Archive for the ‘Race & Ethnicity’ Category

November 8, 2011

What the Mississippi Personhood Amendment Can Teach Us About Organizing Around Reproductive Rights and Justice

Voters in Mississippi are heading to the polls today to vote on a ballot initiative that would define a fertilized egg as a person. If it passes, it would have far-reaching implications for women’s health and reproductive rights.

Initiative 26 would define personhood as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” Colorado voted on a personhood amendment in 2008 and 2010, and both times the amendment failed. But in Mississippi the vote looks much more ominous. According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, 45 percent of voters support the amendment and 44 percent oppose it.

Here’s a closer look at the breakdown:

Men (48-42), whites (54-37), and Republicans (65-28) support the proposal. But women (42-46), African Americans (26-59), Democrats (23-61), and independents (35-51) oppose it. The good news for those opposed to the amendment is that 11% of voters are undecided and their demographics are 58% women, 54% Democratic, and 42% black-those still on the fence disproportionately belong to voter groups that oppose the amendment. That suggests when those folks make up their minds the proposal could be narrowly defeated.

“The groups trying to defeat the proposed Personhood amendment in Mississippi have had momentum on their side over the last few weeks,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “There is a very real chance now that the proposal will be defeated.”

Among the myriad ways women and families would be affected: Abortions would be banned, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Birth control, IVF, stem-cell research, miscarriage … it’s all murky.

The initiative would also restrict the ability of doctors to freely practice medicine and raises questions about various health procedures. As Meghan McCarthy writes in National Journal:

For example, an ectopic pregnancy—when the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube—can kill a pregnant woman if the egg is not removed. Whether that procedure would be allowed in Mississippi should the ballot initiative pass is under question.

“You have to offer full array of services. You are held to a standard of ‘appropriate medical care,’ ” if you receive federal funds, Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor and the chairwoman of the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University, said in an interview.

Beyond federal health programs, the personhood initiative could end up affecting everything from tax law, such as whether a pregnant woman can claim her unborn fetus as a dependent, to fertility clinics that have unused fertilized eggs.

Loretta Ross, national director of SisterSong, wrote a fantastic commentary last month explaining why the Mississippi ballot initiative on personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions “may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together.”

SisterSong and the Trust Black Women partnership have been on the ground in Mississippi, building bridges and advocating for united campaign work on both initiatives. “We have to make parallels between race and gender so that people easily understand that we take their human rights seriously,” writes Ross, offering a passionate argument for why these issues are intertwined and why a coordinated effort should have begun sooner.

My fear is that if we win, some folks will fail to acknowledge that the African American voters delivered the victory. If we lose, then some may say it was similar to the California gay marriage ballot that some falsely claim was lost because of the black voters in California. In reality, it is the failure of those who run campaigns based on outdated campaign models to invest sufficient resources in the African American community to swing the pendulum our way among some of the most consistent and committed Democratic voters on human rights issues.

Southern African American activists have been sounding the alarm to invest much-needed dollars at the grassroots level in Mississippi and throughout the South for quite some time, recognizing that the Civil Rights movement is not over, and that the Women’s Rights movement is embryonic in our region. Those fighting against the Voter ID initiative around the country and especially in Mississippi are clearly under-funded and lack the resources to provide their own polling research, campaign offices, phone banks, etc. We have been forced to do “quick-fix” organizing and mobilizing in Mississippi; had the call of African American reproductive justice activists been heeded, we could have been stronger and united as two movements working together to save women’s lives and women’s votes.

If the ballot initiative passes, women’s health organizations are expected to challenge its constitutionality in court. Aside from the legal wrangling, we must, as Ross states, look inward at our own strategies in related battles to come.

September 22, 2010

NLIRH Explores Barriers to Abortion for Latinas

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health released a new report, Latina Immigrant Women’s Access To Abortion: Insights from Interviews with Latina Grasstops Leaders [PDF], a qualitative report describing comments from community activists in Texas, Minnesota and New York. The report includes comments on topics including immigrant youth, access to information and referrals, and program funding.

NLIRH describes the following findings in their press release:

  • Far from the stereotype of Latinas being anti-choice, these Latina community health leaders said that Latina immigrants wanted information and in some cases services related to abortion along with other health issues.
  • Some community leaders said that Latina immigrant youth need emotional and practical support in making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy, and some immigrant teens do not have consistent resources for medically accurate, unbiased, culturally relevant pregnancy options counseling.
  • Program grant restrictions that prohibit discussing abortion and a lack of resources for pregnancy options counseling make it difficult for Latina grasstops leaders to provide women with the full information and resources they would like to regarding unplanned pregnancy options.

September 10, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

cover image for the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksEarlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Rebecca Skloot, author of recently published book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor, Black woman whose cervical cancer cells were taken in the course of her treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s. Her cells were the first “immortal” cells — cells kept alive in culture – and went on to be widely used in medical research.

Henrietta’s cells were used in the development of the polio vaccine, were sent up in early space missions, and are mentioned in tens of thousands of research papers.

Rebecca Skloot’s book chronicles the history of Henrietta Lacks and her cells (dubbed “HeLa” cells), as well as Skloot’s  journey uncovering the story.

Lacks and her family never knew about the vast body of research that was being conducted using the cells, or even that the cells had been taken and used for research at all.  She and her family never benefited financially from the selling of HeLa cells. While Henrietta is long dead, her children and grandchildren still struggle to get medical care, and do not have health insurance.

In the course of her talk, Skloot read snippets of the book and discussed questions of ethics, race and class raised by the story. She talked about whether the family should be compensated, the kind of medical care Henrietta received in John Hopkins’s “colored” ward,  and the past and current use of cells and tissue from people’s biopsies and other procedures for later medical research (which may make money for biotechnology corporations). It was really interesting, and I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in these issues.

Skloot has established the Henrietta Lacks Foundation to fund scholarships and medical care for members of the Lacks family. She also blogs about her work. The text of an interview earlier this year with Skloot on NPR’s Fresh Air is available here.

August 9, 2010

First Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

Via @NLIRH, we learned that the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights have teamed up for the first annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, starting today and running until August 15th.

As part of the week, the groups are asking supporters to contact their Congressional representatives “to ask the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support comprehensive family planning services that include contraception as a key women’s health service under the Women’s Health Amendment.” As with many online action campaigns, you can put in your zip code to identify your Representative and Senators and send them a letter explaining that “Latinas, immigrants, and women of color will be disproportionately affected if contraception is not made affordable and accessible.”

There is also an online conversation about Latinas and contraception happening all week, with an inaugural blog post, My-So-Called-Sex-Education, up at Nuestra Vida, Nuestra Voz (NLIRH’s blog) on the need for information about and access to contraception. Further discussion will happen on Facebook, via Twitter (#latinaRJwk), and on partnering blogs such as VivirLatino. There are in-person events taking place in a few cities; check out this page for details.

March 31, 2010

Reproductive Health: The Facts on Health Care Reform, Georgia and Lilith Fair (Yes, All of the Above)

Putting HCR in Context: The Guttmacher Institute looks at the pros and cons of health care reform as it relates to reproductive health, including sex education, Medicaid expansion and funding for public health programs.

The research institute notes that insurance companies not only would have to “jump through numerous, unprecedented hoops to estimate the cost of abortion coverage and ensure that the abortion payments never mix with other funds,” but “they also are likely to face extensive public scrutiny and protest around their action.”

All told, according to an analysis by George Washington University’s Sara Rosenbaum, “the more logical response” for private insurers marketing plans within the exchanges — and eventually in the broader market as well — “would be not to sell products that cover abortion services.”

Plus: Drawing from its Congressional record, NARAL flags Republicans who have voted against reproductive rights and who also warned HRC would lead to government intrusion on private medical decisions.

Lasting ConsequencesKatha Pollitt talks with Carol Joffe, author of “Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us,” about the effect of HRC on women’s reproductive rights and health. Joffe discusses the good, the bad and the ugly — which refers to the marginalization of abortion.

President Obama and Democratic Congresswomen repeatedly said, “This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill.” I understand why they said it. They felt this was the only way to get the bill through and perhaps they were right. But abortion is health care! One out of three women has an abortion during her reproductive years. One of the best ways to reduce the stigma around abortion is to normalize the procedure within mainstream health care settings. The mantra “this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill” reinforces exactly the opposite message.

Plus: In a separate piece written earlier this month, Katha Pollitt offers concrete suggestions on how the Democratic Party and the Obama administration can repay supporters of women’s rights for cooperating on HRC, including taking steps to improve maternal care and outcomes, and full funding for Title X and the Violence Against Women Act. I love the ending:

Speaking of violence against women, Dems, would you look in the effing mirror? New York’s Hiram Monserrate and David Paterson? Scott Lee Cohen in Illinois? That these men and others like them could get as far as they did says the culture of the party is tone-deaf when it comes to abuse and its warning signs. The only way to detoxify politics of tolerance for violence is to have lots more women in office. If India can pass a law requiring Parliament to be one-third women, surely the Democratic Party can figure out how to achieve equal numbers of women here. Pro-choice women. Feminist women.

Start by backing the grassroots campaign of former teacher and county commissioner Connie Saltonstall, who has announced her intention to challenge Bart Stupak in the August primary. “He has a right to his personal, religious views,” says Saltonstall, “but to deprive his constituents of needed healthcare reform because of those views is reprehensible.” Now there’s a woman with gumption and a gift for stating things clearly.

In Other News …

Revisions to On-Air Abortion Language: NPR reporters will no longer use the terms pro-choice and pro-life to describe both sides of the abortion rights debate. Instead, according to an internal memo:

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

Digital News will continue to use the AP style book for online content, which mirrors the revised NPR policy.

Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group. Of course, when the terms are used in an actuality they should remain.” [An actuality is a clip of tape of someone talking. So if a source uses those terms, NPR will not edit them out.]

Georgia Senate Passes Abortion Bill: The latest assault on women’s reproductive health in Georgia is SB 529, a Senate bill that makes it possible to bring criminal charges against doctors, boyfriends, pimps and even parents if they encourage a woman to have an abortion. The bill’s supporters frame it as a way to protect women — especially women of color — but women’s health advocates say the true motivation is to criminalize abortion.

“This bill was created under the false assumption that abortion doctors solicit women of color, particularly, black women,” said Democratic State Sen. Donzella James. “This bill calls into question all who make a deeply private and personal medical decision. Every woman, regardless of ethnic background, should have the ability to make personal decisions. Not the people in this room. It is between, she, her family and God.”

Heidi Williamson of Sister Song has more. “Publicly, white Republican men claim to care about pregnant black women who are allegedly being targeted by the abortion industry. Privately, those same men scramble to ‘opt Georgia out’ of national healthcare reform and find the perfect wedge issue for the mid-term elections to build the Republican base in African-American communities,” she writes.

We previously discussed an anti-abortion billboard campaign in Georgia targeting black women  that proclaims black children are an endangered species. Women’s eNews reports that the campaign may soon go national. For more on the difference in abortion rates among women, see this Guttmacher Institute policy report, which notes that black and Hispanic women have higher abortion rates than white women because they have higher rates of unintended pregnancy.

What’s Up With Lilith Fair?: After announcing that it would donate a dollar from every ticket sold to a women’s organization in each of the 36 host cities, Lilith Fair is coming under fire for including organizations that don’t support a full range of reproductive services.

Apparently, the only vetting Lilith did was to look online for women-focused organizations with federal tax ID numbers. Jessica Hopper interviewed Nettwerk CEO and Lilith cofounder Terry McBride about the selection process and received a less-than-informed response.

“The seeding at the start was done with a basic digital search in each market of woman’s charities,” he said. “It’s not perfect. Nor could it be, as we simply don’t have the local expertise even within our own city of Vancouver.”

Really? Lilith couldn’t have contacted local women’s health advocates, or put a few interns on the project? Perhaps the festival should include a booth for organizers on research skills.

There’s always a chance for improvement. Facebook fans will vote on the selected organizations, and the top three vote-getters in each city will be forwarded to Lilith founders — Sarah McLachlan, Terry McBride, Dan Fraser and Marty Diamond — who will hand pick the winners. And organizations not currently featured can self-submit for consideration. Read more at the Chicago Reader.

January 6, 2010

Public Comments Requested on National Plan to Reduce Health Disparities

The federal Office of Minority Health is requesting comments on its National Plan for Action, which describes the current state of health disparities in the United States and proposes strategies for their elimination.

The Plan was developed following regional meetings in 2007-2009, during which:

Twenty common strategies were defined and organized around five core areas for improvement: awareness, leadership, health and health system experiences, cultural and linguistic competency, and coordination of research/evaluation. The Plan provides a roadmap – a starting point – of the collaborative strategies and collective actions. The information provided should serve as a menu from which specific actions at the neighborhood/area, community, state, tribal, regional, and national levels can be advanced.

Comments can be general or specific, with links provided at the end of each chapter for submission of more specific remarks. Comments are being accepted through February 12, 2010.

The second chapter, The Current Context, may also provide a good reference for anyone looking for data on/descriptions of existing health disparities, including a number of charts presenting rates of disease and health risk factors by race/ethnicity.

[Hat tip to Siobhan at Bringing Health Information to the Community]

December 16, 2009

What Might Health Reform Mean for Women of Color?

That’s the topic of this live, interactive webcast, scheduled for today – Wednesday, Dec. 16 — at 1 p.m. ET.

Sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the webcast will examine aspects of the current Senate and House health reform bills that particularly affect women of color, who face additional health and access challenges.

You can join the live webcast here. An archived version, as well as a podcast and transcript, will be available later today.

Today’s panel will also address provisions in the bills that would affect access to and coverage of abortions, and recent findings from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Cara James, KFF senior policy analyst on race, ethnicity and health care, will moderate the discussion with:

  • Alina Salganicoff, Ph.D., vice president, director, Women’s Health Policy, Kaiser Family Foundation
  • Judy Waxman, J.D., vice president of Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center
  • Paula Johnson, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Panelists will take questions before or during the live program. Send questions to ask [at]

The webcast is part of KFF’s series examining current issues in health disparities.

November 18, 2009

CDC Officially Reverses HPV Vaccine Requirement for Immigrant Women

Last week, the CDC issued revised vaccination criteria for U.S. immigration which will reverse the requirement that female immigrants seeking permanent residence or entry to the U.S. be immunized against HPV.

The new criteria require that any mandated vaccine must be age-appropriate for the immigrant applicant, and must either protect against a disease that has the potential to cause an outbreak or protect against a disease that has been eliminated or is in the process of being eliminated in the United States. As HPV does not meet these criteria, the vaccine will no longer be required starting next month (30 days after publication in the Federal Register).

We have written several times about the requirement, including the CDC’s initial comment on the matter and various action alerts/campaigns asking the agency to reverse the requirement.

As we and others noted, the requirement was problematic for multiple reasons, such the lack of an opt-out provision (in contrast to requirements for U.S. citizens), the expense of the series, the lack of significant public health risk posed by omitting this vaccine, and the vulnerability of the affected population.

In the revised criteria document, published in Friday’s Federal Register, HPV vaccination is specifically addressed as follows:

CDC has applied the criteria and determined that once these criteria become effective December 14, 2009, the HPV vaccine will not be required for aliens seeking admission as an immigrant or seeking adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence….Therefore, while HPV may be an age-appropriate vaccine for an immigrant applicant, HPV neither causes outbreaks nor is it associated with outbreaks (per explanation in the background section). Further, HPV has not been eliminated, nor is in the process of elimination, in the United States. Therefore, because HPV does not meet the adopted criteria, it will not be a required vaccine for immigrant and adjustment of status to permanent residence applicants.

Under the new criteria, the zoster (chicken pox) vaccine will also be removed from the requirements. The agency continues to recommend the two vaccines for U.S. citizens, but vaccine recommendations will no longer be automatically translated to mandates for immigration.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and California Latinas for Reproductive Justice issued a statement commending the agency for the change and for “recognizing that all women and girls—regardless of their immigration status—must be treated with dignity in the context of any medical procedure, including the HPV vaccine.”

September 23, 2009

“Moms’ Crying Need” for Better Maternity Care

Women’s eNews currently features a piece, Black Infant Mortality Points to Moms’ Crying Need, which outlines the health disparities and systemic forces that stand between Black women and their babies and health. Author Kimberly Seals Allers argues that “If African American, Latino and Native American babies are too often in jeopardy, that means that this country is miserably failing women of color, and black women in particular, in the process of birthing healthy babies.”

She explains:

African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control, or the CDC. In 2000, the United States had a national average of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, but the rate among blacks was 14.1 deaths. Compared to non-Hispanic white infants, black babies are four times as likely to die as infants due to complications related to low birth weight, the CDC also said.

Compounding this problem, she writes, is “what isn’t known about black maternal health” including ob/gyns “who aren’t aware that their black patients are at a greater risk during pregnancy, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” and “a woeful lack of research on the racial and ethnic differences affecting certain diseases and their treatment.”

The entire essay is well worth a read.

In addition to the moral or social justice argument for eliminating health disparities, a recent report on the economic burden of these disparities makes a money-saving argument for eliminating them, estimating that doing so “would have reduced direct medical care expenditures by $229.4 billion,” money that some suggest could be used to pay for health reform. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius reportedly responded to the findings: “There is no question that reducing the health disparities can save incredible amounts of money. But more importantly it saves lives and it makes us a healthier and more prosperous nation.”

The agency released it’s own brief report on health disparities earlier this year, “Health Disparities: A Case for Closing the Gap.

August 19, 2009

Rep. Barney Frank Refutes Protester’s Accusation; Democrats May Pursue Reform Bill on Their Own

USA Today/Gallup poll found 34 percent of respondents who are following news accounts of town hall meetings on healthcare reform were more sympathetic to the protestors’ viewpoints, while 21 percent said the protests had made them less sympathetic.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn is surprised the protests haven’t led to a backlash — “Surely the public would recoil at the demonstrators’ preference for confrontation over dialogue. Their wild overstatements and paranoia. Their signs featuring President Barack Obama with a Hitler-style mustache and other vile attempts to compare increasing government’s role in providing health care to the Nazi Holocaust.”

But, no.

Northwestern University sociologist Aldon Morris explains that ultimately it comes down to whether the protest itself “resonates with the uncertainties and fears that already exist in society” — and this trumps the outrageous and offensive tactics. Zorn lays out the following conditions that protesters have seized upon so successfully:

Uncertainty. There is as yet no one plan for proponents to defend, so every idea remains an attack target.

Anxiety. The fear that reform, whatever it turns out to entail, will make things worse for the 78 percent of Americans who have coverage and are at least somewhat satisfied with it, according to a recent Time poll. And, of course, that it will sink our nation even deeper into debt during a period of economic crisis.

Apathy. Backers of reform have been comparatively lackluster in their advocacy, in part because they have nothing specific to advocate for. But if, as other recent polls suggest, a majority of Americans believe our health-care system needs a major overhaul, you’d never know it judging by the passion gap between the two sides.

Combine that with an exploitation of racial and ideological fears and economic anxiety, and you get the toxic mix that we see every day on the news. An African-American president as Hitler? Go figure. But as Republicans appear unwilling to calm the fire — or contribute substantive reform suggestions – Democrats are realizing they may have to pursue a health care bill on their own.

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is making headlines for chiding a woman holding a poster with an image of Obama as Hitler. At a town hall meeting last night in Massachussetts, Frank gave up trying to reason with the unreasonable:

July 20, 2009

Political Diagnosis, Part II: Road to the Supreme Court is Paved with Public Humiliation; Surgeon General Nominee and Abortion; Asylum for Battered Women

Road to the Supreme Court: It may not have been great theater, but the confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor did offer fire(fighters) without brimstone; a lesson on the dangers of nunchucks; the theory of neutral man’s burden; and many, many words.

Through it all, Sotomayor displayed nothing but “intelligence, grace and patience.” Melissa Harris-Lacewell describes the public humiliation Sotomayor endured as an Elizabeth Eckford moment.

It appears that  Sotomayor will be confirmed — with at least some Republican support — as the third woman and the first Latina on the Supreme Court. But as Frank Rich notes, Republicans still have some ‘splainin’ to do:

Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here.  [...]

It’s the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past.

Plus: How many words, you ask? Politico crunched the numbers and determined that between the start of the confirmation hearing on Monday and the end of the senators’ primary questioning and comments on Thursday, senators out-talked Sotomayor by about a third.

“And Republicans – clearly more leery of the Democratic-nominated Sotomayor than those on the other side of the aisle — spent the most time with Sotomayor. The average Republican had 5,908 words to the Democrats 4,217,” writes Patrick Gavin.

Millions More Like Her: Regina Benjamin, the new surgeon general nominee, attended a Catholic elementary school and attends mass regulary. Her numerous honors include an award from Pope Benedict XVI and another inspired by Mother Teresa. But — and here’s the shocking part — Benjamin, a family physician who has spent her life providing health care to the rural poor, supports abortion rights.

Not so shocked? Neither is this Catholic school grad. But this Washington Post story plays it up, noting that Benjamin’s position on reproductive health services “potentially could put her at odds with the Catholic Church.”

The story goes on to note:

Those who know Benjamin said her beliefs will not interfere with her role as surgeon general, which would include acting as the country’s chief health educator. If confirmed, she would lead the 6,000-member uniformed Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, issue public health messages and advise the president and health and human services secretary.

“We all have our religions, but when you speak as the surgeon general to the American people, it’s not about your religion,” said David Satcher, a former surgeon general under President Bill Clinton. Satcher taught community health to Benjamin at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. “I don’t see why the surgeon general has to get involved in a discussion about abortion.”

Asylum for Battered Women: The pathway is a narrow corridor with strict conditions, but the Obama administration, reversing a Bush administration stance, has “opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States,” reports The New York Times. Julia Preston writes:

In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.

The administration laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico who requested asylum, saying she feared she would be murdered by her common-law husband there.

According to court documents filed in San Francisco, the man repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole from her and at one point tried to burn her alive when he learned she was pregnant.

July 6, 2009

Double Dose: Fat is Not a Death Sentence; Google AdWords Prohibits Abortion Ads; Survey: Sex After Kids; What Would Buffy Do?

Excess Pounds, Longer Life?: It wasn’t so long ago that we heard calorie restriction was linked to longevity. Now it seems the scales have shifted: A new report, published online in the journal Obesity, found that people who are moderately overweight live longer.

“[W]hy is it so hard to believe, even in the face of such evidence, that being fat’s not exactly a death sentence?” asks Washington Post columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget.

On another note, looking at the journal’s website, I wish access wasn’t restricted to an article touted on the homepage as an “important review” of weight discrimination and the stigma of obesity.  The “comprehensive update” features “sections on stigma-reduction research and legal initiatives to combat weight discrimination”; alas, only the citation is available without charge.

Plus: Also see Huget’s column on locally grown food. Miriam at Feministing has more on food politics.

Google AdWords Won’t Advertise Abortion: Lori Adelman of the International Women’s Health Coalition writes that as a result of policy changes, Google AdWords, the search engines’s advertising network, now prohibits ads for abortion services in more than a dozen countries, including Brazil, France, Mexico, Poland, and Taiwan.

“Google’s rationale behind disallowing ads in these particular countries, whose abortion laws range from conservative (Argentina, Brazil ) to more liberal by comparison (France, Italy), is shrouded in mystery: the spokeswoman deftly avoided answering my question about how the countries were chosen,” writes Adelman at Feministing. She includes an email exchange she had with a Google representative.

IWHC has an action alert over at its blog that encourages emailing Google.

Plus: Frances Kissling, a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, wrote a provocative piece at Salon last month that asks whether it’s ever appropriate to say “no” to a woman seeking an abortion.

Nurse Stereotypes Are Bad for Health: Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse, writes about how popular culture misrepresents nurses and the work that they do. She recommends a new book — “Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us All at Risk,” by Sandy Summers and Harry Jacobs Summers.

“Saving Lives” is an important book because it so clearly delineates how ubiquitous negative portrayals of nursing are in today’s media, particularly three common stereotypes of nurses — the “Naughty Nurse,” the “Angel” and the “Battle Axe.” They argue that these images of nursing degrade the profession by portraying nurses as either vixens, saints or harridans, not college-educated health care workers with life and death responsibilities.

There’s a media advocacy website connected with the book:

Sex, Kids & Reality: Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner’s new book-in-progress — “The Family Bed: Is There Sex After Kids?” — focuses on the sex lives of parents after having children. As research for the book, they’re looking for folks to complete this survey on sex and parenthood.

When Wives Don’t Know: The New York Times Room for Debate Club brought together an all-female panel to discuss modern marriage. The central issue? Political wives who said they didn’t know about their spouses’ infidelities and Ruth Madoff, who said she didn’t know her husband of 50 years was practicing massive fraud.

Sales Outpace Data in Rush for Natural Remedies: “In 2002, when the initial findings of a National Institutes of Health study — known as the Women’s Health Initiative project — suggested that women on conventional hormone therapy were at greater risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and blood clotting, the market for alternative treatments soared,” writes Camille Sweeney at The New York Times.

“There are now more than 500 products that purport to relieve symptoms associated with menopause, including capsules, tablets, teas, gels and creams. In the United States, the dietary supplement market associated with menopause has grown to $337 million in 2007 (the last year tabulated) from $211 million in 1999, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.”

“Beauty” Aces Talent at Wimbledon: Anyone else watch women’s tennis at Wimbledon last week? Read how looks came under consideration in determining which matches were played in the premiere Centre Court. Slender white women with long hair clearly had the advantage.

What Would Buffy Do?: See what happens when our favorite heroine takes on Edward from “Twilight” in a mash-up not to be missed.

“My re-imagined story was specifically constructed as a response to Edward, and what his behavior represents in our larger social context for both men and women,” creator Jonathan McIntosh explains in a blog post at Women in Media & News. He continues:

More than just a showdown between The Slayer and the Sparkly Vampire, it’s also a humorous visualization of the metaphorical battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21ist century. [...]

In the end the only reasonable response was to have Buffy stake Edward — not because she didn’t find him sexy, not because he was too sensitive or too eager to share his feelings — but simply because he was possessive, manipulative, and stalkery.

June 22, 2009

Report: Racial and Ethnic Disparities Among Women at the State Level

kaiser_health_disparitiesKaiser Family Foundation has released an important package of resources that shines a spotlight on health disparities between white women and women of color in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.,

The report (pdf), “Putting Women’s Health Care Disparities On The Map: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities at the State Level,” takes into account 25 indicators, including rates of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, AIDS and cancer, and access to health insurance and health screenings.

The states with the largest rate of disparities were Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota. States such as Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Hawaii showed relatively smaller disparities between women of color and white women on health outcomes and health care access.

The reports also notes that white women and minority women were doing similarly well in Maine — and similarly poorly in Kentucky and West Virginia.

This introductory page includes links to the full report and numerous documents that look closely at health status, access to health care, social determinants and workforce statistics.

Among the key findings:

Disparities existed in every state on most measures. Women of color fared worse than White women across a broad range of measures in almost every state, and in some states these disparities were quite stark. Some of the largest disparities were in the rates of new AIDS cases, late or no prenatal care, no insurance coverage, and lack of a high school diploma.

In states where disparities appeared to be smaller, this difference was often due to the fact that both White women and women of color were doing poorly. It is important to also recognize that in many states (e.g. West Virginia and Kentucky) all women, including White women, faced significant challenges and may need assistance.

Few states had consistently high or low disparities across all three dimensions. Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and Hawaii all scored better than average on all three dimensions. At the other end of the spectrum, Montana, South Dakota, Indiana, and several states in the South Central region of the country (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) were far below average on all dimensions.

States with small disparities in access to care were not necessarily the same states with small disparities in health status or social determinants. While access to care and social factors are critical components of health status, our report indicates that they are not the only critical components. For example, in the District of Columbia disparities in access to care were better than average, but the District had the highest disparity scores for many indicators of health and social determinants.

Each racial and ethnic group faced its own particular set of health and health care challenges.
The enormous health and socioeconomic challenges that many American Indian and Alaska Native women faced was striking. American Indian and Alaska Native women had higher rates of health and access challenges than women in other racial and ethnic groups on several indicators, often twice as high as White women. Even on indicators that had relatively low levels of disparity for all groups, such as number of days that women reported their health was “not good,” the rate was markedly higher among American Indian and Alaska Native women.

Plus: Kaiser also put together a video companion to the report. Filmed at the Arlington (Va.) Free Clinic, the video looks at the challenges that uninsured women face.

June 15, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Single Payer Advocates Get Hearing; Obama to Speak Before AMA; Congressional TriCaucus Takes on Health Disparities; Healthy Families Act …

Confused About Health Care Reform? Start Here: Check out the Kaiser Family Foundation resources explaining the basics of health care reform. It’s worth pointing to each week, especially since it’s continually updated.

Arguments for Single Payer Make the Record: Single-payer advocates finally got a hearing last week before the House Education and Labor Committee’s subcommittee on health, employment, labor and pensions. C-SPAN has the video.  Dana Milbank brings the snark.

american_medical_associationObama Meets the AMA: President Obama today will address delegates at the American Medical Association meeting in Chicago. It’s the first time since 1983 that a president addressed an AMA delegates meeting, and it’s bound to get interesting.

The AMA came out against a government-sponsored insurace plan designed to compete against private insurance companies (also known as the “public option”); the group later softened its opposition. AMA President Dr. Nancy Nielsen on Saturday said that AMA’s priorities are increased payments from Medicare and medical liability reform.

Obama suports the public insurance plan. And this weekend he outlined “$313 billion in proposed cuts over the next decade to the Medicare insurance program for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor to help cover the cost of expanding insurance coverage.”

But he is open to reining in medical suits.

AMA is the largest physician lobby, representing 180 medical societies, but it has lost clout over the years. Medical school students account for its largest member groups, and less than 20 percent of all practicing physicians are members of the AMA. Over at ThinkProgress, Lee Fang explains a bit about the AMA’s ties to the health industry:

Started in the mid 19th century as an accrediting organization, the AMA has morphed into a behemoth lobbying and member services entity that is deeply entwined with the for-profit health industry.

In the past century, the growth of AMA has been not only funded by health industry lobbies such as drug makers, but this relationship has tailored AMA’s anti-reform policy agenda. In reading the Huffington Post and the New America Foundation articles revealing AMA’s opposition to health reform during the New Deal, its efforts to block the passage of Medicare, and the AMA’s critical role in defeating health reform in 1993, questions arise over why the AMA has historically opposed any initiative to take health care out of the hands of the for-profit health industry.

Read on.

Senate Members Look for More Options: “As President Obama traveled to the heartland to sell a government-run insurance plan as essential to health-care reform, Senate negotiators began to explore a possible bipartisan compromise modeled after rural cooperatives,” reports the Washington Post.

That model was presented by Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota who has introduced, as a “potential compromise” on the public plan, a system of federally-chartered co-ops that could offer a non-profit alternative to for-profit insurance companies. Ezra Klein has a Q&A with Conrad.

rep_barbara_leeMinority Groups Joins Forces on Health Care: Members of the Congressional TriCaucus — comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — last week introduced The Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009. The groups are working together to ensure that the health needs of minorities are taken into account in any health reform plan and that the elimination of racial and ethnic disparities becomes a priority.

“Today over 47 million people lack health insurance in America and although racial and ethnic minorities account for about one third of U.S. population, they account for more than half of the uninsured,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee (CA-09) said in a statement.

These are the reform elements the TriCaucus has identified as priorities:
·    A public health insurance option that is universal and includes mental and dental health services.
·    Elevating the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health and strengthening the Office of Minority Health within the Department of Health and Human Services.
·    Addressing cultural and linguistic concerns such as credentialing for medical translators and ensuring adequate reimbursement for language and translation services.
·    Healthcare provisions regarding clinical trials must also — whenever possible — include racial and ethnic diversity to find out effects on a broad range of groups.

“Access to culturally competent quality health care should be one of the most basic of all entitlements,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis (IL-07), who serves as co-chair of the CBC Health and Wellness Taskforce. “Expansion of community, migrant, family and rural health centers will help make this concept a reality.”

Plus: “Public health officials have long recognized — and tried to eliminate — the sharp disparities in health among racial and ethnic minorities. But there is another group as well that ranks well below average on many measures of health: people with disabilities,” reads this Boston Globe editorial in favor of state legislation that addresses health disparities faced by people with disabilities, as well as other minorities.

Solutions for Healthcare Reform: The Chicago Tribune recently published a package of stories featuring reform suggestions from industry leaders, including pharmacists, insurers and doctors in smaller practices.

Plus: It appears a solution for the cost of reform is even trickier.

Healthy Families Act Gets Hearing: Five years after it was first introduced, the House last week held its first-ever hearing on the Healthy Families Act. The bill would enable workers at companies with more than 15 employees to take up to seven paid sick days per year to care for themselves or a sick family member.

The AFL-CIO blog reports on the hearing and points to a new study (pdf) from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that found mandatory paid sick days do not lead to higher unemployment.

Plus: Did you know the United States is the only country among 22 countries ranked high for economic and human development that does not guarantee paid sick days or sick leave for workers? CEPR breaks it down in a separate study, “Contagion Nation.”

Take Action
National Partnership for Women & Families: Support paid sick days. Find out if your elected officials have cosponsored the Healthy Families Act, and please urge them to do so today.

May 4, 2009

Double Dose: “Common Ground,” Meet “Lines in the Sand”; Economics, Race & Pollution; Immigrants Facing Health Care Cutbacks …

Finding “Common Ground” on Abortion – How’s That Working?:  “President Obama has accomplished a lot in his first 100 days in office, but one campaign promise he’s been unable to keep is a vow to make peace in one of the most polarizing issues in all of American politics: abortion,” reports NPR.

lines_in_the_sand_issueLines in the Sand: Speaking of the elusive common ground, On the Issues magazine chose “lines in the sand” as the theme for its current issue.

An email to readers said the choice was “provoked by today’s too-prevalent sentiment to compromise principles in the interests of seeking ‘common ground’ and reconciliation with opposing views. In these articles we explore the feminist and progressive values that must be held tightly, the ‘lines in the sand’ that we refuse to erase.”

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Merle Hoffman says reproductive freedom is “the front line, the bottom line and the everlasting line in the sand,” in her editorial “Higher Ground, Not Common Ground.”

Also look for essays by Gloria Feldt, Loretta Ross and many more writers and artists.

Economics, Race and Pollution: A study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Southern California tracking toxic emissions from factories confirms what we already know: poor, minority communities are disproportionately affected by harmful pollution. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on the findings. View the full report (PDF) here.

Public Attitudes Toward HIV/AIDS as a Health Issue: Kaiser Family Foundation has released its 2009 Survey of Americans on HIV/AIDS. In the United States, the sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS as a national health issue has decreased significantly. Residents’ concerns about the disease as a personal risk also has declined, even among some high-risk groups. This press release summarizes the findings. The study comes less than a year after the CDC  announced that there were 40 percent more new HIV infections each year than previously believed.

Egypt’s FGM Ban, One Year Later: In the year since Egypt outlawed female genital mutilation, the government hasn’t prosecuted a single case, Iman Azzi writes at Women’s eNews. Still, some activists say the law is a tool, among others, for gradually dismantling an ancient tradition.

Legalization – The “X” Factor: On May 1, thousands of activists took to the streets in favor of expanding immigrants rights. Suman Raghunathan, an immigration and public policy analyst, describes what immigrant women, particularly those who are undocumented, need: “A legalization program that’s broad, fair and workable for both immigrants and immigration officials.”

Raghunathan goes on to note that current federal immigration policy leaves it up to states to decide whether to provide free or low-cost health care to their undocumented residents. Several states, including New York, have expanded prenatal and neonatal care to undocumented women and children.

“Legal status,” she writes, “would mean that undocumented women are no longer left to the mercy of state legislatures and no longer denied appropriate nursing and doctoring.”

Plus: The L.A. Times reports on how some California counties are eliminating non-emergency health services for undocumented immigrants.

“We are mortgaging the future to scrape through the present,” said David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture.

HRT and Heart Health: A study in the May issue of the journal Medical Care (abstract) looks at whether the decreased use of HRT has affected the rate of cardiovascular health outcomes, according to this release. The number of heart attacks in menopausal women has decreased, though it’s not conclusive that there’s a link. Researchers did not find a difference in the rate of strokes.

Before 2002, physicians believed HRT reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by up to 50 percent in menopausal women. As a result, physicians prescribed it broadly to treat many of the symptoms of menopause, as well as to protect women against cardiovascular disease. However, a report by the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002 revealed that HRT actually had the opposite effect — it increased the risk of heart attack in these women.

“After the 2002 report, the use of HRT in women aged 50 to 69 declined from more than 30 percent to less than 15 percent,” said lead study author Kanaka Shetty, M.D.