Nel's New Day

January 5, 2016

Women Lose As Others Forge Ahead

The year 2015 was really good for people in the U.S. More red states accepted the Affordable Care Act, LGBT people gained more rights, the unemployment went down while the economy went up, the Iran agreement survived treasonous attempts by Republican legislators to destroy it, states started to move away from gerrymandering, a ban on microbeads in products will make eating fish healthier, President Obama decided to declare a war on unfettered gun ownership by felons and people with mental illnesses—the list goes on and on with encouraging actions.

Women, however, kept losing their fundamental rights. Conservative court actions and calls for defunding Planned Parenthood led to growing denials of inexpensive, easy access to health exams to detect cancer and STIs as well as contraceptives that would keep them from getting pregnant. During 2015, a number of states introduced almost 400 anti-abortion bills, an increase from 335 in 2014. From regulating medication abortions to complete bans on second-trimester abortions, 57 of these bills made it into law.

An overview of the “war on uteruses”:

Medication abortion restrictions: Arkansas requires providers to lie to patients by telling them that the effects of the “abortion pill”—a drug called mifepristone, or RU-486—can be reversed. Another restriction is mandating original FDA-approved dosage, decreasing the drug’s effectiveness and increasing negative side effects. Other inaccurate information forced on patients is the myth about fetal pain during abortion and women’s mental health problems after it. Laws also ban using telemedicine for medication abortion, especially beneficial for poor women living in rural areas. Idaho also bans this safe practice and requires doctors who administer the medication to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. With its concern about the importance of life between conception and birth, Arkansas is the second-worst state for women’s and children’s well-being.

Unprecedented bans against the most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: Kansas, the first state to pass a ban against what it calls “dismemberment abortion,” fails to use medical language in its law, opting for such emotional language as “unborn child” instead of fetus. A Kansas district judge blocked the law, and the case is on appeal. Oklahoma’s law uses even worse language by describing it as “purposely dismember[ing] a living unborn child….” That law is also on hold.

Waiting periods: North Carolina and Oklahoma tripled the time between state-mandated abortion counseling from 24 hours to 72 hours. All 12 Southeast states mandate waiting periods except for Florida where a law for a 24-hour waiting period blocked by a circuit court judge is pending a final ruling.

Reducing abortion access: Tennessee amended the state constitution by refusing any funding for abortions although state and federal money cannot legally be used to fund abortion. Another law requires clinics performing more than 50 surgical procedures a year to meet standards of ambulatory surgery centers similar to hospital standards. A woman who attempted to self-induce a miscarriage in her bathtub after 24 weeks of pregnancy now faces a first-degree attempted murder charge.

Parental consent: Arkansas women under 18 seeking a judge’s permission for an abortion without parental consent must undergo an “evaluation and counseling session with a mental health professional” to ensure that the minor is mature enough for the procedure and that an abortion is in her best interests. With no time limit for the court proceedings, the pregnancy could be so advanced that performing an abortion could become illegal. A minor is also required to file the petition in the county where she lives, violating her privacy.

Ban after 20 weeks: Despite the governor’s veto, West Virginia became the 15th state to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The law offers no exceptions for victims of rape or incest and provides only a highly limited exception for women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy or for fetal abnormalities. A similar law in Arkansas against abortions after 12 weeks was struck down in the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Two states did move toward preventing abortions. Oregon became the first state to offer contraceptives over the counter for up to a year’s supply, and California allows women to get birth control directly from a pharmacist.

The growing lack of access to abortion and contraception increases unintended pregnancies among poor women while the number of these among well-off women is shrinking. The rate of such pregnancies among women with incomes below the poverty line jumped 56 percent from 1994 to 2008 while falling by 24 percent for higher-income women. In 2008, the unintended-pregnancy rate for poor women was more than five times that of the most well-off.  Without Planned Parenthood, women are more likely to lack contraception. Of 491 counties with PP clinics, 103 counties have no other place giving low-income women access to affordable contraception.

Women who are turned away from terminating pregnancies are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line over the following two years than women who successfully get an abortion. They are also more likely to end up unemployed and to rely on government benefits to get by, then considered “takers” by the Republican legislators.

In the coming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will make pivotal decisions regarding women’s access to abortions and contraception.

Whole Woman’s Health vs. Cole determines whether Texas can enforce two regulations forcing about 75 percent of the state’s women’s clinics to close by requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and mandating clinics to have the same standards as an outpatient surgical center. Although the case is framed as a health issue for women, it is actually about blocking abortions. The decision will determine the standard used in federal courts to review abortion regulations—whether states can enact regulations without proving the effectiveness of safety.

Zubik vs. Burwell addresses the fourth SCOTUS challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the second case about the religious freedom objection to employer mandate for no-cost contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies. The issue of this case is not whether religious groups are exempt but whether they must notify the government of their religious objections. They maintain that the mere signing of a notification will “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” quoting the 1993 federal law on religious liberty. Almost all the appeals courts have rejected this claim; SCOTUS will combine seven of them in this one case.

From 1973 until 1992, the Supreme Court rejected dozens of state efforts to limit access to abortion, enforcing Roe v. Wade’s ruling that until the point of viability, the state could regulate abortion only to protect the health and well-being of women. The only decisions during that time against abortion were Bellotti v. Baird (1979), ruling in favor of parental consent, and Harris v. McRae (1980), excluding payments for medically necessary abortions from Medicaid.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld a highly restrictive Pennsylvania law that included mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, and biased information. The Court abandoned the legal principles of Roe v. Wade, allowing laws designed to limit access to abortion at any stage of pregnancy if the law does not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s access to abortion. The decision that spousal consent was an undue burden has not stopped hundreds of restrictions since 1992 that were not perceived as violation of the new standard.

In the more recent Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the Supreme Court upheld the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 law that fails to refer to any medical procedure. It bans an intact dilation and evacuation (D&E) unless the fetus is no longer alive. Since then, state restrictions have forced doctors to choose a less safe procedure if they cannot ensure the fetus is no longer alive even if it is brain dead.

The number of nonhospital providers performing 400 or more abortions per year peaked in the late 1980s at 705 and fell by 2011 to 553. Since 2011, over 200 abortion restrictions have led to massive closure of clinics throughout the nation. Five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—each have just one, and the number of abortion providers in Texas has gone from 62 across the huge state to a possibility of only ten. Not one clinic is open for 550 miles. Throughout the United States, clinics are closing at the rate of 1.5 every week. Other states have suffered the same losses, for example Ohio losing over half of its clinics.

abortion graphIn clinics still open, Christian terrorists subject workers and clients to a campaign of terror, criminal acts, and violence. The killings by these terrorists aren’t limited to clinics: Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church while attending Sunday services. Most abortions today require endless waits, interminable journeys, humiliation, and money. According to the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling, states cannot regulate abortion if it “places an undue burden on women.” That’s the decision to be made this year about the state laws stopping poor women from obtaining their constitutional rights in reproductive care.

This summary is a beginning description of the “undue burden” of state laws on a simple procedure that can save women’s lives. According to Professor of Law Michael Dorf, the court will have to investigate if the laws mandating hospital standards at a clinic are an unnecessary health regulation—and thus unconstitutional because they are blocking women from their legally fundamental right to have abortions.

May 14, 2015

GOP Concerned Only about Carrying Fetuses Full Term

After eight people died from Tuesday’s Amtrak train crash, Rep. Paul Ryan voted to reduce Amtrak funding and then “misrepresented” congressional funding that could have prevented the crash. On Fox, he claimed that Congress funded the Positive Train Control (PTC) for the cash-strapped Amtrak earlier this year. Not only was the allocation far less than the Amtrak request, but the complex PTC takes more than two months to put into place. The last Amtrak bill was seven years ago. At this time, PTC is in service in only 50 miles of the 226-mile route between Washington and New York.

Ryan also said that Congress cannot rush to response to what he believes was “human error, but the PTC overcomes human error. He commented that he wouldn’t support tax increases for infrastructure improvement because “we can do better by saving more money [and] being more efficient.”

While talking about efficiency, Ryan voted in favor of yesterday’s anti-abortion bill that passed by 242-184, almost entirely on partisan lines. The so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” follows the conservatives’ belief that fetuses at this age can feel pain. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) answered the men who expounded on the pain that a fetus feels: “You want to talk about pain? Let’s talk about the agony of a woman who’s raped and again violated by unnecessary government intrusion.”

The bill bans the one percent of abortions that occur after the 20th week of pregnancies, ones that often involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Sexual assault victims cannot get rape-caused abortions after the 20th week until they have “obtained counseling” or “medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape” at least 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure unless the victims originally reported the rape to law enforcement. Counseling must be from a facility that doesn’t perform abortions, requiring consultation with two separate doctors.

Incest victims must also have reported the rapes to a law enforcement agency or government agency that acts on reports of child abuse, thus re-traumatizing the victims. The bill also prevents the abortions for victims 18 and older.

Non-viable fetuses or those that might be born with severe defects are typically not identified until after the limit set by this bill, but these issues are not addressed in the bill. The bill allows an abortion to prevent the death of the pregnant woman but says nothing about pregnancies that seriously jeopardize women’s health.

The bill also mandates medical procedures for doctors. If a doctor thinks that the aborted fetus could survive outside the womb, a second doctor must be present to care for it and provide hospitalization. Women are also required to sign consent forms that include the fetus’ age and steps to save its life. Doctors performing banned abortions would face imprisonment of up to five years plus fines, and people could also bring civil actions against doctors who violate the measure’s requirements.

After a similar bill failed in January, House leadership spent months negotiating its current success, time that certainly could have been more profitably spend with legislation that would boost in the economy. The conservatives’ goal is to ban all abortions although the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision established a constitutional right to abortion, allowing states to bar the procedure after viability when the fetus could survive if born.

Once the fetus has emerged into the daylight, however, mother and child are pretty much on their own. Only two laws help new parents: the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 providing 12 weeks of leave to new or expectant parents and an expansion of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who want to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. There is leave, but no paid leave. Parents have to save enough money for one of them to go without wages for the 12 weeks following a child’s birth. The United States is “exceptional” in this situation because 181 countries guarantee paid leave from work for new mothers and 81 guarantee it for new fathers. Employers also aren’t required in the United States to accommodate new mothers; they don’t even have to add break time for women who want to pump breast milk.

A law is supposed to protect pregnant woman at work, but in many cases it doesn’t. Many employers deny requests such as the ability to sit down while at work, an extra bathroom break, and drinking water while working. Pregnant women are expected to complete the same manual labor as men and non-pregnant women because it would be considered special treatment. Pregnant women may be forced to leave their jobs, leaving them reliant on the U.S. safety net.

According to conservatives, who get their marching orders from Fox network, these women carrying the beloved fetuses and avoiding abortions are “losers,” “moochers,” “takers,” and more. Conservatives accuse women of being pregnant just to get more federal money or, worse, of having “anchor babies” so that they can stay in the United States. Unmarried women who are pregnant or already have children are also told to get married so that they won’t be a drain on the country. (This idea is a myth.)

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich writes that poverty is a lack of money, not a lack of character, but conservatives disagree, preferring to shame poor mothers. Like preventing abortions, allowing children and their mothers to live in poverty is a policy choice.

Opposition to providing birth control is another conservative policy decision, frequently religious. Conservatives fight the provision of the Affordable Care Act to provide free birth control, women have to renew their birth control medication every month, and women’s clinics that provide birth control are shut down in massive numbers throughout the conservative states. Catholic health systems, controlling almost 20 percent of patients in the United States, may prevent participating doctors from prescribing birth control pills. They can also refuse tubal ligations and vasectomies—even deny the termination of an ectopic pregnancy in which the fetus grows outside the uterus.

While conservatives virtuously pretend to protect fetuses, more women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes in the United States now than at almost any point in the last 25 years. Throughout the world, the United States is one of only seven countries to experience an increase in Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR) over the past decade. MMR rise in tandem with poverty rates as conservative legislators refuse to pass fair gender salary laws and increase the minimum wage.

The U.S. MMR is 14 times greater than in Israel, which has liberal abortion laws with government-subsidized abortion services. The states in this country with the greatest abortion restrictions have the highest maternal deaths, infant and child death rates, and teen drug and alcohol abuse. Georgia, with 11 restrictive abortion laws, has the highest MMR.

Legislation is moving forward in North Carolina to send detailed information about an abortion past the first trimester to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, including “an ultrasound image of the unborn child that depicts the measurements.” Already required in Oklahoma and Louisiana, this mandate violates privacy between a woman and her doctor and serves no medical purpose. Doctors are not required to send any other type of medical image to the state. Oklahoma ranks 48th in Maternal Mortality Rates; Louisiana is 44th.

abortion

No matter how horrifying yesterday’s anti-abortion bill passed in the House may be, conservatives can make life worse for pregnant women. Texas state representative Matt Schaefer has introduced an amendment forcing women to carry a fetus to full term even if it might be nonviable. Beyond causing severe health issues and perhaps death for the woman, the act would inflict great pain on the family. Schaefer’s justification is that suffering is “part of the human condition, since sin entered the world.”

Thanks to conservative legislation, United States in 2015 can be compared to the country in 1929 with the huge gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the people in the nation. At this time, the ratio of pay between CEOs and workers is 373-1—and greater for women because they are below the average wage. One guarantee: GOP members of Congress will continue to focus on fetuses and the wealthy; everyone else will be left out. It’s what adds to their campaign war chests.

March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day–We’re Still Losing

Today is International Women’s Day, a day not only to celebrate women’s accomplishments throughout history but also to look back to struggles and forward to what needs to be done to improve the lives and opportunities of women. During the 100+ years that countries have commemorated women on one day in early March and worked for our rights, we have come a long way in the United States— voting, owning property, controlling our bodies, etc. Yet domestic violence and rape are still rampant around the world, unmarried Saudi Arabia women are still subject to male guardianship, and female genital mutilation is still common. And in the United States we are losing our rights.

In 1945 the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right, the Charter of the United Nations, was signed in San Francisco.  Almost 70 years later, women still lack the same rights and opportunities as men. Many countries worked toward this equality after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which promotes women’s rights as human rights, in 1979.  President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW in 1980, but the United States Congress refuses to ratify this document that calls for inclusion and equality of women in “all spheres of life.” Thirty-two years after Carter signed CEDAW, the United States is one of seven countries that has not ratified the treaty; the other six countries are Iran, Somalia, Naurau, Palau, Sudan and Tonga.

A tipping point comes when small changes build up to critical mass until one more addition changes everything, reversing the direction. The conservatives have initiated so many state and federal laws that we may have reached critical mass—the tipping point when we start fighting back. Now Republicans, including women, are getting very concerned about losing the women’s vote for their party in the upcoming election. In defending the GOP’s fixation on birth control, Ann Romney, wife of a Republican presidential candidate, said, “Do you know what women care about? Women care about jobs.”

Instead of castigating the Democrats, she should turn back to her own party. Last year, state legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, up from 950 in 2010. Of these provisions, 135 were enacted in 36 states, an increase from 89 in 2010. Of the 135 provisions, 68%—92 in 24 states—-restrict access to abortion services; the 92 new abortion restrictions enacted in 2011 shattered the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. In contrast, the majority of the jobs bills enacted in the Republican-controlled states had the effect of lowering salaries, usually for women.

Ann Romney is right that women care about jobs, but women also care about restrictions on their bodies and reproductive rights as shown by protests across the country. When Virginia decided to require transvaginal ultrasounds for all women before they could get abortions, the women silently stood outside the state capitol, even when the SWAT team came up to arrest them. Despite the state backing down, requiring only abdominal ultrasounds, women are still angry.

Across the country, women legislators in Republican-controlled states are protesting. They’re introducing bills stopping vasectomies (because these prevent children from being born) and requiring mental and medical screenings (such as rectal exam and cardiac stress tests) for men who want prescriptions for such drugs as Viagra that supposedly cure erectile dysfunction.

Another case in which Republicans vote against women is the Violence against Women Act. After VAWA expired last November, the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee held up its reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, because not one of them would agree to vote the bill out of the committee. They supposedly objected to lesbians and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse being covered under the bill. Ann Romney needs to know that women need safety as well as jobs.

Ann Romney has ignored the fact that Republicans have a history of voting against women and jobs. Every male senator voted against the Lily Ledbetter Act in 2009; it passed because three women Republican senators voted for the bill. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 stated that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal-pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. Legislation was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that the 180 days began with the first check a person received even if the person was not aware of any inequity for a long period of time.

The Republican senators have consistently blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which provides for equal pay for equal work, despite the House passing this act in 2009—before the conservatives took over.

Across the board, Republican-elected officials at all levels of government and their spokespeople and pundits on TV and radio continually display a lack of respect, civility, and in many cases outright hostility towards women. As long as they continue to do so, Republicans will have more and more trouble getting votes from women, a group that comprises more than half the voters in this country.

Conservatives have been increasingly discouraged about electing a Republican president because of the drawn-out primary. Now they believe this primary can hurt the chances for Republican representatives and senators. Conservatives should extend their worry to the conservatives’ consistently destructive behavior toward half the country’s population.

With their current policies of eliminating women’s rights and making decisions for women, the neo-cons may lose all the gains of the 2010 election. They won that election because they promised to improve the economy and get people jobs; all they have done since they were elected is to take rights away from women.

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