Tag Archives: Health care

Pennsylvania Women’s Advocacy Leaders Condemn Anti-Obamacare Ad

Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy Call for Immediate Stop to Ad

Leaders from women’s rights advocacy group the Women’s Law Project and its action arm WomenVote PA, expressed strong condemnation today about the anti-Obamacare ad from the group Generation Opportunity and has called for its immediate stop.

“We join other women’s organizations today in expressing our outrage at Generation Opportunity’s new online ad ‘Want Creepy Uncle Sam?” said Kate Michelman, co-chair of WomenVote PA.  Michelman continued:

This ad represents a profound violation of a woman’s personal privacy and blatantly uses a woman’s most vulnerable situation – an OB/GYN exam – for political purposes.  It left me nearly speechless for the shocking insult it is to a woman’s dignity.  Further, this ad makes the case for removing government interference in health care, yet is brought to you by the same people who work day and night to insert government into decisions affecting a woman’s right to privacy and access to abortion and contraception.

Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair with Michelman of WomenVote PA, said:

This ad is beyond offensive.  The strange Uncle Sam character is not just creepy; it is menacing and, with a leering grin and speculum in hand, it a clear depiction of sexual violence.  Those media outlets choosing to run this ad should be forewarned: the gender gap will undoubtedly grow larger with ads like this and women will be watching.  We believe this ad should be removed from circulation immediately.

The ad produced by conservative group Generation Opportunity and funded by the Koch Brothers, depicts a horror-movie version of Uncle Sam rising from between a young woman’s legs at her doctor’s office and assuming the doctor role himself — a satirical jab at President Obama’s government being allowed to “play doctor.”

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Women's health

PA Dropped More Than 9% Children, Pregnant Women & Families from Medicaid!

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

According to a new national report covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer, there has been a dramatic drop in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid enrollment.  According to the Kaiser Family Foundation report, Pennsylvania dropped more than 9 percent of children, families, and pregnant women from Medicaid over the past year.  This percentage is nearly triple that of any other state in the country.  Pennsylvania’s total Medicaid enrollment also dropped 5.3% during the time period of the report, June 2011 to June 2012.  This is the sharpest drop in any state in the past 5 years.  Meanwhile, in other states, Medicaid enrollment is on the rise.

It should come as no surprise that the timing of the report coincides with the time when the Corbett administration directed state workers to conduct expedited reviews of thousands of backlogged cases.  The result was a decline of more than 80,000 insured children over several months.  Enrollment in Pennsylvania’s smaller Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also fell during this time.

In addition, while the state did not change existing enrollment policies, it did report that they were more thoroughly applying existing ones.  The state indicated that this could result in more cases being closed for failure to submit documentation.  Many cases backlogged early in the Corbett administration were closed—the person’s insurance terminated—because of lack of documentation.  Community Legal Services of Philadelphia filed a complaint over the disenrollment and threatened to sue the state, resulting in an agreement to send follow-up letters to more than 100,000 Medicaid recipients who had their insurance terminated for this purported “lack of documentation.”

While other states are streamlining their Medicaid enrollment processes to ensure that people who are eligible for Medicaid receive it, Pennsylvania and the Corbett Administration are trying to attack people who they believe are taking advantage of the system.  These attacks result in people who truly deserve to receive Medicaid being denied coverage.  In recent years, Congress has prohibited states from saving money by making major eligibility changes or imposing new enrollment restrictions in Medicaid programs.  Because Governor Corbett cannot outright cut Medicaid, the biggest item on Pennsylvania’s budget, he and his administration are searching for every back handed way to deny Pennsylvanians the aid they qualify for.  Not only is Governor Corbett refusing to expand Medicaid, he is crippling it, and children and families are suffering the most.

Learn more about healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and how it will affect you.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Medicaid, Pennsylvania

Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin – Let’s End This List

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Three weeks ago, under the watchful eyes of six male state legislators (photo), Governor Kasich (R) of Ohio signed the new state budget. As many have noted, the symbolism in this photo is marked, as Ohio’s new budget reads bankrupt for abortion rights. HB 59 contains drastic cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood; it threatens to withhold public funding for rape crisis clinics if clinic employees provide counseling on abortion care; it requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for an ultrasound; and it prohibits transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public hospitals, a measure that is already threatening to close one of only twelve clinics in the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the Texas legislature passed the anti-abortion legislation that Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of other women and men, in Texas and across the country, have been fighting since “the people’s filibuster” late last month. This is the law that is predicted to close all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics. Three Planned Parenthood clinics have already announced they will have to close their doors come August, as a result of the law’s new mandates. As if this doesn’t go far enough, several legislators have sponsored HB 59, a fetal heartbeat bill that would bring the threshold for legal abortion down to 6 weeks.

North Carolina and Wisconsin have also passed recent anti-abortion legislation. In NC, the prohibitive cost of mandated upgrades threatens closure of all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics. In WI, AB 227 (aka SB 206) would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents of the law say it would close two of only four clinics in the state.

And that is exactly the point.

What this recent wave of draconian anti-abortion legislation renders overwhelmingly clear is the importance of who our state legislators are. In the matter of abortion, where individual states retain enormous discretion, the actions of state legislatures can devastate abortion rights. This has been demonstrated time and time again: in Texas, in North Dakota, and in Pennsylvania. Therefore, every election, presidential or not, is essential to the security of women’s rights. However, voting rates in off year elections for state representatives remain notoriously low. Female voter participation in particular has been shown to drop by over a million votes in off year elections in Pennsylvania.

In evaluating state legislative actions against abortion rights, we must carefully consider who it is that we elect to our state legislatures. It’s no surprise that women’s rights are getting short shrift in many states. After all, women are still underrepresented in public office. Women compose only 18% of Congress, and it is hardly better at the state level. In Ohio, women make up 24% of the state legislature; in Texas, 21%; in North Carolina, 22%; and in Wisconsin, 25%.The dearth of women in our state assemblies matters when it comes to setting legislative priorities and countering efforts to restrict access to abortion, not because all women support abortion rights—they do not—and not because electing more women to public office is the silver bullet to end the “war on women.” Rather, as Senator Davis so eloquently demonstrated, the voices of women who are directly affected by public policy have the power to inform the public debate and transform how legislatures approach issues of concern to women. The key is to elect a legislature that is diverse in experiences, viewpoint, and perspective.  If we want to change the outcome, that is, put a stop to threats against reproductive rights, it matters who the players are.

Fact: Women compose only 18% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Consider this in the larger picture of state governments, which nationwide have become more conservative since 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the first half of 2013, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted in the entire year of 2012. With trends like these, it will take a long time to pin down the ever-evolving standard for the nation’s “strictest” abortion laws.

Whether or not these recent anti-abortion laws are ultimately challenged and/or struck down, in passing these measures, state legislators demonstrate an overwhelming lack of respect for women’s choices. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker claims the new bill, “improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice.” Choice is the operative word here because ultimately, these laws preclude it. A woman can’t very well choose to have an abortion if she is unable to access an abortion.

In the first half of 2013, the efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights were astounding, and continued and increasing counter efforts are needed to turn the tide. The image of Governor Kasich of Ohio surrounded by only men as he signed the new state budget reads as a lot more than the beginning of a new fiscal year. It reads as a need to continue fighting to secure women’s reproductive rights in every state. It reads as a fundamental lack of diversity in the vast majority of leadership positions in society. And it reads as a need to remind ourselves of the significance of our votes, and the relationship between the who and the what in the matter of legislative priorities. After all, as Ohio State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) summed it up, is your uterus a budget issue?

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Democracy, PA Legislature, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Voter turnout, women in Congress, women in legislature, women voting, Women's health

Texas Filibuster Raises National Spotlight on Restrictive State Abortion Laws

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D)  led an epic filibuster Tuesday night protesting a sweeping and restrictive anti-abortion bill, Texas Senate Bill 537. Holding the Senate floor for approximately 11 hours, Davis’ awe-inspiring display of conviction was successful in delaying a vote on the bill, with the expiration of the special legislative session at midnight. However, Governor Rick Perry (R), who called the special session and put the bill on the agenda, has already called a second special session so lawmakers may consider the bill again.

Texas Senate Bill 537 contains some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations. If passed, Texas Senate Bill 537 threatens closure of all but 5 of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics. The bill bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy; requires all abortion clinics to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers; and mandates all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Texas is not alone; these types of regulation are surfacing in state legislatures around the nation.

In June of 2012, new regulations for Pennsylvania abortion clinics took effect as part of Act 122, signed into law by Governor Corbett in late 2011. Similar to parts of the Texas legislation, this new law requires freestanding facilities performing surgical abortions to conform to financially burdensome and medically unnecessary requirements associated with ambulatory surgical centers. These upgrades are unnecessary to provide safe abortion care. The act is part of ongoing efforts to restrict access to abortion care.

Two weeks ago, Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed HB 818 limiting abortion coverage under health care insurance policies offered in the federal insurance marketplace starting next year, as per the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The law will prohibit private insurance coverage for abortion, even in cases of medical emergencies endangering the health of the pregnant woman, and even in cases of fetal anomaly incompatible with life. This provision is an additional restriction on abortion rights and disproportionately affects poor women’s access to important medical care.

The present unavailability of Medicaid and the recently enacted ban on insurance coverage of abortion in the exchange will make hospital-based abortion services too costly for many women in comparison to clinic-based care. In Pennsylvania, over 90% of abortion care is delivered by the frail network of 14 non-hospital-based freestanding abortion providers. With limited abortion coverage and rising costs, PA’s restrictive abortion policies threaten women’s right to choose and have a costly impact on women’s health. Accessibility to safe, legal abortion services is essential to preventing dangerous illegal abortions.

The victory of abortion rights advocates in Texas has implications nationwide. That hundreds of supporters came to rally at the Capitol, tens of thousands more watched the filibuster online, with an outpouring of support on Twitter sends a clear message to legislators. The filibuster demonstrates that abortion rights are in fact extremely important to many women and men who will not be silent while policymakers enact more dangerous and far-reaching restrictions. Davis’ testimony detailed the impact of these restrictions on the lives of real women. We in Pennsylvania can take inspiration from the women of Texas and join them in fighting back hard.

For more on the national landscape of abortion laws, check out this must-see graphic.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Pennsylvania Passes Yet Another Restriction on Women’s Health Care

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly gave final approval to House Bill 818, a measure that would force insurance plans that cover abortion care to stop providing that coverage in the state health insurance exchange. The Legislature also rejected an amendment to the bill that would have allowed insurers to provide coverage when abortion care is necessary to preserve a woman’s health.  Governor Corbett signed the bill as originally proposed into law on June 17, and it will take effect as the new health care exchange comes online later this year.

The new law states that insurance providers operating in the Pennsylvania exchange may only provide coverage of abortion care when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or if the pregnancy would cause imminent death. This ignores the medical needs of women who are not in immediate risk of death but for whom continuing a pregnancy could result in serious harm or health risks.  The proposed amendment that the Legislature rejected would have at least protected these women for whom abortions are crucial to maintaining their health.

HB 818’s supporters tried to argue that the bill simply prohibits “taxpayer-funded” abortions, but abortion care was already ineligible for public funding.  Unable to ban abortion entirely, our policymakers appear determined to make abortion care unaffordable and inaccessible. This misguided approach to health care not only infringes on women’s rights but could also endanger a woman’s health.

Though it passed, the bill faced spirited opposition in both chambers of the General Assembly. One of the dissenters, freshman Representative Erin Molchany, told her colleagues in the first speech she ever made on the house floor, “House Bill 818 is a bad bill, full of unintended consequences . . . this house is making decisions for women in this state—deeply personal decisions.  While all of us come from different professional backgrounds, we are all legislators—not medical professionals, not insurance companies, and for the most part not women.”

Most people agree that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to take away a woman’s health coverage just because of where she gets her insurance.  People rely on their health insurance to provide coverage for unexpected medical situations, and all women deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they can obtain the health care they need—whether or not that includes an abortion.

It is a shame that Governor Corbett didn’t take a page out of conservative Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s playbook.  Late last year, Gov. Snyder vetoed a measure similar to HB 818 because “insurance companies and private buyers of insurance should be able to conduct their own affairs.”  It is a sorry day when even free-market politics and the interests of private businesses have to take a backseat to restricting women’s health care and infringing on women’s autonomy.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Philadephia Daily News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Roe v. Wade 40 Years Later: How Far Have We Come?*

By Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy

January 22nd marks the fortieth anniversary of landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade was a historic milestone for women in America, because this right to control our capacity to reproduce – including our right to use contraception – significantly enhances our ability to participate fully in society. It helps ensure our personal privacy, our dignity, and our health.

Roe v. Wade promised to protect our ability to make decisions about our bodies without unwarranted interference, and recognized the essential importance of equality and freedom for women in our society.

On this fortieth anniversary, it is appropriate to ask if the promise of Roe v. Wade has been fulfilled.  Has women’s liberty and equality progressed as far as we hoped it would since January 22, 1973?

Clearly there have been some great strides forward. During the 2012 elections, women turned out in droves to make their voices heard. In almost every instance where women’s reproductive rights were challenged, freedom of choice prevailed. Earlier this month, a record number of women were sworn into the 113th Congress. Indeed, some may view the successes of 2012 as a sign of continually emerging equality and solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. Sadly, they would be wrong.

In 2012, forty-two states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 reproductive health-related measures. The primary purpose of at least 43 of those was to limit access to abortion.  This was in addition to the 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011. Twenty states restricted abortion coverage through the state health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Health Care Act. Crucial family planning funds were slashed from many state budgets.  Funding for reproductive health services in non-state operated clinics such as Planned Parenthood came under attack at both the state and federal levels. Currently, contraception can be barred from employer-based insurance coverage in eight states, and abstinence-only education remains the norm in the majority of our country.

This fight against contraception reveals the true hypocrisy of the anti-abortion groups: their concern isn’t protecting the unborn fetus; it’s about controlling which choices women are, and are not, allowed to make.

Forty years later, women still do not have equal pay in the workplace and are discriminated against due to pregnancy and familial responsibilities.

And despite the record-breaking number of women in Congress this year, and despite women voting at higher rates than men, women remain vastly underrepresented in the political landscape, let alone the corporate world. Those who do beat the tremendous odds are subjected to double standards of behavior, gender-based rhetoric, and vicious vitriol directed at times towards their femininity rather than their capability.

Negative attitudes towards women do not end there. The continued occurrences and reactions to instances of rape and sexual assault are indicative of the negative attitudes towards women that permeate society today. The gang rape on a bus in India sparked a global furor. The rape in Steubenville, Ohio, our own backyard, sparked a similar wave of repudiation. However, the blaming, shaming, and judgment directed toward the victims of these horrific crimes remains a key component of the dialogue surrounding even these high-profile instances of sexual assault. While the sheer volume of sexual assault and rape speaks to the prevalence of violent and negative attitudes towards women, the victim-blaming and judgment that occurs paints an even more disturbing picture revealing how subversive and long-lasting these negative perspectives of women are.

Technically, the core protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade remain intact. However, those protections are eroding due to the constant onslaught by radical conservatives bent on undermining the rights of women. The goal of Roe v. Wade was to ensure a woman’s right to control the most intimate aspect of her life. Without this right, simply put, women are unable to participate equally with men in the social, political and economic life of the nation.

The road ahead remains difficult. Our health, financial security, and personal safety are constantly challenged, compromised, and limited. So while we reflect on these past forty years, let us acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary steps we have taken to move our country towards equality.

But let us also understand that hard work and vigilance is needed now, more than ever, in the fight for women’s equality and justice.  The goal of Roe v. Wade has not been achieved, but on this anniversary it is essential that it also not be forgotten.

Kate Michelman is president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America, author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose,” and co-chair of WomenVote PA.

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project.

*NOTE: This post so far has appeared in the following newspapers and/or online: the Huffington Post, the Main Line News, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and USA Today.

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

Court Ruling: Hobby Lobby Cannot Deny Contraceptive Coverage to its Employees

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

On November 19, 2012, an Oklahoma federal court denied Hobby Lobby’s motion for a preliminary injunction, telling the business and its co-plaintiff (Mardel, another business owned by the same family trust) that they would be unlikely to succeed in their legal challenge to the contraceptive coverage rule under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  This rule makes contraception more affordable for women by requiring new or renewed insurance to cover the cost without co-pays or deductibles as of August 1, 2012.

Religious organizations, like houses of worships, are exempt from providing such coverage, and the Obama Administration has proposed an “accommodation” for other religious organizations under certain circumstances.  Just yesterday, November 27, 2012, a Pennsylvania federal court dismissed a lawsuit by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities, and Catholic Cemeteries Association as premature because, unlike Hobby Lobby, several exceptions to the contraceptive coverage rule apply to them at the present time either because they are religious organizations or have grandfathered plans.  Most v. Sebelius, No. 12-cv-00676, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167737 (W.D. Pa. 2012).  Hobby Lobby, as a private, for-profit business, is in a different situation; it does not fit within the accommodation or exemptions.

In its lawsuit, Hobby Lobby and Mardel claimed that requiring contraceptive coverage in the health plans they offer to their employees violates their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).  In particular, Hobby Lobby protested coverage for contraceptive methods that it wrongly believed to be abortifacients, such as Emergency Contraception (EC), which does not cause abortions because it works by preventing the ovary from releasing an egg, not by disturbing a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled against Hobby Lobby and Mardel, concluding that the companies were not entitled to a preliminary injunction because:

Hobby Lobby and Mardel, [being] secular, for- profit corporations, do not have free exercise rights. The [owners] do have such rights, but are unlikely to prevail as to their constitutional claims because the preventive care coverage regulations they challenge are neutral laws of general applicability which are rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective.

Plaintiffs also have failed to demonstrate a probability of success on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not ‘persons’ for purposes of the RFRA and the Greens have not established that compliance with the preventive care coverage regulations would ‘substantially burden’ their religious exercise[.]

Essentially, the court concluded that, for the purposes of free exercise of religion, corporations are not people and do not have such rights.  Their owners have religious freedom rights, but broadly applicable, neutral laws like the ACA do not infringe on these constitutional or statutory rights.  Legal challenges waged by secular, for-profit businesses against the contraceptive coverage rule in other lower federal courts, however, have resulted in mixed results.

It is important that our federal courts protect the contraceptive coverage rule from attacks like the one at the heart of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius.  Business owners should not be able to impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees, who come from a wide range of backgrounds.  Depending on the method used, contraception can cost between $15 and $1,000 up front, and the contraceptive coverage rule ensures that fewer women will pay out-of-pocket for birth control, which is not only important for family planning but also to address other health concerns, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome.

To learn more about the Affordable Care Act and reproductive health care, see our report, Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Contraception, Emergency Contraception, Health Care, Health insurance, Reproductive Rights, Uncategorized, Women's health