Published: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 15:44:31 -0400
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:00:00 -0400In the U.S., most abortions are procured within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Yet our political discussions about reproductive freedom frequently center on late-term abortions. And so it went Wednesday during the final 2016 presidential debate, with a segment on Roe v. Wade quickly devolving into arguments about "partial birth abortion." In Hillary Clinton's ideal world, "you can take a baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby," Donald Trump told debate viewers. "Based on what she is saying and based on where she's going and where she's been, you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb. In the ninth month. On the final day." As many people have pointed out, this is not true, at least not in any meaninful way. While there are a few states where a woman could theoretically get an elective abortion at any point in pregnancy, it would not be done via "intact dilation and evacuation"—the medical term for the procedure people refer to as "partial birth abortion"—or anythng like "rip[ping] the baby out of the womb." And while intact dilation and evacuation (D&X) is legal when a woman's life is at stake if she doesn't terminate the pregnancy, there's little chance a woman who's been wanting her pregnancy up until that point, or the doctor treating her, will choose D&X when there are less controversial and legally ambiguous ways to accomplish the abortion. There's also little evidence that anyone actually chooses to terminate a pregnancy "at nine months." Just a little over 1 percent of U.S. abortions take place at any point after around five months pregnancy. Trump's understanding of how abortions work, and when they are and aren't allowed, is severely lacking. But he's not alone: a lot of people seem to believe that U.S. laws permit any pregnant woman to abort a fetus at any time for any reason. So let's take a closer look at later-term abortion laws in America... "Partial-birth abortion" is illegal in the U.S. Politicians who bring up "partial birth abortion" do so because they know it can spur strong and visceral reactions of disgust and moral indignation, not because it's especially relevant to U.S. health care, morals, or laws circa 2016. For 13 years, since 2003, federal law has prohibited physicians from performing D&X procedures, aka partial birth abortions, at any point in a pregnancy. Almost a decade ago, in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the ban as constitutional. In addition, 19 states have their own laws against these sorts of abortions. While the federal ban does include an exception for situations where the mother's life is endangered, abortion doctors claim they avoid the procedure anyway, as there are other options with less liklihood of legal repercussions. Even before the federal ban, D&X procedures accounted for just 0.2 percent of all abortions, and most of these were performed before the point where a fetus can feel pain or survive on its own outside of the womb. Late-term abortion is illegal in most of the U.S. A typical human pregnancy lasts 38 weeks after an egg is fertilized. Only seven states and the District of Columbia allow abortion at any point during a pregnancy, according to reproductive-research org the Guttmacher Institute. In the other 43 states, abortion is banned—with limited exceptions, such as for the safety of the mother—after the second trimester, after the point of fetal viability (when a fetus could live on its own outside the womb), or after a specified number of weeks (generally 20-24). When exceptions are required, many states require two physicians to sign-off on the procedure before it's permissable. Very few U.S. women abort after 20 weeks pregnancy. Even with late-term abortion allowed in some parts of the country and under certain circumstances, nearly all abortions performed in the U.S. happen before the end of the second trimester. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2012, 65.8 percent of abortions took place within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and 91.4 percent occurred [...]
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 14:30:00 -0400Christian leader James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is urging the owners of pro-life pregnancy centers in California to practice civil disobedience in the face of a new rule dubbed "The Reproductive FACT Act" by state legislators. "If California attempts to enforce this law," Dobson said in a Tuesday statement, "then do not comply. Make them put you in jail." The measure requires all licensed pregnancy clinics to post and distribute the following notice: "California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [phone number]." Pregnancy centers that do not offer medical services and are not licenced by the state must post signs announcing that the facility "is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services." A lawsuit challenging the measure on First Amendment grounds was rebuffed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit last week, upholding a lower court decision not to halt enforcement of the law. "Christians across America must express their outrage at the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling to uphold California's so called 'Reproductive FACT Act,'" said Dobson. "Since Roe. V. Wade, privately funded crisis pregnancy centers across America have provided a refuge and an alternative to women who might have otherwise chosen abortion. ... This ruling now forces these clinics to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, and it is an affront to our constitutionally mandated rights to life and to religious freedom." "This decision is further affirmation of the importance of this presidential election," said Dobson. "Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be responsible for appointing the replacement of Antonin Scalia, and–in all likelihood–two to three other Supreme Court Justices. That court will eventually decide whether or not this remains the law in California and becomes law across America." Lawyer Ken White, of Popehat, has more about the California law and the court's decision, which is worth reading if you care about why the 9th Circuit decided how it did. A lot of it turned on the level of scrutiny being applied. When a court applies scrutiny, it's holding the government's justification for a challenged law to a standard. How tough the standard is depends on the nature of the law and how the plaintiff says it's defective. In some situations, courts apply strict scrutiny — for instance, laws that punish speech based on its content generally trigger strict scrutiny. If a court applies strict scrutiny, the government must show that the law in question serves a compelling government interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Practically speaking, applying strict scrutiny almost always means that the court will strike down the law. In the middle you've got intermediate scrutiny, which requires the government to show that the law promotes an important government interest and is substantially related to that interest. At the low end you've got the "rational basis" test, which almost any law can pass. In this case, the Ninth Circuit decided the compelled speech in question was "professional speech," which triggers intermediate scrutiny. White notes that "content-based speech regulation often—usually—triggers strict scrutiny." But in this case, "the court said that while the law is content-based, it's viewpoint-neutral—that is, it does not discriminate based on one particular opinion or view, and applies to all clinics regardless of how they feel about abortion." "The 'viewpoint neutral' argument seems odd here," he adds. "Under the Ninth Circuit's logic you could compel any statement so long as you compelled it for everyone equally—both people who agreed with it and people who disagreed. I'm not [...]
Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:36:00 -0400In its first significant abortion ruling since 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday held that Texas abortion regulations were unconstitutional. As Damon Root noted here earlier, the 2013 Texas statute, known as H.B. 2, was "one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the United States." With four liberal-leaning justices and three strict conservatives on the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing voter in this case, and his siding against the state of Texas tipped the scales to Whole Women's Health clinic favor by a vote of 5-3. The decision means Texas can't require all abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital nor force abortion clinics to meet surgical-center standards regardless of whether they perform surgical abortions. With similar regulations recently passed—and challenged in court—across the country, the Court's ruling could effect abortion access in all regions of the U.S. The Court found that the Texas restrictions (more background on them here) put an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions without serving a legitimate interest of the state—i.e., keeping patients safe or holding doctors and clinics accountable). "Neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority. "Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the Federal Constitution." Backhanded regulation of abortion clinics sold under the guise of women's safety has been one of the most popular, and successful, tactics of the pro-life movement in recent years. More than 20 U.S. states require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical-center standards, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and more than 14 states say abortion doctors must have some affiliation with a local hospital. These "TRAP laws" (targeted regulation of abortion providers) have forced shut abortion clinics in Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court's decision matters far beyond Texas—and not just geographically. It gets to a fundamental debate about legal abortion in America, one last opined upon federal in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey: is abortion a limited right subject to strong state subjectivity or a fundamental constitutional right with which legislatures may not interfere? "Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Constitution protects not just the theoretical right to abortion, but the right of a woman to actually get one without unwarranted interference from politicians," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on Monday. "The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs." Its "effects are likely to be felt around the country," stated the ACLU. The Supreme Court's decision doesn't automatically invalidate state laws similar to Texas' H.B. 2, but should they be challenged in court (and many already have been), state judges now have the SCOTUS decision to serve as a precedent, making their revocation likely. Still, as Vox writer Sarah Kliff noted, "one thing that stands out about the Texas case is that it was very facts-based: Justices wrote extensively about the effect the law was having on clinic closures, the distance that women had to drive, and their overall access to abortion. So there is a possible world in which abortion opponents try to mount a defense with different facts — if they can make the argument that in their state, abortion access hasn't changed significantly in the wake of new laws." But should such TRAP laws prove no longer useful, anti-abortion advocates always have more tricks up their sleeves. The l[...]
Tue, 24 May 2016 16:02:00 -0400Feticide laws were originally enacted to punish crimes against pregnant women that also result in the death of the fetus inside her. Indiana is now using its feticide law to punish a woman for possibly self-inducing an abortion. Last year, the state sentenced Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison for taking the abortion pill without a doctor's supervision—or at least that's how Patlel's supporters portray the situation. The complicated and controversial case came before the Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday. According to documents from Patel's trial, she became pregnant in 2013 and decided to have an abortion because she feared what her religious parents would think. But Patel was also worried that it was too late for her to be prescribed the abortion pill, which is only approved for use through the ninth week of pregnancy. Text messages she sent to a friend said she had ordered the drugs herself from a pharmacy in Hong Kong, although Patel's defense claimed at trial that she never took the drugs. Indeed, testing found no traces of the abortion drugs in Patel's system. But as Homicide Crime Scene Technician Tom Cameron testified at Patel's trial, there is no scientifically reliable way to test for those medications. The situation came to the attention of police when Patel showed up to the St. Joseph hospital emergency room with excessive bleeding. When pressed, she claimed that she had miscarried, giving birth to a stillborn. Patel said she deposited the stillborn fetus in a dumpster behind the restaurant (owned by Patel's family) where she worked. Hospital staff reported this information to local police, who then found the fetus and arrested Patel. She was charged with both feticide and child neglect. Prosecutors said the charges were not contradictory, as Patel could have illegally attempted to terminate her pregnancy, given birth to a live child anyway, and then let it die. A jury agreed, finding her guilty on both accounts. Appearing before the appeals court yesterday, Patel's lawyer, Lawrence Marshall, argued that "the evidence in this case [for a child neglect charge] was not there whatsoever. Not a single expert ever said—in any sort of declarative way—that yes, this infant would have survived had Ms. Patel done differently." As for the feticide charge, Marshall argued that Indiana's feticide statute was not intended to be applied to women for "unlawful abortion." The state, of course, claimed otherwise. It's not clear when the appeals court will issue its decision. "If this case were only about a woman who clearly gave birth to a live baby and then killed her child, it would be clear cut," noted The New York Times' Emily Bazelon last year. There is a line between pregnancy and birth, and once it is crossed, the state has just as much at stake in protecting the life of a newborn as it does in protecting the life of anyone else. But the evidence that Patel’s baby was born alive is sharply contested. The pathologist who testified for the defense, Shaku Teas, said the baby was stillborn. Teas told the court the fetus was at 23 or 24 weeks gestation and that its lungs weren’t developed enough to breathe. (Here’s more support for this position.) But the pathologist for the prosecution, Joseph Prahlow, testified that the fetus was further along than that — at 25 to 30 weeks gestation, which is past the point of viability — and was born alive. [...] Whatever happened to Patel and her baby at the point of delivery, it’s hard to imagine that either the prosecution or the judge at sentencing would have come down as hard on her if they weren’t sure she’d tried to induce her own illegal abortion. And this is where Patel’s case moves from a fight over birth to a fight over pregnancy. More than two-dozen self-described "health and bioethics experts" and "reproductive justice and women's rights organizations"—including New York [...]
Wed, 11 May 2016 11:00:00 -0400
(image) Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did indeed sign the "Contraceptive Equity Act" into law yesterday, mandating that the state's health insurers cover emergency contraception and vasectomies at no out-of-pocket cost to consumers. The measure has been much-hyped by Maryland lawmakers and reproductive-health care groups as the first state expansion on Obamacare's contraception mandate. But that distinction will be short-lived, as Vermont has now passed a similar requirement for insurers to cover male sterilization without any co-payment permitted.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to sign the measure, which passed the state Senate and House earlier this month.
Specifically, the bill codifies the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate—the controversial requirement that health insurance plans offer a range of female birth control options at no out-of-pocket cost to enrollees—into Vermont law; allows women to obtain up to one-year's supply of birth control pills at once (previously three months' worth was the limit); and add the male sterilization surgeries known as a vasectomies to the list of birth control options that insurers must offer "free" of charge.
Obviously, the more "free" services that legislators require insurers to offer, the more insurance companies will raise premiums or otherwise adjust their business models to make up the difference. But shifting the cost of preventing unwanted pregnancies from reproductive-age women and men to all Americans seems to be a major new policy goal. The Maryland measure even managed to pass with strong bipartisan support.
Vermont's bill was sponsored by Rep. Chris Pearson, a member of the Progressive Party. Birth control "is a family decision in many cases, and we should not pretend that this burden only falls to women," he told Vermont public radio. "[It should] reflect the reality in that many, many cases, families make this decision together, and that’s appropriate."
Families can of course make decisions together without needing them subsidized, but hey. Maybe Pearson's rhetoric sounds legit if you don't listen too hard.
The new state contraception mandates are already drawing objections from religious groups that oppose all methods of birth control. Catholic Deacon Pete Gummere noted that the Catholic Church's opposition to "artificial" prevention of pregnancy does include vasectomies, and argued that Catholic employers shouldn't be required to offer health-insurance plans that they consider an affront to their religious principles. This was the argument at the center of the 2014 Supreme Court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Court granted a religious exemption from the ACA's contraception mandate. We may soon see the issue transferred to state courts if this new contraception mandate catches on.
Mon, 09 May 2016 12:05:00 -0400The New York City Human Rights Commission (NYCHRC) has issued a memo to local bartenders, servers, and food-business owners: refusing to serve alcohol or certain foods, such as raw fish, to pregnant women violates the city's human rights law. "Judgments and stereotypes about how pregnant individuals should behave, their physical capabilities and what is or is not healthy for a fetus are pervasive in our society and cannot be used as pretext for unlawful discriminatory decisions," the commission says. The guidance was part of a wide-ranging NYCHRC document explaining how the city's anti-discrimination statutes apply to pregnant women. "Pregnancy discrimination," it explains, is seen as a form of gender-based discrimination for purposes of public accommodations, housing, and employment in New York City. "Any policy that singles out pregnant individuals is unlawful disparate treatment under the [New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL)] unless the covered entity can demonstrate a legitimate non-discriminatory justification for the distinction," the guidance states. Illegal actions include "those that categorically exclude pregnant workers or workers who are capable of becoming pregnant from specific job categories or positions, deny entrance to pregnant individuals to certain public accommodations, or refuse to serve certain food or drinks to pregnant individuals or individuals perceived to be pregnant." Examples of violations include "a restaurant policy that prohibits staff from serving pregnant individuals raw fish or alcohol," "a blanket exclusion of pregnant individuals from hospital inpatient drug detoxification programs," or "an employer requir[ing] pregnant employees to take unpaid leave at a certain month in their pregnancy." The guidance also spells out illegal behavior "rooted in stereotypes or assumptions regarding pregnancy," which includes an employer choosing "not to assign a pregnant employee to a new project after learning they are pregnant because he is concerned that the worker will be distracted by the pregnancy" or "a bouncer [denying] a pregnant individual entrance to a bar based on the belief that pregnant individuals should not be going to bars and/or drinking alcohol." And those aren't even likely to be the most controversial bits. Other elements of the guidance include: Employers must allow "modest and/or temporary accommodations" to pregnant employees, including "minor changes in work schedules; adjustments to uniform requirements or dress codes; additional water or snack breaks; allowing an individual to eat at their work station; extra bathroom breaks or additional breaks to rest; and physical modifications to a work station, including the addition of a fan or a seat." Absent "undue hardship, an employer must provide a clean, sanitary, and private space, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from public intrusion from coworkers," for women who have recently been pregnant to "to express milk," in addition to "a refrigerator to store breast milk." If an employee would rather pump breast milk at their desk or usual work station, they "shall be permitted to do this so long as it does not create an undue hardship for the employer, regardless of whether a coworker, client, or customer expresses discomfort." Employees who have recently miscarried or aborted a pregnancy "are entitled to reasonable accommodations from their employers," including "a period of unpaid leave to recover or a more flexible schedule for a period of time to account for additional appointments related to the procedure or experience." The employer is permitted to request medical documentation. With all of the above, the commission claims to be merely clarifying what's required under existing law (most specifically, New York City's 2013 "Pregnant Workers Fairness Act"), not expanding the ci[...]
Mon, 02 May 2016 18:00:00 -0400The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and is suing the state of Indiana over an abortion law that essentially creates a protected class of fetuses. The law, passed in March and set to take effect July 1, prohibits Indiana doctors from performing an abortion if they know a woman is seeking it based on the sex or race of the fetus, or because it has been diagnosed as potentially having Down Syndrome or "any other disability." The state contends that abortions of this sort amount to discrimination in violation of civil rights law. Any doctor who breaks this ban may be disciplined by the state medical board, held civilly liable for "wrongful death," or be charged with a felony. Fetal-tissue transportation, collection, and research will also become felony crimes. The measure— House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1337—includes a slew of other new regulations for abortion clinics and doctors, too, including a requirement that all aborted and miscarried fetuses must be cremated or buried and that "a person or facility having possession of a miscarried or aborted fetus [must ensure that it] is preserved until final disposition occurs." At present, fetal tissue and placenta resulting from abortions and miscarriages that happen before 20 weeks pregnancy "are treated like any other medical waste," according to Vox. Opponents of the law worry the fetal cremation/burial regulation will turn all women who miscarry—something which occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies as a conservative estimate—into criminal suspects, as well as place an unnecessary burden on them in a time of mourning. Under the new law, any woman who miscarries at home could be committing a crime by not burying or cremating the fetus or making arrangements for its burial or cremation. Yet any woman who miscarries and then does take the fetal remains to be buried or cremated risks state suspicion and investigation. Remember, Indiana is the same state that recently put a woman in prison for 20 years over what she claims was a miscarriage but the state classified an illegal abortion. Additionally, HEA 1337 states that a) women seeking abortions must receive a mandatory ultrasound 18 hours before the procedure, and b) abortion doctors must not only have an agreement with a physician who has admitting privileges at a local hospital but renew this agreement annually, and submit proof of renewal to the state. Though billed as a step to ensure women's safety, such admitting agreements are wholly unnecessary, since a patient experiencing post-abortion complications can be treated at any hospital, regardless of whether that hospital has a preexisting relationship with their abortion doctor. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called the measure "comprehensive pro-life legislation that expands the information that expectant mothers received" and "also provides additional protections for the unborn." But the ACLU, which is joined in its lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of Kentucky and Indiana, asserts that the new law is unconstitutional. "Repeatedly the U.S. Supreme Court has said that a woman may get an abortion within the first trimester for whatever reasons she deems best, based on her circumstances,” ACLU Executive Director Jane Henegar has explained. "The ACLU stands firmly against discrimination in all forms, but that isn’t what this law is about," said Henegar. [...]
Fri, 29 Apr 2016 16:00:00 -0400
(image) Contra the claims from Florida's state health agency, there's no evidence that a Gainesville women's clinic performed illegal second-trimester abortions, an administrative law judge has ruled. The Bread and Roses Women's Health Center, which is licensed to provide pregnancy testing, birth control, and first-trimester abortions, was accused by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) of performing five abortions on women who were more than 14 weeks pregnant, which the clinic is not licensed to do. But according to Judge Lawrence P. Stevenson, the state "presented no testimony or documentary evidence refuting the credible evidence presented by Bread & Roses" that AHCA was wrong.
Sonograms provided by the clinic "show on their face that the pregnancies for each of the five procedures at issue were first trimester pregnancies and within the scope of Bread & Roses' license," wrote Stevenson in a 25-page ruling.
The monetary stakes here for Bread and Roses weren't huge—if found guilty, the clinic would have faced a $2,500 fine. But even if the issue didn't come back to bite them later, you can bet the case would be used to fodder Florida Republicans' narrative that abortion clinics often skirt regulatory rules. There's also little room for doubt here that Florida's health agency—which lobbed similar administrative complaints against three Planned Parenthood clinics recently—has an agenda as well.
"Planned Parenthood representatives have maintained that abortions were performed during the first trimester," according to AP, "and that regulators tried to change the definition [of first trimester] to justify an investigation ordered by Gov. Rick Scott."
In this instance, AHCA brought the complaint against Bread and Roses based on the flimsiest of pretenses: five abortion-patient files that did not include the start dates of the women's last periods. However, these files did contain ultrasound info indicating how far along the women were, a method of documentation that had suited AHCA just fine for the previous 10 years, according to clinic director Kristin Davy.
"AHCA presented no evidence to counter Ms. Davy's credible testimony that Bread & Roses had been submitting its [monthly summary] reports in the same manner for the previous 10 years without incident," wrote Stevenson in his decision. Nor could the agency explain "why it suddenly believed that Bread & Roses' [monthly summary] reports showed that the clinic was performing second-trimester abortions."
The judge recommended that the agency dismiss its complaint against Bread and Roses.
AHCA already dismissed its complaints against the Planned Parenthood clinics, in March, saying they were unnecessary now that a new state law a) prohibited state money from going to Planned Parenthood, and b) changed the definitions of pregnancy trimesters. "It was not entirely clear why regulators considered the previous action to fine the clinics moot—the new law does not take effect until July 1 and would not have applied to last year’s complaints," reports AP.
Thu, 21 Apr 2016 11:48:00 -0400
(image) On the Today Show Thursday morning, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump expressed support for changes to the GOP platform on abortion. As it stands, the Republican Party holds that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed" and supports legislation "to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children" with no exceptions. Trump told Today Show hosts, however, that he would change the platform to allow exceptions in cases of rape and incest or instances where a pregnant woman's life is at risk.
Asked whether he supported these exceptions and changing the official Republican platform to include them, Trump said "absolutely, for the three exceptions, I would."
Pressed whether he would also support an exception based on non-life-threatening risks to a mother's health, though, Trump said no. "I would leave it for the life of the mother," he said, "but I would absolutely have the three exceptions."
Asked about the big culture-war issue of the moment, public restroom access for trans individuals, Trump said he thinks North Carolina should have left things alone. "North Carolina did something that was very strong, and they're paying a big price," said Trump. But if it was up to him, he would "leave [bathroom access] the way it is! There have been very few problems. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble."
Matt Lauer followed up by asking Trump if he would be OK with Caitlyn Jenner coming to Trump Tower and using "any bathroom shes chooses?" Trump said "that is correct."
Wed, 13 Apr 2016 07:37:00 -0400Coca-Cola this week announced a massive expansion of its parental-leave policy for non-union U.S. employees. The new policy covers not just female employees who give birth but dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents, all of whom will be entitled to six weeks paid leave. Biological mothers will be entitled to the six weeks parental leave plus six to eight weeks of short-term disability leave following the birth of a child. The new policy goes into effect January 1, 2017. "Fostering an inclusive workplace means valuing all parents—no matter their gender or sexual orientation," said Ceree Eberly, Coke’s "chief people officer," in a statement. "We think the most successful way to structure benefits to help working families is to make them gender-neutral and encourage both moms and dads to play an active role in their family lives." Opening parental leave to all genders and sexual orientations will hopefully help combat the penalty new moms can face for taking maternity leave, the company says. "While lengthy maternity leave policies have helped some companies retain female talent, the lack of female senior executives has remained," it notes. "By removing gender from the equation and offering all new parents the same amount of paid leave, Coca-Cola hopes to combat bias and help pave the way for more women in leadership positions." So why should anyone outside Coca-Cola care about this change? Because the move comes at a time of increased pressure for cities, states, and the federal government to impose mandatory paid family leave requirements on private businesses. And this idea is predicated on the view that businesses won't adapt on their own accord. But Coca-Cola's new policy comes not from top-down regulations but movement within the organization, driven by millennial employees. "Internal surveys and external research highlighted the value [millennials] place on parental leave and revealed that the average age of first-time, college-educated parents is 30—also the median age of Coke’s current and prospective Millennial employees," the company reports. "Millennials will account for more than half of the global Coca-Cola system workforce by 2020. "Paid parental leave isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for our business," said 27-year-old Katherine Cherry, one of five millennial employees who worked with Coke’s HR team on the new parental leave policy. Just like employers began offering health insurance last century in order to attract top talent, big companies these days are increasingly realizing the value from a business perspective of offering flexible work arrangements and parental leave benefits. Major employers to recently expand their parental leave policies include Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Etsy, Netflix, and J.P. Morgan and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, the number of large U.S. corporations that at least offer paid maternity leave jumped from 12 percent in 2014 to 21 percent in 2015. [...]
Thu, 31 Mar 2016 10:30:00 -0400"Everyone—even pro-lifers—hated Donald Trump's comments about abortion," reports Vox. In a televised interview with Chris Matthews Wednesday, the Republican presidential frontrunner suggested that if abortion were banned, then "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who terminate their pregnancies illegally. People on all sides of the abortion debate promptly freaked out, with women's groups and pro-lifers alike condemning Trump's statements. And Trump quickly shifted his position, saying in a statement later that day that if abortion were illegal, "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb." Trump's initial, off-the-cuff statements were in response to Matthews pressing him: "If you say abortion is a crime or abortion is murder, you have to deal with it under the law. ... Do you believe in punishment for abortion—yes or no—as a principle?" Trump: The answer is there has to be some form of punishment. Matthews: For the woman? Trump: Yeah, there has to be some form. Matthews: Ten cents, 10 years, what? Trump: That I don’t know. These comments run counter to the mainstream pro-life spin on criminalizing abortion, which is that women would never be punished, just those wily abortionists who prey on them. "We know how much women suffer from abortion, and how they are lied to by the abortion industry," said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, in a typical pro-life response to Trump's comments. "Any penalty for illegal abortion should fall on abortion providers, not the women who turn to them in desperation." Mollie Hemingway, writing at The Federalist, called Trump's position "a betrayal of pro-lifers," who "understand that abortion is a violent act against women and children." As a new convert to the anti-abortion side, Trump shows "no understanding of the debates about how to protect vulnerable women and their children from the evil pressure to abort," writes Hemingway. She also heralds a piece by Charles Camosy, in which he argues that "legal abortion is the product of privileged men" and that "our abortion laws end up serving the interests of men and coercing the so-called 'choice' of women." But here's what neither Camosy, Hemingway, Scheidler, or any of the major pro-life voices have addressed: What happens when there is no abortion doctor? No sketchy clinic. No nagging or coercive partner. What happens when a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy and takes matters into her own hands? Women have been self-inducing abortions for time immemorial. Herbs. Coat hangers. Mifepristone. It's that last one, used in conjunction with another drug (misoprostol), that's likely to be most common for illegal 21st Century abortions. This two-pill regimen, referred to as "medical abortion" (as opposed to surgical abortion), is currently a common method for legal first-trimester abortions in America. But that doesn't mean it's an easily accessible option for all women seeking abortions. Many states have set up a labyrinth of laws designed to make the process of prescribing or obtaining abortion drugs more difficult and time-consuming than necessary for women's health or safety. As a result, we already see American women illegally obtaining the drugs to self-induce abortion. And what happens now, when these cases are found out? The women are criminally prosecuted, under a range of state charges, such as fetal homicide or "unlawful abortion." "Despite claims from antiabortion advocates and lawmakers that abortion restrictions are intended to only criminalize providers of abortion care, some prosecutors have exercised their discretion under current [...]
Mon, 28 Mar 2016 13:30:00 -0400
(image) An Alabama abortion restriction similar to the Texas law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson permanently blocked the state law, which would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
"The staff-privileges requirement would make it impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion in much of [Alabama]," wrote Myron in his decision. "It is certain that thousands of women per year—approximately 40 percent of those seeking abortions in the State—would be unduly burdened."
The doomed law, known as the "Women's Health and Safety Act," passed the Alabama legislature in 2013 and was soon challenged in court. In 2014, Judge Thompson extended an order blocking enforcement of the law, in a decision that drew parallels between abortion and gun ownership.
"The court poses the hypothetical that ... the federal or state government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition and on the procedure they must employ in selling such goods," wrote Thompson.
... and that, further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction: one in Huntsville and one in Tuscaloosa. The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining—and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe. Similarly, in this case, so long as the Supreme Court continues to recognize a constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, any regulation that would, in effect, restrict the exercise of that right to only Huntsville and Tuscaloosa should be subject to the same skepticism.
A Texas admitting privileges law that would severely curtail the number of abortion clinics in the Lone Star state is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fri, 11 Mar 2016 08:00:00 -0500
(image) In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) and state lawmakers are once again arguing about abortion. On Tuesday, Tomblin vetoed legislation that would ban the safest and most commonly used second-trimester abortion method, saying such a ban "unduly burdens a woman's fundamental constitutional right to privacy."
Constitutional concerns on Tomblin's part aren't unfounded, as courts in Kansas and Oklahoma have already blocked similar bans passed by those states. Opponents of the bans say there is no medical reason to stop using this procedure and it would in fact force women seeking abortions to go through a riskier and more invasive surgery.
Previously, Gov. Tomblin has vetoed an attempt—twice—to make abortion illegal in West Virginia at 20 weeks pregnancy, citing concerns for its impact on women's health and safety as well as the constitutionality of the bill. Kelly Baden, director of state advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights—the group currently challenging a Texas abortion law before the U.S. Supreme Court—applauded the Democratic governor for once again breaking out his veto pen. "For the third time in two years, Govenor Tomblin has rightly vetoed a measure which robs women of safe options when they've made the decision to end a pregnancy," Baden said.
But the pro-choice victory was short-lived. On Thursday, West Virginia lawmakers voted to override Tomblin's veto. "Many Democrats sided with the Republican majority in favor of the override, which required a simple majority vote from the House and the Senate," The New York Times reports.
The ban, slated to take effect in May, makes it illegal for doctors to perform abortions using the "dilation and extraction" (D&E) method, which the anti-abortion crowd has rechristened as "dismemberment abortion." The vast majority of second-trimester abortions in the U.S. involve a D&E surgery, and it's also commonly used for women who have miscarried but not expelled the fetus.
Last year, Kansas became the first state to ban the procedure; that law was challenged by The Center for Reproductive Rights, temporarily blocked by a state court, a decision that was upheld by an appeals court in January. But because the court was split evenly on that decision, the ruling must now be reviewed by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Wed, 02 Mar 2016 18:31:00 -0500
(image) The New England Journal of Medicine is reporting that between 2008 and 2011 (most recent data) that the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate has begun falling after being stuck on a plateau since 2001. An unintended pregnancy is defined as one that is either unwanted or mistimed. The NEJM article reports:
Less than half (45%) of pregnancies were unintended in 2011, as compared with 51% in 2008. The rate of unintended pregnancy among women and girls 15 to 44 years of age declined by 18%, from 54 per 1000 in 2008 to 45 per 1000 in 2011. Rates of unintended pregnancy among those who were below the federal poverty level or cohabiting were two to three times the national average.
Across population subgroups, disparities in the rates of unintended pregnancy persisted but narrowed between 2008 and 2011; the incidence of unintended pregnancy declined by more than 25% among girls who were 15 to 17 years of age, women who were cohabiting, those whose incomes were between 100% and 199% of the federal poverty level, those who did not have a high school education, and Hispanics. The percentage of unintended pregnancies that ended in abortion remained stable during the period studied (40% in 2008 and 42% in 2011). Among women and girls 15 to 44 years of age, the rate of unintended pregnancies that ended in birth declined from 27 per 1000 in 2008 to 22 per 1000 in 2011.
After a previous period of minimal change, the rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States declined substantially between 2008 and 2011, but unintended pregnancies remained most common among women and girls who were poor and those who were cohabiting.
This is very good news since that means that more Americans are successfully making reproductive decisions in line with their plans and values. My Reason colleagues Elizabeth Nolan Brown and Stephanie Slade have reported that a number of states that are moving toward over-the-counter availability of birth control medications. This trend needs to be encouraged and sped up.
Mon, 29 Feb 2016 14:35:00 -0500The Supreme Court must go on, despite the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the controversy surrounding his replacement. And on Wednesday, it will consider a Texas abortion law that opponents say unconstitutionally infringes on abortion access and supporters say was designed to protect women's health. With states across the country enacting similar laws, the outcome of this case could have huge implications for abortion clinics across America. The Texas law, passed in 2013, says that abortion-clinic doctors must have an admitting-privileges agreement with a nearby hospital and that clinics must meet the same building standards as surgical centers, even when no surgical abortions are performed there. Since it took effect, the number of legal abortion clinics in the state dwindled from 40 to 19. If the regulations are upheld, at least nine more clinics in Texas are expected to close. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a nonprofit legal advocacy group, is leading the Supreme Court challenge on behalf of Texas abortion clinic Whole Woman's Health. (For more background on the case, see here and here.) It maintains that despite the pro-woman rhetoric of the law's architects, the real purpose of the regulations is to shutter abortion clinics. As such, it would violate the Supreme Court's decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that 1992 case—viewed by some as the case that "made a mess of abortion rights" in America—the Supreme Court held that states cannot pass "unnecessary health regulations" with the "purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion." This sort of "undue burden," the Court held, would represent a violation of the right to an abortion affirmed under Roe v. Wade. "When the court holds oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt this week," notes Nina Martin at Mother Jones, "the signs that protesters wave and the chants they chant will likely focus on Roe, but the outcome of the case will hinge on how justices interpret Planned Parenthood v. Casey." Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan are all expected to be sympathetic to CRR and the abortion clinics. Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas are expected to side with the state. That means that Justice Anthony Kennedy will be need to be persuaded to CRR's side for it to be victorious. And how Kennedy will go is uncertain. He's one of two current Justices, along with Thomas, to have heard Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that case, Pennsylvania abortion regulations related to informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and parental notification for minors were upheld while a section requiring married women to attest that their husbands knew about the abortion was struck down. Justices Thomas, Scalia, Byron White, and William Rehnquist favored upholding all of the regulations. But Kennedy joined liberal justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens and fellow moderates Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter in favor of striking down the spousal notification rule. Yet many interpreted the plurality opinion from Kennedy, O'Conner, and Souter as support for upholding judicial precedent, not necessarily belief that the precedent set by Roe was right. In many respects, their opinion "took Roe v. Wade apart, starting with its foundation, the trimester framework," writes Martin. Under Roe, states were almost completely banned from regulating abortion during the first trimester. They had more flexibility to pass laws protecting a woman's health in the second t[...]