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An independent United Nations human rights expert called on the U.S. this month to stop the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.
Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, referenced the Angola Three in his remarks condemning the practice. The Angola Three refers to three inmates sent to solitary confinement in Louisiana's Angola Prison after the killing of a prison guard. Robert King spent 29 years in solitary before he was exonerated and released. Herman Wallace spent more than four decades in solitary before he was granted a new trial and released at age 71. Wallace died shortly thereafter from liver cancer. Albert Woodfox, who maintains his innocence, is still incarcerated.
"The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola Three clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the US penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law," said Mendez.
Mendez has asked to visit U.S. prisons in California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania, but has not been able to schedule the visits, which must be cleared by the U.S. State Department as well as the state governors. Solitary Watch estimates that across the US there are around 80,000 prisoners being held in some form of solitary confinement on any given day. California in particular currently holds around 11,000 prisoners in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades (Watch a video here). Prisoners are held for around 22 hours per day in tiny cells with no sunlight. If their stay is prolonged, they may experience many adverse psychological effects, including high rates of self-mutilation and suicide [PDF].
Mendez this week briefed the UN General Assembly's Third Committee--it's main social, humanitarian, and cultural body--that solitary confinement should never be indefinite or prolonged for any person. He also emphasized that under no circumstances should minors, people with mental disability, or pregnant or breastfeeding women be kept in solitary confinement.
In addition to the U.S., Mendez plans to visit several countries to investigate their prison systems, including Mexico, Thailand, and Georgia, among others.
Online marketplace Etsy is currently under fire from activists for allowing a shop, called "FyourT," to sell T-shirts that make light of and encourage rape. One shirt read, "Autumn is perfect for date rape," and another read, "I'm a sensitive guy. I only rape pregnant women."
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) created a petition on Change.org to remove the shirts yesterday afternoon. It has over 5,000 signatures today and continues to gather more.
"What we're really trying to do is striving to change the way Americans think about sexual violence," said Katherine Hull, a spokesperson for RAINN. "We've been using social media to encourage our supporters to take a stand against these t-shirts and against sexual violence."
Etsy has removed the shirts, but the shop remains open with other offensive and sexist items.
Facebook is similarly facing criticism for allowing users to post graphic images and videos of violence against women. A video of a woman being beheaded by a man in a mask has recently made the rounds on the social media site. While some people shared it to criticize the violence, others did so to glorify it.
Facebook decided to pull the video only after receiving complaints that they need to do more to protect children and teenage users. It wrote in a press release about some changes it will make to protect users from this kind of content: "When we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence."
However, BBC reports that at the time of their investigation into the matter, there were still other beheading videos on the site without any warnings to viewers. In addition, some people still question why Facebook's policies allow for graphic violence to be shown, but ban images of a woman's "fully exposed breast."
Kansas judge James Beasley heard oral arguments Tuesday on whether to dismiss a protection order that an abortion clinic director filed against anti-abortion extremist Mark Holick.
Julie Burkhart, director of the South Wind Women's Center in Wichita and executive director of Trust Women, an organization dedicated to protecting women's access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, won the temporary protective order in March against Holick, the Wichita regional director of extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. As reported in Ms., Holick distributed WANTED-style flyers with Burkhart's picture and home address on them, and in February 2013 he positioned a large sign at Burkhart's home, which she shares with her husband and young daughter, that said "Where's your church?" - interpreted as a reference to the 2009 assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church. Burkhart had worked closely with Dr. Tiller and considers him a mentor. Burkhart's clinic is located in the same building that housed Dr. Tiller's clinic, and Holick has said that he meets and corresponds with Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who murdered Dr. Tiller.
Holick argues that his behavior is constitutionally protected free speech.
"Anti-abortion extremists using violence, stalking, and threats should not be able to hide behind the first amendment," said Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "These intimidation tactics must end."
Anti-abortion protestors are also using free speech arguments against a Massachusetts clinic buffer zone law. Buffer zone laws have been enacted - and constitutionally upheld - in several states and localities to protect doctors, patients, and clinic staff from anti-abortion intimidation and violence. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this term whether the Massachusetts law is constitutional.
Virginia Attorney General and current candidate for Governor Ken Cuccinelli recently filed a summary of his tax returns, revealing that he has given over $4,000 to crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) in the past few years. Crisis pregnancy centers have been found to purposefully use inaccurate medical information, false statements, and emotional manipulation to dissuade women from receiving abortion care.
Cuccinelli gave $1,340 to a Manassas-area CPC called AAA Women for Choice, and he helped them raise an additional $4,000 by letting them raffle off a Gadsden flag that he had autographed. An investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia found that employees at AAA Women for Choice incorrectly informed visitors that abortion could cause infertility and breast cancer, gave misinformation about surgical abortion, and told one woman that the decision to have an abortion would "haunt" her for the rest of her life. The AAA Women for Choice website, however, does not reflect its anti-choice practices. The website misleads online visitors by listing abortion as an option for pregnant women.
Cuccinelli also gave $2,678 to Divine Mercy Care, the fundraising component of the pro-life medical center Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, and $20 to EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, an organization that runs CPCs in New York City and has been found to tell patients there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.
Cuccinelli's support for crisis pregnancy centers goes beyond individual charitable giving and into the realm of politics. As a state senator, he amended a bill to make the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles offer "Choose Life" license plates to drivers. Each time a license plate is purchased, $15 is donated to a CPC. Since the plates have become available, they have raised $223,000 for state CPCs. As the state's attorney general, Cuccinelli has also tried to prevent a women's health clinic's appeal of unnecessary and onerous TRAP regulations from proceeding in court. The regulations have already forced two clinics to close.
The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today about whether state law permits same-sex couples to marry in the state.
Currently, the state's law is silent on the issue. As a result, some counties in the state have allowed same-sex couples to marry, while others have refused. To date, same-sex couples have married in eight of the state's 33 counties, and at least two judges have upheld marriage equality under the state constitution. Over 900 marriage licenses have been issued across the state, but some Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition.
A group of same-sex couples represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and several local attorneys sued in March after initially being denied marriage licenses. A New Mexico judge ruled in favor of the couples in September. Thereafter, the New Mexico Association of Counties, joined by every county clerk, requested that the New Mexico Supreme Court immediately review the decision in order to settle several open cases around the state.
Although the Court has not expressed when it will make its decision, it will allow same-sex marriages to continue pending the outcome.
A recently released report from the Guttmacher Institute reveals that births resulting from unintended pregnancies cost federal and state governments $12.5 billion in 2008 - but without current publicly supported family planning services, those costs would double to $25 billion.
According to the report, the "authors warn that chronic underinvestment and ideological attacks on the programs and providers that make publicly supported family planning services accessible to millions of women have been counterproductive," actually causing increases in public spending. The authors recommend that "substantial new public investments in family planning services and comprehensive sex education" would help to reduce the $12.5 billion in public costs.
Mississippi had the highest percentage of publicly funded unplanned births at 83 percent. This is the same state that expanded abstinence education in March 2011.
The Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of former state Attorney General Phill Kline for launching a fraudulent legal prosecution against Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita abortion provider. Tiller was murdered in May 2009 - shortly after being acquitted of all charges - by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.
Over the course of six years, Kline had subjected Dr. Tiller and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park to a baseless and politically motivated criminal investigation and prosecution, in which Kline alleged that Dr. Tiller had performed illegal abortions and failed to report the sexual abuse of minors who had sought abortions. Over 100 criminal charges were filed in all. A jury found Dr. Tiller not guilty of all charges against him. All charges against Planned Parenthood were also dismissed or dropped.
In 2010, disciplinary proceedings commenced against Kline for professional misconduct related to his investigation and prosecution of Dr. Tiller and the Planned Parenthood clinic. Among the charges against Kline were mishandling patient medical records, misleading the court, misrepresenting the law, disobeying a court order, and providing false testimony.
The Kansas Supreme Court found that Kline had committed 11 violations of the rules of professional conduct and had breached his duty to the public by engaging in dishonest conduct. The Court also found that Kline had acted with a selfish motive, had exhibited a substantial pattern of misconduct, and had refused to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his actions.
Appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show after the decision was rendered (Watch here), duVergne Gaines, Legal Coordinator of the National Clinic Access Project at the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the decision to suspend Kline "a moment of justice." Gaines later commented, "The damage caused by Kline's personal vendetta against Dr. Tiller was significant because it contributed to a climate of extremism that helped lead to Tiller's murder. Kline's unethical prosecution provided a veneer of legitimacy to anti-abortion zealotry."
"The murderer Scott Roeder thought the injustice was that Dr. Tiller wasn't convicted," said President of the Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal, "but the real injustice was that Tiller was tried at all."
As Attorney General, Kline had subpoenaed medical records of 90 women and girls who had sought late-term abortions. The court issued the subpoena but directed the redaction of patient-identifying information. Shortly thereafter, Kline lost his reelection bid for state Attorney General and went on to serve as the Johnson County District Attorney. It was later revealed that Kline had the medical records, which were in the possession of the state Attorney General's office, copied for his use as District Attorney, without receiving approval from the court. The medical records were also not kept in a secure location - copies were kept in a staffer's apartment - and Kline directed staff to prepare handwritten "summaries" of medical files that contained specific information about each patient. In addition, Kline used other records subpoenaed for his investigation to identify patients by name.
Phill Kline is currently a law professor at Liberty University, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
10/22/2013 - First Gay Pride March Held in Montenegro's Capital
About 150 people participated in the first gay pride march held in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, on Sunday.
Violence threatened to mar activities as 1500 anti-gay protesters rioted, throwing rocks and firebombs at police officers who were attempting to keep the peace. Two thousand police officers were on duty for the march. Officers responded to the protesters with teargas and other means. About 60 officers and rioters were injured. No marchers were reported to have suffered any injuries.
Despite the show of opposition, march organizer Danijel Kalezic, head of Queer Montenegro, saw the gay pride march as a positive step. "We were up against enormous challenges but we did it," Kalezic told Al Jazeera. "From this day we are no longer invisible. This was the first Pride and every year there will be more and more of us."
The march was the second gay pride event to be held in the country. A previous march, held in the coastal town of Budva in July, was interrupted by violence and protesters yelling "kill the gays." Anti-gay extremists also threatened a march organizer, posting fake death notices with the organizer's name and photograph on public buildings. Violence forced organizers to shorten the route, but several marchers were injured.
10/22/2013 - Texas Voter ID Law Took Effect Yesterday
A restrictive voter identification law took effect in Texas yesterday - the same day that early voting for the state's November 5 elections began - despite an ongoing lawsuit by the Department of Justice to stop it. The law will require Texans to show one of a narrow list of acceptable government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. The list includes expired gun licenses from out of state, but does not allow voters to present student IDs or social security cards.
These laws are enacted under the guise of protecting against voter fraud--which is extremely rare--but in reality they strip voting rights from students, women, people of color, and low-income voters who are less likely to have an eligible ID.
In an Op-Ed for MSNBC, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine discussed how the war on voting is part of the war on women. "Given the potential impact of minority voters in the next election, and the persistence of a gender gap in voting that tends to favor progressive candidates, Republican-controlled state legislatures have resorted to using voting laws to dilute the voices of women and people of color," they wrote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice [PDF], 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.
10/21/2013 - Same-Sex Couples Marry in New Jersey
Dozens of gay couples across New Jersey are holding wedding ceremonies and applying for marriage licenses today as the state becomes the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. Mayors began officiating weddings this morning at 12:01 AM.
"We are very excited that now, finally, we get to marry," New Jersey resident Allen Kratz, who plans to marry his partner of 28 years on Thursday, told Reuters. "I know some political leaders think it's too soon. But civil rights always come too soon for those in a position of power and never soon enough for those who have been denied, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The state's Supreme Court ruled Friday against a request by Governor Chris Christie to delay a lower court's September ruling allowing gay marriage until the top court could hear the state's appeal and make a final decision. "The State has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today," wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."
The earlier ruling stated that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law, and that gay marriages could start on October 21. It is the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of United States v. Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman in June.
The state's appeal of the ruling was scheduled to be heard by the state Supreme Court in January, but Christie dropped the legal challenge after the Court issued its decision allowing marriages to proceed.
10/21/2013 - Shackled Pregnant Woman Receives Settlement
An undocumented woman who was shackled before and after giving birth in Tennessee will receive $490,000 in a settlement and now has the prospect of a U-visa.
Juana Villegas, a mother of four - all U.S. citizens - who moved to the United States from Mexico in the 1990s, was arrested in 2008 after she failed to show a driver's license during a traffic stop in Nashville. She was detained for being in the United States illegally by police officers who had immigration enforcement powers as part of a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program - called the 287(g) program - that allows local police departments to question people about their immigration status and detain them until ICE can take custody.
Villegas gave birth only three days after her arrest and was taken back to the jail without her newborn son. She was not allowed to use her breast pump in the jail, and she developed a painful breast infection.
Villegas filed a lawsuit in 2009 asserting that her eighth amendment rights to protection from cruel and unusual punishment were violated. In 2011, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in Villegas' favor on the basis that the officers were deliberately indifferent to her medical needs, but the government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN appealed. A dispute over the amount of damages was making its way through court when officials decided to settle.
Villegas will receive $100,000 from the settlement and the rest will go to her lawyers. The U-visa she may receive is usually reserved for victims of crime, but the judge said it was in order because her civil rights were violated. It will allow her to live and work legally in the country for four years and apply for permanent residency in her third year.
Other families in similar situations have not been as lucky with the legal system. Approximately 5.5 million children in the U.S. have an undocumented parent, and about 4.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government deported over 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children. The Applied Research Center has estimated that there are at least 5,100 children living in foster care whose parents have been either detained or deported, and in counties with 287(g) agreements - like the kind operating in Villegas case - children in foster care were about 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported parent than in other counties.
Davidson County has since discontinued the 287(g) program, and the Obama administration has reduced it nationwide after criticism by immigrant advocate groups.
10/18/2013 - Nearly 30 Million in Slavery Worldwide
The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based organization, released its first Global Slavery Index Report Wednesday estimating 29.8 million people live in various forms of modern slavery worldwide.
Ten countries account for 76 percent of the total number of slaves. India has the most slaves in total - some 14 million people - nearly half of the world's slavery population. China and Pakistan have the second and third largest enslaved populations. Mauritania has the highest number of slaves per capita. Slaves in Mauritania are treated as property inherited by previous generations, "masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants," according to the report [PDF].
Although the greatest numbers of slaves are found in Asia and Africa, modern slavery - defined as forced labor, human trafficking, and treatment of individuals as property to be bought, sold, or destroyed - exists on every continent. The United States, for example, has an estimated 57,000-63,000 enslaved people.
"It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent," said Nick Grono, CEO of the Walk Free Foundation. "This is the first slavery index but it can already shape national and global efforts to root out modern slavery across the world."
The Walk Free Foundation intends to update the Index every year. The report also looks at government response to slavery. The analysis includes an examination of the criminal justice response, victim services and support, government accountability, budget allocation, and the strength of targeted responses in vulnerable populations, like migrant workers or workers in the informal economy.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Malawi government launched a new national campaign to promote condom use among young people as an HIV/AIDS prevention measure.
HIV prevalence among people aged 15-49 in Malawi is at 10 percent, according to the Malawi 2012 Global AIDS Response Progress Report [PDF], with higher prevalence rates among women than men. HIV prevalence for young people with multiple partners is around six percent. The government attributes the problem, in part, to low condom use. The campaign therefore aims at increasing public awareness of condoms and combatting perceived stigma around using condoms.
Although aiming to increase condom use, the UNFPA and Malawi government announcement did not address a major challenge to HIV/AIDS prevention in that country - low condom supply. The Malawi government has previously indicated that condom shortages and stock-outs have impeded efforts to control HIV.
Persistent condom stock-outs in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of all people living with HIV reside [PDF], have long been a problem recognized by international experts. In 2011, Carolyn Ryan, MD, MPH, Director of Technical Leadership at the U.S. Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator called the problem "really quite disturbing," as condoms are a major tool for HIV prevention. Lack of condoms can be attributed, in part, to inadequate donor support from the international community and the influence of conservative religious ideologies on international family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.
A new study by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley reveals that 52 percent of fast-food workers are forced to enroll their families in public assistance programs to get by, costing American taxpayers almost $7 billion annually.
Funded by Fast Food Forward, the report shows that fast food workers in front-line positions, like cooks, are enrolled in public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at more than twice the rate of the overall workforce.
"This is the public cost of low-wage jobs in America," said UC Berkeley economist Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics. "Yet it remains hidden in national policy debates about poverty, employment and public spending."
The fast food industry is a $200 billion-a-year industry, but most jobs pay at or near minimum wage, and only 13 percent of jobs provide health benefits. The low wages and benefits, combined with an average workweek of only 30 hours, contribute to the need for public assistance--although even full-time fast food workers working 40 hours per week or more have to turn to assistance programs.
On top of that, two-thirds of fast food workers are adults over the age of 20, with 68 percent acting as the main wage earners in their families, and a quarter raising at least one child. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are women, and 43% are black or Latino.
The report was based on an examination of industry workers not in management positions who worked at least 10 hours per week for at least 27 weeks a year between the years of 2007 and 2011. It comes at a time when fast food workers around the nation are campaigning for $15 hourly wages.
A new report by the Southern Education Foundation reveals that for the first time in 40 years, a majority of public school students throughout the Southern and Western United States are low-income.
The analysis is based on the number of preschool through 12th-grade students who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year, which requires that a family of four earn no more than $40,793 annually to qualify.
Around 48 percent of the nation's 50 million public-school students qualify for the program, but the number reaches 53 percent in southern states and 50 percent in western states. Mississippi has the highest percentage, with 71 percent of students in the state qualifying for the meal program. In contrast, 25 percent of New Hampshire students qualify.
Low income students are more likely than students from wealthier families to have low test scores and dropout of school. While programs have been implemented over the past few years to improve education, such as No Child Left Behind, they focus too much on standardized test scores and teacher accountability, leaving poverty and its detrimental effects on academic performance unaddressed.
"We have an education system that continues to assume that most of our students are middle class and have independent resources outside the schools in order to support their education," said Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. "The trends and facts belie that assumption. We can't continue to educate kids on an assumption that is 20 years out of date. We simply have to reshape our educational system."
The report explains that the 2008 recession likely contributed to the growth in the number of low income students, especially in areas where the housing markets and local economies collapsed, but there has been a steady increase in the number of low income students for a longer period of time.
10/16/2013 - Personhood Measure Will Be on Colorado's Next Ballot
Anti-abortion activists have collected enough signatures to include a "personhood" measure on Colorado's next state ballot in November 2014, even though Colorado voters have twice rejected personhood initiatives.
This latest initiative will appear on the ballot as Amendment 67. It is worded misleadingly, not mentioning the word abortion. The measure would amend the definition of "person" and "child" in the Colorado Criminal Code and Wrongful Death act to include "unborn human beings." Supporters claim that the measure will help pregnant women get justice if crimes committed against them cause them to miscarry. However, Colorado already has a law, the Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act, that addresses that very issue.
Women's rights activists worry the language in Amendment 67 could lead to investigations of any woman who has an abortion or miscarries. "The 2014 ballot initiative, again, has slightly different language than years past in an effort to deceive the voters," said Cathy Alderman of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. "But it has the same dangerous outcomes which would lead to more government intrusion in our personal lives, including: getting into our medical records to investigate miscarriages, dictating the kinds of birth control we use, and interfering with medical decisions made by women with their doctors in treating fertility problems."
North Carolina has suspended its welfare program, called Work First, because of the government shutdown. The program is funded through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
On Monday, social service agencies in North Carolina stopped processing all new applications for Work First because funds are expected to run out in November. Those who are already registered will still receive assistance through October.
Until the government shutdown ends, future assistance is up in the air for the 20,709 state residents in the program, 6,948 of whom are parents of dependent children and 13,761 of whom are children living with someone other than a parent.
North Carolina is the first state to suspend its welfare program. No state has received federal funding under TANF since October 1.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on Friday that will ban employment discrimination against victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, effective January 1.
The law, SB 400, would prohibit an employer from firing or "in any manner discriminating or retaliating against an employee because of the employee's status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking." The law entitles victims to reasonable safety accommodations and procedures in the workplace, like changing a work phone number or implementing a safety plan.
The bill was introduced after teacher Carie Charlesworth was fired when her abusive husband came to her school's parking lot and the school had to go into lockdown.
Economic constraints often contribute to a victim's decision to stay in abusive relationships, so helping them keep their jobs will allow some victims to leave the relationships sooner. "I commend the Governor for signing this bill, which protects victims from job loss and discrimination at a time when they most need support and a steady paycheck," said the bill's author, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), in a statement. "Victims will no longer fear losing their livelihoods and being re-victimized in the workplace because of the actions of their abusers."
Only six other states and Puerto Rico have discrimination protections for victims, and only thirteen mandate that victims can take leave without getting fired to seek medical attention, recover from injuries, obtain legal assistance or counseling, or access other forms of assistance related to their abuse. A federal law providing these protections was introduced in March by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California).
A woman was forced to give birth on the lawn of a medical clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, after the clinic refused to administer her care.
Irma Lopez, of indigenous Mazatec ethnicity, walked an hour from her home to deliver her third child at the Rural Health Center in the village of San Felipe Jalapa de Diaz. Even though Lopez was reportedly fully dilated, a nurse refused to provide care, saying she was "still not ready" to deliver and that she should go outside. The health center's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, continued to refuse care while Lopez and her husband tried for two hours to get help. Irma eventually was forced to give birth to her third son, alone and without the aid of pain medication, on the lawn of the clinic.
A witness took a photo of Lopez squatting on the lawn in pain, her baby still attached at the umbilical cord. "The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care," said Mayra Morales, Oaxaca's representative for the national Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. "They are not being offered quality health services, not even humane treatment."
Although health officials say Irma and her son are in good health, Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest, most rural states where many women die of hemorrhaging or preeclampsia. According to the World Health Organization, hemorrhage and other complications of delivery are leading causes of death in Mexico, and women in rural areas and indigenous women are at greater risk. Mexican states with the highest indigenous population have the largest rate of maternal death by a wide margin.
The Oaxacan government suspended the health center's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, and officials are conducting state and federal investigations.
10/15/2013 - Nationwide Immigration Reform Protests Continue
A wave of protests have swept the nation as immigration reform activists grow frustrated with the slow progress of immigration reform.
Protests have been held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Washington, among other states. Most recently, a group of demonstrators in Tucson, Arizona locked themselves to the tires on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus taking people to Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is a federal program that apprehends immigrants crossing the border, sentences them to jail time, then deports them, often in one day. The program has deported at least 70,000 people and has been criticized as unconstitutional by the Warren Institute at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.
During a rally last Tuesday in Washington, DC, eight members of Congress were arrested in in an act of civil disobedience. The Congress members joined thousands of activists in blocking the streets near the National Mall to send the message to lawmakers to act on immigration reform. The Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June, but Republican House leaders have not scheduled floor time for immigration bills, and have previously been unwilling to consider it.
Women are especially at risk if the current immigration reform plan dies. Among other positive changes, the reforms will, for example, double the number of U-visas--reserved for people who have been victims of crime in the U.S. and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement--from 10,000 to 20,000, and expand their scope to include victims of workplace abuse. U-visas provide a lifeline for undocumented women stuck with abusive partners, who may threaten to report them to police or withdraw their sponsorship petition. In the past three years, all 10,000 available U-visas have been used.
10/14/2013 - Shutdown Threatens to Halt Rape Kits in DC
Victims of rape in Washington, DC may soon be unable to get sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits, often called rape kits. DC's budget is under federal control, so if the federal government's shutdown continues much longer, some of the city's necessary programs--including those intended to help rape victims--may be temporarily discontinued due to lack of funding.
After an assault or rape, a victim can go to the hospital for an exam, where forensic nurses collect DNA, photographs, and other forms of evidence that may be used in court. Timeliness is important to collect all of the evidence possible. "If we don't have funds, no rape kits get done, there's no medical forensic exam," said Heather Devore, executive director of DC Forensic Nurse Examiners, one of two groups that make up the DC Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program (SANE). "It's especially important because we know that DNA degrades quickly; we only have a short time in order to obtain this evidence."
Victims also receive the services of an advocate who helps them through the exam process and with any other administrative, employment, or housing issues that may arise--crucial assistance that will not be available if funds run out.
The organizations that conduct rape kits are currently running on a contingency fund provided by the DC government, after Melissa Hook, director of the DC Office of Victims Services made the case to the city administrator that rape kits and exams should be deemed essential. The funds are expected to last only through the end of October.
Domestic violence programs all over the nation are also threatened by an extended government shutdown. Many domestic violence shelters and crisis centers rely solely on funding from the federal Office on Violence Against Women. The shutdown means that organizations that receive federal grants cannot request payment or draw funds.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona could not require individuals to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, passport, tribal identification, or naturalization documents, in order to register to vote in federal elections. In response, Arizona joined Kansas last week to set into motion a costly plan to create a separate voter registration system, with separate ballots, for state and local elections.
The creation of two separate voter registration systems could translate into thousands of disenfranchised voters. Ninety percent of the 31,000 voter registration applications that were denied after Arizona adopted Proposition 200, the initiative requiring proof of citizenship, belonged to U.S. citizens. Nationwide, as many as 13 million Americans do not have ready access to proof of their citizenship. Many racial minorities, students, elderly, and poor individuals do not have the types of government-issued identification documents being required by Arizona. In addition, as many as 34 percent of American women, who often change their names after marriage or divorce, do not have a government issued ID that reflects their current name. These documents can be costly and difficult to obtain.
Arizona Proposition 200 passed in 2004, requiring all individuals to provide proof of citizenship when they registered to vote in the state. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, however, that with respect to federal elections, the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires states to use a uniform federal voter registration form, controls, not the Arizona law. NVRA does not require documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. The federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) creates federal voter registration forms. States can ask the EAC to approve state-specific instructions on the form, like proof of citizenship. Arizona had requested that the EAC approve its proof-of-citizenship requirement in 2005, but the EAC took no action on the request and Arizona did not challenge the EAC in federal court. In making its ruling, the Supreme Court indicated that Arizona could reapply to the EAC to approve its proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Both Arizona and Kansas are now suing the EAC to be able to amend their voter registration forms to require proof of citizenship for both state and federal elections.
In a victory for the Falls Church Healthcare Center, a Virginia women's health clinic that provides abortions, an Arlington County judge ruled last week to allow the clinic's appeal regarding targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws to move forward in court. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is currently running for state Governor, had tried to have the appeal dismissed, but the judge ruled against him.
At issue was whether the Virginia Board of Health and Cuccinelli would be required to participate in a hearing about allegations that the Board violated an executive order by Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell's order requires state agencies to consider how regulations impact small businesses and to make alternative options available.
The TRAP regulations in question have a detrimental impact on abortion clinics, imposing high costs for unnecessary structural and operational changes, and very little time to adhere to them. Examples of changes required by the regulations include making additional parking available, replacing existing ceilings, and adding showers to all facilities for staff members. The regulations have already forced two Virginia clinics to close since they went into effect in June. It would cost the Falls Church Healthcare Center over 60,000 dollars to adhere to them, according to its Director, Rosemary Codding.
The clinic's appeal also claims that a hearing would show that Cuccinelli pressured the board to drop a "grandfather clause" exempting existing facilities from the new regulations.
About 30 supporters of the clinic attended the hearing in the courtroom, and around 75 attended a lively rally before the hearing outside the courthouse.
Today marks the International Day of the Girl - a day to highlight, discuss, celebrate and advance girls' lives and opportunities across the globe. For the first time ever, girls will convene at the United Nations for a Speak Out, organized in partnership with the Working Group on Girls, that will give participants the opportunity to share with governments and UN agencies how girls are creating change in their communities and discuss how the international community can support girls' efforts.
The Speak Out comes at the end of 11 Days of Action organized to draw attention to girls' particular need and concerns. As part of this campaign, Girls Learn International, a project of the Feminist Majority Foundation, initiated a photo challenge to celebrate and highlight the importance of the International Day of the Girl (IDG).
The United Nations declared October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child in 2011 to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to improve girls lives. The goals of IDG, explained in The Girl Declaration, include improving the education, health, safety, economic security, and citizenship of child and adolescent girls. The theme for this year is "Innovating for Girls' Education."
You can watch the day's events live
10/11/2013 - Unpaid Intern Not Protected From Sexual Harassment
A New York federal court ruled that a woman cannot sue the broadcasting company where she interned for sexual harassment because she was unpaid.
According to the court's memorandum and order, the former intern, Lihuan Wang, sued after an incident that occurred in January 2010 when she was a 22-year-old Master's Degree student at Syracuse University interning with Phoenix Satellite Television U.S. in New York. Wang's direct supervisor, Zhengzhu Liu, based in Washington, DC, had invited Wang and her co-workers to lunch. Liu asked Wang to stay afterwards to discuss her work performance. After getting her alone, Liu asked Wang to come with him to his hotel room so he could drop off some personal belongings. In the car ride to the hotel, Liu made sexual comments that made Wang extremely uncomfortable. When they arrived at the hotel, Wang attempted to talk more about her internship, but she alleges that Liu instead asked her to name her most beautiful feature and told her her eyes were beautiful. When he asked her to go to his hotel room, Wang went, explaining to the Court that she felt uncomfortable but compelled to go because he was her supervisor. In the hotel room, Liu removed his shirt jacket and tie, put his arms around her, held her tightly, tried to kiss her by force, and squeezed her butt. She pushed him away, saying "I don't want this," and she quickly left the room.
After the incident, Wang, a Chinese citizen, alleges that Liu no longer expressed interest in hiring her permanently once she completed her Master's Degree. Liu started emphasizing that he could not sponsor her to work with them because there was a "visa quota." At the time, Liu supervised both the Washington, DC and New York City bureaus of Pheonix. He exercised complete authority over the hiring, termination, and interviewing of all employees and interns.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Wang was not protected from sexual harassment by the New York State Human Rights Law or New York City Human Rights Law because she was unpaid. The Court explained that like Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the state law required that interns receive remuneration, like compensation or benefits, to be protected.