Stumping John McCain

Tyler LePard

Last Friday, reporters managed to stump 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain. What tough topic caused the senator to pause awkwardly and stumble for an answer? Iraq? No ... Poverty? Try again ... Healthcare? Getting closer ... Contraception? Bingo! Specifically, whether contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV and should they be publicly funded.

Now, this should be a no-brainer. Honestly, anyone who has been through sex ed should know that condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. Oh wait ... except that abstinence-only education gets tons of funding (while comprehensive sex ed gets none) and so it is prevalent in our nation's schools despite the fact that it doesn't teach kids medically accurate information, it doesn't teach them how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and abstinence-only programs actually spread misinformation and religious dogma. Well, don't worry—McCain is also confused about his position on sexuality education. After a long pause, he decided that he thinks he supports the president's policy.

Last Friday, reporters managed to stump 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain. What tough topic caused the senator to pause awkwardly and stumble for an answer? Iraq? No … Poverty? Try again … Healthcare? Getting closer … Contraception? Bingo! Specifically, whether contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV and should they be publicly funded.

Now, this should be a no-brainer. Honestly, anyone who has been through sex ed should know that condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. Oh wait … except that abstinence-only education gets tons of funding (while comprehensive sex ed gets none) and so it is prevalent in our nation's schools despite the fact that it doesn't teach kids medically accurate information, it doesn't teach them how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and abstinence-only programs actually spread misinformation and religious dogma. Well, don't worry—McCain is also confused about his position on sexuality education. After a long pause, he decided that he thinks he supports the president's policy.

Here's my favorite section of the interview:

Q: "So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?"

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Mr. McCain: (Long pause) "You've stumped me."

Q: "I mean, I think you'd probably agree it probably does help stop it?"

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) "Are we on the Straight Talk express? I'm not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I'm sure I've taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception—I'm sure I'm opposed to government spending on it, I'm sure I support the president's policies on it."

If you ask me, he doesn't sound sure at all. In fact, it doesn't sound like he's actually thinking for himself. Which brings me back to the beginning of the interview where McCain said that he looks to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn for advice on these issues (it just keeps getting scarier, doesn't it?).

To recap: Flip-flopping on abortion? Check. Pandering to his base? Check. Looking like an idiot? Priceless.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

News Law and Policy

McAuliffe Restores Voting Rights to 13,000 Virginians

Jessica Mason Pieklo

An order issued this week should restore the voting rights to about 13,000 formerly incarcerated people ahead of the November presidential election.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Monday announced he had restored the voting rights of about 13,000 formerly incarcerated people, responding to a Virginia Supreme Court order that had blocked McAuliffe’s more expansive re-enfranchisement order.

A divided Virginia Supreme Court in July struck down an executive order by McAuliffe that restored voting rights to more than 200,000 people who had lost those rights as a result of a criminal conviction. The court said the Democratic governor lacked the constitutional authority to issue an order broadly restoring voting rights, but would need to instead restore rights individually to each person who had applied.

“The process I have announced today fully complies with the Virginia Supreme Court’s order and the precedent of governors before me,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “It also reflects the clear authority the governor possesses to use his own discretion to restore rights of people who have served their time.”

Any person who has been convicted of a felony and is not incarcerated or under court supervision can apply to have their voting rights restored. The voting rights restored this week were for people who had applied before the Virginia Supreme Court blocked McAuliffe’s broader order.

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McAuliffe had promised to personally restore those individual voting rights.

Virginia Republican leaders criticized the move as political and dangerous. House Speaker Bill Howell (R) said in a statement to the Virginian-Pilot that McAuliffe “has restored the rights of some odious criminals.”

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