Friday, September 7, 2018

Chicago Panel focuses on intersectionality of LGBTQ, reproductive rights

Windy City Times (Sept. 4, 2018): Panel focuses on intersectionality of LGBTQ, reproductive rights, by Carrie Maxwell: 

Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy hosted a panel discussion in Chicago at the end of August to discuss the intersection of LGBTQ and reproductive rights. Cassidy identified these rights as forming the basis of "her life's work" and asked the panelists how the two issues intersect with one another and are viewed by society.

The panel included Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt, Planned Parenthood Illinois Director of Community Engagement and Adolescent Health Initiatives B. Deonn Strathman, NARAL Pro-Choice America Field Organizer Nick Uniejewski and Howard Brown Health Women's Health Manager Amy Miller.

The panelists agreed that these discussions--and making them LGBTQ-friendly--are especially integral for youth. "Destigmatizing sex education is vital for everyone's well being," said Uniejewski of NARAL. 

Hunt explained that "everyone has multiple identities," and recognized that today's young people are better at breaking down barriers that have previously existed between separate movements. Intersectionality necessarily breeds conversations about the power dynamics among people, too, which should not be ignored in the quest to bring various movements in solidarity with each other. 

The panel also discussed "crisis pregnancy centers" and how their work has been detrimental to the reproductive rights community, largely due to the false or incomplete information these centers offer. "Miller explained that one of the ways to remove these center's power is by overturning the Hyde Amendment." The Hyde Amendment is a provision, passed in 1976,  that bars the use of federal funds for abortion procedures unless the women's life is at risk or if the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape. 

The panelists all agreed that halting Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court is of primary importance for activists today. 

September 7, 2018 in Abortion, Conferences and Symposia, Current Affairs, Lectures and Workshops, Politics, Public Opinion, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

336 Law Professors Write Letter Opposing Kavanaugh's Nomination

Law professors around the country joined together in penning a letter to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) urging them to vote "no" on Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. 

The letter highlights the imminent danger to reproductive health should Kavanaugh be confirmed.  He would be expected to vote in support of efforts to overturn long established reproductive-rights precedents like Roe. Although Kavanaugh has publicly stated his support for stare decisis, the authors note that justices who support precedent do not always shy away from overturning it.

The overturning of Roe or Casey--both of which upheld the right to choose and based their decisions on the importance of protecting the principle that "matters involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime...are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment"--could also implicate harmful shifts in the subsequently upheld rights to privacy relating to parenting, family planning, and same sex relationships. 

In 1965, the lawyers cite, "illegal abortion in the United States accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth." As officially reported numbers, the actual mortality rate due to illegal abortion was likely much higher. 

The threat to reproductive health and freedom is particularly acute for women of color, poor women, and rural women, the attorneys point out, citing disparate access to quality medical care based on racial and class lines as well as the heightened maternal mortality rate for black women

The letter states that women in Maine and Alaska in particular may be heavily affected, as both states are large and have "widely dispersed populations, creating challenges for health care." 

In conclusion, the authors write: 

A "no" vote is necessary to protect women and families throughout this country. We urge you, as Senators who have long supported the right to choose, to make your legacy the protection of these fundamental constitutional rights for generations to come. 

September 5, 2018 in Congress, Current Affairs, In the Media, Law School, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Kavanaugh comments on abortion to be parsed in confirmation hearings

ABC News (Sept. 3, 2018): Kavanaugh comments on abortion to be parsed in confirmation hearings, by Stephanie Ebbs:

Brett Kavanaugh testifies at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings Tuesday, and nothing will be parsed more closely than his first public comments on abortion.

Senate Democrats are expected to grill Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court's abortion jurisprudence and access to contraception.

Abortion rights groups will be listening to how Kavanaugh responds when asked if he agrees with President Trump's comments that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and what Kavanaugh meant when he described Roe as "settled law."

During his 2006 confirmation hearing for the federal bench, Kavanaugh committed to following Roe v. Wade but would not comment on his personal opinion of abortion. "The Supreme Court has held repeatedly, senator, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to give a personal view of that case," Kavanaugh told Sen. Chuck Schumer at the time.

Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes Kavanaugh is open to both sides of any case challenging Roe, including that the decision should be overturned. In an interview, Graham said he would consider Kavanaugh "disqualified" if he promised only to uphold or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, has said she won't vote for a justice  "hostile" to Roe v. Wade. But after meeting with Kavanaugh earlier this month, she said he had called Roe "settled law."

Even if Kavanaugh is not in favor of overruling Roe v. Wade, there is evidence that he would interpret the right to abortion narrowly. Last year, Kavanaugh dissented in a court decision that allowed an undocumented minor in U.S. custody to get an abortion. He argued that the government could force the minor to wait until she was transferred from a government-run immigration center to a sponsor before having the abortion. Kavanuagh argued that the delay did not constitute an "undue burden" because other laws regarding abortion can cause similar delays.

Abortion rights advocacy groups want Kavanaugh, or any other Supreme Court nominee, to affirmatively support the "personal liberty standard" and say as well that the Constitution protects an American's right to decide to use contraception, have an abortion, or marry same-sex partners.  But, Kavanaugh is unlikely to make such a statement and has publicly expressed misgivings about such liberty rights.

In his dissent to the Roe v. Wade, Justice William Rehnquist wrote that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for the 14th Amendment to overrule states' ability to write their own laws about abortion because there were state laws regulating it at the time.  In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute last year Kavanaugh said that while Rehnquist couldn't convince the other justices he succeeded in "stemming the general tide of free-wheeling judicial creation of unenumerated rights that were not rooted in the nation's history and tradition."

September 4, 2018 in Abortion, Congress, In the Courts, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Moms throughout country under investigation while Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation

The Washington Post (Mar.28, 2018): Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation, by Meagan Flynn:

Lenore Skenazy reinvigorated debates about best parenting practices when she decided to let her 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone (with a map, MetroCard, and cash) to instill in him independence in 2008. After the court of public opinion contested whether she was a terrible or great parent, Skenazy wrote a book on her philosophies and coined the term "free-range parenting."

The idea was to let her child engage in "various activities without stifling supervision." Unforunately, many parents who subscribe consciously or not to Skenazy's "free-range" style have encountered the scary side-effects of leaving their children without supervision: interference from child services or the police

A mother in Chicago allowed her 8-year-old to walk their dog around the block. After the girl arrived safely home, the police stopped at their home upon receiving an anonymous tip about a child walking alone. The investigations that ensue in these scenarios are looking for child neglect. And even if the parents under investigation are cleared by officials (whether child services or the police), they have to endure "invasive and stressful" investigations that can not only be humiliating but are often considered a waste of time and resources. "Experts say that the problem stems from vague laws that often ensnare well-meaning parents who are trying to give their children freedom or responsibility."

A sociology professor at the Univesity of Illinois at Chicago, Barbara Risman, also notes that the expectation that mothers keep "a constant eye on their children" doesn't often extend to fathers:

This shaming mechanism underlies the cultural logic that women should spend all their time making sure their children are never alone. The opposite is true of dads. No one presumes fathers have a moral responsibility to take care of (their children). When they do, they get praise and positive reinforcement.

Child abuse and neglect laws can be vague, defining neglect, for example, as leaving a child under 14 "without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor." Those charged with investigating a report of neglect generally find it important to thoroughly explore every allegation. 

Society is pushing back, though, against what it considers unreasonable surveillance of reasonable parenting. The free-range parenting concept has now translated into law in Utah. State Senator Lincoln Fillmore (R) sponsored the measure, which exempts a range of activities children of a "sufficient age" can do without supervision from the definition of child neglect. These activities include walking, running, or biking to and from school or recreational facilities as well as playing outside or staying inside at home unattended. While the bill was in committee earlier this year, Fillmore told Fox 13:

As a society, we’ve kind of erred, as our pendulum has swung for children’s safety, a little bit too much to the side of helicopter parenting, right? We want kids to be able to learn how to navigate the world so when they’re adults they’re fully prepared to handle things on their own.

Skenazy, too, has remained involved in the conversation. Arkansas attempted to pass a similar bill last year. It failed in committee from fears of child abduction. Skenazy wrote: “Why give kids freedom — why give parents freedom — when you can take it away so easily and say you’re championing safety in the process?”

August 28, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Parenthood, Politics, Public Opinion, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A California Abortion Pill Law Would Require Colleges To Offer Them

Bustle (Aug. 22, 2018): A California Abortion Pill Law Would Require Colleges To Offer Them, Thanks to These Activists, by Lani Seelinger:

California could require medication abortion pills to be available across all of the state's public college campuses if a bill that originated through student activism passes by the end of the month. Activists at the University of California-Berkeley were already focusing on promoting reproductive health care when they realized that expanding that care to include access to medication abortions on campus in particular would improve  many student lives. 

"Medication abortion is the process by which a woman can terminate her pregnancy by taking a series of pills within the first 10 weeks of her pregnancy." These procedures are considered very safe and efficient, and activists recognize that campus access could alleviate the logistical issues of accessing the medication. Often the stress of accessing a medication abortion can harm a student's emotional, academic, and financial well-being. Over 500 students a month on University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses seek medication abortions. 

The Women's Foundation of California--which fights for racial, economic, and gender justice--partnered with the students and alumni promoting the cause, and from there the effort spread from Berkeley throughout the state. California Senator Connie Leyva introduced the bill in the Senate earlier this year. It passed. Next, the bill must pass in the Assembly before August 31 in order to land on Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

The activists spearheading the campaign for the bill (SB320) are driven by the greater mission of de-stigmatizing abortion. 

August 25, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Glaring Exception in the Coming Battle Over Reproductive Rights

Aug. 8, 2018 (The New Republic): The Glaring Exception in the Coming Battle Over Reproductive Rights, by Emma Scornavacchi:

Justice Kennedy's retirement announcement earlier this summer immediately sparked discussion and concern over the fate of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights, and reproductive rights in general. Conservative and anti-abortion activists now feel that, depending on Trump's SCOTUS nominee, making abortion illegal in the United States is a real possibility. Further, "aemboldened anti-abortion campaign could lead to consequences for women’s health care and reproductive rights that range far beyond abortion restrictions. Contraceptive devices, such as IUDs or even the pill, could cease to be covered by insurance."

Notably, though, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), tends to be left out of the reproductive rights debate. 

A leader of the Pro-Life Action League cited that it can be too difficult to explain what is "objectionable" about IVF as a reason for focusing conservative efforts on abortion alone--despite the fact that the typical IVF cycle results in the disposal of many fertilized embryos. "IVF poses a puzzling challenge for conservative groups: How do organizations that liken embryos to people reckon with a technology that creates babies for families, but destroys embryos along the way?"

In the United States, the success rate for IVF in women under 35 hovers around 42%. To achieve that success, though, IVF cycles may produce anywhere from 3 - 25 embryos at a time. Many of the unused embryos remain frozen, some may be donated to research or to another family, and some may be "thawed" right away (that is, disposed of). 

Usually, anti-abortion arguments pertain to the right to life of unborn embryos, who do not get a say in the termination of life. "Unborn" embryos are being terminated by "thawing" across the country, as well, however, with no general outcry from conservative anti-abortion activists. "'There’s a disconnect between how public policy treats women who undergo IVF and women who have abortions,' says Margo Kaplan, Rutgers law professor." Kaplan herself underwent IVF, and she and her husband chose to donate their unused embryos to medical research. Such research contributes to developments in treatments and cures for diseases like Parkinson's, yet Planned Parenthood was harshly targeted for participating in embryonic research partnerships.

Women who undergo IVF and choose to donate embryos do not have to read any mandated material or sit out a waiting period, both of which are required of women in many states who choose to get an abortion. “Nobody ever questioned my ability to make my own decision. And we don’t assume that women have the same ability to do that when they have an abortion,” Kaplan says.

Anti-abortion activists are hesitant to focus on the IVF issue when they see the opportunity to at least make strides criminalizing abortion, especially in light of today's Supreme Court opening. Kaplan also posits that activists are hesitant to focus on IVF as problematic, because it's a procedure that values and supports a woman's desire to be a mother, while abortion tends to implicate women who are pregnant but do not want motherhood. 

Patriarchal values combine with the stigma around abortion to explain the dichotomy in how conservatives are choosing to respond to abortion versus IVF. Further, IVF is steeped in privilege--the costs to undergo IVF cycles can exceed $20,000 and the treatments are out of reach for many people who would otherwise avail themselves of it. As such, IVF is often enjoyed exclusively by well-educated, wealthy, and white women. If it continues to thrive--even amidst anti-abortion attacks on other forms of reproductive rights--its privilege will likely bolster its continued growth and support. 

August 22, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Assisted Reproduction, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Fetal Rights, Politics, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion

Aug. 9, 2018 (New York Times): Argentina's Senate Narrowly Rejects Legalizing Abortion, by Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño:

After 16 hours of deliberation, Argentina’s Senate narrowly rejected a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday, dealing a painful defeat to a vocal grass-roots movement that pushed reproductive rights to the top of Argentina's legislative agenda and galvanized abortion rights activist groups throughout Latin America, including in Brazil and Chile.

As legislators debated the bill into the early hours of Thursday morning, thousands waited outside the Congress Building in Buenos Aires, weathering the winter cold.

Supporters of the legislation, which would have legalized abortion care during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, had hoped Argentina would begin a sea change in reproductive rights in a largely Catholic region where 97 percent of women live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances.

In the end, 38 legislators voted against legalization, 31 voted in favor, and 2 legislators abstained.

Opposition in Argentina hardened as Catholic Church leaders spoke out forcefully against abortion from the pulpit and senators from conservative provinces came under intense pressure to stand against legalization.

While the bill's failure is considered a major setback for the activists who backed it, analysts said the abortion rights movement has already brought change to Central and South America in ways that would have been impossible just years ago.

On Wednesday, demonstrators rallied in support of the Argentine bill in Uruguay, Mexico, Peru, and Chile, where they gathered in front of the Argentine Embassy in Santiago, chanting and wearing the green handkerchiefs that became the symbol of Argentina’s abortion rights movement.

Recently, activists in Argentina scored a victory with the passage of a law that seeks to have an equal number of male and female lawmakers.

"If we make a list of the things we’ve gained and the things we’ve lost, the list of things we’ve gained is much bigger,” said Edurne Cárdenas, a lawyer at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina that favors legalized abortion. “Sooner or later, this will be law.”

In the region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Mexico City allow any woman to have an early-term abortion.

For Argentina, the debate over abortion has tugged at the country’s sense of self. It is the birthplace of Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, who recently denounced abortion as the “white glove” equivalent of the Nazi-era eugenics program. Recently, though, the country has begun shifting away from its conservative Catholic roots. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to allow gay couples to wed. Francis, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, called that bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”

The organized movement that pushed the failed bill started in 2015 with the brutal murder of a pregnant 14-year-old girl by her teenage boyfriend. Her mother claimed the boyfriend’s family didn’t want her to have the baby. As debates about violence against women on social media grew into wider conversations about women’s rights, young female lawmakers gave a fresh push to an abortion bill that had been presented repeatedly in the past without going anywhere.

In June, the lower house of the Argentine Congress narrowly approved a bill allowing women to terminate pregnancy in the first 14 weeks. Current law allows abortions only in cases of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger. While the measure failed in the Senate this week, it made some inroads: among the senators who voted for it was Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who as president had opposed legalizing abortion.

“Society as a whole has moved forward on this issue,” said Claudia Piñeiro, a writer and abortion-rights activist in Argentina. “Church and state are supposed to be separate, but we’re coming to realize that is far from the case,” Ms. Piñeiro said as it became clearer that the push for legalization would lose.

“That will be the next battle.”

August 12, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, International, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion

Aug. 3, 2018 (New York Times): Brazil’s Supreme Court Considers Decriminalizing Abortion, by Manuela Andreoni & Ernesto Londoño:

The death of Ingriane Barbosa Carvalho on May 16, a 31-year-old mother of three who underwent an unsafe illegal abortion, illustrates the high stakes of the fight over reproductive rights that is taking place before Brazil’s Supreme Court during a rare two-day public hearing that started this past Friday.

The nation's high court is considering whether Brazil’s abortion laws — which forbid terminating pregnancies with few exceptions, including cases of rape and instances in which the mother’s life is in peril — are at odds with constitutional protections.

The hearing, which continues Monday, is unlikely to lead to the immediate legalization of abortion care, but reproductive rights activists in Brazil hope the hearing will set off a national debate on the issue, draw attention to the risks hundreds of thousands of women take each year as they resort to illegal abortions and ultimately pave the way to overhauling the existing law.

During the first day of arguments, a majority of the 26 speakers argued for decriminalizing abortion. Though the national Ministry of Health did not take an official position on the issue, Maria de Fátima Marinho, representing the ministry before the court, stated that unsafe, illegal abortions create public health challenges, leading to overcrowding of health care facilities as well as preventable illness and death.

The hearing is being held as Brazilian lawmakers take steps to adopt even more restrictive laws and abortion rights groups across the region face a strong backlash after attaining victories.

Brazil’s top court has ruled narrowly on abortion cases in recent years, signaling an inclination to expand access, but it has stopped short of making sweeping legal changes related to the issue.

In March 2017, the Socialism and Liberty Party and Anis, a women’s rights group, filed a petition asking the court to rule that abortion care within the first twelve weeks of gestation should not subject the pregnant person or the abortion provider to prosecution.

They argue that abortion laws written in 1940 violate protections conferred by the 1988 Constitution, including the right to dignity, equal protection, and access to health care.

A ruling in favor of proponents of decriminalization would be the first step toward legalizing abortion in a nation of 210 million people where an estimated one in five women have terminated unwanted pregnancies.

Estimates of the number of abortions performed in Brazil each year range from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Each year, more than 250,000 women are hospitalized as a result of complications from abortions, according to the Brazilian Health Ministry. In 2016, the last year for which official figures were available, 203 women died as a result of illegal and unsafe abortions.

Since 2000, 28 countries and regions have expanded abortion rights. Last year, lawmakers in Chile lifted the country’s total prohibition on abortion, and next week the Senate in Argentina will vote on a bill that could legalize abortion there.

The Supreme Court hearing prompted Ladyane Souza, a lawyer in Brasília, to publicly disclose that she had an abortion two years ago, even though doing so means she could be prosecuted.

“It’s very cruel to submit women to dealing with this all alone, underground,” Ms. Souza, 22, said. “During that time, I wanted very much to talk to my mother, because I felt it would have been easier if my mother knew, if my friends knew, but I was afraid of being prosecuted.”

Ms. Carvalho’s relatives opted to bury her in a cemetery several miles from her hometown after local residents reacted with outrage and scorn to details of her death. They held a low-key ceremony as her remains were deposited in an unmarked grave in a small hillside cemetery.

“I wish she had survived, so she could have been arrested and learned to be responsible,” Ms. Barbosa, her aunt, said.

August 6, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Democratic governors warn: We'll pull our states out of Title X

July 31, 2018 (Politico): Democrats warn: We'll pull our states out of Title X, by Dan Diamond:

Three Democratic governors are threatening to pull out of the Title X federal family planning program if the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) moves forward with its proposal to prohibit referrals for abortion care and make other changes that would exclude abortion providers from participating in the program.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, Hawaii Governor David Ige, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in separate statements that if the legal battle to prevent the Trump administration's Title X changes fails, their states would not be able to participate in the “unethical” Title X program.

“We would be left with no choice but to refuse to participate in an unethical Title X program," Inslee said in a statement Monday. “Hawai‘i will not accept federal funds for these programs if the proposed rules are implemented,” Ige said. “It would leave me no choice but to act in the best interests of the citizens of Oregon and our state law, and withdraw our state’s participation from an unethical, ineffective Title X program that reduces access to essential preventive health services,” Brown said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a similar warning that his state's program would be "impossible" to continue, although he did not explicitly vow to pull New York out of the program.

The moves intensify a quickly escalating battle between the Trump administration and Title X program participants that also offer abortion care over the future of the family planning program. The deadline for public responses to the Trump administration's proposed changes was Tuesday, July 31.

Attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai'i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia on Monday also jointly issued a comment in opposition to the proposed rule, which can be found here.

August 1, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade

July 23, 2018 (TIME): Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade, by Samantha Cooney: 

Earlier this month, Massachusetts became the first state to formally respond to the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the world of a two-Trump-nominee Supreme Court. Although abortion is already legal in the state, Massachusetts still has a 173-year-old law on the books banning the procurement of a miscarriage. 

The bill is called the NASTY Women Act (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women) and passed in a landslide. While abortion has technically been legal in the state since 1981, state legislators were driven to quick action to further protect these rights after Justice Kennedy announced his retirement.

A Masschusetts State Democrat said:

I think people are beginning to realize these are strange times we live in. Nothing is impossible, and we’ve got to have a ‘plan B.’ If these laws are enforced, what do we do? We’re not willing to sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen here.’ The word for that is denial.

New Mexico and New York each have efforts underway to protect abortion rights as well.

While some critics accuse the NASTY Women Act and other similar bills of unnecessary political posturing, supporters cite that the rights we may take for granted are not always guaranteed. Rebecca Hart Holder, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, says "the reality is any state can have a threat to abortion care.”

July 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

HHS Refuses to Release Documents on the New Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the opening of a new division in January of this year: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR's primary mandate is to enforce refusal of care laws. 

Refusal of care laws essentially empower medical providers to deny care to patients if they disagree with the ethics of a particular procedure based on their religious grounds. The purported goal of these laws is to protect a healthcare provider from being forced into providing care that "violates their conscience." 

This is an Executive-ordered decision that does not require legislative or judicial approval to go into effect or to implement its new rules and regulations.

Critics of refusal of care laws express concern that these requirements do not simply "protect" health care providers consciences, but can instead seriously harm patients. These laws may lead to a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control prescription, a doctor refusing hormone therapy to a transgender patient, limitations placed on services to LGBTQ persons and partners, and of course abortion services may also become more limited.

HHS does not require providers who refuse treatment to refer patients to other providers or provide any information at all on other providers.

The OCR further has authority to initiate compliance reviews of any organization receiving federal funding to ensure conformity to the new rules. 

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against HHS for refusing to release records pertaining to the creation of the OCR. The organizations initially requested these records via a FOIA request in January 2018. The CRR and NWLC seek knowledge of why the new division was needed, how the OCR operates, allocates funding, and may be influenced by outside groups.

"We’re filing this lawsuit to force the Trump-Pence administration to justify why it’s using resources to fund discrimination, rather than to protect patients," said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health. 

HHS's new Office of Civil Rights follows additional moves by the Trump administration to limit equitable access to reproductive health care, including promoting the "Global Gag Rule," its domestic counterpart, and establishing regulations aimed at severely limiting funding to Title X programs. 

July 26, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Call for Public Comments on Proposed Rule to Limit Title X Funding

Last month the Trump administration proposed a rule prohibiting the granting of federal Title X family planning funds to family planning providers that also perform abortions. The so-called “Domestic Gag Rule” would create new, unnecessary barriers for patients seeking access to birth control and other services from their trusted reproductive health care providers. In addition, the rule would prevent doctors and nurses across the country who receive federal funding from referring patients for safe, legal abortions. 
 
While the new rule is scheduled to go into effect immediately upon publishing of the final rule, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to take public comments into consideration before making the rule permanent. 
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights has posted links to assist those interested in sending comments which provide draft language and templates.
  1. Send a comment to HHS opposing the proposed rule through the Center for Reproductive Rights website using the draft language linked here
  2. Submit a comment on behalf of your organization urging HHS to rescind the rule. A template is available here. If you need support coordinating the ask within your association or developing a comment, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Lawyers Network team at lawyersnetworkinfo@reprorights.org

July 23, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides

The New York Times (Jul. 10, 2018): As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides, by Jesse McKinley: 

The New York primary season is heating up as incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon are both advocating, among other things, for hard line policies to protect the right to abortion and women's health services in New York State. 

Governor Cuomo told voters that New York needs to codify the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade on the state level and called on the State Legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act to do so. He's previously put forth similar legislation, none of which made it through the State Senate's Republicans and "rogue," anti-abortion Democrats. Cuomo is also advocating for the decriminalizing of abortion--moving laws and regulations pertaining to the procedure over to the public health code instead. 

Nixon, in her primary campaign, has highlighted previous, unflattering statements by Cuomo about feminism and women as well as his failure to execute a comprehensive shift in New York reproductive policies in order to distinguish her own platform, which lies somewhat farther to the left and is endorsed by the New York Working Families Party. 

The stakes are clearly raised in in this year's Gubernatorial race in light of Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court and growing concerns that the fundamental rights to abortion and reproductive health will be formidably challenged under a much more conservative court.

 

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says.

The Washington Post (Jul. 17, 2018): Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says, by Ariana Eunjung Cha: 

New court cases cases are grappling with the decision of what to do with frozen embryos created during a marriage that later dissolves. In many cases that Cha reports on, the couples chose to create and freeze several embryos in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment schedule that threatened later fertility.

When these same couples faced divorce, there were bitter divides over what should be done with the embryos: one party wanted to maintain "ownership" of the embryos for a future chance at children while the other wanted the embryos destroyed, fearing unwanted future financial or relationship obligations. 

With the number of frozen embryos in the United States soaring into the millions, disputes over who owns them are also on the rise. Judges have often — but not always — ruled in favor of the person who does not want the embryos used, sometimes ordering them destroyed, following the theory that no one should be forced to become a parent.

In Arizona, though, a "first-in-the-nation law" went into effect on July 1 that states "custody of disputed embryos must be given to the party who intends to help them 'develop to birth.'"

The legislation represents for some lawmakers the idea that frozen embryos have their own right to life, and many imagine that the implications could eventually include a delineation of when life begins and a claim to a separate set of embryonic rights of their own as human beings (rather than the discussion being centered on who "owns" the embryos). 

Some groups, like the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, advocate for that embryos to be considered "children" in the legal sense, asking judges to make decisions on disputes based on the best interest of the "child." 

Debates to extend personhood to unborn embryos and fetuses abound in anti-abortion work. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that these discussions could further disintegrate the right to abortion in the United States. "If a days-old embryo in a freezer has a right to life, why not a days-old embryo in utero?"

While judges have historically ordered disputed embryos destroyed based on the wishes of the party who does not want a child, an Arizona judge chose to balance one party's "probable inability to have a child without the embryos" against the other party's "desire to not be a father" a different way. 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner held that Ruby Torres, who wanted the embryos in order to have biological children one day, had no right to them. The judge did not order them destroyed, though, and instead ordered that they go up for donation.

Torres appealed the decision and expects a new ruling any day. 

The new Arizona law that states embryos shall be given to the party who intends to develop them to birth was written in response to this case to "help" people in Torres' situation. It also attempts to recognize the rights of those who do not want the embryos used by providing that those parties would not be liable for child support in the future. 

Both the judicial decisions and the legislation continue to prove extremely controversial:

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group that has successfully pushed antiabortion legislation in the state, supported the measure, saying the bill would “lead to more consistent rulings.”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and other professionals who work on fertility issues, opposed the measure, arguing that it would have a profound impact on reproductive medicine.

Medical professionals foresee profound complications to stem-cell research in particular, which relies on embryos donated to science. Such research is believed essential in developing treatments for many diseases and conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The treatment and storage of embryos as a result of the new legislation will likely make embryonic stem cells much more scarce.

In a friend-of-the-court brief in Torres' pending appellate case, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys urged judges in the Arizona Court of Appeals to balance the interest of each former spouse. They argue that the parties claims are not equal and that "the constitutional protection against compulsory parenthood is [generally] greater than any procreative interest in pre-embryos." 

Time will tell both if the appellate judges affirm Judge Steiner's controversial ruling (likely leading to further appeals) while we also wait for the inevitable challenges to Arizona's new embryo law.

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Medical News, Parenthood, Politics, Public Opinion, Scholarship and Research, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory

Bustle (Jun. 29, 2018): The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory, by Morgan Brinlee: 

Despite concerns for the future of reproductive rights in the imminent wake of Justice Kennedy's retirement, reproductive rights advocates secured a victory in Iowa last week when the Supreme Court of Iowa struck down a 72-hour waiting period imposed on women seeking abortions.

"The vast majority of women have made their decision by the time they present for care so the laws [mandating waiting periods] do not lead women to change their minds, Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Bustle. "They really just lead to increases in financial costs and increases in delay and also some increases in emotional distress along the way."

The Iowa Supreme Court found the restriction a violation of the state Constitution.  Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, found that imposed wait periods actually lead to even greater delays in care as well as substantial increased costs for the women.

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland are also involved in a lawsuit against the state's "heartbeat law," which bans abortion after 6-weeks, the time at which a fetal heartbeat can sometimes be detected. A District Court judge temporarily blocked the law, but if it goes into effect, some women may not have any option for abortion at all, as many don't find out they're pregnant until after six weeks.

July 4, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Students sue University of Notre Dame for restricting access to some birth control

Washington Post (Jun. 27, 2018): Students sue University of Notre Dame for restricting access to some birth control, by Erin B. Logan: 

A Notre Dame alumna and three current student sued the university on Tuesday in the wake of Notre Dame's February 2018 announcement that it would deny access to "abortion-inducing" contraceptives. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal law and the First and Fifth Amendments. In addition to the university, the suit names the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury.

These health-care policy changes to Notre Dame's plan will affect undergraduate and graduate students as well as university employees and their dependents. The policy will go into effect on July 1 for employees and in August for students.

The roll-back of coverage by the university is a response to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' fall 2017 announcement that it would rescind the Obama-era rule mandating free contraceptive coverage in health plans. This requirement currently remains in effect, though, due to judicial injunctions. Notre Dame, however, carved out an exception for itself with the federal government after a 2013 suit against the mandate claimed a violation of its moral and religious convictions.

June 29, 2018 in Contraception, Culture, In the Courts, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights

New York Magazine (Jun. 27, 2018): Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights, by Ed Kilgore: 

With the announcement of Justice Kennedy's imminent retirement comes the prospect of a much more conservative Supreme Court, particularly in relation to reproductive rights. Justice Kennedy stood in the majority of the 2016 Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which reaffirmed basic abortion access rights. Trump has promised to pursue the reversal of Roe v. Wade, though, and has stated his intentions to nominate a similarly-minded next justice. 

Many states have recently enacted stricter abortion access requirements--like Louisiana's legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy or Iowa's fetal heartbeat ban. "Such laws are aimed at setting up a challenge to Roe if the Supreme Court lurches to the right — which is now an imminent possibility."

While it's unlikely that, even under a more conservative court, Roe would be immediately overturned, a shift to the right on the Supreme Court will likely lead to affirmation of new, state-level abortion restrictions. For example, rather than overturn Roe, which is backed by additional, subsequent precedent in 1992's Casey and 2016's Hellerstedt, the court might instead find an opportunity to reverse Hellerstedt, as the more recent decision. Such a move might reinvigorate efforts to enact Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, likely forcing abortion providers out of business with burdensome requirements and eliminating much abortion access, especially in already-conservative states.

Either way, if Trump nominates an anti-Roe Supreme Court candidate this year, and the Senate approves them, we can expect many more legal battles on the availability of abortion. "With one SCOTUS appointment and one decision, that could all change, and we could enter a period of abortion-policy activism unlike anything America has seen in decades."

June 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Supreme Court Backs Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case

New York Times (Jun. 26, 2018): Supreme Court Backs Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers in Free Speech Case, by Adam Liptak: 

Justice Thomas wrote for the five-justice, conservative majority who decided Tuesday that California's "crisis pregnancy centers" cannot be forced to provide information on abortion services in the state. 

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, No. 16-1140, centered on a California law that requires pregnancy centers whose aim is to dissuade pregnant people from abortions to provide information on the availability of abortions in California.

The state requires the centers to post notices that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number for more information.

The centers argued that the law violated their right to free speech by forcing them to convey messages at odds with their beliefs. The law’s defenders said the notices combat incomplete or misleading information provided by the clinics.

The state legislature enacted the law after finding that hundreds of the pregnancy centers used "intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling" to confuse or intimidate women from making informed decisions about their health care. The law also required that unlicensed clinics disclose that they are unlicensed. 

Justice Thomas wrote that the requirements for the notices regarding abortion availability were too burdensome and infringed on the clinics' rights under the First Amendment. The ruling reverses a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had upheld the law.

Justice Breyer penned a dissent, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, citing the contradiction between the majority's decision here and a Court decision in 1992 that upheld a Pennsylvania law that required abortion-performing doctors to inform their patients about other options, like adoption. 

June 27, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Argentina’s historic vote to decriminalize abortion

Vox (Jun. 14, 2018): Argentina’s historic vote to decriminalize abortion, explained, by Emily Stewart: 

On Thursday, June 14, Argentina's lower legislative house voted 129-125 on a bill that would decriminalize abortions up to 14 weeks into a pregnancy. The bill is part of "a broader women’s rights movement, Ni Una Menos — meaning 'Not One Less' — directed at stopping violence against women, including murder."

Abortion is currently illegal in Argentina except in cases of rape or life and health-threatening circumstances. Even in these scenarios, abortions are difficult to obtain and there may be not guidelines or clear legal requirements for providers, according to Shena Cavallo, a program officer at the International Women’s Health Coalition. Half a million women sought illegal abortions in 2016, and abortion-related deaths are one of the top causes of maternal mortality in Argentina. 

Over the past 13 years, six different bills decriminalizing abortion have unsuccessfully come before Argentina's Congress. Activist groups like the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion and Catholics for the Right to Decide Argentina, have helped to gain the momentum for the current bill, contributing to the greater Ni Una Menos movement.

The Ni Una Menos movement, started in 2015, is a campaign against gender-based violence. It began in Argentina after a surge of media reports of women being killed by their husbands, boyfriends, or partners, and it has spread across multiple Latin American countries. Argentina has a history of public protest — it is not uncommon for major city streets and roadways to be shut down for hours or days because of protest — and multiple Ni Una Menos marches have taken place. This new wave of feminism has spurred more women to speak out about a variety of issues, including abortion. Activists see illegal abortion as another way of keeping women oppressed.

While Argentine President Mauricio Macri has not stated public support for the bill, he has encouraged debate over it and also said he would not veto it if it reaches his desk.

Although the more conservative Senate is expected to reject the bill, advocates consider this recent vote a win and will continue to fight for abortion legalization and the overall protection of women throughout Argentina and Latin America. 

June 15, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, International, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

New York GOP Lawmakers Quash Contraception, Abortion Protections—For Now

Rewire.News (Jun. 8, 2018): New York GOP Lawmakers Quash Contraception, Abortion Protections—For Now, by Auditi Guha:

The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), or S 2796, was drafted four years ago and recently passed by the Democratic-majority New York Assembly. The RHA is intended to rectify some of the shortcomings of local abortion law. The bill "repeals criminal abortion statutes, permits abortion after 24 weeks when the pregnant person’s health is at risk or when the fetus is not viable, and expands current law so that nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants can provide abortion services."

The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (S 3668), also passed by the Assembly, "would expand contraceptive coverage to include all forms of FDA-approved contraception (including vasectomies), authorize pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception, and add coverage for contraceptive education and counseling."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) supported incorporating the RHA’s changes into state law in his budget proposal this year, but it’s been a hard push in a state where Republicans decide what bills get to be voted on. Procedural glitches made the fight tougher this week for both the RHA and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act as the senate ground to a halt, the New York Daily News reported.

Senate Democrats last week again tried to bring both the RHA and the CCCA to the floor for a vote, but Republican leadership ended the session without action.

“Both these bills are supported by the governor and have passed the Assembly," Sen. Krueger said in a statement. "The Senate Republicans should stop using procedural maneuvers to block these bills which would ensure that individuals would have control of their own reproductive health decisions.”

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, Robin Chappelle Golston, told Rewire.News: “Obviously legislation as simple as making access to contraception widely available was too much for the majority of the Senate...And I think the best answer for that is that people need to go out and vote this fall.”

June 14, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)