Commentary Human Rights

Pennsylvania Activists Rally for Reproductive Rights and Justice

Jasmine Burnett

The All* Above All Be Bold Road Trip stopped in Philadelphia on September 9 at Love Park, a symbol of great pride to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. However, as low-income families and women in the city have experienced, the motto certainly isn’t a reflection of the city's stewardship to communities in need.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

The All* Above All Be Bold Road Trip has blazed a trail across the country, celebrating the work reproductive health, rights, and justice movements are doing to protect abortion access while building momentum for the hard-fought wins ahead, such as eliminating Medicaid restrictions on abortion access under the Hyde Amendment.

The road trip started in Los Angeles on August 9 and has traveled 10,000 miles across 12 cities and eight states with a mission to elevate the effects that restrictions on abortion access and affordability have had on families across the country.

The tour stopped in Philadelphia on September 9 at Love Park; I was the Women’s Medical Fund community organizer for the event. I know the location to be a symbol of great pride to the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. However, as low-income families and women in the city have experienced, the motto certainly isn’t a reflection of the city’s stewardship to communities in need.

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The state’s history of restricting reproductive health care for low-income women (primarily women of color, immigrant, and rural women) includes coerced sterilization and severely limited access to abortion care based on bias and stigma from state policymakers who believe they are justified in making health decisions for Pennsylvania women and their families. For instance, last year Gov. Corbett signed a bill into law that restricts abortion insurance coverage in health-care policies sold on the state insurance exchange.

Restrictions on public funding for abortion care are nothing new for Pennsylvania. It is one of 32 states that restricts Medicaid coverage for abortion under the Hyde Amendment. (Medicaid-funded abortions are only an option in the state in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person.) This year marks the 38th anniversary of this policy and its repressive restrictions on poor women, young women, and people of color.

When women have limited access to abortion because their private or public insurance plan is banned from covering it, that places a substantial barrier between low-income women and access to health care, as well as their ability to care for their families.

The speakers at the Philadelphia rally offered various perspectives on this issue. They spoke about the past and current harms of the Hyde Amendment as well as other reproductive health-care restrictions in the state that are a major concern of the reproductive justice community.

Rev. Marvin Marsh shared his experiences as a faith leader and chaplain for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “I’m old enough to remember [what it was like] before Roe v. Wade, and I remember … it didn’t matter what the law of the land was, [people who had the money] could get an abortion by going overseas, going to an island, or simply going to an understanding doctor right here,” he said. “I’m also old enough to remember what happened when women and families were desperate enough to seek [abortion] services in the back allies.”

Rabbi Lori Koffman of the National Council of Jewish Women explained that her organization exists to do what Judaism demands of us: to pursue justice for everyone (or tzedakah in Hebrew). “Economic insecurity should not be a barrier between a family’s livelihood and a woman’s health-care access. Women struggling to make ends meet should not have inferior health care … that is not reproductive justice,” she said.

Jessica Arons of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project shared a recent example of the punitive measures that Pennsylvania legislators take to control women and their families. “These are the same folks who are putting up barriers to abortion care everywhere we look. Just this past week, a single mom in Washingtonville, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to at least a year in prison—prison—for giving her 16-year old daughter pills to end an unwanted pregnancy,” she told the crowd.

“Do you know why they [the mother from Washingtonville and her daughter] didn’t go to a clinic?” Arons added. “One, there was no local clinic—the closest one was 75 miles away in Harrisburg. And two, her daughter didn’t have insurance to cover the cost of an abortion at a hospital.”

Abortion clinics weighed in on the unique challenges that geographic distance and disability causes for women seeking care at their clinics. Kim Chiz, a registered nurse at the Allentown Women’s Center, shared some stories about these challenges. “We serve Northeast and Central Pennsylvania because there are no abortion clinics north of the Lehigh Valley,” she said. “This means that folks from Williamsport and state college [Penn State] have to take a long drive and spend lots of money (for child care and transportation) to get to Bethlehem.”

Access to abortion doesn’t end with able-bodied people, however. “If a person is on Medicare and disabled, Medicare will not pay for their abortion,” Chiz added. “Many times they are appalled that Medicare doesn’t cover the services they need. … My zip code shouldn’t determine my access to abortion.”

Nina Ahmed, president of Philadelphia NOW, emphasized the need for accountability from legislators who say they stand with advocates and activists on this issue. “I put all these [Pennsylvania] legislators on notice: You are signing the death sentences of women and girls with every stroke of your pen that curtails access to safe abortions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown reminded us that it takes a village: “Government cannot do it alone. Those days are over! It takes a collective will and mix of women and enlightened men to move what we believe is a no-brainer issue.”

Rhiannon DiClemente from Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Temple University let everyone know that young people care about these issues and spoke in support of youth being involved on their campuses. She noted that only three in ten young people qualify for Medicaid, “and then [they’re] subject to federal bans on abortion” on top of that.

Waheedah Shabazz-El of the Positive Women’s Network of America shared the circumstances that women living with HIV face in accessing abortion care, especially because women account for one of five new infection cases in the United States. “I am … one of the 300,000 women we know of living with HIV in this country—which are mostly poor women and women of color,” she said. “We are having babies who are born healthy and [HIV-]negative. … Yes, we are having sex and upholding our right to when or whether we choose to have children like any other woman. If we need to terminate a pregnancy we demand those same rights.”

Advocates also spoke of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, which supports, among other things, equal pay for equal work, support for pregnant women in the workplace, and accommodations for those in a domestic violence situation. Policies like those introduced under the agenda give us hope that the women’s equality movement in Pennsylvania will make some headway. And the rally gave me hope that the fight against restrictive abortion insurance coverage policies like the federal Hyde Amendment will not stop until the policy has been retracted.

La’Tasha Mayes from New Voices-Philadelphia (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Pennsylvania) said it best: “There is power in reproductive justice, there is transformation in reproductive justice, and most importantly for women of color and the marginalized communities we serve, there is hope and change and a future in reproductive justice.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.