Category Archives: Government Policy

New Wisconsin Law essentially Bans Medical Abortions

            A while back, we discussed the use of telemedicine to make non-surgical abortions more readily available to women in rural areas where getting to an abortion facility may be more difficult. The practice is only available in a handful of places and has been proven to be a safe method of abortion care. Patients have an in person examination with a nurse and then an audio/visual exam by a doctor via webcam who would then watch the patient self-administer the medication, i.e.- take a pill.

            In spite of its rarity, and safety, lawmakers all over the U.S.have used it as yet another way to attack abortion rights. Last year at least 5 states banned the procedure and this year Wisconsinis jumping on board. The Wisconsin legislature recently passed the “Coercive and Webcam Abortion Prevention Act” and Governor Walker signed it into law. The title of the law, at least the “coercive” part seems benign, helpful even. Really, no one wants to see women having abortions because they were coerced into by threatening partners or parents. We want women to make the choice for themselves so tackling “coerced abortions” seems like a good idea, but the title of the law is incredibly misleading.

            What the law actually does is require cumbersome procedures for women seeking medication abortions and their doctors. According to RH Reality Check the Wisconsin Medical Society, which usually refrains from commenting on abortion policy, has vocally opposed the law because of the drastic way in which it inserts the desires of the legislature in front of providing safe medical care. The law requires not one, not two but three separate appointments with the same doctor to have an abortion. The woman MUST see the same doctor for her follow up care or the doctor could be fined or even imprisoned. Even though it is perfectly safe and sometimes easier for a woman to see her primary doctor for the follow up care, she is required to see the same doctor who provided her abortion. If she cannot get the time off work or find a babysitter or for whatever reason can’t get back to that doctor, the doctor could go to jail. This is directly punishing doctors for something they have no real control over.

            The new law is so severe that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has decided there is no way for them to continue to offer medication abortions to their patients without risk to their doctors forcing them to stop offering this service. Prior to this approximate ¼ of abortions in the state were done using a medication abortion. Many women prefer this option because it doesn’t require surgery and they appreciate the ability and privacy to pass the pregnancy at home. Thanks to anti-choice politicians, women in Wisconsin will no longer have that choice.

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Ultrasound Mandates Become more Popular in Legislatures

                Last week we told you about the national media attention that helped spotlight the intrusive nature of the Virginia ultrasound mandate. Basically, popular comedians pointed out that in most early abortions a transvaginal ultrasound has to be done to get an accurate ultrasound image. In other words women would not be allowed to consent to having something inserted in to their vaginas i.e. rape. This caused Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell to push an amendment which will allow women to choose if they want to have a transvaginal ultrasound, they would still have to undergo an abdominal ultrasound.

                 The amended bill has yet to go up for a final vote but it is clear that the women of Virginia, and in fact the United States, do not support this bill even in its amended format. Logic would dictate that lawmakers would NOT seek to replicate such a hotly contested mandate. Yet they are; in at least 5 other states (including the previously mentioned bill in Pennsylvania) bills have been introduced to require ultrasounds prior to an abortion.

                The question is why, in spite of such vehement opposition are lawmakers still trying to pass these bills? Salon writer Irin Carmon points out that ultrasound mandates are not new, 7 states already have mandatory ultrasound laws in place. This included Alabama, one of the 5 states with newly introduced ultrasound mandates. The difference between these existing laws and the new legislation is that the new bills don’t just require forced ultrasounds, they require the doctor to show the image to the patient and in some cases make the heartbeat audible to the patient. This is to ensure the patient knows they are choosing to abort an actually “person.” Some of the bills will also require the doctor give their patients inaccurate information about what “consequences” they may experience from an abortion.

                Despite what supporters of these bills would have you believe; these laws have absolutely nothing to do with “informed consent.” They are in fact all about shaming women and making abortions more difficult to obtain. By requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion, the abortion is more expensive. On top of requiring ultrasounds, some of the proposed bills require women purchase not just one, but 2 images of the ultrasound. I can think of no legitimate reason to force a woman to buy an image of an ultrasound for both her doctor and herself beyond making the abortion more expensive and potentially demeaning.

                Forced ultrasounds do not reduce the number of abortions performed. There is no real purpose behind them and anyone who claims this is about “women’s health” has clearly been misinformed about women’s level of understanding about how pregnancy and abortion work.

VAWA Passed through Committee

                The lack of concern Republican politicians have for Americans is appalling. It seems that we are hearing about another bill or regulation being pushed by them that do nothing but make the lives of the non-rich people harder. It seems they have decided to take things to a new low. Back in December the Violence Against Women Act was finally reintroduced to Congress to be reauthorized.

                This month it was reviewed in committee and passed to the Senate floor for a full vote. It was passed through committee with a 10-8 vote. Meaning 8 people voted against reauthorizing the Act that revolutionized the way domestic violence is treated in our country. The act that brought the problem of domestic abuse to the federal level and created programs to advocate for and assist victims and to train police officers on how to handle a domestic situation.

                For the first time in its 20 year history, VAWA failed to get bipartisan support. The reasons the Republican Senators decided to not vote for it? Apparently because it helps too many people. The proposed bill includes new language that will increase support for disadvantaged groups. For example, according to the New York Times one of the sticking points was language that guarantees protection to homosexual and transgender victims of domestic violence. They are also opposed to additions that create a modest expansion to the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who come forward for help. Another issue they have with the bill is the expanded rights it gives to Native American Tribes to prosecute both Native Americans and Non-Native Americans in domestic violence cases.

                All I can think is seriously? They are so full of hatred for minorities that they think it is acceptable to ignore the women and children being battered and assaulted by their partners? That just because someone is gay or Native American or undocumented, their beatings should be allowed to continue? It literally makes me shudder to think some of these negative politicians might actually manage to be re-elected.

                The bill will likely pass as the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, but it’s important to let our Senators know we want ALL victims of domestic violence to be protected, not just some of them. If the actions of these senators sickens you as much as it does me, please reach out to your Senators now. Contact information can be obtained here.

This Week in “Wait, What!?!” 2

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.

VA Closer to Fetal Personhood

               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.

Birth Control Mandate Update

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.

Teens Access to Plan B

                We previously wrote about how a lack of understanding of their reproductive health lead many teen parents to not use contraception because they believed they couldn’t get pregnant.  This is tragic in itself but arguably more tragic are new reports that when teens do know how to prevent pregnancy they are being thwarted from accessing emergency contraception.

                A research survey conducted by Boston Medical Center shows that when 17 year olds reach out for emergency contraception they are misinformed by pharmacists regarding their eligibility to access it. While not universal there seems to be a trend (particularly in low income areas) for pharmacists to perpetuate the false rule that you must be 18 to obtain emergency contraception.

                According to a report on Chron.com, researchers called 943 commercial pharmacies in 5 states and pretended to be 17 year olds seeking emergency contraception. Overall 19% of the pharmacists said 17 year olds cannot buy Plan B at all. The numbers are higher in low-income areas where 23.7%, almost 1 in 4, stated 17 year olds cannot buy Plan B. The report also shows that approximately 44% of the pharmacists (this number goes up to 50% in low income areas) gave the incorrect age at which Plan B can be obtained without a prescription.

                This information is blatantly false, 17 year olds cannot only buy Plan B; they can do it without a prescription. Teens 16 and under can also buy Plan but they do need to have a prescription to do so. I’ve also read about men 17 and older being denied access to Plan B so just to be clear, men can also buy Plan B without a prescription as long as they meet the age requirements.

                ABCNews.com reports that the author of the study, Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, does not believe the bad information provided by pharmacists to be intentionally misleading: “While this study focused on pharmacies, Wilkinson said there is a lot of confusion about Plan B within the medical community at large, not just the pharmacies. Given the controversy surrounding the drug, and the changes in the rules and guidelines surrounding access, it’s ‘not really surprising that it permeates everywhere,’ she said.”

                Whether the pharmacist are intentionally providing incorrect information or not it is clear that the teens in the U.S. are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to accessing proper sex education and reproductive health care. They are routinely misinformed about sex and contraception and when they do have the knowledge to help prevent pregnancy they are denied access to contraception.