Friday, February 17, 2012

“Where Are The Women?”: A National Assault On Women’s Health, Reproductive Rights…And Birth Control

Feb 17,2012

From presidential politics to the halls of Congress to state legislatures across the nation, scores of lawmakers and politicians have made the curious decision to launch an assault on women’s rights.

Despite an incumbent president vulnerable thanks to persistent economic worries and states faced with ills ranging from budget deficits to foreclosure crises, America’s current crop of political leaders are litigating contraception and “fetal personhood” in the year 2012. Women in the United States arguably have not faced the construction of such legislative barriers since the suffrage movement.

Seizing the most headlines this month has been the public spat between the Catholic Church and the federal government over birth control, which has developed into a one-sided national discussion; the Church and conservative lawmakers seeking to place restrictions on contraception against the overwhelming majority of the country (including 98 percent of Catholics) that heartily approves of the general theory and use of birth control.

The Obama administration’s ruling that religious organizations employing and serving a significant number of people outside of their own religion must include access to contraception as part of employer-provided health insurance ignited a firestorm among religious leaders. The U.S. Catholic Church — the group most likely to be affected by the law thanks to its number of public hospitals, schools and other institutions — launched an immediate protest.

The government eventually relented, offering a compromise ridiculed by experts and progressive as a dangerous risk to women’s health and rights. Catholic bishops still refused to acquiesce, claiming “moral concerns” about the idea of including any kind of birth control coverage in employer-provided insurance since church doctrines preach against the use of contraceptives.

U.S. Catholic Church leaders said they will fight President Barack Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers, shifting the responsibility to insurers.
In an abrupt policy shift aimed at trying to end a growing election-year firestorm, Obama on Friday announced the compromise.
But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said its concerns were not addressed and cited “serious moral concerns.”
In a statement issued Friday evening, the bishops said Obama’s proposal “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
“We will therefore continue – with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency – our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government,” the bishops said in urging Congress to take action to overturn the rule.

Not only has the issue of contraception been up for debate within the church establishment itself but, as noted above, virtually all U.S. Catholics defy their own church’s teachings and accept birth control as a basic staple of modern life. Observers say that the Catholic Church has blundered and seems out of touch in forcing an extreme debate over women’s health considering its own recent past is littered with highly public failings.

Religious sensitivities aside, the question of birth control on a constitutional level was answered by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly half a century ago in the famous “Griswold v. Connecticut” decision. The present day brouhaha is literally an anachronism from the 1960′s.

Nonetheless, contraception has suddenly become a hot button — if not one-sided — issue for the current campaign season. “The pill” has become a political football, which is how American taxpayers ended up paying for a congressional hearing on Thursday that delved into the question of contraception and its role in American society.

Chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) the House hearing was devoted to the Obama administration’s mandate and the religious community’s opposition to it, with the Republican majority accusing the government of launching an attack on religious freedoms.

But in the officially sanctioned debate over birth control — a decidedly ”female” decision — not a single woman was called upon as a witness. Such an oversight caused quite a stir with the female lawmakers sitting in on the conversation.

A Capitol Hill hearing that was supposed to be about religious freedom and a mandate that health insurers cover contraception in the United States began as an argument about whether Democrats could add a woman to the all-male panel.
“Where are the women?” the minority Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked early in the hearing.
She criticized the Republican committee chairman, Rep. Darrel Issa, for wanting to “roll back the fundamental rights of women to a time when the government thought what happens in the bedroom is their business.”
“We will not be forced back to that primitive era,” she said.

The unexpected referendum on birth control has led to an eye-opening reveal of the lack of enlightenment, as some may call it, among certain individuals on an issue that can unquestionably be described as settled and wholly uncontroversial.

To ask Foster Friess, a conservative multi-millionaire currently bankrolling a super-PAC supporting Republican presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum, American women would be better off to forgo the “costly” modern methods and simply put a “Bayer aspirin…between their knees.”

Foster Friess, the mega donor behind the pro-Rick Santorum Super PAC, dismissed questions about his patron’s controversial views on women in combat, contraception and gay marriage.
He went on: “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive,” he added. “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

While birth control has suddenly become a topic for debate on the national scene, only a select few are actually seeking legislation that would ban the use of contraceptives. This is not the case with the reproductive rights, another issue crucial to women’s health and constitutional integrity.

New fronts in the war on a woman’s right to choose have developed across the United States. In Texas, where last year lawmakers passed one of the strictest laws regarding abortion tights at the time, a federal court has blocked a challenge to the state law mandating sonograms before any abortion procedure. Women’s health advocates complain that the ruling has “violated” the First Amendment rights of Texas women.

This week alone, two states have approved unprecedented restrictions on abortion rights that could have far-reaching legal and health consequences.

In Virginia on Tuesday, the radical conservative legislature passed a pair of bills that instantly give the the commonwealth some of the most extreme laws barring a women’s right to choose in the nation. Lawmakers passed legislation that would require ultrasounds before any abortion procedure and a so-called “personhood bill,” a law considered the last step before an outright ban on abortion that bestows the rights of ”personhood” on “unborn children” almost from the moment on conception.

Virginia’s “personhood” law is a virtual copy of a referendum that failed in Mississippi last year. Contraception is also under attack with this law, because its language bars the use and access to certain form of birth control. Critics argue the legislation could be used to place an outright ban on birth control in the future.

The Tuesday passage in Virginia of two of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the country has sparked fierce debate over abortion rights the battleground state, with Democrats decrying the acts as an unprecedented encroachment on women’s rights as Republicans push to move the legislation forward.
One bill, Republican Del. Bob Marshall’s House bill 1, would define personhood at conception and “provides that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth.” The second bill requires that women be required to undergo an ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion.
The personhood bill, which passed by 66-32 in the Virginia state House, does not ban abortions, the legality of which are protected under the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. It would, however, make illegal certain types of contraceptive measures, including emergency contraception. Women’s health advocates say it could also open the door to banning birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUD).

Besides outrage from pro-choice groups and women’s rights advocates, doctors in Virginia have expressed deep concern with the language of the personhood bill and the potential ramifications it could hold. Doctors say they could be charged with manslaughter in cases of contraception or abortive procedures used to save the life of a patient.

Going even further than Virginia, lawmakers in Oklahoma approved legislation this week that would create a similar “personhood law.” More extreme than any law currently in effect, Oklahoma has moved to the brink of a challenge to Roe v. Wade by virtually outlawing abortion.

The Oklahoma state Senate passed a “Personhood Act” that would give all human embryos individual rights from the instant of conception, effectively banning abortions and most forms of contraception. Most significantly, there is no exception for cases of rape, incest, or instances where a mother’s life could be saved. The state Senate President said he is “proud” to “stand up” for the “right to life.”

Oklahoma lawmakers edged closer toward trying to outlaw abortion on Wednesday by approving “personhood” legislation that gives individual rights to an embryo from the moment of conception.
The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 34-8 to pass the “Personhood Act” which defines the word person under state law to include unborn children from the moment of conception.
The measure now goes to the state House where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin.
Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Mary Fallin, who signed every anti-abortion bill sent to her last year, did not issue a reaction to the latest right-to-life measure.
“Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state-we are proud to stand up for what we know is right,” Senate Pro Tempore President Brian Bingman, a Republican, said.
“This bill is one of many Senate Republicans have advanced which affirms the right to life and I am proud to support it,” he added.
But Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said that a state law declaring that life begins at conception could have “dire consequences.”
The bill offers no exceptions in the case of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest and could mean some forms of contraception such as the “morning after pill” would be unavailable, she said.

State Senator's Comeback to Mandatory Ultrasound Bill:

Mandatory Rectal Exams for Men Seeking Viagra

| Tue Jan. 31, 2012 11:30 AM PST
Janet Howell
Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell said her amendment was just about "basic fairness."

In a tongue-in-check effort to add "some gender equity" to a mandatory ultrasound bill proposed in Virginia, state Sen. Janet Howell proposed an amendment requiring men to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test before getting prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, right?
Well, apparently not in this case. Legislators rejected Howell's amendment Monday by a rather slim 21 to 19 margin. The original bill, which is expected to pass the full Senate on Tuesday, requires women to have an ultrasound and be offered an opportunity to view the image—despite the fact that a routine ultrasound is not considered medically necessary for a first-trimester abortion (PDF). Explaining her amendment on the Senate floor, Howell said, "It’s only fair, that if we’re going to subject women to unnecessary procedures, and we’re going to subject doctors to having to do things that they don’t think is medically advisory, well, Mr. President, I think we should just have a little gender equity here."
Many states have such so-called "informed consent" laws (PDF), which, as MoJo's Kate Sheppard has pointed out, are based on the premise that "women don't know what's in their uterus." While abortion foes argue that ultrasounds are necessary to ensure that women fully grasp the consequences of their decision to abort, there's no evidence to suggest that women don't understand that abortion ends a pregnancy. Indeed, the Texas Tribune/New York Times recently reported on the effect of Texas' similar new law, which was allowed to go into effect earlier this month even though its constitutionality is being challenged in court. The law has resulted in a "bureaucratic nightmare" but, according to both clinic directors and abortion opponents, it hasn't caused a single woman to change her mind about getting an abortion.

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Would You Like a Keepsake Photo With That Abortion?

Virginia Legislature Votes to Slash Abortion Funding for Low-Income Women

 —By Maddie Oatman

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 4:02 PM PST

In Virginia, a low-income pregnant woman who wishes to abort because her fetus has a totally incapacitating deformity or mental disability may no longer be eligible for the aid she needs to do so. On Thursday the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health approved House Bill 62, which would repeal the section of the state code that authorizes the Board of Health to fund abortions for pregnancies with certain complications.

The bill puts no restrictions on women who can afford to abort these types of pregnancies. That's why the Pro-Choice Coalition of Virginia (which includes NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the ACLU) has deemed the legislation discriminatory. "When a woman receives a catastrophic prenatal diagnosis, she should have the same options her wealthier counterparts enjoy to end the pregnancy safely and with dignity," the Coalition said in a press release sent out Thursday morning.

It's worth mentioning that the state shells over almost nothing for these types of abortions each year—in 2011, funding was approved for 10 abortions, costing the state a grand total of $2,784. Which makes the bill's passage that much more of a social, rather than a financial, issue.

HB 62 comes on the heels of two other Virginia bills aiming to limit abortions in the state. Just this week, the state's House passed a different bill redefining a "person" to include a zygote, which, as my colleague Kate Sheppard points out, could potentially make abortion and some forms of oral contraception illegal. And another Virginia bill would require all women to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion and be offered a chance to see the imaging, for apparently no other reason than the belief that women don't understand what's happening inside their bodies during pregnancies.

Inside Virginia's Abortion Crackdown

If draconian new building rules take effect, the 3,900 patients of the Falls Church Planned Parenthood clinic could be SOL.
| Wed Sep. 21, 2011 2:00 AM PDT


It's 10 a.m., about an hour after the Falls Church, Virginia, office of Planned Parenthood opens for the day. As I enter, a young couple is waiting for the nurse practitioner. There's a small television in the corner showing morning talk shows, with a large basket of condoms balanced atop. Brochures on STI testing, emergency contraception, breast self-exams, and HPV are about in abundance. It's not that much different from any other doctor's office you've ever visited, with dated copies of People and fluorescent lighting.
Last year, 3,900 patients visited the Falls Church office. Eight hundred and seventy-five of them were tested for HIV, 633 took a pregnancy test, and 743 had a pap smear. More than 600 women came in for the morning-after pill. The office dispensed 1,699 prescriptions for the birth control pill, and another 917 prescriptions for contraceptive rings. The vast majority of the women and men who come to the Falls Church clinic come for health screenings and family planning services, but another 900 visited for abortion services—a fact that has put the clinic's future in peril.
New regulations that require abortion providers to comply with building codes designed for hospitals could force this Planned Parenthood health center to shut its doors as soon as next year. Unveiled in August and approved by the Virginia Board of Health last week, the rules would likely be impossible to meet within the space that Planned Parenthood currently rents on the third floor of a nondescript, brown-brick office building about 10 miles from downtown Washington, DC.
To comply with the regulations, the Falls Church office would have to nearly double the width of its hallways, to five feet wide. Its pre-op rooms would have to measure at least 80 square feet, and operating rooms 250 square feet. The new rules dictate the type of HVAC system the office needs to have, the number of parking spaces, and where the bathrooms should be located.
All of the state's 23 clinics that provide abortion services may fall short of at least some of the new requirements, but the Falls Church office is almost certain to fail, says Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, at least in its current set-up. The office is small, at just 3,300 square feet, and Planned Parenthood rents it from the building owner, which would make a major overhaul difficult, to say the least.
Meyers and I sat in the recovery room on the morning we talked, on the green and pink padded vinyl chairs where women usually wait for a half an hour after their procedure, before they head home or back to work, whatever may lay ahead of them that day. On each chair was a white blanket and a heating pad with a floral-patterned cover. A basket of saltines and graham crackers sat beside the chairs.
"First trimester surgical abortion is among the safest procedures one can undergo in one's lifetime," Meyers said, "with far fewer complications than other common in-office procedures." But the new rules single abortion providers out from all other outpatient medical services, like vasectomies or colonoscopies, many of which actually have much higher risks.
"My neighborhood in northwest DC now has a walk-in Botox clinic," the clinic's nurse practitioner points out in passing, noting that it's offered by a "cosmetic consultant" rather than an actual licensed medical doctor. "Like I'm going to let him put a nerve poison in my wrinkles."
Of course, it's the abortions that take place here that the state is targeting with its new law, but closing the clinic would also jettison all the low- to no-cost pregnancy tests, cancer screenings, birth control, and STI tests that are the reason most people find themselves in the office. And if it is forced to close, Meyers said, "the ancillary effect of this is that people will not have access to health care."
"Who is going to absorb all those people?" she asked.
Abortion is already more restricted in Virginia than in many other states. Most facilities only provide the procedure in the first trimester—up to 14 weeks after conception. Most counties in the state have no abortion providers at all. Virginia law also mandates a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo the procedure.
Even clinics that expect to meet the new building codes will likely need to make significant changes to their buildings. The Richmond Planned Parenthood built an entirely new facility northwest of downtown in 2009, constructing it under the same standards as an outpatient surgical center out of concern that the state would issue regulations like those released last month (the Legislature had made numerous previous attempts). Even with this new facility, the architectural changes mandated under the new rules are expected to cost the clinic between $200,000 and $900,000, said Paulette McElwain, the CEO of Richmond's Planned Parenthood. She noted that the new rules will force them to relocate one of their bathrooms—which their architect expects will cost Planned Parenthood $90,000.
More worrisome for the Richmond office, though, is that the new regulations may force other private clinics in the region to close. There are only two other clinics in the state capitol, and the three clinics combined perform 5,500 abortions in the average year. Trying to provide all the abortion services for the region would certainly strain their resources, says McElwain. That would put limit Planned Parenthood's ability to care for the 12,000 patients who come to their office each year for health screenings and routine gynecological exams, she said.
The rules were issued in response to a law that the Legislature passed back in February that reclassified abortion clinics and called for regulations tailored to clinics. For years, anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia have been trying to pass similar bills, also known as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" or TRAP laws. (Their counterparts in Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, and Utah succeeded.) But this year, they were newly empowered with stronger majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. They've also got the help of staunchly anti-abortion Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the statehouse. The state Board of Health approved draft rules at a September 15 meeting, sending them to McDonnell for approval—which he's expected to give, given his staunch anti-abortion record. The board will then have to draft the permanent regulations, a process expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Meyers said Planned Parenthood is currently evaluating its options to determine if it's at all feasible to make changes to the current Falls Church office, or if it will need to search for a new office entirely. "Obviously, in its present form, it will not meet those regulations," she said.
"Last time I looked, abortion was legal in this county," Meyers said. But finding a way to make it more difficult to perform seems to be the point of this type of regulation, she added. "It's a way to make abortion so difficult to obtain," Meyers said, "that in all practicality, women do not have access to abortion."

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Virginia Is for Zygote Personhood?

| Tue Feb. 14, 2012 2:47 PM PST
pregnancy tests
Virginia lawmakers want to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adults.

We've covered the litany of so-called "personhood" measures—conferring legal rights on fertilzed eggs—that have popped up around the country since Mississippi voters defeated just that sort of effort last November. Now Virginia could become the first state in the country to actually pass personhood legislation.
On Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill introduced by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) by a 66-32 vote. The bill, like other "personhood" measures, would amend the definition of the word "person" under state law to include zygotes, thereby granting them legal rights. The summary reads:
Provides that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the Commonwealth.
It will be interesting to see what happens from here. The bill now must be cleared by the state senate to move forward. But earlier this month, a panel in the state senate rejected a bill that would have limited abortions to the first 20 weeks after conception. This latest bill would be far more restrictive, potentially prohibiting all abortions and likely some common types of oral contraception. Virginia's House of Delegates also recently passed a new law forcing women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.
Passage of this latest bill in the House of Delegates makes Virginia "dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs," says Tarina Keene, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. She noted that the state code mentions the word "person" 25,000 times, which would give this redefinition a broad reach into many aspects of the law. The measure now faces a vote.

Hard to believe Virginia produced Jefferson, Madison, the first Bill for Religious Freedom the world had ever known. It's an interesting contradiction that the Baptist were one of the biggest proponents of the Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom, but then at that time they were the persecuted minority, and now that they have become a religious majority, they clearly lust to destroy the barrier that had it never been, emboldened by its defeat their existence would have surely ended then or be cramped into some tiny enclave.

Now that they have tasted civil political power, they have exchanged their humble beginnings for "pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution". (James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments)

...During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy.” [Ibid]

"Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.” [Ibid]

Once the honeymoon period is over that has united all the Sects in their cause to establish Christianity as the national religion, if successful, the sect holding the majority will use its numbers to flood the government with its disciples and then turn it upon those that were once their allies.
Hmmm. Zygotes are persons entitled to "equal
protection" under the law, even though the Fourteenth Amendment
specifically says “All person born”. So now, if a life exists at this
early stage, how are we going to know if it is still there or was there?
Will VA require all women each month to submit the remains of their menses to
the state to try and determine if a "life" oops I mean
"person" every existed. Currently, it is estimated that 1
out of 3 pregnancies are spontaneously aborted (common term miscarriage),
often before a woman even knows she was pregnant. And to go one step
further, as this law would require, once it was determined by an examination of
the menses, that a person existed, a cause of death, and possible charges
against the perpetrator of the death of the person must be considered. On
the positive side, this law will open up a plethora of business
opportunities for resourceful individuals to make millions, for they'll
need to produce special collection boxes for the menses, hundreds of businesses
will need to be started to gather the remains, to examine the evidence,
some sort of specialized “doctor” to fill out a "person form" when
evidence that a person had existed, as opposed to a 'birth certificate",
then a new kind of "death certificate" for these special
"persons" will be needed , as the current system of “death
certificates” are based upon a will not apply. Hey, this law might create
enough jobs in VA that the recession will end there! Maybe that is what
the Republicans meant after all! Brilliant!

Romney Rejects Personhood Group, Again

Gingrich Endorses Zygote Personhood

Why Mississippi's Personhood Measure Failed

The Republican War on Contraception

Why Romney's Answer on Contraception Doesn't Add Up

The Abortion Wars Come to Maryland

Panel Recommends Free Birth Control; Anti-Abortion Groups Flip Out

Abortion Foes' Latest Backdoor Ban

Fate of Kansas Clinics Still Unclear

EXCLUSIVE: Woman silenced at birth control hearing on 'Ed Show' tonight

By Steve Frank

 Thu Feb 16, 2012 4:08 PM EST
. She will be tonight's edition of "The Ed Show" at 8pET on MSNBC.
House Republicans today held a hearing today about whether the Obama administration was violating basic rights to religious freedom with its policies for requiring that employees of religion-affiliated institutions have access to birth control coverage.
But Democrats angrily cried foul when they were denied to the ability to present witnesses who might support the government stance or speak for the rights of women to reproductive health coverage.
Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has "refused to allow a minority witness to testify about the interests of women who want safe and affordable coverage for basic preventive healthcare, including contraception," said the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Indeed, five men but no women were allowed to testify (in the first round), including Sandra Fluke, a third-year student at Georgetown Law School (click here to read what Fluke was planning to say to the committee).
Sandra Fluke will be our exclusive guest on The Ed Show tonight at 8pET on MSNBC.
Who is Sandra Fluke?

She is past president of the school's Students for Reproductive Justice group. She has lobbied the administration at Georgetown (a private, Jesuit, research university) for three years to include birth control in its student health plans.
The Washington Post's caught up with Fluke outside the hearing room.
“My testimony would have been about women who have been affected by their policy, who have medical needs and have suffered dire consequences," Fluke said.
By the way, three Democrats walked out of the (House Oversight and Government Reform) hearing in protest when Fluke was not allowed to testify.
Here is what Fluke was planning to say to Congress if she'd been allowed to testify:

Members of Congress, good morning, and thank you for allowing me to testify. My name is Sandra Fluke, and I’m a third year student at Georgetown Law, a Jesuit school. I’m also a past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice or LSRJ. I’d like to acknowledge my fellow LSRJ members and allies and thank them for being here today.
Georgetown LSRJ is here today because we’re so grateful that this regulation implements the nonpartisan, medical advice of the Institute of Medicine. I attend a Jesuit law school that does not provide contraception coverage in student health plans. Just as we students have faced financial, emotional, and medical burdens as a result, employees at religiously affiliated hospitals and universities across the country have suffered similar burdens. We are all grateful for the new regulation that will meet the critical health care needs of so many women. Simultaneously, the recently announced adjustment addresses any potential conflict with the religious identity of Catholic and Jesuit institutions.
As I have watched national media coverage of this debate, it has been heartbreaking to see women’s health treated as a political football. When I turn off the TV and look around my campus, I instead see the faces of the women affected, and I have heard more and more of their stories. You see, Georgetown does not cover contraceptives in its student insurance, although it does cover contraceptives for faculty and staff. On a daily basis, I hear from yet another woman who has suffered financial, emotional, and medical burdens because of this lack of contraceptive coverage. And so, I am here to share their voices and ask that you hear them.
Without insurance coverage, contraception can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school. For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer’s salary. Forty percent of female students at Georgetown Law report struggling financially as a result of this policy. One told us of how embarrassed and powerless she felt when she was standing at the pharmacy counter, learning for the first time that contraception wasn’t covered, and had to walk away because she couldn’t afford it. Students like her have no choice but to go without contraception. Just on Tuesday, a married female student told me she had to stop using contraception because she couldn’t afford it any longer.
You might respond that contraception is accessible in lots of other ways. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Women’s health clinics provide vital medical services, but as the Guttmacher Institute has documented, clinics are unable to meet the crushing demand for these services. Clinics are closing and women are being forced to go without. How can Congress consider allowing even more employers and institutions to refuse contraceptive coverage and then respond that the non-profit clinics should step up to take care of the resulting medical crisis, particularly when so many legislators are attempting to defund those very same clinics?
These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people. In the worst cases, women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer dire consequences. A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. At many schools, it wouldn’t be, and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that an exception be made for such medical needs. When they do exist, these exceptions don’t accomplish their well-intended goals because when you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are good enough and whose aren’t, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.
In sixty-five percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they need these prescriptions and whether they’re lying about their symptoms. For my friend, and 20% of women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy. She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy. After months of paying over $100 out of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore and had to stop taking it. I learned about all of this when I walked out of a test and got a message from her that in the middle of her final exam period she’d been in the emergency room all night in excruciating pain. She wrote, “It was so painful, I woke up thinking I’d been shot.” Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary. She’s not here this morning. She’s in a doctor’s office right now. Since last year’s surgery, she’s been experiencing night sweats, weight gain, and other symptoms of early menopause as a result of the removal of her ovary. She’s 32 years old. As she put it: “If my body is indeed in early menopause, no fertility specialist in the world will be able to help me have my own children. I will have no chance at giving my mother her desperately desired grandbabies, simply because the insurance policy that I paid for totally unsubsidized by my school wouldn’t cover my prescription for birth control when I needed it.” Now, in addition to facing the health complications that come with having menopause at an early age-- increased risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, she may never be able to be a mom.
Perhaps you think my friend’s tragic story is rare. It’s not. One student told us doctors believe she has endometriosis, but it can’t be proven without surgery, so the insurance hasn’t been willing to cover her medication. Last week, a friend of mine told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome. She’s struggling to pay for her medication and is terrified to not have access to it. Due to the barriers erected by Georgetown’s policy, she hasn’t been reimbursed for her medication since last August. I sincerely pray that we don’t have to wait until she loses an ovary or is diagnosed with cancer before her needs and the needs of all of these women are taken seriously.
This is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends. A woman’s reproductive healthcare isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health. As one student put it, “this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.” These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder.
In the media lately, conservative Catholic organizations have been asking: what did we expect when we enrolled at a Catholic school? We can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create untenable burdens that impede our academic success. We expected that our schools would live up to the Jesuit creed of cura personalis, to care for the whole person, by meeting all of our medical needs. We expected that when we told our universities of the problems this policy created for students, they would help us. We expected that when 94% of students opposed the policy, the university would respect our choices regarding insurance students pay for completely unsubsidized by the university, especially when the university already provides contraceptive coverage to faculty and staff. We did not expect that women would be told in the national media that if we wanted comprehensive insurance that met our needs, not just those of men, we should have gone to school elsewhere, even if that meant a less prestigious university. We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health, and we resent that, in the 21st century, anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this choice simply because we are women.
Many of the students whose stories I’ve shared are Catholic women, so ours is not a war against the church. It is a struggle for access to the healthcare we need. The President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges has shared that Jesuit colleges and universities appreciate the modification to the rule announced last week. Religious concerns are addressed and women get the healthcare they need. That is something we can all agree on. Thank you.

Issa to keep contraception fight going

"I look at this panel, and I don't see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) before walking out of the hearing. "Where are the women?"

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) also walked out in protest.

By Steve Benen

Associated Press
Chairman Issa isn't exactly fair and balanced.
Republican efforts to combat contraception access have failed rather spectacularly. After a pointless culture-war fight, the American mainstream -- including Roman Catholics and self-identified Republican voters -- agrees that the GOP is wrong and the Obama administration is right.
The smart move for congressional Republicans would be to simply move on to other issues, since the GOP probably can't force a legislative change anyway. As Sarah Posner reported, that's not, however, what's happening on Capitol Hill today.
Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will convene a hearing [Thursday], "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"
The lead witness is the Most Rev. William E. Lori, Roman Catholic bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Judging from Lori and the rest of the witness list, it's obvious that Issa has posed what he considers to be a rhetorical question and lined up nine like-minded rhetoricians to answer it anyway.
The ostensible point of a congressional hearing is to provide lawmakers with information they need to shape public policy. In this case, Issa has invited nine "expert" witnesses to discuss contraception coverage -- and all nine are men who represent religious institutions.
How many of the witnesses will offer testimony in support of the administration's position? According to Democrats, zero. How many can speak to issues regarding contraception and/or preventive health care? Again, zero. Issa invited nine people to testify, and each of them will tell Issa exactly what he wants to hear.
Dems were initially offered a chance to have one witness testify, but when they selected a female law student at Georgetown, Republican committee staffers rejected the choice, arguing that she would only be able to speak to issues regarding contraception access -- and this was a hearing about religious liberty.

The video summarizes the testimony Chairman Issa rejected at today's hearing: Sandra Fluke, who would have been the Minority's witness and the only female voice on behalf of millions of women who seek safe and affordable coverage for preventive health care
Remember, there are no church-state lines being crossed with the White House policy. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt, and a compromise measure ensures that religiously-affiliated employers won't have to pay for contraception coverage, either.
But don't expect to hear these details at today's committee hearing.
Update: In the 11th hour, Republicans changed the witness list and included two women who were not originally going to be part of the hearing. They were, however, part of the second panel -- the original, five-person panel were all men -- and of the 10 GOP witnesses who participated today, none were health care or contraception advocates.

'A Terri Schiavo moment'


Seven years ago, there was an unexpected political hullabaloo surrounding Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who'd been in a vegetative state for 15 years. When there was a disagreement among family members about her fate, it touched off a national controversy and unprecedented intervention from Washington.
Indeed, Congress took steps to prolong Schiavo's life -- passing legislation related to literally just this one person -- and President Bush even cut short a vacation to address the issue. At the time, an internal memo was distributed by a Republican senator's office characterizing the controversy as "a great political issue" that could pay dividends for the Republican Party with Christian conservatives.
Putting aside the callousness of exploiting a family's pain for partisan advantage, the GOP's political instincts served them poorly-- much of the American mainstream was repulsed by Washington policymakers' role in the Schiavo matter, and the intervention became a political fiasco for Republicans.
A new report (pdf) from Democracy Corps believes we may be witnessing a similar set of circumstances now, as GOP officials fight to restrict women's access to contraceptives. Greg Sargent reported yesterday:

The firm's poll finds that one of the most important factors powering Obama's gains against likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been the President's improving numbers among unmarried women, a key pillar of the present and future Democratic coalition.
Among this group, Obama now leads Romney by 65-30 -- and there's been a net 18-point swing towards the President among them. [...]
Concludes the memo: "We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terri Schiavo moment."
The report was put together before yesterday's hearing in which Republicans invited a series of conservative men to talk about blocking access to contraception and before Foster Friess' aspirin-between-the-knees comments, which certainly won't help.
Remember, when the Schiavo affair first began to unfold, Republicans were certain this would be political gold, and encouraged GOP officials to embrace the controversy with enthusiasm. Likewise, there are probably ample memos circulating in Republican offices about the value in attacking contraception this election year, gender gap be damned.
The party got the Schiavo matter wrong. All available polling evidence suggests they're making the same mistake on birth control.

Maloney asks, 'Where are the women?'

By Steve Benen

First Thoughts: Shades of Schiavo?


Shades of Schiavo?... Is the return of the culture war bad news for the GOP?... As GM goes, so goes the Obama presidency… Romney and allies have a 3-to-1 spending advantage over Santorum and allies in Michigan (and 8-to-1 nationally)… Pro-Santorum Super PAC goes on the air… Team Obama releases its January fundraising numbers: $29.1 million… White House gets criticized for full day of fundraising… And “Meet the Press” to interview Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen.

*** Shades of Schiavo? When the Terri Schiavo controversy first turned into a full-blown national story -- in March 2005 -- no one was sure of its political implications. Even some Democrats feared it was a loser for them. But after congressional Republicans and the Bush White House acted to keep the Schiavo alive, despite being in a vegetative state and despite her husband's wishes that her feeding tube be removed, their move backfired. The American public thought they went too far, and it marked the beginning of the end of GOP control over Congress and the White House. Flash forward almost seven years later, and is history repeating itself? Just like with the Schiavo case, we're unclear how the debate over contraception, women's health, and religious liberty will play out. But after the Obama White House initially bungled its contraception rollout and especially after it released its accommodation compromise, there are warning signs this week that the GOP has taken that issue -- and other social ones -- too far.

Science & Society Picture Librar / Getty Images Contributor
Montage of various types of contraceptive pills and their packaging.
*** Yesterday’s House hearing, Foster Friess, and the Virginia House: At a congressional hearing yesterday -- entitled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" -- a Democrat walked out in protest over no women being included in a morning panel. Another, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked, “Where are the women?” Then Foster Friess, perhaps Rick Santorum’s most important financial backer, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell
yesterday: “This contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly.” (Santorum distanced himself from the remark, which seemed to imply that women should put an aspirin between their legs so they don’t open them. And Friess has since apologized.) And also this week, the Virginia House passed bills 1) declaring personhood at conception, which would outlaw abortion in the state; and 2) requiring women to have a “transvaginal ultrasound” before getting an abortion.

*** Where’s the focus on the economy? Remember, this is Virginia -- a presidential battleground state that President Obama carried by nearly seven percentage points in ’08; a state with a key Senate contest in 2012; and a state whose GOP governor, Bob McDonnell, is a potential VP pick. How will these bills play in Virginia come November? Well, McDonnell has said he’ll sign the ultrasound legislation if he comes to his desk, but he hasn’t taken a position on the personhood bill. Democrats, meanwhile, are already seizing on both pieces of legislation. First Read has spoken with several GOP strategists, and their conclusion is pretty much the same: Republicans should be talking about the economy, not social issues. Meanwhile, per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Dems Stanley Greenberg and James Carville have issued a polling memo that says, “[V]oters may wonder why the Republicans are consumed with pushing back health coverage for women rather than continuing to focus on the economy, spending and debt. We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terry [sic] Schiavo moment.”
The controversy over the White House contraception mandate continued Thursday on Capitol Hill, with a major donor to Rick Santorum's campaign adding more fuel to the fire. NBC's David Gregory reports.

*** As GM goes… : In 2009, we made this prediction: As GM goes, so goes the Obama presidency. And right now, it appears the Obama administration’s gamble with the bailout has paid off. Here are some of the headlines from yesterday’s news: Boston Globe: “GM rebounds with record $7.6b profit”; Detroit Free Press: “GM stock surges on record $7.6-billion profit for 2011”; the Detroit News: “GM employees to reap profit benefits.”

*** Here’s the latest look at the ad-spending race: In Michigan, Romney and his allies have a 3-to-1 advantage over Santorum and his allies. It’s Restore Our Future $1.9 million, Romney campaign $1.2 million, Red White and Blue Fund $655,000, and Santorum campaign $480,000. In addition, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future Super PAC placed an additional $2 million broadcast buy in AZ, OH, GA, OK, MS, TN and AL. That brings its ad spending to a grand total of $20.8 million -- the biggest spender in the GOP race. It’s followed by the Romney campaign at $13.4 million, Paul at $6.1 million, the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future at $5.1 million, Gingrich at $2.7 million, Red White and Blue Fund at $2.1 million, and the Santorum campaign at $2.1 million.

*** Pro-Santorum Super PAC on the air in Michigan: By the way, the Red, White, and Blue Fund has released its new TV ad in Michigan. Per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty, it’s a fairly positive ad – calling Santorum “father, husband, a champion for life, the leader with a bold plan to restore America’s greatness.”

*** Team Obama releases its January numbers: Via President Obama's twitter account, the Obama campaign announced that it raised $29.1 million for the month of January -- between the re-election campaign, the DNC, and its other accounts. (To put that haul into perspective, Team Obama and the DNC raised a combined $68 million in the months of October, November, and December.) The campaign says 98% of the donations were less than $250. We have now entered the stage in the presidential contest where the campaigns have to report monthly to the Federal Election Commission -- by the 20th of each month. (So for the January numbers, the deadline is Feb. 20.) We have yet to receive numbers from the GOP campaigns.

*** Fundraiser-in-chief: With his four fundraising events in California yesterday -- but no official business event -- the White House has begun to receive criticism that it is using Air Force One and other White House infrastructure for campaign purposes. The White House’s response, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas: It abides by all rules -- just like Bush 43 and Clinton did -- that govern how campaign costs are picked up by the campaign. NBC’s Ali Weinberg and Kristen Welker note that an Obama campaign official, its California field director, made this comment at one of Obama’s fundraising events last night: "There are people who say California's in the bag, and we're just an ATM. And you know what, they're kind of right," said Mary Jane Stevenson, the California field director for Obama for America, the president's campaign branch. "California's in the bag for president, and we are a bit of an ATM.” But, she added, California's in-the-bag status allowed Obama volunteers in 2008 to focus on making phone calls in swing states so that supporters in those states could spend more time going door-to-door and interacting with key voters.

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Santorum makes a stop in Shelby, MI then travels to Ohio, campaigning in Mason and Georgetown… Romney fundraises in Boise, ID… Paul hosts two events in Washington then makes hits Moscow, ID… And Gingrich stumps in Peachtree City, GA… Also this weekend, as Romney heads to Utah, the DNC is up with a video noting how the 2002 Olympic games that Romney oversaw got $1.3 billion from the federal government.

*** “Meet” on Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D).

Countdown to Arizona and Michigan primaries: 11 days

Countdown to Super Tuesday: 18 days

Countdown to Election Day: 263 days

Information about cabinet department and agency budgets.

The White House has released its FY2013 Budget proposal. Pres. Obama made the initial announcement and the OMB and other Administration Budget Executives briefed on the budget details. Information about cabinet department and agency budgets.

The President's Proposed FY2013 Budget

If you would like to see the proposed Budgets for each of the 18 Departments of the Government, you can go and check them out here.

Obama reiterates call for farm subsidy cuts

A staff assistant holds a copy of President Obama's FY2013 budget upon its arrival at the Senate Budget Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington February 13, 2012.       REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A staff assistant holds a copy of President Obama's FY2013 budget upon its arrival at the Senate Budget Committee room on Capitol Hill in Washington February 13, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON | Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:58pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama proposed slashing subsidies to the booming agriculture sector by $32 billion over the next decade, just as Congress begins the lengthy process of overhauling the expiring U.S. farm law.For the third year running, Obama proposed sweeping cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in his annual budget. Congress, however, has yet to come to an agreement on how to reform the massive subsidies to the sector.
Obama's plan includes eliminating the $5 billion a year in direct payment to farmers that is disbursed regardless of need, an idea that has some support among U.S. lawmakers.
"In a period of severe fiscal restraint, the payments are no longer defensible," said the administration, referring to the direct payments.
The plan to cut some $32 billion over 10 years for farm support is far larger than the $23 billion agreed by Agriculture Committee leaders in Congress last fall during deficit-reduction talks.
Last year, Obama made a similar call for cuts, saying payments to the wealthiest farmers should be eliminated along with reductions in direct payments.
Budget cuts have squeezed the Agriculture Department's reporting of crop production over the past couple of years but the White House proposed steady funding, $109 million, for its forecasting arm in the coming fiscal year.
Obama said USDA should cut some 2 million acres from the long-term Conservation Reserve, which holds farmland out of production. Crop insurance subsidies would be cut by $7.6 billion through 2022. A disaster-relief fund, scheduled to expire this year, would remain.
Farm groups are divided on the shape of the new farm law. The Senate Agriculture Committee opens the farm bill process with a hearing on Wednesday. Analysts say there is a 50-50 chance, at best, that Congress will enact a farm law this year, given election-year and deficit-reduction pressures.
The White House won little support among farm groups and lawmakers when it proposed a similar package of cuts last fall. Two farm lobbyists said the new package would be ignored too. Agriculture Committee leaders seem set on $23 billion in farm subsidy cuts.
There is broad agreement the direct payment will not be renewed. It is paid to landowners based on historical production of grain, cotton and soybeans. Farm income hit a record high in 2011, making the payments harder to justify.
While the White House suggested a cap of 30 million acres for the Conservation Reserve, some proposals call for a ceiling of 25 million or 26 million acres.
(Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Jim Marshall and Dale Hudson)

$27B Energy Budget Pushed by Sec. Chu

Feb 16, 2012
Senate Committee Energy and Natural Resources
Washington, DC
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the President’s 2013 budget request. The $3.8 trillion package includes $27.2 billion for the Energy Department which is just over a three percent increase from 2012.
Despite a bigger budget, Secretary Chu says cuts were made to certain programs based on multiple factors with one being economic feasibility. He added the request reflects the administration’s priorities and commitment to clean energy technology, research and development and national security.

The best Superbowl Commercials of 2012

The Making Of: The Dog Strikes Back Commercial

Uploaded by on Feb 2, 2012
Take a behind the scenes look at the making of The Dog Strikes Back, Volkswagen's 2012 Big Game commercial. Watch our 2012 Game Day commercial here:

Clint Eastwood Super Bowl Commercial 2012 Chrysler It's Halftime in America 

Uploaded by on Feb 6, 2012
The great Clint Eastwood stars for Chrysler in this inspirational 2012 Super Bowl commercial about "Halftime in America" and Detroit's comeback.

Doritos - Man's Best Friend Super Bowl Commercial 2012 

Uploaded by on Jan 23, 2012
Best part about the Super Bowl is obviously the Super Bowl Commercials and here is the Funny Doritos - Man's Best Friend Ad. Enjoy this ad and other commercials from the super bowl right here.

 Pepsi MAX Love Hurts Super Bowl Commercial 2011

Uploaded by on Jan 20, 2012
Best part about the Super Bowl is obviously the Super Bowl Commercials and here is the Pepsi MAX Love Hurts Ad. Enjoy this ad and other commercials from the super bowl right here.

Best Super Bowl Commercials Ads 2012 

Uploaded by on Feb 6, 2012
Your collection of the most talked about 2012 Super Bowl Commercials in one easy to watch place from BestSuperBowlAds. Please share the link to this video for the enjoyment of your friends and as a way of supporting the companies who produced and aired these.