Roundup: Ross Douthat on 08 Republican Electoral Losses; Obama and the Federal Courts

Emily Douglas

Debate over abortion shifts to debate over rights of health care workers; anti-choice movement not to blame for 2008 Republican electoral losses?; Obama can reshape federal courts; Indian ashram rejects woman living with HIV.

Debate Over Abortion Shifts to Rights of Health Care Workers

In Newsweek,
Dalia Lithwick links the proposed HHS provider conscience regulations (broader
protections for health care providers who oppose abortion) to the South Dakota law that requires doctors to read a medically-inaccurate script to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy
(more restrictions for doctors who provide abortion).  Lithwick writes, "[O]ur solicitude for the beliefs of medical
workers is selective: abortion opponents will soon enjoy broader legal
protections than ever. Those willing to provide abortions, on the other hand,
will enjoy far fewer."  She asks,

What does it tell us about the state of the abortion wars, that battles once waged over the dignity and autonomy of pregnant women have morphed into disputes over the dignity and autonomy of their health-care providers?

Anti-Choice Movement Not to Blame for 2008 Republican Election Losses?

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Says conservative commentator Ross Douthat on the New York Times op-ed page: "why should abortion opponents, of all conservative factions, take the
blame for the financial meltdown, or the bungled occupation of Iraq, or
the handling of Hurricane Katrina?" Douthat claims that the anti-choice movement has already taken the advice it’s often given:

Their movement should focus on changing hearts and minds, rather than
the law. It should be more consistently pro-life, by helping human
beings outside the womb as well as those within it. It should cease
trying to roll back the sexual revolution and standing athwart science
yelling “stop!” And above all, it should be less absolutist, and more
amenable to compromise.

But in Douthat’s book, anti-choicers are already comprising:

But pro-lifers have already taken much of it to heart. Compromise,
rather than absolutism, has been the watchword of anti-abortion efforts
for some time now. Since the early 1990s, advocates have focused on
pushing largely modest state-level restrictions, from parental
notification laws to waiting periods to bans on what we see as the
grisliest forms of abortion.

Obama Has Chance to Reshape Federal Courts

President-Elect Obama has the opportunity to reshape federal district
courts, reports
Jerry Markon in the Washington Post
.  Writes Markon,

The new judges might gradually
reshape what many see as a conservative drift in the courts under the Bush
administration and issue more moderate-to-liberal rulings in the ideologically
charged cases that have fueled the struggle for control of the judiciary. Many
judges are independent, and party affiliation is not a perfect predictor of
their behavior. Still, studies have shown that Democratic and Republican
nominees vote differently on such cultural issues as abortion and gay rights,
along with civil rights, environmental law and capital punishment. 

Obama will likely be able to reduce the percentage of Republican appointees to 42 percent and "boost Democrats from
the 36 percent to 58 percent during his first term," says Markon.

New Book Discusses Self-Induced Abortion Methods

At Feministe, a review
of a new book
by the Sage Femme! Collective, Natural Liberty: Rediscovering Self-Induced Abortion
Methods
Reviewer Julie lauds the collective for
sharing information about a variety of abortion methods, but strongly cautions
against using any of them.

Indian Ashram Rejects Woman Living with HIV

Minati Ray (not her real name) had been homeless and was taken in by an
ashram in India;
when it turned out she was HIV-positive, the ashram turned her out.  Writes The Times of India,

"They started feeling uncomfortable about it but didn’t initially turn her
out. We stepped in and arranged for her treatment. It was difficult since she
had lost her mental balance and refused medicines. But now, they have refused to
take her back and there’s no other place where we can keep her. It seems she
will have to die on the road," said Biswajit Das of the Bengal Network of
Positive People (BNPP) an organisation that assists Aids patients. 

The Times
of India reports
that "frantic" housing requests are being made to NGOs and
charitable organizations.

Mammograms Less Accessible to American Women

It can take over a year to get a mammogram, reports
Abby Christopher on Alternet
.  "Most
radiologists don’t choose mammography as a subspecialty for a number of reasons
— the repetitive nature of the job, narrow focus, the stress of missing a
diagnosis — but two are cited most often: money loss and malpractice."

Ab-Only Spending: Just a Drop in the Bucket?

The
American Spectator
tries to play down abstinence-only spending: "Abstinence
education block grants are a microbe on the federal budget juggernaut — just
$50 million per year divided between participating states. School districts
must use the funds to teach students that abstinence is the "expected
standard for all school age children" and that a "mutually faithful
monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of
human sexual activity."  Memo to the author: abstinence-only programs amount to a misuse of over $1 billion in taxpayer funds. In today’s economic climate, it’s even more ludicrous to call for continued public funding for a program that’s been proven ineffective.

News Contraception

Latino Groups Urge Obama to Stand Firm on Birth Control Without Co-Pays

Jodi Jacobson

Today, more than 20 organizations representing millions of Latinos sent a letter to President Obama urging him to support and maintain the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision requiring health plans to cover preventive health care, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control, with no co-pays.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here

Today, a coalition of more than 20 organizations representing millions of Latinos sent a letter to President Obama urging him to support and maintain the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision requiring health plans to cover preventive health care for women with no co-pays, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control. Recent reports have indicated that the White House, under mounting pressure from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other far-right religious groups, may be considering an unacceptably broad exemption that would leave millions of women without insurance coverage for contraception.

In the letter, the groups, led by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and the Hispanic Federation wrote:

As national leaders in the movement for Latino rights and equality, we support full reproductive rights, including access to birth control for all women, and reject efforts that put the preferences of insurance companies and employers over the rights of women to make their own contraceptive health decisions in consultation with their doctors. We urge you to stand by your own administration’s decision to issue new standards requiring all insurers to cover contraceptives without a deductible or a co-payment. As you know these new rules already exempt churches and religious institutions from having to provide contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing for their employees.

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HHS issued the standard earlier this year after the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service and therefore covered with no co-pays under the new Affordable Care Act.  The IOM report was widely celebrated by advocates for Latina women and the promise of affordable and accessible reproductive health care.

“The HHS decision to cover birth control without co-pay as preventive health care is one of the most popular provisions of the new Affordable Care Act,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. “As we talk with Latina women around the country, they are overwhelmingly in support of the provision, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to require health plans to cover birth control without cost-sharing is [also[ one of the greatest advancements for women’s health in decades,” said the letter to Obama.

Unfortunately, some organizations and lawmakers are calling for an unfair expansion of the religious exemption—such as an exemption for religious hospitals and universities that serve and employ people of diverse faiths. Taking away this benefit from millions of women and their families has no basis in the law, is bad health policy, and is contrary to overwhelming public opinion.

Birth control use is nearly universal in the United States: 98 percent of sexually-experienced women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including Catholic women. Latinas, including Catholic Latinas, resoundingly support the women’s preventive coverage benefit. In fact, 89 percent of Latina voters ages 18 to 34 support the requirement that health plans cover birth control at no cost.

And cost is indeed a critical factor in access to contraception for millions of women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 50 percent of women ages 18 to 34, including Latinas, say there has been a time when cost of prescription birth control interfered with their ability to use it consistently. Cost barriers to birth control therefore contribute to unintended pregnancies and to abortions.

“Beliefs about prescription contraceptives are personal ones,” wrote the coalition.

It is unthinkable that a woman could be cut off from her ability to access legitimate medical and professional services solely because of the religious beliefs of her institutional employer. Millions of workers and their families would lose benefits if the refusal provision is expanded. For example, an expansion could impact nearly one million people (and their dependents) who work at Catholic hospitals, as well as approximately 2 million students and workers at religiously-affiliated universities. That’s millions of American workers who would lose a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.

“For a lot of Latina women and their families, this would be a devastating blow to their well-being,” said Lillian Rodríguez López, President of the Hispanic Federation.  “Birth control can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars. The HHS decision frees up that money so women can afford to put food on their families table, pay for gas to get to work or pay for school tuition.”

“We urge you stand by your policy on birth control coverage and continue to follow the recommendation of the respected, non-partisan Institute of Medicine,” the coalition letter concluded. “Preventive care for all women produces better health outcomes for all and reflects the fundamental belief that access to quality health care is a human right.”

_____________________________________

These groups urge you to take action:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

________________________

Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson

News Contraception

Obama and the Bishops: Is the White House Caving on Birth Control Coverage?

Jodi Jacobson

The Bishops are lobbying hard for the Obama Administration to effectively excuse any and all "religious" entities from covering contraceptives without a co-pay. Last week Archbishop Dolan paid a private visit to President Obama and word on the street is that the White House may cave. This would be a grave mistake.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here

This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) threw itself a pity party in Baltimore. According to the bishops, their “religious liberty” is threatened unless they are able to ensure that every single person in the United States (well, actually the world) is made to follow Catholic canon law to the letter. According to the New York Times, the bishops are “recasting their opposition” to same-sex marriage, birth control, and other fundamental aspects of public health and human rights, because they view both government and culture as infringing on the church’s rights.

“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore. He added that “well-financed, well-oiled sectors” were trying “to push religion back into the sacristy.”

But the sacristy is where the vast majority of Catholics appear to believe the bishops should be focusing their efforts. The Times notes that in light of the ongoing evidence of massive cover-ups by the Vatican and the USCCB of the priest pedophilia scandal, the bishops’ “pronouncements on politics and morality have been met with indifference even by many of their own flock.”

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The bishops issue guidelines for Catholic voters every election season, a document known as “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is distributed in many parishes. But the bishops were informed at their meeting on Monday that a recent study commissioned by Fordham University in New York found that only 16 percent of Catholics had heard of the document, and only 3 percent had read it.

Nonetheless, the Bishops believe their own right to practice their religion is threatened by your right to practice yours or to act as a moral agent in your own life. Their freedom of religion is threatened unless they can ensure that all LGBT persons are denied the right to marry or adopt children. It is threatened unless all women are denied the rights to decide whether and when to have children. It is threatened unless a Catholic hospital can let a woman die from complications of pregnancy rather than provide her with or even refer her on an emergency basis for a life-saving abortion. It is threatened unless a two-celled fertilized egg has more rights than the living, breathing woman in whose body it floats.

They are not “free” until you are not free.

And they certainly are not “free” unless women are denied access to affordable birth control. 

An integral part of the Affordable Care Act is the new benefit requiring health plans to cover preventive health care, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control, with no co-pays.  Inclusion of these benefits came about through dogged efforts by female legislators, including an amendment authored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), known as the Women’s Health Amendment. The Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with implementing health reform through regulations and oversight, took the advice of an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service because it is basic health care, and because it improves health outcomes for women and their families. Research shows that improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality among other health benefits. The IOM recommendations are supported by a vast amount of research and affirmed by the World Health Organization, the International College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association among many other medical and public health bodies.

Regulations promulgated by HHS this summer mandate coverage in all employee-based health plans of contraceptive methods without a co-pay. The current provision includes what many already consider to be a sweeping refusal clause, exempting certain religious organizations for which religious values are their primary purpose; that primarily employ persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; that primarily serve persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; and that are nonprofit organizations. The regulations would still require institutions such as Catholic hospitals–for which one assumes the primary purpose is evidence-based health care–and universities (primary purpose, education?) to offer insurance that covers contraception without a co-pay. Nothing (repeat: NOTHING) in this new benefit requires an organization to dispense birth control, or an individual to take it. This is simply a matter of ensuring women have access to affordable preventive care by providing it with no co-pays. For an excellent and thorough review of this issue, read the testimony of Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien.

Still, this has so riled the USCCB that Archbishop Timothy Dolan took his lobbying straight to President Obama, with whom he met privately at the White House last week. In what I take to be a somewhat ominous comment, Dolan stated at a news conference that he “found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”

“I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”

By “Catholic community,” Dolan clearly means the USCCB, the Vatican and the male hierarchy, certainly not the community constituted by the people–or the women–of the church.

Word on the street now–through off-the-record conversations with health groups–is that the White House is considering caving on the exemptions for contraceptive coverage.

This would be a grave mistake on Obama’s part.

For women, birth control is about as controversial as toothpaste and as widely used. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2006–2008, 99 percent of ALL women who had ever had sexual intercourse had used at least one method of birth control.  This includes, as O’Brien of Catholics for Choice pointed out, the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the US who have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican.

Moreover, while the most common reason U.S. women use oral contraceptive pills is to prevent pregnancy, 14 percent of pill users—1.5 million women—rely on them exclusively for non-contraceptive purposes, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute called “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills,” by Rachel K. Jones. More than half (58 percent) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention–such as reducing cramps or menstrual pain, to help prevent migraines, for treatment of endometriosis—meaning that only 42 percent use the pill exclusively for contraceptive purposes.

The contraceptive coverage provision under health reform is widely-supported by female voters, a critical constituency in the 2012 election. Public polling shows seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, support covering birth control at no cost.

So caving to the USCCB on something as fundamental to women’s health, lives and pocketbooks as contraception will not sit well with women, as a recent poll by NARAL Pro-Choice America notes.

“There is a group of women who voted for President Obama in 2008 but are not currently supporting him, and these data suggest many of them should be in his camp,” according to Al Quinlan, president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm that conducted a recent survey for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Choice provides an opening for President Obama and other Democrats to create a sharp contrast with anti-choice Republicans,” he continued. The “women defectors” are defined as having voted for President Obama in 2008 but are currently not voting for him, weakly supporting him, or holding back from turning out in 2012.

“While the economy is the dominant issue, this survey shows that choice is a stronger, more persuasive issue for bringing key women voters back to President Obama’s camp,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Contraceptive coverage also is an equity issue. As many state contraceptive equity laws make clear and as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled, failing to provide women with coverage for contraception in health plans that otherwise cover prescription drugs and devices is sex discrimination.

State supreme courts in California and New York have both found that contraceptive-equity laws with narrower employer exclusions such as the one put forth by HHS, do not substantially burden a religious belief or practice. In a majority opinion in one of the cases, the justices write:

“[W]hen a religious organization chooses to hire nonbelievers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.”  [Catholic Charities of Albany v. Serio, 859 N.E.2d 459, 468 (N.Y. 2006)].

If the requirement for coverage of birth control is weakened, nearly one million people (and their dependents) who work at Catholic hospitals would lose benefits they already have. In addition, the approximately two million students and workers now attending universities that have a religious affiliation would also lose this important benefit.  It would mean a further weakening of women’s health and one more step toward theocracy. And it would raise health care costs and result in more unintended pregnancies.

What the Bishops really want is to strong-arm government into imposing restrictions on people’s choices and lives that they can’t even get Catholics to follow. They want to be able to receive federal funding, federal grants and contracts, get tax breaks and special treatment over other groups for building Catholic hospitals, maintain tax-exempt status while flouting lobbying rules, and play the victim card whenever they can’t avoid laws meant to advance health and human rights.  And they are aided and abetted in their efforts by other far-right my-way-or-the-highway-on-religion organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, as well as a considerable number of GOP and Tea Party members of Congress. New efforts by conservatives to pass the Regulatory Accountability Act, for example, also threaten women’s health.  Nothing drives the patriarchy more batty than the notion of women being anything other than breeding cows.

So it takes some imagination–and I have not mustered anywhere nearly enough–to understand why the Obama Administration would EVEN. THINK. TWICE. about caving to the Bishops. Obama needs women to come out for him in the 2012 election, he campaigned on and promised adherence to science and evidence in the creation of policy, and he promised that under health reform people would not lose benefits they already had, a promise he has already broken once–big time–when it came to women’s health coverage on abortion care.

There is nothing more fundamental to women’s choices than choosing whether, when and with what partner to become pregnant. There is nothing more fundamental to ensuring the best prospects for all children than to work to ensure every child is a wanted child. And there is nothing less controversial for women than birth control.

If the White House does cave to fundamentalist organizations like the USCCB, (led, it should be underscored, by men), it would appear to have an even more fundamental problem with re-electing this President.

[Several calls to the White House on this issue were not returned by time of publication.]

_____________________________________

These groups urge you to take action:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

************

Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson