Women For Richardson: The Man With The Plan

Martha Burk

Senior Advisor for Women's Issues to the Bill Richardson campaign, Dr. Martha Burk, tells us how Richardson's advocacy on behalf of women goes far beyond what we've come to expect from other candidates.

The YouTube debate on Monday was by far the most interesting to date, for two reasons. The questions were from real people and the video format was entertaining. Instead of having to sit through inane answers to inane questions (e.g. Wolf Blitzer asking all the candidates in the CNN debate "What would you do with Bill Clinton in your administration?"), we got some real substance. YouTubers wanted to know about ending the war, No Child Left Behind, health care, gay marriage, taxes, and Social Security.

As a women's advocate, the most interesting face-off was between Edwards and Clinton over who would be better for women if elected. Not John Edwards – Elizabeth.

She had made the statement that her hubby would be better for the females of the country a week ago, and the two candidates in question were asked about it. John E. gave what my grandmother would call a "cutting bait" answer, not wanting to attack a woman I guess, while Hillary touted her 1995 speech in Beijing calling for international human rights for women. Elizabeth was much more direct in standing by her man in a post-debate interview, flatly stating that he would be better because his health care program is better, and that is of very high concern for women.

Truth is — all three of them are wrong.

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The best candidate for women is Bill Richardson, and he has a very progressive women's policy platform to prove it. Rolled out in New Hampshire on July 16, he gets down to specifics, and it goes far beyond health care. No other candidate has committed as firmly as Richardson on issues that women tell pollsters they care about most:

  • Ending the war polled number one with women going into the last election. Richardson is the only candidate who would get all of our troops out of Iraq immediately.
  • Because of weak law and weaker enforcement, the gender pay gap is still 25 cents, even greater for women of color. Richardson is the only candidate calling for requiring companies to report pay statistics by gender, race, and job category, so women can see if they're treated fairly and employers will clean up their act.
  • Richardson is the only candidate specifically stating he will not nominate Supreme Court justices who do not consider Roe v. Wade settled law.
  • He is the only candidate calling for a caregiver credit in Social Security, so women don't get zeroes for every year spent out of the workforce taking care of children or elderly parents.
  • Unlike Edwards and Clinton (who could actually sign on to the bill but hasn't), Richardson has stated his support for paid family leave as outlined in a bill introduced by Senator Dodd last month.

Edwards is not wrong to say his health care proposal will help women, because almost any plan, including those from other candidates, would improve what women have now.

But low pay and lack of family supports in the workplace contribute to lack of health care, and he does not address these issues in a gender specific way. Bill Richardson does.

Most people believe Hillary is a strong advocate for women, and she undoubtedly is, at least in principle. But when it comes to specifics, Richardson is the candidate for women.

Editor's Note: In an effort to feature blog posts from all of the major 2008 presidential campaigns over the next several months, Rewire is extending invitations to contribute an article or a statement to our Election 2008 coverage.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

News Human Rights

The DOJ Cuts Ties With Private Prisons, But Will ICE Follow Suit?

Tina Vasquez

“This is the first time that a federal agency issued a sweeping—and long overdue—rebuke to the private prison industry. It is time to take a hard look at the outsized role of incarceration in American society, which has shattered lives and communities across the country,” said Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yesterday that it will end its use of for-profit prisons.

The department cited a decline in the prison population and private prisons’ failure to maintain the same level of safety and security as the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

BOP will amend solicitation for prison contracts of 10,800 beds to no more than 3,600 beds. By May 2017, the total BOP private prison population will be less than 14,200, a 50 percent reduction from its high in 2013 of 220,000. All of the Bureau’s contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination.

The DOJ is recommending the BOP work to reduce and eliminate more private prison facilities as contracts come up for renewal over the next five years.

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The nation’s private prison system has been called a “national disgrace,” synonymous with “violence, abuse, and death.”

In a 2013 ACLU lawsuit against privately-run East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF), for example, the ACLU described the prison as “an extremely dangerous facility operating in a perpetual state of crisis, where prisoners live in barbaric and horrific conditions and their basic human rights are violated daily.”

The DOJ’s Thursday announcement will not affect immigrant detention centers run by ICE and contracted to private prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), both of which have long histories of human rights abuses in their detention centers, including dozens of cases of in-custody deaths.

It remains unknown if ICE will continue to contract with private prison companies. Most privately-operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons, which hold noncitizens who have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border, according to a press release from Grassroots Leadership.

“This announcement will likely mark the end of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens, though it remains to be seen how the BOP will carry out this change,” the organization said in its statement.

Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network, a coalition challenging the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system, said in a statement that the DOJ’s announcement is “a major turning point” in the struggle against mass incarceration.

“This is the first time that a federal agency issued a sweeping—and long overdue—rebuke to the private prison industry. It is time to take a hard look at the outsized role of incarceration in American society, which has shattered lives and communities across the country,” Shah said. “With this news, we call on the Department of Homeland Security to follow suit and break their ties with private prison companies that operate more than half of ICE immigrant detention facilities as a step towards ending detention completely.”

CAR prisons were the focus of a recent Nation investigation about the poor medical care provided in these privately-run, immigrant-only prisons. The CCA-run prison featured in the Nation investigation, New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center, will be shut down as a result of the DOJ announcement. CCA ran Cibola for 16 years and was notified by the BOP of its impending closure in July.

In a book released last month by Grassroots Leadership, the organization revealed that many immigrants incarcerated in CAR prisons are sentenced for one of two federal charges: misdemeanor improper entry or felony improper re-entry.

“These two charges account for half of all federal prosecutions although they are merely status offenses for crossing the border without proper documentation, and do not fall under DOJ priorities,” Grassroots Leadership reported.

“This decision will take the profit motive out of the BOP’s incarceration of non-citizens prosecuted for crossing the border,” Bethany Carson, researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership, said in a press release. “We hope that this decision will be a stepping stone for the DOJ to end the use of segregated prisons for non-citizens and de-prioritize improper entry and re-entry prosecutions.”

Policy center In The Public Interest (ITPI) reported in February that private prison companies “collect thousands of tax dollars in profit for every incarcerated person in their facilities.”

CCA, the country’s largest private prison operator, made $3,356 in profit per prisoner in 2015. GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator, made $2,135 in profit per prisoner. ITPI has found that private prison companies encouraged mass incarceration by owning and marketing facilities.

“If our criminal justice system stopped sending people to private jails and prisons, these tax dollars could be spent on programs that prevent incarceration and support prisoner rehabilitation,” ITPI reported.

Private prison companies were already taking a sizable financial hit in the hours after the DOJ’s announcement. MarketWatch reported that “shares of for-profit prison operators plummeted.” CCA’s shares dropped 35 percent and GEO Group’s fell 40 percent.

A report last year revealed that private prisons increased their share of the immigrant detention industry after the detention bed quota was implemented, guaranteeing 34,000 immigrants are detained each day. Grassroots Leadership reports that private prison corporations now operate two-thirds of ICE detention centers, with CCA and GEO operating nine out of ten of the largest detention centers.

“This [the DOJ announcement] is a major victory for those of us who have fought for years to expose the innumerable abuses and indignities in our Criminal Alien Requirement prisons and we’re overjoyed the Department of Justice has finally listened, however belatedly,” Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a press release about the DOJ’s announcement. “Lives have been lost to this broken system. Good riddance.”

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