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Covering All the Bases

In a surprising turn of events last Tuesday (Feb. 5), the New York state Senate voted 48-8 for a women’s health bill that would require health insurers to provide coverage for birth control. The vote has infuriated Catholic organizations across the state, but has thrilled family-planning advocates.

“We are certainly very pleased that the Senate has taken this big step toward bringing this bill closer to becoming a law,” said Blue Carreker, the director of public relations for Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. “We realize that took a posture of compromise on the part of many senators who have differing opinions on the legislation.”

For the past four years, the Senate’s version of the bill included a “conscience clause,” which exempted Catholic organizations, including churches, universities and schools, from providing coverage for contraceptives for their employees. But last week’s bill allows only religious employers whose employees share the same religious beliefs to opt out of providing the coverage; the exemption would apply primarily to churches.

“It is derogatorily known in Catholic circles as the ‘pastor and housekeeper exemption’ because that is about all that it protects,” said Dennis Poust, associate director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference. “We are disappointed. We feel that the Senate abandoned us on this and went back on their word.”

Many view this sudden change of heart as a strategic political move by the Republican-controlled Senate to maintain a seat in a liberal Manhattan Senate district. Republican Assemblyman John Ravitz (R-L-I-Manhattan) is running this week in a special election to replace retired Sen. Roy Goodman (R-L-Manhattan).

Poust, who insists that his organization only wants an exemption on the contraceptive mandate, said that the group will consider legal action if Gov. George Pataki signs the bill into law. The state government in California was sued two years ago by Sacramento Catholic Charities for passing a law almost identical to the bill passed last week by the Senate. The California suit is still pending.

“Being that the Catholic Church has a historic moral opposition to contraception, it’s a violation of our faith to provide it to our employees,” said Poust.

But whether or not this bill will make it to the governor’s desk any time soon is still unclear.

The Assembly bill goes further than the Senate’s: It would eliminate co-payments for breast and cervical cancer screening and osteoporosis screening, in addition to requiring coverage of contraception; also, the Assembly would like to require all organizations—including churches—to pay for contraception coverage. But the Senate is refusing to meet with Assembly leaders to work out a compromise on the two bills.

“While we would have preferred the Senate go all the way and eliminate deductibles and eliminate co-pays,” said Carreker, “this is a major step forward, and we really applaud them for taking it. So let’s just finish it.”

—Nancy Guerin


Dirty Money
Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

They came out dressed as cleaning people with rubber gloves, plastic aprons and painter’s hats. They carried signs attached to brooms and mops that read: “Clean up your act,” “Your dirty money stinks,” and “Enron proves the need for Clean Money, Clean Elections”; and they chanted “Government for sale, $1,000 a plate.”

This was the scene outside of two $1,000-a-head fund-raisers taking place in Albany and Troy on Monday night. While politicians were inside rubbing elbows with possible donors, protesters were outside calling for campaign-finance reform.

The demonstrators first appeared in front of the Albany Crowne Plaza, where Senate Republicans held a fund-raising event; the group then reconvened at Franklin Plaza in Troy, where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-L-Manhattan) was hosting his own fund-raiser.

“We are here to tell them it’s time to clean up the whole corruption morass,” said Joe Seeman, chair of the Alliance for Democracy’s Capital District chapter. “We can’t get rid of the Enron scandal until we drain the entire swamp of the corruption, that of legalized bribery that goes on everyday.”

John Bartholomew, clean elections coordinator for Citizen Action of New York, said that under clean money/clean elections reform, candidates who agree to limit campaign spending and refuse private money would receive equal amounts of public funds to run for office.

“The cost of campaigning has become outrageous, and shuts out many good candidates from running for office,” said Bartholomew. “Those who run pay more attention to wealthy special-interest donors than they do to voters.”



Photo by Teri Currie

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day was recognized last Thursday (Feb. 7) at the Living Word Tabernacle Church in Albany. AIDS service providers and representatives from local churches and community agencies gathered to speak about the alarming infection rates of HIV and AIDS among African-Americans. Speakers also encouraged individuals to get tested for HIV and AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that almost 60 percent of all new HIV infections are occurring among people of color.

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