Legislative Watch

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Women’s Law Project Heads to the PA Progressive Summit

Posted by on 10:16 AM in Economic Security, Equal Pay, Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health, Reproductive Rights, Solutions, Women's Law Project | 0 comments

Women’s Law Project Heads to the PA Progressive Summit

by Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

As a non-profit Pennsylvania-based organization dedicated to advancing the legal status of women and girls, we are, of course, heading up to Harrisburg for the Progressive Summit today.

These are a few of the panels that you will not want to miss:

At 11AM on Saturday, Senior Staff Attorney Sue Frietsche—a well-recognized expert in policy and regulations relating to reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania–will co-host a session called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” This panel will describe the state of abortion rights after the 2014 state legislative session, including both harmful and progressive laws, implications for abortion care and law in Pennsylvania, and how the way we talk about abortion can change the way people think and legislators act. The panel will also discuss opportunities to change abortion access and the culture around abortion in your local community, regardless of the politics in Harrisburg.

Frietsche is co-hosting the panel with Jordan Goldberg, Senior Counsel for the National Institute for Reproductive Health; Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates; and Ravina Daphtary, Senior State Strategies Manager at All Above All.

Right after that session, we’re heading over to “The Agenda for Women’s Health: Where This Groundbreaking Package of Bills is Heading in 2015.” The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a bipartisan, pro-choice package of bills that is changing the conversation around reproductive healthcare in the Capitol and the public sphere. Since it was introduced last legislative session, Pennsylvania has been lauded as a model for developing proactive legislation to protect women’s reproductive freedom and economic security amid unprecedented anti-choice legislative attacks.

With a pro-women’s health governor at the helm, will we see the attacks on reproductive health diminish and efforts to strengthen women and families flourish? This session will explore this, and other pertinent questions.

At 5:00PM, Associate Director of Strategic Communications Tara Murtha will co-host Media Training 101 with Keystone Progress Communications Director John Neurohr. This session will detail what to expect when talking to reporters, strategies to keep in mind when trying to get “earned media” for your organization, and how to use all available media platforms to get your message out. Participants will learn about building relationships with journalists and outlets, about proactive and reactive media outreach and how to think about media from the perspective of a journalist, not just from your perspective.

We are also looking forward to attending a slew of workshops and panels that address eliminating discrimination and securing economic prosperity in Pennsylvania.

In particular, we are interested in “Building the Movement for Reproductive Justice,” co-hosted by Jasmine Burnett and Julia Johnson of New Voices Pennsylvania. For women of color, access to reproductive healthcare is only one part of a vast and interconnected web of issues that are transformed through the framework of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice focuses on the human right of us all to control our bodies, sexuality, gender, work and reproduction free from violence. It addresses racial, gender, economic, political and social disparities and the ways in which they affect healthcare, abortion rights and how those issues specifically impact women of color.

Throughout the Summit, Women’s Law Project will be hosting a table for anyone interested in learning more about how to participate in the very big conversations about the equality of women and girls in Pennsylvania. Come by and say hello if you can.

For those of you following along from home, we will be tweeting from @WomenVotePA, using the hashtag #PAProgSummit.

WomenVotePA is the action arm of Women’s Law Project. As always, stay up-to-date by following us on twitter at www.twitter.com/womenvotepa, following on tumblr at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com and liking us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WomenVotePa.

Catch Up on News You Might Have Missed in January

Posted by on 3:08 PM in Economic Security, Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health | 0 comments

Catch Up on News You Might Have Missed in January

by Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new… legislative session in Pennsylvania. There’s no time to waste: we’re working toward bills to close the loophole in equal pay law, protect equal access to reproductive healthcare services, and to end pregnancy discrimination at work … among other important things.

First, the aerial view: On their first day in office, Congress introduced a 20-week abortion ban.

These bans, though blocked for being unconstitutional in several states, are an increasingly popular way to chisel away women’s rights, so you will be seeing a lot more of them introduced in state legislatures anyway. Congress’ plan to vote on the federal version on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade fell apart, though, when several Republican Congresswoman withdrew their support.

Instead of voting on the 20-week abortion ban, they voted on a bill that they claim stops taxpayer money from funding abortion. But in reality, the Hyde Amendment has banned the use of federal tax dollars for abortion care since 1976. What this new bill wouldactually do is codify the Hyde Amendment forever. It would also prohibit women from purchasing insurance policies through the exchange that cover abortion, with no exception for health of the pregnant woman.

This is just one of at least five anti-abortion bills that have been introduced in Congress so far this year.

Things are a little better than that, at least, here in Pennsylvania. Recently,Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced a resolution calling for paid parental leave for some city workers.

WLP attorney Amal Bass testified at Philadelphia’s third hearing on earned paid sick daylegislation, and many advocates are saying that the third time will be a charm.

In response to Philadelphia’s progress, though, some state lawmakers are rushing to pass a pre-emption bill that would “bigfoot” Philadelphia’s legislation.

On the equal-pay front, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research issued a report that revealed poverty could be slashed in half if women earned equal pay for equal work.

The Women’s Law Project is proud to be on the steering committee for the Equal Pay Today campaign, a unique partnership of 17 organizations working together to eliminate the wage gap. You can sign on to the Equal Pay campaign here.

Last year, Women’s Law Project senior staff attorney Sue Friestche testified at the first hearing held in Pennsylvania before a state legislative standing committee on the subject of equal pay in 50 years. Keep an eye out for more information on the effort to progress toward equal pay in PA, there’s going to be a lot happening there.

Congratulations are in order for our friends at New Voices Pittsburgh, who helped launchThe National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

Then there’s Medicaid. Last month, Women’s Law Project and Community Legal Services filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Voices Pittsburgh, and a private individual, against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) for unlawfully delaying the enrollment of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women into comprehensive Medicaid coverage for which they qualified effective January 1.

The press is wondering what we are we: Why is Pennsylvania Unlawfully Delaying Health Coverage for Low-Income Women?

So far this year, we’ve already issued a bad-bill alert. The first official bad bill of 2015would enable virtually anyone to refuse to do their job if they “conscientiously object” to a patient obtaining contraception or having an abortion, even a medically necessary termination.

A recent report revealed that abortion clinic harassers are “emboldened” by a wave of anti-choice bills: threats against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.

It’s distressing news. Know that Women’s Law Project is working closely with Senator Larry Farnese on a new state bill that would protect providers and patients trying to enter healthcare facilities.

In a recent issue of The Legal Intelligencer, Staff attorney Amal Bass highlighted four key bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health that we’ll be working on this year.

The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health will be one of the hot topics at the Progressive Summit, happening this weekend in Harrisburg. In addition to an entire panel dedicated to exploring the Agenda, senior staff attorney Sue Friestche is co-hosting a panel called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” Tara Murtha is co-hosting a “Media Training 101″ for advocates interested in learning how to successfully work with editors and reporters.

That’s it for now. It’s going to be a very busy next few months.

Stay up-to-date by following us on twitter at www.twitter.com/womenvotepa, following on tumblr at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com and liking us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WomenVotePa.

Bad Bills Alert: Dangerous Legislation on the Horizon in Pennsylvania

Posted by on 12:41 PM in Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health, Reproductive Rights | 0 comments

Bad Bills Alert: Dangerous Legislation on the Horizon in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania already has several laws on the books that enable physicians and other healthcare employees to refuse to provide certain health care services they find personally objectionable. Such provisions are found within the Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Human Relations Act, and the Abortion Control Act.

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania Senator John Eichelberger plans to re-introduce yet another “conscientious objection” refusal bill. As with all legislation that seemingly duplicates existing law, you have to wonder what this one would really do.

In a memo, Eichelberger explicitly mentions contraception, abortifacients and “chemical” abortion, also known as medical abortion. But Women’s Law Project senior attorney Sue Frietsche says that the bill lacks clear boundaries.

“It would free the hospital janitor from having to clean the hallways leading to the operating room in which an abortion is scheduled to occur,” says Frietsche. Another example: In the event of an abortion covered by Medicaid—which by law would mean the patient was either a rape survivor or in fatal danger–a billing coordinator could refuse to transmit the paperwork to the appropriate department.

As written, Senate Bill 292 eliminates the right of patients to sue for negligent, reckless, or malicious malpractice in the event of damage or death resulting from a provider’s refusal to provide care. For example, a doctor could refuse to terminate the pregnancy of a woman with a life-threatening condition, or to immediately transfer her to a doctor who will provide industry-standard care.

Eichelberger’s legislation appears to be taken directly from the “recommendations” posted for Pennsylvania by Americans United for Life. (AUL).

AUL is a bill factory that drafts much of the anti-choice state legislation popping up simultaneously in state legislatures across the country. “Founded in 1971 … AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level.”

In Pennsylvania, we see more of these “incremental” state bills on the horizon in 2015. While tactics vary, they’re designed to make it impossible for working and poor women to access safe, affordable abortion by forcing clinics to close and driving up the cost of the procedure in a clinic setting. Wealthy women can obtain abortions from private physicians in a hospital setting. By focusing on over-regulating clinics and driving up clinic costs, the incremental strategy makes the fact that abortion is legal irrelevant to working and poor women who can’t afford to obtain one.

Another tactic to reserve constitutional rights for the wealthy is to sever funding streams, real and imagined. In fact, Senator Eichelberger is the sponsor of another bill (Senate Bill 291) that would forbid municipalities from funding abortions. Federal funds have not been used to pay for abortions since the Hyde Amendment initially passed in 1976. Pennsylvania law prohibits the use of state money to pay for abortion services except in cases of rape and threat to the patient’s life.

We’ll keep you posted on both of these bills. We’ll also keep you posted on our proactive efforts to protect reproductive rights and ensure economic security for women. Just this week, Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass highlighted four key Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health bills in the Legal Intelligencer.

The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a package of pro-choice bills that protect a woman’s reproductive freedom and promote economic security by eliminating structural discrimination against women and girls.

We anticipate a tough but productive year, and we need your voice more than ever. Sign up to follow updates at @womenvotepa & like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womenvotepa.

Federal Lawsuit Targets DHS For Illegally Delaying Health Coverage for 85,000 Pennsylvania Women

Posted by on 10:10 PM in PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press | 0 comments

Federal Lawsuit Targets DHS For Illegally Delaying Health Coverage for 85,000 Pennsylvania Women

Women qualified for full coverage on January 1

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (1/13/2015)

Today, two women’s health organizations and a private citizen filed a federal class action claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is unlawfully delaying the enrollment of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women into comprehensive Medicaid coverage for which they qualified effective January 1.

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, approximately 85,000 women in Pennsylvania who are currently enrolled in SelectPlan for Women, a limited Medicaid program that only covers family planning services, currently qualify for full health coverage either through Healthy PA, the Corbett Administration’s version of Medicaid expansion, or through subsidized insurance on Pennsylvania’s federally facilitated health insurance Marketplace.

“These 85,000 women are the working poor,” said Amy Hirsch, attorney for Community Legal Services. “While DHS is dragging its feet, these women are being denied health coverage.”

Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is a plaintiff in the case, commented:

“Planned Parenthood provided more than 5,000 SelectPlan recipients with family planning services last year.  We see women on a regular basis who have to delay diagnostic tests and urgent care for conditions we discover, because they lack the financial resources to pay for health care, and their insurance coverage is limited to family planning.  Refusing 85,000 Pennsylvania women the health coverage that they’re qualified for is dangerous and inexcusable.”

“No one can deny that DHS has mismanaged the SelectPlan transition,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project who together with Ms. Hirsch represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Our clients can’t even get information about their coverage out of the Department because when they call, they get a recording telling them to call back another time.”

Hirsch explained that a February 15th open enrollment deadline is looming for approximately 15,000 SelectPlan women whose income disqualifies them for Healthy PA. Applicants must complete the enrollment process in the Marketplace by that date, or miss their chance to get health coverage until 2016.

“DHS never told these women they would qualify for full health coverage starting January 1, and they never mentioned the February 15 open enrollment deadline,” said Frietsche, who also called the notices DHS sent SelectPlan recipients in November and December misleading and confusing. “Instead, DHS told them it was evaluating what coverage to offer them and if they want timelier help, they should call the Helpline or fill out another application.”

The complaint notes that DHS automatically transferred other groups of limited-coverage recipients to full coverage by January 1 using information already in their system, but is treating the SelectPlan women differently, requiring a manual review at the caseworker level of each SelectPlan recipient’s file over the course of several months before enrolling her in Healthy PA.

“This is discrimination against low-income women and it has very real consequences for the Black women and women of color in Pennsylvania,” said La’Tasha D. Mayes, Founder and Executive Director of New Voices Pittsburgh, a reproductive justice organization that advocates for the health of black women and girls and a plaintiff in the case. “As states surrounding Pennsylvania expanded their Medicaid program over the last year, these women were denied full Medicaid simply because of their zip code. Now that a new plan is finally in place, they are still being denied coverage, this time because they are women. This is unacceptable.”

The lawsuit asserts that DHS’s refusal to provide tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women the Medicaid coverage they are entitled to violates the Social Security Act, which requires states to provide Medicaid with “reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals” and according to “reasonable standards.” It further asserts that DHS’s refusal to refer SelectPlan recipients to the Marketplace in time for them to sign up for subsidized health insurance there likewise violates federal law.

The case, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Mackereth, is case number 15-cv-135 and has been assigned to the Honorable Joel H. Slomsky.

********************
The Women’s Law Project is a non-profit women’s legal advocacy organization based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project advances the legal and economic status of women and girls through litigation, advocacy and public education.

In 1966, the Philadelphia Bar Association established Community Legal Services (CLS) as an independent 501(c)(3) organization to provide free legal services, in civil matters, to low-income Philadelphians. Since its founding, CLS has served more than one million clients who could not afford to pay for legal representation. CLS’s Public Benefits Unit represents clients seeking or facing termination of public benefits such as cash assistance, SSI disability, food stamps, or health insurance. The unit provides education and outreach services and advocates for improvements to the programs that provide these benefits at the federal, state and local levels.

Press Contact:

Tara Murtha, Women’s Law Project, 215-928-5762 – tmurtha@womenslawproject.org

Amy Hirsch, Community Legal Services, 215-805-6927 – ahirsch@clsphila.org

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed over Pennsylvania Medicaid Cuts

Posted by on 1:26 PM in Economic Security, PA Agenda for Women's Health, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Class Action Lawsuit Filed over Pennsylvania Medicaid Cuts

By Tara Murtha, WomenVote PA, WLP Staff –

Two big problems with Pennsylvania Medicaid emerged yesterday [December 22].

The problems aren’t with Medicaid per se, but with the chaos-riddled transition from traditional Medicaid to Governor Corbett’s controversial, non-expansion alternative. To further complicate matters, Governor-Elect Tom Wolf, who promised to expand Medicaid as intended under the Affordable Care Act, takes office next month, and benefit changes are scheduled to take place January 1.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states are encouraged to expand access to Medicaid coverage, with the federal government picking up the tab through 2016 and then paying no less than 90 percent on a permanent basis.

The background: Ever since the Supreme Court decided that states can refuse to expand Medicaid, the situation here in Pennsylvania been a saga fueled by partisan politics–at the expense of the health and well-being of more than 500,000 low-income residents.

As every state bordering Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid, Pennsylvania has become “the island of the uninsured.”

In order to obtain the federal dollars without actually expanding Medicaid, the Corbett administration assembled an alternative plan called Healthy Pennsylvania, called Healthy PA for short. The plan was “met with harsh criticism by many and for good reason.”

As predicted by experts and advocates all along, the federal government rejected the majority of proposals within HealthyPA, such as tethering work requirements to health benefits. The rejection shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Corbett Administration either, since some of the proposals had already been refused in other states even before Pennsylvania submitted this proposal.

In August, after nearly a year of negotiation, the federal government approved a stripped-down version of HealthyPA. Then in November, Corbett became the first Pennsylvania governor in 60 years to lose re-election when people of the Commonwealth voted Tom Wolf into office.

Governor-Elect Tom Wolf ran on a promise to expand traditional Medicaid.

Meanwhile, 500,000 residents are still left in the gap created by Corbett’s refusal to expand last year.

Now, as Governor Corbett gets ready to leave the governor’s mansion, the whole system is a mess.

On December 19th, Pennlive.com reported that healthcare providers serving low-income mentally ill and drug-addicted Pennsylvanians state stopped receiving reimbursement for services because of a “glitch” in the transition process.

From PennLive.com:

Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, said the problem is creating a crisis for providers, particularly small nonprofits, which are being forced to decide whether to swallow the cost of care or deny treatment.

“It’s just incredible,” Beck said earlier this week. “We have families who desperately want help, kids who want help and access. This has become a nightmare.”

On December 22, Community Legal Services (CLS) announced a class-action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (formerly Department of Public Welfare).

From CLS:

The lawsuit, Mendez v. Mackereth, alleges that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS, formerly the Department of Public Welfare or DPW) is assigning 1.1 million adult Medical Assistance recipients to benefits packages that do not meet their needs using secret standards and without proper notice.

Domestic violence survivors are among the groups most effected by the cuts.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction before January 1, when benefit cuts are scheduled to begin.

“Pennsylvania is out of step with the rest of the country,” said Jane Perkins, Legal Director at NHeLP. “It is implementing strict benefits cuts using unlawful secret standards at a time when many states are expanding access to health coverage.”

Young v. UPS Heads to SCOTUS: What You Need to Know

Posted by on 11:42 AM in Economic Security, Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health | 0 comments

Young v. UPS Heads to SCOTUS: What You Need to Know

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Young v. United Parcel Service (UPS) to determine whether the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by clarifying that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Title VII applies to companies with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. Despite the PDA, many pregnant women have been fired after requesting temporary accommodations due to physical limitations from pregnancy and related conditions. This type of discrimination disproportionately affects low-income women working jobs with physical demands. Former Wal-Mart employee Heather Wiseman was fired after following her doctor’s recommendation to stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle at work. Victoria Serednyj was fired from a nursing home after her employer refused to excuse her from moving heavy objects, though her doctor advised she should avoid such exertion to reduce her risk of miscarriage. Amber Walker, a truck driver, was fired after asking someone to help her with heavy lifting during the later months of her pregnancy, even though the company provided similar assistance to other truck drivers with temporary physical limitations. All of these women challenged their terminations in court, and they all lost. The woman suing UPS is an employee named Peggy Young. Young requested a temporary shift in duties due to her pregnancy, and UPS refused. Yet, the company routinely accommodated similar medically-advised requests for temporary lighter duty. Reproductive health advocates are watching the case very closely.

“The case illustrates the often hostile legal and policy environment U.S. women confront on issues surrounding pregnancy,” writes Ann M. Starrs, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “Policymakers and the courts should ensure that women like Young who want to achieve a healthy pregnancy are reasonably accommodated by their employers without sacrificing their economic security.”

Law professors and women’s organizations with expertise in pregnancy discrimination law, including the Women’s Law Project, have demonstrated support for Peggy Young by filing and signing on to amici curiae briefs, also known as friend-of-the-court briefs. From the amici curiae:

“This case presents an issue of great significance for working women in the United States, who comprise nearly half the labor force. The vast majority of working women will become pregnant at some point during their working lives, and many of them will experience at least minor conflicts between job requirements or working conditions and the temporary, but real physical effects of pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, as Young’s case has been winding through the court system, national, state and local legislators have called for–and in some cases passed–policies designed to close the loophole left by the PDA. On a national level, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey has been advocating for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The PWFA explicitly requires certain employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers experiencing temporary limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions.

“Women make up nearly half of the work force, and in Pennsylvania, approximately 96,000 women in the work force give birth each year,” Casey said in Pennsylvania in October. “Too many women still face discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy as some employers continue to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations. My legislation would prevent employers from forcing these pregnant women out of the workplace.”

Last year, Women’s Law Project Staff Attorney Amal Bass testified before Philadelphia City Council that an increasing number of pregnant women have contacted the WLP for legal representation because of the obstacles they face at work.

“The majority of the women who have contacted the Women’s Law Project work in low-wage jobs, are having healthy pregnancies, and need only minor adjustments in the workplace as their pregnancies progress,” Bass testified.

In January, Philadelphia amended the Fair Practices Ordinance to provide reasonable accommodations protection for pregnant workers. And in October, Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation that calls for “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women who work for the city or large city contractors. Senator Matt Smith and Rep. Mark Painter and introduced bills to extend similar protections to pregnant workers throughout the state as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. The legislation has sat, untouched. Meanwhile, UPS reversed its own policy ahead of the Supreme Court hearing. According to UPS attorneys, the change of policy doesn’t mean they were wrong when they denied temporary light duty to Peggy Young.

Victory! Bill to Protect Domestic Violence Victims from Eviction Heads to Governor’s Desk

Posted by on 11:57 AM in Domestic & Sexual Violence, Legislative Watch | 0 comments

Victory! Bill to Protect Domestic Violence Victims from Eviction Heads to Governor’s Desk

We asked for your help, you gave it. We heard about all the phone calls and emails. Now, together, we achieved a huge victory for the rights of domestic violence survivors in Pennsylvania, who can no longer be legally evicted from their homes for calling authorities for help when they need it.

The background:

Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, HB1796, titled “Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances” was drafted in response to a situation so outrageous that it gained national attention.

Thanks to a so-called “nuisance property ordinance” that enabled landlords in Norristown, Pa. to evict tenants for calling 911, a domestic violence victim named Lakisha Briggs was forced to choose between eviction and enduring physical abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, who would not leave the home she shared with her toddler.

But after passing through the House, this good faith bill was hijacked by one bewildering amendment after another. First, a bad sick day amendment was the problem. Then, a pro-gun amendment was tacked on to the bill the same day domestic violence advocates traveled to Harrisburg to remember the victims of DV murdered in Pennsylvania last year—many of them with a gun as the weapon.

Following the lead of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we called out for supporters to contact their senators and ask to drop the amendments and pass the bill—and that’s just what happened an hour ago on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate on their last day in session.

They listened.

“No woman or man should have to risk their life, or their family because they’re scared of being evicted,” Senator Judy Schwank said.

“Do I need to remind us when we all saw a few weeks ago the senseless beating of a woman in an elevator?” asked Senator John Rafferty, Jr., before pointing out that this victory is an example of the good work that can get done when both sides of the aisle come together to cooperate on important issues.

In the end, the bill passed the Senate unanimously.

“I am glad that you colleagues in the Senate decided to do the right thing and remove the paid sick leave preemption language from House Bill 1796,” Senator Vincent Hughes, an advocate of the bill, told Women’s Law Project. “We must do everything we can to protect the victims of domestic violence and this version of the bill is a step forward instead of a step backwards.”

Next, it heads to the desk of the Governor to be signed into law.

This bill is the third initiative of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a bipartisan, pro-active and pro-choice legislative package designed to secure reproductive rights and promote economic security. (The first two successes were a bill to study state programs targeted to help working families, and a bill that criminalizes so-called “revenge porn.”)

The majority of Pennsylvania voters support the Agenda, a fact reported by ThinkProgress this morning. But support isn’t enough. We need to keep voting and speaking out to make it happen.

We hope you will continue to help us advocate for the rest of the Agenda, and help us spread the word about the great progress we are making here. But for now, let’s celebrate. We couldn’t have done it without you. So thank you!

Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

Posted by on 11:37 AM in Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health | 0 comments

Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney

Doctors aren’t dummies.

They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments.

On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized.

Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation.

These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety.

Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures.

Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate.

The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.”

From the Bad Medicine report:

*Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer.

*Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility.

*Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative.

*Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite lack of scientific evidence.

In 2012, anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed mandating that doctors perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The bill, one of the most severe of its kind in the country, was quietly abandoned after a similar bill led to a backlash in Virginia.

But that doesn’t mean the mandatory ultrasound bill, or legislation like it, won’t be proposed in Pennsylvania again.

Laws like these enable politicians to act like ventriloquists, throwing their words into the mouths of doctors. It’s time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists.

Doctors aren’t dummies. Patients deserve better. Women need to be able to trust that the voice they’re hearing is from their physician, not from Harrisburg’s political puppeteers.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

Posted by on 3:19 PM in PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press | 0 comments

Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy

Pennsylvania is facing a 1.3 billion deficit and the annual state budget is due June 30. The obvious solution is to expand Medicaid, but some Pennsylvania legislators won’t consider it.

When Governor Corbett rejected expanding Medicaid as designed under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the state gave up millions of dollars in federal funds that are still available, ready to be disbursed. By expanding Medicaid, even temporarily, Pennsylvania lawmakers could immediately draw down $600 million dollars for the 2014-15 budget – $500 million more than Governor Corbett’s Executive Budget – which would slash the 1.3 billion deficit considerably.

Of course, Medicaid expansion would also mean that the 600,000 Pennsylvanians left in the “coverage gap” without access to healthcare could actually see a doctor.

Refusing to expand Medicaid immediately in the face of a budget crisis not only means forgoing $500 million dollars in readily available revenue, but also maintaining an unacceptable status quo that means some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians receive the least help.

Currently, because Pennsylvania didn’t expand Medicaid, the qualification cut-off for “traditional” Medicaid for non-disabled parents is 38% of the federal poverty level, or about $9,000 a year for a family of four.

Meanwhile, the ACA provides families of four earning between $24,000 and $95,500 a year with tax subsidies to assist them with purchasing a private insurance plan through the online marketplace. Families with incomes between $9,000 and $24,000 are left uninsured.

Refusing to expand Medicaid as intended under the ACA has created a bizarre system where a mother of two children who earns $10,000 a year does not qualify for subsidized coverage, while a childless single person earning $44,000 a year does.

Healthy mothers mean healthy families. Women’s lack of access to healthcare contributes to ailments that cause premature births, infant mortality and maternal mortality. With recent research showing that pregnant women and infants in Philadelphia suffer higher incidence of maternal and infant mortality than the rest of the country, we can’t afford to continue to play politics with health policy.

Health shouldn’t be determined by geography.

Every state touching Pennsylvania’s borders has expanded Medicaid. To be clear, the 600,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians in the coverage gap are stuck there simply because they live in Pennsylvania.

In addition to improving health and adding $500 million dollars in revenue, expanding Medicaid would create approximately 35,000 jobs.

State budget secretary Charles Zogby recently admitted that if the state attempts to balance the budget with only existing revenues, there would be no new funding for basic education, higher education or to reduce waiting lists for services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Governor Corbett has been fighting against the Affordable Care Act since he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the law as attorney general back in 2010. How much longer and how much more is he willing to sacrifice to the game of partisan politics?

Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania need not disrupt the approval process for Healthy PA, the alternate plan Governor Corbett submitted for federal review. (Healthy PA proposes to use the federal funds earmarked for expansion to provide a new form of coverage to low-income Pennsylvanians while cutting and limiting current benefits.) Policy experts point to New Hampshire as an example of a state that temporarily expanded Medicaid while negotiating an alternate waiver.

The budget crisis is frightening, but it is at least forcing the Pennsylvania legislature to reveal what they value most. They can choose partisan gamesmanship over the financial health of the Commonwealth and literal health of 600,000 citizens, or they can improve the health of working men and women, create jobs, and lay claim to $500 million additional federal dollars while slashing the budget deficit.

It seems clear it’s time to choose responsible governance over petty politics and expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.


About the Women’s Law Project and WomenVote PA:

The Women’s Law Project is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit women’s legal advocacy organization focused on high-impact research, litigation and advocacy. The Women’s Law Project has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. For more information go to www.womenslawproject.org.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org.

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chairs, with Kate Michelman, of WomenVote PA.

Alert: HB 1796 Has Been Hijacked

Posted by on 5:28 PM in Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health | 0 comments

Alert: HB 1796 Has Been Hijacked

Update on PA Agenda for Women’s Health:  Right now, one of the Agenda’s bills, House Bill 1796, which would provide important housing protections for victims of domestic violence, has been hijacked by conservatives who have amended it by adding language that would prohibit municipalities in Pennsylvania from enacting local ordinances requiring paid or unpaid sick leave. This amendment clearly adds insult to injury, as domestic violence survivors are often most in need of sick leave.

This bill is moving quickly. We need you to contact your state senator today requesting her/him to vote to remove Amendment AO5863 language from HB 1796 and support the original intent of the bill.