A little more than a year ago, Melinda Gates made a bold and controversial pledge to help women in the developing world get better access to contraception.
It was an unexpected declaration from the practicing Catholic and co-chair with husband Bill of a private philanthropy better known for promoting vaccines and working to improve education. She was sharply criticized by Catholic groups that argue that global health and development funds should go to other causes.
In her travels across sub-Saharan and South Asia over more than a decade, Ms. Gates says she had seen the same scene play out over and over. Women she met with to talk about vaccines would ask her how they could get birth control. “They would say to me, ‘But what about that shot I used to get?’ ” she said in an interview at the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The women were referring to Depo-Provera, she explained, an injectable contraceptive that they told her they like and walk miles to get—only to find often out of stock.
Now, one year later, Ms. Gates appears well on her way toward her goal. At a summit last summer hosted by the Gates Foundation and the U.K. Department for International Development, donors pledged $2.6 billion—$300 million more than the hosts had hoped to raise—to bring voluntary family planning services to 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020.
“It turns out that the same policies that President Bush followed were followed by President Obama,” said District Court Judge Edward Korman on Tuesday morning, in a charged and dramatic two-hour hearing in which the Obama administration defended its arbitrary policy to limit contraceptive access.
Korman was explaining why, when previously ruling on access to Plan B emergency contraception, he had initially waited for the administration to act on its own and make the drug widely available based on scientific evidence, rather than on politics. “The process had been corrupted by political influence. I remanded because I thought with a new president” things would be different, Korman said. But in 2011, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled, with the president’s explicit blessing, the FDA’s recommendation to lift all age restrictions, which Korman ruled in March was a decision made in “bad faith” because of the politics around sex and contraception. He ordered the administration to lift all restrictions. Instead, it accepted a manufacturer’s petition to make Plan B available over the counter only with photo ID showing the purchaser was at least 15, and the Department of Justice is appealing.
This morning, Korman repeatedly slammed his hand down on the table for emphasis, interrupting the government counsel’s every other sentence with assertions like, “You’re just playing games here,” “You’re making an intellectually dishonest argument,” “You’re basically lying,” “This whole thing is a charade,” “I’m entitled to say this is a lot of nonsense, am I not?” and “Contrary to the baloney you were giving me …” He also accused the administration of hypocrisy for opposing voter ID laws but being engaged in the “suppression of the rights of women” with the ID requirement for the drug.
Just days after the state Board of Health approved the regulations this month, under pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), they claimed their first victim. Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, which for 40 years had provided reproductive health services, including abortions, closed last weekend.
Hillcrest was partly a victim of its own success in providing women with ready access to birth control. Like most other clinics around the state, it saw demand for abortions dwindle as more women took advantage of options to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Still, even after years of protests, arson, a pipe bombing and an attack by a man wielding a semiautomatic weapon, Hillcrest performed more than 1,600 abortions last year, about 7 percent of the state total. The principal reason it closed its doors was that complying with the regulations would have saddled it with $500,000 in renovations — an unaffordable expense.
George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker, Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.
Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.
GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazette last week.
But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.
Update from LGF reader Lockjawcanbefun: Wellesley’s reaction
And Ryan is viewed as someone principally focused on fiscal and budget issues, when in fact, he remains an aggressive culture warrior.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued in a speech to activists Thursday night that robust opposition to abortion rights is crucial to the GOP’s political chances.
Ryan’s remarks to the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List gala were his most extended on abortion since the 2012 election cycle, when several GOP candidates lost following controversial remarks on abortion and rape.
Ryan, the former GOP vice presidential nominee, acknowledged that a “careless remark or an ugly sign” can damage the cause against abortion rights “in an instant.” But he challenged the view that Republicans should soften their approach in order to attract centrist or female voters, who favored President Obama by more than 10 points in November.
“Our critics say we should abandon our pro-life beliefs. But that would only demoralize our voters,” Ryan told the right-wing organization. “It’s an odd strategy, I think: the cynical ploy followed by the thumping defeat.” The congressman added, “We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn’t even considered.”
No one should be surprised by this. Ryan’s social-issues agenda is often overlooked, but it’s as right-wing as nearly any member of Congress.
As we talked about several months ago, Ryan has, in recent years, fought against contraception access; he worked with Todd Akin to redefine rape; he said the government should force women impregnated by rape or incest to carry their pregnancies to term; he co-sponsored a “Personhood” measure that would ban in-vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control; and he twice voted for a constitutional amendment to prevent marriage equality.
The Obama administration has gone to court to try to block a subpoena from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York seeking White House documents about the government’s requirement of insurance coverage for birth control.
The subpoena requesting documents from President Barack Obama and his senior advisers would be burdensome to fulfill, the administration said in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the suit also argues that civil subpoenas of the president’s executive office are inappropriate except in extraordinary circumstances.
The lawsuit was filed on Thursday and released on a court website on Friday.
Religious organizations, individuals and corporations have filed scores of suits to block a planned mandate that employers generally include coverage of contraception in health insurance plans they offer workers.
Legislation giving health care providers the right to refuse to provide care if it violates their religious principles won final approval in the Missouri House Tuesday.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation was approved by a committee yesterday.
House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican who sponsored the measure, said the legislation protects workers’ rights.
“We want to encourage those people in the health care field and give them a shield, so they can have an opt-out, with proper notice, to their employer,” Jones said.
State law already allows doctors, nurses and other health care workers to refuse to participate in an abortion. Under the bill, that right to refuse would be extended to include providing birth control, sterilization and assisted reproduction services and stem cell research. Medical professionals would also be able to deny referrals for care and could not be punished legally or professionally for their actions.
There is an exemption in the legislation for emergency situations, Jones said, adding that in those instances “you can throw this bill out. It wouldn’t apply.”
But critics of the bill said it sacrifices the health of women to the religious beliefs of medical providers.
“It’s to say, hey, this isn’t okay. We have stepped over the line,” said state Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. “One of the key tenets of the Republican Party is personal responsibility. I’m personally pro-life, but I vote pro-choice, because you can’t make that decision for anyone else. You just can’t.”
North Dakota recently passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation, which prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and a bill preventing pregnant women from choosing abortion based on a fetal anomaly or genetic disorder. The state also has a “trigger ban,” which would prohibit abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.
Lawmakers are currently considering two “fetal personhood” measures that would effectively ban abortion in the state and complicate the legality of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization. Hawken said the personhood bills are so extreme that she and approximately 10 of her Republican colleagues in the state legislature — both men and women — were inspired to speak out in defense of women’s rights.
“North Dakota hasn’t even passed a primary seatbelt law, but we have the most invasive attack on womens health anywhere,” she said.
In the past two years, Texas legislators slashed funds for family planning and passed up $30 million a year in federal Medicaid money, largely to squeeze Planned Parenthood out of the state’s women’s health programs. Last week, hundreds gathered at the south steps of the Texas State Capitol in Austin to protest the resulting public health mess: researchers say nearly 200,000 Texas women have lost or could lose access to contraception, cancer screenings, and basic preventive care, especially in low-income, rural parts of the state. …
Given that anti-choice legislators in other states could draw inspiration from Texas’s “winning” strategy to defund Planned Parenthood—several have tried and failed in recent years—it’s worth surveying the damage.
About a year after Texas slashed its family-planning budget by two-thirds, with 50 clinics shutting down as a result, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project surveyed 300 pregnant women seeking an abortion in Texas. Nearly half said they were “unable to access the birth control that they wanted to use” in the three months before they became pregnant. Among the reasons: cost, lack of insurance, inability to find a clinic, and inability get a prescription. The state’s health commission says Texas will see nearly 24,000 unplanned births between 2014 and 2015 thanks to these cuts, raising state and federal taxpayer’s Medicaid costs by up to $273 million.
Video reporting from the rally and more: Charts: This Is What Happens When You Defund Planned Parenthood