Justice Served: Anti-abortion extremists convicted for conspiring and blockading Tennessee abortion clinic

Six anti-abortion extremists were found guilty by a federal jury in Nashville for their obstruction of a local abortion clinic and intimidation of patients and staff. They face potential prison sentences of up to 11 years and fines of $250,000. Their sentencing is scheduled for July 2. Four others will be tried separately. 

On March 5, 2021, the group of anti-abortion extremists blockaded the Carafem Health Center Clinic in Mt. Juliet, verbally harassing and physically intimidating patients and employees for almost three hours. The extremists were found guilty of conspiring to violate the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.” 

The Tennessee case follows the successful conviction in September 2023 by the U.S. Department of Justice of ten extremists involved in the violent invasion of Washington Surgi-Clinic. These federal obstruction cases are historic because most of the defendants are charged with engaging in a criminal conspiracy to violate the FACE Act, as well as violating the FACE Act itself. The conspiracy charges carry more substantial prison sentences and penalties.

The Feminist Majority Foundation spearheaded the research and policy analysis in the development of the FACE Act in 1994 and has been dedicated to the defense of abortion clinics over the past three decades. These convictions underscore ongoing legal efforts by the Department of Justice under the Biden administration to uphold reproductive health access amidst violent and unlawful attacks from anti-abortion groups.

Supreme Court Allows Enforcement of Idaho’s Abortion Ban, Pending April Hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court released a brief order late last week that allows Idaho to continue to enforce its near-total abortion ban, even in medical emergencies. The ruling is a response to an effort from the Biden administration to ensure additional abortion access in hospitals located in states with bans. The Court also agreed to hear the dispute between the state and the Biden administration over the constitutionality of the law in its April session.

Idaho’s law was initially blocked by the lower district court, but a three-judge panel (all Trump appointees) of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. However, the full Ninth Circuit court reversed that panel’s ruling, blocking the law once again while the court considered the case—leading to the Supreme Court’s intervention. This is the first time that the Supreme Court has ruled on a state abortion ban since Roe was overturned.

If Idaho’s law stands, emergency room physicians will be forced to wait until their patient is close to death to provide medically necessary care, in order to avoid criminal charges. The ruling would also likely embolden other states to pass more restrictive laws. Arguments on this case will begin in April, with a decision expected by the end of June.    

Background

When Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, Idaho’s trigger ban went into effect, criminalizing abortion procedures in all cases except to “prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” The law states that “every person who performs or attempts to perform an abortion commits the crime of criminal abortion,” even when the woman’s health is greatly endangered, and may be sentenced to five years in prison. 

In an attempt to protect abortion access after the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration issued guidance stating that abortions can be required in emergency situations, even in states that ban the procedure, due to the precedence of the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Following this guidance, the Justice Department sued the state of Idaho on the grounds that the state’s abortion ban violates EMTALA and obtained a preliminary injunction, successfully blocking enforcement of the abortion ban.

The law at the center of this case, EMTALA, was enacted in 1986 in order to safeguard access to emergency healthcare services, regardless of a patient’s financial situation. As a result, Medicare-participating hospitals must abide by specific obligations when treating patients with emergency medical conditions, which includes active labor. Hospitals are obligated to provide appropriate stabilizing treatments in emergencies or transfer the patient to another facility. EMTALA requires these treatments even in non-fatal cases—so the Justice Department argued that Idaho’s abortion ban exception is too narrow, criminalizing basic care that is required by federal law.

“Today’s Supreme Court order … denies women critical emergency abortion care required by federal law,” said President Joe Biden in response to the ruling. “The overturning of Roe v. Wade has enabled Republican elected officials to pursue dangerous abortion bans like this one that continue to jeopardize women’s health, force them to travel out of state for care, and make it harder for doctors to provide care, including in an emergency. These bans are also forcing doctors to leave Idaho and other states because of laws that interfere with their ability to care for their patients. This should never happen in America.”

Ohio woman will not face criminal charges following miscarriage

Brittany Watts, a 34-year-old woman from Ohio, found herself at the center of a controversial legal battle and faced potential indictment for a fifth-degree felony of “abuse of a corpse” after miscarrying a nonviable fetus at home. Watts’ arrest in October 2023 sent shockwaves through the reproductive rights movement, raising questions about the implications of such charges. Legal experts and advocates worry that this interpretation of the law could have a chilling effect on women seeking medical care during miscarriages, sparking a broader debate on reproductive rights in Ohio. Watts could have faced up to a year in prison, despite records confirming a spontaneous miscarriage. Fortunately, the on January 11th, a grand jury decided that Watts will not face criminal charges.  

Watts was 21 weeks and five days pregnant when admitted to the hospital due to complications including vaginal bleeding and her water breaking prematurely. The hospital ethics panel debated for 8 hours over whether it was legal to induce her pregnancy since she was so close to the 22 week cut off point for abortion. Patients that do not receive treatment for a premature water breakage are at risk of developing sepsis, which is deadly. Watts left the hospital twice without treatment, eventually miscarrying the fetus at home. When she went back to the hospital, a nurse called the police, leading to her arrest and the charge of abuse of a corpse.

The law that was in question, adopted in 1996, prohibits the mistreatment of a human corpse in a way that “outrages family or community sensibilities.” Legal experts argued that the fetus, which died in utero, may not legally be considered a human corpse, challenging the grounds for prosecution. According to Watt’s attorney, Ohio law does not require fetal remains from miscarriages to be buried or cremated. 

This case unfolded against the backdrop of recent changes in Ohio’s abortion laws, with voters enshrining the right to abortion until the point of fetal viability at 22 weeks last November. Reproductive rights advocates feared the case could set a precedent for criminalizing miscarriages and other pregnancy outcomes. The prosecution contended it is duty-bound to follow Ohio law, while critics called for the dismissal of what they consider an unwarranted charge. While awaiting the grand jury’s decision, public pressure was increasing against the unusual interpretation of the law.

Watts, along with reproductive rights advocates across the country, celebrated when the charges were dropped, but a harsh lesson has been learned — the overturn of Roe v. Wade has made it alarmingly easy for pregnant people to face criminal charges.

New Year, New Laws on Gender and Abortion

As we celebrate the beginning of 2024, many states are kicking off the new year with new laws going into effect, many focused on gender and abortion rights. 

There was a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced by Republican state legislators in 2023, with the American Civil Liberties Union recording at least 508 bills targeting LGBTQ healthcare access and inclusion in education. 84 of these were passed into law. Over 20 Republican-led states are now seeing these laws go into effect in the new year. As a result, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 35% of transgender youth live in states that have restricted gender affirming care.

However, in more positive news, Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, arguing that the decision to seek gender-affirming care should be made by the families, not the government. Several other states have also passed LGBTQ protections in 2023, including Minnesota, Michigan, New York, and California.

In terms of abortion, California law now protects doctors when mailing abortion medication to patients in states that have banned the procedure. Healthcare providers will also be protected when mailing pills for contraception or gender affirming care and will be allowed to file lawsuits against anyone that interferes with their right to provide legal care. Other states, such as Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont, are working to pass similar laws.  

The Future of Abortion Access: Supreme Court Takes on Mifepristone Regulations

On Dec. 13th, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, regarding mifepristone, a widely used abortion pill, and its accessibility. The issue centers around a lower court decision challenging recent FDA changes allowing telemedicine appointments and mail prescriptions for the drug. The Supreme Court will hear the case this term, and a decision is expected by summer. 

Mifepristone, as described by the FDA, is a drug that blocks the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to continue. It is taken in conjunction with misoprostol in order to end a pregnancy up to ten weeks. The medication has been deemed safe by the FDA since 2000 and has since been safely used by more than 5 million people.  

The abortion pill dispute originated in Texas, where the U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk imposed a nationwide ban on mifepristone, arguing that the FDA had improperly approved it 23 years ago. However, another judge in Washington state supported the current FDA rules. While the case moved through lower courts, the Supreme Court temporarily upheld the existing system. 

The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a pro-life group of medical professionals, is challenging the FDA due to potential harm to emergency room doctors, while the Biden administration contends there’s no evidence of such harm. The drug’s manufacturer, Danco, supports the government’s position. Danco argues that the anti abortion doctors do not have the authority to bring the case because they “do not prescribe or use the drug” and their only “real disagreement with the FDA is that they oppose all forms of abortion.”

In the coming months, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA case will not only determine the fate of mifepristone’s accessibility, but also address broader questions about the authority of courts to challenge FDA decisions.

‘100 Years, Not One More’: ERA Advocates Rally on Centennial Anniversary

Chants of “not one more year” filled downtown D.C. as equal rights activists marched from the White House to the Capitol on Dec. 13th — the 100 year anniversary of the ERA’s introduction in the House of Representatives. Activists, led by the ERA Coalition, demanded that not one more year pass without rights being protected by the Constitution on the basis of sex.

(Photo by Madelyn Amos)

Advocates flew in from across the country to gather in Lafayette Square, urging Congress to affirm the ERA and remove the arbitrary time limit set for ratification when it passed the ERA in 1972. The march shut down Pennsylvania Ave, first stopping at the Department of Justice to ask Attorney General Garland to remove the Trump Administration OLC memo that is obstructing the ERA’s path. The march continued on to the National Archives, where advocates reminded the U.S. Archivist Colleen Shogan that the ERA has met all the requirements according to Article V and should be published as the 28th Amendment.   

Rep. Cori Bush speaking at the march (Photo by Madelyn Amos)

Rep. Cori Bush (MO-1) joined the march in front of the National Archives, giving a passionate speech highlighting the work women of color have done in the fight for equality and urging her fellow members of Congress to affirm the ERA.   

The march culminated in a press conference at the House Triangle, led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) who echoed a unified call for justice. Speakers included: Rep. Jennifer McClellan (VA-4), Gloria L. Blackwell, CEO of AAUW, Honorable Carolyn Maloney, Board Chair of the ERA Coalition and former Representative (NY-12), Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority, Shalina Effendi, Organizer with Generation Ratify, Kase Solomón, CEO of League of Women Voters, and Margaret Mitchell, CEO of YWCA USA.

The centennial anniversary of the ERA became a pivotal moment, uniting advocates in the shared commitment to see the ERA recognized as the 28th Amendment, a testament to the enduring pursuit of equality for all.

Honorable Carolyn Maloney and Rep. Ayanna Pressley at the press conference (Photo by Madelyn Amos)

Eleanor Smeal speaks at the press conference (Photo by Madelyn Amos)

New York to redraw congressional maps ahead of 2024 election

New York’s Court of Appeals has mandated that the state redraw its congressional district maps in preparation for the upcoming 2024 elections. This ruling introduces a crucial dimension to the political landscape, potentially favoring Democrats as they strategically aim to secure control of the U.S. House.

The responsibility of crafting the new proposed maps falls upon the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission, which is expected to submit its proposals by February 28th. Then, the Democrat-controlled legislature will play a decisive role in approving the final maps. The court’s ruling emphasized adherence to the redistricting process outlined in the state constitution, which involves the Independent Commission, rather than resorting to court-drawn alternatives.

For Democrats, the redrawing of congressional districts is a pivotal opportunity to regain control in New York and, consequently, strengthen their position in the U.S. House. New York has 26 congressional districts and experts now expect Democrats to be able to flip five or six Republican-held districts to blue in November. Congressional districts 1, 11, and 19 will be important to watch as they are currently represented by Republicans, but are likely to be drastically redrawn.

Republicans, who secured control of the House in 2022, have vowed to challenge the new map. Having achieved much of their success in flipping suburban New York seats under the court-drawn maps, they sought to maintain the status quo for the upcoming 2024 elections. However, the court’s decision disrupts this strategy, creating an environment where the redrawn maps may not be as favorable to the Republican party.

The origins of this redistricting battle trace back to 2021 when Democrats initially approved gerrymandered maps that leaned in their party’s favor. However, these maps were subsequently blocked by the courts. Democrats see this new redistricting process as a chance to reverse past setbacks and position themselves for success in the 2024 elections, while allowing constituents to elect officials that truly represent them. The outcome of this redistricting battle in New York will undoubtedly shape the political dynamics not just within the state, but also on the national stage in the upcoming U.S. House elections.

The UN climate summit raises concerns over the influence of the oil lobby and gender equity

Over the past two weeks, world leaders have been meeting in Dubai to discuss strategies to tackle climate change at the 28th annual UN climate summit (COP28). The aim of the conference is to reignite enthusiasm in achieving the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, the summit has not been without controversy. 


Critics have pointed out the irony of hosting COP28 in Dubai as the United Arab Emirates is one of the top 10 oil producing nations. The country even went so far as to name the CEO of the state-owned oil company, Sultan al-Jaber, as the president of the COP28 summit. The oil company is in the process of expanding their production. Climate activists are enraged that the very people who are at the core of the climate crisis, the oil lobby, are leading these talks. Environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, has previously accused the UN summits of greenwashing, or promoting environmental policies without actually following through on the changes needed to stop climate change. 


Additionally, the lack of equal representation in the negotiations at COP28 has frustrated feminist climate justice advocates. Over the past ten years, women’s representation in the UN climate summit has increased only marginally, from 30% to 35%. The second week of COP28 featured a panel of women leaders and activists that discussed the existing gender gaps and the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls. A new report from UN Women was released and found that by 2050, climate change may force 158 million more women and girls into poverty. However, if women do not have a seat at the negotiating table, panels such as these are simply performative.

Texas woman sues the state for the right to an abortion

Source: Guttmacher Institute

The Center for Reproductive Rights has been representing Kate Cox in an emergency lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order on Texas abortion bans in order to terminate her pregnancy. The morning of December 7th, a judge granted their request to allow Cox access to the reproductive healthcare that she needs, without fear of repercussions. However, the next day the Texas Supreme Court temporarily halted this ruling, following Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request. Now, Cox must wait for the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, while she is already 20 weeks into her pregnancy.

Cox, a mother of two from Dallas, was devastated when her fetus was diagnosed with full trisomy 18, a fatal chromosomal anomaly that causes spine abnormalities, umbilical hernia, clubbed foot, and other debilitating conditions. As a result, her physicians recommended an abortion. If she carries the pregnancy to term, she is at a greater risk of a miscarriage or stillbirth, as well as gestational hypertension, diabetes, and other complications from the required cesarean section. This would also impact Cox’s ability to carry a third child in the future.  

Texas has the most extreme abortion bans in the country, banning abortions completely with very limited exceptions. The ban is enforced through private lawsuits, creating vigilantes that target patients as well as doctors for aiding or abetting abortions. Cox v. Texas is the first case of its kind in 50 years. The lawsuit is requesting the judge grant a temporary restraining order to prohibit enforcement of Texas’ abortion bans against Cox, her husband, her OB/GYN, and medical staff. 

The Texas Supreme Court is already hearing another abortion case, Zurawski v. Texas, in which 20 women and two doctors are suing the state to clarify which medical exemptions are permitted under the current abortion restrictions. A county judge originally ruled that the abortion ban is not applicable to patients with life-threatening medical complications or fatal fetal anomalies. However, the state attorney general appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. Cox simply did not have the time to wait for the Supreme Court to decide on this case. 

Access to basic, lifesaving healthcare should not require individuals to resort to legal action. Abortion is a human right.

Tuberville ends his blockade of military promotions

After almost ten months of blocking military promotions in protest of abortion access, Senator Tommy Tuberville has finally backed down.

Tuberville’s blockade drew harsh criticism from both sides of the political aisle as over 400 military officers were prevented from receiving their promotions. Global threats, from Russia to the war in Israel and Palestine, continued to intensify, highlighting the urgency of resolving internal political disputes to ensure the readiness and effectiveness of the armed forces. 

Tuberville, who has never served in the US military, chose to wield his political influence in a manner that affected the lives and careers of military officers. Military families felt the direct impacts, with paychecks paused, spouses losing jobs, and children being unable to enroll in school while promotions were stuck in limbo. Many senior officers that were expecting promotions simply considered retiring, rather than wait for the Senate to properly do its job.

Tuberville’s decision to block the military promotions was rooted in his opposition to a US Department of Defense policy that allowed for service members and their families to receive additional support if they must travel out of state to receive abortion care. This could include up to three weeks of administrative leave and covering travel expenses in certain circumstances.

The Pentagon established this policy following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, stating that service members “do not control where they are stationed, and due to the nature of military service, are frequently required to travel or move to meet operational requirements.” The policy ensures that all service members have access to reproductive healthcare, regardless of where they are stationed.     

 

Abortion activists look to 2024 to continue their winning streak

Ohio college students organized for Issue 1

As Ohio became the 7th state in a row to protect reproductive rights, abortion activists are already gearing up for a significant challenge in 2024 – putting abortion rights on the ballot once again. Organizers are working in at least nine states to continue this momentum and enshrine abortion protections in state constitutions. The potential states include Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, Maryland, New York, Colorado, and Florida.     

Of course, it will be easier said than done.

Just last week, a Nevada judge rejected a proposed abortion rights ballot initiative, calling it too broad and misleading. The petition’s language described a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, vasectomies, tubal ligation, abortion and abortion care. Judge James T. Russell told KOLO-TV Reno that the ballot initiative included “too many subjects. Not all of which are functionally related to each other.” The pro-abortion group leading the efforts, Nevadans for Reproductive Rights, is expected to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. Nevada voted overwhelmingly in 1990 to guarantee the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks.

However, activists are feeling optimistic about their prospects in Arizona, Maryland, New York and Colorado. Arizona for Abortion Access is in the process of collecting the necessary signatures from registered voters for their referendum and are currently exceeding their monthly goals. With Maryland and New York’s state legislatures solidly led by Democrats, measures are already set to be on their November ballots. And Colorado is expected to follow suit. 

A Ms. magazine and Feminist Majority Foundation poll conducted by Lake Research Partners last year found that 55% of young women voters in battleground states say abortion and women’s rights combined are the top issues that will determine their votes. The overturn of Roe has activated abortion right supporters to make their voices heard at the ballot box, and 2024 will be no different.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin purged 3,400 eligible voters from the state’s rolls

Photo by Janine Robinson on Unsplash

In the days before the crucial General Assembly elections in Virginia, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration admitted that it mistakenly removed nearly 3,400 qualified voters from the state’s database, a significant increase from their initial estimate of 270. This revelation comes just weeks before the November 7th elections, which will have substantial implications for the political future of the state.

According to the governor’s administration, these 3,400 voters were removed due to a technical error where the state’s computer software incorrectly counted probation violations as new felonies, thereby disqualifying these individuals from voting. However, local registrars have reportedly reinstated all but around 100 of these voters, who had been convicted of felonies, had their voting rights restored, and subsequently violated their probation.

The “purge” raised further questions about Youngkin’s intentions and commitment to election integrity among Democrats, who have accused the administration of mishandling the situation and not safeguarding voting rights. Democratic State Senator Scott Surovell tweeted, “This is what happens when you put an election denier Governor in charge of voting.”

Governor Youngkin has requested the state’s inspector general to investigate the voter removals and the possibility that individuals with restored rights remained on the rolls after subsequent felony convictions. Virginia has a policy of disenfranchising those with felony convictions, except when the governor restores their civil rights. The ACLU of Virginia is concerned that eligible voters could be deterred from voting due to this incident. There is also no way of ensuring that the administration is being transparent about the number of voters removed.  

The election in Virginia has incredibly high stakes, as Republicans are aiming to retake the majority in the House and Senate to further Gov. Youngkin’s conservative agenda. This could mean a rollback on abortion rights as well as the Equal Rights Amendment. Virginians have to make sure their voice is heard in this election.  

Go to https://www.elections.virginia.gov/ to find information about your voter registration status and polling locations.  

Trailblazing feminist activist, Lois Galgay Reckitt, passes away at 79

Photo: legislature.maine.gov

The Feminist Majority Foundation is saddened to hear of the passing of a dear friend and an inspiring feminist activist, Maine State Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt. 

Rep. Reckitt was known as a relentless activist on behalf of women and dedicated her life to fighting for equality. She served as the executive vice president of the National Organization for Women from 1984 to 1987, where she fought for LGBTQ rights and to end violence against women.     

Rep. Reckitt was the co-founder of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the Maine Coalition for Human Rights, the Maine Women’s Lobby, and the first Maine chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also established the Family Crisis Shelter in Portland, Maine and successfully lobbied to protect victims of domestic abuse, leading to the passage of multiple influential bills. Her impressive resume led to her induction into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2016, Rep. Reckitt extended her talents to the Maine House of Representatives, where she served until 2022. She was unrelenting in her push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the Maine Constitution, bringing the amendment to a vote three times in the legislature.

“Lois Reckett has not only been an inspirational leader for women and girls in Maine, but also nationwide. She was a champion for the Equal Rights Amendment both for the United States Constitution and the Maine Constitution. Lois was a leader in the National Organization for Women and a national leader in the fight to end violence against women and girls. I had the good fortune to work with her closely when I was president of the National Organization for Women and she was the Executive Vice President. She worked for women’s rights until the time of her death and was very proud that she had just passed historic legislation in Maine to end sex trafficking,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and former President of National Organization for Women. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills also released a statement: “Representative Reckitt was a tireless defender of the rights of women and girls throughout her life, wielding her sharp wit and her sense of humor to bring people together and to make a difference for her community. As the long-time executive director of Family Crisis Services in Cumberland County and, later, as a legislator for the people of South Portland, Lois never stopped trying to make our state better for everyone. In a week already marked by such deep loss, I am devastated to lose her as well. I knew Lois for nearly five decades; she was a dear friend, and I will miss her deeply. I extend my condolences to her friends, her family, and her community during this difficult time.”

In the wake of Rep. Lois Reckitt’s passing, we reflect on her remarkable legacy. Her unwavering commitment to feminism and her tireless advocacy for equality stand as an enduring source of inspiration for us all. Rep. Reckitt’s passion and dedication will continue to fuel our efforts to honor her memory by pressing on in the fight for equality, justice, and women’s rights.

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

anti-abortion-violence-lauren-handy-justice-department

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. 

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