What the GOP’s Supreme Obstruction Means for Women

Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo on several crucial issues.

— by Martha Burk, OtherWords.org author
Martha BurkSenators, constitutional scholars may tell you, must “advise and consent” on the president’s Supreme Court nominees. But apparently the official GOP policy is to “refuse and obstruct.” They’ve vowed not even to give President Obama’s nominees a vote.

These Republicans claim that leaving the Supreme Court understaffed is no big deal. Well, it’s certainly a big deal for women. Pending cases on abortion, birth control, education, and public employee unions are all sitting before a divided court.

The scariest case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.

It’s a challenge to a Texas law that would close all but about 10 abortion clinics in the state — down from more than 40 — by requiring them to essentially become mini-hospitals. They’d have to employ only doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a regulation almost unheard of for safe and common procedures like abortion.

LaDawna Howard / Flickr
LaDawna Howard / Flickr

Since an appeals court upheld the requirements, a 4-4 deadlock on the Supreme Court would give Texas the green light to enforce them. And it would almost certainly encourage other states to enact similar laws.

On the birth control front, the court will consider Zubik v. Burwell. A successor to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s an argument over whether religiously affiliated institutions have to observe the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-provided health plans cover birth control.

These groups are allowed to avoid the requirement by filling out a form, in which case the government will arrange with their insurer to cover their employees. A few of these groups are claiming that still makes them complicit in sinful conduct.

A 4-4 tie at the Supreme Court would be a mixed bag, since most — but not all — appeals court decisions have upheld the accommodation as not burdensome to religious practice.

Meanwhile, established labor law is on the line in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where the court will consider whether public employees who choose not to join unions can still be required to pay fees for collective bargaining activities. A decision against the unions could mortally wound them.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women are the majority of the public sector workforce, and the wage gap with their male counterparts is smaller for public union women than non-union women. The lower court favored the unions, so a tie would stave off a major blow to their viability. But that’s still a lot to risk.

Women are now also the majority of college students, and women of color could be greatly affected by a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas. In that case, the court will decide whether the school’s race‑conscious admissions program violates the Constitution’s equal protection principles.

Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself. So if the Senate leaves Scalia’s seat unfilled, the case will be decided by seven justices — which means there can be no tie. Three judges — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito — oppose affirmative action, and a fourth, Anthony Kennedy, has previously expressed doubts about the University of Texas policy.

So what’s the score?

In four cases affecting women the most, two could go in women’s favor with tie votes. A third tie vote would go against women, and a 4-3 conservative majority would hurt them in the final case as well.

However you score it, Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo until a new justice is chosen and new cases can be brought. That could take years. Women — and the country — deserve better.


Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk.

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New FAQ’s on Birth Control Coverage

birth-control-pillsThis week the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Treasury issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help insurance companies better understand the scope of coverage that is required (including contraceptive care) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to help people better the ACA and benefit from it as intended.

This guidance follows recent Kaiser Family Foundation  and research that reported variation in how the ACA contraceptive coverage provisions were being interpreted and implemented by health plans.

Some main points of interest:

  • All non-grandfathered plans and insurers must cover, without cost sharing, at least one form of contraception within each of the 18 methods of contraception that the FDA has identified for women.
  • If an item or service is not covered but is determined medically necessary by the woman’s attending provider, there must be an easily accessible process for the woman to get that item or service;
  • If an insurer covers dependent children, recommended preventive services for women (such as preconception and prenatal care) must be covered for the dependent children as well (i.e., not just the parent(s) on the plan); and

Clarifies that insurance companies may still use reasonable medical management techniques within each of the methods of contraception (there are currently 18 identified by the FDA for women). For example, a plan can discourage the use of brand name over generic pharmacy items through cost sharing.

Insecure & Unequal—Poverty & Income Among Women & Families


Protecting low income programs remains absolutely critical for women and their families.  Census data shows that the poverty rate has stabilized at a historically high level. Programs like Social Security will help protect struggling families – but Congress must chose to protect them! Get more details on this state poverty data and essential programs that help low-income families in the National women’s Law Center’s latest blog article.

A report prepared by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) provides a gender analysis of national Census data for 2011, released by the Census Bureau in September 2012. The NWLC supplies this analysis, as it has for several years, because little information broken out by gender is available directly from the Census Bureau’s series of reports titled Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States. Insecure and Unequal provides a snapshot of poverty and income data in 2011 – and changes in poverty and the wage gap from 2010 to 2011 and since 2000  – for women, men, children, and families by race, ethnicity and age.

The Fight for Contraception Rages On

The new federal requirement that private health insurance cover the cost of birth control has generated much heated controversy these last few weeks: Congressional hearings, proposed legislation to unwind it, multiple legal actions.

But the rash of recent misogynistic attacks—from Rush Limbaugh’s verbal assault on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s sweeping dismissal of women’s rights—has taken the public debate to shocking, demeaning extremes.

But as much as opponents of choice and reproductive rights would like you to believe otherwise, government action to expand access to affordable contraception is neither novel nor radical—and it is by no means an attack on religious freedom, as a number of governments around the world can attest.

Take Spain, for example. Few countries are as Catholic as is Spain. Nearly 75 percent of all Spaniards identify themselves as Catholic (in the U.S., just one in four citizens are Catholic). And yet Spain shows a far more advanced understanding and practical tolerance of contraception and how it fits into today’s society:

  • All women covered under the country’s National Health System pay reduced rates for contraception because the government subsidizes it.
  • All pharmacies are required to dispense emergency contraception—without a prescription and without restriction to age.

Spain is not alone in recognizing the ways contraception can improve women’s status and enhance the country’s overall well-being. The majority of countries in the European Union aim to make birth control affordable and information about birth control readily available. Germany, Romania, and United Kingdom provide particularly good examples. And representatives from several E.U. countries will meet this month in the European Parliament-along with leaders from the Center for Reproductive Rights—in an attempt to create greater consensus on contraception issues and discuss the multiple public health and human rights benefits that subsidization of contraceptives brings.

The primary message of the meeting will be that a woman’s ability to control her own fertility is essential to her health, her empowerment, and her equality in society, and it is a government’s responsibility to ensure access to the full range of family planning services so that women can make free and informed decisions.

Contraception empowers women. It prevents millions of unintended pregnancies and saves billions of taxpayer dollars every year. It should be a step forward that we can all rally around—not a lightning rod for controversy.

RESOURCES

Health Insurance Companies Are Charging Women an Extra Billion Dollars Annually

By Thom Hartmann, The Thom Hartmann Program | Report

In today’s On the News segment: Health insurance companies are charging women in America an extra billion dollars annually, the backlash against Paul Ryan’s radical budget plan continues, the DOJ says Florida is discriminating against minority voters, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. Mitt Romney – the richest man to ever run for President on a major party ticket – cleaned up last night in the Illinois Primary – beating Rick Santorum 47% to 35%. And, as could be expected, Romney’s huge cash advantage helped him win Illinois. He outspent Santorum 7-1 in the state, to pick up at least 41 new delegates to add to his growing lead. Still – if Romney hopes to reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination before the Republican Convention – he’ll have to collect just less than half of all the remaining delegates. That’s a feat that could be difficult if Newt Gingrich – who placed an abysmal fourth in the Illinois Primary – drops out and hands his supporters off to Santorum. Then again – if multi-millionaire Karl Rove’s SuperPAC “American Crossroads” – which currently has $23.5 million in cash on hand – decides to pick Romney as its guy – then Mitt’s campaign might easily buy the Republican nomination without even getting out of breath.

American Women are screwed. Putting aside the Republican’s war on women for a moment – a new report from the National Women’s Law Center reveals that health insurance companies are charging women in America an extra billion dollars annually, and it’s just good old fashioned gender discrimination. The report finds that the practice of for-profit health insurers charging women more than men for identical coverage is widespread – and states are doing little to stop the rip-off. In the states that don’t ban health insurance gender discrimination, 92% of the best-selling plans charge women more than men. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act would ban this practice nationally – saving women a billion dollars a year. Unfortunately for women – Republicans are working as hard as they can to repeal Obamacare.

In the best of the rest of the news…

The backlash against Paul Ryan’s radical budget plan continues. A number of faith leaders have come forward to blast Ryan’s extremist vision for America, which takes health insurance away from 48 million Americans to pay for a $3 trillion tax cut for the richest 1%. Bishop Gene Robinson said about the budget plan, “The Ryan budget robs the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable of the safety net so integral to their survival. By any measure of civility and regard for one’s neighbor, it’s an immoral disaster.” Ryan’s plan also hands Medicare to for-profit health insurance CEOs, and makes massive cuts to Social Security, setting the stage to hand Social Security’s $2.6 trillion trust fund over to Wall Street. No wonder Wall Street billionaires have reportedly been seen wearing “Paul Ryan for VP” pins.

The Department of Justice says Florida is discriminating against minority voters. Last year, Florida passed a new that clamps down on people helping others to register to vote, and also cuts back on early voting. But the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department is now filing a challenge to the new law in court, claiming that Florida failed to prove that these election law changes will not, “deny or abridge the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” States with a history of rical discrimination – like Florida – must have any changes to their election laws approved by the Justice Department. Time – and the courts – will tell if Governor Rick Scott’s plan to keep minority voters away from the polls this year works.

Who’s going to foot the bill for climate change? According to a new study out of the Stockholm Environment Institute – increasing greenhouse gases will cost over $2 trillion a year in damage to our planet’s oceans by the end of the century. With warmer oceans comes greater acidification – which wipes out fisheries and coral reefs. Plus, rising sea levels and stronger storms do costly damage to coastlines. Nonetheless – we’re giving tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to transnational oil corporations to accelerate climate change – rather than making them pay for the damage they’re causing. This is not only irresponsible – it’s outright dangerous – and means that future generations of Americans will have to cope with a much harsher planet.

Speaking of climate change – the war on science heads to Tennessee. This week – the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill requiring public schools to teach that there’s a “controversy” over evolution and global warming. As the law states, “The teaching of biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy,” thus school systems must, “present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” Critics are blasting the legislation – calling it a “monkey bill” that will lead to creationism being taught in classrooms. Something tells me the big oil lobby is behind this too – hoping that a new generation of Americans denying global warming will keep their fossil fuel profits flowing for another generation.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, while leaders in Israel and Iran beat the drum to war – the people living in those nations are calling for peace. Recognizing that they’re the ones who will suffer the most from a war, individual citizens in Iran and Israel are taking to Facebook to reach out to each other, in hopes of finding solidarity and mutual respect. The campaign started when an Israeli couple created the Facebook group “Israelis Heart Iran.” Then, a group of Iranians responded with their own “Iranians Love Israel.” The two groups have garnered thousands of followers and responses since going online.

And finally, Ron Paul – the only candidate in the Republican race for President who has not won a state – is coming out against Secret Service protection. All major candidates for President are entitled to Secret Service protection within 120 days of a general election – but Paul is calling that a “form of welfare.” That’s no big surprise since Ron Paul also thinks federal aid to college students, health insurance assistance to poor people, free public roads, and cops and firefighters are welfare too. But Ron Paul shouldn’t worry too much. Considering he’s only running for President to get his son, Rand, a job in Romney’s cabinet – Paul likely won’t be considered a “major candidate” anyway.

And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, March 21st, 2012. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.

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