This Health Foundation is Investing in BIRTHRIGHT, a Critical Public Health Film for Women

Leading discussion at the opening New York City screening. Left to right: Luchina Fisher, producer; Lynn Paltrow, Executive Producer, National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Civia Tamarkin, Director, Writer and Executive Producer; and Dr. Ruth Shaber, Founder, Tara Health Foundation and Executive Producer

Collectively, state legislatures passed 288 restrictions on women’s reproductive rights between 2010 to 2015. Now, a new film tells the stories of women’s horrific health experiences, and the imprisonments, both actual and threatened, that are a consequence of these laws.

Birthright: A War Story is a new documentary that exposes the radical religious right’s infiltration state legislatures. This movement’s goal is not only to strike down women’s constitutional right to abortion but also to curb women’s access to birth control. Some seek to put the rights of fetuses above those of women.

This is the Real-Life ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

The 1 hour, 40 minute film just completed a highly successful week’s run in New York City before engaged and enthusiastic audiences. This Friday, July 28 it opens in Beverly Hills at the Laemmle Music Hall for another one week run. These two theatrical runs qualify the film for consideration for an Academy Award, a critical step in a documentary’s path to notoriety and success.

Director Civia Tamarkin, a seasoned television investigative journalist, was motivated to produce BIRTHRIGHT after the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby. “I was shocked not only by the Supreme Court ruling, but by the lack of awareness from young women that their rights were being jeopardized. People were not taking to the streets.”

Unlike most filmmaking, Tamarkin said, “Ironically, it proved easier to raise money than to get people to go on camera.” The director underscored in an interview with Philanthropy Women, “Practitioners were reluctant to come forward. They were worried about repercussions…..especially about repercussions of violence. ”

Lest we forget, the National Abortion Federation keeps records of this violence. Eleven people have died and 26 attempted murders have occurred due to anti-abortion violence. A federal law, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE or the Access Act), passed in 1994 to address such violence. Rewire recently produced an informative short video about the daily harassment that continues to occur at clinics.

Dr. Ruth Shaber, after a twenty five year career as an obstetrician and gynecologist, in 2014 created the Tara Health Foundation. The mission of Tara Health is to “improve the health and well-being of women and girls through the creative use of philanthropic capital.” Tara Health Foundation takes a holistic approach to its grant making as well as its capital management.

Most intriguing to this author was Shaber’s focus on bringing the principles of evidence-based health medicine into philanthropy. She explained,“Evidence-based health is conceived using science. You have an intervention, and then you look at the impact on a desired outcome. In philanthropy, on both the granting-making and the investment side, decisions are more driven by intuition. It is not a sufficient scientific methodology.”

At a national meeting, Shaber heard Dr. David Grimes of the Center for Disease Control speak of the threats to public health that regressive abortion laws are creating. Shaber, as a doctor turned philanthropist, came home from that meeting in November 2015 and realized: “We needed to remind people that abortion and contraception were protecting women’s health.”

Shaber started networking like crazy, on a mission to make a movie akin to An Inconvenient Truth for women’s health. “I knew nothing about filmmaking or media, but I put my name out there and let people know that I was interested in doing this work.

Those in film know how exceedingly rare it is for a potential backer to be knocking on the door of a film director, but not long after putting out the word, Dr. Shaber heard of Tamarkin’s project and called her up. By this time, Tamarkin had completed development and shot a few interviews, enough to create a fundraising trailer.

The two women realized their goals were aligned. Instead of a grant, they struck up an equity investment agreement. Dr. Shaber recounted, “I wanted to have more of a business relationship with the film, so we had to  strike new ground.”

Shaber and Tamarkin found very few in the foundation world who could advise them. But by discussing strategies, the two were able to conceive up a straight-up investment plan. The key selling point of the strategy for investors would be that they would be able to say that profits from the film would be returned to Tara Health Foundation and be deployed for the reproductive rights of women and girls. 

The $675,000 equity investment from Tara Health Foundation enabled Tamarkin and her production team to concentrate solely on conducting the interviews, editing and polishing the completed film. Ruth Shaber became an executive producer of the film, in essence leveraging both financial and human capital to produce the film

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In addition to investing in the production, Tara Health Foundation has also provided a $325,000 grant for community outreach for the film. In this writer’s experience, this promotional work is a most vital component of the process, and is rare in the production of independent advocacy films like BirthrightPicture Motion, with a track record in this arena, has been hired to design the national campaign strategy that will maximize the film’s social impact. 

Dr. Shaber is optimistic about the outreach screenings. “Each one will have its own character whether it is individuals or organizations, whether they do them as fundraisers or awareness builders.” So far, one outreach screening has occurred in Colorado, a very successful event organized by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with numerous other groups. Birthright’s theatrical distributor, Abramorama, just launched the commercial/art house run of the film, which precedes any community campaign. 

Cristina Aguilar, Executive Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), one of the participating organizations in the July 10 community screening, talked about the value of the film in terms of women and maternal health, noting that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. “Women of color are experiencing an increase in pregnancy complications. On top of this tragic and unacceptable public health crisis, the bodies and pregnancies of marginalized communities are a target of unjust and discriminatory laws and policies.”

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Kelly Baden saw the film at the partnering organization, Center for Reproductive Rights. Thirteen partnering organizations, listed in the Take Action pulldown, are the initial core outreach network. Baden is now in a brand new position as the first Director of Reproductive Rights of State Innovation Exchange, a national resource and strategy hub for advancing and defending progressive policies at the state level. 

In an interview with Philanthropy Women, Baden noted that laws restricting abortion and other reproductive rights are often pushed through hostile state legislatures without input from the very women who will feel their impact most. “Anti-abortion legislators should – at the very least – listen to stories like those featured in Birthright and be forced to grapple with the consequences of using women’s healthcare to score political points.”

State legislatures are not the only problem. A fundraising appeal from Jodi Jacobson, publisher of Rewire , sent out July 19, reminds readers that Teresa Manning, who now runs the Office of Population Affairs at the CDC, does not support evidence-based health contraception. “[She] relies on junk science and falsehoods to advocate for anti-choice policies,” the Rewire appeal states. $286 million is at Manning’s disposal in federal family planning funds to low-income Americans. Decades of health progress for women are at stake.

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When asked about how Birthright fit into the long history of women’s health films like After Tiller and Trapped, director, writer, and executive producer Tamarkan was adamant that “Birthright is an overview. The issue is not abortion. It is about women’s bodily integrity.”

Additional theatrical screenings are in the works. Small Star Art House in York, Pennsylvania, is listed, as is Gateway Film Center in Columbus, Ohio. Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY is on the roster, too. None yet have dates. Other potential screenings are in the works in Lincoln, Nebraska: Dallas and Austin, Texas, and Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona.

If you want updates on the screenings, keep checking the Birthright website. If you want a screening in your community, simultaneously contact your local movie theatre and fill out the form on Birthright’s webpage. Make it happen. You’ll be glad you did. Women Make Movies is handling educational distribution for college campus campaigns. 

Fabulously,” was Shaber’s response when asked how the New York opening screenings went. “I think we are really lighting a match under people so they are connecting to an issue that they have not thought about enough.”

(Full disclosure, the author is a co-founder of Women Make Movies, the non-profit, educational feminist film organization.)

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Women, Hide Your Wallets: The GOP Wants to Defund Your Health Care

A massive defunding for women is now under consideration in the United States Senate. All told, it represents billions of dollars annually that will come straight out of primarily women’s wallets. 

You may not usually think of the federal government as a philanthropic institution. Yet from our country’s start,  congressional acts have subsidized various segments of the population and for a variety of reasons. Take the 1792 Postal Act. A spirited debate went on in the second session of Congress, over maintaining access to information. That Congress voted to create low postal rates for newspapers and to improve roads by creating postal routes to ensure expansion and development of our fledgling country, rather than solely serve existing communities. Americans still benefit from reduced media postal rates today.

The proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) put forth by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 115th Session is an entirely different matter. It will adversely impact the finances of women – particularly poor women and women of color, and all rural people, especially women. By cutting off funding – just so the wealthy 1% can get tax breaks – American adult women, 126 million strong, will again have to shell out of pocket money for all kinds of basic health care or forego health services, often to the detriment of their own well-being and the well-being of their families. People will die as a result of this bill. The greater proportion of those deaths will be women.

Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated it succinctly, “It is outrageous that a group of men are negotiating to make it harder for women to prevent unintended pregnancy, harder to have a healthy pregnancy and harder to raise a healthy child.”

The Impact on Medicaid

The Better Care Reconciliation Act proposes gigantic cuts in Medicaid, rolling back the expansions that were put in place by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. An estimated $772 Billion will be siphoned off from this program that benefits low income people. This impacts 25 million women in the US, who are 36% of the Medicaid beneficiaries. Their children, under age 18, are another 44% of Medicaid recipients. Over the first 10 years of this proposed bill the deep cuts into medicaid are expected to be 25%, but in the 2nd decade starting after 2027, the cuts go far deeper to 35%.

These Medicaid cuts threaten rural hospitals. Simply, many will close. As a group, 14% of their budgets come through medicaid reimbursements for their services.

Though not named, criteria specifically targets Planned Parenthood for the chopping block, however, at present, only for one year. This vital health service agency provides everything from cancer screenings to birth control. It has historically served one in five women in America. Planned Parenthood would be denied reimbursement, like other health care agencies, for the low income women, who comprise over 50 percent of their patients. In 2015 Planned Parenthood affiliates received $553.7 million in government reimbursements and grants for services. This means some 2.4 million women who regularly use the 600 Planned Parenthood facilities across America will no longer have access to these vital services.

Many conservative lawmakers claim women can as easily be served by other existing clinics.“…[Community health centers] are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all of the controversy surrounding this [abortion] issue,” touted House Speaker Paul Ryan in January. But a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that these other community clinics could not make up for the flood of uninsured patients to their doors.

Further, in an investigation by Rewire, numerous of these clinics are religious in affiliation and fail to offer a full range of reproductive health care. They restrict family planning. So, in fact they are both in contradiction to the services offered at Planned Parenthood clinics and fail to adhere to the tenets of the ACA.

Being Female, A Pre-existing Condition

The Senate’s BCRA bill, like the House’s version, the AHCA, avoids outright omissions of the essential success of the Affordable Health Act. That is the inclusion of all people in health insurance despite so-called pre-existing conditions. Prior to the ACA women universally had to pay higher premiums solely due to their sex as a pre-existing condition.

The BCRA and the AHCA theoretically keep pre-existing conditions. But the laws pass the political buck to states to allow for waivers that effect various types of pre-existing conditions. “Because they [the states] are closer to the public’s health needs,” numerous Congressional supporters of the two bills disingenuously claim, the states can make the decision on how to handle pre-existing conditions.

But combined with all the fiscal cuts, many states will be hard pressed to shoulder the costs related to pre-existing conditions. Instead, the public will get a hodge-podge of programs that will make some states semi-bright beacons of partial health coverage and others wilting lilies where poor citizens are on the hook personally for the high and rising costs of health care that they cannot afford. This dynamic will have larger ramifications on the impact of businesses to attract workers and other developments and programs within certain states. It is a far cry from the 1792 Postal Act. Or Obamacare.

People of color in larger numbers have historically lacked insurance. The ACA started to close that gap, though there is far more to go. The Groundswell Fund and Ms. Foundation for Women are two foundations that for decades have supported women of color health groups addressing these disparities. It is from these groups that new theoretical frameworks and progressive advancements like Reproductive Justice have emerged and that, in turn, have impacted the international health community.

Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO of Ms. Foundation said, “The bill is called The Bettercare Act but it will only result in worse care for women of color. [ It ] siphons resources to pay for yet another tax cut for rich white men. It’s clear women of color are in Conservatives’ anti-woman, pro-billionaire crosshairs with this bill, but women of color won’t stand for it. We are literally fighting for our survival.”

The Impact on Birth Control

Not until 1965 did birth control become legal. State laws prohibiting it were struck down that year in Griswold v. Connecticutt by the Supreme Court.

Post 1965, with oral contraceptives available since 1961, almost three generations of sexually active women have practiced birth control. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, contraceptions make up an estimated 30-44% of out-of-pocket spendingfor their health care by sexually active women.  The ACA recognizes the unique health needs of women throughout their lifespan. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) created a set of guidelines for women’s care. This includes contraception. An estimated $1.4 billion in the first year alone of Obamacare was saved by 55 million women because they had access to birth control through copayments in their health insurance.

Despite 71% of the US population being in favor of full coverage of birth control, the current administration is not listening. The BCRA does not directly strike down the birth control provision, but already rumors are afoot that the Tom Price lead Health and Human Services Department is about to do away with a component of the benefit.

The first line of attack on this widely acceptable copay is based on religious and moral grounds. In a leaked rule, the Trump administration may be poised to significantly roll back birth control through the ACA. Building on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, it would allow any employer or university to deny coverage based on their beliefs. Religious and moral grounds of women are obliterated. Also, there seems to be an attempt to bypass the mandated 60-day public comment period.

$200 Billion in Incentives Luring Senators to Pass BCRA

Women are primary caregivers, tending to the upbringing of children and caring for aging parents. The majority of this work is unpaid labor. Women’s reproductive organs warrant greater health care. Combined, these factors mean women interact with health care providers far more frequently than men. Cutting funds for some of the most essential health needs of women as provided in the ACA is a direct slap in the face to 51% of the US population.

McConnell’s pulling of the BCRA just before the Fourth of July recess was momentary. To understand better the horse trading that the Senate Majority Leader has at his disposal to get Senators on board his health care train wreck, long time Hill correspondent, Michael McAuliff, has written an especially informative article. Hint, the reporter calls it “Candy”. While he makes no mention of women per se, McAuliff explains how the Majority Leader has about $200 billion worth of incentives at his disposal. That’s our tax money at play, being used as inducements to decimate our health care systems.

Gloria Feldt, who for thirty years worked with Planned Parenthood, ten years as President and CEO of the Federation, and is now co-founder of Take The Lead Women, summed it up this way: “Families who thought their company plans would cover a new child’s birth may find themselves paying a very high premium just to have coverage–and then be bankrupted by devastating costs if there are complications of pregnancy or birth. [The BCRA creates] high profits for insurance companies. Now that’s about as foolish a piece of legislation as you can get.”