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5/27/2015 - California Passes Reproductive FACT Act
The California State Assembly passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act yesterday.
AB 775, or the FACT Act, passed 48-25 in a vote, and requires that unlicensed facilities in California that provide pregnancy-related services disclose that they are not licensed medical providers. The bill also requires licensed reproductive health clinics to inform patients of California programs to help them access affordable family planning, abortion services, and prenatal care.
Assembly members in support of the bill hope that the FACT Act will allow women seeking pregnancy-related care can access the care and services she needs, as well as know all her options. It was authored by Assembly members David Chiu (D- San Francisco) and Autumn Burke (D-Los Angeles), and sponsored by Attorney General Kamala Harris, NARAL-Pro Choice California, and Black Women for Wellness.
"By ensuring women have access to reproductive health information free from coercion, and by informing women of the full range of choices available to live healthy full lives regardless of race, income, or geographic location, we are saying that women are able to make the best decisions about our future," said Nourbese Flint, program manager for Black Women for Wellness.
"With AB 775, all clinics will be held to the same standard," Assemblywoman Burke said, "and all patients will have access to clear, timely information about their health care rights."
"The Assembly sent a clear message that women deserve information to help them make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families," said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California.
The fight for clear and accurate information for pregnant women has long been a fight for women's rights activists. Just last summer, in response to a campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America and efforts by the Feminist Majority Foundation to expose fake clinics, Google removed deceptive crisis pregnancy center (CPC) advertisements from search engine results when users seek information about abortion services. Most of the advertisements claimed that the CPCs provided abortions when they did not.
Over the weekend, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to pass a national referendum legalizing same-sex marriage.
Ireland became the first country in the world to pass marriage equality through popular vote on Friday. The final vote was decisive, with over 1,201,607 voting in favor of the referendum and 734,300 voting against it. Reuters estimated that "more than 60 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, the highest turnout at a referendum there in over two decades."
This high voter turnout was reflected in international social media trends as well as "Vote Yes" campaign strategies. The hashtag #HomeToVote was trending on Twitter on the day of the election in Ireland, as those living abroad discussed traveling home to cast their ballot in this historic vote.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the outcome of the vote "disclosed who we are - a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people."
Ireland, a largely Catholic country, has a complex history with its LGBT community, and only decriminalized homosexuality in the 1990s. One "Vote Yes" campaign volunteer discussed the rapid shift in the nation's view on the issue over the span of his lifetime. "When I was born and was a teenager I was illegal as a homosexual in Ireland," volunteer Ross said, "and [now] we're voting to make us equal in our constitution."
The country has had a turbulent relationship, too, with abortion, which remains illegal in Ireland. Earlier this year the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland called for a judicial review on the region's restrictive abortion law. Currently, abortion law in the area has abortion illegal in all cases except when a pregnant person's life is at risk or when there is the risk of permanent or serious damage to the pregnant person's mental or physical health.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) has announced that he will not veto two pieces of legislation protecting LGBT rights passed by the state legislature in March, meaning they will soon become law.
The Maryland General Assembly passed SB 743 / HB 862 and SB 416 / HB 838 by wide margins and with bipartisan support on March 24, after which both were sent to the Governor's desk. His office said Friday that he will neither veto nor sign the measures, which will therefore go into effect June 3. The two bills eliminate barriers to updating identity documents for transgender folks born in Maryland and stop insurers from discriminating against women in same-sex relationships who want to access in vitro fertilization and other infertility benefits, respectively.
"We're really happy," Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans told the Washington Post. "These are bills that we worked very hard on." The two pieces of legislation were marked among Equality Maryland's top priorities this session.
Many states offer new or updated birth certificates for transgender individuals, but requirements related to surgery and other medical steps to transition can often make accurate identity documents inaccessible to poorer folks or transgender people who don't wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Maryland's new law eliminates barriers like surgery requirements for transgender folks trying to update their information, and also allows for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to re-issue a birth certificate under these circumstances instead of marking an existing document "amended."
5/22/2015 - New York Politicians, Advocates, and Activists Have Come Together to Protect Nail Salon Workers
Following a report by the New York Times on the exploitation of nail salon workers almost two weeks ago, New York state and city officials have partnered with advocates and volunteers to bring comprehensive educational programs and labor reforms to the 5,000 licensed salons in the state.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), who ordered emergency measures last week in the wake of the report - including posting workers' rights information in salons in different languages, shutting down unlicensed salons, implementing new safety requirements, and creating an educational campaign aimed at employees and managers - has introduced a legislative package aimed at building upon those reforms and leading the way for long-term protection for nail salon workers. In addition, he announced a Nail Salon Bill of Rights on Twitter Wednesday, which includes information on the minimum wage and health and safety information for workers.
Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) May 20, 2015
The Governor is also partnering with non-profit organizations including the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the New York Women's Chamber of Commerce, and Planned Parenthood of New York City to put forward a public education campaign around business owner obligations and workers' rights - which will include in-person events, public service announcements, and materials in a variety of appropriate languages.
"We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, workers, owners and consumers to transform nail salons in New York into safe places that provide good jobs for workers - the majority of whom are Asian immigrant women," said Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.
"Now is the moment for all us to come together to directly address a crisis that affects the whole community," said Grace Shim, Executive Director of partner organization MinKwon Center for Community Action. "We must involve employers, workers, and customers alike to develop long-term, multi-pronged, comprehensive strategies that both protect vulnerable, immigrant workers and support struggling, immigrant small-business owners."
Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) has also been taking action to protect nail salon workers with a coalition of advocates at his side across the boroughs of New York City, including a "Day of Action" yesterday to educate nail salon workers and their employers about the health hazards of their industry, what's required of salon owners, and what resources are available to workers if they are being exploited. Over 500 volunteers and city officials handed out fliers at more than 1,000 nail salons and canvassed in immigrant communities where salon workers congregate before the workday begins.
"We're here to make sure that nail salons are healthy and safe for everyone," canvasser and Nepali Workers advocate Luna Ranjit told ABC 7 in New York.
These efforts mark a stark change from the state and the city's current systems in place for policing the nail salon industry. (Only 33 nail salon inspectors are employed by the entire state.) Now, the New York City Council is considering legislation that would assign letter grades to nail salons in the fashion of restaurant rankings and require more vigilant and regular inspection.
"During the 14 years I've worked in the industry, the city has never come to see how we are doping," Dahime Asencious, a Latina salon worker, told the New York Times. "I have come to realize that we've been completed abandoned."
The US Senate voted 62 to 38 yesterday to advance "fast track" trade legislation, just one week after Senate Democrats filibustered the controversial bill that would allow President Obama to force Congress to vote up-or-down on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
The TPP is a far-reaching trade agreement that has faced staunch opposition from a broad coalition of labor, environmental, women's rights, and human rights groups. These groups charge that the agreement not only threatens US jobs, but it threatens environmental regulations, food and safety standards, workers' rights, and access to affordable medications.
The deal, which has been negotiated in near-secrecy, has also been heavily criticized by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Fast-tracking TPP would prevent lawmakers from addressing concerns in the agreement by offering amendments. It would also prevent Congress from having significant input into US trading partners. That is a big concern, especially since among the countries included in the TPP is oil-rich Brunei, a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.
The penal code, which is being implemented in phases, calls for fines and imprisonment for women who become pregnant outside marriage, women who have abortions, for adultery, and so-called "indecent behavior." Once fully implemented, Brunei's strict draconian penal code would punish women who engage in same-sex sexual relations with whipping, fines, or imprisonment. The code will also impose flogging or death by stoning for men engaging in sex with men and for extramarital sex between men and women. Women are often more likely to be victims of stoning because of deep-seated gender bias and discrimination.
Fast-Track will now proceed to a final vote in the Senate where it is expected to pass. The legislation will then have to be taken up in the House. Earlier this month, the Feminist Majority released a petition asking people to urge their Senators and Representative to vote against Fast Track and oppose the TPP.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act of 2015 last week to enhance the availability of contraception for New Yorkers.
The bill codifies the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in New York state law while strengthening and expanding many of its provisions. Like the ACA, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act would require health insurance companies in New York to cover a full range of contraception without copays or other additional costs. In addition, the New York bill would expand coverage to include vasectomies and would create a system to allow coverage for all emergency contraception, even if it is available over-the-counter. Further, the New York bill would allow individuals to obtain up to twelve months of contraception at one time and would expand contraceptive choices.
Currently, under the ACA, insurance companies must cover at least one version of all 18 federally approved birth control methods, but the New York bill would require insurance companies in New York to end so-called "medical management" techniques that limit contraceptive choices, and make available, without copays, multiple versions of federally-approved birth control methods.
"New Yorkers should not be penalized by their insurance companies for using the birth control method that they and their medical provider agree is most appropriate for them," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Ensuring comprehensive, cost-free access to birth control is critical to fulfilling the goals of the Affordable Care Act and to upholding every woman's right to contraception. The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act will guarantee these rights and ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the birth control method that will help them stay healthy and effectively plan for their future."
Attorney General Schneiderman presented the bill to the New York state legislature after receiving reports that some health plans in New York had been charging co-pays or denying full coverage of certain contraceptive methods. These reports are consistent with a study released last month by the National Women's Law Center finding several violations of the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit - including failure to cover all FDA-approved methods and imposition of cost-sharing - in multiple states.
Just last week, the Obama Administration issued guidance on contraceptive coverage under the ACA, clarifying that insurers are obligated to cover at least one form of all FDA approved contraceptives as well as patient education and counseling on contraceptive methods.
Last night, SLUT: The Play, a powerful play about the realities of sexual assault in high schools, was performed for thousands at the Warner Theatre in Washington DC.
In attendance was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, many advocates working to end sexual violence, and hundreds of local high school and college students. The multi-media play, which incorporates elements of social media and the lived experiences of real American teenagers,was performed by high school students and was followed by a panel discussion.
SLUT was written by Katie Cappiello and created by The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company in collaboration with New York City High school students after dozens of conversations and interviews with real teenagers about rape culture in American high schools. SLUT follows the journey of Joey Del Marco, a sixteen-year-old girl who is sexually assaulted by three friends during a night out. Through Joey's narrative, with help from the girls in her community, the audience witnesses the damaging impact of "slut culture" and the importance for victims of sexual assault to be both heard and believed. SLUT and accompanying #StopSlut workshops have toured to great acclaim in locales as diverse as LA, NYC, and Fargo, North Dakota reaching repeatedly sold-out audiences of thousands.
"Theater teaches empathy," said Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, who has played the character of Joey for the past two years. Bonjean-Alpart spoke of the importance of addressing rape culture openly and comprehensively before students reach college.
"When it comes to activism, when it comes to really making a change, storytelling- the act of sharing voices- are by far the most effective means," Cappiello said at the performance.
Although SLUT includes a national call-to-action, cast member Mary Miller told the audience one step each of them could take in combating rape culture. "If someone in your school says that she was raped," said Miller, "believe her, and do it openly." Miller and the entire cast emphasized that all genders are affected by rape and rape culture.
SLUT and the #StopSlut social movement is produced by The Arts Effect and The Feminist Press with the goal of raising awareness and starting a critical conversation surrounding consent education for young people and creating a culture that does not victim blame or slut shame. SLUT has been made into a book by Cappiello & Meg McInerney that serves as a play and guidebook for combating sexism and sexual violence, and has been published by the Feminist Press.
Following the panel discussion the cast made a call-to-action to demand consent education in all public schools. Attendees were asked to demand action from principals, school boards, and state and federal representatives to make comprehensive sex and consent education a priority.
The Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Campus program created a Sex-Postivity Toolkit to aid activists in creating a culture of consent on university campuses, where many of the cast of SLUT are bound for next year. Sex-positivity is the belief that consensual sexual expression is both healthy and important in contributing to a safe and inclusive campus climate, and is grounded in comprehensive sex education, exploring and deconstructing gender norms, and promoting body-positivity and self-love.
5/19/2015 - Feminist Majority Foundation Honors Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan at Star-Studded Global Women's Rights Awards
The Feminist Majority Foundation honored award-winning television producers Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan at the 10th annual Eleanor Roosevelt Global Women's Rights Awards in West Hollywood, California.
Yesterday's Global Women's Rights awards, hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and co-hosted by Mavis and Jay Leno, recognized Rhimes and Kohan as two of the most influential showrunners in television today. They were honored for "changing the face of media." The awards were attended by casts of Rhimes' shows Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, and Scandal, as well as Kohan's hit show Orange is the New Black.
"Women like Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan are pushing forward cultural change by creating powerful characters and portraying women's realities," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "At the same time, the feminist movement is pushing for women's increased political power and full legal equality. The two go hand-in-hand."
Rhimes, when accepting this award, spoke of her assistant, who expressed the desire to walk through this world male to see what it was like "to have it all."
"She wants to no longer make 70 cents on the dollar," Rhimes said. "She wants to not have old men legislate her vagina's rights. She wants to not know that a glass ceiling ever existed. She wants to not believe that having a baby would end her career. She wants everything in the world to be made for her, be about her and speak mostly to her. Because that's how it is for men."
"Both Rhimes and Kohan are defying the odds at a time when women occupy only 15 percent of critical executive producer positions in television," said Katherine Spillar, FMF Executive Director and Executive Editor of Ms. magazine, which is published by the FMF.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) filed a complaint and sent letters last week asking for federal and state civil rights agencies to investigate the massive gender discrepancies in the hiring of directors at all levels of the film and television industry.
ACLU SoCal wrote letters to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs with statistical evidence of the gross shortage of female directors represented in the film and television industry, accompanied with anecdotal accounts from 50 women directors. It is ACLU's claim that women are being disproportionately excluded in the hiring process, and that those women who are hired are experiencing discrimination.
"Hollywood employers don't get a free pass to violate civil rights laws," ALCU SoCal wrote in a statement.
The Director's Guild of America, who has written about this issue before, has since gotten involved, claiming studios and networks for the dramatic and "deplorable" lack of representation of women directors in the industry.
ACLU cited numerous statistical examples of what it called the film and television industries' "systemic failure" to hire women directors, including that last year 70 network shows, 31 networks, and 47 production companies hired no women directors whatsoever. ACLU also found that white men directed 69 percent of all television shows analyzed, and that women only made up 7 percent of directors for the top 250 grossing films in 2014.
ACLU included that this discrepancy in the hiring of women has little to do with a shortage of qualified female candidates. On the contrary, "Women are well represented in prominent film schools such as USC, NYU and UCLA," ACLU SoCal wrote.
"The industry as a whole has been and remains generally very responsive and supportive of civil rights movements, but it hasn't done enough to own up to and address this glaring civil rights problem it has created and perpetuates," ACLU SoCal continued.
Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment yesterday in a bipartisan effort to put women in the United States Constitution.
A bipartisan coalition of 170 cosponsors have signed on to this bill, including representatives Maloney, Lummis, Congresswoman Speier (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and many more. This motion comes alongside a resolution also introduced this week by Speier in support of the ERA.
"More than 90 percent of Americans believe the constitution should guarantee rights equally for men and women," said Representative Maloney in a statement. "It's time to secure that promise by passing the Equal Rights Amendment."
"I am very enthusiastic about the new wording of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's re-introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment which would put the word women in the constitution for the first time while protecting everyone from discrimination based on sex," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "Everyone deserves to live a life free from the pernicious effects of sex discrimination."
Congresswoman Speier also introduced yesterday a joint resolution with 146 cosponsors this week to remove the deadline previously set by congress and allow for ratification of the ERA through a "three-state strategy." If the deadline were lifted, only three more states would need to ratify the amendment.
Speier called the lack of constitutionally-protected equality for women "a twenty-first century scandal." She wrote that the majority of Americans do not realize that such a provision does not already exist, "and they're appalled to hear it doesn't. Without explicit protections for women's equality in the Constitution, we will continue to see discrimination against women. With all the progress women have made, it's long past time for a permanent standard ensuring all women and men are equal under the law."
"I believe strongly that we only need three more states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment," said Smeal, who also spoke of the 27th Amendment, which took a record 203 years between being introduced and being ratified. "If no time limit was acceptable for an amendment by one of the Founding Fathers, it should be good for the women of America today."
35 states currently have a state-wide ERA on the book, with Oregon being the most recent to ratify a state ERA by a near 2-to-1 margin in November 2014. The Illinois House passed an ERA, but it was rejected at the state Senate in 2003. Recently, efforts for a state ERA in Illinois have renewed.
As Gaylynn Burroughs, the Director of Policy and Research of the Feminist Majority Foundation, explained in the Winter 2015 issue of Ms. magazine, the need for the ERA has only increased since 1972. "Women have made numerous gains over the past four decades from Title IX to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to pay equity to the Violence Against Women Act and much more," Burroughs wrote. "But all the federal legislative gains are just that - legislative. They can be wiped out by a hostile Congress or Supreme Court, or chipped away slowly and insidiously." Burroughs cites last year's Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision as one example of recent rollbacks.
Take Action: Urge members of Congress to support the ERA by becoming co-sponsors of both the Start-Over ERA and the resolution to lift the time limit on the current ERA.
The House passed a 20-week abortion bill yesterday, making it plain that House Republicans feel that denying women access to abortion care is one of their top three priorities.
HR 36, is a restrictive 20-week abortion ban that would force rape survivors seeking abortion care to either report the crime to authorities if under 18 years of age, or if over 18 years old, seek medical care or counseling at least 48 hours prior to having an abortion. There is no exception to the requirement to report rape or incest for minors.
242 members of the House voted in favor of the bill, including Democratic representatives Peterson (ND), Cuellar (TX), Langevin (RI), and Lipinski (IL), while184 members of the House, including Republicans Dold (IL), Frelinghuysen (NY), and Hanna (NY), voted against it.
This bill was brought to the House floor in January, but House Republicans were forced to pull the bill just before midnight due to concerns from Republican women about reporting requirements for rape and incest survivors. Although sponsors of the bill claim that these concerns have been addressed, HR 36 still includes immensely onerous steps for women seeking abortion care to go through. The bill includes a requirement that a minor seeking an abortion as the result of rape or incest report the crime to "an appropriate law enforcement agency," ignoring the reality that many under 18 years old who have experienced rape or incest, and has many worried that this unnecessary provision may cause further trauma.
This bill places severe limitations on those over 18 years of age seeking an abortion past 20 weeks, specifically poor women or women who live in rural areas. In the case of rape, a woman is required to report the crime to authorities. The only other option for a rape survivor seeking abortion care under this restrictive bill is for the woman to seek medical attention or counseling at least 48 hours before their procedure at a location other than where they plan to have their procedure. This requires seeking two separate provider s- one for medical attention or counseling and one for an abortion - and is expensive, unrealistic, and overly burdensome.
Although the overwhelming majority of voters, both Democrats and Republicans alike, feel that this is the wrong issue for Congress to be spending its time on, Republicans in Congress have made it clear from the beginning of the year that limiting women's access to comprehensive health and reproductive care is a top priority. House Speaker John Boehner referred to this 20-week ban as one of the most important priorities for Congress.
The House will vote on House Bill 36 today, a restrictive 20-week abortion ban that would force rape survivors seeking abortion care to either report the crime to authorities if under 18 years of age, or if over 18 years old, seek medical care or counseling at least 48 hours prior to having an abortion. There is no exception to the requirement to report rape or incest for minors.
House Republicans previously attempted to vote on this bill in January, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They were forced to pull the bill just before midnight, however, due to concerns from Republican women about reporting requirements for rape and incest survivors.
Anti-choice politicians are now claiming the bill is different, but the new requirements for survivors of rape seeking abortion care are similarly restrictive, and equally problematic.
"This bill is not only unconstitutional, but shows a callous disregard for victims of rape and incest and an unbelievable lack of compassion," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "How can it be that this unconstitutional bill, that would injure women and girls, is one of the top three priorities of the House Republicans?"
If HR 36 is passed, adult rape survivors would be required to report the crime to "an appropriate law enforcement agency," which has many worried that the bill ignores the experience of sexual assault by forcing her to take steps that may further trauma. This bill places additional burdens and barriers for minors, as there is no exception for minors in the mandatory reporting of rape or incest. Minors are often more hesitant to report, as their assailants are often someone they know or someone within their family.
The only other option for a rape survivor seeking abortion care, under this restrictive bill, is for the woman to seek medical attention or counseling at least 48 hours before their procedure at a location other than where they plan to have their procedure. This places severe limitations on women who live in rural areas, where finding two separate providers- one for medical attention or counseling and one for an abortion- is unrealistic and overly burdensome.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your Representatives now and tell them that you support access to safe, legal abortion.
Facebook Incorporated Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg announced today that the social media powerhouse will be requiring improved benefits from its contractors, including higher pay, paid leave, and a $4,000 new child benefit.
Sandberg stated that contracted workers' new benefits will include a $15 minimum wage, a minimum of 15 paid leave days for holidays, sick time, and vacation, and $4,000 in child care benefits for new parents who do not receive paid parental leave. As Sandberg acknowledged, these new requirements particularly benefit women workers.
"Women, because they comprise about two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationally, are particularly affected by wage adjustments," explained Sandberg. "Research also shows that providing adequate benefits contributes to a happier and ultimately more productive workforce.
"Now Congress should follow the lead of Facebook and many cities and states and raise the federal minimum wage and pass paid sick days for U.S. workers," commented Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal who praised Facebook's action. "Today almost half of women workers to do have one day of paid sick leave. It's inhumane," said Smeal.
The new standards at Facebook will affect food-service workers, janitorial staff, security guards, and other contracted workers. Sandberg hopes to implement these benefits to a broader set of vendors within the year.
The company "expects to bear the cost of the new standards as vendors increase their rates," according to the Wall Street Journal. "We think it's the right thing to do with our community and the right thing to do with our business," Sandberg said. "So we think it's an expense worth bearing."
5/12/2015 - Obama Administration Clarifies ACA Birth Control Benefit After Reports of Conflicting Policies
The Obama administration announced yesterday in new guidance to health insurance companies that insurers are obligated to cover all forms of birth control under the Affordable Care Act.
The guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) details that insurance companies must cover at least one version of all 18 federally approved birth control methods. The HHS announcement comes after many agency reports indicating that insurers had conflicting policies on covering contraceptives, some of which violate the ACA requirement that contraception is offered at no cost.
"Under the Affordable Care Act, women are no longer supposed to be at the mercy of insurance companies," said Gretchen Borchelt, Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women's Law Center. "It is now absolutely clear that all means all - all - unique birth control methods for women must be covered."
At least one version of all 18 federally approved birth control methods, including IUDs, the patch, pill, shots or injections, vaginal contraceptive rings, and some long-term options such as surgical sterilization or implant, must be available to women. The HHS also specified that insurers cannot limit contraceptive services for transgender people based on the sex assigned to them at birth. This is a very important clarification as, according to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender people are "routinely denied" preventative care services.
This new guidance comes during National Women's Health Week, and is being lauded by many women's organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Feminists have worked very hard for this coverage," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "This will not only benefit millions of women, but it will provide the access and choice that for too long too many women could not afford."
Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, called the HHS guidance "another badly needed step to improve women's health."
Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, wrote of the impact that affording women more choices with their birth control will have.
"A difference in contraceptive method is not superficial," Coleman said. "It matters to women and men that they have a choice of method that is appropriate for their own health and circumstances."
A large earthquake hit eastern Nepal today, two weeks after a quake killed 8,000 people in the country. Health experts are increasingly worried about the approximately 126,000 pregnant women in Nepal who are seeing their health suffer, in part because of the many clinics that were destroyed by the quakes.
Pregnant women were already one of the most vulnerable groups during the earthquake as they were less able to run, said Nuzhat Rafique of UNICEF. Several women had miscarriages, and a traumatic event such as this one can cause women to give birth prematurely - which can be dangerous for both the child and the mother. Many health facilities have either been destroyed or are not open and operating. About 14,000 women are expected to give birth in the coming weeks, and thousands of them are at risk of complications that require emergency care, according to CARE.
"There are no health facilities functioning the way they normally do, so women really get affected when there is no health post to go to," Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the regional director for Southeast Asia of the World Health Organization, told Al Jazeera.
The quake today has a magnitude of 7.3, which comes 93 miles southeast of the 7.8 quake that hit on April 25. National Geographic reports that today's quake was an aftershock, and that more could be on their way.
Shaheen Chughtai of The Guardian notes that Nepal has 28 million people who live under the poverty line and who don't have access to proper sanitation. That, paired with the fact that Nepal sits in an extremely seismically hazardous area, is a recipe for disaster.
"Their ability to cope with a major disaster is crippled by the lack of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted, Chughtai writes. "Many thousands of Nepalese are going to need a great deal of help."
While long-term improvements need to be made to ensure the safety of Nepal's citizens, immediate assistance needs to come first.
"The next step would be to mobilize outreach teams from those shelter homes and tents, and tent facilities to peripheral areas," Rafique said. "And involving communities and volunteers to reach those women who need these services."
Click here to donate to CARE, a humanitarian organization that will provide emergency relief and long-term recovery in Nepal, while making sure to focus on the specific needs of women and girls.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered emergency measures this weekend to protect those in the nail salon industry.
Cuomo's actions fall in the wake of a New York Times expose on the lives of manicurists in New York City detailing 10- to 12-hour shifts, poor conditions, health risks, low wages, and other exploitation.
"We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights," Governor Cuomo said while announcing the launch of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force aimed at addressing the exploitation of those in the nail salon industry.
Cuomo's new actions include posting worker's rights within salons in six different languages, shutting down unlicensed businesses, face mask and glove requirements, and other safety measures to protect manicurists from the harsh chemicals regularly used at salons. A campaign to educate salon staff, including managers and owners, will also be introduced. The campaign will encourage all employees, regardless of immigration status, to report mistreatment.
The NY Times article exposed the widespread mistreatment of manicurists and salon workers, many of whom have illnesses from the chemicals they regularly handle. Through 150 interviews in four languages, the NY Times found that manicurists are often paid well below minimum wage (sometimes they are not paid at all), are physically and verbally abused, and are discriminated against within the salons due to racial ethnic stereotypes. These abuses are often exacerbated by the immigration status of many of the employees, as the majority are undocumented workers.
Last fall, Ms. Magazine wrote of the health risks that the chemicals in many personal care products pose for women. In her article "Skin Deep," Heather White, the executive director of Environmental Working Group (EWG), details the unregulated or under-regulated chemicals that show up in women's personal-care products. EWG created an online data base and tested over 70,000 personal-care products, finding shocking numbers of carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are associated with reproductive or developmental toxicity or hormone disruption.
Ms. also wrote about the startling findings of a report from Women's Voices for the Earth, which details some of the many health risks salon workers face. Some of the findings included 60 percent of salon workers suffering from dermatitis and other skin conditions, decreased lung function, increased risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities, and increased risk of breast and other cancers.
The framework of the emergency status declared by Governor Cuomo means that policy changes regarding the nail salon industry in New York can be implemented more quickly, as more time-consuming steps such as periods of public comment are skipped over.
Three schoolgirls from Afghanistan won gold in biology at an international science competition hosted in Kenya last week.
300 students competed from 27 countries in a science competition in Kenya, where three girls from a school in Afghanistan took home the gold in biology. Upon return to Afghanistan, Shohra, one of the gold medalists, exclaimed excitedly that her and her classmates won the competition and obtained gold medals.
Nargis, another medalist, emphasized the need for continued support for girls' education in Afghanistan after her victory. "Afghanistan needs more focus on education because it has been a war-hit country," she said. "I want all families to allow their daughters to continue their studies in order to bring honor to Afghanistan."
President Ghani and First Lady Rula Ghani have promised increased support for girls' education.
Last fall, President Ghani and USAID launched its largest women's empowerment program in the world, called "Promote." Ghani and CEO Abdullah Adbullah, when announcing the initiative, both spoke about giving more roles to women in government and the need for women's inclusion in economic development. Promote was also welcomed by First Lady Ghani, who spoke at the launch of the program. Ghani emphasized her desire that Promote reach not only urban women, but also "their educated sisters in the provinces."
Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old Indian-American who was convicted in Indiana for a miscarriage, has now been in prison for more than 30 days.
Indiana claims Patel took illegal abortion-inducing drugs, that her fetus was born alive, and that the fetus subsequently died.
The convictions for feticide and child neglect were based on little to no evidence, and on junk science that was literally created in the 17th century and is highly contested by scientists. Activists were outraged, noting no one should be punished for having a miscarriage. The case moved activists to create a petition calling for Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature to change the Indiana laws that punish women who miscarry.
Patel filed an appeal last month arguing there is no proof she took illegal abortion-inducing drugs.
In the newest issue of Ms. magazine, authors Deepa Iyer and Gaylynn Burroughs warn that Patel's conviction represents the way women have been - and will be - treated by current anti-woman laws:
Patel's case should set alarm bells ringing in the minds of all those concerned with the welfare of pregnant women. This case may indeed open the door to more legislative, criminal and legal attacks on pregnant women. We must work together to close this door, once and for all. The health and well-being of all women are at stake.
(Read more from the Ms. Spring 2015 issue here.)
At least 38 states have these troubling feticide laws on the books, and 23 of them are laws that apply to early stages of pregnancy.
Since the appeal, St. Joseph County courts will get case transcripts to Patel's lawyers, who will submit a brief to the state Court of Appeals. While it could take more than a year for the court to reach a decision about whether the convictions should be overturned, Patel is in prison - serving her 20-year sentence.
"What the Patel case demonstrates is that both women who have abortions and those who experience pregnancy loss may now be subject to investigation, arrest, public trial and incarceration," wrote Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "Pregnancy loss is not uncommon: some 15-20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage; one percent of pregnancies approximately 26,000 each year result in stillbirth. Following the Patel case, however, any miscarriage or stillbirth could be investigated as feticide (an 'illegal' self-abortion)."
Click here to sign the petition to tell Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Legislature that these anti-woman Indiana laws need to be changed so women aren't punished for having a miscarriage.
Just in time for Mother's Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) re-introduced yesterday a joint resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S Constitution. S.J. Res. 15 was introduced with 26 original cosponsors including Senator Mark Kirk (R-Il). The resolution would remove the deadline set by congress for ratification of the ERA. U.S. Representative Jackie Speier is expected to introduce an ERA resolution in the House.
The ERA originally passed congress in 1972. Like every proposed constitution amendment, after it passed by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, the ERA was sent to the states for ratification. Congress, however, had imposed - in the preamble of the ERA - a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. That deadline was eventually extended to June 30, 1982. ï¿½Thirty eight states must ratify an amendment before it can become part of the U.S. Constitution. Thirty five states ratified the ERA by the 1982 deadline.
If the deadline is lifted, only three more states would need to ratify the amendment. This is called the "three-state" strategy. As part of the strategy, ERA activists in unratified states are working to clear a path for the ERA. The Illinois State Senate passed the ERA in 2014 with a strong 39-11 vote, and in February 2015, the Virginia State Senate - which never took a floor vote on the ERA during the campaign in the 1970s and 1980s - voted to pass the ERA for the fourth time since 2011.
"As America prepares to celebrate Mother's Day, we should be working to ensure that all women realize the promise of equal protection under the law. We cannot allow an arbitrary deadline to stand in the way of equal rights for our mothers and daughters, wives and sisters, aunts and grandmothers," said Senator Cardin.
The ERA states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
As Gaylynn Burroughs, the Director of Policy and Research of the Feminist Majority Foundation, explained in the Winter 2015 issue of Ms. magazine, The need for the ERA has only increased since 1972. "Women have made numerous gains over the past four decades from Title IX to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to pay equity to the Violence Against Women Act and much more." She continued, "But all the federal legislative gains are just that - legislative. They can be wiped out by a hostile Congress or Supreme Court, or chipped away slowly and insidiously." Burroughs cites last year's Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision as one example of recent rollbacks.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has also introduced an ERA resolution that would begin the ratification process over from the beginning.
Click here to sign the petition urge members of Congress to support the Equal Rights Amendment by becoming co-sponsors of both the Start-Over ERA and the resolution to lift the time limit on the current ERA.
5/7/2015 - PRESS RELEASE: Feminist Groups File Title IX Complaint Against University of Mary Washington
Feminist Groups File Title IX Complaint Against University of Mary Washington For Failure to Take Action Against A Sexually Hostile Climate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: â€‹A Virginia campus group, Feminists United, a UMW student club and an affiliate of the Feminist Majority Foundation and individual students are filing a Title IX Complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the University of Mary Washington. The complaint charges university administrators with "systemic failure to protect students from a sexually hostile school environment, from sex-based cyber assaults, and from threats of physical and sexual violence and from the University's failure to take immediate effective action to eliminate the sexually hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects." The Feminist Majority Foundation, a nationwide women's research and action organization with campus groups in 45 states and the District of Columbia, has joined the complaint to support UMW Feminists United, individual students and to combat campus sexual assault. The following is a statement of Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation
"How many women have to be violated, threatened, harassed, intimidated, or even die before University administrators decide that they have a crisis on their hands. Simply put sexual assault must be treated more seriously by universities. One in five women on college campuses being assaulted is an epidemic," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
"Here at the University of Mary Washington, Feminists United and its leaders repeatedly told administrators that they were afraid, threatened, that the climate was scary, and there was a "rape culture" that was allowed to prevail. This complaint speaks for itself and shows the dedication, commitment and courage of students who worked diligently to stop sexual assault and to end the sexually hostile environment. I am appalled that the University of Mary Washington administrators repeatedly did nothing to stop threats against and to alleviate the experienced-based fears of Feminists United and its members," Smeal continued.
"Feminist United students repeatedly brought their concerns about threats to their safety to the attention of the administration, and were routinely met with inaction. Young women should be able to attend college with the expectation that they will be safe, respected, and at the very least that threats to their personal safety will be dealt with promptly and taken seriously," said Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy and Research at the Feminist Majority Foundation.
"Instead of taking action, the University hid behind their lawyers and allowed these young women to be terrorized in their own community," Burroughs added.
Notice: The Title IX complaint is available upon request.
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Media contact: Danielle Smith
â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹Onsite Contact: Edwith Theogene
â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹â€‹ (c) 954-394-1825
The verdict for the 49 men charged with the murder of 27-year- old Farkhunda came yesterday, following a highly publicized and televised week-long trial and public outrage for violence against women in Afghanistan.
Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, accused a local Mullah of acting inappropriately. The Mullah then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men were incited to attack her, and they beat her to death, set fire to her body, and threw her body in a river.
Of the 49 men tried in this case, four were sentenced to death, and eight were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Nineteen police officers are facing charges and will be sentenced separately. The rest were not charged. The Mullah responsible for provoking the mob to attack Farkhunda was among those sentenced to death - the first Mullah in Afghanistan to be executed.
Activists who have been calling for justice for Farkhunda are celebrating the sentencing. "It's making me hopeful and it's making think that all the work that we did, all the protest that we did is finally reaching something," said one woman who has been active in seeking justice, and who wished to remain anonymous.
Others felt the sentencing was too lenient. Omar Haidari, another activist, said the judge's ruling was "totally unacceptable," claiming the 18 men who were acquitted should not have gone free. "They were all part of the game and should be punished severely," he said. "At least they should be sentenced to life in prison for what they have done."
Farkhunda's murder sent shockwaves through Afghanistan and the world, as videos of the mob attack went viral. She has been called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin while women stay home to mourn.
5/6/2015 - MEDIA ADVISORY: Title IX Sex Discrimination Complaint to be Filed Against University of Mary Washington by Feminist Groups
Title IX Sex Discrimination Complaint to be Filed Against University of Mary Washington by Feminist Groups
On Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 10:30 a.m., UMW student group Feminists United, national women's rights organization, Feminist Majority Foundation, and individual UMW students will announce the filing of a major Title IX sex discrimination complaint against the University of Mary Washington. The complaint is being prepared by Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, founding partners of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP.
The complaint charges ongoing, systemic failures to comply with Title IX, including failure to address incidents of sexually-based stalking, cyber stalking, cyber assault, and threats of physical and sexual violence against members of Feminists United and other individual students via the anonymous social media application Yik Yak. The complaint raises concerns about the UMW administration's refusal to protect female students from these threats of violence and sexual assault.
The sex discrimination complaint comes on the heels of the murder of Grace Rebecca Mann, an active member of Feminists United and prominent UMW student who was a leading voice for feminist and gay causes.
--Julia Michels, president of Feminists United at UMW and other students
--Eleanor Smeal, national women's rights leader and president of Feminist Majority Foundation
--Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, founding partners of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP
All participants will be available for interviews.
University of Mary Washington
Steps of George Washington Hall
1301 College Ave, Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Randy Labuzinski - Jaffe, 773-405-7583
Debra S. Katz or Lisa J. Banks - Katz, Marshall & Banks, 202-299-1140
Danielle Smith - Feminist Majority Foundation, 703-522-2214
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Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has promised to delay efforts to push through the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal until the Senate first deals with two stalled bills that may soon expire.
Reid says that the two measures, an infrastructure bill on highway funding, and reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), are "very complicated issues," that require the Senate's attention "before we even deal with [the Trans-Pacific Partnership]."
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free trade agreement currently being promoted by the Obama Administration, has been heavily criticized by humanitarian groups, environmental groups, and medical groups. These groups charge that the agreement not only threatens US jobs, but it threatens environmental regulations, food and safety standards, workers' rights, and access to affordable medications, among other issues. The TPP, which would include 12 nations, has largely been negotiated in secret and without robust input from the American public, although corporate interests have been included in negotiations.
In addition to these concerns, the TPP also includes Brunei as a member, a country which has recently adopted a vicious penal code threatening the rights and lives of women and gay men. The Feminist Majority has consistently called on the Obama Administration not to do business with a regime that has adopted a penal code antithetical to human rights.
"Any deal that forces women and human rights to take a backseat to profit and trade should be a non-starter," explained Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "At a minimum, the US should not enter into a partnership with a country that just last year adopted a penal code authorizing torture and violence against its citizens," Smeal continued.
Smeal refers specifically to the most troubling aspects of Brunei's penal code, which calls for fines, imprisonment, flogging, or death by stoning for women and men committing such "crimes" as adultery, abortion, same-sex sexual relations, or so-called "indecent behavior" such as cross-dressing.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) recently introduced "Fast Track" legislation in the Senate that would allow the TPP to be pushed through Congress. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has also introduced companion legislation in the House. Under the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track bill, Congress would give the President broad power to select US trading partners, determine the content of trade agreements, and conclude negotiations, all before Congress voted on the substance of an agreement. Congress would set out negotiating objectives, but these objectives would be entirely unenforceable. Instead, once an agreement has been signed, the president would only have to submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Fast Track would forbid Congress from offering any amendments, would limit debate to only 20 hours, and force a vote within 90 days.
The Feminist Majority joined over 2,000 organizations, including Citizens Trade Campaign, to send a letter to members of Congress opposing the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track bill. The Feminist Majority also has released a petition asking people to urge their representatives to vote against the TPP agreement.
A new report released by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) this morning shows the Department of Defense (DOD) is grossly under-reporting the number of sexual assault crimes in the US military, particularly those occurring on military bases. Gillibrand says this new information deepens a lack of faith for an internal commander-led justice system for cases of military sexual assault, saying it "remains plagued with distrust."
Senator Gillibrand found in a review of 107 case files provided by the DOD that instances of sexual assault against spouses of service members and civilian women near military bases are being left out of public records. Furthermore, the senator's analysis of these files found that punishments for sexual assault offenders were largely too lenient or lacking altogether. A shockingly low 20 percent of cases went to trial, and only 10 percent of all cases resulted in sexual assault conviction with penalties of dishonorable discharge or confinement. These findings starkly contradict the Pentagon's assertion that the commander-led justice system currently exercised for cases of military sexual assault will lead to tough punishment of service members accused of sex crimes.
"It's frustrating because you look at the facts in these cases and you see witnesses willing to come forward, getting the medical exam and either eventually withdrawing their case or the investigators deciding that her testimony wasn't valid or believable," Gillibrand said.
Of the files reviewed in the report, 32 percent of reports of sexual assault were filed by civilian women assaulted by servicemen. A Department of Defense spokeswoman claimed that the department doesn't have the authority to include civilian reports in its surveys.
"We kept hearing how previous reforms were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime," said Gillibrand, referring to promises that were made during hearings for the Military Justice Improvement Act, championed by Gillibrand and blocked by Senate twice last year. "Yet there has been zero progress to reduce retaliation. The rate hasn't budged since 2012," Gillibrand continued.
"Enough is enough. Incremental progress at best just isn't good enough when the problem undermining the readiness of the military is this deep. The men and women of our military deserve a system of justice worthy of their sacrifice," Gillibrand said.
The US House of Representatives voted Thursday night to overturn a Washington, DC, law that makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who use their insurance to cover procedures like in-vitro fertilization or abortion and contraception like birth control pills and IUDs for themselves, their spouses, or their children.
The District's council passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act last year. The original legislation looked to protect employees from discrimination based on their reproductive health choices. Overturning the law would not only lead to discrimination against those who receive birth control, abortions, or in-vitro fertilization, it could also affect their spouses or parents. If this House ban would become law, an employer could discriminate against an employee if they, or their dependents under their health coverage, receives these reproductive health services.
"This is Hobby Lobby on steroids," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, referencing the Supreme Court decision that essentially gave permission to some employers to not provide contraception as a part of the company's health insurance plans. "Republicans need to recognize that your own health-care choices are not your boss's business."
Feminist leaders agree, calling the vote an attack on women. "This is a new low. It's beyond outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "The so-called 'small government' folks now want employers to invade the privacy of their employees and their families' medical records."
"This bill would make it open season for bosses to dig into their employees' reproductive health practices and fire women for taking birth control or having an abortion," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, in a statement. "This is just the latest in a slew of bills to give employers and businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, and others. This is dangerous, misguided, and deeply unpopular, and it's outrageous that Congress is spending its time trying to pass this kind of legislation." She called the vote "deeply troubling."
Although Congress has the power to overturn a law passed by the DC council, the House hasn't voted to do so in 23 years. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced the House version of the measure and Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the measure in the Senate. The House vote was nearly a straight party-lines vote, except with 13 Republicans voting against the measure and three Democrats voting for it.
The Senate and President both need to approve this measure in order for the DC law to be overturned, but President Barack Obama said the measure would have "the unacceptable effect of undermining the will of District of Columbia citizens" and has already issued a veto threat.