Monday, December 21, 2009

One Small Victory for Reproductive Rights

Over the weekend, my work email was flooded with press releases from Catholic bishops, the Family Research Council, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and Planned Parenthood. They all hated the Nelson compromise on abortion.

Still, there's a quiet victory for reproductive rights that happened late last week: D.C. haAlign Centers had a ban on local tax dollars used to pay for abortions under its state Medicaid program that has been imposed by Congress since 1988 lifted.

I did a piece for The American Prospect about it:
"This is really something to be celebrated from the point of view of women who live in D.C. who are low-income," said Healther Boonstra, senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute.

At its core, lifting the restrictions gives D.C. "home rule" like other states and allows autonomy over its own funding. Now, D.C. can once again put local funding toward Medicaid that would pay for abortion services and care. Medicaid is paid for through a combination of federal and state funds. Federal funding can't be used for abortion because of the Hyde Amendment, but states have autonomy to fund abortion services with their own dollars. But D.C., because it isn't a state and technically falls under Congress's rule, has faced additional restrictions.
Go ahead and read the whole thing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sarah Haskins: Year In Review

Ah Sarah Haskins. It's been a very good year for you. Thanks for reminding us it hasn't been such a good year for women.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Same-Sex Marriage is Really About Tax Policy

All too often, debates over same-sex marriage are couched in terms of religion. There's religious group that has been made famous with its slogan, "God Hates Fags." There's an entire (really great) documentary about what the Bible really says about homosexuality. Former presidential candidate (and 2012 Republican favorite among conservatives) Mike Huckabee once said gays participate in an "aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle."

But fundamentally religion is just a red herring. Many churches decry same-sex marriage, but there are an increasing number who also recognize same-sex marriage. What the debate is really over is tax policy. Dry, boring, math-heavy tax policy. You see, everyone in America used to file their taxes individually. Each person would pay for the amount of taxes they owe and everyone would move on with their lives. This was, of course, at a time when men were making a lot more than their spouses (to be honest, they still make more than their spouses, but the gap isn't as big). So some clever people decided they would pay a lot less in taxes if couples filed jointly and divided their tax rate over two people. Later, as "family values" took hold, married couples even got more tax breaks.

This was all the subject of an event today at the Tax Policy Center (a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution), called "The Higher Cost of Being Gay: Life, Death, and Taxes."They talked about all of the legal and tax ramifications for same-sex couples in great detail. I won't bog you down with the details (as I'm not even going to attempt to explain such things), but the Urban Institute has a good summary of this stuff from 2004.

Fundamentally, though, the debate about same-sex marriage has been obscured by the religious debate, when fundamentally others are trying to figure out how to properly tax couples who live together and want to share their assets like a married couple does. Of course, tax policy doesn't create passion in activists the same way that civil rights do.

My suggestion? Just level the playing field, making everyone go back to filing individually and that could shift the debate. (Flickr/theblog)

Cross posted.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Most Awesome Online Auction Item Ever

WAM! (or Women, Action, and Media! as the noobs call it), is auctioning off some items to raise money for its annual conference. I've been to the conference three times before and it's been great -- a wonderful way to hang out with other fantastic bloggers, activists, and media types. But one of the items up for auction has to be one of the most awesome things ever: Sarah Haskins will record your outgoing voicemail message. I shit you not.

Sounds pretty great to me, and it goes to support a good cause: promoting the work of smart and wonderful women.

'A Culture of Silence': Sexual Assault on Campus

The Center for Public Integrity released a really compelling report today about sexual assault on college campuses. It both rehashes some well-known statistics -- one in five college women will be the victim of sexual assault and over 95 percent chose not to come forward -- along with some new information about secretive school-run administrative proceedings that are often young women's last hope that their allegations will be considered.

The report starts with an account of a young woman at the University of Virginia:

Three hours into deliberations by the University of Virginia’s Sexual Assault Board, UVA junior Kathryn Russell sat with her mother in a closet-like room in sprawling Peabody Hall. Down the corridor, two professors and two students were deciding her fate. Russell was replaying in her mind, endlessly, details of her allegations of rape when, she remembers, Shamim Sisson, the board chair, stepped into the room and delivered the order: You can’t talk about the verdict to anyone.

That stern admonition was a reminder of the silence Russell had been keeping since, she says, she struggled to break free from a fellow student’s grip in her dorm. That’s the account she gave local authorities, who declined to prosecute. And that’s what, in May 2004, she told the UVA Sexual Assault Board, whose decision she’d considered “my last resort.”

It turns out, Russell's experience isn't uncommon. The reason these proceedings are such a "last resort" is perhaps the most tragic part of the investigation. Prosecutors know that rape is a difficult accusation to make stick, often coming down to he-said-she said scenarios. When the prosecutor passes, the rape victim's often left with the only other option: college administrative proceedings.

Just over half the students interviewed by the Center have reported they unsuccessfully sought criminal charges and instead had to seek justice in closed, school-run administrative proceedings that led either to academic penalties or no punishment at all for their alleged assailants, leaving them feeling betrayed by a process they say has little transparency or accountability. Some of those students, including Russell, said they were ordered to keep quiet about the proceedings and threatened with punishment if they did not. Still other students said administrators discouraged them from pursuing rape complaints. Survey respondents indicated similar problems with the closed procedures on campuses.

It seems that colleges and universities, in an effort to make procedures discreet, are actually discouraging rape victims from coming forward.

What's more, the administrative proceedings often don't really provide a since of justice, since the college or university has limited authority in repercussions, even if the accused is determined to have committed rape. Sometimes the accusations are dealt with in the form of informal mediations. Some argue that mediation is inappropriate in rape cases because rape reaches beyond the scope of interpersonal conflict and lingering intimidation exists between victims and assailants.

The trouble is, that as long as rape cases remain difficult to prosecute, such administrative proceedings on campus may be the last best hope for victims of sexual assault. The challenge is in increasing accountability.

Cross posted.

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