12/17/2015 - Tennessee Woman Faces Jail For Coat Hanger Abortion
A Tennessee woman was arrested and charged with attempted murder last week, three months after an attempt to terminate her pregnancy using a coat hanger.
In September, 31-year-old Anna Yocca attempted to self-abort by penetrating her uterus with a metal coat hanger. After bleeding profusely, Yocca was rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to a 24-week-old baby boy. Though the baby is alive, he has sustained damage to his lungs, heart and eyes as a result of the early birth and puncture wounds. Yocca, who is being held on a $200,000 bond, is scheduled to appear in court December 21.
Tennessee boasts some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation on the books. In addition to a ban on abortions after 12 weeks, the state has a dangerously broad version of a fetal harm law which outlaws "life-threatening harm" to a human embryo or fetus at any stage of gestation that includes ingesting an illegal drug while pregnant. The state also requires women seeking abortions to wait a full 48 hours, necessitating two separate trips to the clinic, and undergo state-mandated counseling prior to the procedure. Even abortion clinic accessibility is a challenge for women in Tennessee. According to the National Women's Law Center, over half of the women in the state live in a county without an abortion provider as of 2010.
Abortion advocates say the surge in anti-abortion TRAP laws resulting in the shuttering of abortion clinics nationwide will only increase the number of incidents of self-induced abortions among women like Yocca. A recent study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found at least 100,000 women in Texas have attempted to self-abort their pregnancies in the wake of a wave of anti-abortion legislation and clinic closures in the state.
"Our greatest fear has come to [pass] and it could've been avoided," said Cherisse Scott, CEO of a Memphis-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach. "Women are attempting to self-abort due to restrictive abortion and punitive fetal assault legislation. The Tennessee legislature is responsible for the coat hanger; however, Ms. Yocca is on trial."
12/16/2015 - FMF Calls on House Select Investigative Panel to Re-Direct Its Focus to Anti-Abortion Violence or Disband
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feminist Majority Foundation Calls on House Select Investigative Panel to
Re-Direct Its Focus to Anti-Abortion Violence or Disband
Launches Ad Campaign Exposing Anti-Abortion Violence
DECEMBER 16, 2015 - Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President, Eleanor Smeal, today called on the House Select Investigative Panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee to either redirect its focus to violence against abortion providers, or to disband. This select panel, which has subpoena powers, was set up to investigate "big abortion providers" in response to the now debunked videos produced by the so-called Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of illegal activities. But the real threat is anti-abortion extremism.
"How can House members investigate abortion providers and ignore the activities of key CMP official and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, or the routine harassment and intimidation of abortion providers?" asked Smeal.
"The House Select Investigative Panel must call on Newman and other CMP officials to answer questions under oath about how their activities may have contributed to anti-abortion harassment, intimidation, and terrorizing of abortion providers," Smeal continued. "Anti-abortion violence isn't just about lone wolves. It is also about the wolf packs that harass and terrorize abortion providers."
The call on the House Select Panel comes as FMF launches a major, multi-day digital advertising campaign in top D.C.-based media asking the question: "When Did the Right to Life Become the Right to Harass, Intimidate, and Terrorize Abortion Providers?" To view a sample of the campaign on POLITICO.com, click here and for more information from the FMF website, click here. The question is even more pressing after last month's attack against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs killing three people.
"A climate of violence is built by following clinic staff around town, putting them on WANTED-style posters with lurid language like 'The Killers Among Us,'" added Katherine Spillar, FMF executive director. "It's about harassing their neighbors and their kids at school; posting their personal information online; running 'No Place to Hide' campaigns. These activities act as a magnet for extremists or disturbed individuals who are willing to kill abortion providers, law enforcement, clinic staff, or even bystanders," continued Spillar.
The pattern of terrorizing abortion providers is frighteningly common. The percentage of clinics impacted by targeted threats and intimidation has nearly doubled over four years, from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% in 2014 according to FMF's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey. The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that abortion providers have been the targets of more than 300 acts of extreme violence from 1973-2003. The National Abortion Federation has documented some 6,948 incidences of violence against abortion providers between 1977 and 2014.
12/14/2015 - Historic Climate Change Agreement Reached in Paris
On Saturday, representatives from 198 countries approved a plan to prevent increased global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions globally.
World leaders convened in Paris last week to discuss strategies for reducing the impact of climate change, ultimately agreeing to limit greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions to help restrain global warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius through 2100. Participating nations also committed to supporting developing countries in this endeavor, pledging $100 billion by 2020 to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather.
Some 25 years in the making, last weekend's agreement marks the first time in human history the world has reached a consensus as to how to meaningfully address climate change. Speaking from the White House Saturday, United States president Barack Obama praised the pact, citing its potential as "a turning point for the world."
"We came together around a strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment," said Obama. "We've shown what's possible when the world stands as one."
12/14/2015 - Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit in Ohio
Planned Parenthood announced yesterday that it has filed a federal lawsuit to protect abortion access in Ohio. The suit comes two days after state Attorney General Mike DeWine threatened to take legal action against the health care provider and introduce legislation to further restrict abortion care in the state.
DeWine claimed in a press conference on Friday that Planned Parenthood clinics in the state had improperly handled fetal tissue - a claim that the organization calls "bogus." Planned Parenthood has said that it did not receive any formal communication from the Ohio Department of Health concerning DeWine's allegations, has never received a citation on the matter, and follows all applicable Ohio laws and regulations.
This new accusation against Planned Parenthood was announced after DeWine admitted on Friday, after a state investigation, that the claim that Planned Parenthood had "sold fetal tissue" was completely false.
"It's clear from the Attorney General's press conference that we've acted properly and legally, and this is just part of his longstanding political agenda to ban abortion in all cases," said CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Jerry Lawson. "We won't let that happen."
Planned Parenthood has asserted in its lawsuit that Ohio has violated its due process and equal protection rights. It is seeking an order to block the state from taking action unfairly targeting Planned Parenthood.
Since the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released several surreptitiously recorded and highly-edited videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of "selling" fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood has been under a barrage of state- and federal attacks. The videos have been debunked repeatedly, and to date, zero investigations have found evidence of wrongdoing.
12/11/2015 - Sierra Leone Legalizes Abortion
According to the new act in Sierra Leone, women in this West African nation will no longer have only the choice of illegal and unsafe abortions.
The Safe Abortion Act that passed this week with an overwhelming majority support in the parliament will make the abortion procedure legal and will replace the 1861 law that criminalized abortion in this West African nation. According to the 1861 law, the abortion was only legal if it was necessary to save the mother's life. The Act is yet to be signed into law by the President of the country, Ernest Bai Koroma.
This act will allow women to have an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After the 12 weeks, it is only allowed in the cases of rape, incest or risk to the health of fetus or mother. Girls under 18 can have an abortion only with the permission of a parent or guardian.
According to a recent UN report on maternal mortality rate, Sierra Leone is estimated to have the highest maternal mortality rate at 1360 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. In a study conducted by IPAS, a non-profit that works to increase women's access to sexual and reproductive rights and to reduce maternal mortality rate, found that the Sierra Leone government spent up to $230,000 each year on personnel and medical supplies to treat botched abortion cases.
12/11/2015 - Affirmative Action Returns to SCOTUS
For the second time in three years, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, the case that threatens to destroy affirmative action.
Wednesday's oral arguments included shocking racial animus and stereotyping.
Justice Scalia said: "There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.
Scalia went on to say, "I'm just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don't think it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible."
This is the same Justice Scalia who, during a 2013 interview, argued: "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't."
The Fisher case is expected to be decided in June 2016.
12/11/2015 - Holtzclaw Convicted of Rape, Sexual Battery
After 45 hours of deliberations, a jury found former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty on 18 charges, including rape and sexual battery, for assaulting 13 black women over the course of seven months while on duty.
Holtzclaw was found guilty of 5 counts of first and second-degree rape, 6 counts of sexual battery, 4 counts of forcible oral sodomy, and 3 counts of procuring lewd exhibition. He was found not guilty on 18 of the 36 charges. Sentencing will take place on January 21. Holtzclaw faces up to 263 years in prison, and activists are calling on the court to impose a life sentence.
Holtzclaw used his position and power to systematically target at least 13 black women for rape and assault.ï¿½All 13 survivors testified during the trial, a courageous act for women who were predictably shamed, smeared, and disparaged in court.
Prior to the verdict, the case received scant attention in the mainstream media. Black women, including the black woman-led activist group OKC Artists for Justice, spearheaded online and on-the-ground organizing to mobilize action around the case. The group attended the trial and verdict, and also held a rally which brought attention to their hashtag, #BlackWomenMatter.
At a press conference today, Grace Franklin, one of the group's cofounders, proclaimed, "These women deserve to be heard. These women deserve to have justice. These women are important enough for the nation to have been following this case from the beginning. The 18 counts are important. And the 18 'not guilty' are reflective of an issue that we have in this country. Black women matter." The jury in this case did not include any black women or any people of color.
"While this is a key moment of accountability for police, we must recognize that black women disproportionately experience certain forms of police brutality, including sexual assault," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "We need to do more than acknowledge police brutality - we need to ensure that these women have access to justice."
In May, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) released a report, Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, highlighting stories of Black women who have been killed or assaulted by police.
"Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality," explains Kimberle Crenshaw, AAPF founder and director. "Yet, inclusion of Black women's experiences in social movements, media narratives and police demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color."
The jury's decision comes on the heels of an investigation by the Associated Press, which found that over the last six years, about 1,000 police officers in the United States lost their badges because of sexual misconduct. That amounts to an officer being fired for sexual misconduct nearly every other day.
Robert Dear, the man accused of killing three and injuring nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs late last month, was formally charged with 179 felony counts yesterday, including eight counts of first-degree murder and 131 counts of attempted first-degree murder. Dear's rampage was one of the worst acts of violence ever carried out by an anti-abortion extremist in the United States.
During the hearing, he made a series of outbursts, saying, "I'm guilty. There's no trial. I'm a warrior for the babies." Dear had allegedly spoke of "baby parts" upon his arrest, leading many to believe that his motivation for attacking the reproductive health clinic was tied to the release of several deceptive and surreptitiously-recorded videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) this summer. The videos, which claim to document the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood employees, have been debunked repeatedly.
Attacks on Planned Parenthood increased in the wake of the videos, according to the FBI, though threats and violence against abortion clinics have been on the rise for the last four years. The Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey found that more than 50 percent of clinics have faced targeted threats-such as stalking of doctors and clinic workers, and the use of WANTED-style posters-and about 1 in 5 clinics have experienced severe violence, including blockades, arson, gunfire and bombings.
"This lethal attack [in Colorado] must be viewed with a lens also focusing on the nationwide campaign of threats and violence against abortion providers," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal, in a statement following the shooting. "We cannot wait for another deadly attack before we start asking questions about the larger campaign of terror and violence against abortion providers. Rather than jumping to the conclusion of a lone wolf, we must determine if this wolf ran in a pack. Quite simply, wolves normally run in packs and the amount of threats hardly could be carried out by one lone wolf."
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was named Time's 2015 Person of the Year for her leadership on the Syrian refugee and Greek debt crises. Merkel becomes just the fourth woman to win the honor - outside of a group of winners - since it was first presented in 1927. She is also the first individual woman to win since 1986, and the first individual woman to receive the award since Time changed its title from "Man of the Year" in 1999.
In announcing the magazine's decision, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs said, "For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is 'Time's Person of the Year.'"
Earlier this year, Merkel helped shape Europe's response to Greece's continuing debt crisis, insisting on strict austerity measures before any bailouts went ahead.
With the Syrian conflict forcing millions of refugees away from home, Merkel opened Germany's doors, committing to accept 800,000 asylum seekers this year. It is expected that the number will approach 1 million by year's end.
"She has stepped up in a way that was uncharacteristic even for her," Gibbs continued. "She's been a very long-serving leader, the longest-serving in the west. She controls the world's fourth largest economy, but this year she really was tested in how she would respond to some of the most difficult challenges that any leader is facing in the world."
The title is awarded to the person or people who have had the most impact on the world and on the news - for better or worse - that year. While Time runs a reader poll, the Person of the Year decision is ultimately made by the magazine's editors.
Merkel beat out seven others on the shortlist for the award, including ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Black Lives Matter activists, television personality and former Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
12/9/2015 - State Lawmakers Advocate For Debt-Free College
On Monday, state legislators demonstrated their commitment to addressing the ever-growing student debt crisis in the US by announcing their support of new legislation making public colleges debt-free.
Joining a nationwide campaign spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Democratic lawmakers in 10 states including Massachusetts, Ohio and South Carolina are introducing resolutions, assembling study committees and developing strategies to place higher education within reach of all Americans by making college debt-free.
The need for increased accessibility to affordable education could not be more urgent. Not only do full-time workers with bachelor's degrees earn 60 percent more than workers with high school diplomas alone, 68 percent of managerial job postings and 60 percent of computer and mathematical job listings require them. With public and private institution costs skyrocketing in just fifteen years, 40 million Americans now owe more than $1.3 trillion dollars in student loans, each with an average outstanding balance of $29,000 and a repayment period extending some 13.4 years, deepening economic inequality and hindering social mobility.
These state legislators are the latest policymakers to answer the PCCC's call to action. In April, ninety-nine members of Congress signed on to formally endorse the idea of debt-free college.
"From New Hampshire to Iowa, and all across the nation, voters want students to be able to graduate from college without debt," said PCCC's campaign director Kayla Wingbermuehle.
Supreme Court Rejects Latest Delay Tactic by Center for Medical Progress
On Friday, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that would have allowed the anti-abortion group to avoid disclosing the names of key supporters "intimately involved in the planning and funding for the Center's alleged conspiracy."
This is the third time that CMP and its President, David Daleidan, have tried â€“ unsuccessfully â€“ to avoid producing this information in connection with a federal lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). The lawsuit, against CMP, Daleiden, and CMP board member and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, alleges civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud and breach of contract following the distribution of falsified, misleading videos suggesting NAF members, including Planned Parenthood, illegally sold fetal tissue.
Both the federal district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have ruled that CMP must provide NAF with a series of emails sent by Daleiden to CMP supporters, as well as the names of the supporters to whom the emails were sent. The emails contain "information gleaned from the Center's infiltration and surreptitious recording" at NAF conferences. CMP had refused to provide this information, citing erroneous First Amendment claims.
The Supreme Court's denial of CMP's application means that the organization must now turn over the names of those who were involved in its scheme.
"The defendants have stalled as long as they can, but enough is enough," said NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta who previously noted that "every day that the defendants refuse to disclose who they gave access to our confidential information puts our members in harm's way."
The release of several fraudulent videos by CMP which claim to capture the sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood have been proven false repeatedly, but have nonetheless sparked endless state and federal investigations into the organization, NAF and abortion providers nationwide. To date, zero investigations have found evidence of wrongdoing.
The release of these videos has also corresponded with an increase in threats against abortion clinics, providers, and staff. "The Feminist Majority Foundation started to receive reports of an escalation in severe harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against abortion providers immediately following the launch of the smear campaign by the Center for Medical Progress this past Summer," explained du Vergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project.
NAF is seeking a preliminary injunction to block CMP, Daleiden, and others from releasing any material or information that was illegally obtained at any of NAF's educational meetings. A hearing on NAF's request is scheduled in the district court later this month.
Despite a mass shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last week, Senate Republicans stepped up efforts to dismantle the reproductive healthcare provider by pushing forward a bill yesterday to defund the organization.
Using a legislative tactic called reconciliation, which enables lawmakers to advance budget-related measures with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60, the Senate voted 52 to 47 to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation must now go to the House, which passed a different version of the bill in October. The White House has already announced that President Obama will veto the measure should it reach his desk, and supporters of the legislation do not have the necessary two-thirds House and Senate majorities to override the President's veto.
Congress' most recent maneuver marks another in a series of legislative attacks against Planned Parenthood; they've come in the wake of the release of several fraudulent and surreptitiously recorded videos that falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. The videos, manufactured and distributed by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), have been debunked repeatedly.
Nonetheless, in September, House Republicans called Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on her organization's conduct and practices. Though the committee found no fault in Planned Parenthood's actions, just one month later, House Republicans announced the formation of a select committee-this time under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee-with the intent of investigating and defunding Planned Parenthood through budget reconciliation. To date, federal and state-level investigations have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood clinics and independent women's healthcare facilities nationwide have experienced an increase in anti-abortion violence and severe threats since the release of the CMP videos.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said, "It is outrageous that politicians in Congress continue to attack Planned Parenthood and take away vital funding for women's healthcare on the excuse of false accusations leveled by anti-abortion extremists."
In an attempt to outlaw child marriage in the country, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi issued a decree making it illegal for Egyptians to get married before the age of 18.
The recent decree brings Egypt into compliance with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child on the matter of child marriage. The Charter was adopted in 1990 and outlines the rights that African countries are expected to ensure for their children.
Prior to the decree, girls could get married as young as 16 years old. Child marriage remains a common practice in Egypt, accounting for 15% of all marriages in the country.
According to a study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) one in three girls in developing countries is married before reaching 18 years old. One in nine is married under the age of 15.
Many international agreements outlaw child marriage, including the Convention of the Child and the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Many international conferences and organizations have also called on countries to eliminate child marriage.
In Egypt, girls are often married off temporarily in exchange for money that is arranged by the parents and the temporary husband. Azza el-Ashmawy, director of the Child Anti-Trafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, describes these kind of marriages as "prostitution in the guise of marriage." In speaking with the Al Arabia newspaper, he said that some girls have been married 60 times by the time they turn 18 years old.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced today that all military combat jobs will be opened up to women beginning next year, adding that "there will be no exceptions."
"Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer," Carter said at a press conference. "In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent ... We can't succeed to defend the nation by eliminating half of the U.S. population from combat roles."
The groundbreaking announcement overturns a 1994 Department of Defense directive that banned women from units that primarily engage in direct combat.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the ban on women in combat in January 2013, mandating that women be fully integrated into all combat jobs by 2016--unless an exemption was requested by a military branch. In order to receive an exemption, the branch would have to use hard data to explain why a woman would not meet the requirements of a specific post.
The Marine Corps was the only military branch to express an objection to the new directive, requesting exemptions to the rule for certain jobs, such as machine gunner. But Carter denied the request, saying there would be no exemptions. When asked about a study by the Marines that appeared to show that all-male units are more capable than mixed units, Carter said the data presented was "not definitive and not determinative."
Women's groups have celebrated the decision, which opens up new career opportunities and helps to break down deeply entrenched beliefs that men are more physically powerful than women.
"This is extremely important not only for women in the military, but for all women," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Women have been in combat for years, but the false premise that they were not in combat was used to discriminate against women in the military for promotions to leadership positions. Meanwhile, it was also being used against all women as an excuse to restrict full rights and vote against the Equal Rights Amendment."
The Pentagon's announcement comes only a few months after three women made history by graduating from the elite Amy Ranger School.
On Sunday, for the first time in Saudi Arabia's modern history, more than 900 women have registered to run for the municipal elections. The municipal elections on December 12th will also mark the first time women are allowed to vote.
The Saudi monarchy has been widely criticized by international human rights organizations for a lack of equal rights for women. Saudi Arabia has also been heavily criticized by the absolute absence of freedom of speech and religion. It is the only country in the world where women are still not allowed to drive and must cover themselves in black from head-to-toe. Women must also ask a male member of the family to travel, leave the house, work, or marry.
Despite the many limitations caused by these patriarchal restrictions, the participation of Saudi women in politics is considered a step forward for women and for the defenders of women's rights. The municipal councils have limited responsibilities but also approve budgets, suggest planning regulations, and oversee urban and development projects.
Nouf al-Sadiq, a Saudi woman, believes that women's participation in politics "is an important step towards creating greater inclusion within society." Muna Abusulayman, another Saudi citizen believes that women's participation in politics "will bring a female point of view, demanding certain amendments to laws that are unfavorable towards women."
In 2011, the now deceased King Abdullah granted women some opportunities for political participation. In 2013, King Abdullah also issued a decree mandating the Consultative Council, a body that advises the King and the cabinet, be comprised of at least 20% women.
According to the Saudi electoral commission, about 7000 people are currently running for seats on 284 municipal councils. Only a small percentage of Saudi women so far have signed up to vote in elections. Of the total population of women, 131,000 women compared to 1.35 million or 10% are registered to vote in December this year.
Last night, dozens of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court for a candlelight vigil calling for an end to anti-abortion terrorism.
The vigil, hosted by Reproaction, included representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority Foundation, GetEQUAL, the National Council of Jewish Women, and others.
Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Mike Quigley (IL) joined the crowd and spoke of the need for abortion access and an end to the dangerous anti-choice rhetoric. Schakowsky recounted how she "has never seen such a blatant attack on women's health and women's reproductive rights on abortion."
Erin Matson, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction also gave an impassioned speech: "Anti-abortion terrorism and the tolerance to it in the United States - for far too long we've tolerated a poisonous rhetorical climate." Speakers called for a renewed dedication to ending clinic violence and urged activists to organize to preserve access to comprehensive women's healthcare, including abortion and birth control.
The vigil comes days after the shooting in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three and injured at least nine.
There will also be a Planned Parenthood-led national day of action on Saturday, December 5th. Stay tuned for details!
12/1/2015 - On World AIDS Day, PEPFAR Announces Partnership Targeting Infection of Young Women and Girls
Today, on World AIDS Day, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced it will partner with Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare to reduce AIDS infection of young women and girls globally.
According to PEPFAR, nearly 400,000 adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are infected with HIV every year. With the help of their private sector partners, PEPFAR hopes to achieve a 40 percent reduction in HIV infections women and girls in the 10 most vulnerable countries in sub-Saharan Africa by the close of 2017.
Launched in 2003, PEPFAR has trained 190,000 new health care workers, provided life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 9 million men, women and children and HIV testing and counseling for over 68 million people around the world. Over 13 years of service, more than 1 million babies have been born HIV-free.
"No greater action is needed right now to end AIDS than empowering adolescent girls and young women," said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Ambassador Deborah L. Birx in a statement Tuesday. "These new partners will bring innovative thinking and critical resources, which will prevent new infections and save lives."
Despite increasing threats for over one year and the tragic shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, clinics nationwide stay opened over the weekend and performed vitally necessary health services for women. The Feminist Majority had released a survey about anti-abortion clinic violence in early 2015 that showed a dramatic increase (nearly doubling) in the percentage of clinics experiencing threats and intimidation from a high of 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% of clinics in 2014.
This very high threat level appeared to only escalate after the July, 2015 release of highly edited videos fraudulently purporting that Planned Parenthood was "selling baby parts." According to du Vergne Gaines, Director of the FMF's National Clinic Access Project, "The Feminist Majority Foundation started to receive reports of an escalation in severe harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against abortion providers immediately following the launch of the smear campaign by the Center for Medical Progress this past Summer."
"Contrary to some media reports, the attack on the Colorado Springs clinic cannot be passed off as the act of a so-called 'lone wolf,' or an 'unstable' man who was 'off the grid.' This clinic was targeted on Operation Rescue's website "AbortionDocs.org" along with many other clinics and abortion providers," noted Kathy Spillar, FMF Executive Director. Operation Rescue's Leader, Troy Newman, is an officer of the Center for Medical Progress. Newman, for seven years, conducted a campaign against Dr. George Tiller who was murdered by Scott Roeder who, according to his trial testimony, had participated in Operation Rescue activities against Dr. Tiller.
"What little is known about the shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, raises alarm bells in his resemblance to other violent anti-abortion extremists. His anti-government views, survivalist life-style, and his history of violence, petty run-ins with the law enforcement, and use of illegal drugs - fit the profile of other extremists who have been convicted of murder and attempted murder of abortion providers," said Spillar.
"This lethal attack must be viewed with a lens also focusing on the nationwide campaign of threats and violence against abortion providers, in which nearly 1 in 5 women's health clinics have experienced severe violence in 2014," commented Eleanor Smeal, FMF president. "We cannot wait for another deadly attack before we start asking questions about the larger campaign of terror and violence against abortion providers. Rather than jumping to the conclusion of a lone wolf we must determine if this wolf ran in a pack. Quite simply, wolves normally run in packs and the amount of threats hardly could be carried out by one lone wolf," continued Smeal.
The Feminist Majority Foundation has led efforts nationwide for 28 years to keep women's health clinics open in the face of violence and intimidation. FMF's National Clinic Access Project monitors anti-abortion violence and works with local, state and federal law enforcement to prevent violence. FMF's annual National Clinic Violence Survey is the most comprehensive measure of anti-abortion violence and trends.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the hospital admitting requirement for Wisconsin abortion providers is unconstitutional.
The scathing 2-1 ruling states that this kind of targeted restriction on abortion providers is unconstitutional because it lacks any basis to suggest that it improves safety at clinics. In his decision, Judge Richard Posner (a Reagan appointee) dismantles the argument for implementing onerous anti-abortion laws under the guise of protecting women's health:
"Some of them proceed indirectly, seeking to discourage abortions by making it more difficult for women to obtain them. They may do this in the name of protecting the health of women who have abortions, yet as in this case the specific measures they support may do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion."
These laws, known broadly as targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP laws), have become common practice for conservative lawmakers looking to restrict abortion access without banning the procedure outright. Posner's opinion reinforces that the Wisconsin law "cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women's health," adding that the evidence of health benefits for women is "nonexistent."
A similar case will be heard by the Supreme Court next year. Whole Woman's Health v. Cole challenges two provisions of Texas' omnibus abortion law, known as HB2. The first provision, which has already forced more than half of the clinics in the state to close, requires providers to secure hospital admitting privileges. The second provision forces clinics to fulfill costly, medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements. Should the Supreme Court rule that requiring hospital admitting privileges is legal, the 7th Circuit Court ruling would be overturned.
In the United States, women's groups join in the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This public awareness of the need to end sexual assault and violence, which is also rampant in the United States, is being marked by a massive social media campaign and global online vigil to ask President Obama to stand with women and girls raped in conflict. Currently, the Helms Amendment and the Geneva Conventions are being interpreted extremely narrowly by the United States government so that U.S. is not providing comprehensive humanitarian aid, including the provision of abortion, to victims of rape and conflict.
"We hear the cries for help from countless women and yet, the largest provider of humanitarian aid has turned a deaf ear to the cries from raped women seeking comprehensive reproductive health services, including the provision of abortion. This is causing unimaginable suffering and even death to women and girls around the world," says Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Afghanistan marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and begun participating in the worldwide 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which is being called in Afghanistan "Peace from Home to the World." During the launch day's event, which was attended by government officials, including First Lady Rula Ghani and women's rights activists, speakers expressed their commitment to ending violence against women.
First Lady, Rula Ghani gave a speech on ending violence against women and supporting women by stating that "war often leads society towards violence and this violence is in violation of human dignity. Women who have raised generations should be provided with a safe environment in which to live."
Ahmad Zia Massoud, the special envoy to President Ashraf Ghani, also pointed that violence against women in Afghanistan is a serious problem and obstacles in securing women's rights must be removed. "All of us should remove obstacles to secure women's right. Groups that want to use violence as a tool for their personal interest are horribly misguided."
President Ghani's message was read by presidential adviser, Malalai Shinwari, "the recent incident of a woman being stoned to death and the incident of a Ghor woman being lashed to death for running away from home shows graphically that we must fight violence against women."
The Minister of Women's Affairs Dilbar Nazari and other delegates said that although there had been some improvement in the country during the tenure of the past government and the current government, the problem of violence against women is very serious and instead of just issuing statements, government must take practical steps. "Currently there are cases of violence registered in Kabul and big violations in the provinces." She continued on the positive note saying "there are many women seeking justice for women victims." In other words, a large Afghan women's movement is seeking an end to violence against women and growing in numbers and influence.
One of the participants told TOLO News that, "what is important today is our officials showed their commitment to the fight against violence against women, which hopefully will decrease in the country." Other delegates argued that the National Unity Government needs to support women during this sixteen day period and put an end to the problem.
11/24/2015 - Rising Support for Women's Education in Afghanistan
A survey of the Afghan people by the Asia Foundation for 2015 found that 74% of Afghans support women's access to higher education. According to the report, women are also gaining more confidence in reporting domestic violence and are more aware of the justice system. The report revealed that "Afghan women are increasingly aware of their rights and aware of institutions to contact in a domestic conflict rural women are more likely than urban to turn to an organization that assists them if they have a family problem."
The report adds that "on the positive side, 2015 was a year of wins for women in Afghan politics: the cabinet now includes four female ministers and the government appointed two new female provincial governors."
In a traditional and conservative country like Afghanistan where men frequently decide for women and give women orders about what to do and who to cast their vote for, more women now know that they should vote for themselves. The Afghan people's survey of 2015 shows the courage of women to speak up for themselves and to express their views on voting for the person they deem better rather than being told by their male family member. According to the survey, 52% of women respondents and 48% of men said women should decide and vote for themselves. Although this figure has decreased from 58% for women and 54% for men in 2014 (an Afghan election year), there is an optimism that women are capable to make their ways and to not give up to the circumstances they are facing.
Women have also been making strides in the workforce. A higher percentage of Afghans reported the positive contribution of women to the household income. The number of Afghans has steadily increased from 13.6% in 2009 to 22.6% in 2015. The number of women contributing to the household income ranges from almost 65% in the Central parts of the country to 4.8% in other parts.
Although the survey shows progress in some areas, it has also highlighted some negative issues. For instance, the survey reports that the Afghan optimism about the overall direction of the country declined to the lowest point in a decade. 37% of respondents think the country is headed in the right direction, down from 55% in 2014. However, the analysis of the report also states that "it is a time of historic transition in Afghanistan, and the new government is inevitably grappling with simultaneous security, political, and economic challenges."
The report somehow justifies the low mood and adds, "Afghans are particularly concerned about security, and the proportion who fears for their personal safety is at the highest point in the past decade."
Unemployment is another problem highlighted throughout the report. Young Afghans have also been protesting in major cities demanding job opportunities. However, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is aware of the problem and has met with a group of young Afghans in his office last week. He spoke of the projects that will provide job opportunities to the young Afghans.
The Asia Foundation has been conducting the survey of the Afghan people for the past 11 years. This year's survey polled 9,586 Afghans, 49.4% of which were female respondents. The margin of error for the survey was +/-1.6%. The 939 expert Afghan male and female interviewers conducted face-to-face interviews in all of 34 provinces, representing 14 ethnic groups, including insecure and physically challenging environments. The total respondents of the survey consisted of 18% urban households and 82% rural households, which almost reflects the geographic composition of Afghanistan.
11/24/2015 - New Study Shows More Women Choosing LARCs
Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) is the "fast-growing" form of birth control in the United States, according to a new report released this month.
Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found of the 62 percent of US women using birth control between 2011 and 2013, 11.6 percent opted for LARCS with 10.3 percent choosing intrauterine devices (IUDs) and 1.3 percent preferring an implant. By contrast, only 6 percent elected to use LARCs between 2006 and 2010. In 2002, the percentage was even smaller with just 2.4 percent of women using LARCs. The birth control pill, however, still remains the most popular, accounting for 26 percent of all women employing contraceptives from 2011 to 2013. Meanwhile, alternate forms of contraception including sterilization and condoms trailed closely behind at 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
The benefits of LARC are undeniable. In the United States, nearly half of the 6.6 million pregnancies annually are unintended. With a failure rate of less than 1 percent, LARC methods, like the IUD, are regarded as the most effective forms of reversible birth control available today. In fact, pilot programs providing free LARCs for low-income women and teens, like that in Colorado, has seen measurable success, cutting the teen birth rate in half statewide over just five years.
LARCs have also proven the most affordable. Though the uninsured can pay upwards of $1,000 upfront for IUDs, the device makes up the cost over its 5-to-10-year use life. Fortunately, most employers (with the exception of those religiously-affiliated) are required to cover LARCs under the Affordable Care Act, putting them within reach of working women.
Kentucky's last remaining full-time abortion clinic has been vandalized twice in less than one month.
On the night of October 26, EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville suffered a broken window when an unidentified man bolted past protestors across the street and threw his body into the clinic's window. The clinic's executive director, Anne, who withheld her name for security reasons, said following the incident, the man walked away calmly, leaving the window in pieces. Just three weeks later on November 11, surveillance cameras captured a male perpetrator kneeling and praying in front of the clinic. According to Anne, forty-five minutes later, the man returned, this time with "a blanket over his head" and in a matter of minutes, hurled a rock through the office's window before walking away. Louisville police report the clinic sustained some $1600 in damage in the two incidents combined.
The twin incidents in Kentucky are the latest in a spate of vandalism and violence against women's healthcare providers nationwide, the most recent attacks occurring in the wake of the release of several fraudulent and surreptitiously-recorded videos by anti-abortion group the Center of Medical Progress (CMP). Last month, an intruder wielding a hatchet destroyed telephones and other office equipment in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Claremont, New Hampshire. In September, two clinic were set ablaze by arsonists in Washington state and California respectively. This summer, two clinics in Louisiana suffered property damage in separate incidents of vandalism and in March, trespassers destroyed security cameras and a power generator at Mississippi's Jackson Women's Health Center. CMP's so-called "sting" videos claimed to document the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, but have been debunked repeatedly.
For now, Kentucky's EMW have affirmed their commitment to providing reproductive care and abortions services to the women of Louisville. "We're not angry, we're not afraid, we're just really sad that the mentality out there isn't more understanding and compassionate for women," said EMW's Anne. "They're not going to intimidate us."
11/20/2015 - Spotify Announces Impressive Parental Leave Program
On Thursday, music-streaming service Spotify announced the launch of a broad parental leave program that includes six months leave for new mothers and fathers.
Effective immediately, the Swedish-born company is offering full-time employees time off with 100 percent pay, which can be broken up into three separate periods and taken within the first three years of a child's life (employees who become parents by birth, adoption or surrogacy are all eligible). The policy also extends to employees who became parents as far back as 2013. On top of that, the company is offering a one-month "welcome back" program where new parents can ease back into their work lives with part-time hours and the option to work from home.
According to a statement from Katarina Berg, Spotify's chief human resources officer, the parental leave policy was created with Swedish cultural values in mind. "This policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work/family balance, gender equality and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people that matter most in their lives."
Spotify joins a growing list of tech companies that have announced new parental leave policies in the last year, including Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft. Some have suggested that the wave of new policies reflects the age demographic of typical tech employees, who started working in their early-to-mid 20s and are now becoming parents.
Stateside, workers' rights organizations are applauding Spotify's decision, but caution that the U.S. remains the only developed nation in the world that does not offer federally mandated paid family leave to workers.
"This is great news for Spotify's employees, and a sign of the times that it joins several other companies in pulling their workplace policies out of the past," said Vivien Labaton, co-founder and co-director of Make It Work, in a statement. "But these kind of policy changes shouldn't just be happening in the tech industry. It's time for our elected officials to take notice and pull America out of the past. Paid family leave is a world standard, and it's time for America to stop failing its workforce."
Added Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work,
Our policymakers must take note. Company policies go a long way in influencing culture, and it's great that some companies are leading the way on this issue. However, these companies remain a small minority. We need a universal social insurance fund like the FAMILY Act so that every working American can both provide and care for their families new babies but also seriously ill loved ones.