Coco Gauff thanks Billie Jean King after winning the U.S. Open

Image by Marijana from Pixabay

At just 19, Coco Gauff became one of the youngest women to win the U.S. Open, and she made a point to thank the women who came before her. As she accepted her $3 million prize, Gauff turned to tennis icon Billie Jean King and said “Thank you Billie. For fighting for this.” 

Throughout her lengthy tennis career, Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In addition to her unmatched tennis skills, she has also been an outspoken advocate for gender equality, famously beating Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs was retired from the sport at this time, but still claimed that he could beat any of the top female players, since women’s tennis was “inferior.” King presented him with a pig at the start of the match to call out his chauvinism and then proceeded to beat him in straight sets.

This win solidified King as a feminist icon, and she remained committed to the campaign for equal pay for women in tennis. She used her leverage and titles to push the U.S. Open to become the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women by threatening not to play. Coco Gauff recognized the significance of King’s fight. 

Of course, the fight for equal pay is ongoing in the United States, as women are still on average paid 77 cents for every dollar. The wage gap is even more prominent for women of color. The National Partnership for Women and Families reported that American women lose nearly $1.6 trillion each year because of this disparity. Providing paid family and medical leave and the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act are essential to addressing the persistent wage gap in our country.

Anti-Abortion Extremists Charged With Breaking Federal Law in Historic Justice Department Conviction


Lauren Handy outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, the day the Court overturned Roe v. Wade. (Eric Lee / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Emotions ran high over the past few weeks as reproductive rights activists watched United States v. Lauren Handy et al., play out in federal court. On Tuesday, a federal jury convicted five anti-abortion defendants of federal civil rights offenses in connection with a reproductive health care clinic invasion and blockade in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 22, 2020. According to the Department of Justice, defendants were each convicted of a felony conspiracy against rights and Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act offense.   Each defendant faces a potential penalty of 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000.

The case marks the first time the Justice Department charged anti-abortion activists with a violation of the civil rights conspiracy statute, in conjunction with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act—a historic moment in the ongoing fight to hold anti-abortion extremists accountable for their unlawful behavior. 

“This important victory vindicates the rights of women, patients, and abortion providers across the country,” said duVergne Gaines, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project.

The civil rights conspiracy statute prohibits “two or more persons conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person… in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”  

Lauren Handy, 28, of Alexandria, Va., and eight other co-conspirators were indicted for planning and executing the invasion and blockade of a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic on Oct. 22, 2020. On Tuesday, a jury found Handy; John Hinshaw, 67, of Levittown, N.Y.; Heather Idoni, 61, of Linden, Mich.; William Goodman, 52, of Bronx, N.Y.; and Herb Geraghty, 25, of Pittsburgh, PA guilty in the first case.   

Feminist Majority (FM) spearheaded the research and policy analysis in the development of the FACE Act in 1994, which forbids “violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.” (Note: FM is the 501(c)(4) arm of the Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms.) 

A trial for the four remaining defendants begins next week.

Background on Defendants   

Handy, a self-proclaimed “leftist,” was one of the main organizers of the D.C. clinic blockade. She became dedicated to the harassment of abortion clinics and patients after dropping out of college in 2012 and working for Jeff White and his extremist anti-abortion organization, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust. 

White is a leader in the most extreme sector of the anti-abortion movement and is a convicted felon, as Ms. reported in 2019. White and his son pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud against Affordable Care Act programs. The two defrauded health insurance companies of $27 million, likely using a portion of this money to fund anti-abortion extremism.

White also served as Operation Rescue’s national tactical director. Operation Rescue is an anti-abortion group that began their work in the 1980s, staging mass blockades to close clinics across the country and prompting Feminist Majority to create the National Clinic Defense Project in response. 

According to her own testimony, Handy worked for White for seven years demonstrating her deep involvement in the extremist wing of the movement—and Handy herself is no stranger to breaking the law. She was previously convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail for trespassing at a clinic in Alexandria and spent 45 days in jail for obstructing a clinic in Flint, Mich. Handy has been involved with organizing and leading invasions and blockades of clinics since before 2017.   

Hinshaw, Idoni, Goodman and Geraghty have all been deeply involved in the anti-abortion movement as well. They each joined Handy in the plan to blockade the D.C. clinic and traveled from states across the country to carry out the invasion.  

The defense team consisted of lawyers associated with the Thomas More Society—a conservative Catholic public interest law firm that promotes an anti-abortion and homophobic agenda through litigation. They are also known for their efforts in former President Donald Trump’s baseless “Stop the Steal” campaign, filing cases in an attempt to overturn the results of the election.   

Blockade of D.C. Clinic 

On Oct. 22, 2020, Handy and her group targeted the Washington SurgiClinic, intimidating staff and patients and blocking them from accessing reproductive healthcare.

Handy used a fake name to book an abortion appointment to determine the time abortions would be performed and help the defendants gain access inside the clinic. Geraghty, Hinshaw, Idoni and Goodman hid in the fire escape stairwell of the fourth floor, where the clinic was located, lying in wait. When the main door was unlocked to let patients including Handy in for her “appointment,” the defendants breached the entrance and forcefully shoved their way inside, injuring a nurse and terrifying patients and staff. They then moved clinic furniture and chained themselves to each other and large chairs in order to blockade the door leading to the exam rooms while livestreaming the whole event on Facebook.   

Two patients at the clinic gave harrowing testimony in court describing their experiences. Shandy Holler (a pseudonym) and her husband traveled from Ohio to receive an abortion in D.C. Tragically,  Holler’s pregnancy had been diagnosed with a fatal fetal anomaly. She was in severe pain when she arrived at the clinic the morning of the blockade. Security footage shows her husband begging the defendants to let her through to be treated when she collapsed to the ground in agony. Defendant Herb Geraghty had told the couple that the clinic was not performing abortions that day and that Holler should go to an emergency room—denying Holler access to critical medical care.

A second patient, Ashley Jones (also a pseudonym), recounted being immediately confronted by the defendants in the building lobby and followed down the hallway and inside the elevator. They grabbed and yelled at her as she attempted to enter the clinic. She can be seen in the security footage crying, “Why are you doing this to me?” Desperate, Jones was forced to climb onto a counter and dive through the receptionist’s window in order to get away from  the defendants and access medical care.

The defense argued Handy and the other defendants did not conspire ahead of time to block access to the clinic and did not actually block access at all—despite weeks of planning, chaining themselves to furniture to create a blockade and standing in front of the doors, refusing to move.

One of the anti-abortion activists, Caroline Davis, agreed to a plea deal with the government and testified against the defendants. Davis traveled from Michigan with Idoni to participate in the takeover of the clinic. Davis testified that Handy led the activists through the plan to blockade the clinic the night before and explained the risk of arrest and consequences of violating the FACE Act.

“The people who do these blockades feel their religious beliefs and personal beliefs supersede the law,” Davis testified.

The prosecutors even showed a Facebook message from Jonathan Darnel, another individual involved in the blockade, to Handy: “The idea of deliberately breaking the law is sexy.” 

The day of the blockade, Handy posted on Facebook encouraging people to join her. She posted that a “traditional lock and block rescue [is] happening now” and “people are acting as human shields” to prevent access to abortion care. The abortion clinic was unable to provide services for over three hours. Police had to saw off the bike locks from the defendants’ necks and physically carry out those who went limp upon arrest.    

Inside the Courtroom

Both anti-abortion activists and abortion-rights supporters showed up to watch the trial.

On the first day of jury selection, anti-abortion protesters stood outside courthouse doors where prospective jurors often enter and passed out fliers with misinformation about the abortion clinic and so-called “live birth abortions.” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had to issue a warning to the defense team that this could be considered jury tampering. 

The gallery in the courtroom was filled with anti-abortion extremists as well as an occasional nun and priest praying the rosary and reading Bible verses. During witness testimonies, a nun made the sign of the cross toward a witness while she was on the stand and prayed her rosary. The nun also approached her in the hallway and said a Hail Mary to her face during a break in testimony. The judge once again had to give a warning about appropriate behavior during a trial and banned the nun from returning to the courtroom for her intimidation of a witness.  

Gaines, who attended the trial, commended government prosecutors for mounting an excellent case. “The government put together a powerful avalanche of evidence for the jury to consider – the testimony of a co-conspirator, three brave clinic workers, two courageous patients, text messages of defendants, police cam footage, masterful cross examinations of defendants who took the stand, and the defendant’s own live stream footage and facebook posts.” She hopes the indictments and guilty verdicts are “a turning point and will send a clear message that these extremists can no longer operate with impunity. We hope there will be many more successful prosecutions.”

North Carolina’s GOP controlled state legislature overrides vetoes to pass anti-trans laws

On Wednesday, Republican supermajorities in the North Carolina House and Senate overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on three anti-trans bills, stripping transgender youth of their rights to access gender-affirming healthcare, to play sports, and to learn about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.     

House Bill 808- “Gender Transition Procedures on Minors”

The first anti-trans bill passed by the General Assembly bars medical professionals from providing hormone therapy, puberty-blocking drugs and surgical gender-transition procedures to anyone under 18. Minors who had already begun treatment before August 1st will be able to continue receiving treatments, with parental consent. This policy takes effect immediately, as North Carolina becomes the 22nd state to pass bills banning or restricting gender affirming care for minors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society, and other leading professional health associations consider gender-affirming care safe, developmentally appropriate, and medically necessary. Just two weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirmed its support for gender-related medical treatments and condemned the GOP’s attack on trans youth, saying that “it is critically important for every child to have access to quality, comprehensive and evidence-based care — transgender and gender-diverse youth are no exception.”   

Trans and nonbinary youth have an extremely high risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Studies indicate that 86% of trans youth have considered killing themselves and 56% reported a previous suicide attempt. Gender affirming care such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy have been shown to reduce gender dysphoria and improve mental health for trans and nonbinary youth. Bills blocking access to necessary healthcare interfere in the physician-patient-family relationship and criminalize pediatricians, while putting already vulnerable youth at further risk.

House Bill 574- “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act”

North Carolina’s GOP passed HB 574 banning transgender girls from playing on a girls’ sports team from middle school through college. This discriminatory policy applies to private colleges and universities as well as public. According to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, there are only about 15 openly transgender high school student-athletes out of the 180,000 student-athletes in the state, or 0.0083%. 

Senate Bill 49- “Parent’s Bill of Rights”

Lastly, SB 49 was passed restricting LGBTQ+ instruction in public schools. Similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, SB 49 prohibits instruction on gender identity and sexuality in Kindergarten through 4th grade classrooms and requires public school teachers to alert parents before they use a student’s chosen gender affirming pronouns or name, potentially outing trans or nonbinary children.  

“The legislature finally comes back to pass legislation that discriminates,” said Gov. Cooper, “Yet they still won’t pass a budget when teachers, school bus drivers and Medicaid Expansion for thousands of working people getting kicked off their health plans every week are desperately needed. These are the wrong priorities.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of legal policy at the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly has prioritized anti-transgender discrimination over the well-being of North Carolina. Governor Cooper did the right thing by vetoing these hateful bills designed to rile up hate against LGBTQ+ people, but legislators are sending a clear message that North Carolina is not a safe place for us.”

North Carolina Republicans were able to gain a veto-proof majority when state Rep. Tricia Cotham switched parties after originally being elected as a Democrat. Cotham’s platform included support for LGBTQ+ rights, and yet she voted for all three anti-trans bills. These types of bills are incredibly dangerous for queer and trans children and we will not stop fighting these discriminatory measures.   

Indiana’s near total abortion ban currently paused

Indiana’s latest extreme abortion ban was set to go into effect today, but remains on hold as the ACLU has filed a petition to the state Supreme Court challenging the law. The ban would outlaw abortions in all cases, except rape and incest, but only in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The health of the mother could also be taken into account, but only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

The ACLU previously challenged the constitutionality of the ban, claiming that it violated the state constitution’s privacy provisions. However, the court ruled that even though the liberty clause “protects a woman’s right to an abortion that is necessary to protect her life or to protect her from a serious health risk, the provision does not protect a fundamental right to abortion in all circumstances.” The ACLU has petitioned for a rehearing stating that the ruling had “left open the possibility that this constitutionally protected right ‘may be broader than the current statutory exception.'”

In the meantime, the current Indiana law remains in effect, banning abortion after 20 weeks, but significantly restricting abortion after just 13 weeks. Clinics across the state are continuing to provide abortion care to patients while the ban is paused.  

In response to the continued attack on lifesaving healthcare around the country, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker passed several initiatives on Monday to ensure that Illinois remains a safe haven for individuals seeking abortions. In his statement announcing his continued support for abortion access, Gov. Pritzker said, “We’ve made investments to try to prepare for the influx of people coming from out of state and, of course, our surrounding states.” 

Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has been committed to stripping women of their reproductive rights since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. If this ban is upheld, Indiana will join over 20 states that have now totally banned or harshly restricted abortion access. “The chaos, confusion, and devastation we are now seeing across the country is exactly the environment anti-abortion lawmakers have worked for decades to create, and it is no different in Indiana,” Nicole Erwin, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said.

Feminist Majority, along with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and numerous other dedicated organizations, will continue the fight to ensure every individual has the right to make decisions over their own body.   

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has challenged traditional perceptions of gender, while also exacerbating inequalities

Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, gender gaps in education, poverty, and gender-based violence have increasingly widened for Ukrainian women. The war has shifted the traditional understanding of gender dynamics in Ukraine as women fill positions left behind by men being drafted into the military. This has greatly expanded women’s role in society, but also had a harsh impact on many of their daily lives. 

There are an estimated 5.9 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, and nearly 8 million refugees fleeing the country. 90% of the displaced are women and children. As Russia continues their attack, Ukraine has prohibited the majority of men from the ages of 18 to 60 from leaving the country, forcing women to find ways to support their families on their own. This has been exceptionally challenging for the 265,000 Ukrainian women who were pregnant when the war broke out as the destruction of infrastructure has made it difficult to access healthcare. UN Women found that there were 77 children for every 100 women refugees. Ukrainian women have been grappling with the emotional and psychological distress of displacement, while simultaneously attempting to secure food, shelter, schooling, and basic necessities for their children.           

Women in Ukraine already disproportionately struggled with food insecurity prior to the invasion, but now about 38% of women-led households are experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity, compared to only 21% of male-led households. Russian occupation of certain territories has prevented women from doing agricultural work, leading to extremely limited resources as they attempt to care for the displaced Ukrainians as well as their own families. Desperate families have resorted to marrying off school-aged girls for the income from dowries or the bride-price. Many women have even turned to transactional sex for food and survival. UN Women has reported a concerning spike in gender-based violence and sex trafficking amid the heightened levels of poverty.    

Ukrainian society has long held a paternalistic view of women, with women being barred from about 450 jobs until just a few years ago because they were seen as too dangerous, or a “man’s job.” Women in the military were not given the same status, benefits or recognition as men until 2018. Now, the fight for the country’s survival has increased women’s agency and confronted traditional stereotypes of women’s role. 

Large numbers of women are choosing to join the military to aid in the fight, even taking on combat roles, while many others are being trained in demining to mitigate the risks of landmines in areas where Russian troops have retreated. Women in civilian life have taken on additional, and extremely vital, roles to support the war efforts — trucking, welding, firefighting, security and defense, driving military transport cars, making camouflage netting for troops, cooking for the internally displaced people, as well as raising money to support soldiers. 

“One of the many persistent truths is that women do an awful lot of the unacknowledged but really crucial work. War wouldn’t happen without them, and all the things that are going to sustain societies that are in conflict — many of them are done by women,” Dr. Jenny Mathers from Aberystwyth University told the New York Times. This is especially true in Ukraine. Women have fought both on the frontlines and behind the scenes to keep the country running. However, the role of women participating in the war effort has been obscured and the plight of women trying to raise families remains unanswered. If women are to emerge from the war as equals, Ukrainian leaders must give women equal representation in the decision-making and conflict resolution process and answer the call of women who are struggling to care for families in a changed environment.  

Supreme Court explicitly rejects independent state legislature theory

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Voting rights activists around the country are celebrating as the Supreme Court released their decision for the Moore v. Harper case, ruling that state legislatures do not have the authority to set election rules outside the constraints of state constitutions. This is the second time this month we have seen a pro-democracy victory, where the Supreme Court soundly rejected an overreach on voting rights. 

Moore v. Harper centered around North Carolina’s extreme gerrymandering by the Republican dominated state legislature in 2020, which they were attempting to justify using the “independent state legislature” theory. The state legislature based its case entirely on this controversial legal theory that states the US Constitution grants state legislatures authority to pass election laws and gerrymander electoral maps without interference from state courts or governors. This would give state legislatures unchecked power to create discriminatory voting maps and rules, overhauling our established system of election laws. After the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the partisan maps were unconstitutional, the state legislature filed a writ of certiorari for the US Supreme Court to review the decision. 

In a 6-3 ruling, the US Supreme Court explicitly clarified that state legislatures are bound by state constitutional restraints when exercising authority under the Elections Clause and state courts have the power to enforce those provisions. The decision reaffirms our system of checks and balances and clearly determines that state legislatures are not above the law. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “the Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.” 

Common Cause, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are celebrating this deserved win along with other coalition partners that collaborated on the case and mobilized in North Carolina. “The Supreme Court took an important and crucial step today in protecting our system of checks and balances. Today’s decision will ensure that voters will continue to have the full protection of state constitutions against harmful and anti-democratic voter suppression and election manipulation,” said Senior Attorney Hilary Klein of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The Supreme Court’s ruling is an essential victory for voting rights, where the majority conservative court clearly embraced a pro-democracy position.   

However, unfortunately, this ruling does not lessen the need for federal reform on election laws. North Carolina will likely still see Republican leaning maps in the next election cycle since the conservative state Supreme Court reversed their previous ruling on partisan maps, refusing to apply restrictions on gerrymandering. Lawmakers on either side of the political spectrum should not have the ability to draw congressional maps simply to benefit themselves. Voters should be picking their representatives, not the other way around. We need federal redistricting reform to ensure that the process is fair, transparent, and upholds the values of our democracy.  

Biden’s student debt relief plan hangs in the balance

Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision on the constitutionality of President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in the next few weeks. Biden’s original debt relief plan would have canceled up to $20,000 for the millions of borrowers struggling with student loans across the country. The program has been on pause due to Republican-led legal challenges since last year.  

The oral arguments heard in February highlighted the main areas of debate over the student loan plan. The conservative judges’ skepticism is based on the fact that there is no specific legislation authorizing the debt relief program. Chief Justice John Roberts drew similarities to a previous case under the Trump administration where Trump attempted to cancel the “Dreamers” program (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and the court rejected this repeal. The conservative judges tend to support the idea that Congress alone should have the authority to decide on “big issues.” 

In response to the conservative judges’ questioning, US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said that “Congress has already made the judgment that when there is a national emergency that affects borrowers in this way, the secretary can provide relief.” The liberal justices defended Biden’s plan, acknowledging the 50 million students who will benefit, especially following the financial devastation of the pandemic. Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated during the arguments, “so now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them, instead of the person with the expertise and the experience, the secretary of education, who has been dealing with educational issues and the problems surrounding student loans.” 

The opposition claims that this relief would primarily be benefiting the more privileged demographic, who earned a 4 year degree and are now working a higher paying job that will allow them to pay off their loans. However, a study found that 40% of college students in 2011 that took on student debt never earned a degree and did not reap the benefits of a college education. 20 million people would be debt free if this program is approved and the Biden administration estimated that 90% of the relief would go towards people making under $75,000 a year. People of color are also disproportionately carrying the majority of student loan debt in the country.    

Of course, this student loan program does not address the root of the problem with the cost of college tuition. It is a one-off payment that will not benefit future students. But, millions of borrowers would receive much needed relief and many would be in a better financial position when the pause on interest and payments expires this year. In the meantime, we need to contend with the structural problems of America’s higher education and push for legislation that will make college education more accessible and cheaper for students. 

CDC releases new report on national maternal mortality rates

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The United States continues to have the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. A new report presenting the most recent data on maternal mortality found that in 2021, there were on average 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births across the country. In total, 1,205 women died of maternal related causes in the United States in 2021. To place these statistics in a global context, the UK has an average of 9.6 maternal deaths for every 100,000 births.    

The CDC’s report shows a significant increase in maternal mortality compared to the previous years. The average rate in 2020 was 23.8 per 100,000 and in 2019, 20.1. Additionally, the report highlights a disturbing racial disparity, with Black women experiencing a staggering 69.9 deaths per 100,000 births in 2021, as opposed to White women’s rate of 26.6 per 100,000. The shocking death of Olympic sprinter Tori Bowie last week due to childbirth complications exemplifies the pervasiveness of this issue, even amongst the healthiest top athletes.    

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated the country’s maternal mortality crisis, but the impact of the rise in abortion restrictions cannot be ignored. The states with the highest rates of maternal mortality are Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama, closely followed by many other Southern states. These states have between 41.4 and 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births. Unsurprisingly, all four of these states have some of the country’s harshest abortion restrictions, with near total bans on abortion. Even prior to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, access to abortion in these states was extremely limited.   

In contrast, California has the country’s lowest maternal mortality rate, with only 4 deaths per 100,000 births. Abortion access is enshrined in the state constitution. Under California law, anyone who is pregnant has a legal right to choose to have an abortion before viability or, in life threatening instances, at any time throughout the pregnancy. The California state legislature also passed a bill to ensure no one in California will be “investigated, prosecuted or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing pregnancy loss.” 

It is no coincidence that access to reproductive healthcare correlates with low levels of maternal mortality. A 2020 report by the Commonwealth Fund found that states with heavily restricted abortion access had 62% higher maternal death rates than states where abortion was more easily accessible. Many abortion bans criminalize healthcare providers and doctors fear losing their license, being fined, or imprisoned for performing an abortion, even in a medical emergency. Pregnant individuals may then be forced to resort to illegal and unsafe abortion options. The closing of clinics that offer abortion also decreases access to pre- and post-natal care, along with other vital reproductive healthcare services. 

Maternal mortality is a grave public health issue within the United States, intensified by institutional racism and misogyny. Access to women’s reproductive healthcare, before, during, and after pregnancy, must be prioritized and protected. It is, quite literally, a matter of life or death.  

Female pastors ousted from the Southern Baptist Convention

RNS photo by Emily Kask

A controversial movement within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to remove women from leadership positions has resulted in the expulsion of five female-led churches from the denomination. Among them is the Saddleback Church of California — one of the largest megachurches in the country, with about 30,000 people attending church services weekly. Saddleback Church was founded by Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and one of the country’s most influential evangelical leaders. After retiring, Warren appointed a husband and wife team as his replacements, despite the backlash from the ultra-conservative sect of the SBC.        

Pastor Mike Law from Virginia is at the forefront of this pushback against perceived “liberal threats.” He circulated a list of 176 female pastors that he identified at SBC churches across the country and proposed an amendment to the SBC constitution to prohibit women in leadership roles. The amendment states that a church could be Southern Baptist only if it “does not affirm, appoint or employ a woman as a pastor of any kind.” More than 2,000 male pastors signed a letter in support of this proposal. The executive board of SBC has decided to allow its members to vote on the amendment at this week’s convention.   

This expulsion of women from leadership positions comes at a time when the SBC is under harsh scrutiny for the reports of sexual abuse of women and children in the church. An investigation found that top church officials, all men, suppressed reports of sexual abuse for two decades, and have still not taken action. The leadership of SBC continues to create a toxic culture of intimidation and shame to silence survivors of sexual abuse.     

The SBC has a long history of deeply rooted misogyny, and this newest attack on women comes as no surprise. The church has taken a strong stance against same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, reproductive healthcare, and critical race theory, while supporting traditional gender roles. In 2000, the church passed a doctrine stating that a woman “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” The SBC’s most prominent female pastor, Beth Moore, left the church in 2021 citing in an open letter the “attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing dis-esteem of women.” 

Membership in Southern Baptist Convention churches has been declining for more than a decade, which can clearly be attributed to the years of sex abuse cover ups and the divisive fundamentalist takeover within church leadership. In response to the Saddleback Church’s expulsion from the SBC, Pastor Rick Warren issued an apology to women in the church: “I publicly apologize to every good woman in my life, church and ministry that I failed to speak up for in my years of ignorance. Shame on me.” It is unlikely that the SBC will follow his example and stand up for the rights of women in their denomination.  

Supreme Court rules to protect the Voting Rights Act

Photo from Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

In a surprising win for voting rights and racial justice, the Supreme Court voted last week to reaffirm a decades old precedent prohibiting racial gerrymandering. The decision centered around Alabama’s legislative districts, where a Republican led redistricting plan would result in White voters becoming the majority in six out of seven districts, even though one in four voters in the state is Black. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Alabama must now create a second majority-Black district to ensure more equitable representation. Chief Justice John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices in the decision. 

Gerrymandering has unfortunately become common practice in many states to rig elections in favor of one party by diluting the influence and voting power of a specific demographic of voters. “Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters,” writes Julia Kirschenbaum from the Brennan Center for Justice. Oftentimes, the groups targeted by gerrymandering efforts are communities of color, due to the correlation between political party and race. State and local governments have the ability to redraw voting district boundaries once every decade following the Census Bureau’s release of population data. Now, we are seeing the impact of this new round of redistricting as a result of the 2020 Census.   

The Supreme Court’s latest ruling upheld the 1965 Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in voting and declared that Alabama’s legislature has denied Black voters the ability to be represented in the state government and win political power. This is expected to have a significant impact across other states in the South, such as Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, requiring them to redraw congressional lines to avoid violation of the Act. There are currently 31 active federal cases involving similar Voting Rights Act racial redistricting issues. 

The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of our democracy and the manipulation of the political process for partisan gains cannot continue. The Feminist Majority calls on Congress to pass federal election reforms, such as the Freedom to Vote Act, to ensure our elections are protected from unconstitutional voter suppression and racial gerrymandering.           

Protect Choice Ohio Coalition Pushes for Ballot Initiative on Abortion

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last summer, abortion access in Ohio has been hanging in the balance. After the Supreme Court decision, a 6 week ban on abortion went into immediate effect throughout the state. The ban is currently on hold by an Ohio judge and pro-choice groups are working to protect abortion access in the state once and for all.

The Protect Choice Ohio Coalition has filed paperwork for a ballot initiative on abortion for the November 2023 elections. The activists will need to collect more than 400,000 signatures from a minimum of 44 counties in order to qualify to be on the ballot. The measure would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits” in the Ohio state constitution and would require “restrictions imposed past a fetus’ viability outside the womb to be based on evidence of patient health and safety benefits.”

The pro-choice coalition is composed of organizations such as Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights (OPRR), Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU. The Feminist Majority has partnered with OPRR to assist in the signature collection. OPRR has organized more than 2,200 physicians and medical professionals to fight “to guarantee that Ohioans have access to safe, legal, and equitable reproductive medical care, including abortion.”  Dr. Lauren Beene, the executive director, has said that the ballot measure will “preserve the doctor-patient relationship and empower all people to make their own reproductive health care decisions without interference from the government, lobbyists and politicians.”

This strategy of advocating for a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights has proven successful in many other states. In 2022, Kansas shocked the country by overwhelmingly voting to reject an anti-choice ballot measure. Using this momentum, activists in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont secured abortion protections for their states in the midterm elections as well. The Feminist Majority is confident that Ohio will see the same result.

If you are interested in helping Protect Choice Ohio gather signatures, find more information here:  

Sources: The Guardian 2/21/23; AP 2/21/23; Protect Choice Ohio

Record Breaking Audience for Women’s NCAA Championship

Earlier this week, LSU and Iowa’s women’s basketball teams drew a record number of viewers as they competed for the collegiate championship. With 9.9 million viewers on ABC and ESPN2, the game became the most-viewed NCAA women’s basketball game in history. Basketball fans across the country tuned in for the game. At its peak, the game had 12.6 million viewers, surpassing the NBA men’s finals’ average of 9.89 million in 2021 and busting the myth that women’s sports are not as popular as men’s.  

This game would not have been possible without the tireless work of women’s rights advocates to pass Title IX — the 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding. Title IX is most widely known for its impact on high school and college athletics, dramatically increasing women’s participation in sports. In 1972, only 300,000 women and girls in the United States were playing either college or high school sports. By 2021, that number grew to 3 million. The Feminist Majority has been involved in the fight for Title IX protections for decades and continues to be an active member of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

Congrats to the LSU women’s basketball team on their victory!     

Sources: ESPN 4/3/2023; MSNBC 4/3/2023; NBC Sports 6/6/2022

Midterm elections deliver major victories for abortion rights

While votes continue to be tallied following yesterday’s midterm election, results show resounding support for abortion rights across the country. Five states had reproductive freedom directly on their ballots, and polls demonstrated that abortion rights were a major concern for many voters, especially young women, on either side of the political spectrum as they entered the voting booth. A recent survey conducted by Lake Research Partners for Feminist Majority Foundation found that 55% of young women voters in battleground states said abortion and women’s rights combined are the top issues determining their votes. The outcome of the election proved this right. 

Energized by Kansas’ win for abortion rights in August, activists saw double-digit victories in California, Michigan, and Vermont, as voters chose to amend their state constitutions to include the right to reproductive freedom. Even voters in Republican-leaning states, Kentucky and Montana, decidedly rejected efforts to restrict abortion access, showing once again that the majority of Americans support abortion rights and reproductive freedom, regardless of political party. Continuous attacks on abortion rights motivated pro-choice voters to turn out in November and protect women’s autonomy over their own bodies.

In Nevada, with 77% of the votes currently counted, the Equal Rights Amendment is leading with 57.1% of voters saying yes to prohibiting discrimination against groups that have been historically targeted. Nevada will become the 27th state to adopt its own version of the ERA.

As we wait for the last few states to finalize their results, let’s take a moment to celebrate the steps that have been made towards equality since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, but also recognize the amount of work left to be done to protect fundamental rights.

We won’t go back.   

Iranian Women Leading Unprecedented Protests

“Woman. Life. Freedom.” This is the chant that has been heard around the world as Iranian women lead an unprecedented revolution for freedom in their country. The nationwide protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the morality police after she was arrested for not properly wearing a hijab. The protests have been centered around high schools and universities, with the average age of protestors who have been arrested being just 15. Scenes of schoolgirls ripping off their headscarves, yelling “death to the dictator” flood Western media. The Iranian government has responded with a brutal and violent state crackdown and the death toll amongst the protestors has risen to at least 201, including 23 minors.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, any progress that Iranian women had made in securing their rights has been reversed. Women were at the forefront of the revolution to overthrow the shah, exemplifying a long history of feminist resistance in Iran. However, the revolution led to the establishment of the Islamic theocracy and, to the disbelief of the women revolutionaries, the ayatollah quickly began a prolonged attack on women’s rights.

A few of the restrictions that have since been placed on women in Iran include:

  • Women cannot travel, work, go to school, or even leave the house without the permission of their husband or father.
  • A woman’s life is valued at one-half the value of a man’s life.
  • The testimony of one man is equal to the testimony of two women.
  • Daughters get half the inheritance that sons get.
  • A woman does not have the right to divorce her husband.
  • A man can divorce his wife any time he wishes, even without her knowledge.
  • Men are allowed to marry four “permanent” wives and as many temporary wives as they want.
  • Children belong to their father as soon as they are born.
  • The age of criminal responsibility is set at fifteen for boys, but only nine for girls.
  • The law sanctions the marriage of girls at the age of thirteen, but gives fathers the right to sell their daughters at the age of nine.
  • Women who do not wear a hijab can be imprisoned for up to two months and may be required to pay fines of up to 500,000 rials.
  • Women are responsible for fulfilling their husbands’ sexual needs. Failure to do so can lead to a wife losing her right to spousal support.

Unfortunately, this list goes on. Amini’s death was the last straw for Iranian women; they now feel that no one is safe from the government’s violence. Amini was not a political activist and was not intentionally making a statement with her hijab. She could have been anyone’s mother, sister, or daughter. The Islamic republic has continued to minimize the scale of the protests, calling them “scattered riots.” After decades of failed lobbying for reforms, a new generation of activists has accepted that the only way forward is with an overthrow of the regime and the establishment of a democratic and secular government. Barriers of fear have been broken down and the protestors are bolder than ever.

As Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian political activist, attorney, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, told CNN, “Women will open the gate to democracy in Iran.”


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