McCain + Birth Control = Attention to His Position

Marjorie Childress

It seems John McCain may have a lot of explaining to do about his position on contraception access and insurance coverage.

This article is from the New Mexico Independent and is part of Rewire’s ongoing partnership with the Center for Independent Media’s New Journalist Fellowship.


John McCain seems to be having increasing difficulty with the issue of birth control.

At his town hall here in Albuquerque Tuesday, three people wearing t-shirts with the logo of the pro-choice organization NARAL were ejected from the venue, despite having tickets. Originally reported by local media, including the New Mexico Independent, the incident got some attention in the blogosphere by Ben Smith of Politico. Smith spoke with McCain aide, Jeff Sadosky, and was told that the three were told to leave by Albuquerque police and hotel security, because they had originally been seen protesting the event.

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Not so, according to Chris Salas, one of the three people ejected. They arrived at the Hotel Albuquerque to see if they could get tickets, he told the Independent. They entered the hotel on the west side, which is also the side of the hotel facing the street and the protesters, and were told they had to leave if they didn’t have tickets. They were not protesters, he said.

They then went to the east side where they saw a McCain campaign volunteer. They inquired about getting tickets and she put them on a waiting list.

Eventually, they were called up and given tickets, and then stood in line to enter the town hall. While waiting in line, a secret service agent noticed them, Salas said, and then he went and spoke to a McCain volunteer. They were then confronted by the Secret Service agent, the McCain campaign volunteer, and hotel security after he had been called. They were told to leave or they would be arrested for trespassing.

Salas told the Independent that the only thing that set them apart from other people in line were the NARAL t-shirts they were wearing.

NARAL attributes the ejection to McCain not wanting to address the issue of birth control:

"So it looks like it’s yet another day when we won’t get a straight answer from the ‘straight talk express’ on where Sen. McCain stands on birth control," NARAL’s executive director Heather Brewer said.

The NMI reported Tuesday that the local McCain campaign said it had nothing to do with turning away the NARAL activists who were clad in NARAL T-shirts. "It wasn’t a campaign issue. It was an open, public event," McCain spokesperson Whitney Cheshire said.

Cheshire reiterated that explanation on Thursday when asked again, in light of a local McCain volunteer being involved in the ejection. It was a "hotel issue, not a campaign issue," she told the Independent.

The Independent put a call into the Hotel Albuquerque asking for a response, but the hotel did not immediately return the call.

But maybe it was a campaign issue if events elsewhere tell us anything.

Salas told the Independent that the primary question they had hoped to ask McCain was directed at his position on requiring that prescription drug insurance plans cover birth control, given the almost universal coverage of Viagra for men, which is a drug oriented toward male sexual health.

This question has received increasing attention since McCain advisor Carly Fiorina first mentioned it early last week at a reporter’s breakfast in Washington D.C. Almost in passing, she speculated that health insurance companies might be sexually biased in their coverage: "…there are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won’t cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice."

This comment led to a politically awkward moment between McCain and reporters on his "Straight Talk Express." He was captured on camera hemming and hawing in response to a reporter’s question about whether or not he thinks that’s fair, especially in light of his voting record against bills that would have required coverage of birth control for women.



His comments, which were aired on MSNBC, have received media attention from major media outlets, with ABC News printing the full transcript of his comments, which are clipped in the video:

When asked about Fiorina’s initial comments on Viagra and birth control, McCain said Wednesday, "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue." Appearing speechless, McCain paused for eight seconds before answering, "I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote, I’ve cast thousands of votes in the Senate, but I will respond to you," he said. "It’s a choice — I hadn’t thought much about it but I did hear her [Fiorina’s] response, but I hadn’t thought much about it."

ABC News also points out that the national NARAL organization posted the video clip on their blog last week. In fact, it was July 10, five days before the Albuquerque town hall. The website also had posted numerous comments about Fiorina prior to the video.

ABC News goes on to note that "In an attempt to draw attention to McCain’s record on women’s issues at a time when his campaign is heavily courting women voters, Naral e-mailed 30,000 of its most vocal supporters, urging them "to call on McCain to be clear about his anti-choice record."

According to Salas, that was their intention had they been allowed to ask a question during the town hall.

The Washington Independent’s Mike Lillis examined the actual issue in question earlier this week in his article McCain’s Birth Control Dodge.

"The average woman, for example, spends roughly five years of her life being pregnant or trying to get there, and nearly 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights group.

"Suzanne Novak, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that existing federal anti-discrimination laws should make it clear that health plans must include birth control.

"In comprehensive health plans, they cover all men’s needs," she said. "But for women, they’ve got this carve-out."

Lillis also points out that McCain voted in both 2003 and 2005 against legislation that would have required insurance plans to include birth control as a covered prescription drug.

According to the New York Times blog The Caucus, McCain has since tried to explain his position, saying he voted against one of the bills because it funded emergency contraceptives.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is now launching a national ad campaign featuring the video clip in 30 second spots, to air in battleground states including New Mexico, according to The Caucus:

Planned Parenthood said the ad is being aimed at women voters, and will be broadcast during the season premiere of "Project Runway," on Bravo, Lifetime’s "Army Wives," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in some markets. It will air in battleground states, including Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as in the Washington, D.C. area.

News Contraception

New Hawaii Law Requires Insurers to Cover a Year’s Supply of Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills.

Private and public health insurance must cover up to a year’s supply of birth control under a new Hawaii law that advocates called the nation’s “strongest.”

The measuresigned by state Gov. David Ige (D) on Tuesday, applies to all FDA-approved contraceptive medications and devices.

Hawaii joins Washington, D.C., which also requires public and private insurers to cover up to 12 months of birth control at a time.

Oregon passed a similar measure in 2015, but that law requires patients to obtain an initial three-month supply of contraception before individuals can receive the full 12-month supply—which the Hawaii policy does not.

“At a time when politicians nationwide are chipping away at reproductive health care access, Hawaii is bucking the trend and setting a confident example of what states can do to actually improve access,” Laurie Field, Hawaii legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement.

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend supplying up to one year of oral contraceptives at a time, as the Hawaii Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health noted in a 2016 conference report.

Fifty-sex percent of pregnancies in Hawaii are unintended, compared to the national average of 45 percent, according to figures from the Guttmacher Institute.

Women who received a year’s supply of birth control were about a third less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and were 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, compared to those receiving a one- or three-month supply, according to a 2011 study of 84,401 California women published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Reproductive rights advocates had championed the legislation, which was also backed by ACOG–Hawaii Section, the Hawaii Medical Association, and the Hawaii Public Health Association, among other medical groups.

“Everyone deserves affordable and accessible birth control that works for us, regardless of income or type of insurance,” Planned Parenthood’s Field said in her statement.

News Family

Arizona Drops 1,500 Needy Children With First-in-Nation Cash Assistance Cap

Nicole Knight Shine

Critics have called the cap "an aggressive and intentional effort to undermine support for vulnerable families.”

At the beginning of this month, around 1,500 children and 1,000 adults living in poverty in Arizona lost cash assistance and now are permanently barred from the state’s welfare program.

Arizona is the first state in the country to end welfare benefits after one year, meaning that a family—typically a parent or a relative with at least one dependent child—who has already used 12 months of cash assistance will be cut off permanently.

The approximately 2,500 individuals who lost benefits July 1 represent roughly 10 percent of the children and one-quarter of the adults who receive Arizona’s funds from a federal block-grant program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). They may, however, still qualify for benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Medicaid, and other assistance.

Arizona had previously provided two years of cash assistance, but Arizona lawmakers and the state’s Republican governor recently agreed to cut the time limit in half to help plug a projected $534 million budget hole in 2016 and shift the money to state child welfare programs. The state expects to save $3.9 million annually with the 12-month limit, according to a spokesperson from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which runs TANF.

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Supporters of Arizona’s new one-year limit, such as former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City), who’s challenging incumbent Sen. John McCain (R) in the August primarysaid the cut will “encourage the able-bodied to treat welfare like a safety net rather than a hammock.”

Critics have called it “an aggressive and intentional effort to undermine support for vulnerable families,” as Cynthia Zwick, executive director for the Arizona Community Action Association, put it for the Arizona Republic.

The average Arizona family in the program received $201 in May 2016, according to a state report, an amount that is less than half of the nationwide average monthly benefit of $429. To qualify in Arizona, a family of four generally cannot earn more than $2,584 a month, although that varies and is based on multiple factors.

In May 2016, before the new time limit kicked in, 15,581 children and 4,139 adults in Arizona received cash assistance, totaling $1,841,672.

A federal block-grant program, TANF was enacted under former President Bill Clinton in 1996 with the aim of “end[ing] welfare as we know it.” TANF allows up to five years of benefits, but gives states wide latitude with those benefits, as long as their TANF spending meets at least one of four official goals: providing cash aid to needy families; promoting job training, work, and marriage; reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and increasing the number of two-parent families.

In the 20 years since the program’s enactment, what’s happened is a marked and ongoing plunge in cash assistance to families in poverty, as states, like Arizona, spent TANF money elsewhere.

Arizona, for example, has shifted TANF money to its underfunded child welfare programs, as the Phoenix-based Morrison Institute for Public Policy noted in its 2015 report. Ohio funds faith-based crisis pregnancy centers with TANF dollars, with the ostensible goal of reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Oklahoma, meanwhile, spends TANF dollars on marriage counseling.

Roughly 55 percent of impoverished Arizona families received TANF benefits in 1994-95, a number that plunged to 9 percent in 2013, as the Morrison Institute noted in its 2015 report. Arizona’s latest reduction is the fourth since 2009, as the report noted.

Anticipating the cuts, representatives from the state DES said recently in a statement that state contractors have found jobs for more than 1,500 individuals who were in danger of losing benefits because of the new one-year cap.

Arizona outsources its job training and placement to two private companies, MAXIMUS and Arbor/ResCare Workforce Services. The DES also reported that an additional 245 individuals have gained work experience, and more than 450 have participated in community service activities with employers.

DES Director Tim Jeffries described gainful employment as “the true American dream.”

The agency, he noted, acting as “good stewards of taxpayer’s money, should work to assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient, with the goal that one day they will no longer need benefits.”