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6/19/2014 - American Apparel CEO Dov Charney Fired Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations

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.


6/18/2014 - Young Americans Healthier Under Affordable Care Act

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.


6/17/2014 - Obama to Issue Executive Order Banning Discrimination Against LGBT Employees

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 president�s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.�

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.


6/17/2014 - Anti-Choice Group May Challenge Law Prohibiting False Political Speech

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.


6/16/2014 - Florida Governor Signs Bill Restricting Abortion Access

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.


6/12/2014 - Trade Association Files Suit Against Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

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.


6/12/2014 - Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to ACA Birth Control Benefit

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.


6/9/2014 - South Carolina Legislators Fail to Pass Anti-Choice Measures

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.


6/9/2014 - Anti-Choice Group Asks SCOTUS to Review New York City's CPC Regulations

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.


6/6/2014 - Walmart Employees Strike Nationwide to Demand Higher Wages

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.


6/6/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill to Keep Pregnant Women on Life Support Against Wishes

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.


6/4/2014 - Sandra Fluke's Campaign for California State Senate Advances to General Election

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.


6/4/2014 - Poll Shows Widespread Online Harassment of Women

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.


6/3/2014 - Medicare Ban on Transition-Related Transgender Health Coverage Lifted

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."


6/2/2014 - Obama Makes His Mark on Federal Appeals Courts

The make-up of the thirteen US federal appeals courts experienced a marked change under the Obama Administration. Once dominated by a majority of Republican-appointed judges, the US Courts of Appeals now have a majority of Democratic appointees.

President Obama's 49 judicial appointments have led to a significant change in the composition of the federal appeals courts. After the presidency of George W. Bush, 10 of the 13 US Courts of Appeal had a majority of Republican judicial appointees, two were evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees, and only one had a majority of Democratic appointees. Research conducted by the Alliance for Justice now shows that, as of May 23, nine of the 13 US Courts of Appeal have a majority of Democratic judicial appointees, and four have a majority of Republican appointees.

The thirteen US Courts of Appeals hear appeals from the federal district courts as well as appeals of federal administrative agency decisions. These federal appeals courts decide about 60,000 cases each year, ranging from discrimination and civil rights claims, criminal cases, environmental challenges, and others. These decisions are usually the final judgment in a case, as the US Supreme Court hears less than 100 cases per year, making the US Courts of Appeal a critical component of the US judicial system. In addition, federal judges serve on the bench for life unless they resign or are removed through impeachment, so the selection of federal judges can impact the composition of the courts for decades.

Currently, there are 10 vacancies on the US Courts of Appeals. One is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, and three nominees are pending consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve each nomination before the full Senate votes to confirm a nominee. The Senate voted in November to change its procedural rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on presidential nominees to the executive branch and the federal bench, with the exception of nominees to the US Supreme Court. The rule change prevents one party from blocking these nominations from coming to a full vote on the Senate floor.


6/2/2014 - Obama Proclaims June 2014 LGBT Pride Month

President Obama proclaimed June 2014 to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

"During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains," Obama said in the proclamation.

"Here at home, we have strengthened laws against violence toward LGBT Americans, taken action to prevent bullying and harassment, and prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals. Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act." The act (ENDA) passed the Senate in November, but it has not moved forward since.

Obama added that his administration will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities in the LGBT community, with the help of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS strategy. He also said that his commitment to equality for LGBT people extends around the world, where people face arrest, violence, and execution for who they are.

"I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people," he said in ending the proclamation.

TAKE ACTION: Protest Brunei's Kill-A-Gay and Flog-A-Woman Penal Code!


5/30/2014 - Complaint Filed Against Insurers for Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDS

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and The AIDS Institute filed a complaint yesterday with the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCR) alleging that four Florida insurers are discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS. The complaint claims that the insurers are creating prescription drug policies that discourage people with HIV/AIDS from using their plans, which violates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and federal civil rights laws.

"The ACA provides robust consumer protections, including putting an end to discriminatory practices by health insurers," said Wayne Turner, NHeLP staff attorney, in a statement yesterday. "But these insurance plans are running afoul of that by placing all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest tiers with exorbitant co-insurance and co-pays, and instituting other barriers to obtaining commonly prescribed HIV/AIDS medications. The companies are going out of their way to discourage people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in their plans--a blatantly illegal practice."

The four insurers noted in the complaint - CoventryOne, Cigna, Humana and Preferred Medical - are alleged to have placed all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest drug tiers and to require expensive co-insurance and co-pays, high up-front costs, and prior authorization. For example, Humana requires that members spend a $1,5000 deductible and then contribute 50 percent towards the cost of their HIV/AIDS medication - which can cost over $2,000 for a one-month supply.

The groups are calling on the HHS OCR to investigate the plans and require them to take corrective actions. They want to send a strong message to other plans to prevent this tactic from spreading, which "would make insurance coverage impossible for people with HIV/AIDS, and jeopardize their health and well-being," continued Turner.


5/30/2014 - Oklahoma Governor Signs Admitting Privileges Bill

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill on Wednesday that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. HB 1848 also requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards around equipment and supplies that may be necessary if a medical emergency occurs.

Admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; hospitals may refuse to provide privileges because of religious affiliation or fear of anti-choice protesters and violence; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion.

They are "a veiled attempt to really close down clinics in the name of women's health," said Tamya Cox, staff attorney of lobbysit for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

These laws and the resulting closures of clinics leave many women without access to vital abortion services. Some already have to drive hundreds of miles or across state lines to get to the nearest clinic, but if multiple states continue to pass these laws, even those limited options may disappear. "We are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement after Louisiana's legislature passed their admitting privileges law last week.

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. Only one of Oklahoma's three clinics already has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, so the other two may be forced to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.


5/28/2014 - New Hampshire Governor to Sign 25-Foot Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted last week to create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortion services.

SB 319 was filed in response to over 60 complaints by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester since the start of 2013. The complaints detailed verbal harassment, intimidation, and passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. It had largely bipartisan support when it was introduced.

"Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation," said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, regarding some Republican support of the bill.

The bill had already passed the Senate in February, but the House made a few changes before passage and then sent it to the Senate for another vote. It will now go to the governor's desk, where Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley on whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot clinic safety buffer zone is constitutional. The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks. In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature, with the support of local law enforcement, strengthened its law to create a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers.

"We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence," commented Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "These laws are instrumental in protecting patients, doctors, and healthcare workers from harassment and intimidation and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services."

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law at issue in McCullen. The law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next month.


5/27/2014 - Deadly Shooting at UCSB Motivated by Misogyny

A 22-year-old man went on a shooting and stabbing rampage on Friday night near the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus in Isla Vista, killing six students and injuring 13 more. The confirmed suspect claimed it was his "day of retribution" for a lifetime of rejection by women.

The suspect frequently posted misogynistic and racist comments on "Men's Rights Activist" online forums and posted several videos online detailing his hatred of women and humanity in general and his feelings of alienation. In a YouTube video posted before the attack, the suspect details his plan to "punish" women through a killing spree. He had also written a 140-page manifesto about his life and his thoughts on women, calling women "a plague" and claiming they should be kept in concentration camps.

The suspect's mother and therapist had previously become concerned by the suspect's increasingly violent online posts and videos. According to a lawyer for the family, the therapist reported concerns to a local mental health service which referred the report to police. Officers conducted a welfare visit a month before the attack, visiting the suspect in his home, but did not see the need to investigate further.

The course of events Friday night left nine crime scenes. He first stabbed to death his three roommates in his apartment, then tried to enter the Alpha Phi sorority house on the UCSB campus. The sorority members did not open the door when he repeatedly knocked. He then drove around Isla Vista, shot a man in a deli, then opened fire on pedestrians, killing two women. His reckless driving injured more as he attempted to flee from police. Eventually, he got in a shoot-out with the police before killing himself with a gunshot wound to the head.

The attack triggered a massive Twitter conversation about the harassment and abuse women face on a daily basis, with 1.2 million people tweeting with the hashtag #YesAllWomen as of Sunday evening. "Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen" tweeted Emily Hughes. "Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down. #yesallwomen" tweeted Kate Tuttle.

One in four women will experience rape in their lifetime, one in four women also experience domestic violence, and almost all have experienced some form of street harassment. Women are particularly threatened by gun violence. Women dealing with domestic violence are more than five times more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the home, and many mass shooters start off their attacks by murdering an intimate partner.


5/23/2014 - Illinois Senate Passes Resolution to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment

With a 39-11 vote, the Illinois Senate voted - by more than the necessary three-fifths margin of elected senators, as required by state law - to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If it moves forward in the state House, Illinois will become the 36th state to ratify the ERA.

"Ratification is not just a hugely important symbolic step but a move to establish women's rights as a bedrock principle in the Constitution," said Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, who has previously supported proposals for the state to adopt the amendment. "From equal pay to equal access to health care, freedom from gender-based discrimination should be the law of the land and not subject to political whims. Equal rights are not a fad; they're in the fabric of our nation, and the ERA confirms that."

"It's exciting to see that the Illinois Senate has voted to ratify the ERA," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who led a massive national ERA campaign as President of the National Organization for Women. "The ERA has strong support in Illinois, and women deserve action."

"The ERA is on the move again. In February, the Virginia Senate voted to ratify, and now the Illinois Senate," continued Smeal. "The overwhelming support of voters for the ERA and the gender gap in voting is moving the ERA forward."

Authored by suffragist and National Women's Party leader Alice Paul, the Equal Rights Amendment directs, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" and gives Congress the power to enforce the Amendment through appropriate legislation.

Congress first approved the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification in 1972. Within five years, 35 states had ratified the ERA, but corporate interests and right-wing politicians have blocked the movement from obtaining the three additional states necessary for the ERA to become part of the US Constitution. States that have not ratified the ERA include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.


5/22/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill That Threatens to Close Clinics

The Louisiana House voted 88-5 yesterday to pass an omnibus anti-abortion bill that could force three or four of the state's five abortion clinics to close. Governor Bobby Jindal has already indicated that he will sign it into law.

HB 388 will require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. These admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; religiously affiliated or other hospitals may refuse to provide privileges; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion. Closing abortion clinics, however, will push many women to attempt unsafe abortions.

"It's clear the intent of this legislation is to shut down health centers, which would have devastating consequences for women across Louisiana," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement yesterday.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas - on which HB 388 is partly based - has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close, and Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws. "With similar restrictions passed in neighboring states over the objection of leading medical experts, we are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," Richards added.

The bill will also implement a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions. Once signed, it will go into effect on September 1.


5/21/2014 - Mississippi Personhood Initiative Fails

A campaign to put a "personhood" initiative on Mississippi's November 2015 ballot failed last week after the initiative's organizers - Personhood Mississippi - did not turn in petitions with the required number of signatures on time.

The measure, known as Initiative 41, proposed to amend the Mississippi state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" beginning at conception. If passed, Initiative 41 would have banned emergency contraception, birth control pills, and IUDs, as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It would also have banned some cancer treatments, select fertility treatments, and would have allowed the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage.

Initiative 41 was nearly identical to a 2011 measure, also proposed by Personhood Mississippi, known as Initiative 26. A coalition of groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union, together with student groups, and scores of volunteers worked to defeat that measure at the polls, which Mississippi voters rejected with 58% of the vote.

"When organizers filed Initiative 41, they claimed Mississippi voters were 'confused' about Initiative 26, and that they only needed a few linguistic tweaks to ensure victory. However, the slightly-reworded language of Initiative 41 carried the same potential unintended consequences for infertility treatment, contraception, and life-threatening pregnancy complications," wrote Parents Against Personhood in a statement. "We are relieved that personhood will not appear on the 2015 ballot, and we hope that organizers will respect the opinions that Mississippians have now expressed twice over and decline to pursue future personhood efforts."

Initiative 41 was proposed in the spring of last year. Anti-choice organizers had one year to collect signatures from at least 107,216 registered voters.

Although personhood will not be on the ballot in Mississippi, voters in Colorado and North Dakota will vote on personhood measures in their states this November, and voters in Tennessee will vote on whether to amend the Tennessee state constitution to declare that there is no right to an abortion in the state.

Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 State Ballot Measures to Watch fact sheet to learn more.