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8/18/2015 - The Feminist Majority Foundation Remembers Julian Bond

The Feminist Majority Foundation and activists across the country are mourning the loss of Julian Bond. Bond passed away over the weekend at 75, leaving behind a legacy of activism as civil rights, social justice, and progressive leader.

Bond was a strong supporter of women's rights. He was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, for a full range of reproductive healthcare, and spoke out against anti-abortion extremist harassment of women's health clinics. Bond often tied his fight for civil rights to the fight for women's rights, saying in an interview with the Center for American Progress:

"I think you could not be in the civil rights movement without having an appreciation for everyone's rights. That these rights are not divisible- not something men have and women don't."

"I had the privilege of knowing Julian Bond. When he spoke out, his words were always inclusive-- he left no group nor fight for justice behind in thought or deed," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Bond's activism can be traced back to his 20s, when he co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Morehouse College. At only 25 Bond was elected to the House of Representatives in Georgia, where he would serve for four terms. He also served for six terms in the Georgia State Senate. Bond became chairman of the NAACP in 1998 and later was the founder and first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bond was also known for his firm opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. Bond was outspoken for LGBT rights, publicly supporting and marching for same-sex marriage.

8/17/2015 - Four States Have Now Defunded Planned Parenthood

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) has moved to remove state funding from Planned Parenthood, bringing the number of states to cut funding from the family planning and women's health center to four.

Alabama and Louisiana ended their contracts with Planned Parenthood earlier this month, and Utah cut funding on Friday in response to accusations that the organization illegally profits from selling fetal tissue. Despite five separate investigations that have found these claims to be entirely false, as well as investigations in other states such as South Dakota and Georgia that have concluded no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, Republican legislators are using the attacks against Planned Parenthood to push an anti-choice agenda.

The Obama Administration warned states this month that defunding Planned Parenthood may in fact be against the law. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a US federal agency, purportedly spoke with officials from Alabama and Louisiana, two states moving to take away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, warning the officials that doing so may illegally restrict beneficiary access to services. State Medicaid programs are federally mandated to cover family planning services for anyone of child-bearing age. According to the Center, closing Planned Parenthood clinics in Alabama and Louisiana may cut off access to these services, violating Medicaid law.

Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. 79�percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

Earlier this month, Senate democrats struck down a bill that would have prohibited all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Pure and simple, a public health crisis would be the result of this bill," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) remarked on the floor.

Already some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he was absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it. White House press secretary Josh Earnest has confirmed that President Obama would veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

8/17/2015 - Amnesty Votes on Policy to Decriminalize Sex Work, Sparks Feminist Debate

Amnesty International adopted a resolution last week at an International Council Meeting allowing for the development of a policy supporting the decriminalization of sex work. As part of a greatly contested debate on the issue, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) has released an open letter to Amnesty asking them to reconsider.

In announcing the vote from the International Council Meeting, Amnesty International wrote of its intentions to protect sex workers from prosecution, exploitation, and violence.

"Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International's future work on this important issue."

Amnesty cited the evidence brought before them by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UN Women, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health in informing this decision.

CATW, however, feels that this Council Meeting vote and the decriminalization of sex work "renders pimps 'business people' who sell vulnerable individuals, overwhelmingly with histories of poverty, discrimination, homelessness and sexual abuse, to buyers of sex with impunity." This legitimizing of buying and selling sex has many concerned. Over 400 women's rights groups including US-based and international groups, medical doctors, and survivors of the sex trade signed an open letter to Amnesty International expressing their concern with Amnesty's decision.

Those signing the letter make it clear that those bought and sold in the sex trade must not be criminalized, agreeing with Amnesty. They disagree, however, in "the wholesale decriminalization of the sex industry," which they feel will make the industry much less safe for the women involved.

The letter cites data from Norway and Germany following the governments" decriminalization of the sex industry in the early 2000s. Both countries saw an increase in violence against the women being bought and sold in this industry, as well as a notable increase in sex trafficking. "Without a vibrant sex industry, there would be no sex trafficking," the letter reads.

One signatory was Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem. "I hope and believe that Amnesty will understand the parallels with other forms of economically compelled body invasion for instance, the sale of organs, Steinem said in a press release for CAWT. "The millions who are prostituted experience trauma and shortened lives. Legalization keeps pimps, brothel keepers, and sex-slavers in freedom and riches."

8/14/2015 - Texas Woman Files Complaint After Officer Forcibly Searches her Vagina

An African American woman in Texas says an officer sexually assaulted her when the officer searched her vagina for marijuana outside a Texaco gas station after a traffic stop last month.

21-year-old Charnesia Corley was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign on June 21st, whereupon the Harris County deputy said he smelled marijuana. Corley was handcuffed and put in the back of the sherrif's car while her car was searched for almost an hour. No marijuana was found.

The deputy then returned to his car and called a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. Despite Corley's protests and lack of consent to a cavity search, Corley was forced to the pavement of the gas station parking lot, stripped, and searched.

"I bend over and she proceeds to try to force her hand inside of me. I tell her, 'Ma'am, No. You cannot do this," Corely told local TV report station KTRK.

"It's undeniable that the search is unconstitutional," said Sam Cammack, Corley's attorney.

Corely is charged with two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, as investigators claim they found .02 ounces of marijuana on her. The Harris County Sherriff's Department insists that Corely consented to the cavity search, leaving many to wonder why she is then being charged with resisting arrest.

A spokesman for the Harris County Sherriff's Department said that "the deputies did everything as they should." As the Washington Post put it:

"And so there you have it. Holding a woman down and forcibly penetrating her vagina to search for pot is official policy in Harris County."

Corely has filed a complaint with the Harris County Sherriff's Office Internal Affairs Division. The County Sherriff's Office is refusing comment until the completion of the internal affairs investigation.

"Once again, it seems that a Black female body has been violated by Texas law enforcement for no reason," Jamilah Lemiuex wrote for Ebony Magazine.

Police violence against women of color, specifically Black women, often manifests as sexual violence, although sexual assault by police officers is not often considered in public dialogue about police violence. The African American Policy Forum, founded by UCLA Professor of Law Kimberle Crenshaw and leading theorist in race and racism, issued a report in May of this year titled "Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women," in which gender-specific issues of police brutality are analyzed. In this report, Crenshaw and other authors hope to expand the analysis of police violence to include gender-specific issues faced by Black women.

Currently, there is a great paucity of data surrounding gender-specific of police brutality against Black women. There is no concise collection of sexual or other forms of gender-based violence committed by police officers in this country. But as the AAPF report says, "the erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts." National media attention for #BlackLivesMatter has largely been on the shooting deaths of African American men at the hands of white police officers, and this media attention shapes how researchers and advocates tend to shape national dialogue.

8/13/2015 - US Government Warns Southern States Against Defunding Planned Parenthood

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a US federal agency, warned of the negative impact of defunding Planned Parenthood this month, a spokesperson for parent agency the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports.

The Center purportedly spoke with officials from Alabama and Louisiana, two states moving to take away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, warning the officials that doing so "may illegally restrict beneficiary access to services."

State Medicaid programs are federally mandated to cover family planning services for anyone of child-bearing age. According to HHS, closing Planned Parenthood clinics in Alabama and Louisiana may cut off access to these services, violating Medicaid law.

Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. 79 percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

In states like Alabama and Louisiana, affordable family planning and access to these services is greatly needed. Almost one third of Alabama children live below the poverty line, and Louisiana is ranked 49th in the country in poverty rates.

Earlier this month, Senate democrats struck down a bill that would have prohibited all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Pure and simple, a public health crisis would be the result of this bill," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) remarked on the floor.

Already some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he was "absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it." White House press secretary Josh Earnest has confirmed that President Obama would veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

8/12/2015 - Obama Takes Step for Paid Sick Leave

President Obama's Administration drafted an executive order to expand paid sick leave for all federal contractors and their subcontractors last week.

The order would also allow for federally contracted employees to take up to seven days of time off per year in paid sick days or to care for sick relatives, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of American workers.

In January President Obama announced his intention to move in such a direction, promising to sign a memorandum, "directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child," and to grant up to seven paid sick days to federal workers. The President encouraged state and local governments to do the same.

The sick day proposal is modeled on a bill called The Healthy Families Act, championed by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The move also would allow new parents up to six weeks of paid parental leave. Currently, the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

Paid parental and sick leave has a direct impact on working women and families. Often times for single parents or families with two working parents, having a sick child means taking unpaid time off or the risk of getting fired for staying home with the child.

"No worker should have to sacrifice a day's pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child," said Senator Murray.

Advocates are applauding this move by the Obama Administration in the hopes that it will extend well beyond federally contracted employees.

"The federal government should lead by example," said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work. "Such a move is precisely its role: to create model standards for the rest of the country to follow and to make sure taxpayer dollars are used wisely."

8/11/2015 - Oklahoma Court Blocks Medication Abortion Restriction

An Oklahoma law restricting access to medication abortions was blocked by a County District Judge, who ruled the state law unconstitutional yesterday.

HB 2684 was signed into law by Republican Governor Mary Fallin last year, prohibiting off-label use of the drug mifipristone. The Center for Reproductive rights then filed a lawsuit challenging the law. As RH Reality Check reported, the law "requires physicians to ignore decades of medical research, the opinion of leading medical organizations, and their own clinical experience, and instead administer medication abortion drugs according to an outdated and inferior regimen."

The law would have banned medication abortions past 7 weeks, requiring patients to undergo an unnecessary surgical procedure rather than using medications alone. It also mirrors the efforts of Oklahoma politicians to force doctors to use an outdated protocol for administering a medication abortion using the drug mifepristone- one that the medical community and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have rejected in favor of a new standard of care that calls for a significantly lower dosage.

In October a state court failed to block this measure a month before it was supposed to take effect, however the Oklahoma Supreme Court then stepped in, blocking the law while the lawsuit continued.

Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish issued her ruling following a hearing yesterday morning, finding that the restrictions in this measure clearly violate the state constitution.

"Today's ruling affirms that Oklahoma politicians cannot single out women for discrimination simply because they don't agree with their health care decisions," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive rights. "For years, Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission to stand between women and safe, legal abortion care, and the courts have stepped in time and time again to stop them."

8/10/2015 - Target to Stop Gender-Based Toy Signage

Target announced on Friday that it will be discontinuing the practice of dividing toy sections into "boys" and "girls" toys, instead calling these sections "kids." Target will also stop separating other children's items, such as bedding, into gendered categories.

The push for this move has largely come from frustrated customers who want to see the store represent the many varying interests of their children. "Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer suggestions based on gender," Target remarked. "As guests have pointed out, in some departments like toys, home or entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary."

The decision has largely been met with praise. Abi Bechtel of Ohio, one of the many parents who took to social media to express their concern with gendered toys, called "color-coded" marketing "regressive and harmful." Bechtel lauded the company's shift in marketing and for listening to consumers.

Mental health experts have noted that gender-neutral playtime has many positive impacts for kids. "Toys are a form of self-expression, so if you can increase that repertoire, you're really saying 'You're OK,' and as a result our mental health will be far better," said psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma.

Target says these changes will be implemented over the next few months.

Media Resources: Target News 8/7/15; Today Show Reporting 8/10/15

8/10/2015 - NYC Police Officers Win Big in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Pregnant police officers in New York City will now face one less barrier to career advancement after a new policy announcement by the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The change was made in response to a case brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by Legal Momentum on behalf of NYC Officer Akema Thompson who was denied the opportunity to take a promotional examination. The Civil Service test is required for consideration of promotion to Sergeant. Officer Thompson was scheduled to take the exam to be considered for promotion, and when she found out that it was scheduled on the same day as her delivery due date, she requested to re-schedule the exam.

Although exceptions are made for many other reasons such as religious observances, work-related injury, court appearances, or funerals, Thompson, who has been working for the NYPD since 2010, was told by city officials that her request for a makeup test was "not approvable," because pregnancy or childbirth were excluded. Three days before the exam, as Thompson went into labor, she was told that she could not reschedule the exam, but would be allowed extra time and a cushion to sit on.

Thompson, with the help of Legal Momentum, filed a complaint with the EEOC, and the DCAS settle the case paying Thompson $50,000 and allowing her to take a makeup exam in January. The city also agreed to change its policy to allow for rescheduling exams due to pregnancy and giving birth.

"In 2015, there is no excuse for denying pregnant women reasonable accommodations to enable them to work on an equal basis with everyone else," said Carol Robles-Roman, President and CEO of Legal Momentum.

Pregnancy discrimination complaints have dramatically increased over the past decade. In 2014 alone the EEOC received around 3,400 complaints with settlement fees reaching up to $14 million.

Media Resources: Legal Momentum Press Release 8/3/15; NY Times 8/9/15; NYC PBA Press Release 8/3/15; Feminist Majority Blog 10/31/13; EEOC Data FY2011-FY2014;

8/7/2015 - Sandra Bland's Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Sandra Bland's mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday claiming that Bland should never have been arrested and blaming Texas officials for her death.

Bland is the 28-year-old African American woman who died in police custody last month. Authorities initially ruled it a suicide, but after pressure from the Bland family and the public, which spread news of the death using the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland, the Waller County, Texas District Attorney announced that the death will be investigated as a homicide. The FBI also joined the Texas Rangers in conducting the investigation.

The wrongful-death lawsuit names state trooper Brian Encinia, the Texas trooper who arrested Bland, as well as the two guards at Waller County Jail. According to the lawsuit, guards at the jail did not check on Bland frequently enough, and failed to act when Bland refused meals. Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Encina of using excessive force during the arrest, which "caused Sandra Bland to suffer injury and death."

"We are looking for Waller County and for individuals involved in this situation to take accountability," said Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland's family, at a news conference in Houston. "This family is frustrated."

"What happened to Sandra Bland is outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, after the release of dashboard camera footage from Bland's arrest. "She should never have been ordered to leave her car in the first place and never have been arrested. This was a minor traffic violation that the officer escalated because he was challenged by a Black woman who knew her rights. How many more Black and Latino people have to die before we make fundamental change in police recruitment and training, and overhaul a justice system that is permitting police brutality with impunity?"

In the footage that was released, Encinia is heard telling Bland, who had been stopped for a traffic violation, to get out of her vehicle. Tensions seem to escalate when Bland questioned Encinia's authority to order her out of her car. The officer then opened the car door himself and threatened to drag her out. Bland can be heard telling the officer, "Don't touch me. I'm not under arrest."

Soon thereafter, Encinia pointed a taser at Bland and yelled, "I will light you up!"

After Bland exits the car, she is and heard telling the officer, "you slammed my head into the ground, do you even care about that? I can't even hear." Encinia tells her that she is resisting arrest. Bland asked the officer multiple times to tell her why she was being arrested.

8/6/2015 - Federal Judge Extends Restraining Order Against Anti-Abortion Extremists

A federal judge in California has extended a temporary restraining order against an anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as well as Biomax Procurement Services LLC, CMP leader David Daleiden, and Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue and CMP board member.

The restraining order, issued at the request of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) prohibits these groups and individuals from releasing any videos, documents, or other confidential information obtained from NAF Annual Meetings, including the dates and locations of future meetings.

District Judge William H. Orrick III issued his opinion extending the order on Monday. In his ruling, Judge Orrick wrote:

Critically, the parties do not disagree about NAF's central allegations: defendants assumed false identities, created a fake company, and lied to NAF in order to obtain access to NAF's annual meetings and gain private information about its members.The evidence presented by NAF, including that defendants' recent dissemination of videos of and conversations with NAF affiliates has led to harassment and death threats for the individuals in those videos, is sufficient to show irreparable injury for the purposes of the temporary restraining order.

The restraining order, which was originally issued last Friday, will now be in effect until a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.

"We are grateful to Judge Orrick for extending the temporary restraining order," said President and CEO of NAF Saporta. "Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our members and taking these criminals to task for their illegal activities."

CMP has not filed one tax return as a non-profit, according to the Nation, and its leadership consists of well-known anti-abortion activists. Troy Newman's group, for example, has been engaging in a campaign of terror, harassment, and intimidation against abortion providers, patients, and clinic staff for years, including in Wichita, Kansas where Dr. George Tiller was murdered by extremist Scott Roeder.

8/6/2015 - Federal Court Blocks Strict Texas Voter ID Law

In a victory for Texas voters the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling blocking a restrictive Texas voter ID law as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

In October 2014, US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos issued a 143-page order striking down the Texas voter ID law, which was the strictest in the country and required voters to present one of only six state-approved photo IDs before being able to vote. The controversial list included concealed handgun permits, but not student identification cards. The court found that approximately 608,470 registered voters did not have the kind of photo ID required under the law, and that the law disproportionately discriminated against minority voters. According to Judge Ramos, the law was "an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote" and has an "impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose [in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.]"

Despite Ramos' ruling, the Fifth Circuit allowed the discriminatory law to stand for the November 2014 elections while Texas sought an appeal. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court, confusing and disenfranchising many Texas voters.

The 5th Circuit court decision yesterday invalidating the law was praised by Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe, saying that "this decision acknowledges the problems Texas African American and Latino voters have experienced as cited by their leaders since the law was first implemented, that it blatantly discriminates against minority voters." Bledsoe also called for the Attorney General not to seek an appeal with the Supreme Court. "There is no need to prolong discriminatory practices that are truly hurting Texans of color," he said.

Since the 2010 elections, 21 states have implemented new laws making it more difficult to vote, and 15 more will have new rules in place for the upcoming presidential election in 2016. Multiple states are facing major lawsuits challenging restrictions on voting. A North Carolina trial determining the validity of several strict voting laws just wrapped up.

8/5/2015 - Netflix Employees Now Have Access to One Year of Paid Maternity or Paternity Leave

Netflix announced yesterday that it will now be offering all employees a year of paid maternity or paternity leave.

The online movie and television show streaming platform says that all employees will continue to receive their regular pay for up to a year after the birth or adoption of a child. This progressive policy also includes that parents can return to work then take additional time off as needed. "Each employee gets to figure out what's best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences," Tawni Cranz, Chief Talent Officer for Netflix, said in a statement.

Netflix joins others in the industry leading the way for more fair and progressive employee policies. Earlier this year, Facebook Incorporated announced that the company will be requiring improved benefits from its contractors, including higher pay and paid leave. Facebook also offers four months of paid leave for all employees with a new child, $4,000 to employees with a new child, and subsidizes day care programs and fertilization or surrogate parenting programs. Twitter offers up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees, and 10 weeks of paid paternity leave.

Paid family leave is a big concern for working women and families, and last year Thomas Perez, the US Secretary of Labor, called paid family leave one of the most critical issues facing working families. And in January, President Obama announced his intention to sign a Presidential Memorandum that would greatly improve paid sick leave and child care leave for parents with a new child.

Extending greater maternal benefits has been shown to improve the rate at which parents return to work after having a child. In 2007, Google extended its paid maternity leave to 18 weeks and found that the rate at which mothers with a new child left Google permanently was cut almost in half.

8/5/2015 - This Year's Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice is Centered Around Its Intersection with Economic Justice

This week is the 6th annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, hosted by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. This year's theme of "Fighting for Economic and Reproductive Justice" lies at the intersection of economics and the Latina community.

Latinas in the United States often face a multitude of discrimination in the workplace, including pregnancy discrimination, low wages, and workplace abuse, especially for immigrant Latinas. Latina women's pay falls far behind the national average for women in the United States; while the average US woman is paid 78 cents for every man's dollar, Latinas in the US are paid an average of 56 cents for every white man's dollar. This statistic varies greatly on a state-to-state basis, and in states like California, Texas, and New Jersey that statistic drops to 44 cents to the dollar. Currently, the median wage for a Latina worker in the US is just over $30,000 annually.

"Across the country, Latinas, our families, and our communities are deeply engaged in the struggle for reproductive justice," said the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in a statement. "We're working for health equity including access to affordable reproductive healthcare, bodily autonomy, and the ability to make our own decisions about pregnancy, parenting, and abortion. We're also struggling to support our families, against tremendous barriers."

The National Latina Institute's goals include access to affordable contraception, Medicaid expansion, fair wages, pay equality, and affordable childcare. As part of the week of action, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) hosted a demonstration for higher wages for Latinas in Colorado yesterday, and tomorrow the Institute is hosting a social media campaign and Twitter chat using the hashtag #WOA15.

The week of action reinforces how economic justice and reproductive justice are linked. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently explained recently, "poor women don't have choice." Their lack of access to reproductive health services often furthers the cycle of poverty.

The Hyde Amendment bans using funding from Medicaid to pay for abortions disproportionately affects poor women's ability to access abortion care. Since the passage of the Hyde amendment in 1976, Congress has withheld coverage for abortion services from women insured through the Medicaid program. Approximately 1 in 6 women are enrolled in Medicaid are of reproductive age. Democratic women in Congress, supported by organizations such as All Above All and the Feminist Majority, introduced last month the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act. This Act would make insurance coverage for abortion available to all women, regardless of income, type of insurance, or zipcode.

8/4/2015 - Senate Democrats Protect Funding for Planned Parenthood

Yesterday, Senate Democrats blocked legislation introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) that would have stripped all federal funding from Planned Parenthood.

Senate Bill 1881 would have slashed $528 million in federal funds from Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides sexual and reproductive health care to millions of women and men each year. To advance, the bill required 60 votes in its favor. The final vote was 53-46.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) voted with Senate Republicans to defund, while a single Republican, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), opposed the bill. Senator Lindsay Graham did not vote. The bill was introduced after an anti-reproductive rights group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress released heavily-edited, misleading videos falsely suggesting that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donation.

"We won the battle, but the war isn't over," tweeted Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood. "Anti-abortion politicians vowed to do everything in their power to cut patients off from care."

Already some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he was "absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it." White House press secretary Josh Earnest has confirmed that President Obama would veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

79 percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

8/3/2015 - Anti-Abortion Extremist Will Stand Trial for Threatening a Provider

A Kansas anti-abortion extremist will have to stand trial for threats made against a doctor planning to provide abortions, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

In a powerful decision for abortion providers being threatened by extremists, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2-1 ruling that a jury - not a judge - should determine whether or not a 2011 letter Angel Dillard sent to Dr. Mila Means constitutes a true threat actionable under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The ruling overturns a lower court's summary decision that Dillard's letter was constitutionally protected free speech.

"This decision sends a critical message to extremists across the country," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project director duVergne Gaines. "The law is clear: threatening abortion providers with stalking, car bombs and murder is not protected speech under the First Amendment. The decision strongly reinforces the integrity of FACE and its use to stop threats and other conduct designed to terrorize and intimidate providers and patients. We applaud the Department of Justice's commitment to prosecute extremists like Dillard and protect abortion providers across the country."

The Department of Justice brought a civil FACE lawsuit against Dillard after she sent a threatening letter to Dr. Means, a family practitioner who was in training to provide abortions in Wichita. "We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it," Dillard wrote. "You will be checking under your car everyday - because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it." At the time the letter was sent, abortion services had not been available in Wichita since May of 2009, when Dr. George Tiller was murdered by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.

The Appeals court decision corrected the lower court's two key findings when granting summary judgment for Dillard, stating that it did not matter that the threats contained in Dillard's letter were conditional because many "true threats" are conditional and are not protected by the First Amendment. Secondly, the Appeals court stated it did not matter whether or not Dillard intended to carry out the threats contained in her letter; the letter could still be construed by a jury to intentionally threaten and intimidate Dr. Means out of providing safe legal abortions.

Critically, the appeals court also declared that "the context in this case includes Wichita's past history of violence against abortion providers, the culmination of this violence in Dr. Tiller's murder less than two years before Defendant mailed her letter, Defendant's publicized friendship with Dr. Tiller's killer [Scott Roeder], and her reported admiration of his convictions." Dillard had developed a relationship with Roeder while he was awaiting trial for the murder of Dr. Tiller, and visited him several times in jail. She even declared to the Associated Press in a 2009 interview that she admired Roeder for having "followed his convictions."

At the time she received the letter from Dillard, Dr. Means had been the target of a campaign coordinated by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue (OR) and its leader, Troy Newman, to try and stop her from providing abortions in Wichita. OR first exposed Means' name to its followers and to the press and then led efforts to end her plans to provide abortions, which included trespassing into her family practice office, organizing protests outside her office, following her employees home, publishing and circulating WANTED-style posters and emails targeting her, demonstrating at her rural home outside of Wichita, and terrorizing a potential landlord for her new clinic. Dr. Tiller was the target of a similar campaign led by Operation Rescue prior to his murder.

There is a longstanding history of violence against abortion providers by anti-abortion extremists and historically, these kinds of threats have often preceded serious crimes of violence, including murder. The Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey shows that since 2010, the distribution of WANTED-style posters, pamphlets and online postings targeting doctors and clinic staff, and featuring provider's photographs, home addresses, and other personal information, has almost doubled from impacting 27% to 52% of clinics. Nearly 1 in 5 abortion providers in the U.S. are the targets of severe violence.

FMF's National Clinic Access Project is the largest of its kind in the U.S., leading efforts nationwide to keep women's health clinics open in the face of violence and intimidation and to bring anti-abortion terrorists to justice. Read more about the history of the NCAP project.

8/3/2015 - The Senate is Voting on Planned Parenthood Funding Today

A Senate bill to defund Planned Parenthood is expected to come to a vote today.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Joni Ernst (IA), Senate Bill 1881 would prohibit all Federal funding of Planned Parenthood or "any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics." The Senate will need 60 votes to advance the bill, which is being proposed following the release of highly edited video footage by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

The CMP's misleading videos claim that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue. Though this claim has been thoroughly proven as false, and the National Abortion Federation has since filed a lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, Republicans in the Senate are still using these recent events as reason to push anti-abortion legislation.

Planned Parenthood serves almost five million women, men, and young people each year and provides basic health care like contraception, well-woman exams, cancer screenings, abortion care, and comprehensive sex and reproductive health education - and for many of their patients, the shuttering of their clinics means the end of affordable, accessible care.

"When you say, 'Let's defund Planned Parenthood'...what you are saying is that women, primarily in low-income communities, and many women of color, won't have access to a wide range of essential health services," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said on the floor Thursday, "because of an ideological desire to control what choices are made between a woman and her doctor."

Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. The Feminist Majority has encouraged their supporters to not only vote no on the bill, but also work to increase funding for women's health care services, and signed on to a letter with the 95 civil and human rights and labor organizations urging every Senator to oppose all efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Although it is widely believed that the Senate does not have the votes to move this forward, it's just the beginning of what Senate Republicans are showing that they are willing to do in order to push forth an anti-choice agenda. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said that Republicans should do everything they can, including shutting down the government this fall, to take away funding from Planned Parenthood.

7/30/2015 - Boy Scouts of America Lifts Ban on Gay Troop Leaders

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have voted to repeal its national ban on gay and lesbian adult staff and volunteers this week.

"The resolution will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation," a Boy Scouts of America statement read.

Just 15 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that the BSA had the right to discriminate against gay volunteers and staff in a 5-4 decision. Tim Curran filed a lawsuit against BSA for such a discrimination claim in the 1980s, which he then lost in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the 1990s. Curran, now a copy editor and writer for CNN, says he "couldn't be happier" with the decision, although he acknowledges that it comes later than he had hoped.

Robert Gates, current BSA President, said in announcing the removal of this ban that it would never hold up in the rapidly shifting political climate and increasing demands for LGBT rights."For far too long this issue has divided and distracted us," he said in a statement. "Now it's time to unite behind our shared belief in the extraordinary power of Scouting to be a force for good in a community and in the lives of its youth members."

This win for LGBT rights is limited, however, as troops organized through church groups can still decide if they will allow gay leaders. Because of that exemption, LGBT rights groups will fight on to shift BSA policies.

"Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "Period."

7/29/2015 - An Extreme Abortion Ban is Now Law in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed an extreme 20 week abortion ban into law last week.

The law, which bans abortions performed past 20 weeks, has no exception whatsoever for rape, incest, or fatal fetal anomalies. Such extreme abortion bans have been overturned time after time, as they directly contradict of the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, as Roe protects a patient's right to abortion until fetal viability, around 24 weeks.

A handful of anti-choice politicians and organizations maintain that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a claim that is widely contested by the vast majority of the medical community.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have released a letter urging the legislature and governor to oppose the bill. "This is bad medicine, based on the thoroughly debunked fallacy that a 20-week fetus - which is not viable - can feel pain," the letter reads. "These bills would undoubtedly place us in the unconscionable position of having to watch our patients and their loved ones undergo additional emotional trauma, illness and suffering during what is already a difficult time."

The law represents Walker's rapidly changing political stance. While campaigning for the governorship last year, Walker presented himself as a moderate on abortion and claimed to support legislation that would leave "the final decision to a woman and her doctor." Walker is now a presidential candidate and is increasingly taking more anti-abortion stances.

In addition to Wisconsin, 11 other states currently have an unconstitutional 20-week ban on the books, and three more have been struck down by the courts.

7/29/2015 - Jen Welter Just Made NFL History

Jen Welter was hired as a coach for the Arizona Cardinals this week, becoming the first woman ever to be a National Football League coach. She will coach inside linebackers and intern at the Cardinals' training camp.

Welter has a history of firsts in her career. She was running back in the Texas Revolution of Indoor Football League, making her the first woman to play a non-kicking position in a men’s pro league, and later became a coach for the team - and the Indoor Football League’s first female coach ever. Welter, who played women’s pro football for 14 seasons, has a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology and Ph.D. in Psychology.

She joins a growing list of women breaking barriers in professional men’s sports. Just this season, Sarah Thomas was named the first female referee official for the NFL. And San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon made history as the first woman to coach an NBA team. This season Hammon was put in charge of the team's squad, coaching them so far through a record of 6 consecutive wins and 1 loss.

“I want little girls everywhere to grow up knowing they can do anything, even play football,” Welter told NBC.

7/27/2015 - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Blocked Efforts to Defund Planned Parenthood

An attempt in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood by Mike Lee (R-UT) was blocked this weekend by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Lee tried to attach the elimination of federal funds for Planned Parenthood to a vote for highway legislation, a move which was rejected by McConnell as out of order.

Republican legislators have redoubled their efforts to block funding for Planned Parenthood since the release of two heavily edited clandestine videos of different PPFA employees taken without their knowledge. The videos, intended to put the organization in a bad light, claim Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue, which it has consistently denied.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards explained that the organization does not profit from tissue donations, and that all donation programs they participate in follow laws and ethical guidelines, in a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos. "We have the highest standards," Richards told him. "The care - and health care and safety - of our patients is our most important priority."

Richards also reminded the public that the videos in question were produced by the Center for Medical Progress, a group with deep ties to extremist anti-choice organizations like Live Action and Operation Rescue. “The folks behind this," she added, "are part of the most militant wing of the anti-abortion movement."

7/27/2015 - "After Tiller" Was Nominated For An Emmy

Documentary film After Tiller was nominated for two Emmy Awards: Best Documentary, and Outstanding Coverage of a Current News Story.

The Point of View (POV) documentary follows the aftermath of the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. Tiller was one of the last remaining third trimester abortion providers in the country. He was assassinated in the atrium of his church, after facing decades of threats and harassment, surviving a shooting in 1994, and having his clinic bombed in 1986. Dr. Tiller's story represents the lived realities that many abortion providers and clinic staff experience daily at the hands of anti-abortion extremism.

Since Dr. Tiller was murdered, only four doctors remain in the United States openly performing third-trimester abortions. After Tiller follows these four doctors as they confront various obstacles- harassment, state efforts to close or limit abortion clinics, as well as emotional dilemmas from working in such a hostile environment- revealing the inspiration Dr. Tiller was for these doctors, but also the warning that his assassination serves to them of the risks they take through doing the work they do. The film has been called a "deeply humanizing" portrayal of the realities of violence against abortion providers in the face of anti-abortion extremism.

"Reality is complicated," say Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, directors and producers of After Tiller. "Yet when it comes to the abortion issue in America, we are often presented with two very different, black-and-white versions of what is right and what is wrong - no exceptions granted. As a result, the national shouting match over abortion has become increasingly distanced from the real-life situations and decisions faced by those people most intimately involved - the physicians and their patients."

The Feminist Majority Foundation has long supported clinic defense through its National Clinic Access Project, which most recently brought increased security measures to the last remaining abortion clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, in the face of a week of harassment and protest led by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America. FMF has advocated for safety buffer zones around clinics to ensure that patients, doctors, and healthcare workers can enter these facilities without harassment, intimidation, and violence.

The 67th annual Emmy Awards will take place on September 20th this year.

7/24/2015 - Federal Court Strikes Down Nation's Strictest Abortion Ban

A federal court upheld this week that North Dakota's strict abortion ban law is unconstitutional, blocking it permanently.

The North Dakota law is one of the strictest in the nation. HB 1456 bans abortion past the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, and would have banned abortion before many women even know that they are pregnant.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Jack Dalrymple in 2013, after which pro-choice groups including the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic - the last remaining abortion provider in North Dakota. A federal district court blocked the law in 2014, noting that "the United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability."

"Today's decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, ND, said that the clinic is very happy with the decision, but is ready to fight the measure should the state make an appeal to the Supreme Court. "We certainly hoped from the beginning when the bill was first proposed in the Legislature that the final outcome would be that the court would say that the state of North Dakota went too far in trying to ban abortions for the women that we served," Kromenaker said.

Anti-choice North Dakota lawmakers are now demanding that state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices, however, can decline to hear the case, as they did with the blocking of an Arizona state 20-week abortion ban last year.

7/24/2015 - Katherine Spillar Urges Cleveland to Dramatically Increase Hiring of Women Police to Mitigate Police Violence

In a well-received speech at the City Club of Cleveland today, Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation urged Cleveland city officials to dramatically increase the hiring of women police officers as a way to decrease police brutality incidents.

Following a number of high profile police killings in Cleveland of African Americans, and an eight-month investigation by the US Attorney's office of the Northern District of Ohio, the City of Cleveland has now entered into a Consent Decree that requires numerous reforms in how the city oversees and investigates police operations, including training in use of force.

"Among the most important reforms mandated by the consent decree - and the most easily overlooked - are the changes the Cleveland Division of Police must make in its recruitment and hiring practices,
said Spillar. "Why? Because it provides Cleveland an unprecedented opportunity to dramatically increase the percentages of women in the police department. And to racially diversify the ranks of a department that is two-thirds white in a city that is two-thirds non-white."

Spillar explained that racial diversity would ensure communities of color are full partners in a new community-oriented police department, and that gender balancing the department would bring a different kind of police officer to the CDP. "Studies over the past 40 years have shown that women officers are less authoritarian in their approach to policing and less reliant on physical force," Spillar continued. "Most importantly, women officers have proven to be better at defusing potentially violent confrontations - before those encounters turn deadly. This is the very approach to policing that the US Attorney says is tragically missing in Cleveland."

Spillar pointed to two reasons explaining the difference in women's and men's approach to policing.

"First, policemen see policing as use of force to gain compliance. By contrast, women see policing as a public service. Second, some research suggests that male police officers who feel like they must demonstrate their masculinity might be more likely to use force against a subject. We most recently saw this play out on the video-taped arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas. Her death in police custody is still unexplained.

"What's more, women police are better at responding to domestic violence incidents, the largest category of 911 calls to police departments across the country, underscoring the need for more women in the department."

Despite the evidence that increasing women in law enforcement would significantly reduce police violence, the number of women in policing nationwide remains stuck at low levels. Cleveland Division of Police has only 14.4% women in its ranks. According to Spillar, three major causes keep the numbers of women in policing artificially low: misguided recruiting practices, ongoing discriminatory hiring practices across the country, and hostile work places.

To increase the numbers of women in law enforcement Spillar argued police departments must adopt: a community policing philosophy over a warrior model that over-relies on use of force; an unrelenting and genuine commitment from the top of the department and from city leaders to hire more women officers; unbiased testing and hiring procedures; incentives for existing police officers to actively seek out and encourage women to apply; and serious enforcement of sexual harassment policies that keep women from being hazed and threatened out of the department.

"The most fundamental change a police agency can make is in hiring the right people - the right balance of people. And it is the current imbalance - or gender gap - in policing that is contributing to the police excessive force problems in this city and cities across the country.

"Until now, the national conversation has ignored the benefits gender balancing would bring to the effectiveness of police departments and to the people in their communities. With demands for police reform, we have a perfect opportunity to consider a dramatic, gender-based response."

The Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women in Policing has long supported female officers and efforts to diversify police departments by sex, race, and ethnicity across the country. In the midst of a national conversation about police brutality, that work could mean the difference between life and death for those who interact with police.

7/23/2015 - FMF Executive Director Will Speak on Gender in Policing and Defusing Police Violence

Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, will speak at the City Club of Cleveland at 12 PM EST tomorrow, July 24, on how adding equal numbers of women to police departments nationwide is critical to reducing incidents of police violence and enhancing the ability of police to improve relations with the communities they serve. A live stream will be available here.

Studies over the past 40 years both in the U.S. and internationally show that women officers are less authoritarian and use force less often than their male counterparts, possess better communication skills, and are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations. As a result, women police are less likely than male officers to become involved in use of excessive force and deadly force. These studies also show, however, that women police officers perform the job of policing equally as well as men and are not reluctant to use force when necessary.

In the wake of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown's shooting death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri nearly a year ago, a nationwide movement�calling for police accountability and an end to police brutality has mounted across the nation. Brown's death is no outlier; since his August 9, 2014 shooting, countless other people of color, primarily African-Americans, have died in altercations with police. 43-year-old Eric Garner died while being held in a choke-hold by police in Staten Island; 25-year-old Freddie Gray fell into a coma with a severed spine after being transported in a police van and later died; 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot in Cleveland.

Despite a national conversation that can center on male victims of police violence, women and girls, too, suffer frequently from various forms of victimization during encounters with police. Officers like Daniel Holtzclaw using their authority to rape women civilians, and girls at a public pool in Texas were assaulted by police with no cause. 16-year-old Jessie Hernandez was shot in Denver, and 28-year-old Sandra Bland's death in a holding cell began being investigated as a murder this week.

The Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women in Policing has long supported female officers and efforts to diversify police departments across the country. In the midst of a national conversation about police brutality, that work could mean the difference between life and death for those who interact with police.