War on Women in Pennsylvania: At Least a 20-Year Happening

Last week, Governor Tom “Just Close Your Eyes” Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2013, also known as HB 818.  This newest attack in the War on Women denies women the ability to use THEIR OWN FUNDS to purchase coverage for an abortion within the new healthcare exchange that Corbett decided to fob off onto the federal government.  Although the state couldn’t be “bothered” with running this exchange, they have no problem in denying women the ability to purchase coverage for an abortion even in cases in which her life is endangered.

At the time of final passage of the bill I sent out an email to several friends listservs. Here are some of the comments I received back:

What is going on in PA?  It’s beginning to sound more & more like a North Dakota or a Kansas [or a Mississippi or an Arizona or a Wisconsin or a Texas or any other state that’s been taken over by misogynists and racists].  Terrible!!

If women aren’t allowed to spend money on their healthcare the way they deem medically necessary, then it’s time to face the fact that we’re not even citizens in our own states.

I agree with all of these sentiments.  Yet, these types of legislative actions have been going on in Pennsylvania for a long time, despite Pennsylvania having an ERA in our state Constitution and having already ratified the national ERA.

Bit of history of the War on Women in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been battling this War for over two decades in our legislature.  The battles started with attacks on reproductive justice and have now spread to other areas of women’s lives.

Reproductive Justice Battles

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has basically been co-opted by the radical right-wing on both sides of the aisle.  The Democrats do have more pro-choice people than the Republicans.  The Senate is a bit better than the House of Representatives.  And this has basically been true since the late 1980’s.

  1. Which is why Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (D) pushed through Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act that initially mandated parental consent, spousal consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a state-mandated script about the “detriments” to health in abortion procedures.  Planned Parenthood contested the law that went all the way to the US Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Decided on June 29, 1992, the Court threw out spousal consent as an “undue burden,” but upheld the rest of the law. This was one of the first battles partially won by the emerging War on women.  That was 21 years ago this week.
  2. Which is why Title X and state Family Planning monies are split 50/50 each year in the state budget between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate family planning clinics.  And this has been happening for over a decade now. And in 2012, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) proposed eliminating ALL funding for family planning for Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortion services.
  3. Which is why we are losing stand-alone abortion providers due to the TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) law passed in December 2011 following “Dr.” Gosnell’s arrest and guilty verdict for murdering 9 live-born infants and one woman in a filthy, rat-infested facility that the state had not inspected despite complaints from legitimate providers for about 10 years.
  4. Which is why we almost had a transvaginal ultrasound law last year.  And for Governor Corbett’s “Just close your eyes” statement (Corbett’s comments on the ultrasound bill start at 14:28).  The main reasons I think it ultimately died in committee is thanks to the activists in VA who created the uproar there and because so many people, including doctors were outraged by the invasiveness of this bill and for Corbett’s insensitive statement (of which he is becoming more or more well-known for – he’s his own worst enemy).

Other Battles in the War on Women in Pennsylvania

And on other issues – similar actions have occurred.

Increasing Conservatism in the Legislature and Governorship

In 2010, the Tea Party and the radical right swept into office an even more anti-woman legislature and governor here in Pennsylvania.  The War on Women went into full swing.  Both houses of the General Assembly became even more heavily conservative, with the House switching from a Democratic- to a Republican-controlled majority and the state elected an anti-choice, anti-woman, and in my opinion, racist governor – Governor Tom Corbett (R).

To highlight how conservative the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become, just look at the 2012 ratings of legislators by the American Conservative Union.  They indicated that 51% of members in the combined Assembly are solid conservatives; 105 or 42% are given a score of 100 and an additional 22 or 9% are rated at 63 or higher.  The entire leadership of the majority party in both houses and thus those with the power to deny women, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in poverty their basic rights are listed in their report as so-called “Defenders of Liberty” or “Conservatives” because of their rating of, respectively, either 100 (13 of the 16 leaders) or 80 (the remaining 3 leaders).

Attack on Hate Crimes Protections

An updated hate crimes bill was initially passed in 2002 that added gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation.  Because the radical right didn’t want to vote against adding sexual orientation coupled with disability and gender and thereby anger multiple constituencies within their district, a member of the House, proposed a late-night, end of session amendment in the 2001-2002 legislative session that substituted the hate crimes bill for an agricultural crimes bill.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, mostly because the legislators didn’t want to appear to be supporting hate crimes via a no vote (prior to this the then Republican majority had refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote). The radical right-wing appealed saying that this substitution violated the state’s constitutional mandate that any amendment has to be germane to the original intent of the bill.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in July 23, 2008 that this procedure (but not the underlying intent) was unconstitutional and threw out the law.  It has been reintroduced every session since then with no hearing or vote in any committee in either house.

Attacks on Marriage Equality

In addition to having a state-based mini-DOMA (a state-level Defense of Marriage Act) on the books, Pennsylvania has had several attempts at adding this form of discrimination to our state constitution introduced every session for the last decade.  The major reasons they have not passed is that the House is even more conservative than the Senate and the two houses can’t agree on how extreme to make it.  There is another one that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year, but due to increasing support by the public for civil unions and marriage equality (almost 2/3 support throughout the state), they haven’t yet held any hearings.

Budgetary Attacks

One of the spears attacking women, families, and people of color since the takeover of our legislative and executive branches of government here in the state is the budget.

We have had severe cutbacks in state funding for education, health care, and human services since 2011.  According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, spending on these three areas in the final budget for 2012-2013 that ends this week was either flat-lined (“welfare” programs) or reduced by 0.3% (for public school education), 15.9% (for higher education), and 37% to 45% (for Medical Assistance inpatient and outpatient care).

The proposed budget plan for 2013-2014 continues these cuts. Here are a couple of examples of this budgetary war:

Attacks to Eliminate Equality for All

In the very first budget introduced by Governor Corbett, every advocacy Commission in the Executive branch was eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget – this includes the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (which I served on until it was abolished), Latino Affairs, Asian-American Affairs, and African-American Affairs.  As you will see from the links to these commissions, there is no public information on who the commissioners are nor is the any information on the services any of these commissions provide.  Prior to the elimination of these commissions in 2011, the Commission for Women, for example, had an extensive web presence which included our mission (the only thing that now remains), hotline contact information, copies of reports written by the Commission, information on the advocacy being conducted by the Commission, and links to programs and services to broadly assist women.  Transparency has disappeared; this is another spear in the attacks with the War on Women here in Pennsylvania.

Like every other state, Pennsylvania has a commission that monitors, reviews and adjudicates alleged acts of discrimination; here in Pennsylvania that is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Severe budgetary cut-backs have occurred in the funding for the PHRC in every budgetary cycle since 2011.  An individual who works within the PHRC told me last month that as a result of these cuts, they are down 50% in staffing and that long-time civil rights advocates in the agency have either retired (some early) or left for other work.  And it’s not getting any better. The PHRC is flat-lined in this year’s budget.  We don’t yet know if this will still be true once the budget is passed, which theoretically must be done this week since our state constitution requires passage by June 30 of each year.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is part of the War on Women due to its impact on legislation directly affecting women’s lives. Gerrymandering here in Pennsylvania, aka the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” has entrenched the right-wing Republicans in both the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  This, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Being a Democratic legislator, as we all know doesn’t guarantee concern for women’s rights (think Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and his father, former Governor Bob Casey, Sr.). But in these days and times, it’s less likely to cause a problem for us than do the Tea-Party dominated Republicans.

The most recent vote in the General Assembly is a clear example of what gerrymandering has done to the legislature.

Gerrymandering, combined with the elections resulted in the passage of HB 818/Act 13 this month. Tea Party Republican conservatives won many of their races in 2010 and 2012, taking control and leadership of both houses in 2011.  In the House there are 111 Republicans and 92 Democrats.  On April 24, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (98%) voted against and all but 32 Democrats (65%) voted for women’s reproductive justice. In the Senate there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. On June 5, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (93%) voted against and all but 5 Democrats (77%) voted for women’s reproductive justice.

State and Federal ERA

Another comment that was made when I sent out my email was about passing the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The person said,

This is the reason we need to be included in the Constitution of the United States!  One of main ways to stop bills like this is to pass the ERA and thus be admitted as full-fledged citizens of the US.

Before the War on Women started, Pennsylvania passed a state-based ERA that was voted on by the electorate and placed into Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1971.

Yet even with this state-based ERA, the War on Women is being raged here in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes the state ERA works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It worked back in the 1980’s when Pat and Twiss Butler worked with Pennsylvania NOW to get gender-based auto insurance rates eliminated.  But it didn’t work in 2008 when a woman sued her employer using the state ERA based on sexually offensive comments made by her supervisor but not stopped by the company.

Many people, in frustration have made statements or created nicknames to replace the official monikers of “City or State of Brotherly Love” and the “Cradle of Independence.”  A couple of the pejoratives include “Pennsyltuky” and “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle” (this latter one is attributed to James Carville)  The progressive parts of the state (for the citizenry, but not necessarily the full legislature) are currently Philadelphia and SE PA, the capital Harrisburg (to some minor extent) and Centre County where I live.  Pittsburgh is still itself progressive, but Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is located) has become very, very conservative and thus more like the “T” (the term used to describe the rural part of the state outside of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions).

Yes, it is frustrating.  But as a “cock-eyed optimist” (something I’ve often been called), I continue to push back and sometimes we get things that are a bit better than they would have been otherwise.  Much of our work is being done in coalition these days.  I won’t stop my push-back against this War on Women.  I will continue my multi-decade work and will continue to shout from the mountain top whenever and wherever needed.  As will others (see for example, an article in Politico about the War on Women battle for the Pennsylvania governorship gearing up here in Pennsylvania).

Be a “cock-eyed” optimist.  Get the ERA passed and stop this state and national War on Women. As Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

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.

Universal, Single-Payer Health Care Can Save Billions of Dollars

I recently posted a blog about why I support universal single-payer healthcare.  I told you about my personal trials with insurance companies in order to obtain my life-saving bone marrow transplant.  I have been telling that story in my advocacy ever since the early 1990’s when I became a single-payer healthcare advocate.

In 2008, I ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  Another candidate in another district that year was Cindy Purvis.  Both of us ran for public office with the message that affordable, universal health care was necessary for individuals, families, businesses, and our communities in general.

The following year, Cindy helped found Health Care for All PA, a statewide non-profit organization that educates the public and government officials regarding the scope and seriousness of the health care crisis.  She was their first President.  A year later, she asked me to join their Board of Directors.

In our advocacy for a universal health care plan for Pennsylvania, we have received push-back from the legislature. They told us that the General Assembly would not move the bill unless we had an Economic Impact Study (EIS) that shows that universal, single-payer health care is cost-effective. So a couple of years ago, the legislature considered an EIS bill to find out this answer. Unfortunately it died in committee.

But this question still needed to be answered.  So the Health Care for All PA Education Fund raised monies from individuals and small businesses to fund just such a study to compare the proposed state-based single-payer health care plan to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and other health care programs within Pennsylvania.  And we now have the results.

STUDY PROVES PENNSYLVANIA CAN EXPAND HEALTH CARE TO ALL WHILE SAVING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS

ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDY COMMISSIONED BY HEALTHCARE4ALLPA PAVES THE WAY FOR AFFORDABLE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE IN PENNSYLVANIA

Health Care for All PA released the results of this economic impact study last week based on and in conjunction with the anticipated introduction of the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan bill by Senator Jim Ferlo on Tuesday, March 19 at 2:00 pm in the Capitol Media Center, Harrisburg.

The results prove that a single-payer health care plan will save families, businesses and tax payers $17 billion annually while at the same time providing comprehensive health care to all.

This study was done by University of Massachusetts – Amherst professor of economics Gerald Friedman, Ph.D.   It compares the cost of the current for-profit health insurance model in Pennsylvania whereby provider choice is limited and health services are rationed by health insurance companies to that of a consumer-driven health care system which lets people have the freedom to choose their own doctors, hospitals and health care providers.

Some of the important advantages of a single-payer system are:

  • Provides comprehensive coverage for every resident of Pennsylvania, including dental, vision and mental health services;
  • Eliminates the need for hospitals to absorb the cost of care for the uninsured;
  • Reduces bureaucracy for private physicians resulting in reduced administrative costs and improved compensation for private physicians;
  • Reduces or eliminates health insurance over-costs for small business, allowing for more job creation, greater reinvestment of profits, and reduced workers’ compensation costs.
  • Radically reduces the total cost of health care to levels more consistent with costs in the rest of the industrialized world.
  • Reduces healthcare spending in Pennsylvania by an estimated $16 Billion +
    (from $144 billion to $128 billion). This includes savings of $7 Billion + for businesses that currently provide health care benefits and over $6 Billion for state and local governments and school boards. It also reduces the cost to the average individual who pays well over the 3% of personal income for health care coverage that is called for in the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan.

Here’s some highlights from the EIS:
EIS SUMMARY AND HIGHLIGHTS OF PENNSYLVANIA HEALTH CARE PLAN

Friedman’s Executive Summary can be read here.

The entire Economic Impact Study can be read here.