Supreme Court Delivers Another Blow Against Abortion Rights

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a clearly unconstitutional abortion ban in Texas, leaving in place S.B. 8, which bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Court’s ruling substantially narrows options to challenge the law in federal court, and there is no fast option for a Texas Supreme Court ruling in state court, say legal experts.

By refusing to block S.B.8, which authorizes vigilantes to enforce the ban via civil lawsuit, the Court has allowed the ban to remain in place while it determines whether parts of the law are permissible. The Court will not determine the constitutionality of Texas’ abortion ban; rather, it will determine if state governments can circumvent a federal, constitutional right by “delegating to the general public the authority to enforce that prohibition through civil action.” It will also determine if the federal government is able to file a lawsuit to “obtain injunctive or declaratory relief against the State…and prohibit S.B.8 from being enforced.”

The Court’s decision to allow S.B.8’s enforcement while it deliberates effectively robs pregnant people in the second largest state in the nation of their constitutional rights. By permitting a state to delegate authority to uphold the law to members of the public, the Court’s decision makes a mockery of federal constitutional rights. “It would vitiate our federal system of rights if left to stand, while it now injures countless numbers of women, girls, and pregnant people,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. The widely-quoted opinion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor deserves to be read in its entirety.

The Supreme Court Must Not Reward Anti-Abortion Violence

by Christian F. Nunes and Eleanor Smeal

Political violence as a tool for achieving political goals is on the rise, particularly when it comes to abortion. We’ve seen this before with S.B. 8 in Texas, a law that codifies vigilante anti-abortion extremism, and we’re seeing it again with the Mississippi abortion ban case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, now before the Supreme Court.

Mississippi argues that access to abortion is not a right, but a “controversy” for which individual states should be able to apply their own rules. But the evidence is clear that from the beginning, anti-abortion extremists have used violence as a deliberate strategy to reduce and eliminate abortion access. 

These strategies don’t involve peaceful protesting, rather we’re seeing death threats, harassment and violence – often with racist undertones. The controversy here isn’t abortion, it’s the extremists harassing, stalking, threatening, and killing people, and making women walk the gauntlet to get into a clinic. THAT is the act of extremism. And that is what the highest court in our land must renounce.

A ruling against abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could undermine the bedrock principle that violence has no place in our political discourse, adding to the rising influence of those who proclaim that political violence works.

But as this case shows, it worked in Mississippi.

In the years following Roe, anti-abortion extremists waged a campaign that included stalking, intimidation, and violence against doctors who provided abortion care. As a result, Mississippi went from 14 clinics in 1981 to only 1 remaining clinic today—the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. There, anti-abortion extremists masquerade as clinic volunteers, wearing decoy “escort” vests and taking down license plates to further harass clients.

In a recent national clinic violence survey conducted by Feminist Majority Foundation, 52% of responding clinics experienced targeted threats and intimidation, including stalking, harassing, and more. According to the National Abortion Federation, violent incidents at abortion clinics more than doubled in just one year, from 521 incidents in 2016 to 1,081 in 2017. In 2019, the most recent year complete figures were published, there were 1,724 acts of violence at abortion clinics.

All told, from 1977 to 2019, acts of anti-abortion violence included at least 12 murders, 26 attempted murders, and at least 756 threats of harm or death, 620 stalking incidents, and four kidnappings. Crimes directed at clinic facilities have included at least 42 bombings, 189 arsons, 100 attempted bombings or arsons, and 662 bomb threats.

That’s why a historic coalition of women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, and reproductive justice groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation, filed an amicus brief in this case that directly speaks to the rise in violence as a means of advancing a dangerous political agenda.

The Supreme Court must not ignore the history of violence and threats against abortion care providers and their patients. A verdict against abortion rights will be seen as a reward to the extremists who will use the ruling to justify their violent acts and undermine the rule of law.

It would be tantamount to granting permission to the worst elements of a vocal minority to do their worst—no questions asked.

Overturning Roe or limiting the constitutional right to abortion is not about women’s health. It’s about politicians seeking to deny women bodily autonomy and exert control over their future. The ease with which violent vigilantism is accepted as part of the “controversy” is cause for alarm—and decisive action.

The appearance of violence by a vocal minority feeds the fabricated controversy over abortion, regardless of longstanding public support. The bottom line is that abortion is a constitutional right, one in which states do not need to meddle. The Supreme Court must rule against the Mississippi abortion ban— and for the rule of law.

Christian F. Nunes is the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal is the co-founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Feminist Victory: House Passes Build Back Better Act Today

In a historic victory for feminist policies, the Build Back Better Act passed the House of Representatives Friday morning by a vote of 220-213. The Act will invest billions in helping women, families, and the environment. 

The law was able to be passed thanks to the strong leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the leader of the Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal.

Included in the law are universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds, free school lunches, and expanded head start programs. 

American workers will finally have universal access to four weeks of paid family and medical leave. Paid leave will cover a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care; to recover from a serious illness, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Benefits will be provided based on a sliding scale with low-income workers receiving 90% of their income. The percentage decreases as an individual’s income increases.

The law also caps child care spending at 7% of an individual’s annual income for people making 250% or less of the median state income and extends the Child Tax Credit for another year.

It also addresses health care disparities by expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days after birth to one year, with the goal of combating maternal mortality rates, as well as capping insulin costs at $35 per month. This is a major victory, as pharmaceutical companies have hiked the price of insulin to $300 per vial. 

Additionally, the law expands medicare to include hearing coverage, and caps prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year.

The Act also allocates $500 billion to combat climate change.

“This bill is monumental. It is historic,” Speaker Pelosi said. “It is transformative. It is bigger than anything we have ever done.”

Sources: Build Back Better Act 11/3/21; The Center for Law and Social Policy 11/16/21; CNBC 11/18/21; CNBC 11/19/21

Texas’s Six-Week Ban Has Been In Effect for Over Two Months. Is There an End in Sight?

by Roxy Szal for Ms. magazine

With a lack of Supreme Court action to block the most restrictive abortion ban in history, Texas abortion advocates are looking to a district court for relief.

On Wednesday, a state district judge heard arguments from abortion providers and advocates to block enforcement of Texas Senate Bill 8, the most restrictive abortion ban in the country. For the first time, a judge was tasked to formally rule on the merits of the law and the constitutionality of the ban under both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions. Judge David Peeples of the 98th Judicial District Court in Travis County is expected to rule on the decision soon.

The case is a consolidation of 14 lawsuits filed in Texas on behalf of doctors, abortion fund organizations, lawyers and other advocates that challenge the ban. Rather than target the state of Texas itself, the suits target Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion PAC that helped craft language for S.B. 8 as well as S.B. 1, the infamous voting law that creates higher barriers to ballot access and is especially harmful to Texans of color.

“I am bringing this lawsuit because nobody is above the law,” said Allison Van Stean, an individual plaintiff and attorney in the case, at a Wednesday press conference. “S.B. 8 is vague and overbroad, and it was intentionally calculated to try to prevent successful litigation. … I am a plaintiff in this suit because I am angry that the state of Texas conspired with anti-abortion groups to circumvent the law.”

“Today is the first day since S.B. 8 went into effect that the people of Texas will be heard on this law,” said Anna Rupani, executive director of Fund Texas Choice, another plaintiff.

Up until now, S.B. 8 has evaded judicial scrutiny due to a unique provision in the law that delegates enforcement of the law to private citizens—though legal scholars say the law flies in the face of Supreme Court precedent in the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion, and the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey which reaffirmed Roe. Despite myriad lawsuits from plaintiffs ranging from the Department of Justice to on-the-ground abortion providers, the law has been in effect since Sept. 1

And it’s having chilling effects: Since the law has been in effect, 99 percent of the clients abortion funds like Fund Texas Choice and the Lilith Fund serve must travel out of state to obtain their abortion. The average cost of each abortion-seeker’s travel is $900, according to Rupani.

Texans who can afford to travel have obtained abortions in at least 12 states that do not border Texas, including Illinois, Maryland and Washington, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute. The four states that border Texas—Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma—are also experiencing overcrowding in an attempt to accommodate both local community members and Texans migrating for abortions.

On the ground in Texas, people cannot wait “while judges and politicians play legal ping-pong with procedural issues,” said Rupani. “Every day this ban remains in place is one more day of cruelty to Texans.”

“Our lawsuit is about fighting for Texans who deserve access to the essential health care they need, without having their medical decisions controlled by politicians, anti-abortion vigilantes, or anyone else,” said plaintiff Amanda Beatriz Williams, executive director of Lilith Fund.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in two other cases challenging the law: United States v. Texas and Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson. The Court is expected to rule soon on whether to allow the challenges to proceed.

“Though this is in one sense about abortion, it is really about much more,” the dean of Berkeley Law School Erwin Chemerinksy told Ms.’s Carrie Baker. “It’s about: Can the state adopt a law that blatantly violates the Constitution and then immunize itself from federal court review? … Ultimately, it’s about whether states have to follow the Constitution. It’s about the very structure of American government.” 

It’s unclear what the outcome of Wednesday’s challenge will be, especially in comparison to the forthcoming Supreme Court ruling.

On Tuesday, Ms. and the Brennan Center (BC) for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law, co-published 11 essays as part of a groundbreaking series, “Abortion Is Essential to Democracy.” In the series, BC experts argue that voting rights and democracy are connected to abortion access. 

The essays all directly comment on the decision for the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments on Dec. 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson—a direct challenge to both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. CaseyRead all 11 essays here.

Fifty Years After Passage, the Equal Rights Amendment Is More Important Than Ever

This is an opinion piece written by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, published originally on Ms. online.

Imagine for a moment that the Equal Rights Amendment had become part of the U.S. Constitution soon after Congress in 1972 sent it to the states for ratification.

Many heartbreaking events would have been prevented, for both women and men. Young women would have the same opportunities and pay as their male counterparts. People from all marginalized genders likely would be covered under the ERA in a range of employment, public accommodations, housing and healthcare. Women of color and those with disabilities would have additional protections against discrimination. And fewer older women would be living in poverty.

None of that is true today. The ERA has not been added to the Constitution—even though it passed both houses of Congress by a 9–1 margin in 1972, far more than the needed two-thirds majority.

Instead, women’s rights have been turned back on a number of fronts, including sexual assault rates, as documented by the #MeToo movement; reproductive health policies; employment practices; and more. Women’s paychecks remain smaller than men’s for similar work.  Many more women must take unpaid leave during pregnancy and childbirth or if ill or caring for others. As income averaging or time on a job often determine retirement packages, older women are at the short end of the retirement stick—if they are lucky enough to receive any retirement income at all.

The ERA was first proposed in 1923 to remedy these injustices, but it languished in a sexist era. Only dogged work by Reps. Martha Griffiths of Michigan, Shirley Chisholm of New York, and other new House members of the 1960s won a joint congressional resolution 50 years ago this month to amend the Constitution—which finally brought the bill to a vote the following March.

The ERA’s language is simple:  

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

Just think how those words might have changed the lives of millions of women in low-paying work, providing opportunities for a better education, paths for higher-paying careers, family policies to help raise children, and relief from holding two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or, think how lives would change if victims of sexual violence could have the right to sue under the Constitution, and about the many brave women who have come forward recently to challenge discrimination and abuse—not just by celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Andrew Cuomo and Matt Lauer, but also by countless others.  

Would male perpetrators have behaved differently if societal norms changed enough during their boyhoods to prevent their misogyny? Think how much energy and potential might have blossomed, and how many careers might have turned out differently, especially for the victims who risk their jobs and personal lives by coming forward to report sexual abuse.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) rallying at the steps of the Supreme Court for the Equal Rights Amendment in 2014. (Rep. Maloney / Flickr)

With three states ratifying the ERA in recent years—Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020—the amendment has finally met the three-fourths threshold for adoption. Each state that has ratified in the 21st Century has had Democrats and Republicans alike co-sponsoring the bills and voting for ratification. The amendment has met the requirements laid out in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.  Now, the federal government must validate the ratifications of the three final states.

The will of the people of Nevada, Illinois and Virginia—along with the 35 other states that previously ratified the ERA—must be certified by the executive branch. The final step lies with the archivist of the United States, whose job it is to publish and certify any amendment—yet he hasn’t done so with the ERA. I urge him to do so without further delay.

The ERA has strong majority support and is popular with the public. A recent poll by the Associated Press found that three-quarters of Americans support the ERA; only 4 percent oppose it. Among Democrats, 89 percent support the ERA and only 1 percent oppose it, while Republicans are at 61 percent support and only 9 percent in opposition. Few issues today have such enthusiastic bipartisan approval.

No one wants to return to the days when women were routinely fired for being pregnant; when admission policies kept most women out of law and medical schools, journalism and executive suites; when women could not get credit in their own names; or when they could land only stereotyped roles in films and media.  

But could it happen again?  Over the past five years, there have been reversals in Title IX on education, access to reproductive health, legal decisions on domestic violence and more. Establishing “equality of rights under the law” would prevent further roll-backs for today’s generation and future ones.

Congress should affirm immediately that there can be no time limit on equality. In March, the House passed H.J. Res. 17, which would eliminate the arbitrary time limit for ERA ratification and remove any shadow of uncertainty about the ERA’s validity. A companion measure is pending in the Senate.

Gender equality is not a partisan issue. The ERA is the way to guarantee it, and the time for action is now.

Anti-Abortion Activist Who Advocated for Ending Women’s Suffrage Speaks at RNC

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee turned anti-abortion activist, spoke at the Republican National Convention (RNC) on Tuesday. Johnson was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic before leaving after reportedly watching an abortion on an ultrasound. She now runs And Then There Were None, an organization which helps those who work in facilities which provide abortions change jobs. In her speech, Johnson made false claims about Planned Parenthood and described the abortion process graphically. She then praised the President’s anti-abortion record.

While Johnson’s speech fell on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted many women the right to vote, Johnson has supported anti-feminist policies. Johnson has advocated for “bringing back household voting,” which would only allow the head of each household to vote. This type of voting is used in some religious communities where the head of the household is almost universally recognized as male. When asked what would happen if members of a household disagreed on who to vote for, she responded, “In a Godly household, the husband would get the final say.” Johnson has also stated that police officers would be “smart” if they racially profiled her biracial son.

Johnson’s story of suddenly opposing abortion centers around watching on an ultrasound as a fetus at 13-weeks gestation was aborted. However, there are several inconsistencies with her story. Planned Parenthood records do not show an abortion with an ultrasound taking place on the day Johnson claims it did. Additionally, while Johnson has stated that the person having the abortion was black, Planned Parenthood records show that the only black person who had an abortion on that day was 6 weeks into their pregnancy – meaning the embryo they aborted would look drastically different than the 13-week fetus Johnson describes. In response to this evidence, Johnson has claimed that Planned Parenthood doctored files – something there is no evidence for. One of Johnson’s close friends disclosed that shortly before leaving Johnson had been placed on a “performance improvement plan” where she had to speak with Planned Parenthood’s Regional Director weekly due to inappropriate email exchanges between her and a coworker. These facts have called into question her story’s legitimacy.

During her RNC speech Johnson made false claims about Planned Parenthood, stating that 80% of Planned Parenthood locations were “strategically placed” in minority communities while noting the founder of Planned Parenthood’s support for eugenics. However, Planned Parenthood has refuted Johnson’s statistic, saying that “fewer than 4% of Planned Parenthood facilities are in communities that are more than one-third Black.” Johnson also repeated her story of witnessing an abortion in graphic detail while incorrectly referring to fetuses as “babies.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue criticized the RNC for including Johnson, saying that it “underscores Trump and Republicans’ ongoing willingness to prop up dangerous conspiracy theories.”

Sources: ABC News 8/26/20; The 19th 8/25/20; Vice News 8/25/20; Texas Monthly 2/2010; Texas Monthly 4/16/19; Texas Observer 1/28/10

2020 Democratic National Convention Roundup

Speakers including Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Ady Barkan, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton addressed the public through a virtual Democratic National Convention. Speeches included pleas to vote, praises for youth involvement, recognition of empathy, and calls to keep fighting.


First Lady Michelle Obama on empathy and moving forward

“So, it is up to us to add our voices and our votes to the course of history, echoing heroes like John Lewis who said, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something.” That is the truest form of empathy: not just feeling, but doing; not just for ourselves or our kids, but for everyone, for all our kids.”

Senator Bernie Sanders on defending democracy

“In response to the unprecedented crises we face, we need an unprecedented response– a movement, like never before, of people who are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and decency– and against greed, oligarchy, and bigotry.”


Medicare for All advocate Ady Barkan on health care as a human right

“Today, we are witnessing the tragic consequences of our failing health care system. In the midst of a pandemic, nearly 100 million americans do not have sufficient health insurance, and even good insurance does not cover essential needs like long-term care….we live in the richest country in history, and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right. Everyone living in america should get the health care they need, regardless of their employment status or their ability to pay.”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez on the people’s movement

“In fidelity and gratitude to a mass people’s movement working to establish 21st century social, economic, and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages, and labor rights for all people in the United States; a movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny, and homophobia, and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past; a movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many, and who organized a historic, grassroots campaign to reclaim our democracy.”


Nominee for Vice President, Senator Kamala Harris on pushing forward

“This week marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. And we celebrate the women who fought for that right. Yet so many of the Black women who helped secure that victory were still prohibited from voting, long after its ratification. But they were undeterred. Without fanfare or recognition, they organized, testified, rallied, marched, and fought—not just for their vote, but for a seat at the table. These women and the generations that followed worked to make democracy and opportunity real in the lives of all of us who followed. They paved the way for the trailblazing leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And these women inspired us to pick up the torch, and fight on. Women like Mary Church Terrell and Mary McCleod Bethune. Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash. Constance Baker Motley and Shirley Chisholm. We’re not often taught their stories. But as Americans, we all stand on their shoulders.”

President Obama on the importance of youth involvement in politics

“To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better — in so many ways, you are this country’s dreams fulfilled. Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it’s a given — a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions. You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient — the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.”

Hillary Clinton on the importance of voting

“Vote for parents struggling to balance their child’s education and their safety. And for health care workers fighting COVID-19 with no help from the White House. Vote for paid family leave and health care for everyone. Vote to protect Social Security, Medicare, reproductive rights, and our planet. Vote for DREAMers and their families. For law enforcement that serves and respects communities of color. Vote for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, because Black Lives Matter.”

Sources: CNN 8/17/20; New York Times 8/19/20; CNN 8/18/20; CNN 8/19/20

Michigan Women Sue To Repeal Period Tax

Three Michigan women are suing the state’s Treasury Department over taxes on menstrual products, claiming the taxes violates the equal protections clause in both the state and U.S. constitutions.

The plaintiffs, represented by menstrual equity group Period Equity, is suing to end the tax and to issue a refund to people who have paid the tax in the past four years. The state collects around $7 million in menstrual product taxes each year, amounting to about $28 million in the past four years.

The tax, paid only by people who menstruate, clearly discriminates based on sex and is unconstitutional, according to Joanne Faycurry, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

“The Constitution is clear: It’s a discriminatory tax,” she said. “For the government to impose a burden on a product that women must use, it’s a tax on women for being women,” she said.

Especially during a pandemic when people are facing unemployment and women are disproportionately affected economically, this tax relief would be significant, according to Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of Period Equity.

“We’ve been working with economists in the state whose research shows that the economic environment and the circumstances of the pandemic have exacerbated the living the lives, financial status and strength of women disproportionately in the state,” Weiss-Wolf said. “We think this is a reasonable and important form of tax relief that the state can offer.”

In both the Michigan state House and Senate, legislators have introduced bills that would exempt menstrual products from sales and use taxes. The proposed law has received a committee hearing in the House but has not made it to the floor. The Senate bill has not had a hearing.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she would support eliminating the period tax if a bill is sent to her desk. However, the Treasury Department declined to comment because of the ongoing lawsuit.

States that still tax menstrual products have decreased significantly in the past four years from 40 to 30. In Ohio, Florida and New York, lawsuits similar to the current one has prompted the legislature to repeal the tax.

Just like food and medical prescriptions, menstrual products are essential and should not be taxed, the lawsuit said.

“The essential nature of menstrual products has been highlighted during the current economic crisis, with the need for affordable products greater than ever,” the lawsuit said.

Sources: The Detroit News 08/13/20; USA Today 08/13/20; Detroit Metro Times 08/13/20

Afghan Women’s Groups Call for Meeting with Taliban Leadership to Discuss Equal Rights

Ahead of the Intra-Afghan talks, expected in days, a coalition of Afghan women’s rights groups have released an open letter to the Taliban leadership calling for a peaceful resolution to the four decades of war, reaffirming their position to preserve and build on the gains of the last 20 years, and calling for a meeting with senior members of the group. The coalition of Afghan women demand that they be treated as equal citizens of their country now and in the future of Afghanistan, post-peace talks.

“As we have repeatedly offered, we are prepared to sit down with the Taliban and have a genuine discussion about the needs and challenges of our population and our country,” the letter states. “We have done so with members of the Afghan government and believe it is equally important to engage with the Taliban. We believe this is important because you are a party to the conflict and to the negotiations.”

The Afghan women are firm that they will not go back to a time when they were treated as second class citizens, or even less than that. The letter reads “We will not allow our place and contribution towards rebuilding our country to be erased or reversed. More than ever we recognize our capacity to contribute to the wellbeing of our society.”

The Taliban often refers to Afghan women’s demand for equality as Western and influenced by outsiders. In response, the women’s groups wrote that, “You have often projected our obligation to our country and people as a western influence and propaganda but there is nothing western in Afghan women demanding respect for their dignity and protection of their equal rights.”

The appeal follows a wider campaign by Afghan women, supporters, and activists calling for meaningful inclusion in the Afghan peace process, which has largely excluded women. The letter rejects the notion that Afghan women demanding basic rights is a Western influence and instead emphasize that the rights the group demand are inherent to Islam, a majority religion and other faiths practiced in Afghansitan.

Women make up more than 50 per cent of the population and their exclusion from Afghan peace process has raised significant concerns in Afghanistan and beyond about the erosion of women and minority rights. A recent Asia Foundation Survey of the Afghan People, the longest running opinion poll in the country, demonstrated that a large part of the Afghan population did not want to jeopardize women’s rights for a deal with the Taliban. 

The letter is part of a campaign led by a coalition of Afghan women and organizations, both national and international. So far, Afghan women have written to women world leaders, to the mother of the king of Qatar where the Taliban leadership is currently based, to the media, and this time to the Taliban leaders. In the letters, Afghan women and their allies have been clear that they want an end to the ongoing war in Afghanistan but want a peace in which they are equal citizens of their country now and in the future of Afghanistan. The letter includes the voices of women from across the country through a series of consultations and interviews.

Sources: Asia Foundation 12/19

Nebraska Governor Expected to Sign Abortion Ban into Law

An abortion ban passed by the Nebraska State Legislature is soon to hit the desk of Governor Pete Ricketts, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

On Thursday, Legislative Bill 814 passed 33-8 after coming to the floor with no committee work or amendments. LB814 bans the abortion method commonly known as D&E – dilation and evacuation. It is one of the methods available for second-trimester abortions and is the most common second-trimester method.

Opponents filibustered during each level of debate, concerned that the bill received special treatment. Although stuck in committee after a February hearing, Senator Suzanne Geist, who introduced the bill, successfully moved to bring it to the floor. One opponent, Senator Megan Hunt, said Lt. Gov. Mike Foley was able to run a legislative strategy on the bill, and that the bill was given priority during scheduling.

Gov. Ricketts praised the bill’s passage and has previously spoken out against D&E abortions. Earlier this year he released a column discussing the need to put a stop to the medical procedure. When the bill hits his desk, he is expected to sign it into law. However, the bill’s opponents are prepared to take action before it goes into effect in November.

In an online statement, the ACLU of Nebraska said, “Whether through the courts or the Capitol, we are committed to doing everything we can to protect access to abortion care in Nebraska…Bottom line, we don’t back down from fights and this fight isn’t over.”

Planned Parenthood North Central States has also spoken out against the bill. “Today lawmakers continued their attack on reproductive health care in Nebraska, creating arbitrary barriers to safe, legal abortion. This egregious law is not about improving the health care of Nebraskans and, instead, is about shaming them and placing additional burdens on women,” said the organization’s Nebraska executive director Andi Curry Grubb.

Currently, D&E abortions have been banned in only two states. The ban has previously been introduced in many other state legislatures, where it has often failed to pass. Courts have also successfully struck down multiple attempts to enact the ban in different states.

Sources: Fremont Tribune 8/14/20; 3/2/20; Omaha World Herald 8/13/20

Despite Landmark Cases, Abortion & Transgender Rights Challenged in Courts

Last June, the Supreme Court delivered two landmark decisions regarding abortion & transgender rights. In June Medical Services v. Russo, the court struck down a restrictive Louisiana law that would have left just a single abortion clinic in the entire state open, and in Bostock V. Clayton, the court ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQIA+ employees from discrimination on the basis of sex. 

It’s now August, and these two decisions are already having effects on our nation’s legal system – and proving that the battle is far from won. 

June Medical Services v. Russo dealt with a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. The law would have forced all abortion providers to acquire admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If it had gone into effect, only a single doctor within a single clinic would have been left to perform abortions for the entire state. The ruling was 5 to 4 against the law, with Justices Sotomayor, Ginsberg, Kagan, Breyer, and Roberts making up the majority. 

However, Chief Justice John Roberts did not join the opinion set forth by the liberal wing of the court. Instead, he stated his decision was based on precedent alone – and that he did not agree with the decision of the Texas case precedent. Now, his opinion on a case that ruled against restricting access to abortion is being used to further restrict access to abortion. In Arkansas, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals cited his words as reason for lifting an injunction on four harmful abortion laws, which “would completely block many people from obtaining abortion care, and would eventually leave the state with even more limited abortion care” said the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Reproductive Rights in a joint statement. 

Bostock V. Clayton centered people who were fired from their jobs for being LQBTQIA+. The Supreme Court was tasked with deciding if “on the basis of sex” in the Civil Rights Act included LGBTQIA+ identity – and therefore if it is against the constitution to fire someone for being gay or transgender. In a 6-3 ruling, the court stated that it is, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion. 

However, within the opinion, Gorsuch wrote: “under Title VII, too, we do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind… the only question before us is whether an employer who fires someone simply for being homosexual or transgender has discharged or otherwise discriminated against that individual ‘because of such individual’s sex.” This made it unclear how the ruling would be applied in the lower courts. But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heavily relied on Bostock V. Clayton to deliver their 2-1 ruling that ensured a transgender boy could use the school restroom that matched his gender identity. 

Judge Beverly B. Martin wrote of her decision, “Bostock confirmed that workplace discrimination against transgender people is contrary to law. Neither should this discrimination be tolerated in schools… the school board’s bathroom policy, as applied to Mr. Adams, singled him out for different treatment because of his transgender status. It caused him psychological and dignitary harm.”

Sources: Washington Post 08/13, New York Times 08/13, NPR 08/13

Pandemic Puts a Spotlight on Black Women’s Pay Gap

This year, August 13 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, which represents the approximate date into the new year that Black women must work in order to make what the average white non-Hispanic man made the previous year, recognizing the steep wage gap.

Unlike other years, however, the date falls in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, putting a spotlight on the Black women who are risking their health to work frontline jobs. Currently, the average Black woman makes 62 cents for every dollar that a white, non-Hispanic man makes. Black mothers are even further impacted, making only 50 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.  

However, this year’s coronavirus outbreak calls for a closer look at Black women workers. The pandemic has deemed certain workers as essential, including but not limited to healthcare workers, retail workers, teachers, custodians, and food service workers. According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 1 in 3 Black women are working these jobs on the frontline. These women remain disproportionately underpaid despite greatly contributing to the workforce and providing essential services. 

According to Nina Banks, associate professor of economics at Bucknell University, the pay gap is “particularly distressing” when considering that Black women have always had higher labor force participation rates than women of other races.  Many also worry that the pandemic will only further widen the wage gap, putting Black women at a clear disadvantage.

“While it’s difficult to say with certainty what impact COVID is going to have on Black women’s earning and wage disparities going forward, we certainly know it has interrupted the potential for Black women to increase or push for higher wages,” said Michelle Holder, assistant professor of economics at the City University of New York. She continues to explain that with more frequent layoffs, workers are losing their leverage.  The pay gap has not changed in 25 years and if it continues unchanged, Black women could lose nearly $950,000 over the course of a lifelong career.

Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center, notes the urgency of the current situation: “If this is not the time to fix it, when is it going to be the time? When is it going to be more dire or more clear?” 

Sources: National Women’s Law Center; NBC News 8/13/20; CNBS 8/13/20

ICE Expels Immigrant Children Even After Negative COVID-19 Tests

The Trump Administration is expelling immigrant children citing COVID-19 concerns, despite the children testing negative for the coronavirus before they are put on planes to their home countries.

An article published Monday by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reveals that the Trump administration had implemented a testing program in which every child is tested for the coronavirus before being expelled. The revelation undermines the administration’s purported reason for denying children legal protections, which was to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

Since March, the Trump administration has cited the pandemic as a reason to circumvent existing immigration laws that mandated immigrant children be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and be allowed to apply for asylum. Multiple reports have shown that children are being held at hotels with almost no contact with lawyers and family members before being expelled from the country.

While 3,379 of children were apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) between April and June, only 162 were sent to HHS shelters. CBP did not explain where the remaining children were or say what happened to them. Some children reported weeks-long detention in hotel rooms by unlicensed government contractors.

“We are only reaching a tiny fraction of these kids,” said Lisa Frydman, vice president of international programs at Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group for migrant children. “The rest are just gone.”

Given the administration’s health order implemented in March, the children are technically not deported but are instead expelled. This technical difference allows children to be sent back without a judge’s ruling and no access to social workers, lawyers, and sometimes even family members while they are in custody. Immigration advocates say the government is illegally using an obscure provision of the 1893 Public Health and Welfare Code.

“The government is getting away with a complete end run around all of the protections for children that Congress has painstakingly enacted,” said Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immigration attorney.

The ACLU, along with several other immigrant advocacy organizations, have sued the Trump administration to stop the expulsion of migrant children. In a July suit, advocates asked that the government release the names of children being held at hotels and allow them to talk to lawyers. Previously, lawyers have successfully prevented the expulsion of at least two children.

“The Trump administration is holding children in secret in hotels, refusing to give lawyers access to them so it can expel them back to danger without even a chance for the children to show they warrant asylum,” Gelernt said. “Unfortunately this is just the latest in a series of steps taken by the Trump administration to abuse and terrorize children.”

Sources: The Texas Tribune/ProPublica 08/10/20, 08/04/20; CBS News 07/24/20

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Arkansas Abortion Law

The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday to lift a block on four restrictive abortion laws passed in Arkansas.

Legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas, Holly Dickson, stated: “This ruling is a reminder that the fight against these extreme abortion restrictions is far from won… we are evaluating our next steps and will continue to fight to ensure these harmful and unconstitutional laws do not take effect.”

Included within the laws is a limit on a procedure common in second-trimester abortions and a provision that allows a person to litigate a doctor to stop their partner’s abortion. The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights initially litigated the laws on behalf of a Little Rock Abortion provider named Dr. Fredrick Hopkins.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals cited Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent opinion as their reasoning for lifting the temporary injunction. In a footnote, the Chief Justice wrote that the “validity of admitting privileges law depend[s] on numerous factors that may differ from state to state.” This, coupled with the line, “state and federal legislatures [have] wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty” were used as justification for the court’s ruling. These lines essentially imply that restrictive laws using alternative justifications can be implemented without violating the Constitution.

“The Supreme Court just weeks ago reaffirmed that a state cannot pass laws that unduly burden a person’s access to abortion, and that is exactly what these laws do,” said Hillary Schneller, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The laws are now set to take effect August 28.

Sources: 08/10, CNN 08/10, WTOP 08/10

Voting Rights Restored to Iowans with Felony Convictions

On Wednesday, Iowa ended its title as the only state in the nation to impose a lifetime voting ban on people with felony convictions when Governor Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights.

The order automatically reinstated the right to vote to Iowans who have completed their felony sentences, excluding those convicted of homicide and some sex offenses. Such individuals will still have to apply for restoration. Still, the order will restore voting rights to nearly 40,000 Iowans, according to Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.

Reynolds’ decision to sign the order comes after pressure from local activists and organizations, including Des Moines Black Lives Matter and ACLU Iowa. Although not invited to the signing, members of Des Moines Black Lives Matter spent the last few months demanding Reynolds restore voting rights after she promised to do so in June. The group wanted the governor to take action before the upcoming election in November.

The state’s voting ban disproportionately affected Black Iowans, making the executive order an important step in improving racial disparities in Iowa. According to ACLU Iowa, only 4% of Iowans are Black, but a Black person is 11 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person in the state.

The fight for a more permanent solution comes next, according to Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU Iowa. “While we’re delighted that immediately so many Iowans are eligible to register and vote, it’s important that we continue to pursue a more permanent fix to the problem of felony disenfranchisement in our state,” he said. Governor Reynolds agreed, saying, “Let me be clear: an executive order is, at best, a temporary solution. It can be changed with a stroke of a pen by the next governor, which is not good enough. Something that is fundamentally right should not be based on [the] benevolence of a single elected official.”

Stringer has advocated for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights, which the Iowa state legislature has failed to pass up until this point. However, Iowa State Representative Ako Abdul Samad, who had worked on the issue with Reynolds for a few years, looks to an even broader solution. “We’re asking everyone to reach in their own hearts to begin dealing with the root cause. You need to help us show that Black lives matter and if Black lives did matter this wouldn’t have been such a hoorah today. This would have been something that was already automatic,” he said.

Sources: NBC News 8/6/20; ACLU Iowa 4/19/20; CNN 8/5/20

Today Marks the 55th Anniversary of the Landmark Voting Rights Act

August 6th marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This momentous piece of legislation worked to ensure Black Americans could exercise their constitutional right to vote by combating voter suppression tactics.

I have said this before, and I will say it again – the vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” – John Lewis

Right after the Civil War ended in 1870, the United States ratified the 15th amendment — which extended the right to vote to Black people. The amendment reads: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But despite its ratification, most Black people in the country could not vote due to voter suppression tactics such as poll taxes, intimidation, and literacy tests. It was during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s – almost a century after the 15th amendment was ratified – that President Lyndon Johnson announced intentions to pass a voting rights act due to the tireless work of activists.

In 1965, the VRA was signed into law. The legislation worked to ensure all Black people had the right to vote by outlawing literacy tests and institutionalizing federal oversight to voter registration in places with implemented voter suppression tactics. Following its passage, the country saw a radical shift in Black voter registration. In Mississippi, the Black voter registration rate went from 6.7% in 1965 to 59.8% in 1967.

Unfortunately, in 2013 all of that changed. The United States Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, struck down the oversight portion of the VRA. This means that the federal government no longer has the power to stop states from enacting suppressive voting laws.

Now, the VRA has been almost completely gutted, and states are getting away with silencing thousands of voices by passing restrictive legislation – such as voter ID laws. Following the death of Rep. John Lewis – a civil rights activist who fought for voting rights – activists have pushed even harder for the VRA’s restoration, stating the proper way to honor him is to ensure voting rights are protected.

Sources: NAACP 08/06, Brennan Center for Justice 08/06, History 08/06, New York Times 08/06

Protests Surge Amid Growing Rates of Gender-Based Violence in Turkey

Protests have stirred across Turkey in recent weeks as thousands of women have taken to the streets to rally against gender-based violence.

Wednesday saw some of the largest rallies yet in response to the rising femicide rates and violence against women in Turkey. Most recently, last month’s brutal murder of Pinar Gültekin, a 27-year-old university student, sparked great outrage and led to the latest outcry. According to We Will Stop Femicide, a platform working to end femicide and protect women’s rights, 474 Turkish women were murdered by men in 2019. This is double the number seen in 2011. Of those 474, 292 were killed in their homes and 134 women were killed by their husbands. So far in 2020, 205 women in Turkey have been killed.

Additional concerns for the safety of women in Turkey come from the government’s attempts to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty designed to combat and prevent gender-based violence. Signed in 2011, Turkey was the first country to ratify the groundbreaking convention. However, conservative lobbying groups have argued that it denigrates “family values” and promotes “LGBT lifestyles” and has urged the Turkish government to entirely abandon the treaty.

Lobbyists seem to ignore the violence against women in their argument. “Because they aren’t able to openly say they want women as their domestic slaves and the freedom to beat women at will, they latch onto LGBT+ rights as a more ‘socially acceptable’ pretext to attack the convention, hoping rampant homophobia will do the trick,” said Feride Eralp, a member of the Women are Stronger Together platform. Another women’s rights activist and Daily Sabah editorial coordinator, Meryem Ilayda Atlas, said, “Those who want Turkey to leave the convention usually don’t accept that there is specific violence against women.”

Protestors have shown their support for the treaty, holding signs reading “The Istanbul Convention is born out of women’s blood,” and “We will not allow femicides”. Some held banners with the names of the murdered women and read the names aloud, demanding that their names aren’t next to be read.

Leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party were expected to announce their decision on the convention on August 5. Their meeting has not yet taken place and they are now set to decide whether or not to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention sometime next week.

Sources: We Will Stop Femicide Platform; CNN 8/5/20; The Independent 8/6/20

Safety Zones to Protect Patients from COVID-19 and Protestors Up For Debate in Louisville

In Kentucky, the Louisville Metro Council is set to debate legislation that would allow healthcare facilities to create “buffer zones” outside their entrances. This would provide protection from COVID-19 and preserve access to services.

This access is especially important for medical centers that provide abortion services. The EMW Women’s Surgical Center is the only licensed abortion clinic in Kentucky, according to its website. This center draws anti-abortion protesters who crowd the sidewalks near the facility’s entrance. The Louisville Safety Zone campaign has been working with local officials to create buffer zones, which organizers are now calling “safety zones,” since 2016. 

The campaign has become even more necessary as COVID-19 becomes a major health concern. “Preventing the willful obstruction of and interference with people’s access to medical counseling and treatment at a health care facility is a matter of city-wide concern,” the legislation reads, “especially due to the current health pandemic.”

The ordinance, which was filed Monday, has nine cosponsors across Louisville. It would not just apply to the EMW Women’s Surgical Center but to all healthcare facilities. All medical facilities would be able “to create a 12-foot-wide safety zone extending from entrances to the closest street curb,” according to Courier

This safety zone would only allow licensees, emergency services, invitees, and patients who want to reach the facility. Anyone else would be prohibited from creating obstructions, remaining, or entering into the safety zone. The first violation of this would prompt a written warning and the second violation would lead to a fine from $100-$500. 

The reasoning behind this law is that many people who enter healthcare facilities may be at-risk or disabled, making COVID-19 much more dangerous for them. Without these safety zones, these marginalized people may not be able to access healthcare. 

These safety zones would allow healthcare facilities to request the Department of Public Works to mark the sidewalk and post a sign saying “Healthcare facility: No standing or obstructions within this zone.” 

Meg Stern, the support fund director for the Kentucky Health Justice Network, said Tuesday that this ordinance is “long overdue,” adding “every day that goes by, there are people that are having to endure harassment. And now, there’s this potentially deadly virus threat, and people have to walk past strangers that are yelling and not wearing a mask and getting in their face and blocking their path.” Clinic escorts, who are volunteers that walk with patients into the facility, have been disbanded due to the virus but protesters continue to gather. 

Stern also added that the local Metro council members don’t have to support abortion to vote in favor of this, but instead these zones are about “public safety” and “accessing care regardless of what kind of care someone needs to access.”

Sources: National Institute for Reproductive Health 08/05/20; Louisville Legislar 08/05/20; Courier 08/05/20; WFPL 08/05/20; WKU 08/05/20

Afghan Women and Their Allies Call for Meaningful Participation Intra-Afghan Peace Talks

Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and Cordaid, a leading Dutch relief and development organization hosted a virtual discussion on Afghan women’s role in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks on July 28, 2020. Panelists included former Ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway Shukria Barakzai; former Afghan Minister of Mines, Petroleum and Industries Nargis Nehan; former UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria Staffan de Mistura; and Director of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of Stability and Humanitarian Aid, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Marriët Schuurman.

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security moderated the panel. She opened up the discussion by stating “this is a particularly critical moment to call world attention to the importance of Afghan women’s meaningful participation in the anticipated peace talks because the stakes are high for Afghanistan, the region and the international community.”

Former Ambassador Shukria Barakzai expressed that “the current peace process is not a peace process because it is lacking the nation’s voice.” She added, “what kind of peace is it when they are marginalizing 60% of the country?”  Madeleine Albright also noted during her remarks that “peace cannot be made on the backs of Afghan women. The best way to ensure that does not happen is for women to fully participate in the peace process. Women need to be a party to the negotiation, not just an issue to be discussed.” Former Ambassador Shukria Barakzai stated that negotiators must be aware that “when four women are facing 45 men (at the negotiating table) this is injustice.”

Participants called for national and international officials to ensure Afghan women’s meaningful participation in an inclusive peace process and to preserve Afghan women’s rights. “The future rights and role of women in Afghanistan must be a priority and that starts with their substantive involvement in the peace process,” said the former U.S. Secretary of State. They also demanded international assistance and funding to support women’s rights during and after the intra-Afghan talks, the inclusion of Afghan civil society women’s groups, youth groups, minorities, the private sector, academics, and other segments of society.

They asked the international community to oversee the peace process and assess the Afghan government to make sure it fulfills its commitments to support women’s rights and their meaningful participation, and have a sufficient exit strategy that will promote lasting peace from the international community. Nargis Nehan also explained that “oversimplification of the peace process by only including the Taliban is very dangerous. The settlement will not be getting us anywhere and it will rather be a quick fix with a temporary direction and permanent handing over of Afghanistan to the Taliban that none of us want.”

While talking about the concerns of Afghan women, the participants were hopeful. “The resilience, courage, and leadership of Afghan women is a story of hope. They are not victims, but agents in their own right with a diversity of opinions. The international community should be there to lend support. It should be a shared commitment with the equal participation of Afghan women on the ground,” said Ambassador Marriët Schuurman. “As for cooperating with the Taliban: the Afghan women are ready to teach the Taliban how to be a good citizen”.

Sources: GIWPS, 07/30/20

Teen Jailed for Skipping Online Class Released by Michigan Court of Appeals

Oakland County teenager, known as “Grace,” has been released from jail after public outcry surrounding her imprisonment. Grace was incarcerated for not completing her homework after courses moved online due to the pandemic.

The Michigan Court of Appeals voted to release the 15-year-old by overturning a previous ruling that cited missing homework as a probation violation. Grace was released into her mother’s custody.

The 15-year-old was originally arrested on assault and theft charges. But in May, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan of Oakland County Family Court sent her to Oakland County Children’s Village, a juvenile detention facility, after she did not complete high school class assignments. The missing homework occurred after Grace’s school, Groves High School in Beverly Hills, switched to remote learning.

On June 20, Judge Brennan refused to grant the teen early release. Grace is Black, and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) cited race as the reason for her excessive punishment – “if it was a white young person, I really question whether the judge would have done this… putting a young person in a confined area in the midst of COVID isn’t the answer.”

After Judge Brennan’s June decision, Grace’s lawyers appealed the ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Her lawyers argued that Grace’s situation was not unique, and that many students across the country were having trouble adjusting to online learning due to the pandemic. ProPublica has also reported that the teenager was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which could’ve further exacerbated challenges with the change.

The judges that made up the panel ordering Grace’s release included Judge Deborah Servitto, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, and Judge Jonathan Tukel. Her attorney said of their decision, “we’re so happy that Grace is going to go home with her mom and sleep in her own bed tonight… she’ll be where she belongs, really.”

News of Grace’s incarceration sparked outrage from activists. Hashtags #FreeGrace and #JusticeforGrace went viral online, and six members of Congress wrote to Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsey Devos asking them to intervene in Grace’s favor.

Sources: Michigan Radio 08/03, Detroit News 08/03, The Hill 08/03