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4/24/2014 - Mississippi Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban Into Law

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law yesterday that bans abortion 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, effectively at only 18 weeks.

"With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi's elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women's well-being in their state," said Nancy Northrup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. "It's time for these politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected women's health care and finally focus on policies that would support the health, lives, and rights of Mississippi women and families."

HB 1400 includes only a narrow exception for medical emergencies or fatal fetal abnormalities, and has no exception for pregnancy by rape or incest. Physicians who break the law, which goes into effect on July 1, could lose their medical license.

Several other state legislatures have passed similar 20-week abortion bans or other anti-choice measures. Many have been blocked by the courts for unconstitutionally banning abortion before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. West Virginia's governor vetoed a 20-week ban earlier this month because of legal and privacy concerns.


4/23/2014 - Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a Michigan state constitutional ban on affirmative action for women and minorities in public education, employment, and contracting.

The decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) did not address the constitutionality of affirmative action itself. Instead, the Court focused on whether an amendment banning the practice violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. And a majority of the Court found that it did not.

BAMN argued that the amendment prevented women and minorities from using the political process to push for one specific policy: affirmative action. So, University of Michigan alumni could advocate for an admissions policy that would consider applicants' legacy status. Those alumni could lobby the Board of Regents for that status or support candidates to the Board - who are elected - that hold their views. For legacy admission, the political process is open. The amendment forecloses the processes for one policy only: affirmative action. Consequently, the amendment creates a unique burden on minorities. For this group, the rules of the game have changed.

In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposition 2 to amend the state constitution by adding the affirmative action ban. Writing in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine, attorneys Debra Katz and Abigail Cook-Mack, explained that already, "the ban's impact on Michigan's public universities has been staggering. The percentage of black, Latino and Native American student admissions in the University of Michigan's undergraduate program has fallen by a third."

The amendment, however, does not only affect minorities and public education. The affirmative action ban - styled after California's affirmative action ban, Proposition 209 - also applies to women and and affects government hiring and the award of government contracts.


4/22/2014 - Florida Supreme Court Recognizes Anti-Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Workers

The Florida State Supreme Court ruled last week that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Florida employment law.

The 6-1 decision allows Peguy Delva to proceed with her lawsuit against her employer, real estate developer Continental Group. Delva alleged that her employer, real estate developer Continental Group, denied her extra shifts after she became pregnant and failed to reschedule her to work after maternity leave. A lower court dismissed Delva's case, finding that the Florida Civil Rights Act did not extend to discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy. The Florida Supreme Court rejected that ruling, noting that the Florida law does provide protection against discrimination based on sex and that this protection extends to pregnancy. The court cited similar rulings in Massachusetts and Minnesota.

The Florida decision puts Florida state law in line with the federal 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act - whose passage was championed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act explicitly recognizes discrimination against pregnant women as a form of sex discrimination and prevents employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. "Florida law will now finally recognize the state of the law as established by the federal government," said Smeal, now president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families' overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace persists. A report released last summer by the National Women's Law Center demonstrated that many pregnant women are not given even basic accommodations during pregnancy, and many pregnant workers especially those in lower-paying jobs or jobs traditionally held by men are fired or forced to take unpaid leave when they request these adjustments.

In response to this continued discrimination, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Robert Casey (D-PA) introduced the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last May. The Act would clarify that pregnant women are guaranteed the same workplace protections that are in place for other workers temporarily unable to perform job duties without reasonable accommodations. The Act would also prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.


4/21/2014 - Arizona Governor Signs Bill Allowing Suprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law last week allowing state health authorities to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant.

HB 2284 repeals an Arizona law that requires a judge to give approval for inspections of abortion clinics. Department of Health Services officials will now be able to inspect any clinic during business hours, even without reasonable cause.

Activists are concerned the law will put the state's nine clinics at risk of abuse by anti-abortion legislators. "House Bill 2284 does nothing but open the door to provider and patient harassment," Bryan Howard, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement.

The law was written by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative think tank behind three other abortion laws that courts have ruled against. One of them, a law putting restrictions on medication abortions, went into effect earlier this month, but a federal court issued a temporary injunction against it shortly after.

The law could go into effect as early as next week. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona expects there will be a legal challenge to the law, but is unsure if the organization will participate.


4/21/2014 - Alaska Governor Signs Law Restricting Definition of Medically Necessary Abortions

Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell signed a bill last week limiting which abortions can be labeled medically necessary by a doctor and therefore covered by Medicaid under the federal Hyde Amendment. The original bill included provisions for family planning services, but the state House removed them.

SB 49 requires doctors to select a reason that the procedure is medically necessary from an approved list of 21 reasons. The list includes threat to the life or physical health of a patient, but does not include anything about mental health. Anchorage Senator Hollis French expects the bill to be placed on hold in the courts "because it's contrary to our Constitution."

"SB 49 is a blatant attempt to put politicians between low-income women and access to abortion, and by removing the Medicaid Women's Health Program, the legislature has made it clear that their only interest is restricting women's pregnancy decisions--not promoting women's health or reducing unintended pregnancies," said Jessica Cler, Alaska Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, in a statement.

"There shouldn't be a list at all," Erik House, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest told RH Reality Check. "It's up to women and their doctors to make these personal medical decisions--not an arbitrary list drafted by politicians and bureaucrats in Juneau."


4/18/2014 - Texas Hospitals Revoke Admitting Privileges to Abortion Providers

Reproductive health access in Texas continues to vanish in the wake of HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that, among other things, requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges in order to keep their clinics open. Three Texas abortion providers this week had their hospital admitting privileges revoked at nearby hospitals after abortion opponents threatened the hospitals with negative publicity.

Foundation Surgical Hospital of El Paso revoked Dr. Pamela Richter's temporary admitting privileges last week without notice or explanation. Dr. Richter, who provides abortion care at Reproductive Services in El Paso, immediately filed for a temporary restraining order, but federal district judge Lee Yeakel denied her request Wednesday afternoon. Although Judge Yeakel said he believed "irreparable harm" would be caused to the over one million people living in the clinic's vicinity, he ultimately ruled that plaintiffs had not met the legal requirements for the restraining order.

"Forcing patients to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic does absolutely nothing to improve any 'health or safety measures. In fact, it does exactly the opposite," Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told ThinkProgress. "But we knew all along HB 2 was not about improving care, but making it inaccessible."

Dr. Richter has performed over 17,000 abortions over her career - and not once has required admitting privileges or sent a patient to the hospital for post-abortion care. Reproductive Services, however, will no longer be able to provide abortion services.

In North Texas, Doctors Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia received notices on March 31 informing them that their admitting privileges to the University General Hospital of Dallas had been revoked, with the hospital's CEO claiming the hospital was unaware they were providing abortion care and that the hospital believed such care would damage its reputation. A Dallas County judge granted Robinson and Ahluwalia a temporary restraining order against HB 2 until their legal challenge can receive a full hearing on April 30. Both doctors claim that they were open about their off-site abortion services when they applied for admitting privileges. Federal and state laws also forbid hospitals from discriminating against doctors who perform abortions.

Texas advocates expressed fears during legislative debate over HB 2 that anti-abortion protesters would pressure hospitals to deny abortion providers required admitting privileges, and as predicted, reproductive rights opponents in the state have indeed developed templates for action - including threatening protests and vigils on hospital grounds - with the intent to convince hospitals to revoke admitting privileges for abortion providers.

"Texas has put the constitutional rights of women in the hands of hospital administrators," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which has filed two legal challenges to HB2. "As a consequence, the list of high-quality abortion providers forced to turn away patients continues to grow, while reproductive health care options for Texas women continue to shrink."

Before HB 2 was enacted in Texas, the state had 44 operating abortion clinics. Now, at least 20 have closed - and a 400-mile region in the state has been left with no clinics at all. Many women are being forced to cross state lines to access abortion care, and those who cannot find the resources to do so are resorting to illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Texas filed a petition asking the full US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its panel decision upholding the constitutionality of HB 2's admitting privileges requirement.


4/18/2014 - Dartmouth President Calls For Changes In Wake of Federal Sexual Assault Investigation

Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon gave a powerful speech Wednesday night calling for significant changes on campus in light of its high rates of sexual assault, high-risk drinking, and discriminatory social scene.

"Darmouth's promise is being hijacked by high-risk and harmful behaviors, behaviors that are hurting too many of our students, dividing us as a community and distracting from our important work of teaching and learning," Hanlon said. "From dangerous levels of drinking, to sexual assaults, disgusting and sometimes threatening insults posted on the Internet, and parties with racist and sexist undertones, our social scene is too often at odds with our mission and the practices of inclusion our students deserve."

The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigatingb Dartmouth for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases under Title IX, a law that bans discrimination on the basis of gender, and the Clery Act, which requires cases of sexual assault to be reported to the Department. As recently as February, while the OCR investigation was ongoing, a student whose name appeared in a "rape guide" on a student-run website was sexually assaulted.

Applications to Dartmouth fell 14 percent this year, the steepest drop in two decades, perhaps as a result of the spotlight on its campus sexual assault problem.

To address these issues, President Hanlon announced the creation of a Presidential Steering Committee made up of students, faculty, administration and alumni, that will spend the summer developing solutions. Hanlon strongly encouraged student input, saying this "cannot be viewed as a mandate from the top." Changes have also already begun on campus, including the work of The Dartmouth Bystander Initiative and the newly established Center for Community Action and Prevention to mobilizing the community against sexual assault, and the implementation of a disciplinary policy mandating expulsion for offenders.

Several other universities have come under federal investigation recently for mishandling sexual assault cases. In January, 39 members of Congress signed a letter calling for more transparency in the Department of Education's findings regarding these cases, and the White House launched a taskforce to prevent campus sexual assault.

TAKE ACTION: Organize to end rape on campus with Feminist Campus!


4/17/2014 - Federal Court Permanently Blocks North Dakota's Extreme 6-Week Abortion Ban

A federal district court permanently blocked one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation yesterday, calling it "invalid and unconstitutional."

The North Dakota law, HB 1456, directly challenged Roe v. Wade by banning abortions before viability and as early as 6 weeks. The law - styled as a "fetal heartbeat" ban - would have created harsh penalties for physicians who knowingly violated the ban, making it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The law had been temporarily blocked since July.

"The court was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). CRR challenged the "heartbeat" ban on behalf of North Dakota's sole abortion clinic. "But women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights," continued Northup. "We hope today's decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the US, sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away."

The ban was part of a series of anti-abortion laws signed into law last year in North Dakota, including, among other things, an admitting privileges requirement and a ban on medication abortion. CRR filed lawsuits challenging those provisions as well as the 6-week ban. The admitting privileges case settled last month, and the medication abortion ban is currently being considered in the North Dakota Supreme Court.

North Dakota will also vote in November on a personhood measure - called Measure 1 - that would amend the North Dakota state constitution to provide an "inalienable right to life" at "every stage of development." If passed by North Dakota voters, Measure 1 would ban all abortions in the state, without any exceptions, and could make illegal certain forms of birth control, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization. In addition, Measure 1 threatens the provision of end-of-life care, may prevent individuals from making their own personal decisions concerning the use of life support, and interfere with organ donation.


4/16/2014 - 10-Year Old Girl Banned from Boys Basketball Team Will Now Play

Ten-year old Albuquerque, New Mexico fourth-grader Jaelyn Bates plays on the Frey Academy Basketball team, and her coach, Kevin Frey, thinks she's pretty good. "She always gives 100 percent," Frey said. "She's a competitor, and she makes others around her better. She's definitely earned every minute she has played."

But last week, the New Mexico Select Youth Sport Club told Coach Frey that Jaelyn could not play with her team in the upcoming Southwest Salsa Slam basketball tournament - because she's a girl.

Tournament organizers sent an email to Frey explaining: "Girls can not play on boys teams and boys can not play on girls teams. That has been our rule in our tournament for a number of years." NM Select follows the American Athletic Union tournament rules.

Coach Frey and the team, however, did not abandon Jaelyn - one of the team's star players. According to Frey, the boys on the team "didn't feel good [about Jaelyn not playing] and they don't want to play without her." Jaelyn, who was born with a heart defect that prevented her from walking until she was 2, has played basketball for three years and was named MVP at a local tournament last month.

After being told that NM Select would "not bend or change" the rules, Jaelyn's parents sued Friday, requesting a restraining order against NM Select, which could have impacted whether the tournament went forward.

Immediately after the suit was filed, on Monday, NM Select announced that it would allow Jaelyn to play. It wasn't a total victory. NM Select Executive Director Joseph Jaramillo explained that the organization was not changing its sex-segregation rules, but would provide an exception.

According to Jaelyn's father Barry Bates, Jaelyn is excited to play with her team, but Jaelyn - like many of us - "didn't understand why she couldn't play just because she was a girl."


4/15/2014 - Virginia Bishops Advocate More Abortion Restrictions for Poor Women

Using the Medicaid expansion debate as a platform, the Virginia Catholic Conference issued a statement Friday calling for the repeal of a Virginia law that allows state funding of abortion care for Medicaid recipients in situations where the fetus exhibits a "gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity" or a "gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency."

Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of the Diocese of Richmond and Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington authored the statement which urges Virginia lawmakers to act to expand Medicaid to cover more of Virginia's poor. The statement notes how failure to expand Medicaid would hurt vulnerable populations: "Some are forced to choose between taking their child to the doctor and paying rent, or rush to emergency rooms when untreated chronic conditions become catastrophic. These situations are unacceptable, and the solution is clear." The bishops continue, "Everyone should have access to health insurance, not just those who can afford it or whose employers provide it. Virginia needs healthcare for all, not healthcare for some."

Except when it comes to abortion. The bishops carefully state that "healthcare is a right," but then ask Virginia legislators to repeal healthcare for poor women facing rare, tragic circumstances. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene told RH Reality Check that state funds covered only 14 abortions in 2013 due to gross and totally incapacitating fetal impairment.

Democrats and Republicans in Virginia have been at an impasse over whether to expand Medicaid, as allowed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to an estimated 400,000 low-income individuals in the state. The federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion through 2016, after which it would reduce its contributions incrementally to a minimum of 90 percent of the total cost by 2020. Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) has pushed for Medicaid expansion, but so far, Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have been steadfast in their opposition, leading to a stalemate over the state budget.


4/15/2014 - Activist Monica Jones Found Guilty of Walking While Trans

Trans woman, student, and sex work activist Monica Jones was found guilty Friday of "manifesting prostitution" by a Phoenix, Arizona judge after she accepted a ride with two undercover police officers in May 2013. Jones pled not guilty to the charge and challenged the law's constitutionality. She now faces time in a men's prison.

Phoenix Municipal Code 23-52 defines behavior that "manifests an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution" illegal, although the broad language of the law allows authorities to decide which behaviors qualify as criminal action. If a police officer in Phoenix suspects someone of sex work, that person can be arrested for engaging in conversation with motorists, beckoning to cars, or stopping passersby.

Jones and other advocates, including members of the Arizona ACLU and Sex Workers Outreach Project, have asserted that Jones is guilty of simply "walking while trans," and that the Phoenix law allows for discriminatory profiling of women of color, trans* women, and women in poverty by the authorities. "I have been harassed by police four times since my initial arrest," she told Chase Strangio, an ACLU Staff Attorney. "The police have stopped me for no real reason when I have been walking to the grocery store, to the local bar, or visiting with a friend on the sidewalk."

Jones also believes she was targeted by authorities for speaking out against Project ROSE, an anti-prostitution collaboration between Arizona State University's School of Social Work, which Jones currently attends, the Phoenix Police Department, and various Catholic charities. The diversion program detains community members suspected of sex work and pressures them to participate in a Catholic "re-education" program, often threatening them with criminal charges if they refuse to participate.

Jones will appeal her case. "I am saddened by the injustice that took place at my trial," she said, "but we are not giving up the fight. It's time that we end the stigma and the criminalization of sex work, the profiling of trans women of color, and the racist police system that harms so many of us."


4/14/2014 - Kathleen Sebelius Resigns as Secretary of Health & Human Services

President Barack Obama last week announced the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius.

Noting that she will "go down in history" for "serving as the Secretary of Health and Human Services when the United States of America finally declared that quality, affordable health care is not a privilege, but it is a right for every single citizen of these United States of America," President Obama praised Secretary Sebelius for guiding the implementation of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA).

At least 7.5 million Americans have now signed up for health coverage through health insurance marketplaces created by the ACA. That number surpasses the Administration's original target of 7 million enrollments. Over 7 million had already signed up by the March 31 deadline, but the latest tally includes those individuals who began the process of enrolling online before March 31 but who were allowed completed the process after the deadline. Another 3 million individuals also enrolled in Medicaid between October 2013 and the end of February. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia acted to expand Medicaid coverage through the ACA.

Beyond the ACA, President Obama remarked on Secretary Sebelius's work to improve child health, expand mental health services, reduce health disparities, and promote women's health, in addition to her efforts to combat healthcare fraud.

President Obama also announced his nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next HHS Secretary. Burwell is currently the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). She will face hearings in both the Senate Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before receiving a confirmation vote by the full Senate.


4/14/2014 - Advocates Ask Court To Reconsider Texas Admitting Privileges Case

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Texas filed a petition last week asking the full US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reexamine the constitutionality of the admitting privileges requirement contained in HB2, Texas' omnibus anti-abortion bill.

"We're asking the court to acknowledge what is crystal clear--this law hurts women," said Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director. "Because of this law, women are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and traveling hundreds of miles to get the care they need. This law does absolutely nothing to further patient safety."

At least 19 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, making it increasingly difficult for Texans to access quality, affordable care when they want an abortion. Many cannot afford to take off work and travel to the nearest abortion clinic, which may be hours away. This difficulty may push women to use illegal products and services that are dangerous to their health.

HB2 passed the legislature last summer in a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) after Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D) successfully led a filibuster of the bill for 12 hours. A federal district court originally struck down the admitting privileges requirement of the bill as unconstitutional. A Fifth Circuit panel, however, blocked that decision - after an emergency appeal by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott - allowing the law to go into effect. Providers and advocates filed an emergency petition with the US Supreme Court, but it refused to intervene. Later, the Fifth Circuit panel issued a final decision to uphold the requirement. Last week's filing now asks the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the case.

In addition to the admitting privileges requirement, HB2 also bans abortion at 20 weeks, restricts medication abortion, and mandates that facilities where abortion is performed meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Several other state legislatures are working to restrict abortion access using similar laws.


4/11/2014 - Tennessee Legislature Approves Measure Criminalizing Pregnant Women

The Tennessee state legislature passed SB 1391 Wednesday, a bill that allows women who suffer from drug-related pregnancy complications to be charged with assault and potentially imprisoned.

The bill would permit women to be charged with assault - theoretically up to the point of aggravated assault, which incurs a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison - if they have pregnancy complications after using illegal drugs or deliver children with "neonatal abstinence syndrome." The original bill allowed women to be charged with homicide if her fetus or baby died, but was later amended. The bill was also amended to give women the option of abandoning all charges if she voluntarily enters an approved treatment program, although advocates say the measure would discourage those women from seeking care in the first place.

Advocates worry that the language of the bill is broad enough to subject any woman with pregnancy complications to a criminal investigation. "The law itself, even though it permits women to be charged with misdemeanor assault, in no way limits the prosecution to misdemeanor assault, nor does it limit the prosecution to women who are illegally taking narcotics," Farah Diaz-Tello, staff attorney with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told RH Reality Check. She asserted that any woman who loses a pregnancy or delivers a child with health problems could face an investigation, because it "is the only way to rule out an unlawful act."

Lawmakers in Tennessee attempted to pass similar legislation two years ago, but their efforts were defeated. Instead, the state eventually put the Safe Harbor Act into place, which gives pregnant women struggling with substance abuse incentives to pursue treatment and guarantees that they will not lose their newborns. Medical experts opposed SB 1391, primarily because punitive measures that criminalize pregnancy outcomes discourage women using drugs from seeking prenatal care. Anti-choice groups opposed the bill because they believe it will increase the number of abortions in the state, instilling fear in women who want pregnancies but also face drug addiction.

"Quite honestly," Gary Zelizer, director of government affairs for the Tennessee Medical Association, told The Tennessean, "any kind of punitive approach, from a health care perspective, drives women underground. It doesn't encourage them to get treatment."

Tennessee is the only state to successfully pass legislation allowing criminal prosecution of pregnant women based on the outcome of her pregnancy, although other states have attempted to codify the practice and have successfully used similar logic to win court cases. According to the Guttmacher Institute [PDF], 17 states consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be child abuse, and 3 consider it grounds for civil commitment. 15 states require health care professional to report suspected drug abuse by pregnant women, and 4 require subsequent drug testing. However, only 18 states have drug treatment program that target women, only 10 provide pregnant women with priority access to state-funded programs, and only 4 prohibit discrimination against pregnant women in those programs.

SB 1391 passed the House Wednesday afternoon 64-30, and passed the state Senate Monday 26-7. It is now headed to the desk of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.


4/10/2014 - Ninth Circuit Blocks Arizona Restrictions on Medication Abortion

In a victory for Arizona women, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has blocked the state's restrictions on medication abortion.

The Ninth Circuit issued a temporary injunction late Tuesday preventing Arizona from enforcing new regulations which would have prevented access to medication abortion after seven weeks and forced doctors to use an outdated protocol for administering the medication.

"The appeals court has recognized that Arizona women should not be denied access to critical reproductive care while yet another clearly unconstitutional attack on their health and rights makes it way through the courts," said David Brown, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the law with Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Arizona and the Tucson Women's Center.

The two clinics filed their legal challenge after the Arizona Department of Health Services issued regulations implementing the medication abortion restrictions that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law in 2012. A federal district court, however, refused to block enforcement of the regulations pending the final outcome of the case, meaning that the restrictions would have taken effect on April 1. The clinics filed an emergency appeal of that decision to the Ninth Circuit. The appeals court ruling will remain in effect until the final outcome of the case.


4/10/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Pressure Walmart to Improve Pregnant Worker Policies

Following a class action lawsuit filed by A Better Balance, the National Women's Law Center, and local counsel,Walmart has updated its worker accommodation policy to explicitly make women eligible for a reasonable accommodation if she experiences a temporary disability caused by pregnancy. The policy change puts Walmart in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but advocates say that the new policy may still allow discrimination against pregnant workers who do not have a disabling illness or injury related to pregnancy but who still need a reasonable accommodation in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

"While we are enthusiastic about this policy change, it does not go far enough," said Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance. "Over and over again, Walmart has failed to accommodate pregnant workers. Many pregnant women without illness or complications are advised by their doctors to stay off tall ladders, drink water throughout the day, or take other steps to prevent health problems. Walmart must further update its policy to make clear that it will provide reasonable accommodations for all pregnant workers."

The complaint against Walmart filed earlier this year alleged that the superstore had a nationwide policy and practice of discriminating against pregnant workers by failing to make reasonable accommodations for those who needed them. At the center of the case was a Walmart sales associate who had been refused accommodations when she was seven months pregnant and forced to take unpaid leave. "Three months before my baby was born, Walmart forced me out the door," she said. "I was doing my job as a sales associate just as I had been for months, but suddenly I lost the paycheck that my family was counting on - simply because I was pregnant."

Discrimination against pregnant women has been a growing problem in the US. Between 1992 and 2011, pregnancy discrimination complaints in the United States increased by 71 percent. In the period 2010-2012 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)received 11,757 such complaints. Despite being illegal to fire someone for being pregnant, women are often forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancy or fired after requesting small accommodations recommended by a physician but not honored by their employer - including sitting on a stool or the ability to carry a water bottle.

Persistent discrimination against pregnant workers led to the introduction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in May of 2013. Among other things, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.


4/9/2014 - Protestors Fight For Not 1 More Deportation Across the US

On Saturday, thousands of immigration activists gathered in over 60 cities across the United States to protest the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

The main organizer of the nationwide protests, the Not One More campaign, has expressed three concrete demands for the Obama administration: the end of deportation for undocumented workers who are not serious offenders or national security threats; the end of Secure Communities (a program which allows law enforcement to hold suspected undocumented immigrants before turning them over to the federal government); and an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivers program.

Not One More was joined in support by labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, which strongly condemned the deportation of immigrants without due process and urged the administration to act on behalf of undocumented workers in the United States.

"The time is now to stop deportations," said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. "Immigration reform has been stalled, and we need action now. Not in three months, not review. We need it now."


4/9/2014 - Senate Votes to Extend Unemployment Benefits

The Senate voted 50-38 yesterday to approve a bill that would restore jobless benefits for 2.4 million Americans who have been out of work for at least six months.

The bill would fund unemployment benefits through the end of May, and retroactively provides for individuals who were eligible for aid, but ceased to receive payment when the program's funding lapsed in December.

The bill's fate in the House is still somewhat uncertain. Speaker John Boehner has already expressed concern about the bill and has previously stated that the Republicans would be willing to extend unemployment benefits only if the bill included job creation provisions. At the same time, several Senate Republicans have already signed onto the bill, and several of Boehner's House colleagues are asking for a vote on it or a similar measure. The Republican sponsor of the bill, Dean Heller (R-NV), has also publicly stated his intention to meet with the Speaker in order to move the bill forward.

"At long last we're within sight of one chamber working across party lines to provide this critical relief; there's already been too much delay, with too many families suffering unneeded hardship," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project in a statement.


4/9/2014 - Senate Republicans Filibuster Paycheck Fairness Act

The Senate blocked efforts to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) by a 54-43 vote today along strict party lines, with Republicans and moderates - including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) - voting no. Senator Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, switched his vote to no so he could bring the bill to the floor in the future for an additional attempt to pass.

Immediately after the procedural vote failed, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chief sponsor of the PFA, went to the floor and vowed to continue the fight. Mikulski had delivered a passionate speech earlier imploring the Senate to "lift the veil of secrecy" on wages. She said it brings "tears to her eyes" knowing of the struggles that working women and their families experience when they try to make ends meet. Senator Patty Murray summed up the feelings of many feminists when she tweeted, "This isn't over. We aren't going to let GOP of the hook on #PaycheckFairness. Time for them to give women a #fairshot at #equal pay."

"The Feminist Majority and the women's movement will not rest until the gender wage gap is closed and women are no longer cheated on pay day," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. "The Republicans are simply standing in the doorway blocking progress for employed women," said Smeal.

The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by prohibiting retaliation against employees who reveal and discuss wages with co-workers, requiring employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees, facilitating the ability to file class actions in equal pay cases, and permitting prevailing plaintiffs - women or men- to receive not only compensatory or back pay but also punitive damages. Currently, plaintiffs in race or ethnicity wage discrimination cases can win punitive damages, but this is not so for plaintiffs taking gender equal pay cases to court.

The PFA filibuster came one day after President Obama signed an executive order lifting the veil of secrecy in wages for employees of federal contractors. Under this executive order, federal contractors are prohibited from retaliating against employees "who choose to discuss their compensation." President Obama also signed a Presidential Memorandum "instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race." Such data will be an effective tool in ending wage discrimination against women, African Americans and Latino/as.

"Women's rights and civil rights advocates have been fighting for these advances for over four decades. Finally, thanks to President Obama, we have a breakthrough. But we will not stop fighting until it is the law of the land for the vast majority of employers - not just federal contractors. Women deserve equal pay, and we will not stop until it is a reality and the loopholes that permit cheating women employees are closed," continued Smeal.


4/8/2014 - Senators and President Obama Mark Equal Pay Day With Actions To Close Wage Gap

Today marks Equal Pay Day - the day women must work until to earn as much as their male counterparts had by December 31 of last year. Senators and President Obama are also marking today with actions to close the wage gap.

President Obama proclaimed that today would be recognized as National Equal Pay Day - the day up to which a woman must work in the current year to earn what men made during the previous year - and he plans to sign two executive actions that will work to close the wage gap. An executive order would prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation, and a memorandum would direct the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to report summary data on compensation paid to employees by race and sex to the Department.

"Women make up nearly half of our Nation's workforce and are primary breadwinners in 4 in 10 American households with children under age 18," Obama said in his proclamation. "Yet from boardrooms to classrooms to factory floors, their talent and hard work are not reflected on the payroll."

On average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement.

"The time has passed for us to recognize that what determines success should not be our gender, but rather our talent, our drive, and the strength of our contributions," Obama added.

In addition, the Senate is expected to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to a vote tomorrow. The Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to require all employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women doing the same work are based on legitimate business reasons, and not based on sex. It would also end pay secrecy by prohibiting all employers - not just federal contractors - from retaliating against employees who share salary information. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will lead several other Democratic Senate women in giving floor speeches calling for its passage.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act! You can also join the Twitter storm today at 2PM EST in support of Equal Pay with @FemMajority!


4/7/2014 - Obama Poised To Sign Two Executive Actions On Equal Pay

President Obama will sign two executive actions tomorrow to promote equal pay for women.

The President will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their compensation. Nearly half of all workers in the US are either expressly forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with colleagues, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Lack of transparency about what people are paid is a major challenge to enforcing equal pay laws.

"Pay discrimination is all too prevalent across the country and millions of women and their families are paying a steep price for it," said Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center. "Gag rules that require employees to keep their pay secret perpetuate this inequity. These new rules will make it harder for employers to hide pay discrimination."

The President will also sign a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to report summary data on compensation paid to employees by race and sex to the Department. The data is expected to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws while also allowing for more targeted enforcement.

These actions - to be taken on Equal Pay Day, the day up to which a woman must work in the current year to earn what men made during the previous year - come just as the US Senate is expected to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act(S. 84), which would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to require all employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women doing the same work are based on legitimate business reasons, and not based on sex. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act would end pay secrecy by prohibiting all employers - not just federal contractors - from retaliating against employees who share salary information.

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under the age of 18. But, on average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act!


4/7/2014 - Alabama Passes Bill Further Restricting Abortion Access for Minors

Minors will soon find it harder to obtain an abortion in Alabama, after the state legislature passed a bill last week creating more rules around parental consent.

A minor's parent is already required to sign a consent form, but HB 494 will now require parents to do so in front of the physician performing the procedure. The parent giving consent must also prove their parentage by presenting a certified copy of a child's birth certificate. Many people do not have a certified birth certificate easily available, and they can be difficult to obtain.

In addition, a young woman under 19 years of age seeking a judicial bypass of the consent law will have to provide the court with a "substantive" reason for why she does not wish to tell her parents about her decision, demonstrate her maturity and "understanding of life," and prove that she has received counseling about alternatives to abortion. The court must inform the Attorney General that a young woman has applied for a judicial bypass and may appoint a guardian ad litem for the fetus.

"We are disappointed with passage of the bill," said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. "It creates a lot of unnecessary red tape and, if a young woman seeks a judicial bypass, she will still find herself being put on trial as if she is a criminal."

Alabama's legislature also recently passed a bill extending the waiting period for having an abortion from 24 to 48 hours on Wednesday. Governor Robert Bentley is expected to sign both bills.

Two other restrictive bills that had passed Alabama's House of Representatives are not being taken up by the Senate. They sought to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and require women carrying fetuses with lethal disorders to learn about perinatal hospice services - services that do not exist in the state of Alabama.


4/4/2014 - Senate To Vote on Equal Pay Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the Senate will vote on equal pay legislation as soon as next week. The vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 84) is expected to be on Equal Pay Day - the day up to which a woman must work in the current year to earn the what men made during the previous year. This year, Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 8.

Kerri Sleeman, an AAUW member from Hancock, Michigan, testified in support of the law at a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing on Tuesday. Sleeman worked as a design supervisor for an engineering company in Michigan for 5 years. "After being told by my employer that I couldn't negotiate my starting salary, I learned after my company went bankrupt that men I had supervised were making much more than I was," Sleeman said. "When I asked my former supervisor why I had been paid less, he said it was likely because those men were the sole earners for their wives and children. I was considered less worthy just because I was a woman."

Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under the age of 18. But, on average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement.

"Women earn 23 cents less for every dollar a man earns," said Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act in the Senate. "Yet, women don't get a 23 percent discount on their student loans. They don't get 23 percent off their first mortgage or a discount on their utility bill, just because they earn less than men. In fact, women often pay more for many of the same goods and services. Women pay more in medical costs than men: an estimated $10,000 over a lifetime. Women are often responsible for child care - an average working mom pays more for child care than tuition."

The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to require employers to demonstrate that any pay differences between men and women doing the same work are based on legitimate business reasons, and not based on sex. The Act would also end pay secrecy by prohibiting retaliation against employees who share salary information.

TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Support the Paycheck Fairness Act!


4/3/2014 - Supreme Court Strikes Down Aggregate Campaign Contribution Caps

In a divided decision, the Supreme Court yesterday struck down campaign contribution caps, paving the way for big-money donors to contribute unlimited amounts, in the aggregate, to federal candidates and political committees.

The decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission involved only how much money an individual could contribute in the aggregate during a two-year election cycle. It did not address so-called "base limits," or the maximum amount an individual can contribute to any one candidate or committee. Those limits remain, but now the "aggregate limits" - the amount an individual donor can give in total during the election cycle - are gone. Those limits had been $48,600 for all candidates, combined, during the two-year period, and $74,600 to political parties and committees, combined. A majority of the Court found that those limits violated the First Amendment.

Justice Breyer wrote in the dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, that the Court's decision, "eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

In striking down the aggregate contribution caps, the Court, relying on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, found that seeking to use money - through campaign contributions - in order to gain influence and access to candidates and elected officials, is not "corruption" but is a part of free speech that is "central to our democracy."

The dissent, however, found that Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the plurality of the Court, defined "corruption" too narrowly. "In reality," Justice Breyer noted, "as the history of campaign finance reform shows and as our earlier cases on the subject have recognized, the anticorruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest than the plurality acknowledges. It is an interest in maintaining the integrity of our public governmental institutions. And it is an interest rooted in the Constitution and in the First Amendment itself."

In short, as Justice Breyer pointed out: "Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard."


4/2/2014 - Adjunct Faculty Demand Fair Pay and Benefits

Prompted by a homeless adjunct professor's one-woman protest outside the New York State Department of Education in Albany, adjunct professors across the nation took to Twitter over the weekend to call attention to the low-wages and exploitation of adjuncts working in higher education.

Mary-Faith Cerasoli went to Albany during Spring Break to protest working conditions for adjunct college professors. Cerasoli is an adjunct at Mercy College in New York where she teaches a full courseload, but makes only $22,000 per year before taxes. Ineligible for public assistance, Cerasoli relies on friends for shelter but is sometimes forced to live out of her car - a gift from a used-car dealer in Westchester, NY. Cerasoli has no office, no health benefits, and a sizeable debt-load thanks to unpaid student loans and medical bills. "They call us professors, but they're paying us at poverty levels," she said. "I just want to make a living from a skill I've spent 30 years developing."

Cerasoli is not alone. Adjunct professors - the majority of whom are women - are contract employees usually paid per course taught, and the pay is low. The average adjunct is paid less than $3,000 for a typical three-credit course, but one study found that adjuncts at several colleges reported earning less than $1,000. The vast majority of adjuncts do not receive health insurance, retirement benefits, or sick leave, and many must cobble together a living, often by traveling miles to teach at multiple campuses. In terms of annual compensation, then, adjuncts earn between $18,000 and $30,000, without any benefits, for the equivalent of full-time work, compared to "tenure-track" professors who earn between $68,000 to $116,000 plus benefits.

Some adjuncts have joined labor unions at their institutions in order to organize for better pay and working conditions, but the average adjunct professor is still a source of cheap labor for many colleges. And the use of adjuncts is more widespread than ever. Adjunct professors now make up approximately half of all college faculty.

"I had this idea that I could get a job so that I could have a good income to support my son, and it didn't work out that way," explained Nicole Beth Wallenbrock, an adjunct professor featured on PBS NewsHour. "I'm a precarious worker. I have no job security."