Federal Policy Updates
Attacks on Health Care
First ACA Repeal Attempt Crashes and Burns
Last week, Republican members of Congress failed in their efforts to pass a bill which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”) and gutted the Medicaid program. In response to powerful grassroots advocacy, House Republican leaders pulled the American Health Care Act (the ACA repeal bill) minutes before it was scheduled for a vote, acknowledging that, despite days of negotiations and pressure from the Speaker of the House and the President, they did not have the votes to pass the legislation. Had it passed, the bill would have stripped tens of millions of Americans of their health care coverage (including many people living with HIV) while making insurance more expensive and less comprehensive for everyone else. And we had an impact: The HIV advocacy community alone made nearly 1,300 calls to our representatives to demand that they protect health care and vote against the bill. As a result of activism from ordinary people like us, as well as in-fighting within the Republican party, the ACA remains intact for now.
It is unclear what the next step will be for Republicans in Congress in their efforts to dismantle the health care system. While some reports indicate that House republicans are considering reintroducing the health care bill again soon, other sources say that there is no plan to revisit the health bill any time soon, and that the GOP is planning to move on to tax reform. Either way, we know that conservative members of Congress are committed to undoing the protections of the ACA and slashing Medicaid, so we must stay vigilant and ready to respond to their next move.
Furthermore, we must continue to monitor the Administration’s actions, as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has made it clear that he will attempt to use his regulatory power to undermine key provisions of the ACA, such as the requirement that insurance plans cover Essential Health Benefits (EHBs). Read more about EHBs and why they are so important for ensuring access to basic health services here or here.
Inhumane White House Budget Slashes Vital Programs and Research
The president recently released his “skinny budget,” calling for drastic cuts to some of our most essential programs and services and redirecting those funds to increase military spending by $54 billion. These cuts would mostly severely impact the most vulnerable among us—low-income folks, people of color, seniors and children–and will also decimate federal agencies that oversee health and other essential services. 45’s proposed budget includes massive cuts to PEPFAR, the global HIV/AIDS relief program, domestic HIV prevention programs, PELL grants for low-income college students, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which conducts our national medical research, and eliminates funding for legal services for low-income people. This cruel and unworkable budget is already facing resistance in Congress and across the country. You can email your members of Congress in seconds with our budget action email tool.
Anti-LGBTQ Activist Appointed to Lead Civil Rights Enforcement for Health Care
While Republicans in Congress were focused on destroying health care for low-income communities last month, Trump quietly appointed Roger Severino to lead the Civil Rights Division of Health and Human Services (HHS). Severino comes from the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, and has a long history of being anti-trans and anti-LGB. Among other concerns, this appointment represents a huge blow to enforcement of the non-discrimination provisions of the ACA, which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability and age in health programs and activities. Severino will be in charge of enforcing this provision, which he has actively opposed in the past. Read more here.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Watch
Support the Women’s Health Protection Act (S.510/H.R. 1322)
The Women’s Health Protection Act (“WHPA” also called S. 510/H.R. 1322) is a federal bill that was introduced in Congress on March 2 with support from over 100 members of Congress and a broad group of organizations, including PWN-USA, PWN-US Georgia, and PWN-USA New York. The proposed law would prevent states from further restricting abortion services through unnecessary ultrasounds, mandatory waiting periods, and “TRAP” (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) laws. These requirements do not apply to similar medical care, interfere with bodily autonomy and personal decision making, and block access to safe, legal abortion care. Learn more and join the campaign to Act for Women here.
Men Make Decisions about Women’s Rights and Bodies – Again
On March 30, Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to pass an anti-women’s health bill forward that will undermine Title X, the nation’s family planning program. Vice Presidents rarely use their tie-breaking privilege; Pence has already used his twice within two months. The bill overturns an Obama Administration rule that prohibits state governments from discriminating against family planning health care providers, including Planned Parenthood health centers and independent clinics. The law, which Trump is expected to sign, will allow states to block people from accessing care at a health center of their choice if it also provides abortion. Overturning the rule will impact health care access for over 4 million people who rely on Title X family planning services. Read more here.
World Health Organization Launches SRHR and HIV Linkage Toolkit
The World Health Organization (WHO) released its Consolidated Guideline on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of Women Living with HIV in February. Now, they have also launched an e-toolkit–a simple to use online toolkit that guides users through SRHR and HIV Linkages resources, making it easier to directly access what one needs. The toolkit is available here.
Dangerous Supreme Court Nominee Faces Critical Moment as Democrats Threaten to Block Vote
After Republicans in the Senate blocked President Obama’s moderate nominee for Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, for an entire year, Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, who has an abominable record on women’s rights and workers’ rights. If confirmed, Gorusch will be a deciding vote in cases that could severely erode women’s reproductive rights, voting rights and the rights of workers to organize collectively for improved pay and benefits. And because Supreme Court appointments are for life, he could shape U.S. laws and policies in a regressive way for decades. Democratic leaders in the Senate have indicated that they might filibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation, which means they would obstruct the Senate from voting to confirm him. However, Republican senators have threatened to change the Senate rules (referred to as the “nuclear option”) so fewer votes are required for Gorsuch to be confirmed if they don’t get their way. This is unacceptable. Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings have already taken place, and the full Senate is expected to vote on April 7.
Immigrant Rights, Safety and Dignity
“New” Immigration Ban, Still Unconstitutional
Last month, Trump issued a revised executive order on immigration after his ban targeting Muslims and refugees was blocked by several courts. Fortunately, enforcement of the “new” immigration order has been temporarily halted by a court in Hawaii. Read more here.
Attacks on LGBTQ Community Members
Trump Seeks to Make LGBTQ People Invisible and Limit Protections
Last week, Trump signed an executive order revoking orders made by President Obama that required companies receiving large contracts from the federal government to show that they are following federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender. In effect, this order attempts to allow federal contractors to discriminate against their LGBT employees. Read more here.
In another anti-LGBT move, the Administration recently disclosed that the 2020 census and other federal surveys will not exclude questions which gather data about sexual orientation and gender identity. Collecting such data is both an institutional acknowledgement that LGBTQ individuals exist and it’s necessary to ensure resources are allocated to these communities. However, these efforts are being blocked by the Trump administration, which would rather try to make LGBT people invisible. Read more here.
REPEAL Act Addressing HIV Criminalization Reintroduced!
Last week, Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D – CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) reintroduced the bipartisan Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (REPEAL) HIV Discrimination Act (H.R. 1739), which encourages state and federal legislators to work together to modernize outdated laws relating to HIV. H.R. 1739 was introduced with the strong support of 28 congressional co-sponsors, and marks an important step forward in ending HIV criminalization across the country. Read more about the REPEAL Act and see if your representative has already signed on here.
State Policy Roundup
Trans Rights; Women’s Rights Under Attack
North Carolina lawmakers didn’t repeal their anti-trans legislation; they just pretended to
Facing tremendous pressure to do away with HB2, including an economic boycott that was projected to cost North Carolina $3.7 billion over a 12-year period, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper struck a deal with Republican legislators to replace the infamous anti-trans “bathroom bill” with a new law. Unfortunately, the new law does not take steps to advance trans rights, it merely provides political cover. HB2, a state bill, was originally created as a reactionary response to progressive ordinance passed in Charlotte, which established that people of trans experience had the right to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. The new legislation passed to “repeal” HB2 prohibits city governments from creating anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020. This is an unacceptable compromise. Read more here.
New Arkansas bill requires interrogating patients prior to abortion procedures
HB 1434, signed into law in Arkansas last week, will require doctors to investigate their patients’ medical records before providing them with a legal abortion. This represents an attempt to police reasons why women might seek an abortion, and could end up delaying abortion procedures, so that they are no longer feasible. When implemented in January 2018, Arkansas would be the first state to require providers to invade women’s privacy in this way based on their need to access an abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge HB 1434 in court.
Resistance & Victories
The PWN community and the nation continue to fight back against the attacks on our civil rights, bodies, and freedom. Check out the Resistance Calendar, which lists information about ongoing resistance events throughout the country. PWN-USA is also joining Beyond the Moment, convened by the Movement for Black Lives and joining diverse organizations across the country to use the momentum from the first few months of the resistance to create a sustainable mass movement that can make real change. We will be participating in and sharing information about marches, demonstrations and protests on May Day (May 1, International Workers’ Day)–stay tuned!
Florida Makes Progress on Modernizing HIV Criminal Laws
On March 21, the Florida State Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee unanimously voted in favor of Senate Bill 628, which modernizes Florida statutes regarding sexually transmissible infections (STIs) to reflect advances in scientific knowledge and medical treatment, particularly as they concern prevention and treatment of HIV. The bill is supported by the Florida HIV Justice Coalition, a group of physicians, healthcare workers, legal, public health and policy professionals, people living with HIV, including PWN members, and other allies, working to raise awareness and mobilize support for reforming HIV criminal laws in Florida.
What’s Happening Where You Live?
We want to hear from you! How are you advocating for rights of people living with HIV? Send your updates to Cammie at Cammie.firstname.lastname@example.org or join our monthly Policy Workgroup call (women living with HIV only) to report back.
Want to discuss these issues in more detail and learn how public policies and laws affect people living with and affected by HIV? Join a PWN-USA Policy Workgroup call on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT. The PWN-USA Policy Workgroup is for women living with HIV only. To be added to the Policy Workgroup listserv, please check the Policy Workgroup box when you fill out our membership form here.