With New York legalizing gay marriage, more and more children will be exposed to same-sex couples (much to the chagrin of conservatives). Here is great video of one little boy's reaction to seeing his first gay couple -- watch how he figures things out:


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Scott Walker: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is a Jobs Measure

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is planning to introduce policy that would require low-income residents pass drug tests before they qualify for a number of welfare programs.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is planning to introduce policy that would require low-income residents pass drug tests before they qualify for a number of welfare programs.

Walker is the latest in a string of Republican lawmakers supporting the criminalization of those who qualify for state and federal aid, proposing the drug testing as a sort of jobs program for low-income Wisconsinites.

Applicants for food stamps, unemployment benefits, or Medicaid would all be required to pass a drug test under Walker’s coming budget proposal, according to Reuters.

Walker is promoting his proposal as a way to assist low-income residents in finding jobs with employers who may require applicants to pass drug tests. The plan will reportedly allow those who fail drug tests to participate in drug treatment programs as well as job training programs.

Drug treatment programs will come at no cost to those who apply.

“We know employers in Wisconsin have jobs available, but they don’t have enough qualified employees to fill those positions,” Walker said in a statement. “With this budget, we are addressing some of the barriers keeping people from achieving true freedom and prosperity and the independence that comes with having a good job and doing it well.”

The details of Walker’s drug testing policy, including the cost or expected savings, have not been released publicly.

Laws requiring some welfare applicants to be drug tested are on the books in 12 states, and a bill proposing a similar law was recently introduced in Montana. In many cases, the implementation of such policy has failed to achieve the results promised by lawmakers.

A spokesperson for Walker told Reuters that the proposal would apply to low-income residents without children who apply for Medicaid and able-bodied residents without dependents who apply for Foodshare, Wisconsin’s food stamp program. It would also apply to applicants to the state’s job programs.

Unlike current or proposed laws in other states, Walker’s proposal would not require any screening of applicants to determine whether or not they have a prior history of drug abuse or are likely drug abusers.

Walker walked back statements indicating drug testing of Medicaid applicants would be implemented despite possible objections from federal agencies. A Walker spokesperson said that if the proposal is approved by the state legislature, the governor would ask the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to waive rules prohibiting the testing, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Walker, during a speech at WEL Companies in De Pere on Thursday, made statements that conflicted with previous reporting that indicated the program would drug test all welfare and public assistance applicants. The governor said that applicants for the programs would be asked questions and if their answers indicate a possible drug problem they would be required to take a drug test, according a report by WBAY.

“Because we’re offering the assistance (to get help) we’re not just requiring a drug test in these specific cases, but we’re actually providing people with assistance because our end goal is to get people ready to work,” Walker said. “We’re not making it harder to get government assistance, we’re making it easier to get a job.”

State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) told WBAY that there are more important budgetary priorities and that drug testing would waste state money and resources.

“We want everybody to be self reliant, but is this the best way to do it? In Florida it was declared unconstitutional,” Hansen said. “They had it in place, they spent a ton of money and what’d they capture? One or two percent of the people?”

A Florida law that required drug testing of all applicants for welfare programs, even if they were not suspected of drug use, was struck down in December by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. The court ruled that the drug test constituted an unreasonable search because the state had not “demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] applicants than in the general population.”

The Florida drug testing regime resulted in very few applicants testing positive for drug use. Records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida showed that 108 of 4,086 applicants—just 2.6 percent—tested positive for drugs.

These results have been replicated in other states that have implemented similar drug testing programs. In Utah, only 12 applicants out of 466 tested positive in the state’s program from 2012 to 2013. In Tennessee, one out of 802 welfare applicants tested positive since the state’s program was instituted July 1.

Image: Scott Walker/Youtube

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Losing My Lege: Dan Patrick Turns Texas Redder Than Ever on First Day in Office

Newly sworn in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick kicked things off by spending a couple of hours dismantling a decades-old bipartisan legislative tradition beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature. 

Veritable tens of Texans dotted the streets of downtown Austin for Tuesday’s Inauguration Day parade, with handfuls of people clamoring to get a look at the state’s newly sworn-in governor and lieutenant governor, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick.

Perhaps the low turnout was, as venerable soon-to-retire elder statesman of Texas political journalism Paul Burka suggested, due to the fact that nobody in Texas voted, “So why should anyone expect people to attend the parade?” Sure, possibly. The organizers of the inaugural festivities did try to lure in onlookers with $10 plates of barbecue, but in blue Austin, the lines were probably always going to be longer for Franklin and Mueller than for Abbott and Patrick.

With the swearing-in festivities out of the way—including an inaugural ball set from Tennessee’s own Lady Antebellum, owing to the fact that there’s not, apparently, a red dirt country band that’s red enough for Dan Patrick—our new Lt. Governor kicked off his first day in office by spending a couple of hours dismantling a decades-old bipartisan legislative tradition beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike, once hailed as the single greatest marker of the Texas senate’s reputation for being the most careful and deliberative state legislative body in the country.

I’m speaking, of course, of the “two-thirds rule,” the nearly 70-year-old procedural maneuver that prevents a dominant political party from steamrolling its own agenda through the lege. The rule has, classically, required a two-thirds senate majority—and thereby some semblance of a bipartisan consensus—to bring any bill to the floor, and was originally conceived when (believe it!) Texas was a state dominated by Democrats, as a nod to the Republican minority.

Ditching a tradition this aged and venerated is a funny kind of conservatism, but never say I pretended to know what goes on in Dan Patrick’s head. Anyway, the new rule will require merely a three-fifths majority to bring new legislation to the floor, so a senator will now need 19, rather than 21, votes of support. That means that Texas’ 11 Democrat senators, who used to be able to block bills with a party-line vote alone, will need to coax a couple of their GOP colleagues over to their side. Perhaps noted Democratic flip-flopper Sen. Eddie Lucio will now enjoy some bipartisan company when casting his predictably unpredictable votes.

Arguing against the alteration, state Sen. Jose Rodriguez said, “This rule change means we don’t have to strive for consensus, for compromise.” He compared it to a kind of back-door way into racist gerrymandering, a la Texas’ Republican redistricting scandal and attendant voter ID law. Other lawmakers noted that the two-thirds rule has prompted senators from urban and rural districts—not just red and blue ones, because in Texas urban hardly always means “blue,” and “rural” isn’t a red guarantee—to seek compromise.

As state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) pointed out, Texas Republicans have pretty much always been able to do or pass anything they’ve wanted—they seemed to find ways around the two-thirds rule when it came to gerrymandering and abortion, for example—so the gutting of the rule seemed like a particularly low, especially unnecessary blow to a party that, after November’s hefty Davis-Van de Putte loss, wasn’t exactly posing a significant threat to Republican rule.

And the rule change could, potentially, come back to bite the more moderate members of the Texas GOP, though expecting a group of people who don’t believe in climate change to plan ahead for this kind of thing might be asking a bit much. See, the two-thirds rule made it more difficult to bring highly partisan legislation to the floor, allowing some Republicans to demure from taking public stances on potentially controversial bills. Now, with a lower bar to clear, Dan Patrick can force middling members of his party to take his way or—given the extreme-right predilections of the Texas primary voter—the highway. Republicans who are forced to take a moderate stand on issues like same-sex marriage or charter schools can more easily be challenged by Tea Party-style politicians, who can cite their less conservative voting records as reasons for their ouster.

But after a couple of hours of debate, the inevitable inevitably passed (with, of course, the help of the aforementioned Sen. Lucio, the sole “D” to flop over the “R” line to vote for the rule change): The Texas Senate is now running on the three-fifths rule, and Dan Patrick took the opportunity to graciously and quietly celebrate the successful end of his years-long crusade against bipartisanship  gloat so, so hard, noting that the rule change will help him “deliver a conservative agenda.”

As an extra-red raspberry to Texas Democrats, Patrick also reduced the number of senate committees from 18 to 14, scratching three committees previously headed by his D-leaning colleagues and one formerly headed by deposed East Texan state Sen. Bob Deuell, the anti-choice Republican doctor who was out-anti-choiced by Bob Hall last May.

Speaking of East Texas and anti-choice legislators: Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), who counts among his interests keeping gay kids out of the Boy Scouts and defunding Obamacare, filed a bill that would create a mound of paperwork not only for Texas’ remaining few abortion providers, but for the bureaucrats at the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), a department so inefficiently organized and overburdened that it is already in the process of receiving a complete top-to-toe overhaul. Any Texas doctor who provides abortion care must currently file annual reports on the procedures they perform as part of a non-statutory requirement enacted at the behest of Rep. Bill Zedler back in 2012; Schaefer’s bill would mandate monthly submissions instead of annual ones, create a criminal penalty for failing to file them, and require DSHS to create an attendant “secure electronic reporting system” for them.

Come to think of it, I think I know a Texas tech security firm that might be looking for some new contracts later this year, so maybe it’ll all work out.

Image: Dan Patrick/Youtube

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Natural Family Planning Methods Can Work, But They Take a Big Commitment

The Pope drew attention to natural family planning methods when he suggested there are ways for Catholic women to limit the number of children they have without violating the Church's teachings on contraception. But just how do these methods work? And how good are they?

After the Pope’s recent trip to the Philippines, as RH Reality Check reported, he had some advice for Catholic women about family planning: He suggested that there are “acceptable solutions” for couples, so they don’t have to “be like rabbits” and have lots of children. Given the Catholic Church’s prohibition on modern contraceptive methods, however, those “many acceptable solutions” likely boil down to natural family planning.

Once called the rhythm or calendar method, natural family planning at its simplest refers to tracking a woman’s cycle in order to determine her most fertile days and avoiding sexual activity or using a backup method during that time. Today, there are many different methods for doing so, all covered under the umbrella term of fertility awareness-based (FAB) techniques. Some are as simple as counting days and estimating the middle of the cycle—when most women are likely to get pregnant—while others require taking one’s body temperature every day and checking cervical secretions. Though there are a number of low- and high-tech tools (from beads to apps) that women can use, doing this right takes patience and commitment. And, of course, it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Though FAB methods should be a choice for women—especially those who have decided for whatever reason that they are not comfortable with their other options—it seems clear that the Pope doesn’t understand how difficult and limiting these methods can be.

Counting Days and Calculating Risk

There are only six days during any menstrual cycle that a woman can become pregnant. Most women release one ovum each month, which is only viable for fertilization for about 12 to 24 hours after it is released. Sperm, meanwhile, can live in the reproductive tract for three to five days. The six-day window, therefore, is comprised of the five days before and the day of ovulation.

The tricky part, of course, is determining when ovulation is about to happen—because those are the most unsafe days. According to Contraceptive Technology, 78 percent of menstrual cycles are between 26 and 32 days long; for most women, ovulation occurs right around the middle. If “day one” is the day a woman starts menstruating, most can assume that ovulation occurs somewhere between day eight and day 19.

The easiest FAB method, called the Standard Days Method, is based on this model of ovulation. It requires only that a woman keep track of the first day of her most recent period. Then she counts forward and either abstains from intercourse or uses a back-up method from day eight to day 19.

One popular tool for helping women use this method is called Cycle Beads, essentially a necklace made up of beads of different colors. Women mark the first day of their period by sliding a ring onto the first red bead. They then move the ring forward one bead every day. Days eight to 19 are symbolized with white beads, when women should avoid unprotected sex. When they reach the brown beads at day 20, sex is safer again.

While the Standard Days Method is relatively simple—with or without the beads—it requires 11 days without unprotected sex. Moreover, it only works for women with regular cycles that fall within the 28- and 32-day range.

Another, more specific, method of counting days is called the Calendar Rhythm Method. Before starting this method, a woman must track the length of her cycles for six months and then do a few math problems in order to account for fluctuations in ovulation time. First, she subtracts 18 from the number of days in her shortest cycle, giving her the first fertile day of her current cycle, then she subtracts 11 from the number of days in her longest cycle, which gives her the last fertile day. So, as an example, if her shortest cycle lasted 28 days and her longest cycle lasted 35, she would consider day ten to day 21 to be unsafe. This math has to be redone each month to get the most accurate results for the current cycle.

Monitoring the Body for Signs of Ovulation

For truly accurate results, however, a woman—especially one who has irregular cycles—should keep track of her body’s signs of ovulation too. Before ovulation, women secrete clear, stretchy, and slippery cervical mucus. From an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies are designed to promote pregnancy; these mucus properties can propel sperm toward an egg.

Proponents of one FAB method, called the TwoDay Method, tells women to check for secretions a few times every day by examining their underwear, looking at toilet paper they’ve used, and feeling their vulva. If they notice any secretions they should abstain for two days. Of course, a woman may have to abstain for more than one two-day period using this method because she may have secretions during her cycle that are not actually a signal of imminent ovulation.

More complicated and more accurate versions of this method ask women to look for not just the presence of mucus but its characteristics as well. The proponents of the Billings Ovulation Method, for example, call it “as safe as the pill but natural.” (According to Contraceptive Technology, the perfect-use failure rates of this method and the pill are 3 and 0.3 percent, respectively.) They ask women to check their cervical mucus in order to find their peak fertility day each month—defined as the last day of slippery cervical mucus. Once a woman has identified her peak, she should abstain from sex for the next four days.

Of course, the peak can only be identified after it passes and the cervical mucus is no longer slippery, so there are many days during which this method’s experts advise women to abstain. First, they recommend not having intercourse during heavy menstrual bleeding because the blood can mask the cervical mucus. They then tell women to observe their mucus every day, and give them a chart to record its properties. Whenever women notice changes, the Billings proponents say, they must wait to have sex. If they have slippery mucus again the next day, they should keep abstaining until the day it stops, and then wait four more days. Moreover, Billings Method endorsers say women should only have sex every other day, even during their safe times, so that they do not confuse semen that has remained in the vagina with cervical fluid and mess up their monitoring.

The other major change around ovulation is in something called basal body temperature (BBT) or the temperature of the body at rest. It is lower early in the cycle, rises right around ovulation, and stays high for the rest of the cycle. A woman can understand her typical cycle and know when ovulation has passed by taking her BBT every morning before she gets out of bed using a very accurate thermometer. The temperature can be taken orally, vaginally, or rectally but should be done the same way and at the same time every morning. She then plots it on a graph and looks for an increase of 0.4 degrees or more. Once a woman notices that her temperature has gone up and stayed up by this amount for more than three days, she can consider it safe to have sex again.

Again, this method does not predict ovulation so much as it tells a woman after the fact that she has ovulated. For this reason, experts in these methods often tell women to look at cervical mucus and BBT together—the mucus tells them when their fertility window has started, and the BBT tells them when it has ended.

The Latest Technology

There are many programs that have been designed to help women keep track of and understand the changes in their cervical mucus and BBT. Most of them were originally developed to help women get pregnant—for those who want to conceive, hitting that six-day window can seem like a daunting task. Now, however, there are fertility apps designed specifically for contraceptive purposes as well.

The newest app picking up steam in the media is Natural Cycles, which costs about $70 per year, allows a woman to record the start and end of her menstrual bleeding as well as any spotting. She then takes and records her BBT each morning. She can also use ovulation test strips, which check urine for spiking luteinizing hormone around ovulation. They are optional—Natural Cycles doesn’t appear to include them in the price—but if women enter the data into the app, they can more accurately determine safe or unsafe days. Finally the woman, can (but does not have to) record dates of intercourse, perhaps for her own records.

Raoul Scherwitzl, CEO and co-founder of Natural Cycles, recently told the Huffington Post that the app does all the hard work for women:

The problem that usually comes with [fertility charting] is that when women look at the charts, the data is usually fluctuating with data points going up and down. It can be very hard to look by eye and make objective decisions on whether she’s fertile that day or not. …  We developed an algorithm that analyzes the data so a woman doesn’t need to learn about “What does it mean if [temperatures] go up and down?” She just needs to measure, then we tell her when she is safe or at risk.

The app labels days as red for unsafe or green for safe. Scherwitzl believes it can be 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy but, according to the Huffington Post, the study supporting this is still under review. Again, though, it is important to remember that BBT only provides part of the picture. It—and the apps that track it—can only be used to suggest when ovulation has already occurred. As mentioned earlier, sperm can live up to five days and, in fact, pregnancy is most likely if the sperm are already in the reproductive tract “waiting” for the egg to be released. So after-the-fact confirmation might not be good enough in determining which days are the safest.

Efficacy and Alternatives

The efficacy rates of FAB methods vary widely; like all other methods, they depend on how well couples use them. According to Contraceptive Technology, those who used FAB methods correctly and consistently saw failure rates between 0.4 and 5 percent. Under typical use, however, the failure rates are between 12 and 24 percent depending on the specific FAB method.

These perfect and typical use failure rates are only slightly higher to those found with other contraceptives. For example, condoms have a “perfect use” failure rate of 2 percent. This means that when used the right way every time, they are 98 percent effective. In typical conditions, though, they fail up to 18 percent of the time, because couples use them incorrectly or forget to use them at all during intercourse. Meanwhile, the pill has a 0.3 percent failure rate if used perfectly, but a 9 percent failure rate under typical conditions.

The fact that the numbers don’t differ immensely means FAB methods can work. But the key to contraceptive efficacy is always consistent and correct use. With FAB, this would mean keeping track of cycles, cervical mucus, and/or BBT, and then never having unprotected sex during potentially unsafe days. While it certainly can be done, it takes a true commitment, a good understanding of reproductive health and one’s own body, and some daily effort.

The Pope is not wrong that Catholic women can use natural family planning methods to space their children and prevent being like “rabbits.” Still, it is unfortunate that this is the only option the Catholic Church allows, as many modern methods of contraception are more reliable and require far less effort. The IUD, for example, has a failure rate of under 1 percent; once it’s inserted, a woman does not have to do anything for up to ten years to reap its contraceptive benefits. Moreover, women in the parts of the world that inspired the Pope’s comment (he was talking about a Filipino woman he met) often do not have access to the kinds of apps and algorithms that do all the work. Like everyone else, Catholic women around the globe should have access to all methods of contraception and should use FAB methods only if that’s what they really want.


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Legal Wrap: 42 Years After ‘Roe,’ Too Many Still Lack Access

This week marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Here's a roundup of some of the best pieces online on the state of abortions access in this country.

Legal Wrap is a weekly round-up of key legal reproductive rights and justice news.

It’s been 42 years since Roe v. Wade, and the fight over the right to a legal abortion wages on, despite the right to an abortion being settled law. At RH Reality Check, we marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic decision with the publication of a number of excellent pieces digging into the promise—and the disappointment—of Roe.

Over at The Nation, Dani McClain reminds us that words matter and that how we talk about abortion rights helps drive who does, and does not, have access to abortion care.

One way to mark the Roe anniversary is to look ahead to the threats gathering on the horizon. Katie Klabusich has this preview of the year ahead in the fight for reproductive rights.

Here are just a few of the tireless crusaders, defenders, and agitators that protect our reproductive freedoms.

Here are some more.

Also: here.

The reality is, now more than ever we need people sharing their abortion stories whenever and however they can because abortion restrictions and abortion stigma go hand-in-hand.

The Roe anniversary is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the differences between reproductive rights and reproductive justice.

It’s not just your imagination: More than four decades after Roe, the state of affairs for abortion rights is pretty dismal.

Twenty-week abortion bans will be all the rage with anti-choice lawmakers this year. Mother Jones has two great pieces on them. First is this explainer that cuts through much of the spin and outright lies from the right. Then, be sure and read this piece on the secret history of the 20-week bans that anti-abortion advocates insist are based on “new” science.

Thanks to the Hyde Amendment, the promise of Roe has always just been that a promise for low-income Americans. It’s time to end Hyde and stop punishing poor people who need abortions.

Here’s an excellent idea: Rebrand the “March for Life,” anti-choicers’ go-to Roe v. Wade anniversary activity. It’s hard to pick, but I think this might be one of my favorite new names: “March for Not Talking About How Virtually Every Anti-Choice Law Targets Minorities and the Poor, While Wealthy White Women Will Never Have a Problem Obtaining the Care They Need.” Read the other #LOLSob suggestions here.

Image: Law and justice via Shutterstock

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20-Week Ban, ‘Personhood’ Measure Introduced in Virginia

Lawmakers in Virginia this week introduced two anti-choice measures, adding to a long list of abortion-related bills to be considered this legislative session.

Lawmakers in Virginia this week introduced two anti-choice measures, adding to a long list of abortion-related bills to be considered this legislative session.

The state house on Friday introduced a “personhood” resolution, stating that “the life of the human person commences at conception, also known as fertilization.” While the resolution in Virginia doesn’t ban abortion outright, the intent of such measures—as seen in other states—is to make abortion illegal at any stage of pregnancy by giving fertilized eggs legal recognition.

Personhood measures, which have been roundly rejected by voters nationwide, could also effectively ban emergency contraception, in vitro fertilization, and stem-cell research.

Both Colorado and North Dakota shot down personhood measures during the midterm elections in November—the third time voters in Colorado rejected the law.

Legislators in the Virginia house on Thursday evening also introduced HB 2321, a “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, except for when the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

The bill, which would make performing an abortion after 20 weeks a felony offense in Virginia, is similar to the 20-week ban introduced—and then pulled—by Congress this month. Lawmakers in South Carolina and West Virginia have also introduced 20-week bans this year.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a pro-choice Democrat, won Virginia’s gubernatorial election in November, defeating radical anti-choice Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli—a vocal personhood proponent.

Lawmakers last week introduced a handful of bills that would affect access to reproductive health care. Many of those bills were pro-choice or otherwise affirming access to care, including several bills that would repeal or rewrite anti-choice legislation already on the books in the state.

Image: Shutterstock

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I Am Tired of Politicians Using My Grief for Their Gain

I have had two abortions, both when I was married. My decision to terminate for medical reasons was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. It is my personal story, my anguish, my grief. I am tired of politicians using it to try to outlaw others' abortions.

I have had two abortions, both when I was married. My decision to terminate for medical reasons was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. It is my personal story, my anguish, my grief.

I am tired of politicians using my private tragedy as a motivation to get out the vote and get re-elected. I am tired of my grief being used to “rally the troops,” with proposed bans on choices like mine being used as a reward. I am tired of people using my babies’ deaths callously, impersonally, for their gain. My babies were loved and wanted. They had names. They are not fodder for campaigns. They are not fodder for asking for donations.

I am tired of politicians using bad data or misrepresenting facts to promote an idea, when the real goal is to eliminate my ability to make the best decision for me and my family.

I am tired of politicians thinking they know my medical history and status so well, they can decide what is in my best interest without ever having seen me. I am tired of politicians practicing medicine without a license. I am tired of politicians mandating tests for no reason, and not allowing the government to pay for them. I am tired of politicians thinking our doctors will mislead or dupe us, and dictating what they have to say and waiting periods they must comply with.

I am tired of politicians pretending to care so much for “unborn babies,” and then voting to cut Medicaid for children, and medical programs for children and adults with special needs.

I am tired of politicians acting so self-assured that they pretend that outlawing abortions will keep them from happening, whereas in reality it will make abortions dangerous, unsterile, unsafe, and potentially life-threatening.

I am tired of politicians pretending that banning abortions is the best way to prevent something they don’t like, instead of looking at scientific data that supports comprehensive education and widely available inexpensive birth control.

I am tired of politicians talking as if all women who have abortions are young, single, and not fitting their ideal of a virtuous woman. Many of us are married. Many are too poor to afford birth control. And even the “young and carefree” women are intelligent enough to make their own life decisions.

I am tired of politicians trying to use the force of government to make every person live by the precepts of their religion. I am tired of them disregarding people within one religion who have diverse interpretations of the Bible, people with diverse religions, or people with no religion at all.

I call B.S. on them. They are being false and duplicitous. They are pretending to care about babies, when they don’t. They are pretending to care about babies with disabilities, when they cut funding for programs to help them. They are pretending to want to prevent abortions, when they prohibit the very thing that will help reduce the need for them. They are pretending to care about women’s health and safety, while at the same time promoting ideas and laws that will lead to deaths, infections, sterility, and untold agony. They are pretending to care about women, when they are really trying to control us, shame us, and punish us for not following the politicians’ religious precepts.

We women who have had abortions, are intelligent capable human beings. Whether we are young or not, poor or not, married or not, we are all able to make independent, thoughtful decisions. Trust women.

Image: Shutterstock

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McDonald’s Sued For ‘Rampant’ Racial, Sexual Discrimination Against Employees

The federal civil rights lawsuit could be an important step in holding corporate owners liable for actions of their franchise owners.

A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges that ten former McDonald’s employees experienced “rampant racial and sexual harassment, committed by the restaurants’ highest-ranking supervisors” at three McDonald’s restaurants in Virginia.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia Thursday by former Black and Latino workers, alleges that both McDonald’s and one of its franchisees, Soweva Corporation, systemically violated federal civil rights laws and wrongfully terminated employees for being Black.

Soweva Corporation owns all three of the McDonald’s franchise locations at issue in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, supervisors at the McDonald’s restaurants:

… often complained that “there are too many black people in the store”; called African-American workers “bitch,” “ghetto,” and “ratchet”; called Hispanic workers ‘dirty Mexican'; disciplined African-American employees for rule infractions that were forgiven when committed by white employees; inappropriately touched female employees on their legs and buttocks; sent female employees sexual pictures; and solicited sexual relations from female employees.

The lawsuit alleges that Soweva implemented a plan to reduce the number of Black employees and replace them with white employees. Nine of the plaintiffs allege they were fired soon after and were told by supervisors they were terminated because they didn’t “fit the profile.”

The plaintiffs allege they complained to McDonald’s corporate office, but that their complaints were ignored.

The civil rights lawsuit represents the latest battle between McDonald’s and its employees over workers’ rights, working conditions and efforts to hold corporate brands accountable for the actions of their franchise owners.

In March, employees filed seven class action lawsuits accusing McDonald’s of widespread wage theft, linking the company’s responsibility to the franchise owners by showing how the company monitored labor costs at all its stores through a computer system. The National Labor Relations Board in July sided with employees and ruled the company could be held a “joint” employer for labor or wage violations at its franchise locations.

Building off July’s win, the the civil rights suit alleges that McDonald’s corporate and its local franchisees “operate … through uniform standards controlled by McDonald’s Corporate,” while violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination based on race, sex, and other characteristics.

McDonald’s has not yet responded to the complaint beyond issuing the following statement

We have not seen the lawsuit, and cannot comment on its allegations, but will review the matter carefully. McDonald’s has a long-standing history of embracing the diversity of employees, independent franchisees, customers and suppliers, and discrimination is completely inconsistent with our values. McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants.

Image: Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock.com

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Indiana Prosecutors Start Jury Selection in Feticide Trial on ‘Roe’ Anniversary

The story of Purvi Patel's prosecution, and the others lining up behind her, paint a bleak picture of life under the state's ultra-conservative Republican reign and give a frightening look of what's to come as increasingly draconian abortion restrictions force pregnant people to turn to other, sometimes illegal and often dangerous, means.

Far away from the throngs of anti-choice protesters descending on the nation’s capital for their Roe v. Wade anniversary counter-protest, attorneys in Indiana began the process of selecting jurors for the felony feticide trial of Purvi Patel.

Patel faces two different, and contradictory, charges after suffering a premature delivery and seeking medical care. The story of her prosecution, and the others lining up behind her, paint a bleak picture of life under the state’s ultra-conservative Republican reign and give a frightening look of what’s to come as increasingly draconian abortion restrictions force pregnant people to turn to other, sometimes illegal and often dangerous, means.

According to prosecutors, Patel went to an emergency room in St. Joseph, Indiana, last summer for vaginal bleeding. They claim Patel at first denied to hospital workers that she had recently given birth. Eventually, prosecutors allege, she told staff she believed she was roughly two months pregnant and miscarried the fetus at home.

Prosecutors claim Patel told hospital staff that when she saw the fetus wasn’t breathing or moving, she put it in a plastic bag and placed the bag in a dumpster.

The doctors believed Patel had been much further along in her pregnancy than Patel had disclosed, claiming in one of the charging documents that she was closer to 28-to-30 weeks post-fertilization.

Police eventually located the fetus believed to be the one Patel had discarded, and based on an initial examination by police and medical personnel, concluded the fetus was roughly 30 weeks and theoretically capable of surviving outside the womb. The physician who conducted the autopsy on the fetus determined it was premature and approximately 28 weeks post-conception.

Prosecutors initially charged Patel with felony neglect of a dependent, a class A felony that carries with it a 50-year prison sentence.

But in order to convict Patel with felony neglect, prosecutors must be able to prove the fetus she delivered was born alive, something Patel’s attorney claims prosecutors can’t do. That’s why they have also charged Patel with feticide.

Indiana law defines feticide as “knowingly or intentionally” terminating a pregnancy “with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus.” In text messages Patel sent about a month before her miscarriage, Patel admits to being more than two months pregnant and to planning to terminate her pregnancy with medication she ordered online from Hong Kong, according to court documents.

However, according to court filings, only one of the two drugs Patel took would have induced labor, while the other drug only works if the pregnancy is fewer than nine weeks. That means there is an open question as to whether any medication Patel allegedly took had any effect at all.

Feticide carries an eight- to 20-year prison sentence.

The inspiration for Indiana’s feticide law came in 2009 after a bank teller who was pregnant with twins was shot during a bank robbery and lost the pregnancy. Until recently, prosecutors had refrained from using the state’s law against a pregnant person.

Then, in 2011, Indiana prosecutors charged Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant, with murder and attempted feticide after a failed suicide attempt ended her pregnancy. The state kept Shuai in jail for more than a year on those charges before eventually reaching a plea agreement with Shuai’s attorneys.

Shuai in 2013 pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness, and prosecutors dropped the feticide charges against her as they were readying them against Patel.

“Indiana’s atmosphere seems to be that once they find out a person is pregnant, then it is all about the fetus and nothing about the mother,” Rev. Marie Siroky, a UCC minister and Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice board member told RH Reality Check in an interview. “These stories get framed in such a way that women are always the criminals and I do think it’s racial.”

“These are women of color, these are not white women, and I do think there’s this assumption that they’ve done something.”

The facts of the Patel case as laid out by prosecutors fits Siroky’s description of a “fetus first” mentality, in which the state presumes pregnant people are guilty until proven innocent. When Patel first arrived at the hospital and denied giving birth, staff called Dr. Kelly McGuire for a second opinion. After McGuire determined Patel had recently delivered and was likely further along in her pregnancy than she had told hospital staff, he became so concerned for the welfare of Patel’s fetus that he fled the hospital to go look for the fetus.

Once his client admitted to the miscarriage and the fetus was discovered, uniformed officers were stationed outside Patel’s hospital room, according to documents filed by Patel’s attorney. At one point, Patel underwent a surgical procedure only to have officers stationed bedside waiting to interrogate her.

Patel’s attorney argued those actions violated Patel’s constitutional rights and sought to exclude the statements Patel made while in the hospital. Patel’s attorney also tried to get the feticide charge dropped, arguing the statute was never intended to be turned against pregnant people.

Prosecutors scoffed at the argument, citing the Shuai prosecution for proof to the contrary. Attorneys from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women had sought permission from the court to submit an amicus brief, including leading expert medical, legal, and bioethics opinions on the ways in which prosecuting pregnant people undermines public health and violates numerous constitutional rights.

Judge Elizabeth C. Hurley, a University of Notre Dame law graduate and 2013 judicial appointee of abortion rights foe Gov. Mike Pence (R), denied all of those requests, which means the trial moves forward.

Attorneys and advocates monitoring both the Shuai and Patel cases note that at the same time Indiana conservatives prosecute women of color based on dubious investigations and scientific proof, the state has higher-than-average infant mortality rates and in 2013 lead the nation in sexual assaults against teenagers. In 2013, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller floated the idea of drug testing all pregnant women in the state.

“There’s a lot of blaming and shaming of women,” Carolyn Meagher, co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said in an interview with RH Reality Check. “Republican leadership in the state blames the high infant mortality rates on the behaviors of pregnant women, like smoking or narcotic use, but they will not take a look at social determinants of health like poverty and racism. We don’t even have preschool here yet.”

Rev. Marie Siroky of the reproductive justice coalition noted that the abortion politics surrounding the case are also inescapable. South Bend, where the prosecution is taking place, has a significant Right to Life presence, which Siroky sees as a component in the prosecution.

The University of Notre Dame, one of the many Catholic institutions challenging the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, is also located right outside the city.

“We have some legislators in the state who cannot let this [abortion] go,” Siroky said. “Under the guise of being ‘pro-life’ and to make the conservatives happy, they are going to go after people like Patel.”

Siroky continued, “The prosecutors are sending the message that when a woman has a pregnancy that ends in anything other than an optimal pregnancy, they are going to go right away for feticide charges with the assumption that she did something.”

For their part, local anti-choice groups have remained largely silent on Patel’s prosecution except to note the existence of Indiana’s “safe haven” law that allows newborns to be surrendered without fear of prosecution.

“Have you considered the mother is a victim?” Siroky said.

Patel’s trial is scheduled to begin on January 26.

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