Headline of the Week: Private Insurance to FULLY Cover Birth Control, Well-Woman Doctors Visits, and More!

By Brooke

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced their new guidelines for women’s health care coverage. There will be many changes, the most notable being full coverage of birth control pills under all private insurance plans.

As of August 1st, 2012, private insurance companies must cover preventative services for women without co-pay. According to White House advisor Stephanie Cutter, “We know that half of women, according to studies, forego or delay preventive care because they can’t afford it and under the affordable care act that all changes.” Hopefully this situation will change for the better as of August 2012.

Other services that will be covered include diabetes screenings, well-woman doctor’s visits, domestic violence screenings and the morning-after pill.

This decision comes in the wake of a well-publicized, sexist rant from commentator Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly spoke out against access to no-cost birth control, saying that “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex, and they’re not going to use birth control anyway.” Luckily, common sense overcame such negative and derogatory rhetoric.

These new guidelines are a big step toward accessible healthcare for all women in the US. We join NARAL Pro-Choice America in applauding the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for looking past stereotypes and misinformation about contraception and making improvement of women’s healthcare a top priority.

As Ms. Cutter noted, “Today is about keeping women healthy.”

Freedom doesn’t come free…

By Leigh

Last week, we saw that, according to a George Mason University Mercatus Center study entitled, “Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom,” Virginia is the ninth overall freest state in the nation. Furthermore, it is the fifth in economic freedom and 22nd in personal freedom.

In the article, “Virginia ranked 9th in overall freedom,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch states that, “policies were weighted on how much they matter to those affected, and how many people they affect.” But how did the study judge who was affected? According to Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, the list of “those affected” did not encompass all Virginians. Willis says, “freedom is only meaningful if it applies equally to all, and that’s where Virginia falls short.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia believes there are still many Virginians, especially Virginia women, who are continually experiencing restricted freedom. Governor McDonnell, Lt. Governor Bolling, Attorney General Cuccinelli, and a majority of state legislators are completely anti-choice. Having a choice equates to having freedom; therefore, it makes sense that Virginia is only 22nd in personal freedom. Governor McDonnell’s administration and their legislative allies have successfully passed numerous laws that prohibit a women’s freedom to full healthcare access.

In the 2010 legislative session, Virginia prohibited public funding for abortion for those women who are eligible for state medical assistance, except if the woman’s life is in danger or in the case of rape or incest. The 2011 session also provided an abundance of proposed anti-choice legislation. Two bills would have limited private insurance plans from providing abortion coverage (with the governor adding a last-minute amendment banning such coverage). Three separate bills would have given constitutional rights to a fetus at all stages of development. Additionally, one proposed bill would have meddled in the doctor-patient relationship by requiring that a pregnant female receive an ultrasound before she has an abortion.

Anti-choice lawmakers also singled out women’s healthcare for new restrictions.

On July 1st, a bill passed through political maneuvering officially became law. This Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law states that if a facility performs more than five first-trimester abortions a month it is now considered a hospital. Such regulations are politically-motivated and aim to restrict the freedom of women to comprehensive, reproductive health care.

An opinion piece in The Daily Progress entitled, “Freedom is in the eye of the beholder,” further discussed Virginia’s ranking and highlighted a specific quote from the authors of the study: “In our [the authors of the study] view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.”

Out-of-touch Virginia elected officials continue to infringe on a woman’s right to choose complete, affordable healthcare. Thus, Virginia’s high ranking once again does not extend to Virginia women.

Though people and elected officials may have different ideals about what constitutes freedom, there is no denying that an increase in government regulation reduces an individual’s liberty.

With anti-choice politicians, the freedom of Virginia women is constantly in jeopardy.

Senator Edward Houck

Welcome back to our new, regular blog series, Virginia Political Pro(choice)files. In this segment, we highlight Virginia’s state politicians who support and fight for women’s reproductive rights while also drawing attention to politicians who are working to undermine the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion. To see how all General Assembly members stacked up in 2011, check out our Legislative Scorecard!

Political Pro(Choice)files: Edward Houck

By Brooke

As a politician with more than 25 years in office and with a solid pro-choice voting record, Senator Edward (Edd) Houck is a man who has faced numerous attacks for his commitment to reproductive rights and women’s health.

In February of this year, extremists opposed to a woman’s complete healthcare access even went so far as to accuse Senator Houck of “furthering the sex-slave industry” by a radical anti-choice blog because of his support for Planned Parenthood (which just so happens to provide healthcare and family planning services, often to people who could not afford them otherwise). While the subject of abortion is often inflammatory, Senator Houck has gotten more flack for his standing up for women’s health than many other pro-choiceVirginia legislators due to his position as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Health. With this position, Senator Houck votes on virtually every choice-related bill that is introduced into the state Senate.

In the 2011 session, an admittedly tough year for pro-choice advocates, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia gave Senator Houck a score of 100 percent for his perfect record of supporting choice. Senator Houck plays a pivotal role in protectingVirginia’s women by leading the Education and Health Committee to defeat restrictive, politically-motivated and dangerous anti-choice bills before they can be taken to a vote by the full Senate.

In 2010, when a bill meant to limit state funding of abortions in facilities receiving state funding was introduced to the Senate, Houck made it clear that he believed it was dangerous to reproductive health. In the midst of the debate, Houck responded to those pushing for passage: “When you try to tease out what [this bill] means, you get to UVA medical system, and that might mean a woman who comes in with medical condition and is pregnant, you would not be able to do an abortion in that regard, possibly putting her at jeopardy.” It is this kind of commitment to women’s health that makes Edd Houck a consistent, committed champion forVirginia women. He looks past misleading arguments made by anti-choice legislators and attempts to protect women’s health.

In the 2011 session, after two Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to pass legislation requiring any facility performing more than five first-trimester abortions per month to live up to the same regulations as hospitals, Houck spoke out publically,  calling it a “terrible tragedy.”

Senator Houck remains a dedicated and tireless champion for women’s continued access to vital healthcare inVirginia.

It is important that we maintain such pro-choice champions in our General Assembly this November, to continue to protect reproductive choice in the Commonwealth.

For more voter information, check out the Virginia State Board of Elections website. Regardless of your residence, all Virginia voters should remember that the statewide general election will be held on November 8th.

Summer Intern Series Part 2: Sex & Politics in the Capital City

By Brooke

This summer, Advocates for Youth, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, Choice USA and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS), along with partner organizations are holding a series of lunchtime talks for DC-area interns working for organizations with similar goals.

In yesterday’s third segment of Sex & Politics in theCapitalCity, the topic was “Understanding the Attacks on Federally Funded Programs: Discussion on Title X, Medicaid and the Role of Organizations.”

A principal theme of this week’s talk was that there is a national war occurring against women and, more specifically, minority women. The luncheon was led by a panel with representatives from the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, the National Health Law Program, and the DC Abortion Fund.

A lot of our discussion centered on the topic of reproductive healthcare for poverty-stricken minority groups. There was a clear focus on the impact that funding cuts to Title X and Medicaid specifically will have on women’s reproductive health and the perpetuation of poverty amongst minorities.

Because 60 percent of people receiving Medicaid are minorities, these funding cuts are affecting minorities the most. Movements to defund Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers are also affecting minority women disproportionately because minority women are more likely to use a publically funded facility.

A great point made about these funding cuts to healthcare services is that they have been specifically focused on reproductive healthcare, creating segregation between general healthcare and reproductive healthcare. The problem? Reproductive healthcare is healthcare!

What I really took away from this presentation was how much influence politicians have on our rights. If this worries you too, help us support pro-choice candidates who have women’s reproductive rights in mind.

Couple-Focused Services in Publicly Funded Family Planning Clinics

By Leigh

The Guttmacher Institute recently released a study entitled, “Couple-Focused Services in Publicly Funded Family Planning Clinics: Identifying the Need, 2009.” In sifting through the sixty-nine page report, I learned it essentially states that both males and females are interested in receiving counseling on family planning and birth control, but that clinic administrators often underestimate this desire for joint counseling.

According to the report, some people believe a joint discussion on family planning will reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and alleviate the issue of misuse of contraception.

While women want services for couples, family planning administrators deal with limited funds, often underestimating couples’ desire for joint counseling.  Men would go to joint counseling if they could fit it in their schedule but definitely want some form of birth control.

I read the information without much thought or surprise, except for one bit, when I finally connected with the data.

I remember when my friends and I were younger and first talking to our parents about the birds and the bees. A common theme amongst my friends was that if you giggled at the condom aisle, you probably weren’t mature enough to have sex. The other agreed-upon truth was that if you couldn’t talk to your partner about sex, then you shouldn’t be sleeping with them in the first place. For me, this survey echoed some of these ideas – if you can’t discuss family planning, birth control, or your health with your partner, why are you engaging in sexual acts with them?

I was not surprised that two-thirds of adult female clients wished to talk to their male partner about “planning to have a baby, choosing and using birth control, and talking about birth control.”  But I was a little concerned that 19 percent of men felt uncomfortable at a family planning clinic and six percent even said they wouldn’t go with their partner. I couldn’t help but wonder, if a man can’t go to a clinic for a discussion, how is he going to survive the delivery room? Luckily, 83 percent of men did say they were willing to go with their female partner and 57 percent wanted to know more about preventing pregnancy.

Women’s health isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a general health issue. Reproductive rights and health is a conversation we must all be willing to have. Everyone deserves to know where a partner stands on birth control and protection against sexually transmitted infections. Honest conversation, education and preparedness can help reduce the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies.

So what do you think? Would you and your partner want the option to receive family planning services and counseling together?

Reproductive Rights in the News: Week of June 6

By Brooke

Here are some quick highlights from reproductive rights in the news this week:

http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/economy-dominates-gathering-of-social-conservatives-20110604

This post in the National Journal highlights the speakers at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, DC last weekend. As expected, many conservative politicians spoke out on social issues, attempting to garner support from the religious right. Politicians Michele Bachmann (check out her call to defund Planned Parenthood around the 1:23 mark), R-Minn., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, both emphasized the importance of their own views against abortion, and former Ambassador to China, John Huntsman, went so far as using the story his daughter’s adoption to rally the audience around his anti-choice views stating, “There is something more essential than politics and that is life, specifically a child’s life.” This emphasis on social issues has become typical of today’s Republican Party and the Faith and Freedom Conference proved to be the perfect venue for broadcasting anti-choice views.

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https://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2011/06/movement-treat-fetuses-people-gains-ground

An article from the Associated Press this week recognized the growing trend in reproductive rights politics to include fetuses under the legal definition of personhood in state constitutions. Under this new definition, states could pave the way for the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade. Although such legislative movements go against federal law, anti-choice supporters believe the resulting lawsuits have the potential to spark change that could significantly obstruct women’s reproductive freedom. On Monday, a similar bill was rejected in Maine, although it specified that the definition would only change in the event of an assault perpetrated against a pregnant woman. Pro-choice advocates were opposed to this bill as Maine’s constitution already intensifies punishments for assaults against pregnant women and this type of bill would be a catalyst for a law that would consider a fetus to be under the definition of personhood in any situation.

Bills to grant such “personhood” rights failed in the 2011 Virginia General Assembly.

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http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2011/jun/04/TDOPIN01-letters-to-the-editor-ar-1084324/

In a letter to the editor from the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week, Hopewell resident Mary K. Martin took on the subject (also addressed here) of how new, national healthcare legislation has the potential to hurt women and small businesses. Martin worries that businesses in Virginia will be hit especially hard by this bill, either having to pay a large fee for coverage that includes abortion (even in cases where the life of the mother is threatened) or waste time shopping around for a different plan that could be much more expensive. Martin calls this bill part of a “narrow social agenda that hurts women and penalizes small businesses.”

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http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_PLANNED_PARENTHOOD_INDIANA?SITE=VARIT&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Another issue grabbing headlines this week has been the controversy occurring between the state of Indiana and federal Medicaid offices. This is due to the new state law eliminating some of Planned Parenthood’s public funding. The issue has been taken to court and U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is expected to make a ruling by the end of the month. If the new law is upheld, seven of Indiana’s 28 Planned Parenthood health centers could close. The law specifically stops Medicaid from covering abortions and, while the state is arguing that this should not inhibit Planned Parenthood’s other services, it would be difficult to prevent incidental funding overlap for supplies and preparations that are used for abortions as well as other Planned Parenthood services. Representatives from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU believe that this law must be repealed in order to protect Planned Parenthood on both a national and statewide level.

Lobby Day December 2

With more than 50 activists from Virginia, and at least another 1,200 from around the country, Pro-Choiceers made a huge impact yesterday on Capital Hill, rallying and lobbying our elected officials to ensure that the Senate’s version of a Healthcare Reform bill does not include any type of abortion coverage ban (aka anything similar to the Stupak-Pitts amendment introduced and passed in the House), and that the final Healthcare Reform Bill doesn’t either. While the status quo, as codified by the Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal dollars from funding abortions, the Stupak amendment prohibits any private insurance provider participating in the exchange from covering abortion services as well. This means women’s own private plans, paid for by private money, don’t cover reproductive health care services, and will detrimentally affect all women. We must act now to stop it!

Please take five minutes to call your elected representative and tell them you don’t want any Abortion Coverage Bans in the Healthcare Reform Bill! We were told yesterday that all of their offices are keeping tallies so your phone call is especially important!

Senator Webb:(202)-224-4024
Senator Warner: (202) 224 2023
Representative Rick Boucher: (202)-225-3861
Representative Tom Perriello:(202) 225-4711
Representative Rob Wittman: 202-225-4261
Representative Glenn Nye: 202-225-4215
Representative Bobby Scott: 202-225-8351
Representative J. Randy Forbes: 202-225-6365
Representative Bob Goodlatte: 202-225-5431
Representative Eric Cantor: 202-225-2815
Representative Jim Moran: 202-225-4376
Representative Frank R. Wolf: 202-225-5136
Representative Gerald E. (Gerry) Connolly: 202-225-1492

Nancy Keenan on the Stupak Ammendment

Nancy Keenan was on MSNBC’s “Hardball” last night to discuss the Stupak Amendment. In case you missed it, we will be posting a video of her segment shortly.

In the meantime, we wanted to share this link to Nancy’s interview on “Talk of the Nation,” a nationally syndicated NPR program. She discusses the implications of the Stupak Amendment and the importance of letting the Senate know that we want them to stand strong against similar attacks on choice in the Senate.

“The Stupak amendment, it is an abortion ban. That means that women in this country cannot buy health care insurance that would cover abortion care with their own money – with their own money.”

And the first thing that we’re doing right now, weve turned our attention entirely to the United States Senate. We are going to make sure and are already contacting Senator Reid to say that language is not acceptable and it can’t be in the bill. We then will be contacting everyone of those senators on that side of the equation and making sure they understand that this goes beyond the status quo, that this goes beyond Hyde. And that its not acceptable and we expect them to stand with us and stand with women in this country to not lose ground under the health care reform bill.

Nancy’s part starts at about 12 minutes, 40 seconds and goes to the end.

In addition, please see the following story from Politico that references efforts to keep the Stupak-Pitts language out of the Senate bill.