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:

SEPTEMBER 8


SEPTEMBER 9



SEPTEMBER 10

 

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.