Weekly Pulse: The New Hunger Epidemic, Making CPCs Come Clean, and Smoking Hipsters

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As some Americans obsess over whether to brine or deep-fry their Thanksgiving turkeys, others are going hungry. Seth Freed Wessler reports for ColorLines that 50 million Americans went hungry in 2009, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Astonishingly, more than 36% of female-headed households suffered from food insecurity last year, in spite of a massive expansion of federal food stamp benefits as part of the economic stimulus. Forty-two million families received food stamps last year, 10 million more than the year before. Congress gutted the food stamp program this summer. If something isn’t done, families of four will lose $59 a month in food stamp benefits at the end of 2014. At the time of the cuts, House Democrats promised to restore food stamp benefits during the lame duck session of Congress, but Freed notes there’s been little sign recently that they plan to follow through on the promise.

Making Crisis Pregnancy Centers come clean

The New York City Council is preparing to vote on the legislation to force so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities and that they do not provide birth control or abortions. CPCs are anti-choice ministries that deliberately mimic abortion clinics in order to trick women who might be seeking abortions. It’s all a ruse to bombard these women with false information about abortion under the guise of health care. As we discussed last week in the Pulse, CPCs also serve as incubators for more extreme forms of anti-choice activism, from clinic obstruction to violence.

In RH Reality Check, Dr. Lynette Leighton explains why she supports New York City’s proposed bill to require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to disclose that they aren’t real clinics staffed by health care providers:

As a family physician, I provide comprehensive health care for all of my patients, including safe abortions for women who decide to end a pregnancy. I’ve cared for many women who came to me in crisis when they learned they were pregnant. The last thing my patients need is to be misled by anti-abortion organizations masquerading as health clinics. I’m strongly in favor of the New York City bill requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions or contraception, or offer referrals for these services.

New York CPCs are claiming that the requirement to disclose violates their freedom of speech, Robin Marty notes in RH Reality Check. In other words, they are claiming a First Amendment right to bait and switch. The executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is scheduled to testify before the City Council that the free speech claim is baseless.

See you in court!

In other reproductive rights news, the Center for Reproductive Rights took the FDA to court on Tuesday over access to the morning after pill. The FDA has been ignoring a court order to make emergency contraception available over the counter to women of all ages, and the Center is going to court to spur the agency to comply, Vanessa Valenti reports for Feministing.

Look at this smokin’ hipster

Tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds is courting hipsters with a new “Williamsburg” cigarette, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. “[Smoking Camels is] about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building… It’s where a tree grows,” according to the online ad copy. Mmm, kissing smokers.

It’s all part of an online marketing campaign in which users are invited to guess where brand mascot Joe Camel will show up next week. Interestingly, the contest’s name is “Break Free Adventure,” a twist on the Camel brand’s “Break Free” tagline. Odd that they’d pick a slogan usually associated with quitting smoking, rather than feeding the addiction. Those hipsters sure love irony.

Blowing the whistle on health insurers

On Democracy Now!, health insurance executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter predicts that the Republicans will back off their grandiose campaign promises to repeal health care reform and instead try to dismantle the bill’s provisions that protect consumers. Potter notes that health insurers are major Republican donors, and that parts of the law are very good for insurers, notably the mandate forcing everyone to buy health insurance.

Apparently, some true believers haven’t gotten the memo. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that some Republican members of Congress are still gunning to shut down the government over health care reform and other spending.

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.



Six Questions About Contraception

Last week I posted a first draft with six questions  about family planning, specifically contraception, to ask candidates around the country.  I asked for and received feedback about the specific wording, most of which remains unchanged.  Here is the final draft of the questions.  

  1. Do you support the right to use contraception?
  2. Would you support legislation requiring pharmacies to both stock and fill prescriptions for birth control pills including Plan B emergency contraception?
  3. Do you support continued funding of Title X, which provides contraception and related reproductive health care services to low-income women?
  4. Would you support legislation requiring hospitals to offer information and prescriptions of emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault?
  5. Would you support legislation requiring schools to include scientifically accurate information about contraception as part of any sex education curriculum?
  6. Would you support legislation requiring health insurance providers to cover oral contraceptives in their prescription plans?

This week I will send questionnaires out to the Presidential candidates in both parties.  I'll post the responses in full, as well as the names of those candidates who haven't yet responded.  I use the phrase haven't yet because I plan to keep after those campaigns that don't and I hope others will contact them as well.

There's more...

2008 and Access to Birth Control

NARAL's website has a section devoted to the 2008 Presidential candidates and their views on a woman's right to choose.  This will come as no surprise, but only one Republican candidate, Rep. Tancredo, responded to NARAL's request for a statement.  

But candidate statements and voting records on choice in the general sense don't interest me as much as where they stand on access to contraption.  Birth control as an issue is less cut and dry, and party affiliation doesn't necessarily clue voters in to what a candidate's position is.  As I wrote in my last post about birth control, the right wing attacks on access to contraception have been brutal, especially when it comes to spreading misinformation.  The voting public is well versed on issues surrounding abortion, but my sense is that many if not most don't realize that access to contraception is also a big part of the debate about reproductive freedom.

Birth Control is a good issue for Democrats. It's a women's issue, a health care issue, an economic issue. Virtually every American makes choices about family planning over the course of their lifetime. Public policy decisions about contraception will affect a majority of Americans. Democratic candidates, starting with those running for President, need to be talking about access, and activists can help them along by asking the right questions.

I propose developing a standard list of questions to ask about access to birth control. It could first be sent out to Presidential candidates, and then used by those wishing to question candidates running for Congress and their State Assemblies in 2008.

There's more...

Support the ABC

This week Congressman Chris Shays and Senator Frank Lautenburg introduced the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act.  If passed the bill would require pharmacies to fill prescriptions for birth control, including emergency contraception.

The followind quote is from a press release from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who authored the bill:

"An American woman can decide to put her life on the line for our country in Iraq, but she can be prevented from making basic decisions about her own health here at home," said Maloney.  "Access to birth control is a women's health issue, a private matter and a constitutional right.  No one - not pharmacists, politicians, or religious leaders - should be able to tamper with that right."

"No woman should be denied the medicine she needs to stay healthy," Lautenberg said.  "This bill is about basic health care for women in the 21st century, care that shouldn't be withheld by pharmacists with an agenda.  Passing this legislation would ensure that women get the care they need and the care that their doctors determine is necessary." 

In my view access to birth control is one of the most important issues for women today. If we've learned anything from the past seven years it's that women can't take our reproductive freedoms for granted any longer. The right to choose is constantly under attack and denying women that right has now been expanded to include contraception. Birth control doesn't get discussed as much as abortion, but the attacks from the Right have been just as brutal.

There's more...


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