News Law and Policy

Pennsylvania’s New ‘Women’s Health Caucus’ Unveils Package of Pro-Active Bills

Tara Murtha

Wednesday morning, the Pennsylvania legislature’s Women’s Health Caucus—just established this spring—unveiled its first enterprise: a package of bills that pro-actively address women’s physical health, financial security, and personal safety.

“Women’s health” and “women’s rights” are not phrases often heard in halls of the capitol in Harrisburg, except when used as double-speak to camouflage bills designed to limit access to abortion services.

But Wednesday morning, the Pennsylvania legislature’s Women’s Health Caucus—just established this spring—unveiled its first enterprise: a package of bills that pro-actively address women’s physical health, financial security, and personal safety.

State Sen. Judith Schwank (D-Berks), a lead organizer of the effort, introduced the legislative package by explaining that many these concepts are “foreign to the predominant policymakers” in Harrisburg.

With 36 female representatives and eight female senators out of 253 seats, the percentage of women in Pennsylvania’s legislature (17.8 percent) lags well behind the national average (23 percent) and fails to reflect constituent demographics.

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“With this agenda, the Women’s Health Caucus is going to work on focusing legislative efforts on the concerns most women worry about and struggle with, but historically have been put aside or downplayed,” said Schwank.

She emphasized, however, that the caucus’s concerns extend beyond abortion. “We must stop limiting our attention to quote ‘women’s concerns’ to limits on their reproductive rights,” she said. “It’s much more than that.”

To that end, representatives of the caucus referred to the seven bills introduced Wednesday morning as the “first phase” of their effort. More bills are expected to come down the pike in the coming months.

The forthcoming bills by issue addressed:

Sanitary workplace conditions for working mothers: Introduced by state Rep. Mary Jo Daley (DMontgomery) and dubbed the Workplace Accommodation for Nursing Mothers Act, HB 1895 is, according to Daley, a “statute guaranteeing nursing mothers a private sanitary area in the workplace” to breastfeed.

Breast cancer screenings: Sponsored by state Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), HB 1900 would expand certain breast cancer screening benefits provided through the state health department to include more women by amending the Pennsylvania Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Screening Act. According to Rep. Donatucci, current law qualifies women ages 50 to 64; she said the amendment will enable women 30 to 65 years old to obtain the screenings.

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women: Sponsored by state Sen. Matt Smith, SB 1209 would provide “reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace.” The house version of the bill (HB 1892) is sponsored by state Rep. Mark Painter (D-Montgomery).

Pay inequity: Co-sponsored by state Reps. Erin Molchany (D-Mount Washington) and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia), HB 1890 is intended to fix what the sponsors referred to as the “pay secrecy issue,” meaning retaliation against employees who discuss their respective salaries.

“In many ways the most insidious problem with pay inequity is the inability to discover if you’re making less than your male counterparts,” said Rep. Sims. He also had a warning for Pennsylvania employers: “If you’re one of those employers paying women less, we’re going to find out.”

SB 1212, the senate companion bill, is sponsored by state Sens. Rob Teplitz (DDauphin/York) and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware).

Ensuring safe access to health-care facilities: State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) served as a volunteer clinic escort before joining the senate, so he has particular insight into the harassment that occurs outside clinics. He’s preparing to introduce SB 1208, a bill that would “enact a statewide buffer zone outside health-care facilities located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” The intention is to create a 15-foot buffer zone around driveways and entrances to health-care facilities. State Rep. Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the house companion bill, HB 1891, emphasized that the bill was “content neutral,” meaning that it would apply to all health-care facilities, not just those offering abortion services. “While everybody is entitled to their personal beliefs, people should not be allowed to interfere with the rights of others by blocking [them],” he said.

Intimate partner harassment: “It’s been called revenge porn,” said state Rep. Tina Davis (D-Bucks). “[It’s] the next wave of violence against women.”

Sponsored by Davis and Rep. Tara Toohil (R-Luzerne) in the house and Sen. Judy Schwank in the senate, the bills (HB 1901 and SB 1167, respectively) intend to make posting such photos a third-degree felony.

The legislators framed the issue of posting sexually explicit photos of a person to the Internet without his or her approval as an invasion of privacy and harassment. After having their photos posted without consent, women have been stalked and threatened.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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