News Politics

Women’s Issues Remain the Focus As Thousands Rally In Denver

Robin Marty

With 4000 tickets handed out and a packed auditorium, the mix of women, men and children eagerly waited to hear the president's plan to protect women's rights.

For Monica, the only question about attending today’s presidential rally was whether or not she could manage to handle her rambunctious toddler, or if she should leave her with friends. The teacher and mother of three from a nearby Denver suburb chose the latter, and instead joined a crowd of thousands to see President Barack Obama speak, headlined by former law student Sandra Fluke.

Monica was accompanied by her husband, a Colorado small business owner. He was by no means the only man at the event, even though it was expected to be heavily-focused on health care and women’s rights, especially once the appearance of Fluke was announced. According to Monica, the crowd was evenly split by sex, with a liberal influx of children as well.

With a series of ads attacking Republican opponent Mitt Romney over his stance on the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, abortion, and contraception, women’s health has turned into the number one issue recently for the president. A new ad with actress Elizabeth Banks explaining her support for Obama and her belief in the good Planned Parenthood does for the women of the country is being talked about all over the Internet. Women, especially single women, are flocking to the President in droves. It’s that focus that drew many in the crowd to hear Obama speak, regardless of their sex.

Of course, not everyone there was a supporter. Outside, protesting the event, was a member of the so-called Personhood movement. Fresh off the announcement that they had likely gathered enough signatures get back on the Colorado ballot (fourth time), a member of the radical anti-choice group stood by the exit. A large poster of blown-up, graphic images of allegedly aborted fetuses were on display to shock Obama supporters, many of whom positioned themselves between the protester and young children as they walked by the display.

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But once inside the arena, the audience was soon greeted by remarks from Fluke.

“All Mr. Romney could say was ‘Those were not the words I would have chosen,'” said Fluke, discussing the controversy over her infamous attack by Rush Limbaugh regarding her support of no co-pay birth control. “Well, Mr. Romney, you are not the candidate we choose.”

The appearance of both Fluke and Obama left many Coloradans in the audience feeling more energized than ever about the 2012 election. “We needed a little kick in the pants to get fired up,” said Monica, who said she and her husband and friends were even more eager to go once they learned of Fluke’s appearance and that the speech would be focused on women’s issues.

I loved hearing her speak. She got the crowd up and rolling. She did a very good job of introducing the President and talking about how she felt supported by him, and how she needed us to be supporting him.

Monica was excited to see the renewed energy behind the audience’s embrace of protecting women’s health as a campaign issue. “For us, our priority is protection of a woman’s right to choose, particularly because we have two daughters we are raising here, but also because we have a son.”

It would seem that a rally so highly focused on women’s health and rights would be less interesting for the men in the audience, but if Monica’s husband is any indication, that wasn’t true at all. “He was very excited to be there, and very excited that it was women’s-issues focused,” she said. 

I think he realizes as much as any woman what’s at stake right now.  For him, he has two daughters and I hear him talk a lot about what it will mean for their future if Romney is elected versus what it will mean if Obama is elected, and I think that’s a high priority for him.

“We want to make sure our daughters have choice. That they have health care that covers everything. That they don’t have to explain to their bosses what they need, and that their health care choices will be theirs.”

The President also focused on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and on benefits for women in particular. Health care reform has become a lightening rod of partisan bickering, with Republicans declaring that the ACA punishes and harms small businesses. As the wife of a small business owner, Monica disagreed. “I haven’t seen our rate increases for next year, but I don’t think it will hurt us. Our price goes up every year, and it hasn’t looked that different in the last two years.”

When it comes to the state exchange, they are counting the days until they can obtain insurance for their family through that as an alternative.

“Once the exchanges get up,” Monica said, “we think it will have a very positive effect on our premiums. There has to be something better. We’re just in that holding pattern.”

Republicans argue that talking about women’s issues allows Obama to avoid talking about the economy, and that economic issues matter more to Americans. However, Monica believes that women’s health and rights are a more immediate threat.

“The economy will turn around in time. It takes time and it’s already happening,” she said, “but it’s a big ship. This women’s health care issue is bigger.  We could turn the economy around tomorrow, and if my daughter gets pregnant at 16 we’re screwed.  It doesn’t matter how perfect the economy is, our daughter’s life is fundamentally different for ever.  Her children’s life is different, and probably their children, too.” 

When it comes to voting, there is no doubt in her mind that women’s health is her family’s number one issue. She and her husband don’t discuss business prospects at night. but who could be the next nominee to the Supreme Court. “It’s so much bigger.”

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.’”

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

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