Defending real liberties

By Gilbert Schramm, Newport News Times “Viewpoint”, August 18, 2016

I sometimes see letters here by people who claim to be concerned about defending our constitutional liberties. This should make me happy, yet on issue after issue, I often find their outcry for liberty is a sham — a cover-up for implementing a quite dierent and more sinister agenda. Time and again, a vague abstract “liberty” is used as a motive to restrict or even violate a very clear, obvious, vital American right.   

The right to vote is the very core of our constitutional democracy. Over the last decade, a large number of states have passed laws that disenfranchise legal voters. Without exception, these laws were promoted by Republicans. In case after case, they failed to show evidence of any widespread voting fraud. Yet, arguing that a single fraudulent vote violated the rights of other voters, they passed restrictive, unnecessary and intrusive legislation that knocked literally millions of legal voters othe rolls in states vital to presidential elections.   

A few years back, the GOP argued that the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary,   that racial discrimination had ended in the South. What a farce. Again they made a false case for liberty, arguing that states’ rights were more important to liberty than the rights of real people who were still the obvious victims of systematic institutional racism. The GOP Congress has managed to paralyze any correction of this problem.   

There was no more blatant a violation of a basic liberty (property rights) than the illegal bank foreclosures on homes that was practiced during the 2008 mortgage collapse. Republicans have fought against making restitution to victimized homeowners and prosecuting guilty bankers ever since.     

What about a woman’s right to make choices about her body? Conservatives have asserted that the liberties of beings who don’t even fully exist outweigh the real liberties of living women. Recently GOP senate candidate Marco Rubio proposed banning abortions for women exposed to the Zika virus, thereby condemning these women to a pregnancy fraught with potential tragedy and a lifetime of potentially   serving as a caregiver to an essentially brain-dead child. Will Marco be there to help?   

In Oregon last winter, armed intruders occupied a public wildlife refuge. Their action effectively prevented the public from using that land. They justified this criminal act with an outlandish interpretation of liberty.   

In Texas, millions of children will be deprived of a $1.3-billion contribution to their right to good education because the GOP governor there thinks that asking them to share a bathroom might somehow violate some other (unspecified) student’s rights.     

The second amendment, specifically citing the nation’s need for a “well regulated militia,” in no way entitles me to machine guns or high capacity magazines. Unlike the founding fathers, we have the Pentagon as a “militia.” Yet, every time there is the slightest commonsense move to stem the rising tide of gun violence the NRA champions of faux liberty start screaming about a hypothetical “slippery slope.” Freedom of religion is fundamental to the U.S., yet the NRA has endorsed Trump, who is essentially seeking to demonize and ban a whole religion. No slippery slope here, that’s a straight jump off of a steep cliff into outright religious persecution.   

Finally, no assault on personal liberty in the U.S. is more sinister than Citizens United, the GOP’s odd notion that corporations are people. The founding fathers made the one person, one vote rule for a simple reason — each person has a conscience; last I checked, corporations did not. That’s why corporations are not people.   

Everywhere, the same dynamic is repeated relentlessly — loud ranting about faux liberties disguise ruthless attacks on real ones.   

Last week, Donald Trump said that Americans accused of certain crimes should be sent to Guantanamo and tried in military courts. I hope people will carefully examine the fake version of liberty that the right wing has set loose in this land, and then defend their real liberties with their votes.   

Gilbert Schramm is a resident of Newport

Newport News Times, Friday, August 19, Page A8

F.D.A. Eases Requirements on Abortion Pill Label

The Food and Drug Administration stepped into the politics of abortion on Wednesday, relaxing the requirements for taking a medication that induces abortion, a move that is expected to expand access to the procedure.

The move was a victory for abortion rights advocates who had been fighting laws in states like Texas, North Dakota and Ohio that required providers to follow the requirements on the original F.D.A. labels for the drug when conducting abortions by medication. Many doctors say the original labels, based on clinical evidence from the 1990s, were outdated and that the state laws requiring doctors to adhere to them went against accepted medical practice and made it harder for women to get abortions.

The changes announced on Wednesday reduce the number of trips women have to make to a doctor from three to two in most states, and also increase the number of days that she has to be able to use medication to induce abortion from 49 to 70 days after the beginning of her last menstrual period, experts said. The new label also reduces the dosage of the drug, called mifepristone, from 600 milligrams to 200. Most medical societies had said the previous dosage was too high, and abortion rights advocates said it increased the cost and the side effects of the procedure.

“This is a huge step in increasing access to medication abortion and it comports with the scientific evidence,” said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks women’s reproductive health issues. She said that medication abortions accounted for about a quarter of all abortions in 2011, the last year measured by the institute.


Mifeprex, a medication that induces abortion. The F.D.A. on Wednesday relaxed the requirements on use of the drug.

In most states, doctors had been following the medically-accepted regimen, despite the fact that the label advised otherwise — a practice that is fairly common in medicine and is known as off-label use. But in recent years legislators in a number of states have sought to impose legal requirements that doctors follow the F.D.A. label for abortion medication, saying they were trying to protect womens’ health.

Such restrictions have passed but then been blocked by court order in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. Arizona legislators have passed yet another measure that tries to maintain the original F.D.A. protocol, but it has not yet been signed into law.

The F.D.A. first approved the drug, formerly known as RU-486, in 2000. It works by blocking receptors of progesterone, an important hormone in pregnancy. When taken with another drug, misoprostol, it induces miscarriage. It is different from the so-called morning after pill, which prevents pregnancy.

But the rules on the label were based on clinical trials completed in the late 1990s, according to advocates, and new evidence had emerged showing that taking lower doses was preferable and that a woman could take the medication safely up to 70 days from the beginning of her last menstrual period.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement that it was “pleased that the updated FDA-approved regimen for mifepristone reflects the current available scientific evidence and best practices.”

The group added that “medication abortion has been subject to legislative attacks in various states across the country, including mandated regimens that do not reflect the current scientific evidence. We hope that these states take the FDA label into account.”

Planned Parenthood, which has fought the state laws, said in a statement: “The benefit of this announcement will be most immediately felt by women and providers in Ohio, Texas and North Dakota,” states that have laws requiring medication abortion to be provided according to the original label.

Since the F.D.A. approved the medication, states have passed a number of different laws to restrict its use. Some require medical professionals who administer the drug to be licensed physicians, and not nurses or physician assistants. Other states require the prescribing doctor to be physically present with the patient, a rule that abortion rights advocates say blocks rural women from receiving the medication through telemedicine.

Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the change would reduce confusion among patients who had to sign two sets of consent forms, one with the regimen recommended by much of medical science and one that detailed the requirements on the F.D.A. label.

“Now those two things are in sync,” she said.

Dr. McDonald-Mosley said that medication abortion is an increasingly popular method: About half of women in Planned Parenthood clinics who fall within the time limit choose it.

Women’s Reproductive Justice: One Reason NOW Supports Clinton

Last Fall the National Organization for Women (NOW) PAC endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.  This article articulates one of the reasons for this early and strong endorsement.

Hillary         bernie

The National Organization for Women Political Action Committee (NOW PAC) endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

Hillary Clinton is a trail blazer for women. Everywhere she works she uses her voice and power to raise the status and improve the lives of women and girls.
Hillary has made “women’s rights are human rights” a rallying point throughout the world. Electing Hillary Clinton as the first feminist woman president is not only historic, but would fulfill the hopes and dreams of generations of feminists everywhere.

• A Hillary Clinton presidency would launch a new drive for women’s constitutional equality (ERA).
• Hillary supports full reproductive rights without restrictions.
• Hillary is committed to fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
• Hillary is a leader in the fight for the elimination of violence against women.
• Hillary supports economic justice and will work to
combat income inequality.
• Hillary pledges to make college affordable and attainable.
• Hillary continues to be committed to racial justice.
Hillary Clinton is our Champion

It’s no surprise that the National Organization for Women Political Action Committee (NOW PAC) endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.

For us there is no better thing we can do for women than put a qualified, experienced, feminist woman in the White House. Hillary Clinton is that woman.
Hillary Clinton spent a lifetime working to improve the lives of women and girls. More than just a vote, she has been a champion. As president, we can depend on her to make us a priority and get results.
When you see their records on reproductive justice side by side, you’ll see why we call Hillary Clinton the champion for women.

See chart: Hillary Clinton v. Bernie Sanders on Reproductive Health and Justice
Paid for by NOW PAC and not authorized by any candidate.




Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders
Planned Parenthood
Clinton boldly spoke out in support of Planned Parenthood — without prompting — at each of the first three Democratic debates, as well as dozens of times on the campaign trail. Sanders did not mention Planned Parenthood during the first three Democratic debates, but has made supportive statements several times on the campaign trail.
Reproductive Health
Clinton has called for the repeal of the Hyde amendment which prevents the use of federal funds for abortion. Sanders has consistently co-sponsored and voted for pro- women’s health legislation
Clinton introduced 8 pieces of legislation with the clear purpose of expanding and protecting women’s access to reproductive health care.
Clinton consistently co-sponsored and voted for pro- women’s health legislation.
Birth Control
Clinton waged a multiyear effort — and even blocked the nomination of an FDA head with Sen. Patty Murray — to pass a breakthrough in birth control access that made emergency contraception available over thecounter. Sanders has consistently co-sponsored and voted for legislation that expands access to birth control, family planning, and sex education.
Clinton helped launch the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which supports access to birth control, family planning, and sex education.
Clinton helped beat back a proposal to define birth control (including IUDs) as abortion, saving federal funds for certain medical providers.
Clinton has consistently co-sponsored and voted for legislation that expands access to birth control, family planning, and sex education.
International Reproductive Health Access
As senator, Clinton introduced the legislation to restore funding to the UN Population Fund. President Bush suspended funding for it, but as secretary of state Clinton helped lead the U.S. in overturning the Bush administration’s policy. Sanders voted for the legislation to restore funding to the UN Population Fund.
In an unprecedented move as secretary of state, Clinton launched the federal Office of Global Women’s Issues, making women central partners in foreign policy decisions.
Clinton started myriad global programs that help women and girls survive extreme hardship in rural areas, as well as enter fields such as business and publicservice.

© Planned Parenthood, 2016



The Rise of Reprotourism: Why Couples Travel for IVF

November 9, 2015  By

For many women—and men—around the world, infertility is a dire burden that comes with intense social stigma and community ostracism. It can lead to marital duress, divorce, and abandonment. No wonder, then, that many infertile couples are willing to undertake extensive reproductive travel to have kids.

In the twenty-first century, infertile women and men who cross national and international borders in pursuit of conception through IVF are often called “reproductive tourists.” It is fair to claim that reproductive tourism is as old as IVF itself. For example, Lesley Brown, the world’s first test-tube mother, would be considered a reproductive tourist by today’s standards. She and her husband John traveled across southern England (from Bristol to Cambridge) to meet the inventors of IVF, Cambridge University professor Robert G. Edwards and his physician partner, Dr. Patrick Steptoe. The world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was delivered on July 25, 1978, in a distant third location (Oldham Hospital, Lancashire) to avoid media scrutiny and moral condemnation. Within weeks of Louise’s birth, long-term infertile couples were traveling from all over Europe to Bourn Hall, Cambridge, the world’s first IVF clinic, to obtain the new technology of conception.

Since then, political and legal scholars have been at pains to describe the phenomenon, about which there is still relatively little known. The existence of cosmopolitan clinics such as Dubai’s Conceive that attract people from around the world suggests that the scale may be surprising. The largest empirical study to date—sponsored by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology Taskforce on Cross Border Reproductive Care—involved 46 IVF clinics in six destination countries in Europe, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland. Based on the analysis of 1,230 completed patient questionnaires, the study estimated that there was a minimum of 24,000–30,000 cross-border IVF cycles in Europe each year, involving 11,000–14,000 patients. The main reason for travel, according to the patients who responded to the survey, was “unfriendly” legislation in their home countries—such as the prohibition of certain techniques (egg donation, for example) or inaccessibility of the techniques because of patient characteristics (such as age, sexual orientation, or marital status).

Daniele Fabbricatore, 39, from Britain, kisses his week-old-baby girl Gabriella, inside a hotel room in Anand town, south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, August 26, 2013.

Daniele Fabbricatore, 39, from Britain, kisses his week-old-baby girl Gabriella, inside a hotel room in Anand town, south of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, August 26, 2013.

Only one attempt has been made to assess the extent of reprotravel on a global level. As part of an international process of data collection for the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies, clinics in 11 countries were surveyed about “out going” treatment cycles. The data showed that patients from these countries had undertaken approximately 5,000 cross-border IVF cycles in more than 25 other nations. Collectively, the 15 recipient country clinics that reported data estimated that 7,000 couples traveled from nearly 40 countries to receive IVF. However, without any kind of global registry of IVF clinics or minimal international monitoring of cross-border IVF travel, data will remain incomplete.

For now, the best scholars can do is look to a number of sites that have clearly emerged as reprohubs offering specialized IVF services. The first is Belgium, known for its early 1990s invention of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a variant of IVF designed to overcome male infertility. More generally, Belgium is regarded as one of the most liberal European destinations, with a wide range of assisted reproduction services. Spain has recently cornered the market on egg donation, purportedly because Spanish women are the most altruistic in the world, although the real reason remains unclear.

Not all reprohubs are in Europe. One study from Latin America shows thriving reprotravel sectors in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. Furthermore, Latin America has been at the forefront in the development of two regional IVF clinic registries, which are able to track the movement of patients across the region.

India and Thailand likewise deserve special mention, because the governments of these nations are encouraging the growth of a reprotravel industry. India is perhaps the most widely known global reprohub, with more than 500 registered IVF clinics and many centers specializing in commercial gestational surrogacy. India has become renowned (or notorious, depending on one’s vantage point) as the global hub for transplant and surrogacy tourism, both of which rely on a steady supply of poor Indian surrogate mothers. The Indian government has promoted commercial gestational surrogacy as a new kind of niche market for the country, with profits projected to reach $6 billion in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Thailand, which has marketed itself as the world’s premier medical tourism hub, is also developing a niche in the reproductive market. There, reprotravelers can now access IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which can be used for the purposes of sex selection.

Those who cannot afford to wait in line—for example, women who are aging out of their fertility—may seek services abroad, where immediate access to medical services is virtually guaranteed.In both India and Thailand, reprotravelers can stay in five-star hotels, which may be adjacent to “five-star hospitals” with their own internal IVF units. Morning clinic visits may be followed by afternoon pampering in a resort’s spa, with massages, gourmet food, and villas on the beach. Even with the international travel, the costs are much lower, and the success rates may not be so different from those found at home.


Reproductive medicine has become embedded in a much larger industry of medical tourism, which has ballooned over the past decade. For example, in 2003, approximately 50,000 medical travelers left the United Kingdom, mostly to bypass long waiting lists in the NHS. In 2007, approximately 750,000 Americans—most of them belonging to the group of 46.6 million uninsured people—left the country for medical purposes. By 2010, the total number of medical travelers was estimated to be six million worldwide, with approximately a million heading to India, and another 1.2 million to Thailand. As of 2008, the total worldwide medical tourism market was estimated to be worth $60 billion; by 2020, the figure is expected to reach $100 billion.

The first driver has been the privatization of health care. Vigorously endorsed by the World Bank since 1993, privatization has reduced states’ commitment to health care, leaving many people uninsured or underinsured, with little if any access to health-care services. Those who have been pushed out of home-country care may travel abroad to seek more affordable, accessible services elsewhere. The second reason is uneven access in public health-care systems. Many Western European nations, as well as Canada and Australia, subsidize health care for their citizens. However, elective procedures such as IVF may be rationed or unavailable on a regular basis. Those who cannot afford to wait in line—for example, women who are aging out of their fertility—may seek services abroad, where immediate access to medical services is virtually guaranteed.

The third reason is that certain procedures may be unavailable or illegal in some countries. For example, IVF, gamete donation, and gestational surrogacy are restricted in many countries. So are other medical procedures, such as stem-cell therapy, which is still considered experimental in the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or spinal-cord injuries. Patients suffering from these afflictions may head to India or China, though, which have become global hubs for stem-cell therapy. Fourth, biomedical technology has rapidly diffused, making medical care more uniform and more available in a greater number of global locations. Whereas the thought of traveling to India or China for medical treatment might have seemed preposterous to a previous generation of Western patients, twenty-first-century biomedicalization has ensured higher standards of medical care and technical excellence in many of the countries now developing medical tourism industries. Finally, globalization itself—the general movement of technology, people, finance, media, and ideas—has made the thought of medical travel seem more reasonable to larger numbers of people.

This new medical tourism is often characterized as “reverse traffic.” That is, in an earlier day, medical care involved the travel of wealthy elites from resource-poor countries to the medically developed countries of the West. However, in the contemporary era, the reverse is now true: Westerners are heading to developing countries, where medical care has improved and can be purchased at bargain-basement prices. Take India, for example, the poster child for the new reverse traffic, second only to Thailand in the number of medical travelers it attracts each year. Indian hospitals treated 450,000 foreign patients in 2007, when the country’s medical tourism market was estimated to be worth $310 million. By 2012, that market had increased almost sevenfold to $2 billion, with an estimated annual growth rate of 30 percent. India has established an Indian Medical Travel Association to secure the country’s position as the world’s leading global health-care destination. Since 2006 the government has issued special M (for “medical”) visas, as well as MX visas for accompanying spouses. And since 2009 the Indian Ministry of Tourism has worked to promote the accreditation of Indian hospitals through the Joint Commission International, an international accrediting organization, as well as India’s National Accreditation Board for Hospitals. Able to boast of its accredited hospitals and English-speaking physicians (who have often trained in the United Kingdom or the United States), India delivers medicine at a fraction of what it would cost in the United States—for example, $10,000 versus $200,000 for heart valve replacement surgery, and $30,000 versus $100,000 for commercial gestational surrogacy.

However, medical tourism in India has come at some cost to the local population. New Delhi is now estimated to spend nearly $50 billion on the private health-care sector, including on medical tourism, but only $10 billion on public health-care expenditures overall. Since neoliberal economic reforms began in the early 1990s, the Indian public health-care system has sustained severe cuts, as have other forms of social-sector spending. As the health activist Amrita Sengupta has noted, “the dominance of the private sector not only denies access for poorer sectors of society but also skews the balance toward urban, tertiary-level health services with profitability overriding equity and rationality.” Indeed, India’s public-health statistics are appalling. For example, only 17.3 percent of Indian women have had any contact with a health worker, and rates of maternal mortality remain extraordinarily high. In other words, neoliberal reforms in India have led to a two-tiered health-care system: a failed public health sector for the poor, and a private sector with “world-class facilities built to cater to the elite—both Indian and foreign.”

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In the world of IVF, India’s self-promotion as a global medical tourism hub for foreign and Indian elites, including well-to-do Indians returning from the diaspora, has had some interesting and paradoxical side effects. For example, infertile Indian couples, especially in the middle class, may feel effectively barred from, or forced out of, the local IVF sector. As a result, hundreds if not thousands of infertile Indians fly to the nearby Emirates each year seeking assisted reproduction services. Furthermore, local Emiratis—who are often stereotyped as the kind of global elites who would travel to places like India to exploit the organs and wombs of the poor—may, in fact, be loath to do so. Emiratis, who are Sunni Muslims, are usually very concerned about following religious mandates that disallow any form of third-party reproductive assistance.

The forms and locales of IVF vary around the world, though the desires of those who seek its benefits do not. These couples cannot find safe, affordable, legal, and effective IVF services in their home countries, and their stories offer a window into the world of infertility—a world that is replete with pain, fear, danger, frustration, and financial burden. These hardships dispel any notion that traveling for IVF treatment is reproductive tourism. The magnitude of reprotravel reflects the failure of countries to meet their citizens’ reproductive needs, which suggests the necessity of creating new forms of activism that advocate for developing alternate pathways to parenthood, reducing preventable forms of infertility, supporting the infertile, and making safe and low-cost IVF available worldwide.

This essay is adapted from Cosmopolitan Conceptions. Published by Duke University Press, 2015.

Issue Advisory – A Look Ahead: Important Upcoming Supreme Court Cases

By Hannah Brown, NOW Government Relations/Public Policy Intern October 8, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a number of high profile cases this term – cases that cover a broad swath of American life, from access to reproductive health care, to affirmative action, public sector unions, voting rights, and (again) contraceptive insurance coverage exceptions under of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They are nearly all products of conservative legal advocacy organizations that have been strategically selected and guided to the Supreme Court as part a larger right wing agenda to erode workers’ rights, make access to abortion care difficult, restrict citizens’ access to the courts by limiting class action law suits, reduce access to higher education for students of color, and enhance conservative Republican candidates’ electoral chances by changing the way that election districts are formed.

Because of the conservative majority on the Roberts’ Court, prospects for what NOW and our allies would find as good outcomes are dim. It could well be that burdensome limitations on abortion access will be upheld; affirmative action in university admissions will be banned; political representation of areas with large Hispanic communities will be undermined; public sector unions could be gutted; and some women’s access to affordable contraception could become more complicated. In one year. Deep breaths, and here we go.

The Future of TRAP Laws: Texas and Mississippi

Since 2011, hundreds of TRAP (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) laws have been adopted in 44 states – all going beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety, .These laws, part of a right-wing, anti-choice strategy to severely limit access to abortion, unfortunately, have been very effective. Some have forced women’s health clinics to close, particularly in southern states like Texas and Mississippi. Bit by bit they are chipping away at women’s access to a vital component of modern women’s healthcare.

Two types of TRAP laws — those that require abortion providers’ facilities to meet the regulations for an ambulatory surgical center and those that require the facility to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — have become an especially popular tactic and resulted in widespread clinic closures across many states.

Two potentially upcoming Supreme Court cases (they have both petitioned for the Court to hear their cases, but cert has not yet been granted in either case) challenge such TRAP laws. Both involve a requirement that the abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and the Texas case also involves a requirement that the facility meet building specifications for ambulatory surgical centers. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose these requirements.

The first, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, regards Texas’ stringent anti-abortion bill, HB 2, which passed in 2013 and requires all abortion clinics to meet the standards for an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital (especially problematic as hospitals can refuse on moral or ethical, not legal, grounds). About half of the state’s 44 pre-HB 2 clinics have closed down as a result of the law; only ten would remain if those last two provisions were fully enforced. Texas is a big state — if the law were fully enacted, many women in Texas would be hundreds of miles from the nearest abortion provider. Of course, that is exactly what conservative, anti-abortion rights lawmakers want.

The second case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges one of Mississippi’s TRAP laws, an admitting privileges requirement which was aimed at shutting down the only abortion provider in the entire state.

These cases will likely hinge on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote (his record on abortion rights is shaky) and the Court’s possible application an element of a decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The justices ruled in Casey that a law which restricts abortion access is unconstitutional if it imposes an “undue burden.” Undue burden is defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

According to ACOG, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, with less than 0.5% of abortions involving major complications. Yet, in many states, it has been increasingly and unnecessarily regulated. Procedures that are also low-risk – like colonoscopies — have not been similarly scrutinized or restricted. Abortion rights opponents are not trying to improve the quality of women’s healthcare; this is all part of the ongoing campaign to regulate abortion into oblivion. More information is at

In the Wake of Hobby Lobby: More Barriers to Birth Control Access

Another case, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, may be another step in fleshing out exceptions and “accommodations” to the contraceptive coverage mandates in the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby determined that for-profit corporations, if they are “closely held” by owners who have sincere religious objections to certain kinds of medical care (even if those objections are scientifically bogus), may choose to opt out of directly paying for it and instead make their objections known to HHS, which then modifies their insurance contracts so their insurers cover the objected-to items.

Little Sisters (an order of nuns), however, object even to the act of signing off on their religious objection. They argue that doing so makes them complicit in sin. It seems that the Sisters, and other organizations like them, are willing to go to what is an extreme and some would say “irrational” length to avoid the very idea of contraception. Perhaps they are not aware that the vast majority of Catholic women of child-bear age use or have used contraception.

Little Sisters along with dozens of other religious non-profits were recruited by right wing legal advocacy groups – and some say that the Catholic bishops had a heavy hand in this – bring a lawsuit against the ACA’s contraceptive coverage insurance mandate. These actions tie in with a related campaign of claiming objections based on religious beliefs to certain laws and policies under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Read more about this atHobby Lobby Strikes Again as Christians Seek Exemptions from Birth Control and Marriage Laws,

The Little Sisters case will determine whether requiring an organization to state their religious objection to a form of medical care (with the knowledge that this will allow for other arrangements for employees to obtain the care) poses a “substantial burden” on their faith. Lower courts have held that it does not. If the Supreme Court upholds the 10th Circuit Court’s decision, employers will have to sign off on their objections and, however indirectly, provide contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees.

Affirmative Action: Will It Last?

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that, while universities cannot use a quota system to ensure racial diversity in their student bodies, they may still consider race, among other factors, as part of a holistic admissions approach. Now that ruling may be in danger as Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin returns to the Supreme Court. While race is the focus of this and other lawsuits, it should be noted that affirmative action initiatives have also significantly benefitted women applicants to universities and professional schools.

The University of Texas adapted to Grutter primarily by adopting a “top ten” admissions policy, whereby any Texas student in the top ten percent of their graduating class may be offered admission to the University. While this policy has done wonders to increase racial diversity at UT Austin, other applicants — those from out of state or those, like Ms. Fisher, who were not in the top ten percent of their graduating class — are admitted through a more traditional, holistic admissions policy, which does take race into account.

In 2013, a lower court ruled against the plaintiff, a young woman who was denied admittance to UT Austin and filed a lawsuit against the university, citing its affirmative action admission policy as the cause for her rejection. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, which remanded it back to the 5th Circuit Court because it had not, in the Supreme Court’s opinion, used strict enough scrutiny when deciding the case (strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial scrutiny, is to be used when examining any policy that distinguishes individuals based on race). The lower court again ruled in favor of UT’s admissions policy, the case was appealed again, and this term the Supreme Court will finally hear the case.

Said Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham, in the lower court’s majority opinion, “we are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience.”

As with so many other cases, the deciding vote will likely be Justice Kennedy’s. He has never voted to uphold affirmative action. Justice Kagan will again recuse herself, as she did in 2013, because she worked on the case as Solicitor General before her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Should the Court choose to overturn the 5th Circuit Court’s decision, it just may be the end of affirmative action as we know it. The case will be argued on Oct. 26. More information on this case, The Mystery of Fisher II,

Consumer Protection and Class-Action Lawsuits

Class-action lawsuits, at one time an effective means for ending systemic patterns of discrimination or exploitation, are under fire. The Supreme Court, in recent years, has increasingly refused to review class-action lawsuits and Republicans in Congress have attempted to pass legislation limiting conditions under which such lawsuits can proceed. This term, the Court may approve of a limitation that would stymie class-action lawsuits by further empowering corporate interests.

Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez will address a practice wherein defendants in a class-action suit may redress the grievances of a plaintiff before a class claim is certified (thus effectively ending the suit); the Court will decide whether the case then becomes moot or whether it must proceed as other injured parties were meant to be represented. Essentially the outcome of Campbell will either allow defendants in class-action lawsuits (generally corporations) to head off a suit by simply paying damages to the principal plaintiff or it will limit such activity, as it occurs at the expense of all those who would have been represented had the case gone forward. The Court will hear arguments for this case on October 14th.

In Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, the Supreme Court will revisit class-certification standards. The case will decide whether, in a class-action lawsuit, damages may be awarded based on statistics that assume all class members are identical to an average observed in a sample or whether damages must be determined on an individual basis for each and every class member; it will also determine whether a class action suit may be certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act when many members of the class suffered no injury and are not legally entitled to damages at all. Should the Court rule in favor of Tyson, the ability of individuals to collectively take action against large entities will again be curbed. The case will be argued on November 10th.

One Person, One Vote?

In a surprising turn of events, Conservatives are actually asking the Supreme Court to limit states’ rights, specifically their right to draw voting districts in whichever manner they choose. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, will determine who exactly deserves equal protection under the law in the context of voting — eligible voters, or the people who will be represented by elected officials, regardless of voting eligibility (children, non-citizens, felons).

Conservatives are pushing for an end to raw population being used to determine districts in favor of just voting population. This would result in many districts — especially those that are urban, poor, or mostly nonwhite — to effectively lose their ability to elect a candidate that represents the broader community. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could ultimately favor rural areas since a higher proportion of rural residents vote and result in more Republican-leaning districts.

Though partisan politics may carry the day, as they sometimes do in the Court, legally this case will hinge on precedent (which doesn’t explicitly tackle this issue) and justices’ readings of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment (whose right to equal representation is greater: eligible voters or everyone being represented?). A date for oral argument has not been set.

The Uncertain Future of Public-Sector Unions

The future of public sector employees’ ability to benefit from union intercession on their behalf may hinge on the Supreme Court’s decision in an upcoming case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. When women join unions, or otherwise enjoy union protection on their behalf, they have better job security, higher wages, and more benefits. This particular case, moreover, is particularly relevant to women’s lives as women comprise the vast majority of employees in the education field.

The Center for Individual Rights is behind Friedrichs and it asks the Court to overrule a 1977 case that affirms as constitutional the collection of union fees (not dues) in the public sector from all employees, even from non-members – if a majority has chosen union representation. It is believed that wealthy right-wing political interests, like the Koch brothers, have funded this and other cases that are coming before the Supreme Court. If California Teachers Association loses, many fear that this may be the death knell for the large public sector unions. Additionally, some say that this will result in a serious erosion of progressives’ organizing and effectiveness.

Currently, when a majority of workers at a job site or in a particular occupational sector vote to form a union, that union is required by law to represent everyone in the workplace regardless of their membership status. Employees who do not belong to a union may still be required to pay “agency or fair share fees” for the cost of their representation. As all public employees enjoy the benefits that the union negotiates, all employees must contribute to the union.

The Court already decided in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) that it is constitutional for unions to collect agency “fair share” fees from employees who choose not to join the union but whom the union is required to represent. Agency fees may not be used for politics or supporting political candidates — workers may be required to contribute to the union that represents them, but they cannot be compelled to monetarily support a policy or politician. But in 2012 case, Knox v. SEIU the Supreme Court went out of its way to paint the Abood ruling as an “anomaly” (even though that precedent has followed, cited and relied upon hundreds of times) and suggested that the Abood ruling approaches (if not crosses), the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate.”

(Note: the First Amendment claim is being used to knock down other precedents and policies, such as most recently in McCullen v. Coakley buffer zone case.)

The Court was able to take “potshots” at Abood in the case of Harris v. Quinn (brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation) when the Supreme Court struck down an Illinois statute (similar to ones in nine other states) that gave a million home health care providers better pay and the ability to address common workplace concerns. A particularly cruel ruling, it should be said.

Friedrichs is the case that may allow the Court to declare fair-share fees as unconstitutional, erasing 40 years of precedent. If the Court overturns Abood by ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, many protections that public employees receive will vanish. The case has not yet been scheduled for argument. It is not at all clear how the case will proceed. Alito, along with most of the conservative side of the court, seems poised to rule against the unions. Scalia, usually a staunch conservative, has previously written about the problem of free-riders in a system where unions are compelled to represent nonmembers in such a way that his decision is not so easily foreseen, as it normally is. Kennedy is a swing voter; the liberal side of the court will likely vote to uphold union privileges.

Further Reading about the Supreme Court:

The Right Sees 2016 as a Chance to Take Over the Supreme Court, Reverse Marriage Equality,

Judgement Day: 2016,

The 2014 quest to get single women to the polls


July 17, 2014

It has been nearly a month since the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision, yet the issue has remained at the top of the political news now for weeks — a key facet in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

To explain that, look no further than the research by the Voter Participation Center into the voting trends for single women in midterm elections. Though single women make up a growing share of the electorate — nearly 4.2 million became eligible to cast ballots since 2008 — they turn out in far lower numbers in midterm elections than presidential contests.

The battle for female voters in Montana
Related video: Facing attacks in the Montana Senate race on his record on abortion, Republican Steve Daines aired his own female-focused ad touting his support for the Violence Against Women Act.

The dropoff in their share of the electorate between 2008 and 2010 was significant. In 2010, some 22 million fewer unmarried women voted than in 2008, according to a study by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners; 10 million fewer married women voted.

Facing the very real possibility of losing the Senate, Democratic operatives are doing everything they can to reverse that trend between now and November. That is why voters in Colorado, Montana and Michigan have seen a flurry of ads focused on abortion and contraceptive coverage from the campaigns and outside groups like the Senate Majority PAC, which is focused on maintaining Democrats’ control of the Senate.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are trying to keep their Republican opponents on defense about the Hobby Lobby decision, which gave some for-profit corporations the right to claim a religious exemption to the new healthcare law’s requirement of contraception coverage.

In some cases Republicans have aggressively countered the attacks on their records on women’s issues, producing their own female-focused ads.

Montana Sen. John Walsh highlights abortion in campaign ads
Related video: Vulnerable Democratic senators like Montana’s John Walsh have highlighted their opponent’s antiabortion stances to appeal to single women in the 2014 election.

In Colorado, for example, two of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s first three ads centered on his opponent’s opposition to abortion and past support for a Colorado initiative that would have changed the state’s constitution to protect a person’s rights from the point of conception. Gardner countered with his own ad explaining why he changed his mind on the Colorado personhood initiative (he was not aware, he said, that the legislation could have restricted women’s access to birth control).

In Montana, U.S. Sen. John Walsh aired an ad featuring an activist who said she was raped at 14 and goes on to slam Walsh’s rival, Republican Steve Daines, for supporting legislation that would define life as beginning at conception. In the same week, Daines aired his own ad in which a female supporter highlighted what she described as a courageous vote for the Violence Against Women Act at a time when others Republicans opposed it.

This week, Democrats kept contraceptive coverage and the Hobby Lobby decision in the news with a vote on a Udall bill that would restore the legal guarantee that women could get contraceptive coverage through their employer-based insurance plans, regardless of the Hobby Lobby decision. Democrats did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster and allow consideration of the bill this week. But many of the vulnerable Democrats who co-sponsored the bill with Udall dispatched press releases decrying the vote.

Expect more parliamentary maneuvers along those lines this fall to keep the issue alive through November.

Though polls are fluid, Democrats are already showing a strong advantage among women in some key states at this point in the cycle. A new NBC/Marist poll this week shows that Udall is leading Gardner by 12 points among women. In Michigan, Rep. Gary Peters is maintaining a 13-point lead among women over his female opponent, Republican Terri Lynn Land. In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen continues to hold a strong lead among women over her Republican rival, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending $60 million on their Bannock Street Project, aimed at raising turnout among women, Latino and African American voters to what might be seen in a presidential election year.

Though the polls look good for Democrats among women, they are still facing huge hurdles in contested states across the country. The question is whether they will be able to get enough women to the polls this fall to maintain their Senate majority.

Twitter: @MaeveReston
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