Posts Tagged ‘reproductive rights’

Last week, the Obama administration proposed new regulations for determining which religiously affiliated employers and nonprofit organizations would have to provide no-cost contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Under the adjusted policy, churches and other houses of worship are still exempt from having to provide this coverage, and other religious entities (such as charities or universities) would not have to issue plans that directly provide birth control coverage. Employees at those organizations would instead, as the Washington Post put it, receive a “stand-alone, private insurance policy that would provide contraceptive coverage at no cost.”

This decision protects women’s ability to access contraception without co-pay. AAUW is pleased that the administration resisted efforts to exempt for-profit companies from providing this critical health insurance coverage. The decision will lead to real benefits, including fewer unintended pregnancies and a better quality of life for women. If you’d like to learn more about whether your insurance plan covers these services, a health advocacy group has prepared an easy-to-use tip sheet.

However, we are concerned that another regulation, also announced last week, could limit women’s ability to access this care. The proposal would exempt student health plans self-funded by colleges from benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

This proposal would affect only about 30 institutions — mostly major private and public research universities — that self-fund their student health insurance plans, but this loophole could inspire other schools to begin self-funding their plans to remove contraceptive coverage, which AAUW would strongly oppose. As one consumer group put it, “Without federal protections and only minimal state oversight, self-funded plans are free to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, offer limited coverage with low annual limits on benefits, and commit a number of consumer abuses that the ACA was designed to eliminate.”

Although these are modifications to existing policies, they’ll have a big impact on women across the country. Subscribe to AAUW’s Washington Update to keep up to date on these developments and what they mean for women and girls.

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Roe v. Wade advocates at AAUW of Colorado and our coalition partners are yard-sign collectors. Why? Biennial efforts to confer personhood in our state’s constitution for increasingly earlier prebirth stages of development seem to crop up like noxious weeds with a two-year life cycle. Thus Colorado sign wars ensued in 2008 and 2010 when amendments 48 and 62 made it onto the ballot. Proponents and opponents squared off in yards, on roadsides, and in various media outlets, hotly debating whether select uterine contents should have the same rights as a person under Colorado law.

"Vote No" yard sign from Amy Blackwell's own yard

“Vote No” yard sign from Amy Blackwell’s own yard

Think about the implications of such proposed constitutional amendments, which also appear on ballots in states other than Colorado. While the goal of these measures is to make abortion illegal, the consequences are much farther-reaching. Pull up your state’s constitution on the Internet and do a search on the word “person.” Then pull up your state’s compiled statutes and search that word again. You’ll see thousands of hits highlighting laws that affect nearly every aspect of life! Rolling back abortion access through prebirth personhood disrupts the legal system because there are countless instances in which a law cannot effectively be interpreted and enforced when a fertilized egg has personhood status.

Opponents of Colorado personhood amendments hammered upon these law-compromising ramifications, as well as the illegalization of procedures like in vitro fertilization and the total ban on abortion — even in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother — to create a groundswell of “no” votes. In 2008, Coloradans rejected Amendment 48, with 73 percent voting no. The vote count against 2010’s Amendment 62 was 71 percent to 29 percent. It’s a cautionary tale, however. The nearly 3-to-1 defeats do not mean that Coloradans overwhelmingly favor abortion access. Amendment 48 and 62 opponents, in large part, thought that the measures simply went too far.

Perhaps opponents’ decline-to-sign petition efforts are finally taking root. In August 2012, AAUW of Colorado and other pro-choice advocates breathed a huge sigh of relief when Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced that personhood ballot petition circulators had failed to submit the required number of signatures. Personhood proponents launched a legal protest, but the 2012 measure did not make the ballot.

We Colorado choice champions celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and hope that our yard-sign collecting days are over — but we remain vigilant lest another personhood ballot initiative crops up.

This post was written by AAUW Director and AAUW of Colorado Public Policy Co-Director Amy Blackwell.

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Today is the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, but it’s not a very happy birthday. Over the last year, we’ve seen unprecedented attempts to limit women’s control over their own bodies. States passed 83 laws restricting access to abortion, nearly four times as many as the 23 laws passed in 2010. Five states banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation; seven now require an ultrasound, or the offer of one, prior to the procedure; and eight will no longer allow private insurance plans to cover the procedure. Several states are fighting to bar abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood from receiving government funds even for the nonabortion services they provide, and the House of Representatives has voted to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding.

So the fight continues. AAUW has made the protection of full reproductive rights a policy principle since 1977 and strongly supports the right of every woman to safe, accessible, affordable, and comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services. Study after study has shown that women and their families do better when women are able to plan their pregnancies. For example, the expense of unintended pregnancy leads to economic insecurity for women and their families. Every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs, and no politician should insert herself or himself when it comes to this personal decision.

Make sure women’s priorities, including reproductive freedom, are addressed in the upcoming election by joining the AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard, a nationwide voter education and turnout campaign. Women wield great power in America, and our voices will be heard in 2012. More than ever before, women are registering to vote and casting ballots in greater numbers and with more consistency than men. We are a powerful and influential bloc of voters, and our support of women’s right to control their own bodies will be heard.

Join us in defending Roe and this critical right!

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AAUW Thousand Oaks (CA) Branch member Colleen Briner-Schmidt donates to AAUW to protect her daughter’s and granddaughter’s futures. What about you?

Thanks to all of our generous donors, AAUW has had victories this year that make the future brighter for women and girls. But the fight isn’t over. Recent rulings against reproductive rights, attacks on Social Security and Medicare, and other threats to women’s security will bring tough challenges in 2012. Please help ensure that AAUW can continue to have your back, time and time again, by making a tax-deductible gift now.

Thanks for making 2011 a great year for women’s advocacy. We hope you’ll be a part of our work in 2012.

Happy holidays from AAUW!

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On Friday, AAUW and other women’s rights groups across the country will observe Women’s Equality Day. Together, in a coalition called HERvotes, our movement will remind Congress and ordinary Americans that rights are not bestowed; they are seized by women willing to stand up and speak out. And when I use the word “seize,” I look to the primary definition — to lay claim to one’s rights, to assign ownership, to have legal possession. We will be heard in social media and across the blogosphere, on opinion pages, and in letters to the editor. We will use Women’s Equality Day, an observance of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, as a rallying moment.

But Friday is just the beginning. It’s the start of something BIG.

AAUW is proud to launch a serious investment in getting out the women’s vote for the 2012 election. With our new My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign, we will work to educate women across the country about the rights and privileges that are at stake in the upcoming election. We will increase the volume and direction of women’s voices and commit ourselves to getting women to the polls in record numbers.

How will we do it? By doing what AAUW does best: educating, building community, and advocating. We have developed voter-education materials, including how-to manuals, community and campus outreach guides, and online and social media resources. We’ll be providing significant seed money and extensive staff support to state and local AAUW member leaders in our strategically chosen Impact Grant states. Those leaders will then use each of these resources to turn out AAUW members and donors as well as the women in their local communities and on nearby campuses. We’re doing all this to ensure that AAUW’s resources, positions, and voice answer the question, Why does the 2012 election matter for women and girls?

So why does the election matter? Readers of AAUW Dialog and Washington Update and subscribers to AAUW Action Network know the answer.

The election matters because women workers need the Paycheck Fairness Act to help achieve pay equity, and yet Congress failed to pass it last year. It matters because Social Security is being threatened, despite the fact that without this program more than half of elderly women would live in poverty. It matters because Title X and other women’s health programs are losing necessary funding and because reproductive rights are under attack. It matters because sexual assault and victim blaming are still a problem, and because Congress needs to demonstrate a commitment to ending violence against women.

The 2012 election is a chance for AAUW and our allies to clearly show that we will seize and protect our rights, to remind Congress and the public that women will be heard — and we will be heard. That’s why AAUW is doubling our effectiveness by focusing on women’s voices and women’s votes, and that’s why we’re part of the HERvotes coalition to focus on preserving women’s advances and rights that are now under threat.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

One of the most interesting moments from the third day of the Elena Kagan hearings had nothing to do with the hard-hitting questions asked by many senators. For her second round, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) gave us a brief history lesson on gender that we’d all do well to keep in mind. She pointed out that, as late as 1980, no women had ever served on the Supreme Court. If Kagan is confirmed, she will be the fourth, and the Supreme Court will have three women serving concurrently for the first time in history. Klobuchar also noted that, in 1980, no women served on the Senate Judiciary Committee (today there are two), and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) was the only woman in the entire U.S. Senate (today there are 17 women).

We’ve come a long way, baby. Well, sort of. Less than 20 percent representation by women is better, but still not great.

As discussed yesterday, Kagan did very well in her first round of questions and answers. Several Republican members must have taken notice, because they really stepped up their pressure on her on many of the hot-button social issues we’ve come to expect at Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Much of their questioning revolved, yet again, around the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy,” which both Kagan and AAUW staunchly oppose. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) accused her of substituting her policy preferences for what the law required. However, Kagan pointed out that military recruiters at Harvard were still given access to law students in a way that satisfied the school’s antidiscrimination policy. She also pointed out that her personal opposition to the policy did not unduly influence her decision making during her time as solicitor general.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) pressed Kagan further on her views regarding “partial-birth” abortion and whether she attempted to pressure the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to change a public statement on late-term abortion procedures. During her time as deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Kagan advised President Bill Clinton about legislation dealing with late-term abortion procedures. Specifically, she advocated in various memoranda that the Clinton administration support a compromise bill offered by then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) that would have banned post-viability abortions, with exceptions for both the life and health of the woman. She avowed that none of her actions were untoward, and she was acting in a manner consistent with a presidential adviser.

There was a lot thrown at Kagan today, but nothing has changed as far as the air of inevitability that surrounds her nomination. While some Judiciary Committee members such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) averred that a filibuster may still be a possibility, other staunch conservatives appear to believe otherwise. Republican Whip Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said that a “filibuster would be highly improbable,” while Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who doesn’t take a backseat to many others as far as conservative principles go, referred to her as “soon-to-be-Justice Kagan.”

Kagan completed her public portion of the hearings on Wednesday. The committee then proceeded with a customary private session that includes a discussion of her FBI background check and other documents not released to the public. The outside witnesses will proceed on Thursday afternoon, after funeral services for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).

At the conclusion of the open session, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) commented that Kagan answered questions more directly and forcefully than any Supreme Court nominee in recent memory. Unless a heretofore unknown, earth-shattering revelation pops up in the next few weeks, it seems safe to say that the next time the American public sees Elena Kagan will be at her swearing-in ceremony.

Elena Kagan Confirmation Hearings: Preview | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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Elena Kagan

The buildup to Supreme Court confirmation hearings normally leaves Washington, D.C., in a frenzied state. Robert Bork was the conservatives’ dream and the liberals’ nightmare. Clarence Thomas was replacing Thurgood Marshall. John Roberts was the first nominee for chief justice in nearly two decades. Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latina ever nominated. You get the idea — these hearings were seismic events that captivated the entire city and often times the nation.

Elena Kagan’s nomination, on the other hand, has barely caused a ripple. Her confirmation hearing begins on Monday, and if that is news to you, well, I can’t really blame you. Rarely has a Supreme Court nomination flown so far below the radar. Due to their limited quantity yet powerful nature, Supreme Court vacancies are an incredibly big deal. This time around, though, you wouldn’t really know it.

There are a few reasons for this. For starters, unlike all her would-be colleagues on the High Court, Kagan has never before served as a judge. As a result, she does not have a record of court decisions to dissect. There are no previous judicial opinions for us to pore over to glean a sense of her philosophy. Moreover, she has spent a good portion of her legal career as a law professor. In other words, she’s spent a lot of time teaching the law, rather than shaping it. Finally, she is thought to have a similar legal disposition to the justice she would replace, John Paul Stevens, meaning that the overall ideology of the Court likely won’t change much should she get confirmed.

Like I said, though, Supreme Court nominations are incredibly important, and all Americans would do well to pay attention. As is our custom, AAUW submitted a list of questions to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that reflects our top priorities. We want the senators to ask about such topics as employment discrimination, Title IX, reproductive rights, church-state separation, and the First Amendment. As we avow in our judicial nominations position paper, all nominees should be subjected to the highest level of scrutiny.

What should we watch for in these hearings? Kagan’s most public stance on any one issue probably came from her time as dean of the Harvard Law School, when she spoke out strongly against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with respect to gays in the military. You can bank on that story getting a lot of airtime. Kagan also took some newsworthy positions during her time as a policy advisor under President Bill Clinton. And as the current solicitor general — responsible for arguing the government’s position in certain cases that come before the Supreme Court— Kagan’s arguments in that capacity will also be brought to light.

Check back on AAUW’s blog each morning next week for a recap of the previous day’s hearing highlights. Just because it’s been quiet doesn’t mean there won’t be some fireworks!

Elena Kagan Confirmation Hearings: Preview | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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