Tag Archives: PA Legislature

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

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

Title IX requirements not burdensome

By Terry L. Fromson, WLP Managing Attorney

On June 19, 2013, the Northwestern Lehigh School District Board of Directors adopted a resolution that would keep basic information from parents and students about the sports programs their tax dollars support.

The resolution also revealed shocking ignorance about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including in school athletic programs.  Resolving to support the repeal of a law adopted last year by the Pennsylvania Legislature that requires public high schools, junior highs, and middle schools to fill out a reporting form once a year showing how schools are doing in achieving gender equity in their athletic programs, the Board resolution incredulously states that “the provisions of Title IX, which is federal law, are not applicable to local school districts.”

To the contrary, Title IX applies to any educational program that receives any federal financial assistance.  There are few, if any, schools that don’t receive any federal funding.  Title IX requires our schools to provide equal athletic opportunities and treatment to girls. Adopted 41 years ago this month, Title IX required schools to become compliant within three years.  Yet, many schools have not only failed to achieve equality in their sports programs, but overall, conditions have actually worsened for girls.

Last year’s passage of the reporting law was a victory for girls who want to participate in school athletics in Pennsylvania and for their parents who expect equal opportunity for their daughters in school. It simply provides the taxpaying public with knowledge about whether their local schools are in compliance with or in violation of Title IX.   The law is not burdensome.  The information it asks schools to share is in their possession and is already reportable on a request by request basis under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.  Compiling one report each year, a task estimated to take no more than six hours, will consume less time and effort than responding to multiple requests throughout the year.  This small investment of time is more than reasonable to ensure female athletes in Pennsylvania’s schools are provided with the athletic opportunities required by law.

At this same meeting, the Northwestern Lehigh School Board voted to “move forward” with plans to seek private funding for improvements to the athletic stadium and track field at a projected cost of $2.1 million. Without more information, it cannot definitively be said whether these improvements will result in or contribute to an uneven playing field for girls in the Northwestern Lehigh School District.  However, the Board should know that female student athletes must be treated equally even if private funding is used to purchase extra perks for male student athletes.

******

Please also see recent commentary by Paul Carpenter of The Morning Call:  Title IX spotlights scholastic sports — for all students or just the Al Bundy types?

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Education, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Girls, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX

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.

What we are reading:

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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

PA Lawmakers Should Care More about the Health of the Commonwealth’s Residents

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

With the uncertainty of the 2012 elections behind us, we know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — known to many friends and foes alike as “Obamacare” — is here to stay, with most of its provisions having passed constitutional muster under U.S. Supreme Court review.  Nevertheless, Pennsylvania has stalled on the implementation of this important law, despite having already accepted millions of dollars in federal funding to prepare for it.  To protect the health and well-being of Pennsylvania’s residents, the Corbett Administration and the Pennsylvania General Assembly must act now to determine how the Commonwealth will handle key features of the ACA, including the establishment of an insurance exchange and the expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

The ACA will create state-based marketplaces for private insurance that will make affordable coverage available to small businesses to purchase for their employees and to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid and who do not receive health insurance through their employers.  These exchanges are scheduled to open for enrollment on October 1, 2013, with coverage beginning on January 1, 2014.  States have three options: set up their own exchanges, partner with the federal government, or have the federal government set up and run the state’s exchange.  Although Pennsylvania had announced its intention to build a state-run exchange a year ago, it did not submit a Declaration Letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by November 16, 2012, as required.  Last week, the Obama Administration extended the deadline to December 14, 2012 for states to submit blueprints for such exchanges for approval by HHS.  The states that intend to partner with the federal government have until February 15, 2013 to submit their plans to HHS.

The Corbett Administration has not indicated what it intends to do about the establishment of an insurance exchange.  Bills are pending in the General Assembly, but there has been no action on them.  The Commonwealth is thus far behind several other states that are taking the necessary steps to set up these exchanges on time.  Without clear direction from the governor and without appropriate legislation, it is likely that Pennsylvania will not set up a state-run exchange in a timely manner, resulting in either a federally-run or partnership exchange.  Federal involvement in the Commonwealth’s exchange may be in the best interests of Pennsylvanians, or it may not be — but it is certainly not in Pennsylvania’s best interests for the Governor and the General Assembly to ignore one of the most important issues in years.

The Corbett Administration has also remained silent on whether the Commonwealth intends to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, with the federal government paying a large portion of the costs as part of the Affordable Care Act.  In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, but weakened the Medicaid expansion provision by making it so that states that refuse to comply do not lose all of their Medicaid funding.  Medicaid expansion would provide health coverage to working families that cannot otherwise afford private insurance and would bring more than $17 billion in federal dollars into Pennsylvania’s economy.  Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) has introduced legislation, H.B. 2557, to enable Medicaid expansion, but the bill has not yet passed.  If Pennsylvania declines to participate in Medicaid expansion, many poor individuals, many of whom are women, will be left without health coverage.

Pennsylvania’s refusal to engage in ACA implementation, including its silence on the establishment of an exchange and the expansion of Medicaid, shows its disregard for the health of the women, men, and children who live in the Commonwealth.  It is time for the Corbett Administration to take Pennsylvania residents’ health and well-being seriously.

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 Health Care, Health insurance, Medicaid, PA Legislature, Women's health

UPDATE RE: H.B. 2718 Would Penalize Women on TANF for Having Children Unless They Are Survivors of “Legitimate” Rape

UPDATE (10/26/12):  Within three days of the publication of this blog post, three of the six house sponsors of H.B. 2718 have removed their names from the sponsorship of the bill.  The prime sponsor, Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, defended the bill initially, but reversed her position three hours later, saying that she did not check the language of the three-page bill.  She has informed the Philadelphia Inquirer that the bill will not go forward in its current form.

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney (10/23/12)

Led by State Representative RoseMarie Swanger of Lebanon County, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are targeting poor women and children with the introduction of House Bill 2718, which would prevent women who receive benefits under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) from receiving an incremental increase in benefits due to the birth of a child.  As of October 17, 2012, the bill is in the Human Services Committee.

As the Women’s Law Project discussed in its report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, less than 2% of Pennsylvania’s residents receive TANF, and only 17.6% of Pennsylvania’s residents living below the official poverty line receive cash assistance benefits.  That latter percentage will be even lower now that Governor Tom Corbett has eliminated General Assistance, the welfare benefit program for individuals who were ineligible for TANF.  Most of the families who receive cash assistance through TANF live in counties where the monthly benefit is $403 for a family of three, often not enough for most families to meet their daily expenses.

Instead of helping these families who are struggling to make ends meet, H.B. 2718 seeks to reduce the assistance families receive by preventing a family from receiving additional TANF benefits if that family has a child while receiving benefits or while on a temporary period of ineligibility for TANF.  The result is a denial of assistance to the most needy and vulnerable, the newborn children themselves and their families.  This harmful bill serves as yet another example  of how hypocritical many of Pennsylvania’s politicians are in caring only about “life” before birth and not afterwards.

The bill contains a narrow exception for survivors of rape and incest that is so fraught with conditions that it is unlikely that many survivors will be able to avail themselves of it.  It is largely an empty gesture grounded in insulting beliefs about survivors of sexual violence.  H.B. 2718 does not use the term “legitimate rape” explicitly, the term used by Republican Todd Akin in support of his inaccurate and ignorant argument that women cannot become pregnant as the result of a rape, but it is built upon similar stereotypes of rape survivors.

In essence, this legislation creates a “legitimate rape” test based on misconceptions of how “real” rape victims behave, a test that determines whether a family may receive the incremental increase in benefits after the birth of a child.  If this legislation passes, a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape must send a signed statement to the Department of Public Welfare stating:

 [1] that she was a victim of rape or incest… [2] that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency or [3] in the case of incest where a pregnant minor is the victim, to the county child protective service agency… stating the name of the law enforcement agency or child protective service agency to which the report was made and the date such report was made.

This bill presumes that “real” rape victims report the crime to police and will have no trouble disclosing the details of the crime to the Department of Public Welfare, when research shows us that many victims never inform the police for a wide variety of reasons.  For example, as the Women’s Law Project wrote in its amicus brief in Reedy v. Evanson:

Decades of research has documented the fact that the vast majority of sexual assault victims do not report their sexual assault to police… Some of the most common reasons that victims give for not reporting are their fears that their report will not be taken seriously, they will not be believed, or they will be seen as responsible for their own assault. (internal citations omitted).

H.B. 2718 fails to reflect this reality of sexual assault, resulting in harm to survivors who become pregnant as a result of violence.

Pennsylvania’s women and children need laws that do not penalize and stereotype them.  H.B. 2718 must be defeated.

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Filed under PA Law, PA Legislature, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pregnancy, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, TANF, Welfare, Women's health, Working poor

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

Pennsylvania House Introduces Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nikki Ditto and Molly Duerig, WLP Interns

A bill recently introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, HB 2405, aims to bar state and federal funds from going to health care clinics that provide abortions. Titled the “Whole Women’s Health Funding Priorities Act,” the bill would defund Planned Parenthood in the state of Pennsylvania, and keep women from receiving affordable reproductive and preventive health care. The bill was introduced by Representative Daryl Metcalfe [R- Butler County], and has the support of a number of republican representatives.

   View Rep. Metcalfe’s Press Conference

According to an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rep. Metcalfe claims that “overall public funding for women’s health services would not be reduced, but that the bill would prioritize funding so that hospitals, health centers, and other clinics would receive money first.” Metcalfe’s goal is to defund any clinics or organizations that provide abortions; however, state and federal funds are already prohibited from being used to fund abortion services. This bill would instead impact the preventive care that Planned Parenthood provides for uninsured women throughout the state.

Abortions make up only “5 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services” in Pennsylvania.  The main role of Planned Parenthood is in providing “preventive care such as screening for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases along with providing birth control and prenatal testing.”  These services are essential for Pennsylvania women without health care and those without access to other health care providers. Last year, only “13,000 abortions [were] performed at eight of the 42 Planned Parenthood clinics,” as compared to the over 200,000 STD tests, almost 100,000 birth control prescriptions, and nearly 50,000 cancer screenings.  As a recent editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot explains,

If Metcalfe’s aim is to stop abortions, his approach is counterproductive. In many cases, women are getting from Planned Parenthood the reproductive education and birth control they need so they don’t end up with an unintended pregnancy that could lead to an abortion.

HB 2405 is just one of many bills introduced this session that aim to reduce or eradicate access to abortions in Pennsylvania. It is part of a growing trend of attacking both the clinics that provide abortions and the women who seek affordable and safe reproductive health care. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Harrisburg Patriot all released editorials condemning the bill and urging representatives of both political parties to vote no.  Currently, HB 2405 is stalled in the House, though it and other bills with similar consequences could come up for a vote later in the year.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Contraception, Family Planning, Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Planned Parenthood, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Disease, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Women's health