31 March 2010

Historic Meeting of Survivor-Activists on Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

In March the Ms. Foundation for Women had the honor of convening an inspiring meeting on survivor-led activism on child sexual abuse prevention. In what was one of the first times survivors have been brought together to discuss child sexual abuse prevention in a social justice context, twelve activists discussed successes, challenges, and historic moments in their field. They established exciting shared visions and first steps for realizing them in this growing social justice movement.

The Ms. Foundation has long addressed the issue of child sexual abuse prevention, and recently we have had the opportunity to deepen our focus in partnership with Novo Foundation from whom we received a generous three-year grant in 2009. This meeting of activists is one example of the work this partnership has allowed us to pursue. Watch the video for some first-hand participant responses and look forward as we keep you posted on our continued work addressing this vital issue.

30 March 2010

Two Upcoming Conference Calls: Learn About Impact of Health Reform on Women, Families and Immigrants

Following are two great upcoming opportunities offered by Ms. Foundation grantee partners to learn more about how the new health-care reform bill will both help and harm women and families, including immigrants.

Wednesday, April 7, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) will host a virtual "Cafecito on Health Reform," (an informal discussion over coffee via conference call) to share their perspectives on the new legislation. NLIRH writes:
Health care reform was recently signed into law, however, for Latinas, the result is a mixed-bag. Join us to learn about provisions that help and hurt women and immigrants, and the timeline for implementation of benefits. You will also hear about state based initiatives being proposed and how this can affect health care reform in your state.
The call will be conducted in English from 12-1pm EST, and in Spanish from 1-2pm EST. Register for the NLIRH cafecito in English here and in Spanish here.

Thursday, April 8, the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), featured today in the New York Times article, "Overhaul Will Lower the Costs of Being a Woman," will be hosting a special webinar, "How Women Will Benefit from Health Care Reform," from 1-2pm EST. NWLC writes:
Now that health care reform is the law of the land, it’s time to celebrate and get the facts about the real changes for women’s lives. To understand how this important victory will benefit women and their families register for our special webinar about how health care reform will benefit women.

During the webinar, we’ll provide a summary of the key provisions impacting women and their families and outline what to expect with the new law in effect. We’ll also explain what the restrictions on abortion coverage mean for women and talk about the fight that lies ahead to fix these dangerous barriers.
Register for the NWLC event here.

Also, check out another new resource from our grantee, Raising Women's Voices, on the
pros and cons of health care reform [pdf].

29 March 2010

Health Care Reform Revives Funding for Failed Abstinence-Only Approach

Federal funding for abortion, as we well know, has been front and center in the health-care debate. But what has received far less attention is the revival of federal funding for Bush-era abstinence-only-until-marriage programs (yep, the ones that prohibit any discussion of the benefits of contraception) in the final health-care bill. We find this incredibly hard to believe. After celebrating a long-fought, hard-won victory last year when President Obama let federal funding for the failed abstinence-only approach lapse, we join our grantees and other activists who are shocked and dismayed that such a discredited program is yet again alive.

Still, it is true: the final health-care reform bill includes funding – to the tune of $50 million a year – for the abstinence-only-until-marriage initiative, Title V. This reinstatement flies in the face of evidence – including a study commissioned by the federal government – that these programs are not only unsuccessful, but harmful. Evidence that Congress, says Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a Ms. Foundation grantee partner, is well aware of:
[Congress has] the facts. They know that this program is harmful to young people, uses federal dollars to spread misinformation, fear, and shame, and is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Who decided it was a good idea to forgo saving a quarter-of-a-billion dollars over the next five years and continue funding for a failed program that leaves young people at risk? Why this program is being brought back from the dead is a mystery.
Whatever the impetus, this is a frustrating setback for advocates of medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education who for years worked tirelessly to convince state after state to reject abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. Now advocates will be forced – yet again – to resort to this approach. In the words of James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, also a Ms. Foundation grantee partner: “Together, we now have even more to do. We need to convince every governor in America to reject the bad funding for Title V programs and accept the good funding for evidence-based, comprehensive programs.”

It is also true that the health-care bill provides $75 million per year over five years for a new evidence-based “personal responsibility education program,” [see this analysis by the Guttmacher Institute] intended to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But the implications of the nonsensical abstinence-only backtrack cannot be ignored: forced to resurrect their strategy to convince states to refuse abstinence-only funding, advocates will likely have to divert resources from the implementation of evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education – district by district, school by school – which still, for all intents and purposes, remains a monumental task.

23 March 2010

Breaking it Down: A New Fact Sheet on Health Care Reform

To help us all make sense of the new health care legislation, Raising Women's Voices has put together a useful fact sheet [PDF] outlining how some of the major provisions will impact women and families. Check it out and share!

22 March 2010

Historic Health Care Vote: Celebrate and Recommit to Rights of Women, Low-Income People and People of Color

There is absolutely no doubt that last night's House vote for health care reform was historic. True, it fell short in many ways -- by further restricting women's -- particularly low-income women's -- access to abortion, prohibiting immigrants from buying insurance from the exchange, and omitting a public option. But it is a monumental step nonetheless, and we applaud Democratic members of Congress who persevered amidst scare tactics and misguided rhetoric to lay the foundation for significant social change.

Early last fall, as the health-care debate was in full swing, the Ms. Foundation issued rapid-response grants to Raising Women's Voices and Women of Color United for Health Reform to mobilize greater support for and awareness about the urgent health-care priorities of low-income women and women of color, including immigrant women. Yesterday, Raising Women's Voices and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, a founding member of Women of Color United, each welcomed the House vote and recognized elements of their platforms in the final bill:

Raising Women's Voices:
The House of Representatives’ vote tonight for health care reform is a courageous and historic accomplishment. ...In the same way that Social Security and Medicare improved the health and wellbeing of so many Americans, the health reform plan approved by the House tonight will make a real and significant difference in the lives of millions of our families...and communities.

Because of this vote, women will gain health security because insurers will no longer be able to deny insurance coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, like breast cancer; and we will no longer suffer from “gender rating” that insurers use to charge women more than men for the same policies. We will also gain from the availability of affordable health insurance for millions more families and from the guarantee that maternity care will be covered. Screening and preventive services will be available without any cost-sharing barriers.

We owe a debt of thanks to the women who raised their voices -- over many, many years and especially over the last 18 months -- to bring about these important reforms. ...These women insisted that public policy respond to the needs of the people.

With great disappointment, we acknowledge that this victory came at a cost.... The legislation imposes unfair and unnecessary burdens on women who choose to purchase abortion coverage and will expand significantly the pool of women who are not able to purchase coverage for this basic reproductive health care. ... We recommit ourselves to working to eliminate this unjust and punitive policy which prevents low-income women from receiving the comprehensive reproductive health care they need.

...On balance we look back at the woman's vision for quality, affordable health care developed and issued by Raising Women’s Voices and see that the bill takes very substantial steps toward those goals. Read RWV's full response here.
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH):
NLIRH commends Congress and the Administration for continuing to push for much-needed health reform and we are pleased to see that some critical pieces affecting our community have been addressed in the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act.

...[T]he reconciliation package will cover an estimated 9 million uninsured Latinos and increase funding for community health centers, which is a lifeline for many in our neighborhoods. In addition, 4.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico and territories will receive $6.3 billion in new Medicaid funding, increased flexibility in how to use federal funding, access to the Exchange and $1 billion in subsides for low-income residents.

We understand that this legislation is not perfect. NLIRH has deep concerns about Latino immigrants and their families who will be left on the sidelines even as 31 million currently uninsured Americans celebrate the end to their long wait for reform.

...If Heath Care Reform passes, efforts to address the following priorities must commence immediately:

* Fix Nelson: the two-check provision is unworkable and will enact some of the most egregious and detrimental setbacks to abortion rights since the seventies.

* Include immigrant women: over half of all immigrants are women, and 53% of all immigrants are from Latin America.

* Parity for Puerto Rico: though the reconciliation provisions are better than what the Senate proposed, residents of Puerto Rico are still a long ways away from receiving Medicaid and other federal health care support at the same level as other states of the Union.

If health reform passes, NLIRH will celebrate.... But we will also renew our commitment to fight for the human right of all people - regardless of legal status or zip code - to health, dignity and justice. Read NLIRH's full response here.

Immigration Reform "Blueprint" a Worrisome Sign

Leading up to yesterday's march for immigration reform in Washington, DC, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lyndsey Graham (R-SC) released a "blueprint" for immigration-reform legislation. The draft was immediately embraced by President Obama, but includes disturbing elements that would further threaten immigrants' rights.

This weekend, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a Ms. Foundation grantee partner, issued this response:
As a "starting point" for real congressional engagement, [the blueprint] sets a low bar for the debate, placing harsh and failed enforcement strategies at its heart in hopes of drawing conservative support, regardless of the human rights consequences of such policies.

While still vague and without many details, the blueprint emphasizes increases in worksite and border enforcement as an apparent trade off for a "tough but fair" legalization program. It promises green cards for the "best and the brightest" -- more of the "brain drain" scenario -- and refers to so-called "circular migration" as a rationale to provide temporary worker visas to lower-skilled immigrants to work in the U.S. These workers would presumably save their earnings, send remittances home, and then return to their home countries. This is a recipe for disaster, and merely sets up the prospect of more exploited migrant workers with fewer rights, including workers with little access to green cards and who could eventually become undocumented.
After what just happened with health care reform, where initial proposals that promised universal coverage, a public option, and respect for women's rights were whittled down by compromise and threat, is this where the Administration wants to start the discussion about immigration reform? If so, we should be worried.

Slideshow: Ms. Grantees Among Tens of Thousands Who Rally for Immigration Reform

While yesterday's March for America in Washington, DC was somewhat eclipsed by coverage of the House's historic vote for health care reform, there was still a tremendous amount of momentum generated by the tens of thousands of people who came together from across the country to rally for immigration reform.

Several of our grantees participated, and the ever-fabulous photographer Elizabeth Rappaport caught up with two of them: the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (two groups that were also heavily involved in advocacy for equitable and inclusive health care reform).

See the slideshow below to get a feel for this powerful mobilization and let's keep working to push for what should be next on President Obama's agenda: immigrants' rights and immigration reform.

16 March 2010

Health Care Reform Countdown - Take Action Today

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on health care reform legislation this week. Two Ms. Foundation grantees, the National Women's Law Center and Raising Women's Voices have called for your voice of support. Tell your representatives that "women and their families need you to pass the comprehensive health reform bills."

Tell Congress to Pass Comprehensive Health Care
Take action: National Women's Law Center
Take action: Raising Women's Voices

Tell DHS: Suspend Immigration Enforcement Activities for Census 2010

With Census 2010 forms arriving next week, and as Census workers begin to make their way through neighborhoods nationwide, immigrants' rights and social justice advocates are cautioning that immigrants will be discouraged from being counted by the climate of fear and distrust perpetuated by immigration raids and other enforcement tactics.

In response, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (a Ms. Foundation grantee) is leading an effort to call on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to "suspend all enforcement activities and operations engaged in by the DHS and impacting non-citizens be completely and immediately suspended for the rest of the year in order to encourage a more inclusive count of this country's population." [Read NNIRR's press release.]

This week, NNIRR submitted a letter [PDF] to Obama and Napolitano signed by over 200 organizations, including the Ms. Foundation for Women and a number of our grantee partners, requesting the suspension of raids and other enforcement activities -- already known to be abusive and harmful to immigrant workers and families. [Individuals can sign on here.]

This is not a radical idea. To a certain extent, the Obama Administration is being asked to follow precedent -- some enforcement activities were suspended in 2000 and 1990, and it looked like that would be the case in 2010. In 2007, in preparation for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau urged that immigration enforcement raids be suspended. But under the Obama Administration the Census Bureau reversed course, stating last October "that they have declined to ask the DHS to suspend raids during the 2010 Census."

This is unacceptable in its own right, and a troubling indicator of current and future immigration policy. Already, according to NNIRR, "enforcement activities have reached an unprecedented breadth and depth, resulting in higher numbers of detentions and deportations than even the past Administration, and utilizing strategies that are less visible than raids but well known and feared in immigrant communities throughout the country." [Last fall, the Obama Administration itself released a report that was critical of its detention policies.]

We urge the Obama Administration to answer the call to suspend raids and other harmful enforcement tactics. And, of course, it should go further: the administration should also stand up for immigrants' rights in critical policy debates -- including comprehensive immigration reform -- to come.

Join NNIRR, the Ms. Foundation and our grantee partners by adding your name to the letter. Individuals have until March 27 to sign on.

15 March 2010

March on Washington for Immigration Reform

This Sunday 21 March 2010 the Center for Community Change (CCC), many of our grantee partners, dozens of progressive organizations, and tens of thousands of individuals are marching on Washington, DC in support of immigration reform. Activists around the country have signed on, calling for a vision of "reform [that] includes immigrants and native-born U.S. citizens working shoulder to shoulder to achieve better wages, working conditions, and labor protections, and of an America that's back to work, with a fair balance between main street and Wall Street." [March for America website].

These voices have already made an impact on Capitol Hill. Last week, in anticipation of this huge action, President Obama met with leading grassroots activists and advocacy leaders to establish a path forward for a comprehensive reform agenda. It's a step in the right direction, but we need more than a plan to plan. We need real reform.

We urge you to step forward and join Ms. Foundation grantees including Legal Momentum, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Latina Initiative and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in Washington, DC. Tell lawmakers that America's founding principles demand true democracy, where social and economic justice is guaranteed for all.

Sign-up to march. Show your support online. Learn more.

10 March 2010

Health Reform - Raising Women's Voices Calls for Your Voice Now

Raising Women's Voices, a Ms. Foundation movement building and health care grantee asks you to contact your representative (especially if they are on the list below) and to call for health reform that maintains women's reproductive rights. They ask:
Tell them this is their chance to help women and our families get the health care we need. The current system is failing millions of us and they must take action to fix it.

Then make sure to let them know you're paying attention to what happens in Congress and won't accept any side agreements to allow a vote on Rep. Bart Stupak's anti-abortion language. Real reform must not roll back our rights to comprehensive reproductive health care!
The list below includes the representatives Raising Women's Voices wants to target. It includes Democratic representatives who not firmly in support of the bill (8 March 2010).
Firm no
Dan Boren (Okla.) *
Bobby Bright (Ala.) *
Artur Davis (Ala.) *
Larry Kissell (N.C.)
Dennis Kucinich (Ohio)
Frank Kratovil (Md.)
Walt Minnick (Idaho)
Collin Peterson (Minn.) *
Mike Ross (Ark.) *
Ike Skelton (Mo.) *
Gene Taylor (Miss.) *

Leaning No
Michael Arcuri (N.Y.) (Y)

Brian Baird (Wash.)
Marion Berry (Ark.) * (Y)
John Boccieri (Ohio) *
Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) * (Y)
Kathleen Dahlkemper (Pa.) * (Y)
Steve Driehaus (Ohio) * (Y)
Bart Gordon (Tenn.) *
Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) (Y)
Ron Kind (Wis.) (Y)
Dan Maffei (N.Y.) (Y)
Scott Murphy (N.Y.)
Solomon Ortiz (Texas) * (Y)
Tom Perriello (Va.) * (Y)
Nick Rahall (W.Va.) * (Y)
John Spratt (S.C.) * (Y)
Bart Stupak (Mich.) * (Y)
John Tanner (Tenn.) *

Leaning Yes
Russ Carnahan (Mo.) (Y)
Jim Oberstar (Minn.) * (Y)

No comment
Mike Doyle (Pa.) * (Y)

* — Voted for Stupak amendment in Nov.
(Y) — Voted yes in November

Note: Spokesmen for Berry, Driehaus and Stupak on Monday said their bosses will vote against the bill unless the Stupak language is adopted. Stupak has said a dozen lawmakers who voted for the House measure could change their votes based on the abortion provisions.

Source: Dems on Healthcare, The Hill.
You can use the following form to contact your representative. Read the full message from Raising Women's Voices.

03 March 2010

Insidious and Racist Anti-Choice Campaign Brews in Georgia

Georgia has recently been bombarded by a full-frontal assault of anti-choice propaganda and an attempt to demonize abortion providers as perpetrators of race-based crimes.

Over the last month in Atlanta, about 80 large billboards that depict a seemingly distressed child and the bleak message, “Black Children are an Endangered Species,” have been posted throughout neighborhoods with a majority African American population; the billboards direct people to the website, TooManyAborted.com, which links abortion and reproductive health providers to eugenics and racially-motivated population control. The implication is more than a little disturbing -- it’s dangerous. Like a smear campaign gone haywire, the billboards’ backers, Georgia Right to Life, the Radiance Foundation, and Operation Outrage, use blatant disinformation tactics to vilify and demonize advocates for reproductive health and choice.

Women’s health advocates are fighting back. Ms. Foundation grantees, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! and SisterSong, are part of a coalition of organizations aggressively challenging the billboards’ message. [Support their efforts here and here.] The fact is that of the 15 abortion providers in Georgia only four are located in predominantly African American neighborhoods. What's more, Georgia’s relatively high abortion rate among African American women accounts in part for the reality that the state, and Atlanta specifically, acts as a hub for women seeking abortion services from neighboring states where accessibility to safe and legal abortions is becoming increasingly rare.

Ultimately, of course, it is the underlying unequal access to health and education that have the most devastating impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women of color. On February 12, SisterSong’s Heidi Williamson told NPR’s Morning Edition [see player below] "The enemy is not black women, the enemy is poverty. The enemy is uninsured children and not properly funding education so that we can make sure there are comprehensive sex education programs and pregnancy prevention programs."

And these billboards are only the surface of the problem – the exterior face of a full-on legislative racist and sexist campaign against abortion. The billboards’ creators are all strongly supporting recent legislation, Georgia House Bill 1155, which seeks to ban the alleged solicitation of women of color by abortion providers. According to SisterSong [see their fact sheet and talking points (pdf)], the bill’s language is “inflammatory” and its premise “unfounded.” It would delay and complicate access to essential health services by requiring that all providers prove that they are not ”soliciting” African American women, and it would effectively challenge the legality of abortion by amending the racketeering laws to include abortion providers—classifying them as “organized crime”.

The billboard and legislative campaigns represent a tandem assault on the minds and bodies of women of color in Georgia. They both use inflammatory accusations and condescending propositions [see this great piece on RH Reality Check] to obscure the underlying issues that force many low-income women and women of color to make difficult decisions about their pregnancies. In fact, they assume that African American women are not capable of making independent decisions regarding their health; they capitalize on the anti-choice contingent’s crusade to limit sexual health education; and, most frighteningly, they manipulate this knowledge gap for their own purposes. As SPARK says, “Black women know what is best for our lives, our families, and our communities and are capable of making these decisions without a coordinated assault by organizations that are not genuinely committed to addressing the host of social issues confronted by the black community.”

To support the campaign against the billboards (which, in another twist, are owned by CBS Outdoors, the outdoor advertising division of CBS Corporation, which has increasingly been tooting the anti-choice horn) or the legislation, check out SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! and SisterSong for action alerts.

Read more about the one-sided media coverage and the efforts of Loretta Ross (SisterSong) to speak back.