Supreme Court Reinstates Anti-Abortion Measure

On Tuesday, The Supreme Court revived the federal mandate requiring medication abortion patients to pick up their mifepristone pill in person from a medical office or hospital, even when their consultation with their doctor is remote.

The suit was originally brought against the FDA by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Council of University Chairs of Obstetrics and Gynecology (CUCOG), and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

The order was unsigned, with three justices dissenting– Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Stephen Breyer. Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the limited nature of this opinion, providing deference to the “experts” in political positions to assess public health. He emphasized that this ruling does not answer a question about whether or not the requirement imposes an undue burden on the right to abortion, but rather about the court’s role in evaluating the impact of COVID-19.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor expressed that abortion is treated unlike any other medical treatment and that this mandate puts people at risk.

“This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Like many of those laws, maintaining the F.D.A.’s in-person requirements” for picking up the drug “during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational and unjustifiable undue burden on women seeking to exercise their right to choose.”

She continues, “of the over 20,000 FDA-approved drugs, mifepristone is the only one that the FDA requires to be picked up in person for patients to take at home.”

According to Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the Federal District Court in Maryland, the requirement to make an unnecessary trip to a medical office during a pandemic creates an undue burden on the constitutional right to abortion.

This particularly impacts poor people, many of whom are people of color, who may have limited access to transportation, may not be able to take time off work to make an extra trip to a clinic, where hours have been reduced because of the pandemic, and who are most likely to be impacted by coronavirus themselves.

Julia Kaye, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that “the court’s ruling rejects science, compassion and decades of legal precedent in service of the Trump administration’s anti-abortion agenda,” she said in a statement. “It is mind-boggling that the Trump administration’s top priority on its way out the door is to needlessly endanger even more people during this dark pandemic winter — and chilling that the Supreme Court allowed it.”

This ruling is the first about abortion that the Court has seen since Amy Coney Barret was joined the court and reinforced its conservative, anti-abortion majority. 

Sources: New York Times 1/12/21; Supreme Court of the United States 1/12/21; CDC 7/24/20

Biden Nominates Ambassador Samantha Power as USAID Administrator

Early this morning, President-elect Biden announced Ambassador Samantha Power as his nominee for the United States Agency for International Development Administrator, while simultaneously elevating the position to become a member of the National Security Council.

Ambassador Power served in the Obama-Biden Administration Cabinet from 2013-2017 as the 28th US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Her new position will involve working with US partners to lift up marginalized communities, especially in the face of COVID-19.

President-elect Joe Biden said, “Samantha Power is a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity — challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people. I know firsthand the unparalleled knowledge and tireless commitment to principled American engagement she brings to the table, and her expertise and perspective will be essential as our country reasserts its role as a leader on the world stage. As USAID Administrator, Ambassador Power will be a powerful force for lifting up the vulnerable, ushering in a new era of human progress and development, and advancing American interests globally.”

Prior to her career in international development, Power was a journalist who reported from many countries on multiple continents– Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. She served as the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and is currently a professor at Harvard. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Power’s responsibilities will include strengthening an agency that President Trump has weakened over the last four years by slashing the budget and nominating political appointees with little career experience in international development. 

Sources: Biden-Harris Transition Press Release 1/13/21; NBC News 1/13/21; NPR 1/13/21

New House Rules Mandate Gender-Neutral Language

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern announced the rules package for the 117th Congress, which includes increased accountability for the public, strong ethics reforms, and a focus on inclusion.

The new rules establish a permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral”. This means eliminating terms like father, mother, son, and daughter. Up until now, a binary rule was applied, meaning that “words importing one gender include the other as well”.

“As House Speaker, I am pleased to join Chairman Jim McGovern in introducing this visionary rules package, which reflects the views and values of the full range of our historically diverse House Democratic Majority,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  

“Thanks to the leadership of Chairman McGovern and our Members, Democrats have crafted a package of unprecedented, bold reforms, which will make the House more accountable, transparent and effective in our work to meet the needs of the American people.  These future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a Caucus and as a Country – including crushing the coronavirus, addressing economic disparity, combating the climate crisis, advancing inclusion, and promoting integrity in government.”

As the 117th Congress breaks records with the number of LGBTQ+ members, the new rules package aims to affirm diversity in gender and sexuality.

Sources: House Committee on Rules 1/1/21; The Hill 1/4/21

Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff Win Georgia Senate Elections

On Tuesday, Georgia held its runoff elections for the Senate, and on Wednesday AP News officially called both races, with both democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, winning in close margins

These wins are historic, with Warnock being the first Black senator from Georgia and Ossoff being the first Jewish senator from the state. Ossoff himself credits “record-shattering youth turnout, a lot of whom are voting for the first time”, according to his social media.

The state also saw massive turnout among Black Georgians. Black people make up about 30 percent of the overall electorate in the state, and they represent a majority of Georgia’s Democratic voters.  

Both victories represent major breakthroughs for Black communities in southern politics, as his election is the “culmination of years of voter registration drives conducted by former state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams, and many other Black activists,” who have worked to elimate the historic disenfranchisement of Black Americans. 

Early in the day yesterday Warnock delivered an emotional speech, vowing to work for all Georgians, whether they voted for him or not. 

“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said. “Tonight, we proved that with hope, hard work, and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

In Ossoff’s victory speech, he made a similar vow: “This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state– for all the people of this state. Whether you were for me, or against me, I’ll be for you in the U.S. Senate. I will serve all the people of the state.”

Sources: AP News 1/6/21; New York Times 1/7/21; New York Times 1/6/21; TikTok 1/5/21

Argentina’s Congress Voted to Legalize Abortion in Groundbreaking Move

On December 30, Argentina’s Senate voted to legalize abortions for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. This vote comes after years of pro-choice activism in the conservative country. 

Until now, abortion was only permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk. Abortion patients could be punished by up to 15 years in jail.

Despite restrictions in Argentina and the surrounding region, approximately 5.4 million abortions took place in Latin America and the Caribbean between 2015 to 2019, according to Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher’s data shows a clear connection between abortion restrictions and unintended pregnancy rates– in countries where abortion is illegal, unintended pregnancy rates are high.

The vote was contentious, with 38 senators voting in favor of the bill, 29 voting against, and one abstaining.

Argentina, like many countries in Latin America, is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which was vocal in its opposition to the bill, calling on senators to reject it. President Alberto Fernández, a center-left figure, maintained his support for the bill.

Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina and an ambassador for the global women’s rights movement She Decides, said: “Today, Argentina has made an emblematic step forward in defending the rights of women, girls and people with reproductive capacity.”

Belski said that the vote sends “a strong message of hope to our entire continent — that we can change course against the criminalization of abortion and against clandestine abortions, which pose serious risks to the health and lives of millions of people. Both the law passed by the Argentine Congress today and the enormous effort of the women’s movement to achieve this are an inspiration to the Americas, and to the world.”

Sources: CNN 12/30/20; BBC 12/30/20

Top 10 Feminist Moments of 2020

2020 was an unprecedented and difficult year, but that didn’t stop feminists from achieving some great things over the last 12 months.

Kamala Harris became the first female Vice President of the U.S.

In November, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris became Vice President-elect of the United States. Harris broke multiple barriers by becoming the first woman, and woman of color, to hold the position.

“So, I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women — Black Women. Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight,” said Harris in her victory speech. “Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”

SCOTUS ruled in favor of protections for abortion access and LGBTQ employees

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination based on sex. The three employees involved in the case contended that they were fired based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Justice Gorsuch wrote that if there are two employees who are attracted to men–one male, one female–and the male employee is fired for no other reason than being attracted to men, that it is clearly discrimination based on sex.

SCOTUS also delivered a ruling in favor of abortion clinics by striking down a Louisiana law that would have left only one doctor in the state to perform abortions. The law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. The court had previously stuck down a similar Texas law in 2016, deeming the law an unconstitutional burden on those seeking abortion care.

Millions of people demanded change during the Black Lives Matter protests

In over 1,360 counties in the US, millions protested police violence in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people at the hands of police. These protests have created change in the movement to defund the police and move money towards social programs like housing, health care, and education.

“It looks, for all the world, like these protests are achieving what very few do: setting in motion a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social, political change,” Professor McAdam, social movements professor at Stanford University, said. “We appear to be experiencing a social change tipping point — that is as rare in society as it is potentially consequential.”

Transgender and nonbinary legislators elected across the country

Six new transgender and nonbinary state legislators were elected this year, bringing the total number of transgender elected officials nationwide from 28 to 32.

Trans legislators won historic races in both red and blue states including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, New Hampshire and Vermont.

“It’s inspiring for the trans community. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that transgender people could win elected office, let alone in Oklahoma or Kansas. And now, we’re seeing boundaries broken all the time,” proclaimed Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

First openly gay Black men elected to Congress

Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres became the first openly gay Black men elected to the U.S. House of Representatives this year. Both are from the state of New York. Jones will represent the 17th District, while Torres will represent the 15th District.

“I’m excited about serving with Ritchie,” Jones stated. “He’s a tremendous candidate and a good friend. This is a chance for us to be the role model we looked for growing up — for queer youth and especially queer youth of color.”

“Growing up poor, Black and gay, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone win,” he concluded.

New Jersey codified Roe v. Wade into state law

In October, Governor Murphy signed the Reproductive Freedom Act, which ensures all people in the state have the right to make their own decisions about pregnancy-related care, including abortion.

The Act also ensures that people of all incomes have equitable access to birth control and abortion care, requiring private insurance to cover birth control and mandating no out-of-pocket costs for abortions.

“As access to health care and the right to choose are under attack at the federal level, we will support, defend, and protect reproductive rights here in New Jersey,” said Governor Murphy. “The Reproductive Freedom Act will remove barriers to reproductive health, as well as expand access to contraception while reaffirming choice. Together, we stand unwavering in our commitment to work towards reproductive freedom for all New Jerseyans.”

Colorado defeated Proposition 115 to ban late abortions

On November 3, 59.1% of Colorado voters voted against a proposition that would have restricted abortions after 22 weeks. The law did not include exceptions for incest or rape, would have imposed expensive fines on abortion providers, and would have suspended the license of medical professionals who provide abortions.

In a year that had challenge after challenge against abortion rights, Colorado’s decisive vote to protect abortion rights was critically important.

President-elect Biden appointed a diverse group to cabinet positions

In the last few weeks, President-elect Biden has appointed a record number of women and people of color to serve in his cabinet, including Neera Tanden, Cecilia Rouse, Symone Sanders, Susan Rice, Marcia Fudge, Xavier Becerra, and many others. 

In a historic move, Biden appointed Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) to serve as the Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American Cabinet secretary and first Native person to head the Interior Department. Appointing an Indigenous person to be responsible for our nation’s lands was an exciting and moving pick.

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted Thursday night. “ … I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

Scotland became the first country to make period products free for all citizens

Last month, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed a bill that makes menstrual products free for all who need them.

The bill requires local governments to make the products available free of charge, in schools, colleges, and certain public places.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland tweeted, “Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls.”

While there is no similar federal legislation in the U.S., several states have policies that remove the tax on menstrual products and that require schools to provide tampons and pads to students free of charge.

Kim Ng became the first female general manager in Major League Baseball

After a 30-year career in Major League Baseball, Kim Ng was named the first female general manager of a national American baseball team, the Miami Marlins.

Ng began her career as an intern with the Chicago White Sox, moving up through the ranks of an organization dominated by men and working with teams like the Yankees and the Dodgers. Ms. Ng served as senior vice president of baseball operations for the MLB previously.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” she said in a statement. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a major league team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals.”

White House Cuts Millions of Dollars in Funding to California Because of Pro-Choice Law

During an event on Wednesday at the White House celebrating the administration’s anti-abortion efforts, the Trump Administration announced a new measure to restrict abortion access: withholding $200 million in Medicaid funding from California after the state passed a law requiring health insurance companies to cover abortion care. 

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, announced that his department would move to cut an additional $200 million per fiscal quarter if the state does not reverse its law.

California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted Wednesday, “Nothing like the “pro-life” party eliminating healthcare during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. California will survive without this $$ for now — but their frail, pathetic patriarchal system they are so desperate to protect won’t.

It is possible that when President-elect Biden’s pick for HHS, Xavier Becerra, moves into his role next month, the mandate can be reversed. Becerra is known to be enthusiastically pro-choice.

Sources: CBS San Francisco 12/16/20; CNN 12/17/20; Twitter 12/16/20

Pro-Trump Rally Causes Violence in Washington, D.C.

Four people were stabbed in Washington, D.C. this weekend when pro-Trump protesters fought with counterprotesters. Social media videos show that protesters were wearing the colors and insignia of the Proud Boys, a far-right white supremacist organization.

Black Lives Matter signs were torn down from two historic Black churches in D.C., and then destroyed by pro-Trump protesters. D.C. police are investigating the events as potential hate crimes.

In one video on Twitter, Proud Boys held a Black Lives Matter banner above their heads as they marched and cheered as they set it on fire and yelled “f— antifa”.

“Last night demonstrators who were part of the MAGA gatherings tore down our Black Lives Matter sign and literally burned it in the street,” the Rev. Ianther M. Mills, the church’s senior pastor, said in a statement. “It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings.”

Janeese Lewis George, member-elect of the D.C. Council, tweeted about the video of the pro-Trump protesters setting the Black Lives Matter banner on fire. 

“Tonight, violent white supremacists stole and burned a Black Lives Matter banner from Asbury United Methodist, the oldest Black Methodist church in DC,” she tweeted. “But yet no militarized police force used against them. There are two justice systems in this country, separate and unequal.”

According to permits for the Saturday events, the march was organized in part by Million MAGA March and Women for America First, two right-wing, pro-Trump organizations.

Sources: NBC News 12/12/20; NBC News 12/13/20; Washington Post 12/13/20; Twitter 12/12/20; Twitter 12/12/20; NBC Washington 12/12/20

Biden Appoints Record Number of Women to Top Roles

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has announced his picks for his communications and economic teams. Most of his announced picks are women, several of whom are women of color, following his campaign promise to build a diverse administration

Biden nominated Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden currently leads the Center for American Progress. If confirmed, Tanden, an Indian American, would be the first woman of color to lead the agency.

Cecilia Rouse, Princeton University labor economist, was nominated as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, along with economists Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein. Rouse, a Black woman, would be the first woman of color to lead the council. 

The transition team announced the nomination of Kate Bedingfield as White House communications director. Bedingfield served as the deputy campaign manager and communications director on the campaign trail.

Jen Psaki was nominated as White House press secretary. She served previously as White House communications director under President Obama, and her deputy will be Karine Jean-Pierre, who was the first Black chief of staff for a vice-presidential nominee on the Biden-Harris campaign.

Former senior advisor for strategic planning Ashley Etienne will serve as Harris’ communications director, and Symone Sanders, senior advisor to Biden during his campaign, will serve as spokeswoman and senior advisor to Harris. Elizabeth Alexander, formerly Biden’s press secretary when he was vice president, will serve as incoming first lady Jill Biden’s communications director.

The Biden-Harris team’s appointees demonstrate a clear commitment to bringing more diverse voices to the decision-making table than ever before.

Sources: CNN 11/30/20; Washington Post 11/29/20; 19th News 11/29/20; Washington Blade 11/30/20

Record Numbers of Young People and Women Voting This Year

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s general election is unlike any other. Over 100 million Americans already voted in the weeks leading up to Election Day, both in person and by mail. Of those who have already voted, we see both a large gender gap emerging, as well as a historic number of young people voting.

It seems that women led the way in early voting, especially in swing states. In Pennsylvania, women accounted for 57 percent of early voting and absentee ballots. In Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, women were 56 percent of early voters, and in Florida and Texas, they accounted for 55 percent.

According to last week’s poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, 63% of 18 to 29-year-olds said they would “definitely” vote in the election, the highest proportion in the last 20 years, and 16 percent higher than in 2016. More than 6 million people under the age of 30 have already voted as of last Thursday, as compared to 2 million in 2016.  

The significance of these numbers is particularly prevalent in Texas, a state historically known for its low rates of voter participation. In 2018, Texas under 30 voted at a much higher rate than ever before, and this year, turnout among young Texans may set records once again. As of last week, over 800,000 voters under 30 had already voted in the state. Two-thirds of them did not vote in 2016. 

In Florida, more than 500,000 young voters cast their ballot ahead of Election Day—hundreds of thousands more than had done so in 2016. Despite significant legal hurdles, voter suppression, and a dangerous global pandemic, young people are voting at unprecedented rates.

Sources: NPR 10/29/20, 19th News 11/1/20; Harvard University 10/26/20; Texas Observer 11/2/20, Feminist Newswire 10/20/20, Time 8/20/20

Trump Administration Will Stop Blocking Pregnant Minors in Custody from Accessing Abortion

According to a judge-approved agreement from Wednesday, the Trump administration will cease blocking immigrant teens in federal custody from accessing abortion care. 

The policy follows an ACLU lawsuit from 2017 on behalf of a 17-year-old from Central America seeking an abortion, referred to as “Jane Doe”. The ACLU claimed that the government’s abortion ban has impacted hundreds of pregnant girls in federal custody each year. The new policy mandates that Trump’s Office of Refugee Resettlement cannot block access to reproductive health care, including abortion.

This case received public attention because of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and had ruled against the pregnant minor accessing abortion care. 

When Jane Doe attempted to receive abortion care while she was in a Texas “government-funded shelter,” a judge ruled that she was “mature enough to bypass the state’s parental consent requirement.” However, the former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, E. Scott Lloyd, said government shelters should only support pregnancy services and “life-affirming options counseling”. The office refused to “facilitate” abortions for pregnant teens in custody who crossed the border without their parents. 

This policy contrasts with that of the Obama administration, which allowed migrants to access abortion care at their own expense. 

In 2018, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an injunction to prevent the Trump administration from blocking minors from obtaining an abortion while the lawsuit was pending. After the policy revision this week, the parties moved to voluntarily dismiss the case, and Chutkan approved the action officially on Wednesday. 

“We are relieved that the government finally abandoned its attempts to block young people in its custody from accessing abortion,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. The change “rights one of the wrongs this administration has committed against immigrants in detention.”

Sources: Washington Post 9/30/20; Washington Post 10/24/17; Washington Post 12/21/17; ACLU 9/29/20

Trump Nominates Conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to Fill RBG’s Seat

President Trump announced that he will nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is a staunch conservative with opposite views of Justice Ginsburg’s.

Judge Barrett is a member of the religious group People of Praise, which “preaches women’s subordination to men and until recently called female advisers to other women ‘handmaids.’” The group is known for its belief that women should submit to their husbands. 

In her confirmation hearing in 2017 to the Seventh Circuit, Barrett said that her religious beliefs would never interfere with her ability to be impartial as a judge. However, she has also said that “legal careers ought not to be seen as a means of gaining satisfaction, prestige, or money, but rather ‘as a means to the end of serving God’”. 

Barrett is an originalist– as a member of the Federalist Society, she interprets the Constitution by searching for the original intent of the text. She also clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, who led the right-wing of the Supreme Court before his death in 2016.

Her confirmation to the bench would have major impact on a range of feminist issues, including reproductive rights, health care, education, gun control, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ protections. 

Trump ran on a campaign promise to appoint judges who would overrule Roe v. Wade, and has said that appointing Barrett would make it “certainly possible” that the decision could be undermined or overruled. Anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List have expressed unwavering support for the judge. 

Barrett has criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for upholding the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and signed a letter in 2012 opposing contraceptive coverage as part of the ACA. Her appointment could be dangerous for the ACA, which will go before the court again on November 10th in California v. Texas

Her appointment will also likely mean an expanded Second Amendment– the NRA praised her record, saying that the Senate should “act swiftly to confirm her”. Future decisions surrounding the Second Amendment could chip away at years of gun control progress.

On the Seventh Circuit, Barrett has demonstrated anti-civil rights positions. She “weakened Title VII of the Civil Rights Act— siding against a Black worker whose employer established a ‘separate but equal’ policy of segregating employees by race”. She also weakened Title IX protections, easing the process for students to sue their schools for sex discrimination after being held accountable for sexual assault.

While some claim that Barrett represents a “new” or “conservative” version of feminism, her appointment to the highest court in the land could pose a real threat to the lives of women across the country. The Alliance for Justice said in their statement, “if Congress has enacted a law to protect the American people, Barrett will find a way to eviscerate its protections”. 

Sources: New York Times 9/26/20; Ms. Magazine 9/26/20; The Guardian 9/26/20; Alliance for Justice 9/26/20; USEEOC v. AutoZone, Inc. 11/2017

President of Afghanistan Signs Amendment to Include Mothers’ Names on Children’s Birth Certificates

In a historical move, President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani signed an amendment for mothers’ names to be included in Afghan national IDs.

The movement began by Laleh Osmany in 2017 in the Herat province with the hashtag #WhereIsMyName. The goal was to push for mothers’ names to be included on official documents, including their children’s birth certificates. The movement also wants to normalize using women’s names in public places. For many Afghan men, revealing the names of their female relatives in public is considered shameful and dishonorable. They consider it insulting if someone calls their females family members by name in public. Women are often referred to as the mother of, daughter of, wife of, or sister of their male family members. Afghan law only permits fathers’ names to be recorded on birth certificates. Women’s names are also not mentioned on their wedding invitations, prescriptions, or death certificates. Tombstones bear only the names of their husbands. This also made it impossible for Afghan women to obtain passports for their children, travel with them, or register them for school, among many other basic parental rights and responsibilities.

“I feel like a bird in a cage whose door has just been opened, achieving the dream of flying in the sky,” said activist Sonia Ahmadi, who joined the campaign when it began in 2017. “In a society where everything is against women and they work to keep women down, this is a big step forward. It gives me an extraordinary feeling of happiness.,” Ms. Ahmadi told ABC.

Although this historic victory brought hope to many Afghans, women face obstacles and backlash by the patriarchal and conservative country. After it was approved by the cabinet last week, former head of the moral police during the Taliban era, Mawlawi Qalam Uddin, called the change a “Western plan”.

“This plan has come from America and Europe. Nobody can force this plan on the people of Afghanistan,” he said at a press conference in Kabul. Another former Taliban figure, Sayed Akbar Agha, also called the amendment “a violation of Islamic principles.” The Taliban enforced a strict interpretation of Islam law during their five years rule (1996-2001) which limited women’s rights by banning women’s access to education, hospitals, and employment. 

While the Afghan peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are occurring in Qatar, Afghan women fear that the achievements they have gained since the fall of the Taliban could be negotiated away. The Taliban said during the peace talks that within the limits of Islamic law and Afghan culture, they would allow women to be educated and employed. But for Afghan women, trusting the Taliban’s way of “Islamic Law” is difficult.

Sources: ABC News 08/14/20; BBC 09/12/20

Afghan Peace Talks: Focus on Ceasefire and Women’s Rights

Months after an agreement was signed between the United States and the Taliban, the Intra-Afghan talks began this week. The opening ceremony received international attention, and many of the speeches given by representatives from partner countries focused on ceasefire and women’s rights and human rights. Afghan women have made clear that they will not accept a deal that will jeopardize their rights and that the structure of the government and the Constitution of Afghanistan must not remove the provision of equality.

The Taliban has long rejected the Afghan government, referring to them as a puppet government, as well as only the “Kabul Administration.” The Taliban group has also used violence as a point of leverage and has historically been opposed to long term ceasefires. Despite the Taliban’s objection, Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the Afghan government’s side of the negotiations said that for the Afghan government, “our priorities are a reduction in violence and a permanent ceasefire.

Afghans have been working toward this step, considered a major milestone and a historic moment for Afghanistan, since the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The talks are held between the Afghan government and the Taliban group, which was one of the terms agreed to by the Taliban in the agreement with the U.S. The opening ceremony was scheduled one day after the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that triggered the United States to intervene in Afghanistan.

On the opening day, 15 partner countries and organizations spoke, many of which acknowledged the issues of rights and equality, reaffirming their position that for Afghanistan’s stability, human rights and women’s rights must be respected. The Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who also serves a representative from one of the five observing countries of the talks, firmly addressed the status of women and the importance of equality for a developed and peaceful society. Ms. Retno Marsudi said, “The Afghan people must be at the heart of this peace process…that leaves no one behind, including women.”

Among the negotiators in the Afghan government’s team, there are only four women, including some outspoken leaders. Fawzi Kofi, long-time Member of Parliament and leading women’s rights activist, has been very critical of the Taliban. She recently survived an attack in mid-August. Habiba Sarabi is a long-time advocate of women’s rights and served as the first governor of a province, Bamiya, in Afghanistan. Sharifa Zurmati is a former Member of Parliament and a long-time advocate of women’s rights, and Fatima Gillani is another prominent woman and one of the few early women politicians in Afghanistan who also headed the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Afghanistan.

Reuters, 9/12/20, NPR, 2/29/20

Afghanistan Gains a Seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women

On September 14, 2020, for the first time in history, Afghanistan secured a seat at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Afghanistan received the highest amount of votes and committed to promoting gender equality and women empowerment globally. Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s representative to the UN, said that it is of “critical importance during Peace Talks to demonstrate new Afghanistan.” Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesperson of the Afghan President, also told Al Jazeera that winning a seat on the prestigious commission “means a lot to us”. Afghan women are not only reshaping the future of Afghanistan and their meaningful role but also will demonstrate their potential globally”. 

Gaining a seat on the UNCSW is one of many achievements that Afghan women have made during the last two decades. Despite the threats, harassment, and attacks, Afghan women have made progress, from participating in presidential and provincial elections to winning a seat in parliament. Afghan women have worked hard and studied hard to hold better positions in social and political arenas.

As the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban occur in Qatar, Afghan women are using every force to speak out to make sure that their rights and achievements won’t be traded away during these peace negotiations. Through campaigns and writing letters to the Taliban and world leaders, Afghan women expressed their concerns and demands. Over 100 world leaders signed a statement in support of Afghan women and their meaningful participation in intra-Afghan talks.  

Afghan politician and women’s rights activist Fawzia Koofi is one of the four women (out of 21 on the Afghan government team) who are participating in these peace talks with the male-only Taliban side. Koofi told AFP that “the Taliban have to understand that they are facing a new Afghanistan with which they have to learn to live.” Koofi, who also attended unofficial talks with the Taliban in 2019, spoke about difficulties that female negotiators face, “it’s not just about what you are talking, people look at what you wear, whether your scarf is of the right size or not.” Koofi survived an assassination attempt last month in Kabul. During their six-year rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban limited women’s rights by banning women’s access to education, hospitals, and employment. Last year, a Taliban official told Al Jazeera that the group would strike a “moderate tone” on women’s issues. But for Afghan women, it is very difficult to trust the Taliban because women don’t know what the Taliban mean by their “moderate tone” or imposing of Sharia law.

Sources: GIWPS 09/10/20;  Al Jazeera 09/15/20; NDTV 09/14/20   

Whistleblower Reveals ICE Facility Practiced Forced Hysterectomies

On Monday, Dawn Wooton, a whistleblower who formerly worked as a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Georgia filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, detailing medical neglect and a high rate of hysterectomies in the facility.

The facility is Irwin Detention Center, run by private corporation LaSalle Corrections, which runs 18 detention centers holding up to 13,000 people throughout the South.

Wooton is represented by Project South, a legal advocacy organization, and the Government Accountability Project, which provides representation for whistleblowers. The complaint is also signed by immigrant advocacy organizations Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.

Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy—just about everybody. He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” Wooten explains in the complaint.

“She still wanted children—so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids… she said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary,” she continued.

Wooton also reported that the facility’s conditions have worsened in the face of COVID-19, with facility staff refusing to test detained immigrants in a timely manner, concealing the numbers of positive tests, and failing to separate those who have been exposed from those who have not. 

When Wooton spoke out against these practices, she was demoted, and immigrants who spoke out against the conditions were often pushed into solitary confinement.

One detained immigrant reported to Project South that she had spoken to five women at the facility who had had hysterectomies between October and December of 2019.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” said the immigrant, whose name was not disclosed by the organization.

Wooton’s complaint does not disclose the number of people coerced into hysterectomies or the name of the gynocologist. ICE said that it does not comment on matters presented to the inspector general.

Sources: CNN 09/15/20; Project South 09/14/20; The Guardian 09/14/20; The Intercept 09/14/20

Federal Court Blocks Trump Order Prohibiting Census from Counting Undocumented Immigrants

Yesterday, a three-judge panel in New York ruled unanimously that President Trump’s executive order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count was unlawful. 

The President’s July memo stated that undocumented immigrants should not count for purposes of deciding the reapportionment of the House. The court’s decision mandates that his order violates the 14th Amendment as well as federal laws about how congressional seats are allocated, and acknowledges that the harm that the order would cause would last a decade. 

Trump’s order directed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to provide the president with two counts– one of the whole population, and one excluding undocumented immigrants.

The court ruled that those in the country illegally qualify as people to be counted in the states they reside, writing, “Throughout the Nation’s history, the figures used to determine the apportionment of Congress — in the language of the current statutes, the ‘total population’ and the ‘whole number of persons’ in each State — have included every person residing in the United States at the time of the census, whether citizen or non-citizen and whether living here with legal status or without.”

Dozens of cities, counties, states, and organizations representing marginalized communities challenged Trump’s memorandum. 

Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement that “this is a huge victory for voting rights and for immigrants‘ rights. President Trump has tried and failed yet again to weaponize the census against immigrant communities. The law is clear — every person counts in the census.”

Sources: New York Times 09/10/20; State of New York 09/10/20; Politico 09/10/20; White House 07/21/20

New Billboard Campaign in Illinois Informs Public that Abortion is Covered by Medicaid in the State

This week in Chicago’s suburbs and across Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund launched a new billboard campaign to inform the public that abortion care is covered by Medicaid in Illinois. The billboard reads: “Abortion Is Healthcare. It’s Covered By Illinois Medicaid”.

Under the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 law still in effect today that prohibits federal funding from being allocated for abortion services, Medicaid cannot cover abortion unless states use their own Medicaid dollars to fund that care. Only sixteen states opt-in to using their Medicaid programs for abortion care, with thirty-four states, and the District of Columbia, following the federal standard. The Hyde Amendment disproportionately impacts low-income people and people of color, who simultaneously experience an elevated risk for unintended pregnancy, a severe lack of abortion coverage, and overlapping barriers to access.

Illinois began to opt-in to using its state Medicaid to fund abortion care three years ago, but the Chicago Abortion Fund identified a gap in understanding among Illinois residents. Executive Director of the fund Megan Jeyifo said that folks using their hotline “have a Medicaid card in their wallet and don’t know that with that card they can go to a clinic and receive abortion care at no cost”. 

Illinois is seen as an abortion access haven in the midwest, with people from across the country traveling to receive abortion care in the state, especially as neighboring states continue to restrict access. A strong, long-standing reproductive justice community in Illinois can be credited for the protective policies that the state is known for.

Sources: WBEZ 09/08/2020; All* Above All; Guttmacher Institute 01/2020; ACLU 09/17/2017

D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department shot and killed 18-year-old Deon Kay

On Wednesday, September 2, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Alexander Alvarez shot and killed 18-year old Deon Kay, who is Black, in Southeast DC. 

The police department released body camera video recording showing the aftermath of the shooting. The footage shows an officer exiting his police car and approaching a parked car in the parking lot of an apartment building. Officer Alvarez encountered Kay, who was holding a gun. Kay threw the gun past Alvarez, and Alvarez shot Kay in the chest, killing him. 

Early Thursday morning, before MPD released footage, Black Lives Matter D.C. tweeted at Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD Chief of Police Peter Newsham, “@MayorBowser a community is waking up to one less Black future to build and hurting because you and @ChiefNewsham Terror Gang has once again taken the life of a young man.”

The executive director of the ACLU of DC Monica Hopkins said in a statement that “in addition to being unsuccessful in reducing gun violence in the District, the Metropolitan Police Department’s tactics ignore the complexities of why young people like Deon may have guns to begin with. 

“The time is overdue for D.C. to overhaul its approach to ending gun violence and focus on non-police solutions that address the underlying roots of community violence instead of continuing aggressive police tactics that lead to more fear in communities, more shootings by police, more death, and more family and community trauma.”

After the shooting on Wednesday evening, protesters gathered both outside of Mayor Bowser’s house and outside of the 7th District police station. 

One protester said into a megaphone at Mayor Bowser’s house, “if you don’t defund the police, then you shouldn’t bother running for reelection.”

Sources: WUSA9 9/3/20; DCist 9/3/20; Twitter 9/3/20; ACLU 9/3/20

Abortion Rights Organizations File Lawsuit Against Tennesee Anti-Abortion Law

Reproductive rights groups challenged a new Tennessee law requiring abortion providers to inform medication abortion patients that their abortion pill can be “reversed”, despite no conclusive medical evidence that an “abortion reversal” pill is effective or even safe.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday by several abortion clinics in Tennesee. The plaintiffs make the case that the law is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and because it compels speech. 

The complaint states that “the only foreseeable effect of providing patients with this information in advance is that patients who believe the State’s medically inaccurate disclosure may be misled into thinking that they need not have firmly decided to have an abortion prior to taking mifepristone, erroneously believing that the abortion can be ‘reversed’ if they later change their mind.” 

About 4 million people have had medication abortions since the FDA approved the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol for abortions in early pregnancy in 2000. 

Patients have to be able to trust that their doctors are being honest with them and providing evidence-based medical information, not a biased, politically motivated script designed to shame them. Forcing doctors to share misinformation with patients is cruel during normal times and downright dangerous during a pandemic,” Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said in a statement.

“And yet they still went ahead and passed this law in a desperate attempt to score political points. We have no choice but to fight back because the health and safety of our patients is our top priority.” 

Sources: NewsChannel5 Nashville 8/31/20; Courthouse News 8/31/20; Tennessean 8/31/20