Women (and men) like me have been outraged for quite some time about the ridiculous, antiquated views on women’s roles espoused by conservatives. Feminist activists are not unfamiliar with that feeling of “wait, he/she/they said/did what?!?!” when it comes to proposed legislation and even just speeches made by those with conservative views. We are constantly bombarded by the feeling that the fight against women’s rights is gaining strength. It seems the tide has turned and people with moderate and liberal values but who aren’t likely to become involved in activism are finally catching on to the fact that conservatives will not stop until women are barefoot, pregnant and chained to an oven. They are getting outraged too. Even some Republican women are considering jumping ship from the party because their leaders just won’t stop focusing on women’s bodies.
Want proof of the backlash? Well first I’d like to remind you of the Planned Parenthood vs. Susan G. Komen debacle where the general public made clear that they want Planned Parenthood to stay funded. Then we have the Rush Limbaugh backlash. At last count he had lost over 50 advertisers due to pressure from the general public threatening a boycott of companies that continue to support him. According to this article the stations that air his show are actually losing money and they postulate it’s only a matter of time before he loses his spot as a golden boy of the Republican Party.
The New York Times also reported on a seemingly growing trend in which moderate Republican women are jumping ship and considering voting for President Obama due to the Republican candidates’ inability to focus on anything other than women’s bodies. They want to see them talk about a real plan to fix the economy, not espousing support for things like the abhorrent Blunt amendment.
There is also a massive online movement to coordinate a March against the War on Women in all 50 States as well as D.C. Check out their website here. They have a Facebook page to assist in the organizing as well. As I write this there is an active protest at the Texas State Capitol demanding Governor Perry reconsider turning down federal funding that would go to support health care providers for low-income and uninsured women. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg so if you have examples, share them in the comments.
I’m not the only person to notice the increased activism in the world of women’s rights. Barbara Hannah Grufferman wrote an article about this over at the Huffington Post and included a list of ways to get involved. The most important (in my opinion) is to share what you are doing with your friends and family. Let them know you are angry and why, get them involved too.
In honor of all the women (and men) who are getting involved I’d like to share this video with you. Watch it, it’s funny and has appropriate imagery for the topic: a woman with her male allies fighting against an oppressive male figure.
Ever since the birth control mandate debate has erupted, I have been wondering if those opposed to it really understand how health insurance works. You see they keep complaining about how Catholics (while others may also be opposed it seems to be Catholic leaders who are most vocal in their opposition) who are morally opposed to birth control shouldn’t have to pay for other people to use birth control. Except that isn’t how this works, even if you are an employer you are not paying for birth control. While it is true that some employers pay a higher percentage of their employees health insurance premium, in nearly all circumstances the employee also pays part, if not most, of their premium. This buys them an insurance plan. Period. The only thing the premium pays for is an insurance plan. What that plan covers is paid for by the insurance company, what it doesn’t is paid for out of pocket by the plan recipients. No One is paying for anyone else’s birth control.
Even big names in conservative media don’t seem to grasp that. Cue Rush Limbaugh, who entered the fray with a bang last week by attacking a Georgetown law student who testified in a panel on the birth control mandate. Her testimony included the story of a fellow student who was taking birth control pills for a health related matter but who couldn’t afford her prescription because the school refuse to cover birth control under their health care plan. Rush then called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” who wants American taxpayers to pay her to have sex because he is under the impression that taxpayers are somehow involved in paying for other people’s private health insurance plans. He even went so far as to say that if taxpayers are going to pay her to have sex, then they should be able to watch it and she should post videos of herself and her partner being intimate on youtube. Classy, right?
Except, that isn’t how insurance plans work and taxpayers are not paying for other people’s private health plans, they pay for their own plans. While it’s true that taxpayer money does fund contraception through programs like Title X and Medicaid, this is nothing new. The debate has focused on private insurance plans. So not only is Rush wholly wrong in the argument he is making, he does it while being beyond rude, misogynistic and offensive to anyone who has used contraception and particularly to Sandra Fluke, whom he could not gather enough respect for to get her name correct.
His offensive remarks last week brought out the ire of women and men throughout the country who have been calling on his sponsors to pull their advertising dollars. So far, 7 of them have listened and pulled their ads from his program; including online storage company Carbonite, who pulled funding after Rush issued a farce of an apology. Hopefully this will garner enough attention to get the attention of other conservatives who keep trying to frame the debate in terms of slut shaming instead of in terms of health care, but considering both Romney and Santorum (the two current Republican primary front runners) have issued statements criticizing only the language Rush used and not the sentiment behind the language, I won’t be holding my breath.
A lawsuit has been making its way through the Washington State judicial system. On the basis that it violates their religious morals and thus infringes on their right to religious freedom two pharmacies sued against a state requirement stating that pharmacies must stock and provide Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception. Judge Leighton, who presided over the hearing, decided that because the State allows for pharmacies to opt out of stocking and providing medications for non-religious reasons (such as increased risk of theft or the medication being temporarily unavailable from suppliers) then the State must also allows for religious exemptions from stocking medications. This would allow for pharmacies/pharmacists to refuse providing emergency contraception to their customers.
On one hand, it’s hard to argue against the judge’s decision. If the state allows for secular reasons to opt out of providing a medication than allowing religious exemptions seems like a must. The problem with the decision is that it seriously impacts the lives of people seeking emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. In rural areas, if the sole pharmacy opts out of providing emergency contraception people who need it will have a much harder time accessing in the effective time frame. Allowing this to happen puts more people at risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
This decision was released right around the same time that a new study was published in The Journal of Sexual Health showing that misuse is causing a wide range of condom breakage, slippage and leakage. Some of the most common errors the study found were putting the condom on too late, taking it off too early, putting it on/taking it off incorrectly and not lubrication issues. With such widespread misuse, clearly emergency contraception is an important part of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. The purpose of Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception is to be the second line of defense in case of condom failure or other birth control mishaps. Making it harder to access will only increase unintended pregnancy rates.
Even for people who have learned proper condom use it is still important to ensure easy access to emergency contraception. Although we advocate for condom use with all new and non-monogamous partners, even if you are using another form of birth control, it’s important to recognize that accidents happen and Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception must be available to anyone who needs it.
This new birth control mandate by President Obama is a great thing for anyone who needs access to birth control. It will provide access to previously unaffordable birth controls by eliminating co-pays and other out of pocket expenses. This should be a win, but apparently some religious leaders and conservative politicians don’t think religiously affiliated institutions should have to be included in the mandate because of religious freedom.
Ok, I personally think that’s a baseless argument, but President Obama went for it and offered an accommodation in which religiously affiliate employers can apply for an exemption and in those situations, the insurance companies will proactively reach out to all women on their plans with those employers and offer them birth control- still without co-pays or deductibles. So win-win right? Women get their birth control and religious employers don’t have to “violate their religious conscious” by helping to pay for something they are morally opposed to.
Sadly religious leaders and conservative politicians are still vitriolic about the fact that birth control will be included as preventative care, period. So they decided to take a stand against the “evils” of birth control by pushing for an amendment that will allow any employer to opt out of providing ANY form of medical care coverage that they (the employer) decides violates their personal morals. This amendment doesn’t just allow them to opt of birth control coverage (a deplorable move in its own right); it allows them to opt out of any coverage they choose.
As Adam Serwer from Mother Jones puts it: “a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A Scientologist employer could deny its employees depression screening because Scientologists believe psychiatry is morally objectionable. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage.”
Meanwhile, on February 16th the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had a hearing to discuss the birth control mandate and whether it crosses the line of violating religious freedom. Chairman of the Committee Representative Darrell Issa blocked all pro-birth control proponents from participating and had a panel consisting of 8 men and 1 woman discuss why birth control is bad. The blatant bias against providing accurate information regarding the debate cause the two female Democrats leave the hearing in protest.
A number of polls show that the majority of American’s approve the birth control mandate, even before the accommodation was offered. People want access to birth control; they want to prevent unintended pregnancies. Yet, a good number of these political leaders are up for re-election this year. I amazed to think in a country with such broad support for the mandate, they would risk being so vehemently opposed to it and still hope to get re-elected.
So remember how I mentioned that law makers in Virginia are attempting to make fetal personhood happen in Virginia? Well, they are one step closer. The bill that would define “personhood” as beginning at conception went up for a vote in the House of Delegates on February 14 and it passed. In fact it passed in a 66-32 vote. Awesome, except not really.
This bill, unlike “personhood” initiatives in other states, is a bill that attempts to define personhood at conception through the legislative process. This means that Virginia residents don’t get to have a say in this. This huge, monumental change to Virginia policy gets no input from residents. A measure that bans abortions, hormonal birth controls, in vitro fertilization and more would impact nearly every resident in Virginia, yet they get no say in this.
According to the Rachel Maddow Show, a Delegate attempted to add an amendment to this bill that specifically stated that this bill would not in any way impact birth control access but the proposed amendment was voted down. This makes their intent clear; this bill has nothing to do with abortion and everything to do with controlling Virginia women.
This whole this is sad. It genuinely makes me want stop admitting Virginia is my home state. On the bright side, I have a huge circle of family and friends and trust me they will all know how serious this is. If you live in Virginia, check this link and contact your local senator ASAP. If you don’t live there but you have friends or relatives in Virginia, contact them and let them know how serious this is, let them know who to get in touch with their senators.
While you’re at it, tell them how to contact Governor McDonnell and tell him to veto the absurd bill that requires a transvaginal ultrasound for all women seeking an abortion. This bill, again unlike other states, doesn’t just require an ultrasound; it requires a transvaginal ultrasound and has already passed the House of Delegates and Senate.
If you believe Virginia women deserve better than this, please make sure everyone you know in Virginia stands up against this. The Virginia Senate is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats with the tie breaking vote going to Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. It is vital that all Virginia Senators know that the residents won’t stand for such an invasive intrusion on their rights.
So this has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks in the world of reproductive health. You’ve all heard about the mandate stating that insurance companies will have to provide birth control without a co-pay right? And you know about how last month the Obama administration announced that although churches and other religious organizations that primarily employ and serve members of the religion can seek an exemption to the rule on the grounds of religious opposition to birth control use but organizations that are religiously affiliated but employ and serve people outside of the religion will not be exempted too right? Ok good, well in the time since that announcement the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other conservative leaders have been decrying the issue as infringement on religious liberty.
What they are saying is that any religious employer should have the right to not offer insurance plans that provide no co-pay birth control because the employer’s religion opposes it. This is absurd and completely negates the experience of the employee who has the right to bodily autonomy, which should be more important than the religious institution’s right to pick and choose what services are available in their insurance plans but that hasn’t stopped birth control opponents from being extremely vocal in their opposition to this ruling.
Today President Obama announced an “accommodation” for religious employers who don’t want to directly provide insurance coverage for birth control. A fact sheet released by the White House states: “Under the policy: Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception. Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception. Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception. Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.”
In theory this should appease everyone. Women still get their birth control, religiously affiliated employers get to not provide the coverage, and insurance companies like it because birth control is cheaper than abortions and maternity care. So win-win-win right? Except that opposition to birth control coverage was never really about “religious liberty” it was about controlling women’s bodies. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has already announced his opposition to the new rules and Greg Sargent at the Washington Post expects more to follow.
Earlier this week Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) announced a bill that would grant an exemption to ANY employer who feels birth control violates their personal morals. So even if you don’t work for a religious institution, if your boss wants to refuse to provide birth control coverage they could, should this bill pass. Now that the new rules have been announced it is unclear if this bill would still be needed. Since religious employers can now opt out of providing coverage they don’t need the bill. Or would the bill go through and the new rules extended to private companies that opt out of providing birth control coverage. At this point this is all still speculation but as more news develops we will let you know.
Check out the speech President Obama made announcing the rules, he gave some really great information about women’s right to access birth control.
It’s a bit of a no brainer to deduce that lack of access to effective birth control has a direct correlation to higher rates of unintended pregnancy. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute takes this information one step farther and shows how programs that provide access to birth control impact unintended pregnancies at a state level. The research shows that women who are not insured and who do not have access to Medicaid are disproportionately more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy.
From the abstract: “State unintended pregnancy rates were positively associated with the proportion of resident women who were black or Hispanic. However, these associations were almost entirely accounted for by differences in the age and marital status of women, the proportion without health insurance and the proportion receiving Medicaid. In addition, these last two measures were strongly associated with state unintended pregnancy rates after the other measures were controlled for: An increase in the proportion of women uninsured was associated with elevated unintended pregnancy rates, and an increase in the proportion receiving Medicaid coverage was associated with reduced rates.” In laymen’s terms, this means that states with higher numbers of uninsured women and women not covered by Medicaid have higher rates of unintended pregnancy.
If you follow reproductive health news, you’ve likely heard about the recent decision to NOT broaden an exemption to the Affordable Health Care act that will require insurers provide birth control at no co-pay. This is great news for women with insurance but as this study shows, it will do little to health women who don’t have insurance or who don’t qualify for Medicaid.
The researchers of the study conclude that “State programs and policies should pay particular attention to increasing support for family planning services for minority groups. Findings also suggest that insurance coverage and receipt of Medicaid among women of reproductive age deserve further exploration as potentially important mechanisms for reducing state unintended pregnancy rates.” Expanding access to birth control coverage is of vital importance if states want to reduce their levels of unintended pregnancy. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be a priority at the state level, last year a number of states attempted to or successfully cut budgets to their family planning programs after an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood at a national level failed.
If you believe all women have to right to affordable contraceptives, let your local government officials know you want funding for programs that help provide contraceptive access in high populations.