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Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:26 AM PST

The Zipless Election of 2012

by ershaffer

2012 was a zipless election. Although the public was demonstrably present for the experience, somehow we didn't feel completely engaged.

It seemed to morph into a contest between dirty tricks and voter suppression tactics on one side, countered by techno wizardry and micro-sampling of key voters in swing states on the other. As a result, while celebrating  big wins for progressives, women, and people of color, and some clear policy victories, we're left feeling stunned as much as euphoric.

We need to find new ways to create and sustain civic engagement that cross the lines between Tahrir Square, the town hall meeting, and Twitter, to feel like we've won the policy debates that we actually have, on taxing the wealthy and protecting reproductive rights, and to take on the entrenched interests blocking progress on the big issues that lie ahead.  

Some encouraging clues from the cyber campaign: It helped that the polling was remarkably deft. Finally, someone figured out how to frame a question about the right to abortion that gauged and activated the power of this issue to motivate women voters positively. It made sense to reach out to people in beauty parlors and barber shops as well as likely voters with landline phones.

Voters responded most to hearing directly from people they perceived as being like themselves, and who created a bond of accountability about the intention to vote. In other words, Organizing 101 still applies.  Group identity and personal relationships do influence how we think and vote, and ultimately our policies.

The Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign is launching initiatives that blend cyber solidarity with our presence in the public square. For the 40th anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S., the TWSR coalition will offer an online campaign. And on January 26, 2013, we'll Celebrate Women, Life and Liberty in San Francisco.

For a good time, call, click or email.


Let's hear it for Martha Raddatz, the brilliantly skillful moderator of the vice-presidential debate.She got a clear yes from Rep. Paul Ryan to this question:  "If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?"

But first, the wind up, and the pitch:

"This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.

"Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country, please talk personally about this, if you could.."

The vice presidential candidates, both Catholics, were both entirely candid.

Vice President Joe Biden: "I do not believe that we have a right to tell women that they can't control their body." As an elected official, he would not impose his own personal religious beliefs on others.

Rep. Paul Ryan stated he believes that life begins at conception, and referred to his wife's pregnancy of 7 weeks as an example. He stated that he opposes abortion under any circumstances.  

He said that the policy of the Romney administration would be "to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."He did not say that they would oppose federal funding for abortion, which is present law.  He said the policy would be "to oppose abortions."

"Exceptions" do not make care accessible. They serve mostly to stigmatize reproductive health care.  

The Hyde amendment currently does not allow any federal funds to be used to pay for an abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or threats to the life of mother

There are about 32,000 pregnancies a year as a result of rape.

In 2006 only 85 abortions were paid for with federal funds.

However, Rep. Ryan does not support coverage even in the cases of the exceptions he mentioned.  He was a co-sponsor of HR 3, which would not use federal funds for abortion even in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.

Again. Martha
RADDATZ: I want to go back to the abortion question here. If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?

RYAN: We don't think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.

Ryan means to suggests that the decisions about abortion should not be made by unelected judges, but should be decided at state level.  During 2011 and 2012, state legislatures have dramatically ramped up cutbacks on access to all forms of reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion. In fact, though, the Supreme Court did and will make decisions about abortion.  And the President appoints the Justices.

Contribute to the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women and to our partners to keep fighting for reproductive health, rights and justice.


Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:07 AM PDT

Power Is A Woman's Choice

by ershaffer

Turns out, women are a key voting bloc in the upcoming election. Here are our choices heading into the political conventions:

A Republican Party fueled with unprecedented funnels of corporate cash, that draws political life support from the medieval wing of several fundamentalist religions, whose fantastical beliefs about women's biology are rooted in their ironclad devotion to patriarchy.

A Democratic Party also dependant on the parasitic finance sector, that won in 2008 on the promise of hope and change, and is now reaching back to the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act of 2009 to symbolize its commitment to women's economic empowerment.  It depends for political fuel in no small part on the indisputable fact that the Republicans are profoundly scary.

Polls show the 2 running neck in neck.

In fact, this election offers women a clear choice. The Republican platform would make criminals of the 30% of American women who've had an abortion (including me, once because of a fetal anomaly diagnosed in my second trimester). The Affordable Care Act, which Paul Ryan has voted repeatedly to repeal, assures more affordable birth control and extends Medicare's financial health, in contrast to Ryan's proposal to privatize it.

But it's not enough to debunk the opposition's lies, or to point out that they rely on stoking fear and anger.  Since the outcome of the election depends largely on women, it's up to us not only to get each other engaged, but to demand credible promises that address women's concerns.

Some recent polls of women who are not politically active show that they do react viscerally to the demeaning insults slung by decision-makers they perceive as "mean, old, white men."  But they are living difficult lives, bounded not only by state legislatures that snatch away their birth control and penalize them for their reproductive decisions, but by financial hardship. One quote: "I'm happy  this month that I haven't had to sell plasma to feed my children."

So here are some things to call for in Charlotte:

1.  Lots of women. On the podium, speaking, in charge, active, visible, and vocal.  Women of all races, and  for that matter, candidates for races. We know who the top ticket nominees are. Let's give a boost to the EMILY's List all-star roster of  pro-choice Democratic women candidates, people like Maggie Hassan for governor of New Hampshire, Congressional candidates Grace Meng, Christie Vilsack, Val Demings, and Tammy Duckworth, and Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin for Senate, and of course, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.  Since Canadian-born former governor Jennifer Granholm can't run for president, nominate her now for a Cabinet post, if she wants one, and give her air time.

2. An iron clad commitment to preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare. These two programs are the bedrocks of women's financial security as we age, and under attack explicitly by the Republicans.  Let's hear Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi confirm that the attacks on "entitlements" are lies, that the programs are solvent, and that Reed and Pelosi pledge personally that they will not compromise on preserving and improving these programs.

3.  It's great that Nancy Keenan of NARAL and Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood will be speaking. Women's rights to make their own decisions about their reproductive health are fundamental to our economic and personal wellbeing, including access to legal, affordable birth control and abortion. We hope their introductions will include words of support from HHS and the Surgeon General.

We're going to lick stamps and make coffee, write checks, emails and op eds. We have power. Let's recognize and exercise it.


The Gallup poll from May says a lot about what is at stake politically on the issue of birth control:  It's a slam dunk winner for anyone who supports it.  Birth control is considered morally acceptable by 90% of Americans.  Not only that.  It is considered morally acceptable by 87% of Republicans, 89% of Catholics and 89% of independents, and 90% of Democrats and Americans overall.

In March,a Bloomberg polleven found majority support for the Obama Administration policy of requiring health insurance plans to cover contraception without co-payments or deductibles, just like any other preventive health benefit. This policy took effect on Aug. 1, along with coverage for 7 other key preventive health services for women.

These views have not stopped the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and some zealous religious employers from working overtime to try to reframe the issue as something other than basic, fundamental health care.  And yes,  while these groups are on the wrong side of the law and public opinion, they do have a weekly pulpit, literally, for their damaging, misogynist views.

But the Obama Administration risks perpetuating a damaging cloak of shame around the issue that is stifling the ability of women in particular, and society at large, from expressing healthy, open views about our actual healthy sexual practices.

Here for example is the Administration's description of the new benefit in the July 31 Huffington Post:

"FDA-approved contraceptive products, which have proven health benefits like a reduced risk of cancer and protecting against osteoporosis."

For one thing, the pill maybe increases risks for some kinds of cancer, decreases them for others.

But more importantly: the main health benefit of contraception is that it gives us control over whether and when to become pregnant and bear children.  This in turn improves women's physical health and our opportunities for independence, autonomy, and emotionally healthy families.

State legislatures around the country, and Congress on an almost daily basis, are using women's rights and our sexuality as a punching bag. It may be political theater but it has real consequences for our lives.  In fact 99% of sexually active Americans have used birth control; but til now, 50% of US pregnancies have been unintended, a sign that too many women can't afford contraceptives or are otherwise discouraged from using then.

 We can't sit by while our everyday practices are redefined as the "love that dare not speak its name."   The Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign has posted infographics
that describe the new health benefits.  Post them.  Speak up.  You have support. Go find it.


On the heels of the Supreme Court decision on June 15, 2012, invalidating the individual mandate provisions of the health care reform law, the President and Congress took swift action to implement a Single Payer system.  Asked to define a single payer system, the President said, "Well, you know, sort of like Medicare."  

Long time health policy analyst and reform advocate Ellen Shaffer noted that the surprising transition had occurred subsequent to the following events:

Massive demonstrations now known as the Grrl/Geezer/PanEthnic Spring erupted throughout the country, responding to the failure of the U.S. political system to take effective action in the face of shifts in the global economy, devastating losses of jobs and income security, demographic changes, and the degradation of human and environmental health.

Shocked by racially motivated police actions, the laser-like focus of increasingly unhinged legislators on humiliating women in the name of ending "government tyranny," and the closure of community colleges, the cross-generational coalition used phone trees and social media to call on the Fed Up across the political spectrum to exercise personal responsibility by showing up and uniting.

The uprising derailed widespread expectations that a negative decision on the mandate would likely add momentum to the information-free right wing, relegating further effective health care reform to the back burner for decades.

Continue Reading

Mon Feb 13, 2012 at 07:35 AM PST

Have Republicans Gone Bananas?

by ershaffer

You thought the contraception war was over.  On Friday the President announced a plan that would allow employees to be covered for contraception at no extra cost, but keep Catholic employers removed from the transaction.  The Catholic Hospital Association likes the plan.  Most Catholics like the plan, including 59% of Catholic women.  

Nope.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are opposed, because they don't think anyone should have access to or use contraception.

The Republicans are aligning with the Bishops on legislation to eliminate access to birth control, and otherwise target women's health. Sen. Roy Blount's (R-MO) pending amendment to a transportation bill would let any employer offer a health insurance plan that does not cover maternity care for unmarried women, claiming that such coverage violates the belief that sex and procreation are permissible only within the marital relationship. (Amendment No. 1520/HR 1179).

Any corporation's CEO could eliminate coverage for contraception, or any other benefit, based on his "moral convictions," possibly including concern for its cost. (S. 2092/H.R. 1179, Manchin-Rubio Bill)

The aim seems to be to inflame extremist voters while driving the rest of the electorate into an alienated apolitical stupor.  Alternatively, the Bishops and the GOP may have taken a turn from Woody Allen's Bananas ("...all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.") and Monty Python's "Every Sperm Is Sacred."

Some Oklahoma legislators are treating these proposals in the proper spirit. On February 6, the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature introduced the "Personhood Bill" SB 1433 to proclaim fertilized human eggs the same as grown humans.  In response, Democratic State Senator Constance Johnson attached an amendment to the bill that would outlaw masturbation by men. All forms of sexual activity "in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child."  She later removed the measure stating that she wanted to emphasize the bill's inherent absurdity as well as its sexist undertones.

What's next? Perhaps a mandatory Trophy Wife bill: People who cannot procreate would be prohibited from intimate relations, including women who have passed the age of fertility and men with low sperm counts. In the event of any resulting marital rearrangements, men who intend to pursue such relations would be required to pay financial support to their former wives, and attract a fertile young replacement.  

Unfortunately, the Republican agenda is deadly serious and outrageous attacks on women's health are going to keep coming at us unless we speak out and make it clear that bashing women's health is not acceptable.   Click here to tell your Senators to reject all extreme legislation that would take away women's access to birth control without a co-pay, and other needed health care.


Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 10:41 AM PST

Do Republicans Have Sex?

by ershaffer

Ok let's get down to brass tacks. We know the Republicans are mostly just playing politics with women's health. If we stop them from bashing birth control they'll find something else. But now that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the California ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, it seems appropriate to out the opponents of birth control. For being straight.

Most heterosexually active Americans, including most Catholics, use birth control, as do many others who use hormones to treat a medical condition. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes birth control. The Catholic Church operates a large chunk of the nation's hospitals and universities, and provides health insurance to its millions of employees, many of whom are not Catholic. The Affordable Care Act proposes that these institutions will have to continue offering coverage for contraception without co-pays or deductibles, like any other employer, or start doing so, as of 2013. Actual churches are excluded from this requirement. The Bishops are riled up about this. Congressional Republicans, and some in the "liberal" media, are echoing distress at the law's incursion on the church's right to impose its quaint views on its employees and students.

So, do the critics walk the walk? We'll take the Bishops at their word that they don't have kids. And journalists don't always include personal details in their bio's. But members of Congress love to talk about their families So we should be able to tell whether or not members who say they don't believe that contraception really is an essential aspect of health care, especially for women, are likely users of contraception.

Continue Reading

by Ellen Shaffer and Judy Norsigian

This week, we all learned a lot about Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, and breast cancer. Now that Komen has caved (sort of; Planned Parenthood’s response), we might start to learn what it will take to mobilize an outcry to really stop the attacks on women’s health.

As Komen was committing a huge PR failure, it became clear via Facebook, Twitter and a new Tumblr site, Planned Parenthood Saved Me, that many women value and rely on Planned Parenthood for breast cancer exams and other preventive health services. A slam-dunk week for Planned Parenthood.

We need to make it a slam-dunk month. What Komen, and the evangelicals, and Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, who launched the pointless political inquiry, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are really mad at Planned Parenthood about is this:

Part of what they do is help people plan. Parenthood. You know. They support birth control. In some cases, they provide it. Like your corner drugstore, but better.

And this week, the bishops are howling about it because the Obama administration refused to grant a broad religious exemption to contraception coverage.

Continue Reading

The Hyde amendment banned spending federal funds on abortion and I didn't speak out because I didn't use MediCaid.

They restricted access to abortion for residents of D.C., but I didn't speak out because I didn't live in D.C.

The House voted to take away Title X funding for birth control and Pap smears from poor women, to redefine rape to exclude a woman who was drunk, drugged or underage, and authorized hospitals to let a women die rather than perform an abortion, and I didn't speak out because it couldn't happen to me.

They shot Dr. Tiller, and tried in several states (SD, NE, IA) to legalize killing doctors as justifiable homicide and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a doctor. And I was scared.

They tried to strip abortion coverage out of all insurance plans during health care reform, and I didn't speak up because I thought I might lose "more important things."

They tried to take away collective bargaining, Medicare, Social Security, teaching science in schools, our ability to save the climate, financial regulation, and reproductive rights.  And I knew it was time to speak out!

- Sophia Yen and Ellen Shaffer, based on Martin Niemoller

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Women are the last remaining voting majority who are treated like a splinter group.  It will stay that way until we stand up for ourselves, together, and demand power.

The Democrats drove us away from the polls in 2010, and they're getting ready to do it again.  It's ok, though.  They need to focus on creating jobs.  We don't want to disturb them with anything controversial.

The Republicans don't care whether or not we experience regret after our abortions.  They want to pump up the fanatic religious extremists who they hope will give them control of the Senate and the White House in 2012.

The Pediatricians, Gynecologists, and Adolescent Medicine doctors deplore the decision yesterday by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to override "an evidence-based decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve an application for over-the-counter access without age restriction to the emergency contraception (EC) product Plan B One-Step. This move defies the strong data that EC is safe and effective for all females of reproductive age.


What is an effective response?

10%3 votes
14%4 votes
50%14 votes
25%7 votes

| 28 votes | Vote | Results

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Fri Nov 18, 2011 at 05:39 AM PST

God to Congress: War on Women OK

by ershaffer

"It is not our job as Catholics to tell God what he should do. It is our job to learn and follow his teachings.  Conscience is not convenience. We must enforce the laws of God." Rep. Tim Murphy, Republican of Pennsylvania, having ascertained that the supreme deity is male, explained why Congress should deprive the employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and charities of the right to purchase affordable birth control, regardless of the employees' own beliefs or practices. The  hearing  of the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce took place on Wednesday, November 2, 2011.Republicans in Congress are truly on the warpath against women's rights, and in many cases against reason.  

Just a few points here about women and contraception.  For starters, while it usually takes two to conceive a child, only women get pregnant.

Continue Reading

Bishop Robert Finn, the chair of the U.S. Conference of  Catholic Bishops' "Task Force for the Life and Dignity of the Human Person",  has been indicted for failing to report child abuse, despite his pledge to report such activity in settlement of a $10 million legal settlement with abuse victims in Kansas City.  The Task Force includes the Bishops' Office of Child Protection. The Task Force is a sponsor of the annual Walk for Life, that protests the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion every year in January.

According to the New York Times, the indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced on Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year.

The priest accused of taking the lewd photos, Father Ratigan, was a frequent presence in a Catholic elementary school next to his parish. The principal there sent a letter to the diocese in May 2010 complaining about Father Ratigan’s behavior with children. Then, last December, a computer technician discovered the photos on the priest’s laptop and turned the computer in to the diocese. Bishop Finn acknowledged that he knew of the photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May. During that time, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, is said to have continued to attend church events with children, and took lewd photographs of another young girl.

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