Abortion ‘Hostility’ Depends on Your Zip Code

If you live in the South, your access to reproductive health services is greatly reduced. The same is true for a few other states, like Ohio, Indiana, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Why? Because the legislators in 27 states have decided to place themselves and their misogynistic beliefs between the decisions you would normally make about your reproductive health in consultation with your medical care provider. And in 18 of these states, the legislators are considered to be “extremely hostile” to women’s healthcare.

It’s gotten significantly worse in the last four years. State legislators have placed restrictions on access to abortion as well as on family planning and related services.

The 18 most hostile states are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Here’s more to this story.  Read below and then check out the full report at the Guttmacher Institute.

From 2011 to 2014, the number of legislative restrictions against abortion rights skyrocketed to 231, quadrupling the number of restrictions within just three years. In 2014 alone, legislators enacted 26 brand new measures to restrict access to abortion rights.

According to a new report by the Guttmacher Institute, the number of measures enacted are not just surging, but the severity of these ‘hostility’ classifications is alarming and threatening to women’s rights.

The same 18 states keep introducing these measures, and all of these states lie in the South and Midwest. According the report, thirty-eight percent of the country is now considered to be extremely hostile to abortion rights.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.53.32 AM

What does it mean when a state is “extremely hostile towards abortion”? 

It means that states can grant ‘fetal personhood’ in lieu of a pregnant woman’s rights, thereby prioritizing fetal rights over women’s rights. (Ahem, Tennessee.) It means that a pregnant woman…

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The 2014 quest to get single women to the polls

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times at  http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-democrat-quest-to-turn-out-single-women-20140716-story.html on July 17, 2014. It was written by Maeve Reston.  She is a political reporter at the paper. She’s been covering presidential election since 2004, first in Pittsburgh PA, then Austin TX, and now in Los Angeles.  She can be reached through Twitter at @MaeveReston.

If you’d like to learn more about unmarried-women voters, you can check out the research that was conducted by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners.

Please read this great article. Review the research. And help get-out-the-vote. You can help by talking to your unmarried female friends and family  members and helping them to register to vote. And the remind them to vote on November 4, 2014.

 

Central Oregon Coast NOW

la-pn-g-democrats-quest-turn-women-20140716-20140716

By MAEVE RESTON
July 17, 2014

It has been nearly a month since the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision, yet the issue has remained at the top of the political news now for weeks — a key facet in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

To explain that, look no further than the research by the Voter Participation Center into the voting trends for single women in midterm elections. Though single women make up a growing share of the electorate — nearly 4.2 million became eligible to cast ballots since 2008 — they turn out in far lower numbers in midterm elections than presidential contests.


The battle for female voters in Montana
Related video: Facing attacks in the Montana Senate race on his record on abortion, Republican Steve Daines aired his own female-focused ad touting his support for the Violence Against Women Act.

The dropoff…

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It’s a Black and White Issue

overturn_hobbylobby_ruling_now.jpg

Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Women have rights. It is a black and white issue. Show your support for overturning the Hobby Lobby decision by the US Supreme Court

Rally near your nearest Hobby Lobby protesting this decision. Here’s a link to the Hobby Lobby’s “Store Locator.” Your local NOW chapter may also be participating in a local action. 

Wear Black and White on July 5.

Women Have Rights. It's black and white issue.. Show your support this July 4th. Wear black and white or red and blue.  Change your profil picture to a black and white one. Keep your pic up until August 26.

Women Have Rights. It’s a black and white issue.

And turn your profile picture or banner on all of your social media sites black and white through August 26; this is the anniversary of women’s right to vote being placed into the US Constitution.

Thanks for your support of this action continuing to oppose the War on Women.

Repeal the RFRA and Ratify the ERA

ERA words buttonCorporations should not have more religious rights than woman.  With the US Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) Hobby Lobby decision, women’s personally “sincerely held” beliefs now mean nothing.

The Hobby Lobby decision is not based on the US Constitution.  Instead it’s based on a bill known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA combined with the recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that granted personhood status to companies. Since there is no constitutional equality for women and therefore no strict scrutiny review for women’s religious and civil rights, this decision eliminating women personal religious beliefs and access to reproductive health coverage occurred.

The RFRA, when combined with this SCOTUS decision, makes women non-persons.

Therefore in order to place women back on equal footing with men (and the “personhood” of corporations as this activist Court has mandated), we need to do two things:

    1. Ratify the ERA — the Equal Rights Amendment — and put women into the US Constitution so that women WILL be equally treated as people and not as objects to be pushed around by the will of corporations and by gender bigots.
    2. Repeal the RFRA  –  The Freedom From Religion Foundation placed an ad in the New York Times entitled Dogma Should NOT trump Civil Liberties that in part states:

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people. Now, the Supreme Court asserts that corporations have “religious rights” that surpass those of women.In the words of Justice John Paul Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings,no thoughts, no desires” — but real women do. Allowing employers to decide what kind of birth control an employee can use is not,as the Supreme Court ruled, an “exercise of religion.” It is an exercise of tyranny.

I agree.  Repeal the RFRA and put women into the US Constitution.

The repeal of the RFRA would require an act of Congress. That means we need to elect new members to Congress who respect and will stand up for women. So we all need to register to vote and then vote.

We only need three more states to ratify the ERA to make it the 28th amendment to the US Constitution. Illinois is halfway there; their Senate ratified it and we’re now awaiting the vote in the state House.  Just two more states and then we can proudly say:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

 

MLK Jr. and his “Family Planning — A Special and Urgent Concern” Speech

Access to Abortion Services is Part of Reproductive Justice and Civil Rights

Access to Abortion Services is Part of Reproductive Justice and Civil Rights (http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/)

This morning, the Greater Grand Rapids chapter of the National Organization posted a blog in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday.  His birthday is actually on January 15.  But we celebrate it with a federal holiday on the Monday following January 15 each year. Their blog focuses on Dr. King’s strong support for reproductive justice as part of women’s basic civil rights.  Take a moment and read what they have to say. Meanwhile, here’s something you might not know about Dr. King.  Dr. King wrote a speech honoring Margaret Sanger in 1966. Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PP).  Dr. King’s speech on reproductive justice was written in response to being awarded one of the four first Margaret Sanger Awards given by PP.  Since he was in jail at the time of the presentation, Coretta Scott King read his acceptance speech.  King entitled this speech,

Family Planning — A Special and Urgent Concern

Here’s what he said on family planning and its link to civil rights:

…. There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist — a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified her actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern….

[O]ne element in stabilizing his [sic] life would be an understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family related in size to his community environment and to the income potential he can command.

This is not to suggest that the Negro will solve all his problems through Planned Parenthood. His problems are far more complex, encompassing economic security, education, freedom from discrimination, decent housing and access to culture. Yet if family planning is sensible it can facilitate or at least not be an obstacle to the solution of the many profound problems that plague him….

Some commentators point out that with present birth rates it will not be long before Negroes are a majority in many of the major cities of the nation. As a consequence, they can be expected to take political control, and many people are apprehensive at this prospect. Negroes do not seek political control by this means. They seek only what they are entitled to and do not wish for domination purchased at the cost of human misery. Negroes were once bred by slave owners to be sold as merchandise. They do not welcome any solution which involves population breeding as a weapon. They are instinctively sympathetic to all who offer methods that will improve their lives and offer them fair opportunity to develop and advance as all other people in our society.

For these reasons we are natural allies of those who seek to inject any form of planning in our society that enriches life and guarantees the right to exist in freedom and dignity….

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

Pennsylvania General Assembly Again Attacking Women’s Reproductive Health

Keep Abortion Legal NOW Round

Keep Abortion Legal Safe, Legal and Accessible (http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/)

It’s 2013 and the Pennsylvania General Assembly continues to attack women’s access to reproductive health. According to WeveHadEnoughPA.org, the Pennsylvania legislature has launched and maintained a 2+ year attack on women’s health. There have been numerous bills introduced and in some cases passed that restrict women’s vital access to reproductive health.  Since January 2011, there have been at least 55 votes in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict access from birth control to safe, legal abortions.

The most recent attack is happening this month.  On April 10, the Pennsylvania Senate Insurance and Banking Committee heard and passed out SB 3 by an 8-5 vote; a floor vote could occur any time this month.  This coming Monday, April 15th, the Pennsylvania House Health Committee will be hearing and voting on HB 818, the companion bill to SB 3.

The Additional Burdens on Women Seeking Abortion Care in These Bills

Both of these bills would prohibit insurance companies who provide health care coverage from including abortion coverage within the new healthcare Exchange crafted by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The only exceptions to this proposed ban are for women who become pregnant because of rape or incest if they personally report the sexual assault to law enforcement officials and for women who will die without immediate access to abortion services. If a woman doesn’t meet one of these two exceptions, she must completely pay for the abortion totally out of her own pocket, unlike any other medical care she would receive under her health insurance plan.

Currently, about 80% of private insurance companies provide coverage for abortion services. This is important because these very same plans will be offered to people purchasing insurance through the Exchange. As part of the federal law, however, all plans that offer abortion coverage in the Exchange must have a separate payment for that portion of the coverage. This bill would deny women the right to make this separate payment and deny them what is currently available to most people covered by the current private health insurance system. While women would still be able to have abortions in this circumstance, they would be forced to fully pay out-of-pocket all cost for these procedures; their insurance company would be prohibited from paying any portion of this treatment.

This proposed ban places an undue burden on victims of rape and incest and on those women whose lives are in danger health-wise by adding unnecessary barriers to receiving the critical medical attention they need. The two exceptions allowed are extremely limited. These bills require woman who are victims of rape or incest to notify the police and identify the perpetrator prior to seeking abortion treatment.  It also limits women with health issues that complicate their medical treatment to those that are in immediate danger of dying and requires additional medical certification by second, non-attending physician.

This bill places these restrictions on access to health insurance not by mentioning rape or incest or the death aversion clause, but by referring to and expanding Pennsylvania’s version of the Hyde Amendment.  This language is embedded in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3215(c) and would expand restrictions on public funds to all privately paid insurance plans purchased within the Exchange. The law (18 Pa.C.S. § 3215(c))as currently written is a prohibition of the state spending of public funds but not personal funds provided by the person herself for her own health insurance coverage.

The Rape and Incest Exception

Women and minors who are raped would be denied access to abortion services unless they formally report and identify their rapist to the police or child protective services.  Most sexual assaults are not reported to the police. This is even truer when the perpetrator is a family member or acquaintance. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, sexual assault occurs at a much higher rate than is actually reported.

Reasons for not reporting include an initial denial that they have been raped; fear that you won’t be believed or are ashamed for having been raped; or having an ongoing relationship (such as a spouse or parent) with the perpetrator. In order to be safe from further violence by the perpetrator, women and girls may decide not to report the attack to the authorities.  And if you are in denial you are also unlikely to report your rape or the incest of your child to authorities as required in this proposed legislation.

So that means if this bill becomes law and you become pregnant from rape or incest, you are further burdened with the additional costs of fully paying for the abortion. If this bill were not to go into effect, then following the restrictions placed on abortion care under federal law, you would have the abortion services covered based on the insurance rider you purchased in the exchange and you wouldn’t be forced to file a complaint with the police.  This is just one reason why this bill should be voted down.

The “Avert” Death Exception and Need for Expanded Health Exception

In addition, under this proposed law, women who are near death could receive an abortion.  However, say a woman develops cancer or an infection during her pregnancy that will not immediately kill her but would complicate her medical treatment should she continue with the pregnancy.

This health threat/complication is not included in the current bill’s health exception as that exception allows abortions only to “avert” the woman’s death. Any woman with a medical condition that is complicated by the pregnancy but doesn’t immediately place her in danger of death would be forced to bear the additional burden of the full cost of an abortion in addition to the increased threats to her health as well as the additional medical bills for the remaining part of her care.  The medical community, advocates and some legislators are very concerned about this limited exception and have proposed an amendment to both the House and Senate bill to expand this exception from “averting” her death to coverage of the abortion for any pregnancy that poses a substantial risk to the woman’s physical health.

But even if the health exception is expanded to include threats to women’s physical health and care, this bill continues to attack women’s health and lives and should be voted down.

Why this Bill Should be Voted Down

The question of whether abortion will be covered in federally subsidized insurance exchanges has already been settled.  In response to concerns raised by US Senator Ben Nelson, a staunch opponent of abortion, women who want to use their own money to purchase a health insurance plan that covers abortion services must send a separate payment so the funding for abortion coverage is completely separate and paid entirely by the individual. This bill denies women their right to make this separate payment.  And with an estimated 80% of private insurance plans currently covering abortion care, banning abortion coverage in the state exchange would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.

Abortion care is a legally authorized and fundamental component of women’s basic health care.  Women should not be denied access to safe, legal, and critical care as part of health care reform implementation.

If abortion coverage is available to some, it should be available to all.  Politicians should not discriminate against women participating in the health insurance exchange.  All women deserve the same peace of mind that they can obtain the health care they need, regardless of where their insurance comes from.

The decision to have an abortion is a private decision between a patient and her physician. It should not be denied by politicians interfering with an insurance company and the policies they offer to the consumer for this procedure.

Banning abortion coverage in transactions between a private company and an individual is governmental activism of the worst kind.  With all of the heated rhetoric over healthcare reform, one would assume that lawmakers would be sensitive about taking any action that suggests government intervention in private healthcare decisions.

Finally, instead of denying Pennsylvania women access to fundamental reproductive health care services, politicians should be working to protect and advance women’s health.

Action Needed

Contact your Pennsylvania Senator and Representative today (find their contact information here).  Tell her/him to support the expanded health exception amendment to both SB 3 and HB 818 and to oppose the entire bill regardless of the inclusion of the amendment.

Powerful UN CSW57 Document on Ending Gender-Based Violence Created

On March 14, I wrote a blog entitled “The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence.” I talked about an alliance between the Vatican, Iran, Russia and a couple of other countries that were attempting to eviscerate the comprehensive plan being created at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements). These previous agreements include the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).

I am happy to say that this didn’t happen.  Thanks to the bloggers, news media, Tweeters, NGO’s attending CSW57, and several official Member States, the amendments to the document were voted down on Friday during the final day of the 2-week convention.

Iran was the only country that voted against the final, comprehensive document. The Vatican did not get to vote because of its status as a “Permanent Observer State” rather than as a voting “Member State”. And Russia backed down and voted for the final document along with all of the remaining UN Member States.

People around the world heard about these attempts to deny women and girls safety from all forms of violence.  We spoke out and acted.

As a result, unlike last year, we FINALLY have a strong document that

“condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response.” (Source)

This document has a strong prevention focus since the best way to end violence against women and children is to stop it BEFORE it happens.  It also addresses inequalities in the political, economic, and social spheres that engender violence. And it takes action to provide services and justice for victims of violence around the world.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women summarized the comprehensive coverage of this powerful statement to end this type of human rights violation in her closing statement of the conference:

During the past two weeks, discussions centred on matters of urgency to people around the world — eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ending impunity for perpetrators, fully engaging men and boys, and advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality to prevent and end these human rights violations….

Important and timely matters were addressed — ending child and early forced marriage, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and providing justice and critical services for survivors of violence.

There were debates on ending sexual violence in conflict, tackling human trafficking, protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and on the role of culture, religion and the family.

You had many intense late-night negotiations, going over every single word and paragraph, debating long and hard in order to come to [this] strong agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after CSW57, released a statement showing the commitment of the United Nations to fully implement this new document. It says, in part:

Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.  No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear.  She has the universal human right to be free from all forms of violence so as to fulfill her full potential and dreams for the future.

States have a corresponding responsibility to turn that right into reality.  The Secretary-General hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The United Nations system is fully committed to leading this global effort.

So now I say, THANK YOU! Thank you for creating this statement. It is one more step  towards realizing the rights, dignity, and humanity of girls and women throughout the world.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

The  rule related to access to contraception and who pays for this insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act was once again modified by the Obama Administration on February 1, 2012.

Fortunately, this new rule does not cave into the Catholic bishops call to allow businesses to opt-out of paying for family planning but did give them a slight loop-hole. If the business can successfully argue that they are a religious institution that is just like a house of worship, then they can be treated like a house of worship and opt out of the business paying for contraception, leaving the insurance company to pay for it.  This will affect any employee of the business/institution as well as students receiving health care coverage and services at their religiously affiliated school that can meet the requirements for this new exemption.

This blog by Erin Matson does a good job of describing this new change.

 

Erin Matson

Today, the Obama administration issued a new proposed rule regarding the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Many reproductive rights organizations are calling it a victory. Some advocates, not so much.

So what just happened?

1. The new proposed rule spurned lobbying led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that would have made businesses eligible to opt-out of the contraceptive mandate. 

All along these men have been arguing that the owner of a Taco Bell, a craft store chain or any business should be able to dictate the terms of what private insurance companies will provide to beneficiaries. That didn’t happen today. No ifs, ands or buts. The Obama administration did not cave. This is probably why some reproductive rights organizations are calling the new proposed rule a victory.

2. The new proposed rule did slightly expand the religious exemption, at a minimum creating a new gray area…

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