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.

NIGHT 1

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.”

NIGHT 2

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.”

NIGHT 3

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; Nebraska.gov 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: Law.com 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

Claire Rezba Documents Deaths of Healthcare Workers as U.S. Government Ignores Them

Claire Rezba, an anesthesiologist, has been working at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia for years. As the pandemic hit the United States, elective surgeries have been canceled and rescheduled, giving her time to worry about her peers. Her sister is a nurse practitioner, her husband a physician, many of her friends work alongside her. 

As Rezba scrolled through the news one day, she discovered a news story that spoke to her:  the death of Deidre Wilkes. Wilkes was a mammogram technician at a hospital in southwest Atlanta and a victim of COVID-19. Rezba was moved by this story and began to keep count of all the other healthcare workers that had passed away due to COVID-19. 

As Rezba found more and more obituaries, she felt as though she had control over her fears, “it’s a way of coping with my feelings.”

On April 14, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a count of health care workers lost to COVID-19. According to the report, 27 healthcare workers had been lost. But Rezba disagreed with these numbers, upset that they had been published. She said “I mean, I’m, like, just one person using Google and I had already counted more than 200 people and they’re saying 27? That’s a big discrepancy.”

This report began to fuel Rezba’s rage, as she began to see how quickly healthcare workers, who were framed as heroes, were forgotten and ignored once they had given their lives. After some time researching online, she got the sense that “hospitals and nursing homes were trying to hide what was happening” to healthcare workers, making it seem like they weren’t being incredibly impacted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, government and public health officials were primarily silent about the many deaths. 

Rezba also started looking for data and studies, hoping that there were lessons being learned from these deaths. She could not find any, but she began to notice her own patterns: many of those who had passed worked two or three jobs but had no insurance, had gotten their families sick, were young parents, were Black or brown, or were immigrants. These patterns make sense, as these are the identities that force people to be less safe and work in more high-risk jobs. 

Rezba was saddened and enraged. She felt the least she could do was show the government and the public how many people had passed, telling their stories, demonstrating how avoidable their deaths had been. “I feel like if they had to look at the faces, and read the stories, if they realized how many there are; if they had to keep scrolling and reading, maybe they would understand.”

Through the end of July, the CDC reported that nearly 120,000 medical personnel had contracted the virus and at least 578 had died. These numbers are a  “gross underestimate,” according to Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease specialist. Sepkowitz has studied medical worker deaths from tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and the flu. Based on past epidemics and state data, he expects health care workers to make up 5 to 15 percent of all COVID-19 infections in the U.S. This would mean that the number of healthcare workers who have contracted the virus would be over 200,000 and maybe much higher. 

Other organizations have been counting different numbers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has reported at least 767 deaths among nursing home staff, numbers which indicate that this job is “the most dangerous job in America,” according to the Washington Post. National Nurses United, a union composed of more than 150,000 members, has counted at least 1,289 deaths, with at least 169 of those being nurses. 

Christopher Friese, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing points out how these deaths are not only the “tragic loss of that individual,” but also “one less person we have to take care of our loved ones.” He says “we had tools at our disposal” to prevent mass sickness and death. One tool that he feels that the U.S. has largely ignored is reliable data about infections and death. “We don’t really have a good understanding of where healthcare workers are at greatest risk,” Friese said. “We’ve had to piece it together. And the fact that we’re piecing it together in 2020 is pretty disturbing.”

The CDC’s basic mechanism for collecting data about health care workers has been through the coronavirus case report form, a standard two-page document filled out by local health departments. The form doesn’t ask for much detail, and the agency doesn’t know the occupations of almost 80% of people infected. The data among nursing home staff is a bit more robust, due to a rule that requires facilities to report directly to the CDC. 

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has prioritized COVID-related cases within the healthcare industry. But, it has suggested that employers are “unlikely to face any penalties,” according to ProPublica. More than 4,500 complaints have been submitted to OSHA about COVID-related working conditions in the medical industry and has closed nearly 3,200 of these cases. States have also failed to collect and report information about healthcare workers, with many not even documenting occupation.

With these huge rifts, people like Rezba have decided to make their own databases. Late at night, Rezba starts Googling local news stories, eventually turning to Legacy.com, an obituary site. With names on a list, she begins to look them up on Facebook, trying to find their occupation. Doctors and nurses are the easiest to find but Rezba is especially interested in those often overlooked: the intake coordinators, supply techs, the food service workers, and the janitors. 

Once Rezba has found someone who belongs on her list, she finds a photo of them and writes a few words in their honor. 

“As a child, she would wrap her clothes around Dove soap so they would smell like America. This poor baby should have his mother in his arms. Instead, he has her in an urn,” she wrote on one post.

By the end of July, Rezba had posted almost 900 names and faces of U.S. healthcare workers who had passed away. 

Sources: CDC 08/03/20; NCBI 08/03/20; CMS 08/03/20; Washington Post 08/03/20; National Nurses United 08/03/20; OSHA 08/03/20; ProPublica 08/03/20

Acting Director of ICE Announces Retirement

On Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting director Matt Albence announced his retirement from the agency, after serving in his position for just over a year.

Albence began his work in federal immigration enforcement in 1994 and has moved positions over the years. He had briefly led ICE before, between Ronald Vitiello’s departure and Mark Morgan’s appointment in May 2019. Shortly after, Morgan shifted to lead Customs and Border Patrol, leaving the position to Albence once again. He was never formally nominated for the job by Trump.

As director, Albence oversaw controversial and inhumane operations. During his time with the agency, he supervised the expansion of the largest immigration detention system in the world that has separated families as detention centers become a breeding ground for the COVID-19 virus. Just earlier this month, a federal judge rejected a plea to release immigrant families from ICE custody.

Parents are now having to choose between separating from their children or staying together and risking their exposure to the virus. Throughout the pandemic, immigrant advocates have become increasingly concerned over the health of families and children in ICE detention centers.

Albence has also tried to evade responsibility for the agency’s separation of families. In an August 2019 interview with NBC, he stated that “the parents or the individuals that are breaking the law are ultimately the ones that are responsible for placing their children in this situation.” Although the agency, under Albence’s lead, has the legal authority to keep or release families together, it has refused to do so.

ICE has often been criticized for its aggressive policies that criminalize immigrants and separate families, but it has especially fallen under public scrutiny during the Trump administration. “The view of the agency as something that was purely malignant really happened after Trump was elected and ramped up interior enforcement in a way that was tied pretty explicitly to the creation of a white ethnostate,” said Sean McElwee, who co-founded Data for Progress and is credited with the creating of #AbolishICE. The agency, a central part of Trump’s campaign and platform, is now left without a clear successor.

Albence plans to leave his position by Labor Day, giving the agency just over a month to transition to new leadership.

Sources: Feminist Newswire 7/23/20; NBC News 8/13/20; Vox 7/9/20

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Immigration Wealth Test

A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s wealth test that denied people permanent residency if they used or were deemed likely to use public services such as Medicaid or food assistance.

The decision, from U.S. District Judge George Daniels, comes after New York and other states challenged the rule in light of the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns of immigrants refusing to enroll in Medicaid or declining COVID-19 treatment for immigration reasons. Daniels supported this reasoning.

“As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status,” he wrote in the ruling. “No person should hesitate to seek medical care, nor should they endure punishment or penalty if they seek temporary financial aid as a result of the pandemic’s impact.”

The newly issued injunction will be in place as long as the coronavirus remains a public health crisis, Daniels wrote.

While the government has in the past rejected green card applicants who relied on public services as their primary means of financial support, the Trump administration expanded the scope of the “public charge” rule significantly last year.

The announcement of Trump’s rule prompted legal challenges, with a case ultimately reaching the Supreme Court. The court’s conservative majority ruled in January that the rule could proceed and it was formally implemented the following month.

As the coronavirus swept through the nation in April, the state attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont asked the high court to reconsider its decision. The court declined to hear the case but left lower courts the opportunity to make its own decisions.

“We secured an injunction to block the Public Charge rule from taking effect during the #COVID19 pandemic and while our legal challenge is pending,” New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote on Wednesday. “This is a major victory to protect the health of our communities across New York and the entire nation.”

Connecticut’s attorney general William Tong said in an interview that he expects the Trump administration to appeal the ruling. However, he recognized the decision as a win for public health.

“This is a big win for the rule of law and for fairness and public health,” he said. “This is about how utterly unsafe and insane it is to try to deter people from seeking treatment for COVID or any other condition in the middle of a pandemic.”

Sources: The New York Times 07/30/20; Buzzfeed News 07/30/20; CBS 07/29/20

Louisville Moves Toward Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Government officials in Louisville are working to declare racism a public health crisis. The city has been the site of continued demonstrations protesting the murder of Breonna Taylor by police officers, and a growing number COVID-19 outbreaks – which will disproportionately impact Black people.

The Mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, along with three Metro Council members – Keisha Dorsey, Jessica Green, and Barbara Shanklin, are the officials leading the initiative. Their decision came after a council hearing chronicling the health impacts of systemic racism.

Mayor Fischer said on Twitter: “We must have a new sense of urgency to make this declaration and do the hard work of dismantling racism and creating real transformation… I look forward to partnering with Council on this work of declaring racism as a public health emergency.”

Kendall Boyd, Louisville’s Chief Equity Officer, presented a report at the hearing. His report found that Black people make up 27% of all Louisville COVID-19 deaths, despite making up only 23% of the city’s population, and that the life expectancy within the predominantly Black part of the city is about 20 years less than the predominantly white part of the city. He also spoke about “how minority populations are disproportionately exposed to conditions such as concentrated poverty, racism, limited educational and occupational opportunities, and other aspects of social and economic disadvantages that contribute to poor health outcomes, including heightened exposure to violence.”

Local governments across the country have already passed or are in the process of passing similar initiatives. These governments are from states such as California, Texas, and Georgia.

Declaring racism as a public health crisis potentially helps establish funding priorities and holds local governments accountable for addressing racism. But some residents are calling the initiative performative – not substantive.

Kendall Boyd said on the matter: “Just putting something on paper and declaring it a public health crisis is one thing… there has to be a specific intentionality and commitment of resources addressing this as a public health crisis.”

Sources: New York Times 07/30, The Hill 07/30, American Public Health Association 07/30

Idaho Inmate Becomes Second Ever to Receive Gender Confirmation Surgery

After years of legal disputes, Adree Edmo has received gender confirmation surgery, making her the second incarcerated person in the country to undergo the surgery while in prison.

 

Edmo, a trans woman, has been in the custody of the Idaho Department of Corrections since 2012. Upon her arrival at a men’s prison, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The surgery was deemed as medically necessary, as her mental health was severely impacted. Edmo had previously struggled with suicidal ideation and during her time in prison, attempted self-castration twice.

 

In 2017, Edmo filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho and the healthcare partner of the Idaho Department of Corrections upon their refusal to provide the surgery as a medically necessary treatment for her dysphoria. Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that denying Edmo gender confirmation surgery would constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The court upheld this ruling earlier this year when the state of Idaho asked for another hearing with a larger panel of judges.

 

Although the court ruled in Edmo’s favor, Idaho Governor Brad Little later announced his intentions to take the case to the Supreme Court. Little believed the court’s decision went against the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment and fought against Edmo’s right to receive the surgery.

 

“Sadly, the elected officials in Idaho, both in the Legislature and the governor, have taken a particularly hostile attitude towards transgender people… The governor is doubling down on that attitude and willingness to harm transgender people by appealing this lawsuit,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign. Just a few weeks after the governor’s announcement that he would be appealing the case, the Supreme Court turned down the request to hear the case, and let stand the appellate court’s ruling in favor of Edmo.

 

In upholding their ruling, the appellate court marked a milestone in LGBTQ rights. “With its decision today, our court becomes the first federal court of appeals to mandate that a State pay for and provide sex-reassignment surgery to a prisoner under the Eighth Amendment,” said the opinion. According to her lawyers, Edmo received the surgery earlier this month.

 

Edmo is the second person to receive gender confirmation surgery while in prison, after the state of California agreed to provide the surgery for an inmate in 2015. Although Edmo has finally received the surgery, her legal disputes will likely continue. According to her attorney, Edmo has a claim for damages after years of refusal from the state to provide the treatment.

 

Sources: CNN 7/29/20; NBC News 5/8/20; NY Times 5/21/20

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