Monthly Archives: July 2009

Pittsburgh Feminist Leaves Strong Legacy

Gerald Gardner, who was influential in two landmark discrimination cases, died this past weekend in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He was 83.

Dr. Gardner taught at various colleges and universities and was highly influential in his field of engineering and theoretical physics, but once told an interviewer that his proudest accomplishment was eliminating sex-segregated classified ads in newspapers. Until the 1970s, it was common for newspapers to run separate help-wanted ads for male and female jobseekers. Dr. Gardner believed that this was an instance of sex discrimination and made his case to the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission, which adopted his reasoning. According to Eleanor Smeal, originally from western Pennsylvania and current president of the Feminist Majority:

“What Gerry did was calculate the statistical chance that a woman could get a job in one of the male categories,” said Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority and a former president of NOW. “He calculated pay differentials. The disparities just flabbergasted him. He contributed the hard intellectual theory based on the math, and he made it understandable, powerfully so.”

The Human Relations Commission charged the Pittsburgh Press with sex discrimination, which the newspaper fought, claiming that they had the right to sex-segregate the want ads under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed, ending the practice.

Another discrimination lawsuit that Dr. Gardner was a major part of changed the hiring practices of the Pittsburgh Police Department. In 1975, the National Organization for Women brought a federal lawsuit charging that the PPD discriminated against hiring women and minorities. As a result, the PPD was required to hire police officers in groups of four: one white man, one white woman, one black man, and one black woman. Although this requirement did not take into account other ways of increasing the diversity of the PPD, until it was lifted in 1990, Pittsburgh led the nation in women and minority police officers.

By all accounts, Dr. Gardner was a true social activist committed to equality for all human beings. We thank him for his work and hope that his example will inspire future generations.

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Filed under Employment, Pittsburgh

The New Anti-Choice Arguments

Salon recently featured an opinion article written by Frances Kissling, former President of Catholics for Choice and current visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, about a new twist in the abortion debate. Kissling argues that the new anti-choice activists have shifted their focus to make bearing and possibly raising children who are the result of unplanned pregnancies more possible.  This “new” position, however, does not consider the “essential way in which becoming a mother changes women’s identities forever – even if they place a child they bore in adoption.”

Kissling notes that the new and the old anti-choicers view women as “passive participants in gestation.  They are the Tupperware containers in which children grow.”  She finds this position untenable, as it belies the reality of the life-altering effect that pregnancy has upon women.

Kissling goes on to outline the flawed thinking of this new wave of anti-choicers, which includes denying the fundamental “need” for abortion, lack of support for contraception, inability to find non-procreative sex sacred, and redefining adoption to deny the physical reality of motherhood to women who would put their children up for adoption.

The article is well worth the read and asks some very pointed questions of this new group of anti-choicers who have begun to define themselves as progressives.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Impact of Health Care Reform on the LGBT Community

The Center for American Progress has released an issue brief detailing how health care reform could help LGBT people and families in the United States. The brief’s author, Josh Rosenthal, focuses on a few key principles for policymakers to consider when reforming our current health care system.

First, he argues that medical professionals and policymakers need to understand the health disparities that affect LGBT people. This could be done by collecting information about respondents’ sexual orientation in federal health surveys. The largest and most widely referenced federal health survey, the National Health Interview Survey, does not ask about LGBT identities, making it difficult for anyone to know exactly what disparities may be present in the LGBT community.

The employer-sponsored health insurance set-up is also a barrier to many LGBT people receiving quality health care. Many employers do not permit LGBT employees to include their same-sex partners under their health insurance coverage, and private health insurance plans often don’t cover services vital for LGBT people. Rosenthal writes:

Since 63 percent of Americans are covered through employer-sponsored insurance, a large part of the disparity can be attributed to differences in employment patterns, due to both discrimination and individual employment choices. Transgender people are even less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance, as they face significant employment discrimination and often lack any formal employment.

Many LGBT people are forced into the individual insurance market since they do not have an employer willing to provide insurance coverage. This market is fundamentally broken, charging high premiums for limited coverage. What’s more, LGBT individuals are more likely to have HIV/AIDS or several cancers, such as breast, cervical, and anal cancers. These diseases are classified as “pre-existing conditions” by individual insurance providers, leading them to either completely exclude people or charge even higher rates.

In the brief, Rosenthal focuses particularly on the needs of transgender individuals and the discrimination they face in accessing health care:

Transgender individuals with access to health insurance can rarely find coverage that fully meets their health care needs. Most insurance plans, both private and public, do not cover the costs associated with transitioning, or moving from one gender to another. This leads many transgender people—especially low-income people—to seek out ways to transition outside of a medical context.

Some insurance plans interpret their regulations on transition costs very broadly. They refuse any medical procedure where hormone use or past surgeries are relevant, even procedures as generic as allergy tests. There is also evidence that insurance companies use a history of transition treatments as a reason to deny coverage. The Transgender Law Center has even found examples where insurance companies have denied coverage for a broken arm and flu treatment to transgender individuals, claiming the treatment was related to transition.

Rosenthal also writes that cultural competency in medical professionals will go a long way toward addressing the particular health care concerns of the LGBT community. Cultural competency is “a set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that allow providers to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.” He examines the effect cultural competency would have on different segments of the LGBT population:

An essential prerequisite for cultural competency is an understanding of a social group’s specific health disparities and medical needs. Lesbian and bisexual women, for example often have a number of risk factors for breast cancer, including often not having given birth. Yet many studies have shown that lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to receive regular gynecological care, including mammograms or pap smears, or examine themselves for breast cancer.

Transgender people also have very specific health needs. They may require medical treatment related to both their birth-assigned gender and their current gender. For example, a transgender woman may be at risk for both prostate cancer and breast cancer. Providers should also be aware of the medical effects of gender transition.

This medical knowledge is important, but not sufficient. A culturally competent provider adds an understanding of their patients’ backgrounds and is able to create a welcoming environment and recognize the effects of his or her own biases. A provider can signal her openness to LGB patients, for example, by asking non-gender specific questions on forms and in interviews, such as “Do you have a significant other?” Culturally competent treatment helps ensure honest communication between providers and patients, which can improve health outcomes.

Unfortunately, many LGBT people do not have access to a culturally competent health provider. For example, the reproductive orientation of much gynecological care, which focuses on providing birth control to heterosexual women, discourages many lesbian and bisexual women from seeking out care.

Transgender individuals find an even more hostile medical environment. There is already a risk that insurance could deny coverage for a medical interaction. And many health care providers have no training in how to treat transgender people with respect. Many transgender people report in qualitative studies that they avoid medical care or lie to providers in order to avoid hate-filled or ignorant comments.

The entire brief is worth a read, and examines other topics such as ensuring the privacy of LGBT patients, costs of adding transgender-inclusive health options to employer policies, and more. We hope that policymakers are mindful of the particular needs of the LGBT community when debating and enacting health care reform.

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Filed under Equality, Health insurance, LGBT, Sexual orientation, Women's health

WLP at Rally to Oppose Cuts to Services for Women and Families

Yesterday, the Women’s Law Project’s Executive Director, Carol Tracy, participated in a rally in Harrisburg to oppose budget cuts proposed by the state senate that would eliminate funding for services vital to women and families. The rally was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

The cuts would greatly reduce or eliminate funding for the following areas:

- Child care services
– Child care assistance
– Breast and cervical cancer screening
– Public library subsidy — 44 percent cut from the Governor’s budget proposal
– Accessible housing — 50 percent cut
– Teen pregnancy and parenthood education — 100 percent cut
– Pennsylvania Commission for Women — 100 percent cut
– Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform — 100 percent cut

    These cuts are a huge blow to services used by women and families in Pennsylvania. If you oppose them as well, be sure to contact your senator today.

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    Filed under Education, Equality, Events, Girls, Government, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Women's health

    President Obama on Covering Abortion Care in Public Health Plan

    During an interview with Katie Couric on CBS Evening News, President Obama addressed concerns about his plan for health care reform and providing an option for a government-run health insurance plan. We have previously blogged about some legislators’ reluctance to include abortion care in a public plan, despite public opinion favoring it.

    In the interview, Ms. Couric asked the president if he would support a government option that covered abortion. This was his response:

    What I think is important, at this stage, is not trying to micromanage what benefits are covered. Because I think we’re still trying to get a framework. And my main focus is making sure that people have the options of high quality care at the lowest possible price.

    As you know, I’m pro choice. But I think we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care. Rather than wade into that issue at this point, I think that it’s appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings, and not get distracted by the abortion debate at this station.

    The Hyde amendment has ensured that federal money hasn’t funded abortion care for low-income women (except in the cases of rape, incest or life endangerment, but not health endangerment) since 1976. This is a “tradition” that must end.

    A new health plan must provide full coverage for women throughout their life cycle.  Safe abortion services have always been available to women who can afford to pay for them; poor women should not be denied the same.

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    Filed under Abortion, Government, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

    House Protects Access to Abortion Services

    Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives took strides to secure women’s access to abortion. In a 219-208 vote, the House approved a spending bill for 2010 that would allow Washington, D.C. to use local funds to help pay for abortion services for low-income women, reversing a previous congressional ban. Although this bill does not lift the ban on using federal funds for abortion services in the district, it does mark progress in broadening access to abortion for the women of Washington, D.C.

    The House Ways and Means Committee also voted to approve a health care reform bill, HR 3200, despite opposition from some anti-choice members of Congress. The bill works to drastically increase the coverage and quality of individuals’ health insurance plans; however, some representatives attempted to amend the bill to limit the coverage of abortion services. From the National Partnership for Women and Families:

    An amendment offered by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) was rejected in an 18-23 vote; Reps. Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) and John Tanner (Tenn.) were the only Democrats to support the amendment. The amendment included exceptions for abortion to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest. Committee members voted 19-22 to reject a similar amendment by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

    President Obama has previously stated that he sees reproductive healthcare as ”essential care, basic care.” It is encouraging to see the House’s healthcare reform priorities in line with the President’s, and we hope to see more Congress members reaffirming how critical access to complete reproductive healthcare truly is.

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    Filed under Abortion, Government, Women's health

    Sotomayor Emerges from Hearings Unscathed

    Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee ended last week, after four days of testimony from her supporters, detractors, and the judge herself. The judge seems set to be confirmed by the Senate in August, enjoying the support of most, if not all, Democrats, and perhaps a few Republicans.

    While the above New York Times article suggests that Sotomayor’s repudiation of the idea that empathy is part of judging, and her deliberate efforts to distance herself from her “wise Latina” remark, were victories for conservatives, the bloggers at Womenstake pointed out that her testimony should reassure pro-choice Americans:

    On the first day of questioning, Senator Kohl asked directly, and Judge Sotomayor responded clearly, that she believes that the Constitution contains a right to privacy. …In sum… her clear agreement with the right to privacy, and strong description of the Court’s current precedents regarding Roe and women’s health, lend further support to the impression from her legal record that she would not undermine Roe v. Wade if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

    Sotomayor’s performance contained no fatal errors. Jill Filipovic at RH Reality Check, in fact, seems to think the Republican Party is the ultimate loser of the hearings – her enthusiastically outraged blog post is worth a read.

    Overall, the nominee’s pending confirmation is good news for women, who will finally have another voice on the court. We previously blogged about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s views on women in the court here. Political realities made it necessary for the nominee to distance herself from previous comments about how her experiences and gender might influence her rulings. Human realities mean that every judge comes to the bench with a lifetime of experiences that affect how he or she interprets the circumstances of any case, the exact meaning of ambiguities in law, and even the Constitution. More than half of Americans are female. The closer our court comes to reflecting this statistic, with four or five female justices, the more likely we are to see true justice.

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    Filed under Abortion, Equality, Government, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court, The New York Times, Women's health