Over the past few weeks, the domestic violence charges filed against Chris Brown have been covered in the media. On Feb. 8, 2009, Mr. Brown was accused of assaulting a woman in an argument. The Los Angeles Police Department later revealed that the woman was his girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna. Later, the LAPD leaked a photo of Rihanna taken after the altercation, showing her bruised face, to the gossip site TMZ.
There are many levels to this story and the narrative of how domestic violence plays out in the media, particularly when the people involved in the story are famous. We’re not interested in pointing fingers and commenting on an investigation still underway. But there are lessons to be extracted from this situation.
This story shows that domestic violence occurs across income levels, age, popularity, race, or family status. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PDF), 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. This story also demonstrates that young women (Rihanna was 20 at the time of the assault) are not immune to domestic violence; according to the NCADV, women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. And, based on the police releasing Rihanna’s name and leaking her photo, it shows that we have a long way to go with how domestic violence cases, especially high-profile ones, are treated in the legal system.
Domestic violence is never acceptable. And the victims of domestic violence are never to blame for what their abusers do. If you are experiencing domestic violence, or someone you know is, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). It is free and confidential, and open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, in over 170 languages. The NDVH website also has helpful information about getting out of an abusive situation.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) recently issued a report on public policy for federal funding of contraceptives and family planning services. The study analyzes the impact of funding on family planning and contraception availability in the United States, and reveals some interesting findings.
Federal and state government programs such as Medicaid and Title X have played a large role in providing family planning services and supplies for low-income Americans. Since the mid-1990s, federal family planning funding has increased three-fold, with the federal government and the states spending $1.26 billion on reversible contraception services in 2001. These trends can be misleading, however, as recent funding is largely concentrated in a few states, whereas overall funding has actually declined in 29 states.
Another point noted in the study was the large presence of Medicaid in public spending on contraceptives. AGI found that Medicaid accounted for 80% of new public spending on contraceptive services since the mid-1990s. During that time, many states expanded their income eligibility requirements for family planning services. Another large contributor to government spending on contraceptives is Title X. This program derives from the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970 and is the only federal program dedicated entirely to family planning. Title X accounts for 15% of federal funding for contraceptive services.
Despite the success of these programs, conservatives have been launching attacks against public funding for family planning since the Reagan era. Such attacks come from anti-family planning grassroots movements and from conservatives’ desire to cut costs in government spending. In particular, conservatives target Medicaid, which costs the government roughly $300 billion annually. Title X is also under attack, as it is seen as an expense that can be spared. Cutting Medicaid and Title X would have disastrous affects for women who rely on its family planning services and supplies. Definitely check out the AGI study to read more about the possible consequences for women and families of cutting these programs.
On the heels of a step backwards in North Dakota regarding reproductive rights, which we blogged about here, the state legislature seems to be taking a step forward in terms of anti-discrimination legislation. The North Dakota Senate approved a bill that would expand the state’s Human Rights Act to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The legislation will now move to the state House.
This piece of legislation is similar to legislation before the Allegheny County Council in western Pennsylvania, which we blogged about here. The Allegheny County Human Rights Ordinance also proposes to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Such anti-discrimination bills are increasingly becoming an important and necessary part of human rights protections in states and counties throughout the country.
According to the Associated Press, Hawaii is the closest it has ever been to legalizing civil unions. Just over 10 years ago, Hawaii was the first state to adopt the nation’s first “defense of marriage” constitutional amendment, which granted the state legislature the power to reserve marriage for opposite-sex couples. This amendment, however, leaves open the possibility of civil unions for gay couples. Earlier this month, the state House of Representatives passed the civil union bill, which now awaits approval by the state Senate and possible veto by Republican Governor Linda Lingle. If passed, Hawaii will be the fifth state to legalize civil unions, and the only state in the western United States to do so.
This situation in Hawaii is exemplary of a conversation on civil unions that is being held across America. The issue is reaching a breaking point for many, which speaks to the need for some kind of short-term compromise to avoid long-term disaster. This weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece written by two men who have very different views on same-sex marriage but are in agreement on a possible solution. They propose that Congress grant federal civil unions, which would give same-sex couples all or most of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. In compromise, however, the government would recognize the civil unions only in states which provide religious-conscience exceptions, allowing religious organizations the right to not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The compromise might not be ideal for all, but it at least speaks to the possibility of compromise and provides us with some ideas for the future of same-sex marriage in the United States.
A bill passed in the North Dakota House of Representatives on Monday defines fertilized eggs as human beings possessing the same rights as an adult. The bill, HB 1572 (PDF), defines a human being as “any organism, including the single-cell human embryo, irrespective of the method of reproduction, who possesses a genome specific for and consistent with an individual member of the human species.”
The legislative findings section of the bill states that “[t]he right to life is a more fundamental right of a preborn child than the mother’s right to liberty or pursuit of happiness,” evidence that the state House members believe that the rights of a group of cells inside a woman trump the rights of the living, breathing woman herself. Although the bill’s supporters claim that their intent is not to outlaw abortion entirely, the bill includes the following language:
Because all preborn children are persons, no abortion performed with specific intent is legal. A direct abortion is always performed with the specific intent to bring death to a preborn child; it is a deprivation of the right to life and the right to the equal protection of the law and is the ultimate manifestation of the involuntary servitude of one human being to another.
It’s interesting that the bill’s supporters believe that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is an example of the “involuntary servitude of one human being to another,” but does not consider the government forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will a manifestation of the involuntary servitude of a human being to the embryo or fetus inside her own uterus. Representative Dan Ruby (R) was the prime sponsor of the bill, which now goes to the state senate for a vote.
In Arkansas, the state House of Representatives approved a bill banning late-term abortions in the state. The bill is similar to the so-called federal Partial Birth Abortion Act that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart. It includes an exception to preserve the life of the pregnant woman, but not her health.
Via Feminist Majority
Legislators in Georgia are mounting attacks against professors and educators at Georgia State University for offering courses that deal with issues such as queer theory and oral sex. State Representatives Charlice Byrd and Calvin Hill, both Republicans, are teaming with the Christian Coalition to put pressure on fellow lawmakers and the Board of Regents (which oversees the state’s colleges and universities) to eliminate such courses and dismiss the professors who specialize in these topics.
A report by CNN highlights the particular attack on a professor who specializes in the historical significance of oral sex and a graduate level course on Queer Theory. The conservative legislators base their argument on their disapproval of spending state dollars on such controversial topics, particularly because the state’s coffers are currently short $2.2 billion.
Faculty members at Georgia State University whose expertise includes oral sex and male prostitution were called to testify at hearings held by the Georgia House Higher Education Committee to consider the ban; little acknowledgement was paid to their cutting edge research and wide range of expertise. The importance of a well-rounded education that reflects a worldly and extensive knowledge base is at risk for the sake of conservative claims that such programs of study should be cut in light of the economic downturn. Read more about the controversy in Athens, Georgia’s local newspaper.
Setting aside, for a few pages at least, fashion and beauty tips, Glamour magazine published an article this month about abortion and the fact that, while an estimated 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion during their lifetimes, the topic is often not discussed. We’re glad that a mainstream women’s magazine is taking on the topic and doing its part to lift the secrecy that too often surrounds abortion.