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photoValentina Forte-Hernandez is a Berkeley California born Immigrant/Reproductive rights activist. She is interning at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health this summer before returning to her second year at Hampshire college where she studies film production. During her first year of college she worked for Civil Liberties and Public Policy and wrote for the online political blog, The Black Sheep Journal. She is a 19 year old, biracial Latina who writes about topics that speak to her personally. She has voiced her opposition to the shaming of teen moms, Texas’ anti-abortion legislation, immigration reform that hurts the lives and rights of immigrants and now she writes about the need for comprehensive sexual education for teenagers:

Post By Valentina Forte-Hernandez

Teenagers are having sex and will continue to do so whether you like it or not. It’s nothing new, but people are still acting as if it were a shocking discovery. Whether you like it or not, the fact of the matter is that many teenagers are sexually active, not liking it does nothing to prevent teenagers from having sex and it certainly does nothing to protect them. Instead of frowning and wagging your finger, why don’t we put more effort into making sure teenagers are physically and emotionally safe when they do make the decision to have sex? We need sex ed that actually teaches teenagers how to be smart and safe about sex. We do not need education that shames us and our bodies, we don’t need to be taught that we shouldn’t talk about sex. Sex will be a part of our lives whether we choose to be sexually active or not, so we need to know about it and be prepared for it.

999613696749556760   Opponents of comprehensive sex ed may claim that it puts dirty ideas in teenagers’ heads and encourages them to be sexually active. If that’s true, then could somebody explain to me why the states that take the abstinence only approach to sex ed have higher rates of teen pregnancy than states that require comprehensive sex ed? Abstinence only classes do not deter teenagers from being sexually active. These classes provide students with no resources or information about safety, they teach teenagers to be ashamed of their bodies and sexuality. Shaming teenagers about sex does nothing to protect them. Teaching abstinence only classes not only puts teenagers in danger of spreading disease and unwanted pregnancy, it also increases the chance that they will be in emotionally unsafe situations. If your teacher is saying that you are wrong for having sex, you’re not going to feel comfortable asking your teacher any questions if you are considering having sex. If a teenager already feels ashamed for having sex it is so much harder for them to come forward with an incident of sexual assault or rape. They have already been told sex is wrong, so who do they go to when something wrong has happened to them?

   Comprehensive sex ed gives students the information to help them make their own decisions about their bodies and it gives them the confidence to be honest about their desires and experience. Students who have been given the tools to protect themselves have the knowledge and ability to practice safe sex, while students who don’t have any information may not know how to have safe sex. A teenager who has been told that being sexually active is their choice to make is more likely to have the confidence to refuse unwanted sex than one who has learned to be self-conscious and secretive about their sexuality. Teenagers in abstinence only classes are not learning about sex in school but they’re still having it so comprehensive sex ed is clearly not to blame for the fact that teenagers are sexually active.

   Comprehensive sex ed is miles ahead of abstinence only classes when it comes to protecting teenagers, but that’s not to say it’s perfect. I grew up in California, a state that offers comprehensive sex ed and has just seen it’s lowest rate of teen births in 20 years. My first sex ed class happened every other wednesday afternoon. This was the only classes where the boys were separated from the girls. I don’t know what the boys were learning about while we were watching our teacher put tampons in glasses of water because we never talked about it. That was the problem, we didn’t talk to the boys about sex and the segregation of genders was teaching us that we shouldn’t have these discussions with each other. Some might say that these early sex ed classes should be taught separately so students feel comfortable asking embarrassing questions. Sex ed is uncomfortable no matter what, but we should have been going to that comfort and feeling that embarrassment along with the boys. We should be learning from an early age that it is okay to talk about ourselves with anyone, regardless of gender. In my first sex ed class, I was taught about my period, I was taught about contraception but I learned that my body, my experience as a girl was icky to boys and I should never talk to them about it.

   All of my sex ed classes were severely lacking when it came to teaching us about the emotional aspects of sex. The word consent was never uttered, nor was there any discussion about any of the emotional choices that come with being a sexually active person. We never discussed the depiction of sex in popular culture which may not seem like it’s directly related to sexual safety, but considering that we are surrounded and influenced by dramatic, idealized depictions of sex, we probably should have at least one conversation about it. When our movies and advertisements are teaching us things like, girls who have sex are slutty, and if you have sex with him, he’ll stay with you forever it would have been beneficial to talk about the reality of choosing to be sexually active and to debunk some of these artificial depictions. There was no discussion of rape ever. Maybe the topic was avoid in hopes that it was an issue we would never have to deal with, but hoping for the best did nothing to prepare us for the worst, it did nothing to teach us about preventing rape, or what help was out there for us if we had had such an experience. We were given the number to a confidential hotline….Oh, and we watched an episode of Law and order: SVU once, that’s sufficient, right?

   Maybe these conversations weren’t happening in my comprehensive sex ed class because adults didn’t feel like we were mature enough to discuss the emotional impacts of being sexually active but the fact is many of us were already sexually active so these conversations should have been happening. If we were old enough to learn about protection and use it we were old enough to learn about communicating with partners, and we were definitely old enough to learn that sex in the movies is miles different from sex in real life. We knew there were physical consequences to having unsafe sex, we saw the pictures. When it came to the emotional impact of having sex, we were left to figure it out on our own through trial and error and in sometimes the error did a lot of damage.

   Sex ed needs to improve across the board. The abstinence only approach to sex ed needs to be thrown out the window because it doesn’t work. Any class that fails to discuss why being a safe and responsible sexually active person requires more than just using condoms needs to rethink their curriculum. Teenagers need to learn to be honest and confident in their sexual decisions. They need to know that it is not only okay to talk about sex, but that they should be talking about it! If you can’t have a real discussion about sex, you shouldn’t be having it. Sex ed should be about equipping teenagers with all the knowledge, resources and confidence to make the most best, most informed decisions for themselves. If your sex ed class isn’t rooted in teaching teens about sexual safety, then it is not serving the actual needs of teenagers. Sexual safety means physical protection, it means communication, it means honesty, self-awareness and respect. Stop trying to shame teenagers out of having sex, it won’t work. Protect and respect teenagers’ rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

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Post by Valentina Forte-Hernandez

Texas legislatures are attempting to disguise their anti-abortion bill as a measure of protection for teenagers and children. They are acting as if restricting abortion, limiting contraceptive care and defunding sexual education will prevent teenagers from having sex. If teenagers do not know how to have safe sex, are unable to access contraception or abortion they will stop having sex, right? Wrong. Denying youth sex ed, contraception and abortion will only ensure that there will be more unsafe sex, more unplanned pregnancies and more women turning to dangerous abortion alternatives. Saying these restrictions are to protect young people is not only preposterous, it also ignores all the adult women who are also being harmed by a lack of access to reproductive care. The anti-abortion bill and the continuous cuts to reproductive health care services hurt all Texas women. Even if you do not need an abortion, even if you do not support abortion, if you are a woman in Texas you are being told that you are not entitled to make decisions about your own body.

It is a common misconception that reproductive health care exclusively refers to abortion and contraceptive services. Reproductive health care centers provide many services, not just ones that are directly related to sexual activity. Places like Planned Parenthood provide a variety of services like breast exams and other preventative treatments for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and a number of other illnesses that are not related to being sexually active. While many supporters of the anti-choice movement say that these services are available at other health centers, they are often unaffordable and inaccessible, especially to immigrant and undocumented women who are the people that will suffer the most if the bill becomes a law.
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Texas women are hurting themselves with dangerous, illegal abortion alternatives now. It is not a scary hypothetical that will happen with new restrictions, it is happening every day and will only become more frequent if access to contraception and abortion is further limited. Women without the means to afford safe, clinical contraceptive services are risking their lives by crossing the border to buy black market drugs to induce abortion. While these drugs are known to be dangerous, women who are struggling to support a family would rather risk their own lives than have a child they cannot afford to take care of. These high-risk alternatives are often unsuccessful and many women experience uncontrollable bleeding and end up in the emergency room. With less access to contraceptive services there will be more unplanned pregnancies. More unplanned pregnancies and less access to abortion means more women will be turning to dangerous alternatives. Anti-choice Texans are hurting women in the name of “protecting youth.” They are punishing women for being sexually independant and turning a blind eye to the real needs of their citizens.

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No matter how hard Texas legislators try to disguise their anti-women, anti-choice agenda I will not be fooled into believe their restrictions do a single thing to protect teenagers and children. If we want to protect teenagers, shouldn’t we be teaching them how to have safe sex to prevent the spread of disease and decrease the amount of unplanned, unwanted pregnancies? If we want to protect our children shouldn’t we keep our mother’s healthy and able to take care of the families they have? Shouldn’t we stop punishing women for not wanting to have a child they can’t afford to provide for? If you are claiming to be protecting youth, can you explain how this anti-choice legislation does a single thing to lower the rate of unemployment and homelessness amongst young people? What does it do to for the under resourced school system and millions children living in poverty? It does not do a single thing to improve the lives of young people in Texas, or to combat the real problems they are facing. This anti-abortion legislation gives nothing to Texas citizens and it takes away the reproductive rights of Texas women.

As a teenager girl, I say thanks but no thanks, Texas, for fighting (lying) in my name. I know you have convinced yourself that restricting my options will prevent me from having sex but it won’t, so it would be great if you would teach me how to make informed decisions about my body, not take away my ability to make these decisions at all. I would so greatly appreciate it if you considered a living, breathing woman of any age to be as valuable as a six week old fetus. If you really care about my safety it would be SUPER if you would start addressing my actual needs as an autonomous, teenage girl instead of serving your own, outdated ideology. If you really want to protect us young people, change what you are fighting for. Please stop using my safety as an excuse to restrict the reproductive rights of women of all ages. If you want to fight for my safety, if you want to protect women and teenagers listen to us. Stop trying to trick us into believing you know what’s best for us because you don’t.

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Post By Valentina Forte-Hernandez

   The attention that is being put towards immigration reform marks progress in the immigrant rights movement, but the bill that is currently being discussed in the senate is not ideal. While the bill would pave the way to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country, it would take 10 years for them to receive legal residency. It would take another 5 years for these immigrants to receive health care access, which means it would be 15 years until 11 million people would be able to access their basic human right to health care. Reading articles about the bill predicting that it is likely to pass is disheartening, but scrolling down and reading the comments people have written in response is straight up disturbing. There is clear opposition to the bill, however the opposition voiced through the comments comes from racist citizens of this country who don’t want immigrants to have access to health care ever.

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   In many of the comments it is clear that the term immigrant is exclusively associated with Latino. The majority of immigrants and undocumented folks in the U.S. are Latino, but it is simply incorrect to say that they are the only people immigrating to this country. It is even more upsetting to see what people responding to these articles think of Latino immigrants. Many of the commenters describe Latino as dirty, lazy and job stealers (see the irony here? If we’re so lazy how are we stealing jobs from these poor, “deserving” white people?) The people with these beliefs also oppose immigrant health care, but unlike myself and my peers they believe 15 years is too soon, not too late. These people say they don’t want their tax dollars going towards people who are not from this country, yet they are willing to spend big on hiring 20,000 new border agents. They are fine with spending money on immigrants, just as long as the money goes to keeping them out, not taking care of them once they are here. These comments demonstrate that there is extreme reluctance to acknowledge all of the positive things immigrants are doing for this country. It also bring attention to the longstanding fear some U.S. citizens have of a Latino majority.

       In 2006 Fox News’ John Gibson made a plea for more white babies. He said that half of children under five in this country are minorities and the majority of these children are Latino. To scare his viewers used a study that projected that in 25 years the majority of the population will be hispanic. He less than subtly told white people to start having more babies, suggesting that the desire for a prosperous and comfortable life was keeping white people from having children which makes me wants to roll my eyes and bang my head against the keyboard. Apparently us Latinos have no desire for comfortable or prosperous lives, we just want to make a ton babies to help us steal more jobs and overthrow the country. If it weren’t so damaging and disturbing, it would be almost funny that the people who are scared by John Gibson’s predictions are the same people who want to deny immigrants access to health care. Denying Latino immigrants access to healthcare means that Latinos will continue to have disproportionate access to contraception and other forms of reproductive health care.

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In my opinion all people of all races and all legal statuses are entitled to all health care because it is a basic human right. If you want to have ten kids, do it. If you don’t want any children don’t have any, use birth control, have an abortion, do whatever you want when making decisions about your family as long as it is not a coerced decision or one made because of a lack of access to resources. People like John Gibson and people who oppose immigrant health care like to believe that Latinos are intentionally having lots of babies because they want to take more of “our” jobs and take over this country, but that is not at all true.

Latino and immigrant communities are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to reproductive healthcare including contraceptives and abortions. This means these communities see more unintended pregnancies and ultimately have more children than those of us who do have access birth control. For undocumented folks in particular, getting birth control can be impossible. Undocumented people and other people without health insurance often wait until it is a medical emergency to seek out health care because they cannot afford to go to a doctor and they live in fear of being deported. Birth control is important, but for somebody who has to choose between seeing a doctor and putting food on their families’ table, contraceptive care is not considered a medical emergency. These are the people who are unable to access reproductive health care. They aren’t young, irresponsible people who don’t use contraceptives because they don’t care, they are mothers, they are people supporting families who can’t afford an appointment to the doctor, and often can’t even afford a ride to the doctor. They are hard workers who have to choose between the bare necessities of living and access to medical services that many of us consider essential and they are not the only ones. Underprivileged communities all across the country are having to make these difficult choices, and more often than not these decisions result in reproductive health care being pushed under the rug until a serious problem arises.

Another way one might try to suggest that Latinos are intentionally not using birth control is by saying something along the lines of, “the majority of the Latino population is Catholic and Catholics oppose birth control, right?” Well let me just shut that thought down with some good ole’ statistics. Regardless of religion 97% of Latinas who have ever had sex have used contraception. 96%of sexually active Catholic Latinas have used a contraceptive banned by the Vatican. The majority of all voting Latinas – 89%, to be precise – support contraceptive coverage without copayments for all women. Using religion as an excuse for Latinas’ disproportionate access to contraceptive care  distracts us from the system that is keeping Latinas from having access to all kind of reproductive healthcare (not just birth control). It also blames Latinas for exercising the religious freedom this country was founded on.

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Anyone who believes Latinos and immigrants are trying to take over this country is wrong. Yes, this country is growing more Latino every day but that is not the result of some evil scheme to take America away from white people, to believe that is just delusional. Latinos and immigrants are just trying to live healthy and prosperous lives like all the other people in this world. 15 years is too long for anyone to wait to see a doctor. If people are so concerned about spending money on immigrants, why not spend the money now on preventative care which is way more affordable than treating a serious illness. You are kidding yourself if you think there will be less immigrants just because you want it that way. By 2040 we will be the majority, so it’s time for everyone to realize that there will be more immigrants and there will be more Latinos. Wouldn’t it be better to ensure that every person living in this country is healthy and successful than to continue to weaken valuable members of our society just because you personally don’t like them? To have a strong and powerful country we need strength and support across the board. Anyone who believes immigrants are stealing their jobs should take a look at the system oppressing these immigrants and you might be surprised to find out that it is the same system that is keeping the poor and jobless poor and jobless and making sure the rich stay rich. If you want to be empowered, empower yourself, empower the people who work for their money, not those whose money works for them.

 

Statistics On Latinas and Contraceptives:

http://www.nclr.org/images/uploads/publications/NLIRH-Fact-Sheet-Latinas-and-Contraception-020912.pdf

 

John Gibson’s Call for more White Babies:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0af-RiRDoGk

http://mediamatters.org/mobile/research/2006/05/12/gibson-make-more-babies-because-in-twenty-five/135674

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This past election cycle, we saw the power a government-issued ID can give an individual.   In states where voter ID laws were being enforced, individuals who did not have government IDs could not exercise their right to vote.  Several communities were impacted: transgender people, Latinos, African Americans, students, the elderly, people with disabilities – in short, many, many people. These ID laws harken to Jim Crow-era poll taxes and “literacy tests,”  and at the same time increased the impact of fear tactics used to intimidate voters from going to the polls, exacerbating the historic and current inequities that many communities of color face. (more…)

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Today marks the day in which health insurance policies begin to make the transition into no-copay preventive services, a mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because birth control is a preventive service, this means that along with pap smears and other preventive services, women will begin to experience the full coverage of their birth control as the law requires more and more policies to cover this service with no additional cost to policy-holders. For Latinas, our families, and our communities, this is great news. (more…)

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Throughout 20 Days of ACA, we have discussed many of the preventive health services that will be covered by private health insurance companies with no additional cost, or “co-pay” to patients.

The final health service we will discuss is one that NLIRH has been talking about all along: contraception.

Here is a timeline of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) decision to affirm what we all have known: contraception is prevention.

  • December 3, 2009: The Women’s Health Amendment (WHA) passes the U.S. Senate and becomes part of health reform. The WHA requires insurance companies to cover women’s preventive health services with no additional costs (like co-pays, co-insurance or deductibles). The list of preventive health services is to be developed by the Institute of Medicine.
  • July 19, 2011: The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-partisan panel of health professionals, determines that contraception is prevention and should be given the same consideration as other preventive health services that will be covered without co-pay. NLIRH applauds the decision.
  • August 1, 2011: The Department of Health and Human Services takes up the recommendation of the IOM and includes contraception in the list of preventive services. Houses of worship are exempt, but HHS begins to receive comments from the public on how the rule will apply to religiously-affiliated employers.
  • January 20, 2012: HHS announces that religiously-affiliated employers, like Catholic universities and hospitals, must comply with the contraceptive coverage rules, but have an additional year (until August 1, 2013) to comply.
  • January 20-February 10, 2012: NLIRH launches “I Heart BC” campaign, consisting of Twitter and Facebook actions, policy advocacy, media commentary, and the release of Just the Fact: Latinas and Birth Control and Sólo los hechos: las Latinas y la cobertura de los anticonceptivos to educate policymakers and the media on Latinas’ support and need for greater access to birth control, regardless of employers’ religious affiliations.
  • February 10, 2012: The Obama Administration announced an accommodation to the rules: employees at religiously-affiliated institutions can gain full coverage for contraception directly from insurance companies. NLIRH applauded the commitment to expanding access to contraception.

However, discriminatory attacks on this important coverage have not stopped. The Blunt Amendment, which would have given employers the power to deny coverage for any type of health service that goes in contrast to any religious OR moral views of the employer, was only barely defeated in the U.S. Senate. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill that would allow employers to deny contraceptive coverage for their employees. And we did not think it could happen, but it did: Arizona introduced a law that would protect employers who fire employees who use contraception to avoid pregnancy.

NLIRH will continue to engage Latinas across the country to fight discriminatory attacks against women and Latinas’ health.

Why is this coverage important to Latinas?

According to Hart Research Associates, more than half of Latinas ages 18 to 34 report that the cost of prescription birth control has inhibited their ability to use it consistently.

Thanks to the ACA, this barrier will no longer exist for Latinas with health insurance. And looking to 2014, when health insurance plans will be available on the Affordable Insurance “Exchanges”  and employers who do not provide health insurance to employees will face penalties, more Latinas will be covered by health insurance and have great access to this great benefit!

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The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health recognizes the critical role community health centers (CHCs) play in delivering health care to Latin@ communities across the country.

And so does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): the health care reform law will provide $11 billion between 2011 and 2015 to support and expand operations of community health centers.

What exactly are Community Health Centers and how do they help our communities stay healthy?

Community health centers (CHCs) provide affordable, culturally-competent comprehensive primary and preventive health care services to low-income individuals living in medically underserved areas. In practice, this means that a community health center may be the only health care provider accessible to those in our community who most need care.

Community health centers receive specific federal funding to provide free or low-cost services, including reproductive health services like cancer screenings and contraception. Studies show that CHCs play a pivotal role in providing essential reproductive health care for low-income women, including prenatal care, mammograms and Pap tests. Community health centers provide care regardless of one’s ability to pay, immigration status, or primary language. They are often governed by a community board, whose membership is at least half composed of health center patients themselves and understand the community’s needs.

In 2010, approximately 1,100 federally-funded community health centers provided care to 19.5 million Americans. Latinos represent over one-third of all CHC patients and in 2009, 865,000 patients at these centers were migrant and seasonal farmworkers, many of them Latinas. In the new health reform law, $9.5 billion will go to create new CHCs in medically underserved areas as well as expand the types of health services provided at these centers. $1.5 billion will go to enhance infrastructure at existing community health centers.

Why is this funding so important for our community?

With millions of Americans living without health care insurance, there is a dire need for more community health centers to provide essential primary and preventive health care services. Among all racial and ethnic groups, Latinos have the highest health care uninsurance rates. We also know that Latinas disproportionately suffer from conditions and diseases such as cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS among others, so increasing the reach of CHCs will improve access to preventive health services and may begin to reduce health disparities. And finally, as undocumented immigrants and permanent residents who have had that status for five years or less will continue to be ineligible for Medicaid, community health centers will continue to play a unique role on providing quality care regardless of immigration status.

For more information about Community Health Centers,please check out NLIRH’s fact sheet, Medicaid and Community Health Centers Threatened with Funding Cuts: What is really at stake for Latinas and Immigrant Communities?


Photo Credit: Health Center Data: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Uniform Data System, 2009. National Data: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 Current Population Reports. http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2010/08/increasing-access.html

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If you’re interested in the voice and perspective that were silenced, read Sandra’s moving testimony or watch her deliver it at a press conference last week [the other testimony is worth a watch too, but Sandra’s starts at 23:43].

On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee continued the assault on women’s rights with yet another hearing on the no co-pay contraception rule that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in August of last year. Since this rule is well-supported by popular opinion, we can set to one side that the religious leaders are the ringleaders in the contraception circus on the Hill and focus on what made Thursday’s hearing even more outrageous: minority witness Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown Law Center, was not permitted to testify. (more…)

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As soon as this afternoon or tomorrow, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment to the Transportation bill proposed by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO). This amendment is a  reaction to the recent decision of the Obama administration to require most employers – excluding churches and houses of worship, but not other religiously-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities – to provide health care coverage that includes preventive care, including birth control without co-pays. Even though the administration issued an accommodation to the rule, legislators intent on dismantling birth control coverage are not satisfied, and Senator Blunt is one of them. The amendment he proposed, however, goes much further – it would not only overturn the birth control benefit, but allows employers and insurance companies to deny coverage for ANY essential health service that they object to on the basis of religious belief or moral conviction.

This extreme proposal is hugely expansive, and could mean anything from an employer choosing not to cover birth control to choosing not to cover prenatal care because of an employee’s sexual orientation or marital status. Personal decisions about health care belong in the hands of patients and their doctors – not employers. This amendment  would result in increased health disparities for low-income women and women of color, including Latinas. Any woman, regardless of where she works, deserves access to the health care she needs. Tell your Senator to reject this extreme measure now!

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