TIME politics

Lawmakers Push Increased Access to Emergency Contraception

Bipartisan U.S. Budget Deal Said to Ease Automatic Spending Cuts
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who introduced a bill to increase access to emergency contraception. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bill comes ahead of a midterm elections in which women are expected to be a key voting bloc

Updated: September 23, 4:40 p.m. ET

Five Democratic senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would require any federally-funded hospital to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors.

The Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act of 2014 was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) signing on as co-sponsors. The bill would ensure that any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds provides accurate information and timely access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault, regardless of whether or not they can pay for it. It would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to disseminate information on emergency contraception to pharmacists and health care providers.

“As we saw in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, and as we’ve seen in state legislatures across the country, Republicans are intent on standing in the way of women and their ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own health care,” Senator Murray told TIME. “This means, now more than ever, it is our job to protect these kinds of decisions for women, their families, and particularly for survivors of sexual assault. Emergency contraception is a critical part of these family planning choices and it’s time Republicans join us in supporting this safe and responsible means of preventing unintended pregnancies.”

“It is unacceptable that a survivor of rape or incest can be denied access to emergency contraception in the emergency room, and therefore forced to carry a pregnancy caused by her attacker,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “Decisions about emergency contraception, like all forms of birth control, should be between a woman and her doctor, not her pharmacist, her boss, or her Congressman.”

The bill may face opposition from congressional Republicans, and comes just two months before the midterm elections, in which many expect women to be a decisive voting bloc.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Wendy Davis on the Filibuster That Mattered to Her Most

Wendy Davis
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis presents her new education policy during a stop at Palo Alto College in San Antonio on Aug. 26, 2014 Eric Gay—AP

It's not the one you think, the Texas gubernatorial candidate tells TIME

In June 2013, Wendy Davis made headlines across the country while standing on the floor of the senate chamber in the Texas legislature.

A member of that chamber’s embattled Democratic minority, Davis donned a pair of pink running sneakers under her otherwise business-as-usual attire and staged an 11-hour filibuster against a bill that included stiff restrictions on abortion across the state.

She ultimately lost that fight — the measure eventually passed and its constitutionality is now being fought over in the courts — but the episode became a viral sensation. Even those running shoes became Internet famous; “Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy” wrote one Amazon.com reviewer of the sneakers.

Davis was propelled to national prominence overnight, and she’s now making a long-shot bid for governor of Texas. But before her 2013 filibuster — which, she tells TIME, is not even the most important filibuster she’s staged — Davis was the daughter of a single mom and a single mom herself, experiences she has written about in her memoir Forgetting to Be Afraid, released this week.

She speaks to TIME about her struggle to get a college degree, her fight for reproductive rights and her favorite ice cream (it’s Rocky Road).

Your memoir is called Forgetting to Be Afraid. What inspired the title?
It was inspired by a Lady Bird Johnson quote. She was asked at least on one occasion by a group of young women how it is that she pushed through fear to do things, because she was inherently a very shy person. She advised them that you have to get so wrapped up in something you forget to be afraid. My whole life story can be captured through that idea. I had to make a way out of no way for myself and my daughter. Due to the fact that I was so wrapped up in trying to do that, I forgot to be afraid of doing it. Along every step of my journey I think that that sentiment really captures how it is that I’ve pushed through fear, put my head down and done what I needed to do.

Are you inherently shy yourself?
I was a very shy child. And I talk in the book about moving from being very shy to being a fighter, and that shift really came from the need to fight first for myself and my daughter and then next in the public-service arena for people who don’t have the same opportunities that I had in a myriad of ways.

In your book you write about your decision to terminate two pregnancies for medical reasons. Did that motivate your filibuster against the Texas abortion bill?
Honestly my personal experience in that regard was part of what I want people to know about me in hopes that it might help people struggling with the same situation. But my stand for reproductive rights in Texas was primarily motivated by my understanding of the harm that would come to women across our state if they were denied access to safe reproductive care. I have always firmly believed that women should be trusted to make decisions for themselves with their family, their faith, their doctor, and that the government has no business intruding in that most private arena. I fought that day for women, and men who love them, whose voices had been cut out of the process. In committee hearings at the state legislature, there were so many people that had signed up to speak and been told after several hours that their testimony was repetitive and they were cut off. I wanted to give voice to the people who felt like they’d not been heard.

But those restrictions were eventually passed. In fact, restrictions on abortion have been tightened across the state.
The first provision, which required that doctors have admitting privileges (to a hospital) within 30 miles of an abortion clinic was implemented right away. It immediately caused 21 of the 40 clinics in Texas to close. The second provision was set to go into effect on [Sept. 1], but a federal judge ruled the law in its entirety unconstitutional. As a consequence of that and while it’s on appeal at the Fifth Circuit I know that some of those health centers are considering reopening, some are waiting to see what the Fifth Circuit will do.

Was the filibuster your defining moment as a politician?
A lot of the people know about my filibuster last summer but as important if not more to me was my filibuster in 2011 to try to stop $5.5 billion from being cut from our public schools and try to stop a dramatic reduction in financial assistance for our students trying to go to a state university. Access to opportunity comes through education, and that is my primary passion and fight. And it’s why I’m running for governor.

You have daughters aged 32 and 25. Do you feel hopeful about their future?
What I see when I look at them is the fact that their mother broke through and got a college degree created a path for them to logically follow. I think about how fortunate they are that they have the ability to do that and I think about all of the other young girls in Texas who are those first-generation college students like me who don’t have the same path available to them. It’s that concern that motivates me most.

According to your book, your mom worked at the ice cream chain Braum’s. I love Braum’s! I grew up in Tulsa.
You did? Well, Texas is all about Whataburger. Oklahoma is all about Braum’s.

But your mom worked at Braum’s! Does this make you a traitor to Braum’s?
No, I still crave a Braum’s hamburger every now and then for sure.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

TIME 2014 Election

‘War on Women’ Motivates Voters for Midterm Election, Poll Finds

Pro-Choice Emily's List
Pro-choice demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 22, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

Democrats are betting they can turn out women and minorities to the polls

The “War on Women” seems to be working.

Voters such as women and minorities, who often turn out in smaller numbers during off-year elections, are more motivated to vote when they feel women’s access to birth control and abortion are threatened, and if women and families’ economic security is imperiled, according to a new poll given exclusively to TIME.

“In 2014, women voters have made it clear that they won’t stand for attacks on their economic security or their reproductive healthcare,” said Stephanie Schriock, president EMILY’s List, a group that elects pro-choice women and one of the poll’s sponsors. “The Republican Party’s relentless assault on women’s rights and freedoms is backfiring, and as long as they continue to ignore the real needs of working families, the gulf between them and women voters will only continue to grow.”

Democrats have pegged their hopes this fall to turning out women and minority voters, who tend to drop off during non-presidential election years. To that end, they have introduced and campaigned on a women’s economic agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women, expanding paid medical leave and access to childcare. In 2010, Democrats lost women for the first time in decades, and subsequently lost the House and six Senate seats. Democrats are determined not to repeat that mistake in 2014.

The poll of these drop-off voters in 18 swing states, co-sponsored by EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and American Women, found that 23% of the drop-off voters surveyed ranked their enthusiasm for voting at less than half, but that number plummeted to 12% after hearing motivational messages about women’s health and economic security. Nearly three-quarters, or 74%, called the idea that failing to vote would be sending a message that they endorse the status quo a “very motivating” factor to vote. The same number said “helping working families get ahead” was a “very motivating” factor to vote.

Democrats have been pounding Republicans for their “War on Women,” not just on the economic front—for refusing to vote to increase the minimum wage and for Equal Pay, for example—but on the reproductive front. This strategy was highly effective in 2012, when two GOP Senate candidates made inartful statements about rape and abortion that turned off women voters nationally. The survey found that 70% of drop-off voters said they found reproductive rights and the chance to vote against a pro-life politician a “very motivating” factor to go to the polls in November. And 70% of those polled said allowing an employer to dictate what healthcare coverage a woman gets was a “very motivating” reason to vote.

“This poll confirms what we’re hearing from voters as our supporters knock doors and make phone calls in key states: issues like access to birth control and abortion will get voters to the polls this November,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Republicans, recognizing the problem, have introduced their own Equal Pay legislation and flexible work bills in both chambers, though the bills have yet to see votes. They’ve also made efforts to recruit more women to run for office, a campaign which has seen some progress in the Senate but has fallen short in the House. A recent poll commissioned by two GOP groups, including one backed by Karl Rove, found that female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”

Still, that may prove more of a problem for Republicans in 2016, when Democrats may have a woman, Hillary Clinton, on the top of the ticket, than in 2014. Drop-off voters are notoriously difficult to motivate and Republicans have had fewer gaffes than they did in 2012 concerning rape and abortion. Much will depend on how Democrats effectively make their closing arguments in the final weeks of the election.

Anzalone Liszt Grove Research conducted the telephone poll of 1,000 drop-off voters in 18 battleground states. It included oversamples of 100 Hispanic drop-off voters and 400 likely 2014 swing voters. Interviews were conducted Aug. 4-13. The margin of error for the sample as a whole is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The battleground states are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

TIME abortion

Alabama Judge Rules Abortion Clinic Law Unconstitutional

Just a few days after a court in Mississippi struck down a similar law

An Alabama judge ruled Monday that a law requiring doctors who perform abortions in the state’s five clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is unconstitutional, as it imposes an “impermissible undue burden” that amounts to total prohibition of abortions.

“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics,” U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson wrote in his decision. “Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”

Supporters of the law, called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act” in Alabama, say abortion doctors need to have admitting privileges at local hospitals in case a patient has medical complications after an abortion. “By striking down the Alabama law that required abortionists to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson is propping up incompetent, dangerous abortionists at the expense of the health and safety of the women in Alabama,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said in a statement. “It is a basic necessity to ensure the safety of women who are seeking abortions and to make sure their doctors are following standard medical procedures. To do anything otherwise would be to the detriment of women in the state.”

But the judge agreed with the plaintiffs, who were represented by lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, that these laws have no basis in medicine—they’re opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—and make obtaining an abortion unnecessarily difficult. “This ruling will ensure that women in Alabama have access to safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “And Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for our patients, because a woman’s ability to make personal medical decisions should not depend on where she lives.”

The 5th Circuit of Appeals struck down a similar law in Mississippi last week. “Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote in his ruling, adding that the law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders.” That court could only declare the law unconstitutional as it applies to Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, and could not strike down the entire law, because it had been upheld by a 5th Circuit court in Texas.

 

TIME movies

The Obvious Question About Obvious Child: How Do You Make a Rom-Com With an Abortion?

Obvious Child
Chris Teague

How a funny movie on a controversial subject made it from page to screen

Last month, following a Maryland Film Festival screening of the new movie Obvious Child (in theaters June 6), an audience member asked what many in the room were probably wondering: Considering the fact that the entire plot of this romantic comedy revolves around an abortion, was it hard to get the movie made? Who would fund such a controversy-magnet? Who would distribute it?

But writer-director Gillian Robespierre — who, due to the success of Child, her first feature film, was scheduled to have her last day at a desk job the following Tuesday — shrugged off the assumption that such a feat would be particularly difficult. In fact, as she told the audience that day, the abortion plot line was less of an obstacle than the abundance of fart jokes were.

The line drew laughs, but Obvious Child didn’t exactly have a quick path to the big screen.

It started in 2007, when movies like Knocked Up and Juno, as well as the Gloucester pregnancy pact, had put unplanned pregnancy in the public consciousness. Robespierre found movies like Knocked Up funny, but didn’t think they depicted a realistic version of what unplanned pregnancy would be like for a real young woman. She and her friends decided to make a short film in which the unplanned pregnancy would lead to a result that they thought real-life women they knew would choose. The movie wouldn’t be glib about abortion, but would treat it as a safe and legal procedure that happens in the world and can be taken seriously without seeming like a tragedy. “I didn’t want to see a movie where she was riddled with guilt. I don’t think we make light of that emotionality,” Robespierre told TIME just before that Baltimore screening. “It’s a heavy moment in a person’s life and it’s not like she’s super excited about this, but she knows from the beginning that she’s not in the right place, emotionally or intellectually. All of those reasons make it an easy choice for her.”

That 2009 short, which starred a then-unknown Jenny Slate, was positively received in the feminist blogosphere, which encouraged Robespierre to move forward with a feature-length version, which would also star the now-better-known Slate, who is profiled in this week’s issue of TIME. Elisabeth Holm, who produced the film, had no hesitations about the controversial content. “It’s just a very empathetic portrait of a complex human experience,” she tells TIME. “So to me it was kind of a no-brainer.”

Not everyone was sure it would work. “I think for the first couple of years of talking about this project to people there was this reaction of: ‘Interesting. We’ll see if you can pull that off,'” she recalls. But when Holm and the other executive producer on the film, David Kaplan, began a concerted effort to seek financing, they found it easier than they had expected given the hot-button topic. They quickly cobbled together money from three companies and from grants. For those who passed on the too-controversial proposition? “I guess if the topic scared people off, they weren’t the people we were meant to work with.”

Those who weren’t squeamish knew what they were getting into. Expanding from a short to a feature meant more time to address the subject of abortion head-on, and making the effort to take steps like working with Planned Parenthood to ensure accuracy; the healthcare organization vetted the script for a scene that involves a consultation with a nurse, to be sure the dialogue was realistic. Robespierre was even allowed to film at a clinic, an experience that ended up being Robespierre’s favorite part of making the movie, the part where it felt like “everyone clicked together.”

“We always say that it’s not an agenda-driven movie,” says Robespierre, “but it is.”

The finished product premiered at Sundance this year with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign and was quickly snapped up by hip distributor A24 (the company behind films like Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring and Under the Skin) for a reported “low seven figures.” A24, no stranger to controversial films, may have seen an opportunity where others may have seen potential for scandal. Holm says: “They felt that [abortion] was for sure going to be a part of the conversation, and that was in part why they were excited to pick up the movie.”

Robespierre and Slate both say that reaction at festivals has been overwhelmingly positive — as has critical reaction — but exposing the movie to the world beyond feminist bloggers and film-festival attendees has, naturally, come with some negative feedback. Its creators and stars are prepared for that, but remain undaunted.

It helps that Obvious Child isn’t really a movie about abortion. It’s really about a life that gets messy, and the struggle to find confidence. To that end, the movie may just sound more controversial than it actually is. The film works hard to strike a balance between gravity and humor; Holm recalls that she and her colleagues decided in the ending room to keep a particularly uncomfortable joke toward the end of the movie in the film. “It is putting that toe over the line, and that’s an okay thing to do especially in moments of tension — we all just find relief in humor and laughing about these things. The film hopefully has enough heart and sincerity and humility that it earns those moments. But it was never our intention to just make something provocative for the sake of being provocative,” she says. “A24 felt that the film was really funny and sweet and relatable. Abortion was just one unique element.”

It was that realism and honesty — realistic characters, realistic friendships and, yes, a realistic look at the possible options a pregnant woman faces — that propelled the film from funding to filming to distribution. As Gaby Hoffmann, who plays the heroine’s best friend (and who recently made public her own real-life pregnancy), puts it, “Most of the women I know [have had an abortion] and it’s sort of despicable the way it’s been skirted around again and again and again and again, in culture, in media, where we have no problem showing gratuitous violence and sex — not that those two things are equal, because they’re not, but certainly plenty of sex scenes — and not the consequences of such. I didn’t give it a second thought at all. I think it’s so weird that it’s standing out as being a film that actually addresses abortion in a straightforward way. I can’t believe that that’s the case. It is, but it’s baffling to me.”

And standing out never hurts. So, back in Baltimore, Robespierre suggested a possible reason why it was easy to find financing: “It seemed,” she told the crowd, “like people were waiting for this story.”

TIME Pregnancy

Will Looking at an Ultrasound Before an Abortion Change Your Mind?

170030225
Getty Images

Depends on how certain you are you want to have an abortion

Deciding to get an abortion is never easy, and pro-life advocates have recently tried to make that choice more difficult. Pro-life legislators have succeeded in passing mandatory ultrasound laws for women considering abortions in ten states. They argue ultrasounds give women as much information as possible before they make their decision. Implicitly, the right-wing logic goes that if a woman sees her sonogram, she will want to carry her pregnancy to term.

But a new study published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology debunks that theory. Women who were already certain that they wanted to get an abortion went through with the procedure even after seeing an ultrasound.

In one of the largest studies on the topic to date, researchers analyzed 15,575 medical records from an abortion care provider in Los Angeles. Each patient was asked about her choice for an abortion and answers were divided into high, medium and low decision certainty about the procedure, with only 7.4 percent of women falling in the latter two categories. All patients underwent an ultrasound, and 42.5 percent of them opted to see images. Of those who saw the pictures, 98.4 percent went on to terminate the pregnancies.

Here’s the most important part, as highlighted in Slate: the 1.6 percent women who viewed the sonograms and decided to carry their pregnancy to term all had medium or low certainty about the procedure when interviewed before the ultrasound.

In short: Women who were certain about having an abortion before coming to the clinic did not change their minds because of the sonogram; but some of the women who were uncertain about the procedure to begin with were dissuaded by the sonogram picture.

The study contradicts earlier (pro-life abortion crisis center funded) studies that said fetal bonding could occur with women who did not want to give birth. The studies have become so pervasive that last year, pro-life pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy claimed that more than 90 percent of women change their minds about abortion after seeing their ultrasound.

These new results showing that women rarely change their minds about this difficult choice aren’t all that surprising. The decision to have an abortion is based on a number of personal factors: money, age, stability, who the father is, life plans, etc. Seeing a sonogram picture does not change those factors.

However, for the very small percentage of women who are doubtful about having an abortion when they visit a clinic, the ultrasound can sway their decision. So what’s the harm in a law that requires an ultrasound if it will not change the minds of women who are certain but will give more information to women who are on the fence?

Pro-choice advocates would argue that offering the option of an ultrasound and requiring an ultrasound are very different. Choice is after all their guiding principle. And it follows that they are against this requirement and believe that making a woman have a sonogram is both an invasion of privacy and a tactic used to shame women out of having abortions.

And then there’s the issue of whether these mandatory ultrasounds violate women’s constitutional rights. In November, the Supreme Court rejected the state of Oklahoma’s efforts to reinstate a law that would require women to undergo an ultrasound of their fetus before proceeding with an abortion, ruling that such a law conflicted with Roe v. Wade: ultrasounds impose an “undue burden” on the women’s right to a procedure.

This study lends more credence to the idea that women who are certain that an abortion is the right choice for them are not going to change their mind, and putting these women through the process of an ultrasound is an undue physical and emotional burden as The Supreme Court has indicated in its rulings so far. But with a renewed focus on abortion in the House this year, the debate is far from over.

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