Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/945 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 06:27:49 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) With Trump in Office, New York Democrats Show Urgency, and Infighting, on Women's Rights http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6732:with-trump-in-office-new-york-democrats-show-urgency-and-infighting-on-women-s-rights http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6732:with-trump-in-office-new-york-democrats-show-urgency-and-infighting-on-women-s-rights cuomo women's equality act

Cuomo in 2013, via The Governor's Office on flickr


With President Donald Trump taking office and Congressional Republicans chipping away at the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that guarantees cost-free birth control, New York’s Democratic lawmakers are scrambling to fortify protections for women on the state level.

Citing the threat of Trump’s administration, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that he has instructed the Department of Financial Services -- which regulates insurance companies -- to require commercial insurance providers to cover contraception and “medically necessary” abortions without asking for a co-pay.

The announcement was timed to coincide with women’s rights marches that took place in New York City, Washington D.C., and across the country, as well as the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which despite efforts from the Democratically-controlled New York State Assembly, is not fully codified into state law. Republicans who control the state Senate have refused to pass such a law, though many abortions would be legal in New York even if the Supreme Court, bolstered by a conservative Trump appointee, were to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling. A 1970 New York law permits abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Cuomo’s contraception and abortion coverage announcement came on the heels of legislation introduced by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and passed by the Assembly earlier this month. Called the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, the bill, which has not yet been introduced in the state Senate, would codify the co-pay-free contraception provision in the Affordable Care Act.

Cuomo’s women’s health push has received a lot of praise, including from Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who called the DFS regulation “an important step forward toward ensuring that women have control over their reproductive lives.”

However, members of the Assembly took issue with the governor’s action, saying the regulatory change lacks the permanence of a statute. “We think a law would be the strongest solution,” said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Assembly Member Kevin Cahill, who sponsored the Assembly version of the legislation, said the DFS regulation falls “very seriously short” of the intentions of the bill’s authors and decreases the likelihood of Schneiderman’s bill being introduced in the Senate, which remains under GOP control.

“We are talking about the contraceptive rights that are now at risk because of actions that are being taken in Washington that could have been thoroughly protected through legislation,” said Cahill, a Democrat representing Kingston. “Now the legislative path is significantly less likely because of [the governor’s] action.”

Cahill noted Cuomo’s regulation does not include coverage for male vasectomies, which can take the onus of contraception off of women, or emergency contraception, otherwise known as the “morning-after pill.” The new regulations also omit language authorizing midwives to prescribe or distribute emergency contraception and an educational component to the bill.

“He didn't consult with us at all, and to the best of my knowledge, the attorney general heard about it in a press report,” Cahill told Gotham Gazette. “While it appears on its surface to be laudable, it may have actually made the situation significantly worse."

In response to Cahill's comments, a spokesperson for the governor, Abbey Fashouer, said, “The Governor is taking immediate and decisive action to secure women’s reproductive rights, regardless of what happens at the federal level. To be clear, this doesn’t preclude legislative action, or apparently, grandstanding. This decisive action may rob some individuals of a headline later, but it does ensure that the reproductive rights of millions of New Yorkers are protected today.”

Cuomo's office also noted that vasectomies are not included in the governor's DFS regulations because they are part of the ACA, but not New York insurance law, where birth control for women is covered.

Democrats will continue to push state legislation as opposed to executive regulations since, as Trump is showing on the federal level, executive actions can be rolled back by a new executive.

While state law already mandates that contraceptives be covered without co-pays and bars insurers from denying any type of surgery -- including surgical abortions -- Cuomo’s version clarifies that the law will not change if ACA is repealed. In addition, the new DFS regulation would ban charging co-payments for abortion and requires that insurers provide coverage of birth control for up to 12 months from the initial prescription.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, and has said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade -- though he has backtracked on both positions in media interviews.

Two of Trump’s first actions in the Oval Office were a vaguely worded executive order toward repeal of the ACA and another to reinstate a ban on spending for reproductive health services for organizations abroad, which is expected increase infant mortality and maternal death rates around the globe.

Toppling Roe v. Wade, which would require at least two new Supreme Court justices, is more complicated than the president has made it seem, but even if it happened, it is not likely to have as much of an impact in New York as it would in, say, South Carolina, according to a new report from the Center for Reproductive Rights. As Trump has pointed out in interviews when expressing somewhat conflicting support for overturning Roe v. Wade, “if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.” During a 60 Minutes interview he added of women seeking abortions in states where it would then be illegal, “they’ll have to go to another state.”

Early this year the state Assembly also reintroduced a second bill, the Reproductive Health Act, which updates New York’s law to align with Roe v. Wade. Abortion has been legal in New York since 1970, three years before the Supreme Court decision. Codifying Roe v. Wade on a state level would remove outdated criminal statutes that apply to abortion practitioners when a woman is more than 24 weeks pregnant, add language that prioritizes for the health of the mother over the fetus, and expand the list of medical professionals that could perform abortion to include 21st Century professions, such as physician’s assistants.

These inconsistencies, and the criminal statutes, continue to result in many women being denied care, according to the NYCLU. Last year, Attorney General Schneiderman issued an opinion, stating that abortion be allowed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life or health is threatened, as specified by Roe v. Wade, but advocates say New York doctors are still deterred from treating women with sometimes life-threatening health conditions who are more than 24 weeks pregnant.

Though Democratic lawmakers have been pushing this bill for years, Senate Republicans have blocked the motion. In 2013, an effort by the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group of Democrats that caucuses with Republicans -- to move the bill in the Senate failed. In the 63-seat Senate, 30 Republicans and two Democrats, Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder, voted it down. Diaz Sr. and Felder, who also caucuses with Republicans, are still in the Senate and unlikely to support the abortion protections, though Diaz Sr., a Bronx minister, may run for City Council this year and leave the Senate if victorious.

Candice Giove, the spokesperson for the IDC and its leader, Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette, "The Independent Democratic Conference is the only Senate conference whose members are 100 percent pro-choice." Giove's comment is an apparent reference to Diaz Sr. Giove did not make clear whether the IDC plans to push the Senate GOP to take up passage of stronger abortion protections into state law this year.

“We are hopeful that the IDC will support the bill and put their action behind it,” Lieberman of the NYCLU said during a press conference call on Thursday morning. “We know from polling that’s been done that New York is 70 to 80 percent pro-choice. New Yorkers overwhelmingly support the codification of Roe v. Wade and women’s’ rights.”

The codification of Roe v. Wade into New York law was the tenth of ten planks in Gov. Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda, which the governor attempted to push over several years. Cuomo said the Legislature must pass all ten planks together, but as the Senate continued to balk on the abortion provision, Democrats including Cuomo and the Assembly majority opted to pass the nine other planks, which include equal pay provisions, protections for domestic violence victims, bans on pregnancy discrimination in workplaces, and more.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has been criticized for not doing enough to flip the Senate to Democratic control, and for creating in 2014 the Women’s Equality Party, which appears to have been mostly an election year gimmick aimed at hurting the Working Families Party.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return a request for comment about where the conference majority stands on the abortion bill.

Another criticism of the new Cuomo regulatory directives came from Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank. Hammond said the governor’s move undermines the legislative process and noted that without a provision to address additional expenses incurred by insurance companies, this rule could drive up healthcare premiums.

On the Empire Center’s blog, The Torch, Hammond also questioned why abortions are exempt from co-pays, but other medically necessary procedures, like childbirth, for example, are not.

“If this rule change stands, expect a parade of provider and consumer groups to seek similar consideration from DFS in the months and years ahead,” he writes.

A spokesperson from DFS noted that there will be a 45-day public comment period before the regulations are finalized. The rules will go into effect 60 days later. Trump has promised a Supreme Court nominee next week, but U.S. Senate Democrats, led by New York’s Charles Schumer, have pledged to fight any nominee who is not moderate.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With Trump in Office, New York Democrats Show Urgency, and Infighting, on Women's Rights Thu, 26 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Stand Against Racism, Protect Asian-American Women's Health http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6108:stand-against-racism-protect-asian-american-womens-health http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6108:stand-against-racism-protect-asian-american-womens-health chin council hearing

Council Member Chin, one of the authors (photo: William Alatriste)


New York City has the opportunity to support Asian-Americans and women's health by opposing deceptively named, so-called "sex-selective abortion bans."

These attacks on a woman's right to choose are wolves in sheep's clothing. At a glance, such bans might sound like laws meant to further women's rights. But they actually do just the opposite.

The tragic reality of "son preference" has been a serious issue in some countries, such as India and China, where women do not have the same rights and status that they have here. But male preference is not a widespread issue in the United States – not for any specific ethnic group or for the population as a whole. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Chicago Law School finds that Asian-Americans are giving birth to more girls than white Americans.

Given these facts, the sex-selective bans being introduced across the U.S. are disingenuous at best. They exploit a real problem around gender that has been well documented in other countries to harm the very communities they purport to help.

In an effort to draw attention to these harmful and offensive bans, we have drafted a resolution that was recently introduced in the City Council to put the City of New York on record in opposition to this latest attack on a woman's right to choose.

More than just an attack on reproductive health and family planning services, these bans promote ugly stereotypes about our community – namely, that we as Asian-Americans do not value the lives of our girls.

Many in the Asian-American community already face heightened barriers to accessing care, and laws like sex-selective abortion bans widen the gap. Sex-selective bans also damage the doctor-patient relationship by opening private medical decisions to scrutiny by both health-care providers and law enforcement.

This is not just bad policy; sex-selective abortion bans are dangerous to women's health and could have a chilling effect on women seeking health care. Under no circumstances should patient-doctor parenting discussions be called into question because of one's skin color or ethnicity.

Factors like immigration status, income and cultural and linguistic barriers already make it difficult for women in our community to get the health care they need. In New York City, 49 percent of Asian-American adults have limited English proficiency. And 20 percent of all Asian-Americans in the city are uninsured.

With New York City home to one of the largest Asian-American populations in the country, we must take a stand and demand that our state and federal colleagues work to ensure our communities have greater access to health care — not more restrictions.

In their myopic pursuit of an anti-choice agenda, some lawmakers are irresponsibly placing basic health care needs of the Asian American community at risk. And yet, despite the dangerous consequences, they are having some legislative success. In 2013 and 2014, sex-selective bans were the second most proposed type of abortion restriction in the country. Even New York State is not immune —this year, one such law was introduced in the Assembly. We must stem the tide of these attacks.

By working together with advocates to introduce this new resolution, we are urging our city to take a stand against these offensive bans. If the City Council passes this important resolution, it could become the third city in the country to denounce this attack on access to health care and family planning for thousands of Asian-Americans.

New Yorkers deserve better. Join us in standing up against racism and supporting women's health by urging your City Council representative to support this important resolution.

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by New York City Council Member Margaret Chin and National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum Executive Director Miriam Yeung.

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Stand Against Racism, Protect Asian-American Women's Health Fri, 22 Jan 2016 02:41:40 +0000
Amid Federal Brinksmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5917:amid-federal-brinksmanship-new-york-city-officials-redouble-support-for-planned-parenthood http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5917:amid-federal-brinksmanship-new-york-city-officials-redouble-support-for-planned-parenthood Chirlane PP

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray at a Planned Parenthood rally (photo: @Chirlane) 


In the face of federal debate and brinksmanship over funding for Planned Parenthood, many in New York City have doubled down on support for the women's health care organization.

In the past month, the city has seen the opening of a Planned Parenthood health center in Queens (expanding the organization's presence into all five boroughs), two large rallies during which numerous elected officials championed the importance of Planned Parenthood’s health care services, and one leading Assembly Democrat calling for the state to boost its financial support for the clinics if conservatives in Congress were to cut off the organization's federal funding.

“The attacks against Planned Parenthood, we all know, are attacks against women and, in particular, low-income women and women of color who rely on Planned Parenthood for vital services - medical services that are comprehensive,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a large rally in Manhattan Tuesday. The speaker and others rallied in support of Planned Parenthood, repeatedly attacking conservative Republicans for their efforts to defund the organization.

The city government’s strong support for Planned Parenthood, seen at Tuesday’s rally, which featured several elected officials, and in budget dollars that go toward supporting the organization, help cement New York City’s national reputation as a liberal capital.

On Wednesday, Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing a temporary spending bill that will keep federal agencies operating through December 11. The threat of a potential shutdown over funding of Planned Parenthood loomed for weeks, spurred by the release of secretly filmed videos this summer which showed Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the preservation of fetal tissue for medical research.

The Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group that filmed the videos, claims that they show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue. The videos have prompted an ongoing investigation by Congress into Planned Parenthood’s practice of donating fetal tissue for medical research. A forensic analysis of the videos commissioned by Planned Parenthood found evidence of manipulation, "intentionally deceptive edits, missing footage, and inaccurately transcribed conversations," according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the report.

Four states - Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah - have ordered state agencies to cut off federal funding to local Planned Parenthood chapters, leading those branches to file lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, in court documents, the Utah branch said the governor's decision to cut off funding is based solely on unproven allegations that took place in other states, by other arms of the national group.

New York City government sends approximately $850,000 a year to the city’s central Planned Parenthood branch in the forms of various grants, namely for health care services and sex education, according to an official from PPNYC. The city also allocates capital awards to Planned Parenthood each year, which have ranged from $75,000 to $400,000.

Speaking about the services that Planned Parenthood provides for New York City residents, PPNYC CEO Joan Malin told Gotham Gazette, “Roughly 85 percent of our services are preventative care - birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, STI testing, annual exams - we do the full range of reproductive health care services for women and men.”

Malin explained that Planned Parenthood New York’s funding comes from a combination of “private donors, public funding from the city, state, and federal government,” and an endowment, “but for our patient services, we rely overwhelmingly on Medicaid and Title X family-planning grants, which allows us to provide services for anyone who needs our care regardless of their ability to pay. Out of a $44 million budget, $9 million is federal funding. If that were to go away we would be sorely challenged to continue to provide our services."

Mark-Viverito, joined on stage at Tuesday’s “Pink Out NYC” rally by fellow Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Brad Lander, said, "We are proud as Council members to ensure that we direct your taxpayer dollars and invest your taxpayer dollars in Planned Parenthood, to make sure that they are able to provide vital services throughout the City of New York. We expect the federal government to continue to do the same thing."

The rally on Tuesday in lower Manhattan was one of nearly 300 events held in 90 cities across the country in support of Planned Parenthood’s work, organized as negotiations continued in Washington, D.C.

"Congress should be ashamed!" New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray shouted to the crowd of some 500 pink-clad supporters, just hours before it was announced that government funding would be extended until mid-December. "Congress should be ashamed to punish women who have no other health care options. I know firsthand that Planned Parenthood provides excellent services!"

McCray continued, “Planned Parenthood provides services to "2.7 million women, men, and young people....Did you realize that? We need Planned Parenthood and we will not allow the funding to be taken away!"

McCray, Mark-Viverito, Rosenthal, and Lander were joined at the rally by Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and state Senators Daniel Squadron and Liz Krueger.

"Our bodies will not be used as an organizing strategy for the right," Public Advocate James shouted, eliciting cheers from the crowd. "This is nothing more than a distraction from the issues that we care about — a need to educate girls, a need to end income inequality, and a need to end poverty in this country."

James pointed out that the bulk of services Planned Parenthood provides have nothing to do with abortion, despite the national conversation being focused on the abortion issue. "Let me tell you the facts,” James said, “80 percent of Planned Parenthood clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 pap smears, and 500,000 breast exams every year. These tests detect life-threatening cancers. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and Planned Parenthood educates and provides outreach to 1.5 million young people."

On Thursday, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, emailed Gotham Gazette to call Planned Parenthood of New York City a long-time “staunch advocate, educator, and provider of reproductive health care to 50,000 patients annually.” PPNYC “has received funding from the New York City Council to expand services to support family planning, curb teen pregnancy and STDs through education.”

When asked what might happen next for Planned Parenthood, even with a temporary compromise in Washington, PPNYC CEO Malin replied, "This issue is going to remain in the public discussion, unfortunately. As all of our speakers said, there are so many issues that we need to be talking about - greater access to health care, immigrant reform, Black Lives Matter - there's so many issues we need to be talking about. Focusing on reproductive health care is important, but the way [opponents are] talking about it is a distraction. I would say that that distraction is going to continue throughout this election, and Republicans are going to look for ways to keep this issue at the forefront."

Not all Republicans are looking to keep the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood in the spotlight, however. Republican strategist and president of Somm Consulting, Evan Siegfried, told Gotham Gazette, “Until we know what the facts are, the calls to defund are premature.”

Congressional investigation is ongoing, and as analysis of the incendiary videos showed the footage had been drastically altered, Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Cecile Richards testified before Congress just this Tuesday. Richards defended the $450 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood, explaining that 87 percent of it comes from Medicaid and Title X family planning monies. “We, like other Medicaid providers, we are reimbursed directly for services provided,” she said.

“No federal funds pay for abortion services, except in the very limited circumstances allowed by law. These are when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered,” Richards explained (abortions account for just three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services nationally, according to the organization’s most recent report).

Hard-line conservatives like Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz are committed to defunding Planned Parenthood to the point that they would rather plot to shut down the government than allow the organization to continue its work through federal funding.

Cruz recently decried the state of his divided party, saying that the more socially liberal Republicans, specifically the “New York billionaire” donors who insist candidates are pro-choice, hate the base and hold the party back from really fighting on key social issues. It’s part of the intra-Republican conflict that led to House Speaker John Boehner’s recent resignation announcement.

Speaking anonymously with Gotham Gazette, New York Republicans have indeed expressed frustration with the far right wing of their party, with one saying it is “on a crazy quest that will kill [Republicans] with the swing voters in 2016.”

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13
@GothamGazette

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Amid Federal Brinksmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood Thu, 01 Oct 2015 22:24:31 +0000