Monthly Archives: January 2009

Family Planning and the Stimulus Package

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed an economic stimulus package. A previous version of the bill had included provisions for supplying contraception to low-income women on Medicaid. When House Republicans objected to the provision, President Obama asked the Democratic House leadership to remove the family planning provision from the package, which they did. The bill passed on Wednesday night without the family planning provision, and without a single Republican representative voting for the package.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss was about, Time magazine has a good rundown of exactly what happened. The family planning provision – which would not have included any abortion services, thanks to the Hyde Amendment, simply contraceptives – would have been a stimulus measure by reducing health care costs. From the article:

The Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights, estimates that every dollar of publicly funded family-planning services saves $4 in state and federal dollars. And when the Congressional Budget Office looked at a very similar provision in 2007, it estimated that the federal savings would have totaled $200 million over five years and $400 million over 10.

It’s disappointing that the leadership in Washington did not commit to helping all women, regardless of their income, make the reproductive choices for themselves right now. But feminists are hopeful that funding for family planning for low-income women will be passed soon.

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Filed under Contraception, Government, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Study Finds C-Sections May Increase Childbirth Complications

The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently published a study that found an increased risk of childbirth complications linked to birth by cesarean section.  The study compared births in 1988-89 to 2004-05, finding that the need for blood transfusions increased 90 percent and pulmonary embolisms increased 50 percent. In addition, kidney failure, respiratory distress syndrome, shock and the need for a ventilator went up 20 percent.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Susan Meikle, co-author of the study, stressed that both vaginal and C-section births have risks, and complications are still rare. The purpose of the study, she said, “is to make sure that women and families are aware of all the risks so when they make these decisions, they are making informed decisions and doctors are able to give them good information.”

This study is particularly timely because of the recent rise in women who give birth by C-section. According to USA Today, in 2006, 31.1% of pregnant women gave birth by C-section, totaling over one million deliveries.  These numbers are up 50% since 1998.  As more women give birth through C-section, studies like this are increasingly important for women’s awareness to health risks surrounding pregnancy.

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Filed under Childbirth, Pregnancy, Women's health

San Francisco AG Files Suit Over Discriminatory Health Insurance Policies

The City of San Francisco’s Attorney General has filed suit against state health insurance regulators  because of the current regulations’ discriminatory effects on women.  The suit contends that insurance commissioner Steve Poizner and director of the Department of Managed  Health Care, Cindy Ehnes, approved a system that allows insurance companies to impose “gender rating” when pricing policies.  This system affects women who are seeking individual health care polices.  Under current regulations, women are paying as much as 39% more for the same exact coverage as men, coverage that excludes costs related to pregnancy.

Currently, ten states outlaw “gender rating” health insurance rates for individual coverage, but not California.  Since December, two bills have been introduced in the state legislature which aim to remedy the situation.  However, until the law in California changes, lawsuits like this will be the only means to end discrimination in health insurance.

Other states in the United States are dealing with the same issues regarding women’s health insurance discrimination.  The National Women’s Law Center published a report, Nowhere to Turn (PDF), detailing the many problems women encounter when dealing with current health insurance policies.  The situation, which we previously blogged about here, is exacerbated by the continuing economic downturn. As more and more women are having trouble paying for their health insurance, the fact that they already pay more than men does not help.

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Filed under Equality, Health insurance, Women's health

Congress Passes Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

On Tuesday, Congress passed the final version of the Lilly Ledbetter  Fair Pay Act in a 250-177 vote.  This comes on the heels of the Senate  passing it last week. President Obama signed the bill into law yesterday at the White House. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act corrects the  Supreme Court decision that made it impossible for women to sue for wage  discrimination after the 180-day statute of limitations which began with the date the pay was agreed upon.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which we previously blogged about, is named after Lilly Ledbetter, who worked for Goodyear Tires for 19 years before discovering she was paid less than her male counterparts with the same or less experience. This new act helps not only women, but anyone who finds themselves a victim of wage discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, or disability.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act marks a sign that President Obama and the Democratic Congress are honoring their promises to those suffering from wage discrimination. Feminist Majority President, Eleanor Smeal, sees this
act
as a step “to rebuilding women’s rights and civil rights taken away during the Bush era.” And yesterday, in the New York Times, columnist Gail Collins wrote about the Act and the cases of employment discrimination that would have benefited from this legislation.

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Filed under Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Government, Supreme Court

Supreme Court Strengthens Protections in Title VII Cases

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Crawford v. Nashville which strengthened employees’ protections against retaliation by their employers during the investigation of employment discrimination cases. Vicky Crawford was an employee of the city government of Nashville, TN, who cooperated with an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by another city employee. Following the investigation, the employee who had committed the sexual harassment was not punished or removed from his position, but Ms. Crawford was fired by the city. She brought a Title VII discrimination suit against the city of Nashville, alleging that the termination of her employment was retaliation, which is illegal under Title VII. Lower courts had ruled that she was not protected by Title VII, as she did not bring the sex harassment claim against the employee under investigation. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, ruling that she was entitled to protection from retaliation under Title VII.

The decision (PDF) was unanimous and written by Justice Souter. Justices Alito and Thomas also filed a concurring opinion.

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Filed under Employment, Equality, Supreme Court

WNBA Star Candace Parker and Pregnant Athletes

The New York Times reports that Candace Parker, of the Los Angeles Sparks, is pregnant and due in the spring. The article touches on the fact that a high-profile athlete’s pregnancy could be a good conduit for talking about the challenges that working mothers face, whether they’re basketball players, schoolteachers, doctors, or in any other job. However, the overall tone of the article insinuates that Ms. Parker should not be pregnant (or at least should not be pregnant and proud), which is a disappointing comment on how our society views high-profile pregnant athletes.

The Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker is carrying a child this year when she was being counted on to carry a league. If the W.N.B.A. is not roundly thrilled with her pregnancy, which became public earlier this month, Parker has decided she can live with that.

W.N.B.A. Commissioner Donna Orender said her initial reaction to Parker’s pregnancy was a quiet sigh of resignation. Then she thought of all the women in the more traditional workplace struggling with the issue of when or if to start a family, and she realized that Parker’s pregnancy provided a perfect modeling moment. … On Internet message boards, people have described Parker as “selfish” and argued that she should not have become pregnant while under contract with the Sparks.

Instead of respecting Ms. Parker’s choice to become pregnant, she is criticized for abandoning the WNBA (by “carrying a child this year when she was being counted on to carry a league”), called “selfish” for daring to become pregnant when she wishes, and lambasted for not making the reproductive choices the public thinks she should have made.

Candace Parker’s reproductive choices are hers and hers alone. Women can be pregnant or new mothers and still participate in athletic activity – the article cites Sheryl Swoopes returning to basketball six months after the birth of her son and Houston Comets player Tina Thompson, who had a child in May 2005 and returned to playing the game in July. Part of the problem is that the world of athletics is so dependent on the idea of a man as the ideal athlete that it’s hard for anyone to envision a pregnant woman participating in sports, according to University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake, in her article “The Invisible Pregnant Athlete and the Promise of Title IX,” (PDF) published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender last year. We should respect Candace Parker’s choices, not vilify her for making them.

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Filed under Equality, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sports, Women's health

What Do Women Want?

The New York Times Magazine recently published a story outlining different approaches to understanding the different experiences of women and men in sex. The article emphasizes the recent surge in research in the field of female sexuality, which was at least partly caused by the release of Viagra in the late 1990s. Since then, research has stressed the deterministic role of biology in sex, prompting researchers to focus on the differences between men and women. Throughout the article, various prominent sexologists are interviewed, each outlining their own specific theories and understanding of arousal, sexuality, and desire.

Truly understanding what lies behind female sexuality is not necessarily a question that can be answered in the near future. The research being done by female sexologists, however, is emphasizing the importance of understanding the differences between men and women in sex and coming closer to knowing what women really want.  To read more about the studies being conducted and the expanding field of female sexuality research, read the article here.

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Filed under Sex, Sexuality, Women's health