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On Monday, the United States Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship before being allowed register to vote.
In an opinion written [PDF] by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled that the Arizona statute violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also known as the "Motor Voter Law") of 1993, which created a federal form that individuals can mail in to register to vote in federal elections. No proof of citizenship is required to complete the form, however each applicant must sign that he or she is a citizen of the United States under penalty of perjury. Scalia wrote, "We conclude that the fairest reading of the statute is that a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizenship not required by the Federal Form is 'inconsistent with' the NVRA's mandate that States 'accept and use' the Federal Form." He continued, "The states' role in regulating congressional elections - while weighty and worthy of respect - has always existed subject to the express qualification that it terminates according to federal law."
Justice Kennedy concurred with six other justices, but submitted his own opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the majority ruling, arguing that states had the final right to determine voter eligibility, even in federal elections, and can request supplemental information to confirm a person's eligibility respectively.
The ruling calls into question similar laws in four other states - Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and Tennessee. Although the ruling prohibits requiring proof of citizenship to register for federal elections, the Court determined that a state may still require proof of citizenship for eligibility to vote in state/local elections.
Technical Sergeant Jaime Rodriguez was sentenced Friday to 27 years in prison for sexually assaulting over 20 women during his 13-year tenure in the Air Force. Rodriguez, 34, was a recruiter at Lackland Air Force Base who worked frequently with high school students seeking careers in the military branch. 18 women testified against him in the case.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to six charges and 23 cases of wrongdoing and was convicted by a jury on charges of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, wrongful sexual contact, indecent exposure, and non-forcible sodomy. Jurors acquitted him of charges of rape and forcible sodomy. He faced up to 116 years in prison.
Rodriguez's sentence is the longest prison term to date in an Air Force scandal.
During his hearing, Rodriguez revealed patterns of sexually violent and abusive behavior which he initiated with victims as young as 17. According to his testimony, he would often initiate or attempt to initiate sexual relationships with recruits upon their first meeting at his Houston-area office, following up his flirtatious behavior with texts, phone calls, and Yahoo! instant messages about sex and sometimes containing graphic sexual imagery. He would attempt to make clear during these liaisons that the victims were not to talk to people about what was happening. Many women left the Air Force or pursued careers in other branches of the armed forces after their experiences with Rodriguez.
"I was very innocent and naive," one victim testified. She was on active duty when Rodriguez and another recruiter began asking her sexually explicit questions on her second day in the force. "I had never been in a situation like that before," she added on the stand.
Another victim received, according to records, 934 phone calls or text messages from Rodriguez between September and October 2011. These were made from his government-issued cell phone. "It became more, like, predatory," she testified, explaining that he had been professional during their initial meeting but then began frequently contacting her. Her mother eventually discovered suggestive images on her cell phone, including a photograph of Rodriguez in his boxers, which she found "disturbing." According to a Marine recruiter, Rodriguez later sought to create and send fraudulent email correspondence from her mother claiming that she wouldn’t press charges.
In addition to Rodriguez’s prison sentence, he was reduced in rank to the lowest in the Air Force of airman basic. He will be dishonorably discharged once he leaves prison. He will forfeit all pay and allowances.
6/17/2013 - NASA Selects 8 New Astronauts, Half are Women
On Monday, the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA) announced eight new astronaut trainees. The trainees, half of whom are women, will train to explore low-Earth orbit, an asteroid, and Mars starting in August.
The eight candidates were selected from over 6,100 applicants, the second largest amount NASA has ever received. According to a press release from NASA, the biographies for the four women are as follows:
"Christina M. Hammock, 34, calls Jacksonville, N.C. home. Hammock holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C. She currently is serving as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Station Chief in American Samoa.
Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Major, U.S. Marine Corps, originally is from Penngrove, Calif. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Stanford (Calif.) University and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Patuxent River, Md. Mann is an F/A 18 pilot, currently serving as an Integrated Product Team Lead at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.
Anne C. McClain, 34, Major, U.S. Army, lists her hometown as Spokane, Wash. She is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the University of Bath and the University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom. McClain is an OH-58 helicopter pilot, and a recent graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River.
Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D., 35 is from Caribou, Maine. She is a graduate of Brown University, has an advanced degree from the International Space University, and earned her doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Meir currently is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston."
As of today, only 57 of the 534 people who have flown in space have been women. Currently there are 12 active female astronauts as part of NASA.
Falls Church Healthcare Center filed an appeal Monday against the Virginia Board of Health, the Department of Health, and Virginia State Health Commissioner Cynthia Romer over the TRAP regulations that were approved in April requiring clinics performing over five abortions a year to meet new building regulations.
The appeal claims that the Board of Health violated Governor Bob McDonnell's executive order requiring state agencies to take into account how regulations impact small businesses and make alternatives possible. Following the new regulations, which include changes like making additional parking available, replacing existing ceilings, and adding showers to all facilities for staff members, would cost the center over 60,000 dollars according to its Director, Rosemary Codding. Codding claims her Christian faith motivated her to challenge the new requirements so that women could continue to rely on her center for medical care.
The center describes the legislation's requirements as "onerous" and "impossible." They claim the requirements aren't based on medical need or sound medical practice. Their appeal focuses on the advice of medical doctors, which the Board of Health ignored in order to put the approved set of regulations in place.
The Falls Church Healthcare Center is expected to comply with the new regulations because they perform over five first trimester abortions each year. Unlike hospitals, healthcare practices like theirs are not eligible for permanent waivers when such regulations impose hardships on their establishments. Many advocates for abortion providers called Virginia's new regulations a "back door" method for banning abortion, but Codding feels more strongly.
"I don't think it's a back door," she told WUSA9. "I think it's a full front assault on women's health."
Various women in the Senate have vowed to continue the fight against military sexual assault despite Senator Carl Levin's announcement Tuesday that he would be removing a provision in the defense spending bill that would take sexually violent cases out of the chain of command.
Speaking to MSNBC's Chris Hayes Wednesday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, "You know, for 20 long years, various secretaries of defense have said these words: 'We have zero tolerance for this kind of activity in the military and were not going to allow it.' And every single secretary of defense never made the changes. We have to make the changes."
"It's very disappointing," she continued, "but I have to tell you - what they did today is embrace the status quo instead of embracing the victims and using this as an opportunity to bring needed change."
Levin claimed removing prosecution from the chain of command for sexually violent crimes would "weaken" response to sexual assault within each branch of the armed forces. But Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) disagreed with him, saying, "men and women who are brutally raped and assaulted in the military don't believe there's a possibility of justice."
It is estimated that over 26,000 men and women in the military experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012. Of those cases, only 3,374 were reported and only 302 of the incidents were prosecuted.
Boxer insists she and her colleagues, which include a bipartisan coalition of 27 Senators who backed her original legislation removing prosecution from the chain of command, will continue to advocate for her language in the defense bill. "We're going to fight to get it done we are going to get our day on the full Senate floor," she told Hayes.
Second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth was fired by Holy Trinity School in San Diego because of the events that followed her reporting her husband's domestic abuse. Her termination, which took full effect in April, has prompted her to speak out against the district's decision.
School officials sent Charlesworth a letter on April 11 terminating her 14-year tenure as a second-grade teacher, citing concerns about her husband's "threatening and menacing behavior." In January, she went on leave after a situation in which she called the police to report her husband three times. The next day, her abuser appeared in the school's parking lot and sent the school into lockdown. At that moment, Charlesworth and her four children were put on indefinite leave from teaching or attending the Diocese school. Three months later, she was told by the school that they "simply cannot allow" her to return to work. Her children no longer attend the school.
"They've taken away my ability to care for my kids," Charlesworth told local news reporters at KNSD, sharing her anxieties about finding another position before her salary ends in August. "I mean that's why women of domestic violence don't come forward," she added, "because they're afraid of the way people are going to see them, view them, perceive them, treat them."
In 2011, a study commissioned by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center revealed that 40 percent of domestic violence survivors in California report being fired or fearing termination. Charlesworth is no longer allowed to teach at any other Diocesan school.
6/13/2013 - House Committee Advances Nationwide Abortion Ban
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 20 to 12 along party lines to approve a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks nationwide. The bill now goes before the full House of Representatives, and could be brought up for debate as early as next week.
The bill, called the Pain Capable Child Protection Act, is sponsored by Trent Franks (R-AZ), and originally applied only to the District of Columbia. However, Franks decided to expand the bill nationwide following the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, a rogue doctor who performed illegal abortions in Pennsylvania. The bill does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormality, but does include an exception to save the life of the woman. Franks has introduced the bill in previous sessions of Congress, but it was defeated.
During the committee debate, sponsor Franks echoed other conservative lawmakers in their understanding of rape. Franks successfully dissuaded fellow lawmakers from amending the bill to include an exception from rape by arguing that "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low." This shows striking similarity to Representative Todd Akin's remark last year, that "...from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
After intense but brief debate, the Wisconsin state Senate approved a bill that could mandate transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion and impose unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics. The bill, SB 206 [PDF] was approved in a vote of 17 to 15 along party lines.
If the bill becomes law, women seeking an abortion will be forced to view an ultrasound and have a physician or ultrasound technician describe the fetus and it's stage of development in detail. For women who are early in a pregnancy, this could mean having to go through a transvaginal ultrasound to even view the fetus. There is also no provisions in the bill about funding for the mandatory ultrasounds, creating a financial barrier for some women. Supporters of the bill argue that women can find clinics that offer free ultrasounds before their procedures. Many of these clinics are Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) which use medically inaccurate information and religious ideology to pressure women to carry their pregnancies to term.
In addition to requiring women to view an ultrasound, SB 206 also requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility. This could close Planned Parenthood of Appleton, which is one of the only four abortion clinics in the entire state. Admitting privileges are not required to transfer a patient to a hospital in case of an emergency.
The bill goes before the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday where it is expected to pass. Governor Scott Walker has said that will sign the measure into law if it comes before his desk.
Yesterday, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) announced that he will remove a provision from the defense spending bill that would take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.
The measure was proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and would allow military prosecutors to decide which cases of sexual assault should go to trial instead of commanders, taking the cases out of the chain of command. The measure has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans. However, Levin announced that he would remove the provision and insert a new one that would require senior military officials to review sexual assault cases that commanders decide not to prosecute.
Aides for Gillibrand commented to news sources that Levin's decision was "a real setback." She plans to re-introduce the measure when the budget comes up for a final vote later in the summer. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a co-sponsor of Gillibrand's proposal, told reporters "They basically embrace the status quo here. It's outrageous."
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit to prevent an anti-abortion law that could threaten to close three out of the five clinics in the state from going into effect July 1.
The law, signed in April, requires that all abortions in the state be attended by an Alabama-licensed physician be present at every abortion and will require these doctors to have admitting privileges to local hospitals. According to the lawsuit, if the law goes into effect, three out of the total five abortion clinics in the state will be forced to shut their doors. In the complaint, the lawyers wrote, "The purpose and effect of the requirement, which is wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, is to impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion prior to viability... It is an unreasonable health regulation, and it has the unlawful purpose and effect of imposing an undue burden on women's right to choose abortion." If the law is allowed to go into effect on July 1, clinics will have 180 days to come into compliance.
Currently, the majority of clinics in Alabama have doctors who travel from out of state perform procedures. These doctors partner with local doctors with admitting privileges to provide necessary follow-up care. With the new measure, the doctors themselves must have the admitting privileges, severely limiting the ability of the current doctors to continue performing abortions in the state.
6/12/2013 - Women's Rights Advocate Wins Virginia Primary
Dr. Ralph Northam from Norfolk, Virginia, has won the Democratic primary for the Virginia Lieutenant Governor race with 56% of the vote.
Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, is also the only physician in the Virginia state Senate. He has been an outspoken voice against anti-choice measures in the state including the transvaginal ultrasound bill that gained national attention and the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law that has already closed abortion clinics in the state.
Northam will run on the Democratic ticket alongside Terry McAuliffe for governor and Mark Herring for attorney general. The Republican ticket will have current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli running for governor and minister E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor
The Birmingham City School District has promised to end their single-sex classes at the end of the Spring 2013 semester after signing an official agreement last week with the Office for Civil Rights. The agreement came out of an investigation prompted by the ACLU's "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" campaign in December 2012 that found the district had been in violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools.
The ACLU discovered that Huffman Middle School had been separating boys and girls in every grade and for every scheduled activity - including not only courses but also homeroom and lunch. At Huffman, boys were taught about "heroic behavior" and how "to be a man," and learned that girls were inferior to them in mathematics based on their hormonal differences. Researchers commissioned by the Birmingham City School District concluded that there was "no definitive proof" that student performance had improved due to sex segregation.
An ACLU report in August of 2012 found that public schools offering single-sex classes centered their practices on gendered stereotypes, and even served to reinforce them. An FMF study, the "State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States 2007-2010," released in June of the same year, found that there were over 1000 public K-12 U.S. schools with deliberate single-sex classes. It is likely most schools which sex-segregated students did not educate them equally.
School districts in Wisconsin and Idaho are also currently under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights following complaints filed by local ACLU chapters. In Wisconsin, teachers were encouraged to discipline boys who "like to read, do not enjoy contact sports, and do not have a lot of close male friends." In Idaho, role models were sought out for boys but not girls. Dr. Leonard Sax, a proponent of single-sex education who believes there are inherent differences between the brains of girls and boys, has influenced these school districts. His ideas were also the basis for same-sex education at Huffman.
The Obama administration Monday officially ended its opposition to over-the-counter sales of "Plan B One-Step," also known as the morning-after pill. Government attorneys filed federal documents in New York announcing that the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health and Human Services will remove age and point of sale restrictions on the emergency contraception.
Plan B One-Step, or PBOS, when taken within 72 hours of sexual activity, reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent without damaging a fetus or causing an abortion. If someone is already pregnant when they take Plan B, the pill has no effect.
An April 5 ruling by U.S. District Judge Edward Kormen demanded that PBOS be available over-the-counter to girls of any age, calling restrictions to the contrary "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable." The Obama administration responded by lowering the age of regulation for the pill from 17 to 15, and filed an appeal to the ruling in the 2nd Circuit Court. On June 5, that court ruled that the FDA had to immediately make available various forms of emergency contraception to anyone, regardless of age. The FDA has withdrawn that appeal and will now comply with the original ruling from April, which did not mandate the same over-the-counter availability for the two-pill version of the same product and its generics.
The FDA has asked Teva,, the manufacturer of PBOS, to submit a supplemental application for approval for the pill to be made available over-the-counter without age restrictions, according to a statement, and "intends to approve it promptly." Generic versions of the pill may eventually also be available.
Many women's groups are applauding the Obama Administration for dropping their appeal of Judge Kormen's decision. "It's about time," said Annie Tummino of National Women's Liberation, "that the administration stopped opposing women having access to safe and effective birth control."
The Obama administration, however, has made clear that this is not a reversal on their stance that emergency contraception should not be available over-the-counter to teens.
6/10/2013 - 50th Anniversary of Equal Pay Act
Fifty years ago today, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy, Jr. signed into law the Equal Pay Act, banning gender-based wage discrimination in the workplace. Yet on the anniversary of the historical legislation, women continue to face substantial pay inequity in the workforce.
Research compiled by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reveals that as early as one year out of college, salaries are marked by gender and race. White women make an average of 77 cents on every dollar a man makes, though the gap widens to 64 cents for African-American women and 55 cents for Latina women. African-American and Latino men also experience a disparity in pay, from their white counterparts. Though this data is indicative of a gross difference in salary, other factors like access to medical benefits and paid leave often denigrate women's earnings even further.
Many failings of the Equal Pay Act lie in the loopholes that have since been exploited in the bill, namely those allowing retaliation against employees who inquire about salary information for their peers and failing to require that employers prove that pay disparities aren't based in gender. These loopholes are addressed in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been introduced in Congress 16 times over the course of eight sessions by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). When the Act came to a Senate vote in June 2012, it failed to advance. All Republican members voted against it, even women.
The need for wage parity persists and has only increased over the past half of a century. Today, women are breadwinners in over 40 percent of households and occupy most administrative and office positions. "Never could we expect," Senate Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, "that 50 years later, we would still be fighting the fight."
6/10/2013 - Immigration Bills in the Works in Congress
An immigration overhaul coming from a bipartisan coalition within the Senate now faces three weeks of debate on the floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expects that it will come to a vote prior to the July 4 session break. If all 54 Democrats in the Senate vote for the bill, which is unlikely, the "Gang of 8" putting forward the over 800-page legislation would still need the support of upwards of six Republicans to prevent a filibuster. If passed in the Senate, the immigration reform package will face an uphill battle for passage in the House.
The legislation marks the first major set of reforms to immigration policy since President Ronald Reagan's administration. It lays out a pathway to citizenship for those in the United States illegally now, tighter border security regulations, and processes to open up legal entry into the country for more families and workers. Those who oppose the bill worry that it lacks strict enough border control and grants too much amnesty to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the US.
President Obama has urged Congress to work together to produce a bill before summer's end. He addressed the topic in his weekly radio address Saturday. "The bill before the Senate isn't perfect," he said. "It's a compromise. Nobody will get everything they want - not Democrats, not Republicans, not me."
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced on "Face the Nation" Sunday, that she will back the bill, calling it "tough but fair" and "a thoughtful bipartisan solution to a tough problem." The Gang of 8 working to drive the legislation through both chambers come from a bipartisan background and are willing to make concessions only "without forsaking our principles."
Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. George Tiller in 2009, will be disciplined for threatening comments made against a clinic owner from prison. According to state officials, Roeder will spend 45 days in isolation for 23 hours a day. Roeder will only have one hour a day for exercise. In addition, he will have reduced privileges for another 60 days afterwards. The decision was made by an administrator following a hearing for Roeder this week.
The punishment is in response to a YouTube video posted by an anti-abortion extremist that featured an interview with Roeder. In the interview, Roeder is quoted as saying, "To walk in there and reopen a clinic, a murder mill where a man was stopped, is almost like putting a target on your back saying, 'Well, let's see if you can shoot me.'"
In 2010, Scott Roeder was found guilty of first degree murder in the May 2009 death of George Tiller by a unanimous jury after 40 minutes of deliberation. The jury also found Roeder guilty of two counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
6/7/2013 - OH Senate Passes Anti-Abortion State Budget
Thursday evening, the Ohio state Senate passed a $61.7 billion state budget that partially defunds Planned Parenthood and could close abortion clinics across the state. The Senate budget bill is scheduled to go to the House for a vote next week.
The budget, passed by the Senate along party lines in a vote of 23 to 10, strips $2 million in family planning funds from Planned Parenthood. The budget then also redirects family planning funds toward deceptive crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs are often owned and operated by churches or anti-abortion groups that pose as legitimate health centers. CPCs do not have the staff to provide medically accurate information and often convey religious beliefs in an attempt to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term. The budget also includes a provision that would deny federal funding to rape crisis centers who provide information on abortion to rape victims.
Another provision of the Ohio budget as passed by the Senate could potentially close abortion clinics throughout the state. The provision prohibits abortion clinics from have transfer agreements with public hospitals in case a patient needs additional care. However, in order for ambulatory surgical centers to be licensed by the state, they are required to have such transfer agreements in place.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told reporters, "This proposal will wreak havoc on tens of thousands of patients that rely on these facilities, and could result in 11 counties losing access to subsidized family planning services entirely." She continued, "This is about paperwork... If they can't make abortion illegal, they can make it virtually impossible to access by closing every clinic they can gets their hands on."
The House Armed Services Committee will vote next week on a defense policy bill that includes multiple provisions on sexual assault in the military. The epidemic of sexual assault across the armed forces was also the subject of a nearly eight-hour hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.
The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, is an annual bill that funds the Pentagon and outlines their budgetary requirements. Drafted and passed by Congress, it is their primary vehicle for reforming military procedure and policy. The 2014 NDAA includes the full language of multiple bills addressing sexual assault, including provisions that strip military commanders of their ability to overturn rape convictions, establish minimum punishments for anyone found guilty of a sex-related crime that include dishonorable discharge or dismissal from service, enhance training for attorneys involved in sex-related cases, and enable military legal counsel to provide legal assistance to victims. The House Armed Services Committee also passed the Ruth Moore Act earlier this week to ensure that survivors of sexual violence in the military can access disability benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Top military officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in opposition to moving responsibility for handling sex crime cases out of the chain of command. Despite the opposition, members of Congress are pushing forward on policy changes with several bills already introduced in the House and Senate. "This is clearly a systemic problem," Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) said. "Accountability is needed at every level, from everyone."
Tsongas and Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) wrote many of the provisions in the 2014 NDAA. "The word should go out," Turner said, "that if you commit a sexual assault in the military, you are out."
A recent Pentagon report claimed that as many as 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted last year – a 7,000 person increase from 2011’s predicted figure of 19,000. New oversight and assistance programs instated at various levels by the military have been unable to either increase the number of sex crime cases reported or lower the incidence of sex crimes overall. Defense estimates predict that an average of 70 victims are sexually assaulted in the military every day.
On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) officially introduced the long-awaited Women's Equality Act.
The Women's Equality Act [PDF] is designed to strengthen women's rights in New York in ten different areas [PDF]: achieving pay equity; stopping sexual harassment in all workplaces; allowing the recovery of attorney fees in harassment cases; ending employment discrimination based on whether a woman has children; stopping income discrimination of female-headed households; stopping housing discrimination of victims of domestic violence; strengthening order of protection laws; strengthening human trafficking laws; stopping pregnancy discrimination; and protecting a woman's right to choose. Cuomo has urged state lawmakers to pass the measure before the legislative session ends on June 20.
In an op-ed in the Huffington Post, Cuomo defended the legislation, "Over 150 years ago, the women's suffrage movement began in America at the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Since then, New York has been at the forefront of important social and legal movements that have advanced the equal treatment of all people. Over the years, however, New York has fallen behind in its role as a progressive leader on women's rights. The Women's Equality Act, which I will introduce today, is designed to address gender inequality in our communities, and to restore New York as a leader in women's rights." He also argues that while opponents say the bill will expand abortion rights, it will merely codify current national abortion rights into New York law.
State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), supported the bill in a statement, saying, "Women's health and equality is not a Republican or Democratic issue... The women of New York deserve a vote on the entire Women's Equality Act and deserve to know where their elected officials stand on these important issues." Her sentiments are also echoed by New York voters according to a recent poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. The poll, which featured responses from 1,075 New York voters questions between May 29 and June 3, found that two-thirds of voters support the Women's Equality Act including the abortion provision. The poll also found that men and women were closely aligned in their opinion, with 67% of women and 66% of men favoring the bill.
According to a new study released by the Harvard Business Review, women who are members of corporate boards face significant barriers in their positions because of their gender.
The study, based off of a 2010 survey of almost 300 women and 100 men, sought to determine why there are so few women on the boards of Fortune 500 companies. Women only held 16.6% of board seats of Fortune 500 companies in the United States in 2012, a number that has remained relatively consistent in the past six years. Worldwide, women only made up 10% of corporate board members.
In their research, Harvard Business Review discovered that often women had to be more qualified than men in order to be appointed to a board. On average, 68% of women directors were in lead roles such as President or CEO compared to 51% of men directors. 77% of women directors held an operational role compared to 69% of men directors, despite operational experience being listed as a top quality by both women and men in the survey. "These findings suggest that to receive invitations to boards, women might need to be more accomplished than men," the researchers said.
In addition, researchers found that women faced gender bias from fellow board members when they were finally appointed. Despite half of the male survey participants saying that female board members did not face any additional obstacles because of their gender, 86% of female respondents felt they have to overcome gender barriers in their position. Researchers found that the barriers reported fell into one of four categories: not being heard or listened to, not being accepted as an equal, establishing credibility, and stereotypes of women's expected behavior. In the survey, researchers highlighted responses such as "I have to yell for them to hear me" and "I have to establish my credentials over and over; it never stops." They also included an anecdote from one female respondent who has been repeated pulled aside by the CEO and other board members and told she needed to be "less vocal." This even occurred during meetings, with one director interrupting her questions and exclaiming, "You're behaving just like my daughter! You're arguing too much-just stop!"
A bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks nationwide was approved by the House Judiciary Subcommittee yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Trent Franks (R-AZ), who is also the chair of the subcommittee, originally applied only to the District of Columbia and would have banned abortion at 20 weeks gestation with exceptions only to save the woman's life. However, Franks decided to expand the bill nationwide following the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, a rogue doctor who performed illegal abortions in Pennsylvania. Franks has introduced the bill in previous sessions of Congress, but it was defeated.
The all-male subcommittee approved the bill along party lines in a vote of six to four. Opponents of the bill took issue with the fact that there were no women or medical professionals on the subcommittee to consider the legislation. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) objected to the bill saying, "It is totally out of order for us to determine a medical question like this under the guise of acting as members of the very vital House Judiciary Committee... No good has ever come from an all-male committee deciding the law about a woman's body. This is not appropriate." Ted Deutch (D-FL) echoed Conyer's sentiments, saying that it was "hard for people to take" a group of men making medical decisions for women. He continued, "To insert a role of politics in all this, in what for [some parents] has gone from the greatest exulation they may have felt as a married couple to the depths of despair at learning they have found themselves in a situation [where] they have to make that painful decision, is just not what we should be doing."
The bill now goes before the full House Judiciary Committee. Though a hearing or vote has not been scheduled yet, the chairman of the committee is Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) who has a consistent anti-choice voting record.
Yesterday Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the epidemic of sexual assault in the military demonstrated the role of the record number of women in the Senate. The seven women Members of the Committee, five Democrats and two Republicans, were united yesterday as they asked hard questions of the all-male military leadership.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), said, "This isn't about sex. This is about assaultive dominance and violence, and as long as those two get mushed together, you all are not going to be as successful as you need to be in getting after the most insidious part of this, which is the predators in your ranks." Even Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) was candid in his outrage, telling the panel of officials, "I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over continued reports of sexual assault in our military. We've been talking about the issue for years." Senator Deb Fisher (R-NE) expressed a similar sentiment when she said "this is not a gender issue, it is a violence issue."
While the senators and the military officials in attendance agreed that military sexual assault had gotten extremely out of control, debate centered around whether or not sexual assaults cases should be taken out of the chain of command. Many of the military leaders argued that removing the cases from the chain of command will cause the problem to escalate. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has proposed legislation to take sexual assault cases out of the hands of superior officers, responded, "You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases."
Yet some senators in the hearing attributed to the rampant rate of sexual assault in the military to external factors such as hormones and the availability of pornography to service members. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) decried the military's response to sexual assault while at the same time arguing that hormones were responsible for such a high number of cases. He said, "The young folks who are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23. Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur... But guys, we are not doing our job. You're not doing yours, and we are not doing ours with the rates we are seeing on sexual assaults."
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) argued that with the prevalence of pornography available to service members it was no wonder that assaults rates were so high. "Mr. Chairman, I'd just add a letter, a document here that was given to me from Morality in the Media," he began. "[They point] out that, a picture here of a newsstand and an Air Force base exchange with, you know, sexually explicit magazines being sold. So, we live in a culture that's awash in sexual activity. If it's not sold on base, it's right off base. There are videos and so forth that can be obtained, and it creates some problems, I think."
A debate over military sexual assault is likely to occur in the House Armed Services Committee as they prepare to debate a defense policy bill on Wednesday. Provisions regarding sexual assault, in addition to Guantanamo Bay, the war in Afghanistan among others are likely to see generous discussion while a vote in anticipated in the evening.
Yesterday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) issued a statement critical of the Marine Corp's handling of her complaint regarding an offensive Facebook page posted by active-duty Marines threatening violence against women and the Congresswoman herself.
The pages, which Speier reported to the Secretary of Defense in the beginning of May, featured degrading images and comments about women and women in the military. Many images condoned and even promoted violence against women and rape. Facebook has since removed the page, but various versions have reappeared. After Speier filed her complaint, new pages threatening Speier (and President Obama) that featured manipulated photos of her implying abuse and sexual assault appeared. The threats are being investigated by the Secret Service and the US Capitol Police.
In response to her complaint, Speier received a letter [PDF] from General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, on behalf of the Secretary of Defense. In the letter Amos cited the difficulties in monitoring and tracking social media to investigate offensive content; technicalities regarding military conduct codes; and lack of funding, hindering their efforts to investigate offensive content.
Congresswoman Speier criticized Amos' excuses, saying the following in her statement:
"The Marine Corps' good order and discipline creed has been totally undermined when it cannot police Marines who use social media to promote anti-Semitism, sexism and racism. These messages of hate reflect the kinds of attitudes our military fights around the world as oppressive and demeaning to human dignity. The postings of a few serve to discredit the entire Corps and contribute to a hostile work environment. In the private sector these employees would be fired. The Marine Corps must do the right thing now and stop their own who practice the worst forms of hatred.
The letter from General Amos offers sequestration as a reason for inaction. The Commander-in-Chief has spoken. Suggesting that misconduct cannot be addressed because of sequestration is frankly unacceptable."
Today the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must immediately begin selling emergency contraception over the counter to anyone who asks for it.
The court partially rejected a stay requested by the Department of Justice that would force them to sell emergency contraception over-the-counter to women and girls of all ages. The FDA had begun to implement the changes as required by a lower court ruling, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled their decision, prompting a Department of Justice appeal. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two-pill variations of emergency contraception must immediately be made available without restrictions. However, the court did grant a stay against the unrestricted sale of one-pill variations, pending appeal.
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, asserted, "This is a major victory for women's health. The Appeals Court gets it. Evidence-based science and medicine must rule, not politics. This decision will help countless women and girls gain local access to safe, emergency birth control."
A Strong Supporter of Women's Rights
Senator Frank Lautenberg, who had the support of the feminist movement in New Jersey and nationwide throughout his Senate career, was a leader in many fights for women's rights.
He was the author and champion of the 1996 Domestic Violence Gun Ban, which prohibited people convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence from possessing or purchasing a firearm. Together with Donna Edwards, then Executive Director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Feminist Majority, and leaders of the National Organization for Women, I had the privilege then of working with Senator Lautenberg, who never doubted it would pass. After passage he stood firmly against all attempts to gut the law by exempting police officers and military service personnel from its coverage. His actions prevented countless tragedies. He also stood strongly with Dianne Feinstein in passing the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994.
Senator Frank Lautenberg worked for passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and championed coverage of children with pre-existing conditions and funding of comprehensive sex education. Throughout his career, he strongly supported women's reproductive rights and fought all Congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.