Roundup: Obama’s Speech on Health Reform

Jodi Jacobson

Reaction to the President's speech has been mixed; Sexual advances by clergy toward congregants "pervasive," according to a study; Unsafe abortion takes the lives of women and girls in Namibia.

President’s speech draws mixed reviews

After months of speaking only broadly–and vaguely–about his vision for health reform, President Barack Obama gave a speech last night to a joint session of Congress, stating that "the time for bickering is over," and urging rapid adoption of health care reform legislation.  The core elements of the President’s vision, as noted by Lindsay Beyerstein in the Daily Pulse, include curbing the worst abuses of private insurance; requiring everyone to have insurance, and the creation of insurance exchanges.  

There were mixed reactions to the speech, and the specifics provided by the president.  The president "chose again to duck the loudest dispute: whether the new insurance exchange must contain a government-run "public option," said the Washington Post editorial on the speech.

Mr. Obama once again outlined the arguments for a public plan and once
again said it was not essential. Perhaps the president’s advisers made
the right political calculation in determining that Wednesday night was
not the time to embrace a particular alternative, such as nonprofit
cooperatives or a trigger under which a plan would be created only if
private insurers do not reduce premium costs to a certain level. But
this laissez-faire strategy guarantees that the rather peripheral
debate over the public option will continue to dominate the health-care
discussion. 

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The Post editorial also expressed skepticism regarding the President’s plans for limiting  malpractice suits, and for the proposed "fiscal trigger."

Post columnist E.J. Dionne, however, wrote:

But for all of the details, the most striking aspect of the address may
have been its call to battle: The days of taking incoming fire without
any return volleys are over.

"I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that
it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it," he declared.
"If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I
will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now."

It seemed as if a politician who had been channeling the detached
and cerebral Adlai Stevenson had discovered a new role model in the
fighting Harry Truman. For the cause of health-care reform, it was
about time.

Some advocates expressed disappointment in the speech.  The National Organization for Women statement on the speech said that:

"As activists, we … acknowledge that the steps he outlined fall
short of a guarantee of comprehensive health care for all, including
the full range of reproductive health services required to ensure
equality for women. We must assert our human rights as the debates
continue."

NOW called for

  • Consumer protection against abuses by health insurers,
    particularly against so-called pre-existing conditions, which so often
    and outrageously have been applied to exclude pregnancy and maternal
    care.
  • Expanded availability of insurance coverage. Women are traditionally underserved by employer-based health insurance
    because we are disproportionately represented in part-time paying jobs,
    often because of the vital yet unpaid and under-acknowledged caregiving
    services we provide for our families and country. Even when we work
    full-time, we are more often segregated into "pink collar" minimum-wage
    and non-union jobs — that is, jobs that don’t offer health care
    benefits.
  • Reining in of health care costs. "Though we tend to
    be healthier than men, we often pay more for insurance premiums than
    men — blatant sex discrimination — a practice that must end
    immediately. In addition, we bear the brunt of skyrocketing drug costs,
    including birth control pills that are covered at the whims of
    profit-driven private health insurance companies."

 

Continued discussion of the President’s speech and of Congressional action is sure to be a focus of the coming week.

Sexual advances by clergy toward congregants "pervasive," says study.

Sexual advances by married clergy toward their women congregants is a "prevalent problem," according to a survey by Baylor University’s School of Social Work featured today in the Washington Post.  According to the survey, one in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been
the target of sexual advances by a religious leader.

The study used a
nationally representative sample of 3,559 respondents to estimate the
prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Women older than 18 who
attended worship services at least once a month were asked in the
survey whether they had received "sexual advances or propositions" from
a religious leader. 

According to the researchers who conducted the survey, the problem
is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of
denominations, religious traditions and leaders.

"It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than
simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers," said
Diana Garland, dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work, who co-authored the study.

It found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, a graduate student who lives in the Midwest quoted in the Post article
said she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister
in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months. He had
been her pastor for a decade, she said, and told her the relationship
was ordained by God.

"I believed him because I was looking for direction and for help,"
said Waterstradt, who ended the relationship years ago and entered
therapy. The pastor was removed from the clergy.

Waterstradt said she has suffered lasting psychological and
spiritual consequences from the relationship, including depression and
a deep distrust of organized religion. "It’s very difficult for me to
walk into a church."

A growing number of denominations are moving to do something about such problems, particularly since the Catholic Church’s highly publicized sex scandal involving its clergy.  At least 36 denominations have policies that identify sexual
relations between adult congregants and clergy as misconduct, subject
to discipline.  The article discusses the policies created to combat the problem by the Rabbinical Assemby, an international association of Conservative rabbis; the United Church of Christ; and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. It further discusses state laws being passed to address the problem.

High rate of unsafe abortion costs women’s lives in Namibia

Abortion remains a serious health problem in Namibia, reports the Namiibian paper Informante.  Over 7,000 women have been admitted  to hospitals over a three-year
period with complications of unsafe abortion according to the Minister of Health and
Social Services, Dr. Richard Kamwi.

Results from a 3-year study conducted from November
1995 to October 1998 –the only such study ever done in Namibia
–revealed 107 maternal deaths in hospitals, 16 percent of which had
occurred because of abortion related
complications.

“Abortion-related deaths were also more common
among young women. It was also found that about one third of the deaths
were due to septic and illegally induced abortion most likely unsafely
performed somewhere.”

This type of research urgently needs to be conducted more frequently.

Experts underscore that reproductive health services are largely still not accessible to many
youth.

“Firstly, young people feel the services are not
directed to
them or either the RH services are not available at all to the youth,”
stated Naimibian Planned Parenthood Association Country Director Sam
Ntelamo.  Lack of access "could be among the contributing
factors to the increase in the number of productive health unmet needs
experienced by Namibia’s youth."

Ntelamo also pointed to concerns about baby dumping and
infanticide. He however was quick to point out that without any relevant
data it was impossible to estimate the true extent of unsafe abortion,
infanticide and baby dumping; as some cases may go unreported.

Ntelamo
said between 2003 and 2007 police recorded 74 cases of concealment of
birth with these figures suggesting that infanticide and baby dumping
are on the increase.
“In the absence of reliable data, we call on
those that are financially able to assist to conduct a study on unsafe
abortion and baby dumping-of which we believe that the results will
provide implementers, scholars and policy makers with empirical
evidence on the severity of this problem.”

OTHER NEWS:

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News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care. Her district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

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