You are browsing the archive for Barack Obama.

Administration Again Fails on Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception

10:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Editor’s Note: The Justice Department filed suit to block Judge Korman’s ruling.

The Obama administration said Wednesday that girls under 15 should not have access to the most common morning-after contraceptive pill as the Justice Department filed a notice to appeal a judge’s order that would make the drug available without a prescription for girls and women of all ages.

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article was amended at 10:16 am, Wednesday, May 1, to correct the date of the amended application by TEVA to the FDA. It was resubmitted in 2012, not 2011.

See all our coverage of EC Over-the-Counter here.

Plan B contraceptive wrapper

New FDA emergency contraception regulations still do not go far enough.

Today, in a proposal that can best be described as adding insult to injury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved making emergency contraception (EC) available over-the-counter for teens and women ages 15 and up. This convoluted proposal from the Obama administration comes despite a court order in early April by U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman to make EC available over-the-counter to all ages within 30 days of his decision. It comes from an administration which pledged to make science the cornerstone of public policy and instead has consistently flouted a wealth of accumulated evidence on emergency contraception. It also comes after several studies showing that current policy requiring prescriptions for some groups and not others has confused so many pharmacists that access to EC has been denied to many who were in fact legally eligible to obtain it quickly. In practice, the new policy will almost certainly perpetuate, not resolve, that confusion.

The battle to make EC available over-the-counter has gone on for over a decade and spanned both the Bush and Obama administrations. Judge Korman’s ruling was issued in response to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ (CRR) renewed lawsuit against the FDA seeking to expand over-the-counter access for all women to all brands of the morning-after pill, including Plan B One-Step and Next Choice. The most recent CRR lawsuit was filed after Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, overruled a 2011 FDA decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter to all ages, underscoring that the Obama administration, like its predecessor, has difficulties dealing with the realities of sex and pregnancy prevention.

The administration’s newest plan is to make EC available over-the-counter to individuals ages 15 and up, but still require prescriptions for those under age 15. While pharmacies can stock it in the family planning section of main store shelves, people seeking to buy EC will have to show identification with a birth date to a cashier. The plan comes after approval this week by the FDA of an amended application submitted by Teva, the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step, to allow OTC sale to those ages 15 and over, after an earlier request to do so had been denied by FDA in December 2011. The amended application was in any case superceded by the scientific evidence that led the FDA to rule in 2011 on making emergency contraception available OTC to all ages, the decision that was, as noted above, subsequently overturned by Sebelius. So in using the approved Teva application as the reason for this newest decision, the FDA is essentially reversing itself and ignoring the science on which its 2011 decision was based. Confused yet? Me too. It’s a complete circus, and I have no doubt that leadership at the FDA, which tried to make evidence-based policy in 2011, came under pressure from the White House to find the “fix” it announced today.

According to the FDA press release:

The product will now be labeled “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified.” Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code prompting a cashier to request and verify the customer’s age. A customer who cannot provide age verification will not be able to purchase the product. In addition, Teva has arranged to have a security tag placed on all product cartons to prevent theft.

In addition, Teva will make the product available in retail outlets with an onsite pharmacy, where it generally, will be available in the family planning or female health aisles. The product will be available for sale during the retailer’s normal operating hours whether the pharmacy is open or not.

NPR reported that “the FDA said … Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code that prompts the cashier to verify a customer’s age. Anyone who can’t provide such proof as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport wouldn’t be allowed to complete the purchase. In most states, driver’s licenses, the most common form of identification, are issued at age 16.”

There are several serious problems with this approach, apart from the fact that it ignores scientific and medical findings that call unequivocally for over-the-counter access for all.

First, the policy is not in compliance with the court ruling and therefore may in fact be thrown out. The Department of Justice will have to bring it before Judge Korman for approval and potentially seek a stay of his ruling altogether, throwing EC once again back to the courts.

Second, it still requires a prescription for a subset of the population potentially in need of EC, and therefore creates a significant barrier, especially for low-income teens under 15 years of age or those without ID who “look” younger and are denied access. Emergency contraception is for emergencies. It prevents unintended pregnancy by preventing ovulation, and is therefore most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse (including in cases when another contraceptive method may have failed). The need to see a physician to obtain a prescription that the public health and medical communities have deemed unnecessary is both time-consuming and expensive, and will entail additional indirect costs in terms of loss of time at school and work, likely on the part of both teens and their parents. This requirement serves the interests of no one except anti-choice opponents of birth control, and those in the Obama administration who still seem unable or unwilling to think beyond their own fears of teens and sex, or to go beyond personalizing policy to accommodate their own paternalistic fears of their daughters as sexual beings.

Third, language, lack of identification, and other potential barriers will remain an obstacle for many communities. Many 15- and 16-year-olds do not have IDs that display birth dates, and those who are well above the age limit but “look younger” to a clerk will be required to produce identification, documentation that many people in this country still do not have readily available or that, in a hurry, some might not remember to bring with them to the store.

Latinas, for example, face many of these barriers to access. In reaction to the decision, Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, stated:

Read the rest of this entry →

Women Not on the Priority List: President Obama’s Budget, Congress, and the Struggle for Affordable Abortion Care

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Morgan Meneses-Sheets for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Obama with arms folded.

The Obama budget makes a few small improvements to women's reproductive rights, while leaving others unaddressed.

After a significant delay, the president submitted his budget to Congress Wednesday. Reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates were pleased to see that he included language allowing the District of Columbia to use its own funds to cover abortion for low-income women through their Medicaid program. When Medicaid covers pregnancy care but denies coverage for abortion, a woman does not have the ability to make important decisions based on what is best for her and her family. However we feel about abortion, we certainly shouldn’t withhold health coverage for a woman just because she’s poor.

The president also included abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape and incest. The pain caused by sexual violence should never be made worse by denying access to care, so this is an important first step.

While these provisions provide exciting progress, there is still much more work to be done in order to ensure that no woman is denied health coverage for abortion because of her income, her immigration status, or her type of insurance.

Sadly, the president’s budget continued to withhold coverage for women who use benefits through federal health programs, including federal employees and their dependents, women in federal prisons, Native American women who access care through Indian Health Services, and low-income women with coverage through the federal Medicaid program. The ongoing denial of federal health-care assistance for abortion pushes many women and their families further into poverty and leaves them unable to access the care they need.

The president had a chance to take a strong stand for women’s health. More than 70 organizations joined an official request in December that he submit a “clean budget” without any of these unfair limitations. Women got him re-elected — in particular women of color, who already face significant barriers to receiving high-quality health care.

Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child are better left to a woman and her family. But for a woman to be able to make a real decision based on what’s best for her own circumstances, she needs to be able to afford it. The many women and families who are already struggling to make ends meet in this country simply do not have additional funds to pay for reproductive health care out-of-pocket.

Holding back benefits from someone who is eligible, just to make it impossible for her to have an abortion is unconscionable. All women — whether their health coverage comes from an individual plan, is employer sponsored, or is through a federal health program — should have access to a full range of pregnancy related care, including abortion.

It is often said that a budget is a statement of priorities. It shows what matters to people. Women should matter. Access to safe medical care should matter. As Congress members begin the arduous appropriations process, I urge them to put politics aside, stop interfering with personal decision-making, and lift the restrictions on coverage of abortion care. Let’s make women’s health and safety a priority.

Read the rest of this entry →

Why Women and People of Color Should Be Concerned About the Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

12:09 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sheila Bapat for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A woman lays with her head in her arms

Women of color are especially at risk in budget cuts.

Many view the 2012 election as a mandate on the Democrats’ vision for the poor and middle class. Tammy Baldwin, for example, clearly won her Senate seat because she campaigned on two words: middle class. Elizabeth Warren, elected in Massachusetts, has been one of the most forceful advocates for economic justice. And of course, President Obama’s re-election is also validation of his first four years.

Women and non-white voters played a critical role in these victories, but their interests may not be well-served if Democrats do not unite and flex their muscle during the looming “fiscal cliff” negotiations to protect these coalitions. The fiscal cliff is a concocted concept, or at least an exaggerated one, referring to the effective end-date of put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act. This law requires an end to Bush era tax cuts, Obama’s payroll tax cuts, and particularly troubling as the National Women’s Law Center points out, extended unemployment benefits, along with sequestration (automatic, across-the-board cuts to a number of federal programs). Negotiations on what these cuts will actually look like are set to begin in earnest this week.

The terms of the Budget Control Act could raise a good amount of revenue, but at what cost? For many of the nation’s women and people of color, the possibility of deep cuts to the unemployment provision and other social programs is particularly disturbing. As of October 2012, the unemployment rate is holding steady at 7.9 percent, with 7.2 percent women unemployed, and a staggering 10 percent of Hispanic Americans and 14.3 percent of African Americans unemployed. It’s clear that women and people of color have had a tougher time regaining their footing in the economy — and cuts to the unemployment extension could exacerbate this.

If no agreement is reached, the emergency unemployment compensation program — costing about $26 billion — would be automatically cut along with a number of other programs.

Read the rest of this entry →

Emergency Contraception Should Be Available Over The Counter. And You Can Make That Happen

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kirsten Moore for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Plan B on the shelf - in Canada.

Last week’s announcement from the esteemed American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), suggesting it’s time to make oral contraceptives accessible without a prescription, is the perfect way to re-ignite and re-engage public conversation about making emergency contraception (EC) available without restriction. We cannot afford another decade of political delays when it comes to common sense measures to improve women’s health.

Doctors are taking the lead by acknowledging they’ve become unnecessary obstacles between women and their birth control. That is an example politicians need to follow. Medical science, not political ideology, should govern which products are safe and effective. It is clear women of all reproductive ages will be better off when emergency contraception is easily accessible and in their hands.

One year ago next week the Food and Drug Administration was poised to announce that EC had been approved for on-the-shelf access, such that it could appear at your local pharmacy between condoms and pregnancy test kits. But Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stepped in at the last minute and ruled that Plan B One-Step and its generic equivalent must remain behind-the-counter. That decision led to confusion and unnecessary obstacles for women, teens, and couples at the very moment clarity was needed most. For example, we know that:

  • Doctors and teens have been given misinformation about the age restrictions applied to emergency contraception over the counter (currently 17) or told that teens could not get the product at all (not true). This confusion helps no one.
  • Men have been told by pharmacists in several states around the country that they could not buy EC (not true), presenting obstacles and delays when timing matters.
  • Rape survivors have been denied access to EC by doctors and prison staff.
  • Individuals without government issued identification may have difficulty accessing EC because of the restrictions.

In addition to the practical confusion the Sebelius ruling created, it also set a dangerous policy precedent. Never before has HHS overruled the FDA on a product that had been as thoroughly vetted and researched as EC. To the extent the concern about teens accessing EC was something the Obama Administration didn’t want to have to deal with during the election, they should clearly understand now that the women, young voters, and communities of color who stood in line at the polls did so in part because access to contraception, and the choice it represents in all our lives, is important.

For example, today 82 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended. Seventy percent of  teens in New York City who became pregnant between 2011-2012, dropped out of school Increased, evidence-based access to EC  could give these teens a second chance to prevent pregnancy and stay in school. But research reveals that because of widespread confusion, 50 percent of teens seeking EC were told the wrong age requirements for buying it. 

The science supporting EC hasn’t changed, but the politics sure have. We need to send a clear signal to Secretary Sebelius that women’s reproductive health and medical science should be the driving force behind public policy. A broad coalition of medical professionals and advocates is launching a petition today to urge Secretary Sebelius to revisit the evidence and remove the restrictions.

Please sign it and share it with your friends. Engage people in conversation about the important issues on social media and help demonstrate the strong consensus for common sense public policy that puts health and science over political ideology. We want to get as many signatures as possible before the one-year anniversary of the Sebelius decision on December 7th, please sign, share, and continue to make your voice heard.

Read the rest of this entry →

U.S. Policy and the Unjust Approach to Human Trafficking of the International Justice Mission

11:25 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Melissa Gira Grant for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article is part of a two-part series commissioned by RH Reality Check analyzing U.S. trafficking policy as outlined by President Obama at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Melissa Gira Grant

Journalist & sex worker activist Melissa Gira Grant (Photo: Re: publica 2012 / Flickr)

When you picture a human rights defender, are they carrying handcuffs? Are they removing you from your home or workplace and directing you into a police van? This is, unfortunately, the face of some of the “human rights defenders” being funded by the United States government through “anti-trafficking” initiatives around the globe.

And this is the unfortunate picture President Obama invoked — in all likelihood, without intending to — in his remarks last Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. In the address, before heads of state, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society representatives, the president elaborated his most detailed position on the United States’ commitment to ending human trafficking. He spoke at length about the issue of forced labor, whether performed by garment workers, agricultural workers, or child laborers. Obama also praised the work of faith-based NGOs, which would not itself be a problem but for the fact that many of the faith-based groups receiving U.S. funding bring their evangelism along with law enforcement into their anti-trafficking work, and in particular the work they do focusing on the sex trade.

We are especially honored to be joined today by advocates who dedicate their lives — and, at times, risk their lives — to liberate victims and help them recover,” the President said. “This includes men and women of faith, who, like the great abolitionists before them, are truly doing the Lord’s work — evangelicals, the Catholic Church, the International Justice Mission…

This is the same International Justice Mission whose reliance on headline-grabbing brothel raids conducted with police to “rescue” sex workers have drawn criticism from human rights advocates around the world.

As journalist Noy Thrupkaew reported for The Nation, International Justice Mission (IJM) became a global force after receiving millions of dollars in federal grants, made available for the first time under the Bush administration during its drive to shift large sums of U.S. international aid funding to fundamentalist evangelical Christian and Catholic groups. Also driving their growth was an expansion of federal trafficking law enabling the United States to suspend aid to countries that did not comply with US counter-trafficking efforts.

In 2002, at the same time as the United States demanded crackdowns on commercial sex work, which the State Department has erroneously claimed drives trafficking, IJM became a recipient of federal funds. In 2003, IJM took on more dramatic operations, such as embedding a television crew from Dateline NBC with a team of IJM staff and law enforcement to raid a brothel in Svay Pak, Cambodia. IJM stated they “rescued” 37 girls, but at least 12 of them ran away from the police-guarded “safe house” in which they were detained. In the wake of the raid, USAID found that the number of minors involved in prostitution actually went up.

Though some anti-trafficking activists believe that sex work is indistinguishable from trafficking, sex worker rights’ advocates stress that sex work is work, and that working conditions in the sex sector are the issue, not sex work itself. Indeed, working conditions in the sex sector are made worse for sex workers when, in order to avoid interference and harassment from law enforcement and would-be “rescuers,” sex workers must work alone or in isolated conditions.

Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-Sex Ed Curriculum Makes the List: Don’t Blame Obama, Blame the System

9:23 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket
Written by Norman A. Constantine, Eva S. Goldfarb, Danny Ceballos, and Carmen Rita Nevarez for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education here.

A recently updated list of federally approved “evidence-based” teen pregnancy prevention programs has been causing a stir. This list specifies the programs that are eligible for federal funds and serves as the cornerstone of President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.  Among the three programs making the list for the first time is the Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage program Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. Our friends and fellow advocates in the adolescent sexual health promotion field have denounced this program as medically inaccurate, biased, fear- and shame-based, and otherwise inappropriate for the classroom. Here we all agree, completely. A program like this has no place in our schools and communities, and especially not with government funding.

But we take issue with criticisms of the Obama administration for “backroom deals and secrecy,” “political expediency,” and “blatant hypocrisy,” among other barbs and arrows recently launched by understandably frustrated advocates. Rather than blaming Obama for this unfortunate development, we’d all do better to recognize that it was the result of a fundamentally flawed system operating according to explicit agreed-upon rules—a system sorely in need of review and repair.

What’s wrong with this system? Simply put, it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of scientific evidence and its appropriate use. To earn a place on the list, a program needs only to produce one statistically significant outcome in one evaluation study–no matter how many outcomes were tested across how many studies. Yet it is a well-known principle of research statistics that the likelihood of a false finding increases as the number of outcomes tested increases. In fact, if a program has no effect, for every twenty outcomes tested one outcome can be expected to be incorrectly identified as a statistically significant effect merely due to chance alone. Even testing just two outcomes raises the probability of a false finding of effectiveness beyond the traditionally tolerated level of less than five percent. The technical name for taking advantage of this principle to obtain a statistically significant finding is “fishing for significance.”

And this is just one of the more blatant of the numerous problems with the evidence review system currently in place. These problems and their implications are described elsewhere in more detail. Suffice it to say that under current “evidence-based” standards of effectiveness, a Mickey Mouse cartoon could be listed as an effective teen pregnancy prevention program with just a moderate amount of evaluation creativity and persistence. Perhaps it is then no surprise that upon release of the original version of this evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program list in 2010, the independent non-partisan research-use watchdog Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy commented that “HHS’s evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program is an excellent first step, but only 2 of 28 approved models have strong evidence of effectiveness.”

The biggest challenge in research and research use in this area is that we as a field need to move away from asking these simplistic out-of-context yes/no questions about effectiveness of individual name-brand curricula. These types of questions inevitably lead to the picking and choosing of isolated favorable findings. Instead, we can do a better job of critically weighing and integrating the entire body of relevant program evaluation evidence —together with the broader body of scientific research evidence on adolescent health and development —as they inform a set of general principles of effective and responsible comprehensive sexuality education.

To complement this more encompassing view of evidence, while at the same time recognizing the understandable demand among funders and program providers for simple and straightforward guidance about program development and selection, we propose a move to standards-based lists. There are now many excellent sets of standards and guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education, from groups such as SIECUS, UNESCO, and IPPF, as well as the newly developed National Sexuality Education Standards.  These standards represent an enormous improvement over what is currently passing for comprehensive sexuality education, and enjoy widespread support from mainstream health and education organizations.  Any of these could be used as the basis of an objective and systematic process for rating curricula and other programs on the most important content and process criteria.

California has already provided a model of such a system, based on its Sexual Health Education Accountability Act and related California Education Code. These basic standards for comprehensive sexuality education provide 45 explicit criteria that serve as the foundation for an objective and systematic process used to rate curricula in California.  The successful experience in California with this system could help inform the adaption of such as system in other states, and for federal program review as well. It could be applied to any of the existing standards.

Advocates for Youth has promised to challenge the existing evidence-based paradigm and to “advocate for a recalibration of the current balance towards a vision of sex education that is evidence-informed and rights based.” We enthusiastically support this new focus, and will help however we can.

Denying OTC Access to Plan B Disproportionately Affects Latina Teens

3:25 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the Administration’s 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

This article was changed at 12:05 pm on Tuesday, December 13th.  The original mis-identified the author. It is Jessica Gonzales-Rojas. We apologize for the error.

Last month a ten-year-old girl in Puebla, Mexico gave birth, via c-section, to a premature infant. The girl says her stepfather raped her repeatedly. She only spoke out about the abuse after she gave birth when the glare of public attention gave her some measure of safety. Her stepfather immediately disappeared. This story has received wide attention in the Spanish language press and has sparked anger across Latin America.

I immediately thought of the girl from Puebla last week when President Obama expressed concern that an 11-year-old might go to a drugstore and purchase emergency contraception along with “bubble gum and batteries” because the drug could “have an adverse effect.” The image of a young child casually purchasing birth control was used to describe the “common sense” reasoning behind his administration’s refusal to allow the FDA to make emergency birth control available to young women below the age of seventeen. President Obama invoked the image of his daughters when discussing the drug store scenario, but I imagined the girl from Puebla, standing at the checkout counter with birth control, bubble gum and batteries in her hands. The profound injustice of her life brought me to tears, and the trivialization of her situation, as if girls at age ten would be purchasing birth control with the same weight that they would purchase the bubble gum, is enraging.

Whether President Obama was compelled to weave the bubble gum narrative for political gain or because it truly reflects his thinking, the result is the same. Complex sexual health issues get overly simplified, society focuses on stigma more than solution, and young people are left with policy decisions that don’t begin to match the weight of their lived experiences nor keep them “safe.”

What is repeatedly lacking in our narratives about adolescent sexual health is a human rights perspective. If our society were to seriously contemplate how to help children who are victims of sexual abuse, it would not be to make birth control access harder for teens. This tunnel vision ignores the complex social factors that foster abusive environments, and ignores the dignity and justice that every child deserves.

A real discussion about emergency contraception would focus on addressing the real needs of teens. Yet due to the structural barriers that our politicians and healthcare industry have erected, most Latina teens will not realistically be given this last chance to prevent an unintended pregnancy. More than any other racial or ethnic group, Latinas lack health insurance and their households struggle economically. Teens without health insurance or money will need to seek out a healthcare provider to write a prescription, collect the $50 for the co-payment to fill the prescription, and to take the pills within three days of unprotected intercourse. Furthermore, Latina teens that encounter additional barriers due to their immigration status or limited English-language proficiency are even more isolated. No one reasonably believes this is a recipe for success.

There has always been strong political interference in FDA rule making about emergency contraception. Politicians simply can’t let scientists and public health experts do what’s best for our young people. That’s why years ago the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit (Tummino v. Hamburg), which resulted in the court directing the FDA to make emergency contraception available to teens age seventeen and above. And that’s why today our lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights will be back in federal court fighting against the continued political interference in healthcare access for younger teens.

War, Death and Mamas

7:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Russ for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This commentary is part of a Mama’s Day series by Strong Families, published in partnership with RH Reality Check in our Mother’s Day 2011 series.  Follow Strong Families on Facebook and Twitter.

I just walked by the USA Today front-page headline about Osama bin Laden’s death: Huge Boost for America. This is probably the last big media event my son Zach will miss. He is almost six years old, reading cereal boxes, street signs and simple books. With luck and off-switch on the NPR, he’s missed it entirely. Like most six-year-olds, little bits of information about the world leave him asking, “Why? And why not??” This was one conversation I didn’t want to have: “why are people celebrating the fact that this man is dead?”

Six year olds love right and wrong, and clear winners and losers.  We live in Oakland, and when Zach got wind of Johannes Mehserle’s verdict in the trial for the killing of Oscar Grant, that led to a whole string of questions: “Why was he afraid of Oscar Grant? Why would he pull the trigger? Do you think it was an accident?  Why would he lie?”

I heard President Obama’s press conference, and all through his confident words and measured celebration, I was thinking about Barack Obama the dad.  While politically the President hasn’t been all I had hoped (to say it mildly) I have never lost my connection with Obama the candidate, the senator, the regular guy who is the first president I know of who is a hands-on dad.

You probably know like I do that he eats dinner with family most nights, and makes it to all of his kids school conferences: parenting stats that put him well ahead of our family and most people that I know.  And I believe he is engaged with his daughters as growing individuals who are learning at a young age how to navigate their strange and complex world.

I wish I could have been at the table to hear how he answered his daughters’ “Why?”

Read more

Kagan and Reproductive Rights: No Time for Complacency

6:51 am in Health care, Judiciary by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

So far, the issue of reproductive rights hasn’t really been much of a factor in the discussion about Obama’s new nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan.  For the most part, this is because the right is occupied with the game of trying to figure out how to call Kagan a lesbian without coming right out and saying it. Because it’s not on the table right now, it’s awfully tempting for pro-choice activists to assume that it may never really become an issue.  Perhaps the Obama administration’s decision to find a candidate with as obtuse a record on the issues as possible might be enough to keep the rabid dogs of the anti-choice movement out of this?

Don’t bet on it. When we relax our shoulders and start to believe that anti-choicers won’t be able to find an angle to make something All About Them, that’s when they strike.  They did it with the economic stimulus package, lashing out at funding for family planning services in an effort to kill the bill.  Pro-choice attempts to make health care reform abortion-neutral failed miserably, and anti-choicers were very close to killing health care reform entirely over abortion. And even if Elena Kagan never uttered the word “abortion” in her life, there’s a good chance that won’t stop them.  They’re very rarely bothered by reality, and in the absence of any evidence to support their views, will just make it up.

Of course, things are far more complicated because we really don’t have much evidence about Kagan’s beliefs about choice one way or another.  There’s been a memo where she urged then-President Clinton to support a late term abortion ban, but it appears that her motivation was to back a compromise that would prevent a more severe restriction down the road.  As it was, her prediction did play out—as soon as an anti-choice President was elected, he signed a serious federal restriction on late abortion—but it’s hard to imagine that a compromise bill passed earlier would have done much to stop the more severe restriction.  But the whole incident calls into question Kagan’s commitment to choice.  It’s hard to believe that President Obama would nominate someone without being assured of her commitment to abortion rights, but understandably, pro-choicers don’t want to take this on faith.

My sense is that Kagan is a purely political animal, who seems to value what’s popular over what’s right. Take this story, for example.  Kagan also urged President Clinton to support sentencing laws that treat the possession of crack cocaine as more serious than the possession of powder cocaine, even though it’s the same drug.  The only real difference between the drugs is a class difference, and the result of these sentencing laws is functionally racist.  There’s really no question that the sentencing laws are deeply unjust, but Kagan advised Clinton to support them anyway, because it sent the signal that the President is “tough on crime.”

The hope no doubt among progressives is that Kagan’s tendency to be a middle-of-the-road political animal will fall away when she’s ensconced in the lifetime position of Supreme Court justice.  But I’m skeptical.  Being a political animal is rarely a conscious choice, but more of a personality trait.  Odds are that Kagan’s behavior off the court will be a good predictor of her behavior on the court.  And her history inclines me to think she’ll be quite a bit like Sandra Day O’Connor, a moderate who tended to value politically popular opinions over rigorously argued ones.  In his book "The Nine," Jeffrey Toobin explained that O’Connor had an uncanny ability to absorb the most politically centrist sentiment in the country and channel that into her decisions. Kagan is going in on a reputation as a great compromiser, a person who can bring disparate people together by appealing to common ground. 

On abortion rights, this tendency can be incredibly dangerous, even when a justice is technically pro-choice.  O’Connor, despite being pro-choice, struck an enormous blow to abortion rights when she wrote the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  The decision overturned the standard laid out in Roe v. Wade that made it difficult for state governments to restrict abortion, especially in the first trimester, and replaced it with a standard where states are allowed to regulate abortion as long as there was no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion.  From a legal perspective, the standard is hazy and ill thought out, but it was a politically popular one in a nation where most people support legal abortion but want it to be severely restricted.  Unfortunately, the decision opened a floodgate of absolutely undue burdens on abortion access, from parental notification and waiting periods to laws that exist mainly to harass providers.

Sadly, we saw this kind of thinking in the memo advising President Clinton to support a compromise bill restricting access to late term abortion.  One can be pro-choice and make decisions that are anti-choice under the misguided belief that compromises and common ground will placate anti-choicers.  I can’t imagine a scenario where passing a less restrictive abortion ban under a pro-choice President would suffice and thereby stop anti-choicers from trying to pass another more restrictive one as soon as they got an anti-choice President.  If anything, gaining victories under a pro-choice administration would probably embolden them to reach for more under an anti-choice administration.

Let’s hope Kagan proves me wrong once she passes confirmation, which she almost surely will.  It’s hard to imagine the court isn’t going to revisit the issue of abortion soon, with challenges to it rising up in states like Nebraska.  And as hard as it is to imagine that the restrictions on abortion could get any worse, the sad reality is they can.  

Sexonomics

10:01 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Cristina Page for RHRealityCheck.org – Information, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Over the past two weeks there has been lots of public huffing and puffing over the inclusion (and then exclusion) in the stimulus package of a provision for contraception. Much of the discussion was little more than media hot air, unanchored by anything as weighty as facts. The media discussion was notable for among other things: the absence of experts. To cite one blunder: the shock media gleefully tore into the supposed controversy of a $200 million allocation of taxpayer money for pregnancy prevention, despite the fact that there was no $200 million allocation of taxpayer money for pregnancy prevention. That fable sadly got passed off as fact. In reality, the bill proposed an administrative change that would have saved the states 200 million dollars in five years. (This "mistake" was courtesy of Rep. John Boehner, a friend of the anti-contraception movement.)

In all this, a more important point has been mangled. And that is that family planning has profound economic benefits.

As someone who often writes about the benefits of family planning, I’ve long been struck by the dearth of information on the impact Read the rest of this entry →