Get It Right

Ellen Marshall

I began working on women’s issues 20 years ago on Capitol Hill. Since then, I have held senior roles overseeing programmatic and advocacy work for several NGOs; and served at the State Department, where I was Coordinator of Population issues and served on the US delegations to the ICPD, the Fourth World Conference on Women and the World Summit on Social Development.

All Work

A Win for Contraceptives

Ellen Marshall

Thursday the House of Representatives confirmed that domestic family-planning programs serve a crucial public health need — despite protests from some anti-contraception legislators.

Prevention Prevails

Ellen Marshall

Congress voted Thursday to enable family planning organizations that cannot accept financial support from the United States to at least receive contraceptives to provide to their clients.

The Amendment Was the Pitts

Ellen Marshall

Rep. Pitts tried to remove a provision in the Foreign Operations Bill that would enable the President to waive the abstinence-until-marriage earmark in global HIV prevention.


Ellen Marshall

Admittedly, I don't think of Concerned Women for America (CWA) as a beacon of graciousness—but its latest move it simply over the top—classless, crude and utterly disrespectful. The sexual and reproductive health community—and more importantly family, friends and loved ones—recently lost a talented, lovely soul in the person of Cynthia Dailard. CWA's response? Attack—even after Cynthia is gone.

Bush Whacks Sexual and Reproductive Health Funding

Ellen Marshall

Lest there be any confusion, the Bush Administration has little values for and no understanding of the need for sexual and reproductive health services. The only question is whether that's due to a complete lack of understanding of human health needs or because undermining sexual health appeases his far-right political base. Need evidence? Check out Bush's budget request.

Missed Opportunity for C on ABC

Ellen Marshall

Desperate Housewives" is not shy about dealing with sexual relations. And for a second, I thought that they would even take advantage of the opportunity to give condoms the thumbs up when partaking in sexual relations -- especially when the issue comes up with a character who, as the voice over from heaven reminds us, is "two-timing" on his girlfriend.


First Thing…Prevention First

Ellen Marshall

Thankfully - and signaling progress in the area of sexual and reproductive health - one of the first bills introduced in the Senate on the opening day of the 110th Congress was the Prevention First Act (S. 21). This common-sense, cost-effective, health service approach to simultaneously reduce the incidence of abortion and promote good health was introduced by anti-choice Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Reid introduced a similar bill in the previous Congress (though it was doomed to go nowhere). We have crossed fingers that the makeup of the new Congress will enable a better outcome this time around.

Breaking the Promise: The Politics of Domestic HIV Prevention

Ellen Marshall

Our country's founders left us all many pearls of wisdom and word to live by. Ben Franklin of course was full of them, including "An ounce of prevention is a worth a pound of cure" and "Half the Truth is often a great Lie." These words couldn't be any more relevant than when they were furst uttered in the 18th century - yet policy makers reject this solid advice, particularly when it comes to public health, especially anything that has to do with sexual relations.

A concise and to the point SIECUS report lays out just how the Administration and their partners-in-crime in the Congress have actually prevented good prevention policies - leaving the United States stalled in reducing the number of new HIV infections. "Breaking the Promise: The Politics of Domestic HIV Prevention" describes some of ways opponents of practical, effective and evidence-based prevention measures have hijacked resources, vilified condoms, and redirected attention elsewhere.

But HIV IS a Reproductive Health Issue

Ellen Marshall

At a recent briefing by the folks at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Jimmy Kolker asked about whether any PEPFAR funded programs were going to focus on providing the HPV vaccine to adolescents, given that this would also build capacity for rolling out other vaccines in the future. Kolker's response was a bit of an admonition to remember that this is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (emphasis on AIDS). He said that OGAC is interested in integrating HIV/AIDS services into reproductive health services, but they won't be working to integrate reproductive health services into HIV/AIDS services. Hmmm.

Breaking News from the GAO: Abstinence-Only Programs Not Reviewed for Scientific Accuracy

Ellen Marshall

"Efforts by HHS and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. This is because ACF - which awards grants through two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education - does not review its grantees' education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy."

Check RHRealityCheck for further analysis from Bill Smith of SIECUS coming soon!

So Much for Governing from the Middle

Ellen Marshall

Despite the public outcry last week for our government to work together and make progress, the White House steered clear of governing from the middle and bipartisanship in a new staffing move. Today the White House named Eric Keroack, MD as the new government official overseeing Title X, the program that provides contraceptive and other reproductive health services in every state of the nation to those in need. He'll start work on Monday.

This Keroack has had a career dedicated to abstinence-only programs and is an ardent anti-choice Ob-Gyn. He serves on the Medical Advisory Council for the Abstinence Clearinghouse and is a member of the Federal Expert Panel commissioned to define the guidelines for most governmental funding of abstinence education in our public schools -- programs that have grown over recent years and have yet to be proven effective. He is the Medical Director of A Woman's Concern crisis pregnancy centers, an organization that posts only negative -- and in some cases incorrect -- information about abortion. Now, no Title X funds are used to provide abortion services. But is a man who misleads women in crisis pregnancies the kind of person who should be heading a program that is supposed to help people be informed about how they can decide if and when to have children?

After the Election: Potential for Progress

Ellen Marshall

Even as election results continue to come in from parts of the country, it’s clear that we are poised for some progress on some key sexual and reproductive health issues with the new 110th Congress. In addition, citizens in South Dakota, California and Oregon took policy making into their own hands – rejecting an effort to criminalize abortions and limit access to these services for young women. And Kansas rejected its attorney general Phil Kline, a notorious advocate for ending access to abortion.

Character Counts. But What About Young People’s Health?

Ellen Marshall

The irony of President Bush’s "National Character Counts Week" has not gone unnoticed amidst the flurry of scandal in our nation’s capitol... But another – and more substantive – scandal is that the GAO (Government Accountability Office) found that that the federal health agency under the President’s authority is knowingly trying to skirt the law and is putting the health of American citizens at risk.

The non-partisan GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services is failing to enforce the law requiring that organizations receiving federal grants to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases to provide medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms. Somehow HHS doesn’t think that organizations receiving our tax dollars to provide abstinence-only-until-marriage programs need to provide this medically-accurate information. The GAO disagrees.

Finding Loopholes – and We Knew It Was Coming

Ellen Marshall

While debating changes to the laws overseeing bankruptcy filings in March 2005, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered an amendment that would have made it illegal for violent protesters, whether at abortion clinics or any other lawful business or service, from using bankruptcy law to avoid court-ordered financial consequences of their actions. The Senate defeated the amendment by a vote of 53 to 46, allowing anti-abortion protesters to file for bankruptcy instead of paying fines incurred from performing or threatening violent actions against reproductive health clinics, clinic workers, or patients. Opponents argued that it was unnecessary and organizations would not use the system to get out of their obligations.

But low and behold, the "organizations" using this kind of loophole are Roman Catholic Dioceses - filing for bankruptcy to avoid their obligations to individuals who were sexually abused by priests.

Good News: Anti-Choice House Leaders Blew It

Ellen Marshall

The Senate’s last vote before it headed home to campaign was an effort to push through legislation to limit young women’s access to abortion. But the procedural motion that required 60 votes failed by a vote of 57-42. Now, what surprised me is that the House had a chance last week to pass the Senate version of the bill, which would have sent it right off to President Bush to sign into law. They would have won. Case closed. But instead House leadership would only accept their own slightly more egregious bill than the Senate’s – forcing another vote in the Senate.

Policy or Politics? An Anti-Choice Congress Fails It Base

Ellen Marshall

I’m confused. On Tuesday supporters of limiting access to abortion – which a majority of the House of Representatives are – did not take the opportunity to make it a federal crime to take a minor to another state to have an abortion. The House (which already passed a version of this bill in April 2005) could have taken up the bill the Senate passed in July of this year, passed it and then sent it onto the President for signature. Slam dunk – it would have been law.

25 Years Later These Words Still Ring True

Ellen Marshall

HBO debuted the special "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater" last night (see preview below). With all the moralizing we hear these days - especially about private human relations - I thought it was worth rereading these words that were spoken 25 years ago and yet are still relevant today:

"However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their [img_assist|nid=575|title=Barry Goldwater|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=80|height=100]religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

Appeasing His Extremists

Ellen Marshall

The Administration's decision to block the funding for UNFPA for the fifth year in a row is descriptive of its overall attitude: set your course and don't ever change. The standard operating procedure seems to be: make a decision, and no matter what the evidence shows, stay your original course.

Hearing on PEPFAR’s Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Earmark: Highlights and Lowlights

Ellen Marshall

Rep. Chris Shays held a hearing Wednesday to learn more about how the PEPFAR requirement that at least one third of prevention funding be directed to abstinence-only-until-marriage affects the ability of countries to effectively implement prevention initiatives and what steps can be taken to address concerns about limitations presented by the funding requirement.

Everyone agreed abstinence promotion - or more accurately delaying when people start to engage in sexual activity - should be part of prevention programming. The question at hand is whether there should be a requirement for a specific amount of money to be spent on this one aspect of programming.

No one could articulate how the earmark benefits HIV prevention programs. So, will Congress change the requirement?

Discovering the Obvious on Plan B

Ellen Marshall

The progression of getting to today's decision to make Plan B available from pharmacists without a prescription is somewhat circular - in many ways ending up where it began. It goes something like this:

Hiss on Him

Ellen Marshall

In James Pinkerton's mini rant about AIDS activists addressing the pandemic as a social issue as well as scientific-medical issue, he misses the obvious - the underlying factors driving the pandemic are social issues: poverty, gender and other gross inequalities, and the inability to address sexual matters forthrightly and honestly to name a few. Though he goes on about the stigma toward sexual workers, he also misses the obvious point - and one that might actually have some positive impact: this is a demand driven profession.

HIV Prevention Integral to Reproductive Health

Ellen Marshall

RHReality Check has a series of bloggers from Toronto, looking at HIV prevention through improved access to sexual and reproductive health care. The prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS is integral to sexual and reproductive health - and yet often ignored in that context.

HIV/AIDS, first and foremost, is a sexually transmitted disease. All too often, however, the response ignores the range of life's issues that relate to human sexuality - and neglects to address this disease for what it primarily is - a sexually transmitted disease.

The pandemic is growing fastest among women and young people, fueled by those who believe that knowing less, rather than more, is a road to informed decision making.

Senate Says “No” to Medically-Accurate Sex Ed

Ellen Marshall

Once again – trying to stop abortion by limiting access, rather than preventing unwanted pregnancy...

A bill to limit access to abortion for young Americans is being debated in the Senate.  In an effort to strengthen the bill, both Senators from New Jersey offered an amendment to provide funding for medically-accurate sex education that helps to delay sexual activity and give young people the information they need to make healthy decisions. They also tried to get support for programs to help parents learn how to talk with their kids about sex.  But unbelievably, I mean really unbelievably, this common sense provision could not get a majority of support in the Senate.  I honestly just do not get it – what is so terrifying about this information?  Boggles the mind.  Kudos to Senators Lautenberg and Menendez for trying.

And the Philosophical Swing of the Courts Continues…

Ellen Marshall

Today the Senate confirmed ardently anti-choice and anti-woman judge Jerome Holmes to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. This means one more anti-choice individual who thinks that “no issue of our time is more important, not the economy, not the deficit, not health care, not foreign policy, as important as those matters are” will be a sitting judge. A believer that a wife is to subordinate herself to her husband and former president of a state-wide “right to life” coalition, Holmes believes that Roe v. Wade is contrary to the principles of natural law he finds in the Constitution. Holmes was “promoted” from the US District Court to a court that sets binding precedent. No doubt he’s hoping to have some opportunities to set new precedents sometime soon.

Microbicide Research: Can it Save Women’s Lives?

Ellen Marshall

Microbicides are one of the most promising technologies ever for preventing HIV/AIDS. They could do more to stop the virus -- especially for women -- than any other prevention tool besides a vaccine.

A briefing on the status of microbicide research was held in Washington, D.C. this week, entitled "Microbicide Reseach, A Promising Prevention Strategy for HIV/AIDS: Can It Save Women's Lives?" A videocast of the entire presentation is available from the Kaiser Network.

Vice & Virtue, Take Two

Ellen Marshall

Apparently the American-supported government of Afghanistan has begun the process of reinstituting its “Vice and Virtue Ministry.”  Under the Taliban, this official government Ministry employed 32,000 people to enforce stringent religious rules that tilted heavily toward repressing women.  Horror stories have been told about harassment and imprisonment faced by women for offenses including wearing socks that were too translucent, allowing their wrists to show in public, and homeschooling their daughters. 

In this new manifestation, the identically-named ministry – a “symbol of the brutal regime” of the Taliban in the eyes of the Afghan people – will be focused on eliminating the vices of drugs, alcohol, and crime.  President Hamid Karzai has tried to assure the public that it will not be a rebirth of the old program that so affected the lives of women, but we have to ask, why give it a rebirth at all?

Taking on Child Marriage to Fight Inequity and HIV

Ellen Marshall

Yesterday in the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) introduced the International Child Marriage Prevention and Assistance Act (S. 3651 -- see our Policy Watch section) that will seek to protect young girls in the developing world from forced and early marriages, taking on a major issue facing many girls today. Though it could be perceived as a simple cultural difference on its surface, it presents a major health issue and human rights issue, and it need to be combated.

An Unsettling Answer from the Bush Administration

Ellen Marshall

The Administration’s much-delayed response to a simple query from several Members of Congress is more confusing than clarifying. Led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Members asked the President, “Do you support the right to use contraception?” Shouldn’t be a tough one to answer.

But it took a year, several requests, and bouncing the request down from the President to the Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS to find out that the Administration “supports the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception.”

On first read it might provide some comfort. But take a minute to think about it. Shouldn’t they be supporting products and services to assist ALL people to make RESPONSIBLE DECISIONS, rather than only responsible adults having access? But the next choice of words – selected over a year – is even more concerning. Notice that they don’t actually talk about contraception. And they don’t say products and services to prevent pregnancy – rather it is to delay conception.

Judicial Activism Bush Style

Ellen Marshall

Time and again, the battle cry of “judicial activism” has rallied the conservative troops. These words have been used to motivate the right-wing base to turn out for votes, and they have been used to demean an entire branch of government. President Bush and his staff have often raised concerns about “activist courts”.

Meanwhile, in some alternate universe... The new make up of the Supreme Court had led the Bush Administration to push for some judicial activism of its own. The Administration doesn’t like an earlier Supreme Court decision – or the decisions from two different appeals courts – on cases related to what they call “partial-birth abortion” (though that term has no medical definition…but that is another story for another time). In the past the Supreme Court said that women have a right to have an abortion to protect their own health. But now that the Administration has gotten some of its own nominees on the Supreme Court, it seems that the time is ripe for one more attempt to get their kind of judicial activism – that is, to overturn a precedent.

AIDS 2006: The UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS)

Ellen Marshall

Five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly held a special session on HIV/AIDS.  This was the first time all UN members had convened under the auspices of the General Assembly to address a specific health issue.   In view of the staggering nature of the pandemic, the member states adopted in 2001 a 10-year plan, known as the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS – to guide international effort to stem the spread of the disease and care for those infected by it.   From May 31-June 2, the international community will convene once again to take stock of progress in implementing the action plan, evaluate successful and unsuccessful efforts, and chart a course for the future.  

Congress Denies Funding for Fistula, Citing Abortion

Ellen Marshall

Using misinformed arguments and political concerns, the House Appropriations committee rejected an amendment by a vote of 23-30 to direct funds already in the bill to UNFPA’s obstetric fistula prevention and treatment efforts, should the Administration not release the funds for other family planning and women’s empowerment efforts. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick offered this compromise amendment to allow US support to UNFPA for very specific and non-controversial programs, as a constructive response to the Administration blocking the funding for the past four years.

Opponents said that inclusion of this amendment would “make it difficult to pass” the Foreign Operations bill on the floor – so much for meeting the public health needs of some of the world’s poorest women. Others threw their standard complaint into the mix, stating that this (in an extremely circuitous way) somehow supports abortion.

House Committee Restores Some Family Planning Funds

Ellen Marshall

A House committee today rejected Bush’s request to cut international family planning programs by $79 million, by restoring $56 million of funding. This is still a cut from current levels of funding, and if this goes unchanged, means that women and men that are currently receiving services to help plan when and how many children to have, among other things, will be left without.

The subcommittee also included $34 million for UNFPA, the UN population fund, to provide reproductive health services. UNFPA programs reach countries the United States does not, so it is one more way for Americans to improve life in many parts of the world.

Americans have made a great difference in the health and well being of women and children around the world with our support of these programs. We can continue to be a leader, or we can let these cuts stand. We’ll have to see if opponents will go after these programs – and will be tracking this issue here. Next step: The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider this bill Thursday, May 25.

Bishops (Not God) Forbid

Ellen Marshall

Most Americans would agree to help individuals caught up in human trafficking, frequently women or children sold into servitude for sex, housework and other kinds of labor. Your tax dollars are being used to provide basic services for these people who are getting resettled into a new life. Sounds pretty good. After all, these people were basically kidnapped from their homes and put into some kind of indentured work and certainly deserve a helping hand.

Up to $6 million of your tax dollars are going to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide things like health care, rent, clothing, child care, English classes and immigration filing fees. This also sounds pretty good too – the USCCB probably has people’s best interests in mind. The USCCB then re-grants to local organizations to provide these services.

A Tip of the Hat

Ellen Marshall

Today a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is reviewing an amazing advancement in women’s health – a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.  While there was some grumbling from the fringe when Merck first announced this medical advancement, we want to give a tip of the hat to those conservative groups now supporting it. 

Dr. Gary Rose of the conservative Medical Institute for Sexual Health said, "We believe this is going to be very important in terms of prevention."  Almost unbelievably, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America said, “We welcome the vaccine."  And even the Family Research Council is now supporting it. 

Here’s to progress.

Administration Still Silent On Contraception

Ellen Marshall

New White House spokesman Tony Snow held his first briefing May 16, just over a year after the first time the press corps asked a very simple question: Does the President support contraception?

Tuesday, talk show host Les Kinsolving asked, “Congresswoman Maloney of New York and 43 others in the House have written the President, and this is the fourth time with no response from him, to ask, is the President opposed to contraception or not?” The new spokesperson did not have a new responseonce again the question was avoided.

The White House, through former spokesman Scott McClellan, has been asked this question on May 26, July 18, October 25 in 2005 and then on January 24, 2006. A clear answer has never been heard—even though Members of Congress have written to ask four more times after the first letter.

With 8 in 10 self-identified “pro lifers” supporting access to contraception for women, why is Bush afraid to speak up in support of it?

Resolution to Strengthen Family Planning Services for Women

Ellen Marshall

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Congresswoman Nita Lowey have introduced the Resolution to Strengthen Family Planning Services for Women. From their letter asking for co-sponsors:

There's a quiet war going on in America – against the most basic rights of Americans to make their own personal decisions about family planning. Dozens of state and federal reproductive health programs have been cut or restricted in recent years. The so-called "Deficit Reduction Act of 2005" actually stripped away the promise to cover family planning for all Medicaid enrollees, further reducing access for those who need it. Low-income women, denied access to contraception, are having more unwanted pregnancies -- four times as many as those for higher income women. And almost half of all unwanted pregnancies end in abortions.
It's time to find out if Congress is serious about reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Our resolution will ask Congress to go on record for programs and policies that make it easier for women of all incomes to obtain contraceptives and use them correctly.

You can express your opinion on these issues by contacting your senator or representative here.

Freedom For Whom?

Ellen Marshall

More than 200,000 women are serving in the US military—protecting our rights and defending freedom—yet they do not have the freedom to privately pay for an abortion at the military medical facilities where they are required to obtain all their health care. A service woman has to get permission from her commanding officer, wait for an available military transport and head home to the land of the free and home of the brave to have access to a safe and legal abortion.

Abortion In Women’s Lives

Ellen Marshall

Today’s Guttmacher Institute report on abortion in the lives of America’s women punctures many of the false fronts willfully created by opponents of reproductive health.

First, the report demonstrates conclusively the promise of prevention. Access and the means for contraception make a critical difference in the number of unintended pregnancy. Once again for those on the right who can’t seem to get it—if the United States and the world is to reduce the need for recourse to abortion, prevention—not protests or restrictive laws—is paramount. This means comprehensive sexuality education; public support for contraceptive and other reproductive health services (through Title X and Medicaid in the U.S.); mandatory insurance coverage for contraceptives; Plan B and all of the other empirically demonstrated means of reducing unplanned pregnancies.

Globabl Gags Do Not Promote Democracy

Ellen Marshall

Last week, Jo Maney, spokesperson for the House Rules Committee, issued the following statement:

“Lobbying is a First Amendment right and we would not want to in any way chill the desire to petition the government or lobby the government.”


No doubt Ms. Maney is unaware that this is precisely what the Bush Administration has done with respect to international family planning programs, with encouragement from the Republican-controlled Congress. President Bush’s expansive version of the global gag rule denies funding to organizations that use their own, private, non-federal money in provision of counseling or advocacy related to abortion. The pureness of the quote above is a reminder of just how outrageous the global gag rule is, why it would be unconstitutional if applied to U.S. organizations, and how hypocritical this policy is coming from an Administration that preaches the virtues of democracy and freedom.


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