Sex Ed Year Round

Nora Dye

Nora's cross-country bicycle trip takes her through Philadelphia, where she meets with all sorts of people working to facilitate women's control over their bodies and their lives.

At long last, I bring you the full and unexpurgated recounting of my time in Philadelphia. Whee! Wednesday and Thursday were chock full of meetings with all sorts of people working to facilitate women's control over their bodies and their lives.

I started the day off at Choice, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of and access to reproductive health care, especially among under-served populations who traditionally experience barriers to care. At Choice, I met Jackie, who coordinates their 4(!) hotlines, and walked through the bustling hotline reception room on our way to her office. I'm always interested in the posters and paraphernalia that people choose for their offices. There are a few things that are nearly ubiquitous—the "Just do it" condom stickers, various incarnations of the Rosie the Riveter poster, a rainbow of buttons.

I was particularly interested to visit Choice because in San Francisco I was a Board Member at ACCESS, an organization that does similar work in California. Pennsylvania, it turns out, has some of the most restrictive laws in the area—there is a parental consent law for abortion that is enforced, and state Medicaid funding for abortions is restricted to women who are pregnant as a result of rape of incest or for whom carrying the pregnancy to term would pose a "life risk", defined as threatening her mental or physical health. (In California, for instance, women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy who aren't able to afford an abortion can get emergency Medicaid to cover the cost of the procedure, although the number of providers who accept Medicaid is decreasing).

Incidentally, Pennsylvania follows federal guidelines which were enacted by the Hyde Amendment in 1977. The Hyde amendment bans state use of federal Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or the abortion is "necessary to save the life of the woman." States can use their own funds to cover other medically necessary abortions—usually defined by states as those to protect the physical or mental health of the woman—for Medicaid recipients. These restrictions leave thousands of low-income women vulnerable to delayed care, financial burden, and unsafe, illegal abortion by requiring them to come up with the money for their procedures.

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Choice advocates for women seeking reproductive health care on a number of levels, including with health care providers. It turns out that the biggest barrier women face to getting Medicaid funding for procedures is the providers themselves. In order to qualify for the funding, doctors have to sign a form stating that a woman meets one of the three requirements set forth by the Hyde Amendment, and many doctors, even at reproductive health clinics, are reluctant to sign the forms. Many women get their initial pregnancy test from their general practice doctor, who would be the logical person to sign form enabling them to get Medicaid funding. Those doctors give a variety of reasons for their reluctance to sign the waiver, from religious objections to abortion to fears of scrutiny from medical boards. Jackie related that one doctor told a woman "We don't deal with women's issues." Can you imagine being faced with an unplanned pregnancy and having a doctor tell you that?

I asked Jackie how they incorporated advocacy into the work they did—certainly a huge part of their mission is dedicated to helping women advocate for themselves personally, but I was curious if they positioned that work in a political context, if they talked to the women they were helping about the need for political advocacy to remove barriers to accessing care. She raised what has been a particularly thorny problem—that many women who are having trouble accessing health care are also dealing with numerous other issues in their lives, and writing a letter to their member of Congress isn't a high priority given everything else they've got going on. Choice does make a concerted effort to educate women about their role within the medical system and what rights they have within that system.

During this conversation Jackie said "you know, some people don't believe in access to some kinds of medical care", which really struck me, not because it's not obvious from all the laws and restrictions they've passed, but because I'd never heard it put in quite that way before. I mean, I get not agreeing with some of the choices people make, but to not BELIEVE in their right to access care is a pretty horrific idea, if you ask me.

My next stop was Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a formidable affiliate best known for their role as the plaintiff in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, in which the Supreme Court ruled that states could impose restrictions on access to abortion like parental consent laws and mandatory waiting periods as long as they don't pose an "undue burden" on a women's ability to access abortion. I met with Karen Fitchette-Gordon, the Vice President for Education and Professional Development.

Karen runs a truly extraordinary Education department—they have nearly a dozen different programs that include Youth First, a year round program in Philadelphia schools that serves over 1700 students each year in sixth and eighth grade. Yup, you heard that right. Year round. Most sex education happens, at best, for a day or two once or twice during middle and high school. These students get one period of sex education a week for their entire sixth and eighth grade years. Oh-la-la. I have long despaired at the brevity of sex education classes, knowing how long it takes to really have conversations about safer sex and positive sexuality, so I was delighted to learn that there were places where the importance of maintaining a conversation about sexuality with youth was acknowledged and encouraged.

And guess what? The students who participate in Youth First in sixth grade are less likely to be sexually active in eighth grade and more likely to have safe sex if they are sexually active. Well, doesn't that just beat all. I'm reminded of the Waxman report, a Congressional inquiry led by Congressman Henry Waxman which found that students who take virginity pledges are less likely to use contraception when they have sex (which 88% of them do, before marriage, according to Columbia University researchers), and are less likely to seek STD testing despite comparable infection rates.

Republished with permission. Read more about Nora's journey at Wanderlust with Rhonda.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.