHHS claims that any health care provided to women on the same day that they had an abortion constitutes abortion related services, regardless of whether the services are directly related to an abortion procedure.

Federal law prohibits Medicaid reimbursements for abortion services, with limited exceptions.

Maine DHHS commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement Wednesday that the state Medicaid regulations prohibit reimbursement for “any services ancillary to a non-covered service.”

Maine state law prohibits state funding of abortion care through MaineCare unless a physician certifies that the procedure is necessary to preserve the woman’s life or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. The physician must provide written justification as to the necessity of the abortion procedure.

The MaineCare benefits manual does not specify if abortion services include anything other than the abortion procedure.

The DHHS “consistently interpreted MaineCare rules to cover reimbursement for clinically necessary reproductive healthcare services provided to pregnant women regardless whether those women subsequently had abortions,” according to the appeal filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

“We got some direction from the department more than 10 years ago for what services would be reimbursable, and they said we were not allowed to bill them that way anymore,” Kathleen Brogan, vice president for public affairs at Maine Family Planning, told the Kennebec Journal. “They just changed their interpretation of what was appropriate and never let us know. We think it’s very interesting that we billed that way through two administrations, and very soon after the current administration took over, it became unacceptable.

FPAM claims that the state in recent years has reimbursed the organization for those services, but that the policy was changed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration without notifying the FPAM of the change.

FPAM officials say they discontinued billing the state for those services after the change became apparent.

DHHS spokesman David Sorensen told the Kennebec Journal that the department had conducted an audit of FPAM that revealed it “had been improperly billing Maine’s taxpayer-funded Medicaid program for abortion-related services in violation of Medicaid law.”

“The department has taken appropriate action to enforce the law, treating Maine Family Planning’s case as it would any other audit of a MaineCare provider,” Sorensen said.

LePage, first elected in the massive Republican gains of the 2010 midterms, is staunchly anti-choice, and this year commended the goal of trying “to repeal and eliminate the heinous act of abortion,” reported the Kennebec Journal.

LePage has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, like many GOP governors nationwide. Expansion would provide an estimated 70,000 low-income residents in the state with access to health care. Maine remains one of 19 states that have not expanded the program.

A bill that would have ensured access to preventive health services for nearly 14,000 low-income women in Maine was vetoed by LePage in May 2014, despite being passed with broad bipartisan support.

The proposal would have expanded family planning services for low-income women under MaineCare, and included coverage for cancer screenings, well-woman exams, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, along with sexual health information.

FPAM’s appeal to the Maine Superior Court comes after the organization appealed audit findings and requested an administrative appeal hearing, which was held April 16.

“We are confident in our case and look forward to the opportunity to present it to the court,” Mayhew said.

Image: Shutterstock

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House GOP Creates Benghazi-Like Committee to Target Planned Parenthood

RH Reality Check - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 13:58

See more of our coverage on recent attacks against Planned Parenthood here.

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to create a select committee to investigate abortion practices and fetal tissue donation, a move that Democrats say is a politically motivated attack on Planned Parenthood.

The House voted 242-184 on a resolution to create the new select committee, which will operate as a 14-member panel under the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democrats argue that the panel will be similar to the select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which has existed for more than a year and cost $5 million. That committee came under new scrutiny recently when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested that the panel was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential polling numbers.

McCarthy’s credibility seems to have been so damaged by these remarks that he abruptly dropped out of the race for Speaker of the House on Thursday.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said Tuesday that McCarthy “accidentally told the truth” about the Benghazi panel—that it was created for “politics, not governance.”

“That is against our oath of office, and it is a disgrace,” Slaughter said. “Congressman McCarthy was clear—select committees have been used for purely political purposes. And this new select committee on Planned Parenthood will be no different.”

“I can’t imagine anything that’s more of a waste of time,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said on Tuesday. Pallone harshly criticized Republicans for wasting time and resources to create “another bureaucracy,” which their party supposedly loathes, to do work that is being done by several other committees that have not found any evidence that Planned Parenthood did anything wrong.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is expected to chair the committee. She said Tuesday that the select committee was necessary because of the “serious questions” raised by a series of deceptively edited videos taken by an anti-choice front group, and that the new committee would put the investigations by three other House committees “under one umbrella.”

Democrats argued that the committee’s chair will have unprecedented unilateral subpoena powers, and that that new committee could subsume the rights of the other committees that are already investigating the issue.

Republican-led hearings in the House Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Oversight and Government Reform committees have been widely criticized for their partisan nature and their focus on abortion access and procedures, rather than any hard evidence of whether Planned Parenthood broke the law.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who chairs the Oversight committee, came under fire for using an obviously misleading chart about Planned Parenthood’s medical services. He told CNN that he wasn’t “suggesting that [Planned Parenthood] broke the law,” a comment that prompted Democrats and pro-choice advocates to ask why Chaffetz was holding hearings in the first place.

Slaughter also called out Chaffetz on Wednesday for refusing to let the committee’s Democrats have copies of what could be the full, unedited Planned Parenthood attack videos.

The resolution to create the select committee does not specifically mention Planned Parenthood, but it seems clearly designed to examine the organization—as well as abortion in general.

It calls for the investigation of six issues:

(1) medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement;

(2) any other relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement;

(3) federal funding and support for abortion providers;

(4) the practices of providers of second and third trimester abortions, including partial birth abortion and procedures that may lead to a child born alive as a result of an attempted abortion;

(5) medical procedures for the care of a child born alive as a result of an attempted abortion; and

(6) any changes in law or regulation necessary as a result of any findings made under this subsection.

Republicans, including Blackburn, have suggested—without credible evidence—that Planned Parenthood regularly performs “partial birth” abortion, and even kills viable “born alive” infants after attempted abortion. Blackburn deflected accusations of partisanship by noting that Planned Parenthood isn’t specifically mentioned in the resolution.

Pallone countered that the broad scope of the committee makes him worry about an ideological attack on a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion.

“The way [Blackburn] reads this thing, it sounds to me like we’re going to investigate whether we should even be having abortions,” Pallone said.

Image: CNN / YouTube

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San Francisco’s Approach to HIV Is Working

RH Reality Check - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:19

The World Health Organization (WHO) last month issued new treatment and prevention guidelines for HIV that suggest all patients who test positive for the virus be put on antiretroviral drugs right away and that those at high risk for the virus be offered preventive drug therapy.

San Francisco provides a great example of how this approach can work, as the New York Times reported Monday. San Francisco, which was once a hotbed of the national HIV and AIDS epidemic—the city saw 1,641 die from AIDS in 1992—saw just 302 new HIV infections last year and 177 HIV-positive San Franciscans died (some from unrelated causes). A multi-prong approach that gets patients into treatment immediately, offers pre-exposure prophylaxis for those at most risk, and helps people find and keep health insurance is responsible for the city’s success.

The city adopted the test-and-treat part of the model in 2010. That increased the availability of testing services and created a program called Rapid, which connects patients who test positive with doctors who can see them right away. Those who don’t have health insurance can meet with a social worker who helps them apply for public health coverage. The program will even provide car fare if necessary.

This strategy was met with some resistance from doctors who thought the side effects of the drugs were too harsh for people whose immune system were not yet compromised and worried that people who still felt healthy would be unlikely to stick to a demanding drug regimen.

“We were accused of medicalizing HIV,” Dr. Grant Colfax, who was the city’s director of HIV services in 2010, told the New York Times. “Which I found ironic.”

Getting people who test positive immediate treatment is not just about their own health, it’s about preventing them from spreading the disease. When taken regularly, antiretroviral drugs can reduce the level of virus in a person to the point that he or she is no longer contagious.

Such patients are said to be virally suppressed. In San Francisco, 82 percent of residents with HIV are in care and 72 percent are suppressed. This far outstrips performance nationally. As of 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 39 percent of HIV-positive Americans were in treatment and only 30 percent were taking their drugs frequently enough to be considered suppressed.

In 2013, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada—a pill that combines two HIV drugs—for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), San Francisco added that to its approach. PrEP has been found to be highly successful. A study of 657 Kaiser Permanente patients on Truvada found that none of them contracted HIV over a two-year period, as RH Reality Check recently reported.

The method has its critics, however, because condom use among these men went down and about half of them contracted another sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Nonetheless, Dr. Susan Boochbinder, head of HIV research for the city’s health department, says it would be ridiculous not to offer PrEP for fear that patients will get other STIs.

“Denying PrEP to our patients because they might have unsafe sex makes about as much sense as our colleagues who treat high cholesterol denying their patients statins because they might eat more ice cream,” Boochbinder told the New York Times.

San Francisco’s model includes intensive follow-up to ensure that patients—especially those at most risk, such as the homeless—stay in treatment.

This model cannot be replicated in low-income areas, especially in the developing world where donor contributions for AIDS has been flat since 2009.

San Francisco is a wealthy city. The lack of affordable housing in the city has forced low-income people out, meaning many residents with HIV have higher incomes and access to health insurance. The tech boom means that the city has a large budget that allows it to fill in HIV-funding funding gaps where state and federal budgets fall short.

Still, there is a lot to be learned from this program.

“I love the San Francisco model. If it keeps doing what it’s doing, I have a strong feeling that they will be successful at ending the epidemic as we know it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times. “Not every last case—we’ll never get there—but the overall epidemic. And then there’s no excuse for everyone not doing it.”

Image: Shutterstock

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Now Is the Time to Push Iran on Women’s Rights

RH Reality Check - Thu, 10/08/2015 - 08:53

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the United Nations General Assembly, touting Iran’s revamped efforts, born out of the recently signed multilateral nuclear agreement, to become a more cooperative and full member of the international community.

His speech focused on the nuclear deal and his positive outlook toward improved relations with the United States. But for 35 million Iranian women, absent from Mr. Rouhani’s remarks was an explanation of how he intends to keep his promise to ensure women are treated as full members of the country he represents. The world’s governments looking to build stronger ties with Iran must redouble their efforts to hold Iran’s leaders accountable for advancing women’s issues in the wake of the nuclear deal, not excuse them.

In September, Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of Iran’s female indoor soccer team, was prevented from traveling to compete in a tournament in Malaysia. Her husband, sports journalist Mahdi Toutounchi, refused to let her renew her passport to ensure she was in the country to accompany their son to his first day of school, which is, shockingly unjust yet perfectly legal in Iran. Indeed, an Iranian woman cannot leave the country without her husband’s consent, a law that stretches back to before the 1979 revolution. Ardalan’s case is particularly tragic, though, because she represents an athlete capable of competing at the highest level who is unable to pursue her talents and represent her nation abroad because of arcane, restrictive legal norms. In a touching act of solidarity, Ardalan’s teammates began chanting her name as she greeted them in the airport upon their return home from winning the tournament.

The fact remains, how are we to believe that Iran is “looking to the future … with a bright outlook for cooperation and coexistence,” as Mr. Rouhani conveyed at the UN General Assembly, when its laws would require leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel to ask for permission from her husband before attending the United Nations General Assembly?

These norms are not only discriminatory, but out of touch with the reality of Iranian women, who are among the most educated women in the region. Literacy and primary school enrollment rates for women and girls are estimated at more than 99 percent and 100 percent, respectively, and gender disparity in secondary and tertiary education is effectively nonexistent. But no matter how educated a woman in Iran is, all deserve to enjoy the same rights as Iranian men.

Advancements in education and social advancement have not been matched by equivalent advancements in the legal status of women. Women’s employment rates are half that of men at every level of educational attainment. Iran ranks near the bottom (137th out of 142 countries) for political empowerment of women, meaning the presence of women in top elected and appointed roles, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Gender Gap Index.

These disparities, while having some social and cultural roots, are reinforced by design.

Iranian law requires women to seek their husbands’ permission to travel, work, and attend university. And when a husband is abusive, women face huge legal hurdles in getting a divorce. Perversely, in the eyes of the law, adult women are not capable of making these important life decisions, yet girls can legally marry starting at 13 years old and are treated as “adults” when it comes to criminal responsibility starting at age 9.

It seems some leaders in Iran want to double down on this systematic gender discrimination. They propose laws that would require businesses to hire men over women, and married people over unmarried people. Some government offices have already restricted the hiring of women. What’s more, in some state universities, women have been barred from certain majors. Iran produced Maryam Mirzakhani, who last year became the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the top international prize in mathematics. Still, it’s unacceptable that some institutions still prohibit Iranian women from pursuing engineering and math.

Of course, Iranian women, and many men, have not silently accepted these oppressive laws. For example, the Facebook campaign My Stealthy Freedom, which promotes women’s freedom of expression by sharing photos of Iranian women choosing not to wear their hijabs, has gained almost 900,000 likes since its 2014 launch. Iranians have been trying to change such repressive laws for decades, but those who attempt to do so often pay a heavy price. At least 50 women human rights defenders are currently in prison as a result of their advocacy efforts.

Thirty-four-year-old Bahareh Hedayat has been in prison for six years for her activism. Hedayat is a founding member of the “One Million Signatures” campaign, a grassroots movement demanding changes to discriminatory laws. And just when she was due to be released, judicial authorities decided to illegally reinstate an expired probationary sentence, tacking on two years to her prison term. [Full disclosure: I am a member of the campaign.]

Within government, Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, seems genuinely concerned about the situation. She recently issued a harsh criticism of bans on women attending live sporting events. But Molaverdi has little institutional power. If her efforts and those of the women’s rights movement are to be successful, they will need the strong backing from voices inside and outside of Iran.

Starting with Rouhani, we all must fight harder to create the space to criticize discriminatory policies. Iranian women are too educated, talented, and ambitious to remain held back by an archaic set of rules. To truly become a legitimate actor in the world, Rouhani must now prioritize the rights of women—and the international community must demand reform.

The reform and modernization of Iranian law with regard to expanding human rights and ensuring gender equality would release the limitless potential of the Iranian people, and especially Iranian women. But if the Islamic Republic keeps the gates closed, women will not be passive. They will continue to educate the masses to peacefully resist discrimination. We believe that justice and equality can best be achieved through patience and tolerance.

Image: PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The post Now Is the Time to Push Iran on Women’s Rights appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Dems: GOP Won’t Give Us Full Planned Parenthood Attack Videos

RH Reality Check - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 17:37

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

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said on the House floor Wednesday that congressional Republicans are refusing to give Democrats copies of what could be the full, unedited source footage of the deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a subpoena last month to David Daleiden, head of the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, for all of the unedited videos he has that relate to the acquisition, preparation, and sale of fetal tissue.

Daleiden delivered these videos to the committee on September 25, Slaughter said—but he only provided the videos to the committee’s Republicans, in direct violation of the subpoena. That subpoena reads, “Two sets of documents shall be delivered, one set to the Majority Staff and one set to the Minority Staff.”

Then, Slaughter said, Chaffetz refused to open the package containing the videos until two weeks later. Now his staff is refusing to give copies of the videos, which Chaffetz “has in his possession right now on a computer hard drive,” to Democratic committee members.

“On what authority are the Republicans refusing to provide the Democrat members of the body a copy of the videos?” Slaughter asked. “And we know that Republicans actually have no authority to do that.”

“Republicans are requiring Democrats to go to a Republican-controlled viewing room, thereby prohibiting them from releasing the videos to the American people,” a Democratic aide told RH Reality Check. “By the Chairman’s own subpoena, Democrats are entitled to a copy.”

Some of the footage may be blocked from public release regardless, due to a restraining order preventing the release of footage featuring National Abortion Federation (NAF) members and meetings. Chaffetz, when he issued the subpoena, cited that restraining order and said that his intent was to demand transparency from NAF and Planned Parenthood.

It’s not clear which footage committee Democrats would have the authority to release if they had copies. It’s also not clear whether the videos in Chaffetz’s possession are, in fact, unedited source footage. A forensic investigation found that even the “unedited” videos that Daleiden released online were altered, meaning that they had no evidentiary value unless the source footage was made available.

“We believe that the videos will show how Mr. Daleiden deceptively edited his videotapes to distort the truth, but those tapes are being hidden away,” Slaughter said. 

Chaffetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment by publication.

Image: YouTube

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D.C. Workers Could Soon Get 16 Weeks of Paid Family and Medical Leave

RH Reality Check - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 16:03

Paid family leave may be going nowhere on Capitol Hill, but Washington, D.C.’s local government just introduced the nation’s most ambitious family leave proposal.

If the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 passes, almost everyone who works in the District of Columbia will qualify for up to 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave. They can use that time to bond with a new baby or an adopted child, care for a sick relative, or deal with their own serious health condition.

The bill is also written to be LGBTQ-inclusive and to account for the health needs of military families.

The District isn’t allowed to tax the federal government, so federal employees who live in Virginia and Maryland aren’t included. Federal employees and federal contract workers who live in D.C., as well as self-employed people, can choose to pay into the program in order to receive the benefit.

“It’s the right thing to do,” D.C. Councilmember David Grosso told RH Reality Check. “The more we support families—the more we support people being engaged with bringing up children, with caring for loved ones who are getting older—the better city we’re going to be.”

It also gives the District a “competitive edge,” Grosso said, because the benefit will attract talented workers to the area.

Grosso co-wrote the legislation with Councilmember Elissa Silverman, and the bill was introduced with seven co-sponsors on the 13-member council. Grosso said he expects the bill will get a hearing before the end of the year, and that once it passes, workers could expect to start drawing benefits in early to mid-2017.

California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have paid leave insurance programs, but D.C.’s program is much more generous than any of them.

Whereas New Jersey and California offer six weeks of partially paid leave, the District’s plan would offer 16 weeks of fully paid leave for people who make less than $1,000 per week. People who make more than that can add 50 percent of whatever they make over $1,000, with the benefit capped at $3,000.

The District already guarantees a person’s job for up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave, but workers must have been with a company for 1,000 hours and one year. This bill would reduce that to six months and 500 hours, helping to expand the new paid leave benefit to more low-income, short-term, and part-time workers who would most risk losing their job if they take time off.

These provisions help ensure that the benefit will be truly universal, and not just favor white-collar workers who may already have generous leave benefits. Low-income people who can’t afford a partial paycheck could take the leave they need, and small businesses that can’t afford a generous leave program could offer that benefit for a low cost. Businesses that already have generous leave programs could actually save money, Grosso noted.

The exact costs are still being calculated, but the program will be funded by a progressive payroll tax on employers equivalent to 1 percent or less of each employee’s salary.

Other paid leave insurance proposals split the cost between employers and employees. But because D.C. isn’t allowed to levy a commuter tax on people who live in Virginia or Maryland but work in the District, the funds had to come from employers in order to cover those workers.

The local Chamber of Commerce opposes the legislation, but Grosso said he isn’t worried. He said businesses are savvy enough to realize that they can pass on some of the costs to their workers if need be, and the bill doesn’t prohibit that. He thinks it’s good for businesses, because the benefits will make them more competitive and they’ll have happier, more loyal, more productive workers.

“I think the benefits here outweigh any kind of burden that the businesses might think they’re going to have,” Grosso said.

Grosso said his office and Silverman’s have researched and developed the program for the past nine months, funded by a Department of Labor grant.

The Obama administration has been doing all it can, using tools like research grants and executive orders that affect federal workers, to push for national paid leave despite a recalcitrant GOP-led Congress. States and municipalities have led the way on paid leave in recent years, and advocates hope that growing momentum at the local level will help light a fire under Congress to pass national legislation.

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t offer some kind of national paid maternity leave policy. Advocates are also pushing for paid paternity leave, since worldwide research shows benefits to families when fathers are more equally involved in child care early on.

D.C.’s bill applies to any new parent, and includes an expansive definition of “family member.”

“People say this is revolutionary new stuff,” Grosso said. “It really isn’t. Around the world they do this, and give a lot of respect to building strong families. In this country we’re just way behind the times.”

Image: Shutterstock

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