Daily Women's Health Policy Report

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Daily Women's Health Policy Report by the National Partnership for Women & Families
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Supporters, Opponents of Abortion Rights Both Urging Women To Share Abortion Stories

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:07

Groups on both sides of the abortion-rights debate are increasingly encouraging women to share their abortion stories and believe that such efforts will help their respective causes, NPR's "Shots" reports.

Supporters, Opponents of Abortion Rights Both Urging Women To Share Abortion Stories

January 5, 2015 — Groups on both sides of the abortion-rights debate are increasingly encouraging women to share their abortion stories and believe that such efforts will help their respective causes, NPR's "Shots" reports.

Supporters of abortion rights say that discussing women's personal experiences with abortion helps reduce stigma surrounding the procedure. For example, the 1 in 3 Campaign last month held a "live-streamed abortion speakout" for women to share their stories, according to "Shots."

Advocates for Youth President Deb Hauser said the need for women to share their abortion stories is especially strong as states enact additional restrictions on the procedure.

Hauser said, "If we are silent, what's left is this void for other people to fill, and [abortion-rights opponents have] filled it with a lot of shame and judgment," adding, "We have to make the political the personal now, and we have to stand up and put women's real-life stories in the middle of this dialogue around abortion care or we're gonna lose."

Meanwhile, opponents of abortion rights are using websites such as Abort73 to promote stories of women who "wish they had not had the abortion," according to Michael Spielman, founder of the site. Abortion-rights opponents hope such stories will build support for the anti-choice position.

Research on Sharing Abortion Stories

People tend to tell their abortion stories to others who they think will support their decision, according to a study by New York University sociologist Sarah Cowan. Thus, a "person who has more lenient attitudes with regards to abortion is more likely to learn that the women they know have had abortions," while their antiabortion-rights peers, even in the same social group, are less likely to hear such stories, Cowan explained.

However, it is unclear whether individuals on average become more supportive of abortion rights after hearing abortion stories, according to "Shots."

Some researchers have argued that individuals would become more supportive, such as has occurred with the issues of same-sex marriage and race relations. Cowan noted that the issue has not been widely researched with regard to abortion but that her data suggest abortion stories could have an effect on people's opinions (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/29/14).


Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 19:06

Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

January 5, 2015 — Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report (Sneed, U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

20-Week Ban

Abortion-rights opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee, intend to support legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development.

A number of states have passed such bans (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/30/14). However, lawsuits challenging 20-week bans are pending in several states (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14). Courts have blocked the bans in two states.

According to NRLC State Legislative Director Mary Spaulding Balch, 20-week bans have better chances for passage in 2015 than in previous years in South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

On the federal level, the House and Senate -- both of which will have conservative majorities -- could vote on a 20-week ban in the new Congress. The House passed such a ban (HR 1797) in 2013, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year promised to hold a vote on a 20-week ban if the GOP gained control of the Senate (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Other Legislation

Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers likely will push for more abortion restrictions in 2015 because of the passage of a ballot measure (Amendment 1) last fall that was seen as giving the state more leeway to enact such bills, according to "Shots" ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

In addition, abortion-rights opponents have said they will push for legislation in more states to prevent abortion providers from dispensing medication abortion drugs via telemedicine, according to U.S. News & World Report. Seventeen states currently have such bans on the books, although some have been blocked by courts.

Opponents of abortion rights also might seek to restrict medication abortion in other ways. The Supreme Court in December declined to consider a lower court's decision blocking an Arizona law (HB 2036) restricting medication abortion, meaning that the law will remain unenforced for now. However, it is not clear whether the high court's move will make abortion-rights opponents any less likely to push for similar restrictions in other states, according to U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Spaulding Balch said her group will also fight efforts to increase protections for abortion rights in New York and Washington state, where conservatives gained seats in the state legislatures.

Potential for SCOTUS Case

Mixed rulings by appellate courts could increase the chances that the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case regarding abortion restrictions, "Shots" reports.

Speaking about antiabortion-rights laws in general, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, "Fortunately, many of the most extreme laws that have been passed have been found unconstitutional by the courts, and we have been able to block them." She added, "Courts have recognized that these by and large are sham laws that are designed to make it difficult for women to have abortions. They don't serve any medical necessity, and the courts have seen through that."

Specifically, courts have declared some state laws unconstitutional, such as certain restrictions on medication abortions and some laws forcing physicians to show women seeking an abortion an ultrasound image of the fetus. However, some challenged restrictions remain in effect, including some imposing new building codes for abortion clinics ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Supreme Court might take up a case regarding legislation requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Of the almost a dozen such laws passed by states, more than 50% are currently being contested in the courts, and federal appeals courts have issued split decisions on their constitutionality (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).


Groups Converge To Back Proactive Reproductive Health Agenda

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 16:36

bout 60 women's health organizations have formed a coalition to urge state lawmakers to back policies supporting women's health and reproductive rights, the Latin Post reports.

Groups Converge To Back Proactive Reproductive Health Agenda

January 5, 2015 — About 60 women's health organizations have formed a coalition to urge state lawmakers to back policies supporting women's health and reproductive rights, the Latin Post reports.

Background

Between 2011 and 2013, 30 state legislatures passed 205 laws restricting abortion, according to a Guttmacher Institute study. The number of antiabortion-rights laws passed in those years exceeded the total passed in the previous decade.

The increase in abortion restrictions stemmed in part from the 2010 election, when conservatives gained control of many state legislatures and governorships, according to the Post. In addition, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) in March 2010 increased attention to insurance coverage of abortion and sparked new debates over restricting such coverage.

Policy Recommendations

The coalition has outlined its approach in a working paper, "Moving in a New Direction: A Proactive State Policy Resource for Promoting Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice."

To produce the report, the Center for Reproductive Rights looked at evidence-based policies that advance the lives of women and families, according to the Post.

The report is divided into sections, each of which contains expert-supported policies that have been introduced in at least one state. The report also includes case studies about expanding abortion access, empowering young people about sexual and reproductive health decisions, expanding access to contraception, supporting pregnant women's rights, and implementing the ACA.

Comments

"It's not enough to say which policies we oppose -- we need to show people exactly the kind of world we're fighting for," National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Director of Public Affairs Kimberly Inez McGuire said in a statement.

"After years of relentless attacks on reproductive health care, millions of women across the nation are now left with rapidly disappearing safe and legal options," Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, adding that the paper "provides forward-thinking and innovative policies for state officials who want to put the lives and well-being of their constituents first" (Myles, Latin Post, 12/23/14).


Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 16:30

President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Obama Will Not Re-nominate Controversial Judicial Nominee Boggs

January 5, 2015 — President Obama in 2015 will not re-nominate judicial nominee Michael Boggs, who failed to be confirmed after drawing opposition from Democrats for his conservative views, including those on abortion rights, Politico reports.

Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, announced the news in a press release on Tuesday, and a White House official confirmed the president's decision on Wednesday. The senators said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough informed them more than a month ago of Obama's decision to not re-nominate Boggs (Everett, Politico, 12/31/14).

Background

Obama nominated Boggs, a Georgia appeals judge and former state legislator, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

In May, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Boggs sharply about his support for antiabortion-rights legislation during his time as a state legislator from 2000 to 2004. Democrats and progressive groups also raised concern about Boggs' support for displaying the Confederate flag and opposition to same-sex marriage.

In September, Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Boggs did not have enough votes in the committee to advance his nomination. His nomination expired at the end of 2014 (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/23/14).

Boggs was nominated along with six other Georgia judicial nominees whom Obama, Chambliss and Isakson originally agreed to support, but he was the only one not confirmed. The group included nominees favored by both Republicans and Democrats (Bendery, Huffington Post, 12/31/14).

Reaction, Next Steps

Chambliss and Isakson said in a statement, "We regret the President's decision, as we have supported Judge Boggs throughout this process and remain steadfast in our support."

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who helped lead the opposition to Boggs' nomination, said, "I'm glad that the President has closed the door on this nomination so we can start the new year looking ahead, not back. There are hundreds of qualified attorneys in Georgia who could serve as a federal judge and I ask that an open and fair process be used to select the next nominees."

Rather than nominating someone for the post as part of a package of judges selected by both parties, Obama will now be able to select a single nominee for the vacancy Boggs would have filled who will be favored by Democrats, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Political Insider" (Malloy, "Political Insider," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/31/14).


NYT Op-Ed: Abortion Views Sometimes Don't Fit Stereotypes

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:54

While "[t]he perception that men and women have divergent views on abortion has persisted over time," the "polling confounds such stereotypes," Razib Khan writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

NYT Op-Ed: Abortion Views Sometimes Don't Fit Stereotypes

January 5, 2015 — While "[t]he perception that men and women have divergent views on abortion has persisted over time," the "polling confounds such stereotypes," Razib Khan writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

Khan, a doctoral candidate in genomics at the University of California-Davis, writes that the fact that women have been more likely, on average, to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates in recent elections "is often assumed to be [the result of] a difference in attitudes to women's reproductive rights."

However, Khan notes that in 17 of the 23 years that the General Social Survey has asked "the question of whether a woman should be allowed to get an abortion if she 'wants it for any reason' ... men have answered 'yes' to a greater extent than women" and that the average gender gap has been 1.5 percentage points.

Analyses of the survey results show that "sex and age were usually not independently significant" for answers to the question, while factors that were "highly predictive of attitudes toward abortion" included biblical literalism, political ideology and religious attendance.

Further, Khan adds that while "conservative women are the most anti-abortion segment of the population, and liberal women are the most in favor of abortion rights," more than 25% of "extremely liberal" women in the survey answered "no" to the question, while nearly 20% of "extremely conservative" women answered "yes."

Khan acknowledges that while "there is a large gap between these ideologically polarized positions ... we miss a substantial proportion of the electorate if all we apprehend is the stylized cartoon" (Khan, New York Times, 1/2).


L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:31

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

L.A. Times: Appeals Court 'Made the Right Decision' in Striking Down N.C. Ultrasound Law

January 5, 2015 — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "made the right decision ... when it struck down a key provision in a North Carolina law [HB 854] requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and then both show and describe the sonogram images to them," a Los Angeles Times editorial argues.

The Times adds that the provision, which the court found to be "an unconstitutional violation of the free-speech rights of doctors," is one of many state laws nationwide "designed not to protect the health of a woman and her fetus but to discourage her from exercising her constitutionally protected right to abortion."

While "[t]here's nothing wrong with providing pertinent information about risks and benefits of a medical procedure so that a patient can make an informed choice," the North Carolina provision "goes beyond science, requiring a doctor to show his patient the sonogram and describe the fetus in detail -- even if she averts her eyes and refuses to listen," the Times continues.

The editorial adds, "The purpose is not to inform the patient about objective, scientific facts, but merely to persuade her not to have an abortion" (Los Angeles Times, 12/23/14).


NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:25

A New York Times editorial applauds President Obama and Congress for recently "easing a 1979 rule that prohibited the Peace Corps from providing any abortion coverage for female volunteers" and urges Obama to "follow up this laudable change" by correcting a "misinterpretation" of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which "restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal."

NYT Editorial: President Obama Must End 'Misinterpretation' of Helms Amendment

January 5, 2015 — A New York Times editorial applauds President Obama and Congress for recently "easing a 1979 rule that prohibited the Peace Corps from providing any abortion coverage for female volunteers" and urges Obama to "follow up this laudable change" by correcting a "misinterpretation" of the 1973 Helms Amendment, which "restricts the use of foreign aid to pay for abortions overseas, even in countries where abortion is legal."

The editorial explains that the amendment has been incorrectly interpreted as a "blanket ban governing the use of American foreign aid" for abortion. In fact, the amendment's wording bars federal money from funding "'abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions,'" which "clearly does not apply to cases of rape, incest or life endangerment," the editorial states. Nonetheless, the amendment "has been treated as if it did by successive administrations, including Mr. Obama's," according to the editorial.

Further, the editorial argues that the misreading of the amendment could constitute a violation of "Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which entitles all victims of armed conflict, including rape victims in war zones, to nondiscriminatory medical treatment."

In addition, the "flawed interpretation ... has even prevented foreign aid recipients from offering information about abortion -- at a public health conference abroad, for instance," the editorial notes (New York Times, 12/28/14).


Irish High Court Rules Physicians May End Mechanical Support for Clinically Dead Pregnant Woman

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 15:19

Physicians in Ireland last week removed mechanical support from a clinically dead pregnant woman after the country's High Court ruled that the fetus had no chance of survival, CNN reports.

Irish High Court Rules Physicians May End Mechanical Support for Clinically Dead Pregnant Woman

January 5, 2015 — Physicians in Ireland last week removed mechanical support from a clinically dead pregnant woman after the country's High Court ruled that the fetus had no chance of survival, CNN reports (Taggart/Capelouto, CNN, 1/2).

Background

The woman lost all brain function after experiencing a blood clot. The woman's family wished to end mechanical support, but physicians would not do so because they believed they were legally required to protect the fetus. The fetus was at 16 weeks of gestation when legal action was first sought; a fetus is not viable outside the womb until about 24 weeks.

Irish medical law requires physicians to grant equal status to the woman and the fetus. Last year, Ireland's Parliament legalized abortion when the procedure is needed to save a woman's life, including when there is a threat of suicide because of the pregnancy. However, the law does not allow abortions in other instances, including rape, incest, fetal anomaly or when there is no prospect of the fetus surviving outside the womb (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/22/14).

High Court Ruling

The court's ruling stated that the case was "tragic and unfortunate" and that medical experts did not present any medical or ethical basis to keep the woman on mechanical support through "a process described as verging on the grotesque" (CNN, 1/2).

Still, the court left open the possibility that future cases could be decided differently if the fetus was closer to viability.

The three-judge panel heard testimony from seven physicians who stated that the fetus could not survive for the additional two months needed until it could be possibly viable. In addition, the physicians said the woman's body was becoming harmful to the fetus because of infections, fungal growths, fever and high blood pressure.

One doctor testified that he and colleagues could not reach a consensus on how to interpret Ireland's constitutional abortion ban because of a lack of specific guidelines for such cases. Doctors also testified that the woman's body was deteriorating and that the treatments being used to sustain bodily functions were not authorized for use in pregnant women and were essentially being used experimentally.

Reaction

Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who supports additional medical exceptions to the abortion ban, said the government would study the case.

Catholic Church leaders questioned why the government has not issued clearer guidelines for cases in which the fetus will not survive. Meanwhile, Ireland's main antiabortion-rights group said that resolving such cases in court "is a sign of a healthy democracy" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 12/26/14).


Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 20:09

A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

December 23, 2014 — A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

After hearing oral arguments earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon gave the parties until Dec. 19 to reach an agreement, but attorneys said in filings that day that they remained at odds (Bowling, Pittsburg Tribune-Review, 12/19).

Background

The Pittsburgh buffer zone law is a modified version of a 2005 ordinance that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down in 2009. In that ruling, the appeals court said the ordinance was illegal because it barred protesters from leafleting and other forms of free speech within a 15-foot zone around any "hospital or health care facility" and also barred protesters from coming within an 8-foot "bubble zone" of women who were within 100 feet of a clinic.

After the ruling, the city decided to drop the bubble zone provision. Further, another federal judge ruled that protesters could distribute leaflets and converse with women on a one-on-one basis as long as they did not "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the buffer zone (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Lawsuit Details

The antiabortion-rights activists, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, claim that the law violates a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts law barring protesters from entering a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh city attorneys have said the city's ordinance does not raise the First Amendment issues the court noted in the Massachusetts case (Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, 12/19). They have argued that the law is "content neutral" because it applies to all health care facilities in the city. In addition, Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy has contended that tactics such as sidewalk counseling and leafleting amount to "demonstrating" (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Both sides in their filings last week said they will continue negotiating. In the meantime, they will file final legal arguments to enable Bissoon to rule on the request for an injunction (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 12/19).


Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 20:08

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports.

Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

December 23, 2014 — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports (Jenkins, Reuters, 12/22).

According to bill sponsor state Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R), other provisions of the legislation, including the creation of a website listing information about abortion alternatives, remain in effect (O'Dell, AP/Miami Herald, 12/22).

Background

The requirement that providers display and describe the ultrasound image never took effect after being challenged by a coalition of several groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the provision earlier this year, saying that it violates physicians' free-speech rights because the state does not have "the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state's ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit. Cooper said at the time that while he personally "oppose[s] laws like this that force the state into women's medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/30).

Latest Ruling

Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the 4th Circuit panel that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights.

Wilkinson wrote, "The state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient" and that "this compelled speech provision" violates the First Amendment (Reuters, 12/22).

He continued, "Transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

Wilkinson added that the provision "forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose ... is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions."

Reaction

The North Carolina Office of the Attorney General on Monday said that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, noting that other courts had upheld a similar requirement in Texas. Courts also struck down such a measure in Oklahoma (Somashekhar, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 12/22).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said in a statement, "Today's ruling marks another major victory for women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: [i]t is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions about abortion" (Reuters, 12/22).

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).


Blogs Review Women's Health Battles of 2014, Look Ahead to Next Year

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 18:45

Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, "ThinkProgress" and more.

Blogs Review Women's Health Battles of 2014, Look Ahead to Next Year

December 23, 2014 — Read the week's best commentaries from bloggers at the National Women's Law Center, "ThinkProgress" and more.

INSURANCE COVERAGE: "5 Major Changes for Women's Health Coverage in 2014," Stephanie Glover, National Women's Law Center's "Womenstake": Glover notes that 2014, which was "the first year of the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act [PL 111-148]," brought "significant changes for women's access to health coverage." Glover outlines five examples of positive changes: "Access to affordable health insurance," with millions of women signing up for coverage through the ACA's marketplaces and receiving credits to help pay for coverage; the end of the practice known as "gender rating," meaning that insurers "on the individual market" can no longer "discriminate against women by charging them more than men for the same health coverage"; increased Medicaid coverage, with 27 states and Washington, D.C., having implemented expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals under the ACA; "[a]ccess to health services women need," with "[a]ll plans offered on the individual market" now "required to cover essential health benefits including preventive care" and "maternity and newborn care" which many plans often excluded before; and "[p]reventive services without cost-sharing," giving "30 million women" in 2014 access to services like "birth control, well-woman visits, and breastfeeding support and supplies" without out-of-pocket costs. However, Glover adds that "2014 also brought important set-backs for the coverage of women's reproductive health -- most notably the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision" (Glover, "Womenstake," NWLC, 12/22).

ABORTION-RIGHTS MOVEMENT: "Proof That the Women Who Share Their Abortion Stories Can Make a Difference," Tara Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress": Noting that "some advocates have started calling 2014 'the year of the abortion story,'" Culp-Ressler discusses how sharing abortion stories can "translate into more public support for legal abortion." She writes that "preliminary results" from a political canvassing study "provide some concrete evidence" that abortion-rights opponents are "more likely to shift their view about whether the procedure should be legal" when they "have an in-person conversation with a woman who's chosen to end a pregnancy." Specifically, the preliminary results show that "canvassers were able to increase public support for legal abortion by 10%." Moreover, the researchers noted a "ripple effect" in that those who heard the story "were more likely to tell other members of their households" and that "there's some evidence that the personal abortion stories softened the impact of national news related to abortion" (Culp-Ressler, "ThinkProgress," Center for American Progress, 12/22).

ABORTION RESTRICTIONS: "It's Been a Terrible Year for Reproductive Rights," Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check: Marcotte writes that "[t]hings are looking bleak for American women" when it comes to abortion and contraception access, describing "three big court cases that really show how dire things got in 2014." She reviews the Supreme Court's "asinine" reasoning behind its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, as well the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' rulings to allow enforcement of Texas' hospital admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers (Planned Parenthood v. Abbott) and ambulatory surgical center standards for clinics "even if all the facilities do is provide the abortion pill" (Whole Women's Health v. Lakey), as part of a state law (HB 2). The Supreme Court later issued a stay against enforcement of the ambulatory surgical centers provision. Marcotte adds that looking ahead to 2015, "things do not look like they're getting better," with conservative state lawmakers already filing many bills to restrict reproductive health care, including increased attacks on contraception. She writes, "Those against reproductive rights are losing culturally" and are looking to "regain control legally," adding that "as this year's events show, there's a lot of power in going that route" (Marcotte, RH Reality Check, 12/19).

What others are saying about abortion restrictions:

~ "Sponsor of Missouri's 'Father Knows Best' Bill: "It's Not a Woman's Body with an Abortion. It's a Child's Body," Katie McDonough, Salon.

~ "Federal Court Unanimously Calls North Carolina Anti-Abortion Law a Violation of the First Amendment," Culp-Ressler, Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress."

PREGNANT WOMEN'S RIGHTS: "Irish Hospital Reportedly Keeping Brain Dead Pregnant Woman Alive," Mary Williams, Salon: Williams writes that Irish officials' decision over "whether or not to honor the wishes of the family of a pregnant, brain dead woman" and end mechanical support is "further evidence that in many parts of the world, a fetus has more protections than an adult woman." Williams explains that under Irish law, the fetus "is considered as much of a citizen as the woman herself" and that the family is considering legal action. The case marks "the second potentially landmark challenge to Ireland's abortion restrictions," Williams notes, writing that a teenage immigrant "who says she was suicidal after a rape that left her pregnant" has filed a legal claim that "she was coerced into undergoing an early caesarian," even though "recent reforms to [Irish] law were supposed to help women at serious risk of medical complications or suicide to obtain [abortions]" (Williams, Salon, 12/19).

What others are saying about pregnant women's rights:

~ "Pregnant Women Aren't Being Arrested To Protect Their Fetuses," Juliana Britto Schwartz, Feministing.


Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 18:45

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports.

Appeals Court: N.C. Coercive Ultrasound Law Unconstitutional

December 23, 2014 — A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that struck down part of a 2011 North Carolina Law (HB 854) requiring doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and describe the images to them, even if they avert their eyes or cover their ears, Reuters reports (Jenkins, Reuters, 12/22).

According to bill sponsor state Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R), other provisions of the legislation, including the creation of a website listing information about abortion alternatives, remain in effect (O'Dell, AP/Miami Herald, 12/22).

Background

The requirement that providers display and describe the ultrasound image never took effect after being challenged by a coalition of several groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles struck down the provision earlier this year, saying that it violates physicians' free-speech rights because the state does not have "the power to compel a health care provider to speak, in his or her own voice, the state's ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) appealed the decision to the 4th Circuit. Cooper said at the time that while he personally "oppose[s] laws like this that force the state into women's medical decisions, the state will appeal this ruling because legitimate constitutional questions remain that should be decided by a higher court" (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/30).

Latest Ruling

Judge Harvie Wilkinson wrote for the 4th Circuit panel that the provision is an unconstitutional violation of physicians' free-speech rights.

Wilkinson wrote, "The state cannot commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient" and that "this compelled speech provision" violates the First Amendment (Reuters, 12/22).

He continued, "Transforming the physician into the mouthpiece of the state undermines the trust that is necessary for facilitating healthy doctor-patient relationships and, through them, successful treatment outcomes" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).

Wilkinson added that the provision "forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose ... is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions."

Reaction

The North Carolina Office of the Attorney General on Monday said that it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, noting that other courts had upheld a similar requirement in Texas. Courts also struck down such a measure in Oklahoma (Somashekhar, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 12/22).

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said in a statement, "Today's ruling marks another major victory for women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: [i]t is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions about abortion" (Reuters, 12/22).

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "Exam rooms are no place for propaganda and doctors should never be forced to serve as mouthpieces for politicians who wish to shame and demean women" (Los Angeles Times, 12/22).


Special Notice: Publishing Break Dec. 24-Jan. 2

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 16:32

The Women's Health Policy Report will not publish from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 2. The report resumes publication on Monday, Jan. 5.

Special Notice: Publishing Break Dec. 24-Jan. 2

December 23, 2014 — The Women's Health Policy Report will not publish from Wednesday, Dec. 24, through Friday, Jan. 2. The report resumes publication on Monday, Jan. 5.



ACOG Issues Recommendations To Ensure Contraceptive Access, Insurance Coverage

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 15:59

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued updated recommendations to ensure women have access to contraception, Medscape reports.

ACOG Issues Recommendations To Ensure Contraceptive Access, Insurance Coverage

December 23, 2014 — The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued updated recommendations to ensure women have access to contraception, Medscape reports (Hand, Medscape, 12/23).

In a committee opinion released Monday by ACOG's Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women, the group offers 18 new or revised suggestions that include fully implementing the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage rules, which require most employers to cover FDA-approved contraceptives in their employer-sponsored health plans (Winfield Cunningham, "Pulse," Politico, 12/23).

Specifically, the opinion calls for "[f]ull implementation of the [ACA's] requirement that new and revised private health insurance plans cover all [FDA]-approved contraceptives without cost sharing, including nonequivalent options from within one method category," as well as "[e]asily accessible alternative contraceptive coverage" for women with health plans through employers or insurers that do not offer it directly (ACOG committee opinion, 12/22).

Barriers to Contraceptive Access

The opinion, which will be published in January's edition of Obstetrics and Gynecology, highlights several recent developments that have limited women's access to contraceptives, including the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed certain for-profit companies to exclude contraceptive coverage from their health plans; states' efforts to weaken laws that protect contraceptive access; and 20 states' restrictions on minors' ability to consent to contraceptive services.

Further, the committee notes that more than 18 million U.S. women who needed contraceptives in 2010 were in need of publicly funded services to access them because they were either under age 20 or had incomes below the federal poverty level.

Additional Recommendations

The committee's recommendations include greater access to contraceptives for women whose health plans do not include contraceptive coverage; educational programs that are age appropriate and medically accurate; timely referrals to appropriate care from providers who do not offer contraceptive care; and payment and practice policies that allow providers to offer three- to 13-month supplies of hormonal contraceptives (Medscape, 12/23).

In addition, the committee recommends that all states expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA and that all payer and hospital formularies include all contraceptive methods ("Pulse," Politico, 12/23).

Comments

ACOG Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women Chair Wanda Nicholson said, "There have been some legal steps taken to try to restrict access, but the overall importance for improving access to contraception is the health of women, as well as being able to decide when to get pregnant." She added that the committee continually assesses and reevaluates its recommendations "as new technology and new issues arrive."

Nicholson continued, "Over the course of the last year, there has been tremendous discussion around access to family planning services, in particular access to contraception." She noted that women's ability to access contraception affects both public health and the economy, adding, "We need to take deliberate steps to ensure access and to increase and maintain open access to contraceptive methods for all women" (Medscape, 12/23).


Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 15:10

A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Federal Judge To Decide Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Case After Parties Fail To Reach Agreement

December 23, 2014 — A U.S. District Court judge will rule on five antiabortion-rights activists' request for an injunction blocking enforcement of a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance after the city and the activists failed to reach a compromise, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

After hearing oral arguments earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon gave the parties until Dec. 19 to reach an agreement, but attorneys said in filings that day that they remained at odds (Bowling, Pittsburg Tribune-Review, 12/19).

Background

The Pittsburgh buffer zone law is a modified version of a 2005 ordinance that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down in 2009. In that ruling, the appeals court said the ordinance was illegal because it barred protesters from leafleting and other forms of free speech within a 15-foot zone around any "hospital or health care facility" and also barred protesters from coming within an 8-foot "bubble zone" of women who were within 100 feet of a clinic.

After the ruling, the city decided to drop the bubble zone provision. Further, another federal judge ruled that protesters could distribute leaflets and converse with women on a one-on-one basis as long as they did not "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the buffer zone (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Lawsuit Details

The antiabortion-rights activists, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, claim that the law violates a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts law barring protesters from entering a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh city attorneys have said the city's ordinance does not raise the First Amendment issues the court noted in the Massachusetts case (Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, 12/19). They have argued that the law is "content neutral" because it applies to all health care facilities in the city. In addition, Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy has contended that tactics such as sidewalk counseling and leafleting amount to "demonstrating" (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5).

Both sides in their filings last week said they will continue negotiating. In the meantime, they will file final legal arguments to enable Bissoon to rule on the request for an injunction (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 12/19).


FDA Approves First-of-its-Kind Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 15:08

FDA on Friday approved AstraZeneca's Lynparza, a first-of-its-kind treatment for ovarian cancer associated with mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

FDA Approves First-of-its-Kind Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

December 23, 2014 — FDA on Friday approved AstraZeneca's Lynparza, a first-of-its-kind treatment for ovarian cancer associated with mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Background

According to the Journal, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are associated with up to 15% of ovarian cancer cases and up to 10% of breast cancer cases. Genetic tests are available to assess cancer risk associated with the gene mutations, but no treatment specifically for cancers associated with the mutations has been available.

Details of FDA Approval

FDA granted accelerated approval to Lynparza, which has the generic name of olaparib, after a mid-stage study found that it shrunk tumors in 34% of patients. FDA said the drug's continued approval will be contingent on late-stage studies verifying its safety and effectiveness (Walker, Wall Street Journal, 12/19).

The agency approved the drug along with a "companion diagnostic," Myriad Genetics' BRACAnalysis CDx test. Patients must undergo the test to demonstrate that they have a specific BRCA gene mutation prior to receiving Lynparza (Healy, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/19). In addition, FDA approved the drug only for patients who have tumors that are no longer responding to chemotherapy (Wall Street Journal, 12/19).

New Type of Treatment

Lynparza is the first treatment approved in a class of drugs known as poly ADP-ribose polymerase, or PARP, inhibitors. Such drugs work by blocking DNA repair mechanisms in cancer cells ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/19).

Richard Pazdur, who directs FDA's cancer drug division, said Lynparza "is an example of how a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms of disease can lead to targeted, more personalized treatment" (Wall Street Journal, 12/19).

William Audeh, a geneticist and medical oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Samuel Oschin Cancer Institute, said the drug's approval is "really opening a whole new avenue of therapy. This drug is working in a fundamentally different way than chemotherapy: This is a cancer treatment that's been designed to hit this kind of inherited genetic weakness in the cancer itself."

According to Audeh, at least seven additional PARP inhibitors are being developed and tested for cancers that are associated with mutations of the BRCA gene and other cancers that could result from similar mutations ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 12/19).


D.C. Mayor Requests Legal Review of Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Bill

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 19:22

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has asked the district's Office of the Attorney General to review a reproductive health non-discrimination measure (B20-0790) before he takes any further action on it, the Washington Times reports.

D.C. Mayor Requests Legal Review of Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Bill

December 22, 2014 — Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has asked the district's Office of the Attorney General to review a reproductive health non-discrimination measure (B20-0790) before he takes any further action on it, the Washington Times reports (Noble, Washington Times, 12/21).

Background

The D.C. Council approved the measure, called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, last week. The bill would amend Washington, D.C.'s Human Rights Act of 1977 to include language prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions.

Specifically, the measure states, "An employer or employment agency shall not discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of or on the basis of the individual's or a dependent's reproductive health decision making, including a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service, because of or on the basis of an employer's personal beliefs about such services."

The measure would apply to all employers, whether or not they hold themselves out as religious (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/18).

Gray's Comments, Council's Reaction

Prior to the bill's passage, Gray referred to the measure as "legally problematic" and noted that the district Office of the Attorney General had also raised concerns.

Gray said, "Religious organizations, religiously-affiliated organizations, religiously-driven for-profit entities, and political organizations may have strong First Amendment and [Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141)] grounds for challenging the law's applicability to them." He added, "If the Council wishes to adopt this Bill or similar legislation, it should clarify the Human Rights Act's existing exemption for religious and political organizations to ensure that the exemption protects the religious and political liberty interests that the First Amendment and the RFRA are designed to secure" (Washington Times, 12/21).

Before approving the measure, the council acknowledged concerns from the district Office of the Attorney General about the lack of a "ministerial exemption" to the measure. However, the council concluded that the measure did not present First Amendment concerns because such an exemption likely would be "read into" the law upon enactment (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/18). The council also amended the measure to explicitly state that it applies to both men and women.

Conservative Groups, Council Staff Disagree Over Bill's Scope

Meanwhile, the conservative religious group Alliance Defending Freedom called on Gray to veto the measure. ADF senior counsel Casey Mattox argued that the bill would mean that "[e]very employer in the District would have to cover every single reproductive health decision, including elective abortions, regardless of who is on staff." He added that ADF also believes the legislation could prevent employers that advocate against abortion rights from refusing to hire someone who supports abortion rights. Mattox said that ADF likely would sue the district if the measure is enacted.

However, D.C. Council staff members disagreed with ADF's interpretation of the bill, according to the Times. D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety legislative counsel Ben Shelton said the measure is "designed not to say what types of insurance an employer must offer," but rather to protect employees from being discriminated against based on their reproductive health decisions.

For example, he said the bill would "ad[d] to that list of reproductive health choices, saying you can't terminate somebody because they've taken [emergency contraception] or something like that."

Council member David Grosso (I) also cited employment-related scenarios when introducing the bill in May. "For example, in Wisconsin, after the state legislature passed a law requiring insurance plans to cover contraception, the Catholic diocese told employees that if they used the benefit, they would be fired," he said, adding, "In the past four years alone, individuals in California, Texas, Montana, and Indiana have brought discrimination suits against their employers after being fired from their jobs for being pregnant without being married" (Washington Times, 12/21).


Mo. Lawmakers Might Not Prioritize Abortion Restrictions

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 19:21

While Missouri lawmakers have already pre-filed several antiabortion-rights bills for the upcoming legislative session, the GOP-led Legislature might not prioritize abortion issues next year, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Mo. Lawmakers Might Not Prioritize Abortion Restrictions

December 22, 2014 — While Missouri lawmakers have already pre-filed several antiabortion-rights bills for the upcoming legislative session, the GOP-led Legislature might not prioritize abortion issues next year, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

The eight pre-filed antiabortion-rights bills include several types of restrictions, such as stricter parental notification and consent requirements, clinic inspections, and protections for antiabortion-rights groups. According to Sam Lee, a lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri, the clinic inspections bill (SB 33) could have the best chance of passing.

Comments

State Senate President Pro Tempore Tom Dempsey (R) said conservative legislators would like to reduce the number of abortions in Missouri, "but we don't have a specific policy initiative this year." Legislative leaders have not identified any of the eight pre-filed bills as priorities and have said they intend to focus on education and economic issues, according to the AP/Post-Dispatch.

Lee said that he's "not sure how much [antiabortion-rights activists will] be able to get done in 2015," noting that they "had such a big year in 2014."

Three months ago, GOP lawmakers overrode a veto from Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to enact a law (HR 1307) requiring physicians to wait 72 hours after consulting with a woman about abortion before performing the procedure. According to the AP/Post-Dispatch, the GOP's supermajority has grown since last session.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jill Schupp (D), who will become a state senator next session, also said antiabortion-rights legislation could be less prominent this year. She noted that such measures tend to be more frequently at issue during election years because candidates use them to rally voters (Ballentine, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/21).


N.C. Abortion-Rights Advocates Urge Officials To Put Aside Politics While Setting Clinic Rules

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 19:19

At a hearing Friday, abortion-rights supporters urged North Carolina health officials to consider scientific evidence while crafting new abortion clinic regulations, rather than basing them on political motives, the AP/ABC 11 News reports.

N.C. Abortion-Rights Advocates Urge Officials To Put Aside Politics While Setting Clinic Rules

December 22, 2014 — At a hearing Friday, abortion-rights supporters urged North Carolina health officials to consider scientific evidence while crafting new abortion clinic regulations, rather than basing them on political motives, the AP/ABC 11 News reports (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).

Details of the Proposed Regulations

North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month released a draft rule that proposes regulations for abortion clinics under a state law enacted last year (SL 2013-366).

The law, which contains several antiabortion-rights provisions, allows the state DHHS to "apply any requirement" for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics, as long as the regulations do not impede access to abortion. Some of the law's provisions are being challenged in court.

The proposal does not appear to include changes that could potentially cause some clinics to close, such as requirements that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. However, the proposed regulations do increase oversight of the state's abortion clinics.

For example, the draft rule would require each clinic to develop a governing authority board to meet once annually. The board would choose a CEO who has final say in the clinic's daily operations. In addition, clinics would be required to have a quality assurance board that includes at least one physician and meets quarterly to review clinic procedures, protocols and records.

Further, the proposal would require each clinic to choose a nursing supervisor, keep complete personnel records, and have procedure handbooks and equipment manuals available on site. Clinics also would be required to have a defibrillator on site and would have to give patients contact numbers that are staffed at all times in case of complications after an abortion.

The proposal also would require clinics to try to reach a "transfer agreement" with a local hospital, but the clinics would not be considered out of compliance if the attempt does not result in an agreement and the clinic owner has documentation of the attempt (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/2).

Hearing Details

Several dozen people attended a public hearing on the proposed rules on Friday (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19). According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the vast majority of attendees were abortion-rights supporters (Jarvis, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

Officials heard comments from about 15 people, including several doctors who urged the state DHHS to protect abortion access and a few speakers who called for stricter regulations.

While some attendees raised issues about state lawmakers' intentions, many applauded the department for taking science and doctors' medical opinions into consideration while crafting the rules (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19). Clinic owner and director Deborah Walsh, a member of the group that developed the proposal, said some of the regulations were unnecessary but commended the overall process. "My clinic is strictly regulated, and it always has been," said Walsh, whose operates a clinic in Charlotte, N.C. (Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation Executive Director Suzanne Buckley said, "There is no question that ... the law that forced these regulations to be created was enacted by legislators with a single goal: to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion care in North Carolina." However, she added that state health officials consulted with physicians while creating the proposed regulations "to ensure that they comport with the relevant medical standards" (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).

However, N.C. Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald criticized the proposal for not going far enough and favoring the "abortion industry" (Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

Next Steps

The state DHHS will consider public comments on the proposal until the end of next month. The regulations will then go to the state Rules Review Commission for consideration. The state Legislature is also likely to weigh in (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).


D.C. Mayor Requests Legal Review of Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Bill

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 17:54

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has asked the district's Office of the Attorney General to review a reproductive health non-discrimination measure (B20-0790) before he takes any further action on it, the Washington Times reports.

D.C. Mayor Requests Legal Review of Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Bill

December 22, 2014 — Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has asked the district's Office of the Attorney General to review a reproductive health non-discrimination measure (B20-0790) before he takes any further action on it, the Washington Times reports (Noble, Washington Times, 12/21).

Background

The D.C. Council approved the measure, called the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, last week. The bill would amend Washington, D.C.'s Human Rights Act of 1977 to include language prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions.

Specifically, the measure states, "An employer or employment agency shall not discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of or on the basis of the individual's or a dependent's reproductive health decision making, including a decision to use or access a particular drug, device or medical service, because of or on the basis of an employer's personal beliefs about such services."

The measure would apply to all employers, whether or not they hold themselves out as religious (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/18).

Gray's Comments, Council's Reaction

Prior to the bill's passage, Gray referred to the measure as "legally problematic" and noted that the district Office of the Attorney General had also raised concerns.

Gray said, "Religious organizations, religiously-affiliated organizations, religiously-driven for-profit entities, and political organizations may have strong First Amendment and [Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141)] grounds for challenging the law's applicability to them." He added, "If the Council wishes to adopt this Bill or similar legislation, it should clarify the Human Rights Act's existing exemption for religious and political organizations to ensure that the exemption protects the religious and political liberty interests that the First Amendment and the RFRA are designed to secure" (Washington Times, 12/21).

Before approving the measure, the council acknowledged concerns from the district Office of the Attorney General about the lack of a "ministerial exemption" to the measure. However, the council concluded that the measure did not present First Amendment concerns because such an exemption likely would be "read into" the law upon enactment (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/18). The council also amended the measure to explicitly state that it applies to both men and women.

Conservative Groups, Council Staff Disagree Over Bill's Scope

Meanwhile, the conservative religious group Alliance Defending Freedom called on Gray to veto the measure. ADF senior counsel Casey Mattox argued that the bill would mean that "[e]very employer in the District would have to cover every single reproductive health decision, including elective abortions, regardless of who is on staff." He added that ADF also believes the legislation could prevent employers that advocate against abortion rights from refusing to hire someone who supports abortion rights. Mattox said that ADF likely would sue the district if the measure is enacted.

However, D.C. Council staff members disagreed with ADF's interpretation of the bill, according to the Times. D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety legislative counsel Ben Shelton said the measure is "designed not to say what types of insurance an employer must offer," but rather to protect employees from being discriminated against based on their reproductive health decisions.

For example, he said the bill would "ad[d] to that list of reproductive health choices, saying you can't terminate somebody because they've taken [emergency contraception] or something like that."

Council member David Grosso (I) also cited employment-related scenarios when introducing the bill in May. "For example, in Wisconsin, after the state legislature passed a law requiring insurance plans to cover contraception, the Catholic diocese told employees that if they used the benefit, they would be fired," he said, adding, "In the past four years alone, individuals in California, Texas, Montana, and Indiana have brought discrimination suits against their employers after being fired from their jobs for being pregnant without being married" (Washington Times, 12/21).