Tag Archives: New York Times

Pennsylvania Should Adopt A Law to Protect Women in Midlife From Employment Discrimination Based on Caregiving Responsibilities

By Caroline Buck, WLP Law Intern and Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women moving into the workforce has been one of the most important economic trends in the last 30 years. In April, the Center for American Progress issued a report that detailed the substantial impact of working women on the economy.

One of the report’s key findings was that if women’s employment had remained at the same level it was in 1979, the 2012 gross domestic product would have been roughly 11 percent lower. “In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.”

The most dramatic increase in working women has been the influx of mothers into the workforce. In 1979, 27.3 percent of mothers worked outside of the home. In 2007, this number grew to 46 percent.

Since 2007, both the percentage of working mothers and the overall number of women working outside the home has dropped.

It’s bad news for both women and the economy.

Last week, the New York Times published a report digging into the dynamics and consequences of the trend of women, and particularly middle-aged women, dropping out of the workforce while at the peak of their earning potential.

There’s no single explanation for the drop, but caring for elderly parents is one reason for the statistically significant reduction of women in the workforce. In a recent article investigating the issue, the New York Times profiled Tracy Murphy. Formerly a non-profit agency manager, 54-year-old Tracy left her job to care for her sick mother five years ago.  As we know, women are the primary caretakers of both parents and children. Though middle-aged women are dropping out of the workforce at a higher percentage than their younger counterparts, women in their 20s are also dropping out to focus on young children or to return to school.

Another factor is that the edge of the recession cut into government budgets, where statistically more women than men earn a paycheck. Almost half of the government jobs lost between 2008 and April of this year were in education – a job still overwhelming female – and illustrative of the ongoing job segregation that depresses women’s wages and opportunities.

From the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster for the women concerned,” said Ian Shepherdson, an independent economist, “but it’s also bad news for the economy because they are not contributing to growth and their skills are eroding through extended inactivity.”

With parents living longer and having children later, the report explains that women are pinned between caring for parents and children themselves to “save money,” and losing earnings and benefits that ideally would be incrementally increasing over the years.

Then, when they try to return to work, they find themselves pinned between being too young to retire and too old to be competitive. In addition, they are often discriminated against in hiring processes and passed over for promotions based on the assumption that they will be less committed to their jobs as a result of their caretaking responsibilities.

So what can we do?

There are certainly cultural factors at play: Women account for two-thirds of caretakers. Daughters are so much more likely to be tapped to care for elderly parents that studies of a recent report on the phenomenon commented, “it’s almost like being back at the turn of the century.”

Policies that acknowledge the shifting configurations of family, the labor market and the economy, as well as legislation that protects caregivers against employment discrimination, could help.

In Pennsylvania, 1.39 million people – primarily women – serve as informal caregivers for adults requiring long-term care at any given time. Additionally, three-quarters of adults requiring long-term care rely exclusively on family members to provide the daily assistance they need. Some states and localities have adopted laws to expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities.  Pennsylvania has not yet done so.

On June 5, Tara Pfeifer, Staff Attorney for the Women’s Law Project, presented testimony before the Pennsylvania House Labor Committee in support of a state bill that would provide some necessary protections.

H.B. 2271, if passed, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on “familial status” in the employment context. Although this is an important step that would provide much needed protections for working parents with caregiving responsibilities, the current bill does not provide legal protections to those who are caring for adults that require long-term assistance. As a result, other legislation is needed to fill this gap.

The economic and social impact of caretaking responsibilities on women’s workforce participation is clear, and the potential for discrimination in the employment context because of these responsibilities looms large. Yet until further legislative action is taken, those caring for other adults will remain vulnerable.

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Filed under Caretaking, familial status, PA Law, PA Legislature, working women

New York Times Reports on Dating Violence in Young Teenagers

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

An article published last week in the New York Times addresses the problem of dating violence among young teenagers, including those who have not yet entered high school. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, teen dating violence remains a significant problem, and the behaviors can begin to appear in teens as young as eleven and twelve.  

Studies that emerged over a decade ago showed that the group most at risk for dating violence and sexual assault was girls age 16 to 24. This report helped to increase funding and prevalence of programs aimed to educate teenagers about healthy relationships. While these programs have made an impact, reports show that they may not be starting early enough to catch the dangerous behaviors before they start.

A study conducted in 2010 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation surveyed 1,430 seventh graders from eight middle schools across the country. The study found that three-quarters of the students had been in a relationship. One in three had already experienced psychological dating violence, and one in six had experienced physical violence.

Thankfully, this information has encouraged the development of new programs and resources that provide early intervention and instruction. These programs target middle school students, as well as their parents, in the hope that they can teach warning signs and good decision making early. While the reports and the new early intervention programs recognize that males and females can be both the abuser and the abused, women and girls are still disproportionately the victims of dating violence.

Psychologically and physically abusive relationships that begin in the early teenage years can cause long-term patterns of abuse that continue into adulthood.We discussed the adverse health effects of intimate partner violence in our report, Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. While the report focuses on adult women, teenagers are at risk as well.

The New York Times article was released as Congress debates reauthorizing VAWA. This is the first time since the bill was passed in 1994 that reauthorization has been challenged, and support has been divided along party lines. In this year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the age limit for participants in programs funded with federal grant money has been lowered to eleven. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also given $1 million grants to each of 11 schools nation-wide in order to establish programs in middle schools that educate students about healthy teen relationships. More than ever, funding and education are needed to help to stop intimate partner violence, and protect and provide services for victims.

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Filed under Girls, Violence Against Women

New Studies Clarify Function of the Morning After Pill

Molly Duerig, WLP Undergraduate Intern

The New York Times published an article yesterday clarifying the uncertainties that surround the functionality of emergency contraceptive methods such as Plan B One Step. Cited in the article were a number of research studies, conducted by leading scientists in the years since Plan B’s approval in 1999, proving that the “morning-after” pill functions by delaying a woman’s ovulation—which occurs before her eggs are ever fertilized by a man’s sperm.

This result contradicts the current F.D.A. labeling found on morning-after pills, which implies that the drug blocks already fertilized eggs from implanting themselves in a woman’s uterus. Many opponents to abortion take issue with the drug because they believe a fertilized egg to be equivalent to a human being’s life. But many of those opponents should re-evaluate and alter their opinions on emergency contraceptive care, especially after the NY Times’ revelation of these results to the masses.

We discussed the morning-after pill’s role as emergency contraception (EC) in the reproductive health section of our report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. The report states that “because it does not end a pregnancy but only prevents one, EC is not a form of abortion.  Rather, EC prevents abortions because it prevents unwanted pregnancies” (181). Emergency contraception like Plan B is an essential component of women’s reproductive and over-all health.

Earlier this year, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics issued an official statement saying that pills with Plan B’s active ingredient (levonorgestrel) do not inhibit implantation. In the NY Times article, writer Pam Belluck cites the results of a number of studies conducted in recent years that contributed to that decision:

“In 2007, 2009 and 2010, researchers in Australia and Chile gave Plan B to women after determining with hormone tests which women had ovulated and which had not. None who took the drug before ovulation became pregnant, underscoring how Plan B delays ovulation. Women who had ovulated became pregnant at the same rate as if they had taken no drug at all. In those cases, there were no difficulties with implantation…”

The fact that morning-after pills do not inhibit implantation actually decreases their effectiveness as methods of emergency contraceptive care. Furthermore, the pills’ role to delay ovulation and prevent an egg from ever becoming fertilized proves it does not function as a method of abortion. This demonstrates not only the value, but the safety of the pill.

The Women’s Law Project has blogged before about the safety and worth of making emergency contraception available to women of any age, without requiring a prescription. In a post published in December of 2011, the WLP noted that “when our country faces approximately 3.1 million unintended pregnancies each year, unrestricted access to safe and effective contraception is vital.” The findings revealed by the studies mentioned in the NY Times piece further prove why access to emergency contraceptive care is so important.

It’s wonderful that the truth about the safety and functionality of morning-after pills is becoming widely known. However, it’s discouraging that the F.D.A. still refuses to alter the scientifically unfounded labeling of these pills as inhibitors to uterine implantation.

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Filed under Contraception, Health Care, Reproductive Rights, The New York Times, Women's health

Report: Single-Sex Education is Ineffective

A new report by the Board of the American Council of Coeducational Schooling (ACCES), The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling, recently published in Science magazine  reveals (pdf)  that “placing children in single-sex learning environments is ineffective, misguided and may actually have harmful effects on children.” This data comes at a time when the number of single-sex classrooms in the U.S. is growing.  There were only two single-sex public schools in the 1990s but today there are more than 500 public schools that either offer single-sex classes or that are entirely single-sex.

The popularity of single-sex schooling has grown partially because of misinformation spread by proponents of single sex public schooling that boys and girls should be taught separately because of differences in their brains.  One of their proponents, Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, relying on research on rats, claims that boys need to be stressed in order to learn and therefore they must must be taught in cold classrooms in aggressive, confrontational styles.  Girls, according to Sax, require quiet warm classrooms, where they can take off their shoes and cuddle in a blanket brought from home.

Dr. Diane F. Halpern, the lead author of the report and past president of the American Psychological Association who holds a chair in psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California, said in an interview with the New York Times that Sax’s logic is faulty. She stated,

“A loud, cold classroom where you toss balls around, like Dr. Sax thinks boys should have, might be great for some boys, and for some girls, but for some boys, it would be living hell”…She said that while girls are better readers and get better grades, and boys are more likely to have reading disabilities, that does not mean that educators should use the group average to design different classrooms. “It’s simply not true that boys and girls learn differently…”

Indeed, the report argues that not only is single-sex schooling ineffective at improving educational outcomes, but it is actually harmful. The report states that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” It argues that “single- sex education reduces opportunities for boys and girls to interact together, which serves to reinforce negative gender stereotyping.”

The report “calls on the Education Department to rescind its 2006 regulations weakening the Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in education.” These regulations allow single-sex classrooms provided they are voluntary, the school believes single-sex education will provide a better education for students, and that “students have a substantially equal coeducational option.” 

The Women’s Law Project has fought against discrimination in education. To learn about our work to prevent single-sex classrooms, click here.

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Filed under Education, Sex Discrimination, Single-Sex Schools, The New York Times, Title IX

Will Contraception Be Considered a Preventive Service Under Health Care Reform?

Recently, the New York Times published an article discussing potential provisions to the new health care law that would require insurance companies to cover contraceptive and family planning services for women. The administration has gathered a team of experts that hope to release a definition of “preventative health services” with specific guidelines by August 1, 2011.

Currently the law states that insurers must cover “preventative health services” free of charge.  Women’s health advocates argue that contraceptives and family planning should be considered a preventive health service – after all, what’s more preventative than preventing pregnancy? However, anti-choice activists, ignoring the reality that 62% of American women use contraceptives during their lives and more would if they could afford them, have stated that pregnancy is “not a disease to be prevented.”

Congress left it to the administration to define preventative care, but the health care reform legislation included Senator Barbra Mikulski’s health care amendment which requires officials to pay attention to “unique health needs of women.” Senator Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, says that the amendment had intent of including family planning.

At the state level, PA Representative Chelsa Wagner, has reintroduced the Birth Control Insurance Bill. The bill, now HB 414, would require insurance plans in Pennsylvania to cover contraception drugs and devices like any other medicine.

Most women spend half their life avoiding unwanted pregnancy, while 49% of health insurance plans do not cover any form of contraceptives. And this has been an issue for a long time – nearly 15 years ago, the Institute of Medicine reported highlighted by the New York Times that the rising cost of contraceptives should be

reduced by increasing the proportion of all health insurance policies that cover contraceptive services and supplies, including both male and female sterilization, with no co-payments or other cost-sharing requirements.

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Filed under Contraception, Government, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

The Next Step for the Birth Control Pill: Over-the-Counter?

Why not? That’s the question that Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, asks in a recent New York Times op-ed. She argues that there’s no real reason against making the birth control pill available over the counter, and there would be great benefits to doing so.

First, the birth control pill meets the F.D.A requirements to be sold over the counter:

  • Instructions are easy-to-follow
  • Determining whether to use the drug does not require a doctor’s screening (like other contraceptives, for example, condoms)
  • It is non-addictive
  • An overdose is not fatal

Second, the birth control pill would be much more effective if made available over the counter. The accessibility of this particular contraceptive is impeded by its “prescription-only” status. Uninsured women who find it financially prohibitive to see a doctor are barred from one of the most effective and affordable contraceptives available. When traveling or on vacation, women can find themselves unable to replenish their supply of birth control pills. Blanchard highlights the statistics: America has the “highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world.” Making effective contraceptives available over-the-counter would be a huge step in bringing that teenage pregnancy rate down.

Katherine Mangu-Ward of the Reason blog writes:

Women aren’t stupid, but the Food and Drug Administration treats them like they are. The contraceptive pill has been on the market for 50 years, but women still have to go begging every year to their doctors and every month to the pharmacist behind the high counter.

It has been fifty years since the F.D.A. approved the birth control pill, and as we wrote a month ago, the pill has given many women greater control of their reproductive capabilities, which has meant greater control of their lives and destinies. Allowing the pill to be sold over the counter will give more women to access its enormous benefits, and we just don’t see a reason why this should be delayed any longer. Thus, in the words of Kelly Blanchard, let’s “let the pill go free.”

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

Cesarean Sections in the News: Are Women Fully Informed?

Delivery by cesarean section is a hot topic these days.  In recent months newspapers have reported that the rate of c-sections in the U.S. has reached an all-time high; that the federal government has issued new guidelines to encourage vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC); and that health care reform has targeted unfair insurer practices, including the treatment of c-sections as pre-existing conditions.  All of these stories make one wonder, do women understand what they are getting into when they undergo a c-section?    The consequences are far-ranging, and unfortunately, will likely remain until 2014, when most of the health insurance reforms curbing unfair insurer practices go into effect.

The N.Y. Times recently reported that, in 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available), 1.4 million c-sections were performed, accounting for 32% of all births. Although c-sections undoubtedly save the lives of women and children when medically indicated, the World Health Agency suggests that the rate of c-sections should be around 15%.  A c-section is major abdominal surgery, with risks to both mother and child.  Moreover, c-sections increase the risk of complications in future pregnancies and limit women’s future delivery options.

C-sections are also more expensive than vaginal delivery, and can significantly impact a woman’s future insurance coverage, as the N.Y. Times first reported two years ago. Insurers often treat a prior c-section as a pre-existing condition, and take any range of actions including refusing to issue a policy, excluding maternity coverage, or charging a premium. The N.Y. Times echoed the concern of advocacy groups that, “[n]ot only are women feeling pressure to have Caesareans that they do not want and may not need, but they may also be denied coverage for the surgery.”   Insurance companies are not required to provide coverage to adults without regard to pre-existing conditions until 2004.

So why are c-sections on the rise?  One Philadelphia Inquirer piece suggests that two interrelated forces are driving up the numbers: doctors’ increasing use of the “surprisingly unreliable” fetal heart monitoring as a screening tool, and fear of being sued. The N.Y. Times pointed to such factors as higher rates of multiple births due to fertility treatments, a greater number of older mothers giving birth, and the increasingly common tendency to induce labor, which is more likely to result in a c-section than natural labor.

Another major reason that c-sections are on the rise is because of the dropping rates of VBACs.  Repeat c-sections account for 40% of all c-sections, and “[f]ewer than 10 percent of women who had Caesareans now have vaginal births, compared with 28.3 percent in 1996.” Many attribute the drop in VBACs to professional guidelines that “require that surgical and anesthesia teams be ‘immediately available’ during labor if a woman has had a prior Caesarean,” which caused many hospitals to simply ban VBACs. However, a NIH panel is recommending that doctors and professional groups reconsider these guidelines, after finding that “70 percent of women who have had Caesareans are good candidates for trying for a normal birth, and 60 percent to 80 percent of those who try succeed.”

Hospitals have demonstrated that certain measures can reduce the high rate of c-sections.   For example, the N.Y. Times reported on a hospital on Staten Island that has kept its c-section rate around 23%, by prohibiting unnecessary inductions before the 41st week, refusing to provide c-sections that are requested by the mother but not medically indicated, and encouraging VBACs.

Hopefully, advocacy groups and news organizations will continue to keep the debate about c-sections in the spotlight, ensuring that both women and their health care providers understand the risks, alternatives, and the potential ramifications for future healthcare coverage.

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Filed under Childbirth, Health insurance, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health