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

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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

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
  • 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
  • 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

“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

“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.

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.”






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