Midnight Cowboy: Bush Administration Regulations on Environment also Threaten Women’s Rights

Jodi Jacobson

Bush Administration midnight regulations on global warming have more connections to reproductive health than is immediately apparent, and the rights community has to be vigilant in addressing these links.

Q:  What do global warming and lack of access to reproductive health care have in common?

A: Midnight regulations that exacerbate both problems; dramatically increase the costs of cleaning up the mess; and violate women’s rights, in ways that are not even immediately apparent.

Among the parting gifts being left by President Bush for the American people is a policy severely restricting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.  According to the Associated Press’s Dina Cappiello, outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson issued a memorandum last week that:

[S]ets an agency-wide policy prohibiting controls on carbon dioxide emissions from being included in air pollution permits for coal-fired power plants and other facilities [which] could give the agency a legal basis for issuing permits that increase global warming pollution until the incoming Obama administration can change it, a process that would require a lengthy rulemaking process.

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Global warming is what many believe to be the most profound and encompassing challenge we face.  For the past 8 years we have done virtually nothing to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.  The price of our inaction in the United States alone will far exceed today’s controversial bailouts.  According to a study by the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER):

The economic impact of climate change will cost [individual] states billions of dollars, and delaying action will raise the price tag.

Our consume-now-pay-later-ignore-science-and-reality approach to energy use is costing us big-time.  The longer we wait to address the problem, the higher the economic costs we will pay, the more people displaced and environmental refugees created, the less sustainable the environment on which all human life depends.

Matthias Ruth, Director of CIER, states:

The national debate is often framed in terms of how much it will cost to reduce greenhouse gases, with little or no consideration of the cost of no response or the cost of waiting. Review and analysis of existing data suggest that delay will prove costly.

The same goes with health care.  The failure over the past 15 years to reform a broken health care system has left roughly 47 million Americans without health insurance, according to data from 2005 and increased, rather than decreased our health care costs.  The National Coalition on Health Care notes that:

our health care system is riddled with inefficiencies, excessive
administrative expenses, inflated prices, poor management, and
inappropriate care, waste and fraud. These problems significantly
increase the cost of medical care and health insurance for employers
and workers and affect the security of families.

Primary health care is in a shambles and access to reproductive health care declining, especially for lower-income women and youth.  Lack of investment and politicization of reproductive health care means it will take years of concerted effort to remedy the situation.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Experts predict that the current health care workforce will be insufficient to meet future health needs.  This is particularly a concern for services that are important to women such as primary care, mammography, obstetrics/gynecology, abortion and mental health.

In the face of these realities, what does the Bush Administration do?  It issues regulations that will actually further undermine women’s access to basic health care, and will spend at least $44 million dollars doing so.

In poorer countries, the situation is even worse.   Complications of pregnancy, childbirth, unsafe abortion and AIDS-related causes remain the leading causes of illness and death among women ages 15 to 49 throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  For all the money spent on HIV and AIDS by the United States, cuts in and politicization of international funding during the Bush Administration slowed progress on expanding access to basic reproductive and sexual health services, undermining already stressed health care systems.

With few choices outside marriage and childbirth, and lacking access to contraceptives, millions of women continue to face unintended pregnancy.  According to the Population Reference Bureau:

In sub-Saharan Africa, 23 percent of married women are using family planning—18 percent with a modern method and 5 percent with a traditional method.  However, an even larger percentage of women—25 percent—report having an "unmet need," meaning that they would prefer to stop having children or delay their next birth, but are not using any method of family planning.

The Bush Administration, for whatever kudos it has recieved on global AIDS, has utterly failed these women by denying them both the most basic of primary reproductive health services and the ability to make the most fundamental choices about their own lives.  What is more: Our global AIDS funding has been plagued by ideologically-driven "abstinence and faithfulness" programs that deny women the very access to information and services they need to avoid infection.

Noticing a theme?

Left unaddressed, unintended pregnancies due to lack of access to basic family planning services means fertility rates will remain unnecessarily high in many countries.  As tensions around the environment grow, population growth will once again become–indeed is already becoming–an increasingly prominent target.  Total global population is expected to grow from about 6.7 billion people today to over 9 billion in 2050.   In the seventies, eighties and nineties, many governments sought quick fixes to rapidly growing populations by turning to less-than-voluntary and sometimes outright coercive programs aimed at reducing birth rates….fast.  It is legitimate to seek to reduce population growth rates by attacking the root causes of rapid growth.  But having lost 8 more years in which we have largely failed to advance women’s rights, ensure equitable economic and social opportunities for women and girls, and provide basic reproductive choices, the essential factors driving population growth remain largely unaddressed.

In the absence of dramatic changes in our policies and our economy,
global warming will increase the burden of illness from infectious
diseases and respiratory illnesses, just one of the many ways in which
costs will rise.  Competition for the financial resources needed to
both catch up and keep up with healthcare and other economic and social
costs will undermine efforts to ensure all people have access to basic
preventive health care, including reproductive and sexual health health
care. 

This creates a vicious cycle.  It is all-too-easy for governments and politicians–and the public writ large–to forget what we did not do to avoid a problem in the first place, and instead turn their attention to the population growth (and immigration among other things) as *the* cause rather than a symptom.

We need bold action and uncommon partnerships to put solutions in place and quickly.  For much of the past 25 years the environment and reproductive
health communities have joined hands only intermittently and only then briefly,
like changing partners in a square dance meeting up and moving on.  But if we are all interested
in promoting human rights, public health and sustainability, we can no
longer address these problems in isolation.  History suggests that as
environmental problems get worse, women’s rights will suffer.

Can we avoid repeating history?  In the current environment, "bi-partisanship" means never having to bring to up difficult issues, making "sensible compromises" on women’s lives, and avoiding topics that might offend someone’s religious or moral objections (or in the case of global warming, might offend the drill-baby-drill and clean-coal contingents).  I worry if we continue on this path–addressing only the lowest common denominator forged by "compromise"–we will continue to ignore the root causes of our problems until it is too late.  This happened when we reauthorized US global AIDS policy and made compromises on women’s health to get "bipartisan support" to pass a bill we can’t fund now anyway.  It may happen on health care reform and foreign aid reform.  I hope not, but…

It is clear that progress in all of these areas will now be delayed even further by the time it will take to untangle the mess of regulations left behind by a weak and unpopular Administration in the midnight hour.  And unfortunately the knots are even tighter and more entwined than seems at first glance.  But beyond removing the immediate obstacles, aggressive action is needed across the board to get far beyond where we are today–on the environment, health care, and reproductive choice. 

We can’t revert to the silence on critical issues like reproductive health and rights and global warming to make sure "everyone is in the tent," ’cause the dirty secret is that women never got into that tent in the first place.  Our movements have to push to make sure we go well beyond "steady-state" funding for health care and frittering-around-the-edges changes in policy.  We can’t afford to see leave these issues in the silos in which they usually sit.  We need to take dramatic action and we need our new President to lead the way…without apologies for the fact that standing up for our core values is not "uncivil," even if others vehemently disagree.

News Human Rights

What’s Driving Women’s Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates?

Michelle D. Anderson

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.

By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

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Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.

The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.

An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.

“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.

Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.

County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.

“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.

Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”

“Overlooked” relies on several studies and reports, including a previous Vera Institute study on jail misuse, FBI statistics, and Rewire’s investigation on incarcerated women, which examined addiction, parental rights, and reproductive issues.

“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.

Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”

And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.

The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.

This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.

For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.

The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.

“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.

Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.

The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.

“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.

And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.

The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.

In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”

Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.

Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.

James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.

These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act 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. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

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

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. 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,” Bowman said.

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, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the 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.”

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