Search Feminist News by keyword
After the Kansas House voted in favor of a bill that would offer legal protection to individuals and businesses who wished to deny services to gay and lesbian individuals and couples - particularly those wishing to get married, - the Senate decided Friday that they would not approve it.
"I believe the intent of the House was to protect religious liberties," said Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita. "We respect that, but the business implications are going to harm the practice of employment in Kansas." She added, "Public service needs to remain public service for the entire public."
If signed into law, HB 2453 would allow the refusal of government services to same-sex couples, as well as private services such as access to stores and medical services, making LGBTQ people effectively second-class citizens. Despite the Senate's announcement, some are afraid that the bill may be slightly amended and then passed.
President Obama signed an Executive Order Wednesday increasing the minimum wage for new federal contractors to $10.10 per hour.
"It's the right thing to do," President Obama said in an email announcement. "But what's more, companies have found that when their employees earn more, they're more motivated, they work harder, and they stick around longer. You should expect the same of your federal government." The increase will apply to new contractors.
Obama announced in his State of the Union speech in January that he will push Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which would raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016 in three phases for all US workers. The bill is still awaiting action, but if it passes, 28 million workers would benefit, many of whom will be lifted out of poverty.
With the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns only $14,500 per year, below the federal poverty line even for a family of two. Fast food workers and other minimum wage earners have been fighting for the past two years to raise the minimum wage even higher to $15, arguing that the proposed $10.10 would still not provide a living wage.
Twenty-one states have taken action on their own and now have higher minimum wages than the federal wage. Virginia may be the next to increase it, after the state Senate just approved a bill to increase the state's minimum from $7.25 to $9.25 by 2015.
A federal judge declared Virginia's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional last night, overturning a state constitutional amendment added by voters in 2006 and ruling that Virginia must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
"The plaintiffs [two same-sex couples] ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia's adult citizens," Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen wrote. "They seek simply the same right that is currently enjoyed by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond."
The decision is stayed pending appeal, meaning same-sex couples will not be able to marry until the case is resolved in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The state did not want couples to marry then have their marriages temporarily halted by an appeal, like what happened in Utah.
Because federal courts in several states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma, have voided similar same-sex marriage bans, the Supreme Court is also expected to take up the case soon.
The Virginia Senate voted to pass a bill yesterday that would repeal a law mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.
SB 617 tied with a 20-20 vote based on party lines. The new Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam broke the tie to vote in favor of the bill.
"Women--and men--from across Virginia have been clear: they're done with politically motivated bills that attack women's health," said Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. "Those Senators who stood with women today and voted to repeal the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement have shown they understand the will of Virginia voters." The bill will now be considered by the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates.
Pro-choice Democrats, including Northam, Governor Terry McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring, and several Senators swept the November state elections, winning with the support of women, especially young, unmarried, minority women.
A second pro-choice bill did not pass the Senate Tuesday, losing with a vote of 18-22. SB 618 would have repealed an existing law that bans providers on the federal insurance exchanges from covering abortions.
Two same-sex couples in Texas have asked a federal judge to hear their case challenging the 2005 amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. The couples will appear today in a San Antonio federal district court.
Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, both military veterans, were married in Massachusetts in 2001. Now living in Austin, Texas, the couple was not allowed to jointly adopt a child because Texas law does not recognize the legality of their marriage. Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss have been a couple for 17 years. The two Plano men would like to marry in Texas but were denied a marriage license last fall.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) - currently running for governor of the state - will defend the amendment and has stated that Texas has the right to establish its own marriage policies. The US Supreme Court ruled in US v. Windsor that the federal government could not deny same-sex couples married under state laws the benefits available to married heterosexual couples. It did not address the constitutionality of state laws prohibiting equal marriage.
"Our belief is the arc of equal protection cases points directly to recognizing that people have the right to marry regardless of gender," said Neel Lane, attorney for the plaintiffs. "Gays and lesbians are not afforded access to marriage and all the benefits from it. That is a denial of equal protection of the law. It is unequal when some people are not permitted to do what most others are permitted to do. And there's no basis for denying them that right."
Just this week, US Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo to Department of Justice staff that the Department would give same-sex marriages equal protection under the law, even in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal. Holder's announcement follows other policy changes at the Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security to recognize same-sex marriages on the federal level.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a memo to its employees Monday that same-sex marriages will be given equal protection under the law in all of its programs - even if the marriages are not recognized in the state where the same-sex couple lives. The announcement will allow same-sex couples to enjoy federal benefits through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, and the US Trustee Program.
Announcing the new policy at the Human Rights Campaign's Greater New York Gala on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. also noted that the DOJ would recognize same-sex couples' marital privilege not to testify in civil and criminal cases and allow federal inmates in same-sex marriages to visit and correspond with their spouses and enjoy furloughs during a crisis involving a spouse. "The expansion will include 34 states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal, granting expanded access to benefits and rights afforded to opposite-sex couples to millions of Americans.
"In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States," said Holder, "they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law."
The DOJ announcement follows other policy changes by the Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security, which were prompted by the US Supreme Court's historic decision in US v. Windsor.
Holder went on to relate the victory to those of the Civil Rights Movement. "We are, right now, in the middle of marking a number of 50-year anniversaries of key milestones in the Civil Rights Movement," he said. "And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep. Just as was true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher. And so the Justice Department's role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy's time. As Attorney General, I will never let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history. We will act."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which removes prosecution of sexually violent crimes in the military from the chain-of-command, is expected to come to a vote in the Senate this week.
The MJIA, which was previously part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) but will now be voted on as a stand-alone measure as S. 1752 , would move "the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, with the exception of crimes that are uniquely military in nature."
Military sexual assault has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in 2012, according to a report by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program of the Department of Defense. 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who experienced unwanted sexual contact said the offender was in their military chain of command, and 50 percent of female victims said that they did not report the crime because they thought nothing would come of their report.
"The men and women of our military deserve better," Gillibrand told The Washington Post. "They deserve to have unbiased, trained military prosecutors reviewing their cases, and making decisions based solely on the merits of the evidence in a transparent way." Gillibrand says she now has 53 Senators who have agreed to vote in the bill's favor. She will need to have 60 to ensure it is not defeated by a filibuster.
The Obama administration has been taking other steps to prevent and reduce sexual assault in the military as well. Under the 2014 NDAA, an individual in the military who sexually assaults another will face dishonorable discharge, and commanders will not be able to overturn jury decisions. Legal assistance will be provided for victims, and retaliation against a victim will be punished. Obama also called for a year-long review of military sexual trauma and the steps being taken to reduce it in December.
TAKE ACTION: Help us take on military sexual assault in the military. Email your senators to tell them that we must change the current system of handling sexual assault cases.
Around 80,000 to 100,000 people from 32 states marched in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday to protest the state's GOP-led legislature's extremist attacks on human and voting rights and vital public assistance programs.
The "Moral March on Raleigh," organized by Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People's Assembly Coalition, was the "largest civil rights rally in the South since tens of thousands of voting rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery in support of the Voting Rights Act," said Ari Berman, a writer for The Nation who attended the march. Moral Mondays, smaller weekly protest gatherings of activists against the measures, have been ongoing since last year.
Protesters marched from Shaw University to the state Capitol holding signs that called out state lawmakers for enacting restrictive policies regarding abortion, voting rights, labor, and education, among others. In particular, since taking over the state government for the first time in a century, North Carolina Republicans passed extreme anti-choice and voter suppression laws, diverted millions from public education to voucher schools, and cut taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent, among other changes.
A study published in the Psychological Bulletin on Monday challenges claims of the benefits of single-sex education.
The meta-analysis examined 184 studies representing the testing of 1.6 million students from 21 nations, then selected 57 of those that corrected for factors like parental education and economics for further investigation. Several specific areas were examined, such as general school achievement, school attitudes, educational aspirations, and self-concept.
The authors found that many claims of single-sex schooling advocates, such as that girls and boys will perform better in different subjects when segregated, did not hold up. "The theoretical approach termed 'girl power' argues that girls lag behind boys in some subjects in coed classrooms," said co-author Erin Pahlke, PhD, of Whitman College. "This is not supported by our analysis, and moreover, girls' educational aspirations were not higher in single-sex schools."
The study authors detailed disadvantages to single-sex education as well. "There is a mountain of research in social psychology showing that segregation by race or gender feeds stereotypes, and that's not what we want," said Janet Hyde, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The adult world is an integrated world, in the workplace and in the family, and the best thing we can do is provide that environment for children in school as we prepare them for adulthood."
Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's Education Equality Toolkit to learn more about sex segregation in schools.
2/5/2014 - Family Medical Leave Act Turns 21 Today
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which mandates that certain employees receive job-protected unpaid leave to care for themselves, an immediate family member, a newborn, or a newly adopted child. Some 100 million U.S. workers have enjoyed time off because of the FMLA, and most employers have reported no negative impact on business profitability or productivity because of the law.
However, too many people have been unable to enjoy FMLA's benefits. Most worksites are not covered by the FMLA. The law applies only to public agencies and private sector employers with 50 or more employees. And many workers are not covered by the law. It only covers employees who have worked for the same employer for at least one year and who worked 1,250 hours the previous year. A 2012 study of the impact of the FMLA found that around 40 percent of the workforce is not eligible for guaranteed unpaid leave. Even if someone is eligible for FMLA leave, it may not be affordable. Nearly 50 percent of workers with an unmet need for leave explain that they cannot afford to take time off.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), introduced in December 2013 by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would significantly improve workers' ability to take leave by allowing works to take paid time off to address a serious illness of their own or to care for a family member, new baby or adopted child. Employees would be able to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year through the creation of a national insurance fund. Both employers and employees would contribute to the fund, which would be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration. All workers who are eligible for Social Security disability benefits would be covered by the law.
TAKE ACTION: Tell your representatives no one should have to risk financial insecurity to care for a loved one.
850,000 households across the country - encompassing 1.7 million people - are now set to lose around $90 a month in food stamp benefits because of the US Senate vote last night on the 2014 Farm Bill.
The bill, which passed in the House last week, passed 68-32 in the Senate and includes an $8.7 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps. President Barack Obama has indicated that he intends to sign the legislation, hailing the "strong bipartisan vote."
"This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors, and veterans who deserve better from Congress,while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts." said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, who voted against the legislation. Thirty percent of the cuts could come from New York state alone.
The cuts come on the heels of a recent $11 cut from food stamp checks that went into effect in November. Over the course of the recession, the amount of families relying on food stamps to make ends meet has ballooned, and with each cut to the program, food pantries report larger crowds. Poor families, which are often headed by single mothers, are hit the hardest by cuts. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men across the United States.
"It's absolutely devastating," said President Sheena Wright of the United Way in New York. "You are going to have to make a decision on what you are going to do, buy food or pay rent." Wright reportedly expects "a surge of hungry people" due to the program cuts.
2/4/2014 - Local Pregnancy Discrimination Laws Go Into Effect While PWFA Remains Stalled in Congress
In New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia, legislation protecting pregnant workers has now now been enacted. Across the nation, however, pregnant workers remain vulnerable to discrimination.
An amendment including pregnant workers in the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, the New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination all protect pregnant workers from discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. These accommodations include allowing employees to sit on a stool rather than stand during work hours, giving them permission to carry water bottles and food on the job, re-assigning pregnant employees temporarily to light-duty work, and refraining from allowing pregnant workers to do heavy lifting.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, currently stalled in both chambers of Congress, would require every employer in the nation to provide these accommodations to their employees.
Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978's bar on discrimination toward pregnant employees, many American women are forced out of their jobs or denied accommodations that would allow them to continue working once they become pregnant. The New York Times highlighted the story of Floralba Fernandez Espinal this weekend, an immigrant woman from the Bronx who lost her job at Unique Thrift when she gave her employer a letter from her obstetrician that barred her from lifting, pushing, or carrying heavy loads or objects. Fernandez, who worked regularly carrying materials to to the showroom from the storeroom, had seen other workers transferred to different positions in times of need - but she had no such luck. Her manager placed her on unpaid leave and replaced her with a new employee once she left.
Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy, reports ThinkProgress. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by discrimination against pregnant workers, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility. When pregnant workers are forced out of their jobs, they are placed in positions of emotional and financial hardship, and discrimination against women with children often makes their re-entry into the workforce more difficult.
"The tremendous bi-partisan support for [the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination] bill in the New Jersey legislature shows that this is an issue on which people of all political persuasions can agree," said NWLC Vice-President and General Counsel Emily Martin. "We now urge Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would create a level playing field for pregnant workers across the nation."
Pro-choice activists in Louisiana are celebrating today after health officials announced Monday night they are "rescinding" restrictive abortion provisions that would have closed all five of the state's clinics.
The regulations, passed in November 2013 without any input from pro-choice organizers, would have mandated extensive expansions and renovations to existing clinics. Officials from all five of Louisiana's clinics said they would have been unable to meet the requirements and would have closed down. The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced its decision just hours before it was set to hear testimony on the regulations.
"The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) is rescinding its November 2013 emergency rule for outpatient abortion facilities licensing standards," said DHH spokesperson Olivia Watkins in a statement. "The Department will reissue a revised rule and notice of intent at a later date."
The original legislation also would have required a 30-day waiting period for all patients between blood tests and legal abortion procedures. However, in January, the DHH rescinded the blood test portion.
Pro-choice activists who traveled to Baton Rouge for the hearing are hosting a celebratory rally this afternoon.
A Guttmacher Institute study released last week reveals that the abortion rate in the United States is at its lowest rate since 1973, when the Supreme Court recognized a woman's right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade.
"Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011" by Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman, asserts that there were only 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2011, and a 13 percent decrease in the rate of abortions in the United States between 2008 and 2011. The highest abortion rate occurred in 1981, at 29.3 per 1,000 women.
Although the authors did not examine causes of the recent decline in abortion, they detailed some possible links. "The decline in abortions coincided with a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates," said lead author Rachel Jones. "Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, such as the IUD. Moreover, the recent recession led many women and couples to want to avoid or delay pregnancy and childbearing."
The authors ruled out a negative effect by the high number of abortion restrictions making their way through state legislatures, because many of the restrictions were not introduced or implemented until their study ended in 2011, and the decline occurred in all but six states.
The study also found that the proportion of early medication abortions - often safer and cheaper than later term abortions - increased during this time period. "Clearly, the availability of medication abortion does not lead women to have more abortions," Jones said. "However, it has likely helped women obtain abortion care earlier in pregnancy, as evidenced by a shift toward very early abortions."
Data for the study was collected through questionnaires mailed to known abortion providers. This is the Guttmacher Institute's 16th census of abortion providers in the US.
Last week, Minnesota lawmakers introduced an expansive legislative package -- dubbed the Women's Economic Security Act of 2014" -- to address a wide range of issues affecting women working outside of the home, including mandated paid sick leave, increased minimum wage and expanded access to childcare.
If the legislation passes, private companies hired by Minnesota would be required to report on pay equity within their workforce. The law would also expand unpaid family leave and paid sick leave while establishing protections for pregnant workers in need of reasonable workplace accommodations. Existing protections for domestic violence survivors would be strengthened, incentives to help women entrepreneurs would be created, and a state retirement plan established, among other initiatives.
"The Women's Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women - and all Minnesotans - have a fair opportunity to succeed," said Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen (D).
Other states, including Nebraska and New York, have introduced expansive legislative packages to combat these problems. And In July, Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) similarly unveiled their When Women Succeed, America Succeeds agenda, which addresses universal childcare, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
In a press conference yesterday, 12 Democrat women senators came together to urge Republican lawmakers to join them in efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, now at $7.25 an hour, to $10.10 an hour. Their comments echoed President Obama's State of the Union remarks about income inequality, in which he committed to issuing an Executive Order raising the minimum wage for new federal contractors to $10.10.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) related Obama's remarks to two pieces of legislation currently in the Senate: the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, which raises the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016 in three phases, and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which seeks to close the wage gap by expanding the Equal Pay Act of 1963.
"The women of the Senate are coming together to say - it is time to raise the minimum wage in this country," said Senator Boxer.
Senator Klobuchar touched on America's consumer-based economy, making a case for a higher minimum wage that allows American families to stimulate the economy through consumerism. The 12 senators also each asserted that the minimum wage is indeed a women's issue, and that a raise on the federal level would lift 15 million women out of poverty. 64 percent of all minimum wage workers are women, and one-third of all American women - 42 million - and the 28 million children who depend on them, are living on the brink of poverty.
"Republicans have to decide whether they are really going to block giving 15 million American women a raise," said Senator Murray. "My hope is that over the next month our Republican colleagues do a little soul searching as they prepare for this vote. I also hope they talk to the millions of American women who are struggling to get by on $7.25 an hour, particularly at a time when many of these women are the sole caregivers and breadwinners in their families."
The Minimum Wage Fairness Act, introduced in the Senate by Tom Harkin (D-IA) in November 2013, has not yet been up for a vote in the full chamber. Many of the women urged Congress to take up the stalled legislation and stand by America's women and families.
"Full time work should not be rewarded with full time poverty," Senator Warren said. "Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs should have a chance to support themselves and their families and build a little economic security. It is time for Congress to act and raise the minimum wage."
Sandra Fluke, the well-known women's rights activist and attorney, is "strongly considering" running for Representative Henry Waxman's congressional seat, she told a California radio station yesterday.
Waxman, who has spent 40 years in the House of Representatives, announced yesterday that he will retire at the end of the Congressional session. According to Fluke, who became a household name in 2012 when she was a Georgetown Law student and denied the chance to testify at a Republican hearing on the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage requirement, several key Democratic leaders urged her to run.
"I'm flattered that I'm being discussed as a potential candidate," she told the station. "A number of folks I respect very deeply have reached out today and encouraged me to run. I am strongly considering running."
Since 2012, when radio jockey Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for needing birth control, Fluke became an out-spoken feminist leader. She spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and at Feminist Majority's 2012 Women Money Power Summit in Washington, DC.
1/30/2014 - House and Senate Democrats File Amicus Briefs in Support of Affordable Care Act Contraception Benefit
91 House Democrats, 19 Senate Democrats, and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed separate amicus briefs Tuesday in support of the contraceptive coverage benefit in the Affordable Care Act. NWLC's brief was joined by 68 other organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The briefs are for the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, and the House's brief includes Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v Sebelius. Craft store Hobby Lobby filed a federal lawsuit in November 2012 against the Obama Administration over the mandate requiring employers to provide coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, a wood cabinet manufacturer, are arguing that this benefit violates the religious beliefs of these corporations and that they should not be required to provide health insurance plans that cover certain types of birth control.The Supreme Court agreed to hear the challenge to the ACA last November, and it is currently pending.
The briefs emphasize the mandate's benefits to millions of Americans who will now be able to access crucial preventive health care, and they attempt to demonstrate that the requirement does not violate the free exercise of religion. "To them, it's a debate about 'freedom,' except of course the freedom for women to access care," said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
TAKE ACTION: Send a clear message to the Supreme Court that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Leave stories and tell the Court why BC coverage matters to you! Share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!
The New York State Assembly passed the Women's Equality Act on Monday, an omnibus bill designed to strengthen women's rights in 10 different areas.
The Women's Equality Act codifies Roe v. Wade, ensuring that a woman can get an abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy, and protects providers from prosecution. It also closes loopholes in equal pay laws, extends protections against sexual harassment to all workplaces, allows the recovery of attorney fees in harassment cases, ends employment discrimination based on whether a woman has children or is pregnant, stops housing discrimination toward victims of domestic violence, and strengthens order of protection laws and human trafficking laws in the state.
Anti-choice opposition to the bill ultimately caused it to fail in the Senate last year, where lawmakers divided the legislation into nine separate bills and dropped the abortion provisions. This year, Assembly Republicans have introduced nine separate bills mirroring the Democrats' that cover a different area of the act, once more ignoring the abortion provisions. Over 850 organizations and businesses have come together as the NY Women's Equality Coalition to counter this opposition and support passing the law in full. In June 2013, a poll found that two-thirds of voters support the Women's Equality Act, including the abortion provision.
"All of these issues are related," NOW NYC President Sonia Ossorio told RH Reality Check. "A woman's reproductive rights are just as related to how she can care for her family as discrimination in the workplace. Connecting the dots on women's equality is important." She was echoed by M. Tracey Brooks, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates. "Family planning makes sense," Brooks told Legislative Gazette. "We're going to fight for all provisions in the Women's Equality Agenda, especially the abortion provision."
A Maryland House of Delegates committee heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would require all state universities and colleges to administer an anonymous sexual violence survey every three years to more accurately determine how many assaults are occurring on campuses and then report those findings to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
The legislation, sponsored by Del. Jon Cardin (D), would give both university and state officials a clearer picture of whether sexual assault prevention efforts are working, advocates said yesterday. Three campus rape survivors, including Feminist Majority Foundation Online Communications Associate Lauren Redding, testified to the committee, arguing that universities need to more aggressively tackle sexual assault prevention and reporting.
"Statistics show us that eight out of 10 of survivors don't report their assaults to the university or police," said Redding, a University of Maryland alumna. "So we really don't have an accurate picture of how many rapes are happening and whether or not universities are allocating resources appropriately to truly eradicate this problem. Survivors typically want to tell people what happened, but don't out of fear of being blamed. This anonymous survey would give them a safe outlet to do so. "
Opponents of the legislation -- including officials from Towson University, Frostburg State University and the University System of Maryland -- said the survey would be a waste of resources and is unnecessary, because universities already have reporting practices in place. However, administrators were unable to tell the committee how much total funding is spent on prevention programs and exactly how many assaults were reported last year.
Victims Rights Law Center Fellow Nancy Cantalupo, who first approached Del. Cardin about the survey idea, also testified in favor of the legislation. According to Cantalupo, a similar survey at the University of New Hampshire that students weren't mandated to fill out still had a 40 percent response rate.
The Feminist Majority today applauds President Obama for leading the charge on creating greater economic opportunity and security for women and families nationwide in his annual State of the Union Address.
During last night's speech, President Obama maintained his clear intention to move forward - with or without the cooperation of Congress - on issues of paramount importance to women: increasing the minimum wage, curbing the rising costs of college tuition, ensuring equal pay for equal work and allowing paid family leave.
"The message is clear - Congress will no longer be able to derail economic progress," said Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal. "That's good news for women who make up around 60 percent of minimum wage workers. It's good news for the 40 percent of households with children that rely on women to be the sole or primary source of family income, and good news for those women who make up the majority of college students around the nation."
During this "year of action," while continuing to push for legislation that would increase the federal minimum wage for all workers, the President asserted that he would issue an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services.
"Women and families across the nation deserve meaningful compensation for a day's work," Smeal said. "Raising the minimum wage for employees working on new federal contracts is an important step in creating opportunities for financial security for those who need it most."
President Obama touched on a wide range of other feminist issues, including immigration reform, environmental protection, continued health care expansion, gun violence, voting rights and the importance of the Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement. Read the full text of the President's speech here.
The Feminist Majority decries the passage of a dangerous and extreme abortion coverage ban by the U.S. House of Representatives - the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," H.R. 7. Republicans passed H.R. 7 by a vote of 227-188 with 221 Republicans voting for the anti-abortion bill and 187 Democrats voting against.
Although H.R. 7 purports to prevent taxpayer funding for abortion, the bill actually prevents women from using their own money to purchase health insurance that includes abortion care.
"H.R. 7 is a blatant attack on women's reproductive rights and an attempt to take away a woman's ability to make personal health care decisions, including decisions about abortion," said Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal. "This bill flatly puts women's health at risk by dramatically restricting access to abortion coverage."
H.R. 7 would eliminate tax credits available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for women and families who purchase insurance plans that include abortion coverage through the newly created health insurance marketplaces. It would also force private multi-state insurance plans that participate in the marketplaces to stop providing abortion coverage and withhold the Small Business Tax Credit to those businesses that offer comprehensive health insurance - which includes abortion - to their employees.
"The Affordable Care Act banned health insurance companies from discriminating against women and increased the ability of all Americans to access quality healthcare by extending financial assistance to low- and moderate-income families and individuals," said Smeal. "But H.R. 7 especially and unfairly targets millions of women by placing comprehensive healthcare out of reach. This attack on women's health care must end."
In particular for women living in the District of Columbia, H.R. 7 is an extreme piece of legislation. The bill would prevent the District from using its own, locally-raised funds on abortion care for women struggling to make ends meet. These women should not be held hostage to Congress's radical anti-choice agenda.
"Instead of focusing on securing women's economic security and extending unemployment benefits to the millions of long-term jobless in this country, House Republicans have decided to re-launch an assault on women's health and rights, and in the process, threaten the economic well-being of women and their families," said Smeal.
The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has launched an independent civil rights enforcement investigation of Pennsylvania State University following a review of their sexual harassment policy and a record number of forcible sex offense reports for the university in 2012.
Penn State University listed 56 forcible sex offenses on its main campus in 2012, which is 2 times more than they reported in 2011 and 14 times more than the number reported in 2010. Thirty-six of 63 total reported sex offenses had occurred from the 1970s through 2011, prompting an investigation to determine whether complaints were improperly handled in prior years to keep numbers artificially low.
The department informed Penn State of the investigation in a letter Thursday and made a public statement Sunday about their concerns. Their letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson indicated that they had not yet reached a conclusion as to whether or not the university had violated federal law.
"Our initial review of Penn State's sexual harassment policy, compounded by a dramatic increase in the number of forcible sex offenses occurring on camp[us as reported by the university itself, raised legal concerns that compelled us to investigate," Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, said in a statement.
The university's spike in reported offenses echoes a national trend in which colleges and universities reported over 4,800 forcible sex offenses in 2012 - a 50 percent increase from the number of reports in 2009. It is unclear whether these increases indicate purposeful mishandling of sexual assault on campuses or a growing awareness by college administrators of the Clery Act and Title IX policies which compel them to act. In 2013, the OCR launched investigations into various university policies, including those at the University of Connecticut, Yale, the University of South Carolina, and the University of North Carolina, after students and faculty came forward to report mishandling of sexual assault and harassment on those campuses. The White House also recently launched a task force to prevent sexual assault on campus, with President Obama declaring that "no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women."
Virginia Del. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) won a closely-watched state Senate race Monday, delivering a boost to recently inaugurated Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Lewis was initially declared the winner on January 7, but his opponent Republican businessman Wayne Coleman demanded a recount. With all ballots counted Monday, Lewis beat Coleman by 11 votes to occupy the state Senate seat vacated by Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D). With this win, Democrats are now poised to move many of Gov. McAuliffe's agenda items in the state Senate, including expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, granting new rights to same-sex couples and increasing public school funding.
The state Senate race became even more contentious last week when pro-choice Democrat Jennifer Wexton beat out two Republicans to win a special election seat that was previously held by Attorney General Mark Herring (D). Although the Virginia state Senate is now split evenly, Democrats are expected to control the chamber since Lt. Gov. Northam, who presides over the state Senate, has the ability to break most tie votes. The Virginia House of Delegates remains controlled by Republicans.
A new report by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) found that in 2012 and 2013, marriage equality expanded at a quick pace while other LGBT needs - including anti-discrimination protections for workers, safe schools for LGBT youth, and simplifying changes to identity documents - remained largely unmet.
The biennial Momentum Report has, since 2007, followed and charted the progress of the LGBT movement in achieving legal, social, and political equality. The report this year analyzes local and state laws, federal action, and visibility around marriage equality and relationship recognition, employment nondiscrimination, parental recognition and adoption laws, safe schools and anti-bullying laws, hate crimes, health, identity documents, and cultural and public visibility.
The report found that marriage equality has gained significant traction, but that equality in other areas has lagged. If you look at the 17 states that extend the freedom to marry, marriage was the culmination of a years-long journey that first included passing employment nondiscrimination protections, hate crime laws, safe schools legislation, and more, said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP. Yet over half of states either haven't begun or are just in the beginning phases of this journey. They often lack even the most basic statewide legal protections, meaning gay workers can be fired just because of who they are, transgender youth can face unchecked bullying in schools, and LGBT parents can remain legal strangers to their children. These low-equality states are home to half of the nation's LGBT population, including many who experience extreme discrimination and high rates of poverty, but who are often bound to stay by their jobs and love for their communities and families.
On the federal level, several pieces of legislation which could contribute to a higher level of equality for LGBT people remain stalled in Congress - including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Every Child Deserves A Family Act, and comprehensive immigration reform.
"Unprecedented progress on marriage has led to a widespread impression that nationwide equality for LGBT people is imminent," the report states. "A closer look at the full range of LGBT rights at all levels of American society, however, reveals a different picture. While the past two years have shown incredible gains toward securing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, the LGBT movement still has a long way to go to achieve full equality and broad acceptance for LGBT people across the nation."
You can view interactive maps of various LGBT rights state-by-state on the MAP website.