Echoes of Change to Come

Lon Newman

With a new presidential administration coming soon, this is the time for reproductive health advocates to speak up for health care policy change.

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

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Bob Dylan – 1964

Last week, Susan Orr resigned as head of the Title X (federal reproductive health grant)
program. Dr. Orr is not a supporter
of hormonal contraceptives
so the resignation is welcomed by the reproductive health and reproductive
rights community. We hope it is a sign of change to come.

Walking the halls
of Congressional offices last, I imagined echoes of change. Were they echoes
from the past or the future? New voters are registering, activists
are organizing, and communication technologies are harmonizing old and new ideals
and activists
The current President and Congress united the old activist generation
with a new generation of young activists and advocates by insulting
and injuring all of us with a $1.5 billion federally endorsed chastity
belt called ‘Abstinence-only
many reports classify as ineffectual at best. A new President and Congress
could instead stop wasting $300 million every year and invest the money
in proven comprehensive sexuality

This is a good time to plan
ahead and to advocate for health care policy change – especially
for reproductive health care
. We know that access to voluntary
and confidential contraception, STD testing and treatment, and comprehensive
sexuality education is affordable, achievable, and long overdue.

The Wisconsin Family Planning
and Reproductive Health Association (WFPRHA) recommended to an Institute
of Medicine Review Committee (IOM) on Monday, May 19, that
Title X, Medicaid-paid family planning, and access to public prescription
drug pricing should be interwoven into a national
reproductive health safety-net
The proposal would prevent unintended pregnancies among low income women
and free
up millions of dollars

for preventive primary health care.

Here is a 2009 inaugural chorus
we can sing together next year proudly and loudly:

  • Save millions of
    taxpayer dollars.
  • Improve maternal
    and child health.
  • Protect and enable
    men and women to determine for themselves whether and when to have children.
  • Educate for reproductive
    wellness and responsibility.
  • Reduce the need
    for abortion.
  • Prevent sexually
    transmitted diseases and cancer.

And, as unconscionable as the
disparities across the U.S. are in access to reproductive health care,
around the world they are even less defensible. While they’re at it, the
next President and the next Congress should also take the abstinence-only chastity belt off
the President’s HIV/AIDS assistance program

(PEPFAR). Removing that restriction would help achieve worldwide access
to primary preventive reproductive health care.

WFPRHA laid out a plan to the IOM, but whether we unite behind that
plan or another, it is time for all of us to think and plan ahead and
to speak out at every political and public policy event for the right
to universal access to evidence-based reproductive health care and education.

To our elected officials, we
need to be clear that on reproductive rights and health care and education:
"You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times
they are a changin’."

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”