A Bishop In The Exam Room: When Faith Dictates Health Care Instead Of Science

A number of folks in Humboldt County have expressed complaints about our local hospital, but they should be thankful for the secular hospital we have available to serve our population. Given the merger-mania in corporate America, we could be facing, like so many other communities, a takeover of our hospital by Catholic Hospitals of America and the imposition of OBGYN-lite policies, restricting the availability of reproductive healthcare services to women throughout the hospital’s service area.

Here’s a post an article from ThinkProgress that will walk you through how religious institutions are imposing their religious beliefs on women through the limited care they’re willing to provide, essentially elevating their religious rights at the expense of any patient’s rights.


CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

— by Erica Helerstein and Josh Israel

When Rita, a Michigan-based OB-GYN, learned that the hospital where she worked would be switching hands, she was dismayed.

The secular community hospital, Crittenton, had plans to join with Ascension Health, a prominent Catholic nonprofit hospital chain. Rita, who asked that her real name be withheld to protect her identity, knew the transition would profoundly impact her ability to do her job the way she saw fit. The OB-GYN specifically wanted to work at a place where she could practice the full scope of reproductive care, from preventing pregnancy to delivering babies. But now, with the hospital merger looming in the not-so-distant future, that possibility seemed increasingly unlikely.

Rita also understood the change in leadership meant that her patients’ medical options would be limited. That’s because Catholic hospitals follow a set of rules written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which often prohibit doctors from performing basic reproductive services — like contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, abortion — and end-of-life care.

Although Rita knew certain services at the hospital would soon be banned, many of her patients had no idea. They also may not have known that mergers like Crittenton’s are becoming increasingly common.

As hospitals throughout the country struggle with financial woes, many have begun to merge with Catholic systems in order to stay in business. This means a growing number of patients are winding up in institutions guided by religious doctrine. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church increased by 22 percent. Today, one in six patients in the U.S. is cared for at a Catholic hospital — a troubling trend for health care providers like Rita, who worry that patients are increasingly being placed in centers that provide services based on faith rather than medical necessity.

“I do think as more places are being purchased by Catholic systems it’s going to become more of a problem,” she told ThinkProgress. “To take away the ability to provide services that people need or desire… I think it’s very upsetting both for an OB-GYN and also for a woman. Having those choices gives you the ability to participate in society.”

Rita found another job before the Catholic system moved in. Although she says her decision to leave Crittenton was based on other factors, she admits she probably would have sought employment elsewhere even if those reasons hadn’t come up. Before Rita departed from the hospital, though, she warned her patients about what was to come — and encouraged them to get their tubes tied before it was too late.

As Rita was advising her patients to move forward with their procedures, organizers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan were trying to gin up support for a campaign opposing the Crittenton merger. In June, they arranged an event at a public library in a nearby town to talk about what the shift in leadership would mean for community members. But only six people showed up. “It was so hard for us to connect to anyone who cared,” said Merissa Kovach, a field organizer in charge of the campaign.

The struggle to engage people who could be directly impacted by Crittenton’s transition might not be entirely surprising given the demographic makeup of Rochester, which is predominantly white, conservative-leaning, and upper-middle class. But it suggests another problem that Kovach and others have been struggling to address: A widespread lack of awareness about a conflict that’s quietly brewing in the health care industry. It’s a trend that has managed to accelerate rapidly and yet evade public scrutiny. Because Catholic hospitals aren’t required to disclose their religious affiliation or talk about the limited medical services they may offer, many patients wind up in the dark — and don’t think about the hierarchies that govern their care until it’s too late.

In Rochester, for example, the two systems merged without much of a fuss. But just a few days after Ascension took over the hospital in October 2015, its official website changed ever so slightly. “Tubal ligations” were removed from the list of available services.

CatholicHospitalData-before-after6

The role of Catholics in health care is nothing new — indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, it was the Catholic Church that created hospitals and hospices for the old and ill in an attempt to follow Jesus’ teachings about healing the sick. Many of the earliest hospitals in America were set up by Ursuline sisters and other Catholic orders dedicated to serving the poor. About 75 Catholic hospitals had been established in the U.S. by 1875.

But there has been a particular boom in the number of Catholic hospitals since the beginning of the 21st century, according to a groundbreaking 2013 report on the growth of Catholic hospitals and health systems by MergerWatch, a patients’ rights organization that tracks hospital mergers, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 2001, about 8.2 percent of the nation’s acute care hospitals were Catholic nonprofits. By 2011, that number had jumped to 10.1 percent. This increase coincided with notable drops in the numbers of other nonprofit hospitals and public hospitals.

This trend is accelerating among all hospital chains, too, and not just nonprofits. A recently released 2016 update found that 14.5 percent of all acute care hospitals are now Catholic-owned or affiliated (up from 11.2 percent in 2001) and that four of the nation’s 10 largest hospital systems are Catholic-sponsored. Some of the growth is the result of new Catholic hospitals opening their doors — but many were the result of secular hospitals merging with Catholic systems, bringing them under the Catholic hospitals umbrella.

But while Lois Uttley, MergerWatch’s director, believes Catholic hospitals do deliver “excellent care” in many treatment areas, she and her group are working to shine a light on a major exception. They believe Catholic hospitals prevent many women from getting the reproductive health care they need — even procedures that are medically necessary — ultimately putting them in an untenable situation once they walk through the doors of one of these religious facilities.

Once a hospital elects to merge with the Catholic system, it agrees to obey a set of directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Called the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs), these rules include instructions that Catholic care “should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees.”

Although these large Catholic hospital systems operate in accordance with religious values and doctrine, they aren’t directly funded or controlled by the Catholic Church. As Uttley put it, “they are not being funded by the envelope my mother used to put in the collection basket every Sunday.”

Instead, as tax-exempt nonprofit corporations, they are funded through a combination of private insurance reimbursement, Medicare and Medicaid payments, and sometimes government grants, according to Uttley.

By bringing many hospitals together into large Catholic health systems, they can cut costs through shared administration and joint purchasing, offering protection to hospitals in rural states where isolated health care facilities often struggle. “It’s to their credit, they’ve kept these hospitals operating in very challenging times,” she said.

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CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

But the directives also include prohibitions on abortion, even when a woman’s health is at risk; assistance with surrogacy; egg and sperm donation; contraception; and temporary or permanent sterilization, with few — if any — exceptions. And the condoning of or participation in euthanasia or assisted suicide “in any way” is expressly verboten for all who work at a Catholic health care institution. MergerWatch, the ACLU, and the handful of other organizations that track this issue believe these directives often mean even procedures needed to mitigate serious health risk to the patient are unavailable at a Catholic hospital.

The groups also pointed to a troubling lack of transparency: Because Catholic hospitals often choose not to disclose which services are not offered, patients don’t always realize they operate any differently from a secular institution.

Proponents of the Catholic hospital system say the distinction should already be obvious to patients given the facilities’ religious presentation. As the attorney for one Catholic hospital in California that refuses to perform tubal ligation argued in a lawsuit earlier this year, “no one is lacking for understanding that this is a Catholic hospital, from the crucifix in the front entrance to everything about it.”

But that’s not necessarily how providers see it. Nancy, a physician who provided services at Rochester’s Crittenton before the merger and continues to do so today, said the now-Catholic hospital is presented to the public as a secular institution with no disclosure of its restrictions. “I think it is incredibly difficult to understand what limits we have available,” said Nancy, who asked that her real name be withheld because she is still practicing in the field, noting that the names of Catholic hospitals don’t always reveal their religious affiliation. “It’s not Saint Crittenton. It’s not Mary of Christ Crittenton. It’s just Crittenton.”

Ascension and Crittenton did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about their practices. A spokesperson for the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals and facilities nationwide, said his group “encourages transparency from Catholic hospitals regarding the services they do and do not offer.”

But Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, says in practice, that transparency is often absent — putting patients in potentially perilous situations when they’re in urgent need of care.

“The hospital closest to you might be Catholic, you might not know it, you might not think to ask these questions until [you’re facing] an emergency situation or far along in a pregnancy,” she said.

Rachel Miller found herself in that exact situation when she was a patient at Mercy hospital in Redding, California in 2015. Miller, who was pregnant with her second child, was certain she didn’t want to have more kids: In 2013, she had an emergency C-section for her first daughter, and knew she would have to repeat the procedure for the birth of her second child. After she discussed her options with her OB-GYN, she decided a tubal ligation made the most sense — she could get it right after delivering her baby and it wouldn’t require an additional hospitalization.

Miller sent a request to Mercy for the procedure, and assumed it would be approved. Instead, she received a letter back stating Mercy would be unable to accommodate her, citing the Catholic bishops’ directives.

Miller had never heard of the directives before — in fact, she had no idea that the standard of care at Mercy would be any different than what was available at a secular hospital. “I guess if someone had asked me at the time, ‘is this a Catholic hospital?’ I would have said yes, because it’s Mercy, normally a Mercy hospital is Catholic,” she told ThinkProgress. “But I had never thought about it. And as far as Catholic hospitals in general and having ERDs, I had never thought about that either.”

Miller was sure she wanted to get her tubes tied, but after Mercy’s rejection, she found that her options were limited. Redding has only one hospital with a labor and delivery department and the nearest hospital Miller could find that took her insurance was some 160 miles away. That was out of the question — Miller knew she would have to stay at the hospital for several days, and she didn’t want to be away from her toddler for that long. Mercy — the largest hospital provider in California — was her only option, and they just wouldn’t budge.

That was especially concerning to Elizabeth Gill, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California who later took up Miller’s case. “It’s troubling that your access to health care in such a significant degree in a state like California is dictated by the moral code that corporations subscribe to, especially given that these are entities that are largely state and federally funded,” she said.

The predicament Miller found herself in is becoming increasingly common.

For many patients, Catholic hospitals are now so ubiquitous they may be the closest or only option for care. According to MergerWatch’s most recent report, more than 40 percent of the acute care beds in Alaska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington, and South Dakota are in Catholic-owned or affiliated hospitals, and more than 45 Catholic hospitals in the country provide the only acute care in their geographic region. Naturally, this impacts the services available to patients. As Miller experienced, the bishops’ guidelines often prevent doctors from performing tubal ligations after patients deliver, which is the safest time for the procedure.

Moreover, as the National Women’s Law Center noted in a complaint to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, many Catholic hospitals don’t follow the medical standards of care for what’s known as “miscarriage management,” often by denying services to women experiencing pregnancy complications before viability or in the middle of a miscarriage.

Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant when she showed up at a Mercy hospital in Michigan in December 2010. Her water had broken prematurely. Hospital staff examined Means, but neglected to tell her that the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of survival — and in fact posed a risk to her health if she continued to carry it. Means was sent home, but she returned the next day as her bleeding and cramps intensified. Again, she was instructed to go home. Means returned for a third time that night — visibly in pain and showing signs of an infection. The hospital prepared to send her home once again, but stopped when she started delivering. The baby died shortly thereafter, and the hospital staff told Means to prepare funeral arrangements.

The ACLU took on the case, arguing that the directives prevented hospital staff from informing Means of the risk of the pregnancy and directly placed her in harm’s way. “Because of the Directives, MHP did not inform Ms. Means that, due to her condition, the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of surviving, and continuing her pregnancy would pose a serious risk to her health,” the lawsuit claimed. As a result, “Ms. Means suffered severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain.”
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CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

The restrictions on care don’t present a burden for patients alone — working within the system can also weigh heavily on providers who are prevented from performing the full range of medical care they expected to practice as an OB-GYN. According to a 2012 national survey, more than 50 percent of OB-GYNs who work at Catholic hospitals said they’ve run into conflicts with their institutions over the directives. Dr. Didi Saint Louis, a physician in the Southeast who completed her medical residency at a Catholic hospital, is familiar with that tension herself. She remembered seeing a patient who fell extremely ill at an early stage in a nonviable pregnancy. Saint Louis was prohibited from terminating the pregnancy — even though the fetus would not survive — and ended up transferring the patient to another hospital.

“I remember our director riding in the ambulance with the patient, she went straight to the operating room, they terminated the pregnancy, and she was fine,” she recalled. “But it could have gone so many different ways. And while the Catholic hospitals strive to give the best standard of care, this is one area where I think they fall short.”

The impact of a hospital merger can be much more profound for people living in geographically isolated regions without easily accessible alternatives. According to MergerWatch, there are 46 hospitals nationally that provide the only short-term acute care for people in their region, leaving people who lack transportation and travel resources with few alternative options.

Nancy, the physician from Michigan who works with Ascension, says she’s fortunate to be in a region with more than one hospital. “I’m in an area in which my patients can commute or get to a different location, so people in more remote areas are stuck without that,” she said. “Which is a really disturbing trend.”

About 2,000 miles west of Rochester, a Catholic hospital merger brought a very different outcome. In Washington, a battle was waged over the fate of Vashon Island’s only health clinic. Vashon, a quirky island community near Seattle, is home to about 11,000 people, 45 miles of shoreline, and an unofficial mayor who was re-elected in 2015 over a goat named Bandit. It is a Democratic bastion: Mitt Romney received a mere 18.6 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, to Barack Obama’s 77.6 percent.

In 2012, Mark Benedum, the CEO of the island’s health clinic, announced the board had decided that, due to financial struggles, the time had come “to explore the benefits of joining a larger system.” It reached an agreement to become an affiliate of Franciscan Health System, a chain of Catholic health facilities and part of the behemoth Catholic Health Initiatives.

Benedum initially claimed patients’ options would be unaffected by this union, insisting, “it’s not going to change a thing.”

Vashon’s residents weren’t so sure. A group of skeptics, calling itself Vashon HealthWatch, worried that the island’s sole clinic would now be forced to adhere to the bishops’ directives — and that their care would be limited as a result. After consulting with MergerWatch, they organized a massive town hall meeting where members of the community could question Franciscan and Highline leadership.

On April 25, 2013, weeks after the Franciscan’s purchase of the clinic was complete, about two hundred people packed the multipurpose room at one of the the island’s schools, according to Kate Hunter, who helped organized the event. It was a far cry from the sparsely attended event that took place in Michigan. And not only did people show up, but they’d read the directives and were prepared with specific questions.

Benedum and executives from Franciscan Health Services were peppered with two hours of anxious inquiries from community members about the merger’s impact on available reproductive health and end-of-life services.

Margaret Chen, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington Foundation, said this level of civic engagement is atypical. “The visibility of concerned citizens was large in the Vashon Island community, maybe in part because of the unique situation [of being so separated from other options].” This response, she suggested, might have been part of the reason the new ownership agreed to continue offering birth control, family planning, and contraception to patients on the island — though a company spokesperson said the directives are “consistently applied” across all of its facilities.

While the executives sought to assure residents that “nothing is going to change at the Vashon medical clinic,” Hunter wasn’t convinced. She recalled one particularly concerning exchange toward the end of the forum: “Does your contract with your doctors specify that they will follow the directives?” a resident asked. “Yes, they do,” the Franciscan representative answered. “Our employment contract does.”

John Jenkel, who is part of the Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative, a community group that works to improve emergency care options on the island, said the relationship between the new ownership and residents was scarred by that early tension. “[T]hose directives and the manner in which the Franciscans communicated with the community caused a rift that never really made for a comfortable working relationship on our small island,” he said. “The initial discussion that the Franciscans had with the community was a rocky one, and the relationship of the directives to the type of care the Franciscans would be providing was never too clear.”

Hunter stopped going to the Vashon clinic. “I just feel so strongly that no one’s religious beliefs should interfere with my health care and I had no confidence that that would not be the case at the clinic anymore,” she said. Instead, she travels to a secular nonprofit facility in Seattle, via ferry and bus — a 60- to 90-minute trip each way.

When ThinkProgress reached out to Franciscan for comment, spokesperson Scott Thompson said that “none of the practice’s women’s reproductive services changed at the clinic after Highline’s affiliation with CHI Franciscan Health.” However, he added that the Vashon Island clinic would be closing in August. The company attributed the decision to the cost of operating the clinic and the fact that visits had declined from about 1,000 a month when they took it over to between 750 and 850 a month today.

Kate Hunter laments that with the closing, “there will be no health care clinic on Vashon Island. We’re back to ground zero.”

The bishops’ directives were last updated in 2009 and, according to observers, are due to be revised again in the near future. Reproductive rights advocates say a revision could loosen restrictions on how hospitals that become Catholic through mergers may deal with reproductive decisions — or could put the kibosh on the limited flexibility that Catholic chains have shown in places like Vashon Island.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, fears it will be the latter. “I think the upcoming regulations are going to close those avenues for alternative provision for those health care services, to make the partnership agreements even more strict on who must/must not do this or that,” she said. “I think it will make it worse.”

MergerWatch’s Lois Uttley is a bit more optimistic. “We hope that they will be realistic about the fact that, in this day and age, Catholic hospitals are serving everyone in the community, not just Catholics. And they are employing doctors and staff that come from a wide background of religious affiliation,” she said. “We hope there will be a recognition that all hospitals, including Catholic ones, are licensed to serve the whole community.”

The press office for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about their timetable for an update. But when and if the directives are updated, they could make a huge difference in terms of whether doctors at hospitals that merge with Catholic hospital system.

In the meantime, several approaches have been contemplated for how to address the topic.

The Center for Inquiry, which advocates for a secular society, thinks that the Medicare and Medicaid funding Catholic hospitals receive could be used as leverage to force Catholic hospitals to provide a full range of reproductive health and end-of-life care. Michael De Dora, who heads the Center’s Office of Public Policy, explained that while he does not believe all individual doctors should be forced to engage in all health care services, all hospitals should. “The responsibility should be with the hospital in any case [if] they’re receiving public funds,” he said. “That is the ideal.”

The ACLU’s Brigitte Amiri noted that some — though not many — states have considered legislation that would shield doctors from punishment, should they choose to provide services forbidden under the directives. After non-discrimination laws and same-sex marriage equality were enacted, several Catholic Charities organizations shelved adoption services rather than serve same-sex couples.

Thus far, the ACLU has concentrated its efforts on the judicial system, threatening and bringing lawsuits under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and state medical laws. Two suits were dismissed at the trial court level, though both are being appealed, and others are still working their way through the courts. In April, for the first time, the 41,000 doctors of the California Medical Association announced they would join an ACLU of Northern California case against a Catholic hospital system that bars its doctors from performing tubal ligation.

Since these and other attempts to force Catholic hospitals to provide services have not yet been met with much success, some activists have focused on making the rules more transparent.

Washington state enacted a requirement that hospitals generally disclose what services they refuse to provide to the state government — which would become public record — but MergerWatch’s advocacy coordinator, Christine Khaikin, observed even that “leaves a lot of room for interpretation to the hospital system,” and few hospitals have reported much of anything.

model-patiens
CREDIT: AMERICAN ATHEISTS

The American Atheists, a group that advocates for a strict separation of government and religion, have circulated a piece of model state legislation called the Patient’s Right to Know Act. The organization’s national legal and public policy director Amanda Knief said it would simply require that providers “inform their patients up front of all services they’re not going to provide, according to their religious, philosophical beliefs.” This “sunshine law” would not require hospitals to provide an explanation or a referral, she added, but simply a disclosure of which services are not provided there “because we’re Catholic affiliated, or we’re Pastafarian affiliated, or we don’t believe in modern medicine.”

The bill has been introduced in Arizona, and Knief is hopeful other states will soon follow. But, she acknowledges, it may have trouble gaining momentum — some progressive groups have been reluctant to back the measure because it lacks a requirement that the hospital refer the patient to a place that performs procedures prohibited by the directives.

In some communities, MergerWatch has partnered with local advocates to utilize state hospital merger laws and galvanize public actions to force accommodations or block the mergers entirely. “Frankly, totally stopping the merger is our fallback position,” Lois Uttley explained. “What we try to do, from the outset, is make sure that community access to needed reproductive health care services is preserved in some way.” She pointed to one case in which a separately funded and staffed reproductive health care center was opened on the second floor of a newly Catholic hospital that could no longer provide all services under the directives. In another, the community got a local hospital to call off its plans to affiliate with a Catholic system.

But, like with Crittenton Hospital in Michigan, these mergers often fly under the radar. Because the hospitals themselves do not highlight that they are going to begin restricting services, MergerWatch, the ACLU, and a small number of other organizations are often the only early-warning system for communities. And, as Sara Hutchison Ratcliffe of Catholics for Choice pointed out, until more people understand what these mergers mean, it can be an uphill battle for them to galvanize community resistance.

“Awareness isn’t the only solution, but it is the first step,” she said. “Until they are aware, the likelihood of something happening is small… The first step is getting those who have the power to change it involved.”

The fate that awaits Rochester, Vashon, and the numerous other communities that have recently experienced hospital mergers is uncertain. Indeed, some may choose to go the path of resistance favored by Washington’s quirky island community, organizing themselves and arranging well-attended town hall meetings. But, as Merissa Kovach and her coworkers at the ACLU of Michigan experienced while organizing their campaign, getting that community buy-in is often an uphill battle.

“One of the biggest issues with this is that it’s just not well-known at all and nobody understands what these hospitals are doing,” Kovach said. “We’re in such a public education step with this, and it’s such an unknown issue. People don’t know why they should care.”

But why did they seem to know and care in the Washington island? At least some portion of the differences between the two community responses can likely be drawn along political lines — Vashon overwhelmingly leans left, Rochester tilts right. But what took place in the Michigan city might be the more standard course of events: A merger takes place in a community that isn’t predisposed to fight it — or isn’t even aware that it might impact the care they expect to receive — and, as was the case with Rochester, a new merger quietly goes into effect. And the cumulative impact of these mergers, critics say, is an overall reduction in available reproductive services.

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CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

So what are the alternatives to Catholic medical care? In some rural communities, there aren’t any — it’s a Catholic system or nothing at all. That’s a sobering reality for people on all sides of the debate, including reproductive health advocates. They recognize that a singular focus on the expansion of the Catholic health care system ignores the forces that often propelled them to step in in the first place. Public hospitals are struggling, and their Catholic counterparts can provide much-needed care. According to the most recent MergerWatch report, the number of public short-term acute care hospitals in the U.S. dropped an astonishing 34 percent between 2001 and 2016. The number of secular nonprofit hospitals, too, shrunk by 11 percent, while for-profit systems shot up by more than 50 percent. In rural areas, where it is harder to turn a profit, these trends have left tremendous disparities in health care access.

Catholic hospitals help fill some of that gap — but at what cost? The ACLU’s Brigitte Amiri worries that hospitals’ fealty to the directives over the standard of care means that for some, the delta between the services they seek and those that are available is becoming a gulf.

“We don’t want to take away health care services from a community that desperately needs them,” she acknowledged. “But I don’t think we can be so timid about our work that we don’t push them to provide health and lifesaving care to women.”

Kiley Kroh and Tara Culp-Ressler edited this piece. Cory Herro provided research assistance. Videos by Victoria Fleischer, graphics by Dylan Petrohilos, and illustrations by Laurel Raymond.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

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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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Pelosi Statement on Failed House Republican Veto Override Vote

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement after House Republicans failed to override the President’s veto of their budget reconciliation bill to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the Affordable Care Act:

“It is deeply fitting that Republicans chose Groundhog Day for their failed veto-override vote. Today, instead of working to create good-paying jobs or raising the paychecks of hard-working Americans, Republicans once again recycled their dead-end special interest assault on women and working families.

“Today’s failed vote represents Republicans’ 63rd vote to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act and their 12th vote to attack women’s health in the 114th Congress alone. With this vote, Republicans have once again tried to take family planning and lifesaving preventive care away from millions of women across America. With this vote, Republicans tried to shatter the affordable health care of 22 million Americans.

“Again and again and again, the Republican Congress returns to these toxic, hollow bills. House Republicans’ self-declared ‘factory of new ideas’ is stuck in a miserable remake of Groundhog Day – and the women and working families of America aren’t laughing. The American people need the Republican Congress to set aside their radical obsessions and join Democrats to grow their wages and strengthen their security for the future.”


Note: All three of Nevada’s Republican members of the US House voted FOR passage of the bill to override President Obama’s veto of HR 3762.  Their efforts failed.

‘Clear Flouting of Roe v. Wade’: Court Strikes Down Anti-Choice Bill in Wisconsin

Ruling could set important precedent for upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case
by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams staff writer

Had the Wisconsin law taken effect, at least one of the state’s four remaining abortion providers would have been forced to close immediately. (Photo: Joe Gratz/flickr/cc)

Striking down a state effort to “politically interfere” with a woman’s right to choose, a federal appeals court on Monday declared a Wisconsin law unconstitutional in a ruling reproductive rights advocates say is both a “victory” and an important precedent for an upcoming Supreme Court decision.

In his searing rebuke, Judge Richard Posner with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, said the law was a “clear flouting of Roe v. Wade.”

The ruling applied to a measure signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2013, known as a TRAP law—short for “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” It stipulated that an abortion provider must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, mirroring policies passed in 10 other states.

In the opinion, Judge Posner echoed the concern of medical experts, who argued that the political maneuver both threatened a woman’s constitutional right and endangered her health.

“What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health,” Posner stated.

Indeed, during the federal trial, an independent, court-appointed medical expert said of the Wisconsin law: “I think it is an unacceptable experiment to see if you decrease access (to abortion) and see if more women die. It is not acceptable. It is not ethical.”

Following Monday’s ruling, Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said, “The federal appeals court in Wisconsin recognized what the medical experts have been saying all along: These laws aren’t about protecting women’s health, they are about shutting down clinics and preventing a woman who has decided to have an abortion from actually getting one.”

Monday’s 2-1 ruling blocks a state effort to revive the law after it was struck down by a lower court in March.

Texas is facing a U.S. Supreme Court battle over its “draconian” version of the TRAP law, in a similar case said to have wide implications for national abortion rights. The Texas law has forced the closure of over half of the state’s women’s health clinics and, according to researchers, driven up to 240,000 women in the state to dangerously attempt to end pregnancies on their own.

Had the Wisconsin law taken effect, at least one of the state’s four remaining abortion providers would have been forced to close immediately. Advocates say the resulting backlog would have “delay[ed] procedures by up to 10 weeks, forcing abortions later in pregnancy, if a woman is able to have one at all.” Earlier this year, Walker signed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy with an extremely narrow exception for medical emergencies.

In a statement Monday, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the Wisconsin ruling was “an important victory for women’s health and rights.”

“Laws restricting abortion hurt women—as we’ve seen in states like Texas, where restrictions are already forcing women to end pregnancies on their own, without medical assistance,” Richards said. “This is what we all feared would happen, and we’re deeply concerned that we’ll see this more and more if the Supreme Court does not intervene.”


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Playing Doctor with Americans’ Lives

3Doctors400Republicans, in both the House and the Senate, are currently colluding to gut Healthcare Reform and deny actual healthcare to millions of women across our nation using a process called Reconciliation.  Reconciliation is an expedited budgetary process that offers some procedural advantages: it needs only the support of a simple majority in the Senate, and cannot be filibustered. The bill they intend pass via reconciliation is HR3762, inappropriately named, “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act” … it should be named “Butchering All Hope of Being Able to Afford Effective Healthcare Act.”

This reconciliation bill includes language to repeal key parts of Obamacare: the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical device tax and the ‘Cadillac tax.’ There are press posts saying that it will also end the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), but I can’t find such a provision in the bill.In addition, it would defund Planned Parenthood for one year

Defunding Planned Parenthood for a Year—

Here’s the section which specifically codifies the vilification of Planned Parenthood as a “Prohibited Entity” that just happens to provide “essential” healthcare for millions of women across our nation:

SEC. 202. FEDERAL PAYMENT TO STATES.
(a) In General.—Notwithstanding section 504(a), 1902(a)(23), 2002, 2005(a)(4), 2102(a)(7), or 2105(a)(1) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 704(a), 1396b(a)(23), 1397a, 1397d(a)(4), 1397bb(a)(2), 1397ee(a)(1)), or the terms of any Medicaid waiver in effect on the date of enactment of this Act that is approved under section 1115 or 1915 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1315, 1396n), for the 1-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act no Federal funds may be made available to a State for payments to a prohibited entity, whether made directly to the prohibited entity or through a managed care organization under contract with the State.

(b) Definition Of Prohibited Entity.—In this section, the term “prohibited entity” means an entity, including its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, and clinics—

(1) that, as of the date of enactment of this Act—

(A) is an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such Code;

(B) is an essential community provider described in section 156.235 of title 45, Code of Federal Regulations, that is primarily engaged in family planning services, reproductive health, and related medical care; and

(C) provides for abortions, other than an abortion—

(i) if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest; or

(ii) in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself; and

(2) for which the total amount of Federal and State expenditures under the Medicaid program under title XIX of the Social Security Act in fiscal year 2014 made directly to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics of the entity, or made to the entity and to any affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics of the entity as part of a nationwide health care provider network, exceeded $350,000,000.

[Emphasis mine]

Please note that the provisions to completely eliminate any funds for Planned Parenthood were proposed and recommended by the Ways and Means Committee currently led by Rep. Paul Ryan, that same Paul Ryan who will is expected to be elected as Speaker of the House next Wednesday — that is, unless the right wing extremists of the Republican Freedom Caucus renege and cast their votes for their beloved Rep. Daniel Webster instead.

Repealing the Individual and Employer Mandates —

Repealing individual mandate provisions are likely to increase, rather than decrease, the number of U.S. residents without health coverage, thus eliminating the progress that has been made in holding people responsible for their healthcare.  If the CBO forecasts are correct, the H.R. 3762 mandate repeal provisions could increase the number of uninsured U.S. residents by 55 percent to 65 percent. But, that’s okay with Republicans because for each person who doesn’t buy health insurance, the government doesn’t have to shell out $760-$815.  But they took it one step further.  To help their corporate benefactors, they also plan on repealing the mandates on employers to provide medical coverage.  Thus, ordinary Americans seeking to access affordable healthcare coverage for themselves and their families are going to rapidly find themselves up the proverbial creak, with no paddle, a leaky boat and no pail with which to bail out their boat.

The house voted on passage of HR3762 on Friday.  The vote was 240-189 with 5 Democrats not voting.  One Democrat (Peterson) voted for passage and ALL THREE of Nevada’s Congressional Republicans voted ‘AYE’ for passage! The bill is now off to the Senate, where it can be considered without a 60-vote cloture requirement (assuming the package passes muster with the Senate “Byrd Rule.”).

The Byrd Rule is a Senate rule that amends the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to allow Senators, during the Reconciliation Process, to block a piece of legislation if it purports significantly to increase the federal deficit beyond a ten-year term or is otherwise an “extraneous matter” as set forth in the Budget Act.  It is named after West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessed the effects of HR3762 on long-term deficits and direct spending as follows:

  • Including macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would increase net direct spending as well as on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in one or more of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026.
  • Excluding macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would not increase net direct spending by more than $5 billion in either of the first two consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026; however, the agencies are not able to determine whether enacting the legislation would increase net direct spending by more than $5 billion in the third or fourth 10-year period.
  • Excluding macroeconomic feedback, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would increase on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in one or more of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2026.

And because enacting the legislation would affect direct spending and revenues, ‘pay-as-you-go procedures‘ apply.

The President is then expected to veto, setting up the need for a veto-override vote in Congress.  In a statement promising Obama’s veto, the White House said the GOP measure “would take away critical benefits and health care coverage from hard-working middle-class families.”

However, a conservative revolt could derail the bill’s progress, as some conservative groups are opposing because the bill leaves some parts of ObamaCare intact


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Health Care Isn’t a Bargaining Chip

Women should be free to make their own health decisions no matter what they earn or where they live.
 — by Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Conservatives and progressives don’t agree on much these days. Regardless of their party leanings, though, a clear majority of Americans believe that politicians shouldn’t meddle in a woman’s personal health care decisions.

Yet for too long, women’s health care has been a political bargaining chip.

Anti-choice politicians have worked to ensure that women enrolled in government health plans — including veterans and government employees — don’t get abortion care coverage.

That needs to stop. It’s past time to stand up and protect a woman’s access to health care, no matter how she’s insured, where she lives, or what she earns.

That’s why I introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act — or the EACH Woman Act — to ensure that politics never comes between a woman and her own personal health decisions.

ProgressOhio/ Flickr

Legislative tactics like the Hyde amendment, which denies many women access to the full range of available reproductive healthcare, are a constant reminder that women’s rights are under attack and that the GOP’s war on women is still raging.

These restrictions deny Medicaid coverage for abortion, forcing one in four low-income women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and pushing many families deeper into poverty.

In fact, according to San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, a woman who’s denied an abortion is more likely to rely on public assistance and live in poverty, and less likely to work full time.

Meanwhile, other anti-choice legislators are taking their war on women to the states. From Alabama to Utah, they’ve passed laws that interfere with private insurers’ ability to cover abortions for policyholders. This has a profoundly negative impact on women who rely on government health care as well as those trying to buy their own.

The Hyde amendment and state laws like these force women to make choices that often aren’t best for their families, their faith, or themselves. That’s simply wrong.

The EACH Woman Act would end these outdated anti-woman policies and empower each woman to make her own health care decisions regardless of how she’s insured, how much she earns, or where she lives. Period.

However, to pass this important legislation, I need your help. We need a committed, grassroots effort of supporters calling and writing to their Members of Congress and asking them to be bold, to repeal the Hyde amendment, and to pass the EACH Woman Act.

EACH woman should able to make her own health decisions without politicians interfering.


Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education. She represents California’s 13th district Congress. Lee.House.Gov
Distributed by OtherWords.org.

It’s Women’s History Month—So Naturally—Republicans Wage Sneak Attack

By CAP Action War Room

The Latest Ploy in The Ongoing Attack on Women’s Health

PoisonPill08
GOP breaks out their favorite Poison Pill … Again!

Women’s access to basic health care continues to be under attack at both the state and federal level. The most recent threat came this week when Republican lawmakers in the Senate snuck anti-choice provisions into a bipartisan bill aimed at helping victims of human trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (S. 178), which would establish a fund for victims of human trafficking, wasn’t supposed to be controversial. In fact, it enjoyed wide bipartisan support until Senate Democrats discovered that Republicans added language that would restrict federal funding for abortion–even forcing underage victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term. Democrats have now vowed to hold the entire bill until the anti-choice language is removed.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is just the latest attempt to restrict women’s reproductive rights on the national level. Unfortunately, actions on the state level are even worse. Last week, West Virginia Republicans overrode a gubernatorial veto and passed a 20-week abortion ban. With the veto override, West Virginia became the 11th state to prohibit abortions past 20-weeks, despite the fact that over the last few years courts have blocked several 20-week abortion bans for violating protections offered under Roe v. Wade. Montana and New Mexico are among other states considering 20-week bans under the guise of “fetal pain,” which scientists agree does not exist. And earlier this month, Wisconsin Governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker also said he would sign a 20-week ban.

While Democrats have been able to prevent anti-choice language from creeping into federal law thus far, these state-based corrosive efforts are working. A ThinkProgress investigation found that the maze of state abortion restrictions, usually framed as legal regulations, is driving the price of abortion services up so high that lower-income women are effectively priced out of the market. The attack on women’s healthcare has gone so far that a Texas Republican legislator has protested her colleagues’ proposal to cut funding for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics, saying that without that “provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

BOTTOM LINE: From trying to shut down the Department of Homeland Security, to undermining international agreements with Iran, to voting 56 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party has proven it is unfit to govern. These recent threats to women’s health are just another example of how out-of-touch and dangerous GOP policies can be.

As an aside:  Senator Heller has submitted an amendment (S.Amdt 283) to this bill, however, the text of his amendment has not yet been posted to Congress.gov.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.  Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CPAC: Out of the Mouths of Potential 2016 GOP Candidates

— by CAP Action War Room

5 Backwards and Out-of-Touch Comments From CPAC 2015

Welcome CPAC Delegates

Earlier this week, we covered some of the rhetoric you could expect to hear at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, that started Wednesday and runs through Saturday. CPAC is a prime opportunity for potential Republican presidential candidates to promote their platform, and as expected, there have been concerning statements from the Republican Party’s top 2016 contenders. We’ve rounded up five of the most backward, extreme, and downright wrong statements coming out of the conference:

  1. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker compares protestors for workers’ rights to ISIS:
    When asked how he would handle ISIS if elected President, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said, “If I can take on a hundred thousand protesters, I can do the same across the world.” The protesters Walker referred to were demonstrating against his decision to sign “right-to-work” legislation that significantly weakens labor unions by forcing them to provide services without payment from workers. (To his credit, Walker did later walk back the comment somewhat.)
  2. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry criticizes the unemployment rate:
    Rick Perry warned the CPAC audience not to put any faith in new numbers showing an improved economic outlook, calling the unemployment rate a “sham.” This was not Perry’s first time trying to discredit the unemployment rate. Earlier this year, Perry said the unemployment rate has “been massaged, it’s been doctored,” a claim that PolitiFact rated Pants On Fire.
  3. Florida Senator Marco Rubio commits epic error on ISIS:
    Senator Marco Rubio also failed when attempting to talk about ISIS, telling TV host Sean Hannity that “if we wanted to defeat them militarily, we could do it. [Obama] doesn’t want to upset Iran.” Rubio left out the fact that Iran is actually committed to fighting the terrorist group. In fact, late last year, President Obama wrote a letter to Iran’s supreme leader suggesting cooperation against ISIS. One might expect the Senator to know these things given that he is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the Select Committee on Intelligence.
  4. Rubio also says he flipped to opposing immigration reform because it “wasn’t very popular”
    Before CPAC, Rubio had already publicly flipped from supporting immigration reform to opposing it. But at CPAC, when Sean Hannity asked him about the immigration reform bill he sponsored in the Senate, Rubio said, “Well it wasn’t very popular I don’t know if you know that from some of the folks here.” Bold leadership, Senator. Thanks to Rubio and the Senate’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans are now putting national security at risk to stop President Obama’s order to lift the threat of deportation for up to 5 million undocumented immigrations.
  5. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie brags about vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood:
    Speaking to a group of CPAC attendees yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bragged about vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood five times saying, “I was the first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in the state of New Jersey and I vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget.” It was a sharp change of tune from Christie, who while running for re-election in New Jersey, had said vetoing the funds was merely a cost-saving measure. Christie’s politicking with Planned Parenthood funding has had serious impacts on the state—the state’s capacity to meet the need for family planning services for the state’s poorest residents has decreased 25 percent and nine health care centers have been forced to close.

BOTTOM LINE: From the economy and women’s health to national security and immigration, the potential 2016 GOP primary field is off to the races with comments that prove they are not ready to lead the country. The candidates on stage at CPAC have displayed early on that they are willing to say just about anything to appeal to the extreme conservative base, no matter whether those views are truthful or not, and no matter the serious problems they might cause.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Sen Heller Betrays NV’s Women; Votes to Filibuster Hobby Lobby Fix

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) Betrays NV's Women
Sen. Dean Heller
Betrays NV’s Women

When the Supreme Court made the terrible decision to allow corporations like Hobby Lobby to discriminate against women, members of Congress were ready to fight back to defend women’s access to birth control.

Senators Murray, Udall and Boxer quickly introduced a bill to make sure that corporations can’t interfere with employees’ access to health care, including birth control, as provided for by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) under federal law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fast-tracked the bill, bringing it for a full vote in the Senate today.

Not surprisingly, Republicans, including Nevada’s own Senator Dean Heller,  used the filibuster to block an up-or-down vote on the bill, meaning it will now take 60 votes to pass this bill. Only two Republicans broke from their caucus’s en bloc action — Senators Kirk and Murkowski.

Republicans continue to use the filibuster to shut down sensible legislation, and provide cover for their members who don’t want to go on the record in opposition to things like birth control access for women, common sense gun law reform, or relief for crushing student loan debt.

This week, they used the filibuster to block a legislative remedy for the disastrous Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision. Outrageously, the five male justices on the Supreme Court ruled that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that Congress could exempt the Affordable Care Act from the RFRA as a way of protecting the inclusion of contraception as preventative care in the ACA. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act does exactly that, and would have protected not only women’s access to contraception from employer discrimination, but any employees’ access to any health care provided through the Affordable Care Act.

Tell Senate Republicans to end their filibuster and allow a vote on women’s access to birth control. Click the link below to automatically sign the petition:

Take-Action

Vote #228 held on July 16, 2014, 02:09 PM EDT  on the Motion to Proceed (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to S.2578 )

YEAs —56
Baldwin (D-WI)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Collins (R-ME)
Coons (D-DE)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Hirono (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaine (D-VA)
King (I-ME)
Kirk (R-IL)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Manchin (D-WV)
Markey (D-MA)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Walsh (D-MT)
Warner (D-VA)
Warren (D-MA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)
NAYs —43
Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Enzi (R-WY)
Fischer (R-NE)
Flake (R-AZ)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Lee (R-UT)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Reid (D-NV)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

 

Not Voting – 1
Schatz (D-HI)

Corporate Rights Trump Women’s Health in Hobby Lobby Ruling

‘This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.’

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer at Common Dreams

SCOTUS5

Defenders of women’s health and reproductive freedom are reacting with anger to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday which ruled that an employer with religious objection can opt out of providing contraception coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Writing for the majority side of the 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito argued that the “the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates [employers’] religious beliefs.”

Rights advocates were quick to condemn the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end,” Hogue continued. “Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.”

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women in the U.S. use birth control for a variety of health reasons, according to research by women’s health organizations.

“The fact of the matter is that birth control is a wildly popular and medically necessary part of women’s health care,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization. Chaudhary adds that despite it’s clear necessity for the reproductive health of the majority of women, one in three women have struggled at some point to afford birth control.

Monday’s ruling focuses specifically on companies that are “closely-held,” which analysts report covers over 90 percent of businesses in the United States.

The dissenting opinion, penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and supported by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, acknowledges that the decision was of “startling breadth” and said that it allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent. —Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The opinion was based largely on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that a law that burdens a person’s religious beliefs must be justified by a compelling government interest.

“There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts ‘out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,'” Ginsburg adds, concluding: “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Echoing Ginsburg’s concern, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the ruling “a double-edged disaster,” saying it “conjures up fake religious freedom rights for corporations while being blind to the importance of birth control to America’s working women.”

Similar reactions were expressed on Twitter following the news. Summarizing the crux of the decision, NBC producer Jamil Smith wrote:

The Hobby Lobby decision means that in terms of personhood, corporations > women. And Christianity > everyone else.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) June 30, 2014

Others, joining Ginsburg’s outrage that now “legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs” would be denied essential health coverage, expressed their opinions under the banner “#jointhedissent.”

#jointhedissent Tweets

HobbyLobby02

The majority opinion leaves open the possibility that the federal government can cover the cost of contraceptives for women whose employers opt out, leaving many to look to the Obama administration for their next move.

_____________________

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