Friday, April 29, 2011

Fetal Rights and the Dangerous Consequences of Roe v. Wade’s Demise

The Nation ‘s Michelle Goldberg recently discussed how the anti-abortion movement is increasingly using state and federal feticide laws to arrest and imprison women.  “Throughout the past few decades, abortion foes have worked steadily to endow fetuses with rights separate from those of mothers, aiming to undermine the logic of Roe v. Wade.”  This agenda is designed to “…’allow a jurist to acknowledge that human beings at any stage of development deserve protection—even protection that would trump a woman’s interest in terminating a pregnancy’.”  The practical effect of this aspect of the anti-abortion movement has resulted in women facing serious criminal charges for “…ending their pregnancies, or merely attempting to do so.”  

The fear that anti-abortion politicians would use fetal rights law, including a push to recognize fetal pain at earlier and earlier gestational stages, can no longer be dismissed as paranoia.  The fact that the anti-abortion movement primarily views women as unwitting victims who are too ignorant to understand that choosing abortion is really murder, has not stopped increasing attempts to use feticide laws to criminalize everything from attempted suicides, suspected attempted suicides, or even “suspicious” miscarriages. 

The New York Times recently reported on an alleged epidemic of low-income pregnant women around the country that are abusing prescription drugs.  Lynn Paltrow, the founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, explains how the New York Times, relying solely on anecdotal evidence, “…suggest[s] that the greatest threat to children is their mothers…”  This false narrative adds to the notion that certain kinds of pregnant women, particularly low-income women, cannot be trusted. 

Paltrow also discusses the real impact of the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004’’ or ‘‘Laci and Conner’s Law,’’ which was enacted after the tragic murder of Laci Peterson.  Laci Peterson was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder in 2002.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can We Risk Defending Roe v. Wade?

Last week Rachel Maddow had a very frank discussion with the president of the National Organization for Women, Terry O’Neill, revealing the risks associated with challenging some of the clearly unconstitutional state laws that directly contravene Roe v. Wade.  O’Neill explained that the most significant danger with any court challenge is the potential that the current conservative Supreme Court is now poised to overturn the fundamental abortion rights established under Roe. 

Does the reality of the current makeup of the Supreme Court mean that pro-choice groups must continue to play defense instead of offense? 

Recently, the Guttmacher Institute reported:

Recent changes in the membership of the U.S. Supreme Court have led some state policymakers to consider the possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned and regulation of abortion returned to the states.  Some state legislatures are considering banning abortion under all or virtually all circumstances; these measures are widely viewed as an attempt to provoke a legal challenge to Roe, while other states are considering abortion bans that would go into effect in the event that Roe is overturned.

So, what can pro-choice advocacy organizations do to fight back?  How do we defend against the unconstitutional attacks and attempts to dismantle the very precepts of Roe v. Wade? 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The House GOP’s Culture War on Contraceptive Services

Contraception works!  There is no doubt about it – full and easy access to contraceptive services reduces the rate of unintended pregnancies.  Therefore, access to contraception reduces the rate of abortion. 

Guttmacher Institute research shows that the two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies.  The 19% of women at risk who use contraception but do so inconsistently account for 44% of all unintended pregnancies, while the 16% of women at risk who do not use contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52% of all unintended pregnancies.

So why do anti-choice politicians, and the House GOP in particular, continue their relentless attacks not only Planned Parenthood funds but on all Title X family planning services?

Sometimes it seems as though “…the Republican Party is doing everything in its power to ensure that there are more abortions than ever in the years to come.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently remarked that the GOP has “…been on an ‘ideological harangue’ against abortion, contraception, and family planning.”  She went on to say that the GOP needs, “…a lesson in the birds and bees…If you don't want to terminate a pregnancy, you might want to prevent it.  Family planning funding?  People really get this.  Does that give you any picture of how insulting their mentality is?"  And Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently said the GOP is “making it a pre-existing condition to be a woman."

And these GOP attacks on contraceptive access persist even though the “traditional” female base of the Republican Party believes in contraception despite their religious beliefs.  The Guttmacher Institute’s new report, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, reveals:

In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible.  Most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the IUD.  This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Putting Women at Risk: The Rise of Catholic-Secular Hospital Mergers

When two hospitals in Sierra Vista, Arizona attempted a trial merger a group of community activists, including doctors and retirees, became alarmed at what the merger would mean for the quality of reproductive health care at the newly merged hospital.  The Cochise Citizens for Patients' Rights (CCPR) decided to fight the merger.  The two hospitals, the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center and the Catholic Carondolet Health Network, would become a singular institution that would be controlled by the the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services

CCPR activists organized rallies alerting the public and the media to the situation.  Eventually, the Arizona Attorney General began investigating “…after the National Women's Law Center filed a complaint alleging that the Board violated its duty to the community when it entered into a deal that eliminated access to certain services”.

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and PBS correspondent Lucky Severson stated, “[w]hat the merger means is that Sierra Vista, a rural, secular hospital, must now abide by the Catholic ethical and religious directives which prohibit certain procedures.  So physicians can no longer do abortions, even when the mother’s life is in danger, and they can no longer perform sterilizations or provide contraception.” 

Dotti Wellman a spokesperson for CCPR explained that the county “…has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, not just the county.  Immediately when this arrangement went in there would be no talk of birth control.  If we had two hospitals, we would not be here, because there would be a choice.” 

Dr. Bruce Silva, an ob-gyn at Sierra Vista, expressed concern regarding who would have the ultimate authority to make medical decisions for his patients.  Dr. Silva said that “[t]he person who makes that decision is not me and the woman.  We can make that decision, but then it has to be okay’d by someone else who puts their belief systems and their ethics on me and on my patients, which I just don’t think is right.”

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scott Horton Interviews Antoinette Bonsignore

Scott Horton Interviews Antoinette Bonsignore

Antoinette Bonsignore, a regular blogger for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, discusses her truthout article, “The Military’s Rape and Sexual Assault Epidemic;” the harassment and threats heaped on military rape victims – men and women – who dare to report the crimes; the culture of impunity for offenders, aided by a woefully deficient (by design) investigative and oversight apparatus; the class action lawsuitbrought against Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates for their failure to address the problem; and how you can take action to make the military accountable for sexual assaults within the ranks.

Rape and the Culture of Impunity: Despite Proclamations, the White House Remains Silent About Rape in the Military

Rape and the Culture of Impunity: Despite Proclamations, the White House Remains Silent About Rape in the Military

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Update: Public Campaign Financing and Gender Based Employment Discrimination

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in McComish v. Bennett.  In 1998 the voters of Arizona passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act.  The program has increased the number of women and minorities running for office in Arizona.  The referendum was passed in reaction to Arizona elections corruption scandals.  The Act set up a full and voluntary public financing system for legislative and statewide races.  Some Arizona candidates challenged the “triggered funds” provision contained in the Act claiming that it violated their First Amendment right to free speech.  Opponents said that the fear of “triggered” funds kicking in kept them from raising and spending money – that this fear censored candidates that opted out of the public financing system.  The theory is that a candidate that opts out will spend right up to the triggering threshold but no more– thereby limiting that candidate’s First Amendment rights.  

The Roberts Court will likely find the trigger funding provision unconstitutional because the Court has ruled that “…states and cities may not try to ‘level the playing field’ between candidates for public office.”  The decision in the Arizona case could have serious consequences for matching fund programs in four other states: Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.  The potential impact on women and minority candidates in those states now rests in the hands of the Roberts Court.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes.  This case represents the largest employment discrimination class action lawsuit in U.S. history.  The case is predicated on allegations that Wal-Mart has engaged in systematic gender discrimination in their employment practices, including pay equity and promotion practices.  The question before the Supreme Court is whether the female Wal-Mart employees can join together in a class action against Wal-Mart.  

The Supreme Court must decide “…whether the women suing Wal-Mart have enough in common to justify a collective lawsuit.”  The National Women’s Law Center provides a detailed analysis of the facts in this lawsuit.  There is also a new report from the Alliance for Justice detailing the pattern of discrimination at Wal-Mart and how this case may affect the rights of at least 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees in the U.S. 

Absent the right to sue in a class-action, workers who have suffered discrimination would lose the most effective means for fighting large corporations.  Most of the women in the Dukes class action would never bring an individual lawsuit.  Proving individual discrimination is hard…And even for those who could prove it, the damages they would be entitled to often aren't worth suing over.”  In fact, “[t]he deterrent effect of a large class-action lawsuit may be the only thing that will encourage employers to root out discrimination among their managers: Tellingly, Wal-Mart has made an impressive effort to treat women more equitably in the 10 years since the case was filed.”    

A new research report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope, finds that “…class action is key to winning systemic change--especially among very large employers like Wal-Mart. Class action helps to balance an unequal power relationship."

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Fiscal Irresponsibility of Anti-Choice Politicians: More Lies about the Budget

GOP leaders at both the state and federal level have turned the very definition of limited, small government on its head.  The onslaught of ideologically extreme anti-choice legislation at the state and federal level has transformed the notion of fiscal conservatism and limited government into an obvious charade.  Yet, most of the traditional, mainstream media makes no mention of this all consuming hypocrisy. 

Eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood will likely cost the government more money in both the short and long run, adding to the deficit.  Simply put, Planned Parenthood offers extremely cost-effective care compared to other government-funded providers, and each dollar spent on contraception saves taxpayers multiple dollars down the line.”  Defunding Planned Parenthood will force its patients to seek out health care services at other clinics.  And these other Title X clinics “…typically charge the government more for the same services.”    

In fact, “Planned Parenthood cost Medicaid an average of $154 for a patient's contraceptive care in a year, while other clinics spent $244 a year per patient.  Just pushing contraceptive care for Medicaid patients from Planned Parenthood to other clinics would thus cost the government an additional $225 million a year.”

There are many reasons why Planned Parenthood is so cost effective:

·         Drug companies are mandated by federal law to provide deep discounts to Title X clinics;
·         Planned Parenthood has incorporated the latest and most cost effective preventative care measures such as providing pelvic exams once every three years versus once a year; 
·         Planned Parenthood is “…the biggest reproductive health care provider in the country, with more than 800 clinics nationwide...  [and they’re]… able to do national purchasing for medical supplies and other things at lower costs."

So, if Planned Parenthood is defunded Medicaid would end up paying more for contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screenings.   And without access to Planned Parenthood, other Title X clinics would become overwhelmed with patients creating a longer and longer waiting lists for critical care. 

The Guttmacher Institute estimated in 2008 that every dollar spent on family planning saves taxpayers $3.74 in government spending on prenatal care, childbirth, and the first year of an infant's health care.  But if more women who are financially stressed end up bearing children they don't want, the costs of pregnancy and infant care will quickly be dwarfed by government spending on public assistance, food stamps, and health care.

The Hartford Courant explained how defunding Planned Parenthood would devastate Connecticut women:

More than 60,000 Connecticut women this year will visit the local clinics of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England for basic health care, breast and gynecological exams, birth control, abortions and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.
If the House GOP has its way, in Connecticut alone 20,000 women that rely on Medicaid to pay for Planned Parenthood services would be left out in the cold.