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10/29/2015 - Afghan Woman Runs in Country's First Marathon

Afghanistan hosted an international marathon this month- the first marathon ever to be held in the country. Among the runners were several brave women, paving the way for women and girls.

The marathon was held in Bamyan province, located in central Afghanistan. More than 60 amateur and professional runners participated, including people from the United States and Canada, as well as runners from Afghanistan. Although about a dozen local schoolgirls participated in the shorter 10 kilometer race, only one Afghan woman ran the entire marathon.

Zainab, who is 25, spoke out about the her experience running in the marathon and the backlash she faced. "It is not easy for a woman to leave the house by herself, let alone running outside," Zainab said, admitting that she faced a lot of street harassment during the year she spent training for this event.

"The children were stoning us, people shouted bad words like 'prostitute', [asked her] 'why you don't stay at home?'" But Zainab insists that her resolve was not shaken. She says that she hopes more young girls are encouraged to take up running.

"I have plans for the future- I have goals," Zainab said. She spoke of her time visiting women in colleges in Afghanistan, "The girls- all of them are really quiet, and they don't laugh. I invited them to laugh, to be happy."

Afghan women have participated in marathons in foreign countries before, but this was the first time an Afghan woman ran in a marathon within her own country. The organizers hope that programs like this will show another side of Afghanistan in the media. Zainab is hopeful as well:

"I think little by little, I'll bring change."

10/29/2015 - Texas Officials Raid Planned Parenthood

Just three days after Texas officials announced their plan to cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, investigators from the state's Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) raided a handful of the women's healthcare provider's clinics, demanding patients' records and billing details as well as employee information.

Last week, state officials from the Texas Office of the Inspector General (a division of the HHSC led by Stuart Brown) served subpoenas to Planned Parenthood facilities in Brownsville, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio and ordered to surrender documents - including Medicaid records dating back to 2010 - to authorities within 24 hours. Though it has not been confirmed, local sources report officials are investigating suspicions of misspending of federal Medicaid funds on the part of the women's healthcare provider.

On Monday, in a letter to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas, the HHSC and Inspector General Brown (with support from Gov. Greg Abbott) announced the state will cancel contracts between Medicaid and the women's healthcare provider, accusing the organization of no longer capably "performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner," citing surreptitiously recorded videos of Planned Parenthood facilities which falsely claim to depict the trafficking of fetal body parts. Should Texas proceed in withdrawing Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, the state will not only be in violation of federal law, but it will also cut off access to quality reproductive healthcare to tens of thousands of Texas women.

"Governor Abbott's political grandstanding is on full display this morning," said executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes Yvonne Gutierrez Thursday. "Representatives from the Texas Office of Inspector General showed up at Planned Parenthood centers in Brownsville, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio looking for an excuse to take healthcare away from thousands of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventative care."

An avalanche of anti-abortion legislation and state and federal investigations has descended on Planned Parenthood since the release of several deceptively edited and repeatedly debunked videos by the anti-abortion group Center of Medical Progress (CMP) and its leader David Daleidan. To date, all investigations - including those carried out in Texas - have found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, Ken Lambrecht, Capital Region Chief Executive Officer of Planned Parenthood Texas fingered the attacks on Texas clinics as "politically motivated", dismissing the action as "a fishing expedition." Officials from the HHSC have declined to comment.

10/28/2015 - Gov. Cuomo Signs Women's Equality Bills Into Law

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just signed into law several bills strengthening protections for women in the workplace as well as victims of sex trafficking, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in an effort to further women's equality in the state.

The new laws close loopholes that had allowed employers to have policies against sharing wage information and increases the amount of damages that can be collected in cases of wage theft; expands protections against workplace sexual harassment to include all employers, not just those with more than four employees; and allows recovery of attorneys' fees by successful plaintiffs in sex discrimination in employment and credit cases. One of the bills now requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees," thus adding protections for women workers from pregnancy discrimination. In addition, the bills package includes provisions to end housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence and increases penalties against sex traffickers.

The original package of bills, called the Women's Equality Act, had also contained legislation codifying into law the Supreme Court's 1973 decision Roe v. Wade and ensuring women in New York access to abortion services within 24 weeks of pregnancy or when necessary to protect her life, but was ultimately defeated and ruled "not germane" on a Senate vote of 32-30.

Despite the notable exclusion, NOW NY President Sonia Ossorio applauded Wednesday's signing. "These anti-discrimination bills address key challenges that span a woman's life," said Ossorio. "We are leveling the playing field for women at work and improving the lives of families at home."

But according to Dina Bakst, co-founder of A Better Balance, an organization that champions legislation to achieve a healthy work-life balance for families across the country, women still have a long road ahead. "We still have our work cut out for us to ensure full women's equality across the state," said Bakst, "but this huge step, years in the making, will make an enormous difference for women and families in New York."

10/28/2015 - Update: Deputy Fields Has Been Fired

BREAKING: The South Carolina deputy who attacked a female student at Spring Valley High School this week was fired, his boss announced this morning.

National shock and outrage followed the spread of cellphone footage on Monday showing Deputy Ben Fields violently attacking a female student for allegedly using her cell phone during class. Since then, Deputy Fields has been fired, and both local and federal investigations have been launched. Although these actions have been taken, charges are still being pressed against two students.

Niya Kenny is one of the students arrested who is facing charges. Kenny became upset at the treatment of her fellow classmate after Deputy Field flipped her over in her desk and dragged her to the front of the classroom. Kenny attempted to stand up for the girl, and was also arrested for "disrupting the school." Kenny has been released on a $1,000 bail.

Officers with the school resource program deny and injury to the student involved, but the student's attorney has reported that she suffers from back and neck injuries, has a cast on her arm, and a bruise on her head. A petition is being circulated to drop all charges against the two Spring Valley High School students.

Deputy Fields is no stranger to complaints about his actions and tactics as a school resource officer. He is set to stand trial in January 2016 for a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges that Fields "recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity."

There has been a spotlight on the mistreatment of black women and girls recently, spearheaded by Kimberle Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum (AAPF). The AAPF released a report last year titled "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected," which explains how girls of color face harsher school discipline than their white peers. The data collected reveals, among other things, that nationally black girls were suspended a startling six times more than white girls, while black boys were suspended three times as often as white boys.

10/27/2015 - Outrage Over Footage of Officer Assaulting Black Student in South Carolina High School

National shock and outrage has followed the spread of cellphone footage showing Deputy Ben Fields attacking a female student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina for allegedly refusing to leave her the classroom. The event has sparked national conversation on the disciplinary treatment of African American girls in schools.

The video shows the female student, who is African American, sitting at her desk in a classroom with other students. Deputy Fields, who is white, then puts his arm around the student's neck, throwing the chair and desk backwards to the floor where the Deputy then drags the student several feet before telling her to put her arms behind her back. It is reported that the Deputy was called to the classroom after the teacher and principal asked the student to leave the classroom because she was "disturbing the class," and she refused. Several students have now said that the Deputy was called to the classroom because the student was using her cell phone during class, according to Shaun King, who has been reporting on this story since it broke on Monday. This morning Sherriff Leon Lott, whose agency is in charge of the school resource program, asked that the US Justice Department conduct an independent investigation.

Tony Robinson Jr., who recorded the event, said, "I've never seen anything so nasty looking, so sick to the point that you know, other students are turning away, don't know what to do, and are just scared for their lives." He added, "That's supposed to be somebody that's going to protect us. Not somebody that we need to be scare off, or afraid."

"The cellphone footage says it all. This is horrific and unconscionable treatment of a student. How can students learn in an atmosphere of fear where they are being treated with zero respect?" asked Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

The student was arrested and charged with "disturbing schools" and has since been released to the custody of her parents. A second student, Niya Kenny, was also arrested after she attempted to stand up for the student that Deputy Fields was attacked. Kenny has since been released on a $1,000 bail.

"I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle. I was like 'no way, no way.' You can't do nothing like that to a little girl. I'm talking about she's like 5'6"," Kenny said.

Kenny's mother was shocked and upset, but says that she thinks her daughter did the right thing. "Looking at the video, who was really "disturbing the school," was it my daughter or was it the officer who came into the classroom and did that to the young girl?" she asked.

Deputy Fields is no stranger to complaints about his actions and tactics as a school resource officer. He is set to stand trial in January 2016 for a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges that Fields "recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity."

There has been a spotlight on the mistreatment of black women and girls recently, spearheaded by Kimberle Crenshaw and the African American Policy Forum (AAPF). The AAPF released a report last year titled "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected," which explains how girls of color face harsher school discipline than their white peers. The data collected reveals, among other things, that nationally black girls were suspended a startling six times more than white girls, while black boys were suspended three times as often as white boys.

Crenshaw and the AAPF also released a report this summer titled "#SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women," which highlights stories of Black women who have been killed by police, and studies forms of police brutality, such as sexual assault, that are often disproportionately experienced by women. "There is a paucity of data in cases of police violence against Black women, which perpetuates the myth that they are not impacted by this problem," the report says.

Crenshaw said in a press release, "Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality."

Women and girls are often at the center of police violence. Since the #SayHerName campaign began, the hashtag has taken off on social media sparking marches, protests, rallies, and vigils across the country. Protests in San Fransisco and New York took place this summer, and were joined by family members of Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Miriam Carey, Michelle Cusseux, Shelly Frey, Kayla Moore, and Alberta Spruill, all of whom are Black women killed by police violence.

10/26/2015 - Planned Parenthood Clinic Vandalized by Intruder With Hatchet

In the latest incident of violent anti-abortion extremism, an intruder wielding a hatchet ripped through a Planned Parenthood in Claremont, New Hampshire last week destroying telephones, medical equipment, computers and plumber fixtures, resulting in "significant" damage including flooding.According to Claremont law enforcement, a suspect, described only as a juvenile, was apprehended at the scene.

Wednesday's act of clinic violence marks the second in as many weeks at the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. On October 6, vandals spray-painted the exterior of the Claremont facility with hate speech directed at the clinic's health care providers. The connection between the two incidents, if any, remains unclear. The clinic, which has operated without incident for 18 years, offers a range of healthcare services for both men and women and does not provide abortion services.

Women's reproductive healthcare providers have experienced a spike in acts of clinic violence and vandalism since the release of several fraudulent "sting" videos surreptitiously recorded by David Daleidan and the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-abortion group. The videos, which falsely claim to depict the trafficking of fetal body parts by Planned Parenthood, have been debunked repeatedly. Nonetheless, Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide have suffered arson, destruction of security cameras, removal of signage and graffiti at the hands of anti-abortion extremists in the months since their public distribution.

"This illegal activity is the second incident in New Hampshire since the recent escalation of attacks against Planned Parenthood," said Jennifer Frizzell, Planned Parenthood Northern New England's vice president for public policy. "These acts have no place in New Hampshire."

In a statement on Wednesday, New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan called the vandalism "an attack on the fundamental right of women to access health care" and challenged communities statewide to stand up "against those who would undermine a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions."

"Planned Parenthood provides critical primary and preventive health care services - including cancer screenings, birth control and STD testing - and access to these services is essential to the economic security and vitality of our families," said Hassen. "It is long past time to end extreme attempts to block access to critical health services for women."

Planned Parenthood clinics have been under attack across the country in recent months. Last month a reproductive health clinic near Spokane, Washington was set on fire in what was determined by police as an arson. Proceeding this attack two Louisiana clinics suffered property damage when a unidentified perpetrator doused the construction site of a New Orleans Planned Parenthood with gasoline while in nearby Metairie, and a suspect allegedly removed signage from a local abortion clinic. And in March, a trespasser destroyed Mississippi's Jackson Women's Health Organization's security cameras and power generator.

10/23/2015 - New Report Details Growing Threat of Politicians 'Playing Doctor'

In a new report released last week, health and safety experts urged policymakers to consider the growing influence of US politicians in their electorate's most personal and private spaces: exam rooms.

Compiled by the National Partnership for Women and Families in collaboration with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Physicians Alliance (NPA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the report, entitled "Politics in the Exam Room: A Growing Threat", details how political influence has adversely affected the management of healthcare in the United States by highlighting three critical areas of concern: toxic exposure, gun safety and reproductive health. Each organization examined the "politically-motivated" restrictions affecting their particular area of expertise, warning of the potentially dangerous consequences of recent legislation protecting the fracking industry, "gag rules" to prevent physicians from talking to their patients about gun safety and TRAP laws.

"Quality health care must be based on evidence," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "Laws that put the words of politicians into the mouths of health care providers or mandate medically unnecessary procedures are outrageous and costly in every way."

The report concludes with a short list of recommendations urging lawmakers to "reject or repeal" legislation that encroaches on the patient-provider relationship or requires physicians to defy ethical standards and practices. It also urges physicians and their patients to speak out in opposition of said policies which "undermine patient-centered care" and allow lawmakers to abuse their authority.

According to Ness, "the record number of abortion restrictions" affecting women's access to reproductive healthcare alone is a call to action. Since 2010, more than 280 abortion restrictions have been adopted by states like Arizona, Ohio and Texas, forcing patients to undergo medically-unnecessary procedures, endure biased and misleading counseling and suffer delays in their care.

"This kind of ideological encroachment on medical care must end," said Ness. "Women deserve ready access to high-quality, evidence-based health care, free of politics and ideology. It's past time that politicians exit the exam room."

10/21/2015 - PRESS RELEASE: Feminists Call on Yik Yak to Act

72 Women's and Civil Rights Groups Urge Education Department to Issue New Federal Guidelines to Protect Students from Harassment and Cyber-threats

WASHINGTON: Seventy-two national and local women's and civil rights groups joined together today to urge the Department of Education to issue new guidance for colleges and universities to do more to protect students from pervasive harassment and threats based on sex, race, or LGBT status carried out through anonymous social media applications, such as Yik Yak.

The groups are calling for the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to remind schools of their legal obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Students on college campuses throughout the country have with increasing frequency used anonymous social medial applications, such as Yik Yak, to target women students, students of color, and sexual minorities with harassment, threats and other forms of intimidation with impunity. Earlier this year, students at the University of Mary Washington (UMW), for example, were threatened through Yik Yak with rape and murder after they spoke out against rape culture. In 2013, student activists at Dartmouth College who spoke out against sexual assault, racism and homophobia became the target of anonymous online posts declaring that they would be raped, lynched and shot.

"When Feminists United told the UMW administration that our members were feeling unsafe in light of the threats and hate being propagated on Yik Yak, UMW offered us no real solutions or protection," said Feminists United at University of Mary Washington President Julia Michels. "Instead, we were told that the First Amendment prevented the school from taking action and that we should report the abuse to Yik Yak. The burden was placed on us- the targets- to protect ourselves even though the school has both the resources and the responsibility to create a safe campus for everyone."

"The fight to achieve equal educational opportunities is far from over," said Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President Eleanor Smeal. "No woman, person of color, or LGBT student should be afraid to go to college classes or participate in campus activities because they are being harassed or threatened to be raped or killed. This must end. Colleges and universities must let everyone know that intimidating students, whether in person or anonymously through social media, will not be tolerated, instances will be investigated, and perpetrators will be held accountable."

The fact that Yik Yak's posting is anonymous, and that the online app is accessible without using university servers has led many universities to disclaim responsibility for harassment and threats that occur on that platform, even though these threats are made on campus and significantly interfere with students' equal access to education.

Today, a broad coalition of civil rights groups urge the OCR to issue clear guidance concerning anonymous social media: information about what steps educational institutions must take to determine whether unlawful harassment is occurring on these platforms, without forcing victims themselves to police these platforms, and a clear path that educational institutions must follow to identify and prosecute anonymous harassers.

According to Smeal, "So much of young people's social interaction now takes place online. It is, therefore, essential that OCR make clear that an educational community that permits, even protects, vicious discrimination on the basis of gender is not fulfilling its obligations under the law- whether the harassment takes place online or face to face. "

Also today, Debra S. Katz, founding partner at Katz Marshall & Banks, released a letter to Yik Yak's founders, Chief Executive Officer Tyler Droll and Stephen Brooks Buffington, calling on them to strengthen Yik Yak's policies to prevent hateful targeting and harassment of students on college campuses.

"Yik Yak can and must take responsibility to prevent its app from continuing to be used as a weapon to target individuals and vulnerable groups and as a megaphone for hate mongering," said Katz, whose firm earlier this year filed a Title IX complaint concerning Yik Yak against UMW on behalf of individual students, Feminists United and FMF. "Yik Yak cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the egregious incidents of sexual and racial harassment and threats on college campuses happening on its platform while simultaneously touting the app for its ability to create 'community.' Yik Yak can, and must, do more to help remedy this problem."

Ms. Katz also announced that the Office of Civil Rights has accepted for investigation the complaint she filed against the University of Mary Washington in May, charging the school with failing to protect students from a threatening and sexually hostile campus environment fostered by sexist, sexualized and violent posts via Yik Yak.

# # #

10/21/2015 - Texas to Cut Medicaid Funding to Planned Parenthood

On Monday, Texas officials announced the state will cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, violating federal law and denying critical reproductive health care to tens of thousands of Texas women.

In a letter to Planned Parenthood's affiliates in the state, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission Office of the Inspector General Stuart Bowen accused the women's healthcare provider of no longer capably "performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner" and announcing the withdrawal of funding for the organization through the state's Medicaid program. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) joined Bowen in condemning the organization, citing the false claims of fetal tissue sale on behalf of Planned Parenthood as justification for their exclusion.

A tidal wave of anti-abortion legislation and state and federal investigations have threatened to topple the women's health care provider in the wake of several surreptitiously recorded "sting" videos released by David Daleidan and the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. The videos were later found to be deceptively-edited and fraudulent. To date, all investigations have found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.

"In every state where this fraudulent smear campaign has been invoked, Planned Parenthood has fought for our patients to continue getting the high-quality, compassionate health care we provide, and in every state we've won," said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

According to federal law, Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services - including family planning - from the provider of their choice. By eliminating Planned Parenthood's Medicaid funding, states like Texas are willfully limiting access to the healthcare of their citizens' choosing, providing reasonable grounds to file suit.

Considered one of the most hostile states for reproductive rights, Texas has gutted family planning services statewide, imposing dangerous TRAP laws that have shuttered all but 19 abortion clinics and increased wait times for services of up to 23 days.

"What's happening today in Texas should be a national scandal," said Laguens. "It is completely outrageous that Texas officials are using throughly discredited, fraudulent videos to cut women off from preventive health care, including cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control. We will fight back against this outrageous, malicious, political attack in Texas with everything we've got, and we will protect women's access to the health care they need and deserve."

10/20/2015 - California Gov. Signs Bill Protecting Workers from Wage Theft

In a victory for low-wage workers victimized by unscrupulous employers, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new bill that holds individuals and corporations accountable for unpaid wages promised to their employees under the law.

The measure, called The Fair Day's Pay Act, gives the California Labor Commissioner's Office the authority to penalize employers found guilty of wage theft and to collect on judgements directly on behalf of laborers. Employers as well as any subsequent business created in their likeness to evade penalties must post a bond between $50,000 and $150,000 or risk the statewide banning of their operations. If employers remain delinquent in their debt, the bill empowers the Labor Commissioner's Office to authorize a stop-work order against them or attach a lien to the employer's property. The law ensures companies who contract out employees - for janitorial services, landscaping, and valet parking, for example - are held liable as well.

Though California is home some of the country's strongest labor unions, wage theft among immigrant and low-wage workers persists. In Los Angeles alone, dubbed "the wage theft capital" of the United States, some $26.2 million in wages are stolen from laborers every week. Moreover, according to a 2013 study from the UCLA Labor Center and National Employment Law Project, only 17 percent of workers who took their employers to task for stolen wages were able to recover any back pay, their employers often forming shell corporations or handing over operations to another entity in order to avoid fulfilling court orders - a fact Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), the measure's author, cites as motivation for the bill's urgent enactment.

"There have been a lot of judgements against dishonest businesses; the problem has been the collection," said de Leon. "this is going to provide a level playing field for the honest businesses who pay their workers, and help workers collect the pay they've earned."

For David Huerta, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, who in partnership with several labor organizations including the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and the Wage Justice Center championed the bill's passage, the law addresses more than just wage fairness.

"Victims of wage theft are very often immigrants, women and people of color," said Huerta. "[The Fair Day's Pay Act] is about more than just economic rights, it's about civil rights and immigrant rights. It took years of effort, but workers and community leaders came together and showed that we can win economic justice for the people of California."

10/20/2015 - Arizona Judge Blocks Restrictive Anti-Abortion Law

An Arizona judge permanently blocked a 2012 anti-abortion law on Thursday that would have severely restricted medication abortions, ruling the measure would have violated the state's Constitution by allowing state lawmakers to assign legislative authority to outside entities.

HB 2036 would have forced physicians to strictly adhere to the FDA's guidelines for dosing and administering mifepristone and its companion drug misoprostol, requiring patients to schedule separate appointments in order to receive both medications in office and at a higher dosage than typically prescribed in practice. In addition, the law would have banned medication abortions after just seven weeks of pregnancy.

The law has been met with resistance since its inception. In April 2014, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the measure, arguing lawmakers did not have the authority to grant the FDA and drug companies the power to set state standards. A federal suit on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona followed soon after, resulting in a temporary injunction which in turn reversed a federal judge's previous ruling to allow the rules to take effect. Last September, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne petitioned the Supreme Court to review the judgement. The federal case was postponed pending the state court's decision. And earlier this summer, Arizona health care providers filed a complaint in federal court challenging the law.

The combination of mifepristone and misoprostol (known as Mifeprex in the United States) is the safest and most effective abortion methods available. Approximately 1 in 4 women have chosen medication abortion to end their pregnancies since the FDA approved its use in 2000, with nearly half of all women seeking abortions in Arizona having used the method.

Last week's decision arrives just one week prior to Arizona's scheduled courtroom deliberation of yet another anti-abortion law, SB 1318, which requires physicians to provide medically unproven information about medication abortion to their patients, including the falsehood that the method is reversible. The trial has since been delayed.

"Whether by restricting a safe method of ending an early pregnancy or forcing doctors to lie to their patients, Arizona politicians have made it their mission to cut off access to safe and legal abortion," said David Brown, Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Today's ruling is one more key victory in ensuring Arizona women continue to have access to all available options when it comes to their health, safety, and rights. Women's constitutional rights are not up for debate and facts must always prevail over politics."

10/19/2015 - Dangerous TRAP Laws Blocked in Ohio and Oklahoma

This week, women's healthcare providers in Ohio and Oklahoma challenging anti-abortion legislation have succeeded in blocking dangerous TRAP laws in two of the most hostile states in the nation for reproductive rights.

On Tuesday, in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of HB64, a 2015 measure which automatically suspends ambulatory surgical facilities (ASFs) licenses should the state's Department of Health deny an application for variance or neglect to process it within 60 days of receipt. Facilities providing abortion care must also maintain written transfer agreements with hospitals within 30 miles, though clinics are banned from acquiring such agreements from public hospitals.

According to Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio's Executive Director, abortion providers should not be forced to adhere to "medically unnecessary" restrictions."Transfer agreements and license application restrictions do not improve patient care in any way," said Copeland. "In fact, the abortion restrictions signed by Gov. Kasich make it harder for women to access safe care from a doctor. They are bad policies and bad politics."

Ohio, which has also imposed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions as well rigid regulations on medication abortion, has seen the number of clinics drop from 14 in 2013 to just 9 statewide. Tuesday's decision will keep two of those remaining nine open.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, a state court judge ordered a measure banning dilation and evacuation abortions (D and Es) - the most common second-trimester termination procedure - be blocked on Wednesday.

In the eighth lawsuit in five years filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) targeting TRAP laws nationwide, the court granted a temporary injunction against HB 1721, a measure criminalizing abortion providers performing D and Es in Ohio, fining them $10,000 or a sentencing of up to two years in prison for carrying out the procedure. The judge left intact HB 1409, however, permitting doctors to refuse to perform abortion on ethical, moral or religious grounds and forcing women seeking abortions to wait 72 hours for the procedure.

President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights Nancy Northup calls the repeated legislative actions by conservative lawmakers in the state "unacceptable." Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission to block women from safe and legal abortion when they need it most, trampling the rights afforded to women by their state constitution in the process," said Northup. "When faced with an unintended pregnancy, Oklahoma women need high-quality care, not forced delays or measures that criminalize their doctors."

HB 1409 is scheduled to take effect November 1.

10/16/2015 - LGBT Californians Make Legal Strides

Wednesday Oct. 7 marked a big day for LGBT Californians; Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law four bills that protect same-sex families, LGBT students and many more.


Each of the four bills targets a different flaw in existing law:

  • AB 959, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D), requires certain state health and social service agencies to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data from those they serve. Advocates say this will stop the erasure of queer folks from demographic records and ensure the LGBT community is being adequately served.

  • AB 960, also authored by Chiu, protects parental rights for same-sex couples who undergo assisted reproduction.

  • AB 827, authored by Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell (D), requires the State Department of Education to ensure teachers have adequate resources to help LGBT youth who face bullying or other safety issues in school. Queer youth have a higher dropout rate than their peers, due in part to the social exclusion they face.

  • SB 703, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D), prohibits businesses contracting with the state from denying benefits to workers based on their gender identity, protecting transgender Californians from discrimination.

"We are deeply grateful to both Gov. Brown and the legislators who authored and got these bills passed," said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, a co-sponsor of all four bills. "California continues to lead the nation recognizing and protecting LGBT people as fully equal members of society thanks to their leadership."

10/16/2015 - Gender Gap Persists for Women Seeking Nobel Science Prizes

According to a recent analysis by Fortune, women scientists pursuing their field's top prizes have one major obstacle to overcome that their male peers do not: gender bias.

Of the 870 individuals and 23 organizations awarded the Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901, women have received the award just 49 times, compared to men who have been honored 825 times in the prize's history. The gender gap is widest in the fields of physics, chemistry and medicine with only 1 percent, 2.33 percent, and 5.71 percent awarded to women respectively over 114 years. This year alone, seven men won Nobel Prizes for their contributions to physics (2 recipients), chemistry (3 recipients), medicine (2 recipients) while only one woman - Tu Youyou and her work in treating malaria - recognized in medicine.

Fortune's findings are disappointing, but not surprising. A 2012 study showed science professors in universities nationwide regarded their female undergraduate students as less competent than their male counterparts, despite demonstrating the same skills and achievements, a perception which limits job and mentorship opportunities for the women. Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report revealing women scientists receive less early-career funding than men, affecting their ability to build labs, conduct analyses, publish findings and procure grants for future research. Without equal access to the vital resources necessary to achieving their professional goals, women scientists are more unlikely to have a career in their chosen field, much less receive recognition for it.

Fortunately, the numbers of women winning world's top prizes for innovation are increasing every year, though modestly. Between 2000 and 2015, women received 19 Nobel Prizes, up from 11 between 1981 and 2000 and 5 between 1961 and 1980. For Göran Hansson, secretary for the committee for the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, the growth is "not impressive," but is nonetheless an improvement. "I looked at prize statistics for medicine, and in the last 30 years, we had eight laureates," said Hansson. "In the last 10 years, we had four, so clearly an increasing proportion, which reflects that more women are going into the sciences and making fantastic careers."

10/15/2015 - Oklahoma State Court Blocks One Anti-Abortion Measure, Allows Another

A state court blocked an Oklahoma measure yesterday that would have banned the most commonly used method of second trimester abortion. Judge Patricia Parrish allowed, however, a measure that will triple the state's mandatory waiting period from 24 hours to 72 for all women seeking abortion services beginning in November.

Judge Parrish issued a temporary injunction for HB 1721, which would have banned the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure, a safe and common method of second trimester abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit earlier this month to challenge the law, resulting in Judge Parrish's ruling yesterday.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, applauded the court's decision to block the law that would ban this safe and common method of abortion, however she also criticized the court's decision to allow the dramatic tripling of Oklahoma's mandatory waiting period.

"Today's ruling falls short of recognizing women as capable decision-makers who do not need to be told to go home and wait at least three days before they can get the care they need. Oklahoma women already face incredible obstacles when they need to legally and safely end a pregnancy and this law only makes matters worse," Northup said.

In August, anti-abortion lawmakers in Oklahoma attempted to pass a bill banning medication abortion past 7 weeks, requiring patients to undergo an unnecessary surgical procedure rather than using medications alone. Judge Parrish also was the one to issue a ruling in this case, and found that the restrictions clearly violated the state constitution.

10/15/2015 - Activists Rally for Latina Equal Pay Day

Women of every race and ethnicity experience a gender pay gap in the United States, but for Latina women that wage gap is staggering. On average, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar that a white man is paid, while for Latina women are paid only 56 cents.

Today, ten months into the calendar year, is the Latina Equal Pay Day. In other words, this is the day when Latina women finally catch up to white non-Hispanic men's annual earnings from 2014.

A recent study by the National Women's Law Center revealed that Latina women are underpaid at every education level, with the largest gab between those with the least education. The study revealed disturbing discrepancies in pay, including that Latinas with a bachelor's degree are paid almost the same as white men with only a high school education. Similarly, there exists a wage gap across occupations.

Democratic women in Congress have been pushing for legislation that would greatly lessen the gender pay gap experienced by women in the workforce, as well as prevent retaliation against women seeking pay parity. The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced in the Senate in 2013, would prohibit retaliation for sharing pay information, as well as require employers to prove that any pay disparity is not on the basis of sex. It has since been blocked by Republicans in the Senate more than once. Earlier this year California Governor Jerry Brown was set to sign a similar bill that was called "the strongest equal pay law in the nation."

Research by the American Association of University Women shows that Latina women are an increasingly influential constituency in the United States. As a powerful and growing voting bloc AAUW advises presidential candidates to take a special note to the gender wage gap by addressing the challenge.

A Twitter storm about Latina Equal Pay Day will be held today from 3:30-4:30 pm ET co-hosted by the American Association of University Women, the Feminist Majority, and the National Women's Law Center among other organizations using the hashtag #LatinaEqualPay.

10/13/2015 - EEOC Launches Hollywood Gender Discrimination Probe

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has contacted several women directors in Hollywood in an effort to determine whether legal intervention is necessary to disrupt the industry's discriminatory hiring practices.

In a letter sent to some 50 women filmmakers, the EEOC - which is responsible for protecting individuals from employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion and national origin through enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - requested interviews with them to "learn more about the gender-related issues" women behind the camera face in both the film and television industries.

In May, following the release of a study by the San Diego State University Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film revealing only 7 percent of 2014's 250 top-grossing movies were helmed by women, the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Women's Rights Project urged state and federal rights agencies to investigate Hollywood's failure to hire equal numbers of women. Additional studies, including a DGA report finding women directed just 16 percent of television episodes between 2014 and 2015, were also cited in their complaint.

"Women directors simply aren't getting a fair opportunity to succeed, because of systemic discrimination," explained ACLU Women's Rights Project senior staff attorney Ariela Migdal. "It's time for our civil rights enforcement agencies to take action to ensure that women have a level playing field."

The EEOC's recent moves mark the agency's first major step in over thirty years to address gender inequality in the film industry. Just two years ago, filmmaker Marie Giese challenged the commission to investigate Hollywood's hiring practices, only to be told it "couldn't take this on in an industrywide approach," suggesting instead individual lawsuits be filed by women against studios within a 12-month period "with smoking-gun evidence." Concerned no women would risk their careers for fear on being blacklisted, Giese took her complaint to the ACLU.

Though it is unclear whether the EEOC's investigation will result in a class action lawsuit against Hollywood's most egregious offenders - under law, the agency cannot confirm or deny the existence of a charge - women filmmakers like Giese remain hopeful.

"This investigation is long overdue," Giese told Deadline Hollywood. "I hope this will be the spearhead to create equality for every woman in our industry, and for every woman in every industry in America."

10/12/2015 - Report Finds Texas' HB2 Increases Abortion Wait Times

A new report released by the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Policy Evaluation Project found patients seeking abortions in Texas have experienced an increase in wait times since the passage of HB2, the 2013 Texas omnibus anti-abortion bill that attempts to cut off abortion access by requiring abortion providers in the state to fulfill medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center requirements and secure hospital admitting privileges.

More than half of 42 clinics providing abortion in Texas have been forced to shut their doors since HB2 passed two years ago, leading Texas women to wait up to 20 days for a first consult at one of the surviving 18 reproductive health clinics operating in the state, the second most populous in the nation. In cities like Dallas, where one of the state's most high-volume clinics was shuttered in June, patients saw wait times rise to 20 days, while in neighboring Fort Worth, the wait list to obtain an abortion grew as long as 23 days since the study began late last year. Austin, Houston and San Antonio also experienced increases, each spiking at 23 days, 13 days and 9 days, respectively.

"Texans are now forced to undertake multiple, unnecessary visits to clinics that are now farther away; they take more days off of work, lose income, have to find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles," saidAmy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health. A woman's ability to get safe medical care should not depend on whether she has the resources necessary to navigate a horrific and complex obstacle course dreamt up by anti-choice lawmakers. This is the real world and these laws have real implications on real women's lives."

Hagstrom Miller is one of the lead plaintiffs represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights in a lawsuit challenging HB2's ambulatory surgical center (ASC) and admitting privileges requirements as unconstitutional. In August 2014, a federal district court blocked both restrictions as unconstitutional. Texas appealed, and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in in October 2014 that both restrictions could take effect even though the case was still being heard in court, leaving Texas with only 7 clinics providing abortion. The Supreme Court immediately stepped in, temporarily blocking enforcement of the ASC requirement statewide and blocking enforcement of the admitting privileges requirement in McAllen and El Paso until the Fifth Circuit could make a final ruling on the law's constitutionality. More than a dozen clinics reopened as a result of the Supreme Court's decision.

Just this past June, however, the Fifth Circuit issued its final decision on the case, reversing the district court and upholding both requirements. The Supreme Court once again stepped in to temporarily block the decision, maintaining the status quo while the clinics continued their legal challenge.

The Center for Reproductive Rights last month filed a formal request for the Supreme Court to review the case, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole. The Court should rule on this request by the end of the year. Should the Court deny review, more than 75 percent of abortion clinics in Texas would close, cutting off access to safe, legal abortion for millions of Texas women and forcing wait times at remaining clinics to continue to rise.

10/9/2015 - Federal Judge Orders Anti-Abortion Group to Cede Footage to NAF

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its leader David Daleidan must turn over all previously unreleased "sting" videos and outtakes of National Abortion Federation (NAF) meetings the group obtained surreptitiously as part of a smear campaign against the abortion provider.

U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ordered CMP to relinquish some 500 hours of undercover footage to NAF per Congressional subpoena, but maintained the bar on the release of "any footage, documents, or communications that have not been specifically requested" by Congress. Daleidan and CMP had previously refused to hand over the footage in an effort to stall the progress of NAF's legal discovery into the group's "evidence" collection methods.

In a statement released Tuesday, NAF president and CEO Vicki Saporta underscored the importance of protecting those members appearing in the videos from harassment and threats of violence from anti-abortion extremists.

"We have never taken the position that Daleidan and the other Defendants in our case should be barred from providing compelled responses to lawful subpoenas," said Saporta. "Our focus has always been and continues to be safety and security of our members. We urge Congress to be mindful of the security risks faced by abortion providers, and the need for confidentiality as they conduct their investigation."

The release of several fraudulent videos by CMP which claim to capture the sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood have been proven false repeatedly, but have nonetheless sparked endless state and federal investigations into the organization, NAF and abortion providers nationwide. To date, zero investigations ahve found evidence of wrongdoing.

In the meantime, NAF hopes the judge's ruling confining the release of materials to those requested specifically by the subpoena will further highlight CMP's potentially illegal activities.

"We do not believe that all the footage CMP stole from our meetings is responsive to this subpoena, and we urge the Committee to require Daleidan to also turn over all documents and emails relevant to the conspiracy and fraud he committed against NAF and our members," said Saporta.

10/9/2015 - Women Scientists Receive Less Funding Than Their Male Peers, Study Finds

According to a new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, male scientists receive twice as much financial support to kickstart their careers in science and medicine as their female counterparts, an early career inequity that could limit professional opportunities for women scientists throughout their working lives.

Conducted by Health Resources in Action (HRiA), analysts studied 219 biomedical researchers who had applied for early-career grant funding at 55 New England hospitals, universities and research facilities between 2012 and 2014. The findings revealed male scientists received a median of $889,000 to jumpstart their careers as faculty researchers, while their female peers received just $350,000. The gap between applicants holding Ph.D.s was even wider. Men received $936,000 to launch their careers compared to the $348,000 granted to women.

As noted by Nancy Hopkins, professor emeritus of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, such a disparity in startup funds can limit women scientists' ability to build labs, conduct analyses, publish findings, and procure grants for future research.

"These are the things that make your career hard or easy," said Hopkins. "[Women] are going to have to work harder to make up for that."

Despite significant contributions in STEM fields, women's representation at the top levels of biomedical research still lags. Today, women comprise only 30 percent of funded researchers nationwide. But HRiA Vice President and author of the study, Dr. Robert Sege, Ph.D. says more examination is necessary to determine whether the gender differences are experienced by all early-career scientists.

"We were startled to see a consistent gap in the amount of support provided to men and women with the same credentials - even from within the same institutions," said Sege. "This first look suggests the need for systematic study of gender differences in institutional support and the relationship between career trajectories."

10/7/2015 - Study Finds US Gender Wage Gap Persists

Data compiled by the US Census Bureau this week once again demonstrates a gender wage gap, showing that American women who work full-time, year-round jobs on average earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to men. This loss in wages amounts to an average of $10,762 annually for white women, and is significantly greater for women of color.

The data, analyzed by the National Partnership for Women and Families, reveals women with full-time, year-round employment receive far less than their male counterparts, earning roughly $39,621 yearly compared to men whose wages exceed $50,000. The pay disparity is even greater for women of color. Overall, African American women earn just 60 cents on the dollar and Latinas a mere 55 cents.

The need to close the gender wage gap could not be more critical. Not only do women comprise nearly half of the paid work force in the US, but they also head more than 15.2 million households, 4,658,047 of which fall below the poverty line. With the additional $10,762 annually in found wages, women breadwinners would earn enough money for approximately 83 more weeks of food, over a year's worth of rent and an extra 4,635 gallons of gas.

That gap is even starker for women of color. Full-time working African American women earn an average 60 cents for every dollar paid to a white man, and Latinas earn a startling 55 cents. These gaps amount to losses of tens of thousands of dollars for women each year.

"This study confirms that a punishing wage gap persists for women in every corner of the country and the costs for women, their families and our national and state economies are significant," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. "America's women and families- and our nation- cannot afford to wait any longer for the fair and family friendly measures that would help."

10/6/2015 - Australia Deports Anti-Abortion Extremist Troy Newman

Anti-abortion extremist Troy Newman has been deported from Australia after an appeal to remain in the country failed to convince the High Court.

Newman was scheduled to speak at a 10-day Right To Life Australia event, but was detained in Denver, Colorado after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton cancelled his visa citing as grounds for revocation Newman's prior history of promoting violence against abortion providers and their patients. Ignoring Dutton's order, Newman rerouted his trip using a different airline and was able to touch down in Melbourne on Thursday where he was detained by officials. Newman's attorneys immediately filed an emergency injunction to halt his deportation, but a High Court judge denied the bid and Newman departed Australia Friday morning.

Prior to Newman's visit, several Australian politicians expressed fear of increased harassment and violence against women and women's healthcare providers with his presence in the country, including Australia's Labor MP, Terri Butler, who wrote a letter to Immigration Minister Dutton warning Newman could inspire "threats or the commission of acts of violence" during his stay.

"I am most concerned that Mr. Newman's call for abortionists to be executed could lead to threats or the commission of acts of violence against women and medical professionals," said Terri Butler, Australia's Labor MP, in a statement. "To think he is above the law gives us insight into the sort of person we are dealing with. We don't welcome extremists into our country and we don't welcome extremism."

Despite his claims that he "has never advocated violence," Newman, president of Operation Rescue and Center for Medical Progress board member wrote in a 2000 tome called Their Blood Cries Out, "In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people."

In 2003, Newman defended the actions of death row inmate Paul Jennings Hill, the convicted murderer of Dr. John Britton, an abortion provider slain along with his volunteer escort in 1994. A participant in activities of Newman's organization Operation Rescue, Scott Roeder, was found guilty of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas in 2010.

10/6/2015 - Sheryl Sandberg Releases Women In the Workplace Study

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and the founder of Lean In has launched Women In The Workplace, a study that looks at the state of women in corporate America.

The study, which was released last week, is an ongoing partnership between Lean In and McKinsey & Company. It revealed the challenges that women in the corporate field face within the workplace. The study shows a persistent pay gap, an uneven playing field for female employees, a lack of commitment to gender diversity from corporations, and that women face "greater barriers to advancement and a steeper path to senior leadership."

Given the results of the study, Sandberg argues that at this rate it would take a 100 years to achieve gender equality in the business world if policy and cultural changes are not made.

"When women get stuck, corporate America gets stuck," Sandberg told the Wall Street Journal. Women are less likely to reach leadership positions as they advance in their careers. Sandberg argues that this is because women have less access to mentorship and sponsorship in their careers. Stereotypes and biases that disadvantage women have also contributed to inequalities in the workplace.

This study seeks to encourage women in positions of leadership by getting as many companies as possible to participate. Doing so gives room for comparison amongst companies themselves. It also pushes them to measure their progress towards gender equality. At the time this study was done, a reported 118 companies had participated.

Sandberg remarked that diversity is important for better performance within organizations. She reports that it increases creativity, profits and innovation among other things. However, as the study shows, gender diversity is not a top priority for the leadership of many companies which hurts women's careers in these work environments.

To make gender equality a reality, Sandberg believes corporations need to give this issue the urgency it deserves. The Women in the Workplace study not only provides statistical data on the inequality companies possess but also provides realistic measures companies can undertake to address the issue. For instance, the study suggests that companies develop programs that help employees identify bias and stereotypes that disadvantage women.

Despite the current rate of change in the corporate workplace, Sandberg is optimistic. "We will achieve not just a stronger and more successful workplace, but also increased economic growth and benefits for all our workers and families," said Sandberg, reflecting on the many positive benefits of gender equality in the workplace.

Over the years Sandberg's work on gender equality in the workforce has been very significant. In her capacity as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook Incorporated, Sandberg has pushed for better wages and benefits for contracted employees: a move that would largely benefit women workers.

10/6/2015 - Deal in Trans-Pacific Partnership is Reached

The United States and ten other countries have reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving environmentalists, human rights activists, women's rights activists, doctors, and many others concerned. This deal was struck after years of prolonged and often secretive negotiations, and still needs to secure approval from Congress.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement would regulate and govern trans-Pacific commerce for 11 countries- making up a startling 40 percent of the world's economy. President Obama has been seeking "fast-track" authority from Congress, which would allow Obama to negotiate the trade deal and present it for an up-or-down vote in Congress, barring any amendments. It would also prevent Congress from having significant input into US trading partners. That is a big concern, especially since among the countries included in the TPP is oil-rich Brunei, a country that adopted a vicious new penal code last year that threatens the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.

"The TPP, if passed, would implement trade rules that make it illegal for governments to create and enforce regulations on everything from environmental standards, to wage and labor laws, to the duration of copyrights," said Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. "A law prohibiting the sale of goods made in sweatshops in Vietnam could be ruled illegal, for example, as a barrier to trade," Goodman continued.

Over 2,000 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, AFL-CIO, National Organization for Women, NAACP, People for the American Way, Pride at Work, and the Sierra Club, have opposed legislation to fast track the TPP. These organizations have released a joint letter representing labor, environmental, farming, civil rights, digital rights, human rights, public health, faith, student, consumer, and other concerns.

Environmentalists have called the deal that has been struck with the TPP a 'disaster for climate change." "Karthik Ganapathy of environmental group responded to the White House claim that the deal has potential for environmental conservation. "...[T]he truth is by handing even more power to Big Oil, letting massive corporations throw tantrum lawsuits at governments who dare to scale back emissions, and prolonging our reliance on fracked gas, there's no question that the Transpacific Partnership is an absolute disaster for our climate," Ganapathy said.

10/5/2015 - House Republicans to Launch New Select Committee to Investigate Planned Parenthood as Attacks on Clinics Continue

On Saturday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced House Republicans will assemble a new select committee to investigate Planned Parenthood, one of many formed since the release of several deceptively-edited "sting' videos by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The videos, which CMP claims capture the illegal sale of fetal tissue, have since been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked. Meanwhile, two Planned Parenthood clinics in two different states have been set on fire in apparent arson.

According to Blackburn, the committee's creation is the first part of a three-pronged strategy devised to limit abortion rights in the wake of CMP's fraudulent videos. The committee, to be chaired by Blackburn under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, plans to push the passage of "additional pro-life measures" through Congress and "break the Senate logjam" by crafting a budget reconciliation package with the intent of defunding Planned Parenthood.

House Democrats, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, were swift to condemn the House Republicans' actions, alleging the lawmakers are "trying to make it easier to shut down the government and harder for millions of women to access the lifesaving health care."

"One in five American women has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center in her lifetime," said Pelosi in a statement Saturday. "Hard-working families deserve better than a taxpayer-funded Republican Committee fixated on dismantling women's health."

The introduction of a new investigative committee is the latest in a string of maneuvers by conservative lawmakers wishing to defund Planned Parenthood as attempts in recent weeks to attach the issue to a federal funding bill that must pass in Congress Wednesday or risk government shutdown have failed.

To date, state and federal inquiries into Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, attacks against Planned Parenthood Clinics have been happening across the country. Just last week a Planned Parenthood clinic was set on fire in California in an apparent arson, as a bottle filled with flammable liquid was thrown through a window. The clinic is working to assess damage and re-open as quickly as possible. And last month, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington was also set on fire. Police have determined this case arson, and this clinic sustained significant damage burning for almost three hours before fire fighters were able to quell the blaze.