Monthly Archives: June 2012

The United States Supreme Court has weighed in: The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

By Women’s Law Project

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, expands health insurance coverage to more than 30 million people, prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, and ends abusive insurance practices.  On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law, finding that the individual mandate (which is the requirement that everyone carry insurance or pay a fine) is constitutional under Congress’ taxing power.  The Court also upheld the Medicaid expansion provision (which expands Medicaid eligibility for residents to 133 percent of the federal poverty level) as long as states that refuse to comply do not lose all of their Medicaid funding.

While some provisions of the ACA have already gone into effect, other provisions will be in effect by 2014.  This law will improve the lives of women and children across the country, allowing them to access affordable health care.  The ACA benefits women in many ways, including by preventing insurers from using pregnancy, domestic violence, and sexual violence as a basis for denying women coverage (pre-existing conditions), prohibiting the practice of charging women higher insurance premiums than men for the same insurance (known as gender rating), guaranteeing maternity coverage, and ensuring that new insurance plans cover preventive services such as mammograms and pap smears. 

The ACA is constitutional and vitally important to improving the health of American citizens, particularly women.  However, gaps in coverage for health care essential to women remain.  Most notably, the ACA allows insurers to discriminate against women by refusing to cover abortion care, and the Pennsylvania legislature is considering legislation that will ensure that insurance plans sold through the ACA’s state exchanges do not include abortion coverage except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s determination that states may decline to comply with the Medicaid expansion program without risking loss of their existing Medicaid funding raises questions about whether the federal government will be able to implement the expansion effectively.  If states decline participation in Medicaid expansion, many poor individuals, many of whom are women, will be left without health coverage.  Now the focus is on Pennsylvania to ensure coverage for everyone.

For more information on the ACA and WLP’s work on access to health care, see WLP Health Care Reform and WLP’s Report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Supreme Court, Women's health

House Passes DHS Spending Bill with Anti-Choice Rider

Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

On June 7, the House passed a Homeland Security spending bill which included a provision that would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from providing abortions to undocumented women who are detained. The measure was proposed by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala) and allows for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the life of the woman. While “the provision is unlikely” to pass in the Senate and become law, Rep. David Price (D-NC), spoke out against the rider, stating that “These abortion riders, while unnecessary, are inflammatory. They’re divisive.”

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the ICE, said that the agency has not paid for abortion services since its creation.  However, the anti-choice rider would prohibit women from accessing abortion even though ICE has never paid for one. Planned Parenthood released a statement after the bill passed arguing that

Not only is this amendment unnecessary and redundant to existing policy, but it is a clear case of bringing election-year politics into a critical discussion about U.S. homeland security issues. This unnecessary amendment disallows access to the full legal range of reproductive health care for women, including access to abortion services.

The Senate has yet to begin debate on the spending bill and its anti-choice rider but it may do so later this summer.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Congress, Government, Health Care, Immigrants, Women's health

And Then There Were None: Pennsylvania Bill to Permit Expert Testimony in Sexual Assault Cases Lands on the Governor’s Desk

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

House Bill 1264, which provides for expert testimony in certain criminal proceedings, has passed the Pennsylvania House and Senate, and is now on Governor Corbett’s desk. Until this legislation is signed by the Governor and goes into effect, Pennsylvania remains the only state in the country that does not permit juries in criminal trials to hear expert testimony explaining the dynamics of sexual assault. The bill, sponsored by Representative Cherelle Parker (D-Philadelphia) and 61 representatives from both sides of the aisle, will allow expert testimony in criminal cases involving sexual offenses. This legislation permits the prosecution or the defense to call experts who, because of their “experience with, or specialized training or education in, criminal justice, behavioral sciences or victim services,” can help juries and judges understand “the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted.”

This legislation will help counter the misconceptions juries and judges have repeatedly applied in the past to sexual assault cases. These misconceptions, known as rape myths, “are attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women.” Kimberly A. Lonsway & Louise F. Fitzgerald, Rape Myths in Review, 18 Psych. of Women Quarterly 133, 133-134 (1994). These myths are connected to sexist attitudes about women and distort the dynamics of sexual assault.

Two rape myths, for example, are the belief that rape is rare and that women often lie about its occurrence. Other rape myths include the beliefs that sexual assault victims will actively resist their assailants throughout the assault and that they will report the crime as soon as possible.  Adherence to these myths may make jurors and judges more inclined to believe that a victim’s delay in reporting the assault, her lack of visible physical injuries, or perceived inadequate resistance to the attack indicate that she is lying about what happened.

In reality, research shows that many rape victims cannot or do not fight back during an assault for a variety of reasons, including fear, immobilization due to being physically restrained, or immobilization due to their own psychological responses to trauma. Thus, many victims do not have visible physical injuries and do not actively resist their attackers during the assault. Furthermore, a delay in reporting an assault is very common, as victims dealing with the immediate aftermath of an assault are in the process of making sense of what happened to them and are figuring out what steps to take. Contrary to a common misconception, there is no “right” or “normal” way for a victim of sexual assault to behave.

Pennsylvania’s enactment of HB 1264 will promote justice for victims of sexual assault by giving lawyers such as prosecutors the tools they need to address these commonly held misconceptions about the dynamics of sexual assault. To learn more about rape myths in the criminal justice system, see the Women’s Law Project’s amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Claybrook and our chapter on sexual violence in our report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Government, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Rape, Sexual Assault

Employment Non-Discrimination Act Gets Hearing in the Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

On June 12th, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing to debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Currently no federal law exists barring discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would provide an equal standard of workplace protection for LGBT Americans. It was last discussed in 2009, and has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. Activists hope the Senate hearing will be the first step to getting the bill moving in Congress once again.

To gain bipartisan support within the committee, and, it is hoped, within the full senate, a broad exception for religious organizations is included in the bill. The exception is more extensive than in previous discrimination bills, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which ENDA is based. The Civil Rights Act lays out protections for individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Religious organizations are allowed to take an individual’s religion into account, but that is the only exemption they are given. For example, a Catholic school can require that all staff and faculty is Catholic, but they cannot fire someone for being a woman or being African American.

The religious exception in ENDA goes one step further, and allows religious organizations to continue to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Religious organizations will not be held accountable for firing employees whom they learn to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. While this weakens the force of the bill, lawmakers believe it is the only way to ensure the bill is passed.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that does not have a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While 24 local governments in Pennsylvania have ordinances that prohibit “discrimination against LGBT people, approximately 70% of the state’s population remains unprotected,” according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House debated employment discrimination bills in 2011, but neither came to a vote and there has been little talk for the last year of granting these protections.

This hearing also marks the first time that an individual who is openly transgender has testified in the Senate. Kylar Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition of Columbia, Missouri. He started the organization after he was fired from his job for coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. He had no way to fight his employer because there was no law that made firing him illegal.

There is widespread support for passing ENDA within the American public, even among Republicans and those usually unsympathetic to LGBT rights. A poll found that 73% of Americans believe Congress should pass ENDA, and many think that federal workplace protection already exists for LGBT individuals.  Proponents of ENDA are hopeful that the bill will come to a vote sometime this year.

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Filed under Congress, Employment, LGBT, Politics, Sexual orientation, Sexuality

The Hypocrisy of Cuts to Medicaid Reimbursements for Newborn Care

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

When Pennsylvania’s politicians say they are for protecting the unborn, they mean it literally: the minute you’re born, you’re on your own.

Last month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW), which is run by Governor Tom Corbett’s political appointees, yanked the rug out from under maternity wards state-wide by eliminating the $1,155 payment it used to make to hospitals for a newborn’s regular care when the mother is on Medical Assistance (Pennsylvania’s name for Medicaid).  DPW will continue to reimburse hospitals for the mother’s care, but it will no longer reimburse hospitals for the baby’s care unless the baby develops complications or needs to stay longer than normal for observation.

Nearly half of all births in Pennsylvania are paid for by Medical Assistance, so the reimbursement cuts will significantly impact hospitals across the state that provide maternity care, forcing them to absorb even more of the cost for the services they provide to pregnant women and their babies. Even prior to these cuts, hospitals typically lost money on Medicaid deliveries. One community hospital reported that every Medical Assistance delivery costs the hospital between $7,800 and $8,400, while the Medicaid reimbursement prior to May 1st was a mere $6,867 for both mother and baby. Now it is just $5,712.

Large hospitals that also serve many privately-insured mothers might be able to spread the loss among other deliveries, or even among other departments in the hospital. However, independent community hospitals that already have trouble breaking even will face greater financial difficulties.  As a result, they may have to close their maternity wards and lay off employees, making it even harder for Pennsylvania’s pregnant women to receive maternity care within a reasonable distance from their homes. Already, as the Women’s Law Project explores in our recent publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, many women in Pennsylvania, particularly if they are poor, have few options when choosing obstetrical providers. For these women, the result of the shrinking number of obstetrical providers that accept Medical Assistance is a delay or a denial in receiving prenatal care, medical care that is important for the health of pregnant women and their babies. DPW’s cuts to hospital reimbursements will only exacerbate an already dire situation for women who receive Medicaid.

DPW’s decision to cut hospital reimbursements for newborn care is another example of how misguided Governor Corbett’s administration is on issues relating to women’s and children’s health.  The governor pressed for controversial legislation that would mandate women undergo medically-unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortions, justifying the bill by claiming these women can just “close their eyes,” but his administration will not even use a combination of federal and state funds to pay for the medical assessments and procedures newborn babies need in the crucial first 72 hours after they are born.

If Governor Corbett and DPW truly believed in the sanctity of life, they would promote policies that help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Their hypocrisy couldn’t be more apparent than in cutting maternity reimbursements for the care of newborn babies.

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Filed under Health Care, Maternity Coverage, PA Law, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Uncategorized, Women's health

Hillary Clinton Launches the Women in Public Service Project

Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

Monday, June 11th, marked the official launch of the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP), a program created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that aims to mentor emerging female leaders from all over the world in public policy and social justice.

 Forty-nine women from 21 different countries were selected through an application process to participate in the project. WPSP kicked off its first annual two-week series of intensive seminars, which will focus on how women can successfully lead and influence the governments and societies in which they live. Participants will also have the opportunity to network with global political leaders.

 The project is sponsored by The U.S State Department and the five remaining “Seven-Sister” schools, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Smith, and Mount Holyoke. The first summer institute will take place at Wellesley College, which is the alma mater of both Clinton and Madeline Albright, the first female Secretary of State.  The other sponsoring colleges, all leading liberal arts colleges, will host the event in the future.

Clinton’s ambitious project will further the pro-women initiative President Obama undertook when he issued the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security this past December. The Women’s Media Center explained that NAP mandated increased participation of women in the negotiation of peace treaties, as well as a promotion of women’s role in conflict prevention. This program is one that was greatly needed: only 8% of all peace treaties negotiated during the last several years involved women at all.

Furthermore, as State Department ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer pointed out, almost half of all peace agreements negotiated during the 1990s failed within five years of their passage. “Peace won’t happen if we leave out half of those who are affected by conflict and will benefit from peace,” said Verveer in support of the NAP.

Her sentiment, crucial to the birth of the WPSP, is shared by many leaders urging increased participation by women in politics. As women continue to be underrepresented in politics, we fail to hear the opinion of half of the population. This leads to a plethora of problems, including imbalanced decisions and a narrow range of expertise and perspective.

Gender equality efforts are underway worldwide. Newly-elected French president Francois Hollande appointed an equal number of women and men to the country’s 34-member cabinet for the first time in history .

Clinton’s hopes are that the WPSP will help this trend to continue on an international level. The project’s ultimate goal is for at least 50% of the world’s elected leaders to be women by the year 2050. Currently, that number is at only 17.5%. According to a Women’s Media Center article, the proportion of women to men in the U.S Congress is only 17%, even lower than the international average of 20% of parliamentary seats held by women. Clinton was quoted as saying she was embarrassed by this statistic. She also stated that, “The World Bank has found that women tend to invest more of their earnings in their families and communities than men do,” adding that “those are the kinds of instincts and priorities we would all like to see” at the government level.

If half of a society’s population fails to have proper representation in politics, the desires and goals of that society cannot be properly met. The WPSP aims to broaden the range of perspectives at the political forefront to include more women, as well as give women the resources and contacts to become effective leaders. Here at the Women’s Law Project, we support and applaud this endeavor. This is a bold and innovative approach to international policy that aims to drastically alter global leadership.

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Filed under Democracy, Education, Events, Gender Discrimination, Government, Women Leaders

Report Released on the 40th Anniversary of Title IX

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

As a member of The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE), the Women’s Law Project is pleased to share NCWGE’s report celebrating Title IX’s 40th anniversary.  NCWGE is a non-profit made up of over 50 organizations dedicated to ensuring equality in education. The report gives a comprehensive look at all that has been accomplished since Title IX was adopted and all that remains to be done. The goal of the report is to “help give educators, parents, students, and lawmakers a better understanding of Title IX’s impact and challenges that remain in many areas of education.”

The report covers Title IX’s role in school athletics, as well as other crucial issues. It outlines six main areas that the act affects and impacts including “athletics; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); career and techni­cal education; sexual harassment; single-sex education; and the rights of pregnant and parenting students.” The report offers an analysis of the change that has occurred in each area over the last 40 years, and also provides suggestions and solutions for addressing the equality gaps that remain.

Title IX was passed as a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972. It states that,

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletics. It has helped to open doors for female athletes to equal participation opportunities and to equal treatment of male and female teams. However, its reach and importance extends far beyond sports. Title IX impacts the education system as a whole and is meant to ensure equality in all areas of education.

The report found that while much has improved in terms of gender equity in education since 1972, much of Title IX is not fully implemented or enforced.  For example, pregnant and parenting students still struggle to have full and equal access to education, and their needs are often ignored (pg.55). Girls are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields (17). Sexual harassment is still prevalent across all grade levels, and often keeps students from fully participating in school (37). Many public schools still have sex-segregated classrooms based on faulty scientific research and stereotypes (47) Thankfully, Title IX provides students with a legal basis for challenging the inequalities they continue to face.

The Women’s Law Project has played a role in helping to enforce Title IX throughout the state of Pennsylvania. We supported more stringent and regulated handling of sexual assault cases at Penn State. We have also worked against discriminatory single-sex programs and schools in order to ensure equal access to educational opportunities for children. The WLP has fought for the rights of female students and athletes in a number of cases thanks to the passage of Title IX.

Through this report, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education “seeks to inform the continued search for policies that will promote equal educational opportunity in all of these areas,” (2). The report lays out what must be done to establish truly equal access and to continue to improve the situation for women and girls in schools across the country. NCWGE suggests five overarching areas that must be addressed, including “awareness, enforcement, transparency, coordination, and funding” (6), as well as policy changes that effect each area of interest.

On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, it is important to recognize the ways in which Title IX has shaped the last 40 years and how it can be better implemented in the future. Title IX’s passage did not change the world or America’s public education system overnight, and there is still work to be done. We are happy to celebrate this anniversary by looking at how we can continue to make public schools more equal for all students.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Single-Sex Schools, Title IX, Uncategorized