Feminist Majority Honored Congresswomen and a Leading Women’s Health Advocate

The Feminist Majority Foundation and its 42 co-sponsors honored Congresswomen Louise Slaughter with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Barbara Lee and Donna Edwards with Fearless Trailblazer Awards, and Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and Founder of Whole Women’s Health with its Courage Award at the 2015 Women Money Power Summit.

The awards were presented before a packed ballroom at the National Press Club. The Summit is co-sponsored by 42 leading women’s rights organizations including National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, American Association of University Women, National Education Association, National Congress of Black Women, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York made history as the first woman on the powerful House Rules Committee and now as its ranking member. Congresswoman Slaughter a strong voice and fighter for reproductive and justice in Congress and Chair of the Prochoice House Caucus, reminded participants about the days of back-alley abortions. She emphasized that we must never go back to that time. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro paid tribute to Slaughter calling her one of the “great Titans in Congress.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee courageously fought against the Stupak-Pitts anti-abortion amendment to the Affordable Care Ac and recently introduced the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) to finally end the Hyde Amendment. She believes that there is “no option but to fight for women’s healthcare, for women’s rights, and the elimination of racism and sexism.” She encouraged the audience to advocate for what you want. Congresswoman Lee quoted her idol, Shirley Chisholm that “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

Congresswoman Donna Edwards served as the first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, an organization she co-founded. She also led the campaign to pass the Violence Against Women Act and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban. Congresswoman Edwards asked audience to be strong supporters of women. She raised an important point that “it takes women supporting women, making sure people know not only what we want, but what we demand.” Congresswoman Edwards said that “being fearless is about every single one of us standing up and making a difference.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller is the lead plaintiff in the legal challenge against the Texas TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) law that would reduce the number of clinics from 41 to 10 in the state, denying millions of women access to legal abortion. Advocates are waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court will hear Whole Woman’s Health constitutional challenge to the Texas TRAP law. Miller spoke of the importance of women’s health clinics to millions of women not only in the major population centers but also in the rural areas of the country.

The Summit featured sessions on maximizing the women’s vote, the rule of gender in election and advancing the feminist agenda. Featured speakers at the sessions included Avis Jones-Deweever, President and CEO of Exceptional Leadership Institute for Women, Kelly Dittmar a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, Barry Lynn, Executive Director at the American United for Separation of Church and State, E. Faye Williams, President and CEO of National Congress of Black Women, Terry O’Neil, President of National Organization for Women, Lisa Maatz, Vice President of Government Relations at the American Association of University Women, Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, Serra Sippel, President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.

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Black Girls and Women No Longer Invisible in Police Violence Cases

McKinney TX police officer Eric Casebolt’s violent attack on Dajerria Becton, a 15-year-old African American girl at a neighborhood pool party, which was captured on video, went immediately viral over the weekend.

There is little data on police violence toward African American women and girls, which, according to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) “There is a paucity of data in cases of police violence against Black women, which perpetuates the myth that they are not impacted by this problem.” Yet we know that 12 African American women were reported killed by police in 2014, and this is only what is currently known. There has been no systematic collection of these data.

AAPF, under the leadership of its Director and Founder Kimberle Crenshaw, a well-recognized UCLA and Columbia University Professor who developed the theory of intersectionality, has created a Black Women Police Violence Database, to which it is inviting the public to add their stories. Crenshaw and the AAPF released a report last month called “#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.” The report highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women.

By Tuesday, after of the publicity caused by the video, which was viewed more than 6 million times over the weekend, Casebolt resigned. The McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley called Casebolt’s behavior “indefensible” and “out of control.” In a statement, Conley said, “Our policies, our training, our practice do not support his actions.” No decision has been made if Casebolt will be prosecuted.

“Ex-officer Casebolt must face legal action for his violent, reckless action against Becton. Until more police officers are held accountable this out of control, violent behavior disproportionately against African American women and girls – as well as boys and men – will continue,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

“So far the public debate about police violence has centered on body cameras and training. But a central element has been neglected: police department recruiting and representation of people of color and women both on police forces and in police command positions.”

Of the 170 sworn officers in McKinney’s police department, 141 or 83 percent were white and 88 percent were male, according to 2013 data (the most recent that could be located). Only 16 officers or 9 percent were identified as white females. McKinney’s police department has only 1 African American woman. Four officers, or 2 percent of the force, were Latinas; 9 or 5 percent were African American males; and 16 or 9 percent were Latinos. Meanwhile the population of McKinney is 26.5 percent black, 17 percent Latina/o, and 44.6 percent white.

“The underrepresentation of women and people of color is a serious problem in one police department after another in our nation,” said Smeal, adding “For decades, the FMF National Center for Women and Policing has reported that the underrepresentation of women in policing and the lack of community policing is contributing to police brutality. Our nation must not only change the culture, but also the makeup of its police forces by gender, race, and ethnicity.”

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This Seattle High School Just Changed the Face of Birth Control Access for Students

A public high school in Seattle will now be offering services for its students to provide long-lasting birth control, such as IUDs or hormonal implants, at the school-based health center.

In 2009 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices as the most effective method of reducing unintended pregnancies for teens. The organization explained that these long-term and reversible methods are often most effective for young people as they eliminate “adherence and user-dependence from the effectiveness equation.” The ACOG also warned of the potential barriers to this care, such as the cost, especially for young people.

The Chief Sealth International seems to have figured out a way to make these options affordable for its students. Placement of these long-acting reversible contraceptives requires is often expensive and requires an extra visit to a clinic. Services are available at in-school health clinics in Washington, however, through a program called Take Charge, a Washington State Medicaid program that specifically targets minors seeking comprehensive contraceptive services.

For young people in Washington state who are seeking affordable birth control, but do not want their parents to know or otherwise do not have access to insurance, this is an affordable, attainable, and confidential alternative.

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Appeals Court Rules Abortion Ban Past 12 Weeks Unconstitutional

The eight circuit Court of Appeals just ruled an Arkansas abortion ban at 12 weeks of pregnancy as unconstitutional, permanently blocking this extreme abortion ban.

SB 134, which state legislators attempted to pass as a regulation, would ban all abortions past 12 weeks with very few exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies. The court ruled yesterday that this ban violated precedents set by the Supreme Court which uphold the right of women to choose to have an abortion before fetal viability. In the appeals court case, Dr. Janet Cathey, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist stated that viability is “generally not possible until at least 24 weeks.”

SB 134 was vetoed in 2013 by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, only to have his veto overridden by both houses in the state legislature. It was then struck down in federal court last year by US District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who also deemed the ban unconstitutional, stating that “it impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability.”

Today’s ruling affirms that safely and legally ending a pregnancy remains a protected constitutional right in this country,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Northup added, “Women should not have to run to court in state after state, year after tear to protect their constitutional rights from these politically motivated attacks.”

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#SayHerName Protests Take Place in California and Across the Nation

Dozens of topless protesters stopped traffic in San Francisco last week on the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls to protest the lack of national attention for black women killed by police brutality. The protesters blocked a popular intersection in San Francisco, California, with signs and body paint with messages like this one: “For the murdered, missing, silenced, abused, exploited, unseen.” Similar protests have happened in other cities across the nation. Chinyere Tutashinda, founding member of the BlackOut Collective and a member of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, explained the significance of protesting topless. “We also understand that we live in a country that commodifies black women and black bodies but ignores the death of black women and black girls.” Kimberle Crenshaw, director and founder of the African American Policy Forum, co-authored a report that was also released last week to coincide with the #SayHerName social movement called “#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.” The report highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women. Crenshaw, who is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University, explained that as a nation we have been focusing on the experience of Black men interacting with the police, but “what we know less about is how Black women experience police brutality.” Crenshaw praised the national dialogue surrounding highly publicized deaths of Black men over the past year, but says that there is more to be done to expand. “When [women] are killed,” says Crenshaw, “they’re not part of the conversation.” Crenshaw added in a press release “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. 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.” Hundreds of protesters also gathered in New York City last week, including the family members of Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, and Alberta Spruill, all of whom are Black women killed by police violence.

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Hillary Clinton Calls for Criminal Justice Reform and an End to Mass Incarceration

Hillary Clinton delivered the keynote address at the 18th Annual Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum today, addressing directly criminal justice reforms she would like to see to prevent another “incarceration generation.”

“It’s time the end the era of mass incarceration,” Clinton declared to much applause, citing statistics about the disproportionately higher rate of incarceration that black men in America face. Clinton called for massive reform for criminal justice, including creating or expanding probation and drug diversion programs designed to keep low-level offenders out of prison, drug treatment alternatives, and pursuing alternative options for mental health support.

“Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions,” Clinton said, calling for an end of budget cuts for mental health facilities and hospitals providing mental health services, as well as comprehensive treatment for mental health patients.

Clinton also directly addressed the uprisings happening in Baltimore following the mysterious death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody last week. “My heart breaks for these young men and their families,” she said, naming other unarmed black men who have been killed by police over the past year. She noted that the patterns of police brutality against black men in America “have become unmistakable, and undeniable.”

Clinton also quoted an article in USA Today, which wrote that between two Baltimore neighborhoods separated by only 6 miles, there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy. “We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” Clinton said. “These challenges are all woven together, and they all must be tackled together.”

An annual event, the Dinkins Leadership Forum held at Columbia University addresses “many of the challenging issues including education, the environment, labor, tourism, immigration and fiscal crises that successful and urban ecosystems must contend with.” Other speakers included David Dinkins, who served as mayor of New York City in the 1990s, and was the first and only African American mayor of the city so far.

You can read a full transcript of her speech here.

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Feminists Are Cheering on Hillary’s Presidential Bid

Hillary Clinton’s unique social media entrance to the 2016 presidential race dominated news Sunday and was received well by many – especially feminists.

Emily’s List, the National Organization for Women, and the Women’s Media Center were just a few of those who joined in the flurry of support for Clinton’s candidacy announcement yesterday through a video in which Clinton declared that “everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”

“Gender matters in the United States today,” President of the National Organization for Women Terry O’Neill wrote yesterday. O’Neill welcomed Clinton’s candidacy, and said that her campaign “is a powerful message to girls that they can aspire to the highest office, and an equally powerful message to boys that women can be leaders on an equal footing with men.”

Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock endorsed Clinton as a “lifelong champion for women and families and the most qualified candidate to be president.” Emily’s List cited Clinton’s longtime commitment to women and families, mentioning her first job after law school with the Children’s Defense Fund.

The Women’s Media Center asked if the 2016 Hillary race would have the same sexist media coverage as her 2008 race. Indeed, Clinton’s campaign in 2008 was filled with comments on her age, looks, weight, and many other aspects of her life that were not raised for male candidates. The WMC, however, believes that women in roles of leadership and in the public eye are “crucial for continued progress.”

“From the days that she was the first chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession in 1987, to her days as First Lady when she declared at the United Nation’s 4th World Conference on Women that women’s rights are human rights, to her days as Secretary of State when she appointed the first Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Hillary Clinton has made women’s issues a priority,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. “It’s no wonder women are excited about not only the possibility of the first woman president, but also that this candidate is a woman who has given high priority to women’s issues from the very beginning of her career.”

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Afghan Woman Beaten to Death After Complaining to Mullah

Updated 4/6/2015 A 27-year-old woman who was falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran outside of a riverside mosque in a very poor part of Kabul, Afghanistan was brutally beaten and burned alive in March.

Shocking videos quickly spread on social media showing crowds of men surrounded by hundreds of onlookers assaulting the 27-year-old Farkhunda with bricks and sticks and repeatedly kicking her. The woman’s body was then thrown onto the banks of the Kabul River and was burned. Farkhunda’s parents told the police that their daughter was mentally ill and that she had not committed the act intentionally.

It was later revealed Farkhunda, was a religion student who confronted the mullah of the mosque with charging poor people for writing tahwiz, or verses from the Koran to bring an individual good luck and keep the person safe. She reportedly complained to him that her tahwiz did not bring her good luck. The mullah allegedly initiated the attack on Farkhunda.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior confirmed from his official Twitter account that four suspects had been arrested in connection with the attack, and a report from Tolo News claims that the police have detained 9 men accused of killing and burning woman in Kabul. Kabul’s head of criminal investigation said that the officers fired into the air to try to dispel the crowd, but that they reacted too late. Human rights groups, however, have raised concerns about whether enough was done to stop the mob.

Afghanistan’s President Ghani denounced the actions of these men in a statement, saying that “no one has the right to take it upon themselves to act as judge and court, nor to commit violence against anyone for any reason.” He ordered an inquiry into the attack to be conducted by the interior ministry together with the Ulama Council – which oversees religious issues – and the leadership of the mosque.

“I would certainly hope the government would be trying to arrest and prosecute everyone who was involved and doing an internal investigation into whether the police response was appropriate,” said Heather Barr, a senior researcher for women’s rights in Asia for Human Rights Watch.

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Marriage Equality Has Officially Come to Alabama

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to stop a federal court ruling that requires Alabama state officials to recognize same-sex marriage rights, and, despite some objections, the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The order issued by the Supreme Court says it turned down an application to stay the decisions by the lower court in order to wait for justices to figure out among themselves whether the Constitution allows same-sex marriage. This action came only hours after Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered the state’s probate judges to not give any marriage licences to same-sex couples. Last month, District Court Judge Callie V. S. Granade moved last month to call Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. About 81 percent of Alabama voters in 2006 supported an amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Despite Moore’s order, Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some of which had been waiting in line for hours. One couple, Dee and Laura Bush, have been together for seven years and have five kids together. “It is great that we were able to be part of history,” Dee Bush told the Associated Press. She and Laura received their license, then walked over to a park where a minister was performing wedding ceremonies. Alabama is now the 37th state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court announced it would tackle the issue of same-sex marriage on a federal level. The Court will begin hearing arguments in late April, with a decision expected before the term’s end, which is in June.

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Michigan Lawmakers Want to Create Even More Extraneous Requirements for Abortion Providers

Lawmakers in Michigan have introduced this month yet another reporting requirement for physicians performing an abortion, with the specific aim of increasing the number of reported complications from abortion.

State Bill No. 27 is an amendment to a current abortion reporting law requiring physicians to report instances of infection, perforation, and other physical complications from abortions provided in the state. SB 27 would add “allergic response” and “anesthesia-related complications” to the list of complications that physicians performing an abortion must report to the state.

Anti-choice group Right to Life of Michigan claims the bill is necessary, citing the 2014 reported rate of complication as “unrealistically low” at 0.008 percent. Significant research has shown that very few women face medical complications resulting from an abortion.

Amber Truehart, a family planning fellow at the University of Chicago, says that adding allergic reactions and anesthesia complications will not increase the rate of complication by much as all. She says that politicians are unaware that it will increase the rate of complication, as allergic reactions and anesthesia complications are “very rare and very minor,” and this proposed bill “just speaks to the fact that [politicians] don’t understand the procedure.”

Other concerns about the bill include patient confidentiality. The existing bill states that the patient’s name or other “common identifiers” are not to be included in the report; however other personal information about the patient, such as age, race, marital status, town of residence, number of children, and more must be included.

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Activists are Helping Texas Women Cross State Lines for Abortion Care

With Texas on the verge of shutting down all but 8 of the state’s abortion clinics, activists are taking up a new method to increase access to clinics: bringing women across state lines.

Texas abortion clinics have been under attack in recent years, significantly reducing women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care, largely due to HB 2, the Texas omnibus anti-abortion law that has forced 80 percent of abortion clinics in the state to close. As a result, abortion rights advocates are increasingly helping women seeking an abortion travel from Texas to neighboring New Mexico.

“For a long time I’d had my eye on New Mexico,” says Amy Hagstrom Miller, the chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health. Although the closing of abortion clinics is far more common than the opening of new clinics, Whole Woman’s Health successfully opened a clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico last fall, just 50 miles away from El Paso, Texas. “Going into Las Cruces felt like a really smart thing to do on behalf of the women of west Texas and south Texas so that they could have an option no matter what,” Hagstrom Miller continued.

Organizations to help women afford the costs of abortion in Texas have also been in response to HB2. Some of them, such as Fund Texas Choice, are dedicated entirely to funding travel costs for women seeking an abortion in Texas. The organization funds bus or airline tickets, hotel stays, and expects the demand for their services to go up in the near future.

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Officials Say NAACP Bombing “Was Caused Deliberately”

A bomb went off near a Colorado Springs, Colorado, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Wednesday morning.

The FBI called the incident intentional, according to the Los Angeles Times. The homemade explosive went off outside the building, which caused damage to the NAACP chapter’s offices as well as a barber shop also located inside the building.

“There was smoke everywhere, the building on the side was burnt,” a witness told KDVR, a local news station. According to FBI spokesperson Amy Sanders, an improvised bomb was placed against the outer wall of the building next to a gasoline can, which didn’t explode with the bomb. At 10:45 AM local time, witnesses heard a loud boom. No one was killed or injured as a result of the bomb.

Many suspect the incident was a hate crime, though this has not yet been confirmed. “It has also not yet been determined if the motive was a hate crime, domestic terrorism, a personal act of violence against a specific individual, or other motive as there are numerous individuals and entities tied to the building in the vicinity of the explosion,” Sanders said in an email to the Los Angeles Times. If the bomb was purposely targeted at the NAACP, it would not be the first time the organization has faced violence since it was founded in 1909.

The FBI along with its Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are conducting an investigation of Wednesday’s incident, though FBI officials said the explosion “was caused deliberately.”

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Washington, DC Breaks Barriers for Women

Our nation’s capital is making feminist history. As of January 2, Washington, DC is being led by a trio of trailblazing women, two of whom are women of color, making it the only city in the US where the mayor, chief of police, and school chancellor are all women.

Muriel Bowser, the second woman to be elected as Mayor of Washington, DC, announced last week that she will be keeping top DC leaders Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. After the announcement, the Washington Post referred to Bowser, Lanier, and Henderson as “DC’s Matriarchy.”

“How fitting for the nation’s capital to have three women in charge, women who have gotten things done in this city for years,” said Bowser. “We want to the whole world to know we are a city on the move.”

Police Chief Lanier has lived an inspiring and difficult life that has undoubtedly contributed to her leadership, perseverance, and understanding of the problems of poor people struggling to make their way. She dropped out of high school at 14 after becoming pregnant, and supported herself through two master’s degrees before joining the police force. Kaya Henderson, who has been DC schools chancellor since 2011, is widely credited with the rapid and sudden progress of DC public schools.

Furthermore, Bowser nominated Polly Donaldson as director of the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. An out lesbian and expert in affordable housing, Bowser calls Donaldson “a person with a proven track record and proven leadership.”

And we cannot forget, in Congress, the District of Columbia is represented by delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Norton is a strong voice in Congress for women’s rights, civil rights, economic justice, and statehood for the District of Columbia.

With this collection of impressive female leadership, Washington DC can boast of a feat no other city can claim.

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New FMF Study Finds Nationwide Increase in Public Single-Sex K-12 Education Despite Evidence it Increases Sex Stereotyping and Sex Discrimination

Deliberate sex segregation is on the rise in public K-12 classrooms across the country, despite evidence that it is often illegal and educationally unsound.

Tuesday, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Program released a second multi-year study “Identifying US K-12 Public Schools with Deliberate Sex Segregation.”

According to the new study, there has been a 24 percent increase in public coed schools with single-sex academic classes since the period covering 2007-2010. In the first FMF study, there were 564 public coed schools with single-sex academic offerings. That number jumped to 699 in the new study, with a slightly larger increase in the number of all-female and all-male public schools. The number of single-sex schools jumped 29 percent, from 82 schools to 106 schools by 2012.

South Carolina, Florida, Texas and North Carolina had the most public coed schools with single-sex classes. New York and Texas had the most all-girl and all-boy schools.

The FMF study also found that more of the single-sex academic classes were for male students than females, however, the number of all-girl schools exceeded the number of all-boy campuses.

Most of the coed schools with single-sex academic offerings are middle and high schools.

“We are concerned that the numbers of single-sex K-12 public education programs are growing despite increased evidence that they are legally and educationally unsound,” says Sue Klein, Ed. D., Education Equity Director for the FMF. “This growth is of particular concern because schools with deliberate sex segregation often serve a predominantly African American and/or Latino student populations in urban areas. Only 35 percent of coed schools with single-sex academic classes had a 75 percent or higher white student population,” Klein said.

Writing for the fall 2013 issue of Ms. Magazine, Susan McGee Bailey wrote that the data supporting the persistence of single-sex education “have not withstood scientific scrutiny.”

“Rather than offering a hoped-for fix to problems of low student achievement, single-sex instruction has failed our students and encouraged school districts to risk breaching both Title IX and the 14th Amendment”s Equal Protection Clause,” Bailey wrote.

While federal law mandates that public school single-sex education must be voluntary, the new FMF study found that almost none of the schools provided information on their websites about the nature of, or justification for their single-sex environment, leaving parents and students without adequate information to make informed decisions about their child’s participation in a deliberately sex-segregated setting.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued long awaited guidance for K-12 schools interested in offering single-sex classes while staying in compliance with federal laws barring sex-based discrimination.


Take Action!

The new study contains lists of 805 public K-12 schools with intentional single-sex settings by name and state. Help FMF take the data further:

  1. Do the schools on the above lists in your state still practice deliberate sex segregation?
  2. Are there other public schools that should be added to the lists?
  3. Are schools with sex segregation violating any of the equity principles in the December OCR guidance or other review criteria such as the FMF suggestions for evaluations?

Please share what you learn with FMF’s Education Equity Director, Sue Klein at sklein@feminist.org

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March on Washington to End Police Violence This Saturday

The families of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and Reverend Al Sharpton will be marching in Washington, DC tomorrow to call for an end to police violence.

A coalition of civil rights groups led by Reverend Al Sharpton at the National Action Network organized the “Justice for All” march, which will begin at Freedom Plaza at noon on Saturday, December 13, and proceeds down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The Justice for All march, announced on Wednesday, is not expected to have record-setting numbers, but to make a strong national statement in support of street demonstrations nation-wide. Charter buses, however, are coming from many cities and states across the east coast.

Those participating in the march are calling on Congress to take legislative action to combat racial profiling, and police discrimination and violence. For more information on the march and how to get involved, visit the National Action Network’s webpage.

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Warren and Pelosi Fight Spending Bill

The US House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion, 1603-page spending bill late last night, 219-209. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led the fight against passage, asking if Congress was representing Wall Street or representing the people. She said the bill represented “the worst of government for the rich and the powerful”. The bill contains a provision that weakens the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act by easing restrictions on banks, which ultimately contributed to the financial debacle of 2008.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took to the floor to denounce the bill saying members were being blackmailed to pass the measure in the closing hours of the session with the threat of a government shut-down. The bill was passed within 3 hours of the deadline.

The bill contains many provisions impacting millions of people. It includes the Hyde Amendment, which bans spending federal dollars on abortion, and it includes provisions spending $5 million and upwards to $12-15 million more for ineffectual and harmful abstinence-only education. But it also contains level funding for the Teen Pregnancy Initiative which covers comprehensive family planning education at $101 million.

One of the most controversial aspects of the legislation is that it includes language that could result in cuts to pensions for millions of retired workers under the age of 75 years and even minimal cuts to those over 75.. It allows cuts to multi-employer underfunded pensions plans usually sponsored by employers and unions. It allows the plans to cut benefits well before they reach insolvency. The teamsters claim that one of the proposed revisions could save UPS $2 billion. Some pensioners could lose as much as a half to two-thirds of their pension.

This pension cutting provision is supported by both Democrats and Republicans and some unions and employers. AARP and the Pension Rights Center among other advocacy groups opposed it. Karen Friedman, the pension rights center policy director, warned “this sets a precedent for cutting social security and senior employer plans.”

A provision having nothing to do with government spending was included allowing wealthy individuals to increase their contributions to national political party committees from a maximum of $97,200 in 2014 to possibly as much as $777,600. Calculations differ, but the increase is substantial, giving more power, as if they needed it, to wealthy donors. The citizens united Supreme Court decision, allows individuals to give to non-profit independent expenditure campaigns unlimited secret funds. One can argue this provision provides more power to political parties in fighting groups like the Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity.

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Senate Blocks Military Justice Improvement Act

The Senate denied a vote for the Military Justice Improvement Act yesterday, blocking the act for the second time this year.

A bipartisan group of senators approached the senate floor yesterday to push for the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Gillibrand was hoping the Act would be added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, but said that she will push for it as a stand-alone bill, and is even prepared to urge President Obama to take executive action. The bill is hoping to combat recently released data from a Pentagon report showing little progress over the past year in preventing sexual assault in the military, making it easier for survivors to report assault, and eliminating retaliation for those who do report. The bill fell short of being passed by only five votes earlier this year.

The MJIA would move the decision to prosecute military sexual assault outside the chain of command and give it to trained, independent professional military prosecutors. “The Department of Defense has failed on this issue for over 20 years now,” Senator Gillibrand said yesterday, “and the data shows they still don’t get it.” She continued “Why should our service members enjoy a lesser standard of justice and fairness than you and I, whose freedoms they risk everything to protect?”

The need for reform was emphasized by Col. Don Christensen (Ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force, who called the current process an “ineffective, broken system of justice,” that “undermines the military I love.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) agreed, saying “What we’re doing now is not working.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who led the objection to the bill, said he feared that it would undermine the authority of commanders in the military, although Sen. Gillibrand clarified that this bill would only affect the top 3 percent of commanders.

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Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal Responds to Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

The following is the statement of Eleanor Smeal, the Founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation:

“The Feminist Majority Foundation is outraged at the decision not to indict Darren Wilson.

This should have been a public trial. Wilson should have been charged immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown, who was shot at least six times and left unattended to in the streets of Ferguson for at least four hours.

If Brown, who was an unarmed Black teenager, can’t get justice when the entire world is watching, how can any other Black person expect to receive justice if shot by a white police officer?

If this was an isolated case it would still be an atrocity, but it is not. There is a pattern and practice of police brutality against people of color in the United States, especially against Black women and men. Let us not forget the 13 Black women who were raped and sexually assaulted by an on-duty Oklahoma City police officer. In just the last two weeks, 2 more Black women, Tanesha Anderson and Aura Rosser, were gunned down by officers in Ohio and Michigan, respectively.

Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor in the Brown case has never indicted any police officer involved in any shooting and chose to slow walk this case. He used a secretive grand jury, instead of charging the officer and allowing this to be a public trial.

This is a grave injustice. The failure to hold a public trial disrespects the African American majority in Ferguson that peacefully demanded transparency. The Black community’s legitimate grievances have been disrespected. Instead, Ferguson and Missouri have acted with a militarized response from day one, until today when the Governor has called out both the National Guard and declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the decision.

We urge the Prosecutor to honor his word to release all evidence produced in front of the Grand Jury. Now more than ever, the Department of Justice Civil Rights investigation and action is needed as soon as possible.

Ferguson has put the nation on edge because this is not simply about Ferguson, but it is about a broader US experience of a culture of impunity surrounding members of law enforcement in dealing with African Americans and Latinos. “There is now testimony from a large coalition of American citizens representing Black constituencies from not only Ferguson, but also Chicago, Miami, Ohio, and other areas with the United Nations Committee Against Torture to classify this pattern of excessive police force as a form of torture in the United States, not only on the street, but also in prisons.”


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Federal Appeals Court Rejects Priests for Life Challenge to Birth Control Coverage Rule

In a victory for women’s health, a unanimous panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Friday rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive coverage benefit brought by Priests for Life, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington and other religiously affiliated non-profit organizations.

Judge Nina Pillard, a former law professor who was nominated to the DC Circuit by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in December, wrote the opinion for the Court, which found that the ACA birth control benefit did not substantially burden or violate non-profits’ religious freedom.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies must cover the full cost of all FDA-approved contraceptives – including the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception – without requiring co-pays or cost-sharing. Religious employers, like churches, are entirely exempt from this requirement. Religiously affiliated non-profit organizations that object to providing birth control coverage to their employees, are entitled to an accommodation. These non-profits must only inform their health insurance issuer, third party administrator, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of its objection. At that point, these organizations are no longer required to play a role in providing or subsidizing birth control. The insurance issuer or third party administrator would be solely responsible for providing birth control benefits to affected employees.

The DC Circuit panel found that this accommodation – which the plaintiffs in Priests for Life claimed would violate their religious beliefs – put no substantial burden on religious non-profits exercise of religious freedom.

“All Plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they believe and seek what they want via a letter or two page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations” compliance with law in the modern administrative state,” wrote Judge Pillard. “Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms.”

The fact that others may provide contraceptive coverage to these religious non-profits’ employees did not mean that the non-profits were aggrieved under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). According to the Court, there is “no RFRA right to be free from the unease” of knowing that third parties may “act in ways their religion abhors.”

The decision also pointed out that the religious accommodation provided the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest – namely, ensuring women’s health and providing to women the equal benefit of the preventive care coverage guaranteed by the ACA. Judge Pillard specifically noted that “The contraceptive coverage requirement derives from the ACA’s prioritization of preventive care, and from Congress recognition that such care has often been modeled on men’s health needs and thus left women underinsured.”

Directly after the ruling, Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life indicated that the group would continue to challenge the law. “The court is wrong,” he said, “and we will not obey the mandate.”

The DC Circuit is the third federal appeals court to reject non-profits’ challenge to the accommodation. This decision is the first appeals decision since the US Supreme Court decided Burwell v. Hobby Lobby this summer. The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with 12 other national and local organizations, joined an amicus brief, submitted by the National Women’s Law Center in support of the birth control benefit rule in the DC Circuit case.

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Oklahoma City Police Officer Charged With 36 Counts of Sexual Assault Will Go to Trial

After a two-day preliminary hearing, an Oklahoma state court judge ordered that Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, will stand trial for sexually assaulting 13 African-American women while on duty.

Holtzclaw is charged with 36 counts of sexual assault, including six counts of first-degree rape, and multiple counts of forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, and indecent exposure.

During the hearing, all 13 women gave testimony against the police officer, who is alleged to have used his power as an officer to commit these crimes. One woman testified that she was forced to perform sexual acts: “It was either that or the county jail.” Another woman testified, “He was an officer. And I was scared. And I knew he could hurt me.”

A 17-year old girl also offered testimony that Holtzclaw, after threatening her with arrest, pulled down her shorts and forced her to have sex with him on the front porch of her mother’s home. “What am I going to do? Call the cops? He was a cop,” she testified. “I was afraid of what could happen to me if I was snitching.” Prosecutors introduced DNA evidence found inside of Holtzclaw’s pants matching that of the girl.

Another woman testified that Holtzclaw stopped her as she was walking through her neighborhood. The 52-year-old said the officer put his hands under her blouse, and when she resisted, he put his hand in her pants. After this, she said Holtzclaw told her, “OK, you don’t have anything in there. You can go.”

Police began investigating Holtzclaw after one of the survivors reported an assault in June. The other 12 women had not reported Holtzclaw until they were contacted by detectives investigating the June assault. Many of the women feared reprisal or that they would not be believed.

“Who are they going to believe?” the 17-year old told the court. “It’s my word against his. He’s a police officer.”

In their written testimony to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Black Women’s Blueprint referenced the Holtzclaw case as symptomatic of a larger pattern of practice among law enforcement officials in the US that most often plays out in communities of color. In their report, they highlighted that despite the fact that black women and racially-mixed black women are more often the victims of rape than their white counterparts, they are much less likely to get a conviction for a sex crime.

Holtclaw has pleaded not guilty. He remains out on $609,000 bail. During the hearing on Tuesday, protesters outside of the courthouse called on the court to rescind bail.

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