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The standards could have a strong influence on textbook content across the United States.

Advocates hope the Texas State Board of Education will not only pass medically accurate sex ed for the state’s public school students but also incorporate sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion care in the curriculum.
Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Getty Images

For the first time in more than two decades, the controversial Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is slated to revise its sexual education standards in the fall, a historic opportunity to rewrite a problematic abstinence-only curriculum in a state that continually holds one of the highest teen birth rates and now rising STI rates in the nation.

Advocates hope the Republican-dominated board—which historically overrode facts with right-wing ideology—will not only pass medically accurate sex ed for the state’s public school students but also incorporate sexual orientation, gender identity, and abortion care in the curriculum.

The implications of the SBOE’s faulty curriculum decisions reach far beyond the state’s 5.4 million public school students: Because of the size of the Texas market, the standards could have a strong influence on textbook content in other states across the country.

“This is really the first time in a generation Texas can correct the really bad information—or the lack of information—in its health textbooks,” Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a progressive nonprofit that monitors the board of education, told Rewire.News. “It’s an important chance for the SBOE to recognize the failures of abstinence-only policies over the past decades and take a big step forward.”

The “political” circus of drafting sex ed standards in Texas

The 15-member board’s history with creating health curricula is mired in conservative censorship and religious-right dogma.

Texas schools must offer health education from kindergarten through eighth grade, but the state does not require health class for high school. Today, more than 80 percent of Texas school districts either teach abstinence-only or nothing at all when it comes to sex education.

In 1994, a “political circus” erupted, Quinn said, when social conservatives demanded publishers make hundreds of changes to proposed new health textbooks, including removing information on condoms and other methods of birth control; STI and HIV prevention; an AIDS helpline; and even illustrations of testicular and breast self-exams for cancer, finding them too suggestive.

By 1997 the board decided to completely overhaul the standards, overwhelmingly emphasizing abstinence with only a single standard at the high school level calling for students to analyze the “effectiveness and ineffectiveness” of contraception. In 2004, publishers—wary of pushback from right-wing board members—submitted abstinence-only textbooks, largely omitting contraception as well as information on STDs and sexual orientation.

A 1995 Texas law, signed by former Gov. George W. Bush—which forces districts that choose to offer sexual education as part of health class to emphasize abstinence until marriage—has only emboldened the SBOE throughout the years. Texas is among 29 states in which abstinence must be stressed, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

After 22 years, the board’s current draft revisions—while still stressing abstinence—now include information about “sexual intercourse” as early as sixth grade; ways to “analyze the effectiveness and ineffectiveness” of contraception, including “prevention of STDs” in seventh and eighth grades; and “contraceptive methods, how they work, side effects, and the risks and failure rates” for high school students. In a further sign of progress, consent is also included, as well as standards on sexual abuse and setting boundaries.

The board held a 16-hour marathon virtual hearing on the health standards in late June, with the majority of the nearly 300 speakers testifying in favor of moving beyond abstinence-only education. The SBOE is expected to hold another public hearing on the updated draft—which can still undergo changes—and take an initial vote in September with a final vote in November. The standards will guide textbook publishers as they create books that schools will likely use for the next decade, at least. Under the current schedule, the state could adopt those books as early as fall 2021.

Can’t afford to get this wrong

The need to provide fact-based, medically accurate sex education is even more urgent when considering Texas’ track record on teen contraception use and pregnancy: More than 60 percent of high school seniors say they have had sex, and the majority report that they didn’t use a condom the last time they did so, according to TFN.

Texas has the ninth highest teen birth rate—nearly 45 percent higher than the national average—and the highest rate of repeat teen births in the United States. A baby is born to a teen parent in Texas every 21 minutes, according to the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. While researchers are hesitant to draw a direct causation, studies have shown a positive correlation between states that prioritize abstinence education and teenage pregnancy and birth rates. Additionally, the rates of sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, are rising as much as 25 percent among Texas youth.

Despite some “loud voices on the fringe,” sexual education should not be a partisan issue, Jennifer Biundo, policy director at the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, told Rewire.News. She points to a recent poll, commissioned by her organization and conducted by a noted Republican polling firm, Baselice and Associates, which found 79 percent of Texas adult respondents, including 72 percent of Republicans, support teaching contraception, and similar percentages support teaching consent and inclusivity for LGBTQ students.

“We see that the large majority of parents support evidence-based, common-sense education for their kids that is medically accurate,” Biundo said. “The board has a tremendous opportunity here to ensure youth have access to information that is critically important for them to be in charge of their futures and build healthy relationships.”

While many are cautiously optimistic about the updated draft revisions, abortion as part of the full range of reproductive health care still is not addressed, which advocates say will only increase stigma and misinformation in a state deeply hostile to abortion rights. Due to a maze of onerous anti-choice laws, Texas is among the most difficult states to access abortion care in.

“We are deeply concerned that these standards don’t even acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ students in the classroom.”
-Jules Mandel, Texas Freedom Network

As a queer woman of color, Jessica Pires-Jancose said the lack of accurate rhetoric around sex and abortion negatively impacted her early sexual experiences and caused confusion, as she resorted to Google searches and her peers for information.

“When we omit abortion as a way to deal with an unintended pregnancy from our curriculum and conversations, we send the message that abortion and those who access this care are stigmatized, resulting in an environment where young people may not feel comfortable with opening up to the adults in their lives who should support and respect their decisions,” Pires-Jancose, a community organizer with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told the board in late June.

In addition to abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity are also omitted from the overhaul, troubling the LGBTQ community who understand that teaching about sexual orientation is vital to creating a safe environment for queer youth.

“We are deeply concerned that these standards don’t even acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ students in the classroom,” Jules Mandel, TFN’s outreach and advocacy coordinator, told the board. “Teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression promotes respect for others, helps all students understand themselves and the people around them, and helps to reduce bullying, discrimination, and harassment.”

Christopher Hamilton, CEO of Texas Health Action, a sexual health-care provider that operates Kind Clinics, echoed the concern to the board, recalling bigoted misinformation he received as a child in Texas. “As a fifth-grader in Houston, I was taught gay men got AIDS when they had sex, and that was it. Even at that age, we knew that wasn’t right,” Hamilton said.

LGBTQ and pro-choice advocates face opposition from right-wing board members and influential conservative groups like Texas Values, which are aggressively campaigning against the revised curriculum with homophobic and anti-choice attacks, calling the proposals “radical indoctrination” and “highly sexualized propaganda.”

There are also vocal abstinence-only champions to contend with, like It Takes a Family’s Monica Cline, a former Planned Parenthood sex health educator who now ardently advocates for abstinence-only education. Cline told the board comprehensive sex education sets up the “expectation” that kids need to be sexually active and urged them to support “sexual risk avoidance”—a recent rebrand of abstinence-only programs that co-opts public health and rights-based language.

“I really believe that parents should be educated about sex and have these conversations with their children at home […] and not forced on them by a mandate in their public schools,” Cline said.

The logic of placing the onus on parents baffles District 3 State Board of Education member Marisa Pérez-Díaz, who points out that there are more than 100,000 Texas public school students who are homeless, and many are in foster care who don’t have families to provide them sexual education. Pérez-Díaz told Rewire.News that lack of information has led to a growing public health crisis in her district, which encompasses San Antonio and the southern Rio Grande Valley, as pregnant young girls cross the U.S.-Mexico border to undergo unsafe abortion procedures and come back ill.

“In Latino culture we’re very strict Catholic—no one talks about sex before marriage at home,” she said. “These young ladies aren’t being educated about their bodies and don’t have adults they can go to, and so they are making very drastic and dangerous decisions out of desperation.”

As one of five Democrats on the board, Pérez-Díaz is heartened to see some progress on sex ed but says the inclusion of sexual orientation and abortion will face an uphill battle.

“We’ve made small gains, but I feel like the old ideology is still alive and well in this conversation,” Pérez-Díaz said. “I am fearful we’re going to still see exclusionary-type language in the standards, and it’s really unfortunate.”

As a longtime watchdog of the SBOE’s culture wars, TFN’s Quinn acknowledged the progress and remains relatively optimistic, saying the board—whose political makeup has become less zealously right-wing over the years—has recently “steered away some of the worst controversies that made Texas a laughingstock to the country a decade ago.” However, he cautiously recalls that just a couple of years ago the board insisted in its social studies curriculum that Moses was somehow a major influence on the Constitution and founding documents.

“There’s been some improvement,” Quinn said. “But they haven’t moved completely away from the political circus.”

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/08/04/once-in-a-generation-chance-for-texas-to-move-beyond-abstinence-only-sex-education/

Payouts of forgivable federal loans to crisis pregnancy centers may total up to $10m while Planned Parenthood had to return $60m

Inside a crisis pregnancy center in Georgia, which offers free baby clothes and supplies in exchange for watching anti-abortion videos and pregnancy tutorials. Photograph: Khushbu Shah/The Guardian

Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers across the United States received at least $4m and possibly more than $10m in forgivable federal loans as part of the government’s first coronavirus bailout package, called the paycheck protection program (PPP).

Formally part of the Cares Act, the program was meant to give employers a cash infusion to retain employees just as coronavirus lockdowns caused revenue to nosedive. It allowed religiously affiliated and faith-based non-profits to apply.

Crisis pregnancy centers often operate out of storefronts with the look and feel of full-service reproductive health clinics. However, the organizations often provide “sham” medical treatments such as abortion “reversal” pillsoppose modern birth control methods and exaggerate medical risks of abortion to persuade women not to have them.

Doctors have described the centers as “legal but unethical”.

“Although crisis pregnancy centers enjoy first amendment rights protections [part of the US constitution], their propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health,” wrote gynecologist Dr Amy G Bryant and co-authors in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics.

The $4m-$10m range was calculated by examining data on PPP loans released by the US Small Business Administration. The SBA did not release exact amounts of loans, but published ranges for loans, for example $150,000 to $350,000. The total calculated is probably an undercount of the amount given to crisis pregnancy centers, since the SBA did not release data on loans under $150,000 and crisis pregnancy centers applied under a variety of industry categories.

The money given out to the centers, much of it in early April, paints a picture of a rush for cash among such organizations that the largest anti-abortion organizations promoted.

“Experts believe this program will be more popular than toilet paper, so act fast!” wrote Tony Gruber, the chief financial officer of the anti-abortion group Heartbeat International, as he announced a webinar on 7 April for members.

Heartbeat International claims to have 2,700 crisis pregnancy center affiliates worldwide, and was itself approved for a PPP loan of between $350,000 and $1m, according to data released by the SBA. Heartbeat International said it would save 42 jobs.

Crisis pregnancy centers seek “to prevent people from having and considering abortions”, said Andrea Swartzendruber, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia College of Public Health. Swartzendruber also spearheads the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, which charts the location of more than 2,500 such groups.

“They also have secondary objectives too, which include Christian evangelism and promoting sexual abstinence before marriage,” said Swartzendruber.

The clinics are frequently more accessible than abortion clinics in the US, and have also spread internationally with American support. Their growth has also come at a time when abortion rights across the US have faced numerous efforts, especially from conservative state legislators, to restrict their ability to function.

The emergency funding given to crisis pregnancy centers represents an expansion of government support to anti-abortion organizations, at the same time as evidence-based family planning organizations have been systematically excluded from federal grant programs.

The PPP funding is in addition to up to $4m received by independent, anti-gay and anti-abortion lobbying groups. Meanwhile, the SBA has sought to claw back $80m Planned Parenthood received from the PPP. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest network of reproductive rights clinics, which provide a full spectrum of sexual health services, including abortion.

In at least one instance, PPP funding went to a crisis pregnancy center which had already received millions in federal family planning grants, and whose director had espoused theories promoted by white supremacists.

The SBA approved the Obria clinic in San Jose, California, for up to $350,000 in PPP loans, and the group said it would save 31 jobs. The Obria network of clinics already receives federal funding from the Trump administration, including a Title X federal family planning grant worth up to $5.1m over three years.

In a 2015 interview with the Catholic World Report, Bravo said abortion “threatens our culture’s survival”. She continued: “Take the example of Europe. When its nations accepted contraception and abortion, they stopped replacing their population. Christianity began to die out. And, with Europeans having no children, immigrant Muslims came in to replace them.”

The “white replacement theory” Bravo espoused is a common argument among white supremacists.

The Trump administration has also systematically excluded reproductive rights groups from the Title X program. In 2019, the administration instituted a “gag rule”, which barred family planning clinics from referring patients for abortion services. Existing federal law already barred these groups from using any federal money to pay for abortions.

The rule forced Planned Parenthood to abandon the program and $60m, even as Obria got a $5.1m grant. Obria was the first crisis pregnancy center to oppose birth control and abortion and and receive federal family planning dollars.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/03/anti-abortion-centers-paycheck-protection-program?fbclid=IwAR1VUiiAj5cW-LMGKH9KK3zMtf2xLJ1ENOHoShFtunJnKDkwfDRdXJmdXpg

A worker socially distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Fahad Abdullah Kaizer / UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

The coronavirus pandemic is causing tremendous upheaval to health systems around the world, disrupting access to family planning information and services, as well as to sexual and reproductive health more broadly. It is crucial that sexual and reproductive health and rights remain a priority despite these challenges, and they must be part of the ongoing discussion about how to best achieve universal health coverage.

Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right and a centerpiece for sustainable development. Investing in family planning addresses gender equality and women’s empowerment, reduces poverty, protects maternal and child health, drives economic development, and lowers the cost of health care.

Lack of access, conversely, has broad and devastating consequences for individuals, families, and even societies as a whole, disrupting health systems and economies and increasing inequality.

The pandemic is exacerbating already existing disparities, and women are bearing the brunt of its impact. Many are on the front lines supporting patients, putting their own health at risk. Many more are stuck at home, facing increased risk of domestic violence. Add to that the hurdles women face in accessing health care and contraceptives, and the compound impact is devastating.

Before COVID-19, there were already over 230 million women in low- and middle-income countries who wanted to use modern contraceptives but were not able to access them. In a recently published study on the impacts of COVID-19, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency, estimated that 47 million women in 114 LMICs are at risk of losing access to modern contraceptives in the first six months of lockdown.

This could, in turn, lead to an additional 7 million unintended pregnancies, an increase in unsafe abortions and associated complications, and a rise in sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. These estimates show how urgent it is to act immediately to strengthen supply chains, improve preparedness and prepositioning, and ensure people can continue to access contraceptives.

Strategic partnerships, like the one between UNFPA and Bayer, are critical to ensuring continued access to contraceptives. The pandemic has shown that all sectors can come together to make a real difference, and we hope that this innovative thinking and speedy implementation continues long after the pandemic has passed.

Through this partnership, Bayer aims to keep working toward its commitment of providing access to contraceptives to 100 million women in LMICs by 2030, which it announced last November at the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development.

This partnership has identified concrete ways to reach those left furthest behind in some of the most challenging, crisis-ridden parts of the world by leveraging UNFPA’s strong local presence and deep humanitarian experience, along with Bayer’s technical and logistical expertise. Bayer will support UNFPA by helping to strengthen supply chains and overcome bottlenecks for medical supplies in humanitarian settings.

We live in a world where humanitarian emergencies are a reality, and it is critical that we learn from them. One of the lessons is the power of cooperation and the value of bringing new partners on board to innovate and address unmet needs.

The pandemic has shown that all sectors can come together to make a real difference.

As we work to overcome COVID-19, we must not lose sight of the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It is evident that COVID-19 is having an adverse impact on our ability to achieve them, which is why it is more urgent than ever that sexual and reproductive health and rights are an essential part of this agenda.

UHC and access to family planning need to be at the center of these efforts, especially for women in LMICs. The lessons from COVID-19 have shown the need for systems-based approaches, collaboration across borders, and decisive action delivered at speed.

The measures required to contain the current crisis must not hamper our ongoing efforts to improve women’s health and rights. And cross-sectoral collaboration is essential to keep both goals in sight. We must build upon these learnings, together, to ensure women have the power of choice.

Source: https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-the-power-of-choice-ensuring-access-to-family-planning-in-the-covid-19-era-97774

Seen as the “gold standard” in many areas of medical research, fetal cells are widely used in coronavirus vaccine research.

Human embryonic kidney cells

Wikimedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org

On Friday, a Trump administration panel erected to judge the ethics of federally funded research relying on human fetal cells met more than a year after it was first announced. Just hours before the meeting, the panel was revealed to be stacked with abortion opponents hostile to such research.

Human fetal cells are widely used in medical research to develop vaccines — notably in at least a half dozen current candidate coronavirus vaccines — as well for studying diseases including AIDS. The National Institutes of Health Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board was initially announced in June of last year, putting a hold on grant applications for medical research involving human fetal cells. It followed the Trump administration’s moves to cancel related federal research contracts and audit human fetal cell research.

“The committee was carefully constructed to block funding,” bioethicist R. Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin Law School, who spoke during the one-hour open session of the meeting, told BuzzFeed News by email. The next five hours of the meeting will be closed to the public to review federal grants.

The ethics panel will review all NIH medical research grant applications already approved for possible funding that include use of fetal cells, reporting directly to Department of Health and Human Services head Alex Azar, and bypassing NIH chief Francis Collins. The first meeting was quietly announced earlier this month in the Federal Register, and its membership was not made public until 8 a.m. on Friday morning.

The panel will be headed by bioethicist Paige Comstock Cunningham, interim president of the evangelical Taylor University in Indiana, the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, widely seen as the leading abortion opponent in the Trump administration. Its 15 members include David Prentice of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, known for his opposition to human embryonic stem cell research during the Bush administration, and other opponents who have previously testified against fetal cell research to Congress.

NIH official Lawrence Tabak, who opened the meeting, noted that the committee’s role was not to review the science of the proposed research, which had already been approved for NIH grant funding, but to comment on its ethics for Azar. The board is not required to come to a consensus in its views.

The yearlong wait for the ethics board meeting had stalled research on HIV, Down syndrome, and diabetes, the Washington Post reported in January. The cells, grown from induced abortion tissues collected decades ago, serve as a “gold standard” in research, according to a Wednesday statement signed by more than 90 major medical universities and scientific organizations.

“Research using human fetal tissue has been essential for scientific and medical advances that have saved millions of lives, and it remains a crucial resource for biomedical research,” said the letter.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the use of fetal research tissue has emerged as a flashpoint in the Trump administration’s handling of the epidemic, noted Stanford University researcher Irving Weissman, who spoke during a public comments session. NIH blocking fetal cell research has already shut down academic research aimed at testing coronavirus vaccines and treatments in mice grafted with human fetal lung cells, he said. That notably could include intranasal inoculations that could block coronavirus infections in the mouth, nose, and throat.

“They are withholding therapies for the rest of us, including their own families,” Weissman told BuzzFeed News.

In April, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other abortion opponents told the Trump administration that it should “incentivize” the development of coronavirus vaccines made without human fetal cells, but did not oppose two “Operation Warp Speed” vaccines that did. Whether coronavirus vaccine research proposals would be reviewed by the ethics board on Friday was unknown, due to confidentiality rules.

Abortion opponents are split on the ethics of the Moderna mRNA vaccine, whose Phase 3 clinical trial launched on Monday is the first US vaccine to undergo wide testing in people. While the vaccine itself does not involve fetal cells, some of its development work may have involved them, John Di Camillo, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told BuzzFeed News.

The balance of the ethics panel’s membership, whether research supporters or abortion opponents, will largely determine what opinions are delivered to Azar, added Di Camilo. By its charter, the board is required to contain a balance of viewpoints, but during the group’s introductions, numerous members of the panel identified themselves by affiliation with a religious institution or faith while describing their scientific or medical credentials.

Source: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/danvergano/trump-fetal-cell-ethics-panel-abortion

We cannot fully build families and determine the direction of our own lives as long as the floor can be yanked out from underneath us.

As someone who is low-income and chronically ill, every crisis with a price tag over the past 20 years has put me at risk of failing to pay rent, thus facing eviction. My abortion was no different.
Shutterstock

When I unexpectedly found myself pregnant in early 2010, I was 31 and long accustomed to being denied medical care not deemed “routine” enough for coverage. Anything they could even loosely tie to a uterus seemed disproportionately non-routine, in my experience. So no matter what I decided to do about this pregnancy, I was certain I’d get screwed again—this time, financially.

As someone who is low-income and chronically ill, every crisis with a price tag over the past 20 years has put me at risk of failing to pay rent, thus facing eviction. My abortion was no different.

I was lucky to have a clinic providing abortion care within a block of my ex’s studio, a personal physician I trusted to consult, and understanding coworkers—which kept my costs down to just under $1,500 for the procedure and the unpaid time off work. I managed to pay the credit cards off in just over a year, but any four-digit expense will continue to spike my blood pressure as long as stable housing remains a dream.

As it has with other humanitarian crises in this country, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spotlight on the reality of housing in the United States: We are far short of safe, stable places for our neighbors to shelter. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) estimates that 3.5 million people are experiencing homelessness in this country. Each of those people has their own stories and circumstances, but the NLCHP is unequivocal: Homelessness is caused by the absence of affordable homes.

The number one cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing. The number of renters with extremely low incomes far surpasses the number of available affordable rental units. A 2012 study found only 5.8 million rental units affordable to the more than 10 million households that identify as extremely low income.

A full 12 million renters and homeowners, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, flush more than 50 percent of their income down the drain on this single recurring necessity. I’ve been among this group since 2002, though I’m aware that my cisgender, white privilege mean my experience hardly constitutes a universal one.

But I know the fear that comes from living with housing instability. While obviously not everyone describes it the same way, a sense of insecurity is pervasive. How else to describe living in circumstances where anything out of the ordinary happening can lead to a choice between Current Urgent Need and housing?

I would have shrugged off the question in 2010, when I could still mostly stay on the hamster wheel. Back then, I hopped from crisis to crisis and didn’t usually have time to consider consequences or feel much of anything. Mentally, I had a hierarchy based on “irreversibility”—housing over food, food over prescriptions, transportation over everything so I didn’t lose any of my jobs. Because my $200 per month, out-of-pocket Blue Shield of Illinois plan was legally allowed to deny me contraception in 2009 and 2010 (a dangerous reality the current administration and Supreme Court are dragging us back into), I got pregnant choosing food over prescriptions one month.

More and more people who would be able to weather your standard emergency or “rough patch” are finding themselves feeling the fear. Mass evictions are imminent. The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project estimates as many as 23 million renters could be evicted from their homes by the end of September, creating a housing crisis that will eclipse the 2008 crisis.

Some of us have yet to recover from the 2008 recession. And now another crisis looms.

Even in the corners of the country where moratoria have been placed on evictions or courts have refused to administer eviction proceedings, few outside of street protests are seriously talking about rent forgiveness. Most renters—frozen and waiting for jobs to resume (if they still exist)—are sitting and watching back rent pile up, along with all the other expenses unemployment isn’t enough to cover.

That’s hardly a state in which it’s possible to plan the best life for you and your family.

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/07/30/i-shouldnt-have-to-choose-between-rent-or-paying-for-an-abortion/

A federal judge on Friday blocked a new federal regulation that would have required insurers on the Obamacare exchanges that cover abortions to issue separate bills for that coverage.

The decision marks a setback in the Trump administration’s long-standing efforts to limit abortion access through federal programs. Planned Parenthood of Maryland and several individuals who buy health insurance on their states’ exchanges filed the lawsuit in February, with lawyers from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation representing plaintiffs.
US District Judge Catherine Blake in Maryland found that the rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ran afoul of a section of the Affordable Care Act barring “unreasonable barriers” to health care, since “it makes it harder for consumers to pay for insurance because they must now keep track of two separate bills.”
The insured individuals who helped bring the suit “are in danger of losing non-Hyde abortion coverage if states allow issuers to drop the coverage and if issuers decide that the ‘separate billing’ rule is too burdensome,” Blake wrote.
Because of the Hyde Amendment, which dates back to 1976, federal funds are already barred from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life. Under existing Affordable Care Act regulations, participating insurers may cover abortions, but enrollees’ payments for those services cannot be covered by federal funds and must be held in “a separate account that consists solely of such payments.”
The Department of Health and Human Services, CMS’ parent agency, unveiled the new rule in December 2019, asserting that it “better aligns with Congress’ intent for (participating insurers) to collect two distinct payments, one for the coverage of (relevant) abortion services, and one for coverage of all other services covered.” The rule had originally been slated to go into effect on June 27, but CMS extended the deadline by 60 days to August 26 in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Blake found that the rule’s potential alignment with Congress’ intent “appears to be minimal,” noting that the ACA “does not specify a method of compliance” between the differentiated payments.
“The record indicates that the rule is likely to cause enrollee confusion and may lead to some enrollees losing health insurance,” Blake said, adding that “even if enrollees are not confused, they will still have to spend extra time reading, understanding, and paying two separate bills each month (or arranging through autopay for the two bills to be paid).”
An HHS spokesperson told CNN that the department is reviewing the opinion.
Jennifer Popik — legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, the largest anti-abortion group in the country — said in a statement that the group was “disappointed” in the decision, calling the current ACA separation standard “a bookkeeping gimmick.”
“The Trump administration regulations simply aim to enforce the minimal requirements included in the plain language of the statute,” Popik added. “Americans should know if and when they are paying for abortion coverage, and have the ability to see what that coverage costs.”
Opponents of the rule, however, cheered Friday’s decision as safeguarding health care access.
“Today is a huge victory for the people who need and deserve access to safe, legal abortion,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “Abortion is essential health care, and this rule was an obvious attempt by the Trump administration to put it out of reach for millions of people in the country.”
Margaret Murray — CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, a trade association for 60 Medicaid-focused health care plans — called the decision “a major win for access to care,” as the rule would have led “plans to drop coverage for abortion services, even if their enrollees desire such coverage.”
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten Americans and our health care system we urge HHS to implement policies that promote access to care, not wrap coverage in red tape,” she added.
The department’s rules looking to regulate or restrict abortion access have faced legal challenges, with mixed results.
In November 2019, a federal judge struck down the department’s so-called conscience rule, which permits health care workers who cite moral or religious objections to opt out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.
But the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July 2019 that the department’s regulations prohibiting taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring patients for abortions could go into effect despite a pending legal challenge against them.

The Missouri Republican senator tipped conservatives’ hand in an interview on Sunday.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said any future Supreme Court nominee would have to be willing to publicly disavow Roe v. Wade before gaining his support.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

There are less than 100 days before the November election, and Republicans are very worried about the outcome.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) let that fact slip Sunday in an interview with the Washington Post. To be clear, Hawley didn’t actually say out loud that Republicans are worried President Donald Trump won’t get reelected or that Democrats will take control of the U.S. Senate. Instead, Hawley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that any future U.S. Supreme Court nominee would have to be willing to publicly disavow Roe v. Wade—and thus the constitutional framework for legal abortion altogether—before gaining his support.

Hawley’s statement is equal parts saber-rattling and conservative truth-telling, and while it’s easy to dismiss his comments as the usual bluster from the fringes of the legal conservative movement, doing so would be a grave mistake.

It is clear that Trump’s criminally negligent mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak and his administration’s violent response to police violence protests across the nation threaten to derail his reelection bid and cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Democrats could be on the verge of a power sweep, and that means Republicans need their base to show up and vote in November. And there is no issue conservatives more reliably show up for than abortion rights and the Supreme Court. Quite simply, Republicans needed someone to chum the waters to make sure the base showed up to support Trump and down-ticket Republican races. And on Sunday, Hawley offered up fresh meat to conservatives in the form of a Washington Post interview designed to light up the discourse on Twitter. Predictably, it did just that.

Hawley’s interview does more than just give legal journalists and pundits a new outrage for the week. It very intentionally moves the goalposts for Republicans on judicial nominations. If the other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee disagree with Hawley, then it’s now on them to say so publicly. Failing to do so will allow Hawley’s hard-line to become the party default.

Let’s be frank. Hawley just said the quiet part out loud when it comes to Republicans, judges, and abortion. A political mission of appointing judges to overturn Roe v. Wade is the default position of the Republican Party, but one they’ve largely hidden behind a veneer of platitudes about deference to precedent. But with 200 Trump-appointed judges and counting on the federal bench, many of whom won’t even say Brown v. Board of Education—the case that ended legal racial segregation in public education—was rightly decided, that veneer is fading fast.

Sunday’s chest-thumping from Hawley on judges and abortion should also sound familiar to anyone who has followed his political career. As Missouri attorney general, Hawley was a vocal abortion rights opponent who made pledging to confirm Supreme Court justices opposed to Roe v. Wade into a hallmark of his Senate campaign. Hawley has built a pretty successful name for himself in conservative circles by attacking reproductive autonomy. To that end, the interview with the Post was just more of the same from him.

But while it may be same old, same old from Hawley, his comments reflect a dangerous escalation by conservatives in their war on legal abortion.

There is no reason to think that Trump would ever nominate anyone to the federal bench—let alone a potential Supreme Court justice—who was supportive of abortion rights. After all, Trump ran on a pledge to nominate judges who would recriminalize abortion. And many of Trump’s appointees would likely have no problem making the kind of public disavowal of widely accepted principles of constitutional law that Hawley demanded in his Post interview, except for the fact that such behavior is considered gauche and unseemly for a federal judge. Hawley’s interview Sunday signals to those more radical Trump appointees that they have the political cover they need to start upending abortion rights in the lower courts. And with at least a dozen abortion rights cases lingering in the appellate courts right now, we could see real soon if any of those Trump judges will take Hawley up on his offer for political cover.

Finally, Hawley’s statements help to shift away from the legal academy’s idea that overturning Roe simply kicks the question of legal abortion back to the states. That’s not what Hawley told the Post, and frankly it’s not what this new generation of conservative thinkers believe. They want a decision that outlaws abortion at the state and the federal levels. And on Sunday, Hawley let the public know those are the only judicial candidates he is willing to consider.

Does Hawley speak for the other Republican senators on the judiciary committee? That’s a good question, especially after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent announcement that she was undergoing another round of cancer treatment. Ginsburg has said she has no plans on retiring any time soon, but it’s clear Republicans are gearing up for the possibility that Trump gets to appoint a third Supreme Court justice. On Sunday, Hawley fired the first warning shot to let us know that if a vacancy happens, Republicans plan to make it into a referendum on legal abortion.

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/07/27/republicans-are-worried-about-november-so-sen-josh-hawley-is-talking-about-abortion/?fbclid=IwAR1pGgDwsm2557S5nGCegjCMqw3LG333_Ue3IbhlLcAVQkGbJQfzB7MQ13E

Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers view medication abortion as the new frontier of abortion access—and are targeting the FDA’s regulation of abortion pills.

As anti-choice activists adjust their strategy to focus on the FDA and medication abortion, their opponents believe they are gaining ground in the fight to expand access.
Shutterstock

As medication abortion becomes more popular and a global pandemic makes telemedicine not just appealing, but necessary to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, the anti-choice movement has honed in on a new target: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Over the last several months, anti-abortion activists and lawmakers have escalated a campaign aimed at the federal agency, asking it to crack down on websites selling abortion pills online and ignore calls to lift the restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone.

In May, dozens of anti-abortion groups signed a letter to the FDA singling out Aid Access, a telemedicine site run by a doctor based in the Netherlands, which received a warning letter from the agency last year for prescribing mifepristone to patients in the United States. They joined more than 100 anti-choice lawmakers who sent a similar letter to the FDA last year. And large anti-abortion organizations like Students for Life and Live Action are urging activists to focus more heavily on restricting medication abortion and using the issue to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause.

Reproductive health advocates say the anti-abortion camp is beginning to view medication abortion as the new frontier of abortion access—and therefore as their next major battle to fight.

“I think they’ve been aware of it but maybe didn’t understand the degree to which it’s a transformative technology especially when combined with the internet and with our global commerce system,” said Elisa Wells, the cofounder of Plan C, a website that provides people with information about self-managed abortion with pills. “They’re clearly concerned because they see the promise of the [abortion pill] to make abortion accessible to those who need it.”

Focusing more heavily on the FDA’s regulation of medication abortion means anti-abortion activists may have to subtly change their strategy. The movement has long relied on abortion later in pregnancy to associate graphic and misleading imagery with abortion in general, and put clinics in the crosshairs of anti-choice legislationprotest, and violence.

Medication abortion “has the potential to move abortion away from a clinic-based service—which is where a lot of activity in the anti-abortion movement is focused—and move that to patients’ homes where it would be a much more private experience,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, the director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a research group at the University of California, San Francisco. “I’m sure that seems like a big threat to the anti-abortion movement.”

Anti-choice groups are likely to make more of an issue out of the FDA’s role in regulating abortion drugs after a federal judge’s ruling last week, which temporarily suspended the agency’s longtime mandate that providers dispense mifepristone from a hospital or clinic for the duration of the pandemic.

In the immediate aftermath, anti-choice groups condemned the decision, leaning on misleading claims about the drug’s safety. “The FDA regulation known as the Risk Evaluation Mitigation Strategy (REMS) is in place to ensure the drug is administered by an approved prescriber equipped to accurately assess pregnancy and the risks associated with ingesting the dangerous abortion drug regimen,” Lila Rose, the founder and president of Live Action, wrote in a statement.

For decades, the restrictions on how the medication can be dispensed have meant that patients could only obtain the pills in person, creating a significant—and medically unnecessary—barrier to medication abortion, which research has shown is overwhelmingly safe and effective.

As of 2017, nearly 40 percent of U.S. abortions were done with pills, according to a Guttmacher Institute report. The method of abortion—a two-step regimen involving mifepristone and misoprostol—is now much more common than it was 20 years ago, when it first became available. But in parts of Europe where the drug is not as heavily restricted, the rate of medication abortion can be as high as 90 percent.

The FDA placed these restrictions on mifepristone as soon as it approved the drug in 2000. The approval process was contentious, and reproductive health advocates argue that the agency favored anti-choice activists when it decided to implement several restrictions on the drug despite its safety record abroad.

Abortion rights supporters had hoped that medication abortion would dramatically expand abortion access, imagining that patients would be able to get the pills from primary care physicians or as an over-the-counter medication at pharmacies. Instead, medication abortion became just as difficult to access as other in-clinic abortion procedures.

“If we had made the pills available 20 years ago, medication abortion would have always been included in anti-abortionists’ strategies and public messaging,” said Cynthia Pearson, the executive director of the National Women’s Health Network. “But they won in the sense that they managed to keep access so limited.”

Pearson says abortion rights opponents are taking advantage of what they view as a politicized FDA that will eventually take their side in the fight over medication abortion access. The FDA resides within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, overseen by Secretary Alex Azar, who has pushed through President Donald Trump’s anti-abortion agenda and referred to HHS as the “Department of Life.”

“I think some form of some interference—or ‘wink-wink’ implied interference—is preventing the FDA from making a science-based decision,” Pearson said. “But the restrictions have been political from the start. They were political then, and they’re political now.”

As anti-choice activists adjust their strategy to focus on the FDA and medication abortion, their opponents believe they are gaining ground in the fight to expand access. Even before the federal judge’s ruling rolling back the in-person requirement on mifepristone, Plan C had been in talks with dozens of doctors across the country about mailing the medication anyway, arguing that the FDA rule is vague about whether a patient has to obtain the pills in person. Some have agreed to overlook the longtime interpretation of the rule and mail their patients abortion pills.

More people also appear to be using websites like Aid Access and abortionpillrx.com to buy abortion pills online—particularly during quarantine—and some are discovering that they prefer to self-administer the medication.

In the meantime, researchers and reproductive health advocates are hoping they can use this window of time to build an even more persuasive case for getting rid of the mifepristone restrictions permanently.

“In this current administration, everything is politicized,” Grossman said. “But I’m still optimistic that, in the long run, the evidence will be convincing.”

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2020/07/22/the-next-big-anti-abortion-fight-keeping-you-from-having-an-abortion-at-home/

Anti-abortion ‘centers’ are designed to spread misinformation and stop women from getting the care they need.

Crisis pregnancy centers are “clinics” that aren’t medically regulated and actively work to deceive people about abortion. That deception is designed to delay or deny access to abortion, which leads to people getting abortions later in pregnancy or being entirely unable to access the care they need.

Truth4Greeley, a group that focuses on the dangers of these fake health clinics, found that some clinics perform pregnancy tests but lie to people about how far along they are in their pregnancy. They also tell people to “wait it out” because 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a miscarriage.

An investigator posing as a pregnant woman was told by a center volunteer that she shouldn’t panic because “[a]bortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy, so you have plenty of time to make a decision,” according to a report from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that fights restrictions on abortion.

This is not true. The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks state laws on abortion, says that 43 states prohibit abortions at some point in pregnancy.

Later abortions are performed by a relatively small amount of providers and aren’t available in all states. In addition, any person who needs an abortion after 20 weeks might need to pay nearly quadruple the cost of one done earlier, and that doesn’t include travel costs or child care if it’s needed.

Beth Vial, who wrote about her later abortion for Teen Vogue, detailed the numerous lies a crisis pregnancy center told her. There were no nurses on staff at the center. She was sent to a different location to get an ultrasound, she was lied to about how far along she was in her pregnancy, she was told abortions were dangerous, and she was hassled at home by the crisis pregnancy center workers, who she said called her “day and night.” She didn’t learn she was actually 26 weeks pregnant until she went to a nearby hospital.

With these sorts of lies, the centers help push people into seeking abortion care at a later date. The Later Abortion Initiative, which focuses on the barriers and stigma around later abortions, reported that people who sought abortions at or after 20 weeks found those people were “much more likely to report logistical delays.”

Another study found that one of the logistical barriers reported by people who ultimately ended up needing to travel to have an abortion was that people first went to a crisis pregnancy center, which delayed their abortion care.

Reproaction is another group that has catalogued the lengths to which these anti-abortion health centers go in order to deceive people who are seeking an abortion, birth control, or reliable information about pregnancy. Some of these centers locate themselves close to real reproductive health care clinics and use a similar-sounding name or similar type of signage, hoping to deceive people into entering the wrong location.

The anti-abortion centers also try to frighten people out of abortions. They tell people that abortion is linked to mental health problems. That’s been debunked for years. Another persistent lie they use is that there is a connection between getting an abortion and later getting breast cancer. Planned Parenthood says such assertions “fly in the face of scientific evidence.”

The clinics also lie about how dangerous abortions are. The National Abortion Foundation notes that people are also told abortions are “painful, life-threatening procedures.” In reality, abortion is a very safe procedure, and complications are rare. That’s particularly true when abortion is compared to childbirth, which carries a risk of death roughly 11 times higher than that from an abortion.

Guttmacher also reports that people who end up going to crisis pregnancy centers are disproportionately young, poor, or lacking education. Colorlines, which reports on advancing racial justice, has also noted that the centers target people of color with advertising.

Notably, the same groups that praise the centers, such as Students for Life, are those that call for bans on abortions later in pregnancy. At a Senate hearing earlier this year, Patrina Mosley of the anti-choice Family Research Council said that later abortions are done because the clinics gain something financially. Jill Stanek, who heads the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said that abortion providers who do late abortions are “deciding the life or the death of the baby.”

Crisis pregnancy centers distort information with the explicit goal of delaying or denying abortions. When they succeed in creating a delay, people have to seek care elsewhere, but they’ve already lost time in addressing a time-sensitive health concern.

Source: https://americanindependent.com/crisis-pregnancy-centers-abortion-access-health-care-reproductive-rights/?fbclid=IwAR07bZcrk3_1EBzvR-lOF95zs6smp2OTIgImG83VD1mpMnlzOVMsGd5RQCQ

We are in a moment of reckoning and transformation as a nation. Without a doubt, now is the moment to dismantle systems of oppression and take a stand against racist and discriminatory policies. Empty gestures are not enough. We must enact sweeping policy change and draft budgets that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, no exceptions.

Earlier this month, I was profoundly frustrated and disappointed to learn that the first-ever pro-choice majority in the House of Representatives would advance — for the second year in a row now — a Fiscal Year 2021 (FY2021) appropriations bill that will maintain the shameful legacy of the Hyde Amendment and continue to push comprehensive reproductive health care out of reach for our nation’s most vulnerable.

For more than four decades, the Hyde Amendment has banned access to abortion for low-income people who receive health insurance coverage through Medicaid. These abortion bans have disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color, perpetuating cycles of poverty and economic inequality.

Make no mistake, access to healthcare and specifically abortion care is a racial justice issue. Our nation has created systems and structures of oppression that have exacted precise hurt and harm on women of color since the nation’s inception. Those structures have dictated who has access to critical healthcare, economic opportunity, and yes, who has bodily autonomy.

As our nation continues to grapple with connected crises — an unprecedented public health crisis exacerbated by systemic racism and the plague of police brutality disproportionately robbing us of Black and brown lives, the House Democratic majority has a critical responsibility to leverage our power and to speak out against and actively dismantle all racist and discriminatory policies — particularly those that rob people of color, low-income people, immigrants, transgender and gender non-conforming people of comprehensive health care and the right to make decisions over their own bodies.

In this moment where the Trump Administration and anti-choice politicians in legislatures across the country have made it clear that they will stop at nothing to ban abortion care, it is simply no longer enough to say that you are “pro-choice.” I need you to legislate and vote like lives depend on it, because they do.

As Democrats, we must proactively legislate racial and reproductive justice and meaningfully advance policies that affirm that abortion care is health care and that health care is a fundamental human right that must be guaranteed to all.

That’s why, today, along with my sisters in service Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Jan Schakowsky and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I filed an amendment to finally repeal the Hyde Amendment. Black and brown people cannot afford to wait another budget cycle for their humanity and dignity to be recognized.

In this moment of profound national reckoning, Congress must right the wrongs of the past and make reproductive autonomy a guaranteed right for everyone.

Source: https://medium.com/@RepPressley/its-past-time-to-defeat-the-hyde-amendment-55e651b4b59d