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 

California Legislature Considers Bill to Reduce Abortion Costs

The California state legislature is considering a bill to reduce or eliminate the cost of abortion care in the state. The bill would eliminate co-pays and payments towards deductibles for abortions and abortion counseling. 

The bill, SB 245, was approved by the Senate and will next be voted on in the Assembly. 

“It’s tough to know your reproductive rights may be in question again after it’s been decided for 40 years,” said state Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), author of the bill. “We’re taking a stance, not just to make abortions available but to make them free and equitable.”

Most other state legislatures have proposed anti-abortion legislation this year. According to Guttmacher Institute, 47 legislatures have introduced a total of 559 abortion restriction bills, and 82 have been enacted already. 

California is one of six states to require health insurance plans to cover abortion care, and is one of the sixteen states to direct Medicaid funding to abortions.

If passed, this bill would not apply to individuals who have federally-regulated health insurance plans. According to a California Health Benefits Review Program analysis, the bill would impact nearly 10,000 people per year. 

The passage of this bill could significantly help low-income individuals who are faced with the difficult choice of either paying for their abortion or paying for other essentials like groceries and rent. 

California is among the several states that expanded abortion access in 2021. Hawaii passed a law expanding the category of medical professionals who can provide abortions, Washington is now requiring student health insurance plans that cover maternity care to cover abortions, Virginia repealed a ban on state marketplace insurance palns covering abortions, and New Mexico repealed its law to ban abortion if Roe were ever overturned.

Sources: LA Times 6/7/21; California Legislative Information; Guttmacher Institute 6/1/21; Guttmacher Institute 6/1/21

Senate Confirms Kristen Clarke to Lead Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Kristen Clarke as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Justice Department. Clarke is the first woman and the first Black woman to lead the division.

The Senate voted 51-48, with Sen. Susan Collins as the only Republican to vote in favor of her nomination. 

Clarke was previously the head of the Civil Rights Bureau of the attorney general’s office of New York. She served as head of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed over 250 lawsuits on education, hate crimes and housing, voting rights, and other important issues during her time leading the organization.

Vice President Kamala Harris swore Clarke in, and her spokesperson Symone Sanders referred to Clarke as “a tireless champion of equal justice” in her statement before the ceremony.

“This is a historic moment because for the first time since its creation, following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the confirmed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights will be a woman, and will be a black woman, and that is Kristen Clarke,” Sanders said.

Clarke is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Jamaica. She attended Harvard University and Columbia University School of Law.

Clarke stated, “Our nation is a healthier place when we respect the rights of all communities. In every role I’ve held, I have worked for and with people of all backgrounds — regardless of race, national origin, religion and disability status,” Clarke wrote. “I’ve listened deeply to all sides of debates, regardless of political affiliation. There is no substitute to listening and learning in this work, and I pledge to you that I will bring that to the role.”

Sources: CNN 5/25/21; NBC News 5/25/21

HHS Announces Grant for Domestic Violence Survivors Through American Rescue Plan

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded $200 million to support the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) Program grantees, funded through the American Rescue Plan. The Department’s funding is through the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

These programs provide crisis intervention and safety planning resources available to domestic violence survivors across the country. The programs also work to reduce domestic violence in geographically isolated Alaskan Native villages and dedicate resources towards healing and resilience for children exposed to domestic violence. 

This award will include 296 supplemental grants to reach states, territories, and tribes,a s well as national and state resource centers and coalitions, Specialized Services for Abused Parents and Children, and national hotlines.

Every year, FVPSA-funded programs serve more than 1.3 million victims and their dependents and respond to 2.7 million crisis calls. These supplemental funds will allow FVPSA to continue and expand support.

JooYeun Chang, ACF Acting Assistant Secretary, stated, “The rise in domestic violence incidents during the COVID-19 public health emergency is a crisis within the pandemic, that’s why President Biden is investing in the network that supports survivors and families. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act Program is the only dedicated federal funding stream for shelters and supportive services for victims of domestic violence and their children…Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we are providing critical support to supplement existing programs that provide shelter and supportive services for survivors of domestic violence and their children.”

Sources: Administration for Children and Families Press Release

Tennessee Passes Bill Targeting Transgender People

On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law a bill to require government facilities and businesses to post signage letting the public know if they allow transgender people to use bathrooms associated with their gender identity. The law is the first of its kind, and will go into effect on July 1.

A few days prior, Governor Lee signed a bill that puts public schools and school districts at legal risk if they allow transgender students and employees to use locker rooms and bathrooms that do not reflect their sex and birth.

Earlier this year, Governor Lee passed a proposal to keep transgender student athletes from playing sports on teams that affirm their gender identities. Another law he signed this year requires school districts to alert parents 30 days before students are taught about gender identity or sexual orientation and allows parents to opt their student out of the lesson. 

Tennessee is one of many states passing bills targeting transgender people, particualrly transgender youth. Statehouses across the country have introduced dozens of bills banning access to sports and healthcare for trans young people. 

The required signage would read: “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.” However, the law does not mandate specific penalties or fines to ensure the signs are posted, so enforcement may not be straightforward.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has said the legislation is “impermissible compelled speech, in violation of the First Amendment, and raises substantial due process and equal protection concerns.”

Sources: NBC News 5/20/21; Tennessean 5/20/21; Twitter 5/21/21; Twitter 11/12/20

Supreme Court to Review Mississippi’s 15- Week Abortion Ban

On Monday, the Supreme Court said that it will review Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which aimed to repeal Roe v. Wade, in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The ban has been blocked by lower courts over the last two years since its passage, reasoning that the law is unconstitutional under Roe’s standards. After the law was passed, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic sued under both Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey

This will be one of the first reproductive rights cases that the Supreme Court will hear since conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed in October. With her on the bench, the court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

This case centers the question of whether all bans on abortion prior to the point of fetal viability are unconstitutional, which poses challenges to Roe

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement, “If the Constitution is respected and the courts work with integrity, this ban will be struck down. The outcome shouldn’t be in doubt. But the fact that we are terrified of the potential outcome shows how unstable the state of our courts and the right to abortion are. We will fight until everyone has access to the abortion care they need, deserve, and are legally entitled to.” 

The Supreme Court hearing this Mississippi case comes as anti-abortion legislation across the country continues to ramp up. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 536 abortion abortion restrictions in 46 states have been introduced since January. Sixty-one of those bans were enacted in 13 states. 

Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate for state issues at Guttmacher Institute, said, “This is not a drill. The decision comes at a time when conservative politicians in over a dozen states are dismantling abortion rights and access with a vengeance and could eclipse even the record of enacted restrictions set in 2011. This onslaught of new restrictions has been motivated by a much more conservative judiciary and Supreme Court that conservatives hope are willing to gut Roe v. Wade or overturn it outright.”

Sources: SCOTUSBlog 5/17/21; New York Times 5/17/21; Politico 5/17/21; National Women’s Law Center 5/17/21; Guttmacher Institute 4/30/21; Guttmacher Institute 5/17/21

Texas Legislature Debates Anti-Trans Youth Bill

On Wednesday, the Texas House heard testimony debating HB 1399, a bill which would ban gender-affirming care for transgender young people.

The bill would prohibit doctors from providing evidence-based, best practice medical care for transgender young people under 18.

Many parents of transgender children spoke on Wednesday about the danger of this bill. One parent said, “why are you bullying my kid instead of expanding access to health care?”

Another person testifying said: “It’s critical for children to receive trans-affirming care. There was a study published in 2014 in the Mental Health Review Journal that when kids received trans-affirming care, suicide rates dropped from 67% to 3%”. 

“If these bills do pass, we will have to move out of the state, along with many other families,” said another parent.

Brian Klosterboer, staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said, “This bill is an unconstitutional attempt to deny transgender Texans the right to exist. At a time when our state is facing numerous crises, HB 1399 would violate parents’ fundamental right to provide the best possible health care for their kids, usurp doctors’ ability to provide critical and life-saving care, and unlawfully target and discriminate against transgender kids. It also could leave taxpayers footing the bill for legislation that tramples on some of our most fundamental constitutional rights. If lawmakers insist on moving this bill forward, we will see them in court.”

Sources: Texas Legislature Online; Twitter 5/12/21; ACLU of Texas 5/11/21

Congresswoman Maloney, Congressional Maternity Care Caucus, and Black Maternal Health Caucus Co-Chairs Introduce Bill to Protect Breastfeeding Rights to Working Moms

On Tuesday, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, with Congressional Maternity Care Caucus co-chairs Congresswomen Jaime Herrera Beutler and Lucille Roybal-Allard and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus Alma Adams and Lauren Underwood, introduced the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act.

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act will close a coverage gap in the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act and ensure that nursing employees have the protections they need to pump during the workday.

The Act will extend protections to the 9 million employees excluded unintentionally by the Break Time law by including excluded categories of workers like nurses, teachers, and farmworkers. It also protects both salaried and hourly workers and mandates that employees must be paid during the time they pump.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I was told there was no such thing as maternity leave at my current job, and while we’ve come a long way since then, new parents still face too many difficulties in the workplace. Those difficulties should not include breastfeeding,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “All working moms who want to breastfeed must have access to basic accommodations to pump breastmilk in clean, private spaces. 

“As a mother and grandmother, I know how important it is to break down the barriers that hold women back from the best possible health outcomes,” said Congresswoman Adams. “Every major medical authority strongly encourages breastfeeding for at least the first year of life, as it provides significant health and nutritional benefits to both the mother and infant. By closing an unintended loophole, the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act provides protection and support to an additional 9 million working moms who have been forced to choose between breastfeeding and earning a paycheck. Especially during a pandemic and a maternal health crisis, nursing parents should not be punished for making the best choices for their children.”

“Employers in every industry should have policies in place to accommodate the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding employees. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case for far too many sectors. Instead, too many workers are penalized, discriminated against, or left without options when they seek reasonable accommodations. The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act would ensure that millions of employees left unprotected by current law will have a reasonable amount of time and a private place to pump breast milk at their place of work. This critical legislation is long overdue and is essential to safeguard the health and economic security of millions of women and families across the country,” said Vania Leveille, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union.

Source: Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act; Press Release, Congresswoman Maloney 5/11/21

Texas House Passes Anti-Abortion Bill

On Wednesday, the Texas House passed a bill banning abortion as early as six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant. The Senate has already passed a similar version, and differences will be negotiated before the bill will go to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.

The bill is a “heartbeat bill,” meaning it aims to ban abortion at the point of first detection of embryonic “heartbeat,” even though the embryo is not yet a fetus and does not have a heart. Dozens of other states have passed similar bills, which mostly have been blocked by federal courts. 

What makes this bill unique is the inclusion of a provision that prohibits state officials from enforcing the ban and instead allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and seek financial damages.

Medical groups have expressed opposition to this anti-abortion bill. “Regardless of our personal beliefs about abortion, as licensed phsycians in Texas, we implore you to not weaponie the judicial branch against us to make a political point,” a group of 200 doctors wrote to Hose leadership this week. 

If it becomes law, the measure will likely be challenged by reproductive rights groups. Proponents of heartbeat bills are hoping that a legal challenge will eventually reach the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This bill is about nothing more than politics and is fueled by extremist efforts to ban abortion outright,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood will do everything it can to protect its patients. This fight does not end here.”

Sources: Washington Post 5/5/21; Texas Tribune 5/5/21

Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois Will Appeal Ruling on ERA

On Monday, Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois filed notice that they will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the states’ votes to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment were too late.

Virginia led the appeal, with the other states joining. “Throughout the years, efforts to have the Equal Rights Amendment added to the Constitution have met with many impediments, but every single time this movement has overcome those hurdles and come out the other side stronger than ever,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. 

The states argued that because the deadline placed on the ERA was put in the amendment’s preamble, not in its actual text that the states voted on, it is non-binding. In March, US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that Virginia’s vote came after the deadline, which “is just as effective as one in the text of a proposed amendment.”

The ERA was originally proposed in 1972, and it passed in both houses with overwhelming support, and was endorsed by President Nixon. The Amendment is only one sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

In March, the US House passed a resolution to remove the deadline on ratification. That resolution has bipartisan support, with sponsors Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Ben Cardin in the Senate and Representatives Jackie Speier and Tom Reed in the House. 

President Biden praised the House’s action, stating that it was “long past time that we enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution.

Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and Executive Director Kathy Spillar stated, “Our message is simple: We will not give up our dream to live in a world without violence and with full equality under the law.”

Sources: NBC News 5/3/21; The Hill 5/4/21; NBC News 3/17/21; Ms. 4/6/21

Attorney General Merrick Garland Asks Congress for $1 Billion for Office of Violence Against Women

On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress for over $35 billion in funding for the Justice Department, including $1 billion for the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW).

The OVW assists state, local, territorial, and tribal programs in working to end gender-based violence. In addition to the $1 billion, $120 million is provided to address the nationwide problem of rape kit backlogs as well as funding new investigative training programs for law enforcement officers dedicated to investigating gender-based violence.

The OVW funding will go to supporting women at historically Black colleges and in Hispanic and tribal institutions; providing funding for domestic violence hotlines, medical services and emergency shelters; and funding services for transgender survivors of domestic abuse.

In addition, the DOJ is seeking $232 million to combat gun violence though improved background checks, comprehensive redflag laws, supporting both DOJ federal law enforcement resources, and community violence intervention programs. In his statement, AG Garland said, “gun deaths continue to occur at a staggering rate in our country. There is more we can do to make our communities safer. This is both a law enforcement issue and a public health issue.”

“We are also stepping up our work on environmental justice. Communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal communities often suffer the most harm from environmental crimes and pollution. Among our efforts, we are seeking increased resources for our Environment and Natural Resources Division to help these vulnerable populations.”

Sources: Department of Justice Budget Request 5/4/21; ABC News 5/4/21; New York Times 5/4/21

Montana Governor Signs Three Anti-Abortion Bills

On Monday, Governor Greg Gianforte of Montana signed three bills aimed at restricting abortion access. 

The first bill requires health care providers to offer pregnant people the opportunity to view an ultrasound before providing an abortion. The second creates restrictions for medication abortion, including outlawing the use of telemedicine for administration of the necessary pills. The third bill bans abortion after 20 weeks.

The anti-abortion lawmakers who voted to pass the bill used the guise of “public health”, arguing that these bills protect pregnant people. Activists assert that the laws violate the constitutional right to abortion, as well as conflict with the relationship between abortion patients and their providers.

This law will directly and disproportionately harm the most marginalized communities in Montana, particularly rural, low-income, and Native residents. Montana has seven abortion clinics, five of which are operated by Planned Parenthood. 

Executive director of the ACLU of Montana, Caitlin Borgmann, stated in January that these bills are an strategic step toward making abortion completely unavailable. “These bills represent the worst kind of government overreach — placing the government between patients and the medical care they deserve,” Borgmann said.

Martha Stahl, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, stated that passing these bills together heightens the harm of each. “Looking at those together, I think the impact is sort of multiplied, right,” Stahl said. “Because if you’re making it harder for folks to have abortion earlier in pregnancy, and then you’re making it harder on that same group of people who maybe can’t travel, you know, who have other family obligations, et cetera, those are the folks who are really getting impacted by this legislation together.”

Sources: AP News 4/26/21; CNN 4/27/21


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