WASHINGTON — Judge Sonia Sotomayor completed her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, acknowledging regret for having said that a “wise Latina” judge could decide a case better than a white man while defending her role in a case involving New Haven firefighters in which she was reversed by the Supreme Court.
But over her four days in the witness chair, Judge Sotomayor provided Republicans little ammunition with which to block the Senate from approving her elevation to the Supreme Court, where she would become the nation’s first Hispanic justice.
Senior Republican staff aides said in interviews they expected that at least one and perhaps as many as three of the panel’s seven Republicans might vote to approve the Sotomayor nomination and send it to the full Senate, which is expected to confirm her in the first week in August. . . .
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
RH Reality Check: New Report: Abortion Providers = American Human Rights Defenders, Now Under Increasing Attack, by Jodi Jacobson:
A new report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) calls on both the federal and state governments to address the growing threats against and stigmatization and abuse of abortion providers throughout the United States. The report is accompanied by a series of videos including interviews with providers, and an action campaign targeting Congress.
Wash. Post: Health-Care Reform Efforts Marred by Abortion Dispute, by Dan Eggen & Rob Stein:
President Obama, who has vowed to find common ground on culture-war issues, finds himself in the middle of a classic Washington dispute over abortion that is further undermining support among conservative Democrats for his ambitious health-care reform efforts.
Abortion is not explicitly mentioned in any of the major health-care bills under consideration in Congress. But abortion opponents charge that the legislation would make abortion both more widely available and more common by requiring insurance plans to pay for the procedures and providing government funding to subsidize plans that pay for them.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this week that decisions on specific benefits such as abortion coverage should be "left to medical experts in the field," referring to a proposed advisory board that would recommend minimum levels of coverage for private insurers.
Time Magazine: Teen Pregnancy: Reaching Epidemic Levels in Foster Care, by Amy Sullivan:
What's tougher than being a pregnant teenager? Try being a pregnant teenager in foster care. Miranda Sheffield had pinballed in and out of more than 10 foster homes in southern California by the time she became pregnant with her daughter at the age of 17. "I was close to aging out [of the system]," she says of the program that in most states finds temporary homes for children until they are 18. "And when I got pregnant, I found there was no support for me. It was like, 'We need to get you out of foster care because we won't be able to handle you and a baby.'"
After years of steady decline, teen-pregnancy rates are rising around the country. But the numbers for girls in the foster-care system have reached truly epidemic levels. One study at the University of Chicago found that nearly half of girls who had spent time in the foster-care system had been pregnant at least once by the time they were 19 years old. Even more troubling, unplanned pregnancy had already become a pattern for many of the young women — close to a quarter had experienced multiple pregnancies in their teens. . . .
Monday, July 20, 2009
Time Magazine: A Sequel to the Case of the Pregnant Nine-Year Old, by Jeff Israely:
The Catholic Church (and Pope Benedict XVI) were presented with a public relations powder keg last March when news broke that a nine-year-old Brazilian girl underwent an abortion after she'd been raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather. Catholics from Sao Paolo to Paris were outraged after the swift public declaration by the local archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, that the girl's family, as well as the doctors who performed the abortion, were automatically excommunicated. Monsignor Rino Fisichella, a solidly traditionalist Rome prelate considered close to Benedict, tried to soften the Church's approach on the Brazilian case by writing in the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the girl "should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side." Two weeks ago, the Vatican announced that Sobrinho, who had been serving past retirement, was stepping down. And that's where the Church stood. Until now.
In a tucked away "clarification" published on page 7 of a recent edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican produced a document that unequivocally confirmed automatic excommunication for anyone involved in an abortion — even in such a situation as dire as the Brazilian case. It settles any questions about the absolute nature of Church doctrine on the matter of abortion — but could potentially reignite the PR firestorm. . . . .
Benedict makes it ever more clear that his strict approach to doctrine will remain a central pillar to his papacy, bad publicity be damned. . . .
NY Times: Withdrawal Method Finds Ally, by Pam Belluck:
Which birth-control method is more effective: condoms or withdrawal?
For sex educators and others, the answer is glaringly obvious. Withdrawal before ejaculation, the so-called pullout method, is a last resort, they say — something to be used only if there are no other options. The effectiveness of condoms, on the other hand, is well known.
So reproductive experts were taken aback by a paper in the June issue of Contraception magazine. Based on an analysis of studies, the paper pronounced withdrawal “almost as effective as the male condom — at least when it comes to pregnancy prevention.”
“If the male partner withdraws before ejaculation every time a couple has vaginal intercourse, about 4 percent of couples will become pregnant over the course of a year,” the authors write.
For condoms, used optimally, the rate is about 2 percent. But more significant, the authors say, are the rates for “typical use,” because people can’t be expected to use any contraception method perfectly every time. Typical use of withdrawal leads to pregnancy 18 percent of the time, they write; for typical use of condoms 17 percent of the time. . . .
NY Times editorial: Childbirth in Chains:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called several years ago for an end to the barbaric and medically hazardous practice of shackling female prisoners during labor. In addition to further frightening these vulnerable women, the practice of chaining their legs, wrists and even their abdomens makes treatment and delivery more difficult and places mother and child at greater risk of harm.
NY Times: Health Bill Might Direct Tax Money to Abortion, by Robert Pear & Adam Liptak:
WASHINGTON — An Obama administration official refused Sunday to rule out the possibility that federal tax money might be used to pay for abortions under proposed health care legislation.
Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director, asked whether he was prepared to say that “no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions,” answered: “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.”...
Abortion has been simmering behind the scenes as an issue in legislation to guarantee access to health insurance for all Americans. The debate affects not only the public health insurance plan that Democrats want to create, but also private insurers, who would receive tens of billions of dollars of federal subsidies to cover people with low and moderate incomes. . . .
NY Times: South Africa Is Seen to Lag in H.I.V. Fight, by Celia W. Dugger:
ORANGE FARM, South Africa — ...Circumcision has been proven to reduce a man’s risk of contracting H.I.V. by more than half. Yet two years after the World Health Organization recommended the surgery, the government here still does not provide it to help fight the disease or educate the public about its benefits.
Some other African nations are championing the procedure and bringing it to thousands. But in South Africa, the powerhouse country at the heart of the epidemic, the government has been notably silent, despite the withering international criticism the country has endured for its previous foot-dragging in fighting and treating AIDS.
Huffington Post op-ed: New Arizona Law Restricts Access to a Range of Reproductive Health Services, by Sharon Camp (Guttmacher Institute):
On July 13, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a measure that establishes--among other restrictions on access to sexual and reproductive health services--an in-person counseling requirement and a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. Proponents of the new law claim that it helps inform women's abortion decisions. In truth, however, this distortion of the informed consent process only hinders access to abortion services.
The real impact of policies requiring a 24-hour delay between in-person counseling and the abortion procedure--that is, two visits in two days--is to force women to take more time off from work, arrange additional child care or stay away from home overnight when the distance to the clinic is great. Several studies conducted in Mississippi consistently found that an in-person counseling requirement was associated with more abortions being obtained out-of-state and more being performed during the second trimester.
Other Guttmacher studies have shown that disadvantaged women who have trouble raising the funds for their abortion frequently take up to three weeks longer than better-off women to obtain an abortion . . . .
Friday, July 17, 2009
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project press release:
Since 1980, Congress prohibited the use of federal funds appropriated for the District of Columbia to pay for abortion services except in the cases where a women’s life is endangered or she is a victim of rape or incest. Beginning in 1988, Congress took the additional step of preventing the District of Columbia from using its own funds to provide abortion care for low-income women. This violation of DC’s autonomy was relieved briefly for two years in 1993 and 1994. In his budget recommendation to Congress, President Obama requested that the District abortion ban be removed
The following can be attributed to Vania Leveille, ACLU Legislative Counsel:
“With this vote, the District of Columbia is one step closer to the day when residents and their elected representatives can decide how to meet the needs of poor women in their communities. The District abortion ban marginalized District leadership and residents. For 20-years non-resident members of Congress have asserted their own ideology, morality or religious belief on the District’s citizens, utterly disregarding the needs or wishes of the broader community. We now await Senate floor action and urge that chamber to follow President Obama and the House’s lead and end the ban permanently.”
NY Times: Senate Likely to Vote on Sotomayor in August, by Neil A. Lewis:
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Reuters (7/13): UPDATE 1-New Teva emergency contraceptive to expand market:
...Israel-based Teva, the world's biggest generic drug company, and Hungarian drug maker Richter Gedeon GDRB.BU said on Monday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave final approval to their Plan B One-Step "morning after" emergency contraception.
"This is one tablet that women can take to help prevent unintended pregnancies after unprotected sex. The old version was two pills taken 12 hours apart," Moshe Manor, Teva vice president of global branded products, told Reuters.
Manor said the FDA also expanded over-the-counter access to Plan B for consumers age 17 or older. Until now, only women 18 or older could buy the drug over the counter.
NY Times: New Policy Permits Asylum for Battered Women, by Julia Preston:
The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees.
In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country. . . .
Wash. Post: Sotomayor Avoids Pointed Queries, by Amy Goldstein, Paul Kane, & Robert Barnes:
Before nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, President Obama did not ask her about abortion rights or any other "specific legal issue," she testified yesterday as she sidestepped senators' efforts to plumb her views on matters from campaign finance law to the workload of the court she is likely to join.
As she progressed through the third day of her confirmation hearings, with no sign of a major mishap so far that would derail her approval by a heavily Democratic Senate, Sotomayor relaxed -- yet took no chances. She joked openly with members of the Judiciary Committee while increasingly avoiding their questions.
Sotomayor also skirted a series of pointed questions from Cornyn and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) about her views on abortion rights. Coburn, one of the Senate's leading abortion opponents and a physician who has delivered hundreds of babies, asked how she would handle a case involving a woman seeking to abort a fetus at 38 weeks after learning the baby had spina bifida.
"I can't answer that question in the abstract because I would have to look at what the state of the state's law was on that question," Sotomayor said. She recited portions of the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a right to an abortion but allowed some restrictions so long as they do not place an "undue burden" on the woman's rights. "The question is: Is the state regulation regulating what a woman does an undue burden?" she said. . . .
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Daily Women's Health Policy Report: Sotomayor Calls Roe 'Settled Law', Says Health of Woman Must Be Considered:
During the second day of her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said she views the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. as settled law reaffirmed by subsequent Supreme Court rulings, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein et al., Washington Post, 7/15). At Tuesday's hearing, lawmakers pressed Sotomayor on her views regarding abortion rights and Supreme Court precedent, the New York Times reports. She told committee members that the contraception rights case that is the foundation for Roe was "the precedent of the court, so it is settled law." She also said the 1992 ruling in Casey v. Planned Parenthood "reaffirmed the core holding of Roe," adding, "That is the precedent of the court and settled law in terms of the holding of the court" (Savage, New York Times, 7/15). Sotomayor said that "there is a right of privacy" and that the Supreme Court "has found it in various places in the Constitution." She cited the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the law (AP/Yahoo! News, 7/14).
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked Sotomayor if she considered the 2007 ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart an example of settled law. In the case, the court voted 5-4 to uphold the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The ruling was the first time since Roe that the court upheld an abortion restriction that made no exception for the health of the woman, the Times reports. In her response, Sotomayor said that "[a]ll precedent of the Supreme Court I consider settled law, subject to the deference the doctrine of stare decisis would counsel," although she did not address the health exception component of the Gonzales case.
NY Times: Republican Senators Press Sotomayor on Abortion Views, by David Stout:
The judge was asked about abortion by two conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Mr. Coburn is one of the Senate’s most outspoken foes of abortion rights...
“Where are we today?” Mr. Coburn asked. “What is the settled law in America about abortion?”
In response, Judge Sotomayor cited recent Supreme Court history. “In Planned Parenthood versus Casey, the court reaffirmed the core holding of Roe versus Wade, that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy in certain circumstances.
“In Casey,” she went on, “the court announced that in reviewing state regulations that may apply to that right, that the court considers whether that regulation has an undue burden on the woman’s constitutional right. That’s my understanding of what the state of the law is.”
But Mr. Coburn was seeking to engage her on a deeper, perhaps more personal level. “Let’s say I’m 38 weeks pregnant and we discover a small spina bifida sac on the lower sacrum, the lower part of the back, on my baby, and I feel like I just can’t handle a child with that,” he said. “Would it be legal in this country to terminate that child’s life?”
The nominee said she could not answer “in the abstract, because I would have to look at what the state of the state’s law was on that question and what the state said with respect to that issue.”
In his opening remarks to the nominee, Mr. Coburn apologized for the several outbursts by anti-abortion protesters since the hearings began. “Anybody who values life like I do and is pro-life recognizes that the way you change minds is not yell at people,” the senator said. “You love them.”
Wash. Post: The Scene: Culture Wars Intrude on a Day of Cordiality, by Ann Gerhart:
It was but a blip of perhaps 20 seconds, a hiccup in an orderly, polite proceeding, some shouted words about abortion being wrong.
Heads swiveled toward the back of Room 216 in the Hart Senate Office Building, where Judge Sonia Sotomayor had been sitting at a table alone for hours, pleasantly impassive, waiting her turn to speak....
A group of citizens was being ushered quietly from the room. The public, too, had been taking turns all day, 50 at a time, lining up for free tickets to see democracy at work. On the way out, an older white-haired woman turned to yell about overturning Roe v. Wade, then slipped through the door, where Capitol Hill police promptly arrested her.
She was Norma McCorvey, 61 -- Jane Roe herself....
But the people to whom abortion matters most have a long attention span and are focused on 20 or 30 years down the line. Sotomayor is 55. If confirmed, she is likely to have decades ahead of her on the nation's high court. Her position on abortion isn't publicly known....
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sotomayor told lawmakers that the law, not her personal and professional experiences, has driven her rulings as a judge.
Video and text of Judge Sotomayor's full opening statement are available here.