Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The Religious Right vs. Birth Control

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Does health care reform’s promise of preventive care extend to free birth control? Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have 18 months to decide whether to require insurers to provide oral contraceptives, IUDs, and other prescription birth control with no co-pay. With pro-choice Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the helm, HHS is expected to say yes. [Update: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that birth control will not be on the White House's preliminary list of free preventive services, to be issued today. However, as Miriam Perez of feministing explains, HHS will ultimately have the final word. Observers, including Dana Goldstein who covers reproductive rights for the Daily Beast, are optimistic that the pro-choice side will carry the day at HHS.]

At this point in the process, social conservatives are shut out in the cold, quaking with impotent rage. Now that the reform bill is law, HHS has to interpret the rules—and the Obama administration officials at HHS can’t be swayed as easily as elected officials.

Religious right on the warpath

Predictably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Abstinence Education Association, and the Heritage Foundation are up in arms. They’ve picked a deeply unpopular battle. Abortion remains controversial in some circles, but birth control is as American as baseball. The vast majority of sexually active women in the U.S. tell pollsters that they are not trying to become pregnant, and 89% of them are using some form of birth control.

“Seriously,” writes Monica Potts of TAPPED, “a battle over contraceptives?” Over 15 million Americans currently use hormonal contraception. Studies show that the vast majority of Americans are morally comfortable with birth control.

Expanding access to birth control is smart policy because it reduces health care costs, as Suzi Khimm notes in Mother Jones. Birth control is a lot cheaper for insurers than pregnancy and childbirth. Free birth control could change women’s lives for the better. In this economy, $30-$50 a month for hormonal birth control can be a major obstacle for many. As Michelle Chen notes in ColorLines, women of color are among those hardest hit by out-of-pocket costs.

Birth control as common ground?

Many centrists hope that contraception will be a source of “common ground” between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps. The premise sounds reasonable. If anti-choicers oppose abortion, surely they will support measures proven to reduce the abortion rate, like expanded access to contraception. Political scientist Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED that conservative opposition to birth control coverage is further proof that the common ground hypothesis is wishful thinking:

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it ignores the broader set of assumptions about women and sexuality on which actual opposition to abortion is based. Consider anti-choice Republicans, who consistently opposed expanding contraceptive use: Given the choice between reducing abortion rates and controlling female sexuality, they will always choose the latter. Thus the idea that contraception can be a means of achieving a ceasefire in the culture wars has always been a fantasy. Liberals and conservatives aren’t just divided by abortion but by broader questions of female equality and sexual freedom.

The USCCB clearly understands that birth control is broadly popular. Its lobbyists aren’t even trying to argue that birth control shouldn’t be covered because it’s sinful. Instead, they are playing semantic games about what constitutes preventative health care. According to the USCCB, birth control shouldn’t count because fertility isn’t a disease. Be that as it may, pregnancy is a life-altering health condition that can kill you. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is on the record as saying that pregnant women must sacrifice their own lives for their fetuses. Ergo, pregnancy prevention is preventive health care.

Approving free birth control would go a long way towards restoring the trust between the Obama administration and its pro-choice base, at low political cost. It seems unlikely that the USCCB and its allies have the power to fuel a national backlash on this one. After all, three quarters of U.S. Catholics disagree with their own church’s teachings on birth control.

Conscience concerns

Speaking of the Department of Health and Human Services, Megan Carpentier at RH Reality Check wonders what happened to President Barack Obama’s early promise to repeal the so-called “conscience clause” rule that allows health care workers to opt out of providing reproductive health care that conflicts with their anti-choice principles. The rule is still on the books, over a year after Obama pledged to repeal it.

FEMA Foul

Finally, how did some BP oil spill cleanup workers end up living in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailers ruled unfit for human habitation? As I report for Working In These Times, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants answers from FEMA and the General Services Administration about how these trailers found their way back onto the market.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Kagan Hearings: Gags, God, Guns, and Gays

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings kicked off on Monday. Her nomination has been met by glum resignation on the left and indifference on the right, as Adam Serwer notes in the American Prospect.  Kagan is hoping to replace the Supreme Court’s most prominent liberal, Justice John Paul Stevens, who stepped down earlier this week. Progressives are counting on Kagan to shore up the pro-choice faction on the court.

Kagan has never been a judge and she hasn’t published very many academic law opinions. As a result, the confirmation process is leaning heavily on her counsels to President Bill Clinton as a White House adviser, her clerkship with legendary liberal Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her stint as Dean of Harvard Law School.

Kagan on choice

RH Reality Check has video of a key exchange in Kagan’s confirmation hearing yesterday, in which Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) pressed Kagan on her views about life and health exemptions for the mother within abortion bans.

“Do you believe the constitution requires that the health of the mother be protected in any statute restricting access to abortion?” Feinstein asked Kagan.

“Senator Feinstein, I do think that the continuing holding of Roe and Doe v. Bolton is that women’s life and women’s health have to be protected in abortion regulation,” Kagan replied.

That’s a good start, but it’s hardly the ringing endorsement of choice that progressives would have hoped. Kagan went on to talk the special case of “partial birth abortion bans,” which she encouraged Bill Clinton to support while he was president. “Partial birth abortion” isn’t even a medical term. It’s a marketing term coined by anti-choicers in their bid to chip away at Roe v. Wade. For pro-choicers, it’s disappointing to see Kagan uncritically buying into that frame.

Title X and the Gag Order

Jodi Jacobson discusses Kagan’s record on choice issues in greater detail at RH Reality Check. She notes that the Center for Reproductive Rights reviewed Kagan’s record and raised many questions about her views on abortion. On the bright side, CRR believes that Kagan would have struck down the Title X gag rule. Title X was established in 1970 to provide public funding for reproductive health care, including birth control.

In 1988, the Secretary of Health and Human Services imposed a so-called “gag rule” that prevented doctors from talking about abortion and required them to refer patients to services for the welfare of “the unborn.” Kagan argued in a 1992 law review article that the gag order violated the First Amendment because the government was trying to silence one point of view while promoting another.

However, in a memo for Justice Thurgood Marshall, Kagan said it was “ludicrous” that a lower court found that the Eighth Amendment guarantees elective abortions for women in prison. Kagan disagreed with the lower court’s finding that elective abortions are “serious medical needs.”

Obamacare all over again

A Supreme Court confirmation hearing is like Shark Week on the Learning Channel. Chum’s up!

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) criticized Kagan for rejecting the fringe legal theory of  “tentherism,” a position that opponents of health care reform have used to argue that Obamacare is unconstitutional. As Ian Millhiser observes in AlterNet, it’s ironic that Sessions also criticized Kagan as an incipient “activist judge.” Embracing “tentherism” would be nothing if not judicial activism. It’s extremely unlikely that any tenther-based challenge would make it to the Supreme Court.

Outside the Senate chamber, anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera is demanding to know whether Dean Kagan schemed to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, reports Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones.

Some Republican senators questioned Kagan about her decision to bar military recruiters from school-sponsored recruiting events at Yale Law School over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On the outside, a  Yale grad and Republican activist named Flagg Youngblood has taken to the talkshow circuit to complain about how he had to attend ROTC drills at another school. It’s not clear why any of this is Kagan’s problem, seeing as she was Dean of Harvard and took a much weaker stance on military recruiting.

That’s not cooling Youngblood’s apocalyptic anti-Kagan rhetoric, though, Adam Weinstein reports in Mother Jones. “In the last 18 months, the president and his plotting comrades have dragged the United States to the edge of Constitutional oblivion.  America’s in the eleventh hour, and Elena Obama must be stopped from pushing us over the cliff,” Youngblood recently proclaimed.

Part of the plan

Meanwhile in Nevada, Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle is in hot water for asserting that women who get pregnant through rape must be forced to give birth because these pregnancies are all part of God’s plan. Good catch by Vanessa Valenti of Feministing.

“You know, I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things,” Angle said in an interview with a conservative broadcaster in January.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Dr. George Tiller’s Assassin Was No Lone Wolf

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

When Scott Roeder shot Dr. George Tiller in church last year, media accounts described him as a lone wolf. Roeder acted alone on the day of the assassination, but he was part of a community of career anti-choice terrorists, as Amanda Robb reports in Ms. Magazine.

A community of radical, anti-abortion activists

Over the course of 6 months, Robb interviewed Roeder over a dozen times. She met with his allies at the court house. She even got permission to sit in on phone calls between Roeder and his friends. Robb’s exhaustive investigation revealed that Roeder had for years been enmeshed in a community of radical, anti-abortion activists, many of whom have committed acts of terrorism ranging from clinic arson to butyric acid attacks to murder.

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