The Return of the Coat Hanger: The State of Abortion Rights

We must Resist this backlash against women and their bodily integrity!

Resist! Show your support for women and reproductive justice. Many years ago, I was given a gold hanger pendant to show my support for abortion rights and reproductive justice. I’m going to start wearing it again. Every day. This is only a small statement. It’s a beginning.

Meanwhile…Resist! Resist! Resist!Take action! Start by being aware of what your state legislature is planning on legislating about your body and your personal medical decisions. We are in for a very bumpy ride.

Take action! Start by being aware of what your state legislature is planning on legislating about your body and your personal medical decisions. We are in for a very bumpy ride.

Nel's New Day

coat-hanger

When Gov. John Kasich vetoed the infamous “heartbeat” bill, people across the nation breathed a sigh of relief. If signed, the ensuing law would have made abortion illegal in Ohio after the sixth week when some women didn’t even know they were pregnant. The bill he did sign into law, making abortion in the state illegal after 20 weeks, seemed mild by comparison. The 1972 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade made abortions legal until 24 weeks, 4 weeks later than Ohio, yet the Ohio’s restriction to 20 weeks initially seemed much better than the alternative.

The new Ohio law is dangerous, however, on many levels. Not only does it attempt to break Roe v. Wade, but it also puts doctors in prison. Performing an abortion after 20 weeks is a fourth-degree felony, carrying a sentence of up to 18 months in prison. A 2013 Ohio law…

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Is Donald Trump’s Cabinet Anti-Woman?

Central Oregon Coast NOW

anti-women Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald J. Trump’s campaign was dogged by accusations of misogyny. Now his cabinet is shaping up to be one of the most hostile in recent memory to issues affecting women, advocacy groups for women say. Tax credits for child care and the prospect of paid maternity leave are exceptions to a host of positions that could result in new restrictions on abortion and less access to contraception, limits on health care that disproportionately affect women and minorities and curbs on funding for domestic violence, as well as slowing the momentum toward raising the minimum wage or making progress on equal pay.

Consider their positions on these issues.

Domestic violence

Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s selection for attorney general; Tom Price, chosen for Health and Human Services secretary; and Mike Pompeo, the pick for C.I.A. director, all voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, which funds…

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Just In: Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State

Info and link to a guide on abortion access under Pennsylvania’s Medicaid Program. As this shows, we need to have Congress repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Women's Law Project Blog

unlocking

The Women’s Law Project, in collaboration with the National Health Law Program, just published Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State, an initiative of the Reproductive Health Data and Accountability Project.

Unlocking Abortion Coverage in the Keystone State is a report and guide for abortion providers that addresses rules governing coverage of abortion under Pennsylvania Medical Assistance, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program.

Pennsylvania Medical Assistance provides public health coverage to low-income people who meet certain eligibility criteria. Though coverage of abortion care under Medical Assistance is extremely limited, federal and state laws and policies require Medical Assistance to cover abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

You can download or read the guide here.

Last week, Philadelphia became the 11th city to officially call on Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits federal dollars from funding abortion through Medicaid except in these narrow…

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NOW's Keep abortion legal round

Oppose the Most Restrictive Abortion Ban in Country

Keep Abortion Legal NOW Round

Oppose the PA Abortion Ban

Pennsylvania is poised to pass what is seen as the most restrictive abortion ban law in the country.  The House has already passed HB 1948 and has sent it to the Senate. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed strictly along party lines. It has the most extreme restrictions placed on abortion in the country. A vote by the full state Senate is expected as early as this Wednesday, July 13. Please call your PA State Senator and tell her/him to OPPOSE House Bill 1948.

SUMMARY OF HOUSE BILL 1948
House Bill 1948, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), decreases the gestational limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. It also bans Dilation and Evacuation abortions at any gestational age unless necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or prevent the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. There is no exception for rape, incest or fetal anomaly

TALKING POINTS

  1. My name is __________________ and I am a constituent from [your city]. I would like Senator________________________ to oppose HB 1948 that would restrict a woman’s access to abortion care services in an extreme and harmful way.
  2. All women should have access to a full range of health care options, including abortion care services, and live their lives free from violence and reproductive coercion.
  3. Every pregnancy is different and protecting women’s health and safety is paramount. I ask Sen. __________________ to stand with the women of this Commonwealth and vote “No” on HB 1948.
  4. More than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade recognized a woman’s constitutional right to decide whether to continue or end a pregnancy prior to viability.  This ban is clearly unconstitutional and will cost taxpayers for the state to litigate a law that is unenforceable.  It also constitutionally violates the most recent Supreme Court decision as noted in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concurring opinion in the June 2016 WHOLE WOMAN’S HEALTH ET AL. v. HELLERSTEDT case: 

Justice Ginsburg dismissed Texas’s argument about its interest in protecting “the health of women who experience complications from abortions,” by countering that “complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous.” She recites a laundry list of studies of how safe abortion is, and then she delivers the message: “So long as this Court adheres to Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973), and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws like H. B. 2 [and PA’s proposed HB 1948] that ‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion,’ Planned Parenthood of Wis., 806 F. 3d, at 921, cannot survive judicial inspection.”

You can find your representatives by clicking here. Once you are on the page you may enter your address and your elected officials and their contact information will appear.

Meme that says "Even with the Supreme Court's Decision, Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the US. Poor Women don't have a choice (Justice Ginsburg).." Then is says, 9 states tried to ban abortion in 2016; in the past 5 years, states have enacted nearly 300 laws restricting abortions; over 30 million women live near a shuttered clinic; and in red and blue states, nearly 15 clinics were shut down in the last five years [with] only 21 clinics opened."

Don’t Add Pennsylvania to the States that are Banning Abortions.

Don’t let Pennsylvania become the most restrictive state for abortion access in the country. Call your legislator TODAY!

(Thanks to the Pennsylvania Reproductive Health Coalition and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence for providing part of this information).

rosie-the-riveter

Send Us to the Democratic National Convention

rosie-the-riveter

We Can Do It!

I am an advocate of women’s civil rights and open, transparent governance in the United States and have been selected as a Pennsylvania PLEO (Public Leader/Elected Official) delegate representing Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention.

As a civil rights activist and an advocate for government transparency and access, I will be looking for and advocating for the following in the platform (which I believe in general both Bernie and Hilary agree with):

  1. Universal health care;
  2. Full Reproductive justice including access to abortions and birth control;
  3. A call for a paper trail on all voter ballots so that we don’t lose voters;
  4. Better access to voting ( same-day voting, mail-in paper ballots, no photo id, etc)
  5. Ending Violence against women;
  6. Non-discrimination in general; and
  7. Living wages and a call for a livable minimum wage tied to something like the Consumer Price Index.

I am trying to raise a minimum of $1,850 through GoFundMe to help two, possibly three of my friends and family participate in the convention with me as much as possible.  This will help defray the costs of both delegates (me) and non-delegates (friends and family) to participate in the convention activities.

It is very expensive to travel to and attend this convention.  The hotel room and food while we are in Philadelphia will cost us $3250.00.  And that doesn’t include the cost of travel from California and Washington and one other state where my activist friends live and work.  When you donate you will help those who are not otherwise able to attend to see democracy at work.

The convention is scheduled for July 24-29, 2016. Your donations through my GoFundMe campaign before this time will help us attend.

We are grateful for any funds you are willing to provide.  Thank you so much in advance.  We all appreciate it.

For government transparency, democracy, and fair treatment of all!

And one more time… Here’s the GoFundMe link.  Please donate and share.  We’d really appreciate it.

Thanks for your support!

https://www.gofundme.com/going2DNCnPhilly

logo banner used by Nancy Pelosi when she sends out news in her position as the House Democratic Leader

Democratic Members Speak Out on Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health

I received the following transcript of a press conference led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi  from a contact of mine in Washington, DC.  I thought you might like to hear what the Democratic Members of the Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health have to say about the ongoing attacks on women’s reproductive health.

logo banner used by Nancy Pelosi when she sends out news in her position as the House Democratic Leader

News Reports from Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

 May 13, 2016

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Members of the Republicans’ Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health held a press conference today.  Below is a transcript of the press conference.  

Leader Pelosi.  Good morning, everyone.  As our Members file out, I’m very proud to be here with the Members of the Committee to Attack Women’s Health, as we call this misguided initiative on the part of the Republican majority.  I’m so pleased that other Members have joined the Members of the Committee, Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Jerry Nadler, also on the Committee, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. G abusive investigation which is directly aimed at preventing women from accessing health services including abortions and ending scientific research that uses fetal tissue. This witch hunt is being conducted in violation of House Committee rules and practices and is putting the lives of doctors, researchers and those connected with them in grave danger. This investigation has never been – and has no promise of becoming fair or fact-based.  The apparent goal is to punish women, providers and researchers who are following the law.

This Committee is today’s version of the one driven by Senator Joe McCarthy and his companions on the House Un-American Activities Committee, using subpoena authority – the most powerful investigative tool of Congress – to force universities and clinics to “name names”, in this case of anyone involved in fetal tissue research or reproductive health care without any legitimate reason for doing so; 29 of the 35 subpoenas that have gone out have gone to individuals or entities never given the chance to comply voluntarily with the Chair’s demands.

Democrats have repeatedly objected to the Chair’s demand for the names of researchers, graduate students, lab technicians, residents, clinic personnel, and doctors over the last five years.   We see no reason why the Panel needs to amass a dangerous database of names in order to complete its work, and the Chair has refused to provide any justification.  Her unjustified demand to “name names” goes beyond the bullying and abusive behavior of Senator Joe McCarthy because she is putting people’s lives, not just their livelihoods, at risk.

Chair Blackburn’s action Wednesday went beyond all measures of decency when she issued a press release naming a health care provider – whom the panel had never reached out to before – and making inflammatory accusations with no evidence of wrongdoing. This reckless panel is acting as judge, jury and executioner.

These risks are not hypothetical. The provider named in the press release has been the target of anti-abortion extremists for decades. A fire destroyed his family farm, killing 17 horses and family pets in claimed retaliation for the care he provided for women. The Chair’s complete disregard for this doctor’s safety, particularly in light of the long history of harassment and violence that has been directed at him, is further evidence that this dangerous witch hunt must end.

The murderer at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic echoed words repeatedly spoken by the Republicans on the Committee – “no more baby body parts.” Words really matter.

In our letter to Speaker Ryan we told him that quote, “one deponent has already appealed to the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and to you, Speaker Ryan, in an effort to get basic protection for individual privacy and safety. Those requests have been rejected or met with deafening silence. Facing the threat of contempt, that person appeared before the Panel last week. During 8 hours of questioning, she was asked to quote “name names” by Republican staff who refused to explain how their requests bore any relation to a legitimate investigative aim,” unquote.  If you have any more questions, [Congressman] Jerry Nadler was actually at that deposition.

This and other witnesses have been berated, demeaned, and threatened with contempt of Congress.  Because I am concerned that the written transcript of these proceedings will not capture full interactions between witnesses, Members, and counsel, I sent a letter this morning asking the Clerk of the House to ensure that audio recordings of these depositions are preserved.

Doctors and clinic staff who provide reproductive health care in this country are at grave risk. Their workplaces are picketed and bombed, they and their families are targeted on web sites and receive harassing mail and phone calls and some have been murdered.  Scientists conducting life-saving research have also been the target of threats and harassment, particularly since the July 2015 release of the fraudulent videos alleging unlawful sale of fetal tissue.

The consequences of these attacks for the women of America and our ability to conduct critical medical research are perhaps the most devastating result of this so-called Investigative Panel. We were already told by one witness at a hearing that he had to disband promising fetal tissue research on Multiple Sclerosis, because his supply of fetal tissue had dried up.  Our ability to address Zika and its effects on fetuses, depends on fetal tissue research, and this research – which once had overwhelming bi-partisan support – is responsible for most of our lifesaving vaccines.

Women’s ability to access the reproductive services they need and choose is under unprecedented attack, and this panel has become the spearhead for those efforts nationally. This so-called investigation, like the three previous Republican-led House Committee investigations has uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing and Chair Blackburn’s unjustified witch hunt is putting lives and life-saving research and health care at risk. This investigation discredits and dishonors the House of Representatives. We call on Speaker Ryan to disband the Panel without further delay.

I want to thank all the rest of the my colleagues for coming here today.  This represents a strong belief of our Democratic Caucus who is joining in calling on Speaker Ryan to disband this panel.  And if you have any questions, we’re happy to answer them.

Q:  Congresswoman Schakowsky, obviously, comparisons of Joseph McCarthy are not, you know, used lightly.  Can you explain what you see the parallels between this and the McCarthy hearings?

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  As we said, this is not only about the livelihoods of people as the McCarthy hearings, which went after this fantasy about the danger of communists everywhere, asking for names to be named.  This is also ideologically driven.  This is an attack on women’s health care, their right to choose an abortion and on the use of fetal tissue research, which it appears that they would like to end – at least that’s the way the witnesses and the questioning has gone.  It is not fact-based like the McCarthy hearings and the consequences of what they are doing are dangerous.  It is dangerous for individual lives – as the McCarthy hearings were dangerous for individual livelihoods.  But beyond that, this has dramatic effects on how we conduct health care and research in this country.  So, we are not using that comparison lightly at all.  We think this is very, very dangerous and should be ended before it escalates any further.

Congressman Nadler.  Thank you.  One of the key similarities is that the purpose of the McCarthy depredations was not really to do research into American communism.  The purpose was to intimidate people from exercising their rights and to punish them for having exercised their constitutional rights in past years.  The purpose of these hearings seems to be to intimidate people, to intimidate clinics from performing abortions, to intimidate universities or clinics or anybody else from affording fetal tissue and to intimidate doctors from participating in any of this.  The kinds of questions that were asked:  “Did someone at the hospital suggest to you to work at the women’s center?  Were you encouraged?”  What business is that of Congress?

The very press release that you saw: ‘Select Panel begins investigation of late-term abortionists’ – I won’t mention his name.  The only purpose of that is to endanger that person’s life further.  That person travels with security.  He has been firebombed.  He has been threatened.  And if you look at everything they say they want to investigate, they are criminal allegations – no business of Congress.  If they have evidence of any of this, they should refer it to the U.S. Attorney.

Congress is not or should not be in the business of criminal investigation and of labeling someone a bad person or whatever – that’s not our functions.  That’s McCarthy’s function and that’s what they are doing here  and they are threatening the witnesses.  And the other thing is: ‘name names.’  When you come in under subpoena and you are told: you must name the name.  What person assisted in this?  What portion did you know here?  And you know, that if you name that name, that person will be endangered.   So you refuse to do it and you’re threatened with contempt.  That was the essence of McCarthyism, except it’s worse here because we are threatening people’s lives, not only their jobs.

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  Yes?

Q:  Today the Department of Justice and the Department of Education are issuing guidance to the public schools on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender preference.  And I wanted to ask you: should the federal government force public schools to let biological males who identify as females compete in female athletics?

Leader Pelosi.  I’d be absolutely pleased to answer your question.  We’re going to stay focused on this for now.  Questions other than that we’ll take right now.  Thanks.

Q:  Representative, The Federalist reported that you received $13,000 from Planned Parenthood, $64,000 from EMILY’s List, $9,500 from NARAL – how is that not a conflict of interest to be investigating those organizations?

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  Let me point out to you that abortion is legal in the United States of America.  That is a very important fact.  And I am, as I believe all the people are here, are pro-choice, believe that constitutional right needs to be protected, proudly work with organizations that represent that view.  What we’re seeing here is a Republican so-called ‘investigative committee’ working with people who have been connected to abortion extremists, people who have been contributing to their so-called documents that have been offered as exhibits in this and I have no apologies for working closely with these organizations.  A conflict of interest to defend the Constitution and constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court I don’t see as any conflict of interest.

Q:  So no conflict of interest in receiving that money then investigating those same organizations? 

Leader Pelosi.  The point is that the issues of women’s reproductive health is the subject of debate in the Congress.  Everyone knows that.  There are those who have a different view than we have in terms of our respect for a woman to make that judgement with her God, her doctor, her family.  And that’s a legitimate debate in the Congress of the United States.  There are people on both sides who support people who support their point of view.

So, that is not to distract what is happening today because what is happening in the Congress today goes well beyond the debate of a women’s right to choose and disagreeing or agreeing with the Supreme Court decision.  What’s going on in the Congress today is, to borrow a phrase, un-American.  And that is why it is very similar to the House un-American committee investigation.  It inspired vigilantes, it provokes a vigilante behavior.  In the letter, I’m not sure it went into full detail of the bombing of the doctor’s barn where horses and animals were killed.  It’s beyond the legitimate disagreement in a debate.  It is provocative, it is dangerous, it is not within the purview of Congress to have this kind of an investigation and I thank the Members of the Committee for the important work that they have done.

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  Let me just also say that three House panels, 12 states and a grand jury have looked into these allegations against Planned Parenthood.  In fact, the grand jury that was to look into Planned Parenthood – rather than indicting the accused indicted the accuser David Daleiden, one of the people who manufactured the tape that led to this investigation.  The fact that this whole investigation now is based on completely and totally discredited videos – this is not an investigation, a real investigation of Planned Parenthood.  Those have already been conducted by these committees and by these states and by the grand jury.  Nothing has been found.

Leader Pelosi.  And that’s all on top of them defunding Planned Parenthood.  Look, we have even within our own families, some disagreements on the issue of a woman’s right to choose.  So that’s a legitimate debate.  The fact is; in this Congress, there is an obsession to the point of saying that family planning should not be supported.  But we’re not even talking about that right now.  We’re talking about going so far beyond that and also to undermine fetal tissue research.  And so it is an abuse of power.

Congresswoman DelBene.  I just want to say given the actions of this Committee, if this were a business and Paul Ryan were the CEO, he should bring Chairwoman Blackburn into his office and tell her, ‘You’re fired.’  This isn’t just about a business bottom line.  What’s at stake here is people’s lives.  That’s an incredibly important issue that we should stay focused on.

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  What else?

Leader Pelosi.  Any other Members want to comment on that?

Congresswoman Watson Coleman.  I just want to make sure that we understand the reason that we are here today is that all of the seven months, eight months that we’ve been engaged in this this has been nothing but a witch hunt.  This is very frightening, this is very un-American and this is an abuse of power that we just should find offensive in the United States of America, in the United States Congress.  And for that reason, we strongly request that Speaker Ryan should shut this investigation, shut this façade, shut this fraud, and shut this witch hunt down.

Congresswoman Speier.  I think it’s very important to appreciate that we are not going to stand by and let this Committee crucify upstanding, law-abiding Americans who are providing important health care research.  We’re not going to stand by while they attempt to crucify law-abiding Americans who are providing reproductive health care to women that is legal.  And that’s precisely what this Committee is doing.  They are putting a target on the back of those individuals that they subpoena so that unstable people, as we have already seen, can take shots – literally take shots at them.  We cannot forget that in Colorado, three people are dead today because an unstable man went to a Planned Parenthood clinic and decided that because of ‘baby body parts’, he was going to nail Americans.

Ranking Member Schakowsky.  Thank you very much everybody.  Appreciate it.

Leader Pelosi.  Let me just say that I’m very proud of the Administration for the directive that they have given to schools across the country – the Justice Department and the Department of Education.  It is nothing new.  It is nothing new.  It is just a guidance to these schools.

Q:  Can you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ whether schools should force biological males that identify as women to enter athletics.

Leader Pelosi.  Well, we are talking about transgender people and we are protecting their rights to participate as they identify.  Thank you.

# # #

Contact: Drew Hammill/Evangeline George — 202-226-7616

On a stage with no vaginas, there were a lot of opinions about vaginas

Keep Abortion Legal NOW Round

Keep Abortion Legal NOW Round (http://www.now.org/issues/abortion/)

On Thursday evening, August 6, FOX News aired two sets of GOP presidential debates. From both the questioners and the candidates, there were a lot of opinions about vaginas on both stages by people mostly without vaginas. Also a lot of bullying – of women and of immigrants. Is that the only opinions they have? Sad…

Margaret and Helen

Margaret, let’s be clear. I am obviously using the term vagina in the narrowest sense of the word as defined by the Republican Party: a noun referring to women. And it was pretty clear at the debate that vaginas have no value unless a baby needs to pass through one on its way to church or its minimum wage job. Of course, if that baby is black or brown, then the intended destination changes to either prison or Mexico respectively.

I don’t pretend to think that any of the presidential candidates will ever read what I write, but if they did I hope they will remember this:

Millions of women have been going to Planned Parenthood for nearly 100 years. We all remember the exceptional care and the quality of the information we received from the staff at those clinics. We remember when Planned Parenthood staff held our hands and…

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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.

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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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On Anniversary of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ Women Need Help

This is an excellent summary of what could be a federal Women’s Health and Equity Agenda similar to New Your State’s Women’s Equality Act and Pennsylvania’s Women’s Health Agenda, which I posted about this morning. Bernie Sanders has it right. So does NY Governor Cuomo and the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Women’s Health Caucus.
If you happen to be in the State College, PA area today, January 22, stop by Webster’s Cafe and Bookstore, 133 E. Beaver Ave., State College at 7 pm to hear PA Representative Mary Jo Daley discuss the Women’s Health Legislative Agenda. If you can’t then drop by my blog  to read about the NY and PA legislatures’ initiatives.
Well written. Thanks Nel.

Nel's New Day

Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that continued to give reproductive rights to the women of the United States. The Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution and ruled that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the decision to abort must be left to the mother and her physician. Since 1973, both the Supreme Court and individual states have chipped away at women’s reproductive rights as extremists attempt to criminalize the procedure for any reason. This year SCOTUS is hearing a case to decide whether anti-choice people can walk up to people going into a women’s clinic to verbally abuse and threaten them.

Anti-choice arguments in the Supreme Court include the U.S. Constitution not including abortion in any of its terminology. (I’ll repeat my earlier argument that the Constitution also doesn’t address marriage etc.) At the time…

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Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.