Biden Announced First Judicial Picks

On Tuesday, President Biden announced his first slate of judicial nominees, including nominating U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the appeals court in Washington. 

Jackson is one of Biden’s 11 nominations and one of three Black women that he is nominating for appeals court vacancies. She is also the first Muslim American to serve on a District Court. Many have speculated that Jackson may become the first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court, particularly after Biden pledged in his campaign to name a Black woman to the highest court. 

The eleven nominees are former prosecutors and public defenders, as well as sitting judges and attorneys at large law firms. The average age of the nominees is 48– a strategic decision to allow judges to serve for decades. 

“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said in a statement. “Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”

On the list is also Zahid N. Quraishi, who, if confirmed, would be the first Muslim American on a District Court bench, as well as Candance Jackson-Akiwumi and Tiffany Cunningham, who would be the only Black judges on their respective courts.

These nominees are an important step towards fixing our judiciary and creating more equal justice, especially after the ways in which the judiciary was reshaped over the last few years. They reflect and represent the incredible diversity of our country,” Lena Zwarensteyn of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement.

The White House has reported that their goal is to fill vacancies quickly and prioritize diversity.

Sources: Washington Post 3/29/21; NPR 3/30/21

NAACP Image Awards Honors Stacey Abrams

On Saturday, the NAACP held their 52nd annual NAACP Image Awards to celebrate Black stories and excellence in entertainment. As part of the special awards segment of the show, Michelle Obama presented Stacey Abrams with the Image Awards’ first Social Justice Impact Award.

“Her courage… it’s contagious, her approach is inclusive, and her eyes are fixed on the mountaintop that has always brought out the best within us,” the former first lady said. “And that’s why it’s my honor to present the inaugural NAACP Social Justice Impact Award to the unstoppable Stacey Abrams.”

Abrams has received well-deserved praise for her voting rights work in Georgia. “I appreciate the recognition, but more importantly, I am grateful for the NAACP’s century of dedication to racial justice, democracy, and equality”, Abrams said. “I share this award with all those who champion progress, equity, and the truth of who we are and who we must become as a nation.”

After Abrams served eleven years in the Georgia House of Representatives, including seven as Minority Leader, Abrams became the Democratic nominee for Governor of the state in 2018. She was the first Black woman to become gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the US, and in her 2018 run she won more votes than any other Democrat in Georgia’s history. 

After the state’s voter suppression efforts in 2018 and the mismanagement of that election, Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to ensuring every Georgian is represented fairly in elections. She has founded multiple organizations to expand and protect voting rights, and has dedicated her career to protecting democracy.

The late Chadwick Boseman won best actor in a motion picture for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman passed away last year at 43 from colon cancer. His wife, Simone Ledward Boseman, accepted the award on his behalf. She thanked his family and the NAACP for the honor, and encouraged Black people over the age of 45 to get screened for colon cancer.

The Image Awards also recognized LeBron James for his public service work, including his LeBron James Family Foundation and his I PROMISE School, an educational initiative. He also launched More Than a Vote, a coalition of Black artists and athletes dedicated to educating and protecting Black voters.

Sources: NAACP Image Awards; Hollywood Reporter 3/27/21; AP News 3/27/21

Georgia Representative Arrested for Trying to Watch Governor Sign New Voting Regulations

On Thursday, Georgia state Representative Park Cannon was arrested after she tried to watch Governor Brian Kemp sign SB 202, a divisive voting bill, into law.

In a seven-minute Facebook Live video filmed by activist Tamara Stevens, Cannon is seen knocking on the door to the room where the Governor was holding a news conference the bill, and then arrested by multiple officers who refused to state clearly why they were arresting her. A Georgia Department of Public Safety spokesperson reported that Cannon was arrested for “obstructing law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.”

SB 202 imposes a sweeping set of restrictions on how votes are cast and counted in the state, including reducing the use of drop boxes, imposing new ID requirements for mail-in ballots, criminalizing third-party groups who provide food and water to voters standing in line, blocking mobile voting vans, and allowing electors to challenge the eligibility of voters, and preventing local governments from accepting grants directly from the private sector.

Senator Raphael Warnock visited Cannon in Fulton County Jail at her release Thursday evening. “What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy,” he said. “We are going to take this fight to give the people their voices back.”

Voting rights advocates say that this law will most impact people of color, particularly Black voters, as well as other marginalized communities whose voting rights have been historically suppressed. 

“Thousands of voters have made it clear that the types of provisions in SB 202 are unacceptable and will disproportionately harm historically disenfranchised communities, young voters, and voters with disabilities,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. “The speed and magnitude of today’s shift in election policy in Georgia is unprecedented and unlike any other major policy shift in the state’s recent history.”

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Georgia makes one of 43 states that have together introduced over 250 bills to restrict voting access after the 2020 election as of last week. The measures restrict mail-in voting, purge voter rolls, add steps in the voter registration process, and impose strict voter ID requirements. 

In a tweet early Friday morning, Representative Cannon said, “I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I’d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true.”

Sources: Washington Post 3/26/21; Facebook 3/25/21; Washington Post 3/25/21; Twitter 3/25/21; Twitter 3/26/21

Gunman Kills Ten People in Boulder, Biden Urges Congress to Pass Gun Regulations

Boulder, Colorado’s city government banned assault weapons in 2018 in an attempt at preventing mass shootings. Ten days after that ban was blocked in court, on Tuesday, a gunman opened fire in a supermarket and killed ten people in Boulder. 

Investigators reported that the suspect had purchased an AR-556 pistol on March 16, mere days after the court blocked the ban.

President Biden called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills already approved by the House, and for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons. In his speech, he mourned the victims of this shooting and said, “another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma.”

The ten victims were identified as Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Rikki Olds, 25; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Eric Talley, 51; Teri Leiker, 51; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62 and Jody Waters, 65.

The tragedy in Boulder was the second mass shooting to occur in less than a week, after a gunman killed eight people in the Atlanta area.

“This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue. It will save lives.. And we have to act,” President Biden said in his statement. “Those folks who died left behind families, and it leaves a big hole in their hearts, and [by passing these bills,] we can save lives.”

Rachel Friend, a Boulder city council member and longtime gun violence prevention advocate, said, “I am still too numb or in shock to say how this happened so quickly on the heels of it being struck down– except to say this is why we wanted to pass the ban in the first place… I really want us to not continue to let this happen to communities. We’re reeling and it hurts to be here right now. But I don’t see why we can’t change that for the future.”

Sources: Washington Post 3/23/21; Washington Post 3/23/21; Washington Post 3/24/21 

NCAA Facing Criticism for Unequal Treatment of Men’s and Women’s Basketball Players

This week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) has faced criticism after basketball player Sedona Prince posted a video on social media showing the significant disparities between the men’s and women’s weight rooms at their Division I basketball tournaments. 

Prince said, “so for the NCAA March Madness, the biggest tournament for college basketball for women, this is our weight room,” and pointed to a singular stack of low-weight dumbbells. Then, she showed the men’s weight room, which was massive and had several kinds of equipment.

“If you aren’t upset about this problem, then you’re a part of it,” Prince said in the video.

Lynn Holzman, NCAA Vice President for women’s basketball, said in her original statement that the reason for the difference in equipment was “limited space”, and that the women’s weight room would be expanded later in the tournament when more space was available. In her later statement, she said she has spoken to staff members and team coaches about how to readjust space in San Antonio to provide more equitable training opportunities. 

Difference in equipment and space to train is not the only disparity that women athletes have faced. Athletes have also raised questions about differences in food options available, COVID-19 testing, and “swag bags” of giveaways to players. For instance, one women’s coach reported that his women’s team players were receiving rapid antigen testing while the male players were receiving standard PCR tests, a more accurate test.

The NCAA will make over $850 million in television rights from the men’s tournament this year, so providing equal amenities for all players should not be a financial issue.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer called the disparity “evidence of blatant sexism” and said she felt “betrayed by the NCAA.”

“Women athletes and coaches are done waiting, not just for upgrades of a weight room, but for equity in every facet of life,” she said in a statement Saturday night. “Seeing men’s health valued at a higher level than that of women, as evidenced by different testing protocols at both tournaments, is disheartening. This cannot continue to be business as usual. There are necessary changes that need to be made.”

Sources: Al Jazeera 3/20/21; ESPN 3/19/21; New York Times 3/19/21; ESPN 3/20/21

Kansas Senate Passes Bill Targeting Trans Student-Athletes

On Wednesday, the Kansas Senate passed a bill banning transgender students from girls’ and women’s school sports. The measure passed 24-10, sending it to Kansas’ conservative House. 

Governor Laura Kelly referred to the bill as “regressive,” and said that the controversial policy could repel businesses from the state, which supporters dismissed.

One legislator, Representative Stephanie Byers, stated concern for the severe impact a ban like this could have on transgender youth. 

“We’re not talking just trans athletes. We’re talking any trans kid. When they see this put in front of them, the emotional exhaustion of fighting society around you to be who you are, that sometimes leads to those suicide rates being five times higher than the rest of the population,” Byers said.

Conservatives in state legislatures across the country are pushing for similar transphobic bans. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a measure last week banning transgender students from participating in girls’ sports. The South Dakota legislature passed a ban in early March, which the governor intends to sign.

A similar proposed ban failed in South Carolina on Tuesday— lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voted down a bill that sought to ban transgender students from participating in girl’s and women’s middle and high school sports. 

Advocates in the state celebrated the fall of this bill. South Carolina United for Justice and Equality said in their statement that “this bill– and any other bill that discriminates against transgender people– has no place in South Carolina. Trans youth should be included, affirmed, and be afforded the same opportunities as any other student.”

More than 40 medical professionals signed a letter to oppose this bill. It read: “Transgender students, like other students, deserve the same chances to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and self discipline, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers. When we tell transgender girls that they can’t play girls’ sports — or transgender boys that they can’t play boys’ sports — they miss out, and being excluded can lead to harmful outcomes with regard to social and emotional well being.”

These attacks on transgender athletes are part of a larger epidemic of transphobia that lawmakers have perpetuated. In Alabama, the state legislature voted to ban trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care and force school staff to “out” trans students to their parents if they believe or know that the student is trans. 

Sam Brinton, VP of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement that “this legislation will endanger young trans lives in Alabama. It contradicts the consensus of major medical associations and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how affirming transgender and nonbinary youth in their identities reduces suicide risk and improves health.”

Sources: AP News 3/18/21; KMBC News 3/18/21; Feminist Newswire 2/16/21; The State 3/16/21; CBS News 3/3/21

Anti-Abortion Extremist Sentenced to Prison for Health Insurance Fraud

On February 23, Jeffrey White and his son Nicholas White were sentenced to prison and subsequent supervised release. The two men conspired to defraud health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, enrolling individuals in ACA plans in states where they did not live. They created fake leases and cell phone numbers for these individuals. Jeffrey was sentenced to three years in prison and three subsequent years of supervised release, and Nicholas received a lesser sentence of thirteen months in prison and three years of supervised release.

The Whites paid insurance premiums for these individuals and placed them in expensive inpatient substance abuse treatment programs. The Whites collected thousands of dollars in kickbacks for each referral. Their scheme resulted in over $27 million in losses to ACA plans in various states, and they profited about $1 million. They are ordered to pay restitution of the $27 million.

In a Ms. article from 2019, Amanda Robb explored the Whites’ connection to the anti-abortion terrorist movement and its funding. Michael Bray, a convicted clinic bomber, stated that White “is one of my favorite innovators, one of the most capable leaders in our ‘movement’ …” White served as Operation Rescue’s tactical director in the late 1990s. Operation Rescue is an anti-abortion organization that has ties to multiple murders of abortion providers in the US. 

In 2006, Jeff White’s daughter purchased a former abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas, which she then transferred to a nonprofit organization “Cradles of Love”, which he uses as a front to operate his “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” group, as well as to pay for his Mexican beach house. 

According to Robb, White has “created and dissolved dozens of entities across at least three states, which they often cede to their children or spouses. The men have used at least some of these entities to shuttle assets to support anti-abortion activities.”

Jeffrey White has been arrested over 60 times in the last three decades for blockading clinics and harassing providers and patients.

Katherine Spillar, executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., stated, “The funding of anti-abortion extremism has always been shrouded in mystery… If the orchestrated anti-abortion campaign of violence is ever to be stopped, its funding sources have to be cut off. That’s essential.”

Sources: Department of Justice 2/23/21; Ms. Magazine Winter 2019

Women Won Big at Last Night’s Grammys

The 63rd annual Grammy Awards celebrated the music of the year, especially highlighting women in pop music and themes of justice.

Rapper Megan Thee Stallion won best new artist, and her song “Savage” won best rap performance and for best rap song. She is the first woman rap artist to win best new artist.

Winning the award was an emotional moment for Megan. “I don’t want to cry,” she said while accepting the honor. In her acceptance speech for “Savage”, she thanked her late mother and teared up. 

Nineteen-year-old Billie Eilish won record of the year for “Everything I Wanted,” then humbly told Megan that she should’ve won that award. 

Album of the year went to Taylor Swift for “Folklore,” an album she created entirely during quarantine. This was the singer’s third time winning album of the year, putting her among greats like Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon. 

Beyonce set an incredible record– winning four awards last night brought her lifetime total to 28 Grammys, making her the performer with the most awards in Grammy history. She won best R&B performance for her song “Black Parade,” released as Black Lives Matter protests became widespread last summer.

Beyoncé stated in her acceptance speech, “as an artist I believe it’s my job, and all of our jobs, to reflect the times, and it’s been such a difficult time.” The song was released on Juneteenth, and proceeds go to BeyGood, a partnership with Beyonce and NAACP dedicated to funding Black-owned businesses during the pandemic.

Blue Ivy Carter, Beyonce’s 9-year-old daughter, also took home her first Grammy for best music video for “Brown Skin Girl”, which she won alongside her mother and WizKid. 

Singer-songwriter H.E.R. won song of the year for her song “I Can’t Breathe”, a Black Lives Matter anthem. In her speech, she said, “I didn’t imagine that my fear and that my pain would turn into impact, and that it would possibly turn into change.”

Sources: Washington Post 3/15/21; New York Times 3/14/21; Jezebel 3/15/21; NAACP 

Chelsea Becker, Woman Incarcerated for Pregnancy Loss, Released on Bail

On Tuesday, a California Judge granted Chelsea Becker’s request to be released on her own recognizance, and she will enter a residential treatment facility upon release.

Becker had a stillbirth in 2019, and at the time Kings County District Attorney Keith L. Fagundes claimed that the stillbirth was caused by methamphetamine use, on no scientific basis. The District Attorney charged Becker with murder, despite the law stating that it “cannot be used to prosecute the ‘mother of the fetus.’”

Leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all came forward in opposition of the misuse of the criminal law to address issues of drug use and pregnancy.

The National Perinatal Society said in a 2017 position statement on the subject that “treating this personal and public health issue as a criminal issue-or a deficiency in parenting that warrants child welfare intervention-results in pregnant and parenting people avoiding prenatal and obstetric care and putting the health of themselves and their infants at increased risk…The threats of discrimination, incarceration, loss of parental rights, and loss of personal autonomy are powerful deterrents to seeking appropriate prenatal care.”

In 2018, District Attorney Fagundes also prosecuted Adora Perez for murder when she had a stillbirth. Unlike Becker, Perez’ counsel did not challenge the legitimacy of the prosecution and was encouraged to plead guilty to “manslaughter of a fetus.” She is serving an 11-year sentence. DA Fagundes is the only prosecutor in California in the last three decades to use the state’s murder law against victims of pregnancy loss.

“We are relieved that Ms. Becker has been released and can continue to fight these charges from outside of jail,” states Samantha Lee, a Staff Attorney at National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “These charges should never be brought against any person for experiencing a pregnancy loss. And because California law does not authorize this prosecution, we will soon be filing an application to have Ms. Becker’s case dismissed altogether. We will also continue to fight against the DA’s flagrant misuse of his power and the dangerous medical misinformation he is promoting through the prosecutions of Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez.”

Sources: National Advocates for Pregnant Women 3/9/21; National Advocates for Pregnant Women 06/2018

Two Incidents of Anti-Abortion Clinic Harassment Occur This Week

On Saturday, an anti-abortion protester accidentally shot himself outside of A Woman’s Choice clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina.

According to Kelsea McLain, a lead volunteer coordinator with the clinic, the facility has lockdown protocols to follow when a gun is seen on site, but no staff members realized that the protester was armed until after the gun was fired. When police came, they briefly investigated and allowed the other protesters to remain. The police are also refusing to report his name. 

“That to me just sends this clear-cut message to these protesters: that this level of violence and escalation is actually OK. You can get away with it… RPD did nothing. Nothing was done to ensure that there were no guns present on anyone else”. 

Woman’s Choice of Raleigh said in a statement that the city council and mayor should “create a buffer zone to protect abortion patients and providers in Raleigh.” The clinic also called for an investigation into RPD’s conduct, which they called “outrageously insufficient.”

“We have been asking for RPD’s support for years and they’ve been dismissive of the harassment, intimidation, threats, and acts of violence against our staff, volunteers, and patients,” the clinic said in its statement. “No one should be blocked from getting health care or be intimidated when they go to a clinic. No one should have to experience this kind of intrusion and harassment at their workplace … This atrocious behavior would not be tolerated outside any other medical facility.”

The day before, eight people were arrested after unlawfully trespassing and occupying the hallway of Carafem Health Center in Nashville, Tennessee. 

The group of anti- abortion protesters consisted of 22 people, including children. Police gave protesters many warnings, and arrested those who refused to leave the inside of the facility for trespassing.

Clinic harassment and violence has increased in recent years according to the National Abortion Federation. In 2015, nine people were injured and three were killed in a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

“No one should be blocked from getting health care or be intimidated when they seek to enter a small business of any kind. No one should experience intrusion or harassment,” said Carafem COO Melissa Grant. “The tactics used by the anti-abortion extremists right here in Nashville and across the country are intended to shame, frighten, and prevent people from obtaining the legal goods and services that they want and need.”

Sources: WMBF Associated Press 3/7/21; News & Observer 3/7/21; News4 Nashville 3/5/21; Atlas One 3/5/21; Wilson Post 3/5/21

House Passes Police Reform Bill in Honor of George Floyd

On Wednesday night, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a policing reform bill named for the Black man who was killed in May by a Minneapolis police officer. George Floyd’s murder sparked more than 7,000 demonstrations across the country with communities protesting police violence.

The bill seeks to ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, prohibit certain no-knock warrants, and establish a national database to track police misconduct. The legislation also includes provisions to ease the process of holding individual police officers accountable for misconduct in court.

According to Mapping Police Violence, a database built by researchers Samuel Sinyangwe, Deray McKesson, and Johnetta Elzie, police killed 1,127 people in 2020. Though Black people comprise only 13% of the population, they account for 28% of police killings last year. And, in the thousands of killings by police since 2013, 99% have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime.

“To make our communities safer, we must begin by rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the people they are entrusted to serve and protect,” the White House stated. “We cannot rebuild that trust if we do not hold police officers accountable for abuses of power and tackle systemic misconduct — and systemic racism — in police departments.”

In debate on the floor before the vote, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota stated that Minneapolis is still traumatized by Floyd’s death. “Time and time again we have witnessed the people who are sworn to protect our communities abuse their power,” she said.

The attorneys for George Floyd’s family said in a statement on Wednesday that the legislation “represents a major step forward to reform the relationship between police officers and communities of color and impose accountability on law enforcement officers whose conscious decisions preserve the life or cause the death of Americans, including so many people of color.” Floyd’s family was at the Capitol yesterday for the debate and vote.

Sources: 117th Congress H.R. 1280; Washington Post 3/3/21; Time 9/5/20; Mapping Police Violence 2/16/21; CBS News 3/4/21; Twitter 3/4/21

Georgia House Passes Voting Restrictions Bill

On Monday, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill to enact restrictions on voting. This includes restricting absentee voting in certain cases, cutting back on early voting hours, preventing county elections offices from receiving grant funding directly, shortening the state’s runoff election period, taking away the secretary of state’s role as chair of the State Election Board, and requiring counties to add more staff and equipment in larger precincts.

The bill passed 97-72 with opposition from progressives. One section of the bill mandates that all counties must have the same early voting dates and times: three weeks of Monday- through- Friday voting, one mandatory Saturday and then one additional Saturday or Sunday during the first weekend

Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Black Democrat and the longest-serving member in the chamber, said that the bill discriminated against Black voters who use the second Sunday for “souls to the polls” events.

“It takes away the ability to have uniformity in every county,” he said. “For example, if a county chooses the first Sunday, the situation will be extremely confusing for county residents with voting closed on that Saturday. An avalanche of misinformation will follow regarding when voting happens on weekends. Confusion deters voting, which brings about voter suppression.”’

Republicans in the chamber say that the measure is necessary to restore confidence in elections after Trump lost in Georgia and made false claims about voting fraud.

Rep. Renitta Shannon said, “Now, [these lawmakers] are doing anything they can to silence the voices of Black and brown voters specifically, because they largely powered these wins.”

Sources: AP News 3/1/21; NPR 3/1/21

House Passes Equality Act

On Thursday, the House passed the Equality Act to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to create protections for LGBTQ+ people. 

The bill passed in the House with a close 224-206 vote, receiving unanimous support from Democrats and three Republican votes. 

The Equality Act recognizes that multiple types of discrimination can occur simultaneously, and protects against that: “A single instance of discrimination may have more than one basis. For example, discrimination against a married same-sex couple could be based on the sex stereotype that marriage should only be between heterosexual couples, the sexual orientation of the two individuals in the couple, or both. Discrimination against a pregnant lesbian could be based on her sex, her sexual orientation, her pregnancy, or on the basis of multiple factors.”

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Marie Newman, who has a transgender daughter, raised a transgender pride flag outside her office, which is across from the office of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been vocal about her anti-LGBTQ beliefs. 

“Our neighbor, [Greene], tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is ‘disgusting, immoral, and evil,’” Newman wrote on Twitter. “Thought we’d put up our Transgender flag so she can look at it every time she opens her door.”

Currently, in many states in the country, it is legal and common to deny housing, employment, and service to LGBTQ people. Passing this bill would protect people from that discrimination.

“It is time to move together to ensure LGBTQ people have the chance to belong, to participate and to succeed in all areas of American life,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBTQ rights group GLAAD, said in a statement.

Sources: Politico 2/25/21; Congress H.R.5 2/18/21; Human Rights Campaign

Deb Haaland Faces Difficult Confirmation Hearing

Deb Haaland, Congresswoman from New Mexico and President Biden’s Secretary of the Interior nominee, is facing the second day of her confirmation hearing today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Haaland’s nomination is historic– if confirmed, she will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. 

In her hearing so far, she has faced a hard line of questioning, particularly from conservative members of the committee who have argued that her views on the environment are too progressive and that a push for clean energy could hurt jobs.

In her opening statement, Haaland said, “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.” But she added, “Our climate challenge must be addressed,” and she contended that “the Department has a role in harnessing the clean energy potential of our public lands to create jobs and new economic opportunities.”

Haaland has emphasized throughout her hearing that she serves at the pleasure of the President and will carry out his policy agenda.

Biden’s clean energy plan includes an effort to conserve at least 30% of US land and ocean by 2030, as part of an international push for conservation aiming to mitigate climate change. Biden signed the ‘30 by 30” executive order at the end of January, ordering to pause new oil and gas leases on public lands, and establishing an office of environmental justice in the White House.

As President Biden has nominated a diverse cabinet, with many women and people of color in critical roles, many of those nominees are facing disproportionate opposition from the Senate. Like Neera Tanden, Xavier Becerra, and Kristen Clarke, Deb Haaland has faced harsh questioning and strong opposition from conservatives and moderates in the Senate, particularly in contrast with Biden’s white nominees, who have been confirmed with more ease.

“The idea that there’s controversy here bears a lot of scrutiny, especially when the controversy is that the person was an advocate, or the person sought to protect the rights of people of color, or fought to protect the rights of women,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center.

Sources: CNN 2/24/21; CSPAN 2/24/21; Twitter 2/24/21; National Geographic 1/27/21; Huffington Post 2/23/21

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Anti-Abortion Law in South Carolina

After one day of passage, federal Judge Mary Geiger Lewis placed a 14-day restraining order on the law and plans to renew it until amore substantial hearing on March 9th.

The law, titled “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act” restricts abortion at the detection of fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant. 

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed the bill into law last Thursday, within the hour it was sent to his desk, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued before the governor even signed.

Judge Geiger Lewis’ restraining order was necessary because more than 75 patients were scheduled to have abortions in South Carolina in the last three days and the new law would ban most of them from receiving abortion care. 

South Carolina’s ban is one of dozens of examples of state legislatures attempting or succeeding at passing laws to target abortion access and overturn Roe v. Wade. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, in the last two months, state politicians have introduced more than 200 bills to restrict or ban abortion, with more than 40% seeking to ban abortion at various points of pregnancy. 

If this law were to remain intact, it would disproportionately impact low-income people, whose socioeconomic status limits their ability to access abortion care in other states. The burden would fall most severely on African American patients, who also experience the highest level of maternal mortality.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, “we are relieved but not surprised that the court will block this law. This ban is blatantly unconstitutional. It’s a clear attempt to end abortion access not just in South Carolina but nationwide. Lawmakers are trying to send cases to the Supreme Court that will allow the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. This attack on Roe is not slowing down — there are many similar bans moving through state legislatures at this very moment.”

Similarly, Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO at Planned Parenthood Federation of America stated that “this court ruling will offer a temporary moment of relief for South Carolinians. But make no mistake: Politicians across the country have made it clear they won’t stop until abortion access is completely out of reach. Since Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, we are seeing an onslaught of attacks, with abortion bans pending in 30 states. The fight to preserve what little abortion access is left intensifies by the day.  Planned Parenthood and our partners will not back down. Every person deserves access to safe, legal abortion — regardless of who you are, how much you earn, or where you live.”

Sources: AP News 2/19/21; NPR 2/19/21; CNN 2/19/21; Center for Reproductive Rights 2/19/21

New Zealand Schools Will Begin Offering Free Menstrual Products to All Students

Today, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that all schools will make free menstrual products available to students for the next three years in an effort to alleviate period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products that negatively affects employment, education, and health.

Arden’s announcement follows a six-month pilot program which involved 3,200 students in 15 schools across the country’s Waikato region. The official program will launch in June and will provide menstrual products to students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools. 

“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” said Ardern in a statement. “Removing barriers to healthy, active, educational outcomes for children and young people is an important part of the Government’s Youth and Wellbeing Strategy.”

One survey found 12% of adolescent students (year 9 to year 13) who menstruate reported having difficulty accessing menstrual products, and an estimated one in 12 students reported skipping school because they couldn’t afford products.

According to Sarah Donovan, a researcher from the University of Otago, the country’s high cost of living combined with an increasing housing shortage has led to a crisis where many in New Zealand cannot afford sanitary items. Over a lifetime, menstrual products can cost over $10,000 American dollars.

“That is a significant cost that could be part of a student loan, or a house deposit,” said Miranda Hitchings, co-founder of Dignity NZ, an organization providing menstrual products to schools and community organizations. “But because of the gendered cyclical nature of poverty, it’s another thing that puts women, or people with periods, on the back foot.” 

“We went and talked to schools and found that not only was it real, but it was incredibly prevalent,” she said. “We also found that local people individually, like nurses and teachers at schools, were purchasing products for their students out of their own pockets.” Providing students with free products will alleviate the financial burden placed on individuals and communities. 

Sources: New York Times 2/18/21; CBS News 2/18/21; New Zealand Government 2/18/21; The Guardian 2/17/21

Georgia House Introduces Bill Targeting Trans Youth

Last week, legislators in the Georgia State House introduced House Bill 372, which prohibits trans students from participating in athletic programs that affirm their gender identity.

The bill first defines ‘gender’ as “a person’s biological sex at birth and shall be recognized based on a person’s reproductive organs at birth”. It states that no student can be excluded from participation in or treated differently from another student on the basis of this incorrectly and narrowly defined “gender”.

While the bill conflates gender and sex in order to strategically exclude and discriminate against trans youth, experts in sexuality and sexual health, public health, gender studies, and biology define them seperately. 

According to the World Health Organization, “gender interacts with but is different from sex, which refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males and intersex persons, such as chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. Gender and sex are related to but different from gender identity. Gender identity refers to a person’s deeply felt, internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology or designated sex at birth.”

After establishing this definition, the bill states that any athletic activity or event which is conducted exclusively for male students shall only include students whose “gender” is male, and any athletic activity or event which is conducted exclusively for female students shall only include students whose “gender” is female.

For students above 18, or parents and guardians of students under 18, a waiver of this requirement can be requested by providing detailed information about the student’s reproductive organs, genetic makeup, and other “medically relevant factors.” In this case, the athletic association’s governing body will “appoint a panel of three physicians to review such petitions and make recommendations to the athletic association for responding to the petition.”

This bill comes on the heels of many similar bills in state legislatures across the country, in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Dakota. Laws that discriminate against trans youth in sports open the doors for further discrimination in access to health care and other issues of autonomy. 

According to Chase Strangio, Deputy Director for Transgender Justice for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, “we are on the brink of creating dystopian government systems of sex surveillance– even more egregious than what we currently have,” he stated in a tweet. “It will infringe the autonomy and privacy of all young people if we start to expand the power of the state to define and control who we are in these ways.”

Sources: House Bill 372; Georgia General Assembly 2/11/21; World Health Organization; ACLU Legislation Affecting LGBT Rights Across the Country 1/29/21; Twitter 2/15/21

Rep. Underwood, Rep. Adams, and Senator Booker Introduce Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act to Address Maternal Mortality

This week, Congresswomen Lauren Underwood and Alma S. Adams and Senator Cory Booker, along with members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. The bill builds on existing legislation to address every dimension of the maternal health crisis in America comprehensively.

The purpose of the bill is to combat the epidemic of maternal deaths in the US, particularly among Black women and pregnant people. The bill expands health care postpartum and allocates resources to study the social determinants of Black maternal mortality.

The Act includes 12 prongs to address different components of maternal health, including providing funding to community-based organizations that work to improve maternal health outcomes, improving data collection processes to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis, improving maternal health care for incarcerated mothers, and supporting moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders. 

Currently, moms in the US are dying at a rate higher than any other developed country, and this rate continues to rise. This issue disproportionately impacts people of color, and Black birthing people are at the highest risk. As of 2017, Black birthing people are dying at rates of 3 to 4 times that of white birthing people. Native people are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white people. One study found that Hispanic people experience “severe maternal morbidity at 1.8 times the rate of non-Hispanic white birthing people.” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have higher rates of mortality during hospitalization for delivery. Women and people of color are suffering from an epidemic.

Angela Aina, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, said in a statement, “Black Mamas Matter Alliance is proud to support the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the introduction of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. By centering Black women-led organizations like BMMA in the process, this package takes a proactive approach to addressing many of the systematic public health challenges, workforce development issues, and everyday experiences of Black birthing persons before, during, and after pregnancy. BMMA is in support of the BMHC taking a step forward to addressing the impact of the COVID Pandemic on Black pregnant and birthing people.”

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda President and CEO Marcela Howell stated in support of the Momnibus Act, “one of the richest countries in the world has one the worst Black maternal health outcomes in the world. Across all socioeconomic and geographic lines, Black women in the U.S. are three to five times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than our white counterparts.

“This is not only a public health crisis but a moral and policy failure that requires public officials to examine the many structural and systemic factors that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and birthing people, while centering the leadership of Black mothers and women to address and eliminate these disparities. To address the maternal health crisis, some leaders in Congress have been fighting for critically important policies. The Momnibus Act would fill existing gaps in legislation to address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis.”

Sources: Black Maternal Health Caucus 2/8/21; CDC 9/6/19; HHS 11/8/19; CDC 11/25/20; Black Mamas Matter Alliance; In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda; ; Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 Quotes in Support 2/8/21

Feminist Wins at Super Bowl LV

Yesterday, at the NFL’s 55th annual Super Bowl, one of the biggest sporting events of the year, fans watched Sarah Thompson become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, Sr. said in a statement, “Sarah Thomas has made history again as the first female Super Bowl official… Her elite performance and commitment to excellence has earned her the right to officiate the Super Bowl. Congratulations to Sarah on this well-deserved honor.”

Last year, Katie Sowers with the San Francisco 49ers was the first woman to coach a Super Bowl. This year, more women follow in her footsteps and continue to push for progress in the NFL. 

The game started with Amanda Gorman, activist and poet, reciting her original poem “Chorus of the Captains” in honor of the three honorary captains– Marine veteran James Martin, Los Angeles educator Trimaine Davis, and Tampa ICU nurse manager Suzie Dorner. Gorman is the first poet to recite at a Super Bowl game.

Two women helped lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory last night– Lori Locust, defensive line assistant, and Maral Javadifar, assistant strength and conditioning coach. 

This season, there were eight women coaches in the NFL, a record-breaking number for the organization. Before 2015, there were no women coaches in the league. As of recently, this list includes Jennifer King, whose promotion by the Washington Football Team has made her the first Black woman to coach full-time in the NFL.

Many women in sports are eager for diversity to become normalized and expected. Carrie Brownson, chief of staff for the Cleveland Browns, said, “I look forward to the days where we stop talking about how ‘she’s the first this’ and we’ve accomplished all those things, and women can just naturally fit into these coaching roles, scouting roles and operational roles.”

Sources: New York Times 2/7/21; Deadline 1/7/21; ESPN 2/6/21; New York Times 1/3/21

Activists in Poland Seek Support for Reversing Abortion Law

After the Polish constitutional court issued a ruling in October that imposed a near-total ban on abortion in the country, over one hundred thousand Polish activsts have been been protesting the law, now for over 100 days. These protests are the largest mass protest movement that the country has seen in its post-communist era.

Yesterday, left-wing lawmakers and women’s rights organizations presented a plan to collect signatures in support of legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The proposal also stipulates that the national health system would fund abortion in those weeks.

Poland is a conservative country with strong ties to the Catholic Church. The country’s conservative party, Law and Justice, holds the majority in parliament. 

In order for the proposal to be introduced to the legislature for debate, it must receive 100,000 citizen signatures. While activists recognize that the measure will not pass as long as the country’s ruling conservative party has the majority in parliament, their aim is to spark a social debate that can persuade the government and the public that abortion must be safe and legal because people have abortions regardless of their legality.

Marta Lempart with Women’s Strike, the organization behind recent protests, stated that the proposal is part of a long-term plan to legalize abortion in the country. This week’s proposal is the fifth attempt to liberalize abortion in the country since the 1993 law was implemented to ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest, risk to patient’s life or health, or fetal abnormalities. 

In Argentina, where the government recently legalized abortion, activsts struggled for 15 years and had nine failed attempts before its success in 2020.

“As in our Argentinian sisters’ case, we go huge steps forward but we have to also go huge steps backward, and that’s what happened in Poland.”

One 23-year-old protester said, “We are here because the new abortion law’s verdict came into force and women became live incubators… the matter is simple to me: I want to have my rights and choice and I think everybody thinks similarly here and we have to support one another.”

Sources: ABC News 2/3/21; BBC News 1/30/21; CNN 1/31/21