Tag Archives: Women

New study debunks myths about post-abortion emotions

By Hillary Scrivani, WLP Legal Intern

Some anti-choice groups are notorious for spreading lies about abortion in an effort to deter women from making informed medical decisions about their reproductive health.   Some of these lies include exaggerating or outright fabricating adverse emotional impacts that abortion can have on a woman.  A recent study performed by the University of California, San Francisco, debunks these myths by finding that the week after having an abortion, most women report feeling relieved.

The study, which involved more than 800 women who sought abortions between 2008 and 2010, asked the participants about their experiences with relief, happiness, regret, guilt, sadness and anger.  Ninety percent of women who had an abortion near the gestational age limit experienced relief.  More than eighty percent of those who initially experienced negative emotions after having an abortion still felt that it was the correct choice.  The study also looked at women who were denied abortion care, and found that these participants experienced “more regret and less relief” one week later than the women who obtained abortions.

This study shows why it is crucial that women be able to make decisions about their own reproductive health without being bombarded with anti-choice propaganda.  Though people are bound to experience a wide range of emotions when seeking any kind of medical treatment, it is unethical to mislead women with false information about emotional consequences regarding their healthcare decisions.

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

DOJ Issues Ground-breaking Consent Decree Addressing Gender Bias

By Carol E. Tracy, Esq. and Terry L. Fromson, Esq.

The Women’s Law Project (WLP) commends the Department of Justice (DOJ) on its ground-breaking consent decree with the City of New Orleans, which addresses gender bias in the police response to and investigation of reports of sexual assault and domestic violence.  This consent decree followed the March 2011 publication of the DOJ’s report on its investigation of the NOPD.  The WLP identified the NOPD as one of the many police departments which have chronically failed to respond to rape complaints when WLP testified before a Congressional committee in September, 2010. 

In March 2011, the DOJ released a report (pdf) of its investigation of the NOPD. The report addressed many areas of policing but, for women, the most dramatic component was its landmark finding of gender bias in police practice.    

Specifically, the DOJ found that:

NOPD has systematically misclassified large numbers of possible sexual assaults, resulting in a sweeping failure to properly investigate many potential cases of rape, attempted rape, and other sex crimes. We find that in situations where the Department pursues sexual assault complaints, the investigations are seriously deficient, marked by poor victim interviewing skills, missing or inadequate documentation, and minimal efforts to contact witnesses or interrogate suspects. The documentation we reviewed was replete with stereotypical assumptions and judgments about sex crimes and victims of sex crimes, including misguided commentary about the victims’ perceived credibility, sexual history, or delay in contacting the police.

The consent decree, announced by DOJ on July 24, 2012 includes significant steps towards reforming the NOPD’s response to rape complaints. New Orleans has agreed to clarify its procedures for responding to sexual assault, train officers to appropriately classify crimes and conduct interviews in a sensitive manner, increase supervision, and most significantly, establish a committee that includes community advocates to annually review all sexual crimes classified as unfounded or miscellaneous, as well as a random sample of open investigations of sexual assaults.

Both the report and the consent decree establish benchmarks which other cities with similar entrenched practices should take note of and implement. For over a decade, the Women’s Law Project has effectively advocated or improved police response to sexual and domestic violence in Philadelphia and led the reform effort that resulted in the FBI’s recent expansion of the definition of rape for the Uniform Crime Reporting system.  Following the issuance of its report, the DOJ invited the WLP to share with its staff the strategies that it helped to implement in Philadelphia to bring about reform. WLP is gratified to see that the consent decree incorporates several of these reforms. To read more about gender bias in law enforcement and WLP’s continuing work in this area, please see WLP’s 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women (pdf).

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Government, Rape, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women

The Affordable Care Act Extends No-Cost Preventive Care to Women

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

Wednesday, August 1st  is an important day for women’s health. After this date, all new insurance plans must cover certain women’s preventive health services, including contraceptives, without co-pays or deductibles. This represents an essential change in access to health care for women. Women, who have long been subjected to denial of access to insurance coverage for essential health services are more likely than men to forgo needed health care due to cost.  The number of women who can access these benefits will continue to expand as older plans lose their “grandfathered” status and become subject to the ACA’s preventive health services requirements.  For now, many college and university students will benefit if they receive health insurance through their schools, as those plans usually begin their health plan years around the start of the school year.  Other insurance policies that are renewed with substantially different content (usually on January 1st) will also comply with the new law.

Women whose insurance plans fall under the new guidelines will now have access to a number of services that will “keep them healthier and…catch potentially serious conditions at an earlier, more treatable stage,” according to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. This includes annual well-woman visits, as well as screening and counseling for HPV, HIV, and STIs. Insurance policies will also have to cover testing for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support, and domestic violence screening and counseling. Perhaps most significantly, women will also have access to birth control and other forms of contraception without a co-pay, though exceptions have been made for religious institutions and self-funded plans. These services add to the no-cost coverage that has already been implemented for pap smears and mammograms.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 20.4 million women have been and will be affected by this expansion in coverage. A startling 52% of women “report delaying needed medical care because of cost,” a number that will be decreased under the ACA. The Women’s Law Project (WLP) explained in its report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women that “lack of access to the full range of women’s health care has many adverse health consequences.”  Many women are unable to afford contraceptives, which range from $15 to more than $1,000 up front depending on the methodThe contraceptive coverage rule will increase women’s access to these methods of contraception, which will help them plan pregnancies and address other health concerns, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, for which birth control pills are a common treatment.

Controversy continues over the provision requiring employer-provided insurance plans to cover birth control and other forms of contraception, including sterilization. As WLP blogged about today, twenty-four legal challenges are still pending in courts. The ACA already provides exceptions for religious institutions, and allows religiously affiliated businesses to push cost and administration on to the insurance companies. These accommodations, however, have not stopped the debate. WLP has blogged before about lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the provision on the basis of the First Amendment. As Terry Fromson, WLP’s Managing Attorney, explained, “the First Amendment does not give church leaders any right to impose their beliefs about contraception on women.”

Overall, the implementation of this provision of the ACA represents an important and necessary change to the way we view women and women’s health. Reproductive and sexual health must be seen as central to ensuring the health and well-being of all women, and not as a secondary concern. America will be healthier if women are given better access to the services necessary to care for themselves and their families, and increasing access to contraception is a step in the right direction.

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Filed under Contraception, First Amendment, Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Women's health

Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Law Disproportionately Impacts Women as Election Draws Near

Molly Cohen, WLP Intern

When Pennsylvania passed a law earlier this year imposing a voter ID requirement on voting in every election and narrowing the list of acceptable forms of ID, critics quickly pointed out that the law targets specific populations. Low-income voters, racial minorities, and elderly voters are less likely to possess the necessary photo ID. For many, obtaining proper identification entails a descent into the oft unnavigable maze of state bureaucracies. Additionally, despite Governor Corbett’s promise that there would be no financial cost to this process, those who do not have a raised-seal copy of their birth certificate must pay ten dollars to obtain one. Without this, they cannot apply for a photo ID if they have never had PennDOT issued ID before. The cost and effort of this process may dissuade otherwise eligible voters from participating in the coming election.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to cast their votes this November because of the new regulations, alleging that the law creates an “undue burden” on voters without photo identification and disproportionately affects the poor.

However, in addition to targeting the aforementioned marginalized groups, voter rights advocates warn that this issue significantly impacts women across the socioeconomic spectrum. As we explained in an earlier article, women commonly change their names and their addresses to marry or divorce. According to Faye Anderson, the chief spokesperson of a voter information network called the Cost of Freedom Project, approximately 34% of eligible female voters do not possess citizenship documents that bear their current name. Anyone who does not take steps to correct a mismatched last name or outdated address may be unpleasantly surprised to find that she cannot cast a ballot at the polls.

The validity of the Voter ID law is, at best, questionable. Proponents of the legislation peddled it as the cure for voter fraud, yet there is no evidence that any such problem actually exists. While Governor Corbett, who signed the bill, initially claimed that the law would only impact 1% of Pennsylvanians, a new study places the number closer to 9% statewide. In Philadelphia County, 15.6% of active voters do not possess PennDOT ID and may be ineligible to vote. These statistics have been proffered as evidence that the law, which passed along strict party lines, was designed to suppress liberal votes and ensure the GOP retains political primacy in the state. Mike Turzai, the State House Majority Leader,  reinforced these concerns when he spoke at a recent Republican State Committee meeting. He named the law as one of the party’s accomplishments for the year: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

A hearing slated for July 25th in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al. will determine whether the law will be in effect this November.

Those who oppose the Voter ID Law have organized several protests and events for the week leading up to the hearing in order to increase media attention and public pressure. A partial schedule is included below.

Saturday 7/21:
PA Voter ID Coalition Operations Center Open House from 11 am to 2 pm at 310 West Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia

Tuesday 7/24:
NAACP Rally for Justice at 1 pm at the State Capitol (3rd Street & State Street) in Harrisburg

Wednesday 7/25:
Hearing in Commonwealth Court to stop the Voter ID Law at 10 am in Courtroom 3002 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center (601 Commonwealth Avenue in Harrisburg). This is a public hearing, and supporters of the lawsuit are encouraged to attend.

There will also be protests across the state on the same day.

Philadelphia: 11 am – Thomas Paine Plaza (Broad Street & JFK Blvd)

Lehigh Valley: 12 pm – Lehigh County Government Center (7th Street & Hamilton Street, Allentown)

Pittsburgh: 1 pm – Freedom Corner (Crawford Street & Centre Avenue)

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, PA Legislature, PA Supreme Court

Abington Memorial Hospital and Holy Redeemer: Putting Women’s Health at Risk by Imposing Religious Doctrine on Patients

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health Systems announced that they have abandoned their plan to merge.

In late June 2012, Lawrence Merlis, president and CEO of Abington Health System, and Michael Laign, president and CEO of Holy Redeemer Health System announced a joint venture between the two suburban Philadelphia systems with the goal of creating a regional health system by the spring of 2013.  The result will be a partnership between a secular hospital system and a Catholic system, a partnership that will dilute the quality of care women across the region have come to expect from Abington Health’s facilities.  In particular, the partnership will force Abington to stop providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women, thereby putting women’s lives at risk.

In 2011, Abington performed 64 abortions, primarily for women with high risk pregnancies that compromised their health.  For women with such high risk pregnancies, abortion can be a life-saving procedure.  For other women, abortion terminates non-viable pregnancies, possibly due to fetal abnormalities or placental problems.  For all women, regardless of the reasons behind needing the procedure, it is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution, and it should be a choice that is available at a hospital they trust.

Women who receive their gynecologic and obstetric care from Abington Health, which is one of the largest maternity care providers in the Commonwealth, will have to find abortion services elsewhere.  Hospital officials have not commented on whether Abington will continue to perform selective reduction, a process after infertility treatments where the number of embryos is reduced to increase the woman’s chances of carrying a pregnancy to term, which is typically banned at Catholic hospitals. The hospital claims that it will continue to perform contraceptive services and counseling, such as tubal ligations and vasectomies, which are typically prohibited by Catholic doctrine, but it is unknown if the services could be withdrawn at any time.  

Thus, the full impact of the imposition of Catholic doctrine on Abington’s medical services, if the joint venture goes through, remains to be seen.  Catholic health systems are slowly monopolizing health care across the country.  As of 2011, approximately one-fifth of all hospital admissions in the United States and between 10 and 20 percent of admissions in Pennsylvania are to Catholic hospitals.  These systems impose their religious beliefs, contained in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” on patients of all backgrounds and faiths, interfering with the medical practitioner-patient relationship.  In 2010, the Catholic Church made its position on women’s health very clear when it excommunicated a nun serving as a hospital administrator for permitting doctors to perform an abortion to save the pregnant women’s life.

The result of this policy in practice could be that women in need of abortion, possibly needed to save their lives, may have a delay in treatment or may require a transfer while they are unstable to a non-Catholic hospital.  Abington may thus become vulnerable to medical malpractice lawsuits and claims for violations of the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) for putting religious doctrine before women’s health.  The imposition of Catholic Directives on patient care may cause experienced staff to leave the hospital, and it may also cause patients in the area to seek maternity and other care elsewhere.

Opposition to Abington’s partnership with Holy Redeemer is growing.  Rabbis from congregations in the area have written a letter to Abington’s Lawrence Merlis, protesting the planned joint venture.  A Facebook group, Stop the Abington Hospital Merger, has also formed.

To learn more about the dangers of receiving reproductive health care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals, see the prior posts on this blog, “Patients Are Denied Health Care on Ideological Grounds” and “Nun Excommunicated from Catholic Church for Saving Woman’s Life” and WLP’s 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

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

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