Monthly Archives: July 2011

Record number of anti-choice bills introduced in 2011: We’ve Had Enough!

A recent article published by the Guttmacher Institute gives us the chilling statistics to back up the fight we have all been facing in the Pennsylvania legislature. 

In the first six months of 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Fully 49% of these new laws seek to restrict access to abortion services, a sharp increase from 2010, when 26% of new laws restricted abortion. The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005—and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010.

 These new provisions include mandatory counseling – in some cases counseling at anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers”, increased  waiting periods, gestational bans (including the “heartbeat bill” in Ohio that makes abortion illegal before a woman may even know she is pregnant), banning abortion coverage in the new abortion exchanges, regulations on medicated abortion and targeting funding of providers.  

These drastic measures across the U.S. are mirrored in Pennsylvania. Before going on its legislative recess the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 3, banning abortion coverage in the new state insurance exchanges. Furthermore it is extremely likely that the legislature will begin its season in September by heaping ambulatory surgical regulations on to abortion facilities for no reason, as abortion facilities are already subject to ambulatory gynecological facilities regulations as well as the regulations laid out in the Abortion Control Act. 

Not only would ambulatory surgical regulations not fulfill the stated goal of protecting women’s health, but on the contrary they will force abortion clinics through costly, and sometimes impossible, renovations. In many, if not most cases, the new regulations will shut down abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanians for Choice, an affiliate of the Women’s Law Project, is planning a rally in Harrisburg when the legislature comes back from their summer recess. This rally is our chance to stand up and say We’ve Had Enough of legislative attacks on women’s rights. 

Save the date: September 27, 2011. Come join us in Harrisburg!

Check out the We’ve Had Enough and Pennsylvanians for Choice websites and stay tuned to the WLP blog for more on the rally.

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Filed under PA Legislature, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Study: C-Section Rate at All-Time High

According to a study by the independent health care ratings organization Healthgrade, the rate of Cesarean sections is at an all-time high in the United States. In 2009, the rate of pregnancies that resulted in C-section was 34%, up from 27% in 2002. The World Health Organization suggested that the United States’ C-section rate should only be 15%.

It is unclear what is causing the rate of C-sections to go up, but experts suggested several possible culprits. The report found that increasing rates of diabetes and obesity among pregnant women as well as an increasing tendency for women to give birth later in life were likely factors in the increasing rate. But Jacqueline Wolf, an Ohio University researcher, told ThirdAge.com that “Medical reasons alone cannot possibly explain why more than one in three American women need major abdominal surgery in order to safely give birth.” Non-medical reasons for the increasing C-section rate include that a growing number of women choose C-section to ease the planning of a birth time and that many doctors perform C-sections because they fear malpractice suits.

The increasing rate of C-sections is disturbing as the procedure carries with it many risks for mother and baby. The study found that complications due to C-section include: blood clots, infection, injury to the bladder, uterus or bowel, excessive bleeding and longer recovery time.

Despite the fact that the Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians stated that vaginal delivery is the safest route to delivery in first and subsequent pregnancies, the rate of Cesarean sections in the U.S. is on the rise. To find out about what the steps might be to reducing the U.S. C-section rate, click here.

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Filed under Childbirth, Pregnancy, Women's health

ACLU: “Ending Domestic Violence Requires Holding Police Accountable”

On July 20th, the American Civil Liberties Union joined the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and other groups in submitting an amicus brief in support of a domestic abuse survivor who was severely injured by her abuser after police officers failed to enforce her order of protection (commonly known as a restraining order). Carmen Valdez had obtained an order of protection against her former partner, Felix Perez.  Subsequently Perez called Valdez to threaten her life in 1996 which violated the order, and she called the police to report the violation. The police officer said that authorities would take Perez into custody and that she could return home. Tragically, Perez was not immediately arrested and he shot Valdez in the presence of her twin sons when she opened her apartment door the next day.

Valdez sustained multiple severe injuries but survived the attack. She sued the police department for failing to enforce her restraining order and a jury found in her favor. However, an appellate court overturned the verdict, “stating that Carmen was not justified in relying on police.” The case now moves to New York’s highest court which “should recognize that police must be held accountable when they do not enforce domestic violence laws and increase the danger victims face.”

Police officers must be held accountable for not enforcing restraining orders. Unfortunately, it is not only Valdez’s restraining order that police have refused to enforce. Another example of this injustice is when police officers refused to act after Jessica Lenahan’s former husband, Simon Gonzales, kidnapped their children in violation of a protection order. For hours Lenahan pleaded with authorities to save her children before her three daughters were murdered. In 2005, the Supreme Court found that Jessica Lenahan had no federal constitutional right to enforcement of her restraining order.

Enforcement of restraining orders has been shown to be a cost-effective means to enhance public safety but recent court cases have denied justice to women who just wanted their court-ordered protection to be defended by authorities. Let us hope that New York’s highest court affirms Valdez’s right to have her protection order enforced. Like the ACLU noted, “in a state where 43 percent of the adult women murdered in 2009 were killed by their intimate partners, victims must have access to a remedy when police fail to respond to domestic violence.” You can read the amicus curiae brief on behalf of Valdez’s case here [PDF].

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, Violence Against Women

Study Reveals Women Still Not Recognized as Capable Leaders

A recent meta-analysis (integration of a large number of studies on the same subject) by Northwestern University reveals that most people still use gendered stereotypes when thinking about leadership. The consequence of this is that “Women are viewed as less qualified or natural in most leadership roles…and secondly, when women adopt culturally masculine behaviors often required by these roles, they may be viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous.” These biases against women are most likely contributing to the ever-present leadership gap in the U.S.—women still only hold 17% of seats in Congress and in 2008 only 15.7% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies were women.

Previous research found that women are perceived as inherently having more “communal” qualities such as being compassionate. Men, on the other hand, were perceived by participants in the studies as inherently having more “agentic” qualities such as being assertive. Research found that it is agentic qualities that are perceived as being an important element of leadership. The Times of India sums up, “Because men fit the cultural stereotype of leadership better than women, they have better access to leadership roles and face fewer challenges in becoming successful in them.” Both female and male participants in the studies that made up the meta-analysis saw men as being inherently better leaders than women.

It is incredibly disheartening that, as Laura Hibbard commented, in an era where “women hold some of the most powerful positions in the United States (see: Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi, [Former] Speaker of the House, etc.) we still haven’t really changed the way we think about leadership roles and women.” However, the study did show some encouraging trends. The meta-analysis collected data since 1973 so could see if attitudes towards women in leadership are changing over time. Most people still view leadership roles as inherently male but Alice Eagly, professor of psychology and a co-author of the study told Hibbard, “women should be encouraged that leadership is culturally not as extremely masculine as it was in the past…That’s progress because it makes leadership roles more accessible to women and easier to negotiate when in such a role.”

To learn more about the effort to see more women in leadership positions and to find out how you can help in that effort, visit The White House Project’s website.

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Filed under Employment, Gender Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Women Leaders

Judge Blocks Law Which Would Expose Fake Health Clinics

We have written previously about “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs). CPCs often make themselves seem like reputable clinics but then mislead, lie, “coerce and intimidate women out of considering abortion as an option, and prevent women from receiving neutral and comprehensive medical advice” in order to further their anti-choice agenda. In New York City, Local Law 17 “would have required emergency-pregnancy centers to disclose whether or not they perform abortions or give access to them; disclose if they have a medical professional on the premises; and say if emergency contraception and prenatal services are offered.” If New York City CPCs were forced to openly acknowledge and post the truth about the services and information their organization does and does not provide, women would be able to truly assess if the center could meet their needs as opposed to being misled and coerced into believing the CPC provides comprehensive options. However, on July 13th a federal judge barred New York City from implementing the law despite the fact that it had passed the City Council and had been approved by the mayor.

The judge argued that the law could unconstitutionally limit free speech and that since the law “relates to the provision of emergency contraception and abortion — among the most controversial issues in our public discourse — the risk of discriminatory enforcement is high.” This is despite the fact that the law only intended to provide consumers with truthful information and to force CPCs to be up front about what services they do and do not provide. This legislation is clearly necessary considering a recent NARAL Pro-Choice New York report “found crisis pregnancy centers using deceptive tactics and false claims to dissuade women from having abortions.”

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, responded to the judge’s issuance of the injunction in the New York Times, stating, “In issuing this injunction, the court has failed to protect pregnant women in an extremely vulnerable time in their lives.” However, despite the judge’s disappointing decision, there is still hope for the law. Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, the law’s chief sponsor, said that “the judge got it wrong” and that the city plans to appeal the injunction. She stated that Local Law 17 “…is an important measure to protect women from dangerous and deceptive practices, and we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”

To find out more about the truth behind CPCs and why legislation like Local Law 17 in New York City is so important, click here [PDF].

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

Stay-at-Home Parents Now Need to Ask Spouse for Credit Card

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in May 2009, was intended “to put strong protections in place for consumers. Unfair rate increases, late-fee traps and bombarding credit card offers on college campuses were key targets of the legislation.” However, the Federal Reserve Board recently decided that the Act mandates that credit card companies only take individual income into account when deciding when to accept someone’s request for a credit card. This decision was meant to keep college students from going into credit card debt they could not afford to pay off but it also has the consequence of disenfranchising stay-at-home parents, 88% of whom are women.

Anisha Sekar, the chief content manager and credit card analyst for NerdWallet.com said that this would mean that a stay-at-home parent would have to get his or her spouse’s co-signature before attaining a credit card. This is despite the fact that a stay-at-home parent is “likely to make the household’s financial decisions, from paying for groceries to saving for college to dealing with medical bills.” It also ignores that, as Sekar says, “a stay-at-home mom works just as hard as (or harder than) her spouse-she just doesn’t file her income with the IRS.”

In response to outcry from women’s rights advocates, the Federal Reserve stated that “the individual-income provision may be ‘inconvenient or impractical,’ but that such restrictions are necessary to prevent reckless lending and borrowing.” The “necessity” of not allowing stay-at-home parents an equal footing in financial decisions in the household can contribute to the negative psychological effect of “relying completely on a spouse for such an essential part of adult finances.” It “also renders stay-at-home parents financially vulnerable in the case of divorce. If a stay-at-home mom’s spouse is irresponsible, her credit score will fall-and she can’t repair it without her own line of credit.”

In the worst case scenario, the Federal Reserve’s decision will play a role in financial abuse. Financial abuse is a factor in 98% of abusive relationships.  Rene Renick of the National Network to End Domestic Violence said “I can’t tell you the number of women who’ve said, ‘I stayed in the relationship longer than I wanted, or came back, [because] I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids,’” says Renick. “[The Fed's regulations] will limit a woman’s ability to have access to assets on her own. Batterers will more than likely use this to … keep her entrapped in the relationship.” U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Louise Slaughter said that not only may not having a credit card contribute to one’s abuse, but the ability to attain one independently of one’s spouse could be incredibly important when trying to escape an abusive relationship. They wrote, “Women trapped in abusive marriages may be unable to work due to a controlling spouse…the availability of an independent credit card may represent her best chance at establishing independence and a path out of a dangerous relationship.”

You can read more about the unfortunate consequences of the Federal Reserve’s decision to ban stay-at-home parents from attaining their own credit card here.

Photo from here.

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Filed under Equality, Government

Study Shows Importance of Medical Insurance for Poor as PA Cuts $400 Million from Welfare

“The first rigorously controlled assessment of the impact of Medicaid” recently revealed that when the poor are provided with medical insurance, “they not only find regular doctors and see doctors more often but they also feel better, are less depressed and are better able to maintain financial stability.”

However, despite the obvious benefits of providing insurance for the poor, recent Pennsylvania legislation mandates a $400 million cut from that state’s welfare budget. Richard P. Weishaupt, senior attorney for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the bill will “dramatically increase child care co-payments, cut Medicaid benefits, change the rules for welfare-to-work programs to eliminate training and educational programs, and reduce eligibility for benefits.”

The study by the National Bureau of Economic Research is the first to research the effects of insurance coverage on randomly-selected individuals. Previously, studying a population in which some participants are given insurance and some are not would have been impossible as it is “unethical to devise a study that would explicitly deny some people coverage while giving it to others.” However, in 2008, Oregon wanted to expand its Medicaid coverage but could only afford to add 10,000 residents to the program. Nearly 90,000 people applied. The state decided to select who would receive benefits by lottery. Economists studied the quality of life of both those who received and those who did not receive Medicaid in the two years before the state of Oregon came up with the money to offer insurance to those who had not received coverage through the lottery.

The study found that those with Medicaid were 35% more likely to go to a clinic or see a doctor, 15% more likely to use prescription drugs, and 30% more likely to be admitted to a hospital. The likelihood that Medicaid recipients said their health was good or excellent increased by 25% and they were 40% less likely to say that there health had worsened in the last year than those without insurance. Among women in the study, those with Medicaid were 60% more likely to have mammograms, 20% more likely to have their cholesterol checked, 70% more likely to have a particular clinic or office for medical care and 55% more likely to have a personal doctor. The researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research are now assessing the health effects of insurance for the poor.

However, despite the evidence that providing health insurance to the underprivileged is very beneficial, $400 million is going to be cut from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare budget. Currently, 52.2% of Pennsylvania’s welfare budget is dedicated to Medicaid. Over two million Pennsylvanians receive Medicaid benefits and 2,534,761 individuals receive cash assistance or are beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps). All of these state citizens will have their benefits cut without guarantee of legislative oversight or opportunity for public comment, Weishaupt said.

Decreased access to benefits which are proven to improve quality of life will be especially harmful for women. The National Institute for Reproductive Health has found that (PDF):

Women are particularly at risk [for being uninsured], with over 17 million women uninsured. Women often rely on a spouse for health coverage, and should they become widowed or divorced, they are susceptible to losing that insurance. Without insurance, women do not receive preventive care and lack security in maintaining their health.

NIRH also found that women of color, young women, and low-income women are especially at risk of being uninsured. Though unemployed and part-time working women are more likely to be uninsured, the majority of uninsured women are in working families.

To learn about how welfare funds are currently distributed, click here [PDF].

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Filed under Government, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Welfare, Women's health

29 Fortune 500 Companies Have No Women on Boards

Among Standard and Poor’s list of top 500 companies, 29 do not have a single woman on their board of directors or among their highest-paid officers. The 29 companies represent a diverse range of industries. However, it is noteworthy that one-third of the “boys club companies” are in the oil and gas sector, which also has the lowest percentage of female directors, at 9.6%.

Many companies which were excluded from the list only had one woman on their board, which critics say “are often included only as a ‘token gesture of gender diversity.’” Other companies that were excluded include those that had no women on their board of directors but had one or more women as one of their top earning executives. For example, the Philadelphia-based retailer Urban Outfitters was not among the 29 companies listed because “two of the highest-paid executives on the company proxy—Wendy Wurtzburger and Wendy McDevitt—are women.” This is misleading as there are a disproportionate number of men in positions of power in most of the other 471 companies as well.

Indeed, only three of the Fortune 500 companies have a board composed of 40% or more women. These three companies are: Macy’s, Avon, and Estee Lauder. Huffpost Women commented:

[While] it makes sense that women would serve on the boards of cosmetics and retail companies, whose consumers are traditionally female, it doesn’t make much sense that Discovery Communications which owns the Oprah Winfrey Network, has no women on its board, or that Cintas, the largest uniform manufacturer in the U.S., doesn’t either.

Unfortunately, the problem of women’s underrepresentation in companies’ top positions is getting worse. Last year, the number of women on corporate boards dropped from 16.6% to 16%. Some companies in the oil and gas sector, such as Pioneer Natural Resources, cited a lack of qualified female applicants as the reason for the lack of women on their board. However, Terry Savage, who sat on the board of Pennzoil-Quaker State for six years, told Bloomberg Businessweek that “there are women qualified to sit on the boards of oil and gas companies. ‘The fact is that more than half the employees of that hugely industrial corporation were women.’”

The growing problem of a lack of female leadership in top companies is bad for women and the economy in general. Aida Alvarez, a former administrator of the Small Business Administration who now sits on the boards of Wal-Mart and Union Bank, said in Bloomberg Businessweek that “‘It makes no sense not to have diversity on the board’ …The large public company doesn’t exist…that doesn’t have women as end users or investors.”

You can view the list of the 29 companies that do not have women on their board or as at least one of their top five highest earning executives here.

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Filed under Equality

Life-Saving Drug in Abortion Politics Controversy

Misoprostol (or miso) is a drug which lessens postpartum bleeding, the leading cause of maternal death in the developing world. Traditional birth attendants in Mozambique who were part of a year-long trial of miso use in rural communities used words like “miraculous” to describe how beneficial misoprostal has been for women’s health. The birth attendants measured the effectiveness of miso with a cloth called the capulana. Before miso, birth attendants would need “three or four capulanas to soak up typical blood loss from the mother. After miso, they needed just one.” Increased access to miso in developing nations could help reduce the staggering discrepancy in maternal mortality rates between developing and developed nations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a woman in Mozambique has a 1 in 37 lifetime risk of maternal death. In the U.S., a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 2,100.

While miso is not the ideal drug to use to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, it is the best option for many women who are in places with limited access to medical facilities, like rural Mozambique. Oxytocin is a better, more effective medicine at reducing excessive bleeding after childbirth but it must be injected. For those who have very limited access to medical equipment, administering miso (which comes in a tablet) is a more practical option. WHO now has misoprostol on its list of essential medicines for preventing postpartum hemorrhage. However, WHO pharmacologist Suzanne Hill said that in order to really change maternal mortality rates in countries like Mozambique it needs to be ensured that “women can get to facilities, can get care, can give birth in a controlled environment.” In the meantime, miso can help reduce, though not eliminate, the staggering discrepancy in the maternal death rates between developing and developed countries.

Despite the fact that increased access to miso would save women’s lives, women’s access to it is threatened because it can also be used to induce abortions. Some anti-choicers would rather deny women access to a life-saving drug as well as an avenue to safer abortion than make abortion “too easy” by increasing access to miso. While abortion is officially illegal in Mozambique, misoprostol is available without a prescription and women have started using it for abortion. Aida Libombo, an adviser to Mozambique’s minister of health and an OB-GYN told NPR that “misoprostol has made abortions much safer. She remembers the horrific botched abortions she dealt with as a young doctor in the 1980s, when unsafe abortion was one of the leading causes of maternal death.”

To learn more about the use of misoprostol to prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage you can read WHO’s statement on it here [PDF].

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

Voter ID Bill Would Disenfranchise PA Citizens

On June 23rd the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Bill 934, a bill that would require voters to always show unexpired government-issued photo ID before casting a vote in an election. This is a stricter measure than current law which only requires citizens to show a photo ID the first time they vote. Supporters argued that the bill is a benign piece of legislation to discourage voter fraud. However, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Pennsylvania and, as Rep. Babette Josephs noted in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer,  requiring photo IDs before every vote would “disenfranchise poor, elderly, and minority voters.”

A 2006 study by New York University’s Brennan Center showed that 11% of U.S. citizens do not have the kind of identification that HB 934 would require. The study also found “that those without ID are disproportionately citizens over the age of 65, citizens who are African-Americans and citizens who earn less than $35,000 annually.” Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania said that this bill is likely to disenfranchise groups even beyond those identified in the Brennan Center’s study. He said, “it is…reasonable to assume that victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, recently released inmates, and citizens who are homeless are less likely to have government-issued ID.” Shula Asher Silberstein also points out that trans individuals are more likely to be questionedabout th eir identity at their polling place if their government-issued identification does not reflect their gender identity. For this reason, the bill would make it more likely that trans voters will stay home if they do not wish to announce that they are trans in a public place.

In addition to hurting Pennsylvanians through disenfranchising many communities, the bill would cost taxpayers up to 11 million dollars for a problem that does not exist. Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski pointed out that since 2004, 20 million votes have been cast in Pennsylvania and there have been only six people arrested for voter fraud. He said “that’s negligible and certainly not enough to spend millions of dollars and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.” Even the non-partisan County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has weighed in on the ridiculousness of this bill. Doug Hill, the Association’s executive director told the Philadelphia Inquirer that no county had reported even a suspicion of significant voter fraud.

HB 934, to quote Rep. Pashinski talking to The Times Leader, “is a solution in search of a problem.” Voting fraud in Pennsylvania is not a problem, but the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens and the enormous cost to taxpayers that this legislation would cause is. The bill is now headed to the state Senate where it will likely be voted on in the fall. We will keep you updated about any developments on this issue.

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Filed under Democracy, Government, PA Legislature, Uncategorized, Voting rights