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4/1/2014 - More than 7 Million People Enrolled in Healthcare Through Affordable Care Act

More than 7 million people have enrolled in private health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

The White House met its original goal of enrolling 7 million people by March 31 through new federal and state marketplaces created by the landmark legislation. Despite false advertising about the ACA, numerous Republican attempts to dismantle the law, and problems with the rollout of the site, millions of Americans will now access quality, affordable health insurance.

In addition, the White House will offer some relief to those individuals who began the process of enrolling online, but could not finish by the March 31 deadline. In these cases, the deadline will be temporarily extended. In order to qualify for this extension, individuals must indicate on that they attempted to enroll before March 31. Special enrollment periods will also continue to be available to accommodate families with new babies or to enroll people who become unemployed and lose their health insurance.

3/28/2014 - Federal Court Upholds Texas Law Restricting Abortion Access

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a provision of a Texas law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The requirement is part of HB 2, which passed last summer and has already led to the closure of several Texas abortion clinics since it went into effect. The appeals court decision means that even more clinics are expected to close in the state.

"The legislators lied when they said this law wouldn't close clinics," explained Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, to RH Reality Check. "This law has closed clinics. This law has denied women access to safe care. This law is now and will in the future do great damage to the health-care infrastructure in the State of Texas."

Texas's anti-abortion law passed last summer in a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) after Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D) successfully led a filibuster of the bill for 12 hours. In addition to the admitting privileges requirement, the law also bans abortion at 20 weeks, restricts medication abortion, and mandates that facilities where abortion is performed meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of several clinics and their patients, challenging the admitting privileges requirement as well as the law's restrictions on medication abortion. In October, federal district judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional. The Fifth Circuit almost immediately stayed Judge Yeakel's order, allowing the law to go into effect. In its decision yesterday, the Fifth Circuit also upheld the medication abortion restrictions.

3/24/2014 - FMF Will Deliver Thousands of Petitions to the Supreme Court Tomorrow in Support of the ACA Birth Control Benefit!

The Feminist Majority Foundation will deliver thousands of petitions to the US Supreme Court tomorrow in support of the Affordable Care Act birth control benefit, sending a clear signal to the Court that women, not bosses, should make personal decisions about women's healthcare.

"After a trip to the ER at 19 years old, I was put on birth control to treat ovarian cysts," said Kristy Birchard, a Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizer. "I can't imagine my boss telling me that his or her beliefs should trump my health."

"Women should not have to get their bosses' permission to access birth control. Whether women are using birth control to prevent pregnancy, using it to treat serious medical conditions, like endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or both, is none of their bosses' business," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal.

On Tuesday, the Court will hear oral arguments from Hobby Lobby, a national for-profit arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood, a for-profit cabinet manufacturer, who want to prevent their female employees from accessing birth control through their health insurance plans. The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with a coalition of several organizations, will be at the Court to give voice to the majority of Americans who support women's health and the birth control benefit.

"Bosses have no right to be in your bedroom and no right to determine your healthcare plan. This is a blatant, dangerous attempt to discriminate against women," continued Smeal. "Denying access to birth control compromises women's health. Decisions about birth control should be made by women in consultation with their doctors. Women should not be held hostage to the beliefs of their bosses."

"Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood think they can use religion to discriminate against women, arguing that the birth control benefit violates the companies' religious liberty. But this case isn't about protecting religious liberty. Simply put, profit-making corporations are not people with religious beliefs, and as the people of Arizona showed us just recently when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed anti-LGBT legislation cloaked in the rhetoric of religious liberty, we must be vigilant about the use of religion as a license to discriminate. It not only flies in the face of American values, but in this case, it literally threatens women's health and lives," said Smeal.

Birth control is basic health care for women. Nearly all American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control, and as many as 88% have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives. Birth control is also essential for the near 15% of women who use the pill to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Sign the petition here in advance of our delivery! We will continue to collect signatures until the decision.

3/20/2014 - New Bill Aims To Expand Health Care Access for Immigrant Women and Families

The Health Equity and Access Under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act of 2014, introduced last week, would significantly improve the ability of immigrant women and families to access affordable health care.

The act will eliminate discriminatory barriers to coverage, including the current 5-year ban on enrollment after an immigrant has established lawful status. It will immediately restore full Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage to immigrants who are authorized to live and work in the US and are otherwise eligible for coverage. The HEAL Act will also remove the exclusion of DREAMers who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from obtaining insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"This legislation would correct the harmful restrictions that have been placed on legal immigrants' ability to access affordable health insurance coverage," said Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), who introduced the bill. "Limiting access to healthcare has a profound negative impact on families, communities and the nation as a whole and it must be corrected. These immigrants are hardworking taxpayers who deserve to be treated fairly under the system they pay into."

Around 200 organizations and associations have signed onto a letter of support for the legislation.

3/20/2014 - Breastfeeding Woman Pushed To Resign Will Not Get Discrimination Trial

A woman who filed charges against her employer for failing to accommodate her and encouraging her to resign when she was breastfeeding cannot continue with her lawsuit, a court ruled on Thursday.

Angela Ames returned to work in 2010 at Nationwide Mutual Insurance in Des Moines after a two-month maternity leave. She needed to breastfeed every three hours, but the company refused to let her use its lactation rooms because she had not completed necessary security paperwork, which she was unaware was a requirement and would take three days to process. A nurse told her she could lactate in a wellness room, but that it might expose the milk to germs.

While she was in pain after being unable to express her milk for several hours, her supervisor told her she would have to work overtime. When she then spoke to her department head, Karla Neel, she told her it was not her responsibility to help her, and she said, "I think it's best that you go home to be with your babies." Neel then handed Ames papers with details of her resignation on them and told her to sign. In addition, several months prior, her supervisors told Ames she may have to cut her maternity leave short and gave the impression that taking extra unpaid leave would be looked at unfavorably.

Ames filed a lawsuit alleging gender and pregnancy discrimination at the state and federal level. A US District Judge dismissed the case in 2012, but the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging that it be reinstated. Against all evidence, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals - a court of all men - ruled that Ames had not provided legal proof that she had been discriminated against, that the company had properly tried to accommodate her needs, and that a reasonable person would not "jump to the conclusion that her only option was to resign," even though Ames was in significant pain and distress at the time.

Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978's bar on discrimination toward pregnant employees, many American women are forced out of their jobs or denied accommodations that would allow them to continue working once they become pregnant. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would strengthen it, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers and barring them from denying employment opportunities based on a reasonable accommodation, but it has stalled in Congress since last May.

3/18/2014 - Senate Votes to Reauthorize Child Care Bill

The Senate voted 96-2 last week to pass the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG), a federal grant program that provides child care assistance to families and funding for child care initiatives.

The CCDBG was authored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Burr (D-NC), along with Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and reflected feedback from parents, child care providers, and childhood development experts. It aims to improve the health and safety of the 1.5 million children and families who benefit from the federal child care subsidy program, by strengthening regulations for child care providers and facilities such as requiring background checks and inspections [PDF]. It will improve families' access to child care by, among other changes, requiring states to use at least 70 percent of the grant's funding for direct services [PDF]. It will also strengthen the quality of child care by requiring developmentally appropriate training for child care providers, and it will improve the coordination of early care and education.

"CCDBG provides a lifeline so that all children have the care that they need and deserve," said Senator Mikulski. "Updating this vitally important child care program will help support those who care for our children, give parents peace of mind that their children are safe and receiving quality care, and better prepare our children for the future. It will help keep working parents at work while ensuring children have a safe environment that provides them the skills they need to begin to develop their potential and be better prepared for school."

The CCDBG now moves to a vote in the House. If passed, this would be the first time the law has been reauthorized since 1996.

3/18/2014 - Federal Court Strikes Down Arkansas Early Abortion Ban

US District Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down an Arkansas law last week that would have banned abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Webber declared the measure to be unconstitutional, stating that it "impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

"This was one of the most extreme laws passed in 2013 by lawmakers dead-set on taking away a women's ability to make the best medical decision for herself and her family," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "We must ensure that this personal medical decision remains where it belongs: not with politicians, but with a woman, her family, and her doctor."

Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed the bill last year, but Republicans controlling the state legislature overrode the veto with a simple majority vote. The Arkansas law would have banned most abortions at or after 12 weeks of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Judge Webber had previously ordered a temporary injunction of the law, preventing it from being enforced pending a decision on the law's constitutionality. Her ruling last week means that the law can never go into effect, although Judge Webber did let stand the law's mandatory ultrasound requirement.

Several other states are pushing extreme legislation to severely limit access to abortion, including Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. The consequences of laws targeting access to abortion and women's reproductive healthcare are being felt acutely in Texas, where dozens of abortion clinics have been forced to close.

3/14/2014 - McDonald's Employees File 7 Class-Action Lawsuits For Wage Theft

McDonald's employees in three states filed seven class-action lawsuits against the company and some franchise owners this week, alleging they were illegally underpaid.

The employees assert that hours were erased from their timecards, they were not paid overtime, and they were often ordered to work off the clock. In one of the two cases filed in Michigan, employees were required to come to work at a certain time, but then had to wait two hours until enough customers came to start getting paid. Employees were also forced to pay for their own work uniforms, which pushed their income below the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

"Our wages are already at rock bottom," said Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald's worker in Detroit. "It is time for McDonald's to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work."

Besides Michigan, four of the lawsuits were filed in California and one in New York. One of the cases in California represents 27,000 people.

Fast food workers across the US have been striking and protesting for higher wages and more labor protections for almost a year now - changes that would particularly help women and people of color. Seventy-three percent of all front-line fast food workers are women, and 43 percent are black or Latino. Fifty-two percent of fast food workers have to rely on public assistance because their wages are too low to survive on. But as Michelle Chen reports in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms., the National Restaurant Association has opposed increases in wages, and the industry "lobbies fiercely against local, state and national minimum-wage legislation, claiming the pay boost would cause job losses and hurt businesses. Meanwhile, the CEO of McDonald's raked in about $13.8 million in fiscal 2012, an estimated 737 times what the average fast-food worker earned."

3/14/2014 - Students and Activists Demand Sexual Assault Reform at Dartmouth

Thousands of people are calling on Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to improve its sexual assault policies, after a student whose name appeared in a "rape guide" on a student-run website was sexually assaulted.

Women's advocacy group UltraViolet created a petition demanding that Dartmouth "take student recommendations seriously and expel rapists, list rape as a punishable offense and expulsion as the preferred punishment in the student handbook, and block access to the 'rape guide' on campus." Over 50,000 people have already signed on. You can join in and sign UltraViolet's petition here.

Dartmouth is also currently under federal investigation for violating Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex and requires that universities ensure a safe learning environment for all students. Dozens of other universities face similar investigations for mishandling sexual assault cases, most recently Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University.

TAKE ACTION: Organize to end rape on campus with Feminist Campus!

3/14/2014 - Obama Aims To Reform Overtime Pay Regulations

President Barack Obama announced in a statement yesterday that he would be directing Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor, to improve overtime pay labor regulations as part of his "year of action." It is expected that the salary threshold for overtime pay will be raised, among other changes.

"If you go above and beyond to help your employer and your economy succeed, then you should share a little bit in that success," Obama said in his remarks yesterday.

Under the current rules, any worker making more than $455 per week or $23,660 per year is not eligible for overtime pay, a threshold that has not been significantly changed since 1975. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if the threshold is raised to $970 per week or $50,440 per year - what the threshold would be if it had been adjusted for inflation - around 10 million workers would receive overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.

In addition, any workers classified as executive, administrative, or professional under the "white-collar exemption" can currently be denied overtime pay, usually time-and-a-half, if they work more than 40 hours per week. An executive title can be applied to someone even if they oversee people for only a small percentage of their job, such as fast-food shift supervisors or convenience store managers.

The changes could significantly improve the economy and boost income for 10 million Americans, especially lower-income people. ThinkProgress also reports that it has the potential to reduce the standard workweek. Many Americans work 50 hours or more a week without overtime, so businesses may cap their hours or hire more people rather than pay them more.

The Obama administration has focused on labor protections and improvements in the past few months. Last September, the DOL expanded labor protections for home care workers. In February, Obama issued an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10, and he is pushing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all Americans. The White House also released charts yesterday detailing women's participation in the workforce and ways to reduce the gender wage gap.

"We need to fix the system so folks working hard are getting compensated fairly," said Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

3/13/2014 - Majority of Americans Approve of Obamacare Contraception Mandate

A poll conducted earlier this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that a majority of Americans agree with the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate. The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles, helping millions of women afford vital health care.

53 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed by telephone said that they believe employers should be required to include contraception coverage in workers' health plans even if the employers oppose its use [PDF]. The numbers were greatest among certain groups: 65 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49, 61 percent of voters in the Northeast, and 72 percent of voters identifying as Democrats agreed with the mandate. 41 percent disagreed, saying employers should have the same exemption as religious organizations, and 6 percent said they were unsure.

Although the administration has allowed churches to opt out of the mandate and offered special arrangements for Catholic-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities, several for-profit companies are still trying to avoid following the law. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 25 from two companies claiming the contraception mandate violates their religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby craft store and Conestoga Wood.

TAKE ACTION: Send a clear message to the Supreme Court before the oral arguments on March 25 that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Leave stories and tell the Court why BC coverage matters to you! Share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC! You can also join Feminist Majority Foundation and 1,000 other activists at the Supreme Court on March 25 to show your support.

3/12/2014 - Uninsured Rate Hits New Low as Affordable Care Act Puts Insurance Within Reach

The percentage of Americans without health insurance has hit a second consecutive five-year low, falling to 15.9 percent according to a Gallup telephone survey of over 28,000 adults. The uninsured rate has been declining since the end of 2013, likely thanks to the opening of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) health insurance marketplaces.

The rate has dropped for almost every major demographic group and for all age groups except for those aged 65 and older, who typically have Medicare. The uninsurance rates for lower-income people and African-Americans have dropped the most. Americans with an annual income of less than $36,000 have seen their rates drop by 2.8 percentage points to 27.9 percent since fourth quarter of 2013, and African-Americans' rates have dropped by 2.6 points to 18.3 percent. Hispanics are still the group most likely to be uninsured, with a current rate of 37.9 percent.

The ACA has helped over 4.2 million Americans obtain the health insurance they need to be able to take care of themselves and their families. It has especially made it easier for women to obtain affordable, quality health care coverage that fits their needs. For example, it guarantees that plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles, cancer screenings, domestic violence counseling, and well women exams, as well as maternal care, mental health care, and pediatric services - among many others. It also does not allow insurance policies to charge women more simply because of their gender.

About 6 million more people are expected to enroll by the March 31 deadline.

3/12/2014 - New York Legislators Introduce Bill Banning Employer Discrimination Against Women For Reproductive Health Decisions

New York State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) introduced a bill last week that would ban employers from discriminating against employees based on their reproductive health decisions.

"Employers should not have the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees," said Assemblymember Jaffee in a statement. "Denying millions of women access to affordable birth control is denying them fair and equal access to basic preventive health care. This legislation is a step in the right direction: It will guarantee New York women, not their employers, the freedom and fundamental right to make their own personal healthcare decisions about what is best for them and their families."

The "Boss Bill" would close a loophole in New York's current workplace anti-discrimination laws to ensure women are not discriminated against for their personal reproductive health choices and to protect their privacy. Krueger and Jaffee drafted it in response to the over 100 federal lawsuits by employers trying to avoid the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments related to the Hobby Lobby craft store chain's lawsuit against the ACA mandate on March 25.

TAKE ACTION: Send a clear message to the Supreme Court that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Leave stories and tell the Court why BC coverage matters to you! Share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!

3/11/2014 - Senate Passes Limited Military Sexual Assault Reform Bill

Only a few days after the Senate blocked the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), it unanimously approved a bill that proposes several different reforms to combat sexual assault in the military.

"This debate has been about one thing - getting the policy right to best protect and empower victims, and boost prosecutions of predators," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said in a statement. "I believe we're on the cusp of achieving that goal."

The bipartisan bill was created by Sen. McCaskill, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). It will eliminate the "good soldier defense" in trials, meaning accused soldiers cannot use evidence of good military character and performance to question an accusation unless it is directly relevant to the crime. The bill will give accusers more power to choose whether their cases go through the military or the civilian system, allow victims to challenge their discharge from the military, increase the accountability of commanders, and extend the changes to service academies. In a case where a prosecutor wants to move forward with a case but a commander does not, the civilian service secretary would have the final say.

An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults in the military occurred in 2012, according to a report by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program of the Department of Defense. Looking forward, Ayotte discussed the need for following through on this bill to best help survivors. "We will make sure reforms that have been passed are implemented, that commanders are held accountable for a climate within their unit of zero tolerance and that victims of sexual assault are treated with dignity and respect," she said. The bill now moves on to the House.

3/10/2014 - Anti-Choice Laws Move Through State Legislatures

Across the country, state legislatures are moving to restrict access to abortion to the point of elimination. Though the courts have already struck down several such statutes, including Arizona's 20-week abortion ban, a wave of new laws is currently making its way through the legislatures of several states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama.

Last week, the Georgia State Senate passed a bill that would prohibit state-sponsored insurance from covering abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest and a narrow exception for health issues. On the same day, Alabama advanced four separate anti-choice provisions that would make it more difficult for minors to obtain abortions, extend the waiting period on abortions, ban abortion after six weeks, and require women to receive more counseling about alternatives before terminating a pregnancy.

"We know that state politicians want abortion to be illegal, and they aren't always able to do it outright," Gretchen Borchelt, director of state reproductive health-care policy at the National Women's Law Center,told RH Reality Check. "So what they are doing is pushing restrictions that make abortion more unaffordable, or interfere with a woman's ability to get access to abortion."

A similar six-week abortion ban has already been put on hold by courts in North Dakota for overstepping Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, West Virginia's House passed its own 20-week abortion ban in late February.

Targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP laws) currently working their way through the legislatures in Arizona and Oklahoma threaten clinic operations more directly. Oklahoma's new bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives last Thursday, would instate rules for clinics requiring their doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a provision similar to the one passed over the summer in Texas and now causing dozens of clinics to close. Arizona's state House has also approved a new bill that would allow for unannounced inspections of abortion clinics within the state, which may be used by public officials to harass abortion providers.

Finally, in South Dakota, a number of new laws have been introduced on the subject of reproductive rights. In addition to last month's proposal for a 7-week abortion ban, the state has proposed legislation that would ban sex-selective abortion. The bill passed the House two weeks ago and is presently up for debate in the state Senate. South Dakota's House also approved a change last week that would prohibit any pregnancy help center not just from discussing abortion, but from discussing adoption or providing referrals to adoption agencies.

3/10/2014 - Domestic Violence Program Survey Demonstrates Need For More Resources

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) released its 2013 census report documenting the continued, dramatic need for domestic violence services and a lack of adequate resources for domestic violence shelters and programs that are struggling to help victims in need.

"Domestic Violence Counts: Census 2013 Report" was conducted by surveying domestic violence programs on a single day, September 17, 2013. Eighty-seven percent of identified domestic violence programs participated. On just that one day, 66,581 victims received services from programs across the United States. Over half of those found refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing, including 19,431 children, while others received non-residential assistance such as counseling, legal advocacy, or children's support groups. In addition, 20,267 hotline calls were answered, providing support, safety planning, and other resources.

Although thousands of victims were assisted, almost nearly 10,000 requests for some kind of service went unmet. Over 60 percent of denied requests involved the need for housing, which many shelters and programs could not provide because of a lack of resources and staff. Lack of resources is directly related to reduced government funding and decreases in private and individual donations, even as the demand for services has increased, in part because of mandatory domestic violence screening required by the Affordable Care Act.

"Every day in this country, victims of domestic violence are bravely reaching out for help, and it's essential that they have somewhere safe to go, said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the NNEDV. "We have made so much progress toward ending violence and giving survivors avenues for safety. But continued program cuts jeopardize that progress and jeopardize the lives of victims."

When victims reaching out cannot receive the necessary services, 60 percent of programs report that victims return to their abusers, 27 percent report that victims become homeless, and another 11 percent report that they end up living in their cars. One in four women in the US experience domestic violence during adulthood, and three women are murdered every day by an abuser [PDF].

Advocates for victims of domestic violence have called on members of Congress to allocate an additional $40 million in funding to support domestic violence programs through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and $147 million for the comprehensive criminal justice response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking through the Violence Against Women Act.

3/10/2014 - Feminist Majority Endorses Maura Healey for Attorney General of Massachusetts

The Feminist Majority is proud to announce today its endorsement of Maura Healey for Massachusetts Attorney General. Healey is an experienced leader in the fight for women's rights, civil rights, human rights, health care access, education, and consumer protection.

"We enthusiastically endorse Maura Healey, a trailblazer for women's rights, civil rights, and human rights, for Attorney General of Massachusetts," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "She has been an impressive advocate on many issues that advance equality for all women. Her early leadership to establish one of the first state buffer zone laws to protect women's health clinics and abortion providers from violence is an example of her commitment to women's health and well- being. Moreover her commitment to human rights can be seen in her historic leadership in writing the first major state challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act and developing the prevailing argument of the nation's first state lawsuit striking down discrimination against same-sex marriage. Her fight to end predatory student loan practices of some for-profit colleges indicates her dedication to consumer protection."

Healey has invaluable experience as a former prosecutor in the Attorney General's office and has helped to lead the office for the past seven years. Healey has served in both the Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau and the Business & Labor Bureau. Between the two bureaus, she oversaw nearly a dozen divisions. She has built a professional operation which advocates on important issues including ones with national impact for women and civil rights. Earlier in her career, Maura served as Chief of the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division after serving as a private sector attorney, and a Middlesex County prosecutor.

Maura Healy stated, "For more than a quarter-century, the Feminist Majority has stood tall for so many of the issues I hold dear, including fighting for women's access to reproductive health care, equal rights, and fairness, and stamping out the root causes of violence in our homes and communities, so I'm thrilled to have their support," said Healey. "The issues facing women, people of color, and the those who have been too long disempowered and in need an advocate, are many in this race and I'm so pleased the Feminist Majority sees that I will be an Attorney General who will bring the strongest advocacy, experienced leadership, and forward-thinking vision to the office."

3/10/2014 - Report Finds Record Number of Women Winning Political Seats Worldwide

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) - an international organization of parliamentarians - released its annual review of Women in Parliament last week at the United Nations, showing a record number of women winning Parliamentary seats around the world.

Overall, there was a 1.5 percentage increase last year in the number of women holding seats in government worldwide. Rwanda has the most, with women now comprising over 60 percent of its Parliament. Latin America recorded the highest electoral gains, with Ecuador, Grenada, and Argentina now among the 39 countries in the "above-30 percent club," meaning women comprise over 30 percent of their government.

Unfortunately, almost no progress was reported in Asia and Pacific, and the United States and Canada are way behind. The US ranks 83rd out of the 189 countries surveyed, with women filling only 18.5 percent of seats in Congress [PDF].

"The record-breaking increase of women in national parliaments in 2013 is encouraging, but we are still far from equality," said current UN Women Executive Director and South African politician, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. "Around the world, women are excluded from parliaments by discrimination, violence, party structures, poverty and a lack of finance."

Because quotas have been one of the tools successfully used to improve women's access to political leadership, the IPU report calls for more ambitious and detailed quotas. "Temporary special measures like quotas are working, and UN Women will keep supporting the efforts for women, political parties, governments and civil society to increase women's political leadership and participation," Mlambo-Ngcuka added.

3/7/2014 - Senate Blocks Military Justice Improvement Act

The US Senate blocked passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). The 55-45 vote on the bill, sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), reflected a bipartisan majority, but MJIA did not receive the 60 procedural votes needed to break a filibuster and progress.

"I always hoped we could do the right thing here - and deliver a military justice system that is free from bias and conflict of interest - a military justice system that is worthy of the brave men and women who fight for us," said Senator Gillibrand in comments delivered after the vote.

MJIA, S. 1752, would have removed the prosecution of sexually violent crimes in the military from the chain-of-command and given the responsibility to independent military prosecutors. It was originally an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA), but Senator Gillibrand re-introduced it as a separate stand-alone measure. The Armed Services Committee and the Pentagon heavily opposed the bill.

Senator Gillibrand also thanked the effort and commitment of those who had helped her champion the bill, including especially survivors of sexual assault in the military. "We owe our gratitude to the brave survivors who, despite being betrayed by their chain of command, continue to serve their country by fighting for a justice system that will help make sure no one else suffers the same tragedy they did Their struggles, sacrifice and courage inspire me every day. They may not wear the uniform anymore, but they believe so strongly in these reforms that for a full year now, they marched the halls of this Congress, reliving the horror they endured, telling their stories, in hopes that no one else who serves our country has to suffer as they did. Tragically, today the Senate failed them." The Senator vowed, however, that "we will not walk away, we will continue to work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military."

After voting against MJIA, the Senate then voted to advance the Victim Protection Act of 2014, which would expand upon reforms passed last year - such as prohibiting defendants from using evidence of their good military character to fight charges - but would continue to allow commanders to handle sexual assault within their ranks.

President Obama in December called for a year-long review of military sexual trauma and the steps being taken to reduce it. The 2014 NDAA also included provisions to address military sexual assault. Under the 2014 NDAA, an individual in the military who sexually assaults another will face dishonorable discharge, and commanders will not be able to overturn jury decisions. Legal assistance will be provided for victims, and retaliation against a victim will be punished.

3/7/2014 - Study Finds Continuing Gender Gap in Medical Research

Although 20 years have passed since the government instituted legislation requiring adequate female representation in medical studies, a recent study finds that a significant sex and gender gap still persists in medical research.

"Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women's Health Can't Wait" by researchers at the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Jacobs Institute at George Washington University Hospital finds that scientists still fail to account for differences between males and females. This discrepancy persists through all stages of research and affects the ability of general practitioners to provide proper care to women.

According to Dr. Paula Johnson, one of the authors of the report, studies either fail to include enough women or fail to break down the results by sex. This is particularly problematic because diseases and medications impact men and women differently. "The science that informs medicine routinely fails to consider the impact of sex and gender, and this occurs at some of the earliest stages of research -- from animal to human studies," said Johnson.

In response to this report, presented at the Women's Health Summit in Boston on Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren has publicly stated her intention to push for new laws that would create greater oversight for federal agencies and ensure greater representation of women in medical research. She aims to mandate that the number of women represented in a study is proportional to the number who have the disease.

Feminist scholars and advocates in the 1970s and 80s had pointed out that women (and even female animals) were excluded from most clinical studies and lobbied for a change in the prevailing practice. When this medical research gender gap gained public recognition, women's health advocates, feminist activists and scholars, and women members of Congress fought hard for change. In a hard won victory, President Bill Clinton signed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993, mandating that women and minorities be included in clinical studies funded by the NIH. The FDA also reversed a policy that women of childbearing age could not be in clinical trials for drug approval, and the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established women's health offices in 1994, as reported by Mary Jane Horton in the Ms. magazine Winter/Spring 2014 issue.

3/6/2014 - Michigan State University Under Federal Investigation for Handling of Sexual Assault Cases

The US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating Michigan State University (MSU) for its potential mishandling of sexual assault cases.

A student who was allegedly sexually assaulted in an MSU dorm room in August 2010 by two student athletes filed charges against the university under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Campus police investigated the alleged rape and brought information to the county police department, which declined to prosecute. MSU has not provided any information to the press concerning whether or how the student's charges were addressed through any on-campus disciplinary process.

Occidental College professors Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks report in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine, that 1 in 5 women in the US will experience a rape or an attempted rape at some point during her years in college. Unfortunately, many universities have mishandled sexual assault cases and now face investigations, most recently the University of California at Berkeley. To improve this situation, President Obama recently created an inter-agency task force to develop recommendations for universities to prevent campus rape and for federal agencies to hold accountable schools that do not adequately address sexual violence.

3/6/2014 - Senate Rejects Qualified Obama Nominee to Lead DOJ Civil Rights Division

The US Senate blocked President Obama's nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice.

Senators voted 47-52 yesterday in opposition to Debo Adegbile, a highly qualified attorney who worked in private practice at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before holding several leadership positions at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, including Director of Litigation, Acting President, Director-Counsel, and Special Counsel, and serving as senior counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

Adegbile is a voting rights expert. He has twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the US Supreme Court, including in Shelby County v. Holder, the case in which the Court, by a 5-4 vote, invalidated the preclearance formula - meant to protect against pervasive discrimination in voting - in Section 4 of the Act. The Civil Rights Division enforces the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws that protect the right to vote.

Those opposed to the Adegbile's nomination claimed they were concerned about the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal on an appeal during Adegbile's tenure at the organization. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death. After his conviction, NAACP LDF represented Abu-Jamal in an appeal focusing on the propriety of the sentencing instructions given to the jury. A federal court twice sided with Abu-Jamal, finding that his constitutional rights had been violated and commuting his sentence from death to life imprisonment.

President Obama issued a strong statement calling the failure of the Senate to approve Adegbile's nomination "a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile's qualifications are impeccable. He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American's civil and Constitutional rights under the law - including voting rights - could not be more important right now."

Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, commented that the Senate vote "reflects a larger and extremely troubling attack on civil rights taking place on the Senate floor and Capitol Hill. The day that a nominee of this caliber is blocked for supporting voting rights, diversity programs in higher education, and the equal protection of all citizens in the criminal justice system, "signals a moment in our history that we as Americans must take a hard look at the direction we as a democracy are headed."

Civil Rights groups also expressed concern about the Senate's improper use of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case to defeat the nomination. "Today's filibuster should concern every person who care about our justice system," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "Every person deserves adequate legal representation. Our system won't work if talented attorneys refuse to represent unpopular clients."

3/6/2014 - Three More Texas Abortion Clinics Forced To Close

Three more abortion clinics in Texas have been forced to close this week, thanks to extreme restrictions passed last summer. Texas had 44 abortion clinics just 3 years ago, but only 19 have survived the onslaught of restrictive laws so far. If the laws are not changed or blocked by courts in the next few months, Texas could be down to only 6 clinics in September, a frightening number in a state where there are currently about 70,000 legal abortion procedures each year. The abortion clinic closures, coupled with the closing of some 55 family planning clinics after Texas cut their funding, has already created a crisis in availability of reproductive health services. Already, experts, such as Amy Hagstrom, Founder of the Whole Women's Health, are reporting that some Texas women are resorting to dangerous self-induced or illegal abortions.

"As a result of additional provisions of this law, the number will likely decrease to six as of September 1," Charlotte Taft, the director of the Abortion Care Network said in a statement. "Services will only be in the largest cities. There will be hundreds of miles without any safe abortion care. With a population of nearly 27 million people, this is a state of emergency for Texas women."

The law in question, HB 2, passed last summer and has been kept in place after several ongoing court battles. It restricts the prescription of medication abortion, bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, and mandates that facilities where abortion is performed meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.

Of these regulations, the admitting privileges requirement and surgical center standards are the most onerous. The admitting privileges requirement is a catch-22 law. The abortion clinic doctors have simply been refused admitting privileges. Doctors are not receiving admitting privileges because of political pressure - and some doctors cannot receive them because they have to be flown in from other areas because of threats to local doctors. What's more, in the rare case of a complication requiring hospital admission, the hospital must admit the patient, whether or not the doctor has admitting privileges at that hospital. In addition, the surgical center standards impose high costs for unnecessary structural and operational changes, and very little time to adhere to them.

The three clinics that closed this week were located in communities with high poverty rates and many uninsured or underinsured residents. Two were in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest areas in the United States, which now does not have even one reproductive health clinic left. Rio Grande women will be forced to travel two and a half hours to reach the nearest abortion clinic. The dozens of clinic closures in Texas have had a significant impact on low-income and rural women who often do not have the money or means of transportation to travel long distances to a clinic.

3/5/2014 - USDA Expands Access to Healthy Food for Low-Income Women And Children

Two million women and seven million children will now have greater access to a variety of nutritious food options, thanks to the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) expansion of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The revision of the program - which provides supplemental food vouchers to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and infants and children through the age of five - began in 2007 when fruit and vegetable allowances were introduced, and was finalized last week. Previously, women using the program vouchers could only buy limited basics such as milk, infant formula, eggs, bread and tuna fish, among other items. The comprehensive expansion will allow women to use food vouchers to purchase more whole grain items, yogurt as a partial milk substitute, and fresh produce instead of jarred infant food for older children. It will also boost each child's fruit and vegetable purchase allowance by 30 percent, or $2 per month, and it will give states and local WIC agencies more flexibility to decide what to offer.

"The updates to the WIC food package make pivotal improvements to the program and better meet the diverse nutritional needs of mothers and their young children," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. According to the USDA, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already shown greater health outcomes and lower obesity rates in low-income preschoolers that are possibly linked to these changes.

This is the first comprehensive revision of WIC since 1980, and it coincides with the program's 40th anniversary. The changes are based on more modern nutrition science and recommendations from the National Academies' Institute of Medicine and the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They will be implemented in phases through April 2015.

3/5/2014 - Wisconsin City Council Passes 160-Foot Buffer Zone Ordinance

The Madison, Wisconsin city council unanimously passed a buffer zone ordinance last week to protect people entering or exiting healthcare clinics, including women's reproductive healthcare clinics, in the city. The new ordinance will require a 160-foot buffer zone around all healthcare clinics and a floating 8-foot buffer zone around people entering the clinics, with fines up to $750 for those who violate the boundaries.

"No one attempting to access any type of health care should be greeted with physical confrontation, protesters in their face, or forcing leaflets into their hands," said Janet Dye, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. "Madison's newly passed buffer zone will protect patient privacy and dignity while accessing health care."

Just after the ordinance passed, anti-abortion group, Madison Vigil for Life, filed a legal challenge to the law, claiming that it violates the First Amendment, and asked a federal judge to issue an immediate injunction. The court rejected that request, leaving the law in place pending the resolution of the case.

Clinic safety buffer zones are also a focus of the US Supreme Court this term. In the coming months, the Court will decide the fate of a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot safety buffer zone around women's reproductive health clinics. The Court heard arguments in McCullen v Coakley in January. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law. FMF brought the first lawsuit in the nation on buffer zones to the US Supreme Court in 1994. That case, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, established the constitutionality of an injunction creating a clinic safety buffer zone in Florida.