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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Minnesota’s Birth Control Coverage Protections Would Include Religious Exemption

The proposal includes an exemption that would allow religious institutions to forgo offering health insurance plans that include contraception coverage for their employees.

Lawmakers in Minnesota have introduced legislation that would protect women’s access to all forms of birth control—a response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that set a precedent for denying employer-insured contraception on religious grounds.

The proposal, however, includes an exemption that would allow religious institutions to forgo offering health insurance plans that include contraception coverage for their employees, ensuring there would still be gaps in birth control coverage even if the bill gets through the Republican-controlled house.

HF 1165, known as the Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights Act, was introduced last week and has 22 co-sponsors. The legislation would require most employers who offer prescription drug coverage to include contraception in their health insurance plans.

Minnesota lawmakers are the latest to respond to the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. Lawmakers in Illinois, Michigan, and New York have all introduced similar legislation designed to protect contraception coverage in health plans.

Rep. Erin Murphy (D-Saint Paul) introduced HF 1165, and said in a press release that the bill is needed to address serious gaps in contraception coverage in Minnesota. Murphy said contraception coverage has been put in jeopardy by allowing certain for-profit employers to discriminate against female employees.

“Women hold the right to decide for themselves when and whether to use birth control, without interference from their employer,” Murphy said in the release. “An employer’s personal religious beliefs should not trump an employee’s access to contraception. The Supreme Court’s misguided ruling, and the recent rulings in Minnesota, mean that we need to take action to assure health care equity and access for Minnesota women.”

The bill would mandate that employers’ health insurance plans that provide prescription drug coverage cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and related medical services.

It would also prevent health plans from imposing cost sharing for FDA-approved contraceptive methods.

The bill requires religious employers who choose to deny coverage for religious reasons to provide written disclosure to prospective employees. It also provides an exemption for religious institutions and some closely held for-profit corporations from offering contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Murphy introduced similar legislation during the 2012-2013 legislative session, and both the house and senate versions died in committee.

Minnesota’s legislature is split. While Democrats hold a 39-28 advantage in the senate, Republicans hold a 72-62 majority in the house.

Murphy told the Minneapolis Fox affiliate that she thinks the issue should be bipartisan. “Contraception has not been controversial, and it has not necessarily been a partisan issue,” Murphy told KMSP. “I would love to earn bipartisan support for it and I’m going to work on it.”

The bill has been referred to the Health and Human Services Reform Committee, where it awaits further action.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley), who has compiled an anti-choice voting record during her time in the house. Mack has co-sponsored three anti-choice bills during the 2015 legislative session: HF 1047, HF 787, and HF 788.

Image: Shutterstock

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Meet the Islamophobic CPAC Mainstage Speaker Behind the ‘Abortion Barbie’ Posters

Sabo (right) had a thing or two to say about Islam, immigration, Ted Cruz, and art at the nation's largest conservative gathering.

Click here to read more of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Attendees of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists, might have spotted a man in the exhibit hall wearing a t-shirt featuring the odious phrase “Muhammad Is a H*mo.”

They might not have realized he was a featured speaker at the conference.

Granted, not many saw the speech, and the man, a Los Angeles-area Republican street artist who goes by the name of Sabo, had changed shirts by the time he took the stage on Thursday. He was part of a lineup of “Activist Bootcamp” mainstage speakers who came up while many attendees were at other breakout sessions on immigration or Internet freedom.

Sabo is something of a folk hero on the right, the conservative answer to Shepard Fairey. His more infamous work includes his “Abortion Barbie” posters, mocking former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, that papered Los Angeles last year, as well as a depiction of Ted Cruz as a shirtless, tattooed rebel. (Quipped Cruz at the time: “Saw this, but noticed an error … I don’t smoke cigarettes.”)

RH Reality Check asked Sabo about the Muhammad shirt he was wearing. The back of it read “We F*ck Goats” (complete with an illustrated silhouette) and, in smaller type, “Je Suis Charlie.”

Was this in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo?

Not really, Sabo said. He acknowledged that the shirt was a bit “heavy handed,” but after the deadly attacks on the satirical French publication, he said, “It just makes it that much easier” to wear it.

“I’m waiting for somebody to punch me in the back of the head though,” he said.

To the contrary, several fans of his work approached Sabo over the course of a few minutes, and if they were taken aback by his shirt, they didn’t show it. One wanted a copy of his Ted Cruz poster. Another got a picture with him and “1776 Man,” the guy holding a giant Gadsden flag and dressed up as a Revolution-era patriot who has been a fixture at conservative conferences over the past few years. 1776 Man, for his part, was excited because he had just gotten Cruz to sign his flag.

Sabo said he came up with the Cruz poster because the Texas senator struck him as “kind of a badass” who “really pisses people off in Washington.”

Sabo is clearly no stranger to pissing people off himself.

“I mean, years ago, I would take pages of the Koran out and stick them in my butt,” Sabo said. “I would try to do a different page every day. Because what I wanted to do was make a collage.”

“And you know, I played Koran football, like you try to kick it over the uprights,” he continued. “I used it as a doorstop.”

Asked whether he believes Islam is an inherently violent religion, he said, “I think when you have a billion people in anything, you’re going to have issues. I mean, if only 1 percent is a problem, but the other 99 percent doesn’t say something about it, they almost might as well be signing off on it.”

Ultimately, it’s all about “the hypocrisy in Hollywood” and his distaste for the artistic establishment, he said.

“It’s like, for decades, they’re bashing Christians [in Hollywood],” he said. “A lot of street artists and rebel artists in the UK that I know of, they’re constantly bashing Christians.”

But if he asked them why they didn’t “say something about the Muslims,” Sabo said, their reply would be, “Every single time, bar none—‘Well, they might kill us!’ And I’m like, wait a minute, you’re supposed to be bad-ass artists. So what you’re telling me is the reason you fuck with Christians is because they’re not gonna hurt you.”

“That’s gay,” he said. “And I don’t mean gay as in queer. I just mean, that’s dumb.”

He added that he doesn’t think Republicans should be characterized as racist, misogynistic, or homophobic.

So what brought him to CPAC?

“They just dug what I do, I guess.”

Image: Emily Crockett

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Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, Immigration ‘Moderates,’ Take Focus Off Families at CPAC

Jeb Bush speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Click here to read more of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

If one thing was clear from 2015’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), conservative activists and politicians are deeply unhappy with President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Speaker after speaker called the action a “lawless” and “unconstitutional” overreach on Obama’s part, and inaccurately characterized temporary relief from deportation as “amnesty.”

But it was noteworthy to hear how Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both potential 2016 presidential contenders known for their relatively moderate views on immigration reform, talked about immigration at the conference.

Rubio distanced himself from the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill he co-sponsored in 2013, while Bush stood by his support for a path to citizenship and in-state college tuition. As might be expected, the CPAC crowd reacted favorably to Rubio’s mea culpa and rewarded Bush with boos.

Both men, however, said that changes to immigration law should focus less on family ties and more on economic factors.

The nation’s legal immigration system is “the most generous in the world,” Rubio said, “but it’s all based on whether you have a family member here. And it can’t continue to be based on family alone. It has to be based on some sort of merit or economic contribution.”

“We need to narrow family petitioning so that it’s the same as every other country: spouse and minor children,” Bush said. “Not this broad definition of spouse, minor children, adult siblings, and adult parents, that crowds out what we need, which are economic-driven immigrants.”

Keeping families and communities together, rather than ripping them apart through deportation or keeping them hidden and fearful due to the threat of it, is one of the most important and urgent concerns of immigrants and advocates.

When President Obama introduced his executive action, he made a strong moral call for the United States to be a nation that “values families, and works together to keep them together.” His action would extend temporary deportation protection and work authorization to immigrants over 30 who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and to unauthorized immigrants whose children, regardless of age, are U.S. citizens.

Both Bush and Rubio also said harsher border security should be the first priority.

“First and foremost” we need to “enforce the borders,” Bush said.

“And yeah, you have 10 to 12 million people who have lived here, some for longer than a decade, who have not broken any immigration laws, I get all that,” Rubio said. “But what I’ve learned is that you can’t even have a conversation about that until people believe and know—not believe, but know—that future illegal immigration can be controlled and brought under control.”

Bush was less equivocal about the large population of immigrants already living in the United States.

“The simple fact is, there is no plan to deport 11 million people,” Bush said. “We should give them a path to legal status, where they work, where they don’t receive government benefits, where they don’t break the law, where they learn English and where they make a contribution to our society.”

Neither Rubio nor Bush were explicit about whether Congress should cleanly fund the Department of Homeland Security without attacking Obama’s executive actions, but both said that Obama didn’t have the authority to issue the orders.

“The simple fact is the president has gone way beyond his constitutional powers to do this, and the Congress has every right to reinstate their responsibility for what law is about,” Bush said.

“The president not once but now twice has basically said by executive order, ‘I won’t enforce the law,’” Rubio said.

Image: C-SPAN

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CPAC’s Worst, Weirdest ‘Jokes’

Phil Robertson speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Click here to read more of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Inevitably, most political speeches will include some attempt at humor. Inevitably, some of those attempts will fall flat.

But some jokes at this year’s CPAC went beyond routine flops into full-blown “What were they thinking?” territory. Here are six of the most cringe-worthy, offensive, and just plain bizarre “jokes” uttered on the CPAC stage:

1) Sean Hannity can see into your uterus.

During a riff about how liberals are “stupid” and blame Bush for their mistakes, FOX News host Sean Hannity turned on a dime and suddenly praised the “young” and “good-looking” crowd at CPAC. Then things got really weird:

“I can look out in the crowd, I kind of have X-ray FOX vision—and I can see some of you women, you don’t even know it yet, but you’re pregnant,” Hannity said. The confused crowd alternately gasped, laughed, and jeered.

“It’s not your fault, it’s not his fault. Whose fault is it?” Hannity continued.

“Bush!” part of the crowd said, starting to sort of get what he was going for.

“Nooo!” said Hannity. Then he busted out an awkward Bill Clinton impression: “I can’t blame Bush for that one!”

The Clinton impression reared its painful head again just a few minutes later during Hannity’s word-association “lightning round.” After asking Cruz the first word to pop into his head relating to Hillary Clinton, Hannity moved on to Bill and was unable to stop himself from immediately crooning, “I want to say hi to that really hot chick in row seven back there. How you doing sweetheart, I’ll give you a tour backstage.”

Truly fulfilling CPAC’s promise to push presidential contenders to talk about policy specifics.

2) Old-news conspiracy theories for the lulz.

Rick Santorum already had it tough going on right after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Most of the under-25 crowd immediately streamed out of the auditorium after Paul finished speaking. But even an audience full of millennials probably couldn’t have lifted Santorum’s lead balloon of a “birther” joke about how Obama had become so unpopular around the world that “the Kenyan government is actually developing proof that Barack Obama was actually born in America.”

3) Why you should always just wait for the question. 

During a Q&A following Ted Cruz’s speech, Sean Hannity said, “I want to warn everybody, I am asking this next question because i know the liberal media will, so I might as well get it out of the way for them.”

Then Cruz interjected: “No, I have not stopped beating my wife.”

Yep.

Cruz got some guffaws from the crowd on this one—hopefully because it was such a jarring non-sequitur and not because CPAC thinks domestic violence is hilarious. Cruz’s brain probably leapfrogged from Hannity’s “liberal media” dig to the classic “loaded question” example, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Still, intensely awkward, and painfully inappropriate.

4) Phil Robertson’s entire speech.

The “Duck Dynasty guy” went on an extended rant about pre-marital sex and sexually transmitted infections that you had to see to believe. The joke on all of CPAC itself is that almost everybody in attendance did see it; the main ballroom was packed with conference-goers waiting to hear Jeb Bush.

Robertson called STIs “the revenge of the hippies” and lamented the 110 million Americans reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have some kind of STI.

“I don’t want you, America, to get sick. I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with debilitating diseases. I don’t want you to die early,” Robertson said. “You’re disease-free and she’s disease-free, you marry, you keep your sex right there.”

5) Bad joke, worse gaffe.

Scott Walker seemed to smirk during this off-the-cuff answer to a question about how he’d handle ISIS: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

It was obviously offensive to the pro-union organizers and supporters who fought tirelessly against Walker’s efforts to crush collective bargaining. Even Walker’s fellow conservatives had harsh criticism for the remark: The National Review called it “awful” and an “unforced error” to compare U.S. protesters, however much one may disagree with their views, with “murderous terrorists.”

Walker’s communications director then issued a statement saying that Walker was “in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS.” OK then.

6) And the Dada Award goes to… Grover Norquist.

This was less a joke than a bizarre extended metaphor. It’s worth quoting at length:

Over the next two years … the Republicans have the votes to pass good stuff, and Obama can veto it. Obama has the capacity to invent truly icky stuff, and we won’t pass it in the House and the Senate. We have two evenly matched sumo wrestlers, exactly the same weight, bouncing against each other unappealingly for two years, nobody gets knocked outside the red circle. So how do we communicate to our base, who already agrees with us, and the voters we’d like to agree with us, while this is going on? We have to have bifocal vision. And by that I mean we have to see and speak to where we’re going. We’re going to California, we’re going to the promised land, we’re going all that way, we’re going to pass the Ryan budget plan, we’re going to get rid of the income tax. The direction of where we want to go needs to be clear. But we also need, with bifocal vision, to look at our feet, so we don’t trip or walk into traffic, so that we focus on today and making little gains today. … Imagine that Frank Underwood thing where he turns to the audience and says, “Today, we’re taking baby steps, but our goal is all the way out to California.” If you’re trying to get to California, and you find yourself in West Virginia, that’s not treason. West Virginia is on the way to California. If, however, you’re trying to get to California, and your feet are wet, and everyone around you is speaking French, you’re losing. You’ve been heading in the wrong direction.

…Indeed.

Image: Raw Story/YouTube

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Can Abercrombie’s ‘Look Policy’ Accommodate a Religious Headscarf?

So far, employers have had a good run before the Roberts Court, thanks in large part to Justice Samuel Alito, who has emerged as the architect and conservative standard-bearer for defending the interests of employers in employment claims.

So far, employers have had a good run before the Roberts Court, thanks in large part to Justice Samuel Alito, who has emerged as the architect and conservative standard-bearer for defending the interests of employers in employment claims.

Under his direction, the Court dramatically rolled back employee protections from on-the-job harassment in Vance v. Ball State. Justice Alito also authored the Court’s majority opinion in Hobby Lobby, which allowed some businesses to assert a religious objection to complying with the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act. In each of those cases Alito accepted, practically at face value, the claims by employers that complying with anti-discrimination laws was unnecessarily burdensome and crafted for them enormous legal protections as a result.

But if there’s going to be a case where Justice Alito sides with an employee, it is this one. Back in 2008, a then 17-year-old Samantha Elauf went to the Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to interview for a job at Abercrombie Kids, a children’s clothing store owned by Abercrombie & Fitch. During her interview Elauf, who is Muslim, wore a t-shirt, jeans, and a headscarf. Despite an initial recommendation to hire Elauf, Abercrombie & Fitch declined, determining on the basis of the headscarf worn by Elauf during her interview that she didn’t fit the Abercrombie “classic East Coast collegiate-style” look.

Elauf complained, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a case on her behalf, arguing that Abercrombie & Fitch failed to accommodate Elauf’s religious practices when it refused to hire her because she wore a headscarf. The district court agreed and sided with Elauf. But the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, reasoning that it was up to Elauf to provide “direct notice” to Abercrombie & Fitch that she would need a religious accommodation to their “look policy.” It wasn’t enough that Elauf showed up to the interview wearing her headscarf, the Tenth Circuit said. She needed, in the interview, to make the case for Abercrombie accommodating its policy to hire her.

Last week, the Roberts Court attempted to parse through just what exactly the Abercrombie “look” is, and whether or not it can or should accommodate a religious headscarf. Following on the heels of Hobby Lobby, the case sheds new light on the legal questions surrounding religious rights in the workplace.

In its brief, Abercrombie & Fitch said job applicants should not be allowed to “remain silent and to assume that the employer recognizes the religious motivations behind their fashion decisions.” During oral arguments, Alito seized on that argument by posing a hypothetical for the attorneys to answer: If in a job interview, a Sikh man wears a turban, a Hasidic man wears a hat, a Muslim woman wears a hijab, or a Catholic nun wears a habit, must employers recognize those items of clothing as markers of their faith, or should they assume, Justice Alito asked, that each is a “fashion statement”?

Alito’s point went right to claims by Abercrombie’s attorneys that the company suspected, but didn’t actually know for certain, that Elauf wore her headscarf for religious reasons. The company also claimed that it was up to her to raise the issue first.

Justice Elena Kagan took Alito’s point a little further. “Suppose,” Justice Kagan asked, “an employer just doesn’t want to hire any Jews, and somebody walks in and his name is Mel Goldberg, and he looks kind of Jewish and the employer doesn’t know he’s Jewish. No absolute certainty, and certainly Mr. Goldberg doesn’t say anything about being Jewish, but the employer just operates on an assumption that he’s Jewish, so no, he doesn’t get the job. Is that a violation?”

Attorneys for Abercrombie said their situation was different because its dress code applied neutrally in banning all head coverings, where the situation described by Justice Kagan was a classic case of employment discrimination. Not so fast, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg responded. “They [Abercrombie] don’t have to accommodate a baseball cap,” she said. “They do have to accommodate a yarmulke.”

And that’s the problem for Abercrombie. Its “look,” whether intentional or not, is racially and religiously coded. They proved as much when they refused to hire Elauf for not fitting the “look.” But the problem for equality advocates is that it is not clear under Title VII that such a decision was actually unlawful. In defending the actions of its managers, Abercrombie’s attorneys pointed to EEOC guidelines, which prohibit employers from making assumptions or asking potential employees about their religious practices—which was the point made in Justice Kagan’s hypothetical involving the Jewish employees. Historically, those stereotypes have been used by employers to deny employment opportunities to some women and people of color. Instead, the EEOC guidelines suggest employees ask employers for any accommodations they may need, which is what Abercrombie claims should have happened here.

But in this case, Elauf didn’t even know about Abercrombie’s “look policy,” so how could she ask for an accommodation to a policy she didn’t know existed? And how many interview candidates have access to corporate policies before their interview, let alone are in a secure enough position to make accommodation requests of those policies immediately? Normally those kinds of employee concerns wouldn’t register for Justice Alito, but as much as this is an employment discrimination case, it’s also a religious expression case, which explains why toward the end of oral arguments it was Justice Alito, joining with Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg in looking for a solution that would accommodate the rights of employees for once.

Image: WikiMedia Commons

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Losing My Lege: These Bills Are the Icing on the Hate-Cake

Our right-wing state lawmakers are so proudly hateful that they actually celebrated banning marriage equality by cutting a cake.

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

This week, I had the incredible experience of seeing Texas activists’ new “Trust. Respect. Access.” campaign in action, as dozens of people from around the state—the Valley, El Paso, Denton, and many other places—braved icy conditions and chilly winds (sorry-not-sorry, I’m gonna complain about 45-degree weather here in Austin, as is my wont) to talk with often hostile legislators about increasing access to reproductive health-care services and information.

It is the first time in my five or so years covering the state legislature that I’ve seen a deliberately organized coalition of left-leaning and progressive groups unite to tackle shared issues and causes in a proactive way, with the understanding that the fight will take years. And from my conversations with folks who’ve been tooling around Austin for even longer, it may actually be the first time in decades this has happened.

I really think the word “unprecedented” is in order.

Particularly when our right-wing state lawmakers are so proudly hateful that they actually celebrated banning marriage equality by cutting a cake. In public. In front of the news media. On purpose.

My mind might have time to boggle, except that’s far from the only recent example of conservative elected officials demonstrating awful behavior. They’ve already filed a slate of oppressive and unnecessary legislation this session, and that list is growing. Here’s the worst of the most recent batch:

  • Somehow I doubt these two bills are going to be used to round up cisgender women tired of waiting in line for the ladies’ room at Cowboys Stadium who try to use the men’s instead. HB 1747 and HB 1748, two bills from Debbie “Anchor Babies” Riddle—you may also remember her from such hits as Breastfeeding Moms Are Ruining America With Their Immodesty—would criminalize the use of a bathroom that doesn’t either (in HB 1747) match the gender assignment on a person’s driver’s license or (in HB 1748) correlate with gender as “established by the individual’s chromosomes,” whatever noted not-geneticist Debbie Riddle thinks that means. Basically, Riddle’s bill would make using a bathroom that doesn’t correlate to the gender you were assigned at birth a crime of the same magnitude as fighting or discharging a firearm in a public place. There is literally no reason—well, besides outright transphobia, which is a shitty reason—to do this. Cis people being able to use the bathrooms of their choice safely is not a problem anywhere. What is a problem, however, is the harassment and abuse of trans, genderqueer, and other non-binary and gender nonconforming folks, which Riddle’s bill writes into law.
  • Because nothing says “freedom” like denying pregnant people carrying fetuses with fatal anomalies the ability to end their pregnancies on their own terms, with the advice of their doctors and the support of their families, Rep. Matt Schaefer—self-described “liberty-loving conservative“—would remove the exception for severe fetal abnormalities in Texas’ 20-week abortion ban. Schaefer’s bill is nothing short of appalling; families in these heartbreaking circumstances deserve the full range of care available to them. Furthermore, nothing is stopping those who don’t want to terminate these kinds of pregnancies from deciding not to do so, which, again, seriously calls the whole “freedom” thing into question.
  • Both Rep. Molly White—she of loyalty-oaths-for-Muslims fame—and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst have proposed unnecessary restrictions that further burden abortion providers to report on their patients to the state government, ostensibly to prevent coercion in abortion care. White’s bill is based on a 1986 survey of 252 abortion patients, about half of whom said they had been coerced into getting abortions. Keep in mind that the total number of reported abortions in the U.S. that year was around 1.3 million; 252 isn’t anything close to a representative sample. No one should ever be coerced into getting an abortion, and every abortion provider I’ve ever spoken to in Texas already screens patients to ensure this doesn’t happen—not because the law makes them, but because it’s best practice.
  • Rep. Ron Simmons wants to go public with the names of the few judges in Texas who grant judicial bypasses to minors seeking abortion care. Minors who need judicial bypasses to get abortion care without their parents’ consent are often already in dire straits: Their parents are frequently abusive, absent, or even incarcerated. Simmons’ bill would make it easier for anti-choice folks to harass judges. As it’s written, it could also potentially tie the location of a judge to the location of the minor they’re ruling for, perhaps putting the minor themselves up for identification.

These bills will all need to make it through committee hearings before they’re brought to the larger legislature for a vote, so if you want to keep an eye on their progress (or, rather, their backwardness), they’re easy to track through the lege’s online portal.

And if you’re looking for a pastime that doesn’t lend itself to installing an IV-drip of Jack Daniels, I recommend signing on to the Trust. Respect. Access. campaign’s action statement to find out what you can do about how damn mad you are—how mad we all are—about lawmakers who don’t trust Texans with their own bodies.

Image: Shutterstock

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At CPAC, 2016 Hopefuls Stick to Rote Remarks on Abortion

Carly Fiorina speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Click here to read more of RH Reality Check‘s coverage of the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

The major theme of 2015’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has been 2016, with a full slate of likely Republican presidential contenders jockeying for the approval of conservative activists. It’s hard to imagine anyone capturing the GOP nomination without calling themselves “pro-life,” even though candidates in the 2014 midterm elections tended to shy away from those views to avoid “war on women” critiques.

So it may not be surprising that even in front of this red-meat-friendly audience, references to abortion rights by presidential hopefuls were mostly passing and routine. Anti-choice views often seemed taken for granted, a quick tick in a rhetorical box before moving on to ISIS or Hillary Clinton.

The issues of abortion and gay marriage, in a few cases, were reduced to a “lightning round” of questions from FOX News host Sean Hannity following the speeches.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) replied, “I’m pro-life. It’s as simple as that.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered, “We should defend every human life from conception to natural death.”

Cruz also briefly mentioned abortion to make a larger point about the hypocrisy of presidential candidates: “Talk is cheap. If a candidate tells you they support life, if a candidate tells you they support marriage, when have you stood and fought?”

Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and right-wing darling, also mentioned reproductive rights as a way of calling out perceived hypocrisy. “The left in particular loves to relabel and name things. First, if you’re pro-life, then you’re anti-woman,” Carson said. “And if you’re black and you oppose a progressive agenda, and you’re pro-life, and you’re pro-family, they don’t even know what to call you.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a popular figure at the conference, didn’t go into the issue during his speech attacking the overreach of government power. Paul supports extreme “personhood” legislation that would criminalize even some forms of birth control. Personhood measures have been roundly rejected by voters in even the most conservative states, with personhood advocates calling for an end to the statewide ballot approach.

Carly Fiorina, who some speculate could be the Republican party’s answer to Hillary Clinton, said, “Every life has potential” and recalled charity work she did distributing diapers to “young mothers who had the courage to bring their children into the world.”

Those comments were at most an allusion to Fiorina’s anti-choice views, though, and were used to support her arguments for offering greater “opportunity” through the free market.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal spent most of his speech attacking Obamacare and Common Core, but his latest attacks on Planned Parenthood went unmentioned.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, on the other hand, boasted about de-funding Planned Parenthood and signing abortion restrictions into law in his state. Walker signed off on a forced ultrasound law and an admitting privileges requirement that is being challenged in the courts.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also made a point of mentioning that he had vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood five times in his state’s budget. He went on at some length relative to other speakers.

“I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the rally on the steps of the statehouse,” he said. “I was the first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in the state of New Jersey.”

Jeb Bush also went on longer than most, after Hannity asked the former Florida governor about the state’s “Choose Life” license plates and whether he had any regrets over the Terry Schiavo case. He boasted of being the first state to have such license plates to support “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice facilities that dole out misleading information to pregnant women, hoping to convince them not to choose abortion.

Bush didn’t regret the Schiavo case, he said, because “the most vulnerable in our society need to be protected.”

But Bush, Walker, and Christie all had something to prove, which showed in their (somewhat) lengthier remarks.

Some CPAC attendees publicly planned to walk out of Bush’s speech, although the walkout ended up being smaller than anticipated. Bush is often criticized by the right for his perceived moderate views on immigration.

Christie used to be pro-choice, and hasn’t quite been able to live that down with the base. He’s also been dogged by scandal, and faced by far the highest level of scrutiny from an interviewer on stage. While Cruz got to tell Hannity why he loves America so much, Christie got a grilling from conservative radio host Laura Ingraham.

During the 2014 elections, Walker came out with ads that tried to portray him as supporting a woman’s right to choose.

The Republican Party isn’t likely to abandon its anti-choice hardline anytime soon, but if CPAC is any indication, candidates may spend less time talking about it.

Image: ACU/Youtube

The post At CPAC, 2016 Hopefuls Stick to Rote Remarks on Abortion appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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The Middle Ground in the Fight Over ‘Viagra for Women’

Last week a pharmaceutical company submitted a third claim for approval of a drug to increase female sexual desire amid accusations that the FDA's failure to approve the drug thus far reeks of sexism.  On the flip side, a group of advocates are arguing that no such drug is needed.  Who's right? Who's wrong? And is there any middle ground?

Last week, Sprout Pharmaceutical resubmitted its New Drug Application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the approval of flibanserin, a medication designed to increase sex drive in women suffering from what has been called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The FDA has rejected the drug twice before, asking for more research on its safety. This has prompted some people—many of whom identify as feminists—to call the agency sexist and to argue that if the medication were for men, it would have been on pharmacy shelves already. Other advocates, however, think drugs like flibanserin should never make it to market at all, because they believe that HSDD was made up by companies trying to profit off of women’s sexual insecurities. So, what is this pill, why are so many people fighting about it, and is there a happy medium here?

Flibanserin, which will likely have a sexier name if or when it is available for sale, was originally developed as an anti-depressant. As such, it works on neurotransmitters in the brain—increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and decreasing levels of serotonin. In trials, this rebalancing of brain chemistry seems to also increase women’s desire for sex. “Cara,” a woman who has become a bit of a spokesperson (albeit one going by a pseudonym) on behalf of the company’s efforts with the FDA, explained to Marie Claire that she and her husband had wonderful sexual chemistry before kids, but that all but disappeared once she became a mother: “That broke [my husband’s] heart. He’d be lying next to me and I could just feel his anger and sadness in the air.” After she joined the drug trial, she says, her libido returned. As she noted, “Flibanserin helped me remember that person I used to be.”

But, like other antidepressants, flibanserin has side effects—most notably nausea and sleepiness—which were reported by 10 percent of the women, some of whom said their drowsiness was intense enough to interfere with their ability to drive. The FDA cited side effects like these as the main reason for rejecting the drug the first time it was up for review in 2010. At the time, a panel of experts unanimously voted against it because they believed the benefits did not outweigh the risks. The drug’s initial developer, Boehringer Ingelheim, then sold the drug to Sprout, which conducted additional efficacy and safety studies before resubmitting an application for approval. This second application was rejected in 2013; after a formal dispute of the decision, the FDA asked the company to provide more data on flibanserin’s interactions with other medications.

One particular concern is how the drug will combine with a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications increase serotonin in the brain, which is the opposite of what flibanserin does. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, doctors consider SSRI use to be linked to many women’s low sex drives. The application Sprout filed last week included more information on drug interactions like these.

Ahead of the filing, Sprout and supporters have been lobbying hard for the drug’s approval and gone so far as to call the FDA’s rejection of the earlier applications sexist. Several prominent women’s rights groups, as well as some lawmakers, have joined with a group of drug companies all working on this issue to create the Even the Score campaign. Those behind the campaign argue that men have 26 drugs to address sexual dysfunction, while women have none; they say, “Treatments for women’s sexual dysfunction seem to be held to a different standard for approval at the FDA, and women suffer the consequences due to lack of access to safe and effective treatments.”

As Coco Jervis of the Women’s Health Network explains in a recent piece for RH Reality Check, however, these arguments don’t hold up to scrutiny very well. First, she points out that men only have 26 drugs if you count every duplicate drug (a brand name and all of its copies)—in reality, men have about six solutions for sexual dysfunction. And while this is six solutions more than women have, this doesn’t mean sexism is at play.

On a biological level, men and women function very differently when it comes to sexual arousal and performance. Viagra—and medication like it—is all about the plumbing. Men who get aroused but fail to get erections take the pill when they want to have sex, and it increases blood flow to the penis. That is far simpler and more direct than a treatment like flibanserin, which is trying to change how women’s brains are wired and must be taken every day. In a statement made last year, the FDA said, “We do not believe there has been any gender bias with regard to our review of this drug.”

Jervis brings up another important point about the “score” that the campaign is trying to even. She notes that it is unfair to directly compare women’s sexual dysfunction—which is a wide-ranging and not well-defined concept—with men’s impotence. She writes:

The word “dysfunction”—medical jargon for anything that doesn’t work the way it should—suggests that there is an acknowledged norm for female sexual function. That norm has never been established. Although male sexuality is more complex than sheer physical arousal, erections are quantifiable events that scientists can measure in objective terms. By contrast, cis women’s sexual response is, by and large, qualitative, and difficult to subject to clinical trials. Furthermore, as we all already know, sexual desire differs over time and between people for a range of reasons largely related to relationships, life situations, past experiences, and individual and social expectations—and “normality” can vary widely from person to person.

In fact, there is not widespread agreement about whether HSDD, the disorder filbaserin is designed to treat, even exists. In an op-ed for the New York Times, sex educator and author Emily Nagoski points out that HSDD was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013 and replaced with female sexual interest/arousal disorder (FSIAD). The reason, she explains, is that women often follow a different pattern of sexual desire than expected. Rather than experiencing sexual desire as a spontaneous, frequent occurrence, Nagoski says, many women need to be aroused first. Then, she says, desire will follow. Sexual desire, in this case, is reactive. FSIAD is intended to describe women who have neither spontaneous or reactive desire, many of whom, according to Nagoski, can be helped with non-pharmaceutical treatments like therapy.

Which brings us to those sexual health experts who believe the drug would do a disservice to women. Leonore Tiefer, a clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, has been an outspoken critic of efforts to create drugs to treat women’s sexual health. She told NPR, “The misrepresentation that everybody should be having it—needs to have it, wants to have it, has a problem if they don’t have it—is to change, really, what sexuality is into more of a medical thing.” And, as she added in Marie Claire“The pharmaceutical industry wants people to think that sexual problems are simple medical matters, and it offers drugs as expensive magic fixes.”

Those who take this view would often prefer to see a concentration on the the emotional and relationship components of sexuality, which may very well be at the core of women’s lack of sexual desire. They also point out, again, that all women are different and there is no “right” amount of sexual desire to be “fixed” with medication. Adriane Fugh-Berman, who studies drug companies at Georgetown University, told NPR, “There’s really been a move toward medicalizing normal human experience. And while there are certainly some women who have very troublesome symptoms of low libido, it’s not at all clear that medication is a good answer for them.”

Drug companies indeed stand to profit off women—that is an unmistakable consequence of the availability of a “Viagra for women” on the market. But caught in the fight between them and the scholars who think this medicalization of sexuality is the wrong direction for society are the women themselves. And many of them, like Cara, just want to see their sex drive—which is often buried under kids, laundry, and a full-time job—return to what it used to be.

To me, there seems to be a pretty clear middle ground here (though I realize those on each side of the issue will likely disagree). If a drug can help a woman want and enjoy sex again, that is not in of itself a bad thing. It seems almost cruel to deny her pharmaceutical relief on the grounds that she’s a victim of society’s unrealistic expectations about female sexual desire. It’s dismissive to suggest that her feelings on the issue are not at all her own. And it is demeaning to suggest that a woman didn’t notice her lack of sexual desire until drug companies came along with a solution.

Of course, at the same time, the FDA needs to be extremely cautious (as it has been) before approving any drug that is working on something as important and complicated as brain chemistry. And, if it takes a lot longer to get it right and effective than it did for drugs that make men hard, that’s not sexism—that’s just reality. If it does hit the market, health-care providers should help women carefully decide if this is the right choice.

Women deserve sexual desire and pleasure. For some, it will come easily. For others it may take therapy, relationship counseling, or finding a better partner. And, someday, for others it may come in an easy-to-swallow pill. It’s time to stop bickering and slinging accusations and instead let women find their sexual satisfaction through whatever means works best for them.

Image: Shutterstock

The post The Middle Ground in the Fight Over ‘Viagra for Women’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.


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Rick Scott: 1.6 Million Floridians Losing Health Care Is a ‘Federal Problem’

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he would take no action if the Affordable Care Act is gutted as the U.S. Supreme Court decision that could cut off access to affordable health care for millions looms.

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he would take no action if the U.S. Supreme Court guts the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–a decision that would cut off access to affordable health care for millions.

Under the ACA, states have the option to set up and manage their own insurance marketplaces—websites through which consumers can purchase their health insurance. To date, 14 states have opted to do so; 27 others have decided not to create their own marketplace, leaving consumers to use HealthCare.gov for insurance purchases.

The remaining nine states and Washington, D.C., have a marketplace that is managed by both federal and state governments, and six states that at first rejected President Obama’s signature domestic policy are now reportedly considering ways to maintain subsidies for their constituents if the Roberts Court rules against the ACA.

Both states with and without their own marketplaces offer public subsidies to the millions of Americans with incomes below a certain level, to help them meet the cost of their private insurance.

But that aid could end as early as this summer. In November, the Supreme Court agreed to take up King v. Burwell, which centers on whether states without state-run exchanges can be mandated to offer sub