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The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill yesterday with an amendment to remove a provision banning the Peace Corps from funding abortions for its volunteers, even in cases of rape or incest.
Unlike other employees with federal health care plans - including Peace Corps employees - Peace Corps volunteers currently do not have access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or endangered health or life. The Republican-controlled committee had blocked previous efforts to repeal this restriction, but yesterday the amendment passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an identical amendment last week. The full House and Senate must now vote on the FY 2015 appropriations legislation for the repeal to go into effect.
"With today's vote, no longer will women in the Peace Corps be denied coverage for abortion care after they've been raped or when they face life-threatening pregnancy complications," said Nancy Northop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources." Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month.
Although the Peace Corps amendment was a victory for reproductive health and rights, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass three other amendments that would have improved US funding for reproductive health programs. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to strike the Global Gag Rule from the appropriations bill. The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign organizations who received US funds from counseling, advocating, or making referrals on abortion. That amendment failed by 19-25 vote.
"Year after year, Republicans attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy endangers the lives of low-income women around the world by denying funds for critical health services," said Lee in a statement. "I remain committed to the fight to prevent this dangerous policy from being reinstated."
Amendments offered by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to remove restrictions on US funding for UNFPA, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) to strike language that caps overall funding for international family planning and reproductive health at no more than $461 million - a 25 percent cut from the 2014 level of $610 million - were also defeated.
If passed, these amendments to the appropriations bill would have improved, or even saved, the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. Approximately 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy, and millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions.
6/25/2014 - TRAP Law Shuts Down North Alabama Clinic
Before the week is out, another Alabama clinic will shut its doors thanks to the state's TRAP bill, set to take effect July 1.
Last April, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Women's Health and Safety Act. The TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law requires reproductive health clinics to create wider hallways to accommodate gurneys, and state-of-the-art fire suppression systems. Clinics have to begin making changes within 180 days of the law's effective date. The new zoning regulations are the same for ambulatory surgical centers, but the cost of such renovations leaves smaller reproductive health clinics crunched for time and money.
"It will be a sad day for us to close our doors, because it means women of North Alabama will no longer have access to the multiple health care services we provide, not just abortions," Dalton Johnson told WAFF-TV. Johnson is the clinic administrator for the Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville, Ala. The clinic is the first in the state to choose to surrender its license, according to The Huntsville Times. The decision came after state inspectors declaredthe clinic would need "moderate to significant alterations" to stay in compliance with the new law. Once the Alabama Women's Center shuts its doors, the closest clinic in Alabama for women in Huntsville is a Planned Parenthood nearly two hours south in Birmingham, with only a handful of clinics remaining statewide.
According to The Huntsville Times, Johnson told the state health department the clinic wanted to relocate to a medical office building in downtown Huntsville. State health officials said those blueprints are still under review. If the new site is approved, however, the clinic would need to reapply for a provider license.
In an iconic display of support, eight women Senators testified today at a Senate subcommittee hearing in support of the need to take action against violence against women globally. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues, made clear that to fully address violence against women the Senate must pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Testifying at the hearing today were Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
"You can't see it, but there's a line outside," said Sen. Heitkamp before beginning her testimony.
The committee room was standing room only, packed with women leaders and activists, and a long line of supporters - who were never able to enter the room - gathered at the door to hear testimony from the women Senators, US Ambassador for Global Women's Issues Catherine Russell, USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Susan Markham, Promundo International Director Gary Barker, Institute for Inclusive Security Director Jacqueline O'Neill, and Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim, an expert on sharia law who spoke about the still-missing Chibok girls abducted by terrorist group Boko Haram in April.
The hearing, entitled Combating Violence and Discrimination Against Women: A Global Call to Action," focused on the epidemic of violence against women around the world, and called on the Senate to take action on two tools to help reduce violence and advance the status of women: IVAWA and CEDAW.
"The United States ratification of the CEDAW treaty would not only enhance its status, but also make it a more effective tool in combating violence against women," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "The women of the world are looking to the US for leadership on this issue. We can no longer remain silent."
That point was continuously emphasized in the hearing, especially by Nigerian attorney Hauwa Ibrahim, who departed from her prepared statements to put the United States' role in this worldwide fight in perspective: "You are indeed a beacon of hope, and a city on a hill. The passing of IVAWA and CEDAW would lighten our load."
Ambassador Russell stated unequivocally that the Obama Administration supports ratification of CEDAW. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) also stated his support, as well as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Both are co-sponsors of IVAWA, introduced in the Senate by Senator Boxer, and in the US House of Representatives by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
The Feminist Majority joins 74 organizations in thanking Sen. Boxer for holding these important hearings and taking a significant step toward moving the United States to action on this human rights crisis.
See the Feminist Majority's full release on today's hearing here.
President Obama addressed a packed audience Monday at the White House Summit on Working Families to support policies aimed at helping women workers and their families achieve greater economic stability.
Declaring that when women succeed, America succeeds, the President highlighted several items on the Women's Economic Agenda - an agenda promoted by major women's leadership organizations such as the National Women's Law Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority, and championed by the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), the ranking member of the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.
"It was thrilling to see the White House focusing national attention on desperately needed public policies for employed women and men of paid family leave, paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, and accessible, affordable child care," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "Of course these policies disproportionately affect employed women who still provide the lion's share of care giving in our nation."
"We've been working to gain these programs for 40 years. It's long overdue," continued Smeal. "Women are half of our nation's paid workforce, and we can't pretend any longer that these programs are a luxury. Every day without action means that millions of women, their families, and their loved ones suffer needlessly."
President Obama specifically called on Congress to pass legislation providing paid family leave. "There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us," said the President. "And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome. It's time to change that, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for their families."
The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Leave Act(FAMILY Act), introduced by Congresswoman DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would permit employees to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year through the creation of a national insurance fund.
The President also focused on raising the federal minimum wage, the importance of fair labor practices for pregnant women "because too many are forced to choose between their health and their job," and on accessible child care. "Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth," he said, "now that's a pretty low bar." President Obama also announced at the Summit that he would sign a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to expand flexible workplace policies.
In his remarks, however, the President made clear that these policy changes were also personal. "I was raised by strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me. I saw what it was like for a single mom who was trying to go to school and work at the same time," said the President. "And most of all, I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies. And I want them to be able to have families. And I want them to be able to have careers. And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them. And I want a society that supports that."
The White House Summit on Working Families convened Monday to promote "creating a 21st century workplace" for all Americans. The Summit featured President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Executive Director of the White House Council of Women and Girls Tina Tchen, and US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, among others.
6/23/2014 - White House Holds Summit on Working Families
The White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress are hosting a Summit on Working Families today to discuss "creating a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans." The Summit will address ways to strengthen the economic security of working families through the creation of policies that promote, among other things, equal pay, paid leave, elder care, and affordable and accessible child care.
"At a time when women make up about half of America's workforce, outdated workplace policies that make it harder for mothers to work hold our entire economy back," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday about the Summit. "But these aren't just problems for women. Men also care about who's watching their kids. They're rearranging their schedules to make it to soccer games and school plays. Lots of sons help care for aging parents. And plenty of fathers would love to be home for their new baby's first weeks in the world."
Addressing the Summit, President Obama announced that he would sign a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to expand flexible workplace policies to the maximum extent possible. The Memorandum will clarify that federal workers may request a flexible work schedule and that agencies must establish procedures to address such requests.
This latest executive action follows several other actions the President has taken this year to improve policies for working families, including issuing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors, signing two executive actions on equal pay, banning discrimination against LGBT employees, and planning an expansion of sick leave for same-sex couples.
Ahead of the Summit, the White House released two reports on working families. "Nine Facts about American Families at Work" and "The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave" provide updated research on the modern American family and detail the widespread need for more leave, both paid and unpaid.
You can watch the Summit live at workingfamiliessummit.org and follow The Feminist Majority tweets on the event @femmajority.
Engaging the US in the global fight to end gender-based violence will take center stage tomorrow as part of a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at fully combating violence and discrimination against women worldwide.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Foreign RelationsSubcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues hearingwill preside over the hearing at which several women Senators will testify, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
The Senate Subcommittee hearing will focus on how the US and the international community can work to prevent violence against women, promote women's rights, and empower women and girls globally. Senator Boxer introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in May as a step toward reducing violence against women worldwide. The international community has also used the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women's Treaty, as a tool to fight violence against women globally. Although 187 countries have ratified the treaty, the US has not, joining Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau in its failure to ratify CEDAW.
Gender-based violence is the most widespread human rights violation around the world. According to the World Health Organization at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, although some national studies show prevalence rates as high as 70%. In conflict zones, women are more susceptible to rape, which has been systematically used as a weapon of war. Child marriage also continues to be a scourge. More than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides who suffer from sexual assault and life-threatening early pregnancy. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15, and 90% of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage according to a recent UNFPA report.
Follow @FemMajority for live tweets during tomorrow's hearing, starting at 9:45am.You can also watch the webcast.
The White House announced plans today to draft an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act that would ensure people in same sex couples can take unpaid leave to care for a sick spouse.
The new rules would apply even in states that don't recognize same-sex unions.
President Obama said he has instructed the Department of Labor to start writing rules for the new provision. According to the Wall Street Journal, the President will also push Congress to pass legislation qualifying same-sex couples for additional benefits that aren't extended to LGBT-identified employees and their spouses.
"We will work closely with Congress to ensure that veterans and elderly and disabled Americans can obtain for themselves or their spouses the essential benefits they have earned no matter where they live," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a memo.
The Department of Labor cites the Supreme Court's 2013 decision on same-sex marriage as the guiding influence on their proposed definition of a "spouse" under FMLA.
Earlier this week, the President announced he would issue an Executive Order calling for a ban on workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors.
Two Michigan lawmakers introduced state legislation to repeal a Michigan law that forces women to buy additional health insurance coverage for abortion, even in cases of rape or when a women's health is endangered.
Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate Minority Leader, and State Representative Sarah Roberts, both Democrats, introduced the legislation this week. In December, the Michigan legislature passed a bill prohibiting insurance companies in the state from offering abortion coverage in both public and private health plans, except when the woman’s life is at risk, and requires employers and individuals who want coverage to buy extra policies.
"This regressive law hurts women when they are most vulnerable and puts unreasonable barriers between them and the health care they need,” said Roberts. "Prohibiting insurance companies and employers from doing what’s best for the women they serve and care for is wrong and must be stopped immediately.”
Whitmer, who disclosed her own experience with sexual assault when fighting to garner opposition to the law, called it “one of the most misogynistic laws I’ve ever seen.” She explained, “It’s downright insulting to expect Michigan women to anticipate and financially plan for rape, incest or a miscarriage. This law should never have been enacted in the first place, and wouldn’t have if it had gone to the voters of Michigan, but the time to repeal it is now."
As intended, the law severely limits insurance coverage for comprehensive women's reproductive health care. Michigan has 42 health insurers, but only 7 offer the supplemental abortion insurance rider. The rider, however, is also only available to a subset of Michigan women: those who have employer-sponsored health plans. According to Whitmer and Roberts, women who buy insurance on their own have no access to abortion coverage.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R ) vetoed the abortion insurance ban 2012, but pro-choice opponents, led by Michigan Right to Life, circumvented the veto and collected enough petition signatures to send the measure back to the legislature, which approved the ban largely along party lines.
US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in an interview Wednesday that paid family leave is one of the most critical issue facing working families today.
"So many people don't have the luxury of taking an hour away from the workplace to attend indispensable family commitments," Perez said on HuffPo Live Wednesday. "What we have to do right now, is again, bring our policies into the 21st century." The US Labor Secretary said he was allowed to skip a Cabinet meeting recently for a more important appointment: his daughter's graduation.
On Monday, the White House will convene its Summit on Working Families. The event will address equal pay, the federal minimum wage, paid leave, and a host of other challenges.
According to a United Nations survey of countries, the US is one of only four countries without paid family leave and one of only three that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-NY) Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act allows four weeks of paid leave after the birth or placement of a child; the FAMILY Act, introduced in December 2013 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would grant up to 12 weeks of paid family medical leave to millions of workers. Both pieces of legislation are stalled in Congress.
Following sexual misconduct allegations, American Apparel's founder and Chief Operating Officer Dov Charney has been fired.
The company's executive board voted Wednesday to remove Charney from the position. John Luttrell, American Apparel's executive vice president and Chief Financial Officer will be taking over Charney's position during the interim, according to NPR.
The sexual misconduct allegations surfaced back in 2008, according to NPR. Former employee Irene Morales was forced to perform sexual acts on Charney at his apartment shortly after she turned 18, under the threat of otherwise losing her job, reported Reuters. In the 2011 story, Reuters reported that Morales' lawyer, Eric Baum, stated that Charney was abusing his power.
"Victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace often don't take action to protect themselves," Baum said. "This does not give Dov Charney the right to sexually assault and abuse his employees."
NPR also reported on the other sexual misconduct allegations - totaling four - Charney faced. One employee alleged Charney created a hostile work environment by using sexually explicit language and walking around in his underwear.
6/18/2014 - Senate Set to Approve Rape Kit Backlog Funds
The Senate today is expected to approve $41 million in funding to process hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country.
The measure is part of the $51.2 billion Justice Department budget for 2015.The House passed the budget in May leaving the funds in tact.The bill has been up for consideration in the Senate since June 12, with a final vote expected today.
"Outrageous that 10s of thousands untested sex assault kits sitting in crime labs or police lockers, "Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) tweetedon Tuesday. "Victims must know they're not forgotten."
Critics of the funding question how the Justice Department is spending the money they already have. According to the Washington Post, the DOJ's main source of rape kit analysis fundingcomes from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, a $1.5 billion federal program authorized by Congress in 2004 to "assess the extent of the backlog in DNA analysis of rape kit samples," but last summer, the Government Accountability Office found that a little more than half of those funds were appropriated from 2008 to 2012without any explicit description of how the money was spent. Last year, Congress required that 75 percent of Debbie Smith funding be devoted to DNA testing and rape kit auditing.
"Each box holds within it vital evidence that is crucial to the safety of women everywhere," Debbie Smith herself said to Congress in 2009 during a hearing on the rape kit backlog. "Can you imagine going through an exam like what goes on in one of those things for nothing? To know that you were just traumatized again, for it to sit on a shelf, it's not fair."
According to WXYZ in Detroit, authorities found 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit Police storage facility in 2009. Authorities were able to identify over 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists after the first 1,600 were examined. Nationally, officials estimate there may be 400,000 unprocessed sex assault kits. In 2011, the Feminist Majority Foundation andMs.magazine launched the "No More Excuses" campaign to reduce the rape kit backlog.
Young adults in the United States are now more likely to report they are in good physical and mental health following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a new report published in the Journal of the American Medial Association (JAMA).
Millions of young adults have gotten health insurance under the ACA, which includes a provision that allows individuals to remain covered under their parents' health insurance plans until they're 26. The study compared those 19 to 25, who now have the opportunity to be covered by their parents' plans, with those 26 - 34 who no longer qualify. The results showed young adults are now 7.2 percent more likely to have health insurance, 6.2 percent more likely to report "excellent physical health" and 4 percent more likely to say they are in "excellent mental health."
The health insurance that people are gaining seems to be doing what it is supposed to do, Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times.
This is not the first study to show the number of uninsured young adults in the US, and those who pay out-of-pocket for their insurance, declined greatly after the ACA's implementation in 2010. However, it is one of the first studies to examine how the ACA has broadly impacted Americans these last four years.
The provision extending coverage for young people is one of the most popular in the ACA. Often, even politicians who oppose the ACA are supportive of the extension provision.
6/18/2014 - New York Senate Passes Three Planks of Women's Equality Act, Defying Advocates for the Comprehensive Package
The New York state Senate passed three bills on Monday that are part of the omnibus Women's Equality Act introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in June of 2013. The chamber passed bills preventing discrimination based on family status, preventing housing discrimination against domestic violence victims, and demanding equal pay regardless of gender.
The Women's Equality Act, a 10-part legislative package, failed in the Senate last year when Republicans refused to support a plank that codifies Roe v. Wade and protects abortion providers from prosecution. In response, Senate Republicans introduced nine bills that directly mirrored the WEA - but failed to reproduce the abortion provision as a piece of legislation.
The three bills will now move to the Assembly, where members are divided on which strategy they will support for moving the package through the chamber. Although Assembly members are now requesting that the package be debated and passed as 10 separate bills, Assembly leaders and a coalition of women's groups in the state have refused to take them up individually and are demanding they be passed as a comprehensive package instead. The three bills add pressure to Assembly leadership and members to forgo the package in favor of passing individual planks from the WEA instead.
Other planks in the full package include extending protections against sexual harassment to all workplaces, allowing the recovery of attorney fees in harassment cases, ending employment discrimination based on whether a woman has children or is pregnant, and strengthening order of protection laws and human trafficking laws in the state. Advocates who remain committed to passing the omnibus bill insist that the issues represented in the planks intersect and therefore must be passed together rather than individually, especially because the latter strategy puts the abortion plank at risk of being ultimately forgone.
A poll in June 2013 found that two-thirds of voters in New York supported the package with the abortion plank included, with support divided evenly among men and women.
The Obama administration announced yesterday that the President will issue an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for any contractor or subcontractor who does at least $10,000 worth of business with the federal government within one year.
The executive order is expected to cover 28 million workers in total, including an estimated one in five LGBT employees nationally, and reach into the 29 states where no protections for LGBT workers currently exist.
The White House plans to host a meeting Thursday afternoon on the executive order. According to a White House official, the order "will build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the presidentï¿½s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.ï¿½
Although 9 out of 10 voters believe that federal law already prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees, there is no federal law that addresses LGBT workers. In November, the Senate voted 64-32 to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation in the work place, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor.
The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) could challenge an Ohio state law prohibiting "false statements" in political campaign speech.
The Ohio law makes it a crime to offer false statements during an election campaign. Under the law, any person who posts, publishes, or distributes "a false statement" about a political candidate, either "knowing" the statement to be false "or with reckless disregard" of whether the statement was true or not could be punished with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 for the first violation. Over a dozen states have laws criminalizing false political campaign speech.
SBA, joined by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), attempted to challenge the Ohio law in federal court but both the district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that the challenge could not go forward in the courts because neither group had suffered a concrete injury under the law. The Supreme Court's unanimous decision means that the case can now go forward.
SBA sought to challenge the law after the Ohio Elections Commission found probable cause that the group had made false statements about a political candidate during the 2010 election cycle. SBA issued a press release and planned to display a billboard stating that former Congressman Steve Driehaus, then running for office, had voted for "taxpayer-funded abortion" by voting for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Driehaus filed a complaint with the Commission but withdrew his complaint after he lost the November election. SBA then filed a complaint in federal court to challenge the Ohio statute on First Amendment grounds. COAST filed a separate suit, which was then consolidated with the SBA case, alleging that it wanted to publish similar materials but feared prosecution.
The Supreme Court, in allowing the case to go forward, found that neither SBA nor COAST had to wait until they were prosecuted under the law before challenging its constitutionality. It was sufficient that both groups intended to continue making statements about abortion and the ACA in future election cycles and that these statements would open them up to proceedings by the Elections Commission and possible criminal prosecution.
The Supreme Court made no finding yesterday on whether the Ohio law is constitutional or whether SBA's statements on "taxpayer-funded abortion" were in fact false. The decision only means that the case against the Ohio law can be litigated in court. This is not the first time, however, that anti-choice activists have attempted to obfuscate the ACA and abortion.
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that redefines the state's current third trimester abortion ban, creating further restrictions for women seeking later abortions.
Current state law does not allow abortions after 24 weeks except if the pregnant person's life or health is threatened. HB 1047 will limit the existing exceptions by removing mental health conditions as a reason to allow a late abortion.
In addition, the law bans abortion at any point in the pregnancy once a fetus is deemed viable unless two doctors certify in writing that it is necessary to protect the health and life of the woman. If two doctors are not available, one must certify in writing that a second was unable to consult on the matter.
"Sadly, this is really about advancing an agenda of political interference with women's decision-making," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in a statement. "Despite continued attempts to legislate women's health, this is not what we want. Personal medical decisions, like the decision to end a pregnancy, should be kept between a woman and her doctor."
The law will go into effect July 1.
A lawsuit filed today challenges Seattle's new $15 minimum wage, set to go into effect over the next several years.
The International Franchise Association (IFA), a DC-based trade association representing corporations like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, and Dairy Queen, filed the lawsuit alongside five franchise owners who operate their businesses in Seattle. The suit, which names the City of Seattle and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services as defendants, claims the city's new minimum wage law unfairly targets franchises [PDF] by categorizing them as "large businesses."
Seattle's City Council approved an ordinance on June 2 that will gradually raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour; Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance into law the next day. The law gives large businesses, defined as any company with more than 500 employees, over three years to implement the changes. Smaller businesses are given an extra four years to phase in the increase. Because franchises are part of national company networks employing, typically, over 500 people, local franchises of larger corporations must adhere to the three-year schedule.
The IFA lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect, claiming it violates both the Equal Protection Clause and Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
Seattle Mayor Murray explained in a press conference that franchisees should be treated differently from small, independent local businesses because franchisees receive advertising, marketing, training, and brand identity from their parent companies. He added that the city had done thorough research on compliance with various laws, and felt confident against any challenges, saying, "I think we're on pretty solid ground here."
The IFA estimates there are 600 franchises in Seattle employing 19,000 workers.
In a unanimous decision, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) birth control coverage benefit does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment, upholding two lower courts' denial of a preliminary injunction against the law to a group of Catholic-affiliated non-profit entities.
The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. In that case, if the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.
The non-profit groups in the case argued that the process to obtain the exemption or the accommodation unduly interfered with their religious beliefs and burdened their exercise of religion, violating both RFRA and the First Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments, finding that the ACA did not substantially burden the religious exercise of any group eligible for either the exemption or the accommodation. The court noted that the law was specifically crafted so that these groups would not be required to "provide" contraceptives to anyone, to "pay for" contraceptive coverage, or to "facilitate" access to contraceptives.
Together with the National Women's Law Center, the Feminist Majority Foundation and 20 other national, regional, and local groups submitted an amicus brief to the Sixth Circuit in support of the ACA birth control benefit. Nationwide, over 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the benefit. The Supreme Court is expected to decide this month whether for-profit companies should be exempted from the contraceptive coverage requirement.
A majority of Americans support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives, and at least 14% of women using the pill are doing so 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. Birth control is basic health care for women.
South Carolina lawmakers concluded their legislative session Friday without passing two bills that would have restricted access to abortion across the state.
A bill criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks and another that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital were both being considered by South Carolina's legislators until they adjourned for the summer. Some lawmakers were also attempting to define life as beginning at conception. None of the bills moved through the body, which women's groups locally are hailing as a victory.
"Today is a victory for the men and women across South Carolina who have stood up to say 'enough is enough,'" said VP of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Melissa Reed in a statement. "And most importantly, it is a victory for the thousands of women who would have been hurt by these cruel and misguided policies."
The failure to pass the bills comes after a recent poll found that a majority of South Carolina voters in key districts did not think abortion restrictions should be a priority for the state's lawmakers. In addition, Planned Parenthood reported that over 2,000 residents called and emailed their legislators to urge them not to pass restrictions and over 24 medical professionals, researchers, advocates, and voters testified against the bills.
"The bills had little to do with women's health," Jennifer Dalven, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told ThinkProgress. "They were 100 percent about inserting politics where they don't belong."
A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. A law requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers in Oklahoma may force two of their three remaining clinics to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.
Many state legislatures have also considered 20-week abortion bans, despite concerns that these bans violate Roe v. Wade by unconstitutionally banning abortion before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a 20-week ban into law this April; however, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a 20-week ban this year because of legal and privacy concerns. At the federal level, Senate Republicans have been pushing unsuccessfully for a vote on a 20-week abortion ban. The US House passed a companion 20-week ban last June.
The American Center for Law and Justice asked the US Supreme Court Friday to review a federal appeals court decision reinstating parts of New York City's landmark set of regulations for Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), or "fake clinics."
Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the portion of the New York City law, passed in 2011, that requires CPCs operating in New York City to disclose whether or not a licensed medical professional works on-site at the facility. This so-called "status disclosure" must be posted in both English and Spanish at the entrance to the facility and in the waiting room and must also be communicated orally during meetings and in telephone conversations with potential clients.
The petition filed by the American Center for Law and Justice asks the US Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit's decision to reinstate the status disclosure requirement as well as the court's finding that the law's definition of a CPC is not unconstitutionally vague.
The New York City law immediately became a target after it passed in 2011. At the request of several CPCs, a lower court temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, and although the Second Circuit reinstated its "status disclosure" provision, it did not restore the requirement that CPCs disclose whether their provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortion, or prenatal care. The appeals court also ruled that the City could not require CPCs to disclose that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider.
A Congressional investigation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers found that 87 percent provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion, and many use misinformation to deter their clients from using contraception or pursuing abortion. CPCs target women of color and poor women in particular, including college students. CPCs are common across the nation, and outnumber comprehensive women's health clinics. Most are affiliated with anti-choice or religious organizations.
Walmart employees and union organizers with OUR Walmart held strikes in over 20 US cities Wednesday in a campaign to raise wages for workers.
The protesters demand that Walmart pay associates at least $25,000 per year and not retaliate against workers who strike. Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Walmart for retaliating against 60 workers who had participated in strikes or protests against Walmart stores.
"I am trying to tell Walmart that they should not retaliate against workers, and that they need to raise wages and respect us," said Bene't Holmes, a Walmart-employee earning $8.75 per hour at a Chicago-area store, at a candlelight vigil held earlier this week outside the home of Walmart's board chairman, Rob Walton.
The strike and other actions were scheduled around the chain's annual shareholder meeting taking place in Arkansas today.
Walmart employees and organizers have been striking against the company for several years now because of its low wages and poor treatment of its workers, such as widespread discrimination against women. The largest protest yet was held last November. These campaigns, like those of the nationwide movement by fast food workers and other minimum-wage workers, seek to make employers - often bringing in billions of dollars in profit - pay their workers living wages.
An increase in wages would primarily benefit women workers, who make up the majority of low-wage workers in the retail industry. According to a study released by Demos earlier this week, 1.3 million women working in the retail industry live in or near poverty. Low-wages, unpredictable hours, and lack of full-time opportunities, all present real obstacles to these workers' economic security.
Walmart has also been heavily criticized recently for refusing to join the Bangladesh accord, a legally binding agreement to improve working conditions for overseas factory workers that manufacture their clothes. The accord was created after a garment factory where Walmart materials were produced collapsed in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 1,300 workers. Activists have also been demanding that Walmart pay reparations to survivors of the collapse and victims' families.
The Louisiana legislature passed a bill this week that will require physicians to keep mentally incapacitated pregnant women on life support against their wishes.
HB 1274 requires physicians to to keep brain-dead women who are at least 20 weeks pregnant on mechanical support if there is a chance the fetus is viable. The law would override requests from family members for removal, and even the wishes of the pregnant woman, but will not apply if a woman has specified in her will that she was not to be resuscitated while pregnant.
"They're making all these godlike decisions for people who should be making this decision on their own for their loved one," Julie Schwam Harris, who testified during the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing, told RH Reality Check.
A similar law in Texas led to a lawsuit by the husband of Marlise Munoz, who was found brain-dead after a possible pulmonary embolism. Even though she had made it clear while alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything happened to her, and her family repeatedly requested that she be taken off support, her hospital would not allow it because she had been 14 weeks pregnant. The fetus was later found to be significantly deformed and nonviable due to the lack of oxygen it suffered when Munoz collapsed, so Munoz was removed from support
Twelve US states invalidate a woman's end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant, according to a 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies. Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign the bill into law, making Louisiana the thirteenth.
Women's rights activist and attorney, Sandra Fluke, finished in the top two in her run for an open state Senate seat in California's 26th district. Current state Senator Ted Lieu is running for the retiring Henry Waxman's seat. The two candidates who earn the most votes in California primary elections advance to the general election regardless of political party, so Fluke will now compete against fellow Democrat Ben Allen for the seat. The general election will take place on November 4.
Fluke, then a Georgetown law student, came to national attention in 2012 when House Republicans refused to allow her to testify at a hearing on the Affordable Care Act's requirement for religiously affiliated colleges or universities and hospitals to cover birth control. Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for speaking on the need for women students to have coverage for birth control and for treatment of illnesses such as ovarian cysts. She became an outspoken feminist, and she spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and at Feminist Majority's 2012 Women Money Power Summit in Washington, D.C.
Fluke and Allen are competing for the state Senate seat currently occupied by Ted Lieu, who led in the primary for Henry Waxman's seat in the House for California's 33rd district. Waxman is retiring after 40 years of leadership in the House. Democrat Lieu came in second place in his primary with 19 percent of the vote, falling slightly behind Republican Elan Carr, who earned 21 percent of the vote. But Lieu will win the general election because Waxman's seat is a strong Democratic seat and there were many Democrats running. Wendy Greuel was also competing for the Waxman seat but came in third place, so she will not advance.
Meanwhile, the pro-choice Norma Torres won the primary for a House seat for California's 35th district with 67 percent of the vote. She will compete with fellow Democrat Christina Gagnier in the November election to replace current Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod, who is leaving Congress to run for San Bernardino County Supervisor.
A recently released poll by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Newmark of Craigconnects reveals that women experience of majority of online harassment - and that the impact can be devastating.
The poll found that 25 percent of all Americans have experienced a form of harassment online; of them, a whopping 57 percent are women. Respondents under 35 were almost twice as likely to have experienced harassment than their older counterparts; of them, 52 percent are women. Sexual harassment was the most common experience women reported, occurring in 43 percent of all incidences.
"There have been several rape threats," HollaBack! cofounder Emily May wrote about online harassment in a Ms. magazine blog published last year. "But it's mostly 'I want to rape you' or 'Somebody should rape you.' Most are not physical threats - they're more about how ugly I am, how nobody would bother raping me because I'm so fat and hideous."
Women bloggers frequently discuss and disclose tales of online harassment, and even women who have evaded harassment themselves know about the widespread practice, with 65 percent of those polled reporting that they know someone personally who has been victim to bullying, threats, or other forms of harassment. "None of this makes me exceptional," freelance writer Amanda Hess wrote after telling a personal story about online harassment in Pacific Standard. "It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection."
Those surveyed in the poll reveal that harassment has significant effects on the well-being of those receiving it, with 29 percent scared for their life and 20 percent scared to leave their house. According to Ms. magazine, harassment may also push writers to tone down their voices or stop writing altogether. "Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old," May confessed in her blog.
"Some people may think the Internet is a place where they can threaten people without consequences, but online harassment has horrifying real-life effects. About 30% of people who are harassed online say that they fear for their lives," said Allyson Kapin, co-founder partner of Rad Campaign. "These poll results show the need for effective responses to the problem at all levels."
The full data set from the poll is available online at onlineharassmentdata.org.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board ruled on Friday that transgender people can no longer be automatically denied Medicare coverage for surgery as part of their transition-related health care.
The board ruled that the 33-year old blanket ban on coverage is unreasonable and based on biased standards. When the ban was instated in 1981, surgery was thought of as an "experimental" risk, but now it is considered safe and often medically necessary. Transgender people will now be eligible to receive coverage for surgery - which can include genital reconstruction, breast implants, mastectomies, vocal cord modification, and other procedures - or at least receive an individualized review of their circumstances instead of having their requests automatically denied. Because private health insurance companies and state Medicaid programs usually follow the federal government's policies regarding coverage, advocates hope they will follow suit and expand their options.
The decision was made in response to an appeal by ACLU, GLAD, and NCLR on behalf of Denee Mallon, a 74-year-old transgender woman and veteran who was denied coverage for genital reconstruction surgery. "This decision means so much to me and to many other transgender people," Mellon said in a statement. "I am relieved to know that my doctor and I can now address my medical needs, just as other patients and doctors do."
The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU),Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and National Center for Lesbian Rights in a joint statement called the decision "consistent with the consensus of the medical and scientific community that access to gender transition-related care is medically necessary for many people with gender dysphoria."