Pentagon Launches Largest Ever Military Sexual Assault Survey

The Pentagon is conducting its largest-ever report of sexual assault in the military this year, with over half a million active-duty troops being called on to submit responses.

The report, to be conducted this year, will be issued online to all 200,000 active-duty servicewomen and 300,000 servicemen.

The Pentagon hired professional Rand Corp to create and distribute the poll in the hopes of getting more responses than ever before. “Rand’s survey methodology will allow the department to accurately compate data among all previous surveys so that we can semlessly asses progress the department is making in preventing and responding to the crime of sexual assault,” says Army Major James Brindle, a spokesperson for the Pentagon.

“Great care was taken to obtain a representative sample,” says Rand Corps spokesperson Jeffrey Hiday, who added that the survey will not exclusively be about sexual assault.

The US military faced massive criticism in 2013 in the wake of a report on sexual assault which revealed an increase of unreported sexual assaults from 19,000 in 2010 to over 26,000 in 2013. A separate report released at the same time showed an increase of 6 percent in reported sexual assault cases. The 2013 report sparked outrage on Capitol Hill, where President Obama held a conference to urge officials to take charge and assigned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “step up our game exponentially” in both preventing sexual assault in the military and charging those responsible.

The Rand report is part of a requirement made by President Obama in 2013 for a full-scale report on progress made to eradicate military sexual assault by December of this year. The President has fought to end military sexual assault throughout his term, most recently in January when he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which expanded efforts for sexual assault prevention and strengthened victim protections. Efforts to curb the military sexual assault epidemic have floundered in Congress, where legislators remain split about whether or not to remove prosecution of sexually violent crimes from the chain of command.

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Boko Haram Claims Kidnapped Chibok Girls Will Be Released Monday

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria’s military are reportedly negotiating the release of the nearly 300 young women and girls who were abducted by Boko Haram more than six months ago, ostensibly bringing an end to six months of activist efforts calling for their return.

An adviser to President Jonathan, Hassan Tukur, told Voice of America that President Jonathan and the self-described “secretary-general of Boko Haram,” Danladi Ahmadu, have been in talks in Saudi Arabia regarding the over 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group in April. The President of Chad, Idriss Deby, and high-ranking Cameroonian officials have also been party to the dialogue.

Although videos released by Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau indicated that they intended to sell the girls into slavery and hold them until members of the group were released from prison, Ahmadu said the girls are “in good condition and unharmed.” A spokesperson for Boko Haram claimed the girls will be released Monday in Chad.

Initial reports of the girls’ disappearance were met with inaction by the Nigerian government, which sparked acts of resistance in Nigeria and eventually spurred the viral – and global – #BringBackOurGirls campaign. In the United States, activists staged protests and rallies calling for government support to help locate the missing girls. Ultimately, President Obama announced that he had dispatched a team of military and law enforcement agents to the region, but although the Nigerian army announced in May that they had located the girls, they remained missing months later, over 100 days after their abduction. As activist and media attention waned, advocates and the families of the abducted were frustrated and angered by the failure to rescue the girls.

“As far as our girls are concerned, they have been abandoned,” Mkeki Mutah, uncle to two missing teens, told Al Jazeera prior to the news of the neogitations. “There is a saying: ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Leaders from around the world came out and said they would assist to bring the girls back, but now we hear nothing. The question I wish to raise is: ‘why?'”

Even so, optimists have pointed to Boko Haram’s release of 27 hostages last weekend as evidence the tide could turn in favor of parents and loved ones who have come to fear the worst. Last Saturday, the wife of Cameroon’s Vice-Prime Minister, Akaoua Babiana, and 10 Chinese workers were among those released. That group was taken captive during two separate raids in May and July. How or why the group was set free is unknown, but to date, of the 276 captured over 180 days ago, far fewer have been so fortunate.

Of the young women and girls abducted in April, 57 successfully fled. Late last month, a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram in early April from her dormitory was found roaming a small village. The 20-year-old was pregnant and “in a state of extreme trauma.” 15 young Chibok women who managed to rescue themselves from Boko Haram were granted scholarships to continue their studies made possible, in part, by Nobel Prize winner and champion of girls’ education, Malala Yousafzai. This summer, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also announced government-sponsored scholarships to support the young women’s return to school by improving infrastructure, telecommunications, and community engagement to decrease the risk of comparable attacks and create a model for school safety in conflict zones.

The freed are encouraging thousands of other girls – who’d stopped attending school for fear of Boko Haram – to bravely resume their studies.

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Paycheck Fairness Act Advances in the Senate

After Republicans filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) earlier in this session, the Senate has now voted 73-25 to allow the bill to move forward to a debate.

The public overwhelmingly supports equal pay for equal work, but for far too long Senate Republicans have refused to allow a floor vote on a modest bill that will enable women workers to discuss their pay with co-workers, provide stronger tools to fight sex discrimination in wages, and grant the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) power to collect pay data from employers by sex and race.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is long overdue. Women – now some 50 percent of the workforce – deserve better.

Today’s vote allowed the PFA to clear one hurdle. Now, the Senate must act to move the bill to an up or down vote. The House must also pass the PFA in this session, and President Obama – a strong supporter of equal pay – must sign it, for the Paycheck Fairness Act to become law.

The House Republican leadership still has not scheduled the PFA for a vote in this session.

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BREAKING: Fifth Circuit Blocks Texas TRAP Law Provision!

WASHINGTON – The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel’s decision Friday striking down parts of a Texas anti-abortion law.

The court deemed unconstitutional a provision of House Bill 2 that would have required Texas abortion clinics to meet the stringent building code requirements of ambulatory surgical centers – a provision that would have caused most of the state’s remaining clinics to close.

“A woman’s constitutionally-protected right to seek out a safe and legal abortion should not hinge on the width of a doorway,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “Access to abortion and birth control is under attack across the nation. No other outpatient service has been made to adhere to these medically unnecessarily and harmful requirements. We will not rest until women’s access to constitutionally-protected reproductive services are available to all women. These TRAP laws, if allowed to go into effect, will surely cost some women their lives.”

“We are pleased Judge Yeakel once again recognized this law for what it is – an unconstitutional burden on the rights of women and abortion providers in Texas,” said duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project.

“We commend abortion Texas providers like Amy Hagstrom Miller for continuing to fight against these relentless, unconscionable and unconstitutional attacks. Women’s lives are on the political cutting board.”

Today, Judge Yeakel rightly acknowledged the “undue burden” the requirements would have placed on the shoulders of women seeking safe and legal abortion services in Texas. In just over a year, HB 2 has effectively reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state from 41 to barely more than a dozen. Across the nation, TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws like HB 2 are undermining women’s access to truly comprehensive reproductive health care.

The first stages of HB 2 went into effect in November 2013 and severely restricted women’s access to abortion. The bill currently prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, requires doctors to obtain hospital-admitting privileges and, as of September 1, would have required abortion clinics to spend millions of dollars in unnecessary renovations to meet the surgical center requirements.




J.T. Johnson: (office) 703-522-2214 | (cell) 202-681-7251 |

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Advocates for Youth, Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Generation Launch

WASHINGTON, DC — Advocates for Youth (Advocates), Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), and Planned Parenthood Generation (PPGen), a project of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, are joining forces for an exciting new national civil engagement campaign – the 2014 Youth ShowOUT!

In 2014, young voters will do more than just turn out – they will ShowOUT! Youth leaders are educating their peers, registering voters, participating in voter pledge drives, volunteering, and more. Young people are at the helm of lasting change in our country. They are taking charge and becoming part of the political process.

“The Feminist Majority Foundation is proud to join Youth ShowOUT,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Young women have much at stake in this election – access to abortion, birth control and comprehensive health insurance, pay equity, ending violence against women, comprehensive immigration reform, and equal rights. Our organizers on college campuses throughout the country will help to ensure that student votes are not suppressed and that young women and people of color, who have been traditionally targeted for suppression, are heard at the ballot box.”

“No person in our country should face barriers in accessing health care, exercising their right to vote, marrying the person they love, or pursuing other fundamental rights,” said Kelley Robinson, Assistant Director of Youth Organizing, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Planned Parenthood Generation is a movement of young people across identities and issues that advocates for their generation to change the world. We must work together and strive to develop strong leaders with the spirit and determination to move our country forward and show that we are a nation committed to fighting for and preserving equality for all.”

“Young people are an essential component of the rising electorate. Every day, nearly 12,000 young people turn 18 years old and become eligible to vote,” said Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth. “At Advocates for Youth, we know firsthand the power of young people is undeniable. There are tens of thousands of youth activists and leaders who are actively reshaping their communities and changing what politics looks like in this country. We have a responsibility to work alongside these young people as they lead us to new solutions and lasting change.”

More information is available at


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Taylor Kuether,, 703-522-2214

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Statement of Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal on Ferguson, Missouri

The following is a statement by our Founder and President, Eleanor Smeal, on the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Feminist Majority Foundation calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct a thorough, unbiased investigation into the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.

The killing of Michael Brown and the blundered, militarized response by law enforcement to the call for justice is a tragic reminder that in many African American communities across the nation, the police themselves can be a threat.

Given the distrust of the police by the local African American community, the close ties between the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and the police, and the fact that McCulloch has had no less than 5 close relatives who have worked on the local police force, the Feminist Majority Foundation calls on Governor Jay Nixon to reconsider his decision on appointing a special prosecutor to handle the criminal investigation.

Over the past 10 days, the African American community in Ferguson has demanded answers. They’ve demanded justice. There is still no arrest. One man is dead and his shooter free. People want to know why. But until recently, the protesters in Ferguson, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, have been met with tear gas, armored vehicles, rubber and wooden bullets, and rifles.

Ferguson, Missouri at night has looked like a battlefield with militarized police and national guard troops, and guns pointed at protesters. It is not surprising that this show of excessive force has failed to build trust in law enforcement and has failed to de-escalate tensions in the community. In this environment, the Governor must appoint someone independent to perform the investigation into this tragic shooting.

The Feminist Majority Foundation also supports the call from African American civil rights leaders, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, for implementation of a long-term, comprehensive police reform agenda that includes, among other things, the demilitarization of state and local law enforcement and the promotion of community policing. We also demand that the police incident report be released.

Police should reflect the communities that they serve. Increasing the number of African Americans in policing will go a long way in improving police response in communities of color. The sheer numbers tell the story in Ferguson. Although, African Americans represent 67.4 percent of the population in Ferguson, Missouri, they made up 92.7 percent of arrests in 2013 alone.

Research conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing also shows that increasing the number of women in policing reduces police brutality and the excessive use of force.

Make no mistake. Ferguson is not an isolated case. It represents a horrific pattern of discriminatory policing and excessive use of force against African Americans in this country. As feminists, as advocates for racial justice and non-violence, we cannot rest until all people – no matter who they are – can enjoy the right to life, liberty, and justice.

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Mississippi Attorney General Pushes Circuit Court to Close the State’s Last Clinic

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is asking the full US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reverse a panel decision that upheld a preliminary injunction of Mississippi’s TRAP law, allowing the state’s only abortion clinic to remain open.

Just weeks ago, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction barring implementation of HB 1390, Mississippi’s 2012 TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law that requires doctors to gain admitting privileges from an area hospital. Because HB 1390 would have effectively shut down the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), the last abortion clinic in the state, the Court ruled that the law placed an “undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right” of an individual to choose an abortion.

“Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state.” the Fifth Circuit panel said. “Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism – applicable to all fifty states – to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

The state of Mississippi, however, argues that this rationale is misplaced in the context of abortion. Hood is formally asking the entire Fifth Circuit Court – which handles cases in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas – to reverse the panel’s decision and allow the state to enforce HB 1390, arguing that the court’s decision contradicts a ruling issued by a different panel of Fifth Circuit judges in Texas. There, a three-judge panel upheld hospital admitting privileges, noting that despite the fact that the law made abortion inaccessible to some women in the state, abortion services were not completely cut off in Texas because of the admitting privileges requirement. The opposite, however, would be true in Mississippi under HB 1390.

Mississippi filed its request on Wednesday, just as a federal district court heard closing arguments in a second challenge to Texas’s admitting privileges requirement.

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Federal Judge Fails to Block North Carolina Voter Suppression Law

A federal judge on Friday refused to grant civil rights groups and the US Department of Justice a preliminary injunction against a North Carolina voter suppression measure, signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory last year. The law will now take effect for the November 2014 general election while the groups’ three consolidated lawsuits are pending.

The ruling by US District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, nominated by President George W. Bush, allows four provisions of the North Carolina voter suppression law, HB 589, to remain in effect: the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period, a prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct, and the termination of a preregistration program for 16- and 17-year-olds. The voter identification portion of the law was not specifically at issue in this ruling since it does not take effect until 2016.

“The right to vote lies at the hear of our democracy,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP. “Our movement against this voter suppression law is built on the legacy of those who have testified before us, with their feet and blood, to fight for equal rights in North Carolina and the nation. We will not falter in our efforts to mobilize until this extreme law is repealed.”

In his decision, Judge Schroeder found that the plaintiffs – which included the North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and many others – did not meet the burden for a preliminary injunction, but that the case should not be dismissed outright, as the state of North Carolina had urged the court to do. A full trial, also dealing with the voter ID provision, is scheduled for next year.

Voter suppression laws like the one enacted in North Carolina after the US Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder, specifically target voters of color as well as low-income voters, women, and the elderly. North Carolina’s voter identification provision is particularly restrictive for college students because student identification cards (including those issued by state-run universities) and out-of-state driver’s license will not be accepted – although military and veteran identification cards will be. African-American voters, Hispanic voters, and voters over age 65 are also less likely to have a government issued photo id, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, and many women do not have a government ID that reflects their current name. The elimination of early voting, same-day registration, and counting of provisional ballots in North Carolina are also expected to disproportionately affect voters of color who used these processes at a higher rate than white voters.

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Supporters March for Marissa Alexander in Jacksonville

Hundreds of supporters from all over the United States marched to the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, FL yesterday to demand that all charges against Marissa Alexander be dropped. Chants heard on the way to the Courthouse also underscored growing demand for State Attorney Angela Corey’s dismissal.

Free Marissa Now and Sister Song, Inc. are leading a week-long mobilization on Alexander’s behalf. The Standing Our Ground Week of Action kicked off Friday, July 25 and will continue through August 1. Satellite participants in the week of action have shown their support for Alexander using the #StandingOurGround and #SelfiesForSelfDefense hashtags.

Alexander, an African American mother of three, fired a warning shot after being strangled and threatened to death by her estranged husband in August 2010. A restraining order was in place at the time of the incident. Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, has a well-documented history of domestic violence against Marissa and other former partners. Alexander was once hospitalized because of injuries sustained in an incident with Gray. Nevertheless, Florida’s mandatory minimum sentence for “pulling the trigger during a crime” is 20 years. Alexander could face up to 60 years in prison for allegedly endangering Gray’s life and the lives of her two stepsons.

“Today, it’s Marissa. Tomorrow, it’s you. And yesterday, it was Trayvon,” said poet Staceyann Chin with Free Marissa Now. “We see this as a human rights violation against [Marissa’s] right to parent, against her bodily autonomy,” Monica Simpson, Executive Director of Sister Song, told WTEV-TV.

Last week, a judge denied attorneys’ requests to grant Alexander a new hearing under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. In June, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that includes warning shots under “Stand Your Ground,” but it will not retroactively apply to Marissa Alexander’s case. Free Marissa Now and Sister Song intend this week’s action to coincide with Alexander’s retrial, which was previously scheduled for this month. A Florida appeals court ordered a new trial for Alexander after finding the lower court had issued improper jury instructions on self-defense.

Alexander is now set to be retried in December.

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Women Just Won Big In Mississippi

Feminist Majority Foundation leaders are elated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a preliminary injunction against a Mississippi TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) law that would have closed the only abortion clinic in the state. FMF congratulates the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) for this important win.

“This is a major victory for the women of Mississippi and potentially for the women of the United States. The Mississippi TRAP law would have closed the only comprehensive women’s reproductive health clinic in the state and necessitated women driving hundreds of miles to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. For women who could not afford to travel out of state, this ruling literally saves lives,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who encouraged the founder of the JWHO, Susan Hill, to establish the clinic. Hill opened JWHO to ensure that low-income women in Mississippi could access a full range of reproductive health services.

“Although we celebrate this ruling,” continued Smeal, “we cannot rest until this law and all other TRAP laws are permanently struck down.”

DuVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project said, “As leader of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s clinic defense team, I am here in Mississippi, and we are elated by this federal appeals court decision today as well as with the local convictions yesterday of three anti-abortion extremists in Jackson City Municipal court for interfering with access to the Jackson clinic.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Mississippi state law requiring doctors at the only abortion clinic in Jackson to have admitting privileges at a local hospital was an unconstitutional burden on women’s right to choose an abortion. This decision means that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization will remain open despite state legislative attempts to make Mississippi an abortion-free state.

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UConn to Pay Over $1.2 Million in Sexual Assault Settlement

The University of Connecticut (UConn) will pay $1.28 million in settlement fees for a sexual assault lawsuit brought against the university by five sexual assault survivors.

The federal lawsuit was brought by five women after four of the women had filed complaints with the Department of Education (ED) alleging that UConn had mishandled rape cases and failed to take action on reports of harassment, in violation of Title IX. As part of the settlement, the women have agreed to request suspension of their ED complaints and not to make any disparaging statements against the university. UConn has not admitted any wrongdoing, and is not obligated to make any institutional policy changes as part of the settlement. The university has, however, created a new Special Victims Unit within the campus police department as well as an assistant dean of students for victim support services since the litigation was filed.

Despite the settlement, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will continue its UConn investigation, as three other current or former students – who were not plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit – had signed onto the original ED complaint. OCR is currently investigating 66 other colleges and universities to review their handling of sexual assault cases.

This case doesn’t even come close to being the first campus sexual assault case that has gotten media attention. Earlier this year, Michigan State University, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley and Penn State all went under investigation after student sexual-assault survivors filed charges.

In response to growing concerns about the handling of sexual assault on campuses, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was formed. Its first report was filed in April of this year. The report states that one in five women is sexually assaulted during their time in college, and calls for steps to be taken to prevent sexual assault: conducting surveys to assess the problem, engaging men in the fight against sexual violence, responding effectively when a student says they were assaulted, and making enforcement efforts more transparent.

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100 Days: Vigils Held To Support Rescue of Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

100 days ago today, more than 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram. This week, groups around the world are holding vigils to show that they have not stopped supporting rescue efforts and still want safety for these girls.

People from all over the world are joining together to voice their support for the kidnapped girls and to demand that child labor, child marriage, child trafficking, female genital mutilation (FGM), and other forms of abuse are abolished globally.

A list of vigils and Thursday’s moment of silence can be found at the Bring Back Our Girls Facebook page. The moment of silence is to show support for the rescue mission for the kidnapped girls.

“You can [observe the moment of silence] at work, at home or wherever it is suitable for you at a time of your comfort,” Bring Back Our Girls says on their event page. “You can do it yourself or with friends and family. Let’s again show the world and the girls that we care.”

At least 2 of the kidnapped girls have allegedly died, and several may be ill, the AP reports. The girls are still believed to be in the Sambisa Forest on the northeastern border of Nigeria. USAID has provided funding for counseling for the families of the abducted girls and for the girls who have managed to escape.

Eleven parents of the abducted girls have died since the kidnapping. Seven of them were killed by insurgents in attacks on a separate village. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who recently met with Chibok families, has made it clear he does not want to attack Boko Haram as a part of a rescue operation because it could be too dangerous for the kidnapped girls, and he also does not want to open up negotiations with the terrorist group.

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White House: Corporations Must Inform Employees About Refusal to Cover Contraception

The White House clarified on Thursday that closely held for-profit corporations refusing to provide contraceptive coverage will be required to inform their employees.

The clarification is a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. The decision allows closely held, for-profit corporations to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for contraception – a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – if the corporation’s owners claim that providing coverage would violate a sincerely held religious belief.

“We are making clear that if a corporation like Hobby Lobby drops coverage of contraceptive services from its health plan, it must do so in the light of day by letting its workers and their families know,” said a senior Obama administration official.

Just last week, a minority of Senators blocked a bill that would have reversed the Hobby Lobby decision and required all for-profit companies to provide contraceptive coverage as required by the ACA, regardless of owners’ religious objections. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act failed to gain the 60 votes needed to move to a floor vote, although it received the support of 56 Senators, including every Democrat and three Republicans: Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

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SCOTUS Decision On Wheaton College May Expand Hobby Lobby

In an unsigned order issued on Thursday, a majority of the US Supreme Court granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, ruling that the school does not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)contraceptive coverage benefit, prompting a severe rebuke from the three women Justices.

The decision comes on the heels of the Court’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations do not have to provide health insurance coverage of contraception if the owners of the corporation object on religious grounds. In Hobby Lobby, a majority of the Court determined that the ACA violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), noting that the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit was not the “least restrictive means” of obtaining the government’s goal to provide preventive health services to women. In reaching that conclusion, the Court cited the fact that the government had provided an accommodation to religiously affiliated non-profits who opposed birth control.

Now, however, the Court has signaled that the accommodation itself – which requires religiously affiliated non-profits to submit a form declaring that it objects to providing contraceptive coverage – may not survive.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, issued a blistering dissent of the majority’s opinion and of the Court on the whole. “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” she wrote. “Not so today.” Justice Sotomayor continued, “Let me be absolutely clear, I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened–no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be–does not make it so.”

Justice Sotomayor said the decision to grant Wheaton a temporary injunction “evinces disregard for even the newest of this court’s precedents and undermines confidence in this institution.”

The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services – including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs – without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted entirely from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. If the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.

122 non-profits have sued the Obama Administration, claiming that the self-certification form itself is a violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom.

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US Supreme Court upholds California gay conversion therapy ban

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that “gay conversion therapy,” which aims to change the sexual orientation of children under the age of 18, is within a state’s right to regulate and can therefore be banned. The Court upheld an August 2013 ruling by California’s Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated that “therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.”

The law’s sponsor, California state senator Ted Lieu, called the conversion therapy “psychological child abuse.”

“The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles,” Lieu said in an Associated Press story.

Opponents to the ban, primarily Conservative Christians, say the ban infringes on therapists’ right to free speech. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that because the ban covers professional activities including counseling and therapy by a licensed provider, it is under state jurisdiction and is not a threat to free speech. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern called the ban “a narrowly tailored, eminently sensible way to curb a dangerous, suicide-inducing practice that is condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association.”

New Jersey also has a ban on the controversial therapy. A challenge to the ban will be heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9. If the Circuit Court rules against the ban, the split decision among circuit courts may require the Supreme Court to revisit the issue, according to Time Magazine.

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Hobby Lobby Decision Values Corporations Over Women

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along rigid gender and ideological lines that “closely-held” corporations could not be required to provide health insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the corporation’ssincerely held religious beliefs — preventing employees who work for these companies from accessing certain FDA-approved contraceptives.

In a statement issued by the Feminist Majority Foundation, President Eleanor Smeal said the decision “not only deprives women of comprehensive healthcare, but it sets a terrifying standard in affirming the ‘personhood’ of corporations.”

Though the Court did not provide a definition of a “closely held” corporation (there are multiple state definitions), the Wall Street Journal reports that roughly 90 percent of all companies in the US are “closely held,” and according to a 2009 NYU research study, roughly half of all private sector employees work for such corporations. Most of these corporations, however, have no religious affiliation, so it remains unclear how many women will be affected by the Court’s decision yesterday. Currently, 30 million women have access to birth control without co-pays or deductibles because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Even as the Court decided that closely-held corporations could have religious rights protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the conservative majority minimized not only the importance of women’s health but also the goal of women’s equality.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito suggested that “gender equality” might be too “broadly formulated” to satisfy a compelling government interest that would justify the ACA birth control benefit. This downplay of women’s equality did not go unnoticed by Justice Ginsburg, who wrote, in dissent, that the government’s interest in “women’s well-being” is “concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence.” Justice Ginsburg also noted that in providing for contraceptive coverage for women without co-pays or deductibles, Congress was acting on the understanding – articulated in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) – that “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest delivered a statement on the Hobby Lobby decision yesterday, stating that “President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.” He continued, “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies . . . the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.” The White House is calling on Congress to take action to ensure that the women and employees affected by the Court’s decision will have coverage for contraceptive care.

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Obama Pledges to Sign Executive Order Protecting Transgender Federal Employees

At the White House annual LGBT Pride Month reception Monday night, President Obama reiterated his commitment to sign an executive order protecting transgender federal employees from discrimination.

President Obama told the crowd, “If Congress won’t act, I will.”He pledged that the Executive Order would include employees already protected on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal workplace, but it did not limit discrimination against employees on the basis of gender identification.

“Though this administration has previously interpreted existing law to cover transgender federal employees, updating the language of this executive order makes it 100% clear that transgender federal employees must be treated equally at work,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality stated.

Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) every term since it was first introduced in 1994. ENDA would protect people from discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Senate passed ENDA in November, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) opposes the bill and has yet to bring it to the floor.

Last week, Boehner announced his intent to file a lawsuit against the Executive Branch, alleging that the President is violating the Constitution by using the power of an Executive Order. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, the President called Boehner’s lawsuit “a stunt.” President Obama also announced his intent to address immigration reform by executive order.

The White House has not set a timetable for the non-discrimination executive order for transgender employees.

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Mississippi Freedom Summer Focuses On Fighting Voter Suppression

MISSISSIPPI – Two members of Feminist Majority Foundation’s campus team were in Jackson, Mississippi this past week engaging with social justice groups on the subject of modern-day voter suppression.

National Campus Organizer Edwith Theogene and Campus Communications Associate Taylor Kuether attended plenaries, workshops, and breakout sessions centralized around voting and labor issues as part of Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary conference at Tougaloo College. They joined 1500 conference participants from 23 states, including 500 youth participants.

Theogene and Kuether also represented Feminist Majority Foundation in the conference’s youth component, Freedom Summer Youth Congress. On Thursday, they trained a group of high school and college students to create student groups of their own, organizing around issues including voting rights.

Wednesday’s workshops and sessions heavily featured the issue of voter suppression, the very issue that incited a groundswell of grassroots organizing in the summer of 1964, or Freedom Summer. This year, rather than fighting for equal voting rights, the issue is reclaiming voting rights that were stripped away by the Supreme Court last summer. The Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted, with a slim 5-4 decision, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court declared unconstitutional Section 4 of the act that established the formula determining which states, primarily in the South, with a history of prior racial discrimination needed to obtain prior federal approval or preclearance before a change in the state’s voting laws could go into effect.

Hollis Watkins, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and National Chair of Freedom 50, spoke during a press conference about registering African American voters in the summer of 1964. “We gradually gave power not only to a few, but begin to spread the power among the masses of the people. When I say power, I’m talking about having the capacity to make things happen,” Watkins said. “One of the ways that this would come about would be through registering a lot of our people to vote.”

Derrick Johnson, Mississippi state president of NAACP, said a vote for every single person is imperative in the democratic system. “Voting is not about election cycles, it is about using our democratic currency,” Johnson said. “The voter ID law is similar to the poll tax; it prevents African Americans from being able to vote.”

Theogene attended for FMF a breakout session on Wednesday titled, “Voting Rights: ‘Our Southern Strategy Taking the Leadership,'” receiving further training in voter rights issues both current and historic.

“How do we live in this post-Shelby world?” asked Theogene, “In 1964 we fought so hard for the voting rights act, and last year it was gutted. We’re still fighting the same fight we fought in 1964. It may look different, but it’s not.”

“We need to use old strategies to inform new strategies,” said Theogene, “this isn’t a new battle. We need to come up with a strategy to break down a political platform built on excluding people, and that’s why voting matters.”

The Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference continued through Saturday. On Thursday, Theogene and Kuether trained students in grassroots organizing on their campuses in the areas of voting rights and other social justice issues as part of the conference’s Freedom Summer Youth Congress.

Follow Theogene and Kuether’s trip, including event recaps, photos, and live-tweets of conference sessions, at @FeministCampus.


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Most Media Missed Chance to Uncover Violent Undercurrents in McCullen

In the hours following the Supreme Court’s ruling on “safety buffer zones”, few mainstream media outlets called attention to the violence that necessitated them; but social media was awash with stories about violence, harassment, and intimidation at clinics.

Hashtags like #ProtectTheZone, #ClinicViolenceIsReal,#NotCounseling, #SCOTUSFail, #clinicthreats, #antichoiceterrorists–all appeared in thousands of tweets from firsthand victims of clinic violence. The Rachel Maddow Show was one of the only prominent cable media voices to immediately weigh in on the reason safety buffer zones came to be. “Let this paint a picture for you,” Maddow opened.

Maddow went on to review the murders of doctors in Pensacola and an escort in Pensacola, as well as the murders of two young women in Brookline, Mass. clinics. She recounted the murders of 38-year-old Lee Ann Nichols, and 25-year-old, Shannon Lowney. Both women were clinic receptionists in Brookline, Mass. John C. Salvi killed Lowney and Nichols, and was captured a day later in Norfolk, Va, where he shot up a third reproductive health clinic.

Her guest, Marty Walz (President of the Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts) said of the Supreme Court decision, “They didn’t do anything about their own buffer zone law, so apparently they think they have one set of rules, and women seeking healthcare should be subjected to a different set of rules.”

Walz went on to say PPFA lawyers are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision, and they will frame a new buffer zone law that complies with the ruling.

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Women’s Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws

WASHINGTON – A coalition of women’s rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States – or to suspend TPP talks – until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.

“Women’s rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade,” said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. “As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity.”

Twelve women’s rights organizations – including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women’s Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women – delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei’s new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.

“The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP,” continued Smeal. “There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei’s new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such “crimes” as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.

FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel – part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan – to protest the law.



June 9, 2014

Contact: Megan Perry

(703) 522-2214

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