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.
Hi everyone! Thanks for sticking with us during our brief hiatus. We had a few projects that needed to be completed that took precedence over our blog, but we are back and ready start catching up with all the news we missed. To start we are going to talk about an almost update to the Virginia Ultrasound law.
To recap: the Virginia State Senate and House of Delegates passed a law requiring women to get an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. This law was watered down to allow women to choose which type of ultrasound she gets as opposed to requiring a transvaginal during earlier gestational time frames. The law is still absurd and the government has no business regulating what a doctor must do prior to performing a legal surgical procedure. If a doctor deems an ultrasound necessary that should be between them and their patient.
Clearly the State Senate and House of Delegates disagree with that sentiment because they passed the bill and Governor McDonnell signed it into law. It will go into effect starting in July 2012. Democrats in the State Senate opposed the law on numerous grounds, including the cost of ultrasound becoming a burdensome requirement to uninsured and low-income women who would already be struggling with the cost of the procedure. To offset that they proposed an amendment to the states budget that would have required either the state or insurers cover the cost of the ultrasound. It set aside $3.2 million in the budget to cover these costs.
This seems like a pretty reasonable request to me, but apparently Republicans in the State Senate disagreed and voted the amendment down. The Budget was passed by a 34-4 vote. The budget wasn’t a total loss as Democrats were able to get some of the funding Governor McDonnell had tried to get removed from the Medicaid budget restored which kept 1500 people covered. They would have become ineligible under the originally proposed budget. It also adds $56 million to local public schools and I am always in favor of money going to school systems.
Once again Republicans have shown an utter lack of concern for women, particularly those who are low income and uninsured. While I doubt this surprises anyone, it is still sad to see that despite being ridiculed in the media and women (in Virginia and other states) making it clear they don’t want the government intruding on private medical decisions, these lawmakers still feel the need to be as much of a burden as possible. My guess is this insistence on focusing so much on opposing not just abortion, but reproductive health care as a whole, is going to hurt Republicans in the fall. My male Republican friends disagree, but if this CNN story is correct it will be the Democrats election to lose.
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.
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.
Virginia seems to be a hotbed of reproductive rights news this week. In general it started off bad, but seems to be taking a turn for the better. First Governor McDonnell has decided to rescind his support for the transvaginal ultrasound mandate. This is good news, though he has unfortunately recommended an amendment which would make it so that an abdominal ultrasound is required, if this type of ultrasound cannot determine gestational age then the woman would be able to decline a transvaginal ultra sound. It’s still a mandatory ultrasound which is intrusive and condescending in its own right but it’s good to know that when we stand up for ourselves, politicians do listen.
As of last week it seems we have more news to be happy about from Virginia. Remember how I told you about the fetal “personhood” bill; the one that had lawmakers deciding on the rights of women in Virginia without any input from those women? Well it seems the national attention the ultrasound law received has them leery about the “personhood” bill.
The Washington Post reports that the Virginia Senate voted to send the “personhood” bill back to committee saying that it needs more time to consider the full consequences of the bill. Once sent back to committee, the bill cannot be presented for a vote again during this legislative session. In fact it cannot be presented for a vote until next year. Although this means the bill could still move forward in 2013, there is an upcoming election so many of the Delegates and Senators who voted for this bill and the ultrasound mandate may not be around to vote for the “personhood” bill next year.
Just hours before the bill was sent back to committee it had seemed likely to pass given the Republican majority in the Virginia senate. The bill passed through committee without much effort but women on scene vehemently and loudly opposed the bill and in fact started an impromptu protest after being forced out of the Capitol building for being too rowdy. Just after this protest the Senate voted to table to bill. Was this a coincidence or a cause and effect situation? I’d like to believe it was the latter, women spoke up and the politicians listened.
The New York Times reports that it may have been due to something else though. Governor McDonnell is hoping for a vice-presidential nomination in the upcoming election and some supporters of the bill believe he pulled some strings behind the scenes and convinced the Virginia Senate to curtail the bill’s progress until after the election.
Either way, I’m quite grateful to see the bill pushed to the sidelines. Hopefully this will urge Pennsylvania and Oklahoma politicians to curb their efforts as well. We’ll keep you posted.