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1/27/2016 - Study Exposes 'Gender Gap' in Media Coverage of Reproductive Issues

A new study by the Women's Media Center has revealed more than half of news stories focusing on reproductive issues are written by men.

According to WMC Media Watch: the Gender Gap in Coverage of Reproductive Issues, men penned 52 percent of bylines discussing issues of reproductive health care - including contraception and abortion - compared to just 37 percent by women. Moreover, the report, which examined 1,385 news stories published by the twelve highest-circulating media outlets, also found quotes from men outnumber those from women, accounting for 41 percent from men versus a mere 33 percent by women. Men are also more likely to include interviews with other men in their coverage of reproductive heath topics as well as frame them as "political issues" rather than matters of "health," as favored by women.

"Since women play a greater role in reproduction, it would make sense for women to be the majority of the sources and authorities in its coverage," said WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem in response to the study's findings.

Unfortunately, women's underrepresentation in media has persisted across subject matter. Last year, WMC found women authored only 37 percent of print news stories, with men dominating coverage in almost all areas including US politics (65 percent), world politics (64 percent), science (63 percent), and technology (62 percent). WMC's most recent findings, however, were released at a time of increasingly dangerous anti-abortion rhetoric and numerous ideologically-driven political maneuvers aimed at restricting women's access to contraception. The study highlights a critical gap in accurate reporting of one of the most urgent issues affecting women today: reproductive healthcare.

"The American public - and especially women - deserve accurate, informed and experienced media coverage on reproductive health, state and federal legislation, abortion and contraception," said Steinem. "This research is offered in the hope of increasing public information about reproductive justice - which means the right to have or not to have children - as a basic human right."

1/26/2016 - Anti-Abortion Extremists Behind Planned Parenthood Attack Videos Indicted

Two anti-abortion extremists responsible for last year's misleading videos attacking Planned Parenthood have been indicted on criminal charges by a grand jury in Houston, Texas.

On Monday, Harris County district attorney Devon Anderson announced that David Daleiden, the director of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) - the group behind deceptive videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue - was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and on a misdemeanor charge related to the purchasing of human organs. Another CMP employee, Sandra Merritt, was also indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The grand jury, which-formed to investigate Planned Parenthood following the release of the videos, cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, and instead decided to indict Daleiden and Merritt. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against CMP, its leaders, and employees - including Daleiden and Meritt - alleging violations of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and engaging in wire fraud, mail fraud, invasion of privacy, illegal secret recording and trespassing.

To date, federal and state-level investigations in 12 states have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, eight states have refused to investigate citing a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, and CMP's fraudulent videos have been debunked repeatedly. Despite these many investigations, a Select Investigative Panel has been formed in the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives to investigate "big abortion providers." The Panel has, so far, not been willing to investigate CMP leaders or other anti-abortion extremists.

With attacks on abortion providers rising, the Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign calling on the House Select Investigative Panel to redirect its focus to anti-abortion violence, intimidation, and harassment, or to disband.

"How can House members investigate abortion providers and ignore the activities of key CMP officials and other anti-abortion extremists, or the routine harassment, intimidation and threats against abortion providers?" asked Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal.

Targeted threats and intimidation of abortion providers has nearly doubled over four years. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey, the percentage of clinics impacted by targeted threats and intimidation increased from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% in 2014.

1/21/2016 - Holtzclaw Sentenced to 263 Years for Rape and Sexual Assault of Black Women

Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw has been sentenced to 263 years in prison today for the rape and sexual assault of 13 Black women in 2013 and 2014. State prosecutors successfully requested that Holtzclaw serve his sentence consecutively, noting that each survivor deserved to have justice for the individual crimes committed against them.

In December, a jury found Holtzclaw guilty on 18 criminal charges, including five counts of first and second-degree rape, six counts of sexual battery, four counts of forcible oral sodomy, and three counts of procuring lewd exhibition. The jury recommended that Holtzclaw serve 263 years in prison. At today's sentencing hearing, three of Holtzclaw's victims delivered impact statements, including his youngest victim who was only 17 years old at the time of her assault. She told the court that since the assault, "my life has been upside down."

Jannie Ligons, the first woman to report Holtzclaw, told the court that her life had been changed forever after the assault, according to Tom George, a local TV reporter who live tweeted the hearing. In her fifties at the time of the attack, Ligons' complaint spurred an investigation that uncovered Holtzclaw's pattern of abusing his position of power to prey on Black women.

At least 13 women came forward during the investigation. Many of the women had not reported the assault for fear of reprisals or fear-later confirmed by the jury's failure to find Holtzclaw guilty on all 36 of the criminal charges brought against him-that they would not be believed. At a preliminary hearing in the case, the 17-year old survivor explained her reasoning, "Who are they going to believe?" she asked. "It's my word against his. He's a police officer."

Holtzclaw's attorney said he plans to appeal, according to Talking Points Memo. The judge previously denied Holtzclaw's request for a new trial or evidentiary hearing. He is to begin his sentence today.

"Justice was served today," said Gaylynn Burroughs, Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy and Research. "Today, there is some hope that the world will hear that Black women's lives matter. I applaud the courageous women who came forward to demand this justice, and the many Black women activists, especially in Oklahoma City, who took to the streets, filled the courtroom, and worked so tirelessly to bring attention to this case. Black women's bodies are too often the site of state-sponsored violence. Black women are too often ignored and marginalized, and our demand for justice ignored. Let this verdict and this sentencing serve as a catalyst for change.'

1/20/2016 - Obama Declares State of Emergency in Flint Water Crisis

President Obama has declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan after a water contamination crisis produced a spike in lead poisoning and other health issues, including possibly Legionnaire's disease, in the city. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate relief efforts and provide disaster aid, such as clean water, filters, and water test kits.

An estimated 9,000 children under six years old, in a city of only about 100,000 people, were exposed to lead after drinking poisoned water in Flint, and around 200 children are said to have "elevated blood lead levels." Lead poisoning in children can lead to low IQ and developmental problems, hearing loss, and learning difficulties, among other things. In adults, lead poisoning is linked to miscarriage or premature birth, low sperm count, pain, and decline in mental functioning.

Flint's problems began in April 2014 when Darnell Earley, an emergency manager appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, switched the city's water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to a local river in order to save money. Almost immediately, Flint's residents, who are predominately African-American, raised concerns about the water's smell, taste, and color. Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly downplayed concerns about the water, despite being informed about abnormally high lead poisoning rates in Flint's children.

It was not until October of 2015-after a spate of studies showed an increase in lead levels in children-that Snyder announced that the city's water source would be transferred back to the Detroit system. Snyder did not declare a state of emergency until January 5, 2016, and even though Earley is no longer Flint's emergency manager, Snyder has appointed him to be the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools-a school system plagued by underfunding and crumbling infrastructure.

Flint residents are now wondering what's next for them and their children. Michigan State University and Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint have planned to create programs that may help mitigate the effects of lead poisoning. Residents have also filed two class-action lawsuits against the city and state, and some are calling for Snyder's resignation and/or his arrest.

Even as the Flint water crisis makes national headlines, residents - 40 percent of whom live in poverty - are being billed for the poisoned water and are being threatened with shutoffs if they do not pay.

1/19/2016 - Missouri Politicians Introduce "All Lives Matter" Personhood Bill

In a startling misappropriation of the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-reproductive rights politicians in Missouri started off the new year by introducing the so-called "All Lives Matter Act" - a bill designed to strengthen Missouri's already existing personhood law.

The "All Lives Matter Act," sponsored by Republican state Representative Mike Moon, is one of several anti-reproductive rights proposals that will be considered in the state's 2016 legislative session. The bill would amend state law to define a fertilized egg as "a person," and would require law enforcement officers and other state officials to "affirmatively enforce" fertilized eggs' right to "life, liberty, or property."

Moon's bill is intended to strengthen a law currently on the books in Missouri that gives "unborn children" a "protectable interest in life, health, and well-being." The existing law currently contains a provision that makes it subject to the U.S. Constitution, Roe v. Wade, and other decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, but Moon's bill would remove this language. That Moon's bill is likely unconstitutional has not prevented it from attracting a smattering of co-sponsors.

The "All Lives Matter Act" is also the latest in a pernicious strategy by anti-reproductive rights politicians to use black bodies to promote policies that devalue black women, their lives, and autonomy. That this bill is being introduced in Missouri, the location of the 2014 Ferguson uprising, which served as a major catalyst for a national Black Lives Matter movement, has not gone without notice.

Christine Assefa, an organizer with the St. Louis, Missouri based Organization for Black Struggle, remarked that even though "revolutionary activism . . . overwhelmed the streets in St. Louis City and Ferguson [and] energized a transnational movement around the value of Black lives[,] . . . . it is evident that racial justice in not a priority for Jefferson City's GOP leaders." In a guest column for the Feminist Wire, Assefa also highlighted how the "All Lives Matter Act" is an unmitigated attack on black women:

"By hijacking the prolific chant that has become the title of a movement led by a new generation of human rights activists and recontextualizing it, Rep. Moon in further marginalizing Black women," Assefa explained. "By sponsoring this bill, Rep. Moon suggests that the state of Missouri codify into law the assertion that Black women are killing their own children, are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies, and cannot control their sexual desires. All of these characterizations perpetuate historical, violent, and harmful stereotypes of Black women that reveal the deeply-rooted relationship between race and sexual politics."

This perverted interest in, and misuse of, black women's reproduction is not new, but as RH Reality Check Senior Legal Analyst Imani Gandy has previously pointed out, the misappropriation of Black Lives Matter "is not only offensive, it's ultimately hollow." She continues, "When it comes to advocating for policies that would actually support Black women and help them raise healthy children, far too many anti-choice activists are silent."

1/15/2016 - NC Abortion Providers Must Now Submit Ultrasounds to State Officials

A North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to submit an ultrasound to state officials for every abortion and induced miscarriage performed after the 16th week of pregnancy took effect on January 1.

The law, signed by Governor Pat McCrory in June, demands all doctors performing abortions after 16 weeks to send the State Department of Health and Human Services an ultrasound of the fetus proving the measurements used to determine the fetus' "probable gestational age." Louisiana and Oklahoma have similar ultrasound provisions.

Current North Carolina law bans abortion after 20-weeks of pregnancy except in cases of "medical emergencies." As part of the new requirements, doctors performing abortions after 20-weeks must also submit to the state whatever evidence was used to determine that the abortion qualified as a medical emergency. Essentially, the law forces women to share their private medical information with state officials.

"State bureaucrats have no business coming between a woman and her doctor and collecting medical records that should be personal and private," said Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic Executive Director Melissa L. Reed who has called the law "medically unnecessary and purely politically driven." Reed says that, "The true intent of the law is clear-to shame women and intimidate the doctors that care for them."

Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic has started an online petition to tell McCrory to stop #StockpilingSonos.

1/14/2016 - VA Governor Proposes Plan for Free, Long-Lasting Birth Control

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam announced a $9 million program proposal on Friday that would make free long-lasting birth control available to women who have little or no health insurance. Funding for the pilot program will be included in Governor Terry McAuliffe's next two-year budget plan.

The proposal would make intrauterine devices (IUDs) and skin implants available to eligible women at no cost through a federal grant. The program budget will also cover patient outreach, clinician training, and a study to assess the program's impact.

"Education and access to family planning services help women and families live healthy and prosperous lives in Virginia. When pregnancies are planned, it is easier for Virginians to achieve life goals like getting a college education or starting a business," said Northam during the announcement. "And when any business looks to come to Virginia, we want that business to know we are a welcoming and open place for women and families to live and work."

In his remarks, Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon, cited a comparable program in Colorado that led to a 48 percent decrease in the teen birth rate between 2009 and 2013, and saved an estimated $79 million in Medicaid costs from 2010 through 2012. Despite Northam's optimism that the Virginia program could see similar results to Colorado, it is important to note that the privately-funded Colorado initiative was a five-year, $25 million grant. McAuliffe and Northam have yet to announce any further plans past the two-year budget proposal.

The program will now have to be approved by Virginia's Republican-controlled state legislature.

1/13/2016 - The Women of NASA's First Gender-Balanced Astronaut Class Considered for Mars Mission

The women who comprised 50 percent of NASA's astronaut class of 2013 might be headed to Mars!

Handpicked from over 6,000 applicants, astronauts Christina M. Hammock, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne C. McClain, and Jessica U. Meir completed two years of intense training, mastering skills like T-38 supersonic jet piloting, negotiating tasks while submerged in deep water, and enduring rides in the "vomit comet," an aircraft that simulates weightlessness via free fall.

The women will now join NASA's existing 49-strong elite corps of astronauts, contributing specialized skills acquired through advanced degrees in biology and engineering as well as extensive, branch-diverse military experience. They are all also eligible to compete for a seat aboard NASA's first manned mission to Mars projected to launch in some 15 years.

Making up four out of the eight astronauts selected for the program, the women of NASA's class of 2013 mark the first time in the program's 55-year history that men and women have been equally represented. They are also a part of NASA's smallest group to date despite the agency receiving the largest number of applications since 1978-a detail Janet Kavandi, NASA's director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston attributes to the need for qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds and "a broad spectrum of experiences."

While women may possess certain biological advantages and bring unique skills and strengths to space travel, according to Kavandi, the women were not chosen for their gender. "We never determine how many people of each gender we're going to take, but these were the most qualified people of the ones that we interviewed," Kavandi said following NASA's announcement of the 2013 class. "They earned every bit the right to be there."

For astronaut McClain, a helicopter pilot and West Point graduate who can't "remember ever wanting to be" anything other than an astronaut, the opportunity to blast off to Mars holds the promise of gaining a new perspective on our world.

"From space, you can't see borders," said McClain. "What you see is this lonely planet. Here we all are on it, so angry at one another. I wish more people could step back and see how small earth is, and how reliant we are on one another."

1/12/2016 - Judge Rejects Order to Block Catholic Hospitals Denying Women Tubal Ligations

A San Francisco Superior Court judge declined to issue an emergency order that would prevent Mercy Medical Center, a Catholic hospital, from refusing a women's request for a tubal ligation. According to the hospital, the sterilization procedure violates Catholic doctrine.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the law firm, Covington & Burling LLP, filed a lawsuit against San Francisco's Dignity Health-a healthcare network of which Mercy Medical is a part-following the hospital's denial of patient Rebecca Chamorro's request for a tubal ligation.

Chamorro is scheduled to undergo a Cesarean section on January 28 at Mercy Medical. She decided, after consultation with her doctor, to get a tubal ligation after the surgery. The hospital, however, has refused the doctor's request to perform the surgery at Mercy Medical, citing a 2009 directive issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calling the procedure "intrinsically immoral" and "evil."

"The refusal of hospitals to allow doctors to perform basic health procedures based solely on religious doctrine presents a real threat to a woman's ability to access health care," said Elizabeth Gill, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "Patients seeking medical care from public institutions should not have to worry that religious doctrine rather than medical judgment will dictate what care they receive."

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, tubal ligation, or "tying the tubes", is one of the most popular methods of contraception and is employed by some 600,000 U.S. women every year. Safe and cost-effective, the procedure consists of the closing off of the woman's fallopian tubes and is typically administered immediately following a Cesarean section, when the woman is anesthetized and the abdomen still open.

Chamorro is the third woman to contact the ACLU regarding Mercy Medical's refusal to perform tubal ligation on religious grounds. Lynsie Brushett, whose baby is due March 26, was also refused the procedure. Last year, Rachel Miller was denied tubal ligation and ultimately filed suit in August 2015. Under legal pressure, Mercy Medical officials retreated from policy, reversing their decision and allowing Miller's procedure to proceed.

The ACLU plans to continue its legal efforts on behalf of Chamorro, despite the last week's decision by the San Francisco Superior Court judge. "It's not ideal. Our client could deliver any day," said Gill. "But there are still physicians who want to provide tubal ligations at Dignity Health hospitals and are being told they cannot do so."

1/12/2016 - Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Public Unions Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a case that threatens to upend nearly forty years of precedent and deal a major blow to public unions across the country.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, brought by the conservative Center for Individual Rights (CIR), revolves around unions' fair share fees. Once a majority of workers vote to be represented by a public sector union, the union must represent all workers, even non-union members. Every worker, therefore, benefits from the union's collective bargaining. As a result, public sector unions are allowed to collect fair-share fees from non-union members in order to prevent "free riders" from receiving union benefits without contributing to the cost of providing those benefits. No one is forced to join the union, and no one is required to pay any other fees, such as fees used for political activities.

The Supreme Court held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 decision, that it is constitutional for public sector unions to collect fair share fees from non-union members. CIR, however, argues that fair share fees violate the First Amendment and is asking the Court to overturn Abood - a move that some advocates say could reduce union membership and weaken the ability of unions to negotiate fair pay and safer workplaces.

"This case is about our students, our public schools and our country's economic future," said California Teachers Association President Eric C. Heins. "Providing a quality public education for every student starts with educators having the ability to come together and make decisions for their students, as well as negotiating fair wages that attract the brightest minds into our profession. Undermining the collective bargaining process undermines the middle class."

During oral arguments, the conservative majority of the Court seemed to be critical of the unions' argument. In 2014, the Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that fair share fees could not be required of home care workers because they were not fully public employees. In that case, a 5-4 majority of the Court declined to overturn Abood.

In a statement, Heins called Friedrichs "an attempt to shift the balance away from workers and in the favor of corporate interests," said Heins. "That's apparent by the wealthy special interests funding the lawsuit. This case has nothing to do with what's good for students or working families."

A decision in Friedrichs is expected in the summer.

1/8/2016 - ICE Raids on Central American Families Spark Nationwide Protest

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has begun a series of raids this month aimed at deporting Central American families, sparking protest by activists throughout the country.

So far, ICE raids have been reported in California, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. ICE has detained at least 121 undocumented immigrants since the raids started this month. The agency is focusing on families - mostly women and children - who currently have deportation orders.

According to Vox, since 2014, about 100,000 families have migrated from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to the United States. Most of these families are seeking asylum, fleeing increased violence in their home countries. The ICE raids are targeting families who have been denied asylum, but who have not returned to their home countries, many because of continued fear.

Immigration advocates have strongly condemned the raids, and activists have protested in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Oregon, California, and Washington, DC. A protest is planned for today in New York City.

J.J. Mulligan, an immigration lawyer for Atlas: DIY in New York explained the fear and confusion he has been hearing from concerned families since the raids started. In an interview with NPR, Mulligan said, "The government's showing up in the middle of the night at your home, pounding on the door. I mean, that's terrifying. These are people who have lived in the shadows. And that's like their biggest fear realized."

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) President Victor Nieblas Pradis called the raids, "unconscionable and inherently wrong." He continued, "Rounding up mothers and children who have fled the most violent region in the western hemisphere and are trying to find refuge abrogates our legal obligations to provide protection to refugees. The Obama Administration should be ashamed of these actions and immediately suspend them."

Many immigration advocacy groups such as United We Dream, The Immigrant Defense Project and others have been working around the clock since New Year's Day to provide legal assistance to those who are being targeted by the raids.

1/8/2016 - First Woman Commandant of Cadets Sworn In at West Point

Brigadier General Diana Holland made history on Tuesday when she became the first woman commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (USMA).

"I am very honored to be named the next Commandant of the U.S. Corps of Cadets," Holland said in a statement. "It's a privilege to be part of the team that trains and develops leaders of character for our Army."

As commandant of cadets, Holland will be responsible for the development of cadets into Army officers. Holland was previously the first woman general of the U.S. Army Fort Drum & 10th Mountain Division.

When announcing Holland to the post, acting Army Secretary Eric K. Fanning said, "Diana's operational and command experiences will bring a new and diverse perspective to West Point's leadership team. She is absolutely the right person for this critical position."

"For decades, women's discriminatory and systematic exclusion from the military was being used to block the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "It was always a poor excuse, and now it's being exposed as such. At last, these barriers are tumbling down one by one."

Holland's appointment comes a month after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all military combat jobs will be opened up to women beginning this year.

1/7/2016 - House Approves Bill to Defund Planned Parenthood, Repeal Affordable Care Act

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 240-181 in favor of a measure to defund Planned Parenthood for one year and repeal key provisions in the Affordable Care Act. The bill will most certainly meet a presidential veto.

Wednesday's vote is the 11th time anti women's health politicians have tried to defund Planned Plarenthood during this Congress. It is also the furthest an anti-Affordable Care Act (ACA) bill has progressed since the law's 2010 implementation. To date, Republicans have attempted to repeal or undermine the ACA 62 times.

House Pro-Choice Caucus co-chairs, Congresswomen Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) decried the vote. "Over the last several years, the Republican-led House has wasted far too much of the American people's time trying to undermine and undo access to the health care they rely on," said Reps. Slaughter and DeGette. "This is especially true for women, who have seen their constitutional right to make their own reproductive health choices attacked again and again." They continued, "We should be spending 2016 trying to improve health care options instead of tearing down the constitutional rights Americans have worked so hard to secure."

In December, lawmakers were able to push the anti-ACA, anti women's health bill through the Senate by using a legislative strategy called reconciliation, which allowed the bill to pass with a simple 52-vote majority. The House vote on Wednesday means that the bill will reach Obama's desk this week.

The bill is the latest in a series of attempts by anti-abortion lawmakers to strip federal funding of Planned Parenthood. In September, following last year's release of several deceptive videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) falsely claiming to depict the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, House Republicans called Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding the organization's conduct and practices. Though the committee found no fault in Planned Parenthood's activities, just one month later, House Republicans assembled a select committee - this time under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee - to continue investigating the organization as well as other "big abortion providers." To date, federal and state-level investigations have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood and the fraudulent videos have been debunked repeatedly.

The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign calling on the House Select Investigative Panel to either stop investigating abortion providers and start investigating violence, intimidation, and threats directed at women's health clinics, or to disband. "How can House members investigate abortion providers and ignore the activities of key CMP official and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, or the routine harassment and intimidation of abortion providers?" asked Smeal.

Targeted threats and intimidation of abortion providers has nearly doubled over four years, and the percentage of clinics impacted by targeted threats and intimidation has increased from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% in 2014.

1/6/2016 - Unprecedented Number of Groups & Experts Call on SCOTUS to Overturn Texas TRAP Law

An unprecedented group of medical experts, legislators, legal scholars, business leaders and reproductive justice advocates joined the Center for Reproductive Rights yesterday to announce the filing of 45 amicus briefs, urging the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn a Texas law that threatens to close more than 75% of abortion clinics in the state and deny millions of women access to safe, legal abortion. The Feminist Majority Foundation joined the National Women's Law Center's amicus brief along with 46 other women's rights organizations.

The Supreme Court agreed in November 2015 to hear the case challenging H.B. 2, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Texas law, which requires abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical centers and for physicians providing abortions to obtain local hospital admitting privileges, has already shuttered half of the abortion clinics in the state. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for March 2.

Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, "Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders from the fields of medicine, government, law, business and religion stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court. These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas' sham law has and will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down. This deceptive law is an affront to science-based medicine, an insult to women's dignity, and reflects a total disregard for the rule of law and the rights of millions."

Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi joined with Senators Harry Reid and Patty Murray, along with 160 other members of Congress for a bicameral amicus brief stating, "The amicus brief filed by Members of Congress urges the Supreme Court to reject Texas politicians' appalling attempt to deny women their constitutional right to make their own reproductive health decisions.

"No wonder so many diverse groups are uniting. If upheld, this deceptive Texas law-aimed at closing abortion clinics-would result in clinics closing not only in Texas, but throughout the nation. It's a red alert for women's lives," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

According to the amicus brief filed by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Association, Academy of Family Physicians, American Osteopathic Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics in January, 2016, "Far from safeguarding women's health, requirements imposed by H.B. 2 jeopardize women's health by impeding, if not outright preventing, access to safe, legal, evidence-based abortion care."

The Feminist Majority Foundation honored Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO Whole Woman's Health, and a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging H.B. 2 this past November. At the time, Hagstrom-Miller said, "These restrictions have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with closing down clinics and pushing abortion out of reach for millions of Americans. At Whole Woman's Health, we know this to be true because these restrictions have directly interfered with our ability to provide holistic, safe, and affordable abortion care to Texans."

1/5/2016 - New NY Law Permits Pregnant Women to Enroll in Health Care Plans At Any Time

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a new bill into law allowing pregnant women to gain access to health care at any time, eliminating the previous requirement that they wait for open enrollment periods to purchase health insurance. New York is the first state in the country include pregnancy as a "qualifying event" for health insurance enrollment.

The law, signed by Governor Cuomo on December 22, adds pregnancy to the list of "qualifying events" established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that permit individuals to enroll in health care plans through the New York State of Health marketplace outside of designated open enrollment times. Other qualifying events established by the ACA include marriage, divorce, loss of other coverage, and childbirth.

According to a 2015 report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, including pregnancy as a qualifying event will result in greater access to prenatal care, strengthening public health and potentially leading to long-term cost benefits to both individuals and New York's health care system.

Additionally, Governor Cuomo is currently considering introducing a bill that will provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to New York workers. This announcement comes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last month released plans for a new measure to give city workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

1/5/2016 - Obama Announces New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

President Obama announced new executive actions to reduce gun violence today, including expanded mandatory background checks, increased enforcement of gun laws, and increased funding for mental health care.

The new actions, which were released in a statement yesterday ahead of today's official announcement, include provisions to narrow the "gun show loophole" by requiring that all people "engaged in the business of dealing in firearms," including those at gun shows and online, obtain a license and conduct background checks on all purchases.

Currently, this requirement does not apply to those who "make occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms." But Obama's executive action, consistent with court rulings and ATF principles, clarifies that as few as two transactions, when combined with other evidence "can be sufficient to establish that a person is "engaged in the business.""

The Administration also proposed a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health services, as well as actions to remove barriers keeping states from reporting mental health information in background checks.

The White House's plan additionally included the announcement that Attorney General Loretta Lynch will issue a memo directing all U.S. Attorney's Offices to renew efforts to coordinate with groups combating domestic violence and prevent domestic violence offenders from obtaining firearms. Research has found that women's risk of homicide in domestic violence situations increases by 500 percent with the presence of a gun, and that more than half of women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners or family members.

Obama, who pushed for new gun laws three years ago to no avail, acknowledged that the scope of his power is limited without the support of Congress and that the Executive Actions represent his limited ability to stem the tide of gun violence. "Once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more. But we also can't wait," the President said during today's speech. "There are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives -- actions that protect our rights and our kids."

1/4/2016 - Federal Appeals Court Halts Utah's Attempt to Defund Planned Parenthood

A federal appeals court granted a temporary injunction on Wednesday, halting Utah Governor Gary Herbert's effort to deny state funding to Planned Parenthood.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision comes less than a week after U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that Herbert had the authority to deny the organization $275,000 in state contracts for sex education and sexually transmitted disease testing programs. Waddoups' ruling reversed a temporary restraining order from September that prevented Herbert from moving forward with his attempts to defund the healthcare provider.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway said in a statement, "We are thrilled with today's decision, which will allow our trusted health care providers and educators to continue serving the thousands of Utahns who depend on us as the appeals process proceeds."

In August, Herbert ordered that the state cut funding to Planned Parenthood in light of "ongoing concerns about the organization," after the release of several surreptitiously recorded and highly-edited videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos, which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of "selling" fetal tissue, have been debunked repeatedly. Nevertheless, since their release, Planned Parenthood has been under a barrage of state- and federal attacks. To date, zero investigations have found evidence of wrongdoing.

12/23/2015 - Federal Judge Upholds California Law Requiring CPCs to Post Information on Abortion

A federal judge in California ruled on Monday to uphold a new law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they are not licensed medical providers and to post notices providing information about California's public programs offering access to family planning, prenatal and abortion services.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled that while the notices are compelled speech, the law did not violate pregnancy centers' free speech rights, as the signs required only "truthful, non-misleading information."

The Pacific Justice Institute brought the lawsuit on behalf of three crisis pregnancy centers after the law, AB 775, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October. The lawsuit sought an injunction to stop the law from going into effect on January 1.

The law represents an effort to curb the proliferation of anti-abortion, faith-based "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (CPCs) and address the public health threat posed by their deceptive practices. CPCs frequently pose as comprehensive women's health clinics and advertise under "abortion" and "family planning" services, but do not offer abortion services, contraception, or referrals, and have been repeatedly shown to provide false or misleading information about reproductive health services.

The fight for clear and accurate information for pregnant women has long been a fight for women's rights activists. Last year, in response to a campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America and efforts by the Feminist Majority Foundation to expose fake clinics, Google removed deceptive crisis pregnancy center (CPC) advertisements from search engine results when users seek information about abortion services. Most of the advertisements claimed that the CPCs provided abortions when they did not.

12/22/2015 - Grand Jury Decides Not To Indict Anyone For Sandra Bland's Death

A grand jury decided on Monday not to indict anyone in connection with Sandra Bland's death in a Texas county jail last summer. The grand jury will reconvene next month to "take up remaining issues," including whether or not state trooper Brian Encinia - the officer who arrested Bland - should face criminal charges.

"After reviewing all the evidence in the death of Sandra Bland, a Waller grand jury did not return an indictment in the death of Bland, nor were any indictments returned against any employee of the Waller County Jail," said Darrell Jordan, one of five special prosecutors handling the case.

Bland is the 28-year-old African American woman who died in police custody in July. Authorities initially ruled it a suicide, but after pressure from the Bland family and the public -which spread news of the death using the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland - the Waller County, Texas District Attorney announced that the death would be investigated as a homicide.

"Right now the biggest problem I have is the entire process. It's the secrecy of it all," said Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland's mother, at a press conference after the grand jury's decision. "I simply can't have faith in a system that's not inclusive of my family. We're supposed to have an investigation to show us what's happening. We know what we've been listening to in the media ... but we don't have any real evidence."

In August, the Bland family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit naming Encinia as well as the two guards at Waller County Jail. According to the lawsuit, guards at the jail did not check on Bland frequently enough, and failed to act when Bland refused meals. Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Encina of using excessive force during the arrest, which "caused Sandra Bland to suffer injury and death."

Attorneys representing the County filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last month. Last week, however, a federal judge set the trial date for January 23, 2017.

In the footage of Bland's arrest, Encinia yells "I will light you up!" after threatening to drag Bland out of the vehicle. Bland can be heard telling him, "Don't touch me. I'm not under arrest." As the traffic stop escalates, she is also heard saying, "you slammed my head into the ground, do you even care about that? I can't even hear."

"What happened to Sandra Bland is outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "She should never have been ordered to leave her car in the first place and never have been arrested. This was a minor traffic violation that the officer escalated because he was challenged by a Black woman who knew her rights. How many more Black and Latino people have to die before we make fundamental change in police recruitment and training, and overhaul a justice system that is permitting police brutality with impunity?"

Bland's death is one in a series of violent incidents against African-American women, sparking a national movement to #SayHerName.

12/21/2015 - The Nation Inks Impressive 6-Year Contract; Includes Paid Family Leave

Last week, the NewsGuild of New York media union and The Nation magazine announced a six-year contract that will provide four months paid parental leave to The Nation's employees, regardless of their gender, and will also give employees a 25 percent pay increase over the life of the contract.

The Nation joins news organizations such as In These Times and The Guardian in unionizing, though agreements of this kind are unique in the media world. In a press release, Emily Douglas, a senior editor at the magazine, commented on the contract:

"The negotiating committee is very proud to have achieved a contract that not only protects our wages and healthcare, but also takes a major step forward in providing fully paid parental leave. Parental leave is a critical benefit for both women and men at our growing company, and will be offered on a gender-neutral basis. Even better, the leave can be taken all at once, or in stages, throughout the first year after birth or adoption of a child."

Parental leave made headlines many times this year when top tech companies, including Facebook, Netflix, Adobe and Microsoft, announced that they would begin providing employees with months of paid leave, and even childcare in some cases. Most U.S. newsrooms are not unionized, but collective bargaining has begun at many outlets, including Vice and Gawker.

Although the debate about whether or not this is a private- or public-sector issue remains heated, the importance of parental leave cannot be understated. A 2011 report found that taking time off after having a child results in a lowered risk of postpartum depression, higher rates of breastfeeding success and better skills development for children. Plus, family leave is cost-effective for employers: Researchers have consistently found that expansive family-leave policies either do not cost employers anything or result in actual savings, and employees are more likely to be loyal to companies that treat them well.

President Obama nailed this sentiment in a CNN interview last year. "Michelle and I have talked about this," he said. "When we knew that employers had our backs and were willing to give us flexibility to look after our family, that made us want to work harder for that employer."

12/18/2015 - Chicago Teachers Awarded $280,000 in Damages for Pregnancy Discrimination

Eight women who were fired from their teaching positions following the announcements of their pregnancies will receive nearly $300,000 in damages and back pay.

In a lawsuit filed against the Chicago Board of Education late last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed the principal of Chicago's Scammon Elementary School fired, threatened to fire, and evaluated poorly the performances of pregnant teachers, with the Board consenting to as many as six of the resulting firings. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system had previously denied charges of specific targeting of pregnant teachers, insisting the reasoning behind the women's terminations was "legitimate, job-related and consistent with business necessity."

However, with Wednesday's ruling, the school board is required to not only provide monetary compensation to the women, but must also adhere to new discrimination-monitoring guidelines including submitting quarterly reports to the DOJ detailing any complaints of pregnancy discrimination, harassment and retaliation made by school employees. The board also agreed to review its non-discrimination policy and organize training sessions to educate school employees about pregnancy discrimination.

In response to the news, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said, "Pregnancy discrimination has been outlawed on the federal level for decades. It's long overdue that Chicago administrators adhere to the law and to basic human rights standards for women."

In a statement Wednesday, head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, lauded the court's decision to side with the women as "an important step toward ensuring that no woman loses her job, faces discipline or endures threats because of her pregnancy." Added Gupta, "Our settlement establishes critical measures to provide a workplace environment free from sex-based discrimination."

12/17/2015 - Activists Challenge Arizona Sex and Race-Selective Abortion Law

The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) and the Maricopa County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are challenging a 2011 Arizona anti-abortion law which requires women's reproductive healthcare providers to racially profile Asian and African-American women seeking to terminate their pregnancies in the name of eliminating sex and race-selective abortion.

San Francisco's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday from both groups, who charged that the bill "targets and stigmatizes Black and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and is based entirely on racially motivated stereotypes and generalizations about Black and AAPI women's reasons for deciding to terminate a pregnancy." According to the law, abortion providers must complete an affidavit stating they have no knowledge that the fetus is being aborted because of its sex or race or face civil action.

The appeal is in response to the district court's dismissal of the discrimination case in 2013, which ruled that the groups lacked standing to challenge the law. The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of NAPAWF and the local NAACP chapter, argued that "racial stigma and intentional discrimination resulting from the law causes sufficient harm to warrant standing."

During debate on the bill, legislators purported that because "African-American babies are now aborted at five times the rate of White babies to the point that nearly 50 percent of Black babies are aborted," Black women are getting abortions because of racial bias.

Despite statistics demonstrating no discrepancy in gender ratios of births by Asian-American women compared to those of other races statewide, anti-choice lawmakers argue Asian-American women are more inclined to abort fetuses based on gender.

According to Republican state Senator Rick Murphy, racial profiling is necessary to curtail a non-existent social problem. "We know that people from those countries and from those cultures are moving and immigrating in some reasonable numbers to the United States and Arizona," said Murphy. "And so with that in mind, why in good conscience would we want to wait until the problem does develop and bad things are happening and then react when we can be proactive and try to prevent the problem from happening in the first place?"

Miriam Yeung, executive director of NAPAWF, dismissed the Arizona law as having "no basis in fact," suggesting it is yet another attempt to restrict women's right to abortion via dangerous TRAP legislation.

"The ban would not protect girls - or women," said Yeung. "This ban is a wolf in sheep's clothing and part of a broader strategy to chip away at a woman's constitutional right to abortion."

12/17/2015 - Tennessee Woman Faces Jail For Coat Hanger Abortion

A Tennessee woman was arrested and charged with attempted murder last week, three months after an attempt to terminate her pregnancy using a coat hanger.

In September, 31-year-old Anna Yocca attempted to self-abort by penetrating her uterus with a metal coat hanger. After bleeding profusely, Yocca was rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to a 24-week-old baby boy. Though the baby is alive, he has sustained damage to his lungs, heart and eyes as a result of the early birth and puncture wounds. Yocca, who is being held on a $200,000 bond, is scheduled to appear in court December 21.

Tennessee boasts some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation on the books. In addition to a ban on abortions after 12 weeks, the state has a dangerously broad version of a fetal harm law which outlaws "life-threatening harm" to a human embryo or fetus at any stage of gestation that includes ingesting an illegal drug while pregnant. The state also requires women seeking abortions to wait a full 48 hours, necessitating two separate trips to the clinic, and undergo state-mandated counseling prior to the procedure. Even abortion clinic accessibility is a challenge for women in Tennessee. According to the National Women's Law Center, over half of the women in the state live in a county without an abortion provider as of 2010.

Abortion advocates say the surge in anti-abortion TRAP laws resulting in the shuttering of abortion clinics nationwide will only increase the number of incidents of self-induced abortions among women like Yocca. A recent study conducted by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found at least 100,000 women in Texas have attempted to self-abort their pregnancies in the wake of a wave of anti-abortion legislation and clinic closures in the state.

"Our greatest fear has come to [pass] and it could've been avoided," said Cherisse Scott, CEO of a Memphis-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach. "Women are attempting to self-abort due to restrictive abortion and punitive fetal assault legislation. The Tennessee legislature is responsible for the coat hanger; however, Ms. Yocca is on trial."

12/16/2015 - FMF Calls on House Select Investigative Panel to Re-Direct Its Focus to Anti-Abortion Violence or Disband


Feminist Majority Foundation Calls on House Select Investigative Panel to
Re-Direct Its Focus to Anti-Abortion Violence or Disband

Launches Ad Campaign Exposing Anti-Abortion Violence

DECEMBER 16, 2015 - Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President, Eleanor Smeal, today called on the House Select Investigative Panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee to either redirect its focus to violence against abortion providers, or to disband. This select panel, which has subpoena powers, was set up to investigate "big abortion providers" in response to the now debunked videos produced by the so-called Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which falsely accused Planned Parenthood of illegal activities. But the real threat is anti-abortion extremism.

"How can House members investigate abortion providers and ignore the activities of key CMP official and Operation Rescue President Troy Newman, or the routine harassment and intimidation of abortion providers?" asked Smeal.

"The House Select Investigative Panel must call on Newman and other CMP officials to answer questions under oath about how their activities may have contributed to anti-abortion harassment, intimidation, and terrorizing of abortion providers," Smeal continued. "Anti-abortion violence isn't just about lone wolves. It is also about the wolf packs that harass and terrorize abortion providers."

The call on the House Select Panel comes as FMF launches a major, multi-day digital advertising campaign in top D.C.-based media asking the question: "When Did the Right to Life Become the Right to Harass, Intimidate, and Terrorize Abortion Providers?" To view a sample of the campaign on, click here and for more information from the FMF website, click here. The question is even more pressing after last month's attack against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs killing three people.

"A climate of violence is built by following clinic staff around town, putting them on WANTED-style posters with lurid language like 'The Killers Among Us,'" added Katherine Spillar, FMF executive director. "It's about harassing their neighbors and their kids at school; posting their personal information online; running 'No Place to Hide' campaigns. These activities act as a magnet for extremists or disturbed individuals who are willing to kill abortion providers, law enforcement, clinic staff, or even bystanders," continued Spillar.

The pattern of terrorizing abortion providers is frighteningly common. The percentage of clinics impacted by targeted threats and intimidation has nearly doubled over four years, from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% in 2014 according to FMF's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey. The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that abortion providers have been the targets of more than 300 acts of extreme violence from 1973-2003. The National Abortion Federation has documented some 6,948 incidences of violence against abortion providers between 1977 and 2014.

12/14/2015 - Historic Climate Change Agreement Reached in Paris

On Saturday, representatives from 198 countries approved a plan to prevent increased global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions globally.

World leaders convened in Paris last week to discuss strategies for reducing the impact of climate change, ultimately agreeing to limit greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions to help restrain global warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius through 2100. Participating nations also committed to supporting developing countries in this endeavor, pledging $100 billion by 2020 to help them cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather.

Some 25 years in the making, last weekend's agreement marks the first time in human history the world has reached a consensus as to how to meaningfully address climate change. Speaking from the White House Saturday, United States president Barack Obama praised the pact, citing its potential as "a turning point for the world."

"We came together around a strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment," said Obama. "We've shown what's possible when the world stands as one."