29 September 2010

Women with Pre-existing Conditions Denied Abortion Coverage

Did you know that under our nation's new health care laws, women with pre-existing conditions will still be denied access to abortion coverage?

It's shocking but true: under the rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services for the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans, women with serious medical conditions (like cancer, heart disease or diabetes) would be prevented from receiving coverage for pregnancy-ending procedures -- even if these pregnancies put their lives at risk.

Ms. Foundation grantees the National Women's Law Center, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and West Virginia Free have added their names to a growing list of organizations and individuals asking HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to reconsider these restrictions. Educate yourself about what these new rules could mean for millions of American families by reading this letter [pdf], sent earlier this week to Secretary Sebelius, or by watching the video below, created by Raising Women's Voices.

28 September 2010

Follow the NCRW Economic Summit Online

The Ms. Foundation for Women is a proud co-sponsor of the National Council for Research on Women’s economic summit, Reinvesting in Women and Families: Developing an Economy for the Future. The October 8 meeting in New York City will address the impact of the economic crisis and economic recovery efforts on low-income women, especially women of color, their families, and other vulnerable communities such as immigrants and LGBTQ people, across generations. Ms. Foundation President and CEO Sara K. Gould will open and frame the discussion around women’s experiences, lives and needs in this new economy.

Attendance at the summit is by invitation only. You can follow the proceedings on a live blog from NCRW or on Twitter with the hashtag #femecon.

Twelve Ms. Foundation grantee groups will be attending to provide their perspectives on how to address inequities within the economic system. Their holistic vision for women’s economic justice is important and their voices will be heard along with academics, the business community and policymakers. As Ms. Foundation Program Officer Sangeeta Budhiraja says: “Ensuring the economic security of women and families is about more than simply creating jobs. It's about ensuring that those jobs pay a living wage and providing families with access to quality, affordable child and health care -- as well as a host of other essential services. As we look to the future, and strive to develop an economy that supports the needs of women and families, we must set our sights on ensuring economic justice for all."

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rappaport -- Women in Transition, Kentucky 2009

Ms. Foundation Project Spreads Its Wings: NWAC to Become Independent Nonprofit

Exciting news to share: Today the Ms. Foundation for Women announced via press release that NWAC, the National Women and AIDS Collective, will establish itself as an independent nonprofit entity!

Incubated at the Ms. Foundation since 2005, NWAC is the first and only national policy network of organizations led by women living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and a key voice of the national women and AIDS movement. The collective was formed by Ms. Foundation grantees at a national policy summit to advocate for the critical federal HIV/AIDS policy changes required to meet the unique and unmet needs of women living with, or at risk of, HIV/AIDS nationwide.

The full text of the press release follows below and can also be found on our website.

Cheers to NWAC! We're so excited to see you fly!

We Are One Nation: Join the March for Justice on October 2

Everyone in America deserves a just and fair chance to achieve the American Dream.

If that's a notion that gets your heart beating a little faster, then make some time this weekend to join more than 100,000 progressives as they march on Washington for equality, jobs and justice.

One Nation Working Together is a social movement of individuals and organizations "committed to putting America back to work and pulling America back together." On Saturday, October 2, 2010, individuals and organizations from across America will gather in Washington, DC, at the Lincoln Memorial, to demand that government take action and implement the changes they voted for in the 2008 election:

27 September 2010

Help NLIRH Ensure Contraception is Prevention in Health Reform Law

Coverage for contraception is still on shaky ground as the health care reform laws are beginning to be enacted. The US Department of Health and Human Services is currently in the process of determining what “preventive services” means, and birth control is one of the most hotly contested arenas. For you and the women you love, this means that women still have to fight for the right to fair and equitable health care in this country. And with the backlash against health care reform growing, we all need to support the work of our colleagues at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) who fight to bring systemic and lasting change through the new law.

Help them in their quest. Call your representatives to demand that prevention is defined to include birth control.

23 September 2010

Ms. Foundation Featured in International Museum of Women Online Exhibit

The Ms. Foundation for Women is featured in the International Museum of Women's online exhibition, ECONOMICA: Women and the Global Economy. As the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals renews its commitment to improving the health and security of women and children as essential to alleviating global poverty, we also have the responsibility to address the economic distress that women and children face here at home.

Today, amid economic uncertainty, women are often alone standing between their families and poverty, foreclosure, or worse. Susan Wefald, chief operating officer at the Foundation, contributed a powerful and moving essay to the exhibition that

22 September 2010

Grantee Shows Census Data Paints Dire Picture for Women and Families

We frequently comment on the devastating impact of the economic crisis on women, particularly low income women, women of color and single heads of households. Our grantee partners are advocating tirelessly for inclusive and just economic policies that support women, families and their communities.

Now, our grantee, the National Women's Law Center, has analyzed the newly released 2009 Census data. The numbers paint a dire picture.

Join Us for the SPARK Summit!

Ready to help SPARK a revolution?

The Ms. Foundation is proud to be one of the lead partners in the SPARK Summit, an event and a movement designed to push back against the increasingly sexualized images of girlhood in the media and create room for whole girls and healthy sexuality.

The summit, scheduled to take place Friday, October 22 at Hunter College in New York City, is a day to speak out, push back on the sexualization of girls, and have fun -- all while igniting a movement for girls’ rights to healthy sexuality.

21 September 2010

Dream Act, Don't Ask Don't Tell Blocked in the Senate

It looks like both the Dream Act and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will have to wait until after the November midterm elections for a vote.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted not to take up a significant piece of military legislation that includes a provision that would have made way for the repeal of the military's current ban on openly gay and lesbian soldiers, as well as the immigration reform policy known as the Dream Act, which would have provided thousands of undocumented young people a path to US citizenship.

Jobs Creation for Women: Join Us for an Important Conversation

"80% of all new jobs in this economic downturn are coming from microenterprises. Imagine the ripple effect when a low income woman starts a successful business in her neighborhood: she lifts her family up, creates jobs, her business can turn around the community."

Together with our friends at the New York Women's Foundation, the Ms. Foundation is pleased to offer you an exciting opportunity to learn how microenterprise is changing the lives of women across America.

20 September 2010

Help Build an Equitable America: Support the DREAM Act Today

This week, the Senate is set to vote on the DREAM Act, a long overdue piece of legislation that would provide thousands of undocumented young people a now-illusive path to citizenship.

The bill (officially known as the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act) would, as an editorial in Monday's New York Times put it, "[open] the door to military service and higher education for young people whose parents brought them to this country as children without proper documentation. If they finish high school, show good moral character and serve at least two years in the military or earn a college degree, they can earn citizenship."

Grantee Seeks a Broader View of Family Values – Share Your Story

Ms. Foundation grantee Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice is looking for 5,000 "Strong Families" willing to share their stories of challenge and triumph, as they push to reframe our understanding of the American family and fight for policies that benefit us all.

After more than two decades of the Right dominating debate over "family values," ACRJ says it's time for a new conversation about what our families actually look like and what their real needs may be. The Strong Families Initiative is a 10-year-long campaign rooted in the Reproductive Justice movement that seeks to dramatically change the cultural and political fabric of the U.S.

15 September 2010

Evaluation Finds 'Funding Plus' Sex Ed Strategy Works

In 2005, the Ms. Foundation launched a sex ed initiative to ensure that all young people will one day have access to fully funded, comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education. Our Sexuality Education Advocacy Initiative (SEAI) was built to support grantees in achieving concrete policy and organizational wins; provide them with critical capacity building support; and cultivate networking and information-sharing between state and national groups to enhance the alignment of local, state and federal policy.

This multi-tiered, "funding-plus" model was, we believed, the most effective approach to supporting state-level efforts to mandate comprehensive sexuality education. Now, five years after SEAI's launch, an outside evaluation has confirmed that our strategy works.

In their evaluation of SEAI, Tom Novick and Erin Anderson of M+R Strategic Services found that the Ms. Foundation's "funding plus” grant-making strategy added significant value to its financial support of SEAI grantees. From the report:
The "funding plus" training and technical assistance were extremely effective in helping achieve the SEAI objectives.... This support helped grantees become more strategic and precise in targeting and organizing, and helped them see the connections between advocacy efforts at the local, state and national levels.
The evaluators concluded that thanks to the Ms. Foundation's multi-layered support strategy, "all current SEAI grantees have made tangible progress towards their determined policy wins relating to comprehensive sexuality education, despite the policy changes taking longer and being harder to achieve that originally expected."

That's the kind of news we like to hear!
Learn more about how the Ms. Foundation is working to support comprehensive sex ed initiatives across the nation.

14 September 2010

"Rape-Talk" on the Rise?

If you're reading this blog, chances are you're not someone who thinks "rape" makes a good punchline, or that it's a term that should be thrown around to describe mundane events. But is our culture at-large more comfortable with the casual use of that word than it should be? In a recent piece for The Guardian, columnist Kira Cochrane says yes, noting recent examples of public figures utilizing rape as a metaphor for other "traumatic" experiences -- devaluing the horror of actual acts of violence against women in the process.

As Cochrane points out, rape is fast becoming the ubiquitous term for expressing some sense of violation. Boxing's world heavyweight champion just caused a stir for suggesting that his upcoming fight was going to be as "one-sided as a gang rape" (and refusing to apologize for his choice of words); actress Kristen Stewart, of Twilight fame, equated being followed by paparazzi to being raped; a Facebook page called "Thanks wind, you have totally raped my hair" now has more than a million followers; and the reliably repugnant Rush Limbaugh told his listeners to "get ready to get gang-raped again" during this year's healthcare debates.

But it's not just public figures who are playing fast and loose with the word. Everyday people have apparently picked up the message that rape isn't all that special, and have taken to using the term to describe their everyday lives. Cochrane shares a personal anecdote to illustrate the phenomenon:
Coming out of an exercise class recently, a guy turned to one of my friends, sweating and breathless, and heaved a sigh of satisfied exhaustion. "Wow, that was just like being raped, wasn't it?" he said. My friend stood motionless, blinking back at him.
Stunning? Yes. All that uncommon these days? Unfortunately not. And should we be all that surprised? With a media culture that regularly reinforces and capitalizes on the idea of rape as some great joke (see Cochrane's references to the work of comedian Ricky Gervais, actor Seth Rogan and director Richard Curtis), is it any wonder that much of the taboo of using the word has been stripped away?

The problem, of course, is that rape is not any kind of joke -- nor is it a rare occurrence. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women is likely to experience sexual violence in her lifetime. Not to mention the ubiquitous and systemic use of rape as a weapon to terrorize and overpower in conflicts and war zones worldwide.

How is a young woman -- or man -- supposed to feel when this personal, traumatic experience is reduced to a punchline in a joke? What kind of lesson do young people learn when acts of sexual violence get demoted to linguistic fodder? And what does this "twisting" of language do to our understanding of just how traumatic and depraved rape actually is?

There should never be anything casual about the use of the word rape, plain and simple. Media makers need to take a strong stand against the cheapening of sexually violent acts, and the public should refuse to support films, performers and other media products that treat rape nonchalantly. Moreover, each of us needs to be willing to challenge the people in our own lives who mistakenly assume that rape is a just another cool metaphor for bad things that happen. Because it's not. Whatever the movies, movie stars and other talking heads may tell you, there's nothing cool about it.

Learn more about how the Ms. Foundation is working to end sexual violence in communities across America.

You're Invited: NCRW Event Explores Women's Power at Work

On Wednesday, September 29th, please join Ms. Foundation grantee the National Council for Research on Women for an exciting conversation about the power of women in the workplace.

The event -- co-sponsored by the Ms. Foundation -- will highlight findings from the recently published book The Female Vision: Women's Real Power at Work, which examines the different perspectives held by men and women in the workplace, and how women’s vision can make a significant, positive difference.

Panelists include the book's authors, Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson; Tracy High, Partner, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; and Anne Weisberg, Director of Talent, Deloitte L.P. Melinda Wolfe, Head of Professional Development at Bloomberg L.P. will moderate.

The event will take place at American Express corporate headquarters, 200 Vesey Street, New York, NY, and runs from 8:30 - 10:30 am. Registration begins at 8 am.

For more information and to RSVP, please visit the NCRW event page.

13 September 2010

NWLC Urges Congress to Act on Behalf of Pregnant and Parenting Teens

Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center is pushing Congress to improve the lives of America's youth by passing the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act [pdf].

According to NWLC, the legislation aims to "[improve] high school graduation rates and access to post-secondary educational and career opportunities for pregnant and parenting students." In a letter to like-minded organizations, NWLC wrote,
The legislation will set up a grant program to provide needed funds to states and local school districts. Among other things, grantees will be expected to offer academic support and related services to pregnant and parenting students, to designate a coordinator to oversee the education of pregnant and parenting students, and to revise school policies to remove barriers, some of which discriminate based on pregnancy in violation of Title IX. The bill aims to change the culture at schools, so that these students are no longer stigmatized and instead are encouraged to reach their educational goals. It also will help parenting students secure affordable child care and transportation services, and will invest resources in outreach to increase the enrollment and retention of pregnant and parenting students in school.
For more information about this critical piece of legislation, read NWLC's press release on the topic.

TANF Sanctions Threaten America's Neediest

There's an epidemic in America's most vulnerable communities -- and federal policies are directly responsible for its spread. Widespread and erroneous financial sanctions are leaving TANF recipients with less money in their pockets, if not shut out of the system entirely.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is designed to offer America's neediest families crucial financial support during times of crisis. But according to a recent report from Ms. Foundation grantee Legal Momentum, financial sanctions -- commonly and erroneously imposed for minor violations -- have resulted in hundreds of thousands of families being denied full access to the benefits they've been awarded.

The report -- "The Sanction Epidemic in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program" [pdf] -- found that in 2008, 85,000 families a month received reduced benefits (or "partial" sanctions), with an average reduction of $146, about 38% of the $383 average monthly TANF grant. According to Legal Momentum, these sanctions "often come as a result of minor violations" --including something as simple as "failing to file a document."
...The report describes the case of “a 43-year-old black woman, living in an emergency shelter and suffering from both shingles and AIDS, who was sanctioned for failing to attend an appointment at the Department of Labor. According to her, when she called the Department of Labor to say she would be 20 minutes late for her appointment she was told it was too late and was sanctioned.
As a result of these sanctions, desperate families find themselves struggling even harder to survive; as Legal Momentum points out, "sanctioned TANF families often report maternal or child hunger, eviction or homelessness, and lack of medical care."

But there's more: in addition to these partial sanctions, states are also within their rights -- and encouraged by federal policies -- to visit "full" sanctions on beneficiaries who commit minor infractions. Full sanctions deprive TANF families of 100% of their benefits, leaving these families without resources to support themselves. This in turn has lead to a significant reduction in the overall number of families receiving aid of any kind: in 1995, 84% of eligible families participated in the program; in 2005, that number had dropped to just 40%.

You'd think that this discrepancy between need and actual awards would raise a red flag among the powers that be. But with state budgets under extreme stress, it seems that government officials are turning a blind eye to the impact of these inflexible policies on families in their states if it means reducing the "welfare rolls."

As Congress looks at extending TANF subsidies through September of 2011, Legal Momentum is urging policymakers to correct the application of sanctions, to ensure that they become both "fair and rare." Families in crisis deserve to be treated with as much humanity as anyone else; it's Congress's job to make sure that TANF starts to treat its beneficiaries not as numbers, but as actual human beings.

10 September 2010

Want to Spur Economic Growth? Invest in Low/Moderate Income Communities

Who deserves help in this troubled economy -- the rich or everyone else? That's the question at the center of debate around the proposed extension of George W. Bush's tax breaks for America's wealthiest few.

Over on the National Women's Law Center blog, there's an excellent new entry into this discussion from Regina L. Oldak, Senior Counsel at NWLC, who argues convincingly that tax cuts for the wealthy indicate that America's got its priorities all wrong. Instead, she suggests, Congress should be doing more to strengthen our economy by helping the families who are actually struggling -- most notably, women headed families, for whom unemployment rates now stand at a 25 year high of 13.4 percent.

In an economic climate where twenty-five percent of men and thirty-five percent of women say they have $500 or less in savings (as a major national poll [pdf] from the Ms. Foundation and the Center for Community Change recently found), offering tax cuts to the wealthy really gets it backwards, notes Oldak. Low and middle income communities own the spending habits that will eventually help jump-start this economy; therefore, our economic policies should aim to provide these communities with the influx of cash they need to keep themselves, and our economy, afloat. Oldak writes,
Extending tax cuts for low- and moderate-income people can boost the economy because hard-pressed families spend nearly every additional dollar to make ends meet—which, in turn, creates demand for goods and services and thus encourages businesses to hire more workers. However, the very wealthy save more of the money they get from tax cuts because they already have what they need (and much of what they want). For that reason, the Congressional Budget Office ranks tax cuts for the very wealthy as the least effective option for promoting economic growth.
Instead of revitalizing these Bush era tax cuts for the rich, Oldak suggests, Congress needs to act now to pass "substantial measures that would create jobs and provide emergency assistance to families including the Jobs for America Act, additional funding for child care, restored funding for child support enforcement, and an extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund." Those are measures that would provided much needed, tangible support to families who are increasingly finding themselves on the margins of society, unable to make ends meet -- and help stimulate an economy that arguably cannot recover without them.

Americans, whatever their income level, are eager to find stability and security in this roller coaster ride of an economy. But those who are struggling to put bread on the table clearly deserve greater levels of support from their government in times like these. It's time for Congress to get serious about taking a stronger role in making this economy work by investing in programs that benefit low and moderate income communities. The wealthy, as they always have, will find their way.

Take Action: Join Jobs with Justice to End Unemployment Crisis

Ms. Foundation grantee Jobs with Justice is calling on the government to end the national crisis of joblessness: On Wednesday, September 15, they're holding a Jobs Emergency National Day of Action with events in 30 cities nationwide, demanding that members of Congress (and their corporate backers) explain how they plan to fill the jobs gap and "put America back to work."

With more than 15 million Americans currently unemployed, it's time to declare a "state of emergency" on our national jobs situation, says Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of labor, community, student and faith organizations working to build a broader global movement for economic and social justice. As part of the day of action, JwJ is demanding:
  • Full and Fair Employment. Congress must recognize the jobs emergency and pass legislation like the Local Jobs for America Act; extend the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families emergency fund jobs subsidies program; extend unemployment insurance; heed President Obama’s call to renew the countries’ infrastructure and create a national infrastructure bank; and pass other bills that will create jobs, protect public services, and help get our economy going again.
  • Financial Sector Accountability. Wall Street must pay their fair share for the crisis they created. A tax on financial speculation could raise $200-$500 billion every year.
Join Jobs with Justice and their allies as they stand up for a recovery that puts everyday Americans back to work. Find an action taking place in a city near you, and read Sarita Gupta's recent commentary on the jobless crisis, which ran on Common Dreams.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rappaport

08 September 2010

College Women Face Epidemic of Sexual Assault

Here's a statistic that should stop you dead in your tracks: A recent report [pdf] from the Department of Justice has found that 1 in 5 women on college campuses will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate. Yes, you read that correctly. 1 in 5.

Those numbers indicate that rape on campus has reached epidemic proportions -- and shockingly, they may not even come close to accurately reflecting the real incidence of sexual assault at colleges nationwide. Another new study, this one from the Center for Public Integrity, found that students "often keep quiet when they are sexually assaulted because they blame themselves for what happened, don't realize that what happened to them was a crime or fear that their assailants or others will strike again if they report them." Meaning of course, that many more young women have been sexually assaulted than we know about, but remain too scared (of judgment; of retaliation) to speak out.

This week, ABC News's Nightline ran a moving piece about one young woman who did indeed muster the courage to speak out about what happened to her -- but then found that no one at her college was willing to listen. Megan Wright's story is a heartbreaking one, and it serves as a much needed reminder of how much work remains to be done -- on college campuses and in society at large -- if we hope to eradicate rape from our culture.

Watch Megan's story.

07 September 2010

New York Governor Signs Domestic Workers Bill into Law

On Tuesday, August 31, 2010, Governor David Paterson made history by signing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights into law. The first bill of its kind to be passed in this nation, the measure ensures that basic workplace protections -- paid sick and vacation days, overtime pay, and one day of rest per week -- are extended to New York's 200,000 domestic workers, who have until now labored with limited rights under the law.

“Today we correct an historic injustice by granting those who care for the elderly, raise our children and clean our homes the same essential rights to which all workers should be entitled," the Governor said at the bill's signing. "I am grateful to the sponsors for their extraordinary efforts to enact this landmark bill, and most of all to those domestic workers who dreamed, planned, organized and then fought for many years, until they were able to see an injustice undone.”

As a result of the bill's passage, New York now leads the way in a national movement to protect domestic workers' rights. Ms. Foundation grantee Domestic Workers United led a years-long effort to steer the bill through the New York State legislature, and are now partnered with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to push for passage of similar measures in states across the country (they are working to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in California at present).

What amazing win for our grantees and for the hundreds of thousands of workers they represent! Check out the extensive news coverage the event received in the New York Daily News, from WNYC and the ACLU's Blog of Rights. And read the full press release from the event to learn what New York's leading politicos had to say in praise of this new legislation.

Photo: Governor Paterson and Domestic Workers United supporter before the signing. (For more photos, visit Governor Paterson's Flickr page.)

Illinois Governor Rejects Abstinence-Only Funds, Opts for Comprehensive Sex Ed

It's nice to have proof that there's some balance in the world. Case in point: While Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was busy rejecting government funding for comprehensive sex ed programs in his state last week, the governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, decided to stand up for the rights of youth in his own.

Quinn, a Democrat, has chosen to reject all federal funding for Title V, abstinence-only programs in the state of Illinois, applying instead for nearly $2 million in funding through the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) -- a federal program that supports the teaching of comprehensive age-appropriate, medically accurate sexual health education in schools.

The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, a Ms. Foundation grantee, released a statement late last week cheering Quinn's decision to move Illinois away from Title V (abstinence-only) funding. In that statement, they underscore what many experts already agree to be true about abstinence-only education: it simply does not work.
Abstinence-only-until marriage (AOUM) programs have been proven ineffective in reducing both youth birth rates and sexually transmitted infection rates. Moreover, according to a 2008 report published by Legal Momentum, Sex, Lies and Stereotypes, abstinence-only programs and policies are known to reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, stigmatize LGBTQ youth and families, increase public health risks, and restrict access to youth who may not have alternative sources of information. Prohibited from encouraging contraceptive use, abstinence-only programs instead distort contraceptive failure rates and disparage the idea of safer sex.
Meanwhile, the kind of comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate sexual education programs supported by PREP funding gives youth the tools they actually need to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

We too applaud Governor Quinn's decision to provide the youth of Illinois with the kind of education they deserve -- the kind that empowers them to ask questions, learn the truth, and protect their own health and well-being. If only the children in every other state should be so lucky.

Push for Paycheck Fairness Today

Labor Day may be behind us, but there's still an opportunity to make a difference on behalf of workers nationwide -- particularly the women among them.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which President Obama has already expressed his support for, seeks to remedy the persistent wage gap that keeps American women earning just 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn. The legislation would allow victims of wage discrimination to sue for damages, and requires employers to prove that any disparities in pay between men and women are job-related.

As the President pointed out when he went public with his support for the act in July,
Women make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of American families with children rely on a woman's wages as a significant portion of their families' income... Paycheck discrimination hurts families who lose out on badly needed income. And with so many families depending on women's wages, it hurts the American economy as a whole. In difficult economic times like these, we simply cannot afford this discriminatory burden.
Ms. Foundation grantee the National Partnership for Women and Families is running an important online campaign to build support for the measure; let your Senators know how much the Paycheck Fairness Act means to you today!

01 September 2010

Minnesota Governor Rejects Sex-Ed Funding

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has decided that his state doesn't need federal money for sex education -- unless, that is, it's used to spread the "abstinence-only" message.

The Minnesota Star-Tribune reports that Pawlenty has rejected a teen pregnancy prevention grant from the federal government worth $850,000 because it would have required the state to teach medically accurate comprehensive sex ed (which, yes, includes mention of condoms and other contraceptive measures).

Instead, the Governor instructed the Minnesota Department of Health to apply only for funds earmarked for abstinence-only education -- $500,000 worth, in fact, which comes with a requirement that the state match those funds to the tune of $379,000.

Pawlenty claims that he rejected the larger sum of federal money because it's tied to President Obama's health care reform package, which Pawlenty a Republican) opposes. That could make some kind of sense, except... the abstinence-only money is a provision of the exact same health care package.

Whatever Pawlenty really feels about health care reform, his decision to reject federal money for comprehensive sex ed is clearly not about that. It's about bolstering the abstinence-only movement in his state -- and, some would argue, about shoring up his own right wing bona fides for a purported presidential run in 2012.

It may actually be a shrewd move on Pawlenty's part, one that will play exceptionally well to his party's base. But who pays the price for this calculation, whatever may be motivating it? The millions of teens in Minnesota who will now be deprived of comprehensive sexuality education. With rates of teen pregnancy and STIs on the rise in Minnesota (and well above national averages), the last thing the young adults in this state needed was for their governor to cut off funding that would have taught them the real deal about their sexual health -- and literally saved their lives in the process.

The situation in Minnesota may be staggering, but the teens in this state are not the only ones suffering. A provision of the health care bill passed this Spring restored nearly $250 million in abstinence-only federal funding; as we speak, states across the nation are applying for those funds -- sometimes along with funds for comprehensive sex ed, and sometimes, as in Minnesota, without them.

At the Ms. Foundation, we know that access to comprehensive, medically-accurate sexuality education is fundamental to the health and well-being of women, youth and their communities. That is why we continue to invest in grassroots organizations working to bring age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexuality eduction to communities nationwide.

Learn more about how we're working at the state and local level to counteract policies and programs -- like those now making waves in Minnesota -- that disrespect our youth and put their lives in danger. And read Ms. Foundation staffer Sunny Daly's take on why, 50 years after the release of the birth control pill, sex education is more important than ever.