It’s Up to the Courts to Block Alabama’s Extreme Parental Involvement Law

Abbey Marr is a Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at Advocates for Youth

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Alabama on behalf of one of its only abortion clinics to block a new parental involvement law that could put some young people on trial simply for seeking abortion care. Alabama’s restriction is one of the worst laws in a huge, nasty pile of laws passed by state legislatures to put obstacles in the way of people – particularly poor people, people of color, and young people – who are seeking abortions.

Parental involvement laws require that when people under eighteen seek abortion care, they notify or get consent from one or both parents first. Most young people seeking abortions do involve their parents, but there are a variety of reasons that is not always possible. In fact, one study found that thirty percent of pregnant teens who do not tell their parents about their abortions make that decision because they fear violence or being kicked out of their homes. Young people who are not threatened with abuse in their homes may be afraid to let their families down or uncomfortable involving their parents. Yet, under these laws in order to get around the parental involvement requirement a person has to file an petition to the court for a “judicial bypass” saying that the person is mature enough to make the decision to get an abortion – petitions judges can and do reject. Parental involvement laws delay access to abortion, endanger health and safety, and fundamentally disrespect young people’s ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld just such a law in the early 1990s, and 38 states have adopted them. Alabama has required people under 18 to get the signature of one parent or legal guardian since 1987.

This past year, however, Alabama passed a new law that is unimaginably worse. As the ACLU wrote in its brief to the court, the law “radically alters the judicial bypass process in a wholly unprecedented manner that goes well beyond any judicial bypass statute that has ever been upheld by a federal court.” Now, when a person under 18 petitions for a judicial bypass, the District Attorney is automatically notified, and the court may appoint an advocate for the fetus (Yes, you read that right!). Further, if the person’s parents know of the bypass proceeding already, the court must allow them to participate. The District Attorney, fetus, and parents may call any witnesses they want to testify against the person’s petition – including witnesses who may be the very reason the person has chosen to ask for a judicial bypass in the first place, such as an abusive partner or family member. With this law, Alabama is literally putting young people who need abortion care on trial.

It is best for young people who find themselves pregnant to be able to seek the advice of a trained medical professional rather than face the situation alone and afraid. Further, young people should have the same right to access the full range of reproductive and sexual health services that other people have. That right includes the ability to access reproductive and sexual health services confidentially and with dignity. It does not include being put on trial to get the services they need. The Alabama legislature seems to have forgotten this, but hopefully the courts have not.

This blog has been cross-posted on Advocates for Youth’s youth activist site amplifyyourvoice.org

Making Sexual Health a Part of the Health Discussion

Jamille Fields, Resident Blogger (’13, St Louis University School of Law)

The health care provider’s office is intended to be a confidential space for health discussions. It should be a place where all can discuss personal health issues as they arise, or practices to prevent health issues from arising. Conversations on sex and sexuality should be among these health discussions throughout youth. Education on sexuality has been shown to increase contraception use, reduce adolescent pregnancy rate, and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. But sadly, sexual health often is not discussed with youth in the provider’s office.

Earlier this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study, documenting–perhaps for the first time–sexual health discussions occurring in physicians’ offices.  The study observed adolescent patients’ visits and found nearly one-third of physicians did not discuss sexual health. For those that did have sexual health discussions, the conversations lasted only 36 seconds. Now, count out 36 seconds and see how much of a “discussion” you can have.

In 36 seconds, one certainly cannot have a discussion that includes the full range of topics recommended. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervisions of Infants, Children, and Adolescents recommends that sexuality education be provided from infancy to 21 years old. These recommendations include teaching the proper name of genitalia to young children. As children grow older, the discussions should include hygiene, privacy, and sexual development. By adolescence, these conversations should advance to counseling on contraceptives, HIV and STD prevention, and counseling against domestic violence. Notice, these conversations do not start in adolescence – the ground work should have been laid since infancy.

Failure to provide children and adolescents education on sexual health can also violate Medicaid and some Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) rules. Specifically, the required benefit for those younger than 21 years old enrolled in Medicaid and some CHIPs includes medical screenings. And health education is a required component of each medical screen. This education must encourage a healthy lifestyle, be forward-looking and age-appropriate. As the Bright Futures recommendations indicate, age-appropriate health education must include sexuality education.

Unfortunately, children and adolescents are not receiving screenings as the law requires. A 2010 report from the Department of Health and Human Services notes that 76% of youth did not receive the required screening. And even when the screening did occur, it often failed to include any health education (over 20% screened did not receive any health education). So clearly changes must be made.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) sexuality education is also now a clear requirement for children and adolescents enrolled in Marketplace (Exchange) plans. The ACA requires most individual and group health plans to cover certain preventive services. One such service is sexuality education as Bright Futures recommends.

The explicit coverage requirements are an important first step to ensure that sexuality education and counseling are included in health care delivery. However, efforts should not stop there. Changes in the health care system must be made to ensure this actually occurs. To encourage these conversations, I offered recommendations in an issue brief and on a webinar LSRJ and American University hosted.

 

My Professor, the Genius

Amy Krupinski, Resident Blogger (’14, William Mitchell College of Law)

Probably by now, you’ve heard about the MacArthur Foundation Fellows, aka the Genius grant recipients.  If not, you can review the Geniuses here. In my last year of law school, I approached Professor Sarah Deer, who I knew would be teaching my feminist jurisprudence class in the spring semester, about a paper topic that would blend my interests: access to contraceptives and reducing the unintended pregnancy rate with some new element reflective of current needs that hopefully I’d be able to identify with her help. I knew full well she’d steer me in the direction of Native women and their access to emergency contraceptives—I just didn’t anticipate the overall effect it would have on me. Needless to say, from the first book she lent me to begin my research on emergency contraceptive access through Indian Health Services, I became completely invested in the project.

I had spent a lot of time researching emergency contraception access on a state level when I lived in Colorado, so I already knew many of the basics—it’s expensive, it’s often stored behind the counter (if it’s stocked at all), and there is a stigma associated with its acquisition, especially in small towns. I read all the books she loaned to me, dozens of scholarly articles she had collected over the years, and eventually finished a paper that not only am I happy to have researched and written for my own person growth, but in order to take a topic she wanted explored and produce something worth sharing.

Now, I am proud to say that she has molded and shaped my legal education, which I hope to maintain throughout my entire legal career. I would have been proud anyway, but she is an unstoppable force and her work has received (in my opinion) a fraction of the commendation it deserves. Because of her encouragement, insight, and guidance, I know the overall direction I want my career to go, I became a better feminist, and most importantly, I learned from her when to be angry, how to turn that anger into something productive, and when to accept people for who they are.

Regressive Voting Policies Emerging Across the Nation

Anne Keyworth, Resident Blogger (’16, North Carolina Central University)

There are few things more priceless in a democratic society than the notion that our vote is just as valuable and important as the next person’s.  My generation has grown up with a firm understanding of the fact that we have a right to vote, we should vote, and, depending on who we are, we may be encouraged to vote.  We have lived through some historic elections and have indeed witnessed the value each vote can have in battleground states.  For decades, there has been a consistent shift in voting laws and policies, making it easier and more convenient for voters to register and cast their ballot.  Many states now offer early voting and same day registration in an effort to increase voter participation.

But voting rights in many states are currently under attack, and in states like mine, it has become nothing less than a battle to protect every person’s vote.  Voter ID laws and placing limits on early voting are ways many states are working to make it more challenging for certain groups to exercise their right to vote.  Here in North Carolina, a destructive collection of changes to our voting laws were passed in 2013 in merely two days.  Prior to these changes, we had 17 days of early voting, same day registration, allowed for provisional ballots, allowed 17 year olds to register, and did not require a photo identification at the polls.  These are measures that North Carolinians have become accustomed to and that have been heavily relied upon in recent elections.  All of this changed last year and, if left in place, these limitations will have a profound impact on the outcome of our elections and therefore the composition of our state legislature, and potentially the control of the US Senate this year.  What limitations like this do is further marginalize communities of color and low income families, who are already underrepresented and who historically have had more difficulty securing their vote.

These changes are not unique to North Carolina.  They represent a major regression in what had long been a national trend of making voting more accessible, more convenient, and more reachable by more people.  If these efforts are not stopped, they will deeply compromise the integrity of the American political system and the notion that each citizen’s vote is as important as the next.  Entire groups of people will feel as though there are organized efforts to suppress their participation in our democratic process. In a system where our vote is our voice, this will send destructive and polarizing messages to a significant portion of our electorate.

The implications of this year’s election are far reaching, and that’s why I hope that groups like Law Students for Reproductive Justice can mobilize our peers and ensure that people understand and appreciate the value their vote has.  If we show up to the polls, we will show that we are here to fight back and win this battle to protect each person’s vote.

“Do you have a [female] condom?”

Rhiannon DiClemente (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)

In case you missed it, September 16 marked the third anniversary of Global Female Condom Day.  Two decades since its introduction, the female condom hasn’t quite lived up to its potential.  Today, less than two percent of all condoms distributed worldwide are female condoms.  When our LSRJ chapter asks local organizations to donate condoms, we are usually sent boxes full of male condoms.  On the rare chance that we do get sent a few token female condoms, they are often met with skepticism and laughter from the student body.

It’s true—the female condom is less intuitive and less familiar than the male condom.  Some may call it aesthetically unappealing and technically difficult to master, but we shouldn’t give up on the female condom just yet…

The female condom is the only woman-initiated technology that prevents both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), making it an important tool in the fight against the spread of HIV.  Women now account for more than half of the world’s population living with HIV.  Worldwide, HIV and AIDS is the number one cause of death for women of reproductive age.  In Sub- Saharan Africa, 72% of new infections among young people age 15 to 24 are women.

Despite these facts, I can’t even give these female condoms away to fellow students.  Only 13% of people have heard of the female condom, and much fewer have ever used one.  However, organizations like PATH, a global health non-profit, are working to reinvent the female condom.  In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund released a new version of the female condom.  The Gates Foundation has also awarded grants for a “next-generation condom,” male or female, that would be easier and more pleasurable to use.  This is an important step.  Greater variety in female condoms can help increase the odds that women even choose to use, or at least try, any female condom at all.

But putting more female condoms on the shelves is not enough.  Advocates need to create education campaigns at the local, national, and global levels on the benefits of female condoms, including the fact that they give women the power to control safe-sex negotiation.

As an LSRJ chapter leader, I hope to start a larger conversation about the benefits, and shortcomings, of the female condom.  I want to encourage women, including myself, to at least try one before we form an opinion about it.  I want men to be involved in this discussion as well; there is no reason a man shouldn’t introduce a female condom to his partner.  Normalizing female condoms in a conversation about pleasurable and safe sex is an important first step.  With informed feedback, the unattractive, clumsy female condom can only get better.

Oral Contraceptives and Why We Shouldn’t Count Out Over-The-Counter

SJ Chapman, Resident Blogger (12, Northwestern University Law School)

Recently, some Republican candidates have entered the spotlight for doing a 180 on issues of contraceptive access. Take Congressman Cory Gardner (R-Col.) for example.  Gardner has a sinister record when it comes to matters of reproductive justice.  However, in a recent op-ed, Gardner argued for over-the-counter availability of oral contraceptives.

Practically overnight, leery reproductive justice advocates leapt to attack this position, denouncing it as an insidious political tactic to ultimately decrease access to oral contraceptives.  The logic goes like this: oral contraceptives are widely available without a copay under the Affordable Care Act, but would be costly (as much as $600 a year) OTC.  Women who had previously been able to access oral contraceptives thanks to the ACA would be squeezed out due to the price.

I have to say, although I am against most of Gardner’s positions on reproductive justice, this one might not be as bad as we’ve made it out to be.  In countries where oral contraceptives are sold, most already offer them OTC.  Even Planned Parenthood advocates for OTC oral contraception in the United States.  And I have to wonder – when drugs have gone OTC in the past, there have still been prescription-only versions.  Wouldn’t this be the case with birth control as well?

Even though it comes from someone with history of deplorable stances on reproductive justice, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to denigrate this one.

Introducing our 2014-2015 Resident Bloggers!

We are so excited to introduce our seven resident bloggers — each of whom will bring their perspective to a host of reproductive justice issues each month. If you are interested in blogging for LSRJ, please send us an email at communications@lsrj.org.

SJ ChapmanSJ Chapman is an associate at Bielski Law Office, Ltd. in Chicago, IL.  She is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Northwestern Law School.  At Northwestern, SJ served as Co-President of the Human Rights Project and Secretary of LSRJ.  SJ studies and writes in the field of critical familism and international adoption.  You can read more at her home blog adoptanewwayofthinking.com, or contact her directly at sjbchapman@gmail.com

 

 

Anne KeyworthAnne Keyworth is a 2L at North Carolina Central University and ultimately hopes to do legal and policy work in reproductive rights. She has been a longtime advocate of reproductive justice and currently facilitates a women’s group in Cary, NC that focuses on inspiring, educating, and engaging people to invest in programs that make a meaningful difference for women and girls. Being from North Carolina – a state that is currently a battleground for reproductive rights – Anne believes that groups like LSRJ will help foster and prepare the next generation of reproductive justice advocates in working towards a more safe, just, and healthy society. Her campus LSRJ chapter is just getting started at NCCU this year and Anne is excited about engaging people on her campus. Her main interests include reproductive justice in the criminal justice system and in prisons, abortion access, and the impacts of healthcare legislation and litigation on low income women.

Amy Krupinski is currently a law clerk for a Minnesota district court judge. She graduated from William Mitchell College of Law with a J.D. in May 2014. During law school, Amy was a law clerk for a solo practitioner working in the products liability field, and a law clerk for the Public Health Law Center in St. Paul, MN, where she did research on tobacco legislation. During law school, Amy was an active member and co-president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Prior to law school, Amy lived in Denver, CO, where she was the Public Education and Research Associate for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado for four years. During that time she worked on the Prevention First social marketing campaign aimed to increase contraceptive use among women in their 20’s. Prior to that, Amy attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned her B.A. in Political Science with certificates in Global Cultures and European Studies. While at UW-Madison, Amy was a summer intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin where she was the grassroots organizer.

Rhiannon DiClementeRhiannon DiClemente is a 2L at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. As a Temple Law and Public Policy Scholar, she has written and presented on the intersection of global LGBT rights promotion and sexual and reproductive health within U.S. foreign development work. During her 1L summer, she worked to promote global sexual and reproductive health and rights through U.S. foreign assistance reform as a legal intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). At Temple Law, Rhiannon is a staff editor of Temple Law Review, Chair of Temple Law Students for Reproductive Justice and Co-chair of Temple’s National Lawyers Guild chapter. Ms. DiClemente graduated from The George Washington University with a B.A. in International Development and Latin American Studies in 2011. Rhiannon likes the beach, red wine, and aged Gouda.

Emily GillinghamEmily Gillingham is a 3L at Michigan State University College of Law, and the president of her school’s chapter of LSRJ. She received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies from Eastern Michigan University. She has been lucky enough during law school to work as a research assistant for Professor Hannah Brenner, whose work focuses on issues of gender and the law; advocate for women while interning at the PPO project of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland; and volunteer at End Violent Encounters, Inc., a women’s shelter in her area. Her areas of interest are employment law, family law, reproductive rights, and sex workers’ rights. She can be reached at emgillingham@gmail.com.

Elise ForemanElise Foreman is originally from Denver, Colorado but moved to the South to pursue a career in international advocacy and human rights law. Elise is interested in how the law may be used to further social justice and create a more equitable society for everyone. If she is not studying or whipping herself into a passionate frenzy over the latest piece of news, she can be found drinking wine or playing rugby.

 

jamille fieldsJamille Fields is a fellow in the Reproductive Justice Fellowship Program, which aims to enhance the capacity of organizations working to influence law and policy as it relates to reproductive justice and to build a pipeline for future reproductive justice lawyers by placing stellar young attorneys with Washington, D.C. nonprofit organizations. While in law school, Jamille was a summer associate in NHeLP’s North Carolina office, where she worked on issues related to Medicaid and helped conduct a 50-state health policy survey. Jamille also worked as a summer associate in the office of the Missouri Attorney General, interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Families USA, and served as a judicial extern to Judge Paula Bryant on the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court. Before law school, Jamille’s work focused on public policy and communications. She worked as a communications coordinator on Robin Carnahan’s Missouri Secretary of State Campaign, and interned in the offices of the Missouri Secretary of State, the Congressional Black Caucus, and then-Senator Barack Obama. Jamille received her J.D. and Master of Public Health degrees from St. Louis University’s Schools of Law and of Public Health in 2013. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia. She is the recipient of a number of scholarships, and was one of the top three national finalists in the White House Policy Challenge. Now that Jamille is done with school, she is looking to return to old hobbies of reading non-educational books, learning to cook foods from around the world, and adding new hobbies.

 

Back to School

Sasha Young, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, Northwestern University School of Law)

On my first day of law school orientation I walked in nervous but confident. I was feeling myself a little, having signed my lease the week before, built a million IKEA pieces by myself, and expecting a big deposit of loan money to come in on the first day of the semester. I had everything planned out to the dollar, and I felt accomplished… until I saw all of the social events that were woven into orientation week. A slow panic started to set out over me, and I thought, “Isn’t everyone dead broke after moving? After all, loan disbursement happens next week for everyone, not just me.”

At the end of the first or second day, I went to my Critical Legal Reasoning orientation class, expecting that orientation meant doing introductions and ice-breakers. The professor broke us into groups to discuss the assignment she had sent out the day before. I figured no one had bought their books yet because, well, no one else had any money either. So imagine my surprise when nearly everyone in the class pulled out a sparkly, new $200 textbook.

After class, I told the professor that I’d have to wait until the semester started to get my books, and she told me that if I couldn’t get the money to buy the books, I should borrow it from the library where they also have computers I can use for free. This lady thinks I don’t have a computer? I didn’t come to class the next day. I remember telling my mom on the phone, “It’s like they think I’m the poor black kid who got bussed in.”

“You are,” she told me, “and you might as well get used to it.”

That was my first taste of what law school was going to be like. It is hard for everyone, but I was totally unprepared for the racially, socioeconomically, and culturally tense “learning” environment I was walking into this time last year. As the beginning of the next school year approaches, I am dreading more and more having to go back, but at least this time I’m better prepared:

I’m moving out of Whitelandia, a name I coined not only for the lack of pigment in the area, but for the beer pong and ugly sweater Christmas parties.

I blocked out “study time” in my calendar for salsa dancing. Because there’s no study supplement like Celia.

And I joined the executive boards of the Black Law Student Association and the Latino Law Student Association. It’s up to us to increase representation.

Next year, I will not justify my place that school to a single person. I will continue to fight the urge to respond with my LSAT score when someone comments that I’m “so lucky to be diverse in law school,” or that my call-back at that firm was “for a diversity position, huh?” during On-Campus Interviews next week.

Reproductive justice is about empowerment—empowering women to make the best decisions about our lives against racism and sexism and every other –ism that gets thrown at us every day. Thank god I spent the last 8 weeks listening to that over and over. I’m going to need all the armor I can get to brace the next school year.

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The look I will have walking into class on September 2nd

2L—here goes nothing.

WHPA Revives Debate over Abortion Restrictions at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

Rhiannon DiClemente, Guest Blogger (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)

Early Thursday morning on July 15, 2014, the Senate halls were bustling with interns, staff members, and local advocates eager to witness the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on S. 1696, also known as the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA). Attendees, who managed to overflow the room, patiently awaited testimony provided by members of Congress, doctors, and activists, both for and against the bill. In light of the decisions in Hobby Lobby and McCullen, it was reassuring to see politicians taking a long over-due stand to protect a woman’s constitutional right to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), addresses medically unnecessary state restrictions claimed to “protect” women’s health. It requires that state legislators prove state laws restricting abortion are in fact medically necessary, rather than politically or ideologically motivated. It also requires that states regulate abortion providers in exactly the same way they do other clinics and doctors who provide comparable services. The bill has its shortcomings, such as failing to address clinic violence, insurance prohibitions, and parental consent laws, as a March 2014 blog post highlights. However, it is an important step forward in combatting laws that have a disparate impact on low-income women, immigrant women, LGBT persons, and women of color.

Why is this bill important? As a LSRJ chapter leader at Temple University School of Law and a summer legal intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), I know that despite the fact that we have Roe , the web of state restrictions has decimated abortion access. In states like Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, the situation is dire. In 2012, the Mississippi legislature passed HB 1390, mandating that any physician performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at an area hospital (an unnecessary practice). During the Senate committee hearing, Dr. Willie Parker, a board-certified OB/GYN and the last physician providing abortion care in Mississippi, testified that despite 13 attempts to gain admitting privileges at regional hospitals, not one of his requests has been granted. This is just one example of how seemingly ‘safety-oriented’ legislation is really aimed to shut down clinics and restrict abortion access.

At the hearing, Rep. Janet Chu (D-CA27) testified that between 2011 and 2013, states passed over 200 restrictions blocking access to abortion services. This translates to more restrictions on women’s health care in three years than in the entire preceding decade. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) highlighted that these restrictions have forced women to travel greater distances and endure longer wait times to obtain an abortion. “The effect of these laws is that a woman’s constitutional right now depends on her zip code,” stated Rep. Chu, “We need laws that put women’s health and safety first – not politics.”

By speaking out against arbitrary restrictions that do not reflect medical best practice standards, supporters of S. 1696 have declared their respect for the constitutional right to access abortion services and trust in a woman’s ability to make the best choices for her own health and life.

Full testimony can be found here.

The Women’s Health Protection Act: A Missed Opportunity

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

Last year, Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill titled the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA).  The bill’s intended purpose is “to protect a women’s right to determine whether and when to bear a child or to end a pregnancy by limiting restrictions on the provision of abortion.” The bill begins with legislative findings that acknowledge how access to safe, legal abortion services in the US has recently been hindered by obstructions such as blockades and violence in front of facilities, restrictions on insurance coverage, restrictions on minors’ ability to obtain an abortion, and injurious laws singling out abortion providers.  These are serious obstacles to reproductive justice that must be addressed.

Thus, it is apt that the bill states, “federal legislation putting a stop to harmful restrictions throughout the United States is necessary to ensure that women in all States have access to safe abortion services, an essential constitutional right repeatedly affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.” In my opinion, the bill is ultimately too weak to effectively carry this goal out.  It explicitly declares that the WHPA “does not apply to clinic violence, restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion, or requirements for parental consent or notification before any minor may obtain an abortion.”

So what does the bill do?

Basically, it prohibits regulating the manner in which abortion providers carry out their services, such as regulating which specific tests be performed, whether doctors may delegate certain tasks, whether a doctor may prescribe certain drugs, or whether a doctor may provide an abortion via telemedicine. The bill also feebly encourages Congress to “address” the larger issues like clinic violence, insurance restrictions, or parental notice laws in separate legislation.

All of this makes for a good start, but it’s a shame that Sen. Blumenthal ultimately passes the buck on some of the largest issues that hinder reproductive freedom today rather than championing them in this bill.