Friday, July 30, 2010

Abortion Rights Groups Disappointed With Obama, But Reproductive Health Care Still Moves Forward

Empty birth control packet left on the ground

(Flickr / gnarlsmonkey)

Politico has a story today about how abortion groups feel abandoned by a pro-choice president and Congress that’s largely pro-choice. They used the example of the recent Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to exclude abortion services from the newly created high-risk insurance pools for the otherwise uninsurable.

“We’re stuck in a slow backpedal,” [says] Laura MacCleery, government relations director for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There needs to be a sense that, while health reform moves us forward, it moves us backwards in terms of reproductive rights.”

While it’s true that abortion rights have taken some hits while Barack Obama has been president, it’s not quite true to say that women have been abandoned in reproductive rights more generally. It is worthwhile to note that the health care reform bill will cover millions more women than previously had access to health insurance. Young women can stay on their parents health insurance until they turn 26 and may not have gaps in coverage that they previously did following graduation from college or high school. Women who have more consistent access to coverage will better be able to have continuous access to birth control and other reproductive health care.

Recent surveys by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research policy group, noted that the number of abortions became more concentrated among poor women in 2008. Women are, of course, more likely to become pregnant if they don’t have consistent access to birth control. From another report [PDF] called “Preventing Unintended Pregnancy: The Need And the Means,” senior public policy associate Adam Sonfield writes,

[R]esearchers have found serious gaps in private coverage of prescription contraceptive methods; policymakers and advocates have worked over the past decade through legislatures, government agencies, the courts, the media and employers to improve this coverage … And even when private insurance does pay for contraception, women may be required to contribute high copayments …

As Dana Goldstein notes in her recent reporting on this issue, there’s a distinct possibility that HHS will classify birth control as regular preventative care — and that means that insurers could be obligated to provide it without asking for a copay. Again, this could go far for poor women who sometimes have to make difficult monetary decisions between birth control or other daily necessities.

The health care reform legislation also outlawed denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, which included pregnancy — a major victory for reproductive rights activists since prenatal care is clearly part of the cannon of reproductive health care needs.

Still it’s hard to deny that for those who are passionate about access to abortion, that particular right has taken a political beading during the Obama administration. The proposed Stupak amendment threatened to eliminate abortion care coverage from private insurance plans (in addition to publicly funded ones like Medicaid that have been illegal under the Hyde amendment, which has been renewed every year since 1976). While the final health care reform bill included a slightly lesser version of the Stupak amendment, put forth by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), many pro-choice advocates felt that abortion access shouldn’t have have even been under negotiation during a progressive administration and Congress while pushing forth major progressive reform.

Additionally, abortion rights groups have noticed a dip in fundraising during the Obama administration. NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy group, has only raised $526,431 in the 2010 election cycle compared with the millions they raked in during both Bush administrations, according to the Politico report. This is similar to dips in fundraising during the Clinton administration.

Such frustration expressed by abortion-rights advocates in the Politico article is understandable. After all, abortion rights groups feel they’re on the ropes enough already, and hoped that a pro-choice administration would more boldly advocate for abortion rights. Instead they saw a careful political calculation that used abortion coverage as a bargaining chip. But while abortion rights might be in the “slow backpedal” that MacCleery from the Center for Reproductive Rights described, it is important to remember that the overall health care for women is probably going to be good for women, probably going a long way to help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and increase access to pregnancy care.

Cross posted.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

JournoList's -- and Journalism's -- Diversity Problem


(Chip Bok)

The accusations over the now-defunct off-the-record email list of left-leaning journalists known as JournoList, started by my former colleague Ezra Klein, have become increasingly bizarre. First, an anonymous sender leaked emails from my pal Dave Weigel that eventually caused the Washington Post to ask for his resignation. (Weigel yesterday landed a gig at the Washington Post Company-owned Slate.) Then the Daily Caller ran a weird series of vaguely accusatory stories that seemed to be reaching for some kind of vast left-wing media conspiracy (and not quite getting there). Now, other more radically right “news” outlets have decided to make a point dripping in anti-Semitism: “What’s also disturbing for me about the Journolist is the fact that so many of its members have Jewish names.” [Disclosure: I was a member of JournoList since its inception in 2007.]

I’m not going to bother dismantling this “argument” because Jesse Taylor over at Pandagon has already done that. The idea that Jews are running some kind of left-wing liberal conspiracy is such a crackpot accusation from the right that most left-leaning journalists I know make jokes about the Jews controlling the media. But even if the accusation is crackpot, there is a lesson to be gleaned from this group of influential left leaning journalists that partook in an off-the-record email list: The list of members who have publicly admitted their participation that has been cobbled together by Mark Levin on Facebook is overwhelmingly white and heavily male. If I had access to income of families, I’d also guess it’d tip toward the higher end of the spectrum (even though most journalists make poverty’s wages).

The fact that journalism is homogeneous — even leftist journalism that tends to actually care about this — isn’t an original observation. It is one worth making again.

After all, even though women make up the majority of journalism majors (and have since 1977), they make up only 34 percent of newsroom supervisors and 24 percent of television stations. Granted, the nature of media is changing to be less newsroom-focused, but the new brand of news is nowhere near reaching gender parity. Sara Libby pointed out that after the Washington Post named “America’s Next Great Pundit,” yet another “white guy,” and wondered why punditry never seems to include women, let alone women of color. (If anyone has access to a good study on LGBT journalists, I’d love to see it.)

Additionally, the number of reporters of color is staying stagnant or declining. A 2008 survey conducted by the American Society of News Editors showed that while the number of Asian American reporters had increased, the number of black reporters had actually declined. Latinos and Native American reporters made modest increases. Furthermore, the survey found that diversity among interns, who tend to be the pipeline for future jobs, had also decreased.

The Daily Beast’s Dana Goldstein (another friend of mine and former Campus Progress associate editor), once looked at a study from the UK [PDF], that found the journalists grew up in families with incomes some 42 percent above the average family income in the UK. This, Goldtein said, is journalism’s “elitism problem.”

To its credit, JournoList had many threads worrying over this very lack of diversity. There were long threads that debated the diversity of the list itself in addition to the diversity of government, media, and the blogosphere more generally. Still, on Levin’s published list of 65 self-admitted JournoList members, only ten are women. Far fewer are people of color.

Ultimately, achieving diversity is difficult. When hiring, folks tend to look to people that are like them, that come from their own networks and backgrounds. Finding and recruiting talented writers, reporters, and editors from different races and economic backgrounds takes more work. Assigning pieces to achieve gender parity in bylines takes recruiting and careful assigning, especially because men and women tend to pitch differently.

Of course, there is hope: Young people are a more diverse generation than ever. During my work at Campus Progress, we’ve gone to great lengths to recruit a diverse group of young people both in the publications that we support and the cadre of staff writers we work with to publish on our site. We could be doing better — cultivating a diverse group of writers, editors, and reporters isn’t a one-time thing but rather a constant work in progress. There have also been recent success stories of opinion makers becoming more diverse: Ta-Nehisi Coates is now one of the prestigious Atlantic bloggers and one of the most popular hosts on MSNBC is Rachel Maddow.

The point about “Jewish names” isn’t worth addressing, but it is worth noting that this group of well-connected and prominent media professionals is homogeneous in a lot of ways (even if the diversity of opinion often created rousing debate). We’re often told journalism is in a state of crisis, but the real crisis is one of creating a diverse group of reporters and pundits who can more accurately reflect the America in which they live.

Cross posted.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Was on C-SPAN

The panel I moderated yesterday at Campus Progress' National Conference on state legislation on reproductive rights was on C-SPAN. Check it out.
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