Daily Women's Health Policy Report

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Daily Women's Health Policy Report by the National Partnership for Women & Families
Updated: 42 min 42 sec ago

Hope Medical Group for Women v. LeBlanc

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 21:05

Challenge in federal court to a Louisiana law that exposes abortion providers to legal liability and exempts them from medical malpractice suit restrictions.

Hope Medical Group for Women v. LeBlanc

Challenge in federal court to a Louisiana law that exposes abortion providers to legal liability and exempts them from medical malpractice suit restrictions. In March 2012, the U.S. District Court issued a permanent injunction against the law. Final Outcome: In September 2013, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the District Court’s injunction and dismissed the case. (See the law here. See the District Court’s order here. See the 5th Circuit’s opinion here. Read more about the case here.)

Video Round Up: Abortion Care Returns to Rio Grande Valley for Now, Wendy Davis Interviewed

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 19:02

In today's video clips, the CEO of a network of Texas women's health clinics discusses restoring abortion services in a region heavily impacted by a restrictive state abortion law. We also feature an interview with Texas Sen. Wendy Davis on why she didn't share her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster.

Video Round Up: Abortion Care Returns to Rio Grande Valley for Now, Wendy Davis Interviewed

September 18, 2014 — In today's video clips, the CEO of a network of Texas women's health clinics discusses restoring abortion services in a region heavily impacted by a restrictive state abortion law. We also feature an interview with Texas Sen. Wendy Davis on why she didn't share her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster.



Whole Woman's Health President and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller joins MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry to give an update on the reopening of a Rio Grande Valley women's health clinic after a judge blocked the state from enforcing an antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) that had forced it to close. Although Harris-Perry and Hagstrom Miller both note that a pending appeals ruling could reverse course, Hagstrom Miller explains that it was important to reopen the clinic immediately to meet the need for women's health services in the region. Clinics in Fort Worth and San Antonio also will be able to stay open for now, Harris-Perry explains (Harris-Perry, "Melissa Harris-Perry," MSNBC, 9/7).




Texas gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) speaks with "HuffPost Live" host Alyona Minkovski about why she didn't reveal her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster of a restrictive antiabortion-rights bill, which eventually became law in the state. Davis explains that she thought about sharing her story after she read a letter on the state Senate floor that "could have been [her] story" and "struck [her] so deeply." However, she decided against it because she didn't want the day to be about her but about the "thousands of people" who would be affected by the bill (Minkovski, "HuffPost Live," Huffington Post, 9/10).

Video Round Up: Abortion Care Returns to Rio Grande Valley for Now, Wendy Davis Interviewed

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 19:02

In today's video clips, the CEO of a network of Texas women's health clinics discusses restoring abortion services in a region heavily impacted by a restrictive state abortion law. We also feature an interview with Texas Sen. Wendy Davis on why she didn't share her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster.

Video Round Up: Abortion Care Returns to Rio Grande Valley for Now, Wendy Davis Interviewed

September 18, 2014 — In today's video clips, the CEO of a network of Texas women's health clinics discusses restoring abortion services in a region heavily impacted by a restrictive state abortion law. We also feature an interview with Texas Sen. Wendy Davis on why she didn't share her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster.



Whole Woman's Health President and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller joins MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry to give an update on the reopening of a Rio Grande Valley women's health clinic after a judge blocked the state from enforcing an antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) that had forced it to close. Although Harris-Perry and Hagstrom Miller both note that a pending appeals ruling could reverse course, Hagstrom Miller explains that it was important to reopen the clinic immediately to meet the need for women's health services in the region. Clinics in Fort Worth and San Antonio also will be able to stay open for now, Harris-Perry explains (Harris-Perry, "Melissa Harris-Perry," MSNBC, 9/7).




Texas gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) speaks with "HuffPost Live" host Alyona Minkovski about why she didn't reveal her personal abortion story during her historic filibuster of a restrictive antiabortion-rights bill, which eventually became law in the state. Davis explains that she thought about sharing her story after she read a letter on the state Senate floor that "could have been [her] story" and "struck [her] so deeply." However, she decided against it because she didn't want the day to be about her but about the "thousands of people" who would be affected by the bill (Minkovski, "HuffPost Live," Huffington Post, 9/10).

Tenn. Voters To Weigh Constitutional Amendment on Abortion Rights

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 18:09

Tennessee residents in November will vote on a ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that would amend the state constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."

Tenn. Voters To Weigh Constitutional Amendment on Abortion Rights

September 18, 2014 — Tennessee residents in November will vote on a ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that would amend the state constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).

According to Mother Jones, opponents of the measure are concerned that its passage would clear the way for Tennessee lawmakers to pass antiabortion-rights legislation that courts have previously blocked in the state, as well as abortion clinic restrictions similar to those enacted in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia (Eichelberger, Mother Jones, 9/17).


N.D. Voters To Consider 'Personhood' Amendment

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 18:05

Voters in North Dakota will consider a personhood amendment (SCR 4009) that would change the state's constitution to protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development," Mother Jones reports.

N.D. Voters To Consider 'Personhood' Amendment

September 18, 2014 — Voters in North Dakota will consider a personhood amendment (SCR 4009) that would change the state's constitution to protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development," Mother Jones reports.

Supporters say the measure would protect existing state laws governing abortion from legal challenges. In addition, state Sen. Margaret Sitte (R) also said it would "present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."

However, opponents of the measure say it would effectively ban all abortion services in the state, criminalize miscarriages and prohibit the use of certain contraceptives. According to the North Dakota Coalition for Privacy in Healthcare, the amendment could force "[v]ictims of rape and incest ... to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence" and prohibit "[w]omen whose health is at risk ... from terminating their pregnancies" (Eichelberger, Mother Jones, 9/17).


Colo. Voters To Weigh 'Personhood' Amendment for Third Time

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 18:03

Voters in Colorado will consider a constitutional "personhood" amendment (Amendment 67) that would change the state's constitution to protect "pregnant women and unborn children by defining 'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act to include unborn human beings," Mother Jones reports.

Colo. Voters To Weigh 'Personhood' Amendment for Third Time

September 18, 2014 — Voters in Colorado will consider a constitutional "personhood" amendment (Amendment 67) that would change the state's constitution to protect "pregnant women and unborn children by defining 'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act to include unborn human beings," Mother Jones reports (Eichelberger, Mother Jones, 9/17).

Colorado voters have rejected personhood amendments twice before (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/24). This year, supporters of the amendment are framing it as a way to prosecute people who harm a fetus during a crime, rather than as an antiabortion-rights initiative, according to Mother Jones. For example, Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason said the amendment would "correc[t] the loophole in Colorado law and ensur[e] that those criminals can be charged with killing a child in many different scenarios."

However, opponents of the amendment -- including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the Colorado Bar Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- say it would grant constitutional rights beginning at fertilization and could be used to criminally charge women seeking abortions and abortion providers. In addition, opponents say that the amendment could restrict access to some contraceptives in the state (Mother Jones, 9/17).


'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 17:38

The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

September 18, 2014 — The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer and senior legal analyst at CNN, explains that O'Connor "[a]lmost single handedly ... rewrote abortion law" in her 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey by ruling that "while states did have the right to regulate some aspects of abortion ... such power to constrain a woman's choice had limits."

More specifically, he adds, "As O'Connor put it, 'Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.'"

However, the phrase undue burden "did not have a fixed, self-evident definition," and "the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking" after O'Connor left the court and it became more conservative, Toobin continues. More recently, conservative state politicians have increasingly "sought to make obtaining an abortion even more difficult," prompting new tests of the standard in court, he explains.

Toobin argues that a Texas law's (HB 2) effect of closing many abortion clinics in the state seems to be "the very definition of an undue burden -- a law whose 'purpose or effect' was 'to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.'"

While a federal judge "reached just that conclusion" and found portions of the law unconstitutional, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the "first in a series of appeals relating to the Texas law" said that "a decrease in the number of abortion providers did not impose an undue burden, because of the existence of providers elsewhere in Texas or in neighboring states," according to Toobin.

"In other words, the members of the Fifth Circuit panel seem to believe that anything short of a nationwide ban on abortion does not amount to an undue burden on women’s rights," Toobin argues. "The question, now, is whether" O'Connor's undue burden "achievement will soon be gone," he concludes (Toobin, New Yorker, 9/16).


Voters in Three States To Weigh Abortion Restrictions in November

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:49

Voters in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee this November will consider whether to approve or reject initiatives that could restrict abortion rights in their respective states, Mother Jones reports.

Voters in Three States To Weigh Abortion Restrictions in November

September 18, 2014 — Voters in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee this November will consider whether to approve or reject initiatives that could restrict abortion rights in their respective states, Mother Jones reports (Eichelberger, Mother Jones, 9/17).

Colorado

Voters in Colorado will consider a constitutional "personhood" amendment (Amendment 67) that would change the state's constitution to protect "pregnant women and unborn children by defining 'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado Wrongful Death Act to include unborn human beings."

Colorado voters have rejected personhood amendments twice before (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/24). This year, supporters of the amendment are framing it as a way to prosecute people who harm a fetus during a crime, rather than as an antiabortion-rights initiative, according to Mother Jones. For example, Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason said the amendment would "correc[t] the loophole in Colorado law and ensur[e] that those criminals can be charged with killing a child in many different scenarios."

However, opponents of the amendment -- including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the Colorado Bar Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- say it would grant constitutional rights beginning at fertilization and could be used to criminally charge women seeking abortions and abortion providers. In addition, opponents say that the amendment could restrict access to some contraceptives in the state.

North Dakota

Similarly, voters in North Dakota will consider a personhood amendment (SCR 4009) that would change the state's constitution to protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development."

Supporters say the measure would protect existing state laws governing abortion from legal challenges. In addition, state Sen. Margaret Sitte (R) also said it would "present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."

However, opponents of the measure say it would effectively ban all abortion services in the state, criminalize miscarriages and prohibit the use of certain contraceptives. According to the North Dakota Coalition for Privacy in Healthcare, the amendment could force "[v]ictims of rape and incest ... to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence" and prohibit "[w]omen whose health is at risk ... from terminating their pregnancies" (Mother Jones, 9/17).

Tennessee

Meanwhile, Tennessee residents in November will vote on a ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that would amend the state constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).

According to Mother Jones, opponents of the measure are concerned that its passage would clear the way for Tennessee lawmakers to pass antiabortion-rights legislation that courts have previously blocked in the state, as well as abortion clinic restrictions similar to those enacted in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia (Mother Jones, 9/17).


Attorneys Spar in Court Over Texas Clinic Closures; Op-Ed Cites Impact on 'Real People'

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:39

A federal appeals court panel on Friday heard arguments over whether Texas should be allowed to enforce a provision that likely would leave the state with no abortion facilities outside of four major metropolitan regions, the New York Times reports.

Attorneys Spar in Court Over Texas Clinic Closures; Op-Ed Cites Impact on 'Real People'

September 15, 2014 — A federal appeals court panel on Friday heard arguments over whether Texas should be allowed to enforce a provision that likely would leave the state with no abortion facilities outside of four major metropolitan regions, the New York Times reports (Fernandez, New York Times, 9/12).

The provision, which is part of a larger antiabortion-rights law (HB 2), was scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1 and would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards at ambulatory surgical centers. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in August barred enforcement of the provision, ruling it unconstitutional, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) quickly appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/2).

Impact

According to the Times, if enforced, the provision could close about a dozen clinics in the state, leaving Texas with seven or eight abortion facilities in four metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. The Times notes that there were 41 abortion facilities in Texas -- a state with about 5.4 million women of reproductive age -- before HB 2 was enacted in 2013 (New York Times, 9/12).

The three judges on the 5th Circuit panel did not indicate on Friday when they would rule, NPR's "Shots" reports. If the state is allowed to fully enforce the provision, the affected clinics likely would have to close immediately. The judges could also permit clinics in certain areas to remain open while allowing the state to enforce the law for other clinics, according to "Shots."

State's Arguments

Jonathan Mitchell, Texas' solicitor general, argued that Yeakel's stay on the law should be overturned while the case of the provision's constitutionality continues (Feibel, "Shots," NPR, 9/12). He said the clinics have not demonstrated that the provision places an undue burden on women's access to abortion (Lawton/Brubaker Calkins, Bloomberg, 9/12).

According to "Shots," both sides agree that enforcement of the law means that women in the Rio Grande Valley would have to travel more than 200 miles to reach the nearest abortion facility in the state, in San Antonio. However, Mitchell argued that the clinics had not provided evidence that women in the region are unable to navigate the situation or that the abortion rate had fallen as a result of the law ("Shots," NPR, 9/12).

"There have been no abortion clinics in the Rio Grande Valley for 10 1/2 months and they have found no evidence of an undue burden," he said, adding that the clinics had also failed to show that a "large fraction of the state's abortion patients will have to travel long distances" (Bloomberg, 9/12).

Mitchell said the state would suffer "irreparable injury" if it cannot enforce the law while the case over its constitutionality continues (New York Times, 9/12). Specifically, he said the state sought an emergency motion to stay Yeakel's decision because it has a compelling interest in shutting down any clinics that it considers unsafe ("Shots," NPR, 9/12).

Clinics' Arguments

Stephanie Toti, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights who is representing abortion clinics, countered that there is "ample evidence in the court record [that shows] a decline in the abortion rate occurred after 20 of the state's 41 abortion clinics closed" (Bloomberg, 9/12).

Toti also disputed Mitchell's claims regarding the "large fraction" test, arguing that the lower court did not have to use that standard to weigh the law's constitutionality. In addition, she said that even if the test were applied, nearly one-fifth of reproductive-age women in the state would face a substantial obstacle to obtaining the procedure (New York Times, 9/12).

She added, "These seven or eight [remaining] facilities couldn't meet the statewide demand previously met by 41 clinics" (Bloomberg, 9/12).

Column: Antiabortion-Rights Laws Affect 'Real People'

In The Guardian, columnist Jessica Valenti writes that "in the midst of court decisions, a national debate over choice and lawmakers' efforts to limit abortion rights, we cannot afford to forget that there are real people affected by" laws like HB 2.

Valenti notes that HB 2 has closed "clinics that didn't just provide abortions, but low-cost reproductive health care across the board," and "women [have] suffered." For example, she cites a joint report from the National Latina Institute on Reproductive Health and CRR that found that after closures in the Rio Grande Valley, women "weren't sure where they could get birth control, Pap smears or mammograms," and some even thought that abortion had been made illegal in the state (Valenti, The Guardian, 9/12).


Planned Parenthood Launches Video Service for Contraceptive Consultations

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:38

Planned Parenthood recently launched an online service that allows Minnesota and Washington residents to receive contraceptives after a video appointment with a health care provider, the Huffington Post reports.

Planned Parenthood Launches Video Service for Contraceptive Consultations

September 15, 2014 — Planned Parenthood recently launched an online service that allows Minnesota and Washington residents to receive contraceptives after a video appointment with a health care provider, the Huffington Post reports.

The new service, called Planned Parenthood Care, is intended to cater to a younger generation of patients who are comfortable with technology, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson.

The 15-minute video consultations cost $45 and are not covered by insurance, although Planned Parenthood is working with insurers to possibly offer that option. The organization recommends that patients send their receipts to their insurers for potential reimbursement.

The video chats are conducted through an Internet browser or a new Planned Parenthood app for Apple and Android devices. After logging in, a patient speaks with a clinician to discuss various methods. Patients can then have a prescribed method sent to them in the mail.

Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said, "Every generation of women is different from their mothers, and what's different about the current generation of young women is that they live a whole lot of their lives online."

Planned Parenthood plans to add consultations for sexually transmitted infections to the service and hopes to expand the program to more states, according to the Huffington Post (Thomas, Huffington Post, 9/11).


Voters in Three States To Weigh Abortion Restrictions in November

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:37

Voters in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee this November will consider whether to approve or reject initiatives that could restrict abortion rights in their respective states, Mother Jones reports.

Voters in Three States To Weigh Abortion Restrictions in November

September 18, 2014 — Voters in Colorado, North Dakota and Tennessee this November will consider whether to approve or reject initiatives that could restrict abortion rights in their respective states, Mother Jones reports (Eichelberger, Mother Jones, 9/17).

Colorado

Voters in Colorado will consider a constitutional "personhood" amendment (Amendment 67) that would change the state's constitution to protect "pregnant women and unborn children by defining 'person' and 'child' in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings."

Colorado voters have rejected personhood amendments twice before (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/24). This year, supporters of the amendment are framing it as a way to prosecute people who harm a fetus during a crime, rather than as an antiabortion-rights initiative, according to Mother Jones. For example, Personhood USA spokesperson Jennifer Mason said the amendment would "correc[t] the loophole in Colorado law and ensur[e] that those criminals can be charged with killing a child in many different scenarios."

However, opponents of the amendment -- including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the Colorado Bar Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- say it would grant constitutional rights beginning at fertilization and could be used to criminally charge women seeking abortions and abortion providers. In addition, opponents say that the amendment could restrict access to some contraceptives in the state.

North Dakota

Similarly, voters in North Dakota will consider a personhood amendment (SCR 4009) that would change the state's constitution to protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development."

Supporters say the measure would protect existing state laws governing abortion from legal challenges. In addition, state Sen. Margaret Sitte (R) also said it would "present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."

However, opponents of the measure say it would effectively ban all abortion services in the state, criminalize miscarriages and prohibit the use of certain contraceptives. According to the North Dakota Coalition for Privacy in Healthcare, the amendment could force "[v]ictims of rape and incest ... to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence" and prohibit "[w]omen whose health is at risk ... from terminating their pregnancies" (Mother Jones, 9/17).

Tennessee

Meanwhile, Tennessee residents in November will vote on a ballot initiative (Amendment 1) that would amend the state constitution to include the statement, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/16).

According to Mother Jones, opponents of the measure are concerned that its passage would clear the way for Tennessee lawmakers to pass antiabortion-rights legislation that courts have previously blocked in the state, as well as abortion clinic restrictions similar to those enacted in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia (Mother Jones, 9/17).


Few Pediatricians Offer Routine Sexual Health Services for Teens

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:36

Research suggests that many pediatricians avoid talking to teenagers about sex and fail to routinely offer sexual health-related services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Few Pediatricians Offer Routine Sexual Health Services for Teens

September 16, 2014 — Research suggests that many pediatricians avoid talking to teenagers about sex and fail to routinely offer sexual health-related services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For example, a study in the Journal of Pediatrics this year found that only 20% of 1,000 teens in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were asked about their sexual history during a routine checkup with their pediatrician. A separate CDC study published this summer found that only one in five sexually experienced teens had ever been tested for HIV.

Meanwhile, CDC has found that vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus are falling far short of its recommendation that all teens receive the shots. According to a CDC report, only 38% of girls and 14% of boys ages 13 to 17 have been fully vaccinated against HPV, which can cause cancer.

Reasons for Lack of Discussion

Time constraints and a lack of training on how to handle issues related to adolescent sexuality are among the reasons that physicians sometimes fail to discuss the topic, according to the Wall Street Journal. Further, many pediatricians simply are not comfortable talking about sex.

Veenod Chulani, director of adolescent medicine at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, noted that many pediatricians are only trained on adolescent-specific services for about one month during their residencies. In addition, they have many other topics -- such as smoking, bullying and depression -- that they are supposed discuss with their patients during visits that are as short as 15 minutes and must also include a physical exam.

Steps To Improve Care

Organizations like Physicians for Reproductive Health are taking steps to improve physician training, such as lectures and workshops for pediatricians on sexual health.

Meanwhile, CDC is funding programs that bolster services for teens, like the Get Yourself Tested Campaign, which uses social media to promote the need for screenings (Whalen, Wall Street Journal, 9/14).


Lending Discrimination During Pregnancy, Maternity Leave Draws Federal Investigations

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:34

Lending discrimination during pregnancy or maternity leave is "producing a steady flow of complaints" to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a HUD official, the Washington Post's "Federal Eye" reports.

Lending Discrimination During Pregnancy, Maternity Leave Draws Federal Investigations

September 18, 2014 — Lending discrimination during pregnancy or maternity leave is "producing a steady flow of complaints" to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a HUD official, the Washington Post's "Federal Eye" reports.

Bryan Greene, HUD's general deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said HUD has launched 173 investigations since 2010 into lending discrimination against mortgage applicants taking maternity leave, including 15 investigations this year.

A number of those investigations have ended with the lender reaching settlements with the Department of Justice and HUD. For example, in a recent case, FirstBank Mortgage Partner agreed to pay $35,000 to settle claims that it violated the Fair Housing Act by denying a mortgage to a couple because the woman was on maternity leave, even though she expected to return to work.

DOJ and HUD have also settled cases and levied fines against several other lenders, including Bank of America, Cornerstone Mortgage, MGIC and PNC Mortgage, all of which denied any wrongdoing in their settlement agreements. The banks have argued that they could deny loans because they expect a loss of income when women are on maternity leave and because women might not return to work.

Lenders Have 'Antiquated' View of Families

MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner called the banks' assumptions "antiquated, ridiculous and just not true." She noted that about 50% of women today return to paid work within three months of childbirth, more than 70% of mothers who have young children are in the workforce, and 40% of mothers are the primary breadwinner or the only breadwinner for their families.

Greene said, "[I]n many instances, we find lenders just stop dead at the word 'pregnancy' or 'maternity leave.'" He added that lenders often fail to inquire about whether women plan to go back to work and instead "go on the assumptions that women won't return to work."

MomsRising is working with HUD on the issue and collecting discrimination reports from its members to share with the department (Wax-Thibodeaux, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 9/16).


Blogs Comment on Patient Trust Act, Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case, More

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:34

Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the Huffington Post, RH Reality Check and more.

Blogs Comment on Patient Trust Act, Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case, More

September 12, 2014 — Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the Huffington Post, RH Reality Check and more.

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS AND ACCESS: "Doctors Aren't Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act," Kate Michelman, Huffington Post blogs: The Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee this week discussed a bill (HB 2303), introduced in July, that "says that politicians have no business putting words that are 'not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient' into the mouths of doctors," writes Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America and co-chair of WomenVotePA. She writes that the legislation is important because "politicians have made it difficult -- and in some cases even illegal -- for doctors to keep that sacred obligation," such as through measures "proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women's health and safety." Michelman cites a report that found a majority of states have passed such laws and concludes, "It's time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists" because "[w]omen need to be able to trust that the voice they're hearing is from their physician" (Michelman, Huffington Post blogs, 9/10).

What others are saying about abortion restrictions and access:

~ "Texas' Radical Anti-Abortion Law Faces Hearing Friday," Jessica Mason Pieklo, RH Reality Check.

CONTRACEPTION: "OB-GYNs Warn Candidates Against Pretending To Support Birth Control for Political Gain," Tara Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress": "Several Republican candidates have recently come out in favor of" over-the-counter access to contraception, "leading Democratic groups to accuse them of merely paying lip service to reproductive health to win over female voters," Culp-Ressler writes, noting that the debate has spurred the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to warn candidates that OTC access to birth control "shouldn't be used as a 'political tool.'" Culp-Ressler notes that while ACOG welcomes the "'[r]ecent political discussions on the importance of OTC access to contraceptives,'" the group "'remains firmly in support of comprehensive strategies to increase adoption of more-effective methods and to provide all women with the contraceptives they need at no cost'" (Culp-Ressler, "ThinkProgress," Center for American Progress, 9/10).

SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE: "#WhyIStayed," Rachel Leibrock, Huffington Post blogs: Leibrock comments on the recent controversy surrounding former NFL player Ray Rice after a video surfaced of him assaulting Janay Rice, who was his fiancé at the time and is now his wife. She notes that the video spurred many observers to question "[w]hy on earth would someone stay in an abusive relationship" and explains that the "answers came into focus as thousands took to Twitter to share their experiences through #WhyIStayed." The tweets "were powerful, with recurring themes of self-loathing, a sense of worthlessness, a fear that life without that person would somehow be worse than with him," she writes, adding that instead of "ask[ing] someone why she stayed or why she still says," people should "offer a nonjudgmental lifeline" (Leibrock, Huffington Post blogs, 9/10).

What others are saying about sexual and gender-based violence:

~ "Domestic Violence Kills More People Than Wars, Global Study Finds," Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress."

~ "Students Show Solidarity by Helping Columbia Rape Survivor Carry her Mattress," Maya Dusenbery, Feministing.

SUPPORTING WORKING FAMILIES: "The Fight To Let Pregnant Women Work Reaches the Supreme Court," Lenora Lapidus, American Civil Liberties Union's "Blog of Rights": The Supreme Court this term is scheduled to consider a pregnancy discrimination case in which the high court will "decide whether employers ... must offer light duty and other accommodations to pregnant workers that are provided to other employees," Lapidus writes, noting that ACLU has filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff. Lapidus writes that incidents in which women are forced to take unpaid leave from their jobs instead of being given light duty "have long-term effects on women's ability to maintain stable careers and achieve equality in the workforce" and "are part of the larger picture of persistent inequality for working women who become pregnant and have children." Lapidus writes," We hope the Supreme Court agrees: It's time for employers to let women -- including pregnant women -- remain at work" (Lapidus, "Blog of Rights," ACLU, 9/11).

SUPREME COURT: "The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Men's Rights, Hobby Lobby, and the 'Dream' Reproductive Freedom Case," Lori Adelman, Feministing: At a recent event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the International Women's Health Coalition, Adelman heard Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discuss topics including gender equality, reproductive health and Hobby Lobby. On gender equality, Ginsburg said, "The climate has changed in this country, which makes it possible to break down barriers to [gender] equality." However, she also acknowledged that "subtle discrimination" still exists and that "[o]ne of the biggest problems to overcome is unconscious bias." On the Hobby Lobby ruling, Ginsburg said, "Preventative care is as important as many other things that a health care package covers," so "[m]aybe [the reaction to] Hobby [L]obby will get everyone -- even some of my colleagues [on the Supreme Court] -- to think more about this issue than they [originally] did, when it comes up the second time around" (Adelman, Feministing, 9/10).


'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:31

The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

September 18, 2014 — The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer and senior legal analyst at CNN, explains that O'Connor "[a]lmost single handedly ... rewrote abortion law" in her 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey by ruling that "while states did have the right to regulate some aspects of abortion ... such power to constrain a woman's choice had limits."

More specifically, he adds, "As O'Connor put it, 'Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.'"

However, the phrase undue burden "did not have a fixed, self-evident definition," and "the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking" after O'Connor left the court and it became more conservative, Toobin continues. More recently, conservative state politicians have increasingly "sought to make obtaining an abortion even more difficult," prompting new tests of the standard in court, he explains.

Toobin argues that a Texas law's (HB 2) effect of closing many abortion clinics in the state seems to be "the very definition of an undue burden -- a law whose 'purpose or effect' was 'to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.'"

While a federal judge "reached just that conclusion" and found portions of the law unconstitutional, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the "first in a series of appeals relating to the Texas law" said that "a decrease in the number of abortion providers did not impose an undue burden, because of the existence of providers elsewhere in Texas or in neighboring states," according to Toobin.

"In other words, the members of the Fifth Circuit panel seem to believe that anything short of a nationwide ban on abortion does not amount to an undue burden on women’s rights," Toobin argues. "The question, now, is whether" O'Connor's undue burden "achievement will soon be gone," he concludes (Toobin, New Yorker, 9/16).


Obama, Biden To Announce White House Campaign Against Campus Sexual Assaults

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:29

President Obama and Vice President Biden on Friday will announce a White House campaign to promote awareness of sexual assault on college campuses throughout the country, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.

Obama, Biden To Announce White House Campaign Against Campus Sexual Assaults

September 17, 2014 — President Obama and Vice President Biden on Friday will announce a White House campaign to promote awareness of sexual assault on college campuses throughout the country, the AP/U-T San Diego reports (Pickler, AP/U-T San Diego, 9/15).

The efforts come after the White House in April released guidelines designed to increase pressure on colleges to address the issue on their campuses (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/29).

Focus on Men

According to White House officials, the It's On Us campaign will challenge everyone at colleges and universities to treat preventing sexual assault as a personal responsibility, but it will particularly focus on the role of male students.

White House aides cited research that suggests men are reluctant to speak out against sexual assault because they believe that other men condone it. The aides said that Obama and Biden plan to talk about the issue as an example of how men can change those societal norms.

Outreach

According to the AP/U-T San Diego, the campaign will use social media and partnerships with private organizations and colleges to reach students. The goal is to foster a culture that treats sexual assault as unacceptable and ensures that survivors get the support they need.

In addition, the Obama administration plans to release materials to support student-driven initiatives. The White House Task Force To Protect Students from Sexual Assault is expected to release model policies this month that schools can use to address the issue (AP/U-T San Diego, 9/15).


Lawmakers, Groups File Briefs in Support of Woman in Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:28

Dozens of Democratic members of Congress, advocacy groups, business leaders and a bipartisan coalition of state legislators have filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to side with a former UPS driver in her pregnancy discrimination case, the Washington Post reports.

Lawmakers, Groups File Briefs in Support of Woman in Supreme Court Pregnancy Discrimination Case

September 12, 2014 — Dozens of Democratic members of Congress, advocacy groups, business leaders and a bipartisan coalition of state legislators have filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to side with a former UPS driver in her pregnancy discrimination case, the Washington Post reports.

The briefs argue that the court should ensure that pregnant women can receive reasonable accommodations that enable them to continue working during pregnancy (Schulte, Washington Post, 9/11).

Background of Lawsuit

The Supreme Court announced this summer that it would hear the case in its upcoming term. The lawsuit involves UPS employee Peggy Young, who was denied a light-duty assignment that would have allowed her to continue working during her pregnancy. Young took an unpaid leave of absence and returned to her job after giving birth but lost her employer-sponsored health benefits during the leave of absence.

She sued UPS under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PL 95-555). A federal judge and a Virginia-based appeals court both ruled against Young, finding that UPS' policy treated pregnant and non-pregnant employees alike.

Young in her appeal to the Supreme Court argued that the PDA requires employers to accommodate pregnant workers' needs in the same way that they would accommodate workers with comparable "ability or inability to work," regardless of the origin of a worker's condition.

Meanwhile, UPS in court filings has said that the company acted lawfully because it used criteria other than pregnancy to determine which employees were eligible for light duty (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/2).

Brief From Members of Congress

In their brief, 99 Democratic House lawmakers, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and 24 Democratic senators urged the Supreme Court to rule that pregnant workers have the right to reasonable accommodations so they are not forced to leave their jobs. They argued that current provisions of federal law are designed with the intention to "ensure that pregnant women were no longer treated as second-class citizens on the job" (Yen, AP/Huffington Post, 9/11).

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said of the case, "We shouldn't have to debate this issue in the 21st century. But the facts of this case make clear that far too many pregnant women suffer workplace discrimination."

Other Briefs

In a separate brief, the American Civil Liberties Union and A Better Balance said that pregnant workers are regularly denied accommodations available to other categories of workers.

Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, said, "The only people being pushed out of their jobs and forced onto unpaid leave are going to be pregnant women. It's really sex discrimination that's at stake." She added that this results in women being forced out of jobs that could continue with accommodations, resulting in hardships such as losing their health insurance and housing (Washington Post, 9/11).

Meanwhile, another brief from a group of 12 organizations that work to improve maternal and infant health argued, "Denying pregnant workers the same modest modifications afforded to other employees with similar work restrictions not only violates the [PDA], it contravenes sound health, economic, and social policy," adding, "When an employer forces a pregnant woman to choose between her health care provider's advice and her job, that choice can risk compromising her health and the health of her pregnancy."

The National Partnership for Women & Families, which worked to help enact the PDA, led the organizations in filing the brief, which was joined by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American Public Health Association and National Advocates for Pregnant Women, among several other groups (National Partnership release, 9/12).

In addition, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce filed a brief arguing that providing pregnant women with reasonable accommodations is important to the U.S. economy.

Next Steps in Supreme Court Case

The deadline to submit amicus briefs in support of Young was Thursday. Briefs in support of UPS are due in October, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to begin oral arguments on Dec. 3 (Washington Post, 9/11).


Mandatory Delays Treat Women as 'Incapable of Making Decisions' About Abortion, Op-Ed Argues

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:27

When the Missouri Legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's (D) veto of a bill (HR 1307) that mandates a 72-hour delay before a woman can obtain an abortion, it was "a particularly good illustration of how needless abortion regulations treat women as second-class citizens who are incapable of making decisions for themselves," Scott Lemieux, a political science professor at the College of Saint Rose, writes in an opinion piece in The Week.

Mandatory Delays Treat Women as 'Incapable of Making Decisions' About Abortion, Op-Ed Argues

September 17, 2014 — When the Missouri Legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's (D) veto of a bill (HR 1307) that mandates a 72-hour delay before a woman can obtain an abortion, it was "a particularly good illustration of how needless abortion regulations treat women as second-class citizens who are incapable of making decisions for themselves," Scott Lemieux, a political science professor at the College of Saint Rose, writes in an opinion piece in The Week.

Mandatory delay periods "do nothing to make the abortion procedure safer," and they "disproportionately affect the most vulnerable women," he argues. A delay might be a "manageable annoyance for women in urban areas with flexible work schedules," he explains, "but for women who have to travel long distances to obtain an abortion, the burden imposed is substantial, indeed."

Such a law "is inconsistent both with a woman's reproductive freedom and her right to the equal protection of the laws" because it "constitutes an 'undue burden' in every possible sense," Lemieux argues (Lemieux, The Week, 9/16).


Religious Not-for-Profits Likely To Petition Supreme Court Over Contraceptive Coverage

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 15:00

The Supreme Court this fall will likely receive petitions from religiously affiliated not-for-profits that continue to oppose a federal rule designed to ensure that enrollees in their health plans have access to contraceptive coverage, Politico Pro reports.

Religious Not-for-Profits Likely To Petition Supreme Court Over Contraceptive Coverage

September 18, 2014 — The Supreme Court this fall will likely receive petitions from religiously affiliated not-for-profits that continue to oppose a federal rule designed to ensure that enrollees in their health plans have access to contraceptive coverage, Politico Pro reports.

Dozens of religiously affiliated not-for-profits that oppose contraception have filed lawsuits that are making their way through the courts. The plaintiffs object to an accommodation that enables the government to work with a third party or insurer to facilitate contraceptive coverage for members of their health plans (Haberkorn, Politico Pro, 9/17).

Background

HHS crafted the accommodation as a way for not-for-profits with religious objections to contraception to avoid providing the coverage directly, while also ensuring that members of their health plans have access to the contraceptive coverage benefits under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/22).

The not-for-profits are required to inform HHS of their objections, but some object to the process for doing so (Politico Pro, 9/17).

Last month, in an effort to address the ongoing court challenges, HHS announced a new rule that maintains the accommodation but creates a second way for those entities to provide notice of their objections.

Under the new option, religiously affiliated not-for-profits can send a letter to HHS stating that they object to offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans. Such organizations still have the original option of filling out a form to send to the insurer if they prefer.

The rule took effect immediately upon publication, but HHS said it would take comments (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/22).

Potential Supreme Court Petitions

Multiple plaintiffs are expected to file petitions with the Supreme Court for its upcoming term, according to Politico Pro. Although the multiple petitions might compel the court to take a case, the justices also might decide against addressing the issue just yet if lower courts reach similar conclusions in pending cases, Politico Pro reports.

The University of Notre Dame has the option of appealing its case to the high court by Oct. 4 after a lower court denied its request for an injunction against the accommodation. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., could ask the Supreme Court to consider its case, which involves multiple plaintiffs, after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday turned down its request for a rehearing.

Further, the losing party in the Archdiocese of Washington's case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to appeal to the high court. The D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the case in May and later asked the parties to submit court filings responding to the latest HHS rule.

On Tuesday, the archdiocese said it believes the changes continue to force "religious believers to violate their sincere religious beliefs." However, the administration noted that the Supreme Court in its Hobby Lobby decision, which involved a private business, "expressly stated" that the accommodation for not-for-profits respects such entities' religious beliefs while ensuring that their employees have the same access to contraceptives as individuals whose employers have no religious objections (Politico Pro, 9/17).


'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 14:22

The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

'Undue Burden' Standard for Abortion Rights Threatened, New Yorker's Toobin Argues

September 18, 2014 — The words "undue burden" should be considered "the most important triumph" of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's tenure, but judges' comments in a key Texas case suggest that this longstanding standard for abortion-rights cases is threatened, Jeffrey Toobin writes in the New Yorker.

Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer and senior legal analyst at CNN, explains that O'Connor "[a]lmost single handedly ... rewrote abortion law" in her 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey by ruling that "while states did have the right to regulate some aspects of abortion ... such power to constrain a woman's choice had limits."

More specifically, he adds, "As O'Connor put it, 'Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.'"

However, the phrase undue burden "did not have a fixed, self-evident definition," and "the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking" after O'Connor left the court and it became more conservative, Toobin continues. More recently, conservative state politicians have increasingly "sought to make obtaining an abortion even more difficult," prompting new tests of the standard in court, he explains.

Toobin argues that a Texas law's (HB 2) effect of closing many abortion clinics in the state seems to be "the very definition of an undue burden -- a law whose 'purpose or effect' was 'to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.'"

While a federal judge "reached just that conclusion" and found portions of the law unconstitutional, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the "first in a series of appeals relating to the Texas law" said that "a decrease in the number of abortion providers did not impose an undue burden, because of the existence of providers elsewhere in Texas or in neighboring states," according to Toobin.

"In other words, the members of the Fifth Circuit panel seem to believe that anything short of a nationwide ban on abortion does not amount to an undue burden on women’s rights," Toobin argues. "The question, now, is whether" O'Connor's undue burden "achievement will soon be gone," he concludes (Toobin, New Yorker, 9/16).