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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have voted to repeal its national ban on gay and lesbian adult staff and volunteers this week.
"The resolution will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation," a Boy Scouts of America statement read.
Just 15 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that the BSA had the right to discriminate against gay volunteers and staff in a 5-4 decision. Tim Curran filed a lawsuit against BSA for such a discrimination claim in the 1980s, which he then lost in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the 1990s. Curran, now a copy editor and writer for CNN, says he "couldn't be happier" with the decision, although he acknowledges that it comes later than he had hoped.
Robert Gates, current BSA President, said in announcing the removal of this ban that it would never hold up in the rapidly shifting political climate and increasing demands for LGBT rights."For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us," he said in a statement. "Now it's time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members."
This win for LGBT rights is limited, however, as troops organized through church groups can still decide if they will allow gay leaders. Because of that exemption, LGBT rights groups will fight on to shift BSA policies.
"Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "Period."
7/29/2015 - An Extreme Abortion Ban is Now Law in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed an extreme 20 week abortion ban into law last week.
The law, which bans abortions performed past 20 weeks, has no exception whatsoever for rape, incest, or fatal fetal anomalies. Such extreme abortion bans have been overturned time after time, as they directly contradict of the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, as Roe protects a patient's right to abortion until fetal viability, around 24 weeks.
A handful of anti-choice politicians and organizations maintain that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a claim that is widely contested by the vast majority of the medical community.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have released a letter urging the legislature and governor to oppose the bill. "This is bad medicine, based on the thoroughly debunked fallacy that a 20-week fetus - which is not viable - can feel pain," the letter reads. "These bills would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo additional emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time."
The law represents Walker's rapidly changing political stance. While campaigning for the governorship last year, Walker presented himself as a moderate on abortion and claimed to support legislation that would leave "the final decision to a woman and her doctor." Walker is now a presidential candidate and is increasingly taking more anti-abortion stances.
In addition to Wisconsin, 11 other states currently have an unconstitutional 20-week ban on the books, and three more have been struck down by the courts.
7/29/2015 - Jen Welter Just Made NFL History
Jen Welter was hired as a coach for the Arizona Cardinals this week, becoming the first woman ever to be a National Football League coach. She will coach inside linebackers and intern at the Cardinals' training camp.
Welter has a history of firsts in her career. She was running back in the Texas Revolution of Indoor Football League, making her the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a men’s pro league, and later became a coach for the team - and the Indoor Football League’s first female coach ever. Welter, who played women’s pro football for 14 seasons, has a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology and Ph.D. in Psychology.
She joins a growing list of women breaking barriers in professional men’s sports. Just this season, Sarah Thomas was named the first female referee official for the NFL. And San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon made history as the first woman to coach an NBA team. This season Hammon was put in charge of the team's squad, coaching them so far through a record of 6 consecutive wins and 1 loss.
“I want little girls everywhere to grow up knowing they can do anything, even play football,” Welter told NBC.
An attempt in the Senate to defundÂ Planned Parenthood by Mike Lee (R-UT) was blocked this weekend by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).Â Lee tried to attach the elimination of federal funds for Planned Parenthood to a vote for highway legislation, a move which was rejected by McConnell asÂ out of order.
Republican legislators have redoubled their efforts to block funding for Planned Parenthood since the release of twoÂ heavily edited clandestine videos of different PPFA employees taken without their knowledge. The videos, intended to put the organization in a bad light,Â claimÂ Planned ParenthoodÂ is illegally selling fetal tissue, which it hasÂ consistently denied.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards explained that the organization does not profit from tissue donations, and that all donation programs they participate in follow laws and ethical guidelines,Â in a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos. "We have the highest standards," Richards told him. "The care - and health care and safety - of our patients is our most important priority."
RichardsÂ also remindedÂ the public that the videos in question were produced by the Center for Medical Progress, a group with deep ties to extremist anti-choice organizations like Live Action and Operation Rescue.Â â€œThe folks behind this," she added, "are part of the most militant wing of the anti-abortion movement."
7/27/2015 - "After Tiller" Was Nominated For An Emmy
Documentary film After Tiller was nominated for two Emmy Awards: Best Documentary, and Outstanding Coverage of a Current News Story.
The Point of View (POV) documentary follows the aftermath of the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was one of the last remaining third trimester abortion providers in the country. He was assassinated in the atrium of his church, after facing decades of threats and harassment, surviving a shooting in 1994, and having his clinic bombed in 1986. Dr. Tiller's story represents the lived realities that many abortion providers and clinic staff experience daily at the hands of anti-abortion extremism.
Since Dr. Tiller was murdered, only four doctors remain in the United States openly performing third-trimester abortions. After Tiller follows these four doctors as they confront various obstacles- harassment, state efforts to close or limit abortion clinics, as well as emotional dilemmas from working in such a hostile environment- revealing the inspiration Dr. Tiller was for these doctors, but also the warning that his assassination serves to them of the risks they take through doing the work they do. The film has been called a "deeply humanizing" portrayal of the realities of violence against abortion providers in the face of anti-abortion extremism.
"Reality is complicated," say Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, directors and producers of After Tiller. "Yet when it comes to the abortion issue in America, we are often presented with two very different, black-and-white versions of what is right and what is wrong - no exceptions granted. As a result, the national shouting match over abortion has become increasingly distanced from the real-life situations and decisions faced by those people most intimately involved - the physicians and their patients."
The Feminist Majority Foundation has long supported clinic defense through its National Clinic Access Project, which most recently brought increased security measures to the last remaining abortion clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, in the face of a week of harassment and protest led by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America. FMF has advocated for safety buffer zones around clinics to ensure that patients, doctors, and healthcare workers can enter these facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.
The 67th annual Emmy Awards will take place on September 20th this year.
A federal court upheld this week that North Dakota's strict abortion ban law is unconstitutional, blocking it permanently.
The North Dakota law is one of the strictest in the nation. HB 1456 bans abortion past the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, and would have banned abortion before many women even know that they are pregnant.
The bill was signed into law by Governor Jack Dalrymple in 2013, after which pro-choice groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic - the last remaining abortion provider in North Dakota. A federal district court blocked the law in 2014, noting that "the United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability."
"Today's decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, ND, said that the clinic is very happy with the decision, but is ready to fight the measure should the state make an appeal to the Supreme Court. "We certainly hoped from the beginning when the bill was first proposed in the Legislature that the final outcome would be that the court would say that the state of North Dakota went too far in trying to ban abortions for the women that we served," Kromenaker said.
Anti-choice North Dakota lawmakers are now demanding that state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices, however, can decline to hear the case, as they did with the blocking of an Arizona state 20-week abortion ban last year.
7/24/2015 - Katherine Spillar Urges Cleveland to Dramatically Increase Hiring of Women Police to Mitigate Police Violence
In a well-received speech at the City Club of Cleveland today, Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation urged Cleveland city officials to dramatically increase the hiring of women police officers as a way to decrease police brutality incidents.
Following a number of high profile police killings in Cleveland of African Americans, and an eight-month investigation by the US Attorney's office of the Northern District of Ohio, the City of Cleveland has now entered into a Consent Decree that requires numerous reforms in how the city oversees and investigates police operations, including training in use of force.
"Among the most important reforms mandated by the consent decree - and the most easily overlooked - are the changes the Cleveland Division of Police must make in its recruitment and hiring practices,
said Spillar. "Why? Because it provides Cleveland an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically increase the percentages of women in the police department. And to racially diversify the ranks of a department that is two-thirds white in a city that is two-thirds non-white."
Spillar explained that racial diversity would ensure communities of color are full partners in a new community-oriented police department, and that gender balancing the department would bring a different kind of police officer to the CDP. "Studies over the past 40 years have shown that women officers are less authoritarian in their approach to policing and less reliant on physical force," Spillar continued. "Most importantly, women officers have proven to be better at defusing potentially violent confrontations - before those encounters turn deadly. This is the very approach to policing that the US Attorney says is tragically missing in Cleveland."
Spillar pointed to two reasons explaining the difference in women's and men's approach to policing.
"First, policemen see policing as use of force to gain compliance. By contrast, women see policing as a public service. Second, some research suggests that male police officers who feel like they must demonstrate their masculinity might be more likely to use force against a subject. We most recently saw this play out on the video-taped arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas. Her death in police custody is still unexplained.
"What's more, women police are better at responding to domestic violence incidents, the largest category of 911 calls to police departments across the country, underscoring the need for more women in the department."
Despite the evidence that increasing women in law enforcement would significantly reduce police violence, the number of women in policing nationwide remains stuck at low levels. Cleveland Division of Police has only 14.4% women in its ranks. According to Spillar, three major causes keep the numbers of women in policing artificially low: misguided recruiting practices, ongoing discriminatory hiring practices across the country, and hostile work places.
To increase the numbers of women in law enforcement Spillar argued police departments must adopt: a community policing philosophy over a warrior model that over-relies on use of force; an unrelenting and genuine commitment from the top of the department and from city leaders to hire more women officers; unbiased testing and hiring procedures; incentives for existing police officers to actively seek out and encourage women to apply; and serious enforcement of sexual harassment policies that keep women from being hazed and threatened out of the department.
"The most fundamental change a police agency can make is in hiring the right people - the right balance of people. And it is the current imbalance - or gender gap - in policing that is contributing to the police excessive force problems in this city and cities across the country.
"Until now, the national conversation has ignored the benefits gender balancing would bring to the effectiveness of police departments and to the people in their communities. With demands for police reform, we have a perfect opportunity to consider a dramatic, gender-based response."
The Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women in Policing has long supported female officers and efforts to diversify police departments by sex, race, and ethnicity across the country. In the midst of a national conversation about police brutality, that work could mean the difference between life and death for those who interact with police.
Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, will speak at the City Club of Cleveland at 12 PM EST tomorrow, July 24, on how adding equal numbers of women to police departments nationwide is critical to reducing incidents of police violence and enhancing the ability of police to improve relations with the communities they serve. A live stream will be available here.
Studies over the past 40 years both in the U.S. and internationally show that women officers are less authoritarian and use force less often than their male counterparts, possess better communication skills, and are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations. As a result, women police are less likely than male officers to become involved in use of excessive force and deadly force. These studies also show, however, that women police officers perform the job of policing equally as well as men and are not reluctant to use force when necessary.
In the wake of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown's shooting death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri nearly a year ago, a nationwide movementï¿½calling for police accountability and an end to police brutality has mounted across the nation. Brown's death is no outlier; since his August 9, 2014 shooting, countless other people of color, primarily African-Americans, have died in altercations with police. 43-year-old Eric Garner died while being held in a choke-hold by police in Staten Island; 25-year-old Freddie Gray fell into a coma with a severed spine after being transported in a police van and later died; 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot in Cleveland.
Despite a national conversation that can center on male victims of police violence, women and girls, too, suffer frequently from various forms of victimization during encounters with police. Officers like Daniel Holtzclaw using their authority to rape women civilians, and girls at a public pool in Texas were assaulted by police with no cause. 16-year-old Jessie Hernandez was shot in Denver, and 28-year-old Sandra Bland's death in a holding cell began being investigated as a murder this week.
The Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women in Policing has long supported female officers and efforts to diversify police departments across the country. In the midst of a national conversation about police brutality, that work could mean the difference between life and death for those who interact with police.
The Feminist Majority and over 70 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) released a letter to President Obama yesterday that calls on him to reinterpret the Helms Amendment and meet with the people running women's health programs in Africa on an upcoming trip to the continent.
Currently, the Helms Amendment is wrongly interpreted as an all-out ban on abortion funding. Because of this interpretation, organizations cannot use foreign assistance to fund abortion as a method of family planning - and abortion in the case of rape, life endangerment, and incest is also prohibited. The Obama administration has the power to reinterpret the extremely broad amendment, but has not since he took office.
"Ultimately we want to see the Helms Amendment repealed, but that would take an act of Congress," said Center for Health and Gender Equity President Serra Sippel. "We don't need an act of Congress to implement the Helms Amendment correctly. This is something the President can do now."
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion worldwide each year. Deaths due to unsafe abortions are close to 13 percent of all maternal deaths.
"Abortions in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment should not be considered abortions 'as a method of family planning' under any reasonable definition," they= coalition stated in their letter to the President. "This issue is urgent because women are dying. Unsafe abortion is a key driver of maternal mortality, and Kenya and Ethiopia are among the 24 USAID priority countries where 70 percent of maternal deaths worldwide occur."
Faith leaders are also on board. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) stated they want "swift executive action" on the Helms Amendment, saying further that it is too strict of an interpretation. They call on Obama to provide compassionate care overseas.
"We are here today to not only say that this interpretation is wrong," Reverend Harry Knox, president of the RCRC, said in a press conference earlier this summer, "it is morally bankrupt."
President Obama will be visiting Kenya and Ethiopia to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, but the coalition urges him to do more. "We request that you meet with the U.S. government's partners who are implementing health and gender-based violence programs on the ground," the letter reads. The coalition wants the President to understand the health needs to Kenyan and Ethiopian women in order to implement a solution.
A plethora of groups have been pushing to change the interpretation of the amendment for years; most recently, Catholics for Choice and the Center for Health and Gender Equity urged the President to do so in order to provide comprehensive care to the Nigerian victims of Boko Haram, and last winter over 20 organizations gathered outside of the White House in solidarity with survivors of rape in war, most of whom lack access to abortion care due to Helms.
7/23/2015 - Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Rules LGBT Employees Are Protected from Job Discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects the LGBT community from workplace discrimination. In a 3-2 vote, the EEOC determined that the landmark legislation, which prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sex, also forbids sexual orientation discrimination.
"Sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex," reads the opinion. "That is, an employee alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is claiming that his or her employer took his or her sex into account by treating him or her differently for associating with a person of the same sex."
The decision stems from a complaint filed by Anthony Foxx, an air traffic control agent from Florida, who believed he was passed over for a promotion because of his sexual orientation. After investigation, the EEOC concluded that Foxx had been discriminated against because he was gay.
EEOC's sexual orientation discrimination ruling applies to federal employees claims against the government, as well as private sector employment discrimination. Despite counter rulings by several other circuit courts, last week's decision could prove a major step in outlawing discrimination against LGBT people in general. This ruling follows an EEOC decision made in 2012 that declared discrimination based on gender identity was sex discrimination, which has become widely accepted by federal courts.
Director Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauded the decision. However, Minter noted that the LGBTQ community will not have true equality until Congress enacts legislation prohibit any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"Comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people are strongly supported by Americans from all walks of life," said Minter. "We'll continue working to ensure our laws at the municipal, state and federal level recognize that LGBT Americans deserve to live free from the fear of discrimination."
This decision is vital in creating a safe workplace environment for LGBT folks. After the Supreme Court ruling this past June that legalized same sex marriage, many assumed that the LGBT community's fight for equality had come to an end. However, in many states people can be denied credit, evicted from their apartments, and refused hotel rooms based on their sexual orientation.
Texas officials today released dashboard camera video footage showing Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia physically threatening Sandra Bland, a 28-year old African-American woman who died in police custody last week.
In the video, Encinia is heard telling Bland, who had been stopped for a traffic violation, to get out of her vehicle. Tensions seem to escalate when Bland questioned Encinia's authority to order her out of her car. The officer then opened the car door himself and threatened to drag her out. Bland can be heard telling the officer, "Don't touch me. I'm not under arrest."
Soon thereafter, Encinia pointed a taser at Bland and yelled, "I will light you up!"
After Bland exits the car, she is and heard telling the officer, "you slammed my head into the ground, do you even care about that? I can't even hear." Encinia tells her that she is resisting arrest. Bland asked the officer multiple times to tell her why she was being arrested.
Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after she was taken in. Authorities initially ruled it a suicide, but after pressure from the Bland family and the public - which spread news of the death using the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland - the Waller County, Texas District Attorney announced that the death will be investigated as a homicide. The FBI has joined the Texas Rangers in conducting the investigation.
Bland's death is the latest in a series of violent incidents against African-American women, sparking a national movement to #SayHerName.
"What happened to Sandra Bland is outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "She should never have been ordered to leave her car in the first place and never have been arrested. This was a minor traffic violation that the officer escalated because he was challenged by a Black woman who knew her rights. How many more Black and Latino people have to die before we make fundamental change in police recruitment and training, and overhaul a justice system that is permitting police brutality with impunity?"
Less than 24 hours after Bland's death, 18-year old Kindra Chapman was found dead in a Homewood City, Alabama jail cell one hour after being arrested for allegedly stealing a cell phone. Chapman's death, also called a suicide by authorities, has spurred the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody.
Two months ago, activists gathered in California to demand justice for Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, and Alberta Spruill, all Black women killed at the hands of police violence. Just weeks after this protest, 15-year-old Dajerria Becton was violently attacked by a police officer in McKinney, Texas at a neighborhood pool party.
At the Netroots Nation 2015 Presidential Town Hall, protestors from the #BlackLivesMatter movement called on Democratic presidential candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders to address racial justice and their plans to dismantle systemic racism, while shouting the names of Sandra Bland and other women who died in police custody.
7/21/2015 - Viola Davis and Taraji Henson Make Emmy History
This past weekend, two African American women were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in the same year for the first time in Emmy history. Viola Davis, who stars in the show How To Get Away With Murder, and Taraji P. Henson, who stars in Empire, were nominated.
It has been rare for African American women to be nominated in this category. Before Kerry Washington was nominated in 2013 for her work in Scandal, the last African American woman nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series was Cicely Tyson in 1995. No African American woman has ever won an Emmy in this category.
These nominations highlight the slow but steady progress television has made in becoming more diverse. Other notable Emmy nominations include Anthony Anderson for his work on the comedy black-ish and Amazon's Transparent, a TV series about a transgender woman transitioning as an adult with the support of her family, which received 11 Emmy nominations and earlier this year won the Golden Globe for best TV comedy. Several other series with LGBTQ characters, actors, and storylines also received nominations.
The diversity of this year's Emmys is contrasts greatly with a lingering lack of diversity in film. Last year at the Oscars, for example, not a single African American, Latino/a, or Asian American actor was nominated.
"Film needs to take a leaf out of the TV book especially with diversity and women starring, directing and producing," said British-born actor David Oyelowo, nominated for his work in the HBO movie "Nightingale" and star of the film Selma. "There is a far more representative view of what it is to be in America from TV [than film]."
Diversity in television still has a ways to go. Some have criticized the fact that Empire only received three nominations whereas shows like Game of Thrones received 24. Jane the Virgin, which has been lauded as "unapologetically Latin" and stars Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez, failed to receive a major nomination. Fresh Off the Boat, a series featuring Asian American lead characters, also did not receive any major nominations.
Organizations have been highlighting these gaps in progress and pushing for more. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) filed a complaint earlier this year asking for federal and state civil rights agencies to investigate the massive gender discrepancies in the hiring of directors at all levels of the film and television industry, and the Feminist Majority Foundation recognized Jenji Cohan and Shonda Rhimes at the 10th annual Eleanor Roosevelt Global Women's Rights Awards this year for their dedication to hiring diverse casts and placing women in lead roles in the shows Orange is the New Black, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and Grey's Anatomy.
7/21/2015 - Wisconsin Workers Just Lost Their Days Off
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed off on a new budget last week that ended the state's law banning seven-day work weeks. Republican State Senators Glenn Grothman and Mark Born have been pushing for the seven-day workweek legislation since last year.
While the previous law stated that workers were required to take a full 24 hours off for every seven-day period, the new provision in the budget allows employees to work the full seven days if they specify in writing that they would like to. Opponents were quick to point out that it is unlikely that decisions to work a full seven days will truly be "voluntary."
According to groups like the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, there is nothing in the law that prevents an employer from stating that the decision to waive the right to a weekend is the mark of a committed employee. In addition, Wisconsin is an "employment at will" state, meaning that any employee can be terminated at any time provided the reason is not discriminatory. Opponents of the new law feel that for this reason, workers will feel pressured to work the full seven days in order to keep their jobs.
"Basically, as long as management does not make a very explicit and clumsy threat, there is almost no end to personal and financial rewards that can be made conditional on waiving that right [to a 7-day work week]," said Gordon Lafer, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute.
Those who hold these concerns have advocated schedules that work as an alternative to the seven-day workweek, stating that taking away the mandatory day off does not help workers manage their lives outside of work.
"Wisconsin should give workers a say in when they work and require employers to compensate workers when they are sent home early, work call in shifts, or have their schedules changed at the last minute," writes Elizabeth Johnston of the National Women's Law Center. "It should not take away their weekend."
This is not the first time Governor Walker has acted against the interest of workers, particularly women. In the past, Walker has refused to raise the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects women, and repealed equal pay legislation.
United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron announced a measure last week aimed at making the gender pay gap much more visible. In an effort of transparency, big businesses in the UK will soon be forced to publish the difference in earnings between male and female employees.
"Today I'm announcing a really big move: we will make every single company with 250 employees or more publish the gap between average female earnings and average male earnings," Cameron wrote in UK newspaper The Times. He hopes that this kind of transparency and emphasis on the gender pay gap will "create the pressure we need for change, and drive women's wages up."
Cameron also wrote of tackling other barriers for women in the workforce, including access to affordable childcare and encouraging girls from a young age to enter into careers where women are under-represented.
The gender pay gap in Britain, although better than that of the United States, is still significant, with the average gender gap for all British employees at 20 percent. For full-time workers in Britain, that gap lessens dramatically, with women making 10 percent less than their male counterparts.
In the United States, on the other hand, women still earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latinas earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement.
Last week, the anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America (OSA) organized its annual national event of increased harassment and protesting outside targeted clinics in Alabama. The Feminist Majority Foundation's Clinic Defense Team spent several weeks on the ground in Alabama before and during the protests, providing assistance to clinics throughout the state.
For years, OSA has used the summer to travel around the nation and protest abortion, often targeting vulnerable clinics in states where abortion providers are already under siege. This week, anti-abortion extremists targeted Montgomery, Alabama's Reproductive Health Services, the only clinic left in the state's capital. OSA historically attracts many out-of-state anti-choice extremists to their demonstrations, but this was the first year OSA invited an advocate of "justifiable homicide" to be a featured speaker during the week of intimidation and harassment.
Matthew Trewhella , the leader of Missionaries to the Preborn, was spoke to an evening OSA rally; Trewhella is a signatory of the Defensive Action petition in support of the use of lethal force to stop abortion. In addition, John Brockhoeft, an Ohio-based advocate of justifiable homicide and convicted felon who served time for arson attacks on clinics in Ohio and conspiring to bomb a clinic in Pensacola, FL, participated in the OSA protests.
"In spite of severe intimidation and harassment by OSA, all of the abortion clinics in Alabama, from Huntsville to Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, remained open and all patients were seen," said duVergne Gaines, director of FMF's Clinic Defense Team. "We were pleased to work with courageous clinic staff, hundreds of pro-choice supporters and dedicated law enforcement throughout the state to keep these clinics safe and open to serve the women of Alabama. What's more, OSA's numbers were down this year as compared to last year when they targeted Louisiana, and it appears they are more desperate than ever."
Along with the Feminist Majority Foundation's Clinic Defense Team, feminists and activists from across the Southern states have come together throughout the week to protect clinics in Alabama. Organizations like Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance of the University of Montevallo, and the Feminist Caucus of the University of Alabama showed up in support of Reproductive Health Services and other clinics. Through the FMF Choices Campus Leadership Program's Adopt-a-Clinic campaign, local college students have mobilized to help protect Alabama clinics.
"The students have been instrumental in training, reaching out to community members to build a network, and organizing their campuses," said Edwith Theogene, National Campus Organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation. "We're proud of the student turn-out and the dedication these students are showing to keeping their clinics open and safe."
Besides protesting outside of abortion clinics, OSA disrupted progressive religious events or services to oppose both abortion and LGBT rights during its annual national siege. The protest left many residents of Alabama feeling uneasy and unsafe.
"Everybody is on high alert [during this time]," said Mia Raven, legislative director of the Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates. "Everybody in the state of Alabama and everybody in surrounding states is on high alert."
Such high alert is often necessary during extremist protests such as OSA. The Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey shows that since 2010, the distribution of Old West-style WANTED posters and pamphlets targeting doctors and clinic staff, and featuring doctors' and staffs' photographs, home addresses, and other personal information, has almost doubled from 27% to 52%. Historically, these kinds of threats to abortion doctors, staff, and clinics have often preceded serious crimes such as violence, arson, bombings, stalking of clinic staff, patients, and doctors, and murder.
"Given this history, the dramatic increase in extremist threats cannot be ignored," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Clinics like those targeted in Alabama, are a vital part of women's healthcare, providing birth control, STD and cancer screenings, and other reproductive health services in addition to abortion. Without these clinics, there is no choice."
Following a White House press conference on the deal recently struck with Iran, President Obama was posed with a question about Bill Cosby and his admittance of using drugs to have sex with women. In response, he called the act rape, giving a modern definition of consent that has feminists across the country applauding.
"If you give a woman - or a man, for that matter - without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape," the President said. "I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape."
This comprehensive definition of rape vastly differs from one used FBI used a mere three years ago, which read "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will," and had not been changed since 1929. Thanks in part to the "Rape is Rape" campaign led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, the new definition is much more broad, including persons of all genders, and says rape is "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim." Although this FBI definition still leaves out some concepts of comprehensive consent, it was applauded a leap in the right direction.
The Obama administration has been clear from the beginning in making the prevention of sexual assault a priority. "Rape is rape is rape," said Vice President Joe Biden back in 2011, leading up to the release of the I's On Us campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
7/16/2015 - This DC Council Member Wants Sexual Assault Convictions to Appear on College Transcripts
DC At-Large Council member Anita Bonds proposed new legislation this week that would require colleges and universities to clearly mark the transcript of a college student convicted of sexual assault while on campus, putting it permanently on a student's college record.
The legislation, which is being referred to as the "Scarlet Letter" bill, would require colleges and universities to indicate a conviction of sexual assault on a student's transcript, or on the transcript of students who withdraw from school while under investigation for sexual misconduct. Furthermore, the legislation would institute a number of sexual assault preventative measures and tools for colleges and universities to handle reports of sexual assault. For example, it would require a ratio of campus sexual assault workers to enrolled students of 1 for every 2,000, as well as mandate a sexual assault prevention course for all incoming students within the first six weeks of school.
"I am outraged by the proliferation of sexual assault on our college campuses," said Councilmember Bonds in a statement. "I am introducing this bill because we need to do much more to combat these assaults and protect the victims." Bonds is also the head of the Democratic Party in Washington, DC, and was joined by three council members in introducing the measure.
Bonds cited a recent Post-Kaiser poll which reaffirmed the commonly-cited statistic that one in five women, or twenty percent, who attended college in the past four years say they were sexually assaulted. The data from this poll also show that students are divided about the definition of consent, that victims of sexual assault suffer from trauma, and that a small minority of victims report the crime.
The findings of these data reflect the findings of a 2005 congressionally-mandated report by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), underscoring the lack of progress in lowering the 1 in 5 statistic of college sexual assault over the past decade. The NIJ report, which studied random samples from almost 2,500 schools including 2 and 4-year institutions, also found that twenty percent of college women experienced sexual assault, while only 12 percent reported the crime.
Studies have also shown that most rapists are repeat offenders; one study, supported by many others, found that though only 6 percent of men admitted to attempting or committing rape, on average those men had committed rape 5.8 times. Bonds' proposal has many activists excited at the prospect of seriously impacting the cycle of sexual abuse on college campuses, in which often times if a student is convicted of sexual assault and expelled, they are then able to freely apply to and attend another college.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced this week that the Department of Defense (DOD) will begin the process of lifting the ban on transgender military service members, allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military.
In a statement Carter called the current ban on transgender service members "outdated," writing that throughout wars and conflict "transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms."
Although transgender people are banned from military service, research shows that approximately 150,000 transgender people have served in the US armed forces, with 8,800 transgender individuals currently on active duty and another 6,700 transgender individuals serving in the Guard or Reserve forces. These folks often have to keep their gender identity secret, or else risk being discharged.
Carter says the DOD issued directives in order to integrate transgender service members, the first of which includes creating a six month group study "the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly."
"We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country," said Chad Griffin, President of the HRC. "Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member's."
According to RH Reality Check, openly transgender people will not be able to join the military during the six-month review period, and decisions on whether to discharge individuals who are already serving will be referred higher up the chain of command.
7/14/2015 - Chicago Public Schools Will Increase Athletic Opportunities for Girls After Title IX Complaint
Chicago Public Schools and the Office for Civil Rights reached an agreement late last week to provide equal athletic opportunity for boys and girls.
The agreement follows a Title IX complaint that the schools were out of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in all federally funded schools.
The National Womenâ€™s Law Center filed this complaint in 2010 with the Department of Educationâ€™s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that the Chicago district did not equally accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of both girls and boys, and maintained that girls did not have equal opportunities to participate in athletics. A subsequent OCR investigation showed significant disparities in opportunities to play sports in the districtâ€™s 98 high schools. The OCR estimated that 6,200 additional spots on teams are needed to level the playing field for female students.
The agreement for resolving the OCR complaint is based on a three-part test of compliance. If the schools cannot show they provide equal opportunities for girls and boys using any part of the test, they need to make the necessary adjustments, possibly adding new athletic teams or new levels to existing teams. Additionally, the district will be hiring a Title IX Sports Compliance CoordinatorÂ to work with the Office for Civil Rights to ensure implementation of these corrective measures.
â€œItâ€™s time to level the playing field and give girls the athletic opportunities they deserve,â€ said Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment for the National Womenâ€™s Law Center. â€œThe Centerâ€™s findings and OCRâ€™s investigation underscore the urgency of treating girls fairly and putting these schools on the path toward compliance with Title IX.â€
Research clearly shows that athletics have a positive effect on youth, especially girls. Girls who play sports are less likely to become pregnant as teens, experience depression or eating disorders, and be diagnosed with some major illnesses such as breast cancer. Similarly, girls who play sports in school are more likely to develop positive relationships with their bodies, experience higher self-esteem, and perform better in school.
7/13/2015 - Senate Blocks Global Gag Rule
A bipartisan majority in the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that repeals the anti-abortion "Global Gag Rule" and restores $600 million in funding for international family planning and reproductive health services. Republican Senator Mark Kirk (IL) and GOP Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) joined Senate Democrats in passing the amendment.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), was added to the 2016 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill and passed by a vote of 17-13.
The Global Gag Rule bans US funding for family planning programs in developing countries that advocate for or provide information to women on a full range of options, including abortion, even if organizations use their own funds to do so. President Reagan first implemented the Global Gag rule through an executive order. It was later rescinded by President Clinton and then reinstated by President Bush. President Obama has since rescinded it, but the changing nature of the rule makes organizations afraid to accept U.S. assistance. Under the Global Gag Rule, abortion rates increased and many clinics were forced to close or reduce their services.
"We thank Senators Shaheen, Leahy and their bipartisan allies on the Appropriations Committee for putting women's health over politics and rejecting anti-women's health provisions in the funding bill," said Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "The United States should redouble efforts to empower women and girls throughout the world, not stand in the way. That means investing more, not less, in women's health, making women and girls a top priority in foreign assistance, eliminating gender-based violence, and incorporating gender equity across the board in policymaking and international development."
The United States is the biggest donor to family planning programs in developing countries. The US's current family planning program helps 28 million women receive contraceptive services, which helps avert 6 million unintended pregnancies and more than 12,000 maternal deaths annually.
"An estimated 225 million women in developing countries are unable to access family planning services," said Senator Shaheen. "Providing greater access to family planning and reproductive health services improves the health of mothers and children, empowers women to make their own choices about how to grow their families, and is a smart investment that helps reduce poverty."
While the Senate version of the appropriations bill no longer has restrictions on family planning services, the House version, which was passed in the House Committee last month, contains proposals to cut international family planning assistance by $149 million (25 percent) and reinstate the Global Gag Rule. As a result of this bill, 79 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, have since signed an open statement to Congress, calling for a repeal of the Global Gag Rule.
A new study has found that the majority of Black men and women believe in a woman's right to choose and want women to have access to abortion care and contraception. These attitudes are broadly shared across age, gender, income, political ideology and religion.
85 percent of those who participated in the study, conducted by In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda, believe that Black women should be trusted to make their own reproductive choices. 71 percent believe abortion should be available in their communities. 86 percent see contraception as part of a woman's basic health care, ad 94 percent want publicly funded contraception to be made available for low-income people.
"Overwhelmingly, black Americans support a woman's right to determine for herself when she will have children," said Dazon Dixon Diallo, the founder and CEO of reproductive justice nonprofit SisterLove. "We are being faced with an assault against that critical belief that exists in the black community."
African-American women face different health risks than white women, partially due to lack of access to care. Because of this, diseases such as breast and cervical cancers are less likely to be found early, when they are most treatable. Because many clinics that provide abortions also offer screenings for cancers and STDs, African American women are disproportionately affected as new state-level restrictions cause these clinics to shutter.
In Our Own Voice applauded the introduction of the EACH Woman Act on July 8 in their report, a bill that would make insurance coverage for abortion available to all women, especially low-income women. "The EACH Woman Act puts the power back in the hands of Black women, in varying financial and life situations, and gives options that are best suited for their families' needs," said Michelle Batchelor, the National Director for In Our Own Voice in their press release.
7/10/2015 - Women Are Saving Hundreds of Dollars on Contraception Following the ACA's Implementation
Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect, women have saved dramatically on birth control and emergency contraception.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and published in Health Affairs found that after the ACA mandate went into effect, birth control users have saved an average of $255 every year and IUD users have saved $248. Spending on implant devices has dropped to $91, a 72 percent decrease, and the cost of emergency contraceptives has declined by over 90 percent. Before the ACA, women were spending about 44 percent of their annual health expenditures on birth control, but after the mandate, that number has been reduced to 22 percent. At this rate, consumer spending on the pill alone could drop by almost $1.5 billion annually.
While the study was not able to definitively prove that the law was the cause of these falling expenditures, experts say that the timing and magnitude of the decline suggest that it was. These results are also consistent with smaller studies that have found similar results. "I find this study persuasive and consistent with what other studies are finding," said Alina Salganicoff, the director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "I think we're seeing a clear pattern in the research."
Under the ACA health insurance providers must cover preventive health services, such as birth control, without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. At least one version of all 18 federally approved birth control methods, including IUDs, the patch, pill, shots or injections, vaginal contraceptive rings, and some long-term options such as surgical sterilization or implant, must be available to women.
Costs have been a huge barrier to access to birth control, leading to an increase in the number of unintended pregnancies. About 3.3 million pregnancies each year in the United States are unintended, and, according to the Brookings Institution, poor women in the United States are five times as likely as affluent women to have unintended births.
"We have no doubt that the cost makes a difference," said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Center for Health Research in Washington. "When you have free contraception, it's going to affect pregnancy and abortion as well because money matters."
Despite these positive findings, many women still do not have access to affordable birth control under the ACA. The National Women's Law Center found that many insurance companies have failed to comply with the law. The ACA also does not cover all versions of birth control and many women still have to pay for contraception if their plans predate the ACA.
Earlier this month, the Kansas Attorney General announced his plans to appeal a Shawnee County Judge's ruling which blocked an anti-choice law in the state.
Lawyers representing Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed the notice asking to overturn the ruling. Schmidt's lawyers did not say why the Attorney General was appealing, but did argue that the abortion procedure was "inhumane." The suit is being filed on behalf of Doctors Herbert Hodes and Traci Nauser of Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City. Their practice is only one of three providers of abortion in Kansas.
The law in question, SB95, was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee and took effect July 1. It outlaws a "dismemberment" abortion, which essentially bans any dilation and evacuation procedure; this procedure is used in most second-trimester abortions and in about 9 percent of all abortions performed in the state. Kansas was the first state to ban this type of abortion.
District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled the ban unconstitutional, citing that it puts an undue burden on women seeking abortions since the procedure is so common. Hendricks also said that the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights as much as the U.S. Constitution. He put the law on hold until he hears a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which he said is "likely to prevail."
SB95 prohibits patients from finding safe, effective, and medically-proven method of second trimester abortion. The law was originally signed over objections of local, state, and national medical experts and physicians.
"We are confident this court will see the harm this law would inflict upon Kansas women," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, "and block it before even one woman is denied the care that she and her doctor have decided is best."
Colorado's Family Planning Initiative (CFPI), which offers teenagers and poor women free and low-cost intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants and has significantly reduced the state's teen pregnancy and abortion rates, may soon disappear.
The CFPI's private grant is set to run out this year, and Colorado state representatives have eliminated the program's funding by voting down a bill that would have appropriated $5 million toward the initiative. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is continuing to search for private funding but has not yet received a firm commitment.
"It's outrageous that, in this day and age, politicians in Colorado voted to dismantle a critical program that is proven to help young women reduce unintended pregnancy and plan for their futures," Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.
The Initiative resulted in a 40 percent drop in the teen pregnancy rate between 2009 and 2013 and a 42 percent drop in the abortion rate. Birth rates among unmarried women under 25 who did not finish high school also dropped by about the same amount. While teen pregnancy rates have been declining around the country, experts say that these dramatic results are most likely due to the program, which was started six years ago and funded by a private grant. About one-fifth of women ages 18-44 in Colorado now use a long-acting method of birth control, compared to 7 percent nationwide.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) has praised the Initiative, saying that "it has helped thousands of young Colorado women continue their education, pursue their professional goals and postpone pregnancy until they are ready to start a family."
CFPI has particularly helped women in the poorest areas of the state. The Initiative gives funding to family planning clinics all over the state, resulting in around 30,000 IUDs and implants being offered to low-income young women at little or no cost. Without insurance, an IUD would cost between $500 and $900, preventing many low-income women from accessing this highly-effective, reversible, long-acting form of contraception.
While the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which seeks to provide free contraception, may ease some of the burden if Colorado's program were to disappear, the ACA is not as effective. The ACA does not cover all versions of birth control and many women will still have to pay for contraception if their plans predate the ACA.
In a long overdue step to ensuring access to health insurance coverage for abortion for low-income women, Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Diana DeGette (D-CO) today introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which would make insurance coverage for abortion available to all women.
All Above All, a coalition of over fifty organizations, including The Feminist Majority, joined several members of Congress, including Rosa DeLauro, Lois Frankel, Mike Honda, Brenda Lawrence, and Jerrold Nadler, to make the bills introduction and to condemn federal restrictions that prevent low-income women from being able to access safe abortion care.
"The amount of money a woman has or doesn't have should never prevent her from having an abortion," said Congresswoman Lee.
Since the passage of the Hyde amendment in 1976, Congress has withheld coverage for abortion services from women insured through the Medicaid program. Approximately 1 in 6 women are enrolled in Medicaid are of reproductive age. To date, only 17 states provide state Medicaid coverage for all or most medically necessary abortions. Medicaid restriction often creates an insurmountable barrier to abortion for women already struggling to make ends meet and disproportionally impacts women of color.
"For too long, low-income women have been denied abortion coverage just because they can't afford it and live in a state without coverage," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal in a press release. "The size of your paycheck and which state you live in should not determine access."
The Act would also prevent federal, state, and local government from restricting insurance coverage of abortion in private health insurance plans, including plans purchased on health insurance exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act. Across the country, legislators have attempted - sometimes successfully - to limit access to abortion by placing restrictions on ACA plans or private insurers, putting women's health at risk, especially low-income women.
In 2012, Iowa lawmakers filed a petition with the state's Department of Human Services in an attempt to end all Medicaid funding for abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. In July of last year, Georgia enacted a law banning coverage of abortion in health insurance plans purchased in the state marketplace and an law that restricted access to abortion for folks on Medicaid in Alaska by defining, on strict terms, when it was "medically necessary" was challenged by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
"Politically motivated attacks on women's access to abortion must end," said Feminist Majority Policy Director Gaylynn Burroughs. "The EACH Woman Act takes a huge step forward by preventing politicians from playing games with women's lives by deciding which services their health insurance can and cannot cover."