Advocacy

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA, May 13, 2016

Citizens for Choice is supporting bills in the California legislature that deal with trafficking victims, access to reproductive healthcare, and pregnant and parenting students.

Each piece of legislation selected as one of our priorities aims to improve health access or reproductive rights in our state.

The human trafficking bills (AB 1760, AB 1761, and AB 1762) would protect child victims from prosecution, and allow for vacating the convictions of all trafficking victims for non-violent crimes their traffickers forced them to commit.

To break down barriers to accessing needed healthcare, one bill would allow women to get reproductive or sexual health care without the need for a referral (AB 1954); and another would allow women to receive a 12-month supply of birth control at one time, covered by health insurance (SB 999).  The latter bill would also permit pharmacists who furnish hormonal contraceptives without a physician’s prescription to dispense up to a 12-month supply at one time. Receiving a year’s supply, rather than a mere 30 or 90 day supply, of contraception at a time can greatly enhance women’s ability to use birth control on a consistent basis.

Expectant and parenting students are already protected by Title IX, which theoretically guarantees them equal educational opportunities with their peers.  Among other things, it excuses doctor-approved absences due to pregnancy or childbirth and gives students the opportunity to make up any missed assignments. However, in reality, many schools are noncompliant and/or unfamiliar with Title IX’s protections, and many students are unfamiliar with their rights.  The bill we support (SB 1014) would enhance parental sick leave rights for pregnant and parenting students in public schools and help these students succeed academically upon their return.

Citizens for Choice continues to support the repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule for working women receiving aid under the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program (SB 23).  The bill seeks to protect the health and safety of children born into poverty in our state, and end a policy that intrudes into the reproductive health and family planning decisions of poor families.

The deadline for these bills to get through the house in which they were introduced is June 3, 2016, and the last day for bills to be passed in both houses is when the session ends, at the end of August.  Most of them are moving successfully through either the Assembly or Senate, but have not yet reached a floor vote.

We urge you to regularly check our Facebook page to keep up with policy and advocacy developments, and to hear when you can help by taking action.  For the current status of the bills, go to our Policy & Activism page

Thank all of you activists for choice for your support!

Elaine Sierra, Public Policy Director


Elaine Sierra: Caring for women means honoring health-care choices, January 22, 2016

The landmark Roe v. Wade decision was made on Jan. 22, 1973, 43 years ago. It is commonly recognized as the Supreme Court ruling that affirmed every woman’s Constitutional right to reproductive choice in the United States.

Yet, our state legislature concluded just last year that a new law was needed to provide additional safeguards for women to access timely pregnancy care and related healthcare information. The Reproductive FACT Act became that law.

In our view, the FACT Act (for Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) is a welcome assurance that all California women are able to exercise the choice guaranteed to them under Roe. And, by promoting informed decision making, it protects a broader public interest, that of women’s health. It empowers women to make their own best healthcare choices for themselves and for their families.

The law does this by requiring licensed clinics to provide clients with information about California’s comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion services. And it requires licensed clinics to notify patients about available financial assistance and specific contact information for those services, enabling prompt access to needed care. The FACT Act also requires that unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related care inform their clients that they are not licensed medical facilities and have no licensed provider on staff. Who would deny that, when women get timely, accurate pregnancy related information, and access the care they need without undue delay, they and their families are healthier? The FACT act simply ensures that all California women get the basic facts they need about accessing timely pregnancy related care.

How soon women get into care affects maternal and infant health, including mortality and morbidity. In Nevada County, an alarmingly high 25 percent of births were to mothers having late or no prenatal care, compared to 16.4 percent in California as a whole (according to the most recent Nevada County Health Status Report by the Health and Human Services Agency, for 2010-2012). Providing earlier access to prenatal care would help to reduce infant mortality and improve pregnancy outcomes.

The FACT act simply ensures that all California women get the basic facts they need about accessing timely pregnancy related care.

Like the overwhelming majority of Californians, we believe that women should have rights to accurate information about pregnancy related care. And, we support the FACT Act as one means of protecting those rights.

There is a wealth of information showing the extent of the deceptive practices of many crisis pregnancy centers. According to a Sacramento Bee editorial last October, for example, “… undercover investigators sent by NARAL Pro-Choice California into 45 crisis pregnancy centers in California found that 72 percent falsely told women that abortion was linked to depression, 46 percent repeated the myth that abortion is linked to breast cancer and 35 percent claimed abortion was linked to infertility, which is untrue.”

The law was slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Three federal lawsuits, and one in Riverside County Superior Court, were filed in October 2015, soon after the FACT act was signed, on behalf of several crisis pregnancy centers that provide pregnancy related counseling and services. In three of the four cases, judges denied requests for preliminary injunctions in December. In the fourth case, a pending preliminary injunction is scheduled for hearing on Jan. 25 in San Diego. Since none of the injunctions has been granted to date, the law has in fact gone into effect, while the court cases proceed.

Let us hope that the victory for California women that the FACT Act represents is not delayed further, or overturned, in the pending lawsuits.

Elaine L. Sierra. J.D., is the public policy director of Nevada County Citizens for Choice. She lives in Grass Valley.

The Union, Jan. 22, 2016

 

 


 

WOMEN’S HEALTH BILLS PASS CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE

During 2015, Citizens for Choice has championed bills promoting reproductive health and access, both at the state and federal level. As the legislative session in California draws to a close, we can report that our pro-women, pro-health and -justice positions have been mostly successful. (The situation in our increasingly fractious Congress has not been so hospitable to our concerns.) Let’s take a look at a few bills that have passed through both houses in our state, and await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature in order to become law. They are our among our highest advocacy priorities.

One bill would make comprehensive, fact-based sex education mandatory in public schools (AB 329). That would begin correcting the absence of needed sexual health education in the majority of our middle and high schools, and update curriculum requirements in light of current medical knowledge. For the first time, students in grades 7-12 would all receive the knowledge necessary to protect themselves and reduce their risks from unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and sexual exploitation. At the same time, comprehensive sex ed would facilitate developing healthy attitudes and relationships.

A second bill requires that crisis pregnancy centers disclose to women seeking their services if they (CPCs) are not licensed medical clinics or do not have licensed medical care providers on staff (AB 775). CPCs and other facilities offering pregnancy-related services would also need to advise women of their reproductive health rights, that is, their legally protected rights to use birth control, bear a child or have an abortion. Further, pregnancy-related clinics would be required to provide information on health insurance that might be available to make needed reproductive health services affordable for lower- income individuals, with a contact phone number. More women would get the information needed on how to get care for all pregnancy options. CPCs, at least most of them, have been shown to be deceptive anti-abortion, religiously based organizations offering little or no actual health care to pregnant women.

Other bills that we are supporting have also passed in the legislature. They would require schools to accommodate students who are breastfeeding their infants (AB 302); and extend health coverage to youth who are undocumented California citizens (SB 4).

More detailed Information on all the California and federal bills on which we have taken positions is posted on our Activism/Policy page. We encourage you to use the site to stay informed on key legislation that we are working on to promote reproductive health, rights and justice.

Elaine L. Sierra, Public Policy Director

 

PLANNED PARENTHOOD: FEDERAL FUNDING FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH CARE AT RISKCPC

On July 14, 2015, the anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a secretly recorded, fraudulently and deceptively edited video, and alleged that the video proves that Planned Parenthood illegally sells and profits from fetal tissue obtained from women who have abortions at its clinics.  Since then, CMP has released others.  Blistering attacks on Planned Parenthood by many politicians soon followed amid avid media attention.

Planned Parenthood vigorously defends its practice as enabling women to donate fetal tissue for medical research.  It unequivocally states that it does so with full patient consent, following strict legal and ethical protocols, in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws and ethics guidelines.  As PP asserts, this legally sanctioned service enables lawful biomedical research using fetal cells, as scientists have been doing in the United States since the 1930’s.  Fetal cells have been instrumental in the discovery of medical breakthroughs that have saved innumerable lives and reduced health risks for virtually all of us.  Fetal tissue research has been ongoing under Congressional oversight since 1993 (following a 5-year ban on use of federal funds), including research under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health. Tellingly, in 2000, the GAO reported that there was no incentive for commercial exploitation of fetal tissue supply.

Nonetheless, some state legislatures, have responded with proposals that would restrict fetal cell donation or research.  For example, a Wisconsin legislator has introduced a bill to ban the use of “fetal body parts” from induced abortions.

In the heated debate surrounding the release of CMP’s videos, the importance of the medical research reliant on fetal tissue has been ignored by many.  Some critics of PP are stridently calling, not simply for a halt to Planned Parenthood’s participation in the donation of fetal tissue, but for the total defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Such detractors include members of Congress who would eliminate federal funding that supports all the clinics, nationwide.  It includes some governors and state legislators who are taking steps to cut PP out of the Medicaid program in their states.  Those actions could leave literally hundreds of thousands of women without a safety-net provider of essential reproductive health services.  PP is the largest provider of such services in the nation, serving nearly 3 million people each year.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Although proponents of closing Planned Parenthood argue that other providers would be easily able to fill the hole torn in the safety net, credible evidence suggests this is unlikely.  In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care. And even where there are other safety-net providers, they, on average, serve far fewer contraceptive clients than do sites operated by Planned Parenthood.”  In response to a very recent Congressional Budget Office request, the Institute analyzed historical data on PP’s publicly funded contraceptive services, and concluded that PP “plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide.”  In two-thirds of the 491 counties in which they are located, Planned Parenthood health centers serve at least half of all women obtaining contraceptive care from safety-net health centers, and in one-fifth of the counties, PP is the sole safety-net provider for family planning services.  Guttmacher also found that Planned Parenthood centers serve a greater share of safety-net contraceptive clients, i.e., poor women, than any other type of provider, including community health centers, federally qualified health centers and county health departments. See http://www.guttmacher.org/media/inthenews/2015/09/08/index.html.

Forgotten is the important role of ongoing medical research using fetal tissue, research aimed at finding treatments and cures for serious, often life-threatening diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, cancer and other genetic disorders.  Past research has led to discoveries improving maternal and fetal health, as well as vaccines against polio, measles, rubella, shingles, Hepatitis A, and others.  One cell line developed from a single fetus has been used since the 1960’s.  Its use in vaccine development alone, knowledgeable experts say, has saved millions of lives.   According to the American Society for Cell Biology, in 2000, fetal cells were seen as holding a “unique promise for biomedical research.”  That view is held by many researchers today, despite the promise of advances in the use of adult stem cells that may eventually supplant the use of fetal tissue.

Citizens for Choice and our supporters not only support women’s fundamental right to abortion, but also their right to access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare services.  Therefore, it is incumbent on us all to become fully informed about the current controversy.  It is especially important to maintain a focus on the severe adverse impact that defunding of Planned Parenthood would have on millions of women who rely on its nationwide network of health centers, and who stand to benefit from its services far into the future.  And, we must remain vigilant in defending against attempts to criminalize the donation and use of tissue from a legally aborted fetus.

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • The attacks on Planned Parenthood are part of a broad pattern of efforts to eliminate access to legal, safe abortion care, led by anti-abortion activists and politicians whose goals are to stymie women’s personal decision-making about their bodies and their pregnancies and to take away their access to affordable health care.
  • Planned Parenthood affiliates are non-profit health care providers that receive reimbursements for providing preventive health care services like cancer screenings and birth control to low-income patients, providing trusted, high quality care to millions each year.
  • The videos and those who made them have been widely discredited, and in no way justify politicians’ efforts to push legislation that would take away women’s healthcare. See, for example, http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/unspinning-the-planned-parenthood-video/ and   http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2015/07/17/group-behind-planned-parenthood-attack-anti-choice-radicals/.
  • The use of fetal tissue in biomedical research is legal, and beneficial, furthering the search for life-saving treatments and cures for a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions.

A list of related articles is shown below. If you have any questions or would like additional information, you may contact us.

  1. Media Matters Fact Check: 3 Deceptive Edits in the Video Claiming Planned Parenthood is “Selling Aborted Baby Parts”
  1. Cosmo.com: That Planned Parenthood Video Isn’t the Scandal Abortion Opponents Are Making It Out to Be
  1. Gawker: No, Planned Parenthood is not Selling Aborted Fetal Body Parts
  1. Slate: Live Action Puts Out Another Titillating But Misleading Video About Planned Parenthood
  1. Buzzfeed: The Real Story Behind That Video Of An Abortion Doctor Discussing Harvesting Organs

 

FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR SEXUAL HEALTH: NEGLECT AND ABANDONMENT, by Elaine Sierra

Assuring affordable access to sexual health services is a public policy priority for Citizens for Choice.  Devoting public dollars for contraception and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, STIs, furthers reproductive health and justice, yes–but it also recognizes the importance of our government’s role in protecting the public’s and individuals’ health.  We believe that every sexually active person, regardless of his or her age or ability to pay, should have access to the medical knowledge and care needed to prevent and respond to unplanned and untimely pregnancies and to avoid or treat STIs and sexually transmitted diseases.  To work toward that ideal world, policy makers must consistently support programs that have proven to be cost effective in providing related sexual health services.

So, how are our federal lawmakers doing?  Two recent funding issues have arisen regarding programs we consider critical, one addressing access to birth control andAdvocacy_Title X the second addressing STI screening, diagnosis and treatment.  They are, respectively, Title X and STD prevention programs of the federal Centers for Disease Control.  (We also support comprehensive sex education, which we wrote about earlier this year.  See [link].[1])

First, let’s consider Title X.  Title X of the Public Health Service Act was established in 1970, and remains the nation’s only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services.  It provides essential financial support to family planning clinics, including ours in Grass Valley and others operated by Women’s Health Specialists. Because of Title X, such clinics provide high quality family planning and other related sexual and reproductive health services to low-income and uninsured individuals.  Those women, men and teens might otherwise have poor or no access to such services.  See more at: Title X family planning program.

What does Title X mean for access to reproductive health?

According to the California Family Health Council (a sister member of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom), Title X serves 4.7 million patients nationwide and, each year, over one million women, men and teens in California.  Every year Title X prevents 1.5 million unintended pregnancies, 500,000 unplanned births and nearly 400,000 abortions.  In California alone, Title X is credited with preventing over a million unintended pregnancies a year.  Without such publicly funded family planning, CHFC estimates that teen pregnancies in California would go up by a whopping 37%.

In 2010, Title X funded health centers saved over $5 billion in federal and state costs.  That same year, in our state, three-fourths of those served earned less than $11,000, a population that especially needs Title X services to be preserved.

So, what has Congress’s role been in sustaining Title X?  Since FY 2010’s level of $318 million, Congress has cut the program’s recent annual budgets by $31 million.  As a result, 700,000 fewer patients were served across the country, a decline of 150,000 patients served in California.

To make matters worse, incredibly, this year federal legislators in the House of Representatives have taken steps to fully eliminate the program.  At the same time, our Senators have proposed a reduction of nearly $30 million from the already inadequate level of $287 million that was provided for the previous two years.  Final floor votes have not yet been scheduled, so there is still time to advocate for adequate funding–or at least no cuts–to Title X.

To oppose and prevent such drastic cuts from happening, Take Action to show your support for Title X and access to family planning. Go to the CHFC web page  http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50161/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17047

Now, let’s take a look at CDC funding for STI prevention.  The CDC is the only federal government agency that directly supports state and local health department activities to prevent the spread of STIs.  One may ask if cutting CDC funding is justified by a reduction in STIs and, therefore, the need for public health efforts.

On the contrary.  According to the California Family Health Council (a sister member of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom), STI rates are rising at alarming levels.

  • There are approximately 20 million new infections each year
  • Young people aged 15-24 account for half of all new infections.
  • More than 1,000,000 Californians are estimated to have an STI, disproportionally affecting youth and women, as well as men who have sex with men, and African Americans.

The ongoing need for detection and treatment is blatantly apparent.  If STIs are left undetected and untreated, they can lead to such long-term health outcomes as infertility and blindness.  Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, are easily preventable, but if untreated can cause serious damage to a woman’s reproductive organs.

In California, CDC STI prevention funding supports key prevention programs including:

  • Statewide health promotion and training activities
  • Community-based initiatives that support STD prevention in targeted regions with high STD morbidity.

So, how are our legislators responding to the need for STI prevention?

As recently as late June, Senate Republican leaders proposed slashing STI prevention funding by $32 million, from its current level of $157 million.  Obviously, a cut of this magnitude will result in an increase in costs to the health care system due to rising STD rates and resulting complications.  The CFHC estimates that cost, over five years, at over $150 million.  The National Coalition of STD Directors is, instead, calling for an increase of $54.7 million. It considers that funding increase to be much needed, in order to ensure those on the front lines of STD prevention have funding to prepare, among other things, for “the emerging threat of drug-resistant gonorrhea [and] respond to the rising rates of syphilis.”

Want to do something about this?  Take Action to oppose cuts to STD prevention funding!

[1] Regrettably, federal legislators are also taking steps to cut sex education and teen pregnancy prevention dollars.  Senate and House LHHS committees have passed spending bills that essentially eliminate Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) programs (cuts by 80-90 percent) and increase funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs (by $10 million).

 

CONGRESS: NO FUNDING OF ABORTIONS FOR LESS FORTUNATE, Elaine SierraTug over hyde

Shortly after women won the theoretical Constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court eviscerated that right for low income women in Harris v. McRae.  That 1980 decision allowed Congress to continue its refusal to provide federal funds for most abortions.   The language used, known as the Hyde Amendment, has been applied to annual funding bills each year since 1976, barring abortion coverage for low-income women enrolled in the joint federal-state Medicaid program.  Although much debated, the exceptions added in later versions of Hyde – permitting funding when needed for the health of the mother and in cases of rape and incest – have remained of limited application and effect.

And the use of Hyde has expanded, to preclude federal abortion funding for other categories of women:  disabled women in Medicare, adolescents in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, military personnel and dependents, veterans, federal civilian employees and their dependents, Peace Corps volunteers, Native Americans aided by the Indian Health Service, District of Columbia residents, and women in federal prisons and detention centers.  Clearly, denying benefits to low income women only set the precedent for Congress to forbid women in a wide number of federal programs from accessing medical coverage for abortions.

Further, the Hyde policy of barring federal funding of abortion coverage was applied to the Affordable Care Act.  Under the ACA, health insurers in the private insurance market that cover abortion care are required to segregate tax credits and other federal subsidies, using only private premiums to pay for coverage of abortion care.  And it permits states to ban abortion ban abortion coverage in private health plans sold in their insurance marketplaces, as twenty-five states have decided to do.  This incremental expansion has gained political acceptance in large part because of McRae.

The Justices in McRae, ruling on Medicaid funding, decided that the Hyde Amendment and its denial of federal funds was Constitutional.  The majority concluded that low income women otherwise entitled to Medicaid coverage for abortions were not prevented from doing so by Congressional withholding of funds, but rather, by the women’s own poverty.  They also rejected the idea of a governmental obligation to effectuate Roe’s right to abortion by providing funding for abortions.  Following that decision, the number of abortion procedures covered by Medicaid plummeted, from nearly 300,000 in 1977 to less than 300 within fifteen years.

It is important to bear in mind the reality of women’s lives, and the disproportionate effects that unplanned pregnancies can have on women living in poverty.  One estimate is that one of every three poor women who seeks an abortion ends up carrying a pregnancy to term because she simply does not have enough money to pay for the procedure and its related costs.  And, as we have reported many times, the incidence of unplanned pregnancies in the United States is high for all women, due to a multitude of factors. It does not do to say the solution to our high rate of such pregnancies, and to eliminating the need for abortion, lies in more consistent use of contraceptives.  Available birth control methods fail at alarming rates.

The larger issue raised by the Hyde Amendment is its fundamental unfairness.  Roe promised to women that their dignity and reproductive autonomy would be protected.  Sadly, that promise has been subverted by the action of Congress, in continually applying the Hyde Amendment, and in the Supreme Court, in upholding Hyde.

A partial victory won by those who respect abortion rights has played out in the states.  California is one of seventeen states that themselves provide Medicaid funding for abortions.  However, in the long run, the only complete solution is a complete solution:  overturn McRae, or stop Congress from attaching the Hyde Amendment to any federal funding measure.

Select the link for a fuller discussion of the McRae decision and why it was wrongly decided.

 

 

 

SEXUAL ASSAULT ON CAMPUS:  TITLE IX RIGHTS, By Elaine Sierra

Much attention has been focusedCampus assault lately on the acknowledged problem of sexual harassment and assault on school campuses, especially college and university campuses.  Women aged 16 to 24 are most likely to experience sexual violence.  A 2007 report prepared for the National Institute of Justice found that about 1 in 5 women are survivors of sexual assault while in college.  It is past time to focus attention on what should be done about the problem.  For the purpose of this piece, let’s focus on the role Title IX plays in addressing sexual assault and sexual violence on campuses.

The common misperception is that Title IX’s sole purpose is to remedy gender discrimination in sports and athletics–an important role, but not its only one.

The language of the 1972 law does not limit itself to sports programs, but broadly bans discrimination on the basis of sex in “any education program or activity.”  The non-discrimination ban extends to sexual harassment and sexual assault.  It covers not only female students, but protects any person, regardless of gender, gender identity or gender expression, from sex-based discrimination–including faculty and staff.   And it applies to all educational institutions receiving federal funds, thus covering all public schools (K-12), colleges and universities, and most private schools, as well (e.g., those with students who receive federal student loans).   All schools have the responsibility under Title IX to ensure equal access to educational opportunities.  That responsibility subsumes ensuring a campus environment that discourages sexual assault, and providing mechanisms for promptly remedying such incidents when they do occur.

Title IX requires schools and colleges to take certain basic steps in order to address gender discrimination on campus.  They must each designate a Title IX coordinator, a person charged with coordinating the institution’s compliance with Title IX — including overseeing all Title IX complaints and identifying and addressing patterns or systemic problems that may come to light.  Schools must publicize how students may contact the Title IX coordinator.  They must establish grievance procedures for students to file complaints, procedures that must meet the Title IX requirement of affording a complainant a “prompt and equitable resolution.”  And they must advise students of the institution’s nondiscrimination policy, how to reach the campus Title IX coordinator, about available Title IX grievance procedures and a school’s obligations under Title IX. 

Once a school becomes aware of an incident of sexual assault, it must inform the survivor about how to file a Title IX complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, as well as how to report the incident to law enforcement if she or he so chooses.  Services must be provided for survivors.  The school must offer accommodations geared to ensuring that the complainant feels safe, and try to minimize the burden on the survivor.  Confidentiality safeguards must be respected – although responsible school employees must report identifying information to the school.

The Office of Civil Rights has issued detailed guidance to schools and colleges about Title IX’s requirements with regard to sexual violence and assault (noted below).   Importantly, the survivor has the right to remain on campus and to have continued access to every educational program and activity previously available.

Title IX thus has a key role to play in guarding against and remedying sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus.  In an ideal world, all schools would take their obligations under the law seriously; and any student faced with harassment or assault would be advised of the school’s obligations and the student’s rights under Title IX, as well as being provided with adequate support services.  Sadly, instead, institutional neglect can be the norm, even at some of our nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.  Serious instances of failure to provide Title IX protections to survivors of sexual assault have been reported at the University of Chicago, Amherst, Brown and Columbia, among many others, over the last few years alone.

The Office of Civil Right –charged with enforcing Title IX–disclosed a list of 55 campuses being investigated over possible mishandling of sexual violence and harassment complaints in mid-2014.  Among them were four California colleges or universities:  the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Occidental College and Butte-Glen Community College District.  By January of this year, the list had grown to 94, including 8 in California, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of San Diego among them.  Allegations of noncompliance at Harvard Law School were resolved in January, with a finding that the school had failed to respond appropriately to two specific complaints of sexual assault.

As we strive to protect reproductive freedoms, we recognize the rights of individuals to be free from sexual violence and coercion of any kind. And, among our advocacy tasks, protecting and strengthening Title IX’s role in identifying and remedying sexual assaults on our nation’s campuses must remain a priority.  We urge all students to become aware of their rights and protections under Title IX, and, if the need should arise, to use its tools to seek and obtain the “prompt and equitable resolution” to which you are entitled.

RESOURCES:

  1. The most recent Sierra College Clery Act report on school campus sexual harassment and assault and related crimes can be found at http://www.sierracollege.edu/_files/resources/administrative-services/security/documents/2014-Sierra-College-Clery-and-Fire-Safety-Report-Final.pdf.
  2. “Myths and Facts” about Title IX: http://www.nwlc.org/resource/protecting-survivors-sexual-assault-campus-myths-and-facts .
  3. Official guidance from the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, on how schools should comply with Title IX regarding sexual violence on campus was issued in 2011 (available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html) and in 2014 (available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201404-title-ix.pdf ).

 

FEDERAL SUPPORT FOR SEX EDUCATION: SPLIT BETWEEN FAILED AND EFFECTIVE PROGRAMSAbstinence Education

Assuring our youth access to sexual health information remains a major policy priority for Citizens for Choice.  We believe that young people have basic human rights to know all the facts they want and need to know in order to inform their judgments about sexual behaviors and reproductive health care.  That is, we support comprehensive sexuality education. That is the best assurance we can have that our young people will be able to make decisions for themselves—guided by family, faith and community values—that represent healthy attitudes and behaviors and that reduce unhealthy outcomes resulting from sexual activity.

Having medically accurate, unbiased and current information about sex and sexuality enables people of all ages to assume personal responsibility for their health and well-being.  It helps avoid adverse consequences that now disproportionately affect adolescents and people in their twenties.  Over a quarter of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections are diagnosed each year among those aged 13-24.  Half of the nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur among 15-24 year olds.  And, while teen pregnancy rates have been declining for some time, the United States stands alone with the highest rates among comparable developed countries.

Most parents support the idea that our public schools should play a primary role in providing sexual health education, and that what is taught should be comprehensive.  Clearly, their values and beliefs are based on concerns for the health and well-being of their children.  But, are policy makers recognizing and acting on that basis?  Are they legislating with the goal of helping insure that students receive quality sex education?

Let’s look at how Congress is treating sex education.

For some time, the debate and attention in our nation’s capital has focused predominantly on abstinence-based approaches.  Let’s put aside for now a discussion of how one “teaches” abstinence.   Instead, let’s look at whether abstinence education is effective in meeting its apparent goal:  significantly reducing or delaying teen sex.   Follow-up studies that have been done show that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in meeting that goal.  Further, by definition, they do not teach young people about the benefits or efficacy of condoms and contraception.  And, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs run counter to the commonsense notion than sexuality is an intrinsic, normal, healthy part of being human—not something shameful.

Comprehensive sex education, on the other hand, has proven to be effective:  effective at helping teens delay sex, have fewer sexual partners, increase their reliance on condoms, and have fewer unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Yet, our federal government has poured over $1.3 billion into abstinence-only programs since 2001.  Funding grew over the years, reaching $200 million or more annually from 2005 to 2009.

It was only in 2009-2010 that Congress finally began supporting comprehensive sex education programs, and cutting back on abstinence-only programs.  However, illustrating the support that abstinence-only programs still enjoy among Congressional conservatives, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, it included two competing amendments.  One, for the first time, funded comprehensive sex education (creating a new Personal Responsibility Education Program, to provide grants to States for programs to educate adolescents on both abstinence and contraception).  The second amendment continued funding for a key abstinence based program that otherwise would have lapsed (Title V, which uses a strict 8-part definition of abstinence education, limited to an educational or motivational program that “has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity”).  Funding battles continue to be waged over comprehensive sex education programs and abstinence-only programs.

This year, 2015, will see heightened debate, as Congress must decide whether to continue the two key programs mentioned, and wrestle with the competing funding priorities of programs based on the comprehensive sex education model and those based on the abstinence-only model.  There is only one right answer as to which has been shown to be more effective, and which better meets the reproductive and sexual health needs of America’s youth.  That is comprehensive sex education.  And that is what we, as advocates for reproductive health and justice, must continue to urge our representatives in Washington to support.

 

10 Kinds of Anti-Choice Laws and What They REALLY Mean

Recent findings on all states with anti-choice legislature in are collected in a easy to use summary provided by NARAL Pro-Choice: visit: http://bit.ly/1589xeZ

Including:

  • Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP)
  • Insurance Coverage Bans on Abortion
  • Abortion Bans
  • Biased Counseling and Mandatory Delays
  • Supporting Crisis Pregnancy Centers
  • Restricting Low-Income Women’s Access to Abortion
  • Counseling Bans and Gag Rules
  • Refusal to Provide Medical Services
  • Restricting Young Women’s Access to Abortion
  • Near-Total Abortion Bans

A complete annual report called Who Decides? provides an analysis of each state and it’s ever growing anti-choice policy.

Naral report card

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S A BUFFER ZONE AND WHY IS IT NEEDED? 

 

C4C_July Article_Buffer Zone graphic

The U.S. Supreme Court decided another key case affecting women’s access to reproductive healthcare in late June, in McCullen v. Coakley — ruling that Massachusetts’ “buffer zone” law was unconstitutional, violating the free speech rights of protesters.  The law required anti-abortion protesters to stay at last 35 feet from reproductive health clinics.   (Yet, the Court did not overturn its 2000 ruling upholding Colorado’s 8-foot buffer zone.)

The unanimous Court decision in Coakley effectively limits the ability of states and localities to protect doctors, clinic workers and patients at abortion clinics from violence, intimidation and harassment.  Since then, similar laws have been repealed or made unenforceable:  in Portland, Maine, in Burlington, Vermont, and in Madison, Wisconsin.   In addition, a recent 25-foot buffer zone law in New Hampshire is on hold while it is being challenged in court.

Massachusetts is considering new legislation governing protests outside abortion clinics, planning to pass it by the end of July.  The bill would allow police to order protesters who impede access to a clinic to withdraw, and to stay at least 25 feet from the building for up to eight hours.

How real is the threat of violence at reproductive health clinics? According to NARAL, the anti-abortion movement has an established history of violence, which has resulted in eight murders and 17 attempted murders since 1991.  That is the chief reason for buffer zones laws.  (Including that in Massachusetts.)

Women’s Health Specialists, which operates our clinic in Grass Valley, reports that anti-abortion protesters at its full-service clinic in Sacramento unceasingly seek to intimidate women seeking access to its clinic.  A local ordinance mandates that protesters honor a buffer zone, but local law enforcement stopped enforcing it in light of Coakley.  Buffer zone laws in other California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, remain in effect.

Buffer zone laws exist in numerous other sites in the U.S.  They have been seen as a critical tool to protect abortion providers and those seeking abortion care.  Without them, reproductive health advocates fear a rise in aggressive intimidation tactics by protesters.  It is not a simple matter of protesters expressing anti-abortion views.  Rather, it’s often a concerted verbal, sometimes physical, attack by extremists intent on preventing women from accessing abortions.  They routinely bombard women with false information about the safety of abortion, graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, and hurtful taunts about “baby killing.”  At times, protesters threaten to hurt clinic providers and staff, or women and their families.

Every woman is entitled to act on her own choice and obtain safe, compassionate abortion care.  Yet, the Coakley case raises a potential challenge to all buffer zone laws, making that right much more difficult to exercise.  One of the few mechanisms that have proven to enhance women’s safety and protect them from violence or the threat of violence may become far less available and effective.  And that may deter some women from even going to reproductive health clinics.

Elaine Sierra

Public Policy Chair

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