News Contraception

Women’s Labor Union Sues To Stop Missouri Law Allowing Employers to Deny Contraceptive Coverage

Robin Marty

The state legislature passed it.  The governor vetoed it.  The legislature overrode it.  Now, one labor group steps in to sue the state's contraceptive coverage refusal law from going into effect.

The battle over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, requiring that insurance companies provide coverage for contraception without a co-pay, has been heated in Missouri. The legislature passed a bill to make it easier for companies to eliminate coverage of contraception in their employee health plans, and the governor vetoed it. 

The House and Senate together over-rode Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto, making the state the only one in the country to directly challenge the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all health care plans, including those offered by employers, must provide contraceptive coverage. Still, the battle over coverage is not over, as a local labor groups steps in and sues to block the bill from going into effect.

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women has filed suit against the bill that expands “religious objection” protections for those who don’t want to cover contraceptive care, arguing that the state cannot trump federal law, and the Missouri bill directly and intentionally conflicts with the Affordable Care Act.

“We are coming fast out of the gate on this to show that labor is going to put its foot down on attempts to divide workers and deny workers their right to heath care,” said Edward Keenan, a labor lawyer with Keenan Law Firm in Kansas City who is representing the union in the lawsuit.

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“We consider this move to be just another right wing assault on workers — limiting our members’ options and choices,” Keenan said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 700,000 women in Missouri use birth control.

News Human Rights

Missouri Senate Approves Anti-Shackling Measure as a Former Inmate Sues County Jail

Kanya D’Almeida

“The vast majority of Missouri's pregnant offenders are nonviolent and pose no risk of flight or danger to others, especially during labor," said state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed.

The Missouri Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant prisoners in “many cases.” The measure comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of a former inmate at a Missouri county jail who claims she was shackled, chained, and transported hundreds of miles while in labor with a high-risk pregnancy.

SB 618 is now before the house. It bans the use of restraints on offenders in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections who are in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy, and for 48 hours post-delivery. There are exceptions for when a doctor deems the person to be a flight risk or a serious threat to themselves, or to correctional or medical personnel.

The bill defines restraints as handcuffs, chains, leg irons, or straitjackets, and provides for a complete ban on leg and waist restraints on pregnant and postpartum people. It further stipulates that correction centers must inform inmates about laws governing the use of restraints, and train their staff accordingly.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis), who added an amendment putting incarcerated women on the bill, which was originally intended to limit the shackling of juveniles, said Wednesday, according to a report in the Southeast Missourian: “The shackling of pregnant women is a human rights issue. The use of restraints during labor has resulted in a wide range of injuries, from falls to loss of fertility.”

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Organizations including the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the ACLU have also warned that shackling can cause serious harm to the pregnant person and the fetus, and can increase the risk of miscarriage.

Nasheed added, “The vast majority of Missouri’s pregnant offenders are nonviolent and pose no risk of flight or danger to others, especially during labor.”

At the same time the Missouri legislature is deciding whether or not to put restrictions on the practice of shackling pregnant people, the ACLU has charged multiple employees at the Mississippi County Detention Center (MCDC) with violating plaintiff Tara Rhodes’ Eighth Amendment constitutional rights; battery; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the complaint, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Rhodes discovered she was in her first trimester of pregnancy in September 2014, while incarcerated at the MCDC.

Abdominal pain, cramping, spotting, and bleeding marked the early days of her pregnancy, according to jail records. On October 31, 2014, after weeks of filing a medical request, she was finally allowed to consult an obstetrician, who diagnosed her as having a high-risk pregnancy.

That same day, according to the complaint, the obstetrician faxed a letter to the MCDC stressing that Rhodes required “urgent … access to healthcare” and asked that she be allowed “to make contact with the patient in a timely fashion.”

Subsequent to that appointment, Rhodes posted bond and was released from the jail, the complaint notes. She continued to obtain prenatal care, and on one occasion was accompanied by a person named in the lawsuit as Gina Lummis, who planned to adopt Rhodes’ baby after the birth, according to the complaint.

On December 15, 2014, Rhodes found herself back at the MCDC, the complaint says. Three days later, on December 18, she went into preterm labor. The complaint notes that she was in severe abdominal pain and experiencing such heavy vaginal leakage that “her pants became soaked.”

For five days straight, Rhodes said she repeatedly requested—and was repeatedly denied—immediate medical care, even as she continued to experience intense abdominal pain, vaginal leakage, and blood clots. Multiple staff members were aware of her condition, the complaint alleges, and at various times informed her that she would not receive care until her scheduled appointment on December 23.

In one instance, a guard named in the complaint as Faith Altamirano told her to wear a tampon to “absorb the leaking fluids,” the complaint notes, and on a separate occasion that same employee accused her of faking her symptoms and ordered her to “stop.”

On December 22, unable to walk, Rhodes said she was dragged along the floor to a holding cell and told that if she didn’t stop pounding on the door in a desperate attempt to access care she would be physically restrained. That night, the complaint reads, Altamirano entered the holding cell and instructed Rhodes to pull down her pants and underwear and spread her legs. Altamirano then allegedly concluded that she did not see anything coming out of Rhodes’ vagina.

At dawn on December 23, 2014, Rhodes was shackled at the wrists, ankles, and around her abdomen, and driven 243 miles to the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC), according to the ACLU. From there, she was transported another 30 miles to the Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Missouri.

In total, the journey took over nine hours, the complaint states. Rhodes reported that she was shackled throughout the ordeal and received no medical care despite continued pain and vaginal discharge that, according to the complaint, had “become green in color.” By the time she was admitted for preterm labor, she said, her pants were soaked in fluid, her cervix was dilated two centimeters, and there were fetal parts in her vagina, including a foot.

At 7 a.m., she delivered a stillborn baby boy; the foot that had been dangling in her vagina upon admission at the hospital, the complaint says, was “blackened in appearance upon delivery.”

The complaint notes that her water had broken on December 18, the very same day she alerted jail staff to her condition.

Of the eight defendants named in the complaint, two are being sued for using excessive force against the plaintiff “maliciously and sadistically”—both of whom were responsible for shackling Rhodes, according to the complaint.

This is not the first time the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against a Missouri jail on shackling charges. In October 2015, the organization filed suit against Jackson County and three of its detention center officers on behalf of Megon Riedel, who claims she was transported nearly 200 miles in shackles and chains while in active labor.

“There is no excuse for any Missourian to be shackled by law enforcement or denied health services while in labor,” Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement released Monday. “The fact that the ACLU has to repeatedly take action against jails and prisons across the state for doing so is proof that this is a serious problem in Missouri. The ACLU remains ready to hold every offending institution accountable.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Accused Planned Parenthood Shooter Has Change of Heart

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

Accused Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear wants to plead "not guilty," and the Colorado Supreme Court wants to know what is in his arrest file.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

The Colorado Supreme Court ordered documents related to the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting unsealed, while accused shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. has said he now plans to plead “not guilty” to the event.

The New York Times editorial board has this to say: “State attacks against Planned Parenthood inflict ‘substantial and immediate’ harm on low-income women,” to which we say, “exactly.” Low-income women often can’t get health care anywhere else, and the anti-choicers seem to think women should get health care in school gymnasiums and homeless shelters.

Tamara Tabo writes for Above the Law that although she is opposed to abortion, David Daleiden deserves to be prosecuted.

The ex-lawyer for the “D.C. Madam” has petitioned the Supreme Court to unseal phone records in case they include customer names that “could affect the 2016 presidential election.”

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A compelling read on how Planned Parenthood v. Casey was really the death of Roe v. Wade and any substantive recognition of abortion rights.

Dahlia Lithwick says Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland should show up to the Supreme Court and have a seat. Literally.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could restore the voting rights of approximately 20,000 former felons in the state.

Colleges are spending millions dealing with Title IX sexual misconduct complaints. This in and of itself should be a force driving reforms, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Abortion clinic protesters in Pennsylvania want a federal court to rule they have the constitutional right to shout outside at clinic patients and staff.

The Supreme Court turned away a request from former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to review his corruption convictions, which included his attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama after his election.

Florida health regulators quietly abandoned efforts to fine three Planned Parenthood health clinics on allegations the clinics performed unlawful later abortions in violation of their licenses.

Here’s a story of news cycles colliding. It turns out that Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland was one of three federal judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals who denied Donald Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s efforts to get his gun back after a 1999 arrest for unlawfully carrying it into a House of Representatives office building.

The Department of Labor released a rule requiring employers to disclose when they’ve met with anti-union consultants. Naturally, business groups challenged it almost immediately.

The Kansas Supreme Court has been instrumental in blocking the most radical reforms proposed by state Republicans. So now Kansas Republicans are going after the court.

Mark Joseph Stern has a sobering look at the effects of the anti-LGBTQ law passed in Mississippi.