Weekly Pulse: #DearJohn, Does Banning Abortion Trump Job Growth?

Lindsay Beyerstein

With millions of Americans out of work, House Republicans are focusing in on real priorities: decimating private abortion coverage and crippling public funding for abortion.

With millions of Americans out of work, House Republicans are focusing in on real priorities: decimating private abortion coverage and crippling public funding for abortion, as Jessica Arons reports in Rewire.

In AlterNet, Amanda Marcotte notes that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, or H.R. 3, also redefines rape as “forcible rape” in order to determine whether a patient is eligible for a Medicaid-funded abortion. Under the Hyde Amendment, government-funded insurance programs can only cover abortions in cases of rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother. Note that the term “forcible rape” is  legally meaningless. Supporters of the bill just want to go on the record as saying that a poor 13-year-old girl pregnant by a 30-year-old should be forced to give birth.

Feminist blogger Sady Doyle has launched a twitter campaign against the bill under the hashtag #dearjohn, a reference to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Tweet to let him know how you feel about a bill that discriminates against 70% of rape victims because their rapes weren’t violent enough for @johnboehner, append the hashtag #dearjohn.

Everybody chill out

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A federal judge in Florida ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional on Monday. However, as political scientist and court watcher Scott Lemieux explains at TAPPED, the ruling is not necessarily a death blow to health care reform:

[T]his ruling is less important than the controversy it will generate might suggest. Many cornerstone programs of the New Deal were held unconstitutional by lower courts before being upheld by the Supreme Court. This ruling tells us nothing we didn’t already know: There is a faction of conservative judges who believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Unless this view has the support of five members of the Supreme Court — which I still consider very unlikely — it won’t matter; Vinson’s reasoning would have a much greater impact if adopted by the Court, but for this reason it is even less likely to be adopted by higher courts.

In a follow-up post, Lemieux explains the shaky legal reasoning behind Judge Robert Vinson’s decision. The judge asserts bizarrely that being uninsured has no effect on interstate commerce. That premise is objectively false. Health insurers operate across state lines and the size and composition of their risk pools directly affects their business.

Given the glaring factual inaccuracies, Judge Vinson’s decision may be overturned by a higher court before it gets to the Supreme Court.

Scamming Medicare

Terry J. Allen of In These Times win’s the headline of the week award for an article entitled “Urology’s Golden Revenue Stream.” She reports that increasing numbers of urologists are investing millions on machines to irradiate prostate cancer in the office. The doctors can bill Medicare up to $40,000 per treatment, but they have to use the machines a lot to recoup the initial investment. So what does this mean for patients? Allen explains:

Rather than accessing centralized equipment and sharing costs, physicians are concentrating their own profits by buying expensive in-practice technologies that pay off only if regularly used. One result is overtreatment, which is driving up health care costs, exposing patients to unnecessary radiation and surgeries, and is frequently no better than cheaper approaches.

One third of Medicare patients with prostate cancer undergo the expensive IMRT therapy, as the procedure is known. In 2008, Medicare shelled out over a billion dollars on a treatment that has not shown to be any better for patients than less expensive therapies.

Obstetric fistula in the developing world

Reproductive Health Reality Check is running a special series on the human rights implications of obstetric fistula. Fistula is a devastating complication of unrelieved obstructed labor in which the baby’s head gets stuck in the birth canal and presses against the soft tissues of the pelvis. If labor goes on long enough, the pressure will starve the pelvic tissues of blood, and they will die, creating a hole between the vagina and the bladder, and/or between the vagina and the rectum. Fistula patients face lifelong incontinence, chronic pain, and social ostracism.

The condition is virtually unknown in the developed world, where women with obstructed labor have access to cesarean delivery. However, an estimated 2 million women, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, have untreated fistulas with an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occurring each year. Without reconstructive surgery, these women will be incontinent for life.

Sarah Omega, a fistula survivor from Kenya, tells her story. Omega sustained a fistula when she delivered her first child at the age of 19. She suffered for 12 years before she finally obtained the surgery she needed. As Agnes Odhiambo explains in another installment in the series, fistula is a symptom of a dysfunctional health care system. Women suffer needlessly because they can’t get access to quality health care.

The most likely victims of fistula are the most vulnerable members of their respective communities. Early childbearing increases a woman’s risk of fistula. Pregnant rape victims may face even greater barriers to a safe delivery, thanks to the social stigma that accrues to victims of sexual violence in many societies. (Not to mention any names, House Republicans…)

Preventing and repairing obstetric fistula is a major human rights issue. The U.S. should make this effort a high priority for foreign aid.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Commentary Abortion

Your Right to Abortion Care Is in Danger—No Matter Where You Live

Katie Klabusich

Since the Supreme Court gave people in the United States the legal right to abortion care with Roe v. Wade 42 years ago, residents of historically “safe” states have too frequently taken our access to reproductive rights for granted.

Read more stories commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade here.

Since the Supreme Court gave people in the United States the legal right to abortion care with Roe v. Wade 42 years ago, residents of historically “safe” states have too frequently taken our access to reproductive health care for granted. As someone who has lived in the blue states of Illinois, Maryland, New York, and now California, I’ve seen the pervasive assumption by those who identify as pro-choice that candidates on the left will prioritize access to abortion care—and that we need to do nothing more than dutifully pull the lever for them each November.

This is simply not the case. It’s time we in blue states engaged en masse to demand bold, proactively pro-choice talking points on the campaign trail and in platforms from our would-be legislators and direct action from current office-holders. We should be aggressive about storytelling to end stigma, changing culture by posting our lived experiences on our social media networks, and normalizing abortion care so others in our networks also expect and demand access. If we do not curb our complacency, we risk the complete curtailing of our rights.

Those of us born around or after 1973 often have little, if any, personal connection to the time of abortion prohibition. We assume that although individual legislatures might propose, and even pass, bills restricting our rights, they’ll never get away with it in the long term. After all, we think, that’s what the court system is for! To protect us from extremist legislators and their fits of fancy! We rely on the courts because the media typically refers to Roe as the presiding law without including the effects of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Gonzales v. Carhart, or other successful measures that have chipped away at our ability to obtain abortion care over the past few decades.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Week one of the 114th Congress should have gotten everyone’s attention. With the reintroduction of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban abortion after 20 weeks in all states, the GOP-led House of Representatives declared its top priority for the session: the contents of Americans’ wombs. The following day, not to be outdone by his pseudoscience-obsessed colleagues Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) picked up the anti-choice baton by proposing four abortion-restricting laws. Vitter’s bills would see Planned Parenthood completely stripped of federal funding (a fight that led to the last government shutdown), outlaw the non-problem of sex-selective abortion, require admitting privileges for all providers, and allow doctors and nurses to refuse abortion care even in life-threatening situations.

These restrictions would endanger abortion access in every state: red, purple, and blue.

Currently, we have a presidential veto to fall back on. With primaries less than a year away and a new administration around the corner, however, that safeguard is not ensured. We can’t wait for that uncertain outcome to urge our elected and would-be legislators to make reproductive health care a priority.

And for those of us in progressives areas, our rallying cry must not simply be, “Please don’t let those restrictions creep across our state’s border!” It’s not just unconscionable for us blue-staters to breathe sighs of relief, confident that our access to safe, legal abortion care will hold as we watch it crumble for our neighbors in red and purple states; blue state access has been slowly and quietly eroded as well. If you’ve been one of those people waiting for restrictions to affect you before engaging, consider this your call to enlist: Your state is not safe, and your rights are not guaranteed.

This year, the Guttmacher Institute deemed more than half the states in the nation to be “hostile” to abortion care. Twenty-four prohibit Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance plans from covering abortion, most with only extreme exceptions such as in cases of rape or incest. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. None of these anti-choice environments are limited to red states.

In fact, in a recently released report card on reproductive rights and health from the international nonprofit group the Population Institute, only 17 states managed a rating of B- or above, based on a combination of factors that include affordability, implementation of comprehensive sex education, and access to clinics and emergency contraception. We should not look at the report card itself as a comprehensive depiction of the health-care access situation in the United States; after all, those of us living in the four A-rated states—California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington—can and do face significant barriers to abortion care. My newly adopted home of California, with its vast social safety net and recently enacted abortion provider-expanding law, still only offers care in 55 percent of its counties. My ACA plan through Blue Shield of California may have recently updated its policy to remove the words “medically necessary” from the abortion provision, but I’m still going to fork over substantial travel costs in order to use the coverage I pay for if I move to a rural area. This means none of us can afford to thank our lucky stars and call it a day. People are already being left behind in the “A” states—with more in jeopardy if we don’t safeguard against restrictions enacted on a national level.

In fact, the only reason we aren’t worse off nationally is the implementation of the ACA’s contraception mandate, which greatly improved prevention across the country. When it comes to the Population Institute’s report card, the ACA should have led to drastically higher marks, but thanks to the 231 laws enacted at the state level over the past four years, we’re barely clinging to our C grade overall. And we’re in serious jeopardy of backsliding.

So those of us in blue states with friendly representatives and the rare, but not yet extinct, pro-choice champion must make a habit of letting our legislators know we oppose coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment. When Congress debates a federal budget, Hyde will be reintroduced—as it is every year—in order to prevent Medicaid funds from being used to provide low-income Americans with safe, necessary abortion care. Furthermore, we must also press them to stand against TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) laws that would make it even more difficult for patients to realistically access care. Legislators from conservative districts will seek to continue the tradition of punishing the poor, so we need to embolden our blue state reps by writing, tweeting, and signing petitions asking them to speak for us as well as for those whose representatives work against their interests.

Roe should have been more than a court decision; it should have cemented the right to safe, legal abortion care for all. That is not the case. As of 2012, just 15 percent of Americans said they required a candidate to agree with them on choice—but far more than that will be directly affected by the decisions their candidates make on their behalf. The time to ramp up our stigma-fighting, legislator-lobbying, and capitol-protesting is right now. Legislators in the state houses and in Washington need to hear loud and clear that bodily autonomy isn’t something we take for granted and that we expect them, no matter the ZIP code of their constituency, to affirm our right to decide what happens in our doctors’ offices.

Become part of the storytelling movement—something anyone can do in any state. Speak out against red-state-shaming and lift up the activists fighting uphill battles in their extremist state legislatures. And find out the state of access in your ZIP codes: Are there clinics? If so, do they need support, volunteers, or advocates? What’s the policy on sex ed in your school district? The full slate of positive reproductive health-care policies gets a massive lift when complacently pro-choice blue state residents get off the sidelines.

Take this week’s recognition of Roe and run with it. Use the anniversary as an excuse not just to demand proactive policies from your legislators, but also to discuss abortion and the reality of access in your networks. Then keep at it as though your bodily autonomy depends on it. Because, no matter where you live, it does.

Q & A Abortion

Inside the Bro-Choice Campaign: Giving Men the Green Light to Step Up for Reproductive Justice

Erin Matson

"Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue."

It’s no secret that reproductive rights are often coded as “women’s issues,” and the face of advocacy tends to be feminine. However, since reproductive oppression affects both women and men, and is experienced by women and men, it has been routinely argued that advocates need to do a better job integrating men into the movement. Recently, youth-centered reproductive rights organization Choice USA launched a campaign called Bro-Choice to do just that.

Rewire spoke with Choice USA Executive Director Kierra Johnson to learn more about the campaign.

Rewire: When I hear Bro-Choice, I think: The more men working for abortion rights and healthy sexuality, the better. But not everyone might get that. Why is it important to draw in and lift up young men in the reproductive justice movement?

Kierra Johnson: No one can win alone. We strongly believe that the more people (including men) working for reproductive justice, the better. Without substantively and authentically incorporating men of color, low-income men, young men, gay men, transgender men, and, yes, white straight men, how can we expect to shift a paradigm toward true gender justice? When we don’t engage men in strategic ways, we miss out on opportunities for new ideas and perhaps new solutions to old problems.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Reproductive oppression affects everyone. Men can serve our movement in better ways than as pantomime allies. Men are directly impacted by sexual and reproductive health policies set at the local, state, and national level. Men and boys are survivors of sexual assault. There should be a bigger spotlight on men who are already doing cutting-edge work to interrupt the cycle of violence and misogyny in their communities so that we can learn from and replicate what is working.

We all stand to gain a lot by together redefining and embracing healthy visions of masculinity. But that can only begin to happen when men have the space to discuss, unpack, and grapple with how they benefit and are hurt by traditional stereotypes, expectations, and cultural norms associated with modern-day concepts of masculinity.

We all deserve a new frame where we get to see men as a part of the solution and not just the problem. And so many of them want to be a part of the solution; young men are pro-choice and they care about ending violence. There are so many young men who right now who are passive supporters of reproductive justice simply because they aren’t sure how they can be active.

Rewire: So what is the long-term vision for the Bro-Choice campaign?

KJ: We hope that this program can catalyze the men who aren’t yet, but want to be, speaking out on sexism and rape culture. We want to inspire them to become active stakeholders in the fight against sexual assault. We also want to work with them to figure out the appropriate roles to play in fighting for abortion rights, contraceptive access, and the right to strong families. It is true that more men are interviewed about abortion than women. As long as that’s the case, the short-term goal is to get more pro-choice men in front of the camera and legislators. The long-term vision is cultural revolution! We want to do our part to support women and men working to prepare young people of all genders to be ambassadors for sexual health, reproductive rights, and communities free of sexual violence.

Rewire: Let’s back up to the beginning of this campaign. Last year you hosted a Bro-Choice panel discussion that led to the creation of a more formal campaign. Tell me about the themes that came up in that first discussion, and how you knew there was more to explore.

KJ: This idea came out of two separate conversations students were having with us simultaneously. Women in our chapters were looking for ways to authentically engage men on campus, and men were looking for opportunities to work on issues that impact their friends, partners, classmates, and selves. So the original panel, named by students, was held more than a year ago to talk about engaging men in reproductive rights and the challenges of that. After that conversation we knew that there were a lot of people thirsty to talk about these subjects, so the one discussion turned into a series of panels. Then, after so many horrendous episodes of sexual assault drew national attention, it’s evolved into a broader conversation about masculinity and sexual assault.

The national conversations that have happened in the wake of Steubenville are so important, but we’re not sure they are reaching the people that need to hear it most.

Men and gender non-conforming people are affected by these issues and care about these issues. We want to see changes on campuses and in the culture that embrace many ways to “be a man.” We want to see colleges and universities taking sexual assault seriously and eradicating rape culture and victim blaming. We want to see all types of gender identities and expressions respected. Obviously these are very big goals, but we hope that by starting these conversations with Bro-Choice we can be one small part of making them a reality.

Rewire: Choice USA works with a lot of students. What kind of issues do you see resonating with young men on campus, and why?

KJ: Students everywhere are taking action against epidemic levels of sexual assault on campuses and the perceived indifference of administrations and law enforcement. Young people are fired up about this. And we talk to many young men who recognize the sexism and rape culture operating on their campus and in their social circles—even if they wouldn’t use those terms.

Environmental rights, the school-to-prison pipeline, voter disenfranchisement, racial profiling, LGBTQ rights, and education access are also all issues that young progressive men are talking about on college campuses. While Bro-Choice is a relatively new campaign, we are excited at the possibility of working with men and women who are passionate about all of these issues to find some new, creative work at the intersections.brochoiceevent2

Rewire: So is this any different from young women’s activism against sexual oppression? Are there differences in approaches or issues that we should be aware of as we work to build a more inclusive movement for reproductive justice?

KJ: Reproductive justice isn’t just a women’s issue; it’s a people issue. And organizing and advocacy is about meeting people where they are. To do that, you cannot make any part of a person’s identity invisible. You have to be willing to see them, hear them. Even when it is hard and painful, and especially when you disagree or when you are uncomfortable.

Organizing with men is no different.

But that doesn’t mean that male-identified folks joining the Bro-Choice campaign will always find this advocacy easy. Examining gender roles in pursuit of reproductive justice challenges ideas so deeply ingrained in our culture that they are invisible to most. Those who choose to do so may find that they need to step back and listen at times. It won’t always be comfortable, but that’s really true of all social justice work when it’s done right.

Women have been the champions of issues that affect both men and women for decades: sex education, family leave policies, sexual assault, and more. Women are uniquely impacted by these issues, and they should continue to be advocates. It will always be appropriate and necessary for women to be visible and vocal leaders in this work. Women will always need to be true mentors and guides of new activists and leaders entering into this work. But we hope Bro-Choice will offer a new point of entry that gives men the green light to engage more actively with us in the fight for justice for all.

Rewire: It was recently Bro-Choice Week, and eight of your student chapters took action. What are some examples of what they did?

KJ: Our students did organizing at eight schools in four states (the University of Kansas, Ohio State, Georgia Southern University, Sacramento State, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly, Colorado College, and Stanford). Each of them did different things, mostly discussion events, panels, and tabling. Most of them did events where they could talk honestly about issues facing men who want to get involved with reproductive justice and sexual assault prevention. They also collected Bro-Choice pledges, and throughout the week we had almost 500 people sign the Bro-Choice Pledge.

Rewire: How were these actions received on campus? What can we all learn from these experiences?

KJ: Our students had great reactions to these events on campus. At Georgia Southern University we have a new chapter that has been having some trouble getting traction on campus. They teamed up with their Gay Straight Alliance and held a discussion event, which had a huge turnout—they got 75 new members in one day! Our chapter at Cal Poly also held a discussion event, and they intentionally reached out to groups that were not the usual targets to attend: the Greek community, sports teams, and the gym. They had about 50 people show up and were able to have a very honest, open conversation with these young men. Our chapter leader there described the way that many of the men seemed to be expressing out loud for the first time the pressures they felt and the discomfort they sometimes have in their social circles.

I think the real lesson here is that there are so many young men who are hungry to have the conversations and have a safe place to talk openly about masculinity, sexuality, and violence; even those who seem like the most unlikely suspects for this campaign are finding value in it.

Rewire: Tell us about the other actions Choice USA led online during Bro-Choice Week. What kind of reactions have you been getting to the campaign online?

KJ: Online we held a blog series and some social media elements, including a Twitterstorm and Facebook images. We saw huge numbers of people engaged with us through these avenues, and tons of great discussions were sparked. We saw some of the same discourse that played out in micro settings also play out as the week of action rolled out last month. Some people are excited to see the campaign and are eager to participate; others are triggered at the suggestion that men take on active visible roles in fighting for contraceptive access, abortion policy, and for better responses to violence on and off campuses. Generally, people seem comfortable coming to the table with their passion and having real conversations.

Rewire: So what’s the next step, if you’re ready to tell us?

This summer we’ll be hosting our national membership conference, and chapter leaders from all over the country will come to D.C. to plan this and other campaigns for the 2013-14 academic year. We plan to roll out a public education campaign in the fall that we hope will be fun and impactful in changing attitudes and campus policies regarding sexual assault.

We will also be reaching out to people who signed the Bro-Choice Pledge as we roll out that phase with ways to get involved.

Rewire: What should readers do if they want to get involved? Anything else we should know?

KJ: The best way to get involved is to sign the Bro-Choice Pledge and declare that you want to be part of the solution to work toward reproductive justice and ending sexual violence.