White Supremacists in Charlottesville Rally Found Liable

On Tuesday, a federal jury in Charlottesville, VA found that more than a dozen white supremacists “conspired to intimidate, harass, or commit acts of violence during 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally.” 

The jury decided that these men, along with the white supremacist groups to which they belong, owe $26 million in damages.

The jurors found that former alt-right leader Richard Spencer, rally organizer Jason Kessler, and Christopher Cantwell, as well as all of the other defendants in this case, were liable under Virginia law. This includes 10 individuals and 14 white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist organizations.

The Unite the Right Rally four years ago was where neo-nazi James Alex Fields Jr. “plowed his car through a crowd of protesters,” hitting four people and killing counter-protester Heather Heyer. The victims suffered serious injuries, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Victims sought damages for medical costs as well as pain and suffering. They wanted to hold organizers of this violent march responsible and deter other racist groups from organizing similar dangerous displays.

Testimony came from victims, including Melissa Blair, who “was pushed out of the way as Fields’ car slammed into the crowd, described the horror of seeing her fiance bleeding on the sidewalk and later learning that her friend Heyer had been killed.”

“I was confused. I was scared. I was worried about all the people that were there. It was a complete terror scene. It was blood everywhere. I was terrified,” said Blair in her emotional testimony.

At the protest, white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us” as they marched with torches. 

The news of this trial came just days after Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who killed two people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha in 2020, was acquitted on all charges. Simultaneously, a jury in Georgia is debating murder counts against the three white men accused of shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was on a run.

Sources: Washington Post 11/23/21; New York Times 11/23/21; Washington Post 11/23/21; NPR 11/23/21

Afghan Women Judges Targeted by Taliban

Afghan women judges who presided over abuse cases are being threatened by the Taliban. Currently, their lives and the lives of their families are in danger, as members of the Taliban are tracking down and killing women justices for their commitment to gaining justice for women survivors.

There are currently more than 200 women judges in Afghanistan, and many are in hiding, according to the International Association of Women Judges. 

Officials from the Taliban have searched for and found the judges’ personal information, and in some cases have had their bank accounts frozen.

“The women judges of Afghanistan are under threat for applying the law,” stated Susan Glazebrook, president of the judges’ association. “They are under threat because they have made rulings in favor of women according to law in family violence, custody and divorce cases.” 

“They are women who had the effrontery to sit in judgement on men”, she said. “Women judging men is an anathema to the Taliban”.

Since the Taliban’s power rose again in August, they have instituted draconian restrictions on women, prohibiting them from school and many from work.

Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, almost 300 women judges served in the country’s justice system. Specific courts, police units, and prosecution offices were created to manage cases dealing with violence against women, an issue that plagued the country and the world.

Domestic violence is so rampant in Afghanistan that some survivors have had to kill their husbands to protect themselves and their children.

One judge, Najiba, said she has seen hundreds of cases of violence against women, including rape, murder, torture, and domestic abuse. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has reported 3,477 cases of violence against women in the first 10 months of 2020.

Many of the former judges have been threatened and beaten by men demanding to know the whereabouts of the victims who had been granted justice or safety in their courts. “We have lost everything — our jobs, our homes, the way we lived — and we are terrified,” said Wahida, 28, a former judge.

A former lawyer for victims of domestic abuse, Behista, said that she has not left her home in Kabul since the Taliban takeover in August. 

“I lost my job, and now my whole family is at risk, not just me,” Behista said.

Sources: New York Times 10/20/21; Al Jazeera 10/25/21; New York Times 8/17/21; Al Jazeera 10/18/21

Maloney and Other Members of Congress Introduce Access to Birth Control Act

On Wednesday, November 17, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Robin Kelly, and Rep Katie Porter in the House and Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Patty Murray in the Senate introduced the Access to Birth Control Act to ensure that customers attempting to access birth control at pharmacies cannot be turned away.

According to Rewire News, “thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, approximately 64.3 million women in 2020 had coverage of the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing.” 

However, pharmacists in 24 states and DC have refused customers trying to purchase emergency contraception or have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control.

The bill states that one-third of women have faced delays in accessing their birth control because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am proud to lead my colleagues in reintroducing the Access to Birth Control Act to ensure patients seeking birth control can access their health care without unnecessary barriers or delay,” Maloney said in a statement. “During the Trump administration, some health-care providers—including pharmacists—denied patients care simply based on their personal views. Health-care providers must do their jobs based on science—not ideology—and we cannot let this dangerous trend continue.”

Since its introduction today, the bill has earned support from over 120 lawmakers and is endorsed by over 50 advocacy organizations.

“People’s access to birth control should never be restricted by a pharmacy employee’s personal beliefs,” Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement. “We’re glad to support this bill that will make sure everyone can leave a pharmacy with the birth control they need, without discrimination, harassment, or delay. At a time when extremist politicians are trying every way possible to take away our reproductive health care, it’s urgent to secure federal protections like the ABC Act.”

Lawmakers strategically chose to introduce this bill today on Thanks Birth Control Day, a campaign by Power to Decide to provide space for people to express gratitude and share their stories with contraception. Each year on November 17, activists storm social media to talk about the need for expanding access to birth control.

Sources: Rewire News Group 11/17/21; The Hill 11/17/21

New Poll Shows Strong Majority of Americans Support Upholding Roe v. Wade

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Americans, by a large majority, think that the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, and, by a similar margin, oppose SB8, the Texas abortion ban that was implemented in September.

According to the poll, 60 percent of Americans say that Roe should be upheld, and 75 percent say that abortion access should be a private decision between patients and their doctors.

The poll also shows that most Americans oppose recent conservative attempts to widely restrict abortion access. Sixty-five percent say that the Supreme Court should block the Texas abortion ban, and 58 percent oppose laws in general that aim to restrict abortion.

The Texas abortion ban is the most extreme of its kind to have been implemented– while many six-week abortion bans have been passed in state legislatures across the county, they are almost always blocked; SB8 was the first six-week ban to have been enacted.

The law was specifically designed to evade judicial scrutiny, deputizing private citizens to enforce the law by encouraging them to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps someone access abortion care.

On November 1st, the Supreme Court heard arguments on procedural challenges to this law, and on December 1st the Court will hear oral arguments for the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. These cases give the power to the conservative Supreme Court to overturn Roe

Sources: Washington Post 11/16/21

Congress Passes Infrastructure Bill, Biden to Sign Next Week

On Monday, November 15th, President Biden will sign the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill, into law. 

Attending the ceremony will be members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, governors and mayors, and labor union and business leaders. 

The Senate passed the bill in August, and the House passed the bill on Friday. President Biden announced that the signing will take place in a formal ceremony so that members of Congress, who are in recess this week, can join.

The bill allocates hundreds of billions of dollars towards improving highways, bridges and roads, public transportation, broadband access, and the power grid, all across the country. The White House, with sources from external economists, has said that the law will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next ten years.

The law also will spend $60 billion to modernize the power grid and $55 billion to replace lead pipes and improve the nation’s water supply.

As per the push from progressive members of Congress, the law will invest in green energy, combat pollution, and allocate for emergency response in natural disasters, all critically important as the effects of climate change continue to worsen.

“This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race,” in the 1950s and ’60s, President Biden said.

Sources: ABC News 11/10/21; Washington Post 11/6/21

Ohio Lawmakers Introduce Total Abortion Ban

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Ohio introduced a bill banning all abortions in the state. 

The bill has a similar structure as Texas’s SB8, deputizing private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps someone access abortion care. Those lawsuits can reach $10,000 or more.

Much like in Texas’s law, the bill is designed to evade judicial scrutiny and to weaken defendants’ cases as much as possible.

The bill bans defendants “in civil suits from claiming ignorance or mistake of law as defense, in addition to any personal belief that the legislation is unconstitutional.” It also prohibits defendants from using a court’s decision’s ruling as a defense if it is later overruled, even if it is intact at the time of the abortion. 

The law extends even further than Texas’s, which bans abortion after six weeks. Neither provides exception for rape or incest. In the case of Texas, few people know that they are pregnant at six weeks– over 85% of abortions occur after that six-week mark.

“We know when things are criminalized, Black folks, women of color and nonbinary people are the ones most under scrutiny,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said. “Other people who have the money will find a way to flee Ohio to get the care they need.”

“It’s an egregious assault on women, a dangerous attack on healthcare rights and an embarrassment for our state. Ohio Republicans want to control women, but we won’t be silent,” said Minority Leader Emilia Sykes in a statement. “Criminalizing care will disproportionately impact women of color, nonbinary people and those already at a disadvantage in our health and criminal justice system.”

“Banning abortion would be catastrophic to communities across Ohio,” said Lauren Blauvelt-Copelin of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. “Lawmakers and anti-abortion vigilantes have no business making personal medical decisions for their neighbors.”

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments for procedural challenges to SB8 on Monday, after refusing to block the law before its implementation on September 1.

The Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

Sources: The Hill 11/3/21; Cincinnati Enquirer 11/2/21; Cleveland.com 11/2/21

Michelle Wu and Other Mayoral Candidates of Color Make History This Election Day

Michelle Wu made history by winning Boston’s mayoral election on Tuesday– Wu is the first woman and person of color to be elected to the position in Boston’s history.

Wu is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, and a Boston Public Schools mother– with two young children, she is the first mother elected to lead the city. And, at 36, she’s the youngest mayor in almost 100 years.

In this Boston mayoral election, nearly every contender was a person of color, and most of them were women. Wu gained support as a champion for progressive policies and earned endorsements from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative Ayanna Pressley. 

Wu’s progressive platform included support of a Boston Green New Deal and a fare-free transit system, which earned her support from progressive organizations including Sunrise Movement Boston, Planned Parenthood Massachusetts, and Working Families Party.

“From every corner of our city, Boston has spoken. We are ready to meet this moment. We are ready to become a Boston for everyone,” Wu said to a crowd of supporters Tuesday night. “I want to be clear, it wasn’t my vision on the ballot, it was ours, together.”

In other cities across the country, candidates of color made history. In Pittsburgh, voters elected Ed Gainey, the city’s first-ever Black mayor.

“We know how people have talked about Pittsburgh, how siloed it is, how segregated it is,” Gainey told supporters on Tuesday. “But today, you changed that.”

Aftab Pureval won his mayoral race in Cincinnati, making him the city’s first Asian American mayor. Thirty-nine-year-old Pureval defeated 82-year-old insider David Mann.

In Dearborn, Michigan, Abdulla Hammoud became the first Arab-American and Muslim mayor last night. Though the suburb has one of the largest Arab communities in the US, the city’s elected officials have rarely reflected its population.

In his Tuesday night speech, he dedicated his victory to “any young girls or boys who have been ridiculed for their faith or ethnicity.”

Sources: CNN 11/3/21; NPR 11/3/21; Center for American Women in Politics, Rutgers University

Supreme Court Hears Challenges to Texas Abortion Ban

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard two procedural challenges to SB8, Texas’s six-week abortion ban that was enacted on September 1. The Court heard both United States v. Texas and Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, both challenging the law.

US Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar argued that the law is unconstitutional and that if upheld, “no constitutional law is safe.”

In the same vein, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor brought up that upholding the law would allow all state legislatures to “pass laws invalidating other constitutional rights such as those related to same-sex marriage, gun ownership, and religious freedom.”

“We would live in a very different world from the world we live in today. Essentially, we would be inviting states, all 50 of them, with respect to their own preferred constitutional rights, to try to nullify the law this court has laid down,” Justice Kagan said.

The Texas law is unique, as it was designed specifically to avoid judicial scrutiny, by deputizing private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who helps patients access abortion care after six weeks. 

“The state designed S.B. 8 to ensure that the threat of enforcement suits will deter covered abortions, such that enforcement suits and the opportunity to raise a constitutional defense will be rare,” argued the Justice Department. 

“So far, it has worked. The threat of a flood of S.B. 8 suits has effectively eliminated abortion in Texas at a point before many women even realize they are pregnant, denying a constitutional right the Court has recognized for half a century,” said the Justice Department

“Yet Texas insists that the Court must tolerate the State’s brazen attack on the supremacy of federal law because S.B. 8’s unprecedented structure leaves the federal Judiciary powerless to intervene.”

As most people don’t know that they are pregnant at six weeks, the law has barred over 85% of abortions in Texas. Many states have passed six-week bans previously, but they are usually blocked, so SB8 is the first six-week ban to be enacted.

Many patients have had to travel out of state to access the care they need, but for some, traveling is an impossible task– particularly for undocumented folks who risk dangerous interactions with border patrol checkpoints. 

On December 1, the Supreme Court will hear another abortion ban case, this one about Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

Sources: Washington Post 11/1/21; Ms. Magazine 11/1/21; The World 9/2/21

President Biden Releases Build Back Better Framework

President Joe Biden released on Thursday a new framework for his Build Back Better agenda, which includes $1.75 trillion in investments to extend health care coverage and alleviate child poverty and combat climate change.

Key to this framework is expanding the child tax credit (CTC) for one year, and establishing full refundability permanently, allowing low-income families to qualify for the credit. The plan will also support working parents and parents attending school, covering the cost of child care for children under 6 to ensure that child care costs are capped at 7% of a family’s income.

The plan also establishes universal and free preschool for over 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds.

The major component of the framework is allocated toward climate investments, including $550 billion in investments in clean energy, an electrification-focused rebate program, an enhancement of existing home energy and efficiency tax credits, and an electric vehicle credit.

“The Build Back Better framework will set the U.S. on course to meet our climate targets, create millions of good-paying jobs and grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” Biden said Thursday.

The framework also allocates spending toward reducing premiums for Affordable Care Act coverage and expanding Medicaid. An estimated 9 million ACA plan enrollees are expected to see their premiums fall by an average of $600 per year.

Sources: CNBC 10/28/21; White House 10/28/21

Supreme Court Will Hear Texas Abortion Ban Case November 1

On Friday, the Supreme Court said that they will not block Texas’ SB8, a near-total abortion ban, but will review the law on November 1st.

The justices said that they will rule on whether the Justice Department and abortion providers can sue in federal court over the law, which was designed specifically to avoid judicial review. The six-week abortion ban is structured with “vigilante justice”, encouraging and deputizing private citizens to sue providers and anyone who helps someone access abortion care after six weeks.

As most people do not know that they are pregnant until well after six weeks, the ban makes over 85% of abortions illegal. While many six-week bans have been passed, this is the first one that has been enacted, as they are usually successfully blocked.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented with the decision to not block the law, writing, “There are women in Texas who became pregnant on or around the day that S. B. 8 took effect. As I write these words, some of those women do not know they are pregnant. When they find out, should they wish to exercise their constitutional right to seek abortion care, they will be unable to do so anywhere in their home State.

“Those with sufficient resources may spend thousands of dollars and multiple days anxiously seeking care from out-of-state providers so overwhelmed with Texas patients that they cannot adequately serve their own communities. Those without the ability to make this journey, whether due to lack of money or childcare or employment flexibility or the myriad other constraints that shape people’s day-to-day lives, may be forced to carry to term against their wishes or resort to dangerous methods of self-help.”

The court initially refused to block the law in a 5-4 decision in September, allowing it to go into effect on September 1. A federal judge blocked the law in early October, responding to the Justice Department’s bid to stop the law, and 48 hours later a federal appeals court placed a temporary hold on that order to block.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, said that clinics are fighting to stay open during this tumultuous time. In 2013, an anti-abortion law in Texas forced over half of the clinics in the state to close. Though the law was struck down in 2016, some clinics never reopened.

“It’s a matter of time if this law continues to be enforced,” she stated. “It will cause clinics to close and further decimate the fabric of care that is needed to take care of people across the state.”

The Supreme Court will hear this case on November 1, just weeks before they will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. That case is brought by the state’s only remaining clinic.

Sources: NPR 10/22/21; AP News 10/22/21; Feminist Newswire 10/18/21

House Oversight and Reform Committee Holds Historic Hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing about the Equal Rights Amendment. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the Oversight Committee, started the hearing by stating that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has met all requirements for the adoption of a United States Constitutional Amendment. It was ratified by 2/3 of both houses of Congress and by 3/4 of the states (or 38 states). All that is left is certification by the National Archivist and publication as the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney originally ran for office on the platform of passing the ERA and has pushed for its passage throughout her career. The ERA has the steadfast support of the House Women’s Caucus. The hearing introduction by Congresswoman Maloney was followed by Women’s Caucus co-chair Brenda Lawrence and Congresswoman Jackie Speier emphasizing the urgent need for the ERA.

Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority and Feminist Majority Foundation, testified in favor of the ERA, along with actress and activist Alyssa Milano, Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan, President and CEO of the ERA Coalition Carol Jenkins, founder of the [email protected] Coalition Bamby Salcedo, and legal scholar Victoria Nourse.

“I’m frequently asked what makes you continue to fight for so many years,” Smeal stated in her testimony. “I am not a lawyer. But I have lived most of my adult life fighting against blatant sex discrimination and I know that far too often sex discrimination prevails. Far too many suffer with no recourse for justice… we have weak constitutional rights to fight sex discrimination at the national level and in most states.”

“We have no national legislation that will serve as a protection for all people,” Salcedo said in her testimony. She explained that as a trans Latina woman, the Equality Act and other legislative protections are not enough. “The truth is that the Equality Act does not look at all the intersections across my life, and will not provide constitutional equality.”

Jenkins said in her testimony, “women of color and Black women in particular have always been at the forefront of this movement. Shirley Chisholm gave a fiery testimony right here on the House floor in support of the Equal Rights Amendment– her support for the amendment led the way for passage of the ERA in the House of Representatives the following year, fifty years ago.”

During her allotted time, Congresswoman Cori Bush emphasized that the ERA is critically needed to end discrimination against Black women and girls. Black women are “more likely to be evicted, be underpaid, die during childbirth, lack access to abortion, and be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and police brutality… racial inequality is a crisis in this country, and it’s crucial that we recognize and acknowledge the impact the ERA would have on our communities,” she stated.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley also stated that the narrative that the ERA is a white women’s issue is “a false narrative, we’ve seen this throughout history– in an effort to erase the women of color who have served as trailblazers, table shakers, and justice seekers in the fight for gender equality.”

In her remarks, Milano made clear: “while I will speak briefly on the importance of the ERA, this hearing is not a debate on that amendment. That debate is over. We won.”

Biden Administration Asks Supreme Court to Block Texas Abortion Ban

On Monday, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to block SB8, a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks. The administration claims the measure is unconstitutional, and that it was purposefully designed to evade judicial review. 

The law was allowed to be put into effect on September 1, after the Supreme Court refused to block it in a 5-4 decision. A federal judge blocked the law on October 6, responding to the Justice Department’s bid to stop the law, and on October 8 a federal appeals court placed a temporary hold on that order to block. 

Though many states have passed six-week abortion bans, this is the first time such a law has been enacted, as most usually are blocked. This six-week mark of pregnancy is before most people know they are pregnant, and bans over 85% of abortions.

The Justice Department wrote in their filing that “Texas’s insistence that no party can bring a suit challenging SB8 amounts to an assertion that the federal courts are powerless to halt the state’s ongoing nullification of federal law. The proposition is as breathtaking as it is dangerous.”

The law is especially egregious as it is designed to avoid judicial scrutiny. It has a “vigilante justice” component, deputizing private citizens to enforce the law by encouraging them to sue anyone who provides abortion care or helps someone access abortion care after six weeks. These citizens can be awarded $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits.

The Supreme Court is set to consider another major abortion case on December 1st, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, over a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only clinic left in Mississippi, which can largely be attributed to years of harassment and violence against abortion providers in the state.

Sources: Reuters 10/18/21; NBC News 10/15/21; Feminist Newswire 10/11/21

Appeals Court Puts Temporary Hold on Judge’s Order to Block Texas Abortion Ban

On Friday night, a federal appeals court placed a temporary hold on a federal judge’s order to block Texas’ SB8, an extreme, near-total abortion ban enacted last month.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Texas’ administrative stay request, after Judge Robert Pitman ruled to block the law last week, responding to a request from the US Justice Department.

This Texas law was designed to be challenging to block in court, as it relies on a “vigilante justice” structure, deputizing private citizens to sue providers and anyone who helps someone access abortion care after six weeks of pregnancy. 

After Pitman issued his order on Thursday, some Texas clinics, including Whole Woman’s Health centers, resumed providing abortion care to patients who were past the 6-week mark of their pregnancy. Because the Texas law allows enforcement for abortions provided while a court order blocking the law is in effect if the court order is later reversed, providers at these clinics face legal risk for continuing to provide care. 

Judge Pitman said in his ruling, “from the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution…that other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide; this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that “the Supreme Court needs to step in and stop this madness.”

“It’s unconscionable that the Fifth Circuit stayed such a well-reasoned decision that allowed constitutionally protected services to return in Texas,” she said. “Patients are being thrown back into a state of chaos and fear, and this cruel law is falling hardest on those who already face discriminatory obstacles in health care, especially Black Indigenous, and other people of color, undocumented immigrants, young people, those struggling to make ends meet, and those in rural areas.”

Sources: CNN 10/8/21; USA Today 10/9/21

Federal Judge Blocks Texas’ Abortion Ban

On Wednesday, a federal judge granted an emergency request from the Justice Department and blocked enforcement of Texas’s SB8, a law banning abortion after six weeks. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman said in his ruling that since SB8 went into effect in September, “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution…other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide. This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

Judge Pitman’s ruling blocks enforcement of SB8 temporarily, and it is not clear how long it will be in effect. The Attorney General of Texas has already announced that the state will appeal Pitman’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Many other states have passed similar near-total abortion bans, but federal judges have prevented those laws from taking effect. SB8 is the first 6-week ban to actually go into effect, and was designed specifically to avoid judicial review. Under SB8, private citizens have the power to sue anyone who aids and abets someone with accessing abortion care after six weeks. 

“This is amazing! Finally, the justice we have been waiting for,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which has clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, and McKinney. The providers of Whole Women’s Health in Texas were performing abortions up until midnight the day before the law went into effect.

“We do expect the state to appeal, and when they do, we will also be ready,” she said. 

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement, “it is the foremost responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Constitution. We will continue to protect constitutional rights against all who would seek to undermine them.”

Sources: Washington Post 10/7/21; NPR 10/7/21; Feminist Newswire 9/1/21

Tens of Thousands of People Rally for Abortion Justice in DC and Throughout the US

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in DC on Saturday to protest Texas’s SB8, a recently passed law that bans 85% of abortions and gives private citizens the power to sue anyone who provides financial or logistical assistance to someone in getting an abortion. 

Washington, DC’s march started at Freedom Plaza, and marchers walked over two miles to the Supreme Court. Many speakers shared the stories of their own abortions, especially highlighting how restrictions negatively impact the most marginalized pregnant people, including poor and young people of color.

“No matter where you live, no matter where you are, this moment is dark — it is dark — but that’s why we’re here,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said to the crowd. “It is our job to imagine the light, even when we can’t see it,” Johnson said. “It is our job to turn pain into purpose. It is our job to turn pain into power.”

“Not only is abortion health care, but at my organization we also believe it’s self-care,” said Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, a Texas-based abortion rights organization. “You can no longer tell us what to do with our bodies.” At that, the protesters erupted in cheers, many hoisting homemade signs and chanting, “Abortion is health care!”

In addition to the largest march in DC, there were more than 600 simultaneous marches across the country, with thousands protesting in New York, Houston, and Dallas and hundreds in smaller cities like Omaha, Albany, and Cleveland.

In Los Angeles, speakers included US House Rep Karen Bass, Hilda Solis, Chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and Paxton Smith, a Texas student whose valedictorian speech standing up for abortion rights went viral last spring. There were five other marches in Southern California, in Long Beach, West Hollywood, Pasadena, Irvine, and Fountain Valley.

Protesters rallied in Jackson, MS, and New Orleans, against SB8 and other abortion bans set to impact their states. The Supreme Court is set to hear Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health this December, which will rule on Mississippi’s recent 15-week ban. If the Court upholds this law, Louisiana’s similar law will also take effect.

Arsene DeLay, generational New Orleanian activist and musician, challenged the crowd to listen to Black women, who are often most impacted by abortion restrictions. The CDC reports that Black women received 61% of all abortions in the state of Louisiana.

The march was organized in coalition with more than 120 groups, including Planned Parenthood, Black Feminist Future, and Feminist Majority Foundation. 

Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, said, “Roe is the floor, not the ceiling,” Carmona said. “Abortion rights, reproductive justice, is absolutely a part of voting rights and justice for immigrants, and racial justice because they can’t be extracted from themselves. The most impacted communities across all those groups are communities of color.”

Sources: Washington Post 10/2/21; Omaha World-Herald 10/2/21; WWNO 10/2/21

Phoenix Clinics Remain Open Despite Anti-Abortion Siege

Arizona reproductive health care facilities remained open and accessible during anti-abortion group Operation Save America’s (OSA) annual national summer siege, dubbed “Further Up & Further In.”  Extremists from across the nation traveled to Maricopa County June 22nd through June 26th to join OSA to target area abortion providers with disruptive protests and to oversee the installation of a new leader.  OSA’s turnout was low, but the threat of potential clinic blockades pervaded the event since two prominent OSA members have organized four clinic blockades in Michigan, Tennessee, and Arkansas this past year. 

Rusty Thomas, who led OSA for seven years, stepped down and Associate OSA Director Jason Storms, who has expressed support for the “justifiable homicide” statement which condones violence against abortion providers, was installed as the new leader.

Storms supports the death penalty for individuals who obtain or provide abortions. Moreover, it was Storms who led a group of OSA adherents to Washington DC to participate in the January 6th riots at the Capitol. Many of his social media posts feature or glorify weapons, including recent photos of members of his family in prom dresses carrying AR-15s and posts with threatening references to federal and state authorities and stopping the “infectious disease of tyranny” with multiple “lead vaccinations.”

Storms is a protégé of his father-in-law Matt Trewhella, a rabid anti-vaxxer, signatory of the “justifiable homicide” (aka the Defensive Action statement authored by an extremist who killed a physician and his clinic escort in Florida), and the architect of a doctrine encouraging law enforcement, legislators and judges to defy state and federal laws that do not comport with “God’s law.”

“Thanks to the commitment of physicians and staff, all clinics remained open and accessible in spite of OSA’s attempt to intimidate and harass them and their patients,” said duVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) National Clinic Access Project who was on the ground in Phoenix. “OSA left with a whimper while Arizona providers continue to courageously care for their community – undeterred, supporters of reproductive freedom are re-energized,” Gaines added.

Indeed, there was a groundswell of support for Phoenix-area providers, including Arizona State University undergraduate students, ASU law school’s National Lawyers Guild chapter, Black Lives Matter PHX Metro, White People Against White Supremacy (White PAWS), clinic escorts, and other community allies that were trained by FMF as legal monitors. In the clinic context, legal monitors are volunteers who document instances of harassment, intimidation, and law-breaking by anti-abortion protesters; legal monitors also help identify out-of-state and local extremists.

The National Abortion Federation, Abortion Access Front (AAF), and WeEngage were also on hand in Phoenix supporting area providers and patients.  AAF coordinated digital billboards on trucks that drove across Phoenix with short videos highlighting the hypocrisy of OSA and to counter the images of ‘fetus porn,’ propaganda promoting hate, shame, and intolerance and covering the vans, trucks, and vehicles of several OSA members.

While OSA was unsuccessful in its campaign to close clinics and intimidate patients, the fight for comprehensive reproductive healthcare access continues in Arizona. In April 2021, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law SB 1427, a far-reaching anti-abortion bill that includes a ban on abortions due to genetic abnormalities, a Personhood clause granting civil rights to fetuses, and a blanket prohibition on physician’s providing abortion medication via courier, delivery or mail in the state. The bill also mandates fetal remains be buried or cremated. Dr. DeShawn Taylor, the founder of Desert Star Family Planning in Phoenix remarked about SB 1427, “It forces people into more desperate situations. Abortion is safe the way that it’s provided and when people start to feel like they can’t access it, they are going to take matters into their own hands.”

Though the future remains unclear as state legislatures pass sweeping anti-abortion laws and the nation awaits the conservative Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, providers and activists continue to organize and advance access to abortion.

Sources: The Guardian 4/27/21; Legiscan; 12 News 4/22/21; Ms. Magazine 6/21/21

Black Voters Matter End Freedom Ride in DC

On Saturday, advocacy organization Black Voters Matter gathered in D.C. with other political advocacy organizations to demonstrate and garner support for voting rights.

The goals of the rally, which was held in front of the Capitol building, included passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, passing the For the People Act, and granting Statehood to Washington, D.C. 

Black Voters Matter was joined by representatives from National Organization for Women (NOW), the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, NAACP’s D.C. chapter, and dozens of other groups.

The rally was the last in an eight-day “votercade” from Louisiana to D.C., referred to as the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights. 

Currently, more than 40 states are considering legislation to restrict voting rights. Voting restrictions disproportionately impact marginalized communities, especially Black communities, and often aim to curb the Black vote in favor of conservative politicians. 

If passed, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act will restore a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required states with a discriminatory history against Black voters to get approval from the Justice Department before changing voting procedures. The For the People Act addresses multiple voting rights issues, including voter access, campaign finance, election security, and ethics.

“Democracy is non negotiable for us,” said LaTosha Brown, one of the organizers of the event. “We’re still going to do everything in our power to push for this. One man or one session is not going to shut it down for us.”

Sources: Washington Post 6/26/21; The Hill 6/26/21

Senate Approves Legislation to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed a measure to make Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a federal holiday.

The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for approval. If passed by the House and subsequently signed into law by President Biden, June 19th will be established as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have spearheaded the effort to establish Juneteenth as a U.S. holiday.

On June 19, 1865, the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Union Major General Gordon Granger announced to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas that they had been emancipated. Since 1865, Juneteenth has been celebrated informally. In 1980, Texas was the first state to name Juneteenth a state holiday.

The majority of U.S. states already acknowledge Juneteenth as an official holiday. However, only a few mark June 19 as a paid holiday.

According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll last summer, two-thirds of Americans believe that June 19 should be declared an official holiday.

Many view the Senate’s action as one step toward addressing the ongoing conversation about systemic racism in the United States. “Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Sources: CNN 6/15/21; CNN 6/17/20; CNBC 6/15/21; NPR 6/15/21; The Harris Poll 6/19/20

U.S. Bishops Meet to Discuss Biden’s Eligibility for Communion In Light of Pro-Choice Policy Support

This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will convene to debate whether President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support access to abortion should be denied Communion for their beliefs on abortion rights.

Biden, a devout Catholic, has been denied Communion before for his position on abortion rights. As the first Catholic president since John F. Kennedy, Biden’s support for abortion has caused conflict within the Catholic Church and raised questions about the politicization of church practices.

Just weeks ago, President Biden released his 2022 federal budget, which notably does not include the Hyde Amendment. This amendment, adopted in 1976, prevents federal funds from being used for abortion. It bans the use of Medicaid to fund abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or life-threatening medical complications.

The controversial question of Communion eligibility surrounding this year’s USCCB annual meeting is influenced by recent debates among Catholic bishops regarding the importance of opposing abortion to the Catholic faith. Following the Trump administration, an increasing number of conservative Catholic bishops have advocated to center anti-abortion beliefs as the church’s primary issue.

However, other Catholic officials argue that church practices should not be politicized, even regarding the issue of abortion. The Vatican, which vehemently condemns abortion, has asked U.S. Bishops not to deny Biden Communion for his views on abortion. “The concern of the Vatican is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon,” said Antonio Spadaro, a priest and ally of Pope Francis.

Abortion continues to be a contested issue among American Catholics, but according to the Pew Research Center, over half of Catholics in the U.S. agree that “abortion should be legal in all or most cases.”

The USCCB will be held this Wednesday through Friday.

Sources: The Washington Post 6/15/21; The New York Times 6/14/21; NPR 5/31/21; Feminist Majority Foundation 5/28/21; Pew Research Center 10/8/20

Senate Republicans Block the Paycheck Fairness Act

On Tuesday, Republicans in the Senate blocked the debate of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill aimed to eliminate pay discrimination against women. 

If passed, the Paycheck Fairness Act would require employers to demonstrate that any pay disparities between men and women are related to the job. It would also give more power to those impacted by pay discrimination in class-action suits. 

Even after almost six decades have passed since the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted, women still make an average of 82 cents for every dollar that men earn. Black women are paid 63 cents to white men’s dollar, and Latina women are paid 55 cents. This averages a loss of $400,000 over the course of a women’s career. 

“As workers across the country struggle to make ends meet amid this economic crisis, women cannot afford to wait any longer to get equal pay,” said Senator Murray. “Right now, women are still paid less on average than their male counterparts—and the gap is highest for women of color. I want our economy to be one where every worker gets paid fairly for the work they do and can support themselves and their loved ones. This is not too much to ask and should not be controversial—so I’ll keep pushing to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and other important policies that will support women in the workforce and make sure our economy works for everyone.”

The broader goal of introducing this legislation is to end the legislative filibuster, which currently gives Republicans the power to block all Democratic legislation.

Sources: New York Times 6/8/21; Paycheck Fairness Act 1/19/21; DeLauro Press Release 1/28/21 

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Roe Overturned