The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Dec. 2 2016 5:28 PM

NC Gov. Calls Special Legislative Session, Setting Up Possibility of Court-Packing Power Grab

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is not a big fan of democracy. First, McCrory signed and championed HB2, a vicious anti-LGBTQ law designed to overturn local nondiscrimination ordinances. Then, McCrory’s legislative allies attempted to censor criticism of HB2—likely because a clear majority of voters oppose the bill and support its repeal. On Election Day, McCrory lost to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who opposes HB2. But he refused to concede, flinging baseless accusations of voter fraud seemingly designed to let the Republican-dominated legislature ignore the results and reinstall McCrory as governor. Now, as McCrory awaits the results of a partial recount that cannot possibly close his 10,000-vote deficit, he has decided to call a special legislative session in December.

The stated purpose? To address hurricane relief funds. But many Democrats fear a darker motive: to pack the state Supreme Court with new Republican justices before the GOP loses hold of the executive branch.

Dec. 2 2016 4:48 PM

The House’s Pointless Fetal Tissue Witch Hunt Is Determined to Seem Relevant

The congressional committee established to investigate an imagined black market for fetal tissue recommended Thursday that attorneys general pursue criminal charges against a Texas Planned Parenthood, along with several other health care providers and research institutions.

The elegantly named Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives has referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast to the Texas attorney general’s office, alleging that the health center profited from donations of fetal tissue it sent to the University of Texas for research using embryonic stem cells. The panel named several other institutions in its referrals to the offices of state attorneys general, including medical research company StemExpress and abortion clinics in Arkansas and Ohio. Rewire reported in June that the committee has also recommended that New Mexico launch a state-level criminal investigation into the way the University of New Mexico and Southwestern Women’s Options, an abortion provider, deal with fetal tissue.

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Planned Parenthood, it has been proved time and time again, does not profit from the fetal tissue donations it makes. The vast majority of Planned Parenthood clinics have never even sent fetal tissue to medical research institutions. But the harassment and violence the organization weathered due to the fevered imaginings of this congressional panel caused Planned Parenthood to stop accepting all (perfectly legal!) reimbursement for its tissue donations in October 2015.

Thursday’s announcement, then, is a desperate grasp for relevance from a committee that has been conducting an expensive witch hunt against Planned Parenthood and abortion care for more than a year. The panel has not uncovered any evidence that any abortion providers are selling the remains of aborted fetuses, as the Center for Medical Progress’ discredited “sting videos” claimed. Thirteen states and some local jurisdictions jumped on the GOP bandwagon and launched their own investigations, all of which yielded exactly zero instances of illegal or unethical practices.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The Houston grand jury convened to consider claims that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast trafficked in fetal tissue did end up indicting someone: anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, who orchestrated the thoroughly made-up “baby parts” scandal that caused pro-lifers across the country to hyperventilate last summer. The grand jury charged that Daleiden and his cohort had tampered with government records (a felony) and that he had tried to engage in the purchase or sale of fetal tissue. (That last charge was later dropped, but the poetic justice lingers.) Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, the same center the congressional panel attacked on Thursday, was cleared of all allegations of wrongdoing.

Even though the only indictments that have resulted from these drawn-out, aimless investigations have been against their own side, the members of the congressional panel are determined to continue. On Thursday, the House more than doubled the committee’s budget for the year, bringing it to nearly $1.6 million, in a vote along party lines. Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah said the committee’s referrals of abortion providers to state attorneys general are “proof of potential criminal activity in the fetal tissue industry,” promising “more referrals are to come.”

Dec. 2 2016 2:02 PM

Obama Supports Women in the Draft, but Congress Won’t Make It Happen

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he believes women should be required to register for the military draft, just as men age 18 through 25 must do. This marks a largely symbolic shift in public position; Congress nixed its plan to add women to Selective Service registration two days before Obama’s declaration of support.

The Associated Press reports that Obama has been considering the issue of women in the draft since Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all combat positions to women almost exactly one year ago. Historically, every time drafting women has become an issue of public debate, those who oppose gender-neutral Selective Service have invoked a 1981 Supreme Court decision that exempted women from the draft because they didn’t serve on the front lines. Now that they do, the only reasons left for excluding women rest on sexist ideas of what kind of people are competent in battle, whose duty it is to protect, and who must be protected.

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A White House National Security Council spokesman told the AP that Obama thinks women have “proven their mettle” in battle, so it makes no sense to draw gender barriers around the draft. The Pentagon’s press secretary said Carter agrees with the president that women should be drafted if the draft is ever reinstated—it’s been inactive since the Vietnam War—since the military has been strengthened by adding women to combat positions, thus widening the pool of qualified applicants. Top military officials and veterans in both political parties, including Republican Sen. John McCain, have said including women in the draft is only fair.

Earlier this year, it looked like Congress was poised to ax one of the few remaining barriers to women’s inclusion in the military. In June, the Senate passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that included a provision for an all-gender draft with a vote of 85–13. That provision made it into the House of Representatives’ version, but by the time it got to the floor for a vote, it had been removed. Instead, the final version of the legislation will commission a review of the Selective Service System to see if it’s still necessary or practical to keep the draft as an option at all.

The push to include women in the draft likely failed because it was a bigger deal to legislators and constituents who opposed it than to those who supported it. Making the draft gender-neutral would make sense given the current state of the military and combat roles, but since the draft is unlikely to return anytime soon, it would matter more as a vote of confidence in gender equality than as a practical concern. Meanwhile, conservatives have made this largely hypothetical conversation a wedge issue about protecting women. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who might have wanted to shore up support from deplorables while railing against Donald Trump in the lead-up to the election, has been among the loudest opponents of adding women to the draft. On Tuesday, he said keeping the draft men-only will “put national security ahead of unnecessary culture-warring,” thus avoiding “a fight about drafting our mothers, sisters, and daughters.”

Ted Cruz, too, has made himself a visible warrior against women in the draft. At a presidential campaign rally in February, he mock-addressed his fellow Republican candidates who would require women to register for Selective Service. “Are you guys nuts?” he said. “Listen, we have had enough with political correctness, especially in the military. Political correctness is dangerous. And the idea that we would draft our daughters to forcibly bring them into the military and put them in close combat, I think, is wrong. It is immoral.” Here, Cruz made the classic right-wing argument used to turn conservative women against feminism: that men and women are not equal, and that women should be protected. It’s the same argument Paul Ryan made when he responded to Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” statement by saying that women should be “championed and revered” instead of objectified. That’s giddy Trump supporter Paul Ryan, promising to protect women while endorsing for president a man who brags about assaulting them.

At the February rally, Cruz used his daughters as reasons why including women in the draft would be stupid and cruel. “I’m the father of two little girls,” he said. “They are capable of doing anything in their hearts’ desire. But the idea that their government would forcibly put them in a foxhole with a 220-pound psychopath trying to kill them doesn’t make any sense at all.” What an apropos line of reasoning! The idea that legislators who send America’s troops to war would have to contend with the consequences of sending their own children into harm’s way is one of the main reasons for keeping the specter of an income- and status-blind draft around in the first place.

Dec. 2 2016 1:25 PM

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Absurdly Repressive North Carolina Sex Offender Law

North Carolina’s efforts to drive sex offenders out of public life hit another roadblock on Wednesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4thCircuit held that two key provisions of a repressive sex offender law violate the Constitution. The ruling marks the second time this year that a federal appeals court has issued a harsh rebuke to a state for enacting outrageous restrictions against former sex offenders, after the 6th Circuit upbraided Michigan for turning sex offender registrants into “moral lepers.” Wednesday’s decision is also a victory for reality-based jurisprudence: The court refused to accept North Carolina’s baseless assertions that former sex offenders are dangerous forever, instead demanding evidence that its draconian infringements on constitutionally protected liberties actually help anybody.

The North Carolina law at issue bars sex offenders—including those whose crimes do not involve minors—from visiting “any place where minors gather for regularly scheduled” activities. A group of sex offenders challenged the law as a violation of the Due Process Clause, which proscribes laws so vague that a reasonably intelligent person could not understand what behavior they prohibit. Law enforcement officers have used this provision to indefinitely exclude sex offenders from G-rated movies, fast food restaurants, hospitals, museums, fairgrounds, and softball games, because children might be present.

But, of course, children might be present in almost any public space, and the law’s phrasing is so hazy that it could be read to punish any sex offenders who leave their homes. As the 4th Circuit explained, “neither an ordinary citizen nor a law enforcement officer could reasonably determine what activity [is] criminalized” by the law. “As a consequence,” the court concluded, it “does not meet the standards of due process because it is unconstitutionally vague.”

Dec. 2 2016 8:59 AM

Condé Nast Shutters Self Magazine, Which Encouraged Women to Be Confident but Also to Be Thin

Self, the Condé Nast women’s fitness magazine, is no more. Women’s Wear Daily reported on Thursday that the glossy will cease publication after February’s issue as part of a series of restructurings within the publishing company. Self.com will continue to publish new content, and the staff “will publish special print editions around multiple health and wellness-related moments,” according to WWD. About 20 staffers, including Self’s editor-in-chief of two and a half years, Joyce Chang, will lose their jobs with the magazine’s shuttering.

No journalist ever rejoices at news of another publication’s closing, unless the journalist is trying to tempt fate (or unless the publication is as despicable as Breitbart). Self ran plenty of interesting, well-reported features, including a few by current Slate writers. But I think it’ll be remembered primarily as a magazine whose longtime motto—“You at Your Best!”—stood in direct opposition to its editorial ethos. The empowerment offered by women’s magazines is almost always empty, of course, rooted as it is in consumerism, but Self’s brand of empowerment was particularly hypocritical—and, for people predisposed to body image issues and disordered eating, harmful.

Dec. 1 2016 7:01 PM

Ireland Will Pay Damages to a Woman Forced to Travel Abroad for an Abortion

For the first time, Ireland is compensating one of its residents for the trauma inflicted on her by having to travel to the Great Britain to obtain an abortion.

The recipient of the damages is Amanda Mellet, one of three women who have recently challenged Ireland’s sadistic anti-abortion laws in front of the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee. All three women would have been forced under Irish law to carry to term fetuses that would have been born dead. Instead, they sought abortions across national borders. In November 2011, when Mellet was in the twenty-first week of her pregnancy, she found out that her fetus had congenital heart defects. She traveled to Liverpool with her husband to terminate the pregnancy, and had to travel home only 12 hours after the procedure was completed because they couldn’t afford to stay longer.

Dec. 1 2016 6:20 PM

Why Retreats for Moms Are a Terrible Idea

Feeling overwhelmed, moms? Mommy meditation, mommy juice, mommy exercise, and mommy makeovers no longer enough to release all that hot mom steam? Perhaps it’s time to upgrade your self-care game with a mom retreat, during which you can leave your life behind in order to spend a day, or days, thinking about motherhood.

A recent story in the Washington Post looks at the rising number of mom retreats, which include everything from online mini-retreats for the harried woman trying to have it all to all-inclusive weekend getaways for moms of children with neurological or developmental disorders. Some have a practicalfocus, others a spiritual one, and many are aimed at helping moms learn to relax. Please don’t go to one.

Dec. 1 2016 1:33 PM

Sheryl Sandberg Gives $100 Million in Facebook Stock to Charitable Fund

Sheryl Sandberg has made what is reportedly her largest single charitable effort, transferring 880,000 shares of Facebook stock—worth about $100 million—into a fund that will benefit a few of her pet causes. Sources told Recode that Sandberg intends to use the donor-advised fund to benefit organizations that work for women’s empowerment, against poverty, and to help people through the grieving process. These include Kara (where Sandberg attended grief counseling after her husband’s death), Second Harvest Food Bank (where she says she and her children volunteer), and Sandberg’s own Lean In Foundation.

Sandberg is also making moves to rename her signature foundation in honor of her late husband, former SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly in 2015. The Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation will encompass both Lean In and Sandberg’s new initiative, Option B, which takes its name from a friend’s advice to “kick the shit out of Option B” when Option A (having her husband around) was eliminated. Option B is also the title of a forthcoming book Sandberg has written with management scholar Adam Grant, set to publish in April 2017. Both the organization and the book will explore the effects of personal setbacks, overcoming adversity, and “post-traumatic growth.”

Dec. 1 2016 12:32 PM

Teachers Say Trump’s Election Is Terrifying Their Students

The Daily Show mocked Trump this week for having the mind of a toddler. Anderson Cooper has compared him to a 5-year-old to his face. Politico’s Jack Shafer, who has called Trump a two-year-old, analyzed his language last year and concluded that he talks like a third- or a fourth-grader; a column in the Washington Post this year observed that he “speaks like a sixth-grader.” Rolling Stone said he’s “the perfect candidate for a seventh-grade kid.”

It should be no surprise, then, that Trump’s election is having an influence on his emotional and intellectual peers. A large new survey of K-12 educators across the country finds that the election results are making a “profoundly negative impact on schools and students.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted the survey in the days after the election, and 90 percent of the educators who responded have seen their students’ mood and behavior negatively affected by the election of Donald Trump. Eight in 10 reported heightened anxiety among black students, immigrants, Muslims, and LGBTQ students. And those anxieties are perfectly reasonable: Four in 10 educators have heard derogatory language directed at marginalized students, and about 25 percent described specific episodes of bigotry connected to the election. The online survey was informal and didn’t draw on a nationally representative sample, but more than 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators, and other school employees responded.

Dec. 1 2016 7:47 AM

How Trumpcare Could Harm Pregnant Women

A federal government helmed by Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, the president-elect’s recent selection for secretary of health and human services, is not one women can count on. Our bodies are now at the mercy of a group of men who are anti-contraception, anti-abortion, and anti-Obamacare—legislation that prevented insurers from treating lady parts like an inconvenience.

Some women are preparing for a potentially draconian future by getting long-acting birth control such as IUDs before they become more expensive for many and possibly illegal for all. Unfortunately for pregnant women, or those who would like to become so in the next four years, there is no such 11th-hour measure available. Many of us, including this five-months-pregnant writer, have no choice but to have our babies in the next four years, during which time maternity and pediatric care might become less comprehensive and more expensive.

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The Affordable Care Act, which Trump and Price have promised to scrap, substantially improved maternity coverage. Before Obamacare, many insurers didn’t cover maternity care. A 2013 report from the National Women’s Law Center found that just 12 percent of individual market plans included maternity benefits. Insurers often charged women more than what they charged men for the same coverage, even if the policy didn’t include maternity care. Also, pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, meaning that it could prevent women from getting insurance in 45 states. The average birth in the United States costs $18,329. Before Obamacare, most group plans, which the majority of Americans are on, were required to cover maternity care under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Obamacare made maternity care one of the 10 essential health benefits that all individual plans must cover. All plans offered on the marketplace are now required to cover pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care, and most of them are also required to cover additional preventive services, including screening for gestational diabetes and breast-feeding support and supplies such as breast pumps. The Affordable Care Act also amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers most hourly wage–earning and some salaried employees, to require employers to better accommodate nursing employees. These workers “must be given ‘reasonable’ break time to pump for a breastfeeding child, as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to 1 year after the child’s birth” and be provided with a private space to pump that is not a bathroom. Lastly, Obamacare also funded initiatives aimed at reducing preterm birth, which have so far been effective.

The Affordable Care Act also improved pediatric care and required that all marketplace plans and many others cover things such as vaccinations, behavioral assessments, and autism screening. Newborns are now guaranteed preventive gonorrhea treatment as well as screening for congenital hypothyroidism, hearing problems, phenylketonuria, and sickle cell anemia.

As Sarah Kliff points out at Vox, Price’s plan to replace Obamacare, the Empowering Patients First Act, “eliminates the essential health benefits package, which mandated that all insurers cover a set of 10 different types of care including maternity services and pediatric care.” Paul Ryan’s comparatively more generous plan does the same.

Anti-abortion activists like Price tend to cloak their beliefs in a desire to protect “innocent human life.” But their previous inaction and current silence on making sure every pregnant woman and newborn is provided with high-quality maternity care suggests otherwise. Perhaps they will surprise us all and proceed in a more consistent manner, bringing equal fervor to their protection of the fetuses of women who choose to have abortions as they do to those fetuses of women who would like to count on safe, and affordable, pregnancy and delivery. Unfortunately, we’ve got little reason to believe that this will be the case.

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