Speaking of Women's Rights: 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How My Feminist Blog Became a Magnet for Pedophilic Rapist Wannabes.

By Valerie Tarico

It all started with an editorial titled, “Proud Mom of Two Teenage Sluts.” The piece was a tribute to Georgetown student, Sandra Fluke, whose defense of contraception had incited Rush Limbaugh to foam-at-the-mouth slut shaming rants. It was also a tribute to my feisty daughters, who at the time were more enthralled with brash young feminist superstar Jessica Valenti (He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut) than with boys. And it included a 30 question slut test.

In the weeks after the article was published, I noticed that traffic to my website was changing. The most searched term? Teenage sluts, followed by a smattering of terms like mom sluts, proud sluts, and mother daughter sluts. I was annoyed. I check traffic to my site because I want to know if I’m making a difference in the world. Pulling together ideas and information takes work. Is anybody listening? Those porn trawlers were messing with my statistics!

I could have simply changed the title, but I was feeling stubborn. When my articles get picked up by online news and opinion sites, paid professional title writers caption them as they please. Often I like their title better than my own, in which case the article goes up at my blog with their caption. But sometimes their titles just suck. They aren’t me. Or I remain convinced that my initial stroke of genius is simply too brilliant to drop, as in this case. Besides—I rationalized—maybe some of those porn seekers would hit my post, hear my motherish voice, be embarrassed by their search for pubescent girls, and give up. Months later, I was the one who gave up. I replaced my title with the one AlterNet had used, “30 Signs You’re a Slut.”

Then things got worse. In the fall of 2012, Republican candidates were experiencing a severe epidemic of rape Tourette’s, spewing such wildly varied rape apologies that an enterprising Kossack created a GOP Rape Advisory Chart in three volumes. Now, as anyone who has bumped into me knows, when I’m not talking or writing about women’s issues and contraception, I’m talking and writing about Christian fundamentalism. Thanks to the fine education I got at Billy Graham’s alma mater, Wheaton College, I suspected that Republican candidates were getting stuck saying awful things about women and rape because they actually believed them. (Anyone who thought the Bible was the literally perfect word of God and was forced into a corner by a hostile journalist would be screwed.) So, I wrote an article I called, “What the Bible Says About Rape and Rape Babies” (which is, basically: Nonconsensual sex? No problem). And then, as the rape controversy swirled around us all, I wrote another article, about my own sexual assault.

At that point, my self-obsessed ego boosting exercise in statistics became instead an exercise in disgust. rape stories, doggie style rape, young rape stories, daughter rape stories, raping my daughter, I raped my daughter, how I raped my daughter, I want to rape my daughter . . . EEEEEW.

A few months back, a Facebook administrator blogged about the horrible things she and her colleagues have to read when posts get flagged for inappropriate content. In the midst of all of the trivial shit, they had missed a plea from a desperate child who wanted someone to stop a relative from molesting her. The article was haunting, and whenever I see the words, I want to rape my daughter, her words come back.

It’s just a fantasy, I tell myself. Research on violent fantasies shows that they are common. Violent offenders, especially violent sexual offenders, indulge violent fantasies–no surprise. But so do a surprising number of normal people. About two thirds of sexual murderers report rape fantasies. So do a third of college males. Psychologists and criminologists have long struggled to predict who will and won’t commit violent crimes, and so they pay close attention to threats and fantasies. But the crimes are extraordinarily hard to predict. Violent thoughts and talk are common; action far more rare. Many factors play a role in separating one from the other including empathy, conscience, impulse control, means, opportunity and things we can’t measure. Time and again, experts have concluded that “there is no evidence that [criminal] sexual fantasies, by themselves, are either a sufficient or a necessary condition for committing a sexual offense.”

It’s just a fantasy. But what if it isn’t? In early November a Missouri father was arrested because he had posted an ad on Craigslist, seeking someone to rape his 11 year old daughter with him. He brought the daughter to a restaurant, so that his potential child-rape partner (mercifully, an undercover police officer) could check them both out.

Technology is blurring the boundaries between sexual fantasy and sexual exploitation in ways that we don’t fully understand. A Dutch child rights organization, Terre des Hommes, recently sounded the alarm about a rapidly growing form of child sex abuse, webcam child sex tourism. After discovering the trend, they created a virtual child, Sweetie, aged 10, to enter forums where pedophiles prowl. Their program flooded with men offering to pay her if she would take off her clothes and touch herself while they masturbated on a video link. Over the course of a ten week sting, the identities of 1,000 now known pedophiles were turned over to Interpol. Would the men have been willing to do the same thing with a child in their neighborhood or in their home? We don’t know. We do know that the sense of anonymity and distance afforded by the internet disinhibits antisocial behavior.

The science fiction body horror film eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999) played with layers of virtual reality. As viewers followed Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh down the dark rabbit hole, it became increasingly unclear what was real and what was not. At some point as I watched the film, struggling to know which layer I was in, I began to ask myself whether it matters.

Fantasy works for us only because we are able, however briefly and tenuously, to suspend our sense that it isn’t real. Functionally, it probably exists for the purpose of exploring and rehearsing what we want to be and do in the real world. Which layer we’re in matters to a person on the outside, who will wake up to live another day or not, scarred or not; it matters in the blood and bone world that is governed by social contract and law. But on the inside we govern ourselves, and—I say this as an atheist–what matters is whether a person is deforming his or her own soul, the part in each of us that endures beyond the present moment and is shaped by it.

Our choices matter, regardless of which layer we are in, even the fantasies we cultivate. As the Native American parable says, the dog you feed is the one that wins. Those anonymous lurkers who troll the internet for pedophilic rape porn—what are they feeding? Who are they in the process of becoming? I wish that the next time one of them came to my site his screen would simply turn into a mirror.

And I hope this article inadvertently becomes the most popular pedophilic rape porn destination on the web.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light. and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder of WisdomCommons.org. Youtube: AwayPoint

This blog was originally posted on November 18, 2013 on Away Point, reposted with permission.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

You should quit singing along to this song.

by Beth Leonard

This summer’s pop hit “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke continues to generate controversy as well as copious air time. Despite accusations that the song is an anthem celebrating rape culture and sexism, I still seem to hear it whenever I turn on the radio.  Every time I hear the sounds of the song’s catchy beat, I am struck with the realization that the song’s publicly debated rape culture infused lyrics have not slowed down its popularity in US pop culture.  Are we all in denial about the song’s messaging, do we not care what the message is, or are we celebrating the message?

Criticism of Robin Thicke and Blurred Lines emerged as the song first hit the airwaves. The images in the song’s video, fully dressed men and half naked women, have received negative attention as well as the song’s lyrics themselves.  Upon a close listen, it becomes clear that the “Blurred Lines” being sung about refer to the boundaries between what a women says or does and what a woman wants. Robin Thicke seems to be suggesting, especially when he refrains “you know you want it” throughout the entire song, that people that say no, meaning people that are good girls, actually want to have sex despite what they say.  As many people know, this idea, that women want to have sex even when they say no, is the centerpiece of rape culture.

Potentially even more upsetting than the content of the song and the video is the manner in which criticism of the song has been received. Robin Thicke has staunchly defended the song as being pro-women, claiming that the song promotes a woman’s choice and celebrates their beauty. Additionally, Mr. Thicke went so far as to say that the song could not be a part of rape culture or sexist, because he and all the other men who made the video are married. Essentially, he is claiming that married men are anti-sexist and all respectful of women, and  that marriage is a cure for rape and sexism.  This claim would be laughable if it wasn’t so offensive.

But all this being said, I think the most telling part of the “Blurred Lines” controversy is that we all still hear the song despite the strong criticism. It is on the radio every day, which means it can be heard in the background at the grocery store or at the dentist’s office, and its catchy tune is stuck in our heads.   What’s troubling is how true it is – rape culture and sexism are all around us, and even though we sometimes notice and criticize it, the awareness does not stop us from collectively singling along. 

Beth Leonard is a recent law school grad and new lawyer. She is currently the Project Coordinator for Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project. 

Creative Common photo credit here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Free or low-cost health insurance coverage? It's time to sign up!

Heather has insurance now! Do you?

By Roberta Riley

20 minutes flat. That's how long it took Heather to sign up for free medical and dental insurance. I know because I timed her. And let me tell you, it was a joy to see her doubts and fear melt into such a happy surprise.

"I was expecting a lot of red tape and fine print," she admitted.  Now that she’s enrolled, come January, she can finally get her teeth cleaned and update her tetanus shot. (Scissors cuts are common in her line of work).

Heather, 28, is one of the women I introduced readers to recently. She is working hard to get her new business, Canary Salon, up and running on Seattle's Capitol Hill. Last time she cut my hair, I began to realize why she had such a hard time believing she could ever afford health insurance.  Tears welled up in her eyes when she told me about a bill for a routine lab test, sent to an old address months after she’d moved, that nearly ruined her credit rating.
When she’d looked into insurance earlier, she discovered high monthly premiums, pricier than a doctor visit, plus high deductibles and pages of fine print.

No wonder she harbored serious doubts about her odds of getting free or low-cost coverage under the new law.

Free or low-cost coverage, you ask? Hard as it is to believe, it’s true. Depending on your income, you, like Heather, may qualify for qualify for free or low-cost coverage.
How did this happen?
Governor Inslee and the Washington Legislature accepted federal money offered by the Affordable Care Act to transform what was once Medicaid into a much bigger, broader program than we've ever had. Apple Health (for kids and now adults as well) is our state's way of ensuring that care is efficiently purchased, which makes it less costly for everyone. 
Heather's tax dollars will be working for her. But she is not the only one: roughly 300,000 low-income workers in our state qualify for no cost medical and dental coverage. 

They simply need to sign up. Now.

In addition, many more families will qualify for reduced cost health coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Roughly half of all uninsured Americans are expected to qualify for help with their premiums. About half of young people between 18 and 35 are likely to be eligible for coverage for $50 a month or less.  You could get reduced cost coverage if you make up to $94,200 a year (for a family of four).

The new law requires all health plans to cover the care you need, even if you have a pre-existing condition. "Now, under the Affordable Care Act, all health plans must provide at least a minimum level of meaningfulcoverage," explains Mike Kreidler, Washington state Insurance Commissioner.

All you need to do is sign up. Now.

To begin, pour a strong cup of coffee and gather:

  • Last year’s tax return and this month’s income information;
  • Your bank account information; and
  • Birth dates and social security numbers of everyone in your household.
Next, if you live in Washington State go to the official website:
Or call 1-855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633)

Don’t miss the deadline to sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Roberta Riley currently works for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has also served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Leaning In To Elect Women

By Liz Berry

Washington’s women have been leaning in politically since our territorial days.

Women were granted the right to vote here in 1910 – a decade before the 19th Amendment was ratified. In 1926, Seattle mayor Bertha Knight Landes became the first woman to lead a major American city. Our state affirmed a woman’s right to choose in 1970, and in 1976, Dixy Lee Ray became one of the nation’s first female governors.

And almost a decade ago, Governor Christine Gregoire and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were elected as part of a history-making trio of women leaders to the top three offices elected statewide.

But instead of moving forward, we’ve slid backward. In the early ‘90s Washington led the nation, with women holding more than 40 percent of the seats in our state legislature. Today, it’s 30 percent. There’s only one woman statewide officeholder, Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Of Washington’s 37 cities with more than 30,000 people, only seven have elected women mayors. 

The impact of this scarcity is fewer women who can ensure our voices are heard on hot-button issues including reproductive parity, health care, education, child care and family planning. Many elected officials don't consider the impact of budget cuts or policy changes to women, simply because they don’t view the world through that lens.

Washington has an incredible pool of talented women leaders. From chief executive officers and executive directors to heads of neighborhood groups and PTAs, skilled women are improving our business climate, education system and communities.

But few of them choose to run for office.

There are many reasons women don’t run – from raising families to lack of confidence in their abilities. How do we change that? It starts with each of us asking a woman to run.  And it must start early.

study published by the Women & Politics Institute (WPI) shows a persistent gender gap in political ambition that starts as early as grade school. That’s why I donate my time and money to organizations like the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), which encourages women to run, trains them and supports their campaigns, and also to Running Start, which gives young women and girls the encouragement and skills to pursue a career in politics. 

The WPI study also found that college-aged women who pursued leadership positions were more likely to run for office in the future. Running Start’s program Elect Her aims to build this pipeline by training college women to run for student government. I am excited that Elect Her is coming to the University of Washington this spring.

For 40 years, NWPC has worked to engage more women in our state in the political process by recruiting, training and electing them. This year, NWPC endorsed more than 60 women candidates in local elections. 

The NWPC recently conducted a survey of its members and found that the most important factor in deciding to run for office is a strong network of support. Women can provide that support through the power of the pocketbook. In 2012, women made up less than 30 percent of political donors. As women, we need to support women candidates with our funding, our growing influence and networks, and most importantly, our votes.

Washington women are leaning in and running for office. Now it’s our turn to lean in and elect them.

Liz Berry serves as the endorsement committee co-chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and on the Board of Directors of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee (WUFPAC).  She is an Advisory Board Member of Running Start, an organization that encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in politics. She has previously worked as a campaign manager for women candidates and as Legislative Director for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Photo credit:

Top photo:
Celebrating 40 years of the National Women's Political Caucus with (from left): former State Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, Liz Berry, First Lady Trudi Inslee and NWPC President Linda Mitchell.

Bottom photo:
National Women's Political Caucus campaign training with (from left) the Honorable Marcie Maxwell, Claudia Kauffman, Lisa Brown, and candidate Jessie Israel.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Good news: Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is (mostly) working for Washington State women

By Roberta Riley

"This is awesome! What a relief," she exclaimed when the message flashed up on her screen: starting January 1, 2014, Ingrid will have no cost health insurance. "I can finally get my knee fixed."

Everyday she carts her shovel, loppers, saw and clippers up and down Seattle's steepest neighborhoods, tending gardens, digging up shrubs and pruning trees. As the sole proprietor of Seabiscuit Landscaping, Ingrid cannot afford to be hobbled by a bum knee.

"If it turns out I need surgery, I won't need to worry about huge medical bills. Having health coverage means I can save for retirement," she said. This year she turns 50, and every day she worries about how to make ends meet, especially as she gets older.

Ingrid is one of millions of Americans who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act.  As you may have heard, the brand-new federal healthcare exchange got off to a rocky start in October. It did not help matters that Republicans temporarily shut down the federal government in a failed effort to defund this health reform measure. Yet, even with the feds back in operation, technical problems with the federal website persist.

Fortunately, Ingrid and others in our state fared much better because leaders here opted to create our own state exchange. As of this writing, over 92,000 Washingtonians have signed up for coverage using Washington Healthplanfinder.

Ingrid kindly allowed me observe as she plowed through the online enrollment process, which took about an hour. This enabled us to come up with a few tips to help others in our state get enrolled.

Before you begin, have a good strong cup of coffee and gather:
  • last year’s tax return and this month’s income information;
  • your bank account information; and
  • the names and correct spellings of any doctors and/or hospital(s) where you would want to be treated.

Then go to the official website://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/
(Be careful to enter the correct site – there are scam sites out there.)

Click on the box to begin an application, bearing in mind the site has some fussy features, such as no AutoCorrect and a limited number of symbols that must be used to create one's personal password.

Don't be stymied by the strange, multiple-choice security questions at the outset. My hunch is some of those questions are intended to verify you are a real human being, not a machine.  (But I confess, I am not a computer programmer.)

The next round of questions – asking about pregnancy status, long-term care, whether any college students live in your household and whether you have unpaid medical expenses – are geared to helping people get into certain programs.

Last of all come questions about income, which determines whether an applicant qualifies for no-cost or low-cost coverage.

This part was somewhat perplexing for Ingrid because in one place, the application asked about monthly income, and in another, about monthly business income. As a sole proprietor, Ingrid's income is one and the same. So, at first she filled in the same amount in both places, but quickly realized doing so made her income appear double what it actually is. Then she put her last month's income into the "gross monthly amount" bracket and a zero into the business income bracket, and was able to properly deduct her business expenses by dividing by 12 the total amount declared on her previous year's tax return.

She checked her work for accuracy, then pressed the next button and immediately learned of her new, no-cost coverage, a feature of the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Her face beamed as she read the good news. It was a sweet moment.

Then an error message popped up: "the application has malfunctioned." She wondered if she'd entered something incorrectly.  She feared she might have to redo the entire application.

So she dialed the official call center and learned the system is currently overwhelmed with high volumes of people eager to enroll.  In fact, the state announced plans to hire 145 more customer service representatives to work at its toll-free call center.

Fortunately, Ingrid’s fears did not materialize. Within hours, she received an email message with a link asking her to log in to the official website once again.

She clicked on the link, logged in with her username and password, and, to her delight, it all worked. A message popped up indicating her application was received, and her Washington Apple Health Adult coverage begins 1-1-14. A few days later, her brand-new health coverage card arrived in her snail mail. At long last, financial security is within her reach. 
(October has been an extraordinarily busy month for both of the women I introduced to readers in my last post.  Business is booming for Heather, 28, the owner of Canary Salon on Broadway; and Carrie, 52, founder of Little Eorthe Farm in Orting, harvested a big crop of vegetables.  Their Affordable Care Act enrollment stories will follow in blog posts to come.) 
The official website and call center for the Washington State Exchange is:
1-855-WAFINDER (855-923- 4633)  https://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/

Roberta Riley currently works for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has also served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.
A similar version of this article appears in the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans newsletter.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Victory in Court for Domestic Violence Awareness

Did you know that October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month?  Every year, we mark this occasion by mourning those who lost their lives to intimate partner violence, celebrating survivors, and renewing our commitment to ending domestic violence.

This year, we also received some good news from the Washington Supreme Court that coincided with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  On October 17, the Court issued a powerful decision that shows how improved awareness of domestic violence can result in stronger legal protections for survivors.  But tragically, the case also demonstrates how the lack of awareness of domestic violence can lead to preventable deaths.

The case was Washburn v. City of Federal Way.  The facts of the case are horrifying. In 2008, Baerbel Roznowski obtained a protection order to require her abusive partner Paul Kim to leave her home.  Ms. Roznowski filled out paperwork that specifically informed the police that Mr. Kim was likely to react violently when served with the order, had a history of assault, and would need an interpreter to understand the order.

But the police officer who served the protection order didn’t even read the paperwork Ms. Roznowski completed.  Instead, the officer knocked on the door to Ms. Roznowski’s home, handed the order to Mr. Kim, and walked away.  The officer saw Ms. Roznowski in the background but never asked to speak to her.  Instead, the officer left Mr. Kim alone in the house with Ms. Roznowski, in direct violation of the protection order.  Three hours later, Mr. Kim stabbed Ms. Roznowski to death.

Legal Voice, joined by several allies, filed an amicus brief arguing that the city must be held liable for negligence in connection with Ms. Roznowski’s death.  We argued that the officer should have been aware that his actions put Ms. Roznowski in danger.  We emphasized that it is widely known that victims of domestic violence face a higher risk of violence when they attempt to separate from abusive intimate partners, and the police must have a duty to guard against this danger when they serve protection orders.

In a unanimous decision, the Washington Supreme Court agreed with us.  The Court held that the City violated a duty to take “reasonable steps” to guard against the possibility that Mr. Kim would harm Ms. Roznowski.  The Court held that “the police are generally aware of the problem of separation violence” and that the officer’s “duty to act reasonably required him to take steps to guard Roznowski against Kim’s criminal acts.”

The Court’s decision is both encouraging and heartbreaking.  It is encouraging because it shows, at least in this context, that all nine members of the Court were well aware of the risk that Ms. Roznowski faced, and agreed that the police must take reasonable steps to ensure a victim’s safety when serving protection orders.  This decision will literally save lives.

But the Court’s decision is also heartbreaking because it underscores that Ms. Roznowski’s death could have been prevented, if only the police had been aware of the danger she faced and taken the threat seriously.

And the need to take domestic violence seriously is just as urgent as ever.  On average, three women each day are murdered by intimate partners in the United States – and thousands more are beaten, terrorized, and subjected to coercive control by abusers.  Although justice has come too late for Ms. Roznowski, we hope the Supreme Court’s decision will help ensure that what happened to Ms. Roznowski never happens to another woman in Washington.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ready for New, Affordable Health Insurance Coverage Options coming this October?

By Roberta Riley

Ever since an HMO canceled my coverage in the middle of my long battle with cancer 20 years ago, I've been keeping a close eye on health reform efforts. Like me, you might be wondering how to cut through all the spin about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), to find out: How is the new law going to affect me, and my friends and neighbors?

I'd like you to meet Heather and Carrie.  Though they lead very different lives, both women’s lives will change when open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage begins this October 1st.  Join us today, and in coming posts, as we explore what the new health insurance options will mean for Heather, Carrie and maybe even you. 


Young and brimming with energy, Heather is an artist extraordinaire. From her perch at Canary Salon on Broadway in the heart of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, she greets clients of all ages and sensibilities.  Whenever I am tormented by a bad hair day, I step into her cheerful salon, and emerge uplifted, transformed by yet another of Heather's personalized creations. 

Heather takes the time to make her clients feel their best, but she must skimp on her own needs.  Fortunately, at 28, she enjoys good health and gets her birth control and Pap smears at Planned Parenthood. 

She’s looked into health insurance in the past, but realized the monthly premiums cost more than a doctor visit—yet she still would have faced high deductibles and fine print. That doesn’t work for Heather, since she’s still paying off her student loans, and now that she's opened her own salon, she's paying business startup costs. 

Why should a young, healthy woman like Heather look into the new health coverage options? 

Heather’s curious about the new options because she’s ready for peace of mind. She knows the scary story of my cancer diagnosis when I was her age. “I don’t need much health care right now, but I realize I'm just one accident or illness away from financial disaster,” she laments.  

The new coverage options will give Heather the security of knowing she can see a doctor in case she does get sick. Under the new law, she will be able to find a plan that fits her budget, and all plans will cover the basic, preventive care she needs, such as annual women’s exams, contraception and Pap smears, with no co-pay.  That means that if Heather gets sick, she won’t have to put off seeing a doctor until it is too late. 


If you bite into a plump, delicious heirloom tomato from a local farmers market, you might taste one of Carrie’s creations.  At midlife, Carrie’s dream came true when she founded Little Earth Farm, a sustainable, organic farm that stretches across the Puyallup River Valley near Orting, in the shadow of Mount Rainier. 

Carrie loves cultivating the strawberries, kale, butternut squash and Walla Walla sweet onions that nourish our community.  But Carrie has had to face a trade-off: her farm income is low, so she and her husband stretch to meet their budget.

She is 52 and her husband is 62, so they are too young for Medicare. Right now, they pay over $900 a month for a “catastrophic” health plan that just covers the bare bones. 

"Thank goodness we had that plan when my husband fell off the roof he was repairing at the farm," she says. Not only did he break his leg in three places, the doctors discovered an aneurysm. His medical bills would have wiped them out—had it not been for the insurance coverage, they would have lost the farm.  Still, it's a struggle to make ends meet and under their current plan Carrie must pay out-of-pocket for her mammograms and doctor visits. 

How will Carrie and her husband fare as the Affordable Health Care enrollment begins October 1?

Because their farm business is just breaking even, their income is low and Carrie and her husband will likely qualify for free or low-cost coverage. Plus, their new plan will cover her mammograms, immunizations, cancer screening and yearly doctor visits without any co-pays or deductibles. And her husband will be able to get the care he needs, when he needs it, even though he, like me, and millions of other Americans, has a pre-existing condition.

In the next few weeks before the new market opens up, we will find out what monthly premiums will be available to Heather and Carrie, so stay tuned for my next post. In the meantime, ask yourself

Who do you know who needs health insurance?

Over one million Washington residents lack health insurance—that’s 1 in 7 Washingtonians.

This fall is the time to reach out and encourage your friends, neighbors, and family members to explore their new options.  Here are the key things every Washingtonian needs to know:

  • You will be able to find the plan that fits your budget. Premium rates in Washington are expected to decrease with the new coverage options. Plus, you might be able to get financial help to pay for insurance, depending on how much money you make. Even a family of four making as much as $94,200 could qualify for help with costs. 
  • The insurance plan you choose will be there to cover the care you need.  All insurance plans will have to cover the basic care you need, including doctor visits, hospital stays, emergency room visits, mental health care, and prescription drugs. Plans will have to cover many preventive services, like mammograms and annual women’s exams, with no co-pay from you. 
  • You will be able to get help choosing a plan. You can get help online, over the phone, and in person to find the plan that is best for you and find out whether you can get financial help to pay for it.
  • Don’t delay!  Open enrollment starts October 1st. For some options, open enrollment ends March 31st. 

How You Can Apply:

  • Starting in October, you can apply for the new coverage options through the Healthplanfinder, a state-approved website and call center that will help you understand and compare your new options. 
  • You can get in-person help from an organization in your community who is trained to help you.  
  • You can get help in your language or disability accommodations for free. 
When You Can Apply:

  • September 3, 2013 – Call Center Opened
    • Call 1-855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633) if you have questions about your new coverage options (but you can’t start applying until October). 
  • October 1, 2013 – First Day to Apply
    • You can also use the website and call center to find an in-person help from your community, who can walk you through your new options.
  • March 31, 2013 – Last Day to Apply for some options (until next year). 
    • Other options will still accept enrollment after this date. 

Roberta Riley currently works for Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit dedicated to health care for all. In her former role as Legal Counsel for Planned Parenthood, Ms. Riley won a groundbreaking federal court decision requiring health plan coverage of prescription contraception. She has also served as a consumer advocate at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and was appointed to the Washington State Health Reform Realization Panel by the Hon. Mike Kreidler. In recognition of her achievements on behalf of women, she was given a 2001 Ms. Magazine Women the Year Award.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Title IX and Sexual Violence: Tackling More Than Sports

by Megan Veith

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

When most people think of Title IX, they think of sports. As a female student athlete, I benefited greatly from Title IX, being able to play soccer, volleyball, track, tennis, and swimming just like my male classmates. However, Title IX benefits girls (and boys) in another critical way: it helps ensure that schools don’t ignore allegations of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.

How does the law do this?  A 2011 letter by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights explains that the law imposes crucial obligations on schools to not stay silent about sexual violence. Importantly, Title IX effectively requires schools that know, or reasonably should know, of possible sexual violence to immediately investigate the situation. If the sexual violence occurred, the school must take prompt and effective steps to stop the violence, prevent it from happening again, and address the effects of the violence. Finally, the school must provide an avenue for students to bring Title IX complaints, including ones of sexual violence.

These obligations on schools are particularly important because one in four women will survive a rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates college. Men are also victims of sexual violence at school. Moreover, a recent study by the National Institute of Justice found that schools are grossly underprepared in sexual assault awareness training and education and only about 50% of schools have “specific sexual assault policy goals.”

Facts like these are taking a front page in the news recently as a number of students from at least 5 universities have filed Title IX complaints against their schools for failing to effectively respond to rape and sexual assault allegations, including the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.  These complaints illustrate a range of problems.  For example, the complaint against USC alleges that a student was told not to discuss her sexual assault case with the police and that her experience wasn’t sexual assault because her attacker didn’t orgasm. The UNC complaint alleges that the school administration underreported the number of sexual assaults on campus and was hostile to victims that refused to remain silent about the violence committed against them.

In addition to the official complaints, students nationwide are organizing advocacy campaigns, raising awareness, and taking a stand. Unlike many groups before them, however, they have an important way to spread the word about what’s really going on at schools – social media. Activists are effectively and powerfully educating others through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blog posts, and other online media outlets. A website, “Know Your Title IX,” has been set up just to empower students and inform people about their Title IX rights and help students report violence, change their school, support a survivor, and spread the word - an excellent step in working toward effective change.

Whether through filing a complaint, organizing an advocacy campaign, or raising awareness, ending the silence about campus sexual violence is critical to ending the violence.  While everyone has different experiences with sexual violence and no one can pretend to feel what a survivor does, it is important that everyone share their own experiences with sexual violence to make others aware of how prevalent it is and to help schools change their policies.

Speaking from my own experiences, throughout my educational experiences, I have received rape threats from multiple male classmates. I learned what it’s like to fear going to school the next day and to wonder if school administrators would take my complaints seriously while protecting my identity. I learned what it’s like to fear that people will find out what happened and blame me, complaining that I take things too personally or don't understand a "joke." I know what it's like to wonder that if I didn’t say anything, whether those classmates would carry out a similar threat on someone else. I know what it's like to live with regret that I chose to remain silent and did not effectively use my Title IX rights.

No one – ABSOLUTELY NO ONE – should fear going to school, to learn, to succeed. This is why Title IX is in place. Women and men are using Title IX to protect themselves and future generations from the inhumanity that is sexual violence. It is critical that all of us know our Title IX rights and spread the word to others so that all forms of sexual violence come to an end and that schools carry out on their undeniable obligation to protect their students.

Megan Veith is currently a legal intern at Legal Voice. She just finished her second year at Georgetown University Law Center, after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Washington. Megan is a strong advocate for women’s rights and is thrilled at the opportunity to fight for equality for all people at Legal Voice.

Photo credit here

Monday, August 5, 2013

From Access to Exclusivity: The Confusion Surrounding OTC Emergency Contraception for All Ages

by Megan Veith 

If anyone has been to a drug store recently, you may realize that there is a new box in the family planning section. Finally, women of all ages are now able to buy emergency contraception without ID or a prescription! After many legal battles over women’s right to choose when to have a baby and girls’ rights to make private health decisions, the FDA approved expanded access to Plan B One-Step last month. Jessica Arons, President and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, celebrated this move, stating “[i]n a country where nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, effective and accessible back-up birth control isn’t just a matter of convenience; it’s an urgent health need.”

Plan B One-Step helps prevent pregnancy after sex by delaying or preventing ovulation. It does not work after you become pregnant and is not an abortion pill, but can actually reduce need for an abortion. To be most effective, it should be taken within 3 days after sex.

However, before people get too excited, the recent improvements still do not address a very serious concern – cost. Last week, the FDA granted the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step (Teva) exclusive rights to sell this drug over-the-counter to all ages. Essentially, this means that Teva has a sort of monopoly on selling this drug until 2016. This is troubling because Teva can now set the price for over-the-counter emergency contraception available to all ages.

Currently, Plan B One-Step costs between $40 and $50! That’s a lot of money for just one pill. Generic versions of this drug cost between $35 and $45. These high costs still result in barriers to accessing emergency contraception, for young girls and women who don’t always have this kind of money. Arons commented that women’s health advocates still have work to do since “[l]ower cost generics are still being held hostage to age restrictions and prescription requirements.”

Other emergency contraception options include ella, which is a one-pill drug that is available by prescription only. Ella differs from other brands because, unlike Plan B One-Step and other progestin-only drugs, it is made of ulipristal acetate and works closer to the time of ovulation. Also unlike other emergency contraceptive pills, ella is effective up to 5 days after sex, which is critical because sperm can live in a woman’s body for 5 days.  It is also believed to be more effective than Plan B One-Step and generic versions of Plan B One-Step, especially for overweight and obese women. Ella generally costs around $40.

There are also generic one-pill and two-pill levonorgestrel-based tablets. The generic one-pill versions will soon be over-the-counter for women 17 and older, while women 16 and younger will need a prescription. Generic two-pill versions are only available at the pharmacy counter for those 17 and older, while women 16 and younger need a prescription.

It is important that women’s health advocates continue to fight for their basic human rights. Being a woman shouldn’t mean that you have to pay more for necessary health care or that you should have to wait for government and judicial approval in order to take the best care of your body.

Megan Veith is currently a legal intern at Legal Voice. She just finished her second year at Georgetown University Law Center, after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Washington. Megan is a strong advocate for women’s rights and is thrilled at the opportunity to fight for equality for all people at Legal Voice.

Photo Credit Here

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Putting Mothers First: How the Affordable Care Act May Help Lower Maternal Health Costs

by Megan Veith

A mind-blowing article appeared in the NY Times recently about the high cost of having a baby in the US. As part of an interactive feature, the author asked the reader how much a pregnancy cost in the US. As an average woman in her twenties, who has never been pregnant before, I settled with an estimate of a few thousand dollars. The real answer shocked me: an average pregnancy in the US costs $37,341.

Surely, this was mistake! Was I reading the answer correctly? Did I mistake this for another country? No, no, no.

According to a recent study by Childbirth Connection, women with commercial insurance generally pay 12% in out-of-pocket costs (between $2,244 and $2,669) for childbirth, while women with Medicaid get nearly all costs of birth covered. Insurance providers and the government take up the rest of the bill, meaning taxpayers and health insurance consumers end up paying, too. Given that today health care is supposed to be more affordable, more patient-focused, and more evidence-based, I could not understand how a procedure that a majority of women face during their lifetime could literally break women’s hard-earned banks. I decided to investigate how this outrage could exist and whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would help lower maternal health costs for women.

The main reasons that pregnancies are so expensive in the US are the increased use of unnecessary medical interventions for low-risk pregnancies, such as C-sections and inductions, as well as the high cost of medical malpractice insurance for OB/GYNs. Moreover, cost-saving and effective alternatives to hospitalized births (such as the use of midwives or birth centers) are grossly underfunded and in some cases highly restricted or even illegal because state laws, with doctor support, make it difficult for them to become licensed even when they are just as safe (and arguably even safer) for women with low-risk births.  

Luckily, the ACA works to correct some of these problems. The ACA provides a number of benefits to pregnant women that will hopefully lower the costs of pregnancies in the US.

Some of the benefits are specifically applicable to pregnant women. For example, in terms of access to maternal services, the ACA mandates that plans allow direct access to an OB/GYN without prior authorization from a health plan or doctor referral. The ACA also provides better support for nurse-midwives and birth centers, which are more affordable than having a baby in a hospital with an OB/GYN.

In a ground-breaking move, the ACA also requires new insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services without cost-sharing (i.e. deductibles, co-pay, etc.). The services related to maternal health include breastfeeding support and supplies, gestational diabetes screening, and well-woman visits for prenatal care. Moreover, it also requires new insurance plans to provide an “essential benefits” package that includes maternal and newborn health services.

In terms of better assistance and education, the ACA includes grants for home-visiting programs which would provide information and services to at-risk communities about pregnancy. The ACA also provides better treatment for pregnant women needing comprehensive tobacco cessation services and for women suffering from post-partum depression.

The ACA also includes provisions that apply to all women, but will help pregnant women in particular. One of the most important changes the ACA makes is that it incentivizes states to expand Medicaid - so in states that choose to, Medicaid covers women at or below 133% of the poverty line. Importantly, it also prohibits certain insurance plans from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions (such as C-sections), from rescinding coverage when a woman becomes pregnant or incurs high medical costs, and from imposing lifetime and annual limits. There are also provisions that cap out-of-pocket costs.

To make finding a plan easier, the ACA requires states to implement an online marketplace for people to make apples-to-apples comparisons on health insurance plans.

Finally, the ACA also fights gender discrimination by eliminating gender rating in certain insurance plans. Gender rating is where insurance companies charge women more than men just for being a woman.

Much more can be done to ensure that pregnant women are guaranteed their right to affordable health insurance – including, for example, ensuring insurance coverage for women who choose to terminate their pregnancies;  currently, the ACA places restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion.  However, at least the ACA is a step in the right direction!

Megan Veith is currently a legal intern at Legal Voice. She just finished her second year at Georgetown University Law Center, after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Washington. Megan is a strong advocate for women’s rights and is thrilled at the opportunity to fight for equality for all people at Legal Voice.

Photo Credit Here