Monthly Archives: November 2009

New Breast Cancer Guidelines Will Disproportionately Affect African-American Women

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made big news last week when they announced new guidelines for breast cancer screening, which suggest mammograms every two years for women ages 50-74; the old guidelines suggested that women over 40 get a mammogram every year.  Reactions from women, especially from breast cancer organizations and survivors, were generally not good, with one survivor saying that the new guidelines felt like a slap in the face.

Ashton Lattimore explains another reason why these new guidelines are problematic: they disproportionately affect African-American women, which could lead to devastating effects. She writes that African-American women “have the highest breast cancer death rate of any race, are at increased risk for developing the diseases at younger ages, and are disproportionately prone to an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer” known as triple negative, which progresses beyond stage one more quickly than other forms, and is also more resistant to traditional treatment. African-American women are also are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of cancer and less likely to receive the necessary follow-up care. Additionally, “the U.S. Department of Health reports that Black women ages 35 to 44 have a breast cancer death rate more than twice that of white women in the same age group.”

These statistics show a definite bias towards the needs of white women in the study, which puts many African-American women, who actually need earlier and more frequent mammograms, in significant danger of not getting the care they need.

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Not Enough Room, Not Enough Money, Turning People Away: The Recession and Domestic Violence Shelters

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests that the recession is exacerbating the already arduous situations of domestic violence victims. Mackenzie Carpenter writes that “the stresses of the past year’s recession and continued financial uncertainty” are both “fueling increases in abuse” and “making it harder for victims to escape it.”

She recounts the terrifying, but not unusual, story of a 38-year-old Millvale woman whose boyfriend began to beat her more and more frequently after she lost her disability benefits, and money got tight: “He pulled her up by her neck, pointed a gun at her, tried to break her hand and told her he would like to kill her.” When she called a domestic violence shelter, they told her that they were full, and she would need to try to find a friend she could stay with, and as she says, “finally a few days later, I called [the shelter] back and they took me in.”

“She was lucky,” says Carpenter, who follows up with these statistics:

Five years ago, 72 women and children were turned away by the shelter, a number that rose steadily but slowly until last year, when 600 women and children were turned away, up from 222 the year before. For the first four months of this fiscal year, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 445 people already have been told to go elsewhere, which means the shelter is on track to set a record.

Shirl Regan, the director of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, notes, “It’s been an explosion,” while Janet Scott, the associate director, calls the numbers “unprecedented” and adds that “I have never experienced so long a period where we were consistently full.” Although they are constantly on the phone trying to find other shelters in the regions where women and children can stay, those shelters are often full, in which case they are placed in facilities for homeless people. Carpenter adds that the same trend can be seen nationally. “According to the 2008 National Census of Domestic Violence Services, 8,927 victims were denied services during a one-day census conducted Sept. 17, 2008. That’s up from 7,707 on the same day in 2007.”

After officials at the Pittsburgh shelter started noticing a substantial jump in the number of women looking for a place to stay, they decided to ask victims whether the abuse was tied to financial worries. As of July, 68% have said yes.

Still, Brian Namey, spokesman for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, cautions against blaming the economic downturn alone for the prevalence of abuse: “The recession does not cause domestic violence, but an economic downturn can exacerbate existing abuse,” he said. “A poor economy can increase stress levels in relationships and limit options for victims to escape violent relationships.” Additionally, job loss can cause abusers to be home more frequently.

On top of all this, the recession has caused shelters to receive much less help from federal funds. Whereas the shelter used to be able to help some women transition to new housing by paying their security deposit and first month’s rent, this practice cannot be sustained in the midst of a poor economy, making it more difficult for women to start a new life outside of the shelter. Despite the growing number of obstacles, Regan says that they will not stop trying to help every woman and child who shows up at the shelter: “We will do everything we can to help families stay safe. Even if we don’t have room, we’ll find a way.”

For more information on the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and the great work they do, click here.

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Baltimore Bill Requires Truth from Crisis Pregnancy Centers

A bill that just passed the Baltimore City Council for the second time this session would require crisis pregnancy centers to post notices saying that they don’t provide birth control or abortion referrals. Naturally, anti-choicers are up in arms about having to tell the truth to women seeking unbiased information about their options when faced with an unplanned pregnancy:

Pro-lifers said the city clinics are being targeted.

“In essence, we feel that it’s an unnecessary form of harassment for the clinics that do a great job with women who want to keep their children and for women that are undecided that don’t know what exactly they’re getting into,” pro-life supporter Bill Wingard said.

As our previous blog post on the subject noted, these centers often shame women into carrying their pregnancy to term and steamroll them giving the child up for adoption. Additionally, they often spread untruths about abortion, claiming that it causes breast cancer, infertility, or severe depression, when no peer-reviewed scientific study has found these claims to be true.

Luckily, City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake knows exactly what the bill will do:

“I’m not interested in harassment — not interested in there being an aura of burden on these centers. All I’m interested in is making sure when a women comes in, when she’s in crisis, that she knows what she’s getting when she walks in,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Women deserve accurate, unbiased information about all their choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. This bill would take one step to ensuring that happens.

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Filed under Abortion, Contraception, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

What Does Ellen and Portia’s Marriage Mean for Same-sex Marriage in the U.S.?

Saturday’s New York Times features an article about comedian Ellen DeGeneres discussing on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show her recent marriage to actress Portia de Rossi. The wedding, filled with what the article suggests “may have been the most public display of gushingly romantic affection between two gay or lesbian celebrities,” came less than a week after Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage, making America’s widespread adoration of DeGeneres all the more interesting in terms of figuring out where exactly Americans stand on the issue of gay marriage.

In the handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal, legislatures and courts — not voters — have made it so. A few polls in recent months have suggested that while a majority of Americans believe that gay couples should be able to enter into unions with some of the legal protections of marriage, a minority believe that gays and lesbians should be permitted to “marry,” per se. Same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into the kind of family that many Americans believe should be idealized; it offends many others’ deeply felt religious principles.

And yet Ms. DeGeneres, who exchanged vows with Ms. de Rossi during a span last year when same-sex marriage was legal in California, seems more popular than ever — and among audiences squarely in the mainstream.

There are various explanations for the seemingly contradictory nature of Americans rejecting same sex marriage in several states, yet fully embracing Ms. DeGeneres. Some LGBT leaders suggest that the movement’s success will soon reflect Ellen’s. Toni Broaddus, the executive director of the Equality Federation, for example, says that “The story of Ellen is, in a way, a sort of metaphor for the story of the movement.” Others, like journalist Rachel Maddow, maintain that Ellen’s status as a comedian who “danc[es] in her sneakers and mak[es] everybody else get up and dance too” makes her unthreatening by nature.

However, the article purports that she is perceived as less threatening by virtue of her gender as well. The article suggests that this may be the case because demeaning stereotypes about gay men typically don’t extend to lesbian women. The article’s author, Frank Bruni, names a whole slew of lesbian entertainers on primetime TV, but gay men are not yet as accepted in the mainstream.

The article concludes by elucidating the radical nature of DeGeneres and de Rossi’s marriage—whilst also emphasizing that they are simply two people in love. This attitude is perfectly encapsulated in this simple phrase describing the image of the couple feeding cake to each other: “They look like countless other newlyweds. Then again, not.” We would like to congratulate Ms. DeGeneres and Ms. DeRossi for their recent nuptials, and furthermore state that we are hopeful that the public’s love of Ms. DeGeneres is a sign that opinions on same-sex marriage are evolving.

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The Goal of the “Men’s Rights” Movement: Eliminate All Women’s Rights

Kathryn Joyce, whose writing on crisis pregnancy centers we covered here, has written another groundbreaking article, this time about the growing power of the “men’s rights” movement.

Joyce explains that men’s rights advocates’ (MRAs) primary complaints concern the current status of domestic violence law in the United States, which they believe discriminates against innocent fathers, and in doing so, impinges on their civil rights. A statement from one of these organizations, RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting), goes as far as to suggest that “domestic violence laws represent the largest roll-back in Americans’ civil rights since the Jim Crow era!”

Although these groups have long been recognized as a sort of lunatic fringe, and admittedly, their rhetoric is hard to take seriously, Joyce points out that these groups have recently been “racking up very real”—and rather scary—accomplishments. She writes,

In 2008, the organization claimed to have blocked passage of four federal domestic-violence bills, among them an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to international scope and a grant to support lawyers in pro bono domestic-violence work. Members of this coalition have gotten themselves onto drafting committees for VAWA’s 2011 reauthorization. Local groups in West Virginia and California have also had important successes, criminalizing false claims of domestic violence in custody cases, and winning rulings that women-only shelters are discriminatory.

Joyce argues that they’ve managed this by presenting a new, more “polished” image to the world. They’ve scaled down their rhetoric, organized, and now present their cause as wanting nothing more than equality, and as being “innocent victims, ‘just one 911 call away’ from losing everything they have earned and loved.” This message seems to be effective—even while many in their ranks are still convicted batterers.

One of their attention-grabbing claims is that men and women experience domestic violence at equal rates. MRAs defend this claim by citing a study done by Miles Straus, suggesting that men are victims of domestic violence in 45-50% of cases. However, Joyce notes that this study has been criticized for being “cherry-picked,” “taken out of context,” and for ignoring crucial distinctions between types of violence, for example, equating a woman pushing her husband in self-defense with a husband pushing his wife down the stairs. Many of their other claims have similarly been proven misguided by researchers and critics, which makes the fact that these groups are actually gaining political ground all the more befuddling.

However, these groups are actually quite dangerous beyond their political agenda. Jack Straton, member of the Sexual Assault Task Force, spells out this danger:

“The biggest concern…is not the wasted effort on a false issue,” writes Straton, but the encouragement given to batterers to consider themselves the victimized party. “Arming these men with warped statistics to fuel their already warped worldview is unethical, irresponsible, and quite simply lethal.”

Joyce writes that other critics suggest the tactics used by MRAs are similar to those of abusers themselves in that they minimize existing violence, call it mutual, and discredit victims. As many individuals in these groups only understand themselves as victims, a serious threat of vigilante justice is becoming imminent. This is because, as Joyce writes, “[w]ithin the ranks of the men’s rights movement, vigilante ‘resisters’ are regularly nominated and lionized for acts of violence perceived to be in opposition to a feminist status quo.” In more extreme MRA circles, the glorification of these ‘resisters’ included Pittsburgh’s George Sodini, who in March opened up fire in a women’s fitness class, killing three. Instead of blaming misogyny and an unsound mind for instances like these, MRAs suggest that these acts are somehow understandable reactions to feminism, and the way that men are undervalued and emasculated in this society. In other words, violence perpetuated by men against women is somehow women’s fault.

While acts such as these are not explicitly encouraged by all MRAs, a quote from Mark Rosenthal on the topic makes it clear that they are not exactly discouraged either: “In any movement, there is going to be a reasonable voice and people who are so hurt, who are so injured by the injustices, that they can’t afford to step back and try to take their emotions under control. But no movement is going to get anywhere without extremists.”

Joyce has again provided the public with an impressive piece of journalism. Although these groups parade under the rhetoric of ‘equal rights,’ Joyce’s examples show that their goals also suggest a desire to strip away women’s rights, perpetuate misogyny, and normalize violence again women.

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Today is the last day to vote for the WLP!

If you haven’t already, please go to the Women and Girls Foundation’s website and cast your vote for the Women’s Law Project’s grant proposal.

Women and girls in western Pennsylvania are counting on you, and it only takes thirty seconds to vote!

Voting ends at 5 PM today, so don’t forget!

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Democrats Sacrifice Women’s Rights for Political Gains

Women’s Law Project Special Advisor Kate Michelman co-authored a scathing op-ed with former Catholics for Choice president Frances Kissling this week in the New York Times, criticizing House Democrats for passing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the healthcare reform bill. As we wrote earlier this week, the Stupak-Pitts amendment cripples women’s access to abortion, a procedure which is fundamental to women’s equality.

Michelman and Kissling’s main argument is that the Democrats unquestionably sold women out by allowing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to pass with the healthcare reform bill: “To secure passage of health care legislation in the House, the party chose a course that risks the well-being of millions of women for generations to come.” They further argue that, despite pro-choice Democrats’ claims that they were reluctant to sign the bill, and will continue to fight for women’s right to choose despite its passage, the party really invited this bill by “subordinat[ing] women’s health to short term political success.” They furthermore suggest that the results of this ‘compromise’ could be devastating for women’s rights—arguably more so than the actions of “abortion’s strongest foes.”

They write:

Many women — ourselves included — warned the Democratic Party in 2004 that it was a mistake to build a Congressional majority by recruiting and electing candidates opposed to the party’s commitment to legal abortion and to public financing for the procedure. Instead, the lust for power yielded to misguided, self-serving poll analysis by operatives with no experience in the fight for these principles. They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party’s image problems with “values voters” and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion.

Democrats were told to stop talking about abortion as a moral and legal right and to focus instead on comforting language about reducing the number of abortions. In this regard, President Obama was right on message when he declared in his health care speech to Congress in September that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” — as if this happened to be a good and moral thing. (The tone of his statement made the point even more sharply than his words.)

Indeed, it is the job of Democrats and progressives to defend a woman’s right to choose—not to make it sound as if a woman’s choice is immoral and wrong. Furthermore, Michelman and Kissling add that the Democratic Party has also started calling anti-choicers “pro-life”—a rather dishonest signifier.

Currently the Democrats are simply happy to have a congressional majority, and thus, as Michelman and Kissling write, “they seem to think all positions are of equal value so long as the party maintains [this] majority.” If this is the case, however, Democrats seem to be forgetting that they need the votes of pro-choice women, whom they have often recognized as their base, in order to be elected—votes that they will certainly not get if the Stupak-Pitts amendment is part of the final bill. Indeed, we agree with the Michelman and Kissling’s formidable concluding discernment:

In the meantime, the victims of their folly will be the millions of women who once could count on the Democratic Party to protect them from those who would sacrifice their rights for political gains.

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Filed under Abortion, Health insurance, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Only Five Days Left to Vote for the WLP!

Don’t forget to vote for the Women’s Law Project’s grant proposal to remove barriers to gender equality in western Pennsylvania! Women and girls in the region are counting on you, and voting ends at 5 PM on Monday.

Click here to cast your vote for the WLP!

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Title IX Dad

“It still brings a tear to my eye,” writes Mark Schmitt, discussing how moving the sight of his daughter playing Little League is. “I didn’t expect to be much of a Little League dad — I never played organized baseball myself and don’t have much of a competitive streak. But I’m very much a Title IX dad.”

Schmitt’s poignant article, featured in The American Prospect, argues that Title IX’s implications in our culture extend far beyond women and girls’ sports, to the state of modern liberalism in America. He writes:

As one watches these kids round the bases and cheer one another on, it’s also obvious that there’s a lot more to it than just athletics. This generation of children is unfailingly decent to one another, respectful of one another’s different personalities, and attentive to and proud of one another’s successes. The petty cruelties of childhood are rare. Political scientists have marveled at the distinctive attitudes of “millennials,” born roughly between 1982 and 2003….They are characterized above all by tolerance but also by cooperation, liberal political views, and respect for public institutions. They form the basis not just for the Obama Democratic coalition but for the hope of a progressive politics in the future. And the kind of equality promoted by Title IX surely has had something to do with that.

Schmitt points out that people who have grown up with Title IX are more likely to support equality and progressive politics in other areas. His point is similar to the idea that if having an LGBT family member or friend makes a person more likely to support LGBT rights, and that fathers who have daughters are more likely to be liberal, because they see that ours is not yet a society that values all people equally. Likewise, men and women who have grown up with the benefits of Title IX, who have played sports with girls or cheered them on from the sidelines, are more likely to support progressive action that is necessary for women’s equality in our society.

Schmitt furthermore uses the passage of Title IX to make a point about the fact that people tend to resist necessary social change by saying that our culture is ‘not ready.’ He writes:

[M]any liberals have become wary of getting too far ahead of the culture. We know that same-sex marriage will eventually be legal everywhere, and we fight efforts to ban it, but many of us are also hesitant about pushing the point too hard in areas of the country that don’t seem ready. Sensible liberal legal scholars worry that Roe v. Wade (1973) got ahead of changing attitudes on reproductive rights. If we were transported back to 1972, some of us might worry that schoolchildren and their parents weren’t ready for such an abrupt transformation as Title IX. [...] But as I watch my daughter do something that would have been unlikely for a girl of my generation, and see all that goes with it, I’m endlessly thankful to those litigators and legislators of the early 1970s who weren’t at all afraid to give the culture and its assumptions a shove in the name of fairness.

Schmitt unfortunately never mentions the fact that the status of women’s and girls’ sports is not yet equal to that of men and boys, but his main argument is well-taken.

The argument that our society is not yet ready for specific social changes holds no weight if what it really means is that our society is not ready for men and women, heterosexual and LGBT, black and white, to be equal in this society.

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Filed under Equality, Girls, Sports, Title IX

Comprehensive Health Care Reform – Unless You’re a Woman

On Saturday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 220-215 to overhaul the health care system in the United States. Media outlets are framing this as a victory for progressives, and to be sure, some elements of the bill will be helpful in the long run. But the Stupak amendment, which was attached to the bill at the last minute on Saturday and was approved by a vote of 240-194, makes this bill a setback for women’s equality.

The amendment reads:

No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made to this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.

This cripples women’s access to abortion in several ways:

The provision would apply only to insurance policies purchased with the federal subsidies that the health legislation would create to help low- and middle-income people, and to policies sold by a government-run insurance plan that would be created by the legislation.

Abortion rights advocates charged Sunday that the provision threatened to deprive women of abortion coverage because insurers would drop the procedure from their plans in order to sell them in the newly expanded market of people receiving subsidies. The subsidized market would be large because anyone earning less than $88,000 for a family of four — four times the poverty level — would be eligible for a subsidy under the House bill. Women who received subsidies or public insurance could still pay out of pocket for the procedure. Or they could buy separate insurance riders to cover abortion, though some evidence suggests few would, in part because unwanted pregnancies are by their nature unexpected.

Abortion is fundamental to women’s equality. It’s that simple. Without the ability to decide when and if to have children, women will never be able to control their destinies as men have been able to do for centuries. Contraception is available – though not as widely as you may think – but abortion must also be available, it must be accessible, and it must be affordable.

Over half of the women seeking abortions in the United States were using contraception at the time of their pregnancy. The Hyde Amendment – which looks strikingly similar to the Stupak amendment above and which bars the use of federal funds for abortions for women on Medicaid – has forced women who would have terminated their pregnancies to carry them to term.

To carve out this specific procedure which is so crucial to women’s autonomy and deny coverage for it – even for women who buy their own insurance with their own money – is unacceptable. And even as they spoke out against it, supporters of women’s rights voted for the final bill:

“If enacted, this amendment will be the greatest restriction of a woman’s right to choose to pass in our careers,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, one of the lawmakers who left Ms. Pelosi’s office mad.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, said the bill’s original language barring the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions should have been sufficient for the opponents. “Abortion is a matter of conscience on both sides of the debate,” Ms. DeLauro said. “This amendment takes away that same freedom of conscience from America’s women. It prohibits them from access to an abortion even if they pay for it with their own money. It invades women’s personal decisions.”

But Ms. DeGette, Ms. DeLauro and other defenders of abortion rights said they would nonetheless vote in favor of the health care bill and fight for changes in the final version, to be negotiated with the Senate.

We hope that the final version of the bill, after the Senate votes on it, will not include this restrictive provision on abortion coverage, and that supporters of women’s rights in Congress will not allow women’s equality to be hijacked as legislation moves forward. We will work as hard as we can to ensure that this doesn’t happen and hope you will too. The rights hanging in the balance are too crucial to women’s equality to do otherwise.

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Filed under Abortion, Equality, Health insurance, Politics, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health