The Coming War on Women

Kaili Joy Gray

Many Republicans in Congress, and in state legislatures around the country, have promised to pursue the further restriction of women's reproductive rights.

Originally appearing on Daily Kos, this piece is reprinted with the permission of the author.

A war is coming.

Congressional Republicans have already made clear that their top priority, once they take control of Congress in the next session, is to make sure President Obama is a one-term president.

But there is a second priority that many Republicans in Congress, and in state legislatures around the country, have promised to pursue: the further restriction of women’s reproductive rights.

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As Mother Jones reported in December:

If you thought the abortion battle during the health care debate was fierce, just wait until Republicans take over the House in January. Strengthened by congressional victories in the midterm elections, Republican abortion foes plan to push hard in the new year. Their top goals: enshrine tough restrictions on abortion funding into federal law and defund Planned Parenthood.

The incoming Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is a staunch opponent of women’s reproductive rights, with a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. In fact, last year, he received the 2010 Henry J. Hyde Defender of Life Award for his “extraordinary leadership in the fight to prevent taxpayer-funded abortion and for his work to protect women’s health in his own state of Ohio.” After the November election, his staff held a meeting with terrorist Randall Terry to receive Terry’s list of forced birth demands for the new Republican majority.

And then there is the selection of Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. As the New York Times reported:

The selection…presages a major shift on abortion and family planning, according to opponents and supporters of abortion rights.

Mr. Pitts was chosen last week as the chairman of the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over private health insurance, Medicaid and much of Medicare, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

In urging Republican leaders to choose Mr. Pitts, the National Right to Life Committee said he had “made the protection of the sanctity of innocent human life the cornerstone of his service in the House.”

Forced birthers acknowledge that even with the additional 45 seats they picked up in the midterms, it will be difficult to enact their desired legislation with a still Democratically-controlled Senate and a pro-choice president. But forced birthers have, in the past, succeeded in passing restrictive legislation with the help of even self-described pro-choice Democrats. In 2003, for example, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed with the help of 63 House Democrats and and 17 Senate Democrats, including then-Senator Joe Biden.

And of course, who can forget how Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak held health care reform hostage in order to extort further restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health care?

Last year, state legislators introduced more than 600 bills to restrict reproductive health care rights, dozens of which were enacted into law. Often, the laws are overturned by the courts for their blatant unconstitutionality, but that doesn’t stop forced birth legislators from continuing to introduce these bills in the hopes that they will reach the Supreme Court and ultimately be upheld.

As the Washington Independent reported:

With a wide swath of state legislatures in the GOP’s control beginning in January, Republicans across the country will have a new opportunity to subtly create laws restricting access to abortion.

“They have so many things in their arsenal to use — starting with an outright ban on certain types of abortion procedures (saline abortions have been a favorite target in the past) to banning abortion insurance coverage in the still- to-be-developed health care exchanges, to preventing any state funding to go to organizations that provide, refer or support abortions, to overturning the Doe v. Gomez case, which provides funding for abortions for women on Medicaid,” Linnea House of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota told Birkey.

Every year, the forced birth advocates invent ever more creative ways to chip away at women’s rights to reproductive health care. Like the Personhood Amendment, which was on the ballot in Colorado in the last midterm election.

Personhood is a term that conservative groups have taken to using, arguing that life needs to be defined, essentially, at the most original point possible, starting with the zygote and calling it a person. The restrictions of such amendments like Colorado’s have major implications on a woman’s legal right to choose: If personhood were codified into law, not only would all forms of abortion become illegal, but stem cell research would be banned and women would no longer have access to certain forms of birth control.

The amendment was soundly defeated, but that won’t stop legislators from continuing to push for personhood laws throughout the country. Such legislation is currently being pursued in 30 more states.

And then there are the fetal pain laws.

Abortion rights foes emboldened by a new Nebraska law that restricts late-term procedures based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks are pushing for similar legislation in other states, particularly those where Republicans won big in November.

National Right to Life held a strategy conference this week in Arlington, Va., to offer its state affiliates guidance for the 2011 legislative session. Indiana, Iowa and Kentucky lawmakers have already started drafting bills similar to Nebraska’s law, and abortion opponents are pushing lawmakers in Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma to do the same.

Forced birthers have already made clear their intention to use the new health care reform law to deny reproductive health care to women. According to the Guttmacher Institute:

In late July, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and some 165 cosponsors introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Smith argued that the debate over health care reform and its outcome made clear that “it is time for a single, government-wide permanent protection against taxpayer funding for elective abortion.” His solution includes refighting the fight over health care to enact the Stupak amendment to essentially ban abortion coverage in exchange plans. He would further solidify the Hyde amendment and its progeny (affecting all women dependent on the federal government for their health care or insurance), by writing the prohibitions into permanent law, instead of their current form in which they must be—and are—renewed annually on the various relevant appropriations bills. The original Hyde amendment has been enacted annually since 1978; most of the other abortion funding restrictions spanning the federal government were enacted starting in the early 1980s.

The Smith bill would go even further, however, into uncharted territory. It would carry the argument against funding abortion to an extreme by preventing employers from taking a tax deduction for insurance plans that include abortion coverage. Moreover, individuals’ premiums for plans that cover abortion could not be paid with pretax dollars. In addition, any costs incurred by an individual for an abortion would be disallowed under a flexible health spending account or for the purposes of a potential medical care deduction from federal taxes.

Even though President Obama has repeatedly stated his support for women’s reproductive health care, he has already compromised on those issues. And given that he has made clear his willingness to compromise on even his most fundamental principles, there is no way to know what further compromises Republicans will be able to extort, should they decide to again take the American people hostage.

Despite Republicans’ promises to re-dedicate the government to focusing on the “real” problems Americans face, it is abundantly clear that they are, in fact, dedicated to restoking the flames of the culture wars, with the battle to strip women of their reproductive rights front and center in that war. The real question is whether self-described pro-choice Democrats, including and especially the president, will have the strength to fight back. Because this is a war women can’t afford to lose.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

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