|DECEMBER 2015 – BPW/PA LEGISLATION UPDATE
SUPREME COURT TO HEAR TEXAS ABORTION CLINIC ACCESS CASE IN 2016: “The most notable abortion case in what could be two decades,” is how NBC News referred to the Court’s 11/13/15 acceptance of Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole [No.15-274], a lawsuit objecting to Texas legislation [HB2] that has already closed about half the abortion clinics in Texas. NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams said, “The importance of this case goes well beyond Texas.” It “will be the most important abortion rights case before the Supreme Court in almost 25 years,” noted Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northrup. The Center for Reproductive Rights represents a group of abortion providers challenging HB2 as unconstitutional. They argue that HB2 creates an undue burden for Texas women who live far from the nearest clinic (hundreds of miles in many cases) and does not promote the state’s interest in improving health. If the Court rules for the state, the number of clinics will fall to about 10, compared with about 40 since the law took effect.
This case affects 5.4 million Texas women of reproductive age, more than 60,000 of whom choose to have an abortion each year. Since HB2’s forced clinic closings in 2013, a recent study surveyed Texas women between ages 18 to 49 about the use of self-induced abortion among the general population. These Texas Policy Evaluation Project findings were released on 11/19/15 and reported by the Austin Chronicle. At least 100,000 Texas women have attempted to terminate pregnancies without medical assistance since HB2 passed. Researchers believe as many as 240,000 women have attempted self-induced abortion, but would not report because of the stigma involved. An 11/17/15 Washington Post report said that using misoprostol was the most common method, but women reported using herbs, homeopathic methods, as well as “getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.”
By hearing this case the Court could clarify its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey where the high court held that states cannot impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion prior to fetal viability. The first attempt by a state to restrict abortion was Pennsylvania’s 1989 Abortion Control Act, challenging the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Under the Casey ruling the Supreme Court held that unnecessary health regulations with the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion are considered undue burdens. According to Politico Pro dozens of states have limited abortion access through measures such as delays, restrictive building code regulations and mandatory ultrasound requirements since the Casey ruling. In agreeing to hear the first major abortion case since 2007, the Court’s ruling has “the potential to affect millions of women and to revise the constitutional principles governing abortion rights,” wrote Adam Liptak, chief New York Times Legal Correspondent. Oral arguments will likely take place next spring. Politico Pro believes that Justice Anthony Kennedy will cast the deciding vote. A June Court ruling will thrust this divisive issue of abortion to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign.
CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC) FINDS INCREASES IN SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES:
An 11/17/15 AP/Philadelphia Inquirer report warned that Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis cases all increased in 2014 with rates of Chlamydia reaching record levels. 1.4 million Cases of Chlamydia were reported marking a nearly 3% increase from 2013. The total marks the largest number of annual cases for any STD reported to the CDC. Individuals ages 15 to 24 comprised two-thirds of reported Gonorrhea and Chlamydia cases in 2014.
PENNSYLVANIA FAILS 2015 STATE INTEGRITY RATINGS -- AGAIN: Gets “F”
The non-profit public interest group, the Center for Public Integrity annually rates all 50 states investigating – Secrecy – Questionable Ethics -- & Conflicts of Interest. This data-driven assessment probes Open Records Laws that reveal glaring conflicts of interest and cozy relationships with lobbyists. The 2015 grades are based on 245 questions on transparency and accountability and how well ethics laws are enforced or implemented. Categories examined include: Public Access to Information; Political Financing; Electoral Oversight; State Budget Processes; Judicial Accountability; Legislative Accountability; State Civil Service Management; Procurement; Internal Auditing; Lobby Disclosure; State Pension Fund Management and Ethics Enforcement Agencies.
No state saw its score fall farther than New Jersey, but that is little consolation for Pennsylvania taxpayers who see our state RATED 45th among 50 states. Pennsylvania’s “F” grades are just plain depressing. Sadly Pennsylvania ranks 48th in Electoral Oversight (F), 47th in Judicial Accountability (F), 44th in Civil Service Management (F), 43rd in Political Financing (think lobbyists and campaign cash --F), 42nd in Legislative Accountability (F), and 40th in State Pension Fund Management (F). Pennsylvania’s highest grade was a B- for Internal Auditing ranking the Commonwealth 27th.
H.B.1623 REALLOCATES FUNDING FOR PENNSYLVANIA FAMILY PLANNING: Introduced by Rep. Paul Schemel (R/Franklin) last August, H.B.1623 was referred to the House Health Committee on 10/15/15 where it is presently on the roster of bills to be considered. Rep. Schemel is a House Health Committee member. H.B.1623 “provides direction” to the Pennsylvania Health Department as to how it must prioritize allocation of public funds for family planning purposes. Effectively this legislation will favor more “conventional” health care providers over “unconventional” providers, such as Planned Parent-hood when allocating public funds for Pennsylvania women’s health. Planned Parenthood operates 32 health centers in the Commonwealth and are Pennsylvania’s largest providers of low-cost, high- quality family planning services. In 2014 108,000 Pennsylvania patients were served and 205,000 screenings for sexually transmitted diseases were provided. 18,000 breast wellness exams were performed. Fifty percent of Planned Parenthood’s Pennsylvania health centers are located in medically underserved areas. A Philadelphia Daily News Editorial pointed out how proposals inferring that Planned Parenthood clients can easily be absorbed by other health facilities have been “shot down in study after study.”
“THE HUNTING GROUND” COLLEGE SEXUAL ASSAULT FILM SHOWN AT GOVERNOR’S MANSION: On 11/9/15 Gov. Wolf hosted 33 representatives of Pennsylvania’s state system colleges and universities
to view a special screening and panel discussion by the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, the PA Coalition Against Rape and the PA State System for Higher Education. “It is a priority for my administration to ensure that sexual assault on campuses is not tolerated and that our schools are promoting the best possible academic and social environment for our students,” Gov. Wolf said. The “Hunting Ground” is a chilling indictment of the widespread failure of college administrators to adequately respond to allegations of rape on campus.
A National Institute of Justice study found more than 90% of campus sexual assault victims do not report the assault. In Pennsylvania there were 136 reported cases between 7/1/14 and 6/30/15 according to the Women’s Law Project. Executive Director Carol Tracey noted that rape in a college environment can be both a civil and criminal violation under Title IX possibly requiring two parallel investigations, civil and criminal. Title IX is a federal gender equity law that prohibits discrimination or a hostile environment based on an individual’s sex.
Courts and the Education Department have held that Title IX requires any school receiving federal funding to address sexual harassment among students, and the most extreme form of harassment, courts say, is sexual assault. The list of sexual violence investigations open at post-secondary Pennsylvania institutions as of 7/22/15 follows and includes the dates the specific investigations were initiated:
12/5/14 -- Allegheny College
1/13/14 – Carnegie Mellon University
11/20/14 – Elizabethtown College
3/26/14 – Franklin & Marshall College
1/23/14 – Pennsylvania State
2/19/15 – Point Park College
2/27/15 – Point Park College
7/12/13 – Swarthmore College
8/19/13 – Temple University
11/19/14 – Temple University
4/23/15 – Valley Forge Military College
There are 140 sexual violence cases under investigation at 124 U.S. post-secondary institutions as of July 2015. The Education Department has said it needs more funding so it can hire additional staff to keep up with the increasing volume of complaints resulting in federal probes. Not only has the number of investigations grown, but the probes are taking more time. In 2014 the average investigation regarding sexual assaults at post-secondary institutions had stretched to 1,469 days, up from the agency’s average time of 365 days for fiscal year 2009 through 2013, according to a 7/24/15 Huffington Post report. Isn’t justice delayed, justice denied? Are these delays akin to the thousands of accumulated rape kits that lay unexamined for years in police storage for lack of DNA analysis funding? We are following legislation being drafted in the Senate and U.S. House to improve both reporting and subsequent investigations
“The Hunting Ground” has become part of the public education and awareness campaign of campus sexual assaults launched by the White House in September 2014. Student body leadership from nearly 200 colleges and universities across the country support this effort. CNN aired “The Hunting Ground” on 11/22/15 with an excellent panel following.
Lilly Gioia, Chair
BPW/PA Legislation Committee