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The Bishops v. Birth Control: It’s Not About the Money

11:45 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Birth control pills

Religion, birth control, and Obamacare — it’s not about the money.

In announcing its final rule concerning the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of access to birth control without a co-pay for all American women—including the Catholics and non-Catholics who work in religiously sponsored schools, hospitals, and social service agencies—the Obama administration bent over backwards to accommodate the Church’s concerns. The goal was to spare Church fathers from the anguish of getting their pristine hands dirty by, as the Bishops charged, being forced to sell, buy or broker birth control coverage for women, including students. The final rule allows that either the insurance company used by the institution—or, if it is self-insured, its plan administrator—will have to pay, with reimbursement coming through a series of convoluted steps.

In a repeat of the Church battle over the Affordable Care Act, Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, last week publicly approved the administration’s final rule, issuing an explanation for the association’s members about how to implement it. Not so the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The week before, its head, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, released his statement expressing dissatisfaction with the compromise, saying that the bishops are subjecting it to further “analysis,” feel their “religious freedom” is still under threat, and plan to continue “defending our rights in Congress and in the courts.” Count on the 60+ lawsuits by Catholic diocese and universities around the country, joined by secular employers who also don’t like birth control and want to exclude it from their insurance policies, proceeding apace.

It is maddening that the Administration had to go to such extremes to placate the Church fathers, who dare to put “moral” and “money” as it applies to this deeply compromised institution in the same sentence. How pure, really, were the hands of the Church fathers who began decades ago to secretly spend millions of dollars in hush money to silence child victims of clergy rape and sodomy, and rid themselves of the evidence of their paternal crimes? Hush money that came from the faithful in the pews, who paid for all those ever-escalating insurance premiums, and from selling the churches and schools out from under those same working-class Catholics? The victims merited all the compensation they got and more, but the Church fathers literally stole that money from the Catholics they served and lied about it.

When the Bishops realized how much money they had to lose by even these secret settlements, hiding the goods from the victims became the next best strategy. So how pure, really, are the hands of Cardinal Dolan, the leading voice claiming the moral high ground in the battle to keep any of the church coffers from supporting birth control for women? Files just released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee turned up a letter showing that when Dolan served as the Archbishop of that diocese, he secretly and successfully, and even as the Archdiocese was preparing to file for bankruptcy, petitioned the Vatican to bury nearly $57 million in a cemetery trust fund in order to protect those assets “from legal claim and liability,” aka, child abuse victim compensation. And this was on top of his paying off some priest child sex abusers $20,000 a piece to leave the priesthood, reportedly defended by Dolan in one case as “an act of charity,” so that, irony of ironies, the priest “could pay for health insurance.”

And how pure, really, are the hands of the Church fathers regarding money when we look at the shenanigans at the Vatican bank? Still laughably named the “Institute for the Works of Religion,” the Vatican Bank is literally drowning in mounting accusations of money laundering and mobster connections. Most recently, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, an accountant for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which manages the Vatican’s property and investments (and a Vatican account-holder himself), was arrested and charged with conspiring to transfer some $26 million from Switzerland to Italy to dole out to his rich friends.

Given this sad financial state of affairs, how does paying for a health service like birth control for women become such a threat to Church fathers that they’ve made a major campaign out of it?

The bishops claim this mandate violates church teaching that artificial birth control is “intrinsically evil, “despite the fact that nearly 100 percent of Catholics don’t believe there is anything “intrinsically evil” about birth control and use it. The bishops claim birth control is the same as abortion; it isn’t. They claim to be protecting the institution’s “conscience,” thereby stepping all over Catholic Church teaching that defines conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary” of a person, not an institution, and the Church not as the “men of God” but as “the people of God,” which would seem to include women. They claim the money at issue is “their” money, even though employees earn their health insurance as part of their compensation package, and many have to contribute to or pay the full amount of their health insurance premiums so this is at base a labor issue. And their claim that birth control is not a “health” service, in the face of current scientific knowledge and medical opinion, is tantamount to insisting that the sun revolves around the earth.

A hint of a far deeper motivator lies in a rarely regarded passage from Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Encyclical letter, “On the Regulation of Birth,” which cemented the Church’s current intransigent opposition to birth control. The section on “Grave Consequences on Methods of Artificial Contraception” reads in part:

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Bishops Tap Veteran of Islamophobic, Homophobic Legal Shop as Top Flack

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times. — Niccolo Machiavelli

Timothy M Dolan in his robes

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is part of a dangerous reframing of "religious liberty."

At a gathering of Catholics in his archdiocese last year, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, uttered a strategic point that would have done Machiavelli proud. The bishops, he said, are perhaps not the church’s best messengers.

“In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over,” he told his flock, according to the New York Times, at a diocesan convocation on public policy. Reporting for the Times, Tim Stelloh and Andy Newman wrote of an example he gave the crowd, an apparent reference to the hiring of Helen Alvaré by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1990:

[Dolan] told a story about bishops hiring an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to speak against abortion and said it was “the best thing we ever did…”

Dolan, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), decided this week to operationalize his assessment by hiring Kim Daniels, a former operative for Sarah Palin’s political action committee, as his spokesperson — a new position with a much broader mission than that covered by Alvaré in the 1990s.

An attorney and youthful mother of six who echoes the bishops’ disdain for contraception and abortion, Daniels is a smart cookie with an appealing personality. In other words, an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman.

When the USCCB announced Daniels’s appointment, the thing that grabbed reporters’ attention was her work in 2010 as an operative for Sarah Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC — a résumé entry conveniently omitted from the bishops’ announcement about their new hire. If there was any doubt remaining of the bishops’ total alignment with the most right-wing part of the Republican Party, that data point should lay it to rest. But the rest of Daniels’ career is far more interesting — and troubling.

The Reframing of Religious Freedom

Over the course of the last several decades, as reasonable people, including most lay Catholics, increasingly rejected the church’s medieval worldview on women’s rights, human sexuality, and LGBTQ rights, the political power of U.S. bishops has been on the wane. During the debate over health-care reform, President Barack Obama went around the prelates in order to confer some Catholic buy-in on the deal, ultimately winning the approval of a number of highly placed nuns, who signed a letter to that effect, as well as the head of the Catholic Health Association, who also happens to be a Catholic sister.

The bishops were incensed. At that moment, their lack of sway over their own people was revealed for all to see. They needed a new angle, one that could also speak to the hearts of those ordinary Americans who, in the wake of the church’s massive child-sex-abuse scandal, now judged them to be mere mortals, and deeply flawed mortals at that. Enter the Red, White, and Blue.

The success of the Tea Party movement, with its bigoted and misogynist underpinnings dressed in the regalia of patriotism, was apparently not lost on the bishops. On the heels of their humiliating defeat with the Affordable Care Act, the bishops found a new, patriotic-sounding cause to wrap around their attempts to codify prejudice and discrimination as secular law: religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Summon the fife and drum!

Trouble is, the bishops’ notion of religious freedom differs a bit from that of the founders, who sought to avoid the establishment of a state religion by promising Americans freedom of worship. What the bishops seek, on the other hand, is the right to impose their religious views on those who do not subscribe to their theology. Any impediment to their totalitarian view is now framed as a breach of their religious freedom. And Kim Daniels has been deeply involved in the advancement of this strategy.

Media-Friendly and Studio Ready Church Ladies

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The Bishops’ Lawsuit: A Colossal and Purposeful Drain on Public Funds

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

stack of papers

Government lawyers filed an emergency motion to dismiss lawsuit over contraceptive coverage mandate citing exorbitant costs in responding to document requests.

This week, the government filed an emergency motion in the New York Archdiocese’s lawsuit against the contraceptive coverage mandate, requesting that the court halt proceedings and dismiss the case. The emergency is that the government is hemorrhaging money defending a regulation it will never enforce against the Archdiocese.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of NY v. Sebelius is the only lawsuit out of the 23 brought by religiously affiliated organizations not to be dismissed at the district court level for lack of standing or ripeness. The cases have been dismissed because religiously affiliated non-profits are currently completely exempt from the contraceptive coverage requirement. They enjoy a one-year safe harbor period provided for the religious accommodation to be finalized. If you haven’t been injured, you can’t sue.

The government swore up and down from the day the case was filed that the rule in its current form would never be enforced against the Archdiocese and its co-plaintiffs and that a new rule with a new religious accommodation was on the way. As promised, the Obama administration released a new proposed rule, is now reviewing comments from the public on it, and will release the final rule by August. However, in the New York Archdiocese case, Judge Brian M. Cogan found that the administration’s assurances were not enough and that the impending threat of the rule was injury enough for the plaintiffs to proceed.

The Archdiocese et al. proceeded to serve the government with requests for every document under the sun. “Discovery” is the process in which litigating parties get evidence by requesting relevant documents from each other. To respond to a document request, a party has to review documents to determine whether they are responsive to the request and make a log of documents that are responsive but won’t be turned over because they are protected by attorney-client or another privilege. Computer searches only get you so far; a human attorney or paralegal has to determine if a document is responsive or privileged.

Plaintiffs in these cases being 1 for 23, the Archdiocese may have sought to make the most of its unique situation. It made discovery requests the government calls “enormously burdensome and irrelevant.” The Archdiocese also noticed a deposition of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Lawsuits are brought over regulations all the time — it is pretty audacious to demand a cabinet member show up in person for yours. That was indeed too far, and Judge Cogan granted Sebelius a protective order.

The plaintiffs didn’t stop there. The Archdiocese subpoenaed the Executive Office of the President (EOP), even though it isn’t a party to the lawsuit, many of the requested documents are protected by various privileges, and you must have an extra good reason to get documents from the president. Also, the EOP being in D.C., the subpoena was issued in a district that has thrown out three of these 23 lawsuits for lack of jurisdiction.

The Archdiocese later withdrew the subpoena. We don’t know why. Perhaps it realized it was an unreasonable request. This did not happen, alas, until after our tax dollars were put to work on a very lengthy motion to quash the subpoena. But whatever that cost, it pales in comparison to the expenditures of various agencies on the New York document requests; in the emergency motion, the government estimates completing the requested document production would take eight years and cost over $10 million.

We should take that estimate with a grain of salt, of course, but the government has sought to back it up. Attached to the emergency motion are declarations from officials of various offices and agencies as to what they have spent so far on this one case and what they estimate it will cost to finish. Two-hundred HHS employees have spent have spent over 2,000 hours and located over 7.6 million pages of potentially responsive documents so far. That has cost over $177,000. Those documents haven’t been reviewed by HHS or their Department of Justice counsel yet. The Internal Revenue Service has spent over a quarter of a million dollars.

The lawyers, paralegals, and IT professionals needed to complete discovery are expensive — even those of the lower-paid government variety. Offices that don’t have enough staff for this have hired contract lawyers, but they can’t afford to do that anymore because of the sequester. Lest you think it’s not a big deal to have government lawyers tied up or that the effect is minimal in the scope of things, consider one example contained in the declaration from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL’s Plan Benefits Security Division investigates and litigates cases of fraud or mismanagement in employee benefits. The division, which recovered $1.38 billion for U.S. workers in 2011, argues that the impact on the public interest of putting its attorneys on document review will be far greater than the financial loss.

The Archdiocese, which employs 10,000 people in programs receiving many millions of dollars in government grants each year, will never have to provide health plans with contraceptive coverage under the rule as proposed. Despite this, it is waging a legal battle that is imposing significant costs on the taxpayers who fund its work. And this is only one lawsuit. With the additional cases brought by secular for-profit corporations, over 60 lawsuits have been filed in this scorched earth litigation campaign — which we have to pay to defend.

On the same day the emergency motion was filed, Judge Cogan granted it in part, staying all discovery and proceedings until the contraceptive coverage rule is final. So the government lawyers can get back to other business for the moment. But once the rule is final, I expect we will see that some if not all of those 22 dismissed cases (the ones that haven’t already been appealed) will be refiled.

Back in February, with the sequester looming, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which, like the Archdiocese of New York, is led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, signed a statement by religious leaders urging legislators to protect the interests of the poor. The Bishops’ litigiousness does not reflect the same awareness of our limited resources nor concern for those who will be hurt most by the sequester. Instead, the Archdiocese seeks to deprive its employees of affordable contraception — provided by an outside company — that will enable employees to limit their families to the size they want and can support, using up resources that are needed elsewhere in a time of economic distress.

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In Malpractice Case, Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Aren’t People

11:12 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Cross-posted in partnership with the Colorado Independent.

For further coverage of the treatment of pregnant women in Catholic Hospitals, click here.

A fetus at 9 weeks

"This is not a person." --The Catholic Church

Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodghill’s husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

The directives can complicate business deals for Catholic Health, as they can for other Catholic health care providers, partly by spurring political resistance. In 2011, the Kentucky attorney general and governor nixed a plan in which Catholic Health sought to merge with and ultimately gain control of publicly-funded hospitals in Louisville. The officials were reacting to citizen concerns that access to reproductive and end-of-life services would be curtailed. According to The Denver Post, similar fears slowed the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth’s plan over the last few years to buy out Exempla Lutheran Medical Center and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the Denver metro area.

But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

The Catholic Health attorneys have so far won decisions from Fremont County District Court Judge David M. Thorson and now-retired Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Roy.

In September, the Stodghills’ Aspen-based attorney Beth Krulewitch working with Denver-based attorney Dan Gerash appealed the case to the state Supreme Court. In their petition they argued that Judges Thorson and Roy overlooked key facts and set bad legal precedent that would open loopholes in Colorado’s malpractice law, relieving doctors of responsibility to patients whose viable fetuses are at risk.

Whether the high court decides to take the case, kick it back down to the appellate court for a second review or accept the decisions as they stand, the details of the arguments the lawyers involved have already mounted will likely renew debate about Church health care directives and trigger sharp reaction from activists on both sides of the debate looking to underline the apparent hypocrisy of Catholic Health’s defense.

At press time, Catholic Health did not return messages seeking comment. The Stodghills’ attorneys declined to comment while the case was still being considered for appeal.

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether to take the case in the next few weeks.

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You Can’t Have it Both Ways: The Interpretation of Catholic Health Policy and the Consequences for Pregnant Women

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Republished with permission from Reproductive Health Matters.

“There is only one way to be sure a woman’s life is at risk, that is, after she dies.” — Christian Fiala, 2012

 

A view of Galway Hospital and parking lot

Savita Halappanavar died at Galway University Hospital.

In 1987, the year the first Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than half a million maternal deaths annually. The women who were dying were often anonymous and their deaths never recorded or studied. They were mainly from poor and often rural backgrounds in developing countries, such as India. A study in India published in 1999 comparing 100 maternal deaths in a Rajasthan hospital in 1983-85 to 100 in 1994-96 found that: “Most of the women who died in hospital in 1994-96 would have died at home in the earlier decade.”1 What had changed was that they had reached a hospital and were therefore no longer anonymous, but they were still overwhelmingly women living in poverty with little or no access to skilled pregnancy and delivery care. 

Contrast this with the death of Savita Halappanavar on 28 October 2012, a dentist from a privileged background in India, who miscarried 17 weeks into a very wanted pregnancy and died in the maternity ward of a hospital in Ireland, a country with a very low maternal death ratio.2 Savita’s death was anything but anonymous; her name and photograph circled the globe within days of her death and sparked street demonstrations and protests, not only across Ireland but also in many other parts of Europe and in India. Six weeks later, articles and blogs about her death continued to be published in many countries, demands by her husband for a maternal death audit were headline news, and the Irish government has been forced to consider the effects of her death for the law, health policy and the Constitution of Ireland. 

Savita’s death became iconic for a number of reasons. First, preventing maternal deaths has been a global priority since 1987 when the first WHO Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched. Since 2000, reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent by 2014 has been the main target of Millennium Development Goal No.5, and since 2010 it has been one of five main goals of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health. Hence, maternal deaths have started to be a news item globally, with journals like Reproductive Health Matters carrying studies and the media in many countries where deaths remain frequent, reporting successes and failures to reduce deaths, and individual stories regularly.

Secondly, holding governments accountable for their failure to provide the required services, both antenatal and delivery care and emergency obstetric care, to prevent avoidable maternal deaths has become the subject of public protests by women’s rights advocates, of court cases, including in India, and of hearings by human rights bodies, particularly CEDAW, examining individual cases and making policy recommendations to governments.3

What was different about Savita’s death, however, was the fact that it was also about whether and when to terminate a pregnancy when it is not viable and the woman’s health and life are at risk, and how that intersected in Savita’s case with individual health professionals’ interpretation of Catholic health policy and the law on abortion in Ireland. 

As a committee of the Irish Parliament considers proposals to offer limited legal abortion in Ireland, this paper explores how these issues came together around Savita’s death, the interpretation of Catholic health policy and the consequences for pregnant women.

Preventing maternal deaths as global policy

Maternal deaths, especially in countries where they remain frequent, are getting more and more media coverage. The Millennium Development Goals have made countries with continuing high maternal mortality ratios4 conscious of their shortcomings, and civil society organizations are beginning to pursue justice and even compensation in individual cases. 

In India, for example, a petition for legal redress was filed in the Delhi High Court in the case of Shanti Devi, who died in childbirth in January 2010 after two high-risk pregnancies in which she received delayed and insufficient care. With the first of these two pregnancies, she fell down the stairs and afterwards could no longer feel the baby moving. Induction of the pregnancy was delayed until she required intensive care which, when she finally received it, was inadequate. With her health still very precarious, she became pregnant again six months later, went into labor prematurely at seven months, delivered the baby at home without a skilled birth attendant or any medical assistance, and within an hour after delivery, began hemorrhaging and died. This case ensured that the Court took into account not just the individual death but also the constitutional and human rights obligations of the central government of India.5

Some communities where women are at high risk because of the lack of routine and emergency obstetric care are also beginning to protest against maternal deaths. One such event took place in Uganda where, in May 2011, hundreds of concerned citizens and health professionals stormed the Constitutional Court in Kampala, Uganda, protesting the deaths of women in childbirth, in support of a coalition of activists who took out a landmark lawsuit against the government over two women who bled to death giving birth unattended in hospital.6

Another example from India comes from Barwani district, Madhya Pradesh, India, where there were local protests against 27 maternal deaths in the period from April to November 2010. In January 2011, an NGO fact-finding team found an absence of antenatal care despite high levels of anemia, absence of skilled birth attendants, failure to carry out emergency obstetric care in obvious cases of need, and referrals that never resulted in treatment.7

Events like these are making the governments concerned highly sensitive to criticism. As an upper middle-class woman, Savita Halappanavar would have been highly unlikely to die in India from the appalling treatment experienced by Shanti Devi or the tribal women in Barwani. Yet, ironically, the Indian government was among the first to criticism those in Ireland who failed to prevent Savita from dying. For example, India’s ambassador to Ireland said that Mrs Halappanavar may be alive if she had been treated in India.

Emergency obstetric care, termination of non-viable pregnancies and Savita’s death

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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.

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To Address Human Trafficking, the United States Must Take a New Approach

11:14 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Melissa Ditmore and Juhu Thukral 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.

Last week, on Tuesday, September 25th, President Obama gave a major speech on trafficking in persons at the Clinton Global Initiative. The timing is important: Obama referenced the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and noted its connection to human trafficking, which is often called a form of modern-day slavery. In his speech, he said:

Now, I do not use that word, ‘slavery’ lightly.  It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history.  But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality.  When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery.  When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.

On its face, the President’s speech appears to reflect a real understanding of what trafficking is — a situation in which force, fraud, or coercion at work create a climate of fear and keep enslaved and in dangerous working conditions out of fear rather than as a voluntary decision. Obama also gave detailed examples of instances where men and boys are most frequently victims of trafficking. This is powerful, since most of U.S. rhetoric on trafficking has focused on sex work and women, including erroneously, voluntary sex work; trafficking of men and boys was almost completely absent from the rhetoric of President Bush, for example. Obama also specifically addressed the horrors experienced by child soldiers, an issue that has not yet caught the public’s imagination as a key concern in the fight against human trafficking. We are hopeful this speech suggests a welcome change in the scope of U.S. anti-trafficking efforts.

But when it came to the specifics of the Obama administration’s actual priorities, the president was not so clear. As president, Obama can lead the way on anti-trafficking and anti-violence efforts, but his speech was coded in many ways to reflect that he will follow the lead of his predecessor in prioritizing relationships with anti-prostitution organizations who use anti-trafficking rhetoric to further an agenda that violates the human rights of sex workers.

Confusing  all sex work with trafficking trivializes the abuses experienced by the trafficked persons and ignores the agency of women who turn to sex work as their best among limited options. Sex workers do not want to be victimized by labels they don’t choose; they want to be agents of change in their own lives and exercise their human rights based on their own priorities. Law enforcement efforts to address trafficking in the United States, however, have to date focused on “vice raids,” leading to arrests of women, mostly poor women and women of color, many of them U.S. nationals and people who have not been trafficked, and many of whom make a living via sex work. It is a thinly veiled anti-prostitution effort.  It is no wonder that this model, echoing the use of other legislation purported to protect women, has not led to better identification of trafficked women. Indeed, a report from the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center found that women trafficked into sex work in New York City had experienced frequent arrests — up to ten arrests! — without being identified as trafficked.

Obama specifically praised faith-based organizations for their work and the White House fact sheet mentions an expanded role for faith-based groups. This is highly problematic, given that most of these groups focus only on trafficking into one labor sector — forced prostitution — and are not stalwarts on many issues of women’s rights. In addition, President Obama specifically praised the International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization that has engaged in raids on brothels. (See Melissa Gira Grant’s analysis of IJM here.)

Such “rescues” are meant to be the acts of well-meaning Good Samaritans, but they more often than not cause severe human rights abuses. These efforts tend to help a very few while causing harm to many, and distract attention and resources from the less sexy issue of abuse in other labor sectors. The United States has encouraged other governments to adopt anti-trafficking laws, and some nations have done so. Cambodia is one example, enacting a law on “the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” in 2008. This was implemented in such a way that sex workers around the country were arrested and sent to former Khmer Rouge prison camps. Human Rights Watch has documented egregious abuses in arrests and while imprisoned, including denying access to life saving medicines, beatings, rape and even deaths in custody. Furthermore, these arrests have not assisted people in situations of forced labor in other sectors.

In his speech and in the fact sheet, Obama mentioned increased resources, tools, and trainings, much of it targeted to law enforcement. But he did not say how this is any different from current federal efforts that are largely focused on law enforcement efforts to prosecute trafficking. Furthermore, the fact that in the United States, most trafficking survivors will need to help law enforcement in order to be recognized as victims of trafficking has not lead to greater cooperation. And despite funding for law enforcement task forces that have relied on vice arrests, victims have come forward in small numbers, fewer have been recognized by the U.S. government, and there are even fewer prosecutions and convictions. A better alternative would be to focus on ensuring labor rights in all sectors and on making services accessible for trafficked persons with less reliance on workplace arrests or cooperation with law enforcement.

To his credit, the president mentioned new efforts focused on getting businesses to examine supply chains for trafficking in their own industries. But one industry he mentions is the travel industry — again, without specifics, language around the “travel industry” is usually coded to mean that activities will focus on squelching sex work, as opposed to abusive practices against maids and other low-wage staff who work in hotels.

As part of this package, the White House released an executive order strengthening protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracts. Many elements of executive order appear to relate to all industries where trafficking happens. But the document regularly addresses “trafficking in persons, the procurement of commercial sex acts, or the use of forced labor” — equating commercial sex acts with trafficking and forced labor. So it is not clear at all — does the president know what trafficking in persons is, or is he still learning? Or is he walking a fine and dangerous political line? The implications here are important, for workers’ rights as well as for the sex workers described above. Corporations have been major users of trafficked labor and their practices often go right up to the line of being considered trafficking, by using agents to outsource contracts and claiming ignorance about conditions for the workers, even when the amounts for hours billed do not meet minimum wage.

At least by focusing on federal contracts, this administration is addressing in an important way the realities of abuses of labor in all sectors. There are important precedents that lead to this order. While it may be hard to believe, there have been federal contractors embroiled in trafficking scandals. During U.S. interventions in the former Yugoslavia, DynCorps, a military contractor, was involved in trafficking young women into what the women thought would be jobs in hotels, only to be raped and suffer  other abuses. A book written by one of the women fired when she exposed trafficking by DynCorps was made into the movie “The Whistleblower.” Today, foreign workers on U.S. military bases abroad have endured conditions that meet the definition of human trafficking. 

We commend the president for acknowledging the breadth of trafficking and human rights violations across sectors and the associated labor abuses that frequently occur, and for recognizing that trafficking occurs even in federal contracts, which have many layers of supervision and reporting. But advocates and people who provide services to trafficked persons continue to push him and demand that he recognize trafficking for what it is and not get mixed up in the politics of advocates who are not as focused on addressing the climate of fear endured by so many workers around the world. Enforcement of fair and equitable working conditions in all sectors, with a focus on economic opportunity for all, would go a long way toward ending trafficking in persons.

A Closer Look at the Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuits: The Radical Agenda Behind the Fight Over Religious Exemptions

10:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

 

The sun sets over a Catholic chapel.

Photo: Michael Arrighi / Flickr

Thirty lawsuits have been filed by corporations challenging the Health and Human Services regulation requiring that most health plans cover contraceptives. The plaintiffs are primarily Christian-affiliated institutions, but include some secular for-profit companies as well. A survey of these cases yields some useful information as to what the “religious freedom” debate is all about.

The strangest thing about these cases is that the plaintiffs, with the exception of the secular for-profits, have not yet been required to provide contraceptive coverage and may never be. The Obama administration has exempted objecting religiously-affiliated organizations from the regulation for one year while the accommodation is negotiated and finalized. The administration has been extremely generous in allowing objecting institutions to take advantage of this “safe harbor,” even amending the eligibility requirements to include institutions that have provided contraceptive coverage in the past but recently discovered they were violating their religious beliefs by doing so.

Thus, the claim of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, quoted in a number of the complaints, that the safe harbor gives religiously-affiliated institutions “a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” does not comport with the facts, to put it nicely. The safe harbor is not merely a delay. It is a period intended for continued dialogue. At this point, the religiously-affiliated plaintiffs do not know if they will ever have to provide insurance with contraceptive coverage, which is why the three cases decided so far have been dismissed.

Opponents of the regulation have claimed repeatedly that the problem isn’t that it will make contraception more accessible, but that its exception for religious organizations is too narrow. But, oddly, rather than arguing they meet the criteria for an exception or should, the plaintiffs in these cases argue that that they are not exempt. Why do this? Why not ask and argue for an exemption and sue only if the government does require that plaintiffs provide coverage for contraception? These cases are premature and courts are likely to continue to throw them out without reaching the merits.

It takes a lot of time and money to bring so many bad cases before the government has made you do anything you don’t want to. What’s the big rush?

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How Anti-Choice Is Paul Ryan? Check the Record

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Rep. Paul Ryan is against abortion, no exceptions. Paul Ryan would allow an exception for rape. Ryan doesn’t believe in birth control. Ryan only has three children, he must believe in birth control. Ryan is pro-life “from conception to natural death.”

Ever since the moment Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media has been picking intricately through votes and statements in an attempt to nail down just exactly what it is that Ryan means when he says he’s “never going to not vote pro-life.” It’s been hard to pin — for every vote restricting a woman’s right to chose, there is an explanation provided by another right-wing columnist saying that you can’t “prove” it really means he stands where it appears he stands. With so much media attention paid to his draconian budget in the last two years, few reporters spent nearly the same detail pinning down exactly what he believed when it comes to reproductive rights.

There’s a reason for that, and that is how Ryan’s couches his own language when it comes to reproductive rights — language that allows everyone to see what they want to see. By saying he would “never not vote pro-life,” he has it both ways — supporters can say that he supports forcing women to give birth regardless of the circumstances, yet when opponents say he would do that, they point to his lack of public statements to support that argument.

It’s the “hiding in plain sight” theory. There is no reference to abortion as an issue on Ryan’s campaign website, and only one news clipping even mentioning it in his media section. He speaks of “moral fabric” and a need to return God to the public square, but avoids saying outright what falls into the moral categories that need to be renewed.

For those who support abortion rights, it’s easy to look at the votes he has cast and the bills he has cosponsored and say that clearly, Ryan is an opponent of abortion in all situations. After all, he cosponsored the “forcible rape” bill, the “let her die” act and has a perfect record with National Right to Life.

Opponents disagree. If they choose, they could cast his numerous votes to ban funding and access for abortion as just a sign of his fiscal hawkishness, a vote to protect the conscience of those who are religious, or a fight to protect the fetus being carried by its mother if the mother is a victim of a crime.

So who is right, and why is it so hard to discern?

Here are the things we know for sure:

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Why the USCCB’s “Religious Freedom” Argument Is a Lie

11:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

An empty birth control holder discarded on the street.

Freedom from contraception? (Photo: Beatrice Murch / Flickr).

The recent Huffington Post article by Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us quite a bit about the veracity of the USCCB’s claims that religious freedom is under attack in the United States.

Sister Walsh portrays Catholic institutions as just wanting to be able to give away services as acts of charity without government interference. But the truth is Catholic institutions (or those who claim to speak for them) are demanding they be able to participate in the market without having to adhere to the same standards as anyone else selling products or services, and to do it with government funding to boot.

The idea that some religious organizations should not have to meet the general standard has been widely accepted, but Sister Walsh finds the resulting exemption to the contraceptive coverage mandate, “miserly.” As the USCCB has told us repeatedly, the issue isn’t contraception, but religious freedom. The problem, they claim, is just that too few Catholic-affiliated institutions are exempt from the HHS regulation.

As Bishop William Lori, of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty put it to Congress:

 

This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government.  This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.

Now, there is a first-grader in plaid somewhere inside of me who hesitates to say this, but:  this is a big lie. I know this is a lie because I read the USCCB’s Statement on Religious Freedom.

In the Statement, the Bishops quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who wrote that, “[a]n unjust law is no law at all.” I’ve found the frequency with which opponents of the contraception mandate quote Dr. King very odd, given that he supported family planning and once accepted an award from Planned Parenthood, but I didn’t comprehend what was going on until I read the Statement, in which the Bishops go on to say:

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