Activists Join Together to Rally for the Equal Rights Amendment on Women’s Equality Day

Photo by Paul Ruden

 On Thursday afternoon, around 150 activists and women’s rights leaders from across the country gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, across from the U.S. Senate, to rally for removal of the arbitrary timeline placed in the preamble of the Equal Rights Amendment. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to remove the time limit in March of this year, but thus far the Senate has failed to follow suit despite a narrow pro-ERA majority.

#Rally4ERA was co-sponsored by the Feminist Majority and the ERA Coalition, along with coalition partners The National Organization for Women (NOW), The League of Women Voters, The Women’s March, The National Congress of Black Women, The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, The Transformative Justice Coalition, MANA, Generation Ratify, and many others.

The multigenerational crowd withstood the oppressive DC heat and humidity and chanted “ERA Now!” and “Enough is enough!” as over a dozen speakers passionately made the case for removing the timeline and enshrining gender equality in the U.S. Constitution after fighting to pass the ERA for a century.

Photo by Paul Ruden

“This movement is global, and it will not rest until all women everywhere, and all girls are treated equally, and frankly that there is no discrimination on the basis of sex,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.

Photo by Paul Ruden

“Take the shackles off my feet!” cried Nevada state Senator Pat Spearman, who headed the movement to make Nevada the 36th state to ratify the ERA. “We’re fighting not just for pay equity, but we’re fighting also that we will be able to get the promotions that we earn when we earn them and not be denied just because we are women. So what? Take the shackles off my feet! We keep fighting because we want justice when we report sexual harassment and sexual assault and we don’t want them to come up with the whole thing, boys will be boys. So what? Take the shackles off our feet!”

Photo by Paul Ruden

“So again, ladies and gentlemen, they’re trying to deny us. They’re trying to tell us what’s possible. What we can and cannot do,” said former Virginia state delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who was instrumental in Virginia’s ratification of the ERA. “But let us be unequivocally clear. Our fate should not be dependent on who is in office and our freedom should not be dependent on an election. And laws can change just as quickly as legislators change their minds. That’s why we need 160 million women and girls to stand in the sun in their full constitutional equality.”

“So Congress, courts, hear me and hear me well,” Foy rallied. “We are here to agitate for equality. We are demanding it without an apology. We will disrupt the status quo, we will fight for change. Because at the end of the day, it is now our time it is now our turn, we will get this done and there is only one way to spell equality today and that is E-R-A!”

Vice President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Bear Atwood highlighted the need to abolish the Senate filibuster to finish the fight to pass the ERA saying, “Opponents of equality know they can’t win their argument based on merit. So they try to game the system, and there’s no better example of this than the Senate filibuster. Breaking the logjam of the filibuster will open the doors to democracy. Eliminating this relic of Jim Crow would send the Senate to remove the timeline for the ERA ratification, along with other priorities such as the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

Photo by Paul Ruden

“The suffragists knew their work was not finished at the passage of the 19th amendment. This was just the beginning. They knew that full equality of the sexes deserved a place in our Constitution. They knew it was hard work, but it was not done. We’ve been fighting this fight for over 100 years, c’mon folks let’s get it done,” said Deborah Turner, president of the League of Women Voters. “And now the ERA is closer than ever to taking its’ right place in the supreme law of our land. What stands in our way is an arbitrary, ambiguous, and legally questionable deadline for enactment. Congress has the power to change this. The House has done their part by voting to remove the deadline. The Senate now has a duty—let me say this again—the Senate now has a duty to women, to gender minorities, and allies across this nation to clear the final hurdle and enshrine the ERA into law. They have no legitimate excuse for ignoring the demand of the people.”

Other speakers included Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable, Dr. E. Faye Williams, National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Amy Hinojosa, President and CEO at MANA a National Latina Organization, Rosie Couture and Belan Yeshigeta, founders of Generation Ratify, Becca Demante, who delivered remarks on behalf of New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Allison Tovar of the Women’s March, David Broder, president of SEIU-Virginia, and S. Mona Sinha, Chair of the Women’s Fund for Equality.

Photo by Paul Ruden

Overall, the message of the day was clear: the Senate must vote to remove the arbitrary timeline from the Equal Rights Amendment and enshrine gender equality in the U.S. Constitution once and for all.

VP Harris Gives Remarks on Gender Equality at UN Women’s Summit

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris led the U.S. virtual delegation and gave remarks at the United Nation’s Generation Equality Forum, nearly a generation after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “women’s rights are human rights” on an international stage.

Harris, the first woman, first Black and first AAPI person to hold the office of vice president, was welcomed by French president Emmanuel Marcon, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and provided opening remarks as the women’s forum began.

“At the G7 Summit, just weeks ago, world leaders pledged to unite against the threat of autocracy.  World leaders pledged to unite behind the principles of democracy.  And as we move forward, I believe that if we want to strengthen democracy, we must fight for gender equality,” she said.

“When women have access to capital to start a small business, they can participate more fully and our democracy grows stronger. When women have access to reproductive healthcare to stay healthy, they can participate more fully and our democracy grows stronger. When women live free from the fear of violence, they can participate more fully and our democracy grows stronger,” she continued. “Throughout my career, I have worked to protect women from violence and exploitation.  I know what happens when women are supported.  I know what happens when women are heard.  When women are heard, whether that is in the courtroom, in the workplace, in the halls of government, or at the ballot box, democracy is more complete.”

Her full speech can be found here. 

VA Del. Hala Ayala Wins Democratic Nomination for Virginia Lieutenant Governor

On Tuesday, Virginia state delegate Hala Ayala won her race in the Virginia Democratic primary, becoming the Democratic candidate for the lieutenant governor of Virginia.

Del. Ayala was the first Afro-Latina elected to the Virginia General Assembly and is a strong champion for the Equal Rights Amendment. She was instrumental in helping Virginia become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA in early 2020. If elected she would make history as the first woman elected to the office, and the first woman of color elected statewide.

“When you live a life of struggle — losing a father to gun violence, surviving childbirth thanks only to Medicaid, and almost losing my son — it puts things in perspective. I understand the struggles so many Virginia families face because I’ve lived them, and that experience is why I worked with my colleagues to expand Medicaid for over 500,000 Virginians, fight for gun violence prevention, raise teacher pay, and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. And while we have made tremendous progress, there is still so much work left to do,” said Ayala in a statement released after her victory.

“We need to rebuild our local economy stronger than before, create jobs, and support our small businesses and workers. We need to expand access to health care and lower prescription drug costs. We need to invest in our infrastructure, like broadband, and bridge the digital divide facing our rural communities. We need to support and improve our school systems from Pre-K to post-secondary and give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed. And we need to continue reforming our criminal justice system for a more equitable Commonwealth so that every Virginian can feel safe in their community,” she said.

Of her Republican opponent Winsome Sears she said: “We must protect the progress we have made from extremists like Winsome Sears. Sears and her extreme far-right running mates have repeatedly advocated for stripping Virginians of their voting rights, defunding our public school system, and gutting affordable healthcare for more than half-million Virginians. Virginia families simply cannot afford to have an anti-progress, pro-Trump Lieutenant Governor.”

The Virginia elections will take place on November 3 of this year.

Members of Congress Reintroduce the Women’s Health Protection Act

On Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Conn.), and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) reintroduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) in the Senate and the House, with 45 cosponsors and 179 cosponsors, respectively.

The Women’s Health Protection Act was originally introduced in 2013, then again in 2015, 2017, and 2019. It would create a federal statutory right to abortion nationally, free from unnecessary restrictions and TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that disproportionately impact women of color, trans, nonbinary, and low-income patients.

WHPA would supersede all abortion restrictions passed by state legislators designed to impede access to abortion. 2021 is on the way to become a record breaking year for abortion restrictions passed, with anti-abortion legislators introducing 536 abortion restrictions in 46 states, including 146 abortion bans in the first five months of this year, according to a report released by the Guttmacher Institute.

“Right now in states across this country, Roe v. Wade is under attack and millions of women are at risk of losing the freedom to make their own personal health decisions,” said Rep. Baldwin in a statement. “It is past time to stand up to these extreme threats to women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights, which is why I’m championing the Women’s Health Protection Act. Every woman, regardless of where she lives, deserves the freedom to make her own, personal decisions about her health care, her family and her body.”

“For decades, extremist lawmakers have worked relentlessly to turn back the clock and restrict women’s health and reproductive rights,” said Rep. Escobar. “In Texas, Republicans recently passed one of the most draconian laws in the country to ban abortions as early as six weeks – before most women even know they are pregnant, and without making any exceptions for victims of rape or incest. We must urgently pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to preserve women’s access to safe and legal abortions everywhere.”

The introduction of WHPA comes shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, which has put the fate of Roe v. Wade in jeopardy. If passed, WHPA would secure the right to abortion access in all 50 states, regardless of the court’s ruling and any state amendments or “trigger” laws that outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

According to a poll released by the Center for Reproductive Rights and conducted by Hart Research Associates, 61% of voters believe there should be federal legislation that protects the right to abortion.

Texas High School Valedictorian Scraps Speech to Call for Abortion Access

A Texas high school valedictorian decided to scrap her pre-approved speech on media and its effect on young people in favor of a brave address on the fight for abortion access in the state.

Paxton Smith delivered an impassioned plea for abortion rights stating: “I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.”

Texas recently passed a “heartbeat” bill, banning abortion after 6 weeks before most know they are pregnant. It provides no exceptions for rape or incest. It allows anyone to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion for up to $10,000. The Texas Senate recently passed a “trigger” law, which would outlaw all abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Texas is one of dozens of states that have passed extreme abortion restrictions since the beginning of 2021. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “549 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, introduced across 47 states (all counts current as of May 16, 2021). A whopping 69 of those restrictions have been enacted across 14 states, including nine bans.”

“I have dreams and hopes and ambition. Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is, I hope that you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you,” said Smith.

She plans to study the music industry at the University of Texas at Austin, but said as she was writing her original speech, she couldn’t stop thinking about the recent bill signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott.

“I couldn’t keep my mind on the project. My mind kept wandering to the ‘heartbeat bill’ and what it meant. So, I started making some notes,” she said to The Associated Press.

Her speech has since gone viral, collecting accolades from notable figures such as Hillary Clinton who tweeted, “This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton.”

Florida Governor Signs Anti-Trans Bill into Law

On Tuesday, the first day of Pride month, Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill into law that bans transgender women and girls from playing on public secondary schools’ and colleges’ sports teams. Florida becomes the 8th state to enact such a law this year. South Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Montana and Alabama are the others.

The Human Rights Campaign has announced it will challenge the ban in court as many allege it is unconstitutional.  

“The Human Rights Campaign will always stand up to anti-equality forces on behalf of transgender kids, and that is exactly what we plan to do by legally challenging this ban on the participation of transgender girls and women in sports. Gov. DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are legislating based on a false, discriminatory premise that puts the safety and well-being of transgender children on the line,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.

“Transgender kids are kids; transgender girls are girls. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and be a part of a team. Transgender youth must not be deprived of the opportunity to learn important skills of sportsmanship, healthy competition, and teamwork. The harmful provisions added to SB 1028 will not just impact transgender people in Florida. All Floridians will have to face the consequences of this anti-transgender legislation — including economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation. In Florida, we are ensuring that there are legal consequences to pay for being on the wrong side of history,” he said.

The ”Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” is slated to go into effect on July 1, and mirrors a larger national effort by Republicans to curb transgender rights across the country. According to CNN, “The law also allows a “student who is deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers any direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation” of the ban to take legal action and permits a student “who is subject to retaliation or other adverse action by a school” for reporting a violation of the ban to sue the school.”

“This is yet another hate-driven attack from the governor and Republican legislators, and it’s insulting that they’ve staged this morning’s photo-op on the first day of Pride Month,” said Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones. “At the end of the day, transgender kids are just kids.”

Biden Releases Historic $6 Trillion Budget, Eliminates the Hyde Amendment

On Friday, President Biden released a bold new $6 trillion federal budget for fiscal year 2022 aimed at growing the economy as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, and which for the first time since the Clinton administration does not include the Hyde Amendment, a provision which prevents federal funds from being used for abortion care, and will provide increased funding for child and elder care, education, healthcare, and paid family leave among other measures.

Notably, the budget does not include the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is a measure that bans federal funds from being used for abortion care. It specifically prevents Medicaid funds from being used for the procedure, except in cases of rape or incest or life-threatening medical conditions. It disproportionately impacts women of color who rely on Medicaid for health care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, half of all women aged 15-49 with incomes below the federal poverty level were insured through Medicaid in 2019, with 62% of those being Black women.

The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976 in an appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and has been renewed every year since. Part of Biden’s campaign promise to abortion rights advocates was to eliminate the Hyde Amendment from the federal budget, a promise kept today.

“Despite Roe v. Wade affirming the constitutional right to abortion, federal coverage restrictions like Hyde have made abortion accessible only to those with means—and its women of color, women with low-incomes, immigrants, and others who struggle the most to get care. But thanks to years of hard work and organizing from so many women across the country, we’re seeing real momentum towards repealing Hyde,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate appropriations committee.

“A majority of Americans support lifting these restrictions and now, finally, the President’s budget proposal would end these harmful abortion coverage restrictions too. I’m working every single day to keep building support in the Senate and to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to abortion—no matter who they are, where they come from, or how they get their insurance,” she said.

The new budget also proposes an increase in funds for family planning, including clinics that receive money under the Title X program, which was previously gutted by the Trump administration and which the Biden administration has been working to restore.

“The Biden 2022 budget is historic. It not only eliminates the Hyde Amendment, it also expands funding for reproductive healthcare, education, child and elder care, paid family leave, and other important initiatives for women, especially women of color. It’s intersectional and works to promote gender and racial equity and benefits all people, especially middle-class and low-income people who need it the most,” said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

It also includes $1 billion for the Department of Justice Violence Against Women programs, and increased funding for domestic violence hotlines and cash assistance, medical support and services, and emergency shelters for survivors.

The Biden budget includes both the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, two widely popular pieces of legislation that the Biden administration has formerly introduced. Both aim to help the U.S. recover from the pandemic and grow the economy by a projected 5.2% this year.

The budget also proposes programs to strengthen the “care economy”. It includes $437 billion over 10 years to provide free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of free community college to all Americans. It will provide $36.5 billion to Title I schools, which have a disproportionate rate of children living in poverty. An additional $225 billion would help subsidize childcare, and another $225 billion would help create a national family and medical paid leave program. A further $200 billion would make the recent subsidy increases for the Affordable Care Act enacted by the American Rescue Plan permanent.

The budget also includes funding to combat the climate crisis, address the opioid epidemic, combat gun violence, and extends housing vouchers to end homelessness.

It increases funding for the Indian Health Services by $2.2 billion and provides a further $900 million to “fund tribal efforts to expand affordable housing, improve housing conditions and infrastructure, and increase economic opportunities for low-income families. The Budget also includes an increase of more than $450 million to facilitate climate mitigation, resilience, adaptation, and environmental justice projects in Indian Country, including investment to begin the process of transitioning tribal colleges in the country to renewable energy”, according to a White House fact sheet.

“This is a solid budget that reflects President Biden’s vision for investing in people and society and ensures that the economy grows, and that everyone shares in the prosperity and it understands that the public sector is a key component and moving,” said Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Louisville Metro Council Passes Safety Zone Ordinance to Protect Clinics

Last week in Kentucky, the Louisville metro council passed a safety zone ordinance that will create a safety buffer zone outside of health care clinics, including the EMW Women’s Surgical Center which is one of only two abortion clinics in the state and has been the target of ongoing anti-abortion protests.

The new measure provides a ten-foot area in front of the entrance to the health care facility where people are not allowed to gather, providing space for patients and providers to enter and exit without being harassed by anti-abortion protestors.

“For more than thirty years, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, which I direct, has worked with reproductive health care providers, local, state and federal elected officials, community organizations, and law enforcement to protect clinics, providers, staff, and patients from anti-abortion harassment and violence, while respecting the rights of those who lawfully choose to protest against abortion. We also periodically publish national clinic violence surveys. I have traveled to and worked in communities across the country, including many cities in the South. In my opinion, EMW Women’s Surgical Center patients, staff, volunteers and Louisville’s downtown community experience some of the most egregious anti-abortion harassment, intimidation, and interference in the country,” said duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project in a statement to the Louisville city council.

EMW Women’s Surgical Center was Kentucky’s sole abortion clinic for nearly a decade and has experienced an onslaught of protests and harassment that have created a fearful environment for both patients and providers at the clinic. Some of the more distressing incidents include physical assaults, violence, bomb threats, and a clinic blockade in 2017 that resulted in a federal judge creating a temporary safety zone that was enforced by U.S. marshals.

“Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates commends the Louisville Metro Council for passing the Louisville Safety Zone, a simple and long overdue step toward ensuring patient protection. Without safety zones, patients are subjected unnecessarily to harassment, stigmatization, and shame for seeking basic health care services, including abortion,” said Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “Access to this essential and time sensitive care is more important than ever given the Supreme Court’s decision this week to consider a case that directly challenges Roe v Wade. Our public health is being politicized to score political points and patients continue to pay the price. This small space will provide safer access to health care facilities and help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Public safety and increasing access to health care should be a priority for all community leaders, especially during a pandemic. We hope to see other cities across our commonwealth follow Louisville’s lead. Abortion is a legal right in Kentucky and we must do everything we can to protect patient access to it and other essential health care.”

Texas Governor Signs Abortion Ban into Law

On Wednesday, Texas governor Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 8, a bill that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, into law.

The law, misleadingly called a “heartbeat” bill, bans abortion after six weeks, often before someone is even aware of the pregnancy, and allows private citizens to sue doctors or anyone else who helps a pregnant person receive abortion care after six weeks.

It is appalling that in defiance of public opinion and public health, state politicians remain committed to controlling our bodies. With its private cause-of-action provision, this bill is one of the most extreme in the country and sets a dangerous precedent. Gov. Abbott and his anti-health care allies are not alone in completely botching the response to the pandemic and using attacks on our fundamental rights to avoid addressing real issues,” said Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Alexis McGill Johnson.

“With more than 500 abortion restrictions introduced this year alone and the Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, it’s clear that since Roe, access to abortion has never been more at risk. The goal is clear: to relentlessly attack our reproductive rights until abortion is a right in name only. Passing these bills is not leadership, it is cruelty and extremism,” she said.

The new legislature comes days after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding a Mississippi abortion law that puts the fate of Roe v. Wade in jeopardy. Anti-abortion policymakers have made no secret of their hopes to overturn the landmark ruling by enacting draconian laws that make receiving abortion care almost impossible in some states. If Roe is overturned, 24 states that have “trigger” laws would immediately outlaw all abortions in the state.

“There will always be women who will pursue having abortions despite what you do here today and what you’ve been doing for a decade to create all these obstructions,” said state Rep. Donna Howard (D), who is a former nurse. “It will always be a case that women will seek abortions, because women are not always in a position to have that baby. And you guys don’t have to have them, we do. It affects our lives.”

The new law puts state abortion funds, which help patients pay for abortion care, at risk for legal action.

SB 8 “allows literally anyone, including non-Texas residents who maybe have zero connection to the person having an abortion, it allows them to use lawsuits to harass people who help people access abortion care after six weeks,” said Amanda Williams, executive director of the Lilith Fund, a Texas abortion fund. “That would also obviously include us, as an abortion fund, who helps people access abortion care.”

Military Sexual Assault Bill Gains Bipartisan Support in the Senate

A new bill that would change the way sexual assault cases are handled in the military is gaining bipartisan support in the Senate and could soon become law.

The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act was introduced last month by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and would “professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate,” according to a press release from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office.

Sexual assault and harassment is a prevalent issue in the military. Senator Gillibrand highlights the case of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered at Fort Hood in Texas by a male soldier after reportedly experiencing sexual harassment. A report from the Department of Defense found that 21,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2018, or one in every 16 female service members.

“Sexual assault in our military is an epidemic and it’s clear that the current system is not working for survivors. Despite repeated efforts to protect our women and men in uniform rates of harassment and assault continue to rise while prosecutions decline. Congress has a solemn responsibility to protect our service members, and right now we have more work to do,” said Senator Gillibrand when the legislation was introduced. “The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act takes important, commonsense steps to deliver justice for survivors of serious crimes and prevent sexual assault in our armed forces. I am proud to introduce this new, bipartisan legislation and I thank all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for being my partners in this fight. With strong support in Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House this is a defining moment for passage and I’m confident we can get it done.”

The legislation is being championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) who went on “Face the Nation” Sunday to promote the bill and discuss the bipartisan effort to pass it in the Senate.

“We want Americans to see that bipartisanship is alive and well,” said Ernst. “It takes friendships. It takes a lot of discussions and certainly a partnership and finding compromise through that collaboration. This is what the rest of the Congress should be doing at a time like this too.”

The bill currently has 61 cosponsors in the Senate, enough to overcome the filibuster which is preventing the passage of progressive legislation related to voting rights, reproductive healthcare, climate change, and gun reform among other issues.

“The military has failed to address the sexual assault crisis, letting victims down and harming our military’s readiness, recruitment and retention efforts. Unfortunately, far too many of our men and women in uniform do not trust they’ll get the justice they deserve if they pursue it through the current system,” Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said. “As a former commander of an assault helicopter company, it’s become clear to me that we need to pass meaningful reforms to hold more perpetrators accountable and ensure survivors have the resources and support they need to heal and be able to resume the careers they dreamt about from the time they entered the military.”

Biden Administration Reverses Trump-era Limits on Transgender Health Protections

On Monday, the Biden administration announced that it will provide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in health care.

The new rules undo the Trump administration’s limiting of the definition of “sex”, which they narrowed to the gender one is assigned at birth, thereby excluding transgender and gender nonconforming individuals from legal protections. The new rules align with the recent Supreme Court ruling that determined “sex” includes gender identity and sexual orientation, which President Biden had directed government agencies to adhere to early in his term.

“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” said Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “Everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

The new policy prevent any entity that receives federal funding from discrimination based on sex, will allow the Office for Civil Rights to investigate claims of discrimination, and organizations, hospitals, clinics, and providers could face sanctions or be denied Medicare and Medicaid payments if found to be in violation of the new rules.

While the rules are likely to face challenges from anti-LGBTQ groups in the courts, many pro-LGBTQ rights advocates are celebrating the new policy.

“With health care for transgender youth under attack by state legislatures, this move to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in health care is critical. The Biden administration has affirmed what courts have said for decades: Discrimination against LGBTQ people is against the law. It also affirms what transgender people have long said: Gender-affirming care is life-saving care,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union LGBTQ & HIV Project.

The Biden administration did the right thing by terminating a short-lived effort to allow discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation when seeking health care. As we said in our letter to the previous administration, the interpretation was contrary to the intent and the plain language of the law. It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this common-sense understanding of the law,” said American Medical Associate president Susan R. Bailey. “This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections.”

Florida Governor Signs Voter Suppression Bill into Law

On Thursday morning, Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a sweeping anti-voter bill into law that enacts restrictions that will make it more difficult to vote in upcoming elections, especially for people of color, young voters, and disabled voters.  

Senate Bill 90 includes provisions that make it more difficult to vote by mail by forcing Florida residents to request ballots more frequently and enacting stricter voter ID laws for mail-in ballots, adds restrictions to the use of ballot drop boxes which must be fully staffed during limited hours in fewer locations, expands partisan observation power during ballot counting, penalizes anyone trying to hand out food and water to voters waiting in line, restricts who can turn in a ballot on behalf of an absentee voter, among other measures that activists argue will adversely affect voter turnout.

The bill goes into effect immediately but faces challenges in court from a host of pro-democracy groups including the Black Voters Matter Fund, The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, and other organizations that hope to see the law overturned.

A coalition of over 20 groups including All Voting Is Local, the NAACP, Florida ACLU chapters, and the Florida League of Women Voters sent a letter to Governor DeSantis prior to the bill signing asking him to veto the legislation.

“We are particularly concerned that SB 90, by design, seeks to silence voters’ voices based on what they look like or where they come from. For example, Black and brown voters work longer hours and live in larger households, making changes such as cutting out 24-hour drop boxes and limiting help with ballot delivery into proportionately greater barriers. Black and brown voters and young voters also disproportionately rely on community voter registration drives to access the ballot, making these restrictions especially unfair. No matter their race, background or zip code, Floridians must have the ability to safely and freely cast their ballots so that every voice is heard,” the letter states in part.

The new bill is part of a larger effort by Republican controlled state legislatures to restrict voting access amid unprecedented voter turnout in the 2020 elections and former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 361 bills aimed at suppressing the vote were introduced in 47 states as of March 24.

Over 400 Businesses Sign onto Coalition in Support of the Equality Act

Several hundred businesses that collectively employ 14.6 million people in the U.S. have signed onto a coalition formed by the Human Rights Campaign to support the passage of the Equality Act.

The Equality Act creates anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across a host of areas including employment, housing, credit, education, public services, federal programs, and jury service. It would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, as well as several other laws pertaining to employment with the federal government to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected statuses.

Major companies that joined the coalition include Apple, Delta Airlines, Pfizer, Tesla, Amazon, PepsiCo, General Motors, CVS, Facebook, Marriott, Capital One, Starbucks and Home Depot.

“We are seeing growing support from business leaders because they understand that the Equality Act is good for their employees, good for their businesses and good for our country. Employers care about their employees’ ability to rent an apartment, send their kids to school, visit the dentist, and pick up the groceries free from discrimination,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.

“They realize that when LGBTQ employees and their family members are protected in their daily lives, it makes them more secure and confident in their jobs, and also more productive. Thank you to every company that is speaking up and advocating for the passage of the Equality Act. It’s time for the Senate to listen to the business community and the public and pass this long overdue legislation,” he said.

The call to pass the Equality Act comes as conservative lawmakers across the country are introducing legislation that targets transgender people, which has inspired the business community to come together to push for the passage of anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.

According the Hart Research Associates, 70 percent of Americans support the passage of the Equality Act, but it faces staunch opposition from congressional Republicans. It would require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome the filibuster, which many pro-democracy advocates have denounced as a racist and outdated relic of the Jim Crow era that is being used to block progressive legislation in the Senate.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Sweeping Anti-Abortion Legislation into Law

On Monday, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt signed three anti-abortion bills into law, making abortion in Oklahoma nearly impossible to access.

HB 2441 is a “heartbeat” bill, which prohibits abortion once a “fetal heartbeat” has been detected. It only makes exceptions for cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Any provider who performs an abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected would be charged with homicide. This measure essentially outlaws abortion after 6 weeks, often before the person is even aware of the pregnancy.

HB 1102 classifies the performance of an abortion as “unprofessional conduct” and revokes the medical license of any provider who performs an abortion for any reason other than to save the life of the pregnant person.

HB 1904 requires all abortion providers in the state to be board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology. All three are set to take effect November 1of this year.

Together the three pieces of legislation make receiving an abortion in the state of Oklahoma almost impossible. The legislation will face legal challenges in court, most likely preventing it from taking effect in November.

Anti-abortion state legislators across the country have been ramping up the passage of similar bills in dozens of states. Anti-abortion advocates hope that the bills will form the basis of a legal challenge that will work its way to the now majority conservative Supreme Court and will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. According to a report from Planned Parenthood that was released in March, 516 abortion restrictions have been introduced this year versus 304 in 2019.

Arkansas Passes Law Requiring Survivors of Rape, Incest to Report Crime Before Seeking Abortion

On Wednesday, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill that requires victims of rape and incest to report the crime to police before seeking an abortion after the state’s 20-week limit.

The law will apply to other restrictive abortion cutoffs currently enacted by the state and will require abortion providers to document that a crime has been reported to law enforcement if an abortion is performed after 20 weeks, according to the Associated Press.

The new rule does not apply to the near-total abortion ban signed into law in March, which does not include exceptions for rape and incest, and which abortion rights advocates have promised to challenge in court before it takes effect this summer.

Opponents of the new law assert that it will further victimize and traumatize survivors of incest and rape by forcing them to go to the police before receiving abortion care. According to the Justice Department, three out of four sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement.

The new legislation is part of a continued effort to pass anti-abortion laws that will challenge and overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

House Judiciary Committee Votes on Bill to Establish Commission on Reparations for Slavery

Last week, legislators in the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a bill that would establish a commission to propose ideas on how to redress the effects of slavery in the U.S.

H.R. 40, sponsored by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and named after the unfulfilled promise of “40 acres and a mule” for emancipated slaves, establishes the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, which according to Congress.gov will “identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.”

The commission would also consider a “national apology” for the harms caused by slavery.

The vote comes three decades after the bill was first introduced. Renewed interest in the bill has arisen during the current nationwide reckoning with systemic racism and the continued oppression of Black people in the U.S.

“We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “And of course, we’re asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.”

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for a vote, but faces opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. There is also doubt that the bill would pass the Senate where it would need 60 votes to move forward.

“Understanding that the compounding nature of racism has created a dynamic where Black people today must not only grapple with living in a country built on our sustained oppression, but also observe the modern manifestations in our daily lives,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY).

Reparations proponents are divided over what form reparations could take but assert that the need remains to address the racial wealth gap and the continued effects of systemic racism.

FDA Lifts Ban on Receiving Abortion Pill By Mail During Pandemic

On Tuesday, the Biden administration lifted the ban on receiving the pills required for medication abortion through the mail. The reprieve only applies for the duration of the pandemic but is still a major victory for abortion rights advocates.

In a letter sent Monday, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said that the agency would stop enforcing the rule that requires patients to pick up the medication in person from a medical provider during the pandemic.

Citing four recent medical studies, Woodcock wrote that “these studies do not appear to show increases in serious safety concerns… occurring with medical abortion as a result of modifying the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Professional medical organizations and reproductive health advocacy groups applauded the decision.

“Mifepristone itself has demonstrated, through both clinical study and decades of use, to be a safe, effective medication,” said Maureen Phipps, the president and chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Requiring the medicine to be dispensed in person, then taken elsewhere at the patients’ discretion, is arbitrary and does nothing to bolster the safety of an already-safe medicine.”

The new measure contradicts a recent Supreme Court ruling which appealed a federal judge’s decision that suspended the ban. The judge ruled on the basis that the requirement endangered the health of pregnant people seeking medication abortion by requiring them to pick up the drug in person. Monday’s rule change overrides the Supreme Court ruling since it comes from the FDA itself and not a lower court.

Shortly after the pandemic began many heavily regulated medications such as methadone were given the green light to be dispensed through the mail. Abortion rights advocates used this to highlight the disparity in how mifepristone was regulated under the Trump administration despite the public health crisis.

“By halting enforcement of the in-person dispensing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA is recognizing and responding to the available evidence – which has clearly and definitively demonstrated that the in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone is unnecessary and restrictive,” said Phipps.

New Mexico Governor Signs Bill Requiring Paid Sick Leave

Last week, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that will make New Mexico one of 15 states requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees, regardless of the size of the business.

The union-backed legislation guarantees that employees can accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked—up to 64 hours of leave per year.

“This is, point blank, a humane policy for workers,” said Lujan Grisham in a statement. “No one should ever be compelled to come to work when they are sick. And no worker should ever feel they must choose between their health and their livelihood.”

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the bill will permit employees to use the paid leave for “illnesses, injuries, family medical appointments, and absences due to domestic abuse or sexual assault.”

Bellanira Lozano, a single mother from Sante Fe who is a domestic worker, said her family has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

“This law means families like mine won’t have to decide between getting paid or going to work sick,” said Lozano.

The law is set to go into effect July 1, 2022.

Charges Dropped Against GA Representative Who Protested Anti-Voter Law

Yesterday, a district attorney in Atlanta announced that charges against Democratic Georgia state representative Park Cannon will be dropped. Rep. Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested on March 25th when she knocked on the door to Governor Brian Kemp’s office after he signed a new anti-voter bill into law and was speaking on live television.

As we previously reported, “In a seven-minute Facebook Live video filmed by activist Tamara Stevens, Cannon is seen knocking on the door to the room where the Governor was holding a news conference the bill, and then arrested by multiple officers who refused to state clearly why they were arresting her. A Georgia Department of Public Safety spokesperson reported that Cannon was arrested for “obstructing law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.”

“After reviewing all of the evidence, I have decided to close this matter,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said in a statement. “It will not be presented to a grand jury for consideration of indictment, and it is now closed.”

“While some of Representative Cannon’s colleagues and the police officers involved may have found her behavior annoying, such sentiment does not justify a presentment to a grand jury of the allegations in the arrest warrants or any other felony charges,” she said.

Willis said she made her decision after an investigation in which statements were collected from multiple witnesses and the Capitol police.

 “We are appreciative of the decision of the district attorney after we provided witnesses to her and we plan to speak publicly very soon about our next steps,” said Cannon’s attorney Gerald Griggs.

“The Governor’s signing of this legislation behind closed doors illustrated the public’s disappointment with this bill or any other voter suppression measure. In our fight for all Georgians, we will continue to fight for equal access to the ballot by engaging in local elections and supporting our community partners. As the matters pertaining to Representative Cannon subside, we will continue to show her and our other members’ support as they work to end voter suppression,” the Georgia Democratic Caucus said in a statement.

The new anti-voter bill imposes restrictive measures that disproportionately impact Black, young, and disabled voters in the state of Georgia.

“Georgia’s election rules adds a new photo ID requirement to vote absentee by mail, gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials, prohibits people from giving water and snacks to people waiting in line, and makes some changes to early voting, among other things,” per the Associated Press.

Voting rights groups have already vowed to take legal action and are suing to prevent the law from being enacted.

Arkansas Legislature Overrides Veto on Trans Youth Health Care Bill

Yesterday, the Arkansas General Assembly voted to override Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto on the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, a bill that will prohibit transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming health care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, among other services.

The bill is the first of its kind in the nation and has been publicly reviled by LGBTQ groups and professional medical organizations who argue that the bill will further marginalize a group that is already at risk for higher rates of self-harm and suicide.

“Despite opposition from even their own anti-LGBTQ governor, Arkansas legislators have denied transgender children access to medically-necessary and age-appropriate health care. This is the first law of its kind anywhere in the country, and it is immeasurably cruel to the transgender children who already suffer from higher risks of anxiety, depression, body dysphoria, and suicidal ideation and for whom those risks will only increase without medical care. This broadly unpopular bill is anti-science and dismisses the medical expertise of a wide range of child welfare advocates,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.  

“Arkansas legislators, against the will of Governor Hutchinson, are not only inviting irreparable harm to their state’s transgender youth, but also economic and reputational consequences to all Arkansans. The Human Rights Campaign condemns this action by the Arkansas legislature and will use every tool at our disposal to fight against this law and for the rights all transgender youth and their families.”

Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed the bill saying that it is “”a product of the cultural war in America,” and that it creates “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”

Pro-LGBTQ groups have vowed legal action to halt the enactment of the law this summer.

“The Arkansas Legislature has ignored dozens of local doctors and national medical experts, as well as trans youth and their parents. This bill will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state and send a terrible and heartbreaking message to the transgender young people who are watching in fear,” Chase Stangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project said in a statement.

“Gender-affirming care is life-saving care and banning that care will have devastating and in some cases deadly consequences. Trans youth in Arkansas: We will continue to fight for you. The ACLU is preparing litigation as we speak. ACLU supporters from around the country spoke out against this bill. We will always have your back and will be relentless in our defense of your rights.”

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