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The War on Contraception Goes Viral

7:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Not that there haven’t been attempts at using “pro-life” arguments to fight not just abortion but contraception. Some anti-choicers have floated the idea that contraception leads to abortion—claiming that women wouldn’t have abortions if they didn’t get it in their silly heads that they should be able to have sex for pleasure instead of procreation. (Never mind that women throughout history have attempted abortion by all sorts of means, whether their cultures had contraception or not.) A slightly more effective argument has been to claim, with no evidence in support, that popular, female-controlled hormonal birth control is the same thing as abortion. This hasn’t done much to convince anyone, but at least establishes a convoluted, disingenuous cover story about embryonic life that anti-choicers can hide behind while they attack contraception. But even then, it has limits, since while the “pill is abortion” argument can be used to attack hormonal contraception, even anti-choicers haven’t been bold enough to claim that condoms or other barrier methods are also abortion.

Then, just this year, it seems that the anti-choice movement came to a nationwide realization: Their past attempts to create some logical-sounding connection between contraception and fetal life were a waste of time and energy. … Read more

State Lawmakers Tell Teachers What They Can and Can’t Say

7:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Over the last few weeks, Tennessee lawmakers have been working on legislation that would effectively make it illegal for teachers to talk about homosexuality in the classroom before ninth grade. The laws states that “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” in grades K-8. While they went back and forth with amendments and counter amendments, the Senate education committee ultimately passed the bill which has been proposed by its sponsor for each of the last six years. The full Senate will likely vote on the measure this week or next. 

Not surprisingly, some people applauded the bill for keeping “inappropriate” topics away from young children while others called it censorship and discrimination. Some people in the state questioned why the bill was necessary as, according to one lawmaker, the “existing laws already prohibits such instruction by deeming it a misdemeanor to teach any sex education that is not part of the ‘family life curriculum’ adopted by the state Board of Education.”  Many just wondered how such a law could work and why a state legislature would get that intimately involved in what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or even surprised by this. State lawmakers have had their hands and voices in sex education classes for years.  In truth, it is not entirely outside their purview to do so.  While specific decisions about curricula and lecture topics are often left up to local school boards and even principals and teachers, laws in most states set the stage for sexuality education. States routinely tell schools what they have to teach and what they can’t teach. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate both sex education and HIV education and 12 states mandate HIV education alone (interestingly, no state mandates just sex education).  In addition, 29 states say that if such education is taught it must meet certain requirements such as being age-appropriate and/or medically accurate. 

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Stacey Campfield’s Tennessee Gag Order on Gays

7:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathleen Reeves for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Last week, Tennessee’s State Senate passed out of committee SB49, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield, proposed this bill without luck for six years when he was a member of the House. Presumably too idiotic for state legislators in the past, the bill is now on the floor!

While the bill would technically outlaw discussion of homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade, its practical effects are unclear, for many reasons. First, Tennesee’s current guidelines on sexuality education, referred to (tellingly) as the “family life curriculum,” are vague and poorly-enforced. Family life education is overseen by Local Education Agencies, which often receive insufficient guidance from the state. As a result, sexuality education in Tennessee (such as it exists) is shrouded in darkness: it’s unclear what children and teenagers are learning, what and who their sources of knowledge are, and how effective this “curriculum” is.

One clear element of the state’s policy on sex ed is the mandatory promotion of abstinence. Every course on sexual health must “include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years,” according to the SIECUS report cited above. So Stacey Campfield’s insistence on banning gay talk seems redundant. … Read more

Report: States Pass Staggering Array of Anti-Choice Laws, Policies and Ballot Measures

6:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Live in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arizona, Missouri or Louisiana? The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) wants you to know that, with the implementation of health care reform in 2014, you will not have access to abortion coverage in your state’s health exchanges. These states have enacted insurance bans on abortion coverage. Five other states considered the bans and the CRR expects more to do so in 2011. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The 2010 state legislative session has seen legislation forcing women to undergo "biased counseling" (and compelling health care providers to provide said counseling) which may contain medically inaccurate and misleading information, as well as mandatory ultrasound requirements. Some states have pushed anti-provider bills which seek to bar physicians who provide abortion care from a state’s malpractice compensation fund, and bills which force women to return at least twice to a provider before being deemed acceptable to have a legal abortion. States have sought to define zygotes and fertilized eggs as people; and punish women by barring any insurance coverage for abortion – even if the woman became pregnant as a result of rape.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) recently released its summary on the "major trends in anti-abortion legislation that emerged this year and of the onerous abortion restrictions enacted," according to a statement from the organization.  "A First Look Back at the 2010 State Legislative Session," (PDF) details alarming trends among the states to severely restrict access to legal abortion care.

Of particular consequence this past year has been the Nelson Amendment to the health care reform bill, which is responsible for the ban on abortion coverage in the health exchanges. As mentioned above, in response to the provision, five states have already passed similar state bans with more expected. CRR notes that anti-choice proponents’ argument over abortion access in federal health care reform efforts focused on outright false information about the importance of abortion access, as health care, for women in this country.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Repro-Briefs: States Banning Coverage for Abortion Care

6:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Robin Marty for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

A funny thing happened on the way to healthcare reform.  Not only did a woman’s right to choose get thrown under the bus in an effort to woo anti-choice democrats to vote yay, but a funny little loophole showed up in the final bill. 

[A]bortion opponents are not satisfied with the restrictions on abortion already in the measure, particularly those on abortion coverage in private plans that will be sold in the new marketplaces known as health "exchanges." So they are pushing one particular aspect of the new law. It lets states ban all abortion coverage in the exchanges.

Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said her group wasted no time drawing up a model state law to that effect. They sent it out the day after Congress approved the health bill.

"It was a part of the legislation that states could opt out, and so we had a heads-up that this would be a window for us," she said. "So we moved right in to make sure that we could equip states with the tools that they need to have the most effective opt-out possible."

It happened more quickly than we could have imagined.

The first drumbeat started in Kansas in February, when the state legislature tried to pass a ban on abortion coverage for all insurance providers in the state, regardless of whether the coverage was public or private.  That bill was defeated when pro-choice advocates attached amendments declaring the need for supplemental insurance for smokers or people who use erectile dysfunction drugs.

Unfortunately, that appears to have set the stage for our current batch of states, all anxious to jump on the bandwagon and eliminate insurance coverage for abortion. 

Louisiana’s House Insurance Panel met recently and voted to ban all elective abortion coverage from any new policies written in the state

The new law allows states to prohibit abortion coverage in the plans that are offered as part of insurance exchanges established to allow consumers to buy policies from private companies. The exchanges will not be online until Jan. 1, 2014. Hoffman’s bill goes beyond the abortion opt-out provision by extending the prohibition to all insurance companies in Louisiana as soon as the bill becomes law.

Those who are fighting the policy note that extending the ban to all policies is a moot point, since insurers are unlikely to want to deal with the logistical nightmare of having different policies for those who are on the exchange versus those who are just purchasing private plans, meaning essentially eliminating it from the exchange means eliminating it all together.

Even worse, the Insurance Committee has yet to define what they consider to be an "non-elective" abortion, stating that mental health and a mother’s health may not actually qualify as exceptions.  The bill’s sponsor says he is willing to possibly look at other considerations but he’s "…not going to open doors that we don’t need to open."

Of course, it comes as little shock that this move is mostly about political face, and little else.  It turns out private insurance plans in Louisiana already don’t cover elective abortion.

Rep. Chuck Kleckley, committee chairman, says he doesn’t know of any private insurance plan in Louisiana that covers abortion, except when a mother’s life is in danger. That exception remains in the bill.

Tennessee has also begun passing legislation to eliminate abortion coverage from the public exchange, claiming that Obama’s executive order is nice, but it’s not binding.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill Monday, banning any use of state government funds to pay for an abortion.

Now the Senate companion bill has cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on a unanimous vote.

One argument against the state bill has been that President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring abortion funding under the federal health care reform.

But Gallatin Republican Diane Black, who’s sponsoring the state measure, says the executive order is just a statement, not a law.

“That’s what people think, that that is the case, that if the president writes an executive order that, that will be the same as having something in statute, and we all know that that is not so.”

Unlike the Louisiana legislation, this does not yet go the additional step to mandate separate coverage in all private insurance plans.  But, as opponents in Tennessee noted, once it occurs in one insurance plan, the additional administrative headaches would make it easier to streamline all plans to match.

In Virgina, meanwhile, Governor Bob McDonnell is also using an abortion funding ban as an attempt to woo social conservatives, in this case without actually creating much change in funding at all.

Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed Wednesday to bar state funding for abortion services — except as required by federal law — a gesture to social conservatives that likely will have limited effect. Neither the governor’s office nor Planned Parenthood said they believed the measure would restrict state Medicaid dollars for the top abortion provider, which religious leaders are pushing to be defunded.

McDonnell, a long-time abortion foe, proposed the broadly written restriction as part of a larger set of amendments to Virginia’s two-year budget. Lawmakers will have a week to consider the governor’s alterations before returning Wednesday for a one-day reconvened session in which they can override the amendments or write them into law.

Under the federal Hyde Amendment, federal dollars can be used to end a pregnancy only in the case of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk.

As more states wrap up their legislative seasons, will we see more Americans United For Life’s "model state law" popping up across the country? 

We’ll definitely be watching.