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Residents in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico will vote on a ballot measure today that, if passed, would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation without exceptions for the life and health of the mother or survivors of rape or incest.
The New Mexico state legislature has generally been able to block anti-choice legislation, but out-of-state anti-abortion activists were able to collect enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, eliciting a special off-year election. "These efforts callously disregard the personal circumstances that surround a woman's decision to end her pregnancy," writes Respect ABQ Women, a group of allied women, families and organizations dedicated to protecting the decision to end a pregnancy and keeping it between women and their doctors. "The out-of-touch groups behind this ballot measure don't care about women's health or safety; their only goal is to judge our families and make it impossible for women to access safe and legal abortions."
Only about one percent of abortions in the US take place after 20 weeks gestation, and women usually decide to have them because of fetal anomalies, a risk to their health or life, or other often difficult reasons.
This measure is particularly significant because both Texas and Arizona have strict regulations on abortion that force women from across the region to travel to New Mexico for reproductive health care. Albuquerque is the only city in the Southwest where women can terminate a pregnancy past 20 weeks gestation, but if this measure passes, many women would have to travel even further for reproductive health care. In addition, the measure is unique for going through a city legislature rather than through the state, and it could inspire other anti-abortion extremists in cities around the US to attempt the same strategy.
11/15/2013 - Man Charged in Renisha McBride's Death
Prosecutors charged the Michigan man who shot and killed 19-year old Renisha McBride. Theodore Paul Wafer now faces charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony or during an attempted commission. If convicted, Wafer could face life in prison.
"We have issued these charges because we believe the evidence will show that self-defense was not warranted," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.
The charges come two weeks after Wafer shot McBride in the face through his locked screen door. Police believe McBride had been in a car accident and was confused and disoriented when she approached Wafer's residence for help.
Wafer's lawyer told the press the shooting was "justified", using language found in Michigan's "shoot first" law that allows people who feel threatened to shoot first, ask questions later. Wafer's justification has caused many to draw comparisons to George Zimmerman who invoked Florida's "stand your ground" laws and was found not-guilty in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin.
11/14/2013 - Hawaii Governor Signs Marriage Equality Bill
Hawaii became the fifteenth state to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday after Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a marriage equality bill into law.
The bill "recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex and extends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive," according to a press release from Governor Abercrombie. It will also allow the civil unions previously afforded to same sex couples to be "converted" to marriages through an online procedure.
"We have moved into a new era of Aloha for same-sex couples, who can now share in the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Attorney General David Louie.
The Hawaii Senate had previously passed a different bill, but the current one contains two amendments delaying the bill's effective date to December 2 and broadened religious exemptions. The House passed it last Friday by a 30-19 margin, and the Senate passed it Tuesday night 19-4.
The Hawaiian victory comes on the heels of several others, including a bill passed by the Illinois state legislature last week (which Governor Pat Quinn has committed to signing), and the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in October to allow same-sex marriage.
In response to a national abortion ban introduced by Republicans last week and three years of state legislative attacks on access to abortion, a group of Democratic, pro-choice Congress members introduced the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013 to the Senate on Wednesday.
The act would prevent states from passing Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, also known as TRAP laws. TRAP laws attempt to create barriers to abortion access by creating extraneous regulations for providers, such as requiring specific dimensions for clinic restrooms or mandating doctors performing abortions to enter into transfer agreements with a local hospital.
State legislatures have attempted to undermine a woman's right to abortion in record numbers over the past three years. According to Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post, since 2010, some 54 abortion clinics have closed their doors across the nation due to restrictive legislation. Recent legislation in Texas alone has led to 12 abortion clinics closing, and cuts in funding in Texas have led to over 50 family planning clinics that do not perform abortions closing recently.
In 2011 through 2013, some 178 abortion restrictions were passed by state legislatures and signed into law. These are the highest numbers since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not imposed on other medical professions.
"Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services," Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Judy Chu, who are both co-sponsors of the act, wrote in the Huffington Post. "Our bill will nullify dangerous regulations that stifle access to abortion care and endanger women." Blumenthal and Chu were joined in introducing the act by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as well as Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL).
It has been almost a decade since federal proactive legislation protecting abortion access has been passed. The last time was the passing of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.
A new report by the ACLU, the Service Women's Action Network, and the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School alleges that the US Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) discriminates against thousands of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors seeking mental health disability benefits.
While the VA has a vested interest in ensuring that those seeking disability benefits have a condition caused by their time in the military, members who are seeking benefits for PTSD related to combat or other sources of trauma are taken at their word. According to the report, the VA scrutinizes claims made by sexual assault victims more intently, even when they provide the kind of documentation their counterparts are not required to.
"Under the current regulations, survivors of military sexual trauma have to provide a decent amount of documentation in order to get a compensation pension exam, as part of the benefits process," explained Rose Carmen Goldberg, one of the authors of the report. Structural barriers to justice, like the ability of commanding officers to single-handedly vacate guilty verdicts, and a culture of skepticism, means many sexual assault victims don't report their trauma, making providing the documentation the VA requests almost impossible.
Even though women who experience sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than their male counterparts, in 2011 the VA granted 74.2 percent of non-MST trauma claims and only 44.6 percent of MST claims. "The mental health effects of PTSD related to sexual trauma can make it very difficult if not impossible to work, so in many cases [disability benefits] will be their only source of income," said Goldberg.
A Facebook group called on anti-abortion extremists in Texas to kidnap women who are headed to abortion clinics.
Cicada Collective, a pro-choice group that provides a legitimate volunteer shuttle service for women going to abortion clinics, shared with their listserv an email address for folks interested in volunteering to operate the shuttles. Shortly after, the group "Praying for you" posted to the "Abolish Human Abortion" Facebook page with the email address and encouraged their supporters to volunteer and then kidnap the women in lieu of taking them to their abortion clinic appointments.
"I'm not suggesting you actually take a woman to an abortion clinic," the post read. "It's a Wonderful opportunity to minister to an abortion minded woman for an hour while you DON'T take her to the clinic."
Cicada Collective became aware of the post and shared it with other women as a warning, stating, "Anti-choicers attempting to infiltrate was bound to happen at some point right? Here is a concerning message we got this morning. Other groups out there wanting to provide practical support to people seeking abortion care in Texas, please be careful."
The Abolish Human Abortion group denies any involvement, suggesting it had actually been written as an attempt to slander the group by a pro-choice campaigner.
The Supreme Court decided yesterday not to take up an Oklahoma case to reinstate required ultrasounds to women before being able to proceed with their abortions. The case, Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems, asked to reinstate The Oklahoma Ultrasound Act, which requires a physician or certified technician to perform an obstetric ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion, show the woman the ultrasound, and repeat a detailed description of the embryo and visible organs.
A brief written by representatives of Andrew Davis, PC and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Nova Health Systems, urges the top US court not to hear the case. They argued, "It does not merely make information available to a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy ... it compels women to undergo an invasive medical examination and listen to a state-scripted narrative even if they object."
The act was originally passed in Oklahoma in 2010, but it was struck down by a district judge in May 2010 and eventually granted a permanent injunction -, essentially a cease and desist order for anyone trying to implement the law - in March 2012. In December 2012, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld the decision by the state trial court.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court mentioned the 1992 Supreme Court case Casey v. Planned Parenthood in their ruling, which "permitted reasonable regulation of abortions that didn't impose an 'undue burden' on a woman's right to the procedure," in their statement supporting the former ruling on the law. However, the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said their ruling actually conflicted with the case's precedent.
The US Supreme Court recently rejected another review of an Oklahoma law that aimed to restrict medical abortions.
11/12/2013 - Circuit Court Blocks Obamacare Contraception Mandate
Two for-profit companies won a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court to protect them from the mandate to cover birth control benefits as part of their employee's insurance, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Court ruled on two cases at once, William D. Grote III et al, v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al, and Cyril B. Korte et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, et al.
Friday's 2-1 ruling blocks the enforcement of the "contraception mandate" and was the first decision to separately protect both the owners and their businesses under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
'"In short," the court wrote, "[the] RFRA operates as a kind of utility remedy for the inevitable clashes between religious freedom and the realities of the modern welfare state, which regulates pervasively and touches nearly every aspect of social and economic life."'
In September, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled a for-profit entity must comply with the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage mandate. While in June, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a different for-profit company saying that the company had the right to uphold its religious beliefs and deny contraceptive coverage, leading to a temporary injunction to be exempted from the Affordable Care Act stipulation. The broad ruling of the court and the dissenting rulings by other courts will likely send the issue to the Supreme Court to decide.
The dissenting judge in the most recent case, Illana Rovner, warned that the scope of the majority ruling could enable businesses to challenge other federal regulations based on religious beliefs, hypothetically including not providing time off for a gay man to attend the birth of his and his partner's child, Christian Scientists who would cover healthcare facilities providing only "cure by prayer" services, or denying treatment for conditions cured by embryonic stem cell research.
"Your boss shouldn't be able to discriminate against you because of what he or she believes, plain and simple," a representative from the ACLU told Arizona Daily. "People are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but they don't have the right to impose those views on others."
Of the 79 cases filed to challenge the birth control mandate as an infringement on religious liberty, 64 cases by both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies are pending. Many nonprofit organizations re-filed even after the Obama administration issued a rule that nonprofit organizations with religious objections would not have to fund or otherwise have any connections to the birth control benefit.
The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury jointly issued a final rule last Friday to increase parity between mental health and substance use disorder benefits and other medical benefits. The rule will implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
The mental health parity law prohibits insurance companies from limiting insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services. The law requires that insurance companies issuing mental health benefits offer coverage that is not more restrictive than other benefits with respect to copays, deductibles, and limitations on the number of outpatient visits covered, among other things.
The final rule explains a number of points in the law and includes specific consumer protections, including ensuring the parity applies to certain care received in residential treatment settings, clarifying patients' privacy rights, ensuring that parity applies to all plan standards, and eliminating certain exceptions [see PDF].
"This final rule breaks down barriers that stand in the way of treatment and recovery services for millions of Americans," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Building on these rules, the Affordable Care Act is expanding mental health and substantive use disorder benefits and parity protections to 62 million Americans. This historic expansion will help make treatment more affordable and accessible."
The Affordable Care Act requires qualified health plans offered on the health insurance marketplaces to include mental health and substance use disorder services as one of ten essential benefits. About one and four adults in the US have a mental health disorder, and 45 percent of those adults suffer from two diagnosable disorders. The new rule issued last week applies to group and individual insurance policies, but, they do not apply to Medicaid or Medicare.
11/11/2013 - Employees Conduct Largest Strike in Walmart History
In what organizers are calling the largest act of civil disobedience in Walmart's history, workers and activists blocked Caesar Chavez Avenue outside of Walmart's new store in Los Angeles's Chinatown last Thursday. Fifty-four workers and activists were arrested outside of the new Walmart for protesting the company's harsh labor practices that include "poverty wages" and unpredictable part-time hours. "I got arrested today because I believe that taking this step will encourage others to be brave and step forward and stand up to the world's largest retailer," said Richard Reynoso, a full time Walmart worker who, like 825,000 of his full time co-workers, makes less than $25,000 a year.
Protesters who went on strike on Thursday night demanded that Walmart pay all of its full-time employees at least $25,000 a year, contending that any amount less than that is not enough to live on. Andrew Goyita, a Walmart employee participating in the protest, said he believes he will make about $12,000 this year and says it is hard "to make sure my family doesn't go hungry". He said he has been asking his managers for a full-time position, but Walmart often hires temporary workers instead.
The Thursday night protest comes almost a year on the heels of walk-out protests that OUR Walmart, a union-backed workers group, helped organize across Southern California in opposition to what they deem as systematic mistreatment and disrespect of employees by the country's largest private employer.
A Pennsylvania woman filed suit against her employer this week stating that she was discriminated against and harassed because the new mother wanted to pump breast milk at work.
Bobbi Bockoras returned to work at a Port Allegany, PA glass factory after giving birth, only to be ridiculed and denied the right to pump breast milk in a safe and clean environment. "Rather than help me follow my doctor's recommendations, I believe my employer ignored its legal obligations, allowed me to be bullied and harassed, and then retaliated against me for standing up for my rights," said Bockoras. "No employee should have to go through that."
Bockoras has worked at the glass factory for 6 years. When she returned after the birth of her child and and needed to pump breast milk, her employer first suggested she pump in the bathroom. She was then told to pump in the first aid room, but Bockoras was frequently interrupted. Her employer then told her to pump in an old locker room. The locker room was furnished with only one chair, the temperature sometimes reached 106 degrees, and the floor was covered in dead bugs.
"I was completely disgusted, but what could I do?" said Bockoras. "I only had a short break before I had to be back on my shift, and my baby has to eat, so I pumped there anyway."
According to Bockoras, her co-workers subjected her to harassment while she tried to pump, including pounding on the door demanding to enter and greasing the door handle with grease containing metal shards. When she complained, Bockoras was moved from her consistent day shift to a rotating shift, against the recommendation of her doctor. Working this shift, which required her to switch frequently between day and night shifts, impacted her breastfeeding schedule, causing her breast milk production to decrease by 50 percent.
Bockoras filed a federal civil complaint against her employer on Wednesday as well as a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
11/8/2013 - Senate Passes ENDA After 19 Years
In a historic vote, the Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) 64-32 yesterday, with 52 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and 2 Independents supporting the measure. ENDA would protect people from discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation in the work place. If passed by the House, it would be the first federal LGBT rights law. ENDA was first introduced to Congress in 1994 but never got out of either chamber until yesterday.
"No one should have to face employment discrimination or the fear of being fired simply because of who they are," said Maya Rupert, Policy Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "This vote is historic and signals a sea-change in the fight for workplace equality. It is no longer a question of if LGBT employees will receive federal workplace protections - it is a question of when."
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) believes ENDA would pass in the House if brought to a vote, it is opposed by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). President Obama has urged the House Republican Leadership to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote.
"If the House of Representatives were freed by Speaker John Boehner to vote its conscience, this bill could pass immediately," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "It's unconscionable that any one person would stand in the way of this crucial piece of the civil rights puzzle."
Twenty-one states have laws that protect against sexual orientation discrimination in workplaces, and 17 states protect against gender identity discrimination. This still leaves 33 states where a person can be fired for no other reason than being who they are.
Hollaback!, a movement to end street harassment, recently released data it collected on street harassment on college campuses. Hollaback! surveyed 282 undergraduate, graduate and part-time college students and 44 college administrators on campuses from various regions of the US to find out how harassment exists in spaces of higher education.
Hollaback! found that 67 percent of students had experienced harassment on campus - which can include "unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that significantly interferes with a student's access to educational opportunities" - and that harassment was harming students' ability to learn. Twenty percent said harassment caused an inability to concentrate in class, and 23 percent said harassment prevented them from attending class or social activities.
College systems to report and address harassment were also deemed insufficient by 55 percent of college administrators surveyed. Only 17 percent of students said that they reported harassment to a person of authority.
The Supreme Court has confirmed that schools are required under Title IX to prevent and address harassment against students. While some universities, like the University of Maryland, are working towards making campuses safer spaces for women, others are facing criticism and lawsuits for mishandling cases.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and a team of bipartisan lawmakers kicked off a two-week push yesterday to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Act will move the decision of whether to prosecute a crime out of the chain of command and give it to independent military prosecutors.
MJIA attempts to erase the systemic obstacles that victims of sexual assault in the military face due to the "clear bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command's current sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial." According to the 2012 SAPRO report released by the Defense Department, there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and assault that year, but only 3,553 were reported. Twenty-five percent of women and 27 percent of men who experienced unwanted sexual contact reported that the offender was someone in their military chain of command.
Fifty percent of women said they did not report unwanted sexual contact because they thought nothing would be done. "Too often, cases of sexual assault go unreported out of fear of retribution or that nothing will be done - this bill would increase confidence in the military judicial system," said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
NDAA is expected to receive a vote before Thanksgiving recess. While the Pentagon heavily opposes the amendment, 46 senators have already expressed public support for the bill.
Another bill recently introduced aims to amend Article 32 proceedings - a pre-trial investigation before a case can even be referred to a general court-martial. Article 32 proceedings can be re-victimizing for victims of sexual assault, who may be forced to answer accusatory questions throughout, like the rape victim at the Naval Academy who had to undergo 30 hours of questioning. The amendment aims to limit the scope of the proceedings, bar unwarranted questioning, prevent crime victims from being forced to testify, and require the proceedings to be recorded and made available to all involved parties. These changes will bring the proceedings more in line with the conduct of preliminary hearings under rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.
"There is simply no reason that victims of military sexual assault should have to endure vicious and invasive questioning during a marathon, pre-trial interrogation that has no parallel in the civilian world," said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
Voters across the United States decided on 31 ballot measure in six states during Monday's elections.
In New Jersey, voters approved by more than 60 percent, an amendment to increase the state's minimum wage to $8.25 from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The Minimum Wage Increase Amendment also tied future increases to inflation. Both changes will be effective January 1, 2014. New Jersey joins 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have a higher minimum wage than the federal one.
In the city of SeaTac in Washington State, it seems that voters will approve raising the minimum wage as well, pending a final tally on November 26. From the nearly 4,000 votes counted so far, 53 percent are in favor of the raise, which would increase the current minimum from $9.19 per hour to $15 per hour for hospitality and transportation workers near or in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. This initiative also requires paid sick leave and tip protection.
Voters in Royal Oak, Michigan passed an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance banning discrimination by 53 percent, becoming the 30th municipal in Michigan to pass a non-discrimination law like this one. The ordinance protects from discrimination based on sexual orientation, condition of pregnancy, marital status, and HIV status, among others.
Amendment 66 in Colorado, the Tax increase for Education Initiative, was defeated by about two-thirds of voters. The proposed constitutional amendment would have increased income taxes in order to supply an expected $950 million for public education, and $18 million of the funds would have gone toward capital projects for charter schools.
11/6/2013 - US Child Care Costs Outpace Family Income
A new report released by Child Care Aware of America reveals that in the last year, the cost of child care increased at up to eight times the rate of increases in US family income.
According to the report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, families are being forced to spend a significant portion of their earnings for child care services. In every region of the US, average child care costs in 2012 were higher than the average amount families spent on food, and child care fees for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a child care center exceeded annual median rent payments in every state. In addition, in 31 states and DC, the average annual cost for an infant in a child care center was higher than a full year's tuition and fees at a four-year public college.
Nearly two-thirds of American women with preschool aged children work, but families are usually left on their own to pay for child care--while most other industrialized countries provide universal preschool. In 2012, average costs of child care, ranged from $4,863 in Mississippi to $16,430 in Massachusetts for an infant in a child care center. In terms of affordability - the cost of child care as a percentage of state median income - Oregon ranked as the state with the least affordable child care, based on estimates for a two-parent family.
"Child care is an increasingly difficult financial burden for working families to bear," said Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., Executive Director of Child Care Aware of America. "Too many families are finding it impossible to access and afford quality child care that doesn't jeopardize children's safety and healthy development."
To make quality child care more accessible and affordable, the report recommends, among other things, that the US reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to ensure that children in low-income working families have access to care. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in June introduced legislation to reauthorize the block grant until FY 2019.
Several of the report recommendations also dovetail with House Democrats' recently launched women's economic agenda, called "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." The campaign, which started in June, aims to put pressure on Congress to improve women's standing and opportunities in the economy through several ways. Their recommendations for ensuring working parents have access to affordable and high-quality child care include promoting President Obama's Preschool and Early Head Start/Child Care Initiative and expanding the Child Tax Credit of 2009 to help low-income families with children [see PDF].
11/6/2013 - Feminists, Abortion Rights Win in Virginia
Feminists supported Virginia Democratic Candidates Terry McAuliffe for Governor and Dr. Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor in decisive wins, and Mark Herring leads Mark Obenshain for Attorney General by 475 votes, with all precincts reporting. The Attorney General race is close enough to trigger a recount. The Virginia Democratic statewide ticket, which supported abortion rights, gun control, and marriage equality, was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority. The Republican ticket, backed by the Tea Party wing, had extreme positions opposing abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, marriage equality, and gun control measures, while favoring restricting birth control.
"The gender gap, led by young, unmarried, and minority women and the abortion and birth control issue, was decisive in the Virginia governor's race," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority.
The Virginia exit polls on the Governor's race revealed that McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli with a gender gap of eight points. McAuliffe received 54 percent of women's votes to 38 percent for Cucinelli, and the vote was split among men nearly even with 46 percent for McAuliffe and 47 percent for Cuccinelli. According to the New York Times exit polls, McAuliffe "won 59 percent of the votes of people who said abortion was the most important issue to them, who made up 20 percent of the electorate."
Among women voters, unmarried women gave McAuliffe the greatest advantage. McAuliffe won unmarried women by a whopping 42 percent. Exit polls reported that 67 percent of unmarried women - a category composed of single, divorced, widowed or separated women - favored McAuliffe, and only 25 percent favored Cuccinelli. Page Gardner, President of Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, said, "Once again, unmarried women are a major political force in American politics that can make or break a race." Unmarried women in the United States comprise nearly half of the adult women population. According to exit polls, married women, on the other hand, voted 50 percent to 41 percent for Cuccinelli.
Texas abortion providers filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday seeking to reinstate an injunction that blocked the application of a state provision requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain hospital admitting privileges.
U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled on October 28 that the Texas TRAP law was unconstitutional and barred its application. The state immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit and requested a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision in order to allow the law to go forward. A three-judge panel granted the state's request on Thursday, setting the law into effect. As a direct result, 12 abortion clinics were forced to close in the state, and already, over a hundred women have had appointments cancelled.
One woman who had her appointment at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin cancelled said in an interview, "My first reaction was to feel fairly devastated, to feel like my rights were being taken away from me . . . to feel very disappointed that elected officials had the ability to make decisions about my and my fiance's life."
"Right now, women in vast swaths of Texas are being turned away at clinic doors because of a bogus law that attempts to do underhandedly what states cannot do directly -- block women from accessing abortion services," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations representing the Texas clinics. "We now look to the Supreme Court to protect women's access to these essential health care services while we fight this critical court battle."
Justice Scalia received the Texas clinics' emergency application. The Justice has asked the state to respond to the application by November 12.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a professional membership organization of 60,000 pediatric doctors dedicated to the health and well-being of infants through young adults, released a report last week calling for increased access to sex education and condoms for adolescents.
The report insists that free or low-cost condoms should be available in locations easily accessible for adolescents - such as schools, pediatricians' offices, and even malls. "For teens to use them, they have to have them available, and they're not going to come in necessarily asking for them," said Dr. Rebecca O'Brien, lead author of the policy statement. "They should be everywhere."
The report emphasizes that increased access to birth control should be accompanied by comprehensive sex education programs in schools, which are strongly correlated with delayed or reduced sexual activity, a smaller number of sexual partners, and increased use of condoms or other contraceptives. Despite the overwhelming evidence that comprehensive sex education has positive health effects for teens, many states have been promoting abstinence-only education programs.
"Some schools have been hesitant to provide young people with programs and access to condoms, and the pediatricians' strong, clear statement serves as an urgent call for policymakers, school administrators and parents to do everything they can to give teens what they need to stay healthy," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president of education, Leslie Kantor, in a statement celebrating the report.
Without much explanation, the US Supreme Court took a major abortion case off of its docket today, providing relief for abortion rights supporters concerned about how the conservative court may have decided the case.
Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice was a "plea by the state of Oklahoma to revive a law that restricts doctors' use of drugs rather than surgery to perform an abortion with the medication RU-486 and others." The law in question had been struck down by Oklahoma's Supreme Court in 2011. The US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June, but held off on reviewing it until some issues were clarified. Oklahoma's highest court finally provided the necessary clarifications last week, explaining that the law would ban all medication abortions - even ones approved by the FDA.
Because of the large scope of the law, if the Supreme Court were to rule on Cline, it would have to examine whether an abortion procedure allowed by the federal government can be banned by a state. A decision in favor of Oklahoma's right to enact such a restrictive law would open the door for other states to attempt similar techniques to chip away at abortion rights.
This victory may be short-lived. Texas recently enacted a similar law that restricts medication abortions as well, and a challenge to the law is headed to the Supreme Court.
A federal appeals court of three judges granted the Texas Attorney General's request yesterday to reinstate restrictions on abortion providers after a federal district court had blocked the implementation of the restrictions earlier this week. Proponents of abortion rights will appeal the decision either to a full Court of Appeals En Banc or to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, some 12 Texas clinics that cannot meet the unnecessary requirement of the doctor having admitting privileges at a nearby hospital will close today.
Clinics, because of the intense harassment of their doctors, have been forced to have doctors travel a distance to the clinic. These long-distance doctors generally do not have local admitting privileges which are unnecessary because in the rare case of an emergency the local hospital would have to admit the patient.
"The immediate impact will be felt by low-income women who will not only lose services to abortion but also to birth control, STI testing, and cancer screening as these clinics close," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. The closest facility for some Texas women will be three to four hours, especially in the southwestern part of the state.
This is a "deeply disturbing court decision tonight that will hurt a lot of women -- this fight [is] far from over," Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote on her Twitter account last night.
Immediately after a federal district court Judge Lee Yeakel had struck down the law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed for a stay to allow the law to go forward. A three judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted his request yesterday.
While the appeals court left in place Yeakel's decision on medical abortion, it disagreed with the hospital admitting privileges decision. The appeals court claims that the ruling overlooked the interests of the state in regulating the medical profession, and that the US Supreme Court has held that having "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate a law that serves a valid purpose," reports NPR .
Starting today, girls in Oklahoma under the age of 18 will be forced to abide by stricter parental consent laws in order to obtain an abortion.
The Oklahoma Board of Health voted in early October to update the state's previous parental notification laws. The laws will now require girls seeking abortions to have their parents provide government-issued identification and written documentation that proves he or she is the parent, has been notified, and consents to the procedure. The board voted to require that in cases of emergency, a doctor can go ahead and perform an abortion, but the parents must be notified afterwards by mail.
Minors may receive a judicial waiver of the parental notification requirement only under three circumstances: if there is a medical emergency, if the minor is a victim of abuse or neglect, or if a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion. These circumstances are open to interpretation, and they can put vulnerable teens in danger.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl in Nebraska's foster care system was denied an abortion when a lower court judge - who had previously been an attorney for anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue - found that the girl was not mature and informed enough to make the decision to have an abortion, despite strong evidence to the contrary. She will be forced to carry her pregnancy to term.
"Quite ironically, the legislature seems to be saying that an immature teen cannot have an abortion but can become a parent," Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, told RH Reality Check.
One in seven Americans will be immediately affected as cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) take effect today. The temporary benefits from the 2009 economic stimulus, which had increased food stamps by around $24 per person and gave an immediate boost to the economy, have come to an end.
The across-the-board cuts mean that a family of four receiving food stamps will receive $36 less per month. The average benefit per person in 2012 was only $133 per month, so this is a significant decrease for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.
"People are living at the margins," Ellen Vollinger, legal director and SNAP advocate at the anti-hunger organization the Food Research and Action Center, told Reuters. "It's not an abstract metric for people. It's actual dollars to keep food in the refrigerator."
Despite the importance of SNAP for keeping 47 million Americans out of poverty - especially children - Republicans in the House of Representatives are pushing for more cuts. The House recently voted to cut $4 billion annually from SNAP for the next ten years, which would total a $40 billion loss for the program.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). In 1978, after mounting pressure from the National Organization for Women, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act - which bans sex discrimination - to include protections for pregnant women.
"One of the most significant gains for women's rights was the Pregnancy Discrimination Act," said President of Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal, who was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the act. "It results in valuable financial benefits for women every year."
The act was passed in response to the Supreme Court's decisions in Geduldig v. Aiello and General Electric Company v. Gilbert, finding that Title VII's prohibition against "sex" discrimination did not include a ban on pregnancy-based discrimination. To reverse this, the PDA asserted that pregnant women should be "treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs." Firing, demoting, reducing pay, or refusing reasonable accommodations for pregnant women were all made illegal.
Protections for pregnant workers are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by pregnancy discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
Although the act has had a huge positive impact, there is still room for improvement. Courts around the United States have been interpreting the act narrowly, often allowing employers to fire, force unpaid leave, or refuse reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
"Today, the act must be strengthened," Smeal adds. "But it was a major leap forward for women in employment in the United States."
The New York Women's Equality Coalition rallied yesterday morning on the steps of New York City's city hall to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the recent passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by the New York City Council. They also called on state legislators to take action to ensure that the New York Women's Equality Agenda - which contains an important measure to strengthen pregnancy discrimination protections - does not die on December 31, 2013.
Protections for pregnant women are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by pregnancy discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
A recent report by the National Women's Law Center showed how pregnant women are often fired or forced to take unpaid leave from jobs because employers fail to make reasonable accommodations that they would make for other workers.
"Women make up almost half of the labor force, but all too often they are forced to make an impossible choice: risk their own health and pregnancy to keep a job or lose their income at the moment they can least afford it," said NWLC Vice President and General Counsel Emily Martin. "Pregnant workers are ready, willing and able to continue working but they are often forced out by employers who refuse to make minor accommodations. These women and their families pay a steep price when they're pushed out of jobs. There's no reason for pregnancy to be a job-buster."
Currently only a handful of states provide protections for pregnant workers. A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress last May.