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10/17/2014 - Boko Haram Claims Kidnapped Chibok Girls Will Be Released Monday

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria's military are reportedly negotiating the release of the nearly 300 young women and girls who were abducted by Boko Haram more than six months ago, ostensibly bringing an end to six months of activist efforts calling for their return.

An adviser to President Jonathan, Hassan Tukur, told Voice of America that President Jonathan and the self-described "secretary-general of Boko Haram," Danladi Ahmadu, have been in talks in Saudi Arabia regarding the over 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group in April. The President of Chad, Idriss Deby, and high-ranking Cameroonian officials have also been party to the dialogue.

Although videos released by Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau indicated that they intended to sell the girls into slavery and hold them until members of the group were released from prison, Ahmadu said the girls are "in good condition and unharmed." A spokesperson for Boko Haram claimed the girls will be released Monday in Chad.

Initial reports of the girls' disappearance were met with inaction by the Nigerian government, which sparked acts of resistance in Nigeria and eventually spurred the viral - and global - #BringBackOurGirls campaign. In the United States, activists staged protests and rallies calling for government support to help locate the missing girls. Ultimately, President Obama announced that he had dispatched a team of military and law enforcement agents to the region, but although the Nigerian army announced in May that they had located the girls, they remained missing months later, over 100 days after their abduction. As activist and media attention waned, advocates and the families of the abducted were frustrated and angered by the failure to rescue the girls.

"As far as our girls are concerned, they have been abandoned," Mkeki Mutah, uncle to two missing teens, told Al Jazeera prior to the news of the neogitations. "There is a saying: 'Actions speak louder than words.' Leaders from around the world came out and said they would assist to bring the girls back, but now we hear nothing. The question I wish to raise is: 'why?'"

Even so, optimists have pointed to Boko Haram's release of 27 hostages last weekend as evidence the tide could turn in favor of parents and loved ones who have come to fear the worst. Last Saturday, the wife of Cameroon's Vice-Prime Minister, Akaoua Babiana, and 10 Chinese workers were among those released. That group was taken captive during two separate raids in May and July. How or why the group was set free is unknown, but to date, of the 276 captured over 180 days ago, far fewer have been so fortunate.

Of the young women and girls abducted in April, 57 successfully fled. Late last month, a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram in early April from her dormitory was found roaming a small village. The 20-year-old was pregnant and "in a state of extreme trauma." 15 young Chibok women who managed to rescue themselves from Boko Haram were granted scholarships to continue their studies made possible, in part, by Nobel Prize winner and champion of girls' education, Malala Yousafzai. This summer, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also announced government-sponsored scholarships to support the young women's return to school by improving infrastructure, telecommunications, and community engagement to decrease the risk of comparable attacks and create a model for school safety in conflict zones.

The freed are encouraging thousands of other girls - who'd stopped attending school for fear of Boko Haram - to bravely resume their studies.


10/17/2014 - Student Activists Across the Country Are Fighting Extreme Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

In Tennessee, North Dakota, and Colorado - three states deciding ballot measures aimed at restricting birth control access and outlawing abortion in the upcoming election - student activists are mobilizing to get out the vote.

Members of student-led Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance group Vanderbilt Feminists at Vanderbilt University have been working tirelessly to get out the word about Tennessee's Amendment 1, which would take the right of privacy for reproductive rights out of the state constitution and give local legislators the power to restrict access to abortion, even in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman, and outlaw many forms of birth control, such as the IUD or the pill. Amendment 1 is a trigger amendment, meaning its full impact would be realized immediately if Roe v. Wade were ever reversed. In the meantime, its passage would explicitly give more power to state legislators to restrict access to abortion.

Early voting in Tennessee began on Wednesday and goes until October 30. The Vote No on 1 campaign, supported by Vanderbilt Feminists, has been recruiting both Tennessee resident voters and non-resident voters to help raise awareness and galvanize voters in opposition to the proposed Amendment. "Our goal is to reach out to voters and mobilize," says Vanderbilt senior Erin Lee, a campaign intern. With the campaign's help, the Vanderbilt Feminists have been training fellow students on activism, disseminating voter information, as well as calling students with information on how and where to vote.

In North Dakota and Colorado, students are encouraging voters to vote no on two ballot measures that, if passed, would become the nation's first personhood amendments. Measure 1 in North Dakota would create an "inalienable right to life" starting "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. Colorado's Amendment 67 would include fertilized eggs in the definition of "person" and "child" in the state's criminal code and Wrongful Death Act, and would also ban all abortions - even in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life or health - if Roe is ever overturned. Because of the vague language in both Measure 1 and Amendment 67, the proposed changes to North Dakota and Colorado's constitutions could also eliminate or restrict access to some common forms of birth control, deny pregnant women with life-threatening illnesses access to treatment, ban in-vitro fertilization, and subject women who have miscarriages to criminal investigations.

"In voting no, we say yes to the continued accessibility of contraceptives, preventative care for women, and to the accessibility of safe abortion," Kate Black, a senior at North Dakota State University at Fargo and one of many students pushing folks to vote no on Measure 1, wrote on the Feminist Campus blog. Students in North Dakota can vote early, often even on campus, from October 27 through 31 as well as on Election Day.

In Colorado, where residents and students can vote in person or by mail from October 20 through Election Day, activists gathered today with legendary women's, labor, and civil rights leader and a Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree Dolores Huerta in an effort to get out the vote and rally against Amendment 67. "There is no better person to sound the alarm about how deceptive and harmful this amendment is to women's lives," duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation Choices Program, said of Huerta's presence.

For more information about ballot measures in your state, visit our Ballot Measures to Watch Out For portal.


10/16/2014 - Over 80,000 Safety Violations Found At Bangladesh Garment Factories

A recently completed inspection found more than 80,000 safety violations in Bangladeshi garment factories - where 85 percent of all workers are women.

The inspections were made as part of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which covers more than 1,500 factories, is a legal agreement between 180 garment companies and 12 Bangladeshi trade unions and was formed after April 2013, when more than 1,100 workers died, and thousands more injured, in a factory building collapse in Rana Plaza.

Of the inspected factories, 17 had structural integrity below an acceptable level and 110 factories were not currently up to acceptable safety levels for workers to work inside. The chief safety inspector of the Accord said the number of safety violations "was to be expected."

Around four million people work in clothing factories in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, and most of them are women. Bangladesh's export income, according to the American Journal of Sociological Research, depends on these workers, as 75 percent of that income comes from the ready-made garments industry. A woman who works in a garment factory often provides for her whole family - it therefore elevates her social status and gives her a choice outside of working as a farm hand or as a domestic servant.

"I wish I had a garments job instead of laboring in the fields, look at my hands," Alisha Begum told NBC News. Begum was looking for the body of her sister, Rehana, after the 2013 factory collapse. "I can't read or write which why I have to work out in the sun. Without basic reading, you can't get a job in this type of factory."

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a campaign that works to improve working conditions and to support empowerment for workers in the garment industry, $40 million is needed for families of victims. The Campaign says several companies that had links to the collapsed factory building have yet to pay anything to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund. Joe Fresh acted first to compensate families of the victims, but there are still many brands and retailers who have not done anything publicly to compensate families.

The Campaign lists J.C. Penny as one of the retailers that has yet to pay. A statement issued by J.C. Penny, which has an annual revenue of about $11.9 billion, claims it does not need to pay compensation as it "had no insight into the development and sourcing of Joe Fresh apparel produced in Rana Plaza last year." Companies such as Gap, H&M Conscious Foundation and Debenhams have made contributions even though they did not technically source their clothing from a factory in Rana Plaza. Primark, which did have a supplier in the collapsed factory, has donated around $2 million and promises $10 million more in long-term compensation.

After the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the Bangladeshi government promised to improve worker conditions; so far it has raised the minimum wage by 77 percent, to $66 a month, which is still one of the lowest wages for a garment-factory worker in the world. Workers have asked for $102 a month, but were met with police violence when they protested. Despite the Bangladeshi government giving workers a greater ability to unionize, some workers who have tried to form unions have been met with violence and bribery.

The US government has also weighed in on conditions in Bangladeshi factories. In June 2013, the US suspended trade privileges with Bangladesh and provided an Action Plan that would be the basis for reconsidering its decision. After reviewing progress on the Action Plan, the US Trade Representative in July noted continuing concern for worker safety, the need for stronger labor law reforms, and violence against labor organizers.

US trade privileges continue to be suspended, yet an investigation by Jason Motlagh and Susie Taylor for Ms. Magazine found that the US government has continued to purchase millions of dollars worth of Bangladeshi-made apparel for military retail stores (exchanges) - without monitoring their supply chains. Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced legislation in 2013 to require military exchanges to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, but so far, nothing requires the exchanges to do so or to contribute to the cost of the structural repair or renovation of the dangerous factories from which they receive their goods.

Media Resources: Bloomberg Businessweek 10/16/2014; ThinkProgress 10/14/2014, 11/20/2013; Reuters 10/14/2014, 3/17/2014; International Labor Rights Forum 7/3/14; Ms. Magazine Summer 2014; Forbes 4/26/2014; Feminist Newswire 9/24/2013, 5/15/13; US Trade Representative 7/14, 7/19/13; NBC News 5/23/2013; Clean Clothes Campaign; Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh


10/16/2014 - Prosecutors Claim South Carolina's Stand Your Ground Law Doesn't Apply to Domestic Violence Survivors

According to South Carolina prosecutors, the state's Stand Your Ground law, which allows people to use force to defend themselves when faced with "great bodily injury," is an unfit defense for domestic violence victims who live with their attackers. One prosecutor even claimed that using the law to defend survivors of intimate partner violence is unconstitutional.

[caption id="attachment_16406" align="aligncenter" width="605"]via Shutterstock via Shutterstock[/caption]

State prosecutors Scarlett Wilson and Culver Kidd are appealing a decision by a South Carolina judge earlier this month that applied the law to a case surrounding a domestic violence victim that stabbed her live-in boyfriend in 2012. Neighbors called the police after hearing Whitlee Jones screaming for help. In a 911 call, a neighbor is heard saying, "(He's) pulling the lady by her hair...Can y'all please get somebody out here real quick?" According to court documents, Jones called friends for help, but she also called the police. She never talked to a dispatcher, but she can be heard struggling with Eric Lee over the phone as she cried, "Get off me" before the line went dead.

Jones left her apartment not knowing police were on the way. In an incident report filed the night of the attack, Lee told the responding officer that his girlfriend smashed his phone, but there had been no assault. The officer left the scene, and when Jones returned with friends, her attorney Mary Ford wrote, she "was not in a position to get away without acting." Jones went to the apartment to pack up her belongings, and when she attempted to leave, Lee blocked her exit. Jones stabbed Lee once. Later, he was pronounced dead.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled earlier this month that Jones could not be tried for Lee's death because of the state's Stand Your Ground. Now, prosecutors are arguing that the law should not apply because it was not meant to deal with "personal relationships." In other words, the law should not be used by domestic violence victims protecting themselves from serious injury or death.

Concerns over the invocation of Stand Your Ground on behalf of intimate partner violence victims adds another splinter to just how partially such laws are applied. Attorneys for mother and domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander attempted to use a similar Florida law to defend her firing of a warning shot in the presence of her well-documented abuser, but state prosecutor Angela Corey is seeking a 60-year sentence on the basis that Alexander endangered the lives of her husband and his two children by doing so, even though nobody was harmed. In 2013, Florida's Stand Your Ground law also came under fire by activists in the wake of the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, in which his killer was acquitted of all charges under the law. In tandem, the two cases illuminate as deadly double-standard for women who act in self-defense against intimate partners who inflict abuse upon them.


10/15/2014 - Supreme Court Ruling Keeps Texas Abortion Clinics Open

The US Supreme Court issued an order last night blocking enforcement of two provisions of a restrictive Texas anti-abortion law that had forced all but eight of the state's abortion clinics to close. The decision immediately allows 13 clinics that had been shuttered earlier this month by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had previously ruled that Texas could begin enforcing the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements of its new TRAP law, passed last year as HB2, against clinics in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The decision caused 13 clinics to close overnight and would have forced nearly 1 million women of reproductive age in Texas to travel more than 300 miles round-trip to the nearest clinic, preventing access to abortion for many.

Discussing the impact of the Fifth Circuit decision with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, one of the plaintiffs challenging the Texas law, said that she was forced to close her clinic in McAllen, Texas. When staff explained to patients that they could no longer access abortion care at the clinic, but would have to travel north to obtain abortion services, Hagstrom Miller explained, "There were quite a few women who said I can't travel north and will take matters into my own hands.

Hagstrom Miller told Maddow that she was "very delighted" by the Supreme Court's order. She added, "It's delightful to be able to say yes to women in the Rio Grande Valley who have been calling us."

Reproductive health care providers in Texas had filed an emergency application with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on October 6, asking the Court to block enforcement of the Fifth Circuit's decision allowing the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements - both medically unnecessary, harmful restrictions on access to abortion - to go forward. Justice Scalia, who oversees the Fifth Circuit, referred the case to the entire Supreme Court, which issued its 6-3 decision last night. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented, without explanation. The Supreme Court's order allows the Texas clinics closed by the Fifth Circuit decision to reopen while the challenge to the law continues to make its way through the federal courts.

"This fight against Texas' sham abortion law is not over," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. "HB2 was designed to gut the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade and half of the state's clinics remained closed. We will continue this legal battle until the rights of Texas women are restored."

Texas had 44 clinics before the enactment of HB2 last year. That number dropped to 21 after parts of HB2 went into effect, and before the Supreme Court stepped in, Texas was down to only eight. In addition to this legal challenge affecting West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, the Center for Reproductive Rights is also waging a separate challenge to the admitting privileges requirement and medication abortion restrictions contained in HB2.


10/15/2014 - Enforcement of Voter Suppression Law in Texas Uncertain

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled yesterday that Texas could enforce its strict Voter ID law, despite a lower court's finding that the law was discriminatory and would likely suppress the votes of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas.

Writing for the Court, Judge Edith Brown Clement described the immediate challenge to the Texas law as "not a run-of-the-mill case." She continued, "Instead, it is a voting case decided on the eve of the election. The judgment below substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins. Thus, the value of preserving the status quo here is much higher than in most other contexts."

Early voting in Texas begins on October 20. Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos's earlier ruling, blocking enforcement of the new Voter ID law, would have allowed Texans to vote according to the laws that were in place before the Voter ID law took effect last year.

Civil rights groups challenging the law have already filed an emergency application with the US Supreme Court to delay the law's implementation for the upcoming election. The application was filed with Justice Antonin Scalia who oversees the Fifth Circuit. He may decide the application on his own or refer it to the entire Court.

Under the new Texas Voter ID law, voters must show government-issued photo identification before they can vote at the polls. There are, however, only seven forms of photo ID that will be accepted: a Texas driver's license, Texas election identification certificate, Texas personal identification card, US military ID, US citizenship certification, US passport, or a license to carry a concealed handgun. Student IDs and social security cards are not considered acceptable forms of identification.

In addition to suppressing the votes of people of color, the Texas law also suppresses the votes of women, students, the poor, and the elderly. It is not immediately clear when Justice Scalia or the Court will act on the emergency application.


10/14/2014 - Activist Dolores Huerta Fights for Reproductive Rights in Colorado

Legendary human rights leader Dolores Huerta will be in Denver, Colorado next Friday to Get Out the Vote for the 2014 election.

Huerta, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, will be on the educational facility the Auraria Campus to take a stand against proposed Amendment 67, a personhood initiative on the Colorado ballot this Fall aimed at restricting abortion and birth control access.

If passed, Amendment 67 would extend the definition of "person" and "child" to a fertilized egg in the Colorado criminal code and Wrongful Death Act. The measure is a what some call a trigger law, meaning that if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, then the amendment would be "triggered," automatically banning all abortions, even in the case of rape, incest, or the save the life or health of the woman.

"Dolores is an important voice in Colorado, Latinas/os are a growing and powerful voting constituency - especially among young people," says duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation Choices Program. "There is no better person to sound the alarm about how deceptive and harmful this amendment is to women's lives, including cutting off all access to abortion and birth control."

Amendment 67 would not only cut off all access to abortion, but if passed, it would subject any woman whose pregnancy did not result in a live birth, including women who have a miscarriage, to a criminal investigation. Moreover, it would also subject a woman's healthcare provider to a criminal investigation. By giving legal rights to fertilized eggs, the measure could also restrict access to birth control, including IUDs, the pill, and emergency contraception. Amendment 67 would even ban in-vitro fertilization for women who want to get pregnant.

Huerta will be speaking at the 11:30 am assembly preceding a 12:00 noon Rally in an effort to encourage Colorado students to Vote No on 67 and ensure that women in Colorado have access to safe and legal abortion, birth control, and comprehensive reproductive health care.


10/14/2014 - Early Voting Has Started in Many States

In many states, the 2014 elections have already begun through early and absentee voting. Many states are now collecting ballots through the mail, and some, like Georgia, have already begun to accept in-person ballots. In states with close races for Senate seats or highly contested ballot measures, early voting allows for a glimpse of what may be in November.

Colorado, which has always seen higher early voter turnout due in part to the state's availability of early voting, began mailing early voting ballots to all registered voters today. Voters can fill them out and the mail them back by Election Day, or drop them off in person starting on October 20. Colorado is one of three states that will be voting on whether to adopt an anti-abortion and birth control state constitutional amendment. This will be the third time that Colorado voters will be asked to adopt a personhood amendment, which gives full rights to fertilized eggs.

North Dakota begins early voting on October 27, and has a state constitutional amendment ballot measure that creates an "inalienable right to life" starting "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception.

Tennessee will also be voting, beginning on the October 16, on a state constitutional amendment that makes its right to privacy clause no longer apply to abortion or birth control. Rather, it gives the state legislators the right to restrict access to abortion and birth control.

Early voting in Lousiana will begin on October 21, and may help determine the race between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and challenger Bill Cassidy (R). In North Carolina, voters will have a chance to begin the tight race between Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and challenger Thom Tillis (R) on October 23.

Early voting is traditionally viewed as providing greater opportunities to vote. The ability to vote early is incredibly important for wage earners, low-income workers, shift workers, or students who may not be able to take time off from work or school to vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4. You can find more information about voting in your state here.


10/14/2014 - Girls Spoke Out at the United Nations on International Day of the Girl

The United Nation's third annual International Day of the Girl was recognized Saturday by activists and leaders alike. The day's theme was Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

The designated day was created to raise awareness that gender inequality is still alive and well, and is worse in developing countries. Currently there are at least nine countries in which at least half of the women between 20 and 24 were married before age 18, 4 million more girls than boys are out of primary school worldwide, the gender gap in youth literacy rates is still significant, and the prevalence of female genital mutilation is estimated to be between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide.

"Gender-based violence - from domestic violence and human trafficking to genital cutting and early and forced marriage - condemns girls to cycles of dependence, fear, and abuse," said President Barack Obama in a proclamation marking October 11 as International Day of the Girl. "Today, we resolve to do more than simply shine a light on inequality. With partners across the globe, we support the girls who reach for their future in the face of unimaginable obstacles, and we continue our work to change attitudes and shift beliefs until every girl has the opportunities she deserves to shape her own destiny and fulfill her boundless promise."

To mark International Day of the Girl, Girls Learn International (GLI), working through the Working Group on Girls, helped to organize Girls Speak Out at the United Nations. About 100 girls from GLI participated in the event, which gave girls a platform to share their experiences and featured stories of girls from around the world. Submissions of girls' experiences were often kept anonymous and were instead performed by girls who attended the event.

"I hope one day disabled girls have their stories told and are treated like everyone else," 11-year old Melissa Shang, a girl with muscular dystrophy who who previously started a petition to get American Girl dolls to feature a doll with a disability, said in a speech at the event. Her speech, which spoke to her experiences as a girl with disabilities, ended in a standing ovation.

A program of the Feminist Majority Foundation, Girls Learn International educates and energizes US students in the global movement for girls' access to education. Through the program, GLI students in middle and high schools in 35 states engage with students in more than 45 partner schools in countries where girls still lag behind boys in access to education. Using a human rights framework, GLI is building a movement of informed advocates for universal girls' education and a new generation of leaders and activists for social change.

"It's so inspiring to see girls using their voices and being heard," said Ellen Fishman, a member of the GLI advisory board who helped organize the event. "The girls who are already involved are raising their voices and are letting the girls in the audience know that there is enough empowerment for all of us, and that their voices matter."

The importance of girls' access to education was a significant theme, as this year's International Day of the Girl came just a day after 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai won a joint Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest recipient of the prize in history. Yousafzai is known for her work in promoting education for girls worldwide; she survived being shot in the head by Taliban members in 2012 when she was on her way to school. Yousafzai has since founded The Malala Fund with her father to encourage girls' access to education in Pakistan (Yousafzai's home country), Nigeria, Jordan and Kenya.

In a press conference Friday, Yousafzai said, "I'm thankful to my father for not clipping my wings, for letting me to fly and achieve my goals, for showing to the world that a girl is not supposed to be the slave."


10/13/2014 - As Midterm Elections Near, Courts Are Taking On Voter Suppression

With less than a month before the November 4 elections, courts are weighing in on voting rights across the nation.

In a victory for voters in Wisconsin, the US Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the state's new voter identification law from taking effect in November. As a result of the Court's decision, registered voters in Wisconsin will not have to show identification before casting ballots on November 4.

Enacted in 2011, the Wisconsin Voter ID law had faced ongoing legal challenges. The law would have required voters to show one of only nine specific forms of photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Tens of thousands of eligible voters in Wisconsin, however, do not have one of these forms of ID. A federal trial judge had originally blocked the law citing its disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic voters. A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had reinstated the law before the Supreme Court blocked it from being enforced during the upcoming election.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin called the Supreme Court's order "wonderful news and a victory" for Wisconsin voters. "We should be seeking ways to get more citizens to vote in our elections," the League reiterated in a statement, "not to keep them away."

Meanwhile, in Texas, a federal district court struck down that state's strict voter ID law. The Texas voter suppression law allowed voters to cast a ballot only if they produced a Texas driver's license, a US military ID with a photo, a US citizenship certification containing a photo, a US passport, or a license to carry a concealed handgun. Student IDs and social security cards were not considered acceptable forms of identification. In addition to suppressing the votes of people of color, then, the Texas law also suppressed the votes of women, students, and the elderly.

In her decision, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, wrote that the law "creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." She concluded that the law was tantamount to "an unconstitutional poll tax."

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already asked the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reinstate the Voter ID law. It is unclear when the appeals court will consider the state's request. Early voting in Texas begins on October 20.

Although both the Wisconsin and Texas decisions have pushed back against voter suppression laws, the Supreme Court last week reinstated part of a North Carolina law that eliminated same-day voter registration during the early voting period. The Court's order also allows the state to eliminate out-of-precinct voting. Both provisions had been struck down by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit earlier this month.

State courts are also being asked to weigh in on voting rights. In Georgia, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit on Friday concerning more than 40,000 voter registration forms that are currently backlogged, some of them filled out and submitted months ago. Many activists are arguing that the backlog is so large that it amounts to an act of voter suppression. The lawsuit requests that a judge order five counties and Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp to immediately process the backlogged forms.

"Waiting for the state to act is not an option for us because we have folks who applied back in March and April who have yet to make it onto the rolls," explained Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams. Abrams also runs the New Georgia Project, a voter registration initiative.

Media Resources: US Supreme Court 10/9/14, 10/8/14; US District Court for the Southern District of Texas 10/9/14; SCOTUS Blog 10/11/14, 10/9/14; Politico, 10/11/14; League of Women Voters of Wisconsin 10/9/14; Feminist Newswire 10/2/14, 5/5/14, 10/22/13; MSNBC 10/9/13


10/13/2014 - Full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Hear Challenge to Texas TRAP Law

The full US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Thursday refused to rehear a March panel decision upholding HB 2, the Texas TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law that has forced 80 percent of abortion clinics in the state to close.

Only 3 of 15 judges - all Democratic-appointees - supported the application to rehear the case against two provisions of HB 2. As a result, the admitting privileges requirement as well as restrictions on medication abortion will remain in effect. Both provisions are opposed by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Texas asked the full Court of Appeals to reexamine the constitutionality of the admitting privileges requirement and medication abortion restrictions after a Fifth Circuit panel overturned a lower court decision striking down the admitting privileges requirement as unconstitutional.

12 Republican-appointed judges of the Fifth Circuit bench voted against the petition to rehear. Judge James Dennis, a Clinton-era appointee, authored a scathing 64-page dissent on behalf of himself; Judge James E. Graves, an Obama Administration appointee; and Judge Gregg Costa, also appointed by President Barack Obama.

"In upholding Texas's unconstitutional admitting-privileges requirement for abortion providers and medication-abortion restrictions, the panel opinion flouts the Supreme Court's decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), by refusing to apply the undue burden standard expressly required by Casey," wrote Judge Dennis. "If not overruled, the panel's sham undue burden test will continue to exert its precedential force in courts review of challenges to similar types of recently minted abortion restrictions in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi."

Dennis said the Court's failure to properly apply Casey to defend the due process rights of women seeking a safe and legal abortion threatened to "annihilate the constitutional protections afforded women under Roe [v. Wade]."

"Texas now stands at the epicenter of a national health care crisis brought on by politicians who have all but eliminated access to safe and legal abortion care for countless women, leaving many with only unsafe and unregulated options that may very well threaten their lives," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, about the decision. "This is a threat to the well-being of millions of women, and an affront to the promise of equal rights and legal protection for all Americans. It is increasingly clear that either the Supreme Court or Congress needs to step in to protect the rights of women across the nation from this relentless assault on their dignity, health and rights."

Last week, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency application with the US Supreme Court - in a separate legal challenge to HB 2 - to block application of the Texas law's admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements, as applied to clinics in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. That application, brought before Justice Antonin Scalia, is still pending. Justice Scalia could issue a direct order himself, or refer the petition to the full Supreme Court.

Before the enactment of HB 2, Texas had 44 abortion clinics. That number has now been cut to 8. The Rio Grande Valley has not one abortion provider, and nearly one million Texas women of reproductive age must now travel 300 miles round-trip to to exercise their right to a safe and legal abortion.


10/10/2014 - Study Finds Abortion Restrictions Adversely Impact Women's Health Outcomes

States with the greatest restrictions on abortion are the worst for women's overall health, according to a new study from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health.

More than 250 bills restricting abortion were introduced in 40 states in 2014 alone, and in the period between 2011 and 2013, states signed 205 new abortion restriction provisions into law - "more laws than were enacted in the entire previous decade," the report states. Based on the study, the groups found a "consistently negative relationship between a state's number of abortion restrictions and its performance on indicators of women's health, children's health, and social determinants of health." The groups say lawmakers' insistence that anti-abortion legislation is intended to protect women's health is fundamentally flawed rhetoric.

"With few exceptions, states that have passed multiple policies to restrict abortion have passed fewer evidence-based policies to support women's and children's well-being, compared to states with fewer restrictions on abortion," the study read. "The negative relationship between the number of abortion restrictions and the number of policies that support women's and children's well-being was stronger than any of the other sub-topics."

The study report distinguished 14 different kinds of abortion restrictions and TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) Laws. After evaluating all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the groups compared each state's performance on 76 different health indicators against the prevalence of anti-abortion legislation. Those indicators fell into five different categories, including women's health outcomes, exclusively, including the occurrence of maternal death; children's health outcomes exclusively; social determinants of health, which addressed socioeconomic or environmental outcomes proven to impact health; and pro-women and children's health policy.

The median number of abortion restrictions was 10. Only Vermont placed no restrictions on abortion. Kansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma had all 14 restrictions identified by the groups. Another eight states - Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina - had 13 abortion-related restrictions. According to the report, of the 23 states with 6 or less restrictive abortion laws in place, 78 percent performed above the median score for overall well-being. Of the 28 states with 7-14 abortion restrictions in place, only eight states were above the median score for women and children's overall well-being. The best states for women's health were New Hampshire, Iowa, North Dakota and Vermont.

TRAP Laws frequently come under fire from advocates and health care providers, and often their passage results in ongoing court challenges. In Texas, health care providers in the state have asked the US Supreme Court to block the enforcement of HB 2, an omnibus abortion bill. US District Court Judge Lee Yeakel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the law's TRAP provision in August, but reinstated it last week, closing all but eight clinics in the state overnight. In Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe ordered a periodic review of the state's TRAP rules out of concern for women's health; the state's Health Commissioner ultimately recommended amending the rules after her review and blasted them as "arbitrary" and "marked by political interference." In September, a court challenge to Louisiana's TRAP law kept three of the state's five clinics from closing; in August, a federal court found Alabama's TRAP law unconstitutional; in July, a panel of the Fifth Circuit kept Mississippi's last clinic standing. Despite these rulings, lawmakers have continued to fight for TRAP laws that close clinics by imposing extraneous requirements on reproductive health care facilities and providers that are unnecessary and challenging to meet, and often they have cited "improving women's health" as their primary motivation. This study proves them wrong.

Last summer, a poll found that a majority of Americans supported abortion rights and access and opposed state attempts to regular what they see overwhelmingly as a national, and not local, issue. In 2015, the Center for Reproductive Rights will partner with state advocates to develop data-supported policy that answers the wave of misguided reproductive health laws.


10/10/2014 - Catholic Church Files Civil Rights Complaint Against State Over Abortion Mandate

California's Catholic leaders have filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services over a recent decision by the state to mandate that religiously affiliated universities there offer full abortion coverage in their employees' health care plans.

Earlier this year, the California Lawyer learned that despite the state's commitment to fully protect comprehensive reproductive rights, two Catholic universities - Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara - had discontinued coverage for "not medically necessary" abortion services for their employees. In August, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) Director Michelle Rouillard called those decisions discriminatory in a letter to their insurance providers and mandated that they cover the procedure in all instances.

The Catholic church claims the state's mandate was a violation of the Weldon Amendment, which allows the government to withhold federal money from agencies that discriminate against doctors, hospitals, or insurers that don't offer abortion coverage. But local reproductive rights advocates say any effort to deny coverage would adversely impact the many for the sake of the few.

"California is better than that," the Legislative Women's Caucus wrote this summer in a letter to California Governer Jerry Brown. "We respect women's autonomy and proudly separate ourselves from the anti-choice states whose policies diminish women's rights." Attention to California law on mandatory abortion insurance access led to the late-August guidance issued by the DMHC, which called language about "medically-necessary" or "therapeutic" abortions discriminatory against women.

Sierra Harris, the Assistant Director of the Access Women's Health Justice, told the Feminist Newswire that their group consistently works with Californians who aren't covered under any form of health insurance and noted that there is a grave need for expanded reproductive health access through the state's health exchange. "We support all insurance coverage in California that covers abortion services," Harris said. "We really hope California remains a leader in reproductive health services."

Although a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights says the new complaint from the Catholic conference is under review, Rouillard has reiterated that the agency considers abortion a basic health care service.

Many religious colleges have tried to cut abortion and contraceptive coverage by challenging the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act, which requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance. In July, a majority of the US Supreme Court ruled that Wheaton College does not have to comply with the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit; the University of Notre Dame also recently asked the Court to intervene in its own case against the Obama administration objecting to the mandate's accommodation for religiously affiliated non-profits that allows their insurers to cover contraception directly.


Media Resources: California Catholic Conference 10/1/14; CBS Sacramento 10/1/14; Associated Press 10/1/14; California Lawyer 6/2014; California Legislative Women's Caucus 8/12/14; Los Angeles Times 8/25/14; California Department of Managed Health Care 8/22/14; MSNBC 10/6/14; Feminist Newswire 7/7/14, 8/25/14


10/9/2014 - Staff at Immigration Center Accused of Sexually Abusing Women Detainees

Several civil rights organizations have filed a complaint against a privately run detention center in Texas, citing widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment.

Last week, attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Immigration Rights and Civil Rights Clinics at the University of Texas Law School, Human Rights First, and the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado asked the Department of Homeland Security and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to investigate the newly-opened Karnes County Residential Center, where more than 500 mothers and children have been detained.

According to the complaint, at least three facility guards and staff have removed "female detainees from their cells late in the late evening and early morning hours for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts in various parts of the facility; calling detainees their 'novias,' or 'girlfriends' and requesting sexual favors from female detainees in exchange for money, promises of assistance with their pending immigration cases, and shelter when and if the women are released; and kissing, fondling and/or groping female detainees in front of other detainees, including children." The groups say the offenses are a clear abuse of the detained's rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and a violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which institutes a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and rape in certain federally-operated facilities.

Detainees reported the abuses to Karnes personnel, but so far, no significant action has been taken to stop the harassment. "These women and children have fled horrific conditions in their home countries, including sexual violence and extortion," Marisa Bono, staff attorney with MALDEF, said. "Guards using their respective positions of power to abuse vulnerable, traumatized women all over again is not only despicable, it's against the law." Bono said the allegations prove the federal government should "not be in the business of detaining families."

The complaint comes just a week after a second complaint against Karnes was filed by many of the same organizations. That complaint detailed disproportionate disciplinary tactics and limited food, health, and mental health services. Barbara Hines, Co-Director of the University of Texas Immigration Clinic, said called these new allegations "particularly disturbing" in light of ICE's refusal to release some mothers and children on bond, even when they've met the threshold for an asylum claim.

The Karnes County Residential Center opened August 1, through an intergovernmental partnership between long-time private prison operator the Geo Group, Inc. and Karnes County. While DHS and ICE are responsible for enforcement of PREA's zero-tolerance policy prohibiting rape and sexual assault and other offenses, Karnes is not licensed under Texas state child welfare standards, which complicates the federal agencies' oversight power.

"It is clear from both the alleged and continuing conduct and the failure to respond to reports of abuse that either there is no prevention plan in place for the Karnes Center, or the Karnes Center policy is not being properly implemented, overseen, or enforced," the complaint reads. "DHS simply cannot continue to detain vulnerable individuals whom they are unable or unwilling to protect."

In December, a bipartisan group of Congress members urged the President to issue stronger protections to prevent the sexual abuse of immigrant detainees. Since then, feminist activists have continued to push for comprehensive immigration reform and an end to deportations by the Obama administration. The allegations also come on the heels of a complaint filed this summer against US Customs and Border Protection agents working at the US-Mexico border in Texas and Arizona citing 116 allegations of child abuse.


10/9/2014 - UPDATE: Supreme Court Justice Delays Marriage Equality in Idaho

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy halted a decision Wednesday that would have allowed same sex couples to marry in Idaho.

The Justice issued a one-page order requiring the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to delay a Tuesday ruling striking down Idaho's same-sex marriage ban and calling them unconstitutional until either Kennedy or the full Supreme Court weighed in. Justice Kennedy's order came in response to an emergency filing from Idaho state officials, who argue their case is unique enough to warrant the involvement of the full Supreme Court. Although the Ninth Circuit Court ruling also applied to Nevada, the state has not filed an appeal. Now, same sex couples in Idaho still cannot legally obtain marriage licenses.

The Supreme Court Monday elected not to take up cases concerning marriage equality in five states that were left pending before the court. Some legal analysts expected the decision, citing the unity of the lower courts on the decision to strike down bans on gay marriage. State officials in Idaho, however, said the content of their argument isn't about whether states can ban same-sex marriage. According to SCOTUSBlog, they're asking the Court to "clarify the constitutional standard that is to be used in judging laws that are claimed to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgender people." State officials said the lower courts have used different standards to support a ban of same-sex marriage. The Ninth Circuit applied a "heightened scrutiny" standard, but six other federal appeals courts did not.

Lawyers representing same sex couples have until Thursday night to file a response to Idaho's emergency plea request.


10/8/2014 - Marriage Equality Set to Take Hold in 35 States Following Court Rulings

Following the US Supreme Court's decision Monday to decline review of three federal appeals courts' decisions striking down same-sex marriage bans in five states, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, bringing the number of states in which same-sex marriage bans are effectively null and void to 35.

Monday's decision by the Supreme Court immediately expanded the number of states were same-sex marriage is legal from 19 to 24. At issue was whether the Supreme Court would review decisions from the US Courts of Appeal for the the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits striking down marriage bans in  Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The Court refused, immediately making same-sex marriage legal in those states. However, the decision also effectively ended bans in six additional states falling under those three circuits - Colorado, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wyoming - bringing the total number of states where same-sex marriage would be legal to 30.

Following the news, Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) said that the Supreme Court had sent “a powerful signal to the many other courts considering the issue that there is no reason to delay and perpetuate the harms to same-sex couples around the nation.”

Just one day after the Supreme Court issued its order, the Ninth Circuit ruled that same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada were unconstitutional. This ruling is the law of the land in that Circuit, which means that same-sex marriage bans in Alaska, Arizona, and Montana - which are all subject to legal challenges in federal courts - are also set to fall. In total, 35 states are now expected to soon allow same-sex marriages.

The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously found that the marriage bans denied same-sex couples equal treatment under the law. Judge Marsha Berzon also wrote separately that the bans were a form of unlawful discrimination based on gender. Judge Berzon compared same-sex marriage bans to "laws that strip individuals of their rights or restrict personal choices or opportunities solely on the basis of the individuals’ gender" and found that the bans were impermissibly based in gender stereotypes. Such laws, wrote Berzon, "are damaging because they restrict individual choices by punishing those men and women who do not fit the stereotyped mold." She concludes, "The same-sex marriage prohibitions, in other words, impose harms on sexual orientation and gender identity minorities precisely because they impose and enforce gender-normative behavior."

Nevada is not expected to appeal the Ninth Circuit decision. Idaho may seek Supreme Court review, though given Monday's decision, review is unlikely. It may also ask the full Ninth Circuit to review the decision.

Three other federal circuit courts of appeal are currently considering the constitutionality of state same-sex marriage bans. If one of these courts were to rule in favor of a ban, the Supreme Court could once again be asked to weigh in, and might be more likely to do so. The circuits are the Sixth, with challenges in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee; Fifth, with challenges in Louisiana and Texas; and Eleventh, with challenges in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Lower federal courts in the Eighth Circuit are also considering same-sex marriage bans in Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.


10/8/2014 - Georgetown University Administrators Apologize for Shutting Down H*yas for Choice Protest

Georgetown University has formally apologized to students and alumni following a university police response to an off-campus H*yas for Choice protest last week that sparked outrage.

On September 22, the Georgetown Department of Public Safety (DPS) forced the H*yas for Choice to relocate from an off-campus sidewalk, where they were "quietly presenting an alternative view" to the school's decision to grant an honorary degree to Washington, DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl. In a response to more than 200 alumni signed on to a letter to university President John J. DeGioia expressing concerns about the incident, the Georgetown University Vice President for Student Affairs and the Vice President of Public Affairs seemed to call the event a misunderstanding.

In the letter to alumni, university leadership said the removal "should not have occurred." According to school officials, the officer involved invited the students to move back to their original location after "realizing the mistake," but Police Chief Jay Gruber has scheduled additional training for DPS officers about students' rights under the University's Speech and Expression policy in light of the incident. "We share Chief Gruber's regret in how our DPS officer responded in this case and please know that we will work to prevent it from happening in the future," the letter stated.

H*yas for Choice, a student group, is not formally recognized by the university. The President of the organization, Abby Grace, said the group chose the protest location precisely because University police forced them to relocate there during a different protest last year.


10/7/2014 - Texas Providers Ask Supreme Court to Block Restrictive Abortion Law

Reproductive health care providers in Texas have asked the US Supreme Court to block enforcement of unnecessary, harmful abortion restrictions in Texas that have closed all but eight of the state's abortion clinics overnight.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the health care providers, filed an emergency application with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia after Thursday's decision by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to allow the immediate enforcement of two provisions - the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements - of the Texas omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.

Before the enactment of HB2, Texas had 44 abortion clinics. That number was cut to 21 after parts of HB 2 went into effect, and the Fifth Circuit's decision shuttered 13 more. As of Friday, the Rio Grande valley has not one abortion provider, and nearly one million women of reproductive age must now travel 300 miles round-trip to access abortion care.

"There can be no question that just a handful of clinics left to offer safe, legal abortion care to all women across of vast state of Texas is a dire emergency in need of an immediate response," said Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup. "Every hour that these clinics are closed adds to the number of women, many facing urgent circumstances, who will be denied essential care and their constitutional rights. Every day that passes increases the likelihood that these shuttered clinics will never be able to open again."

"Texas politicians, led by Governor Rick Perry, have closed not only nearly 80 percent of the state's women's clinics offering abortion services, but they have also closed an additional 55 clinics that do not provide abortion but provide birth control services, early cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and other vital women's health services," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "This is a total reactionary war on women's health services. Young women will die, will be injured and maimed, to further their narrow political interests and ambitions."

Both the admitting privileges requirement and the requirement that abortion clinics meet the building code specifications of ambulatory surgical centers were struck down as unconstitutional by US District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in August. The Fifth Circuit ruling nullified Yeakel's decision. The emergency application asks Justice Scalia, who oversees the Fifth Circuit, to block enforcement of these provisions pending a final outcome of the case. He may either decide the application himself or refer it to the entire Court.


10/6/2014 - Religious Leaders Unite in Tennessee and Colorado to Oppose Extreme Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures

Local religious leaders have come together to denounce ballot measures in Tennessee and Colorado that, if passed, would jeopardize access to abortion in those states.

At Sunday services last week, local clergy from Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, United Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Free Will Baptist churches, as well as leaders of other faiths, spoke out against Tennessee's Amendment 1, which would allow the government to interfere with women's personal health decisions. Tennessee voters will decide on Amendment 1 in the upcoming election. Election day is November 4, but Tennessee voters can vote early, in-person, from October 15 to October 30.

"Who decides what's best for a woman's health? A rape victim and her minister, or a religious zealot who would impose his will on all Tennessee women and families?" said Rabbi Micah Greenstein at a gathering of 40 Memphis-area clergy at Evergreen Presbyterian Church last Wednesday.

If passed by Tennessee voters on November 4, Amendment 1 would allow state politicians to pass laws that ban abortion even in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the health or life of the woman. Politicians could pass state laws that would deny lifesaving treatments to pregnant women with critical illnesses like cancer, or even ban access to common forms of birth control, like the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception, that they consider - contrary to respected medical information - to be abortifacients.

Amendment 1 would change the Tennessee state constitution to read: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother." In effect, if passed, Amendment 1 would give state politicians the right to make decisions about the health and lives of women, and takes those rights away from women and their doctors.

Tennessee is not the only state with potentially devastating measures on the ballot this Fall. In North Dakota, voters will decide on Measure 1, a personhood amendment that would change the state constitution to provide an "inalienable right to life" at "any stage of development." If passed, Measure 1 would ban all abortions in the state, without exception, and could make illegal many forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in vitro fertilization. Measure 1 also threatens end-of-life care and could interfere with organ donation. And although Colorado voters defeated broad personhood amendments to their state's constitution in 2008 and 2010, Personhood Colorado has placed Amendment 67 on the ballot this year, which would amend the state constitution to include "unborn human beings" in the definitions of "person" and "child" in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act.

"Though the strategy is arguably different, the result is the same," wrote Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy & Research for the Feminist Majority Foundation, in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. magazine. "If passed, Amendment 67 would threaten abortion rights, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women and open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. All pregnant women's bodies would become potential crime scenes. Supporters of the amendment claim that the change would protect pregnant women from crime but we've heard that one before. The reality is that these laws are used to punish women, many who are struggling with drug dependency and mental-health issues and too often suffer tragic pregnancy outcomes."

Over 80 faith leaders in Colorado have also united in opposition to the extreme ballot measure in their state. "We support the rights of conscience, and a woman's capacity to make a personal decision with consultation from her doctor, her family, her clergy and her God," remarked Reverend Jann Halloran, president of the board of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a statement released last month. Rabbi Joseph Black, head of the largest Jewish congregation in Colorado, echoed her sentiments.

"While my tradition upholds the sanctity of life, the life and health of the mother is always more important than that of a fetus," Rabbi Black wrote. "To claim that a fertilized egg is anything other than a potential life is to go against Jewish values. It is a dangerous precedent."

Colorado voters can vote early in-person beginning on October 20. Coloradans may also vote by mail. Ballots are mailed to every Colorado voter on October 14.


10/6/2014 - Experts Recommend IUDs and Contraceptive Implants for Sexually Active Teenagers

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggested sexually active teenagers use contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) over other forms of birth control.

This is the first time the AAP has suggested pediatricians recommend long-acting reversible contraceptive methods (LARCs) such as IUDs and implants before recommending other, less-effective forms of birth control to sexually active teens. The new policy statement, which says pediatricians play a large role in reducing teen pregnancy, replaces a statement that was written in 2007. The AAP first began recommending contraceptive methods to members in 1980; the academy suggests pediatricians be fully educated on different methods of contraception.

"Pediatricians should be able to educate adolescent patients about LARC methods, including the progestin implant and IUDs," the AAP writes in the October issue of Pediatrics. "Given the efficacy, safety, and ease of use, LARC methods should be considered first-line contraceptive choices for adolescents. Some pediatricians may choose to acquire the skills to provide these methods to adolescents."

The AAP also emphasized that pediatricians should stress that "all methods of hormonal birth control are safer than pregnancy." Adolescent pregnancy is associated with higher risk of illness and death for mother and infant. Pregnant teenagers are at increased risk for hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and anemia. Pregnancy also increases the risk of violence for some teens.

In announcing the new policy, the AAP stressed the importance of pediatricians encouraging "healthy sexual health decision-making," which includes abstinence as well as proper condom use for sexually active teens as a method of preventing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The AAP notes that "perfect adherence to abstinence is low," and recommends that pediatricians "not rely on abstinence counseling alone but should additionally provide access to comprehensive sexual health information to all adolescents."

About 750,000 adolescents become pregnant in the US every year, according to the AAP, and more than 80 percent of those pregnancies are unplanned. Of all teen pregnancies in the US, 60 percent result in birth. And about 5 percent of all abortions in the US are obtained by minor. In part because it does not require its user to remember to take or use something every day or every time they have sex, the IUD's failure rate is less than 1 percent and implants have a failure rate of .05 percent - that's compared with a 9 percent failure rate for oral contraceptives and a 18 percent failure rate for male condoms.

The AAP revised policy on LARCs comes after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), based on research and expert opinions, revised its guidelines on LARCs in 2012, saying sexually active adolescents should be encouraged to use these methods. In its revision, ACOG noted that 42 percent of people ages 15-19 years old have had sexual intercourse, and that most adolescents use birth control but tend to use short-acting contraceptive methods (oral contraceptives, condoms, vaginal rings, etc.), which are less effective than LARCs. More information on different types of LARCs can be found here.

Media Resources: RH Reality Check 9/30/2014; American Academy of Pediatrics 9/29/14; Pediatrics 9/29/2014; Guttmacher Institute 5/2014; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 8/28/2013; Advocates for Youth 10/2012; The American College�of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 10/2014; California Family Health Council; National Institutes of Health


10/3/2014 - Federal Appeals Court Blocks Access to Abortion in Texas

The state of Texas lost all but eight of its abortion clinics overnight after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state could begin enforcing unnecessary and harmful abortion restrictions passed as part of Texas's omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, last year. Now, close to 1 million women of reproductive age will now have to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest clinic, preventing access to abortion for many.

More than half of Texas's abortion clinics had already been forced to close before the Fifth Circuit's ruling, and reports showed that this lack of access was already forcing some women to resort to illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies. In addition, clinic closures compromise access to a wide range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, including birth control and life-saving cancer screenings.

"It's shocking and a disgrace. Women will suffer, some will die because of this reactionary policy," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Feminist must organize to stop these attacks."

In its decision issued yesterday, a divided 2-1 panel of the Fifth Circuit allowed a provision of HB 2 requiring abortion clinics in Texas to meet the stringent building code requirements of ambulatory surgical centers to go into effect. That decision shuttered 13 clinics immediately. The appeals court also ruled that the law's admitting privileges requirement - a provision that has already closed around half of the state's abortion clinics, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights - could be applied to clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas.

"Today our hearts are broken on behalf of the women and families in Texas that have been left behind by this 5th circuit ruling," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, in a statement released after the decision. "What we have been fearing now if official: Texas faces a health care crisis, brought on by its own legislators."

The Texas state legislature passed HB 2 last year amid strong protest from women's rights and reproductive health activists. Wendy Davis successfully filibustered the bill in June 2013, but Governor Rick Perry (R) called a special session to pass it. In addition to the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements, the law also bans abortion after 20 weeks and restricts medication abortion. Texas had 44 abortion clinics prior to HB 2. That number was cut to 21 after parts of HB 2 went into effect, and yesterday's decision eviscerated 13 more clinics.

George W. Bush appointee, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 panel decision, overturning the decision of District Judge Lee Yeakel finding the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements unconstitutional. A separate challenge to the Texas admitting privileges requirement is also making its way through the federal courts.

Activists will be protesting today at noon on the south steps of the the Texas State Capitol.


10/3/2014 - White House Releases Updated Title IX Guidance on Campus Sexual Assault

As part of the "It's On Us" campaign to end campus sexual assault by changing campus culture, the White House has released guidance to assist with enforcement of institutional Title IX policies.

The documents released include a "Guide to Drafting a Sexual Assault Policy," "Definitions of Key Terms in Sexual Misconduct Policies," the "Role of Title IX Coordinator," and how to include "Interim and Supportive Measures for Victims."

All education institutions in the United States that receive federal funding must adhere to Title IX policies. One of these policies includes having at least one employee in charge of coordinating efforts to comply with Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in school programs or activities. The Title IX coordinator can also be the person who implements the school's sexual misconduct policy and responds to misconduct allegations.

The White House guidance also includes a definition of consent as something that is "informed, voluntary, and mutual, and can be withdrawn at any time." The definition explains, "There is no consent when there is force, expressed or implied, or when coercion, intimidation, threats, or duress is used. Whether a person has taken advantage of a position of influence over another person may be a factor in determining consent. Silence or absence of resistance does not imply consent. Past consent to sexual activity with another person does not imply ongoing future consent with that person or consent to that same sexual activity with another person."

The guidelines also include a checklist for how to properly develop a sexual misconduct policy, information for reporting sexual misconduct, how to support a survivor of sexual assault, and specific definitions that go along with these policies.

"Our society still does not sufficiently value women," President Barack Obama said during the unveiling of the campaign. "Unless women are allowed to fulfill their full potential, America will not fulfill its full potential [Laws] won't be enough unless we change the culture that allows assault to happen in the first place."

Vice President Joe Biden has emphasized that men must be involved. "Violence against women is not a women's issue alone, it's a men's issue," said Vice President Joe Biden said. "To all the guys out there: Step up. Be responsible. Intervene."

According to a White House report released early this year, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college and only 12 percent report the crime. Currently over 70 colleges and universities are under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases.

It's On Us is an ongoing part of the "Not Alone" campaign and pushes for students to recognize sexual assault for what it is, identify warning signs, intervene when it seems consent cannot or has not been given, and change their campus cultures so that survivors are supported and sexual assault is seen as unacceptable. Individuals can participate in It's On Us by going to ItsOnUs.org and taking the pledge, or by going a step further and downloading the free toolkit to help implement the campaign in their school or community.


10/3/2014 - Federal Appeals Court Blocks Access to Abortion in Texas

The state of Texas lost all but eight of its abortion clinics overnight after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state could begin enforcing unnecessary and harmful abortion restrictions passed as part of Texas's omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, last year. Now, close to 1 million women of reproductive age will now have to travel more than 150 miles to the nearest clinic, preventing access to abortion for many.

More than half of Texas's abortion clinics had already been forced to close before the Fifth Circuit's ruling, and reports showed that this lack of access was already forcing some women to resort to illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies. In addition, clinic closures compromise access to a wide range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, including birth control and life-saving cancer screenings.

"It's shocking and a disgrace. Women will suffer, some will die because of this reactionary policy," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Feminist must organize to stop these attacks."

In its decision issued yesterday, a divided 2-1 panel of the Fifth Circuit allowed a provision of HB 2 requiring abortion clinics in Texas to meet the stringent building code requirements of ambulatory surgical centers to go into effect. That decision shuttered 13 clinics immediately. The appeals court also ruled that the law's admitting privileges requirement - a provision that has already closed around half of the state's abortion clinics, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights - could be applied to clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas.

"Today our hearts are broken on behalf of the women and families in Texas that have been left behind by this 5th circuit ruling," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, in a statement released after the decision. "What we have been fearing now if official: Texas faces a health care crisis, brought on by its own legislators."

The Texas state legislature passed HB 2 last year amid strong protest from women's rights and reproductive health activists. Wendy Davis successfully filibustered the bill in June 2013, but Governor Rick Perry (R) called a special session to pass it. In addition to the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements, the law also bans abortion after 20 weeks and restricts medication abortion. Texas had 44 abortion clinics prior to HB 2. That number was cut to 21 after parts of HB 2 went into effect, and yesterday's decision eviscerated 13 more clinics.

George W. Bush appointee, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 panel decision, overturning the decision of District Judge Lee Yeakel finding the ambulatory surgical center and admitting privileges requirements unconstitutional. A separate challenge to the Texas admitting privileges requirement is also making its way through the federal courts.

Activists will be protesting today at noon on the south steps of the the Texas State Capitol.


10/3/2014 - UN Speaks Out Against Islamic State Attacks on Women

The United Nations last week condemned the brutal killings of women by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also know as ISIS.

In a recent attack, Sameera Salih Ali Al-Nuaimya, a well-known lawyer and women's rights activist, was publicly executed by a masked firing squad in Mosul. According to the United Nations, said Al-Nuaimy was taken from her home by ISIL fighters on September 17, after posting comments that were critical of the group on her Facebook page. Al-Nuaimy denounced the "barbaric bombing and destroying of mosques and shrines in Mosul." The group tortured Al-Nuaimy for five days, convicting her of apostasy in a Shari'a court before killing her.

"By torturing and executing a female human rights' lawyer and activist, defending in particular the civil and human rights of her fellow citizens in Mosul, ISIL continues to attest to its infamous nature, combining hatred, nihilism, and savagery, as well as its total disregard of human decency," Nickolay Mladenov said. Mladenov is the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq. "ISIL has repeatedly targeted the weak and defenseless in acts of brutality and cowardice that are beyond description, bringing about unfathomable suffering to all Iraqis regardless of their gender, age, religion, faith or ethnicity."

The UN said Al-Nuaimy's assassination is only the latest incident in a string of targeted and ruthless attacks carried out against prominent female leaders. In July, the UN said ISIL fighters killed a female former candidate for Iraq's parliament after storming her home. In a separate attack, the group invaded the home of another female candidate, killing and abducting her husband. The same day, a third female candidate was kidnapped by gunmen in eastern Mosul. The UN says she is still missing.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said they've received "numerous" reports of other women who've been murdered by fighters in ISIL-controlled territories, and condemned "gross human rights violations," including "rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children" by those fighting in Northern Iraq. "Educated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk," according to the UN.

The UN has also spoken out against the mass abduction and enslavement of Yazidi women and girls in particular. According to the BBC, tens of thousands of the Yazidi religious minority have fled the Islamic State in just the last month. Yazidi survivors, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, said the militants are trafficking the women for sex, corralling them into camps where victims have been brutally raped and beaten by ISIL and ISIS fighters. While there is no confirmed number, more than 3,000 Yazidi are believed to have been captured, with more than 5,000 men, women, and children still unaccounted for.


10/2/2014 - Court Reinstates Same Day Voter Registration in North Carolina

A federal appeals court blocked North Carolina's effort to end same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting - methods disproportionately used by minority voters - overturning a decision by a lower court just last month.

In a 2-1 decision issued yesterday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that these provisions of H.B. 589, the voter suppression measure signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory last year were likely to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which explicitly bans race or language-minority based disenfranchisement.

"Everyone in this case agrees that Section 2 has routinely been used to address vote dilution - which basically allows all voters to 'sing' but forces certain groups to do so pianissimo," Judge James Wynn wrote for the majority. "Vote denial is simply a more extreme form of the same pernicious violation - those groups are not simply made to sing quietly; instead their voices are silenced completely."

Elimination of same-day voter registration would have a disproportionate impact on African American voters in North Carolina. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than 70 percent of African-American voters used early voting in 2008 and 2012, and as Judge Wynn highlighted, a disproportionate number of African Americans availed themselves of same-day registration. In 2012, 13.4 percent of African Americans who voted early in the state used same-day registration, versus 7.2 percent of white voters; in 2008, 13.1 percent of African Americans used this system versus 8.9 percent of whites.

The appeals court ruling means that during the early voting period, voters in North Carolina will, for this election at least, be able to register to vote and vote on the same-day, at the same early voting site. The early voting period runs between October 23 and November 1. A North Carolina voter will also be allowed to cast a ballot even if they are out-of-precinct, so long as she is otherwise eligible to vote.

"This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina," said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the organizations that filed the case. "The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation."

Citing possible voter confusion, the North Carolina Board of Elections announced that the state would appeal the Fourth Circuit's decision to the US Supreme Court as soon as Thursday.