New AIDS Czar Widely Praised by Advocates

Julie Davids

Today, the Obama Administration announced the appointment of longtime HIV/AIDS health care advocate Jeff Crowley to head the long-vacant Office of National AIDS Policy.

Today, the Obama
Administration announced
the appointment of longtime HIV/AIDS health care advocate Jeff Crowley to head
the long-vacant Office
of National AIDS Policy (ONAP)

which is charged with developing the National
AIDS Strategy.

Crowley, M.P.H., is a Senior Research
Scholar at Georgetown
University’s Health Policy Institute

and a Senior Scholar at the O’Neill
Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University
Law Center.

"This is brilliant," was the reaction
of David Munar, who chairs the National
Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA),

where Crowley worked from 1994-2000. "The Administration made a strategic
choice about someone who knows health care above all else, so they got
a two-fer: he is passionate about HIV, and he knows health care systems.
This means the office will be relevant. He will champion us and our
needs in the health care reform process."

Advocates note that ONAP had already
gained relevance in the eyes of the Administration due to the AIDS community’s
work to secure $1.4 million for the development of the National AIDS Strategy (NAS) in the upcoming
omnibus budget bill, which is poised go into effect on March 6 when
the continuing resolution ends.

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The Domestic
Policy Council,

where ONAP is based, had been eviscerated during the Bush years, and
those who have spoken with Council staff have said that they are appreciative
of the resources and are committed to the NAS process.

Advocates anticipate that the funding,
which has to be obligated (committed to specific spending if not literally
spent) by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, could pay for
a six or seven staff members for ONAP. It could also go towards the
additional costs of establishing a cross-government/community
, which is the structure
that the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy (of which I am a member)
has recommended to develop and monitor the NAS.

"Clearly, health care will be a cornerstone
of a successful NAS," noted Chris Collins, "Jeff’s appointment
is great news and I look forward to working with him to create a NAS
that brings more accountability, coordination and an orientation to
outcomes in our response to HIV in the United States."

Collins was one of the other candidates
interviewed for the ONAP post. For the past week, those involved in
Federal AIDS policy had heard that the appointment was imminent, and
that a small number of people had been interviewed for the position,
including Collins and Jesse Milan, chair of the board of Black AIDS Institute. But many advocates expressed surprise at
Crowley’s appointment, as there had been no buzz that he was a candidate
or they had assumed he would be appointed at the Centers
for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS).

The White House release cites Crowley’s
primary areas of expertise as "Medicaid policy, including Medicaid
prescription drug policies; Medicare policy; and consumer education
and training."

And indeed, those who have worked with
him on these issues were clearly excited, even gushing, about the appointment,
including Robert Greenwald, Director of the Treatment
Access Expansion Project (TAEP).

"I think it’s amazing," said
Greenwald. "He is one of the most hardworking, diligent, non-ego-involved
people I’ve ever worked with, just a good person. I can’t even believe
it. He’s incredibly plugged into the community."

While Crowley helped to develop the National HIV Testing Day
during his tenure
at NAPWA, those who have worked closely with him in recent years do
note that prevention is not his main area of expertise.

But Munar, calling Crowley an "instrumental
team player," says he expects that, far from having a deaf ear towards
prevention, Crowley recognizes its importance, will bring in those who
know it well and will talk about it from a health care perspective,
emphasizing a cost-savings paradigm that he believes will resonate well.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Legislator Confirms Vote on House Conscience Protections (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

The Conscience Protection Act would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Act allows providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

UPDATE: July 14, 10 a.m.: The House passed the Conscience Protection Act Wednesday night in a largely party line 245-182 vote. Prior to floor consideration, House Republicans stripped the text of an unrelated Senate-passed bill (S. 304) and replaced it with the Conscience Protection Act. They likely did so to skip the Senate committee referral process, House Democratic aides told Rewire, expediting consideration across the capitol and, in theory, ushering a final bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama, however, would veto the Conscience Protection Act, according to a statement of administration policy.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next Wednesday on legislation that would allow a broadened swath of health-care providers to sue if they’re supposedly coerced into providing abortion care, or if they face discrimination for refusing to provide such care, according to a prominent anti-choice lawmaker.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told Rewire in a Friday morning interview that House leadership confirmed a vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828) for July 13, days before the chamber adjourns for the presidential nominating conventions and the August recess. Pitts said he expects the bill to be brought up as a standalone measure, rather than as an amendment to any of the spending bills that have seen Republican amendments attacking a range of reproductive health care and LGBTQ protections.

The office of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had no immediate comment.

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Pitts’ remarks came during and after he hosted a “Forum on Conscience Protections” in the House Energy and Commerce Committee room to garner support for the bill.

Energy and Commerce Democrats boycotted the forum, a House Democratic aide told Rewire in a subsequent interview.

Legislation Builds on Precedent

Conscience protections are nothing new, the aide said. The latest iteration is a successor to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1919/H.R. 940), which remains pending in the House and U.S. Senate. There’s also the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) and similarly named bills in both chambers. The fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services funding bill, which guts Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, includes the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

At the leadership level, Ryan’s recently released health-care plan mimics key provisions in the Conscience Protection Act. Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

The proposals would also codify and expand the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who participated in Pitts’ conscience forum. The Weldon Amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care. Currently, Congress must pass Weldon every year as an amendment to annual appropriations bills.

Administration Action Provides Impetus

There hadn’t been much public dialogue around conscience protections with the exception of some anti-choice groups that “have really been all over it,” the aide said. The National Right to Life issued an action alert, as did the Susan B. Anthony List, to galvanize support for the Conscience Protection Act.

The relative silence on the issue began to break after the Obama administration took a stand on abortion care in June.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights rejected anti-choice groups’ “right of conscience” complaint against California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under the definition of “basic health-care services.” Anti-choice groups had argued the California law violates the Weldon Amendment, but the administration found otherwise.

The California decision reinvigorated support for the Conscience Protection Act, the aide said. Ryan’s earlier health-care plan also specifically references the decision.

“We think this is going to be a big issue for us throughout the rest of this Congress,” the aide said.

Aide Outlines Additional Consequences

Beyond creating a private right of action and codifying Weldon, the Conscience Protection Act contains additional consequences for abortion care, the aide said.

The legislation would expand the definition of health-care providers to employers, social service organizations, and any other entity that offers insurance coverage, allowing them to raise objections under Weldon, the aide said. The aide characterized the change as a direct response to the California decision.

The legislation also broadens the list of objectionable services to include facilitating or making arrangements for abortion care, according to the aide.

The Republican-dominated House is likely to pass the Conscience Protection Act. But the aide did not expect it to advance in the Senate, which would all but certainly require a 60-vote threshold for such a controversial measure. More than anything, the aide said, the bill seems to be catering to anti-choice groups and long-time proponents of conscience clauses.

“The House oftentimes will pass these kinds of anti-choice proposals, and then they just go nowhere in the Senate,” the aide said.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Welcome to the New World After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

With the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, change may be afoot—even in some of the reddest red states. But anti-choice laws are still wreaking havoc around the world, like in Northern Ireland where women living under an abortion ban are turning to drones for medication abortion pills.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

The New York Times published a map explaining how the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt could affect abortion nationwide.

The Supreme Court vacated the corruption conviction of “Governor Ultrasound:” Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who signed a 2012 bill requiring women get unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds before abortion.

Ian Millhiser argues in ThinkProgress that Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the true heir to Thurgood Marshall’s legacy.

The legal fight over HB 2 cost Texas taxpayers $1 million. What a waste.

The Washington Post has an article from Amanda Hollis-Brusky and Rachel VanSickle-Ward detailing how Whole Woman’s Health may have altered abortion politics for good.

A federal court delayed implementation of a Florida law that would have slashed Planned Parenthood’s funding, but the law has already done a lot of damage in Palm Beach County.

After the Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court ruling in favor of science and pregnant people, Planned Parenthood is gearing up to fight abortion restrictions in eight states. And we are here for it.

Drones aren’t just flying death machines: They’re actually helping women in Northern Ireland who need to get their hands on some medication abortion pills.

Abortion fever has gone international: In New Zealand, there are calls to re-examine decades-old abortion laws that don’t address 21st-century needs.

Had Justice Antonin Scalia been alive, explains Emma Green for the Atlantic, there would have been the necessary fourth vote for the Supreme Court to take a case about pharmacists who have religious objections to doing their job when it comes to providing emergency contraception.