Women–and men–have fought hard to feel free and safe about sex and their bodies. And their gains for equality, while appearing exponential, proliferate all sorts of controversy and backlash. Like 1973 (Roe v. Wade), 2014 so far may be a year for the textbooks. Here’s a look at why, and why there’s still some space for progress:
RAPE ON CAMPUS
On May 1, the Obama Administration released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for improper handling of campus rape cases. This unprecedented move identified Ivy League, private and public institutions alike. A few days prior, the White House published a fact sheet calling attention to the alarming statistics of campus rape and what the recently formed White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault plans to do to address the issue.
California’s Senate passed the “Student safety: sexual assault bill” on August 29. It’s been called the “yes means yes” bill, as opposed to the popular phrase “no means no.” For a university to receive state funds, it must adopt the policy of the bill. Namely, when handling sexual assault cases on campus, lack of protest is not compelling enough to indicate consent. Instead, affirmative consent means “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” according to the bill. Governor Jerry Brown has until late September to sign the bill into law.
It’s been a roller coaster for birth control. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) originally mandated that plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace must cover contraceptive methods completely. These methods include birth control, emergency contraception and even counseling, among other things.
The Supreme Court, in late June, hit the law with its 5-4 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, favoring Hobby Lobby’s claim that the ACA violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services updated their guidelines for both for-profits and nonprofits, writing “group plans established or maintained by certain religious employers…are exempt from otherwise applicable requirement to cover certain contraceptive services.” Meaning, some women working for qualifying organizations will have to pay out of pocket for contraceptive services.
Birth control could become a lot simpler and accessible in the future. MicroCHIPS, a startup from Lexington, Massachusetts, made headlines with its announcement of an implantable, wireless MicroChip Drug Delivery Device. Bill Gates recognized that the technology could deliver levonorgestrel, a common contraceptive hormone, into the body. A 20 x 20 x 17 millimeter chip holds enough hormone for 16 years. Women can turn the chip off when they want to conceive, meaning more control and one less trip to the doctor. MicroCHIPS wants the chip on the market by 2018, after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. In the meantime, the startup must conduct more research and ensure protection from “hackers.”
The topic remains a heated one in political circles, especially amid midterm election season. Republican Cory Gardner, running for a Senate seat in Colorado, has proposed a bill that allows women to receive birth control over the counter, thereby avoiding the hassle and expense of visiting the doctor. Yet Gardner’s been criticized of using the birth control issue to receive more votes from women, despite the fact that he opposes abortion rights. Recently, he was identified as a cosponsor of the Life at Conception Act.
Detecting date rape drugs can be as easy as a wave of the finger: Undercover Colors announced a nail polish that changes colors when exposed to date rape drugs. It’s currently in the development stage. On August 27, Cofounder and CEO Tyler Confrey-Maloney announced on Facebook that the proof-of-concept research has been very successful.
Pd.id, created by David Wilson, is a 80 x 20 x 6 millimeter “Personal Drink ID.” It’s scheduled for sale in April of 2015, at $75 each (more about its goals and timelines can be found on its Indiegogo page). Battery-powered for between 30-40 uses, the device flashes or sends a phone alert when immersed in a drink that has been drugged.
Critics decry that these tools place the responsibility onto the victim. That is, once such methods are available, date rape would be considered something preventable and victims can be blamed for failing to detect a drugged drink. Yet others argue rape is rape and the blame doesn’t slide over. Undercover Colors views it differently, saying nothing about “responsibility” or “blame,” but instead, that these detectors shift the fear onto the perpetrator.
September 1 marked the deadline for abortion clinics in Texas to meet certain provisions under House Bill 2. All clinics must adhere to the building, equipment and staffing standards of ambulatory surgery centers, according to the bill. Most of the existing clinics in Texas need to shut down due to lack of funding for renovations to meet these standards. However, on August 29, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel struck out the rule, claiming the restrictions on a woman’s ability to get an abortion were unjustified and without significant medical benefit. The Texas Attorney General plans to appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court.
Federal courts and anti-abortion laws in the South have been at odds. Judges have prevented the only abortion clinic in Mississippi and three of five in Alabama from closing. On August 31, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the enforcement of the state’s latest abortion law. The law requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic. Three of the five clinics sued to overturn the law, which would force them to shut down.
Abortion and campus coverage remain controversial topics. Michelle Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, sent letters to insurance companies, banning religious institutions from not covering abortions. The letters, sent on August 25, stated that “[A]ll health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.”
This comes seven weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Wheaton College, allowing a temporary non-compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The college no longer has to cover contraceptive care services due to religious beliefs, at least for the time being. Female justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan expressed whole-hearted disagreement with the ruling. The New York Times quoted Justice Sotomayor, who wrote, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”
Image via Dave Bledsoe