Kansas Should Serve as a Warning to Virginia Women

August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a guest post by Dr. Jim Kenley, the former Commissioner of Health in Virginia from 1976 — 1986. Thanks to Dr. Kenley and also to Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

A few weeks ago, a disturbing situation arose in Kansas that brought the state perilously close to banning abortion within its borders. The legislature, with the governor’s support, enacted a new licensing and regulatory law that resulted in the creation of “emergency” regulations giving abortion providers just a few days to comply with impossible and medically unnecessary requirements.

These regulations, which demanded precise sizes for janitorial closets, no-variance room temperatures, and other ridiculous requirements, were purportedly established to protect the health and safety of women, but in truth had one and only one purpose: to shut down the three existing abortion facilities in the state.

Fortunately, a federal judge temporarily enjoined the new regulations, and all three clinics in Kansas are still able to provide services, at least for now.

The situation in Kansas should serve as a warning to Virginians. Our General Assembly passed its own regulatory law this spring motivated by the same anti-choice agenda that spurred the foolishness in Kansas. And now Governor Robert McDonnell is forcing the Board of Health to adopt new regulations in an unprovoked “emergency” process that bypasses the normal public notice and comment periods for changes in state regulations, and reduces opportunities for input from the trained professionals at the state agencies who know the most about the issues at hand.

As a retired doctor and former health commissioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am deeply concerned about these developments, because I fear that we, like Kansas, are attempting to turn back the clock on women’s health in a way that could have devastating effects.

Although I never performed an abortion, when I was a young physician in Cincinnati and Atlanta in the 1950s, I helped women who needed emergency medical care following either self-performed or “back alley” abortions. Later, in practice, one memorable case was a mature, educated mother of two whose spouse had recently survived a brain hemorrhage. Pregnant some 20 years before the Supreme Court legalized abortions and with nowhere to turn, she desperately tried to self-abort with a hat pin.

In the middle of the night, I was called to her house where I found her in excruciating pain suffering from severe chills and a fever of 105 degrees. After telling me what she had done, I rushed her to the hospital where she received emergency medical treatment that thankfully saved her life.

In September, the Virginia Board of Health will propose emergency regulations to require abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards of care, even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available in this country and is already heavily controlled by state and federal regulations.

To be certain, supporters of these new regulations will claim that elevating abortion providers to mini-hospitals by forcing them to make costly architectural upgrades will somehow protect women’s health and safety. Women definitely deserve the highest standard of medical care especially when it comes to reproductive healthcare. But women in Virginia are already receiving abortion care at the highest standard, and medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations will only serve to restrict access to the full range of reproductive health care services and further marginalize young, low-income, uninsured and minority women by decreasing their health care options.

Early abortion care is already difficult to access in the Commonwealth, with 86% of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers at all. The new regulations could make abortions both harder to get and more expensive, possibly taking us back to something akin to that time I recall with such great dismay, when every abortion was a health risk.

That’s why I hope my fellow medical professionals with the Board of Health will not bow to political pressure or rhetoric from special interest groups. Women in Virginia are already receiving outstanding abortion care, so there is no need for medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations that will not only reduce access to abortion for all women, but especially for existing marginalized women.

There are additional consequences of fewer providers and more expensive abortion services as a result of overregulation. Virginia abortion providers also offer an array of reproductive healthcare services to women as well as men, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment and pre and post-natal care. These critical health services could be reduced or eliminated altogether.

As the former Commissioner of Health under four governors, I urge the members of the Virginia Department of Health and the Board of Health to adhere to their charge — to protect the public health and safety of the people of the Commonwealth by adopting only those regulations that are medically appropriate, and based in science.

If they do, they will show us that on important matters involving constitutional rights and health care, Virginia can rise above politics. We can be better than Kansas.

Vance has more opportunities to change the rape conversation

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Sam, who will return to the University of Chicago this fall as a sophomore. Thanks Sam!

Just as rape charges were dropped against Dominique Strauss-Kahn earlier this week, an off duty NYPD officer was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in Upper Manhattan. The case is the third high profile rape incident to confront Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., following the Strauss-Kahn case and the trial of two police officers that were acquitted of charges that they raped a drunk East Village woman in her home.

Vance, who is just over a year and a half into his four-year term, has faced intense public scrutiny for failing to earn a conviction in both previous cases. While these criticisms and frustrations are understandable, energy spent criticizing Vance can be better used to draw attention to the thousands of rape victims in New York City and across the world who will never have the opportunity to face their attacker in a court of law.

While convicting a powerful man of rape would have made a strong statement that rape is wrong, a guilty verdict would not have made rape unacceptable. Even though we live under a system of justice that assumes innocence until proven guilty, it remains disturbing to see how much more credible a denial of rape is seen than an accusation. Public fascination with the backgrounds of victims reflects a culture that is more interested in seeing a drama play out in the courtroom than in having a responsible conversation about rape.

While both previous rape cases collapsed because of a lack of credible evidence, the newest accusation is the first case in which a witness other than the victim supports the rape accusation. Paul J. Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesperson, has acknowledged that the officer was drunk and that he used his licensed weapon to intimidate his victim. Vance must use this evidence to vigorously prosecute the officer, while activists must elevate a conversation about rape.

Just as Vance must use this moment to ensure that women across New York are safe, activists must ensure that the voices of the women brave enough to speak out against their attackers inspire other women to do the same. To do so would be to do true justice for all women.

The Latest Anti-Choice Bill from Indiana

May 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a guest post by Danielle, who is a 25 year-old resident of Indianapolis and a firm believer in a woman’s right to choose.

Abortion always has been a subject of intense debate … a debate that’s so emotionally charged that it’s totally unrealistic to think there ever will be a solution, an understanding, or even an agreement to disagree. As a resident of Indiana, I can’t watch TV or listen to the radio without hearing about the recent House-approved bill that, if signed by Governor Mitch Daniels, will cut $3 million in federal funds that the state distributes to Planned Parenthood every year. Associated Press says that move could make Indiana the first state to cut off all funding for Planned Parenthood

From my understanding, the logic behind the bill is that social conservatives, who view abortions as wrong, want to somehow regulate them by taking away funds from organizations that perform abortions. Apparently, they think that will make abortions stop happening.

But their plan is faulty at best. Taking away funding for Planned Parenthood also will withdraw money from the agency’s budgets for cervical cancer screenings, Axess Ultrasound tests, breast exams, and STD testing.

Personal beliefs aside, the simple fact remains that abortions are going to happen whether there is a proper facility to administer them or not. Passing this bill would not only increase the likelihood of unsafe abortions from incompetent sources, but also decrease the availability of basic female healthcare services to those who need it the most.

NPR recently noted that Indiana’s governor is between the proverbial rock and hard place with a looming presidential candidacy announcement in the near future. On one hand, if Daniels vetoes the bill, he risks losing $4 million in federal grants for Indiana’s family planning services. But, on the other hand, signing the bill will strengthen social conservatives’ confidence in his support of their agenda.

As Daniels sits down at his desk to consider this bill, I only hope that my state’s governor will be able to detach himself from political motives and religious beliefs to put on his “Common Sense” hat. Abortion and the need to prevent it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you take away money from the very establishments that work so diligently to educate the public on the topics of family planning and safe sex.

End The Equal Pay Day “Celebration” – Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

April 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yet another guest post by the wonderful Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

April 12 –- Equal Pay Day –- marks the point in 2011 when women will finally have earned as much as men earned in 2010 alone. This year, Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Rosa DeLauro are commemorating this day by reintroducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much-needed, first-ever update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Equal Pay Day, however, is not a celebration.

Some may think that legislation like this is not necessary because wage inequity no longer exists. These opponents of the Paycheck Fairness Act point to statistics showing the progress that women have made in the workforce. Indeed, women have made enormous strides when it comes to employment. According to a recent White House report, women’s labor force participation is at the highest rate ever, and their earnings make up a growing share of household incomes. However, the same report also tells us that this progress has not translated into pay equity.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full time still earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar men earn. For African American women and Latinas, the numbers are even worse. In fact, this continuing disparity is the reason that “celebrating” Equal Pay Day is still necessary. At the current rate of “progress,” it could take decades before women reach equal pay and achieve the end of Equal Pay Day, if nothing is done.

In this economic climate working families cannot afford to wait. The entire family feels the pain of wage discrimination. This is more profoundly so as more women are working and supporting families than ever before.

So, how big is the financial punch of the wage gap on a pocketbook?

Economist Evelyn Murphy has estimated that chronic wage discrimination will deprive a woman of between $700,000 and $2 million over a career. This figure grows when the loss of pension and social security benefits is included. The effects of wage discrimination follow its victims for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, over time, loopholes and weak remedies have made one of the laws intended to stop this problem, Equal Pay Act of 1963, less effective in combating wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act would provide much needed updates to the 48-year-old Equal Pay Act and tackle the most stubborn barriers to fair pay, while balancing the needs of both employees and employers.

The bill requires that employers demonstrate that wage differences between men and women holding the same position and doing the same work stem from criteria unrelated to their gender. Of course, factors such as merit and seniority, for example, remain acceptable reasons for differences in pay. But the bill clarifies that those pay differences must truly be based on reasons other than the sex of their employees.

Often, company policies prohibit employees from telling colleagues about their salary and can even fire them if they do so. To address this problem, the bill prohibits retaliation against workers who ask about a company’s wage practices or tells another employee their wage. However, to balance business’ need for confidentiality in some instances, employees with access to colleagues’ wage information in the course of their work, such as human resources employees, may still be prohibited from sharing that information.

The Paycheck Fairness bill also strengthens penalties for equal pay violations. The bill’s measured approach levels the playing field by ensuring that women can obtain the same remedies as those subject to discrimination on the basis of race or national origin.

At the same time, this legislation provides new tools for employers. It would require the U.S. Department of Labor to provide technical assistance to employers, recognize the achievements of businesses that address the wage gap, and collect wage-related data to better examine the wage gap. In addition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission staff would receive additional training to better identify and handle wage disputes.

Pay equity is critical not only to families’ economic security, but also to the nation’s economic recovery. It is time for Congress to make pay equity a priority and to end the necessity to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day each year.

Ask Your Members of Congress to Co-Sponsor the Paycheck Fairness Act Today!

Why Insurance Coverage For Abortion Matters

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia. Read her previous post here.

Late Tuesday night, on March 29, 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) handed down an amendment to Delegate Terry’s Kilgore’s HB 2434 bill, which directed the Commonwealth to establish a health exchange in accordance with the federal health care legislation. The Governor’s amendment will restrict Virginia’s health insurance exchange from covering abortion services, except in the cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Abortion is part of basic health care for women. For some that may seem like an odd thing to say. Abortion has become such a hotly contested issue in this country that we’ve lost sight of the role abortion plays in women’s lives. But if you stop and think about it, every woman’s situation is different and many things can go wrong in a pregnancy. Every woman deserves the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances, whether her decision is raising a child, adoption or abortion. No woman plans to have an abortion, but if she needs one, insurance should cover the procedure just as it covers all other pregnancy related care.

Unfortunately, some politicians have introduced legislation that would make it harder for women to access the health care they need. These measures have been proposed throughout the country, including here in Virginia, to prevent insurance companies from covering abortion care. By introducing the amendment to HB 2434, the Governor reopens the debate on an issue that has already been addressed in the General Assembly. HB 2147 and SB 1202, bills to ban abortion coverage in health insurance plans, were introduced at the start of session and received hearings. Both bills were defeated in the Senate Education and Health committee. These measures would have taken, and the amendment to HB 2434 could take away insurance coverage that millions of women currently have and make it difficult if not impossible for many women to take care of themselves and their families.

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Legislators Take Risks with Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights

March 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

Legislative maneuverings are nothing new, but the Virginia General Assembly, with some last minute shenanigans during this past session, may have just maneuvered itself into reproductive rights morass with very real legal implications.

On February 24, 2011, the House of Delegates passed SB 924, a bill that requires the Board of Health to issue regulations related to infection prevention and disaster preparedness for hospitals, nursing homes and certified nursing facilities. As approved by the Senate, SB 924 had nothing to do with abortions, but House members added a last minute amendment that classifies “facilities in which 5 or more first trimester abortions per month are performed” as a category of hospitals.

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling broke a 20-20 tie in the Senate when he voted in favor of the bill as amended in the House, sending it to Governor Bob McDonnell, who will almost certainly sign it.

The effect of SB 924? That will depend on the regulations produced by the Board of Health, but clinics in the state that currently provide safe and legal first-trimester abortions will have to meet at least some of the facilities requirements now imposed on the various types of hospitals classified under state law, possibly the requirements now mandated for outpatient surgical centers. Even doctor’s offices that provide medication abortions in the very beginning stages of pregnancy could be affected.

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Gentlemen…Err…Ladies and Gentlemen…Err…Drivers, Start Your Engines!

July 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Julia Landauer, a competitive racecar driver.

Image: Julia, wearing a racing suit, sits in front of a red racecar with a helmet on the ground beside her.

If you were to ask the average person on the street what they think of when they hear the words “woman” and “racecar,” many would first think of umbrella girls, and then: “That chick that races, what’s her name? Danica Patrick.” Though this might seem like a gross generalization, I’ve found it to be the case. My name is Julia Landauer and I’m a professional racecar driver. I am a NASCAR-licensed stock car driver, racing late models in Virginia. And I am a Stuyvesant High School graduate, raised in Manhattan, headed to Stanford in the fall. I am not what you think of when you hear “woman” and “racecar.”

I have been a woman in a man’s world since I started go-karting when I was ten. The funny thing is that I never saw myself as “the girl racer” – instead, I saw myself as just another racer. That is, until I was around fourteen, when I became the youngest female winner in the Skip Barber Series, and later that year I became the first female champion of the series. It was than I realized that I was getting publicity not because I was a racer that won, but because I was a girl that won. And such a title is like a double-edged sword. On one hand, I get more immediate attention because of my gender. On the other hand, I have to fight rampant biases against women. “Women can’t drive.” “Women aren’t athletic.” “Women should be nice.” Well, let me tell you something, you can’t be nice on track and expect to win.

Image: Julia signing autographs.

By the time I was fifteen I had established myself as a championship-winning racer, both in karts and in cars. But that didn’t mean people weren’t still seeing me as “the girl racer.” At a national go-kart race in Pennsylvania, a fellow racer who is a year younger than me was a little over-aggressive, so I returned the favor. He and his dad were both furious, but in reality I just returned the bump, and that’s how everyone except those two saw it. His dad later said to me, “You know, no one’s going to want to be your friend if you bump people like that,” in a condescending tone fit to address a five year-old. I laughed in surprise and responded, “Well, I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win races.” The answer surprised him, but I think I made my point.

That being said, being a woman does gives me a better chance of being successful. There are lots of male racecar drivers, but only so many female ones, and NASCAR is looking for their first successful female. I know this and other people know this, so I have to use my femininity as a tool. (But I will steer clear of the ever-assumed sleeping-with-the-team-owner-for-a-ride plan. I’d rather earn my ride.)

I don’t like that people always focus on the differences between men and women, especially in racing. Heck, if the names weren’t on the cars, you’d never be able to tell if the racer inside was male or female. At the end of the day, I just see myself as another racer, gender aside. There was an article recently in The Atlantic called The End of Men, talking about how in many fields, women are actually surpassing men with their achievements. This was interesting to read because it still is sexist, just this time in favor of females. I see no reason why women and men should be treated or rewarded differently, but for some reason, they are.

I would love to see the day when there are as many females in the field of racing as there are males. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll see that day. My greatest wish for my sport is for competitors and audiences to disregard the gender of the racer, and acknowledge the talent of the driver. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen any time soon either. Until then, I’ll continue developing my tough skin, and charge to the front because I am a champion, not because I am a female.

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