Stop the covert attempt to criminalize abortion September 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Health, Women.
Tags: abortion, anti-choice, Canada, pro choice, reproductive rights, Stephen Harper, women's health, women's rights
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I just signed on to this urgent campaign to defend women’s reproductive
rights in Canada. This is an important issue and I hope you’ll join me:
just 48 hours, our MPs will debate a Conservative motion that the Canadian
Medical Association, representing 70,000 doctors, is calling a backdoor attempt
to criminalize abortion.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of
Canada ruled that the abortion provision of the Criminal Code was
unconstitutional. But this week, Parliament will be debating a motion
that would threaten our reproductive rights – and the rights of our friends,
daughters, mothers, sisters, and partners.
Prime Minister Harper has
chosen to allow this motion to go forward to a free vote in Parliament, so every
MP must decide whether or not they will stand up for the rights that women and
our allies have been fighting to protect for decades.
We need a
huge public outcry to show our MPs that Canadians will not tolerate this attack
on women’s rights. Please click here to send an urgent message to your MP to
defeat Motion-312 now – then forward this to
Tags: abby zimet, birth control, Humor, political satire, reproductive rights, republicans, roger hollander, women's health
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Because women today are faced with so many choices, it’s safe to assume most of the decisions they make will be wrong. Coming to their rescue is a new program to sponsor a uterus in need. Act now, and you’ll get a kit including the uterus’ photo, biography and information about “the woman who happens to surround it.” Brought to you by some funny people.
From comments on the program: “I’d like to sponsor a uterus but I’m easily distracted by other things…Can I arrange to have the uterus put down if I lose interest?”
Tags: agnes gareb, caesarian, catherine porter, Criminal Justice, elizabeth davis, home birth, hungarian government, hungary, midwife, midwifery, midwives, pal schmitt, roger hollander, women's health, women's rights
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ROGER’S NOTE: PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.
Bela Szandelszky/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In Hungary, it is legal for women to give birth at home. But any medical professional who helps those women — such as midwives — can be criminally charged.
So women there have two state-sanctioned options: go to the hospital, where Caesarian section rates are frighteningly high, or give birth alone at home like a dog.
Until recently, Gereb offered a third option.
She was an obstetrician-gynecologist who around two decades ago started attending births at women’s homes. She got licensed as a midwife. She opened her own birthing centre. She became famous.
But like spurned family members, the state’s obstetrician-gynecologists hate her. Despite mounting international studies documenting the contrary, they stubbornly maintain that homebirths attended by trained midwives are not safe.
The ob-gyns make good tips from hospital births, Gereb’s supporters point out. Understandably, they aren’t keen to forfeit that.
Most of them, unlike Gereb and her midwife colleagues, are men.
So they, and the police, hounded Gereb.
“We had to hide Agi away when the ambulance came,” Donal Kerry told me over Skype from Hungary, recounting his wife Mirtill’s first homebirth. The baby arrived healthy, the placenta did not follow. It was Gereb who made the call. “The ambulance drivers often call the police on her.”
Last year, she was found guilty of “endangering life in the conduct of her professional work” and sentenced to two years of prison. The court suspended her medical and midwifery licenses for five years. This year, the court of appeal doubled that suspension.
The judge, though, would admit the expert testimony of Hungarian doctors only. So international midwifery experts like Californian Elizabeth Davis were turned away.
“This is exactly what happened in California in the 1980s,” says Davis, a founding member of the Midwives Alliance of North America who had asked to appear in the Hungarian court as an international midwifery expert. “Midwives were arrested. The cost of defending them and the time kept us from professionally developing or doing any public outreach for years. It was not accidental — it’s a harassment strategy repeated over and over in many countries of the world.”
At the centre of Gereb’s case were two babies who had died — one soon after birth, the other months later. Had she delivered them in hospital as an obstetrician-gynecologist, she might have had to answer to the local Hungarian college of physicians. But in Hungary, there is no overseeing college for midwives.
Instead, they appear before the criminal courts and are thrown to the hounds.
Giving birth is when we women are at our most vulnerable. Our bodies cleave in half; we are often frightened.
We deserve to give birth wherever we feel safe — in a hospital, if we want, or at home, with a trained midwife. It’s a fundamental human right.
Last year, after being pushed by the European Court of Human Rights, the Hungarian government agreed to let midwives attend home births, but only if they were close to a hospital and had a special licence. So far, no licences have been issued, Gereb’s supporters tell me.
Meanwhile, last week the Ontario government announced it will open two birthing centres staffed by midwives — giving women here another option.
We are so lucky.
The women of Hungary are not.
I just signed the petition asking Hungarian Prime Minister Pal Schmitt to pardon Gereb.
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
GOP Wants To Be Sure Women/Idiot Children Understand What Rape Is and Get Permission Slips For Pretty Much Everything March 25, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abby zimet, abortion, abortion rights, alan, Arizona, birth control, dick, gop, idaho, pro choice, reproductive health, reproductive rights, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, women, women's health, women's rights
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by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org
The surreally awful news in the war on lady parts just keeps coming. An Idaho legislator wants women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and “counselling;” if she was raped, her doctor should make sure she was really raped and not just a participant in “normal relations in a marriage.” Alaska’s State Rep. Alan Dick (really) wants women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound and a written permission slip from the guy who, you know. Arizona wants to make it nigh on impossible to get an abortion, but if you make it through all the legislative hurdles you should have to watch an abortion. Then again, the author of the Arizona bill requiring women to prove to their bosses they are using birth control pills for non-slutty reasons, or get fired, is rewriting the bill because apparently, bewilderingly, some people got upset. Funny: Why don’t we feel better?
Tags: abby zimet, anti-choice, health, misogyny, pro choice, reproductive health, republicans, right wing, roger hollander, ryan mcdougle, west virginia, women, women's health
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03.20.12 – 11:13 AM
by Abby Zimet
With Virginia Republican – and avid supporter of the state’s personhood and ultrasound bills – Ryan McDougle so psyched to get all up into the lady parts of his constituents, they generously obliged him by taking to his Facebook page with to offer detailed reports on their menstrual cycles, cramping and vaginal discharge. His office tried to delete them; too late.
“Senator McDougle, I am almost 49 and STILL menstruating with no sign of slowing down! Frankly, I’ve had enough of this inconvenience – the cost of pads and pain reliever and all the mess – well YOU know how it is. You’re an expert on this lady stuff.”
The deep roots of the war on contraception February 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, History, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, Barry Goldwater, Bill Clinton, birth control, catholic bishops, catholic church, conservatism, contraception, ellen chesler, fdr, George W. Bush, history, lbj, margaret sanger, planned parenthood, pro choice, reagan, religion, reproductive freedom, roger hollander, women's health
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The uproar over Obama’s decision stems from tensions between Democrats and Catholics that date back to FDR and LBJ
(Credit: Library of Congress/The White House)
Republicans for Planned Parenthood last week issued a call for nominations for the 2012 Barry Goldwater award, an annual prize awarded to a Republican legislator who has acted to protect women’s health and rights. Past recipients include Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who this week endorsed President Obama’s solution for insuring full coverage of the cost of contraception without exceptions, even for employees of religiously affiliated institutions. And that may tell us all we need to know about why President Obama has the upper hand in a debate over insurance that congressional Tea Partiers have now widened to include anyone who seeks an exemption.
It’s a long time ago, but it is worth remembering that conservative avatar Goldwater was in his day an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedom — a freethinker who voted his conscience over the protests of Catholic bishops and all others who tried to claim these matters as questions of conscientious liberty and not sensible social policy. With Goldwater on his side, Obama sees a clear opening for skeptics wary of the extremism that has captured Republican hopefuls in thrall to the fundamentalist base that controls the GOP presidential primary today. Holding firm on family planning — even if it means taking on the Catholic hierarchy and other naysayers by offering a technical fix that would have insurers cover costs instead of the churches themselves — is a calculated political strategy by the Obama campaign, not a blunder as it has been characterized by many high powered pundits, including progressives like Mark Shields of PBS and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.
Recent public opinion polling on the subject is worth reconsidering. For years, it has been perfectly clear that a substantial majority of Americans see the value of expanding access to contraception and reliable sex education as essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion and to help women balance the competing demands of work and family. But unlike a zealous minority on the other side, these moderates have not necessarily privileged these social concerns over important questions of economics or national security that mattered more to them at election time.
That’s what seems to be changing. With his now-famous “nope, zero” response last spring, President Obama simply shut down Republicans in Congress who wanted to defund family planning as part of a deal to reduce the federal deficit. The action elicited a sudden surge in his popularity, especially in the highly contested demographic of women voters between the ages of 30 and 49 who voted for him in 2008 but wound up frustrated by failed promises and disappointing economic policies. Campaign polling has since uncovered a big opening for Obama with this group because they are furious over Republican social extremism. An astonishing 80 percent of them disapproved of congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood last spring. Polling among Catholics in response to last week’s controversy shows identical patterns, with 57 percent overall supporting the Obama “compromise” to ensure full coverage of contraception, according to reporting by Joe Conason in The National Memo, and cross-tabs demonstrating much higher margins of support from Catholic women, Latinos, and independent Catholic voters — all prime Obama election targets.
If the numbers are so persuasive, why then have Republican conservatives strayed so far from the greater tolerance of the Goldwater age? Why have they allowed the family planning issue to tie their candidates up in knots in 2012? The answer is in just how outsized the influence of a minority viewpoint can be on a political party, so long as it represents the base of that party’s support.
A bit of history going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is instructive. Back then, birth control was still illegal in this country, still defined as obscene under federal statutes that remained as a legacy of the Victorian era, even though many states had reformed local laws and were allowing physicians to prescribe contraception to married women with broadly defined “medical” reasons to plan and space their childbearing.
The movement’s pioneer, Margaret Sanger, went to Washington during the Great Depression, anticipating that Franklin Roosevelt, whose wife Eleanor was her friend and neighbor in New York, would address the problem and incorporate a public subsidy of contraception for poor women into the safety net the New Deal was constructing. What Sanger failed to anticipate, however, was the force of the opposition this idea would continue to generate from the coalition of religious conservatives, including urban Catholics and rural fundamentalist Protestants who held Roosevelt Democrats captive, much as they have today captured the GOP. It was Catholic priests, and not the still slightly scandalous friend of the First Lady, who wound up having tea at the Roosevelt White House.
The U.S. government would not overcome moral and religious objections until the Supreme Court protected contraceptive use under the privacy doctrine created in 1965 under Griswold v. Connecticut. That freed President Lyndon Johnson to incorporate family planning programs into the country’s international development programs and into anti-poverty efforts at home. As a Democrat still especially dependent on Catholic votes, however, Johnson only agreed to act once he had the strong bipartisan support of his arch rival Barry Goldwater’s endorsement and also the intense loyalty and deft maneuvering of Republican moderates like Robert Packwood of Oregon in the Senate. Packwood, in turn, worked alongside Ohio’s Robert Taft, Jr. in the House and a newcomer from Texas by the name of George H. W. Bush. Bush would remain a staunch advocate of reproductive freedom for women until political considerations during the 1980 presidential elections, when he was on the ticket with Ronald Reagan, accounted for one of the most dramatic and cynical public policy reversals in modern American politics.
Reagan had supported California’s liberal policies on contraception and abortion as governor, and Bush as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to the United Nations had helped shape the UN’s population programs. But Republican operatives in 1980 saw a potential fissure in the traditional New Deal coalition among Catholics uncomfortable with the new legitimacy given to abortion after Roe v. Wade and white southern Christians being lured away from the Democrats around the issue of affirmative action and other racial preferences. Opposition to abortion instantly became a GOP litmus test, and both presidential hopefuls officially changed stripes.
Fast forward to 1992 and the election of Bill Clinton as America’s first pro-choice president, coupled with the Supreme Court’s crafting of a compromise decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that put some limits on access to abortion but essentially preserved the core privacy doctrine of Roe v. Wade. The perceived double threat of these political and judicial developments unleashed a new and even more powerful conservative backlash that took aim not only at abortion, but at contraception and sex education as well.
Exploiting inevitable tensions in the wake of profound social and economic changes occurring across the country as the result of altered gender roles and expectations — changes symbolized and made all the more palpable by Hillary Clinton’s activist role as First Lady — conservatives, with the support of powerful right-wing foundations and think tanks, poured millions of dollars into research and propaganda promoting family values and demonizing reproductive freedom, including emotional television ads that ran for years on major media outlets. A relentless stigmatizing of abortion, along with campaigns of intimidation and outright violence against Planned Parenthood and other providers, had a chilling effect on politicians generally shy of social controversy. And Bill Clinton’s vulnerability to charges of sexual misconduct left his administration and his party all the more defensive.
Since the welfare reform legislation of 1996, aptly labeled a “Personal Responsibility Act,” not only has access to abortion been curtailed, but funds for family planning programs at home and abroad have been capped. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been allocated to the teaching of sexual abstinence, rather than more comprehensive approaches to sex education. Just as tragically, U.S. programs addressing the crisis of HIV/AIDS — admirably expanded during the presidency of George W. Bush — were nonetheless made to counsel abstinence and oppose the use of condoms and other safe sex strategies, leaving women and young people all the more vulnerable to the ravages of the epidemic.
Empirically grounded studies over and over again undermined the efficacy of these approaches, which also flew in the face of mainstream American viewpoints and basic common sense. With Barack Obama’s election they have largely been revoked, enflaming the conservative base that put them in place and has lived off the salaries supported by government funding for faith-based social policy.
Even more disheartening to conservative true believers is the promise that the Affordable Care Act will vastly expand access to contraception by providing insurance coverage for oral contraceptives. This guarantee, endorsed by all mainstream health advocates, also includes emergency contraception, popularly known as the morning-after pill, that holds the promise of further reducing unwanted pregnancy and abortion and was meant to offer common ground in an abortion debate long defined by a clash of absolutes. The strong dose of ordinary hormones in emergency contraception act primarily by preventing fertilization, just like daily contraceptive pills, but in rare instances may also disable a fertilized egg from implanting by weakening the uterine lining that it needs for sustenance, causing opponents to vilify it as an abortifacient.
Supporting the Obama policy changes, on the other hand, is a new generation of progressive activists in reproductive health and rights organizations, energized by the intensity of the assaults against them, and now well-armed to educate and activate their own supporters by using traditional grassroots strategies and more sophisticated social networking. No institution has been more important in this effort than Planned Parenthood, with its vast networks of affiliates and supporters in every state, millions more supporters online, and a powerful national political and advocacy operation based in Washington D.C. that has been put to use to great effect in recent months.
The strength of the Planned Parenthood brand, coupled with the organization’s demonstrated ability to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters when it is attacked, has helped overcome traditional political reticence on reproductive justice issues. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is already out with a strong new appeal warning politicians that women are watching. “Enough is enough. Back off on birth control,” is the new advocacy mantra.
Mindful of the numbers — and with the added ballast of what now amounts to a daily drumbeat of progressive television talk and comedy that delights in pillorying Republican prudery — Democrats are intensifying their resolve to take on this fight. Two things we can be sure of: Whoever emerges from the bloodbath of the GOP contest will try and backtrack from the birth control extremism of the primary. And Obama supporters, backed up by the advocacy community, will in turn stand ready to pounce on this inevitable flip-flopping.
Both sides may well summon the spirit and words of Barry Goldwater, who cautioned against allowing faith-based extremism to gain control of the Republican Party. “Politics and governing demand compromise,” he told John Dean, who reports on the conversation in his 2006 book, “Conservatives Without Conscience.” “But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know. I’ve tried to deal with them.”
- Ellen Chesler is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and author of “Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America.” More Ellen Chesler
The Cancerous Politics and Ideology of the Susan G. Komen Foundation February 1, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Right Wing, Women.
Tags: anti-choice, anti-women, breast cancer, breast exams, cliff stearns, health education, jane abraham, jodi jacobson, komen foundation, minority women, nancy brinker, native american women, planned parenthood, poor women, right wing, roger hollander, women's health, women's rights
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This week it became clear there are things more important to the Susan G. Komen Foundation–the fundraising giant that each year during breast cancer awareness month virtually swathes the United States in pink, a la Christo–than ensuring women are able to access exams for early detection of breast cancer.
What could be more important to an organization ostensibly dedicated to the elimination of breast cancer? Answer: The politics and personal agendas of the organization’s senior staff and board, both of which have been infiltrated by right-wing ideologues and both of which were instrumental in a decision to deny further support from Komen affiliates to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide breast exams. In fact, it is now clear that some anti-choicers on Komen’s board and senior staff are actually willing to sacrifice poor women to breast cancer to satisfy their own agendas.
Nationwide, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses provide nearly 750,000 breast cancer screenings annually, offering risk assessments, breast exams, breast health information and education, and diagnostic and surgical referrals. Over the past five years, Planned Parenthood health centers have conducted nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams with funds from Komen, out of a total of more than four million clinical breast exams performed nationwide by Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen grants also supported more than 6,400 out of 70,000 mammogram referrals made by Planned Parenthood. These are affiliate-to-affiliate grants between Komen and Planned Parenthood sister organizations at the state level.
A large share of the clients served at Planned Parenthood clinics are low-income African-American and Latina women. The National Cancer Institute identifies lack of access to early and effective screening for breast cancer (and hence lack of early treatment) as a primary reason that African-American and Latina women die of breast cancer at higher rates than the general population. In fact, Komen itself recognized these links in a 2011 statement lauding its relationship with Planned Parenthood:
While Komen Affiliates provide funds to pay for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities, in some areas, the only place that poor, uninsured or under-insured women can receive these services are through programs run by Planned Parenthood.
Komen further stated:
These facilities serve rural women, poor women, Native American women, women of color, and the un- and under-insured. As part of our financial arrangements, we monitor our grantees twice a year to be sure they are spending the money in line with our agreements, and we are assured that Planned Parenthood uses these funds only for breast health education, screening and treatment programs.
As long as there is a need for health care for these women, Komen Affiliates will continue to fund the facilities that meet that need.
But apparently those women no longer matter as Komen’s support has now been withdrawn. Last month, the national office of the Komen Foundation, which maintains tight control over its state affiliates, sent a memo barring those affiliates from using money they had raised at the local level to partner with Planned Parenthood clinics in improving access to breast exams.
Why? Not science, not evidence, not concern for women.
Politics and personal ambition, pure and simple.
It’s no secret that anti-choice legislators at the state and national level have made Planned Parenthood the central focus of their anti-woman agenda, spending well over half of entire legislative sessions in some states focused on cutting funding and limiting access to reproductive health services. At the national level, the ongoing witch hunt aimed at PPFA has taken many forms, one of which includes a “Congressional inquiry” launched by House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). Stearns sent a letter to PPFA in late September 2011 asking for an avalanche of documents to “investigate” whether PPFA has used federal funds to provide abortion services.
In a letter protesting the move, Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) called the inquiry a politically-motivated waste of time and taxpayer money, stating:
“Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men. … The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood … These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.”
Wasteful or not, any Congressperson can start such an inquiry, even for specious reasons. This is not equivalent to a legal “investigation” of an organization. What Stearns is doing is completely unfounded and politically motivated, but when you have power you can abuse it.
What does Stearns have to do with Komen? Anti-choice groups have long targeted Komen for its partnership with Planned Parenthood, in part by haranguing the organization and listing them as targets of various protests and boycotts, and in part by touting the medically-disproven and specious claims about non-existent links between abortion and breast cancer. A group known as Life Decisions International (LDI), the website of which is “fightpp.org,” has long had Komen on its boycott list.
These efforts hardly appear to have affected Komen’s bottom line since the foundation’s total gross revenue in 2010 was nearly $421 million, only several hundred thousand dollars of which were granted over the past five years by Komen’s state affiliates to local Planned Parenthood partners for education, screening, and referrals. Moreover, as a large and well-known organization (albeit one criticized for its work on many levels) Komen appeared until now to stay above the ideological mud-pit of the anti-choice movement.
Last fall, however, things began to change. LDI began quiety telling other anti-choice groups that it had “won” the battle with Komen and that they should await public announcement of a policy change.
And suddenly, Cliff Stearns’ inquiry became a reason for the Komen national office to change what state affiliates could do with their funds. Komen’s board recently approved a new policy stating that affiliates can only provide grant funds to other organizations if:
• The applicant is not currently debarred from the receipt of federal or state funding.
• No key personnel of applicant or any of its affiliates has been convicted of fraud or a crime involving any other financial or administrative impropriety within the last year.
• The applicant or any of its affiliates is not currently under a local, state or federal formal investigation for financial or administrative impropriety or fraud. (“Affiliate” means any entities that control, are controlled by, or are under the same control as applicant or independent entities operating under the same name or brand as applicant.)
While the policy ostensibly affects “any” organization to which Komen affiliates might grant money, the memo sent to state affiliates specifically targets Planned Parenthood.
“Currently, however, various authorities at both the state and federal levels are conducting investigations involving [Planned Parenthood] and some of its local chapters, and the organization is barred from receiving government funding in numerous states. Under these new criteria, Planned Parenthood will be ineligible to receive new funding from Komen until these investigations are complete and these issues are resolved.”
But these are lies and innuendo: There are no “authorities” investigating Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood is not barred from receiving federal government funding in any state. No mature organization concerned about the health and well-being of women at risk of breast cancer would have created a policy targeting another respected organization with a record of saving untold lives.
But Komen can no longer claim the mantle of a respected organization. First, Komen last year hired Karen Handel, a former Georgia anti-choice gubernatorial candidate and Sarah Palin acolyte who promised as part of her platform to defund Planned Parenthood and other vital health services. Handel, who lost her race but is said to have future political ambitions, is now Senior Vice President for Policy at Komen. She was originally endorsed in her race by and received money from current GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, with whom some sources suggest she remains closely allied. Romney, in turn, has suddenly become more anti-choice than thou and has promised a federal person-hood amendment as well as to defund Planned Parenthood.
Second, sitting on Komen’s Advocacy Alliance Board is Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the virulently anti-choice and anti-science Susan B. Anthony List and of its Political Action Committee. Among other involvements, Abraham helps direct the Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers, organizations widely known for spreading ideology, misinformation and lies to women facing unintended pregnancy and to use both intimidation and coercion in the course of doing so. Also on the board of Nurturing Network is Maureen Scalia, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, no hero to women’s rights and health.
That Komen–an organization ostensibly dedicated to scientific exploration of cures for breast cancer–has invited on its advocacy board women so closely allied with organizations that so blatantly ignore science and medicine and spread outright lies to other women about their health and welfare speaks volumes about Komen’s ethical principles as an organization.
While anti-choicers including those on Komen’s board are spreading lies, Komen’s steps will ensure that more women who might have been screened will now lack access to early detection and treatment and may die from breast cancer. This is in keeping with a general and patently insane approach of the anti-choice movement: Decry abortion, for example, but limit funding for contraceptive education and supplies which can prevent the unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion. Decry the plight of minority women, but make their access to care increasingly limited. Cry for the “babies,” but defund pre- and post-natal care, nutritional support, and other forms of life and health care for infants and mothers. It is a venal and disgusting strategy that until now I would have thought well beneath the Komen Foundation no matter other issues.
But Komen as an organization now appears so little able to stand the truth that it is deleting comments from its website protesting the policy change. And this is not the first time Komen has come under fire for misinformation or questionable affiliations. Some point to concerns about Komen’s influence on a recent Institute of Medicine report playing down environmental factors in breast cancer, and its close affiliation with many companies that manufacture products using cancer-causing agents.
Given these and other links, it may be no surprise that Komen’s own memo to its affiliates spreads lies about Planned Parenthood, nor that Komen’s actions belie its own claims to care about racial, ethnic and income disparities in access to breast cancer screenings.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control on disparities in access to care noted that women without insurance (38.2 percent) and women without a usual source of health care (36.2 percent) were least likely to be screened for cancer and that such disparities remained stark among Latina, African-American, and Native American women.
In response, Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Komen, said: “This gap in care for uninsured and low-income women is particularly troubling and one we have been working very hard to fill at Susan G. Komen. It’s clear that we have far more work to do for women who have no resources, no insurance, and no steady source of healthcare. They need our help the most.”
Jodi L. Jacobson is a long-time leader in the health and development community and an advocate with extensive experience in public health, gender equity, human rights, environment and demographic issues. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check.
Obama’s woman problem December 8, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Women.
Tags: adolescents, birth control, contraception, family planning, fda, kathleen sebelius, obama's daughters, patriarchy, plan b pills, rebecca traister, reproductive freedom, reproductive health, women, women's health, women's rights
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The president shamefully uses his daughters to justify limiting the healthcare options of America’s young women
(Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster/Salon)
When will Barack Obama learn how to talk thoughtfully about women, women’s health and women’s rights?
Apparently, not today.
On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unexpectedly overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that emergency contraception be sold on drugstore shelves and made available without a prescription to women under the age of 17. The move came as a surprise blow to healthcare and women’s rights activists, the kinds of people regularly counted as supporters of the Obama administration.
Today, Obama doubled down on his disregard for the concerns of these groups, claiming that while Sebelius made her decision without his counsel, he agreed with it. Obama pooh-poohed the findings of the FDA, which had concluded that Plan B pills posed no medical hazard and supported Sebelius’ official argument, citing a lack of confidence that “a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drugstore would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect.” The logic expressed today by the president, and yesterday by Sebelius, is ludicrous: Medicines like Tylenol – which have been proven to have adverse effects in high doses – are available by the truckload on drugstore shelves, at prices far cheaper than the $30 to $50 it would cost a preteen to purchase just one dose of Plan B, let alone go wild with it.
But part of what was most disturbing about Obama’s statement was his reliance on language that reveals his paternalistic approach to women and their health.
“As the father of two daughters,” Obama told reporters, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”
First of all, the president was not talking about “various rules.” He was supporting a very specific rule, one that prevents young women from easily obtaining a drug that can help them control their reproductive lives, at an age when their economic, educational, familial and professional futures are perhaps most at risk of being derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. “As the father of two daughters,” Obama might want to reconsider his position on preventing young women from being able to exercise this form of responsibility over their own bodies and lives.
But as an American, I think it is important for my president not to turn to paternalistic claptrap and enfeebling references to the imagined ineptitude and irresponsibility of his daughters – and young women around the country – to justify a curtailment of access to medically safe contraceptives. The notion that in aggressively conscribing women’s abilities to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy Obama is just laying down some Olde Fashioned Dad Sense diminishes an issue of gender equality, sexual health and medical access. Recasting this debate as an episode of “Father Knows Best” reaffirms hoary attitudes about young women and sex that had their repressive heyday in the era whence that program sprang.
A question of who should be allowed access to a safe form of contraception is at its root a question of how badly we want to, or believe that we can, police young women’s sexuality. When Obama is talking about his daughters, we know he’s not really basing his opinion on an anxiety that they might suffer the adverse effects of drinking a whole jug of Pepto-Bismol or swallowing 50 Advil, things that any 11-year-old who walks into a CVS with a wad of cash could theoretically do. When he says that he wants to “apply common sense” to questions of young women’s access to emergency contraception, he is telegraphing his discomfort with the idea of young women’s sexual agency, or more simply, with the idea of them having sex lives at all. This discomfort might be comprehensible from an emotional, parental point of view. But these are not familial discussions; this is a public-health policy debate, and at a time when “16 and Pregnant” airs on MTV, the fact that a daddy feels funny about his little girls becoming grown-ups has no place in a discussion of healthcare options for America’s young women. It is also nearly impossible to imagine a similar use of language or logic to justify a ban of condom sales.
Moreover, Obama’s invocation of his role as a father is an insult to the commitments and priorities of those on the other side of this issue. Are we to believe that those who support the increased availability of emergency contraception do not have daughters? That if they do, they care less about those daughters than Barack Obama does about his? And that if they do not, they cannot possibly know better than a father of daughters what is best for young women? Why should we be asked to believe that Obama’s paternity imbues him with more moral authority on the subject of women’s health and reproductive lives than the investments of doctors, researchers and advocates who – regardless of their parental status – have dedicated their lives to working on behalf of increased reproductive health options. This line of argument is no better than the Mama Grizzly argument developed by Sarah Palin during 2010′s midterm elections, in which she asserted that her band of super-conservative mothers were qualified for office because “moms just know when there’s something wrong.”
Barack Obama has long had a tin ear for language that has anything to do with women and even more specifically with women’s rights. While on the campaign trail for president in 2008, he waved off a female reporter who asked a question about the future of the auto industry, referring to her diminutively as “sweetie.” The same year, attempting to play both sides on the issue of reproductive freedom, he gave an interview with a religious magazine in which he asserted his support for states’ restrictions on late-term abortions as long as there was an exception for the health of the mother, but added that he didn’t “think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother.” Attempting to recover from that line and reassert his pro-choice bona fides, Obama later clarified that of course he believed in a medical exemption for “serious clinical mental health diseases,” just not when seeking a late-term abortion is “a matter of feeling blue,” perpetuating a wildly irresponsible vision of the rare and difficult late-term abortion as a moody impulse-buy.
Today also isn’t the first time he’s used references to members of his family to make a larger offensive point about women. Back in 2009, when charges that his officially female-friendly administration included some boys’ club tendencies hit the front of the New York Times, Obama dismissed the claims as “bunk.” Reporter Mark Leibovich noted at the time that the president “often points out that he is surrounded by strong females at home,” an argument that not only mimics an old saw about how being henpecked by women is equivalent to respecting them, but reflects a dynamic as old as patriarchal power itself and sidesteps the question of how strong females are treated at work. In 2010, while appearing on “The View,” Obama made a creaky Take-My-Wife-Please joke about how he wanted to appear on “a show that Michelle actually watched” as opposed to the news shows she usually flips past. The joke being that his missus, the one he met when she mentored him at a high-powered law firm, just doesn’t have a head for news delivered by anyone other than Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
It should no longer come as a surprise that the president of the United States is, on perhaps an unconscious level, an old-school patriarch. What’s startling is the degree to which Obama seems not to have learned from any of his past gaffes, how no one seems to have told him – or told him in a way that he’s absorbed – that the best way to address a question of women’s health and rights is probably not by making it about his role as a father.
This might be an especially valuable chat to have with the president as he moves into 2012 and toward an election in which he is going to be relying on the support of people he has just managed to anger, offend and speak down to — women. The least he could do is learn to address them with respect.
Tags: affordable care act, birth control, catholic bishops, catholic church, catholics for choice, contraception, jodi jacobson, naral, preventive health care, pro choice, religion, religious liberty, reproductive choice, roger hollander, timothy dolan, women's health, women's health amendment
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Women’s health and rights organization are asking supporters of contraceptive coverage to send a message to the White House. Planned Parentood’s action is here.
This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) threw itself a pity party in Baltimore. According to the bishops, their “religious liberty” is threatened unless they are able to ensure that every single person in the United States (well, actually the world) is made to follow Catholic canon law to the letter. According to the New York Times, the bishops are “recasting their opposition” to same-sex marriage, birth control, and other fundamental aspects of public health and human rights, because they view both government and culture as infringing on the church’s rights.
“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore. He added that “well-financed, well-oiled sectors” were trying “to push religion back into the sacristy.”
But the sacristy is where the vast majority of Catholics appear to believe the bishops should be focusing their efforts. The Times notes that in light of the ongoing evidence of massive cover-ups by the Vatican and the USCCB of the priest pedophilia scandal, the bishops’ “pronouncements on politics and morality have been met with indifference even by many of their own flock.”
The bishops issue guidelines for Catholic voters every election season, a document known as “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is distributed in many parishes. But the bishops were informed at their meeting on Monday that a recent study commissioned by Fordham University in New York found that only 16 percent of Catholics had heard of the document, and only 3 percent had read it.
Nonetheless, the Bishops believe their own right to practice their religion is threatened by your right to practice yours or to act as a moral agent in your own life. Their freedom of religion is threatened unless they can ensure that all LGBT persons are denied the right to marry or adopt children. It is threatened unless all women are denied the rights to decide whether and when to have children. It is threatened unless a Catholic hospital can let a woman die from complications of pregnancy rather than provide her with or even refer her on an emergency basis for a life-saving abortion. It is threatened unless a two-celled fertilized egg has more rights than the living, breathing woman in whose body it floats.
They are not “free” until you are not free.
And they certainly are not “free” unless women are denied access to affordable birth control.
An integral part of the Affordable Care Act is the new benefit requiring health plans to cover preventive health care, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control, with no co-pays. Inclusion of these benefits came about through dogged efforts by female legislators, including an amendment authored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), known as the Women’s Health Amendment. The Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with implementing health reform through regulations and oversight, took the advice of an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service because it is basic health care, and because it improves health outcomes for women and their families. Research shows that improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality among other health benefits. The IOM recommendations are supported by a vast amount of research and affirmed by the World Health Organization, the International College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association among many other medical and public health bodies.
Regulations promulgated by HHS this summer mandate coverage in all employee-based health plans of contraceptive methods without a co-pay. The current provision includes what many already consider to be a sweeping refusal clause, exempting certain religious organizations for which religious values are their primary purpose; that primarily employ persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; that primarily serve persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; and that are nonprofit organizations. The regulations would still require institutions such as Catholic hospitals–for which one assumes the primary purpose is evidence-based health care–and universities (primary purpose, education?) to offer insurance that covers contraception without a co-pay. Nothing (repeat: NOTHING) in this new benefit requires an organization to dispense birth control, or an individual to take it. This is simply a matter of ensuring women have access to affordable preventive care by providing it with no co-pays. For an excellent and thorough review of this issue, read the testimony of Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien.
Still, this has so riled the USCCB that Archbishop Timothy Dolan took his lobbying straight to President Obama, with whom he met privately at the White House last week. In what I take to be a somewhat ominous comment, Dolan stated at a news conference that he “found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”
“I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”
By “Catholic community,” Dolan clearly means the USCCB, the Vatican and the male hierarchy, certainly not the community constituted by the people–or the women–of the church.
Word on the street now–through off-the-record conversations with health groups–is that the White House is considering caving on the exemptions for contraceptive coverage.
This would be a grave mistake on Obama’s part.
For women, birth control is about as controversial as toothpaste and as widely used. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2006–2008, 99 percent of ALL women who had ever had sexual intercourse had used at least one method of birth control. This includes, as O’Brien of Catholics for Choice pointed out, the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the US who have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican.
Moreover, while the most common reason U.S. women use oral contraceptive pills is to prevent pregnancy, 14 percent of pill users—1.5 million women—rely on them exclusively for non-contraceptive purposes, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute called “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills,” by Rachel K. Jones. More than half (58 percent) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention–such as reducing cramps or menstrual pain, to help prevent migraines, for treatment of endometriosis—meaning that only 42 percent use the pill exclusively for contraceptive purposes.
The contraceptive coverage provision under health reform is widely-supported by female voters, a critical constituency in the 2012 election. Public polling shows seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, support covering birth control at no cost.
So caving to the USCCB on something as fundamental to women’s health, lives and pocketbooks as contraception will not sit well with women, as a recent poll by NARAL Pro-Choice America notes.
“There is a group of women who voted for President Obama in 2008 but are not currently supporting him, and these data suggest many of them should be in his camp,” according to Al Quinlan, president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm that conducted a recent survey for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“Choice provides an opening for President Obama and other Democrats to create a sharp contrast with anti-choice Republicans,” he continued. The “women defectors” are defined as having voted for President Obama in 2008 but are currently not voting for him, weakly supporting him, or holding back from turning out in 2012.
“While the economy is the dominant issue, this survey shows that choice is a stronger, more persuasive issue for bringing key women voters back to President Obama’s camp,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Contraceptive coverage also is an equity issue. As many state contraceptive equity laws make clear and as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled, failing to provide women with coverage for contraception in health plans that otherwise cover prescription drugs and devices is sex discrimination.
State supreme courts in California and New York have both found that contraceptive-equity laws with narrower employer exclusions such as the one put forth by HHS, do not substantially burden a religious belief or practice. In a majority opinion in one of the cases, the justices write:
“[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.” [Catholic Charities of Albany v. Serio, 859 N.E.2d 459, 468 (N.Y. 2006)].
If the requirement for coverage of birth control is weakened, nearly one million people (and their dependents) who work at Catholic hospitals would lose benefits they already have. In addition, the approximately two million students and workers now attending universities that have a religious affiliation would also lose this important benefit. It would mean a further weakening of women’s health and one more step toward theocracy. And it would raise health care costs and result in more unintended pregnancies.
What the Bishops really want is to strong-arm government into imposing restrictions on people’s choices and lives that they can’t even get Catholics to follow. They want to be able to receive federal funding, federal grants and contracts, get tax breaks and special treatment over other groups for building Catholic hospitals, maintain tax-exempt status while flouting lobbying rules, and play the victim card whenever they can’t avoid laws meant to advance health and human rights. And they are aided and abetted in their efforts by other far-right my-way-or-the-highway-on-religion organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, as well as a considerable number of GOP and Tea Party members of Congress. New efforts by conservatives to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act, for example, also threaten women’s health. Nothing drives the patriarchy more batty than the notion of women being anything other than breeding cows.
So it takes some imagination–and I have not mustered anywhere nearly enough–to understand why the Obama Administration would EVEN. THINK. TWICE. about caving to the Bishops. Obama needs women to come out for him in the 2012 election, he campaigned on and promised adherence to science and evidence in the creation of policy, and he promised that under health reform people would not lose benefits they already had, a promise he has already broken once–big time–when it came to women’s health coverage on abortion care.
There is nothing more fundamental to women’s choices than choosing whether, when and with what partner to become pregnant. There is nothing more fundamental to ensuring the best prospects for all children than to work to ensure every child is a wanted child. And there is nothing less controversial for women than birth control.
If the White House does cave to fundamentalist organizations like the USCCB, (led, it should be underscored, by men), it would appear to have an even more fundamental problem with re-electing this President.
[Several calls to the White House on this issue were not returned by time of publication.]
Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson
Tags: abortion, africa aids, birth control, gag rule, HIV/AIDS, legal abortion, michelle chen, pro choice, reproductive health, right wing, roger hollander, women's choice, women's health, women's rights
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While Congress was playing fiscal roulette last month, House Republicans quietly advanced their attack on reproductive choice, too. Conservative legislators are working to reinstate the so-called Global Gag Rule, which would block international aid to organizations that provide abortion-related information and services in other countries. Exporting their domestic anti-abortion agenda to the Global South, conservatives seek to hold international family planning programs hostage to America’s culture wars.
On top of the gag-rule revival, House Republicans are also attacking family-planning funding overall, by trying to kill U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
The proposed policy, part of a larger bill funding the State Department, is based on a Bush administration executive order that President Obama repealed. Under the previous gag rule, overseas organizations receiving U.S. family-planning funds were not allowed to provide abortion-related care or counseling, to help women avoid unsafe abortions, or to advocate on abortion issues. In addition to damaging women’s health, the policy undermined political dialogue on providing comprehensive family planning in aid-dependent countries. The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.
But the new gag rule would go beyond previous executive orders (Bush’s policy was a reinstatement of Ronald Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy,” which Bill Clinton rescinded) by codifying an expanded version of the restrictions in federal law.
Ellen Marshall, a foreign policy consultant with the International Women’s Health Coalition, said the political forces driving the gag rule were
completely irresponsible in [their attempt] to block contraceptive and other sexual and reproductive health services for women, including services that prevent the need for abortion—all in the name of ending abortion. Doubly troubling is their willingness to stomp all over people’s right to speech and to participate in public and political dialogue in their own countries, as a condition for receiving U.S. assistance.
On top of the gag-rule revival, House Republicans are also attacking family-planning funding overall, by trying to kill U.S. support for the United Nations Population Fund.
The federal budget doesn’t account for the grim mathematics of this global reproductive health crisis. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that every $10 million that is cut from international family planning and reproductive health aid means “610,000 fewer women and couples would receive contraceptive services and supplies, 190,000 more unintended pregnancies, and 82,000 more unplanned births.” Ultimately, reports the Huffington Post, the “pro-life” family-planning cuts proposed by the GOP would lead to roughly 7,700 maternal deaths and leave about 35,000 more children without mothers.
If reinstated, the gag rule would affect groups serving in a huge swath of the Global South, because the majority of countries that receive USAID funds allow some form of legal abortion, according to a 2009 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The Bush gag rule had a massive ripple effect, according to Population Action International:
shipments of U.S.-donated condoms and contraceptives completely ceased to 16 developing countries, primarily in Africa. Leading family planning agencies in another 16 countries—mostly in Africa—have lost access to much-needed U.S. condoms and contraceptives as a result of their refusal to accept the gag rule restrictions.
In Kenya, the rule led to major funding losses for two large service providers, FPAK and MSI Kenya, which had to severely curtail their community health outreach and clinic programs:
Funding shortages have also led to a lack of regular contraceptive technology updates for community health workers. As a result, community health workers are uninformed of the types of family planning methods available to HIV-positive people. They avoid discussing condoms or reproductive health issues because their training has been restricted. Yet an emerging public health challenge involves those HIV-positive Kenyan women who are sexually active and desire pregnancy, but do not have the knowledge or tools to prevent transmission of the virus to their child.
The struggle against HIV/AIDS in Africa has been further hindered by the so-called “anti-prostitution pledge” embedded in the U.S.’s global HIV/AIDS funding program. The policy forces groups to actively disavow activities that may be considered supportive of sex workers. A federal appeals court recently ruled that the pledge amounted to overreach when applied to certain U.S.-based groups working overseas, but the restriction remains in force for foreign groups.
The groups at risk of getting gagged are a critical, often singular resource for women who are exposed to all forms of violence and exploitation. And this is another sad parallel between domestic and foreign policy: barriers to abortion and family planning services in the U.S. most acutely impact the health of poor women and women of color.
The gag rule isn’t about preempting direct taxpayer support for abortions; that’s already ensured under the policy known as the Helms Amendment.* Rather, the gag rule punishes overseas organizations that are focused broadly on women’s health needs. As the Center for American Progress puts it, “Under the global gag rule, these organizations face a choice: either participate in the American right’s global campaign to restrict women’s rights and access to reproductive health care or lose critical U.S. funding.”
The latest attempt to resurrect the gag rule is particularly threatening because many of the countries at risk now face unprecedented health challenges, from gender-based violence in war to refugee crises to a global epidemic of preventable maternal deaths.
International aid often serves as a cudgel for exporting conservatives’ domestic anti-choice campaigns (read: the wholesale defunding of Planned Parenthood). Marshall told Colorlines that it’s easier to use foreign policy as a “test market” for measures that would face more resistance in the U.S., she said, “because quite honestly … fewer Americans are likely to get up in arms on restrictions on their foreign assistance dollars, because they don’t see really a direct impact of that.”
In many ways the gag rule reflects endemic problems in the foreign aid funding model, which hinges more on the election cycle than real human needs. Women’s health advocates have long called for a comprehensive, community-oriented approach to aid that integrates reproductive and sexual health together with family planning—and above all, upholds human rights, not just political agendas.
While a wholesale restructuring of foreign aid remains a distant goal, New York Rep. Nita Lowey wants to at least revamp funding for family planning with the proposed Global Democracy Promotion Act. The measure would prevent lawmakers from forcing overseas groups “to sacrifice their right to free speech and their obligation to provide truthful, comprehensive information to patients in order to participate in U.S. supported programs.”
But in a political arena dominated by deception and stonewalling, promoting integrity in international aid inevitably ranks low on the agenda. In the right’s ongoing quest to gag the movement for reproductive health, the aid that was intended to improve women’s lives has instead been used to smother them.