Tag: obama

Nicholas D. Kristoff, you got it right! “Beyond Pelvic Politics”

Beyond Pelvic Politics

By Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, 2/11/2012

I MAY not be as theologically sophisticated as American bishops, but I had thought that Jesus talked more about helping the poor than about banning contraceptives.

The debates about pelvic politics over the last week sometimes had a patronizing tone, as if birth control amounted to a chivalrous handout to women of dubious morals. On the contrary, few areas have more impact on more people than birth control — and few are more central to efforts to chip away at poverty.

My well-heeled readers will be furrowing their brows at this point. Birth control is cheap, you’re thinking, and far less expensive than a baby (or an abortion). But for many Americans living on the edge, it’s a borderline luxury.

A 2009 study looked at sexually active American women of modest means, ages 18 to 34, whose economic circumstances had deteriorated. Three-quarters said that they could not afford a baby then. Yet 30 percent had put off a gynecological or family-planning visit to save money. More horrifying, of those using the pill, one-quarter said that they economized by not taking it every day. (My data is from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research organization on issues of sexual health.)

One-third of women in another survey said they would switch birth control methods if not for the cost. Nearly half of those women were relying on condoms, and others on nothing more than withdrawal.

The cost of birth control is one reason poor women are more than three times as likely to end up pregnant unintentionally as middle-class women.

In short, birth control is not a frill that can be lightly dropped to avoid offending bishops. Coverage for contraception should be a pillar of our public health policy — and, it seems to me, of any faith-based effort to be our brother’s keeper, or our sister’s.

To understand the centrality of birth control, consider that every dollar that the United States government spends on family planning reduces Medicaid expenditures by $3.74, according to Guttmacher. Likewise, the National Business Group on Health estimated that it costs employers at least an extra 15 percent if they don’t cover contraception in their health plans.

And of course birth control isn’t just a women’s issue: men can use contraceptives too, and unwanted pregnancies affect not only mothers but also fathers.

This is the backdrop for the uproar over President Obama’s requirement that Catholic universities and hospitals include birth control in their health insurance plans. On Friday, the White House backed off a bit — forging a compromise so that unwilling religious employers would not pay for contraception, while women would still get the coverage — but many administration critics weren’t mollified.

Look, there’s a genuine conflict here. Many religious believers were sincerely offended that Catholic institutions would have to provide coverage for health interventions that the church hierarchy opposed. That counts in my book: it’s best to avoid forcing people to do things that breach their ethical standards.

Then again, it’s not clear how many people actually are offended. A national survey found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. Moreover, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute reported that even among Catholics, 52 percent back the Obama policy: they believe that religiously affiliated universities and hospitals should be obliged to include birth control coverage in insurance plans.

So, does America’s national health policy really need to make a far-reaching exception for Catholic institutions when a majority of Catholics oppose that exception?

I wondered what other religiously affiliated organizations do in this situation. Christian Science traditionally opposed medical care. Does The Christian Science Monitor deny health insurance to employees?

“We offer a standard health insurance package,” John Yemma, the editor, told me.

That makes sense. After all, do we really want to make accommodations across the range of faith? What if organizations affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted on health insurance that did not cover blood transfusions? What if ultraconservative Muslim or Jewish organizations objected to health care except at sex-segregated clinics?

The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example, even for the pious. Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act.

In this case, we should make a good-faith effort to avoid offending Catholic bishops who passionately oppose birth control. I’m glad that Obama sought a compromise. But let’s remember that there are also other interests at stake. If we have to choose between bishops’ sensibilities and women’s health, our national priority must be the female half of our population.

President Obama, Contraception & the First Amendment

“Under intense pressure from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, President Obama today said that the White House would not back down from its guarantee that insurance companies must cover contraception without co-pays.  Instead, the President announced that it would adjust the policy so that women who work for religiously-affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals can receive contraceptive coverage at no additional cost directly from their insurance companies, rather than from their employers.

Women asked the President to stand with us, and he did.  This policy protects women’s access to critical preventive health services without adding new charges.

While the policy already included an exemption for churches and houses of worship, Catholic hospitals and other religiously affiliated employers have lobbied for more.  The Bishops have made clear that they will oppose any policy that gives women insurance coverage for contraception, but Sister Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, has been quoted in news reports saying that she supports the policy described today by the President.  Keehan is also a supporter of the overarching health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, and her support was critical to Congressional passage of the law in 2010, despite the bishops’ objections.” (Thank you,  Raising Women’s Voices)

The Right-Wing Opposition Has Already Launched an Attack
Already the anti-contraception fanatics are hard at work trying to overturn the entire contraceptive coverage policy. Anti-choice extremist Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) is tying all contraceptive coverage to a transportation bill, which the Senate could vote on at any time. Blunt’s approach is to say the very least, blunt…and extreme.

Blunt wants Congress to totally eliminate President Obama’s guarantee of access to affordable birth control. Instead, Blunt wants any employer or any health plan to be able to refuse coverage of birth control.
Call your Senators and tell them to oppose the Blunt Amendment!

An Interesting Piece of Information from The New York Times
Catholic Institutions Reluctantly Comply With N.Y. Law on Contraceptives Coverage

By Joseph Berger Published: February 10, 2012

Although Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York has been leading the national fight against requiring Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to cover birth control in their health insurance plans for employees and students, some Catholic institutions in his own diocese and others throughout New York State have for 10 years been complying with state law mandating precisely that coverage.

The state began requiring contraception coverage in 2002, and Catholic institutions, after losing a court battle over the issue, have followed the law. Historically Catholic institutions like Fordham University, which is run by a lay board of trustees in the tradition of the Jesuit religious order, provide contraception coverage for employees and students.

Fordham, which has 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, seeks to comply with Catholic teaching by barring its student health center from prescribing or dispensing birth control pills unless they are used for such conditions as severe acne or endometriosis, according to Bob Howe, Fordham’s director of communications. Students who seek birth control pills to prevent pregnancies must obtain prescriptions from a private doctor or a service like Planned Parenthood, and the college’s insurance carrier will then cover the pills under its standard reimbursement schedule.

“We currently follow New York State law,” Mr. Howe said. “For employees and students, we provide insurance coverage that includes contraception. That’s the law.”

New York is one of the 28 states that require insurance companies to cover contraception. According to the White House, Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemptions from that requirement, while California, New York and North Carolina have limited religious exemptions, identical to the limited exemptions the Obama Administration proposed to put in place nationally.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, referred questions about the archdiocese’s practices to Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, who did not immediately return a call. But Mr. Poust was quoted in The Buffalo News as saying of the state’s requirement: “In many cases, there was no other choice but to comply under protest. None of it is voluntary. It is all under duress.”

There are no longer any Catholic hospitals in New York City; St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village closed in 2010, and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Queens, closed in 2009. A spokesman for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which administers six hospitals, including St. Francis in Roslyn and Good Samaritan in West Islip,  said, “It is the policy of Catholic Health Services not to comment on political issues.”

Representatives of several other Catholic institutions in the region seemed leery about discussing how their insurance plans operated.

“The college’s institutional policies and practices are consistent with Catholic teaching,” said  Lenore Carpinelli, director of college relations for the College of New Rochelle, which was founded in Westchester County in 1904 by the Ursuline Sisters as the first college in the state for Catholic women. “We will be reviewing and evaluating the new regulations respectful of our commitment to our Ursuline Catholic mission and identity.”

“You Can’t Be Pro-Choice Unless You Support Equal Access”

From one of the most important organizations in the nation, National Network of Abortion Funds,  written by Stephanie Poggi.

Stephanie Poggi provides a clear, historically accurate account of  the Obama Administration’s failure to advocate for women’s reproductive rights.

“If recent statements are any indication, the Obama Administration would very much like to rewrite what it means to be “pro-choice.” The Administration continues to claim that it supports the right of a woman to make her own decision about whether and when to have a child. But it turns out that the Administration only stands firm when that woman has economic resources.

It’s more than a contradiction in terms and much more than a “compromise” to deny access to abortion care to a low-income woman. The 120,000 women who called our abortion funding hotline for help last year can tell you what it really means. Not having enough food for the children you already have. Having the electricity shut off because you need that money to pay for an abortion. Selling your car, even though you need it to get to work. Not being able to return to college next semester.

Yes, we understand that many in Congress would like to end the legal status of abortion altogether. Because funding restrictions are a step toward that goal, capitulation will only embolden our opponents and get us even more onerous obstacles blocking a low-income woman’s path to an abortion.

The reproductive rights, health, and justice communities will fight – until we win – for the ability of every single woman to make the decision she feels is best for herself and her family. We will keep working until we have restored federal Medicaid coverage of abortion – and ensured it is once again available on the same terms as coverage for women continuing a pregnancy. Because nothing less will guarantee that a woman can make this fundamental decision for herself. Our commitment to the lives and futures of women and families prompted us to express our concern and disappointment when Secretary Sebelius recently went out of her way to disavow public funding. Joined by over 50 organizations in the reproductive rights and justice communities, the National Network of Abortion Funds and Catholics for Choice wrote to the Secretary after she was quoted in the press as saying that, “Federal funds have never supported abortion, do not support abortion, will not support abortion.”

The Executive Office of the President quickly followed Secretary Sebelius’s remarks with a “Statement of Administration Policy” promising that the Administration “will strongly oppose legislation that unnecessarily restricts women’s reproductive freedoms and consumers’ private insurance options,” but it simultaneously outlined all of the steps the Administration has taken to bolster “[l]ongstanding Federal policy [that] prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions” – in other words, all of the Administration’s actions to shore up the federal ban on Medicaid funding for abortion. These actions include accepting a ban on funding in the health reform law and reinforcing that ban by issuing an Executive Order. Apparently the Administration believes that only women with private insurance are entitled to full “reproductive freedom and access to health care” – otherwise, how can restrictions on funding for low-income women not “unnecessarily” restrict women’s rights?

This Statement of Administration Policy recalls President Obama’s claim during the health care debate that, “I’m pro-choice, but I think we also have the tradition in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” There are many traditions in the nation’s capital and the United States that our elected officials now rightly reject, including racial segregation and blatant sex discrimination.

Setting the Record Straight
Secretary Sebelius is wrong when she insists that federal funds “have never supported abortion.” After the U. S. Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 1973, Medicaid included abortion in its health care services. After all, Medicaid exists to provide health care to low-income families and individuals and abortion is a legal medical procedure. At that time, Medicaid paid for about one-third of all abortions, clearly demonstrating the need for federal funding of abortion. Looking at the situation today, we know that lower-income women seek abortions at higher rates, a reflection of the greater barriers they face to affordable contraception and also the enormous challenge of raising children in a tight job market. This reality underscores the continuing need for federal funding of both contraception and abortion for women living in poverty.

It was only after Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) introduced the amendment that now bears his name that Congress rescinded payments for abortion under Medicaid, absent one of a few circumstances: rape, incest, or a life-threatening pregnancy. As the years went by, conservative lawmakers attached riders to virtually every appropriations bill containing a federally-funded health care program, restricting access to abortion for millions of women. Once Congress cut off funding, a majority of states eventually followed suit. Today, only a third of the states cover abortion care for women enrolled in Medicaid, for which they receive no federal reimbursement.

When health care experts make decisions about what types of health services to cover, abortion is usually included, as seen in the early years of federal Medicaid coverage as well as the 80 percent of private insurance plans that cover abortion care. When conservative politicians make those decisions, abortion is excluded.

Connecting Rights to Resources
The Obama Administration did take one step toward dismantling economic barriers to abortion, when it restored the right of home rule to the District of Columbia so that the District could use its own local tax revenues to pay for abortions under Medicaid. This funding was a lifeline for many of the District’s low-income and downright poor residents, faced with the worst recession in decades. But the Administration bargained away even this measure of progress in the recent negotiations over the FY 2011 spending bill. When Congress reinstated the ban on funding in D.C., clinics saw a rash of cancelled appointments by women who had just had the financial rug pulled out from under them.

A woman enrolled in Medicaid in D.C. represents exactly the groups of women hit hardest by funding bans – low-income, disproportionately of color, and often young. While every woman deserves access to the full range of reproductive health care no matter the source of her insurance, it is low-income women who suffer the most when health insurance excludes abortion. It is these women who really need the President and his Administration to stand up for their rights. Federal funding is a key ingredient to ensure that every woman, rich or poor, can make the decision that is right for her and her family, given the life circumstances she knows best.

The Democratic Party acknowledges as much, stating that “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”

Governments in other countries increasingly recognize the need to ensure that women can exercise their reproductive rights by allocating funding to pay for the implementation of those rights. For example, when the legislative assembly in Mexico City adopted a new policy to legalize abortion, it made sure that women in need would be able to access care regardless of their financial situation.

And as one woman who described her decision to join the Network’s national fundraising campaign put it, “The right to choose without federal funding for abortion is like the right to an education without a public school system” – in other words, a privilege of those with economic resources, not a right at all.

It is well past time for the federal government to restore funding of abortion. Access for low-income women demands government action; women without economic resources are the ones who most need public policies to guarantee their rights. Along with our allies in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements, we will press forward to expand access to abortion for lower-income women, and to persuade the Obama Administration to do its part.”