Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays New York! Love, HHS

In case you were wondering how the horrific HHS Regs affect us here in good old liberal NYC? The outlook isn't pretty.

From Joan Malin (president of PPNYC) in the Huffington Post today:

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule today that allows health care workers to deny patients vital care, information and services without the patient even knowing.

The rule will take effect in 30 days, and will be difficult to reverse.

Unfortunately, this regulation is not just another crazy Bush regulation that New Yorkers, thanks to our local laws, are safe from. In fact this regulation could quite possibly overturn many of our State’s hard-won healthcare victories, meaning that:

• Rape victims would not be provided with Emergency Contraception in a timely manner;
• Pharmacies could discriminate or delay access to birth control; and
• Health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs would not also have to cover birth control.

Thanks to this midnight regulation, New Yorkers can no longer go to the Emergency Room and trust that a provider's sole motivation is to give the best care available. Instead health care workers from the doctor down to those behind the check-in desk are free to withhold information about any procedure they find distasteful, without even letting you know that they are doing so.

The terms of this regulation are so vague that its possibilities are staggering. Janitors could refuse to clean rooms that have had sterilizations performed in them. And yes, birth control really could be considered abortion.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Julie Rovner on HHS ruling on NPR this past Wed

BRAND: All right. So come January 20th when there's a new president in town, can't he just simply over turn these regulations?

ROVNER: Well, actually, the new president can't overturn these regulations, but because the administration has waited so long, it's possible that the new Congress can. There's something called the Congressional Review Act and because these regulations are coming so late in the administration they are falling within the window of that Congressional Review Act. There are expedited procedures. Congress would only have to get a majority vote in the House and Senate. And in the Senate it couldn't be filibustered and because these regulations are so controversial. It would be likely that this would be the type of regulation that could be taken up and overturned under the Congressional Review Act then the new President would merely have to sign it.

BRAND: But it sounds like a fairly lengthy process.

ROVNER: It's not that lengthy. It's certainly a little more lengthy than some of the other things that President-elect Obama is expected to do on the Reproductive Rights front but it's certainly easier than having to go through the entire regulatory process again, to put through an entire rule and to go in and take more public comment.

(full NPR piece)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Update on HHS Regulations

"There is, though, no regulation forcing doctors to be fully transparent with patients—as there is forcing hospitals and clinics to hire docs without regard to the services that they're willing to perform. "It's, at best, window dressing," says Roger Evans, in charge of litigation and law policy at Planned Parenthood. "There's no legal requirement for a doctor to say anything."

-- US News and World Report has a piece on what exactly the new rules mean.

HHS Regulations Are Issued

"The patient has an interest in obtaining legal health care services….This must be balanced against the statutory right of the provider in the context of a federally funded entity to not be discriminated against based on a refusal to participate in a service to which they have objections, such as abortion.”

RH Reality Check has two articles up so far analyzing the rule. More to come on exactly what it means for you. One thing worth mentioning, however. Since the rule was issued within 30 days of Obama taking office, it will become official, and will therefore be harder to reverse.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What to expect when you're unexpecting

In the very recent history of actual abortion blogs, comes the latest from the tumblr Un-expecting. Similar to the pioneering What to expect when you're aborting, Un-expecting chronicles a girl's experience as she goes through the procedure from start to finish, from worries to choices to how she feels once it's over.

As "What To Expect" first noted, there aren't a lot of pop culture places for a woman to turn to see examples of other who've actually had an abortion, so these ladies figured they'd start their own.

Especially helpful is Un-expecting's latest post where she puts together a checklist for things she was happy to have during the procedure.

Price of codoms worldwide

In case you're traveling to Ireland or something and didn't realize you should probably stock up, below find a handy-dandy chart of condom prices around the world. And while they may be kind of pricey here in NYC, don't forget: at Planned Parenthood they're always free! (via)

How soon will the HHS regulations come down?

The horrific HHS regulations, which as the LA Times pointed out on Dec 2 would basically erase the credibility of the medical profession, might become law this week. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Via Feministing:

A woman in Oxford, MS, was harassed by the pharmacy staff when she tried to purchase Plan B.

Emergency Contraception is sold over the counter to women over 18 years old, yet the woman said:

The pharmacy worker started asking for proof of insurance in order to get the pill. My girlfriend refused and asked to speak to someone in charge. The pharmacist then came, and my girlfriend told him she simply wanted Plan B and that her ID should be good enough. The pharmacist then went about getting the pill, but they also seem to have a policy, a abortion clinics, of forcing a waiting period of an hour and giving adoption literature to the person requesting the contraceptive. Now, Plan B is just an additional spermicide [ed note: while Plan B is a form of contraception, it is not, in fact a spermacide], not an abortion pill, but that's another can of worms. In the end, my girlfriend demanded the Plan B immediately, and she got it, but not without a fair amount of interference on Walgreens' part. They also insisted on writing down her driver's license number.

Getting emergency contraception can often be harrowing enough -- 9 times out of 10 you're getting it because a condom broke or an unexpected situation. I'm happy to report that I've had an absolutely pleasant experience in NYC -- where the pharmacist didn't even blink an eye and happily handed over the contraception. But asking for insurance? Giving adoption literature? Missouri, get with the program.

Contact the Oxford Walgreens at (662) 513-0894. Contact the corporate offices or call at (877) 250-5823 and tell them that store number 7757 is harassing women trying to buy Plan B.

Have yourself a merry little OB/GYN check-up!

Planned Parenthood of Indiana's new gift certificate program is getting a lot of negative attention in the anti-choice blogosphere. But as Elizabeth Nolan Brown of points out, the hysteria over the certificates being used primarily for abortion procedures is just that: hysteria.

"...[A]ccording to its Web site, 81 percent of PP patients go there to prevent unwanted pregnancy. PP’s biggest services are providing contraceptives and routine women’s health procedures."

It's unfortunate that so much of the new program's coverage dredges up the same tired, false anti-choice talking points about Planned Parenthood: that it "pushes" abortion, that abortion is the primary service it provides, that it's more interested in profit than the health of its patients. Isn't the blatant inaccuracy of those arguments enough to wear them out?

In increments of $25, the certificates could offer uninsured women access to basic health care-- something they might not be able to afford otherwise in a gloomy economy that has many Americans moving their own health further and further down their list of priorities. So while a new iPhone is way more fun than a PAP smear, what could mean more this holiday season than the gift of reproductive health?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy World AIDS Day!

Not afraid to be helpful: Fun ways to break the ice when asking someone their HIV status

As you already know, today is World AIDS Day. One of the hardest, yet most essential, things about dating in this day and age is getting up the guts to ask potential partners about their HIV status. So we’ve included some helpful ways to break the ice below:

• Say “Look, I put clean sheets on the bed! And speaking of clean….”

• Arrange to meet someone at a certain time. Arrive ten minutes early. While waiting, text them asking for a status update. When they write back, reply “No, not THAT status silly…”

• Find the free HIV testing places closest to cupcake bakeries. Propose a “recession date” where you take advantage of the free activities around NYC. Show up at the testing facility and bribe date with promise of cupcakes.

• As an early Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza/New Years present, give your date a coupon for one hot and steamy makeout session, redeemable upon presentation of their HIV test results.

• Find out your potential partner’s favorite celebrity superstar. Photoshop up a fake copy of US Weekly with that celebrity in it espousing on how cool it is to get your HIV test results. Casually read this out loud in front of them (note this works extra well if their favorite celebrity has already spoken out about the importance of HIV testing. Not so well if their favorite celebrity is someone like Heidi Montag).

• “Knock knock”
“Who’s there?”
“Orange who?”
“Orange you glad I know my HIV status? When are you finding out yours??”

And in case you're more of a visual person

World AIDS Day - When was the last time YOU were tested?

Did you know? AIDS is:
* the leading cause of death for black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years.
* the 3rd leading cause of death for black women aged 35–44 years.
* the 4th leading cause of death for black women aged 45–54 years.
* the 4th leading cause of death for Hispanic women aged 35–44 years.
Hmm, think maybe today is a good day to get tested?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Just In...

Congratulations to Ellen Moran from EMILY'S List for having just been named White House Director of Communications.

President-elect Barack Obama made the announcement today.

Ellen is currently Executive Director of EMILY's List, a fantastic organization that backs women who support abortion rights in their quest for political office.

Moran has served in the political department of the AFL-CIO and
in 2004 directed independent expenditures for the Democratic National Committee, managing placement of presidential advertising and directed television, radio, mail, and phoning efforts in 20 states. In 2000, Moran directed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s $50 million issue advocacy campaign.

This is another example of Barack Obama bringing in very experienced, talented people to help manage the affairs of the White House.

We congratulate Ellen Moran and wish her the best.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wall Street Journal on Choice

Stephanie Simon has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today on the future of the anti-choice movement. File this under good and bad news -- she reports that many anti-choicers are moving more towards a platform of reconciliation, choosing to focus more on pregnancy prevention than on criminalizing abortion.

The bad news? She reports that:

"With state courts continually resetting the rules, gay marriage feels more fresh and urgent to voters than abortion, which has settled into a status quo that polls show a large number of Americans can accept."

Sigh. So while I'm all for people finally approaching reproductive rights from a sensible standpoint that puts the health of women first, the implication that it has to be at the expense of someone else's rights makes me sad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monday Morning News Dump

Good morning! Here are a few key repro-rights related news stories from this weekend:

- California budget cuts are threatening the state’s family planning funding
- All hail Obama! Washington Post reports that our President-Elect is planning on rolling back as many regulations in place for “overtly political reasons” as possible, including ones related to stem-cell research and reproductive health!
- But, as the Houston Chronicle reminds us, that won’t stop the Bush administration from trying to sneak through as many last-minute changes as possible.
- And, in the news of the horrific department, the AP reports on a Tusla abortion clinic, the main such facility in the state, fighting a state law that would have required women seeking an abortion to not only get an ultrasound beforehand but to listen to the doctors describe to her what the fetus looks like.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Separation of Church and State Just Flew Out the Stained Glass Window

Via Politico:

The Catholic bishop Kansas City, Robert Finn, urged Catholics not to vote for Barack Obama in a radio interview today -- warning they put their souls at risk by supporting Obama's "fanatical" stance on abortion rights.

"You make yourself a participant in the act of abortion and you mustn''t do it because your eternal salvation is tied up with that important choice," Bishop Finn

Monday in the World of Blogging

While this election has a number of interesting ballot measures on the table, one that we’ve rarely discussed on this blog is Proposition K in San Francisco, legalizing sex work. Broadsheet over at Salon has a nice roundup of the issues involved.

Broadsheet also goes into the pregnancy pact at Gloucester High School, and how one young (and un-pregnant girl) was acting as a PR rep for all the rest.

Feministing takes a look at the New York Times article on gender disparity in Health Care coverage.

And on the Feministing community site, a 14-year-old feminist in Maryland posted pictures of what may be the best Halloween costume yet: Choice Avenger.

Feministe has a new reproductive rights correspondent! Everybody welcome her.

BlogHer has a great post about why you should vote against the parental notification Prop 4 in California. Not that you needed more reasons not to, but in case you have any confused California friends.

Over at Jezebel, Megan has a summary of how Kristi Burton, the 21-year-old anti-choice and repro rights activist behind the Amendment 48 in Colorado that would allot personhood to fertilized eggs, isn’t exactly being backed by a lot of anti-choice leaders.

NY Mag’s Daily Intelligencer has a short piece up about the local NY State Senate elections (which you all should be paying attention to!) and whether or not pro-choice politician Malcolm Smith has a good chance of winning the Majority Leader seat.

And file under information I considered keeping to myself: Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn reports that Babeland is offering voters a free sex toy for voting tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hump Day Headlines!

It’s Wednesday, otherwise known as hump day! Here is your appropriately-reproductive-health-themed news roundup:

  • According to Newsweek, more than $1million has been donated to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin’s name. Who knew an anti-choice candidate could do so much good for women’s health?

  • A clinic in Iowa is holding a birth control party! Called “Smart and Sexy,” it’s apparently just like the traditional Tupperware parties of the ‘50s, only this time they’ll be talking about how best to prevent pregnancy instead of how best to store leftovers.

  • File under gulp: Syphilis is on the rise in Knox County, TN! So in case you were planning any late-October romantic jaunts to the deep south, you know, be careful. As a bonus, public health officials are helpfully warning that either paying for or trading something for sex may put you at a higher risk.

  • According to a new survey by the Office for National Statistics, UK women aged 16 to 49 prefer the pill to condoms when it comes to contraception. Insert requisite joke about the Brits’ oral fixation here..

  • Laura McGann over at the Washington Independent has a nice roundup of Sarah Palin’s coded anti-choice views.

  • A federal appeals court heard arguments yesterday on whether a Virginia law punishing doctors for performing a late-term abortion procedure called dilation and extraction should be upheld. Although the court is expected to take several weeks to make its decision, if the law is overturned it would make only ten, not eleven, states that have laws banning the procedure.

  • Amanda Marcotte over at RH Reality check has a great piece up reminding us to not only call for the removal of abstinence-only education, but the implementation of comprehensive Sex Ed. Because the only thing worse than simply telling our kids not to have sex is telling them nothing at all…

Samantha Bee Derides McCain's Derisive Air Quotes

Via Broadsheet: Although the Daily Show is a little late on this one, Samantha Bee reports: “John McCain has finally put the concerns of women where they belong; in derisive air quotes.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

News! Daily News!

Your Tuesday in reproductive health:

  • A hospital in Tarzana, CA, just outside of Santa Monica, has banned all elective birth control procedures. This includes not just pregnancy termination, but measures such as tubal ligations for vasectomies; a procedure that, until this decision, the hospital performed about an average of seven times a month. According to KTLA news in Los Angeles, Providence Health System bought the hospital in September and has now implemented a policy that adheres to Catholic teachings prohibiting abortions and surgical methods of birth control on hospital property.

  • Although perhaps they should have listened to Frank K. Flinn, Ph.D., adjunct professor of religious studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, and author of the Encyclopdia of Catholicism (2007). He argues that the Catholic Church has not, in fact, always been opposed to abortion, but rather that its position has been an evolving one. He also points to Joe Biden as proof that there are many ways of interpreting Catholic theology when it comes to reproductive health(via).

  • And finally, we can add yet another option to the multi-faceted birth control fray: Barr Pharmaceuticals has announced FDA approval for its newest pill, low-hormone Seasonique (or LoSeasonique). The pill boasts its period reduction qualities, claiming women who take it will only have 4 periods a year. For an interesting take on why pharmaceutical companies market birth control with language on period reduction and not, say, contraceptive effectiveness, please see Sarah Haskins.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

"Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as “person” is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law?"

With those 46 words, radical, far-right, fringe members of the social conservative wing of the Republican Party in Colorado are attempting to outlaw all abortions and many forms of contraception.

In a electoral season marked by many punitive and callous attempts to enact retrograde legislation impacting women's health and rights, none is quite as preposterous as Colorado's proposed Amendment 48.

As The New York Times pointed out in it's recent Editorial, the proposed amendment would "r
edefine the term “person” in the state’s Constitution to include fertilized human eggs — in effect bestowing on fertilized eggs, prior to implantation in the womb and pregnancy, the same legal rights and protections that apply to people once they are born.

"The amendment, which has split anti-abortion groups, carries broad implications, ranging from harmful to downright ridiculous. Potentially, it could ban widely used forms of contraception, curtail medical research involving embryos, criminalize necessary medical care and shutter fertility clinics. A damaged fertilized egg might be eligible for monetary damages.

"Noting the “legal nightmare” the amendment would create, and its potential to endanger the health of women, Gov. Bill Ritter, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat, has joined the opposition to Amendment 48."

Wendy Norris of The Colorado Independent wrote recently that the
backers of the "personhood" law have ties to militant anti-abortion groups. "A strange netherworld of extremes exists in today’s anti-abortion movement. Nowhere is that more evident than its latest political salvo coming to a voting booth near you in November — Colorado’s proposed Amendment 48, the so-called Human Life Amendment..." It's an interesting, and sadly not surprising, read.

The Denver Post has called Amendment 48 "absurd."

Let's hope voters feel the same.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Birth Control & The Next President

A lot of non-profit organizations are currently engaged in helping their Board and their donors understand how the organization's key issues will be impacted by a McCain or an Obama presidency.

In the arena of reproductive health and freedom I know this is a current priority.

So I wanted to bring to your attention a great post that
Amanda Marcotte put up on RH Reality Check this past Wednesday.

Amanda gives a rundown of five basic questions people ask of themselves when looking to access contraception, and answers Senators McCain and Obama have given through votes and campaign platforms.

Thanks Amanda!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Citizen Ruth

In my opinion, there has been no film (or book, or article for that matter) which has so thoroughly exposed how polarized the "debate" over abortion is in this country as Citizen Ruth.

Why am I bringing this up now, 12 years after the film made it's debut?

Well, mainly because A.O. Scott, the film critic for The New York Times, takes a look back at the film in a short video review that's up on the Times web site today. Scott says he thinks it's one of the best films ever made about "culture wars."

It's well-worth seeing. And so is the film itself.

Watching this film reminds me of how easily we can fall prey to being part of the problem if we don't resolutely continue making more cogent arguments to the general public.

Our strongest message in 2008 is that "Women have abortions for many different reasons. Some of those decisions may not seem right to some people, but even if we disagree, it is better if each woman is able to make her own decision."

Ambivalence is the defining term about where this country is on the issue of abortion. Our collective goal in 2008 is to affirm that and to help the country move beyond attempts to criminalize abortion or ban it outright.

One of the reasons that this presidential election is of such great importance is that the Supreme Court is in play - the future direction of the Court and of this country is at stake - which means so are our personal freedoms.

Citizen Ruth is one of those rare films that makes you think - in this case of where we've been and where we're headed - and of what's at stake.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Preaching the Politics of Hate from the Pulpit

Largely lost in the escalating war of mud-slinging which is masquerading as our quadrennial campaign for President, is the full-court press that some churches are making to persuade their congregants to vote against pro-choice candidates.

And no church seems as hell-bent on making abortion the single issue as much as the Catholic Church.

Despite Americans overwhelming concern for the deepening financial crisis, the rapidly deteriorating health care system, and wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Catholic Church wants you to focus on abortion - specifically they want you to focus on punishing any and all candidates who have the courage to support a woman's decision about whether or not to become a parent.

And they want you to be as harsh as possible.

In Scranton, Pa., childhood home of Sen. Joe Biden, every Catholic attending Mass this weekend heard a sermon about the election. Bishop Joseph Martino ordered every priest in the diocese to read a letter warning that voting for a supporter of abortion rights amounts to endorsing “homicide.”

As The New York Times
reports, Martino went on to say, “Being ‘right’ on taxes, education, health care, immigration and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life,” the bishop wrote. “It is a tragic irony that ‘pro-choice’ candidates have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of ‘social justice.’ ”

And how about Archbishop
Raymond L. Burke of Boston saying Democrats were becoming “the party of death."

Guess he doesn't have a problem with Republican support for the death penalty.

Last week, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the head of the
A.F.L.-C.I.O. in Missouri had stormed out of a Mass because his priest had invoked Hitler's s name in condemning Democratic support for abortion rights. (The New York Times)

This is nothing more, nor nothing less, than preaching the politics of hate from the pulpit.

In a presidential campaign that will surely go down as one of the country's dirtiest ever waged by the GOP, it's nauseating to see one of the mainstays of Christian religion in this country resort to a "slash & burn" partisan political policy.

Would it not be more welcome if the Church's concern was about the health and welfare of women in this country. Would it not be more in keeping with spiritual belief to be accepting of attempts to help women prevent unintended pregnancies?

Apparently not.

That's why Planned Parenthood does more to prevent unintended pregnancies in one day than the Catholic Church has in 2000 years.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Great Debate

Are you ready for The Great Debate? It's happening live from St.Louis, Mizzou tomorrow night!

Will it be an hour of stirring conversation on the issues most important to Americans today? Will it be an hour of embarrassing gaffes, evasive answers, and regurgitated talking points? Or will it put us all to sleep?

Join the Planned Parenthood of New York City Action Fund and find out. Watch The Great Debate among
friends and colleagues and find out if this debate begins to match it's build-up and hype. And while you're at it have a few drinks to soften the reality.

The Planned Parenthood of New York City Action Fund invites you to our

2008 VP Debate Watch Party!!

Come meet other pro-choice activists as we cheer and jeer the hottest debate of the year!!


Thursday, October 2nd - 8pm

Slainte Bar & Lounge

304 Bowery (between Bleecker & Houston), N.Y.C.

Bring Friends! RSVP Today!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October Surprise?

Believe it or not, there really is other news besides the collapse of the American economy circulating on the Internet and the blogosphere.

Well, maybe not news yet, but certainly good juicy rumors. And they all concern the Republican's anticipated October Surprise.

Have you thought about what it would be? Did you think maybe it would be bomb, bomb, bomb - bomb Iran? Or maybe the capture of Osama bin Laden? Maybe the removal of Sarah Palin from the ticket?

Nope - none of those (at least not yet!).

The October Surprise is probably going to be THE WEDDING.

Yep the long-anticipated joining together in holy matrimony of Bristol Palin and her "ice-hockey-playing fiancé" sometime before the Nov. 4th election.

Or so Sarah Baxter, the Washington correspondent of the Times of London speculates in her recent column.

"Inside John McCain’s campaign the expectation is growing that there will be a popularity boosting pre-election wedding in Alaska between Bristol Palin, 17, and Levi Johnston, 18, her schoolmate and father of her baby. “It would be fantastic,” said a McCain insider. “You would have every TV camera there. The entire country would be watching. It would shut down the race for a week.” There is already some urgency to the wedding as Bristol, who is six months pregnant, may not want to walk down the aisle too close to her date of delivery. She turns 18 on October 18, a respectable age for a bride..."

New York magazine's Daily Intel column also picked up on the Baxter story.

I am so sure that this will be reality that I would bet my stock portfolio on it - that is if I had anything left in my stock portfolio. I don't believe any person or party is as ready to initiate such a self-serving publicity stunt as the McCain/Palin team.

When substance fails go for for the People Magazine cover.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Many thanks to Cara!

Just a short note to send a big thanks to Cara Kulwicki for guest blogging here for the past 2 weeks.

Now you know why lots of people read her posts on both The Curvature and Feministe.

Thanks Cara!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How Much Time Should She Do?

The How Much Time Should She Do? campaign is being run by NARAL Pro-Choice to highlight the extremist positions of John McCain and Sarah Palin by asking them: if you think that Roe vs. Wade should be over turned, how much time should a woman who has an illegal abortion serve in jail? After all, in many states abortion would become illegal automatically if Roe vs. Wade were to be overturned, and many others would move to outlaw the procedure very quickly after such a ruling.

The McCain campaign has responded by saying that it's preposterous to suggest that McCain wants to send women who have abortions to jail. But that leaves a pretty big question: why not? If a woman were to have an illegal abortion, she would be breaking the law. And the reason anti-choicers claim for wanting to outlaw abortion is that they believe it's "murder." Don't murderers go to jail?

What this campaign does is expose the truth behind anti-choice rhetoric. It's easier to be opposed to abortion personally and therefore want to legislate your views before thinking about the consequences. Some have argued that this campaign only heightens the rhetoric from anti-choicers, forcing them to propose a prison sentence, and is therefore dangerous. But personally, I have to ask -- what is wrong with anti-choicers heightening their rhetoric? Doesn't that only benefit us, by making the pro-choice side look far more reasonable -- which of course it is? I certainly think so. Many people want to "stop" abortion, without of course realizing that outlawing abortion doesn't stop it. A lot fewer people want to actually treat women like criminals, including particularly ardent anti-choicers:

One thing this video shows, in addition to the illogical nature of anti-choice arguments, is how very little those who oppose abortion actually think about the women who have them. How could one campaign to make abortion illegal for so long, without ever having thought about what might happen to women as a result? I'll let you draw your own conclusions there.

The How Much Time Should She Do? campaign does a few things:

1. It points out the extremism of the anti-choice view, including those held by public officials running for high offices.

2. It causes the viewer to think about the real consequences of outlawing abortion.

3. It brings the focus back to women, their health, and their well-being.

And I'd say there's a whole lot to like about that. We're never going to win the support of the most vehement abortion opponents. But the fight is for the hearts and minds of those whose views fall somewhere in between ours and theirs. Many people who oppose abortion do so because they're simply trying to do the right thing. I think it's about time we reframe what "the right thing" is, in a way that people who are uncomfortable with abortion can relate to.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Protect Women's Health -- Send Your Comments to HHS

Last month, the Bush Administration proposed a dangerous new Department of Health and Human Services rule, which would jeopardize the health of women across the nation. In a NY Times op-ed, Senator Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards explain:

It would require that any health care entity that receives federal financing — whether it’s a physician in private practice, a hospital or a state government — certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable.

Laws that have been on the books for some 30 years already allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further, ensuring that all employees and volunteers for health care entities can refuse to aid in providing any treatment they object to, which could include not only abortion and sterilization but also contraception.

Health and Human Services estimates that the rule, which would affect nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics and other health care providers, would cost $44.5 million a year to administer. Astonishingly, the department does not even address the real cost to patients who might be refused access to these critical services. Women patients, who look to their health care providers as an unbiased source of medical information, might not even know they were being deprived of advice about their options or denied access to care.

The definition of abortion in the proposed rule is left open to interpretation. An earlier draft included a medically inaccurate definition that included commonly prescribed forms of contraception like birth control pills, IUD’s and emergency contraception. That language has been removed, but because the current version includes no definition at all, individual health care providers could decide on their own that birth control is the same as abortion.

If you read the news, you probably know that many Americans are facing difficult economic times. Millions are uninsured, and even more are under-insured. More and more, people are relying on low-cost health care from providers that receive government funding. And yet, the Bush administration is working to make it more difficult for low-income women to receive necessary medical care? Remember that women might not even know they're not receiving full information -- people tend to trust their doctors, and under this rule doctors would not have to inform patients of options they don't agree with.

You can help by writing Health and Human Services today. The rule has a 30 day comment period from the public before a decision is made about whether or not to instate it. But time is running out -- the deadline is September 25. You have only a couple of days to make your voice heard. Send your letter today, and urgently pass along the message to all of your friends and family!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading The Fine Print

Hey everyone, this is Cara -- thanks for having me, I'm happy to be here.

I wanted to kick things off with this excellent video which I received today from the folks at South Dakota Healthy Families. SD Healthy Families is an advocacy group that was created to fight the abortion ban on this year's ballot. If you're getting deja vu, it's because anti-choicers in South Dakota tried to pass an abortion ban through a ballot initiative in 2006 -- they were thankfully defeated, but now the measure is back, this time with phony "exceptions" that do nothing to protect women.

Make no mistake: this ballot initiative would not only take away the right to choose if it were passed, it would also put the most vulnerable women in the greatest danger. Additionally, the measure contradicts Roe vs. Wade and is a direct challenge to the landmark court ruling that ensures abortion is legal throughout the United States. If Measure 11 is passed, it would embolden other states to try passing similar laws -- all of which could eventually end in Roe vs. Wade being overturned.

None of us want any of that to happen -- and so what's happening in South Dakota affects all of us. You can learn more about the ballot initiative and find ways to get involved through SD Healthy Families.

Friday, September 12, 2008

While I'm Away....Meet Cara Kulwicki

While I'm away for the next couple of weeks, I'm pleased to announce that Cara Kulwicki will be "guest" blogging here.

Cara is a feminist writer who blogs regularly at both The Curvature and Feministe. She is also a long-term volunteer with Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region, and writes for their blog Sex.Justice.Change.

Give Cara a warm welcome.

And me? I'll be here, and here and here and here.

See ya on Sept 29th.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Birth Control Week

Bush Administration Continues to Block Affordable Birth Control

It is that time of year again, the time of year when students start heading back to college to continue their education. On top of the rising cost of tuition, books, food and housing, college students across the country are finding out that they can add one more increased expense to that list, the skyrocketing cost of birth control. For months college women across the country have been drawing attention to this problem, but when they return to campus they will find that the Bush administration has blocked the fix at every turn. College women can expect to pay up to $50 a month for birth control at their college health clinic, when they had been used to paying $5–$10 a month.

This is a recent development. For more than 20 years, Congress has encouraged drug companies to offer discounted birth control to certain health care providers including college health clinics and other safety-net providers. Because these health care providers were able to buy birth control at a discounted rate, they were able to pass those savings along to college students and low-income patients.

Then, in 2005, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which tightened regulations about who was eligible for nominally priced drugs. In doing so, Congress inadvertently cut off college health centers and other safety-net providers from obtaining birth control at a low cost. As a result, since 2007, birth control prices have skyrocketed.

The good news is that this is something that can be easily fixed. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation, the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act, that would restore affordable birth control at college health clinics and safety-net providers and increase access to affordable birth control. This legislation, introduce by Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), will not cost the taxpayers a single dime and has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Birth control is basic health care. Affordable birth control is smart public health policy and politicians should not interfere with women’s access to affordable birth control. We should be making it easier for women to obtain affordable birth control and take control of their lives, not more difficult. Contraceptive use reduces the likelihood of unintended pregnancies and allows women the opportunity to plan healthy families.

Women’s health matters. Before leaving office, the Bush administration needs to stop playing politics with women’s health and work with Congress to fix this problem or the consequences will continue to be devastating for college students and low-income women across the country.

Write your elected official today demanding that sanity return to birth control pricing.

The graphic at the top is Planned Parenthood of New York City's newly launched birth control campaign in Brooklyn. The "wallscape" is located at Flatbush and Fulton at the entrance to Fulton Mall. Click on the picture for a bigger image.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hurricane Sarah

I canceled my trip down to South Jersey tomorrow to see my son and his family because our local weather prognosticators are predicting torrential rains and heavy winds. Evidently Hurricane Hanna is about to pay a visit to the East Coast tonight and tomorrow.

So it got me thinking about how hurricanes seem to be visited upon us much more frequently these days. In rapid succession there was Hurricane Gustav, then Hurricane Hanna and now Hurricane Sarah - the so-called (hockey) mother of all hurricanes.

To the lay person hurricanes seem to be formed in total secrecy, gather power as they consolidate their blowing winds and hot air, and then appear as if out of the blue to cause damage wherever they land.

Hurricane Sarah is like that. A minor depression just weeks ago, Sarah has now become a storm and appears ready to take on the role of a full-blown hurricane.

But unlike Gustav and Hanna - hurricanes which people can only prepare for, not stop - Hurricane Sarah is preventable.

How you ask?

By telling everyone you know, including daughters and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and fathers, lovers and partners, that Hurricane Sarah when coupled with Tropical Depression John, will wreak havoc on their personal lives and the lives of the people they love.

Don't wait. Act now. The storm clouds are building. Don't let this disaster hit our shores.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to School

This time of year fills me with conflicting emotions - feelings of both melancholy and excitement.

Melancholy because
the end of Summer is the end of carefree times with friends and family. The end of watching my granddaughters frolic in the swimming pool. The end of watching my dogs run for hours in the park. The end of dining outdoors at my favorite cafe. And to top it all off, it gets darker earlier.

But I'm filled with excitement at this time of year also. The same kind of excitement I felt as a young man preparing to return to school. Who will I meet? What will I discover anew? What will I learn that will help me grow? What challenges lie ahead? What victories can we achieve?

A lot of people call this time of year "Back to School."

"Back to School" marks a time of sober thoughtfulness as we look toward the immediate future.

And our immediate future is filled with both uncertainty and promise.

The presidential election in November is one of the most important we have faced in years. The U.S. is dealing with international conflicts and war on multiple fronts, and with disasters, both natural and man-made, at home. National pride and confidence are at an all-time low. We simply cannot afford a continuation of the failed policies of the last 8 years.

Yet the promise of a new beginning is in the air.
And if we go "Back to School" to learn new skills we can assure that the promise of a new beginning will be fulfilled.

We must learn how to urge people to vote for their own best interests. We must learn how to educate people about what is at stake for women. About what is at stake for reproductive health and rights, for equal pay for equal work, for access to health care and education and for affordable housing and good jobs.

At the New York State level we must learn how to educate people about the need to pass the
Reproductive Health Act which will guarantee a woman the right to make her own decision about when or whether to become a parent. We must learn how to educate people about the importance of turning the New York State Senate into a pro-choice body. And, we must learn how to educate people about the need to re-envision the Healthy Teen Act and finally get our kids real sex education that will positively impact their lives.

So let's recommit ourselves to learning and to teaching as best we know how.

Let's give ourselves, our kids and our grand kids a new beginning.

Friday, August 29, 2008

GOP Completes It's Anti-Choice Ticket

The New York Times reports that Sen. John McCain has chosen a virtually unknown and avowed anti-choice Governor from Alaska as his running mate.

Sarah Palin, who opposes abortion even in instances of rape and incest, was named McCain's VP nominee today. Palin is a member of Feminists for Life, an anti-choice organization working actively to deny women the right to make their own decisions about when and whether to become a parent.

Tanya Melich writes about why Palin won't fool American women in today's
Women's Media Center Commentary.

"The reality of the McCain pick barely rests on Palin’s personal qualifications. McCain is attempting to present Palin as a symbol that the Republican Party supports women but her selection is not a major change—except by degree—for the GOP. Republicans have been running women for a long time. This historic first is NOT a first for the country, just for the GOP."

Scott Swenson
wrote on RH Reality Check back in June that "...
her selection is seen as an effort to make a play for disgruntled female supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Anti-choice McCain, with an anti-choice Palin, ... would stand for policies so far removed from the reality of the women who loyally supported Sen. Clinton, as to reduce the Palin nomination to the status of political novelty..."

Stay tuned - the race for the White House is about to get more interesting!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chasin' The P's in Mexico City

P is for Prevention, Policies & Pink Elephants

I was in Mexico City with 23,000 other people for the first International AIDS Conference in Latin America. The event was grand, to say the least.

The conference opened up in full regalia on Sunday, August 3rd, with an event hosted at the Auditorio Nacional near the center of el De Efe- the Federal District, Mexico City (if such a behemoth has a center). As always, this opening session really set the stage and tone for the conference in the days to come. After a beautiful performance of the ballet folklórico, with a mariachi band from Guadalajara, we awaited addresses from several key leaders from all over the world including, Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico and Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General.

The conference theme was Universal Action Now (¡Acción Universal Ya!) which underscored the key message from each of the speakers - increasing access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. It quickly became apparent that the conference sought to focus on certain communities in particular: men who have sex with men (MSM), intravenous drug users (IDUs), commercial sex workers (CSWs), and to a lesser extent, Latin American migrant workers.

Later, back in my room, I realized this was no coincidence. Looking at the conference program it was clear that session after session would focus on these same groups.

Focus can be good, or can be bad. For instance, funders might say, "Hey, lets try and include other 'hard to reach populations.' " Which is good. But, on the other hand, funders might also say, “Hey, we only have a few dollars, lets only focus on these few 'hard to reach populations.' ” Which could be bad. Well, I’m no Nostradamus so we’ll just have to wait and see about all that.

That first night also brought the first discussions of top US and Mexico initiatives - initiatives that were heavily applauded. And why not? Let me list them, Letterman-like, as my Top 5 P's. (Drum roll, please).

P is for PEPFAR and getting $$$ - and more $$$$$!

Do you remember back in 2003 when George Bush didn't want to be known as just a war president? That's the year the president (maybe as a distraction from the troubles in Iraq?) authorized the first President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - $15 million dollars over 5 years to fight the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. We had problems with the details- especially in that program appeared to be influenced too heavily by American political and social groups with "moral" rather than public health agendas. But, hey, it was a first step in the right direction.

Well, 5 years is up (and we're are still in Iraq) and presto, PEPFAR has been reauthorized and the money is way up - a whopping 48 billion dollars! Gotta clap for that!

While nowhere in PEPFAR are the words ‘family planning’ mentioned, folks on the ground here talked about this re-authorization with cautious appreciation. Hey, no language is better than repressive language. And some folks hoped that a maybe a new presidential administration will interpret PEPFAR more broadly.

2. P is for People Living With HIV/AIDS traveling into the US

Okay, check on hell and make sure it hasn’t frozen over, because I am going to praise President Bush twice in one day. During the opening plenary and again during former President Bill Clinton’s speech on Monday, August 4th, President Bush was applauded for lifting the travel ban that previously prevented people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH/A) from entering the United States. (Not the slightest of reasons why the AIDS conference has not been held in the U.S. since its inception in San Francisco, 17 years ago). Tucked into the PEPFAR language are provisions that repeal a 1993 ban preventing PLWH/A from entering the country or from being eligible for legal status.

That's great, right? But not too fast. The measure, at the moment, is purely de jure. As the Washington Blade points out, for now, HIV is still listed as a communicable disease by Health and Human Services- which prevents positive folks from entering the country or adjusting their legal status. Sound like Catch 22 to you?

3. P is for Lifting Pharmaceutical Plant Restrictions

Mexican President Felipe Calderon promised to follow Brazil's lead by lifting plant and manufacturing restrictions and thereby allowing Mexico to produce their own generic HIV meds. He barely took a breath before adding that such modifications would be rolled out slowly as to prevent a crash in the market. (This should be interesting to see the roll out - remember that pharmaceuticals are available without prescriptions in Mexico!)

Mexico continues to show how far from US movie stereotyping it really is. Far from the machismo, hyper-Catholic conservative city, Mexico city has shown it's progressive streak by legalizing abortion, greatly improving it's contraceptive uptake rates and, hopefully soon, producing its own antiretroviral generics. (Go ‘head on now!)

4. P is for Prevention Reducing Prevalence

President Bill Clinton addressed a plenary session of roughly 3,000 people on Monday 4 August 2008 [he is such a rock star!]. He departed from the party platform of universal access to return the focus back to the United States and it's own HIV/AIDS epidemic.

He cited the national Black AIDS Institute's report on HIV in the Black community, noting that were Black Americans a nation on our own, our HIV prevalence would rank us 16th in the world. He went on to push for a national AIDS strategy to address structural issues for PLWH/A domestically - issues including housing, poverty and substance abuse. (He joked that he did not coordinate such sound bites to coincide with the protesters below him calling for ‘Housing for People Living with HIV.’)

Later these same issues were echoed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D- California) and by Dr. Kevin Fenton, the director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Fenton reiterated the need for a national strategy to tackle AIDS domestically. He highlighted new prevalence and incidence estimates from CDC novel methods for calculation. Essentially, the numbers pointed to an steady increase of incidence for, and only for, the MSM community; a disproportionate burden borne by men, and Black men in particular.

Other encouraging news also came via Laura Kann, also of the CDC. She presented results from the Youth Behavioral Risk Surveillance Survey from 1991 to 2007. For the first year since the start of the epidemic, HIV incidence has dropped- indicating that prevention efforts have started to turn the tide on the epidemic.

But, she went on, young people engaging in sex has been on the rise since 2001 (with quadratic increases over the 16 years- meaning, decreases then increases again). One woman from the audience asked to what would Kann attribute this. As Dr. Kann hesitated to speculate on the data, I sat in my chair thinking only of the failure rate of so-called Abstinence-Only programs.

5. But P is really for the Pink Elephants in the room: Big Pharma

So reeling from all the wonderful people I met, all the informative sessions I participated in and all the cool pens pilfered from the exhibit hall, I awaited the delayed flight in Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airport with new-found colleagues. We talked and debated. Was all this money being spent worth it? Are we going to ensure universal access? And I am going to have to call out the pink elephant in the room: by saying universal access, we have to know the hidden discourse. It reminds me of the myth of meritocracy - that in America if you “work hard, you will get far.” What no one adds to that story is that the road narrows the further you along you go. And for some the road starts to narrow sooner than for others.

In the end, and call me a cynic, if you like, I believe that we will not treat all people. But we need to keep the heat on and keep calling for universal access. Truth is, Big Pharma cannot afford to give access to everyone who live with HIV/AIDS. The point of seeking out particular target populations, is just that, to target some folks. Either those with the highest prevalence (like MSM) and who would therefore stand to make the most money for Big Pharma once they are on ARVs, or those with the greatest incidence rates (like IDUs and sex workers) who would be most likely to start ARVs. Lets be real, universal access is not universal. That Big Pharma is a necessary evil is a given- that disease translates to dollars for some is the way of the world. But we can’t take on Big Pharma alone AND we really do need the meds!

We just need to keep creating small cracks in the system that props Big Pharma up - cracks that include innovative prevention approaches and policies that align with scientific evidence.

And we need to start serving people, not profits and private agendas.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Blogging the Democratic Convention

I'm not going to blog about the Democratic Convention in Denver.

Except to say this...

If the recent polls showing that up to 27% of Hillary Clinton's backers are going to vote for McCain are right, then those Hillary Clinton supporters preparing to vote for John McCain will be committing one of the dumbest acts in history.

If those Clinton backers vote for McCain it will seriously imperil the future of women's reproductive health and rights. And as Dahlia Lithwick at Slate said recently, McCain is betting the farm that women aren't listening to the facts about his real record.

What could these Clinton supporters be thinking?

It's simply wrong-headed!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Women's Equality Day

August 26 of each year is designated in the United States as Women's Equality Day. Instituted by Representative Bella Abzug and first established in 1971, the date commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Woman Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women in the United States full voting rights in 1920.

In his
2004 Presidential Proclamation honoring this day, President Bush said,

"The full participation of women and the protection of their rights as citizens are essential for freedom and democracy to flourish."

Nothing could be more true - not only in the United States, but throughout the world. I personally believe that our collective future is dependent on the education of young women and their full and equal participation in society.

But, in the U.S. and in New York State, the goal of full participation, so reliant as it is on equal economic, educational, and health care access, is moving at a snail's pace and in some instances stagnating and back-tracking.

In their 2006
Briefing Paper, The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) reported that "in no state does the typical full-time woman worker earn as much as the typical man. And, the number of women..."without health insurance has increased in 43 states," and "the poverty rate among women has increased in 15 states."

In New York State, this reality is particularly harsh for women of color.

According to the report "
The Economic Status of Women in New York State" issued by IWPR, "... strong disparities exist among New York’s women. While 87.9 percent of white women in the state had health insurance, only 80.9 percent of African American women, [and] 75.1 percent of Latina women...were insured. Lower rates of insurance coverage for African American...and Latina women may be attributable in part to their greater prevalence in jobs that lack health benefits... "

In addition, the report continues, "New York State ranks in the bottom third of all states in the nation for the proportion of women who live above the poverty line. Women in New York State were more likely to be poor than women nationally [and] since the late 1980s New York State has experienced an overall increase in poverty among women and a severe drop in its ranking from 30th to 40th in the nation. These trends call attention to poverty as an increasingly pressing problem for the state."

Reproductive health is always adversely impacted by poverty and lack of insurance. The number of poor and uninsured women in New York City without easy access to information and education about reproductive health care is a statewide and national embarrassment. As is the lack of a concerted effort to bring sex education and unplanned pregnancy prevention programs into our schools and communities.

We have much work to do in New York to bring real meaning to Women's Equality Day .