Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

It can take years for the effects of even the big Supreme Court decisions to really take hold. Consider the case of Wal-Mart v. Dukes two years ago, a decision that revoked class-action certification from what would have been one of the largest gender bias lawsuits of its kind. At the time, more than 1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers claimed the retailer unlawfully discriminated against them when it came to their pay and promotions, because of a corporate culture that enabled stereotyping of female workers. The Supreme Court rejected these claims, holding that the women didn't have enough in common to justify hearing their claims against Wal-Mart together as one case.

Disappointed but undeterred, the women pressed on, determined to bring their claims even if they were narrower. But last week the plaintiffs suffered another setback as a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a claim by 150,000 of the 1.5 million original plaintiffs on the grounds that while the new proposed class of plaintiffs is definitely smaller than the original class rejected by the Supreme Court, there still isn't enough proof the women suffered similar treatment to justify hearing their claims all at once. Instead of seeking to press their claims on a nationwide class of workers at Wal-Mart's 3,400 stores, as the original complaint against the retail giant did, the female workers had asserted that they represented about 150,000 employees in what is called the "California region" of the company—an area made up of three Wal-Mart geographic zones and 250 stores. This new class of plaintiffs sought to represent any female workers who had been on the company payroll between December 26, 1998, and December 31, 2002, and who were subject to pay scales based on hourly rates and on salary levels, and were eligible for promotion to management trainee or area manager.

But this smaller, regional approach was not enough to convince the federal courts to allow the claims to proceed. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer, a Clinton appointee and brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, concluded:

[T]hough they have cut down the raw number of proposed class members significantly, Plaintiffs continue to challenge four different kinds of decisions across hundreds of decision makers, inviting failures of proof at multiple points in each region.

This new, smaller class "continues to suffer from the problems that foreclosed certification of the nationwide class." Though the workers "insist that they have presented an entirely different case from the one the Supreme Court rejected, in fact it is essentially a scaled-down version of the same case with new labels on old arguments."

 

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Written by Morgan Meneses-Sheets for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Most people hate waiting. We complain about lines or being put on hold. Right now, some politicians are looking to make immigrant women and their families wait to gain access to health care—a truly cruel thing on which to make someone wait. A provision included in an immigration reform bill could keep immigrant women from accessing essential health services for up to 15 years.

Specifically, the immigration reform bill that passed through the Senate includes language that bars an immigrant woman who is working to obtain citizenship from utilizing means-tested federal benefits like Medicaid for a minimum of ten years. She will also face a five-year delay under the current law if she does not naturalize as soon as possible, after the initial ten-year period.

The five-year waiting period was imposed on permanent, legal residents as an inclusion to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for benefits like Medicaid. Given that the goal of the Medicaid program is to reduce financial barriers to essential health care for low-income families, this limitation affects those who already face tremendous obstacles to quality health-care services and do not have the ability to pay for care out-of-pocket.

Current policies will also make immigrant women ineligible for premium tax credits and subsidies to facilitate participation in the state health insurance marketplaces that are being established under the ACA. This places private health insurance plans out of reach for many families. All this means that an immigrant woman may have to wait up to 15 years—or more—before she can access affordable health coverage options.

Delayed access to preventive care like mammograms and Pap tests could be the difference between life and death for all women, including immigrant women. Lack of routine testing could mean that an undetected, untreated sexually transmitted infection could cause infertility. Holding back access to health services could have a dramatic effect on the health of individual women, their families, and their communities.

 

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Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Without Planned Parenthood, the new Texas Women's Health Program (TWHP) has seen a 23 percent reduction in medical claims and thousands fewer Texans enrolled in the program in the first half of 2013 as compared to the same period last year, when the program was still the Medicaid Women's Health Program. The state's explanation? Women just don't want to change doctors.

"We expected to see a drop off in the number of claims when we moved to the state program because we knew some women wouldn't want to change doctors," said Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) spokesperson Stephanie Goodman in a statement this week.

Goodman's statement is at best glib and at worst a kind of victim-blaming that puts the responsibility for the state's failure to provide low-cost reproductive health care squarely on the shoulders of the very people it is supposed to be serving.

The TWHP provides contraceptives and well-woman exams to low-income Texans. From 2007 to 2012, it operated as part of Medicaid, receiving a 90 percent federal match in funds and, at peak enrollment, saw almost 130,000 clients. But in 2012, the state kicked Planned Parenthood out of participating in the program because it considers the organization to be an abortion "affiliate" and thereby ineligible to provide health care using public funds in Texas. At that time, the federal government dropped its support of the program because the arbitrary exclusion of any qualified health provider from a Medicaid program is a violation of the Social Security Act, which dictates that Medicaid enrollees have a right to receive care from the physician of their choosing. To fund a program that denies Texans the ability to see the qualified doctor of their choice would, according to the Center for Medicaid Services, be a violation of its own law.

Undeterred, Texas launched a new, entirely state-funded Women's Health Program in January of this year, and so far it has seen its service numbers plummet without the involvement of Planned Parenthood, which historically saw about half of all Women's Health Program patients.

According to preliminary data provided by the Texas HHSC, current enrollment in TWHP is estimated to be about 97,000 clients, the lowest number of enrollees since September 2009, when the program was just two-and-a-half years old. This July, the TWHP counted over 10,000 fewer enrollees than it did in the same month last year. Add this to the fact that, according to the University of Texas' Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TPEP), more than 60 family planning clinics in Texas—most of which were not Planned Parenthood facilities—have closed since 2011 due to family planning funding cuts, and it's clear that there's a serious, and growing, hole in Texas' reproductive health safety net.

And yet the state says that if fewer and fewer low-income Texans are receiving publicly funded reproductive health care, it must be because women don't want to change doctors. Considering the very real logistical, physical, and emotional challenges women face now that they have been forced by the state government to find new reproductive health providers, the HHSC's statement seems an egregious simplification of a deeply complex and personal issue.

 

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Written by Tara Murtha for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The recent announcement that actress Jenny McCarthy is replacing Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the popular ABC morning talk show The View has sparked an intense wave of backlash.

The problem is that after McCarthy's son was diagnosed with autism, she became convinced it was because of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and over the last several years she has reinvented herself as the leading celebrity voice of the anti-vaccine movement. Although the study that originally sparked the MMR vaccine-childhood autism panic has since been completely discredited, many parents have stopped vaccinating their children, in part because of anti-vaccine advocacy carried out by McCarthy and others. As a result, measles cases have spiked in recent years.

Critics say that McCarthy's anti-science views are a public health hazard, and giving her a platform, on a morning talk show or in other media outlets, legitimizes her view. For instance, "Larry King had [McCarthy] debate a doctor, as though her disproven ideas should be given the same equivalence as those of a medical expert," The Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote recently, adding, "False equivalency is one of journalism's great pitfalls, and in an effort to achieve 'balance,' reporters often obscure the truth." As Brendan Nyhan, writing at the Columbia Journalism Review, argued, uncritically repeating discredited statements just amplifies the spread of misinformation.

False equivalence is the worst of what New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen and others have called "he said/she said" journalism. It takes much less time—and subject expertise—to frame a story as a "controversy" than to give it informative context. (Not to mention that a non-scientific minority opposition to the vetted facts does not qualify as a "controversy.")

When it comes to covering health and science, the "he said/she said" short-cut is downright dangerous.

It's unfortunate then that media coverage of reproductive health issues often falls into this trap as well.

Reproductive Health

Hasselbeck, the former Survivor contestant whom McCarthy will replace, once argued to one of her co-hosts on The View that taking the morning-after pill is "the same thing as birthing a baby and leaving it out in the street." She said that she believes emergency contraception (EC) disrupts a pregnancy. In fact, EC prevents ovulation from occurring, preventing fertilization in the first place.

Since the medical definition of pregnancy is successful implantation of a fertilized egg, effective use of EC means you can't get pregnant in the first place.

Yet there was relatively little outrage over Hasselbeck's remark or the dispute, which was described in many outlets, as usual, as a "cat fight" between hosts.

When it comes to reproductive health, we have a much higher tolerance for hearing anti-science beliefs with serious public health consequences. Of the many fake-science falsehoods published every day on reproductive health issues, only the most obvious draws McCarthy-level heat. Most memorable is the belief, shared by an ever-expanding number of lawmakers, that women's bodies contain magic lady-venom to prevent pregnancy in cases of rape.

While these legislators draw much deserved public ridicule, it's the less obvious anti-science and evidence-free statements published every day that are most dangerous.

 

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Written by Imani Gandy for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In the "war on women," 20-week abortion bans have become a rallying point for both pro- and anti-choice camps alike. While Texas' recently-enacted law, which among other things bans abortions after 20 weeks, may have garnered most of the media attention in recent weeks, so far 13 states have passed similar bans, and three states have passed even more restrictive laws, prohibiting abortions as early as six weeks' gestation. Nevertheless, these 20-week abortion bans have been gaining traction.

Much has been written about the politics behind these laws—especially the false claims that they are designed to protect women—but so far, there has been relatively little coverage of the anti-choice litigation strategy in relation to these bans. For instance, how do anti-choice campaigners intend to persuade the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade? Of all the various state anti-abortion laws, which one is most likely to be used as the test case at the national level?

The Supreme Court won't review its long-standing abortion jurisprudence unless it has to. Given the controversial nature of abortion, a simple appeal from a state to clarify abortion law probably won't prompt the Court to act. (The Oklahoma supreme court recently tried this tactic when it struck down Oklahoma's ultrasound law and practically begged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case; the Court didn't bite.) What will prompt the Supreme Court to act is a conflict between the laws that apply in one circuit and the laws that apply in another.

"Circuit" is a fancy legal term for a group of states. The country is split into eleven circuits, plus the D.C. Circuit, with one federal appeals court in charge of setting the law for each of the circuits. If one circuit court sets law that is different than the law that applies in another circuit, then a legal mess—or, as it is sometimes called, a "circuit split"—results. And since the Supreme Court likes to have laws that bind the entire country, it will intervene to resolve the circuit split.

The push for 20-week abortion bans is part of a national strategy implemented by anti-choice advocates to create exactly the sort of legal mess that will force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and to revisit the viability standard that has served as the constitutional foundation for abortion rights for 40 years.

 

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Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

As Todd Akin and the country at large learned during the 2012 elections, pregnancies resulting from rape are very real and sadly all too common. If there was one silver lining in the entire debacle and "debate" over Akin's "legitimate rape" comment, it was that it helped expose a previously under-reported problem: 31 states allow rapists to sue for custody or visitation of children conceived by rape. It might initially seem like it wouldn't be much of a problem—most of us probably ask ourselves why rapists would bother to want these children at all—but the fact of the matter is that rapists rape because they like to hurt and control women. How better to make your victim's life a living hell than going after her through her children? Nothing says "I have power over you" like forcing yourself into someone's life through their children. Now a bipartisan group of congressmen are trying to close up this loophole in custody laws, with the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, which creates financial incentives for states that bar rapists from suing their victims for custody.

Shauna Prewitt, a woman who chose to give birth after her rape resulted in pregnancy, was with the congressmen when they announced the bill. Prewitt filed charges against her rapist after she gave birth, and he retaliated by suing her for custody. There aren't any numbers out there to assess how common it is for rapists to abuse the family court system in this way, but there are thousands of women who choose to raise children conceived by rape every year, and we know that rapists are often dogged in their sadism, making suing their victims a tantalizing opportunity for many of them. Wife batterers are notorious in legal circles for their eagerness to abuse the family court system to continue the pattern of hurting and controlling their victim, so it makes sense that rapists—who have a lot in common with and are often batterers themselves—would be attracted to the same strategy. And if they get visitation rights or custody? Now they have tons of access to manipulate and hurt their victim for 18 more years.

Needless to say, it's probably not the greatest idea to let these men, who think it's okay to force sex on unwilling women, raise children, especially if there are alternatives—like the mother—available.

While this bill seems like the sort of thing that both liberals and conservatives should support—it is a bipartisan bill—there's a chance the bill will present a challenge to at least some Republicans in Congress. That's because this bill has the potential to be a wedge between two factions of anti-feminists that have the Republican ear: anti-choicers and a group of anti-feminists that often call themselves by the misleading term "men's rights activists." Misleading, because they are opposed to many women's rights. This group of anti-feminists tend not to be overly interested in the battles over reproductive rights—and some, like Glenn Reynolds, even claim to be pro-choice—but instead focus exclusively on their claim that men are being oppressed by their female overlords.

These anti-feminists mostly focus on trying to restore the social and economic power men have over women. They rage against equal pay legislation, defend sexual harassment, denounce the existence of child support, and peddle half-baked theories of female inferiority to defend discrimination. They have a special enthusiasm for pushing back against any effort to reduce gendered violence, aggressively promoting the idea that women routinely lie about rape and downplaying the statistics on rape and domestic violence. Most of the time, their goals overlap neatly with the anti-choice movement. For instance, when anti-choicers started to attack the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that insurance covers contraception, this other breed of anti-feminist—eager to believe women get "goodies" denied to men—jumped right in and agreed. This anti-rape bill, however, could reveal a major point of conflict.

It makes perfect sense for abortion opponents to support measures that make it harder for a rapist to sue for custody of children. If a woman impregnated by rape has reason to believe her attacker will try to get custody, that creates more incentive to abort. And unlike other attempts to reduce incentives to abort, ranging from greater access to contraception to a better social safety net, this bill doesn't come into conflict with the baseline anti-choice motive to punish women for sex. After all, rape victims didn't have sex. They were raped. They were trying not to have sex, so this presents an opportunity for anti-choicers to demonstrate consistency both with their stated values (to be pro-life) and their actual values (to oppose consensual non-procreative sex). Everyone is against rape, right?

 

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Written by Anthea Butler for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

I was not surprised when I viewed Amanda Marcotte's presentation on online feminism at this year's Netroots Nation conference, in which she pointed mostly to young, hip, white female bloggers writing today. While there are many women of color blogging at sites like the Crunk Feminist Collective, women of color were represented in Marcotte's PowerPoint presentation by one stock photo of a Black woman holding car keys, with a statement about how online feminists are "driving the movement forward." The PowerPoint slide is indicative of a larger problem in feminism: the inability to see or identify with women of color who are feminists. It's not a good look, but then again, this slight is not unexpected given the history between white women and feminists of color.

My purpose in this piece is not to bash Amanda Marcotte—a contributor here at RH Reality Check—but to illuminate some of the long history of tension between the feminist movement and women of color. Writing this piece in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial has not been easy. Is it always going to be this way? Will it always be this difficult to come together with white feminists, as women of color, to work on the many pressing issues in this country, including the rollback of women's rights, specifically reproductive rights?

The tension between white feminists and feminists of color has existed for a long time, in part because of race, class, and positionality. It is fair to ask, "Why is it so hard for white feminists to embrace, celebrate, and partner with their sisters of color?" Is intersectionality just a dream, or can we work past this conundrum?

It is time for white feminists to become more aware of their internalized compliance to the "isms" that threaten to divide us all, from historical and contemporary perspectives. How can we come together without being torn apart by the other "ism" that threatens feminism: racism? A brief look at the history of the feminist movement and women of color, and a prescription for our future together, is long overdue.

A History of Privileged Positions

Women of color have never had the luxury of simply focusing on women's issues. Considerations of race, racism, and economic and social injustices have always intertwined with issues of patriarchy and sexism. Women of color who also hold feminist beliefs are also acutely aware of how their communities, broadly defined, are affected by outside forces. One classic standoff in the history of the women's movement and feminism was between journalist and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells and women's suffragist Frances Willard. Wells wanted Willard to recognize the problem of lynching in the South, but Willard believed that Black men were drinkers and responsible for the rape of white women. It's reprehensible, yes, but Willard's privileged position kept her from seeing the issues that were important for the Black community and Ida B. Wells. It also showed how she bought into the narrative of stereotypes about African-American men, accepting the trumped-up notion that African-American men, presumed to be more alcoholic than white men, were a sexual menace to white women and were being properly targeted. Wells fought against this strenuously, and their battle strained relationships between African-American and white women in the suffrage and temperance movements.

Even with the advent of the fully-formed feminist movement in the post-civil-rights-movement 1970s, Black women and other women of color were regulated to the sidelines, while white women became the face of feminism. As Gloria Steinem's good looks were heralded as the face of feminism, other women of color were partnering together to work for a common cause. The Combahee River Collective Statement from 1977 chronicled the genesis, interests, and issues Black feminists faced, and their statements still resonant today. The statement importantly noted that Black feminists were interested in combating a "range of oppressions." It said, "We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess anyone of these types of privilege have."

The collective nailed why it is easier to be a white feminist than it is to be a feminist of color: Without a position of privilege to call on, it is even harder as a woman of color to fight for issues that are important for every woman, but especially for women of color. Not recognizing that privilege of whiteness or class hampers the ability of feminists across ethnic lines to join together for common causes.

 

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Written by Imani Gandy for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin extended a temporary restraining order that prevented Wisconsin's latest legislative attempt to reduce women's access to safe abortion care—by requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital—from going into effect.

Section 1 of Wisconsin Act 37 (SB 206), which was proposed by the Wisconsin legislature on June 4 and hastily signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on July 5, requires that physicians who provide abortion services have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where the abortion is performed. The law was enacted ostensibly to reduce the risk to patients who suffer serious complications during an abortion, and to prevent abortion providers from abdicating their duty of care and leaving such women to fend for themselves. In reality, however, these laws place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion and contravene the constitutional principles set forth in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

At first blush, these laws may seem sensible enough, especially if you believe that abortion is a dangerous procedure and providers should have hospital admitting privileges in case something goes horribly awry. Such is the concern of anti-choicers pushing for the Wisconsin law, as Susan Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, noted in a July 5 statement. "Apparently, Wisconsin's abortion clinics don't believe their abortionists need to have hospital privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of their clinic ... or anywhere at all," she said. "Currently, when a woman experiences hemorrhaging or other life-threatening complications after an abortion in Wisconsin, the clinic puts her in an ambulance and sends her to a hospital ALONE where she is left to her own devices to explain her medical issues to the emergency room staff. The abortionist who performed the abortion is nowhere to be seen. This deplorable situation must change."

But documents submitted to the federal court in Wisconsin overseeing the case paint a very different picture of the admitting privileges law. According to Dr. Douglas Laube, a board-certified OB-GYN since 1976, the admitting privileges requirement is "medically unjustified and will have serious consequences for women's health in Wisconsin."

 

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Written by Anika Rahman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

McDonald’s has taken some heat for its Practical Money Skills Budget Journal, a financial planning guide for its low-wage workers that suggests monthly spending on a variety of expenses. That’s pretty ironic since heat was one of the things McDonald’s failed to anticipate in the guide's first iteration—it was later included in the sample budget in response to public pressure.

News coverage has noted the implausible monthly $600 rent (compared with the national average of $1,048). Many people have pointed out the impossibility of spending just $27 a day on gas and groceries, and the absence of a clothing budget. All of these criticisms are completely valid.

McDonald’s has defended the second income required to balance this budget, indicating that it could be representative of a two-person household, with both contributing. Let’s play along with this scenario.

Two-thirds of fast-food workers are women, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The majority are older than 32—in their prime years for raising children. In fact, almost a third of minimum-wage earners are raising children. Thus, there’s a good chance that our theoretical couple has children. But let’s back up.

Assuming that the full-time McDonald’s worker qualifies for the company’s $14 a week health-care plan and that costs already have been deducted from the gross pay in this budgeting scenario, the plan caps coverage at $10,000 a year—a measly amount, particularly for a female employee (or insured female partner of an employee) who gives birth to a child.

The joy of that child would surely be dampened by the realization that no money is left to dedicate to child-care costs—the average of which exceed average rent costs in half of all states for just one child. Using the financial planning guide’s insanely low projection of $600 for rent, this family would likely need at least $600 for child care, leaving merely $200 to feed and clothe a family of three each month.

 

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Written by Tina Hester for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On Thursday, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a sweeping abortion measure, my heart broke for all of what my Republican uncle in Lubbock calls “my girls.” “My girls” are Texas minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy through the judicial bypass process. For the past six years, I have managed a legal hotline called Jane’s Due Process. Primarily, we help minors from across Texas navigate the obstacle course known as the Texas judicial bypass law—or Chapter 33 cases, as our referral attorneys call them. I personally have assisted more than a thousand minors who have called our 24/7 hotline in search of help to terminate a pregnancy.

I have heard so many stories of abandonment, threats of being kicked out, threats of physical harm or harm to the boyfriends, families breaking up or falling on hard times, and parents with life-threatening diseases. Stories that burn into your psyche and spur bubbling rage when you hear Texas legislators callously decide to make rape or incest victims carry pregnancies to term, or close all but five of the roughly 40 abortion clinics in Texas. Basically, the bill would wipe out all abortion providers west of Interstate 35.

At the bill's signing, Gov. Perry was praised by state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), the sponsor of the anti-abortion bill, known as HB 2. Laubenberg became an overnight sensation when during a debate on the bill she said, "In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out." Laubenberg said Perry would be known for “eternity” for his work.

Yet, all I can think about is the here and now—how to set up a transportation line to get minors, as well as all others seeking abortions—to a clinic that will survive the draconian targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws.

 

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