Media Misleads: Women Don’t “Opt Out,” They’re Pushed Out

When women leave careers to raise children, they are not “opting out” – as the news media often suggests – but are pushed out by the “maternity wall,” the mothers’ version of the glass ceiling, the Center for Worklife Law argues in a new report. The report, “Opt Out or Pushed Out: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict” (pdf), analyzed 119 articles from 1980 to 2006 about women leaving work to become mothers. Seventy-three percent of the articles indicated that women left paid jobs because of a psychological or biological “pull” towards motherhood, rather than being pushed out by workplace inflexibility or gender discrimination.

These statistics, however, clash with a 2004 study cited in the report, which found that, while five out of 43 professional women stayed home after becoming mothers, only 16 percent intended to quit their jobs, and 86 percent blamed work reasons, such as workplace inflexibility, for their leaving, according to the report. “Perhaps the most damaging parts of the Opt Out story line is that it excuses gender discrimination under the rubric of ‘choice,'” the center notes in the report.

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MD Court Rules Consent Only Needed Prior to Sexual Act in Alleged Rape Cases

A three-judge panel of the Maryland Special Court of Appeals reinforced the provision of Maryland’s rape law that says a woman who gives consent prior to intercourse cannot withdraw her legal consent during the act. The decision came on Monday when the Court overturned a rape conviction. During deliberation in the original trial, the jury had asked, “If a female consents to sex initially and, during the course of the sex act to which she consented, for whatever reason, she changes her mind and the… man continues until climax, does the result constitute rape?” The trial judge said that Maryland’s law was unclear and would not provide a definite answer. The Special Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with the trial judge’s interpretation of the law. Current Maryland rape law is “not ambiguous,” said the ruling; if a woman consents prior to sex, she may not withdraw her consent during the act and accuse her partner of rape if he continues the act.

Women’s rights groups are outraged by the ruling. “You should have the right to say no at anytime and that should mean no and if sexual acts continue after you’ve withdrawn your consent, they should be considered a crime,” said Jennifer Pollitt Hill, a member of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, to WJZ, a local television station. According to WJZ, several decision-makers have already said they wish to address the issue in the upcoming legislative session, though legislation that would have given women the right to withdraw consent at anytime has failed in both 2004 and 2005.

Maryland is one of two states that have ruled that women do not have the right to withdraw consent. Seven other states have ruled that women may withdraw consent at anytime.

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New South Dakota Poll Shows Opposition to Abortion Ban in Majority

A new poll released on Sunday shows that opposition to the abortion ban ballot initiative in South Dakota is leading, with 52 percent of registered voters saying they will vote ‘no’ on the initiative. Only 42 percent said they would vote in favor of the initiative, which would outlaw all abortions except to “prevent the death” of the woman, and 6 percent were undecided, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the South Dakotan newspaper that commissioned the poll. The poll indicates that opposition to the ban is growing since a poll conducted in July, when opposition to the ban was at 47 percent.

Exactly a week remains until voters decide on the initiative. Anti-abortion groups have stepped up their use of inaccurate and misleading advertising in the hopes of gaining support for the ban. Even so, the recent Argus Leader poll shows that “voters are seeing through the campaign of misinformation and lies,” said Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, according to the Washington Times.

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LEARN MORE Read “Showdown on the Plains” in Ms. magazine to learn more about South Dakota’s abortion ban and the state of reproductive rights in America

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Reproductive Rights Pioneer Dies

Jane Hodgson, MD, a longtime crusader for abortion rights, died last week at the age of 91. Dr. Hodgson was the first doctor convicted for performing an illegal abortion in 1970, a conviction that was overturned in 1973 with the US Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade. She was motivated to break the law by performing an abortion after treating countless women injured and suffering from unsafe, back-alley abortions.

“People in the United States don’t know these horrors,” said Dr. Hodgson in an interview that was part of “Voices of Choice,” a multimedia project focusing on the stories of pre-Roe abortion providers, according to Alternet.org. “Nor do they remember what women’s lives were like here [in the US] before abortion became legal. Before 1973, single women who got pregnant were fired from their jobs. Younger ones were sent to maternity homes for unwed mothers and their children were put up for adoption. Married women who got pregnant were forced to carry pregnancies to term regardless of their circumstances – even if they had so many children that they couldn’t afford to feed another one; even if they had metastasized cancer; even if their fetuses couldn’t live outside the womb because these fetuses had developed without a heart or brain.”

Dr. Hodgson remained a lifelong champion for women’s reproductive rights, traveling from her home in St, Paul, Minnesota 150 miles away to Duluth to perform abortions in her eighties. “She was a unique crusader who risked her life for the cause of women’s reproductive rights,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Even when she was targeted by the anti-abortion movement, she never let up. She even spent her vacations volunteering in developing countries where abortion is illegal.”

Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Hodgson was a founder of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; she established women’s health clinics across Minnesota; she trained doctors to perform abortions; and she was the lead plaintiff in a 1990 US Supreme Court case challenging Minnesota’s parental notification law, which lacked a judicial bypass option, according to the Star Tribune. She was also featured in the Feminist Majority Foundation video, “Abortion for Survival.”

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NJ Says No to Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

New Jersey announced last week that it will not accept $800,000 in federal funds to teach abstinence-only sex education. Sex education programs in states that receive the federal funds are not allowed to teach students about contraception, must describe sex before marriage as “potentially mentally and physically damaging,” and must teach that “sex within marriage is Ôthe expected standard of sexual activity’,” the Associated Press and Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy report. According to the Associated Press, New Jersey officials wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt that the requirements tied to the federal money violate the state’s sex education and AIDS education programs.

State Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs said of the state’s decision to refuse the funds, “Monogamy is not a bad idea, but having the government of New Jersey dictate these things for families is not something we wish to doÉ It isn’t the function of the state government to create standards [for sexual activity],” Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy reports.

New Jersey joins three other states – California, Maine, and Pennsylvania – that have rejected federal money for abstinence-only sex education. According to William Smith, a vice president of SIECUS writing for RHRealityCheck.org, almost $200 million is spent on abstinence-only education annually.

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Man Faces First US Criminal Case Involving FGM

A man is being charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to children after allegedly removing his daughter’s clitoris when she was two years old in the first criminal case in the US involving female genital mutilation (FGM). Prosecutors claim that Khalid Adem, a 30-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, removed his daughter’s clitoris with scissors in their apartment in 2001, the Associated Press reports. The girl, now seven years old, was videotaped during an interview at the age of three and identified her father as the person who cut her genitals. Mr. Adem, however, testified last week that he had never circumcised his daughter or asked anyone else to do it, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The child’s mother also blames the father. “He said he wanted to preserve her virginity. He said it was the will of God. I became angry in my mind. I thought he was crazy,” testified the girl’s mother, Fortunate Adem, according to the AP.

The US State Department estimates that as many as 130 million women have experienced FGM; 168,000 of those cases happened in the United States. A federal law banning FGM in the US was passed last year. Khalid Adem is not being charged under the federal law because it did not apply when his daughter was mutilated. Under aggravated battery and cruelty to children charges, Khalid Adem may receive up to 40 years in prison if he is convicted.

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Afghan Women Lack Access to Contraceptives, Still Need Basic Healthcare

Only 10 percent of married Afghan women ages 15 to 49 use a form of contraceptives. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world, and experts hope that increased use of family planning techniques will extend women’s life expectancy. In Afghanistan, a woman dies giving birth every 30 minutes, according to the St. Lois Dispatch.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) started a program two years ago that dispenses highly subsidized contraceptives to women in 13 rural Afghan provinces in markets and hundreds of clinics and hospitals. While the USAID program is said to have increased family planning methods, Afghan women still lack access to basic reproductive healthcare. In its study of the Afghanistan’s Herat Province, Physicians for Human Rights found that only 1 percent of women have a trained health care professional present when giving birth, many of whom lack knowledge of how to handle even the most basic of birthing issues. Only 11 percent received prenatal care.

Greater work is needed to increase women’s access to quality reproductive healthcare to lower the rate of maternal mortality. Said Dr. Lynn Amowitz, Senior Medical Researcher at Physicians for Human Rights, “The rate of maternal mortality in a society is a critical indicator of the health and human rights status of women in a community.”

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Changes to Title IX Weaken Safeguards Against Sex Discrimination in Public Ed

The US Department of Education (ED) announced changes to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 on Wednesday that will “expand flexibility” for the creation of sex-segregated classrooms, programs, and entire schools with public funds. The new regulations will allow educators to experiment with single-sex learning environments.

Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said of the changes, “This is yet another direct assault on Title IX by the Bush administration which could open the door for separate and unequal education for countless girls throughout the United States. It must be taken seriously.”

Previously, Title IX prohibited public coeducational schools from offering single-sex classes and extracurricular activities except under very limited circumstances, such as physical education classes involving contact sports, sex education classes, and “remedial” or “affirmative” activities. Under the new regulations, non-vocational single-sex classes may be offered for less-defined reasons, such as “improving the educational achievement of students” or “providing diverse educational opportunities.”

Opposition to the new regulations is massive. In 2004, 6,000 public comments, including one from FMF (PDF), objected to ED proposals that were similar to the recently approved changes. Women’s advocacy groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Women’s Law Center, the American Association of University Women, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose this weakening of Title IX. Instead, advocates of gender equality emphasize the need to strengthen public schools and co-ed learning. NOW President Kim Gandy said that sex-segregated education “pulls resources away from dealing with a broken public school systemÉ It doesn’t prepare boys and girls for the real world, where they will have to interact with and work alongside each other.” Gandy continued, saying that “increased funding to schools, smaller class sizes, more resources, and training to teachers, and more attention to students” are the true measures needed to improve public education.

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Spelman Women Celebrate Center’s 25th Anniversary

The Women’s Research & Resources Center at Spelman College, the first of its kind at a historically black college, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Since 1981, the Center has frequently opened its doors to national women’s conferences and has developed new scholarship in black feminist thought.

To honor the anniversary, a series of events this weekend will bring together scholars and activists from around the globe Ñ South Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, and the US Ñ to share the experiences that sparked their feminism. The events will include a symposium celebrating the legacy of lesbian poet and feminist Audre Lorde, the premiere of the science fiction short film “Her,” and appearances by bell hooks, Paula Giddings and Leslie Feinberg.

Feminists at Spelman recently made the news when members of the campus’ Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA) organized a march and speak-out last month to address inadequate responses to allegations of on-campus rape.

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US District Judge Rules Florida Exit Polling Ban Unconstitutional

US District Judge Paul Huck ruled on Tuesday that a 2005 Florida law that banned exit polling from occurring within 100 feet of a polling place is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment’s free speech and freedom of the press protections. The 2005 law placed Election Day exit polling in the same category as electioneering. The Associated Press and five other news organizations sued the state, claiming that the 100 feet barrier made it too difficult to conduct accurate polling, according to the Associated Press. The suit only seeks to void the exit polling ban, leaving the 100 feet limitations for other activities, such as passing out campaign materials.

The judge found that the state “failed to provide any meaningful evidence that exit polling has any history of leading to voter intimidation, impeding voter access to the polls, or encouraging election fraud,” reports the St. Petersburg Times. He also noted that of the 5,000 recent complaints the state has received for harassment at polling places, none were about exit polling.

Similar bans on exit polling have been overturned in Wyoming, Ohio, Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Georgia, according to the New York Times and the Palm Beach Post. A hearing on the issue is scheduled in Nevada next week.

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NJ Supreme Court Rules: Equal Rights for Same-Sex Couples

The New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 4-3 decision that same-sex couples should have the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples. The court gave the state legislature six months to pass a law granting civil unions or amend the marriage laws to allow same sex marriage, the Chicago Tribune reports. Justice Barry Albin wrote in the majority decision, “Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state Constitution,” the Associated Press reports.

Many gay rights advocates are happy with the decision, yet will continue fighting for the right to same-sex marriage. “We now turn to the Legislature to say there’s really no reason to try to set up some other scheme to exclude same-sex couples from marriage,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, a gay rights legal organization, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to the Chicago Tribune, similar cases are on hold in California, Connecticut, Iowa, and Maryland. Bans on same-sex marriage are also on the November ballot in eight states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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Senators Feinstein, Snowe Request Full Investigation of Breast Implants by FDA

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) sent a joint letter last week to Andrew von Eschenbach, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling for a full investigation of the silicone breast implant maker Mentor. Earlier this month, an anonymous former Mentor scientist alleged that the company had withheld safety information from the FDA during testing, including reports of silicone leakages from the implants into women’s bodies.

The letter focuses on the accuracy of the data the FDA is using for its approval of the breast implants. The Senators urged the FDA to reconsider its approval of Mentor’s product, writing, “No medical device should be granted final approval if data that could reveal potential dangers has not been fully investigated and analyzed. The health and safety of American women should be the top concern of your agency as the approval process moves forward.”

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Supreme Court Makes Arizona Voter ID Law a Reality this November

The US Supreme Court on Friday overturned an injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop an Arizona voter identification law from being enforced in the upcoming elections. The ruling means that the voter identification law Ñ which requires voters to present a photo ID with their current street address or two alternate forms of ID Ñ will be enforced in the elections only 13 days from now. The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of this type of law, ruling only that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had made a procedural error in granting the injunction. The constitutionality will be decided by a federal district court, according to the Arizona Republic.

Voting rights advocates argue that the law’s requirements will make voting unnecessarily difficult for those who may not possess an acceptable form of ID, such as the elderly, poor, and disabled. Opponents also argue that since voter fraud is not widespread, this law is unnecessary. For example, District Attorney Andrew Thomas from Arizona’s Maricopa County testified earlier this year that only four non-citizens voted in the 2005 primary, and only ten non-citizens were charged with registering to vote out of the 1.5 million registered voters of Maricopa County, the Arizona Republic reports. Alternately, about 1,000 registered voters were prevented from voting in Maricopa County in the 2005 election because of the law, according to the Huffington Post.

Nationally, since 2002, only 86 people have been convicted of voter fraud out of 200 million voters, and none of these offenses would have been caught by voter identification rules, according to VoteTrustUSA. Six to 10 percent of US citizens – 11 to 20 million people – lack a state-issued photo ID.

DONATE to the Feminist Majority Foundation to help our Get Out HER Vote project, a mobilization effort to turn out women voters to the polls on November 7.

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Senators Kennedy and Edwards Promote Higher Minimum Wage

Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) promised to quickly pass an increase in the minimum wage if Democrats gain control of the Senate. In a conference call with reporters, Kennedy, joined by Senator John Edwards (D-NC) and labor leaders, said, “Let’s get a Democratic Senate, and I’ll do my damnedest to get this out in 24 hours,” CQ Today reports. Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is expected to be the House Majority Leader if the Democrats win the majority in Congress, has also promised to prioritize a raise in the minimum wage if House Democrats regain control.

This summer, legislation that included a minimum wage increase failed. The bill (HR 5970) passed in the House, but was defeated in the Senate when Democrats opposed it for being tied to tax breaks for businesses and a $750 billion estate tax give-away, measures that only benefited the wealthiest Americans, not minimum-wage workers. At $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage has not been raised since 1997.

Senators Kennedy and Edwards also commented on the minimum wage ballot initiatives that are on several states’ ballots this November. Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio will decide whether their states will increase the statewide minimum wage. Edwards said, “I think [these ballot initiatives] will motivate some people to come to the polls that maybe are tired of politics, maybe tired of politicians, but know this is a basic moral issue,” CQ Today reports.

LEARN MORE about minimum wage and other initiatives on the November 7 ballot in the Fall 2006 issue of Ms. magazine.

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New Study Sheds Light on Lower Breast Cancer Survival Rate for Black Women

A new study has found that African-American women are more likely to suffer from larger, faster-growing, and harder-to-treat breast cancer tumors than white women. The study of 2,140 breast cancer patients was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and published yesterday in Cancer, the American Cancer Society’s peer-reviewed journal.

The researchers found that race is a factor in survival rates for women with breast cancer in addition to access to health care and breast cancer screenings, differences in treatment, socioeconomic status, and racial bias. Though black women are less likely to develop breast cancer than white and Hispanic women, they are more likely to die from the disease. The 10-year survival rate for African Americans is 52 percent, compared to 62 percent for Caucasians and Hispanics, according to the study.

“These findings should prompt additional research on how we can improve outcomes for African-American patients by understanding and addressing tumor biology,” said first author Wendy Woodward, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology at M. D. Anderson. “It’s important to identify unique features in different populations and subgroups of all women with breast cancer so we can understand a woman’s risk and factors that affect her care on an individual level.”

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Maryland Restores Medicaid Coverage for Immigrant Women and Children

Maryland will reinstate a $7 million Medicaid program for immigrant pregnant women and children after a court ruled that it was unacceptable to cut them from the Medicaid program. In July 2005, the state dropped the Medicaid plan, which covered about 4,000 immigrants who have been in the country legally for less than five years, due to budget cuts, reports the Baltimore Sun.

The decision to reinstate Medicaid coverage came after the families of 13 sick immigrant children claimed that the removal of coverage was discriminatory as they are legal, permanent residents, reports Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report. “This is a wonderful victory. We only had 13 plaintiffs. Now we have everybody back in the program,” said Douglas M. Bregman, one of the children’s attorneys, according to the Washington Post. New medical cards will be mailed to the children and other former recipients who are still eligible, reports Kaiser.

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Record Number of Women Running in State Elections

A record number of women are running for state legislative seats this year, with 10 percent more women candidates running than in 2004. According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, 2,431 women are running for state legislative seats. The former record of 2,375 was set in 1992, the “Year of the Woman,” when women’s organizations made an effort to turn out women voters and women’s representation made the largest increase in the US Congress.

In addition to state legislative seats, large numbers of women are also running for statewide executive offices. Ten women are running for governor, and 93 women won a party nomination for other positions such as lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and state treasurer, Women’s eNews reports. While these numbers do not break the 1994 record of 109 women running for statewide office, they do come close.

Advocates for greater representation of women in government note the importance of electing women to local and state office in order to increase the number of women in higher level offices. Executive Director of the National Women’s Political Caucus Clare Giesen noted that women are more likely than men to serve in local offices before running for a seat in the US Congress or Senate, according to Women’s eNews. Additionally, Debbie Walsh, director of CAWP, told the Associated Press, “It’s important to see women running for and winning election to their state legislatures because the seats provide a pipeline to higher office.”

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Iowa Diocese Files for Bankruptcy After Allegations of Sexual Abuse

Earlier this month the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa filed for bankruptcy after paying out millions of dollars to settle dozens of sex abuse claims, making it the fourth diocese in the country to seek financial protection. Twenty-five outstanding claims of priest sexual abuse will now be settled by a judge in a bankruptcy court. Bishop William Franklin said, “Because settlement demands are greater than the available assets of the diocese, we cannot continue on our present path,” the Quad City Times reports.

Since 2004, the diocese has paid $10.5 million to resolve lawsuits, including a $9 million settlement involving 37 victims, according the Associated Press. The decision to file bankruptcy comes after a new set of complaints were filed against retired Bishop Lawrence Soens accusing him of misconduct with students during his time as principal of an Iowa City Catholic high school in the 1960s.

Craig Levien, one victim’s lawyer, said that due to the bankruptcy filings some future trials may be dismissed, reports the Associated Press. Levien told the Associated Press, “I think it’s a sad day for the victims of clergy abuse in the Davenport Diocese as well as its parishioners. I believe it’s just an unnecessary step… with the real purpose being an effort to try and eliminate future responsibility.”

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Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Blackwell Calls Birth Control Issue “Settled”

Ohio gubernatorial candidate and current Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, in a debate on the Ohio News Network last week, avoided answering questions about improving access to birth control by calling the issue “settled,” according to Bush v. Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s blog. His statement was in response to a question on whether he would increase women’s access to birth control if elected. Blackwell has previously said he is supportive of “conscience clauses,” which allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control and emergency contraception, both of which can prevent an unintended pregnancy.

Blackwell has also said he is against abortion, and would favor an outright ban on the procedure, minus a partial exception to save the life of the mother. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, however, Blackwell said in a September debate that abortion is not ever medically necessary, even to save the life of the woman. “Blackwell’s radical position… shows a complete lack of compassion for women, their doctors, and their families,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

READ MORE See what else Bush v. Choice said about Ken Blackwell’s comments.

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New York’s Highest Court Requires Religious Groups to Cover Contraceptives

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Thursday to uphold a 2002 state law requiring all employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, to cover reproductive health services, including offering contraceptives as part of prescription drug coverage. “This is a great day for the women of New York state,” said JoAnn M. Smith, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, which, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, submitted an amicus brief in the case. “The urgent need to prevent discrimination was rightly… affirmed by the highest court in the state.”

The law had been challenged by eight Catholic and two Baptist organizations, which “believe contraception to be sinful” and argued that the law “compel[led] them to violate their religious tenets by financing conduct that they condemn,” according to the ruling. Though the law does include an exemption for faith-based organizations that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith, and whose main purpose is instilling that faith in others, the court of appeals ruled that the ten organizations challenging the law did not meet these requirements.

“The court affirmed today that religiously affiliated organizations that employ and serve people of diverse beliefs and provide social services – for example, medical care – do not have a right to discriminate by refusing to cover basic health services for women employees,” said Diana Kasdan, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, which filed an amicus brief in the case.

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