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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North Carolina Legislators Consider ‘Fetal Harm’ Bill Criminalizing Pregnancy

North Carolina legislators are moving forward with a proposal to allow charges be brought against pregnant people who engage in behavior deemed risky for the fetus.

North Carolina legislators are moving forward with a proposal to criminalize pregnancy and allow charges to be brought against pregnant people who engage in behavior deemed risky for the fetus.

The bill, SB 297, states that a woman may be prosecuted for assault for illegally using narcotics while pregnant, or if the baby “is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drugs.”

So-called fetal harm or homicide laws allow criminal charges to be brought against people who do things that are deemed harmful to an unborn fetus. Such laws recognize the fetus as a legally protected person and create penalties for harming that fetus, either through the assault of the pregnant person or through any other action deemed risky for the fetus.

Many states have used fetal harm laws to bring charges against the pregnant person herself, for actions she’s undertaken, like using drugs.

Thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

These laws can and do lead to the imprisonment of pregnant people. In July 2014, for example, a pregnant Wisconsin woman was put in jail after she disclosed to hospital workers that she had used drugs. The woman was held in jail for 17 days without prenatal care.

A Tennessee judge added an additional six years to a woman’s sentence because she had committed the crime, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, while she was pregnant. The woman was sentenced to serve 151 months in prison.

Despite conservative lawmakers’ moves to criminalize pregnancy, medical professionals and advocates contend that “fetal harm” laws actually do harm themselves.

Following the Tennessee woman’s sentencing, a coalition of reproductive justice and drug policy reform advocates sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminalization.

“Rather than suggest that punishment is an appropriate response to pregnant women and drug use, the DOJ should have policy consistent with positions taken by leading medical experts and organizations,” the letter states. “These groups unanimously recognize that threats of arrest and punishment do not protect children, but do increase risks of harm to maternal, fetal and child health by deterring women from seeking prenatal care and speaking openly about their health problems.”

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The ‘Reach’ of Anti-Choice Hyde Amendment May Get Wider

Reproductive health and justice advocates are objecting that the popular bill still includes Hyde Amendment language to prohibit community health centers from performing abortions except in very limited circumstances.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday easily passed a bipartisan bill that would permanently fix the way Medicare reimburses doctors and renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years. The measure passed 392-37, with 33 Republicans and four Democrats voting against it.

The measure, if it becomes law, will put an end to the much-hated yearly “doc fix” ritual in which Congress is forced to pass a funding patch to keep doctors’ Medicare payments from suddenly plummeting. It fixes the broken sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula for reimbursements that has been in place for 18 years.

Reproductive health and justice advocates are objecting that the bill still includes anti-choice Hyde Amendment language to prohibit community health centers from performing abortions, except in very limited circumstances.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who brokered the unusual bipartisan deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), reached a compromise with Boehner on the abortion language. “Clarifying language” was added to the bill to say that the provision only maintains the status quo and is temporary, and that seemed to satisfy members of the House Pro-Choice Caucus.

“The language included in the bipartisan compromise does not further restrict women’s access to abortion, and the provisions expire along with funding—just as the current Hyde Amendment does,” caucus co-chairs Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) said in a joint statement.

But advocates say there’s more to it than that.

“I don’t find the ‘it only lasts two years’ argument very convincing, given that the original Hyde Amendment was only supposed to last one year and here we are, 38 years later, and it’s still there,” Sharon Levin, director for federal reproductive health policies at the National Women’s Law Center, told RH Reality Check. 

It’s true that under the status quo, community health centers can’t get federal funding for abortion care because of a 2010 Obama executive order. Advocates say inserting the language into this authorization bill, when Hyde language usually only comes into appropriations bills, works to set a dangerous precedent.

“The effort to add abortion restrictions to the SGR bill and to the Senate trafficking bill are part of a concerted effort by abortion opponents to expand the reach of Hyde by placing it wherever they can,” Levin said.

Since anti-choice legislators haven’t been able to make Hyde permanent in one fell swoop by passing HR 7, Levin said, “their current strategy is to achieve the same goal by placing Hyde bit by bit throughout the Code and other federal laws to achieve the same goal.”

A coalition of 34 reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations sent a letter on Wednesday urging Boehner and Pelosi to remove the Hyde language from the bill.

“As Senate Minority Leader Reid has articulated, this provision represents another incremental step towards anti-choice lawmakers’ larger goal of expanding the reach and scope of the Hyde amendment and only serves to bolster their efforts to insert this restriction into other places in law,” the letter said.

It was signed by groups such as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Advocates for Youth, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Reid has expressed concerns about the Hyde language, setting him at odds with his fellow pro-choice colleague Pelosi and making the bill’s future in the Senate uncertain. Hyde language is an especially fraught subject right now given the ongoing turmoil over the Senate’s human trafficking bill.

With such overwhelming support in the House, with Senate opposition possibly softening, and with Obama saying he’d be “ready to sign” the bill, pro-choice Democrats may ignore the objections of reproductive rights advocates in the end.

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College Pregnancy Prevention Programs Need to Go Beyond Abstinence

A new Arkansas bill mentions abstinence explicitly while avoiding any direct mention of contraception—suggesting that state lawmakers are kidding themselves about the behavior of college students.

Arkansas state Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis) undoubtedly has good intentions with her new bill to address unplanned pregnancy, which passed the state house in an 87-2 vote on Tuesday. According to the legislation, HB 1534, Arkansas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. However, many of those pregnancies occur after young people have left high school—which is where most pregnancy prevention and sexual education efforts are focused. The bill notes that of 4,089 births to Arkansas teenagers in 2013, some 3,000 were to 18- and 19-year-olds.

Not all individuals this age attend college, of course. But in order to try and reach those who do, Ferguson’s bill would require the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop an action plan that would include educating community college and university attendees about pregnancy prevention at their initial orientation sessions, incorporating medically accurate information about unintended pregnancy into compatible coursework, and discussing abstinence with students. However, the bill mentions abstinence explicitly while avoiding any direct mention of contraception—suggesting that most Arkansas lawmakers are either kidding themselves about the behavior of college students or would rather send a moral message to young people than actually help them prevent unintended pregnancy.

To be fair, the language used in the bill does seem to hint at contraception. It suggests that the action plan should “integrate information that is recognized as medically accurate by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists about the prevention of unplanned pregnancy into academic courses if and when appropriate.” ACOG supports providing young people with information about and easy access to all forms of contraception from condoms to intrauterine devices (IUDs). But no mention of these methods make it into the bill. Instead, the sentence about ACOG ends with “including without limitation abstinence education.”

Moreover, only abstinence came up in the debate about the bill. According to the Arkansas Times, after Ferguson explained the legislation, “one of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale), rose to make sure Ferguson didn’t forget to emphasize a crucial point. ‘The bill also includes an abstinence component, correct?’ she asked.” Ferguson assured her colleagues that it did.

It seems highly probable that Ferguson supports making contraception available to college students. It’s even possible that Lundstrum does too. As sponsors of the bill, however, they likely knew this would be controversial and hid behind ACOG recommendations and abstinence language in order to get the bill passed. I get that. Political expedience is important, and legislators have to live within their state’s reality. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is a bill that seems to suggest we gather all college freshmen together at orientation and tell them to keep their pants zipped for the next four years. The language is so vague the board—or institutions—could easily develop a program that includes no mention of contraception at all, despite what the sponsors may have been subtly intending.  

That’s just not going to work. Abstinence education is ineffective, even with younger students. A 2007 study of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs found that the students who attended them had similar numbers of sexual partners and a similar age of first sexual intercourse as their peers not in the programs. Similarly, a British review of 13 abstinence-only programs in the United States found that they had no effect on sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy rates. In fact, they didn’t significantly affect the number of students engaging in vaginal sex. And, on an individual level, researchers have found that 88 percent of teens who take a pledge to remain a virgin until they’re married do have heterosexual intercourse before their wedding day. More concerning, pledgers who have sex are less likely to use contraception when they do become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged.

It is one thing to debate abstinence programs when we’re talking about high school students. Some parents think 14-year-olds shouldn’t have sex, period. As they get older and kids get more mature, the question of whether or not they are old enough for sex becomes more complicated, and opinions become more divided. Regardless, in many ways, 18- and 19-year-olds are more adults than they are teenagers. They can drive. They can vote. They can serve in the military. And they are having sex. By age 19, seven out of ten young people have engaged in sexual intercourse. The National Survey for Family Growth found that 44.9 percent of never-married 18- and 19-year-old girls and 42.6 percent of their male peers had had sex in the three months before they were surveyed. Individuals this age are definitely sexually active, and as such they are definitely at risk for an unintended pregnancy.

I have done many college orientation workshops about sexuality, and I would have been embarrassed to stand up in front of those emerging adults and suggest that the best thing they could do is to stop having sex. It’s not realistic, and it’s not necessary.

Instead, I’ve helped them understand the importance of thinking critically about each sexual experience. We’ve talked about who it would be with (do you feel comfortable with this person, and how will you feel next time you sit down next to her in Econ?); where it would take place (maybe wait until a night when your roommate is out instead of doing it under the covers knowing she’s wide awake on the upper bunk); whether it was consensual (you can’t assume your partner is into it—you have to ask); and whether it was protected against STDs and pregnancy (condoms and another form of birth control together is the very best option). Because I have been lucky enough to be at institutions that made contraception accessible, each talk ended with a mention of the many places on campus where students could get free condoms as well as how to make an appointment with health services to get prescription contraception methods. Information and access were combined. 

This is what college students need, because this is what is missing from too many high school sexuality education programs. Ferguson’s bill recognizes the problem of unintended pregnancy but doesn’t (likely because it couldn’t) go far enough in suggesting a solution. For that matter, it is unclear how much authority the Higher Education Coordinating Board itself has in implementing these policies at an institutional level. I can only hope that lawmakers in other states, and perhaps future lawmakers in Arkansas, won’t be afraid to admit that older teens are having sex, that they are getting pregnant, and that they need real help. A better approach for legislators would be to make sure, through an actual mandated action, that all state schools are providing both information and access to contraception. This is the only way we can ensure young people are able to make the best decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, both during college and in the years after.   

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Just How Effective Are Bans Against LGBT ‘Conversion Therapy’?

Some activists say proposed legislation doesn't address all the ways so-called conversion therapy is actually practiced.

Alyssa Chiampi, 20, arrived at Western Oregon University determined to figure out who she was and what she wanted out of life. Up to that point, she says, her religious upbringing in Medford, Oregon, four hours away had given her a narrow view of sexuality and identity.

“Being raised very Christian, conservative, my only thought about the LGBT community was they were weird, wrong, gross—because of who they were,” she told RH Reality Check.

Last year, while still a freshman at WOU, she determined that she was pansexual and started getting involved in student leadership organizations and advocacy groups, including the Triangle Alliance, an LGBTQI advocacy group. Privately, she struggled to reconcile her newfound sexual identity with her identity as a faithful Christian. A few months ago, she came out to her sister, who outed her to her mother without her consent. Her mother then asked her to meet with a therapist in her hometown who could “fix” her.

Chiampi was one of the 22 people, including mental health professionals as well as other survivors, who testified before the Oregon legislature earlier this year in favor of proposed legislation that would ban licensed therapists from using their practices to try and change, “cure,” or “fix” minors who identify as LGBTQ. The Oregon legislation, which passed out of the state house of representatives last week and is now before the senate, is one of 17 bills currently before state legislatures that would ban so-called conversion therapy. (One bill, which died in Oklahoma’s legislature this spring, sought to prevent it from being banned.) Most are similar to the Oregon law, and to those passed in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., in recent years: They specifically address licensed therapists who treat minors, using the state’s licensing boards as enforcers.

Activists are heartened by the trend. Still, some point out that the the raft of laws legislatures are currently considering don’t address all the ways conversion therapy is actually practiced—which can include “treatment” for dependent patients over the age of 18, or from members of the clergy or other non-licensed individuals.

Chiampi, for example, believes she visited a licensed therapist, meaning that he or she would be subject to a ban on converting minors like the kind before the Oregon legislature. However, she was 20 when the visit took place. Many people in their late teens and early 20s are at least partially financially dependent on their parents, a fact reflected in financial aid policy (college students must use their parents’ information on financial aid paperwork until they turn 24 or get married), health-care policy (which allows adults 26 or younger to get coverage under their parents’ insurance), and a host of survivor stories like Chiampi’s, in which young adults are sent to conversion therapists or treatment centers at their parents’ behest and on their parents’ dime.

Most of the current legislation, though, does not protect LGBTQ individuals older than 18—with the exception of a Minnesota bill that includes language about vulnerable adults, such as people with developmental disabilities or others deemed by the state to be incapable of making their own medical decisions.

Chiampi says she hadn’t felt ready to come out to her mom yet, specifically because she suspected her mother would want to try to “fix” her. She recalls telling her mother as a teenager that her best friend had come out as gay, and her mother refused to let him come to the house anymore, saying, “There are classes for that.”

When Chiampi came home for holiday break last December, her fears were confirmed. Her mother told her she’d found a therapist in Medford who could help her “change” her sexual identity, and insisted she attend one session, adding that if she wanted to continue, she’d find a therapist closer to Monmouth—where Western Oregon University is located—and pay for the services. But if she didn’t want to continue after that session, that would be that.

Chiampi obliged. She says one of the first things her therapist told her was that marriage, religious or not, is traditionally seen as occurring between a man and a woman. “I hadn’t even mentioned marriage or wanting to get married,” Chiampi says.

Chiampi acknowledges that most of the survivors who testified alongside her this year—mostly older individuals who told stories about abusive practices they experienced 10-to-20 years ago or more—had more “dramatic” experiences than she did. Still, she was distressed by the experience, and recognized that she had the advantage of living apart from her family while others do not.

“If I was capable of coming out when I was in high school and living at home I could guarantee that I would still be in conversion therapy today,” Chiampi said during her February testimony. “I know teenagers in my hometown of Medford who battle depression and anxiety like I did. These are young people who are still closeted and who refuse to come out because their parents will take them to this unnecessary and life-damaging therapy.”

The practice of conversion therapy has been decried by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, all of which have published statements and providers’ guides noting a link to increased anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. “Homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973.

The rising tide of recent bills is due in part to a high court decision last July relating to California’s ban, says Sam Ames, coordinator of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Born Perfect campaign. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that conversion therapy bans do not interfere with therapists’ free speech rights, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case, opening the doors for other states to follow.

Sometimes, the bans are encouraged or endorsed by therapists themselves, who are seeking more regulation for their colleagues. “In California, we worked with mental health professionals and mental health organizations, and it was the mental health industry asking to be regulated,” said Ames.

But often, the people offering “conversion therapy” aren’t licensed therapists—meaning that the state licensing board’s enforcement would have no effect on them. With that in mind, some people who have experienced conversion therapy are utilizing other methods to demand justice. For example, the global organization JONAH International (also known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) employs clergy rather than medical professionals. They’re currently being sued by six plaintiffs under consumer protection fraud laws.

Among other things, says Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Sam Wolfe, JONAH advertised claims about the percentage of program graduates “cured” of homosexuality, but doesn’t actually keep in touch with them to determine whether any identify as straight or report good mental health. Two of the six plaintiffs in the lawsuit were underage and one was 18 at the time they were sent to the center; two more are mothers who paid for the treatment. Wolfe says the families in question were misled about the means through which JONAH would “counsel” their sons—that they didn’t realize their sons would allegedly be asked to, according to the court filing, strip nude in front of other clients, beat their mothers in effigy, and undergo other sexually intrusive, abusive practices. The case goes to trial in June.

The JONAH case is the first civil suit to target a conversion therapy provider. JONAH is based in New Jersey—one of the first jurisdictions to pass a conversion therapy ban—but the suit was filed in 2012, before that law passed. And, again, even if it had been in place, it would not have applied to JONAH, which does not appear to employ any licensed therapists.

“We’re hopeful, obviously, for a successful outcome at trial in June,” Wolfe said. “We’re hoping this can set the stage for other lawsuits against conversion therapists and send a message to parents and therapists and communities.”

Ames says that so far, she knows of no instances of counselors losing their licenses or being otherwise professionally disciplined specifically for practicing conversion therapy—partly because the first laws only made their way through the courts or went into effect very recently. (Richard A. Cohen, the founder of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and the author of several books still used by JONAH and other conversion therapy providers, was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2002 for multiple ethics violations, but conversion therapy does not appear to have been at the heart of the complaint.)

“Furthermore, the onus is often on already vulnerable youth to report and file claims, which can be difficult in unsupportive families, in the face of trauma, or simply because the process can be daunting,” Ames told RH Reality Check. “For all these reasons, it can take time. But I anticipate we’ll start seeing our first complaints within the next year.”

In the meantime, the Southern Poverty Law Center has begun tracking and mapping conversion therapy sites nationwide. The only site listed so far in Oregon is the Portland Fellowship, which employs clergy rather than licensed therapists. The country-wide map also includes ministers, life coaches, and religiously affiliated centers like JONAH, as well as some licensed therapists associated with “ex-gay” organizations. For the most part, popular and professional backlash against conversion therapy may have driven other individual, licensed counselors who practice it into semi-stealth mode and led them to rely on referrals rather than explicit branding.

Still, advocates acknowledge that parents determined to “fix” their children may still be able to find therapists willing to do so. The Fellowship’s “resources” page, for example, lists three websites for Portland-area therapists who are licensed and do say they will work with minor clients. Chiampi declined to name the therapist she visited—in part because of the rift the visit has created in her family since she’s spoken out about her experience—but thinks her mother found the clinic through a web search, or possibly through a referral. Sites like FindChristianCounselor.com, which connects people with licensed counselors using personal information, offers “gay and lesbian recovery counseling” as a menu item on its referral search page. Focus on the Family also has a counselor search tool, with “homosexual issues” and “transgender issues” available as menu options, and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality will provide therapy referrals via email. (Psychology Today has a searchable database for licensed therapists, and only this month began to remove listings for counselors that offer conversion therapy.)

Ames and Wolfe fully acknowledge that the proposed bans won’t put an immediate end to all forms of conversion therapy as it’s practiced. Still, they say, what the legislation lacks in across-the-board enforcement power, it makes up for in raising awareness.

Many members of the public don’t realize the practice is ongoing, says Chiampi. She noted that many of the people she testified alongside had undergone conversion therapy more than 15 or 20 years ago. “A lot of people think this isn’t still happening,” she told RH Reality Check.

To that end, Wolfe said, “The legislation doesn’t do everything, but it does quite a lot. There’s definitely a strong public education effort [in] legislative practices.”

Ames, too, says legislation has to be just one part of a bigger strategy.

“The way we end this now is not just through laws, although that’s important. It’s not just through lawsuits, although that’s important,” Ames said. “It’s through empowerment and education. It’s getting the word out to parents to let them know they cannot put their child through this, and let youth know that they are not alone.”

“People are seeing this as heinous, a human rights issue,” Ames said. “We’re building momentum to finally put into our past the practices that have plagued the LGBT community for years.”

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Video Games Can and Should Talk More About Real Issues—Including Reproductive Rights

A new video game illustrates how game developers often succumb to stereotypes that can do more harm than good when attempting to educate players about real-world experiences.

While most video games today mimic the real world more closely than games of previous generations, they still tend to negotiate realism in order to prevent mundane game mechanics. Most protagonists can forgo eating or sleeping, for example, since those aspects are not necessarily fun to do in a virtual world. Similarly, no female protagonist has to worry about her menstrual cycle or getting pregnant. Of course, there are exceptions, but in many cases where pregnancy is considered, the actual period of being pregnant is cut short to keep the game moving along.

In the action role-playing Fable series, female protagonists can get pregnant, but the pregnancy lasts as long as one cutscene. Then the characters are back on their feet and ready to fight again. Children survive without the player around, and will occasionally ask for toys. Even The Sims franchise, a series of games designed to simulate life (even the mundane parts like going to the bathroom), strips pregnancy down to a three-day event (72 minutes in real time) of morning sickness and fatigue.

I don’t expect every game with a pregnant playable character to fully explore gestation. Pregnancy is not the main theme for most, if any, of these games. But I do think video games can do more to show the ups and downs of real scenarios women and girls might face without succumbing to stereotypes that will do more harm than good. Video games are a maturing art form; artists are creating more games that focus less on common game plots like saving the world and more on actual human experiences. Games, like movies or literature or music, can tell important stories, but only video games can let other people inhabit different worlds through the characters they play. Perhaps “living” through someone else’s pregnancy, albeit briefly, may help change the way people stigmatize pregnant people.

Popular games that do focus on pregnancy vary from strange to unintentionally harmful. There was the unlicensed game featuring a pregnant Anna from Disney’s Frozen, where the player had to deliver Anna’s baby. Tools included magic glowing orbs and a scalpel. The closest thing to blood was hot pink fuzz on Anna’s abdomen where the player “cuts” her to deliver the baby.

That game is designed to be light and fun, and not an accurate representation of the trials of giving birth, but there are other games, like the recently released Pregnancy, that offer a more harmful glimpse into the experiences of pregnant persons. Developed by Brazilian team Locomotivah, Pregnancy is an interactive narrative about a 14-year-old girl in Hungary who discovers she is pregnant after being a victim to rape. As Lilla Sandor’s conscience, the player helps her decide whether or not to continue with the pregnancy.

Interactive narrative games like Pregnancy focus on stories (think about them like the Choose Your Own Adventure series) and making life decisions. Elitist gamers who think there is no place for storytelling in games often attempt to discredit these kinds of games because of their simple mechanics and emphasis on narrative, but games are not defined by how many buttons to push or how interactive they might be.

When I first found Pregnancy, I was pleasantly surprised to see it. Unlike other games, this short narrative—which costs $1.99 at the Locomotivah site—doesn’t revolve around the main character attempting to save the world. Sandor is a girl who was raped, and is struggling with very real problems people face. Unfortunately, its novelty quickly wore off after I realized how things would play out.

Pregnancy relies on stereotypes about both rape victims and pregnant teens, and presents more myths than facts about these scenarios, potentially misguiding players rather than educating them about the gravity of these situations.

The game doesn’t work to show the seriousness of rape. Instead, Sandor’s assault is used as a plot device—the scene early in the game in which Sandor interacts with her rapist is a clear indication of that. The scene is minimal, since the game’s visuals are still images. The player sees an image of a woman with hands around her neck, while the dialogue between Sandor and her rapist plays out. The rapist repeatedly calls Sandor a “little bitch,” and laughs occasionally. She is trapped, and he finds all of this amusing. After that scene, we never see or hear from him again. He isn’t depicted as a human, but as an evil being who disappears into the night. Even Sandor shrugs the incident off; when asked multiple times how she’s feeling, she consistently says she’s fine.

From the start, the game’s narrative is questionable. For example, it wasn’t the most representative choice to have Sandor be sexually assaulted by an unknown criminal, since only about 7 percent of all sexual assault victims are attacked by complete strangers. The game perpetuates the idea that most sexual assault perpetrators are unknown people who jump out at you from the shadows, rather than known acquaintances or family members.

Further, the game doesn’t give any resources for victims of rape. Early on, we learn Sandor has been seeing a psychologist for four months to cope with the incident, but the most advice the doctor gives her is that eventually life will return to normal. The game never says how far along in pregnancy Sandor is. Sandor mentions to the player that she’s been throwing up, and her aunt says Sandor is looking bigger, but that isn’t enough to indicate how long she’s been pregnant. And when Sandor tells her doctor about her pregnancy, the doctor says she is sure Sandor will do the right thing. So much of the dialogue in the story between Sandor and the other characters is unhelpful and ambiguous that it seems impossible for Sandor to ever get the help a real person would actually need to make an informed decision about a pregnancy. Learning of an unintended pregnancy, especially due to rape, can be emotionally devastating, and Sandor didn’t seem able to express her likely fear and anger to her doctor or family members.

Another issue is that the game provides very little information about abortion. The first time abortion is introduced, it is Sandor’s closest friend, Melinda, who mentions it. Melinda knows of an older girl named Niki who had an abortion. Sandor describes Niki as “the busty girl”; the short scene comes across as a way to slut-shame Niki as someone who is expected to have sex because of her breast size. What’s worse is that Niki, it seems, is only mentioned in the game to briefly acknowledge abortion as an option—we learn nothing about who she is beyond her physical traits.

Other options, such as adoption, are mentioned briefly but never enough for a full discussion about the complexities involved in making such decisions. There is no mention of any organizations that could help Sandor become more informed, and no one in her support group asks her important questions about whether or not she thinks she can handle raising a child at 14, or about child-care options for when she is in school. Pregnancy only focuses on the immediate situation and ignores what Sandor might face months or years ahead.

The strangest part of the game is the end. One positive thing the game does is allow Sandor to make her own decision. No matter what options the player chooses, Sandor will always pick the opposite of what the player wants. If the player chooses “pro-life” oriented options, such as telling Sandor she has no choice but to have the baby, Sandor will decide to end her pregnancy, and vice versa. There’s no explanation as to why the game does this, but I suspect it plays out this way to give Sandor agency and the chance to make her own decision. Still, it’s interesting to have Sandor actively seek advice from the player and her family and friends only to have her completely ignore it.

The end also feels too neatly resolved. Sandor thanks the player for helping her, and that’s it. The game doesn’t address the fact that Sandor might not have access to reproductive care. The reality is that many women and teen girls are faced with choices not based on the full spectrum of health care, but on laws created by anti-choice politicians. Not all women live near clinics or have the money for abortion or prenatal care, nor do they all have the money or resources to have and raise a child.

I emailed the developer but never heard back, so I don’t know whether the game is meant to come across as neutral on the issue of choice. At the end of the game, there’s an information page that includes links to the anti-abortion and abortion rights Wikipedia pages, as well as the NARAL and National Right to Life websites. This is the most amount of information provided in the game, and it doesn’t come up until after the game has ended. The text on the page gives me the impression the developer doesn’t quite understand the burden placed on rape victims who become pregnant.

Video games have a reputation for being childish, silly things that are meant to be nothing more than fun. So I can understand why it would seem as if games couldn’t successfully tackle heavier topics. But many people, especially among marginalized communities, are creating new ways to show that video games can and should talk more about the real world and those who inhabit it.

More successful games include Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia, which depicts a character who experiences hormone replacement therapy; Nicky Case’s Coming Out Simulator 2014, which covers the hardships of Case coming out to his parents; and Hurt Me Plenty by Robert Yang, a game that digs into consent and intimacy within the BDSM community.

Additionally, the Jennifer Ann’s Group, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness of teen dating violence, launched a video game competition in 2008 designed to challenge creators to make games about the dangers of teen dating violence using facts and statistics. Ultimately, the group hopes games created through the annual competition will educate players about the seriousness of this type of violence and turn players into advocates for those who have suffered from teen dating violence. Last year’s winner, The Guardian, is available for purchase on Android devices, and winners from previous years are available (for free) here. This year’s competition started on February 13 and ends June 1, and participants have been asked to make a game about teen dating violence without any violence in their actual game.

Games are art, and game creators and activists are coming together to tell more stories. The influx of games about sex and sexuality gives me hope that pregnancy and sexual assault will no longer be used just to advance plot in games, but to inform, and tell the stories that have been previously ignored or inappropriately told. I believe there is space for games that explore human hardships, both the challenges and the triumphs.

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This Week in Sex: Research on What Men and Women Need for Better Sex

This week, research suggests the keys to more and/or better sex may be different for some men and women.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Study: Women Who Get More Sleep Have More Sex

New research suggests that women who spend more time sleeping also spend more time doing other things in bed. A study of 171 women published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine tracked how long women slept and then asked questions to gauge their sexual desire the next day. The women slept an average of seven hours and 22 minutes, and those who slept longer on average experienced fewer problems with vaginal arousal than women who obtained less sleep. Moreover, every additional hour of sleep the women reported translated into a 14 percent increase in the likelihood they’d actually have sex the next day.

Dr. David Kalmbach, the lead author on the study, told CBS News: “Good sleep has been shown to improve mood, energy, concentration, overall health, and, now, sexual desire and arousal.” He added, “If there’s anything women or their partners can do to help promote good sleep for one another, whether it’s helping out around the house to reduce workload, planning romantic getaways, or just practicing good sleep hygiene, it could help protect against having problems in the bedroom.”

Of course, this does not mean that women should sleep away the day—then there really would be no time for sex. Kalmbach said in a statement, “I think the take-home message should not be that more sleep is better, but that it is important to allow ourselves to obtain the sleep that our mind and body needs.”

Meanwhile, Men Who Get More Exercise May Have Better Sex

While women are sleeping to improve their sex lives, men should be hitting the gym, according to one new study. The study, also published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, surveyed nearly 300 men who reported their activity levels as well as aspects of their sexual functioning, including their ability to get erect, the quality and frequency of their erections, and their ability to orgasm. Researchers then divided the men into categories ranging from sedentary to highly active and compared the sexual functioning of the groups.

They found that men who reported more exercise (both in terms of frequency and intensity) also had higher sexual function scores. To reap the sexual benefits of exercise the men had to do two hours of strenuous exercise (such as running or swimming) per week, 3.5 hours of moderate exercise, or six hours of light exercise per week. Men who achieved this threshold of exercise were likely to have more intercourse, better erections, and stronger orgasms than those who did not.

In contrast, men who exercised less reported lower levels of sexual function. Low sexual function was also related to diabetes, past or current smoking, and coronary artery disease—conditions that may also be improved through increased exercise.

These results were the same regardless of race; the authors explained that this is an important contribution to the science on exercise and sex, as African-American men have been underrepresented in previous studies on this topic.

And Finally: Men Who Watch Porn Might Have Better Sex Too

Yet another study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that porn will help men enjoy greater arousal with a partner.

This departure from the usual messages about porn—which suggest that men who watch it will become desensitized to sex and disconnected from real situations—is based on 280 men, nearly half of whom were in serious relationships. The men were asked about the number of hours they spent watching sex films each week, filled out a survey on their sexual functioning, and then viewed a film that portrayed consensual vaginal intercourse in a lab and reported their level of arousal.

The men who viewed more porn at home were less likely to report erectile dysfunction and more likely to become aroused while viewing porn in a lab. Though it’s not surprising that men who like porn at home also like it in a lab, the authors explain that these results are important because they refute the idea that men who watch porn become desensitized to it.

Co-author Nicole Prause told the Huffington Post in an email that “viewing more sex films was associated with a stronger sex drive, including the desire to have sex with a partner.” This suggests that “sex films may be able to ‘stoke the fire.'” She added, “The most common error of thinking with respect to men and porn is that all porn is bad for men all of the time. The truth is probably that some porn is good for some men in some situations.”

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Ohio House Approves Abortion Bill Deemed Extreme by Some Anti-Choice Activists

The Ohio house on Thursday passed a bill to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant. A similar six-week ban approved in North Dakota several years ago was found to be unconstitutional.

The Ohio house on Thursday passed a bill to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant. A similar six-week ban approved in North Dakota several years ago was found to be unconstitutional.

Republican Gov. John Kasich, along with anti-choice advocates in the state, have said they cannot support the bill, HB 69, because it is clearly unconstitutional.

“My feeling about it is I share the concerns of Right to Life about this bill and about potential litigation, but it’s a long way to Tipperary,” Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch on the eve of the vote in the GOP-controlled house. “The house is not the senate and it’s not through, so I like not to comment too much on pending legislation.”

Ohio Right to Life, which is attempting to push through other restrictive abortion laws, including a 20-week ban, did not support previous versions of HB 69 because it has been found to be patently unconstitutional.

“Even if we disagree about abortion, we can agree it’s best for each person to make her own decision,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “The bill is designed to make that impossible by essentially banning abortion. Not only is this bill extremely wrong-headed and terrible for women and families, there’s absolutely no way it will ever stand up in court.”

The Ohio house has once before passed a so-called fetal heartbeat ban, but the proposal died in the senate. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not make it through the house.

This year, the bill, which had 50 co-sponsors, passed the house by a vote of 55 to 40. The bill would make providing an abortion after the detection of a heartbeat a fifth-degree felony for the physician, with a fine of up to $2,500.

Though an exception is provided for the health of the pregnant person, the bill gives no exception for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Republicans control both the Ohio house and senate by wide margins.

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Alito Joins Court Majority to Protect Pregnant Workers From Discrimination

The decision is an important victory for pregnant workers but doesn't completely answer what duties employers have to accommodate pregnant employees.

Employers can no longer refuse workplace accommodations to most pregnant employees if they offer similar accommodations to other non-pregnant employees, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The 6-3 decision had Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join the court’s liberal justices in ruling in favor of Peggy Young, a former UPS worker who was forced off the job when she became pregnant and was prescribed a lifting restriction by her doctor.

UPS denied her request, citing the company’s “pregnancy-blind” policy that refused workplace accommodations such as light-duty assignments to any employee unless they were injured on the job, qualified as disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or lost their federal driver’s certificate. Because Young’s circumstance did not fit into any of those categories, UPS officials said they would not accommodate her request.

Young was forced to take unpaid leave, which meant a loss of her health insurance during her pregnancy and delivery.

Young returned to work after the birth of her baby and sued UPS under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), a law passed in response to a 1976 Supreme Court decision that ruled pregnancy discrimination is not a form of sex discrimination. The PDA requires that employers treat “women affected by pregnancy” the same as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Young and her attorneys argued that because UPS granted light-duty job assignments to workers who were “similar” to Young in their “inability” to perform all job functions, it violated the PDA by refusing to grant the same accommodation to her.

Young lost at both the trial court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that because UPS’s policy was “pregnancy-blind” and didn’t specifically state a bias against pregnant workers, the policy was not discriminatory. The Roberts Court on Wednesday disagreed, sending Young’s case back to the lower courts for a possible trial on UPS’s reasons for not accommodating Young.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said Young could prevail in the lower courts if she can show that she was denied accommodations given to others similar in their ability to work, and that her employer’s policies impose a significant and unjustified burden on pregnant workers.

“Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant workers as well?” Breyer wrote.

Young, and presumably other employees, could meet that “significant and unjustified” burden by offering evidence that UPS accommodates “a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers,” according to the Roberts Court.

Sam Bagenstos, who argued Young’s case before the Roberts Court in December, called the win significant for pregnant workers across the country.

“This is a big win for Peggy Young and other women in the workplace,” Bagenstos said in a call with reporters. “The Court recognized that employers can’t put pregnancy in a class by itself.”

Bagenstos explained that after Wednesday’s decision, employers need a particularly strong reason for not accommodating workers, and those reasons cannot be ordinary costs or convenience, which is one usually cited when employers deny requests like Young’s.

Sharon Fast Gustafson, who has represented Peggy Young since 2007, told reporters during the call that her client was very happy with the decision. “Peggy is thrilled. Her team is very pleased with this decision,” said Guftason. “For years, UPS has sent all of its pregnant workers who needed the slightest accommodation home from work without pay and benefits while accommodating many of its non-pregnant workers who needed similar accommodations. The Supreme Court has held that this is evidence upon which a jury can find that UPS was discriminating on the basis of pregnancy.”

It was not at all clear during oral arguments in December what path the justices would take to resolve the issue of what obligations employers have to accommodate pregnant workers, and I was not at all optimistic that the normally employee-hostile Roberts Court would side with Young, even in a case like this. But not only did the Roberts Court side with Young; two of its most anti-worker justices, Roberts and Alito, joined the majority.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important victory for Peggy Young, and for many other pregnant workers, because it makes clear that employers can’t continue pushing pregnant workers out of their jobs while providing accommodations for other, non-pregnant workers,” Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, said in a call with reporters after the decision.

Indeed, despite fighting Young’s claims since 2007, UPS announced in January it was voluntarily changing its policy to now offer pregnant employees accommodations identical to the one it spent nearly a decade fighting. And since the PDA was first passed, at least nine states have stepped in and passed legislation that requires all employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations unless those accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Those state-level policy changes were partly responsible for UPS’s decision to stop refusing workplace pregnancy accommodations, according to the company in its brief to the Roberts Court.

Not surprisingly, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy dissented.

Scalia, writing for the dissent, called the majority’s opinion “splendidly unconnected to the text” of the PDA, a pretty tame swipe considering Scalia characterized Young’s accommodation request as seeking a “most favored nation status” for pregnant workers during December’s oral arguments.

While Wednesday’s victory is significant, the opinion leaves room for employers to avoid addressing the ongoing and pervasive problem of pregnancy discrimination, and it should also come as no surprise that it’s Alito’s concurring opinion that most exploits any ambiguities for the benefit of employers.

In his concurring opinion, Alito wrote that an employer could deny a pregnant employee an accommodation it offers a non-employee of the basis of “neutral business grounds.” Just what is a “neutral business ground” for pushing a pregnant employee off the job? So far the Court has said it can’t be cost or convenience, but that’s as much guidance as justices have offered.

And when pregnant workers continue to lose their jobs over requesting accommodations like additional bathroom breaks, a stool to sit on while cashiering, or the ability to carry a water bottle with them, “neutral business grounds” still sounds like a gendered dog-whistle.

During oral arguments, Bagenstos told the justices that Young’s case, and the PDA, was really pretty simple.

“You have to treat pregnant workers as just as valued employees as anybody else,” Bagenstos said.

Wednesday’s opinion takes an important step in doing just that, and if employers are smart, they’ll do the same.

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