Health Care

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society. Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military , while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives. Even the way moderator John King posed a viewer-submitted question over contraceptives to the candidates, asking them if they “believed” in birth control, seemed to suggest that contraception is some form of rare unicorn that exists only in the imagination. The candidates’ answers were even more surreal. Gingrich skipped answering the question...

Personhood Bill Dead in Virginia

Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year . The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday. "By vote of 24-14, HB 1 is rereferred to Senate Ed & Health and carried over for the year," tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Herring triumphantly. "Translation = Bill is defeated." This morning, less than 24 hours after pro-life advocates saw a big victory over a Virginia pre-abortion sonogram bill, a Virginia Senate committee voted to move the controversial "personhood" bill forward . The bill, which would have changed the legal definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs and fetuses, passed the House...

Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law?

(AP Photo/Richmond Times Dispatch/Bob Brown)
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill . The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound. So the bill mandated transvaginal sonograms, in which a probe would be stuck inside a woman's vagina and she would be offered a chance to see the fetus before she could terminate the pregnancy. "During the entire wand-forcibly-inserted-in-your-most-private-area experience, you still have complete and total control over which way your head is turned," The Daily Show's Jon Stewart told his guests. The focus from national media, social media, and bloggers all likely helped to force McDonnell into changing his position. At the same time many protested the Virginia effort, Texas this...

Luck Not Be a Lady

You know those odd moments in animated cartoons when a character's head seems to be boiling and popping, one eye getting bigger, then smaller, and so on? As a journalist who focuses on gender and sexuality, that's how I feel lately: happy, sad, shocked, celebratory—all at the same time. As I've said here over and over, it's just a spectacular time to be openly gay. Last week, as Jonathan Capehart noted in the Washington Post , was " a big gay week for same-sex marriage." Washington passed a marriage-equality bill and Maryland seems poised to do the same—a bill has passed the House, where it stalled the last time legislators tried to push it through, and now awaits a vote in the Senate and the governor's signature. In both states, marriage equality will probably go to the ballot. Some of my sources say it has a better chance at winning in Washington, where advocates have been doing field organizing on LGBT issues for decades and have already done a lot of the face-to-face education and...

Pre-Abortion Sonograms Make Their Way Into Law

(Flickr/Travis Isaacs)
The Virginia Legislature has been busy passing legislation to limit abortion and promote pro-life agendas. I wrote Tuesday how the state House passed a bill changing the legal definition of "person" to include fetuses starting at conception . But the body also passed a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram 24 hours ahead of time. The state Senate already passed an identical measure and the state governor has said that he supports the initiative—which means it will almost definitely become law. The measure requires a medical professional to administer the sonogram and then offer the woman the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a description of the fetus. Because abortions occur early in pregnancies, these ultrasounds aren't the ones most people imagine with a bit of jelly smeared on a woman's stomach. No, these require a more invasive procedure: a transvaginal sonogram . A probe—with a lubricated condom covering it—is inserted into a woman's...

Colbert Explains Contraception And the War On Religion

Stephen Colbert can't say that, can he?! Stephen Colbert Explains the Catholic Church and Contraceptives The comedian describes what Obama's birth control plan looks like to conservative Catholics. It involves a banana and a guillotine. The Colbert Report Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , Video Archive Log in or register to post comments

Virginia House Passes Personhood Bill

Republican delegate Bob Marshall says critics are overstating things when it comes to the personhood bill he is sponsoring in Virginia. Opponents of his bill have argued that not only does the measure grant legal protections to all fetuses beginning at conception, but it could also be construed to outlaw birth control. The bill is ostensibly less stringent than similar measures that came up in Colorado and Mississippi. As Marshall points out, it does not directly outlaw abortion, but would force the courts to include embryos in definitions of person. "I think I struck a middle ground," says Marshall. Try telling that to the bill's opponents, who fear the bill's consequences for women's health. The House rejected an amendment by Democratic delegate Virginia Watts that would have specifically protected birth-control access. Marshall called the amendment "a vehicle to entrap me," arguing it would have hurt the bill in court. By specifically allowing birth control, Marshall says, the...

Birth Control Chess

(Flickr/brains the head)
Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad. But, as described, I believe that the “ accommodation ” that was announced by the administration is acceptable. The bottom line is that employees will still be able to receive contraceptive coverage at no extra cost, and as NARAL's statement explains "[i]t guarantees that women will encounter no barriers from their bosses or insurance plans in getting birth control without a copay." As long as the substantive rights and benefits of employees are...

What the Anti-Contraception Conservatives Really Want

(Flickr/Jenny Lee Silver)
Let's stipulate at the outset that almost everyone on the right you hear talking about the issue of contraception coverage is cynically adopting this position for no other reason than they believe it to be a handy cudgel to bash the Obama administration. (One notable exception is Rick Santorum, who genuinely believes that contraception is wrong, since it unleashes our dirty, dirty thoughts and allows people to have sex without being punished for it. But Santorum is also pro-Crusades , so make of that what you will.) They may be right or wrong about the political wisdom of taking up this fight—a lot depends on whether the administration stands firm and makes sure everyone remembers that what we're talking about is birth control, for goodness' sake, something that outside the ranks of the celibate old men who run the Catholic Church is accepted by just about everyone, Catholics included. But we should keep in mind the principle for which conservatives are now arguing. Their argument is...

There's Something Rotten at the Komen Foundation

Karen Handel's exit from the organization reveals the discord surrounding the Planned Parenthood decision.

AP Photo/John Bazemore
Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, had a placid expression on her face when she assured MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell last week that Karen Handel had nothing much to do with the foundation’s decision to cease funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Brinker was speaking of Komen’s vice president for public policy, a recent hire who stated during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign that de-funding Planned Parenthood was a policy priority. When Komen cut funds last week to the largest provider of breast cancer screenings in the country, fingers pointed to Handel as the likely catalyst behind the move. Brinker denied it with a straight face. But Karen Handel herself said otherwise. She offered her resignation letter this morning in the wake of the Komen debacle, shortly after the foundation released a hedging statement about retaining Planned Parenthood’s grant eligibility in the future. Handel writes: “I openly acknowledge my role in the...

Komen Coverage Makes Ross Douthat Sad

The columnist's assertions of media bias during the Komen controversy rest on shaky ground.

As you might expect, Ross Douthat is unhappy about the backlash against the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation's decision to defund Planned Parenthood. His argument rests upon assertions of media bias that are shaky since, as Sarah Kilff notes , it's likely that media bias wouldn't have been a factor in Komen coverage precisely because of the political leanings of the average journalist. While it's plausible to assume the typical journalist is more socially liberal (as well as more economically conservative) than the median public opinion, I would argue that this is less true with respect to abortion than with other social issues. Punditry dismissing the importance of Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights, in particular, is so common as to be banal. In addition to this argument about media bias, Douthat also cites public opinion data, focusing on "as many Americans described themselves as pro-life as called themselves pro-choice" and that a "combined 58 percent of Americans stated...

Another Kind of Mandate

You have to feel for the genuine policy wonks at a place like the Heritage Foundation. On one hand, they want to conduct their research with integrity. On the other hand, they work at an organization where the line between being ideological and being partisan is always fuzzy. Take the individual health-insurance mandate, an idea that had its origins at Heritage, where it started as a way to address some of the pathologies of the health-insurance market without relying on government-provided insurance. For years, this was seen as a conservative approach, which is one of the reasons Mitt Romney embraced it in his Massachusetts health-insurance reform. We all know the rest of the story: a similar mandate became part of the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans immediately decided that the fact that Obama used it now meant the mandate was the very essence of statist oppression. So opposition to the mandate became a partisan requirement. But what if you're a conservative health-care wonk (...

Friday Miscellany

It's Friday! Time for a little bit of this, a little bit of that: Barney Frank is engaged! How sweet is that? Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly put up this : The two have been together since the spring of 2007, according to Frank's office. [Jim] Ready, who is 42 years old, lives in Ogunquit, Maine, where, per Frank's office, he has a small business doing custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other general handyman services. He also is a photographer. And yet, ironically enough, the retiring U.S. Congressman's marriage won't be recognized by federal law. If (god forbid) Frank should predecease Ready any time soon, his widower will have no rights to collect the spousal benefit of his husband's federal pension. In fact, as Geidner writes: One of the plaintiffs in the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders's ongoing lawsuit challenging Section 3 of DOMA, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management , actually is the same-sex widow of a former member of Congress. Although they married...

The Difference Between Viagra and The Pill

Starting in August, women will no longer have to pay more than men for the prescriptions (the Pill, Viagra, Cialis) that enable them to have active sex lives. That was the big news this past Friday, when Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared that almost* all employers must now pay for contraception in their health plans under the Affordable Health Care Act's requirement that insurers cover all preventive services. No co-pays. No deductibles. Whether or not women should pay for having sex—whether financially or through pregnancy—has been, shall we say, a hot topic for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. birth rate dropped dramatically because of new technologies (rubber condoms, that invention of Goodyear). Teddy Roosevelt decried contraception as "race suicide." Margaret Sanger went to jail for keeping women from withering and dying from gestating and delivering one after another bundle of joy. Late-19th- and early-20th...

In Dire Health

Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. medical system is near collapse. What will save it is a single-payer system and physicians in group practice.

M ost people assume that insurance is an essential part of the health-care system. Some think it should be provided through public programs like Medicare, while others prefer to see it purchased from private insurance companies, but the majority believe that insurance is needed to help pay the unpredictable and often catastrophic expenses of medical care. That is why so much public policy focuses on extending coverage to as many people as possible and controlling its cost. I think this emphasis on insurance is mistaken. We would have a much better and more affordable health-care system if the reimbursement of medical expenses through public or private insurance plans was replaced by tax-supported universal access to comprehensive care, without bills for specific services and without insurance plans to pay those bills. Insurance is not simply a mechanism for spreading financial risks and paying for medical care. Because it usually tries to limit payments to providers, insurance often...

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