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A decision by the Obama Administration may come down very soon that could expand the religious exemption to our recently hard-won victory of contraception without co-pays for new insurance plans.  That would mean that Latinas who work for religiously-affiliated schools, universities and hospitals could be denied coverage for birth control.

There are many reasons the Administration should not expand the religious exemption for birth control coverage, which currently is narrow and applies to health insurance plans for places of worship (which women’s health groups also oppose.)  One major reason is the simple fact that 98% of sexually-experienced women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including Catholic women.  The myth that all Latinas are Catholic and therefore all oppose birth control is false.  Latinas, including Catholic Latinas, resoundingly support the women’s preventive coverage benefit.  In fact, 89% of Latina voters aged 18-34 support the requirement that health insurance plans cover birth control at no cost.

We know that family planning is central to the wellness of women and their families.  Eliminating expensive co-pays could also expand access to contraception for Latinas, who cite the high cost of birth control as a barrier to consistent use. Far more important than the decision are the real impacts this could have on women who already struggle to make ends meet.  For example, in these tough economic times, more women are seeking to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancies.  Still, unintended pregnancies are rising among poor women who do not have the resources to purchase contraception.  In 2006, a poor woman in the U.S. was four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy as an affluent woman, and this disparity is likely to have increased with the recent “Great Recession.”

Taking away this benefit from millions of Latinas and their families has no basis in the law, is bad health policy, and is contrary to overwhelming public opinion.

Instead of caving to aggressive lobbying, the Administration should seize this opportunity to address the issue at hand; women’s reproductive rights.  With groundswell of support from women’s health organizations and overwhelmingly from the public, the Administration should hop aboard the reproductive health bandwagon to support a standard of care that will respect the dignity of all women.

Latinas and all women deserve access to birth control without co-pays because it prevents unintended pregnancies and keep our families healthy.  We know that contraception is a critical component of both public health initiatives and women’s healthcare, and for millions of Latinas, birth control, by definition, is prevention.

Take action and urge the Obama Administration not to expand the religious exemption.

This post is part of the HERvotes blog carnival. 

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Yesterday courageous undocumented students risked deportation when they were arrested in Chicago for protesting Secure Communities.  The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), stands with these activists and alongside other organizations nationwide that are calling on the Administration to end the controversial immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, better known as S-Comm.  If there ever was a time to advocate for the importance of safe communities, the time is now!

How does S-Comm work?

Under S-Comm when an individual is arrested, his/her fingerprints are sent to federal immigration databases. If the arrestee’s fingerprints match a record indicating an immigration violation, ICE and local law enforcement are notified.  In most cases, ICE issues a detainer requesting that the jail facility hold the individual up to an extra 48 hours, interviews the arrestee, and decides whether to seek removal of that individual.[1]

Women, communities at risk

While the phrase secure communities inarguably means protecting and keeping communities safe, when it comes to immigrants, our government is doing everything but that.  Not only does S-Comm put immigrant women, their families, and their communities in danger, it perpetuates fear in survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  This program also threatens the progress that our country has made in the last three decades to bring violence against women out from behind closed doors by making women afraid to call the police for help, for fear of arrest and deportation if they are undocumented.

This threat has become even more vivid to women and their families recently.  In the past several months, some localities have announced that they would no longer participate in the program and would not maintain contracts for the program with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it was hindering their ability to keep their communities safe.  On August 5th, DHS announced that it was going to implement the program whether or not they had a contract with local police authorities.  DHS said it will terminate all contracts with states and localities and proceed without contracts in further implementing the program nationwide, despite calls for the agency to suspend the program.  States will no longer have the option to implement the program, they will have to submit to the demands of the federal government.  Still, the administration insists that S-Comm keeps communities safe, but the truth of the matter is that it does not.

Protecting and serving communities, stymied

S-Comm has had a significant impact on community policing strategies because it undermines local law enforcement’s commitment to keeping communities safe.  Enforcement-only policies create an atmosphere of fear, which threatens the trust of the community.  This only makes it harder to capture criminals.

Economic Impact

Another reason states and municipalities oppose this decision is because states will be required to fully implement this program with no assistance from the federal government.  Clearly, this places a financial burden on already stretched local and state resources to the limit fighting local crime, with no incentives to local communities.  Many states are already struggling to hold on to precious resources that are sustaining important programs and services for communities that so vitally need them.

What is being done? What can you do?

Earlier this month, NLIRH, alongside 60 local and national organizations launched our Second Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice to bring to light the stark reality that hard working women and families are faced with everyday in their rather unsafe communities.  We also applaud the authoritative report by he National Day Labor Organizing Network entitled, Restoring Community: A National Community Advisory Report on ICE’s failed “Secure Communities” Program that uses facts about the program to cut away at rhetoric.  And as we saw yesterday in Chicago, a nationwide effort has been under way this week to put pressure on the Administration to stop this program.  We urge you to take action too.

At NLIRH, we could not think of a program that is more unfair to communities and intrusive of basic human rights.


[1] Center for Reproductive Rights. Briefing Paper: Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis. New York City, NY: Center for Reproductive Rights;2010:26. Available at: http://reproductiverights.org/en/document/reproductive-rights-violations-as-torture. Accessed on August 4, 2011.

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By Rosario Quiroz, Community Mobilization Intern

Deputy Director Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas speaks at the Saturday Rally

Reproductive rights are under attack, with federal funding for family planning via Planned Parenthood at it’s center. We need to respond with urgency to this matter. About six thousand people definitely felt that urgency on Saturday afternoon in Foley Square, NYC, where we rallied to make sure that their voices are heard and that the message is clear–we’re not going to let our reproductive health care go down without a fight. Planned Parenthood and other clinics that receive Title X money make STD testing affordable and provides around 2.5 million women with contraceptives thus preventing many unplanned pregnancies. Planned Parenthood also provides over a million cervical cancer screenings and over 800,000 breast exams annually, detecting cancers at an early enough stage and keeping those cancers from claiming lives.

An attack on Planned Parenthood is, as President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards said, “a war on women’s health, and it must stop.” Planned Parenthood provides services to just under 5 million individuals; the debilitating effects that the proposed federal cuts would have on the 800 clinics nationwide are particularly dangerous for low and middle-income women and women of color, who oftentimes may not otherwise have access to the vital services that Planned Parenthood provides.

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By Myra Guevara, Research Intern

When I heard that the House of Representatives passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and other clinics that receive Title X funding, my heart dropped. I am one of the hundreds of thousands of women that reach out to Planned Parenthood. Currently undergoing treatment, I worry about how I will pay if all of a sudden Planned Parenthood drops off the face of the map. Wild thoughts popped into my head and desperation soon set in as I learned more about the seriousness of the issue, until I heard about the Rally for Women’s Health. Relieved that community organizers, movers and shakers are behind this movement I quickly sent an RSVP.

The new proposal that has passed in the House of Representatives is supposedly part of a larger effort to reduce government spending and reduce the federal deficit. Those of us who know better know that it is actually part of the wider anti-woman agenda dominating the House right now. This budget fight is no joke–if the Senate and House cannot agree on a budget by March 4th we’re facing a government shutdown.

All the arguments in favor of cutting spending to Planned Parenthood focus solely on abortion services, but federal funding does not pay directly for any abortion services as per the Hyde Amendment. These funding cuts really target extremely important preventative health care services like pap smears, breast cancer screenings, and access to birth control. Pap smears are known to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, similarly with breast cancer screening. Plus, further limiting access to birth control and emergency contraception will only increase the rate of unintended pregnancies. These services actually save us money in health care costs in the long run. This is really just short-sighted politicking, not fiscal responsibility.

Like me, some of you may be feeling overwhelmed, angry, or defeated. How can we fight those in power? It seems like the people running this country are against me, against all women, attacking us. There is something you can do–make your voices heard. Send a message, loud and clear, to our Representatives that we aren’t okay with putting women’s lives on the budget chopping block. Attend the Rally for Women’s Health! If you’re in NYC, go to Foley Square on Saturday February 26 from 1pm-3pm in NYC and join women like Gloria Steinem, Gloria Feldt, and Loretta Ross to stand up for women’s rights. Our own Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas will be speaking as well.

It’s not just an opportunity for those in NYC. A Walk for Choice has been organized in Washington DC for Saturday at 12pm as well, and there are joint events happening all over the US in over 49 cities. Check out this website to find the activities in your city. Contact your local organizers if you do not see your city on the list, or if you need more information on the walking paths and locations designated for this cause. It takes two minutes to sign up and only two hours of your day. Be a part of a historic event, have your voice heard, and take action!

We hope to see you there!

For more information:

http://www.nyclu.org/event/rally-womens-health-nyc

http://twitter.com/WalkForChoiceNY

http://walkforchoice.tumblr.com/

By Myra Guevara, Research Intern

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The new leadership in Congress has set out a very dangerous agenda and the health, dignity and rights of women and immigrants are particularly threatened.

First in the order of priorities for the new Congress is to repeal the landmark health care reform legislation passed in March of last year.

While the law is not perfect, the fact remains that it stands to vastly increase health insurance coverage in the country.  From the expansion of Medicaid services for low-income persons to the increase in funding to Community Health Centers, Latinas stand to benefit greatly from the health care law.

We cannot afford to lose the progress we were able to make with the Affordable Care Act.

Please contact your Representative NOW! The vote is scheduled for as early as today in the House of Representatives.

Click here to send your Representative an email, or contact the House switchboard directly at (202) 224-3121.

Tell your Representative to vote AGAINST any measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

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Season’s Greetings from the Board and Staff at NLIRH!

As you know, NLIRH is the only national Latina health and reproductive justice organization representing an increasingly diverse and growing Latina population in this country.

Sixteen years after the organization’s founding, we continue to transform the discourse on reproductive health disparities by linking public policy advocacy with grassroots leadership development, research, community organizing, and activism.

We have had our most amazing year yet! Please help us continue this momentum by making a tax-deductible donation to NLIRH.

A few of this year’s accomplishments include:

Please show your support by making a donation to NLIRH today.  Your gift will provide financial stability to NLIRH, ensure the success of our programs, and help us achieve salud, dignidad y justiciaMake your gift online or you can mail your check to: “Development Department, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, 50 Broad Street, Suite 1937, New York, NY 10004.”

Thank you in advance for your generous support and involvement!

Warmly,

Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director Berta Colón, Chair, Board of Directors
Silvia Henriquez
Executive Director
Berta Colón
Chair, Board of Directors

P.S.  Please consider making a gift of $10, $15 or $25 per month through our automatic monthly-giving program!

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