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Greek Life Is Even More of a Public Health Threat During COVID-19

As the fall semester speeds into full swing, some chronically ill and disabled students are becoming increasingly concerned about how the campus life that others are enjoying could be putting their lives at risk. Potential superspreader events such as fraternity parties are becoming more frequent during the fall, while online classes are no longer an option for those who are more vulnerable at some universities like the University of California, Berkeley.

So far, Columbia University is one of a handful of schools to take a strong stance by banning fraternity parties on campus this semester, in a bid to keep in-person classes safe for students. We believe that all universities should take the same appropriate measures to protect students, including after the pandemic is over.

Many campus outbreaks have been linked to fraternity parties. A study followed one Arkansas university in fall 2020 and found that a major COVID-19 outbreak of 965 cases directly followed rush week. The researchers used network analysis to identify transmission-related campus gatherings, and found that 91 percent of gatherings were “linked by participation in fraternity and sorority activities.” Over 30 percent of the infected participated in fraternity and sorority events, and 15 percent lived in fraternity or sorority houses.

More concerningly, fraternities have also been found to break campus COVID-19 rules on many occasions.

“Frat parties don’t really follow the same strict guidelines and rules that organizations, airlines, airports, and other bigger social events do,” said Dr. Varuna Srinivasan, a women’s health expert. “It’s a bunch of kids getting together to party together and no one really wants to dampen the mood by talking about COVID.”

Last year, fraternities at the University of Tennessee were criticized by the chancellor for hosting secret parties and telling members how to get a COVID-19 test without having to report it to the school. More recently, large fraternity parties at the University of British Columbia have been shut down and fraternities issued fines for non-compliance.

Srinivasan explained how the lack of fraternity oversight in the past has led to hazing, deaths, and sexual assault—and that lack of oversight could be extending to COVID-19 rule compliance. Her research on Greek life has revealed how high peer-pressure situations and a group mentality could lead students to more risk-taking behaviors, leading to the disregard of their own health. And in the current situation, their disregard involves putting other students at risk—particularly disabled students.

“In this case, it should really be the universities’ responsibility to suspend all frat parties,” Srinivasan said.

Going out to fraternity parties and participating in activities unmasked, especially on campuses that do not have a vaccine mandate, may seem like a personal decision. But it can have far-reaching impacts on the whole university community.

“Members of these Greek houses move about campus and the community, frequenting classrooms, restaurants, bars, friends’ dorms, and homes,” Dr. Namvar Zohoori, Arkansas Department of Health’s deputy director for science, told Rewire News Group. “This can increase the potential of spreading any infections contracted within the Greek houses to the rest of the campus and community, putting even larger numbers of potentially at-risk persons in jeopardy.”

Ellen Gurung, a public health graduate student at George Mason University who lives with lupus, said that as someone with an autoimmune disease, she isn’t comfortable with the idea of partying on campus.

“I think the sororities and fraternities need to consider the needs of those with autoimmune disorders and other medical conditions when navigating rush week and other activities,” Gurung said. Greek life has a history of not being inclusive of disabled students. Notably, a George Mason student with Down syndrome was rejected from every sorority in fall 2018.

It’s frustrating that universities, even when they have COVID-19 protocols, do not do more to try and protect disabled and chronically ill students. For example, while the University of California, Berkeley requires masks indoors, these rules are often not enforced at sorority and fraternity houses. Perhaps, by putting disabled and chronically ill students in danger by allowing Greek life parties and activities to continue on campus, universities are failing to provide reasonable accommodation.

Being a disabled college student has its own challenges even in non-pandemic times—such as fighting to receive proper accommodations—and universities should not be making accessibility harder.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected disabled and chronically ill students, even outside the danger that Greek life poses. A December 2020 paper published in Disability Compliance for Higher Education found that disabled students are more likely to have experienced lowered wages, food and housing insecurity, and a major depressive disorder episode than non-disabled people during the pandemic.

The needs of disabled and chronically ill people vary by person. For chronically ill and disabled college students who benefit from in-person learning, they deserve to have the opportunity to do so in a safe setting. Being a disabled college student has its own challenges even in non-pandemic times—such as fighting to receive proper accommodations—and universities should not be making accessibility harder.

One step that some activists have been pushing for to make college campuses safer is to abolish Greek life for good. While some people have been calling out Greek life for its role in perpetuating rape culture and its institutional racism, the #AbolishGreekLife movement became more prominent during summer 2020.

The New York Times reported that across the United States, from Northwestern University to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, students have called for fraternities and sororities to be banned or at least suspended due to sexual assault and drugging that has occurred at Greek life parties. As explored by Terry Nguyen in Vox, universities may be slow to act because some universities financially benefit from fraternities and sororities owning buildings on campus.

Research has linked Greek life affiliation to risky behaviors for over a decade. One 2008 study found that members of fraternities and sororities at Syracuse University were more likely to consume more alcohol and other substances than people not in Greek life. Peer pressure within the Greek system to participate in risky behaviors has also been linked to student deaths.

“The various aspects of the pandemic, such as fear of catching the disease, conflicting information rampant in social media, additional peer pressure specific to COVID-19 etc., can also increase psychological stress among college students, leading to increased risky and inappropriate behavior,” Zohoori said.

For the sake of disabled and chronically ill students, universities should suspend Greek life parties during COVID-19. And for the sake of the overall health and well-being of students on campus, universities should ban Greek life for good.

Ohio Might Get a Second ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’

With “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinances in over two dozen cities in Texas, the city of Mason, Ohio, is on its way to becoming the next municipality to enact an abortion ban.

The ordinance was introduced last week at a Mason City Council meeting, where four council members voted in favor of an abortion ban for the Ohio city. That was one short of the five members required to pass the ordinance as an emergency and skip a public referendum.

Mayor Kathy Grossmann supports the abortion ban but said she hoped it did not go to a referendum. Instead, the anti-abortion ordinance will have a second reading at the city council’s October 25 meeting, as Erin Glynn of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

This is far from the first time Ohio Republicans have taken aim abortion access. On top of restrictions on abortion providers, low-income people, and minors, the state bans abortions “based on” a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome and abortions after 22 weeks’ gestation. (Ohio lawmakers have always struggled with science.)

In this case, however, Mason is skipping directly to the end goal: banning abortion within city limits entirely—even though there aren’t any abortion clinics in the city anyway.

And Mason wouldn’t be the first Ohio city to do so—Lebanon’s city council voted unanimously to ban abortion in May. The Lebanon ordinance, like the proposal in Mason, declares it illegal to provide, aid, or provide money, transportation or instructions for an abortion within city limits.

If you’re thinking “so what?” then we’ve got one word for you: Texas.

In fact, the Mason City Council got a draft ordinance from Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn, an initiative by Right to Life of East Texas, the Enquirer reported.

So even as other states dominate the headlines (and for good reason), we just wanted to let Ohio anti-abortion activists know that we’re watching them too.

This post was adapted from a Twitter thread.

Abortion Access One Month After Texas Ban Goes Into Effect

Since news broke that SB 8—a law that bans all abortions after embryonic cardiac activitywould go into effect in Texas, the state of abortion access has been in chaos. Coverage of the law and challenges to it have been all over the map.

The ban also created a ripple effect: Other states, including Florida, have introduced similar bills, and abortion clinics in states bordering Texas are receiving more patients than they can handle, creating havoc for abortion providers.

In a virtual subscriber-only event, advocates and experts on the ground joined Rewire News Group‘s Executive Editor Jessica Mason Pieklo this week for an illuminating and urgent conversation on what the Texas ban actually means for providers and patients, not only in the state but across the country.

Hear from:

Watch the event below:

To be the first to learn about future events like this, subscribe to our newsletter here.

These 5 Cases Could Finish Off Abortion Rights for Good After ‘Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health’

For court watchers and abortion rights enthusiasts, it has been a long couple of weeks. First, the Supreme Court allowed a six-week abortion ban with bounty hunter-style enforcement to take effect in Texas. Then the Supreme Court announced a hearing date for the much anticipated Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which will decide the fate of Mississippi’s 15-week ban and Roe v. Wade itself. To say it has been a whirlwind is an understatement.

But the legal fights in Texas and Mississippi aren’t the only major abortion cases in the pipeline right now. There are a number of potentially critical lawsuits making their way through the lower courts—and one at the Supreme Court—and we’re here to track them all.

Here are five cases we’ve got our eye on right now.

Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center

You may know Daniel Cameron as the man who declined to recommend homicide charges for the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. But, as Susan Rinkunas reported for Rewire News Group, Kentucky’s Republican attorney general is also the reason why the Supreme Court will hear an abortion-related case this month—the first abortion-related case in this new term under its 6-3 conservative supermajority. The Sixth Circuit initially blocked the law; Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is pro-choice, then decided to drop the case altogether. But that didn’t stop Cameron from intervening, hoping to bring the case all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The case is about a law banning the most common abortion procedure used after 15 weeks of pregnancy, known as dilation and evacuation (D&E). “If the Supreme Court sides with Attorney General Cameron, then he will get to pursue his goal, which is to overturn the underlying decision striking down the abortion ban,” the ACLU’s Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told Rewire News Group.

If Cameron is able to intervene and the law gets upheld, it could effectively ban abortion after 15 weeks in a state that has just two clinics and multiple restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period and bans on insurance coverage of the procedure. Both clinics are in downtown Louisville, which means access is limited for people in other areas of the state.The plaintiff in the case is EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the state’s only independent abortion clinic and the only one that provides care after 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Current status: Oral arguments will be heard today

Reproductive Health Services v. Parsons

In 2019, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion bills into law. It is structured like a Russian nesting doll: It includes bans within bans, so that as soon as one is struck down, another is ready to go.

HB 126 includes gestational bans at eight, 14, 18, and 20 weeks, as well as “reason bans,” which prohibit performing an abortion if the reason given for the abortion is based on sex, race, or fetal diagnosis. The law also makes it harder for patients to obtain abortion care out of state because it requires them to comply with Missouri’s informed consent standard, and it forces young people to notify their parents of their abortion decision. And it includes a trigger provision that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The gestational and reason bans were struck down as unconstitutional in the district court and the Eighth Circuit, but the other provisions remain in effect, further limiting access in the state.

Current status: The Eighth Circuit, which already struck down the reason and gestational bans, decided to rehear the case on its own, without an appeal from the parties—which is incredibly unusual. Why? Because they felt like it? Who even knows anymore. For more on how that September 21 hearing went, Rewire News Group’s senior editor for law and policy, Imani Gandy, live-tweeted the whole thing.

SisterSong v. Kemp

This case is about Georgia’s six-week ban, which, like Texas’ six-week ban and every other six-week ban, is a pre-viability abortion ban and is therefore—say it with us—unconstitutional. In 2019, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued Georgia on behalf of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as well as a number of other providers and advocates in the state.

In July 2020, the district court granted a permanent injunction striking down the law. The state then appealed that decision up to the 11th Circuit. If you had asked us two months ago what was going to happen, we’d have said a six-week ban will never survive. But with Texas’ six-week ban getting the stamp of approval from the Supreme Court, (then getting blocked by the district court then getting reinstated by the Fifth Circuit—it’s been a long few weeks) the floodgates have opened for lower courts to let similar laws go into effect. And last month the 11th Circuit issued a stay on SisterSong v. Kemp until after the Supreme Court rules in the Mississippi case, by which point those floodgates will likely be wide open.

Current status: After the 11th Circuit heard the case on September 24, it decided to wait to make a decision until after the Supreme Court issues its Jackson Women’s Health decision next year.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic v. Wilson

In February, South Carolina lawmakers passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country: a six-week ban that, like Texas SB 8, doesn’t allow for an exception in the case of rape or incest. In March, a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against the law just as an emergency order blocking the law was set to expire.

Current status: The case is on the docket at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which, we’d feel a lot less itchy about if the Supreme Court hadn’t given abortion access the kiss of death by approving Texas’ six-week ban in September.

Isaacson v. Brnovich

In April, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona signed SB 1457, a law that includes a reason ban prohibiting abortions in cases of fetal diagnosis or anomaly, and a “personhood amendment” that classifies fetuses, embyos, and fertilized eggs as people under Arizona law.

In August, the ACLU of Arizona announced it would join the Center for Reproductive Rights to represent two Arizona physicians, the Arizona Medical Association, National Council of Jewish Women Arizona, and the Arizona National Organization of Women in challenging the law.

Current status: The district court held a hearing on September 22. On September 28 a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the reason ban but allowed the personhood amendment to go into effect. The Arizona attorney general has filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Conservatives Feel Entitled to Your Ballot and Your Body

Conservatives are executing a coordinated campaign to undercut millennials’ and Generation Z’s autonomy. Conservatives feel entitled to ownership over our decisions, and the headline-making abortion bans and state-level attacks on voting rights are two egregious and connected examples.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to block Texas SB 8 set off alarm bells across the country, as the law bans abortion in the state after around six weeks of pregnancy, well before many people even know they are pregnant. After the ban was in full effect for over a month, a federal court temporarily blocked enforcement of it, but it’s now back in effect after an appeals court on Friday issued an administrative stay on the block.

The fight is far from over.

Meanwhile, in states across the country, politicians continue to put in place barriers to voting that will prevent people from casting a ballot. In some cases, the same politicians are writing both bills. For instance in Texas, state Sen. Bryan Hughes authored both SB 8 and a deeply restrictive anti-voter bill, SB 1, which dramatically reduces the number of ways voters can cast a ballot and particularly limits the use of vote-by-mail.

There’s a reason that the same politicians who want to take away reproductive rights also want to make it harder to vote: These power grabs are connected. Winning the fight to protect voting rights will pay dividends in protecting the rest of our rights, including our right to an abortion.

In 2021, most women of childbearing age, defined by the World Health Organization as between the ages of 15 to 49, are millennials or members of Generation Z. As such, our generations—which are also the most diverse generations in U.S. history—are uniquely impacted by abortion bans like the one that is now in place in Texas. Laws like SB 8 did not come into existence by happenstance. They are part of a coordinated campaign that’s been waged against Roe v. Wade since it was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973.

In just the first half of 2020, 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, have been introduced across 47 states—and, as of October, 106 restrictions, including 12 bans, have been enacted. Although Roe v. Wade remains the legal precedent, preventing some of the harsher bans from going into effect, 11 states have passed so-called trigger laws that would impose statewide abortion bans immediately should Roe v. Wade be overturned. These abortion bans deny all people, particularly young people who can become pregnant, reproductive justice, a term coined by Black women in the 1990s that refers to the right that all people have to choose if, when, and how to have children, and to parent the children they have in healthy and safe environments. Young Black and brown people in particular suffer when reproductive justice is denied, in part because of the over-policing of their lives and bodies.

Perhaps, then, it should not be surprising that abortion restrictions and bans remain deeply unpopular with U.S. voters—and particularly unpopular with young people. A recent NBC poll found that 54 percent of the country, and 65 percent of people between the ages of 18 to 34, believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

The politicians who are advocating for control over young people’s bodies know that the ideas and policies they put forward, including ones that restrict access to abortion, are ones that our generations largely oppose. For this reason, these same politicians have committed themselves to another power grab: denying people, particularly young Black and brown people, the right to vote and participate in democracy.

After young people turned out in historic numbers in the 2020 election to fight for the issues we believe in, 49 states introduced over 425 bills restricting voting access by cutting vote-by-mail and early voting, imposing arbitrary deadlines and conditions on voter registration, and expanding the use of voter roll purges.

In addition to disproportionately impacting rural voters and communities of color, these voter suppression tactics target young people, who are more likely to move between elections and thus need to register and reregister to vote in greater regularity across different states with different rules, and whose jobs can make voting during a restricted period on Election Day more difficult.

Our democracy works better when we all can participate in it and elect leaders who share our values. In order to prevent these power grabs from continuing to erode our rights, we need to demand that Congress treat anti-voter laws and anti-abortion legislation as the inextricably linked issues that they are. One way they can do this is by passing comprehensive federal pro-voter legislation, like the recently introduced Freedom to Vote Act, which would protect voting rights, prohibit partisan gerrymandering, and reduce the influence of dark money in politics. Congress must also pass federal legislation to protect abortion access, such as the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in September.

Right now, both bills are unlikely to pass the Senate without reforms to the filibuster, but our rights are too critical to let a procedural rule stand in the way of progress: Congress must do what it takes to protect them. Our generations’ freedom is at stake.

Why Biden’s ‘Gag Rule’ Reversal Came Just in Time for New Hampshire

When the Biden administration announced its rollback of President Trump’s domestic “gag rule” last week, restoring federal Title X funds to family planning providers that offer or refer patients for abortions, reproductive health advocates in New Hampshire had particular reason to celebrate.

Just a few weeks earlier, Republicans on New Hampshire’s executive council had voted to strip state funding from three family planning clinics that also provide abortion care. Since those three clinics provide about 80 percent of “women’s services” in the state, Democratic lawmakers were getting desperate.

As the Center Square reported in late September:

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other members of New Hampshire’s all-Democrat congressional delegation said women’s health providers in New Hampshire desperately need [Title X] funding now to offset a loss of state funding cut by the GOP-controlled Executive Council.

In a letter to acting Budget Director Shalanda Young, Shaheen and other New Hampshire lawmakers urged the Biden administration to move quickly to rescind the rules.

“Until the Title X program is restored, providers who withdrew from the program are unable to access traditional Title X dollars and supplemental family planning funds designed to provide emergency relief,” the lawmakers wrote. “This is particularly problematic for providers in New Hampshire who are in immediate need of support.”

The loss of federal funding from the “gag rule” had already resulted in 31 percent to 40 percent fewer family planning patients in New Hampshire being served, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, making Title X services almost inaccessible.

And, no, those reproductive health-care providers weren’t using state funding to provide abortions (although it’s discriminatory not to, as Imani Gandy, Rewire News Group‘s senior editor for law and policy, pointed out long ago). The health centers, which include a Planned Parenthood clinic, are already complying with a New Hampshire law that requires they use private funding instead. New Hampshire’s Republican-led executive council took money away from cancer screenings and other preventive reproductive health care on principle (or lack thereof).

Of course, New Hampshire hasn’t been an abortion haven for a while now: On top of parental consent laws, the allegedly “pro-choice” Gov. Chris Sununu signed a state budget earlier this year that bans abortions at or after 24 weeks’ gestation, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal viability.

To use the words of the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” New Hampshire seems to have chosen the latter—at least when it comes to pregnant people, low-income citizens, and abortion providers.

This post was adapted from a Twitter thread.

This Footnote in the Texas Abortion Ban Ruling Will Drive Conservatives Batty

On Wednesday evening, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction stopping the enforcement of Texas’ six-week abortion ban.

In non-legalese, it means that for Texans, abortion is back, baby—at least in early pregnancy (for some). Access in the state is, of course, still fraught with other restrictions.

SB 8, the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban, has been in effect for over a month. It not only banned all abortions as soon as cardiac activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks after a person’s last menstrual period, it also created a bounty hunting system that deputized any ole Texan to sue abortion providers or people deemed to be “aiding and abetting” (helping) someone getting an abortion. The Supreme Court then basically put its stamp of approval on the law.

Wednesday’s 113-page decision came from Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for Western Texas. Pitman temporarily blocked enforcement of SB 8, restoring abortion access to countless Texans across the state.

In issuing the decision, Pitman used clear and scientifically accurate language to explain why the law should be stopped and who it would affect.

Seeing SB 8 for exactly what it is, Pitman writes:

There can be no doubt that S.B. 8 was a deliberate attempt by lawmakers … to “find another way” around resistance to enforcement of laws criminalizing abortion. … And the State continues to defend S.B. 8, disclaiming responsibility by pointing the finger at the private individuals who the State deputized as enforcers. The State’s disavowal of S.B.8 is unconvincing.

What Pitman is saying here is: Nice try, Texas, but an abortion ban is an abortion ban. Thanks for playing. But he takes his analysis a step further, committing to the record of the court an abundance of information about abortion accessibility and its status as a common and necessary medical procedure, saying:

The Court finds that abortion is a safe and common medical procedure, based on the credible declarations of abortion providers founded on their education and experience.

Pitman also includes information about the reality of a six-week abortion ban—that it applies before many people even know they’re pregnant—as well as context about who these laws impact: The majority of abortion patients, he notes, are parents already, or plan to be parents in the future.

As Rewire News Group SVP and Executive Editor Jessica Mason Pieklo wrote in this week’s edition of The Fallout (RNG’s newsletter tracking the collapse of Roe v. Wade, which you can sign up for here), this is about more than just language. By including these statements in his decision, Judge Pitman is including them as a factual finding of the court, which basically means these are things that the court has researched and concluded to be true.

In fact, it calls back to the majority opinion in 2016’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in which Justice Stephen Breyer ruled that abortion restrictions need to be grounded in actual fact and reserach instead of just anti-abortion conjecture. “Do the work,” was the TLDR of that opinion, and that’s what Judge Pitman did.

One piece of language nearly absent from Judge Pitman’s decision? The word woman—or any gendered language, for that matter. In fact, the second footnote in the entire decision reads:

The Court recognizes that not all pregnant people identify as women.

And while folks in the reproductive justice space have long known this to be true, it’s radical and groundbreaking to enter it into a judicial decision, as it sets a progressive and long overdue precedent to remove gendered language from abortion jurisprudence.

The unfortunate news is that Pitman’s injunction is likely not long for this world. The case is headed back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which already allowed the law to go into effect once—and then it will eventually head, again, to the Supreme Court.

But just as bad decisions have ripple effects that create precedent in their own way, so do good decisions. Judge Pitman has left the state of abortion access in Texas better than he found it.

In Utah Jails, a Rare Reproductive Rights Bright Spot Emerges

Access to health care for people who are incarcerated is constitutionally guaranteed. But in practice, reproductive care is highly variable in U.S. prisons and jails. Despite the majority of women in the carceral system being of reproductive age, most are unable to continue using their contraception while incarcerated.

Even if a person is in possession of their oral contraception when entering jail, they are typically not allowed to take the pills with them into custody, Dr. Jessica Sanders, assistant professor at the University of Utah in the division of family planning, told Rewire News Group.

As a result of this disruption to contraception access, recently incarcerated people are at high risk of becoming pregnant after being released. (The rate of prior unintended pregnancy is as high as 83 percent among incarcerated women, in contrast to the national rate of 45 percent.) People also use hormonal contraception for a spectrum of medical conditions, from endometriosis to painful periods, which means a pause in access can adversely affect day-to-day health.

The lack of access to medically prescribed contraception marks a significant gap in the reproductive rights and health of incarcerated people.

Now, a new law in Utah is turning the page by guaranteeing what many argue should never have been taken away in the first place: continuous access to contraception in jails.

HB 102, which was signed in March and went into effect in July, requires Utah jails to provide incarcerated people with “the option of continuing certain medically prescribed methods of contraception.” The “certain” methods include oral and injectable contraceptives, and intrauterine devices—although the latter is only available if the oral or injectable contraceptives result in “serious and persistent adverse effects.”

There are 2,700 women currently in jail in Utah who are now eligible to continue to access their contraception. According to Planned Parenthood, HB 102 could prevent 540 unintended pregnancies among the current population in Utah jails.

The legislation has a one-year sunset date. “That was my compromise” in order to get it passed, state Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, the bill’s sponsor, told Rewire News Group. Dailey-Provost said she has another bill planned for 2022 that would remove the sunset date and make the legislation permanent in Utah.

Research shows the consistent desire for contraception access among women in jail. A 2015 study found that most women “report having the goals of preventing pregnancy” and “resuming sexual activity upon release from jail.”

Yet “few have plans in place to effectively prevent pregnancy” because obtaining contraceptives does not sit high on post-release priorities. “Women immediately face multiple and competing needs to generate income, find housing, and reunify with families and partners” after their release from jail, the study found.

Compared to offering to connect an incarcerated person to a contraceptive service in their community after their release—when they face these competing demands—the introduction of contraceptive services in the facility itself led to a significant increase in birth control initiation, a 2006 study at a Rhode Island correctional facility found.

“A jail setting is where you need to have contraceptive continuity the most because jail stays are so short”—on average, people leave jail within 72 hours, and if they have a longer stay, “they are typically out within 30 days,” said Kyl Myers, a sociologist and educator whose research has focused on the contraceptive preferences and attitudes of people in jail.

Medical evaluations typically take place one to two weeks after a person enters a correctional facility, at which point the question of contraceptive need may arise. But because jail stays tend to be relatively short, a disruption to contraception use while in custody—even if the disruption lasts only 72 hours—can reduce the medication’s effectiveness, which can take up to a week to return to normal levels.

“If I had a magic wand, I would make [the bill] so that every individual in the criminal justice system could continue a prescription for contraceptives and initiate a prescription for contraceptives.”
-Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost

A national study in 2009 found that only 38 percent of health-care providers in correctional facilities provide any methods of contraception, and 70 percent of facilities lacked a policy on contraceptive care.

This disruption leads to higher levels of unintended or mistimed pregnancies, and it marks a significant blow to the reproductive justice of people who are incarcerated. As Dr. Andrea Knittel, an OB-GYN and researcher at the University of North Carolina, told Rewire News Group, “women should be able to decide if and when they conceive, and should also have the right to build their families in safety and with support.”

The new law in Utah is a start, but its selective inclusion of contraceptive methods and its exclusive focus on the continuation of access expose some of its limitations.

Access to contraception in the carceral system can be viewed through the prisms of continuation and initiation. HB 102 focuses specifically on the former; the person in jail has to have been using the contraception prior to their entry in order to continue to use it.

But initiation, or the ability to begin using contraception or switch to a new method, is also important. In other words, access does not just relate to continuity of care, but also the ability to begin care—and discontinue it, too.

“If I had a magic wand,” Dailey-Provost said, “I would make [the bill] so that every individual in the criminal justice system could continue a prescription for contraceptives and initiate a prescription for contraceptives.”

The bill only applies to people held in Utah county jails, not state prisons, and it also does not cover the full range of contraceptive methods. The birth control patch, for instance, is not included in the bill.

“I think that a model bill has to have every FDA-approved method of contraception that a person may be using or want,” Myers said.

In prisons and jails generally, “there is no question that pre-incarceration medication, especially medication that has been prescribed by a health-care provider” should be continued—so “why should contraceptives be treated any differently?” said Dr. Carolyn Sufrin, OB-GYN and researcher at John Hopkins School of Medicine and author of Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women Behind Bars.

Put simply, “women’s gender-specific health needs are often marginalized and devalued and not considered important in the way other medications are,” she told Rewire News Group.

The passage of HB 102 signals an incremental undoing of the interruption to continuous reproductive health care in jail. While the legislation may not be as comprehensive as both legislators and researchers would like, it marks, as Sanders told Rewire News Group, “the beginning of a conversation.”

What Teens Need to Know About Texas SB 8 and Accessing Abortion

UPDATE, October 8: SB 8 was temporarily blocked Wednesday night as part of the Department of Justice lawsuit. Attorneys for Texas have filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit, asking for an emergency stay of the district judge’s order.

It’s been about a month since the Supreme Court more or less put its stamp of approval on Texas SB 8, which bans all abortions after six weeks with no exception for rape or incest, and only allows abortions to be performed after the six-week mark in the case of medical emergency.

To make matters worse, anyone who helps someone get an abortion—from the abortion provider, to the person who drives them to their appointment—can be sued for a minimum of $10,000 by absolutely anyone in the country.

By allowing SB 8 to go into effect, the Supreme Court has set a precedent that any state in the country can pass a similar ban, and while their decision didn’t technically overturn Roe v. Wade, a six-week ban is about as close to an outright abortion ban as you can get.

What does this all mean? Especially for young people? We’re here to break that down.

First of all, abortion is still legal in the state of Texas, and in neighboring states like Oklahoma. In fact, it’s still legal in the whole country. That’s the good news.

The bad news is abortion is now incredibly difficult to access in Texas, and that’s especially true for young people, who already faced significant hurdles even before SB 8 went into effect. Statistics show that in Texas, there are 24 births for every 1,000 women between age 15 and 19, and the state has the highest average of repeat teen births. Teen pregnancy and birth present many challenges and are often associated with poor educational and health outcomes.

To be clear, teen pregnancy is not the problem; the problem is barriers to education and care. Language around teen pregnancy and parenting too often is stigmatizing and centered on prevention, but young people, like pregnant people of any age, can be great parents if that’s what they choose and if given the support they need. They should be given resources to make the parenting decisions that are best for them. Texas is doing the opposite.

For starters, in order to have an abortion right now in Texas you have to catch your pregnancy really early; six weeks pregnant is typically two weeks after your missed period. That gives you, at the absolute maximum, a two-week window to get an abortion. But statistically speaking, young people detect their pregnancies later, and this makes sense. It takes a while to understand your cycle, and no matter what age you are, there are so many things that can make your period late–changes in diet, sleep, stress, or environment can all delay a period or make it start early.

Texas is one of 37 states that require young people to either involve a parent or obtain a judicial bypass to access abortion, which means that young people who can’t get a parent to approve their abortion have to go to court. That delays the abortion even more. Now let’s make one thing clear: Young people are entirely capable of making their abortion decisions however they are most comfortable, whether that involves a parent or not. And statistics show that in states without parental involvement laws, the majority of young people involve a parent regardless, and almost all young people involve a trusted adult in their abortion decision.

But for young people who can’t involve a parent, parental involvement laws only present further challenges; these are often young people in foster care, or whose parents have been deported or incarcerated, or who live in abusive households. And for these minors, the delays caused by the judicial bypass process will make it nearly impossible to get an abortion in Texas before that two-week window has passed.

As if that’s not bad enough, Texas also enforces a 24-hour mandatory waiting period for all abortions, adding another day’s delay.

The TLDR: If you’re under 18, it’s possible to access abortion in Texas, but thanks to a bunch of harmful laws it’s really really hard.

What to do if you need an abortion in Texas

Put in a call to Jane’s Due Process, a Texas-based nonprofit that works with young people to help them access abortion and other reproductive health care, including by providing support for minors going through the judicial bypass process. They have a 24/7 hotline that you can call or text: 866-999-5263. Jane’s Due Process can also help you find contraceptive services, so if that’s something you want to consider to help protect you against unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, they’ve got you covered.

“SB 8 is so devastating for minors because, on top of the complicated and time-consuming process of getting a judicial bypass, SB 8 would make it nearly impossible to get a bypass and get an abortion in a six-week time frame. I found out I was pregnant as early as I possibly could and I still had the abortion past six weeks,” said Veronika Granado, a youth advocacy fellow with Jane’s Due Process.

You might be eligible to access a medication abortion, which you can find more information about here. If you have questions about the risks of self-managed abortion, you can contact the Repro Legal Helpline online or at 844-868-2812, or the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline, which is a free service.

Consider your traveling options. Traveling out of state is challenging for many reasons. For young people, the possibility of missing school, finding and paying for transportation, and finding somewhere to stay all complicate the option of traveling to a neighboring state with fewer abortion restrictions. Not to mention the complications added by a global pandemic. But if you can consider traveling, here’s what you need to know:

  • New Mexico has almost no abortion restrictions, including no parental consent law.
  • Oklahoma has a whole host of abortion restictions, including parental consent, a ban on telemedicine for medication abortion, and a mandatory ultrasound and waiting period. And while they don’t have an abortion ban now, lawmakers recently passed a six-week ban that will go into effect in November unless it is blocked by the courts.
  • Arkansas also has a number of abortion restrictions including a ban at 22 weeks’ gestation, a mandatory waiting period and mandated counseling, as well as a parental consent law.
  • Louisiana has a ban at 22 weeks’ gestation, mandatory counseling, a waiting period and ultrasound law, and a ban on telemedicine among other harmful restrictions.
  • If traveling further is an option, there are many states you can fly to where abortion is more accessible. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced that pregnant people from Texas would be welcomed in her state with open arms; states like Maine and California allow young people to have access to abortion without parental consent.

How to pay for your abortion. Check out the National Network of Abortion Funds; they have funds in every state that can help cover the costs of your abortion, including travel and lodging. You can also call your local clinic and ask them about any funding sources they might be able to connect you with, and the National Abortion Federation has a hotline that can help with abortion referrals and financial assistance.

More questions? AbortionIsLegal.org has got you. Find resources for paying for abortion, medication abortion options, and locating a clinic at their website.

Finally: Take a deep breath. Things are really scary right now, but there are a lot of people on your side: advocates working tireless to fight these laws and to help pregnant people access abortion care, and abortion providers in neighboring states ready to welcome patients to their clinics.