Afternoon Roundup: Iowa’s Egg-as-Person Bill Would Mean Women-as-Murderers

Amie Newman

Iowa's personhood bill has passed the House; President Obama's FY 2012 budget and women's and girls' health; a new kind of HIV vaccine; and Mississippi midwifery!

Iowa’s personhood bill has passed the House; President Obama’s FY 2012 budget and women’s and girls’ health; a new kind of HIV vaccine; and Mississippi midwifery!

  • Iowa’s version of what’s essentially a Personhood bill, HR 153, was heard and passed out of the House Human Resources subcommittee today. The bill seeks to not only accord the same legal rights to a fertilized egg as women, men and children have but also states that the Iowa Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the provisions of the bill. So, not only do sponsors of the bill want to outlaw contraception and in-vitro fertilization as well as prosecute women for murder for having abortions but they want to do away with our system of checks-and-balances. Of course, it’s unconstitutional but it hasn’t stopped the Republicans from wasting taxpayer money with these hearings. 
  • President Obama released his FY 2012 budget today, There are increases (minimally) to family planning (Title X) and a grant program to states that implement paid leave programs for workers. As well, there is funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs which use evidence-based models that provide medically accurate, age appropriate information on sex ed. I must say I didn’t notice anything in the budget that looked like an abstinence-only-until-marriage funding stream. Rewire will be covering the President’s proposed budget, the Republican budget and the implications of both in the coming days!
  • A new study released in the journal Immunity shows that it may be possible to create an HIV vaccine that works by provoking the production of antibodies in specific parts of the body that are most commonly tied to infection: the rectum and the vagina. HIV vaccines have traditionally operated by delivering a “modified or fragmented infectious organism” to the body in order to prompt the body to produce antibodies – which has thus far been largely unsuccessful. This new way of thinking of an HIV vaccine, however, may open up different avenues for vaccine research. 
  • A legislative proposal to create a registry of midwives in Mississippi is gaining traction. The bill passed the House last week and is now headed to the state Senate. In order to be included in the registry the midwife must be registered with the North American Registry of Midwives, an international certification group. Pregnant women and midwives say it will make pregnancy and birth safer by providing peace of mind to women seeking midwifery care, that the midwife they chose will be officially certified. However, some Republicans – specifically Rep. Sidney Bondurant, a Republican who is also an obstetrician/gynecologist – as well as the Mississippi Nurses Association are against the bill because they say it gives state sanctioned credibility to midwifery when the practice isn’t recognized by the Mississippi Department of Health. Women are clearly still needing and choosing midwifery care, even in states where it’s illegal or hard to come by, so bills like this one do immeasurable good by providing women and midwives with better tools to keep women safe.

Analysis Law and Policy

State-Level Attacks on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Continue, But There’s Also Some Good News

Rachel Benson Gold & Elizabeth Nash

Despite the ongoing attention to restricting abortion, legislators in several states are looking to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and education.

State legislatures came into session in January and quickly focused on a range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 45 states had introduced 1,021 provisions. Of the 411 abortion restrictions that have been introduced so far this year, 17 have passed at least one chamber, and 21 have been enacted in five states (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Utah).

This year’s legislative sessions are playing out on a crowded stage. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving a package of abortion restrictions in Texas; that decision, when handed down in June, could reshape the legal landscape for abortion at the state level. Moreover, just as state legislatures were hitting their stride in late March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised the labeling for mifepristone, one of the two drugs used for medication abortion. That decision immediately put the issue back on the front burner by effectively counteracting policies restricting access to medication abortion in a handful of states. (Notably, the Arizona legislature moved within days to enact a measure limiting the impact of the FDA decision in the state.)

Progress on Several Fronts 

Despite the ongoing attention to restricting abortion, legislators in several states are looking to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and education. By the end of the first quarter, legislators in 32 states had introduced 214 proactive measures; of these, 16 passed at least one legislative body, and two have been enacted. (This is nearly the same amount introduced in the year 2015, when 233 provisions were introduced.)

Although the proactive measures introduced this year span a wide range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, three approaches have received particular legislative attention:

  • Allowing a 12-month contraceptive supply. Legislators in 16 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to dispense a year’s supply of contraceptives at one time; these bills would also require health plans to reimburse for a year’s supply provided at once. (In addition, a bill pending in Maryland would cover a six-month supply.) Legislative chambers in three states (Hawaii, New York, and Washington) have approved measures. Similar measures are in effect in Oregon and the District of Columbia.
  • Easing contraceptive access through pharmacies. Legislators in 12 states have introduced measures to allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense hormonal contraceptives. As of March 31, bills have been approved by at least one legislative chamber in Hawaii and Iowa and enacted in Washington. The measures in Hawaii and Iowa would require pharmacist training, patient counseling, and coverage by insurance; the Hawaii measure would apply only to adults, while the Iowa measure would apply to both minors and adults. The new Washington law directs the state’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission to develop a notice that will be displayed at a pharmacy that prescribes and dispenses self-administered hormonal contraception. Under current state law, a pharmacy may prescribe and dispense these contraceptives under a collaborative practice agreement with an authorized prescriber. Oregon has a similar measure in effect. (California, the only other state with such a law, issued regulations in early April.)
  • Expanding education on sexual coercion. Measures are pending in 17 states to incorporate education on dating violence or sexual assault into the sex or health education provided in the state. A bill has been approved by one legislative chamber in both New Hampshire and New York. The measure approved by the New Hampshire Senate would require age-appropriate education on child sexual abuse and healthy relationships for students from kindergarten through grade 12. The measure approved by the New York Senate would mandate education on child sexual abuse for students from kindergarten through grade 8. And finally, in March, Virginia enacted a comprehensive new law requiring medically accurate and age-appropriate education on dating violence, sexual assault, healthy relationships, and the importance of consensual sexual activity for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Virginia will join 21 other states that require instruction on healthy relationships.

Ongoing Assault on Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services

Even as many legislators are working to expand access to services, others are continuing their now years-long assault on sexual and reproductive health services and rights. Restricting access to abortion continues to garner significant attention. However, last year’s release of a series of deceptively edited sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood has swept both the family planning safety net and biomedical research involving fetal tissue into the fray.

  • Abortion bans. Legislative attempts to ban abortion fall along a broad continuum, from measures that seek to ban all or most abortions to those aimed at abortions performed after the first trimester of pregnancy or those performed for specific reasons.
    • Banning all or most abortions. Legislators in nine states have introduced measures to ban all or most abortions in the state, generally by either granting legal “personhood” to a fetus at the moment of conception or prohibiting abortions at or after six weeks of pregnancy. Only one of these measures, a bill in Oklahoma that would put performing an abortion outside the bounds of professional conduct by a physician, has been approved by a legislative chamber.
    • Banning D&E abortions. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to ban the most common technique used in second-trimester abortions. Of these, a bill in West Virginia was enacted in March over the veto of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D). A similar measure was approved by both houses of the Mississippi legislature and is being considered by a conference committee. (Kansas and Oklahoma enacted similar laws last year, but enforcement of both has been blocked by court action.)
    • Banning abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. South Dakota and Utah both enacted measures seeking to block abortions at 20 weeks during the first quarter of the year. The new South Dakota law explicitly bans abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization (which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period). The Utah measure requires the use of anesthesia for the fetus when an abortion is performed at or after that point, something that providers would be extremely unlikely to do because of the increased risk to the woman’s health. In addition to these new measures, 12 other states ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization.
  • Banning abortion for specific reasons. In March, Indiana enacted a sweeping measure banning abortions performed because of gender, race, national origin, ancestry, or fetal anomaly; no other state has adopted such a broad measure. The Oklahoma House approved a measure to ban abortion in the case of a fetal genetic anomaly; the state already bans abortion for purposes of sex selection. Currently, seven states ban abortion for the purpose of gender selection, including one state that also bans abortion based on race selection and one that also bans abortion due to fetal genetic anomaly.
  • Family planning funding restrictions. In the wake of the Planned Parenthood videos, several states have sought to limit funding to family planning health centers that provide or refer for abortion or that are affiliated with abortion providers. These efforts are taking different forms across states.
    • Medicaid. Measures to exclude abortion providers (e.g., Planned Parenthood affiliates) from participating in Medicaid have been introduced in five states, despite the clear position of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that such exclusions are not permitted under federal law. In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a Medicaid restriction into law. By the end of the first quarter, measures had passed one chamber of the legislature in Arizona, Mississippi, and Missouri; a measure introduced in Washington has not been considered. (A related measure enacted in Wisconsin in February limits reimbursement for contraceptive drugs for Medicaid recipients.)

Similar attempts by six other states have been blocked by court action since 2010. These measures include laws adopted by Indiana and Arizona as well as administrative actions taken in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

  • Other family planning funds. Legislators in 13 states have introduced measures to prevent state or federal funds that flow through state agencies from being distributed to organizations that provide, counsel, or refer for abortions; the measures would also deny funds to any organization affiliated with an entity engaging in these activities. Measures in three of these states have received significant legislative attention. In February, Wisconsin enacted a measure directing the state to apply for Title X funds (the state is not currently a grantee under the program); if the state’s application were approved, the measure would ban this funding from going to organizations that engage in abortion care-related activity. A measure that would deny funds to organizations engaged in abortion care-related activity passed the Kentucky Senate in February. A similar measure in Virginia, which would both prohibit an abortion provider from receiving funding and give priority to public entities (such as health centers operated by health departments) in the allocation of state family planning funds was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in March.
  • Related funds. In February, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a measure barring abortion providers or their affiliates from receiving federal funds passing through the state treasury to support breast and cervical cancer screening; sex education; and efforts to prevent infertility, HIV in minority communities, violence against women, and infant mortality.
  • Fetal tissue research. The Planned Parenthood videos have also led to legislation in 28 states aimed at research involving fetal tissue. Measures have passed one legislative chamber in four states (Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, and Kentucky), and new laws have been enacted in four states (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and South Dakota) in the first quarter alone. All four laws ban the donation of fetal tissue for purposes of research. These new laws are the first to ever ban the donation of fetal tissue. The Arizona law also bans research using fetal tissue, and the new South Dakota law strengthens the state’s existing ban by now considering fetal tissue research as a felony; four other states (Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma) have similar provisions in effect.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.

News Politics

Colorado Women’s Health Advocates: Republican’s Pro-Choice Claims Shouldn’t Be Trusted

Jason Salzman

Pro-choice advocates say state Sen. Ellen Roberts’ votes in the state legislature this year undermined her claims of supporting abortion rights in Colorado.

Colorado Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts, who says she supports abortion rights but backed a so-called fetal personhood law, told the Durango Herald Monday that she’s considering a 2016 run against pro-choice U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Pro-choice advocates say Roberts’ votes in the state legislature this year undermined her claims of supporting abortion rights in Colorado.

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado last week included Roberts, who represents the southwestern corner of Colorado around Durango, on the group’s “Colorado Women’s Health Wall of Shame” website.

“In past years, Roberts has voted pro-equality and pro-choice, but had a rocky session on women’s health this year,” states the website, adding that Roberts’ “priorities and values took a significant turn this session, helping her make our list as the Worst of the Western Slope.”

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The website points to Roberts’ sponsorship of failed fetal “personhood” legislation, introduced after a nightmarish attack on a pregnant woman in a Denver suburb. The bill, modeled on legislation pushed by a national anti-choice group, would have given legal standing to zygotes and fetuses, allowing the courts to consider them victims of crimes, including murder.

The bill was defeated in the Democratic-led state house.

“Colorado has a longstanding, mainstream belief that politicians should stay out of our personal, private medical decisions, but given her recent words and actions we don’t think Sen. Roberts can be trusted to stand up for Colorado voters and values on reproductive rights,” Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said to RH Reality Check, citing the unsuccessful personhood push.

Cathy Alderman, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, said supporting fetal “personhood” legislation and being pro-choice are mutually exclusive.

Roberts still considers herself pro-choice.

“It’s disappointing to me when a group decides to divide women from each other,” Roberts told the Durango Herald this week. “When they apply their litmus test, if someone doesn’t pass their litmus test, does that mean I don’t care about women’s health? That’s untenable.”

“I do think it’s important to be vigilant and caring about the advancement of women in society in general,” she added. “But if we want to talk about erosion, I would say it’s eroding credibility to try to insist that everybody is going to think in one monolithic way.”

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado’s Wall of Shame website also cited Roberts’ 2015 vote for so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights legislation, which would have affirmed parents’ rights to opt out of vaccination requirements. She also sponsored a bill loosening laws against discrimination.

Roberts voted against Colorado’s much-publicized teen pregnancy prevention program, when Democrats attempted a last-minute floor vote to fund it via an amendment to the state budget bill. Colorado’s GOP legislators proved successful in ending the lauded program.

Roberts, in her interview with the Herald, described the prospects of her potential bid as a “longshot,” in part because her previous support for civil unions and pro-choice measures. Republican primary voters in Colorado have a track record of throwing their support behind more ideologically conservative candidates.

State observers say her candidacy could be attractive to establishment Republicans who deem her appealing to general-election voters.

Bennet, who won election to the U.S. Senate in 2014, is regarded as a formidable opponent, in part because of his strong fundraising skills, honed as chair of the powerful Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

His seat is nonetheless seen by Republicans as one of their few possible pickups for 2016. Others mentioned as possibly seeking the seat are Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), Rep. Mike Coffman (D-Aurora), and state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

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