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9/18/2015 - BREAKING: House Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood

In a 241-187 vote, the House of Representatives voted this afternoon, mostly on party lines with Republicans for and Democrats against, to strip federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a full year. The House also voted 248-177 to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which threatens doctors with new criminal penalties, up to five years in jail, for providing legal abortion.

"Once again, the Republican majority demonstrated it is hell-bent to restrict abortion rights for women and to scare doctors out of providing this constitutional, necessary and often life-saving procedure for countless women," exclaimed Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), is the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures introduced by Republican lawmakers to eliminate funding to the nation's leading reproductive health care provider following the release of several fraudulent videos by the Center for Medical Progress. Despite no evidence that there is any truth to the videos' claims that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue, Republicans insisted on eliminating funding that enables millions of women, especially low-income women, to access health care.

Given that Planned Parenthood provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to 2.7 million women, men and teens at approximately 700 health centers nationwide, the stakes could not be higher.

9/17/2015 - House to Vote This Week on "Defund Planned Parenthood Act"

This week, House Representatives are expected to vote on a bill which would suspend funding to Planned Parenthood for one year in order for Congress to further investigate the organization.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), is the latest in a series of anti-choice measures introduced by conservative lawmakers to eliminate funding to the nation's leading reproductive health care provider following the release of several fraudulent videos by the Center of Medical Progress.

The videos, deceptively edited, claim to capture the illegal sale of fetal tissue, a charge that has been dis-proven repeatedly. Experts, including an investigative reporter for the FBI- have now discredited the videos in a formal report to Congress.Additionally, state agency representatives from Georgia, South Dakota, Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts have independently confirmed that all five states have not violated any laws.

Despite no evidence of wrongdoing (several congressional probes and investigations of Planned Parenthood in a dozen states have turned up nothing to date), Republicans insist on targeting the organization. In addition to Black's proposed bill, which would bar federal funding to any entity that provides abortions with exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the woman, 31 House Republicans (all of them men) have pledged to oppose any federal spending bill and risk government shutdown unless the legislation blocks funding to Planned Parenthood as well.

Given that Planned Parenthood provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to 2.7 million women, men and teens at approximately 700 health centers nationwide, the stakes could not be higher.

"Now that the false claims against Planned Parenthood have fallen apart, politicians are heartlessly scrambling to attack women's access to health care however they can," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Eric Ferrero. "It's clear those behind these attacks have always had a clear agenda: to ban abortion, and cut millions of women and men across the country from necessary reproductive care."

9/16/2015 - Over 200 Business Professors Urge Congress to Support Paid Leave Law

In an unprecedented effort to spur legislative action, 203 professors from the nation's highest ranking business schools sent Congress a letter Tuesday, urging the passage of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a law which would guarantee up to 12 weeks of partial income for employees on medical leave. Currently, a mere 13 percent of US workers receive paid family leave and less than 40 percent have access to paid medical leave.

The letter, signed by deans and professors from 88 revered institutions nationwide including The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, detail the benefits enjoyed by businesses that offer paid leave such as reduced turnover, controlled costs and increased productivity. This year, industry titans like Microsoft, Adobe and Nestle, expanded their paid leave policies, citing employee retention and recruitment as motivating factors.

Moreover, the authors underscore the positive impact of paid leave on employed women (who comprise nearly half of the paid U.S. labor force) and their families. In the year following the birth of a child, for example, new mothers with access to paid leave are more likely to stay in the workforce than those without and 54 percent are more likely to see wage increases as a result. Families in California, where statewide paid family leave policies like those proposed by the FAMILY Act have prospered since 2004, report positive effects on their ability to care for their children.

Today, the letter's authors are confident the FAMILY Act will build on the successes of California's paid leave program, as well as that of New Jersey and Rhode Island, creating a nationwide system of support "for all workers, no matter where they live or work."

"At a time when companies are increasingly making paid leave policy changes to support their employees and the president just expressed his support for a national paid leave law for the first time, we, as a nation, have an opportunity to adopt a policy that supports the populations, workforces and businesses of today and tomorrow," said Dr. Stewart D. Friedman, director of the Wharton School's Work/Life Integration Project and the letter's lead author. "The FAMILY Act is that policy."

9/15/2015 - Con Edison to Pay $3.8 Million in Sex Discrimination Suit

New York utility company Con Edison will be forced to pay $3.8 million to more than 300 of its women workers who were subjected to sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.

Con Edison, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York attorney general's office reached the joint settlement this week, ending a government investigation that began in 2007.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said:

"This agreement sends a clear message to employers across New York State: All women, including those working in male-dominated work-places, are entitled to equal justice under law."

The female field workers who filed the complaints said male co-workers frequently made lewd remarks towards them and created a hostile work environment. They reported they were routinely denied on-the-job training, promotions and overtime. Women workers also claim they weren't even given the same access to safety gear that their male colleagues had.

One female employee called working for Con Edison "a constant fight," explaining:

"I have learned to toughen it out just so I can be able to maintain employment. Our opinions don't matter. If we have a discrepancy, we are labeled angry black women, or just angry women. It's still a little boys club. They'll team up against us."

In addition to the hefty payout, Con Edison will have to hire an independent equal employment opportunity specialist to train employees.

9/14/2015 - Farmworker Women Awarded $17 Million in Sexual Harassment Suit

In a landmark victory, a federal jury unanimously decided to award a $17 million settlement to five women farmworkers who were subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, three male supervisors at Moreno Farms "engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment" within the Florida packing house that included rape, attempted rape, propositioning and groping.

Sandra Lopez, who came to the United States from Chiapas, Mexico to provide for her child, said she was dragged into a supervisor's trailer and raped for half an hour, according to the Miami New Times.

The five women in the case were all fired for refusing the supervisors' sexual advances, according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC filed the suit in August 2014, hoping for not only justice for the wronged employees but greater awareness of the special challenges women farmworkers face, especially those who are undocumented.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said:

"We are committed to ensuring that all immigrant and vulnerable populations are protected by the anti-discrimination laws, and this is the latest in a number of successful cases that we have litigated to stop these discriminatory practices."

Unfortunately, it may prove difficult to collect the $17.4 million. As the case was concluding, the Moreno Farms packing plant abruptly closed and its owner fled to avoid jailing.

The Florida attorney who represented the women, Victoria Mesa, said that it's still a significant ruling regardless.

"It's really an important win for Florida farmworkers, who need to know that they have rights regardless of their immigration status."

9/11/2015 - President Obama Signs Pay Transparency Rule

The Department of Labor yesterday released its final rule in implementing President Obama's Executive Order on equal pay. This rule protects all federally contracted employees from retaliation for discussing their pay.

Currently, almost one-quarter of the American workforce is employed by federal contractors, giving millions of women further tools to combat pay discrimination. Executive Order 13665, the new rule, not only prohibits retaliation against employees who wish to discuss their pay, but also requires contractors to discuss nondiscrimination protection with employees and job applicants. Previously, nearly half of all workers in the US were either expressly forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with colleagues.

"President Obama is making history through his executive order, and is step-by-step fighting to end gender, race, and ethnicity pay discrimination," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "This Labor Day he announced an executive order granting all federally contracted workers much needed paid sick leave. It's time long overdue for Congress to extend these rights to all employees and to raise the minimum wage."

The President also signed a federal memorandum to requiring federal contractors to provide wage information by sex, rave, and ethnicity.

President Obama signed the first part of this executive order last year, aiming to promote fair pay and safe workplaces for federally contracted workers. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is intended to hold corporations accountable, offer guidance to companies on how to improve, and streamline implementation and contractor reporting. The order also gives employees more power in confronting workplace discrimination and pay inequities.

The Executive Order is being implemented in stages, and will be fully implemented in 2016. President Obama previously�signed executive orders�banning LGBT discrimination in the workplace�for federal contracts and�promoting pay equity for women in the workplace.

9/10/2015 - Lawmakers Pledge $80 Million to Eliminate Rape Kit Backlogs Nationwide

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden, together with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, announced efforts to process some 70,000 untested rape kits, committing nearly $80 million to their resolution.

During a press conference held at New York City's medical examiner's office, Biden and Lynch underscored the importance of clearing the national backlog, pledging $41 million of federal funds to test 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions. Vance, upholding a promise made last fall, will apportion $38 million in forfeiture funds and provide grants of up to $2 million to examine 56,000 rape kits in 32 agencies across the country.

Conservative estimates suggest approximately 400,000 rape kits sit untested in crime labs nationwide. At $1,000 per kit analysis, some police departments resist addressing their cities' backlogs, citing lack of funds.

The benefits of testing rape kits are undeniable. Rape kits afford prosecutors the opportunity to indict "John Does," securing their DNA in a national database and effectively stopping the clock on the statute of limitations imposed on sexual assault cases. Moreover, given an estimated 90 to 95 percent of rapes are committed by serial rapists, rape kits allow law enforcement to apprehend repeat offenders before they rape again.

Efforts to eliminate the backlog have already yielded results in cities nationwide. In Detroit, for example, the analysis of 10,000 previously untested rape kits exposed 487 serial rapists in at large in several states. Los Angeles has eliminated their backlog entirely with grant assistance and now processes rape kits within three months of receipt.

"The bottom line is simple," said Biden, who authored and spearheaded passage of the VAWA law and has long championed programs to end violence against women, "[I]f we're able to test these kits, more crimes could be solved and more women can live with the comfort of knowing her rapist will not return."

9/10/2015 - New York City's Youngest Residents Head to Free Preschool

On Wednesday, 65,000 4-year-old New Yorkers began their first day of fully funded pre-kindergarten. This marks the second year of the program, which has been gaining visibility and adding new students since its launch.

"People are demanding this," said New York mayor Bill de Blasio in an interview with The Washington Post. "They believe it's something government can and should do. Bringing all kinds of kids together in a classroom lifts all boats. This is where we have to go. This is where the modern world is taking us."

Quality early childhood education (from birth to age 5) has been shown to improve life outcomes for individuals later in life; it has been linked to lowered crime rates, increased adult earnings and a more highly skilled workforce. It's also critical to closing the achievement gap between lower-income children and their wealthier peers. As Ms. magazine reported in 2009, an average child whose parents are on welfare has heard 32 million fewer words by age 4 than the child of professional parents.

Not only is early learning important for individual children's development, it's also a smart public investment. According to a longitudinal study in Chicago, early-education programs implemented there resulted in lower special-education costs for at-risk children, which dropped by as much as 41 percent. Plus, juvenile arrests and violent offenses were 33 and 42 percent lower respectively among kids who received early support compared to their at-risk peers who did not attend quality early learning programs.

In New York City, nearly two-thirds of eligible children are enrolled in the city's free, full-day program. Last year, enrollment hovered around half, with 53,000 children in publicly funded preschool.

9/9/2015 - Planned Parenthood Clinic Blaze Ruled Arson As Legislative Attacks Continue

Following the release of fraudulent videos from the Center of Medical Progress, a wave of anti-abortion protests nationwide and an aggressive legislative attack on Planned Parenthood, a fire at a reproductive health clinic near Spokane, Washington has been determined an arson.

According to the Pullman Fire Department, flames consumed the Planned Parenthood Center in Pullman in the early morning hours last Friday and burned for nearly three hours. The clinic, which did not provide abortion services, sustained extensive damage, rendering the facility unusable for at least a month. No one was injured.

The Pullman arson is the latest example of anti-abortion extremism inflicted upon Planned Parenthood facilities and independent women's reproductive health care providers nationwide. Last month, 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, a suspect allegedly removed signage from a local abortion clinic. In March, a trespasser destroyed Mississippi's Jackson Women's Health Organization's security cameras and power generator.

"We urge federal law enforcement to deploy the resources at their disposal to investigate not only this latest act of violence, but also, but also the Center for Medical Progress," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project director duVergne Gaines. "These deceitful videos spread misinformation, demonize Planned Parenthood and all abortion providers, and inspire violent threats and action."

Republicans, seizing on the opportunity presented in the wake of the videos' release, have rushed to introduce new legislation on both the state and federal levels to restrict women's health care options, including eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood. Last month, several states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Utah and New Hampshire attempted to cutting funding to Planned Parenthood entirely. This week, Rep. Mick Mulvany (R-S.C.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) circulated separate letters urging lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood or face government shutdown over the federal budget negotiations.

On Wednesday, the House judiciary committee will hold the first in a series of congressional hearings deceptively entitled "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider," in the hopes of dismantling Planned Parenthood and stirring up even more anti-abortion sentiment. The hearing, in which Planned Parenthood was not allowed to testify, will feature "experts on the issues surrounding the alleged acts of Planned Parenthood," including two "abortion survivors" and National Right to Life lawyer James Bopp, with no acknowledgement of the Center for Medical Progress' illegal "evidence"-gathering activities or the recent rash of clinic violence.

"Make no mistake, the attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on women's health and access to abortion and birth control," adds Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "We must stop these extremists, and their friends in Congress, from pushing their agenda to ban abortion and limit access to family planning and basic healthcare services for women."

9/8/2015 - Conservative Lawmakers Use False Planned Parenthood Videos to Introduce New Anti-Choice Laws

In recent weeks, in the wake of the release of doctored videos falsely depicting Planned Parenthood as the illegal purveyor of fetal body parts, a spate of conservative lawmakers nationwide are seizing the opportunity to introduce new, more restrictive measures to limit women's access to necessary healthcare and abortion services by specifically targeting abortion providers.

Last Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a press release detailing his new LIFE initiative, a four-point plan designed to criminalize abortion providers and defund Planned Parenthood. Tenets of the broad effort include designating second-trimester abortion procedures felony offenses, criminalizing the harvesting of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic "for any purpose whatsoever," eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood "both at the State and local levels" as well as introducing vague proposals to improve adoption services and "increase awareness" about Texas' child-support enforcement program.

Abbott is not alone. Nebraska Sen. Tommy Garrett (R), in partnership with Nebraska Right to Life, is crafting legislation to outlaw dilation and evacuation procedures commonly performed following miscarriages and during second-trimester abortion care. Rep. Laura Cox (R) introduced similar legislation last month in Michigan and Arkansas Right to Life is already preparing to make their case for banning the procedure during the state's 2017 legislative session.

Meanwhile in Ohio, presidential hopeful Gov. John Kasich (R) is expected to sign a bill banning abortions for pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Co-authored by Ohio Right to Life, the legislation has already been approved by a health committee in the Ohio House of Representatives predicted to pass easily in the state legislature (two-thirds of whom enjoy National Right to Life Committee endorsements). The bill, which would threaten physicians with up 18 moths of jail time should they knowingly perform the procedure on a woman carrying a fetus with the condition, is danger of becoming one of some 16 TRAP laws enacted during Kasich's tenure. Since Kasich took office in 2011, half of the state's abortion providers have been forced to close their doors.

And most recently, top officials for Gov. Rick Scott in Florida went so far as to change and re-write a press release that had found no wrongdoing in the state's Planned Parenthood clinics. Many feel that this act of deception confirms Planned Parenthood's claim that investigations into the organization are politically motivated.

But advocates for women's reproductive rights are not taking new measures such as these lying down. This week, several allied women's health care providers, with the support of the Center for Reproductive Rights, requested the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider their recent decision to uphold a Texas law which would shutter more than 75 percent of abortion clinics in the state. The law, which mandates all abortion providers secure admitting privileges from local hospitals as well as requires reproductive healthcare facilities to shell out millions of dollars in unnecessary ambulatory surgical center updates, has closed 41 clinics in the state since its enactment. Only 10 remain.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: these restrictions have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with closing down clinics and pushing abortion care out of reach," says president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health Amy Hagstrom. "Our ability to get safe medical care should not depend on whether we have 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."

9/8/2015 - Obama Issues Executive Order for Paid Sick Leave

The Obama Administration stayed busy this holiday weekend, revealing yesterday a series of actions that will expand paid sick leave for hundreds of thousands of Americans by 2017.

President Obama issued an executive order yesterday ensuring that all federally contracted workers- some 300,000- are able to earn up to seven days of paid sick time for illness, preventative care, or to care for sick relatives. The order would also allow for federally contracted employees to take a paid week off per year to care for sick relatives.

During his State of the Union address this year, President Obama demonstrated his commitment to working families and placed a historic emphasis on improving the lives the American working class:

"We are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. . . . And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home," the President said.

President Obama also noted this weekend that the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, would be one strong option for American families. The FAMILY Act would also provide up to 12 weeks of much-needed paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as paid leave for prolonged illness or to care for a family member with a long-term illness.

"Today, President Obama took concrete and very welcome steps to make our nation more family friendly," Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, wrote in a press release. "We applaud his executive order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to allow all employees who work on federal contracts to earn paid sick time, and his powerful message urging Congress to- at long last- create the national family and medical leave program this country needs," Ness continued.

In January President Obama announced his intention to move in such a direction, promising to sign a memorandum directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, and to grant up to seven paid sick days to federal workers. The President encouraged state and local governments to do the same. Then, earlier this summer President Obama drafted an executive order to expand sick leave for all federal contractors and their subcontractors.

Paid parental and sick leave has a direct impact on working women and families. Often times for single parents or families with two working parents, having a sick child means taking unpaid time off or the risk of getting fired for staying home with the child.

9/4/2015 - "Yes Means Yes" Sex Education Could Spread to California High Schools

A bill introduced by California State Senators Kevin de Leon (D) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) that aims to prevent sexual assault in the state's high schools has passed the California Assembly with bipartisan support.

Recent attention on sexual assault has surrounded mainly colleges, but the pair recognized that sexual assault is also a critical issue in high schools. That's why earlier this year they introduced SB 695, which would combat sexual violence in the state's high schools by including curricula about rape and consent in health classes.

Sen. Jackson said in a press release:

"If we want to prevent sexual assault, it"s important that we start early. This bill will ensure that discussions about healthy relationships and consent are taking place in high school, with young women and young men, so we can help establish boundaries of acceptable behavior."

This pending legislation comes on the heels of another bill that was also introduced by De Leon last year and was recently enacted. The affirmative consent law was the "first application of the "yes means yes" concept in the country."

Rather than depending on the popular mantra "no means no," consent under this legislation requires an "affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." It helps to combat the harmful idea that the survivor must have actively resisted in order for rape to have occurred and put more of an onus on prevention.

This new bill, SB 695, takes those same notions to the state's high schools, stating that high schoolers are the "most vulnerable population" and that educating them is "paramount to reducing the number of incidents."

Women between 18-24 experience the highest rates of sexual assault. Sofie Karasek, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, believes the bill could go a long way in combating the epidemic.

"Educating students about consent, respect, and healthy relationships is vital to eradicating sexual violence on campuses and beyond, and I hope that other states will follow suit."

The California Senate had already passed the bill in a unanimous vote. The bill will now go back to the Senate for a final vote and if it passes, heads to the Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.

9/4/2015 - In Lawsuit, NYPD Officers Claim They're Punished for Refusing to Discriminate

NYPD officers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the city and the NYPD over alleged mistreatment and unlawful racial profiling. The group is also claiming that officers of color are facing backlash for speaking out.

Amongst the dozen officers behind the lawsuit is Adhyl Polanco, an officer with the NYPD who is filing a separate lawsuit claiming he has been mistreated since bringing the department's racialized quota system to media attention. Polanco claims his locker has been vandalized, and that he has been subjected to workplace harassment for speaking out against the quota system.

The 12 officers filing the lawsuit Tuesday, all of whom are racial minorities, allege that forcing officers to comply with a ticketing quota disproportionately affects minority officers. These officers say they are "unwilling to perform racially discriminatory and unwarranted enforcement actions against the minority community."

As the NY Post reports:

"By forcing minority cops to comply with the 'illegal quota system,' the city and the NYPD are subjecting black and Latino cops to unfair evaluations and discipline."

The officers claim they are being punished for not complying with the quota system with threats of termination, poor evaluations, denial of benefits or promotions, and being transferred to less desirable positions.

Polanco filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD in 2009 after recording a conversation with one of his supervisors revealing unlawful "stop and frisk" orders that pressured officers to meet quotas for ticketing. The use of quotas as consideration for punishment for officers is illegal in New York.

This "stop and frisk" quota has contributed to racial profiling throughout the city. 90 percent of the people stopped by the NYPD between 2002 and 2011 were black or Latino, and a large majority were male. Almost all of the stops resulted in no arrests or summons.

The NYPD has continuously denied that a quota system exists or is being enforced. The suit is being reviewed.

9/3/2015 - Kentucky Clerk Defies Supreme Court, Refuses to Issue Marriage Licenses

UPDATE: Kim Davis has now been jailed for contempt of court.

A county clerk in Kentucky is being summoned to court this morning where a federal judge could hold her in contempt for refusing to issue a marriage licenses to gay couples.

Claiming she is acting "under God's authority," Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis continues to defy a Federal District Court ruling and most recently, a Supreme Court order, ordering her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis, a devout Apostolic Christian, argues doing so violates religious beliefs.

Early Tuesday morning, gay marriage advocates and opponents alike, with journalists in tow, flooded Davis Rowan County Courthouse office to protest her noncompliance with federal law. After a brief but tense standoff with David Moore, who vowed to remain in her office until Davis issued him and his partner David Ermold a license to marry, Davis responded, "Then you're going to have a long day." Davis then retired to her office and closed the blinds.

Davis' defiance marks the first official challenge to this summer's historic Supreme Court decision which grants legal recognition and protection for gay couples seeking martial unions. Since the Supreme Court's ruling in June, Davis has turned away several same-sex couples seeking licenses, sparking homosexual and heterosexual couples countywide to file suit. In August, Federal District Court Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis to resume issuing licenses. In response, Davis and her attorney, Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend Bunning's order, insisting her religious convictions "be accomodated." The Supreme Court denied their request on Monday.

Davis may suffer severe consequences as a result of her actions Tuesday. If found in contempt of court at a District Court hearing scheduled Today in Ashland, Davis could face significant fines and up to 1 year in prison.

"She has absolutely no legal ground to stand on," says Columbia University law professor and director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Katherine Franke. "Kim Davis has all sorts of religious liberty rights secured under the First Amendment and under other laws. But they are not at stake in this case. All she's asked to do with couple that come before her is certify that they've met the state requirements for marriage. So her religious opposition to same-sex marriage is absolutely irrelevant in this context."

UPDATE: Kim Davis was ordered jailed for contempt of court after a hearing before Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court. Judge Bunning called Davis' reasoning for refusing to do her job "simply insufficient."

"The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order," Bunning said. "If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that's what potentially causes problems."

9/3/2015 - Target Forced to Pay $2.8 Million to Women and Minority Applicants

As a result of a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the popular mega-chain Target has to pay out nearly $3 million to the more than 3,000 applicants who were discriminated against while vying for management positions.

According to the lawsuit, the groups that were "disproportionately screened out" by a biased hiring exam were women, African Americans and Asian American job seekers, according to the EEOC.

The settlement concludes a long investigation that began when the EEOC filed the complaint back in 2006. The $2.8 million payout, which will be distributed among the affected candidates, is one of the highest for discrimination in hiring.

In addition to violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe the hiring test also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A component of the test involved an examination by a psychologist before an offer could be made, a practice that is prohibited by the ADA.

Target discontinued its use of the problematic assessment test during the investigation, but still denies any wrongdoing.

9/2/2015 - Judge Rules Employers Can Object to Contraceptive Coverage on Moral Grounds

A district court judge ruled in favor of anti-choice group March for Life Monday, deciding that employers don't have to meet the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act if they have moral objections to birth control. "This differs from and further cracks open the June 2014 Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision from June 2014 that granted ACA exemptions to organizations that were religiously opposed to covering contraception in employee insurance policies.

March for Life, which is a "nonreligious, pro-life organization," directs the annual anti-abortion march in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It is only one of many nonprofit groups that believe they should be exempt from covering contraception based on moral grounds, not just religious ones.

The group opposes IUDs and emergency contraception like Plan B, considering them abortifacients even though the consensus of the medical community runs counter to this assertion. March for Life filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services last year, arguing that the government should afford it the same treatment as churches and that to not do so was a violation of the 14th Amendment right of "equal protection of the laws."

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon wrote in the opinion for March for Life v. Burwell:

"If the purpose of the religious employer exemption is, as HHS states, to respect the anti-abortifacient tenets of an employment relationship, then it makes no rational sense-indeed, no sense whatsoever to deny March for Life that same respect."

Cindy Pearson, the executive director of the National Women's Health Network, condemned the judge's ruling, saying that it denies women basic health care:

"Women already took a loss with the Hobby Lobby decision, and yesterday's ruling was another slap in the face. Once again, [a judge thinks that] bosses are allowed to make women's sexuality their business. I don't believe the ruling will stand, but it's wrong it even happened."

This is the first decision of its kind and will likely be brought to the D.C. Circuit Court in an appeal.

9/1/2015 - Nation's "Strongest Equal Pay Law" Set to Pass in California

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) is set to sign what has been called "the strongest equal pay law in the nation."

The Fair Pay Act, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-CA), passed unanimously in both the State Assembly and Senate earlier this summer. The Act would ensure that women receive equal pay for work that is the same or substantially similar to that done by men. The legislation also protects from retaliation any woman who asks her male colleagues about their wages.

"After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap, and an equal pay law [in California] that has been on the books since 1949 but that is not as strong as it should be, the time is now for women's paychecks to finally reflect their hard work and true value," said Sen. Jackson in a press release. "Equal pay isn't just the right thing for women, it's the right thing for our economy and for California. And it is long overdue. Families rely on women's income more than ever before."

The bill is a breakthrough for working women, who have long been concentrated in lower-wage occupations such as nursing, elementary school teachers, cashiers and clerical work. Comparable worth laws, such as this bill, aim to close the wage gap by giving employees in female-dominated fields the legal means to push for pay that's equal to that of employees doing substantially similar work, requiring comparable education and skill, in different, male-dominated fields. For instance, SB358 would allow a female hotel room cleaner to challenge her employer for paying a male janitor a higher wage, since the jobs are comparable and demand similar skills.

"Over time, what we see is women consistently starting off behind men from the get go," Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, told the San Jose Mercury News. "What may start off as a barely noticeable difference over time really grows and is the reason why over a woman's lifetime, a woman is losing close to a half a million dollars due to the wage gap."

Women in California make an average of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man. That gap is even starker for women of color; Black women earn 64 cents to the dollar and Latinas earn a startling 44 cents.

There is a national law that protects women from pay discrimination the 1963 Equal Pay Act but according to Jackson, the Fair Pay Act would go much further. The California bill not only protects women from retaliation, but it also allows employees to challenge pay disparities between workers doing the same job at different branches of the same company (for example, two grocery store clerks working for the same parent company at different locations) and those doing comparable work. In addition, the bill requires employers to prove that pay disparities are based on qualifications and not on gender.

Said Jackson, "It is time that we fix the wage gap that women face at work and lead the nation in showing how it can be done."

8/31/2015 - Afghan Women Awarded for Women's Rights Advocacy

Ten Afghan women activists were awarded a prestigious prize and honor last week for their courageous fight for women's rights. The medals were presented by the Minister of Women's Affairs, Dilbar Nazari, on behalf of President Ashraf Ghani during a special ceremony at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, August 26.

The Medal of Malalai was named for a well-known 19th century Afghan shero. Recipients of the award included TOLO news journalist Shakeela Ibrahimkhail; Nobel Peace Prize nominee Suraya Parlika; Women's Council Head Fatana Gailani; Afghan Women Network's director Hasina Safi; Feminine Solidarity For Justice Organization(FSJO) director Liah Jawad Ghazanfar; deputy minister of women's affairs Fawzia Habibi; Faryab provincial women's affairs director Sharifa Azimi; Nangarhar women's affairs director Anisa Imrani; Herat women's affairs director Mahboba Jamshedi; and Dai Kundi women's affairs director Zakia Rezai.

Afghan women activists lauded the awardees and said that this action by the government motivates them to carry on the fight for their rights. "The medal that I received today is the medal of Malalai - who is a well-known national hero of Afghanistan. I am proud [to receive] this medal," said Suraya Parlika.

The ceremony occurred during the occasion of Afghanistan's 96th Independence Anniversary in Kabul.

8/31/2015 - Chicago Activists Continue Hunger Strike to Save Predominately Black Public High School

Chicago residents have entered the second week of their hunger strike protesting the closure of Dyett High School, in the predominately African-American Bronzeville neighborhood located on the South Side of Chicago.

Parents and community members are calling on the Chicago Board of Education to keep Dyett - the only open-enrollment, neighborhood school in its area - open and accept a community plan to revitalize the school with a focus on science and green technology. The Chicago Public Schools indicated that it would consider proposals from private organizations to run the school, but community organizers have rejected privatization in favor of a publicly-operated, district-run, neighborhood school. The protesters began their hunger strike on August 17, demanding that the city respond to their plan.

The Chicago School Board decided in 2012, the same year the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, to close Dyett High School by 2015, claiming that it was an under-performing school. At least 49 school closures were announced shortly thereafter, mostly in African-American neighborhoods. Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, called the closures "racist."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel defended the school closures as being beneficial for all students, but there is no guarantee that closing and replacing under-performing schools will lead to educational benefits. A 2013 report of school closures in Chicago between the 2001-2002 school year and the 2011-2012 school year, showed that only 15 percent of the replacement schools were rated as high performing by the Chicago Public Schools, but 32 percent were given the lowest rating. Of the more than 100 schools that were closed or completely re-staffed, almost all were neighborhood schools in African-American neighborhoods.

"We're tired of our children and our communities being demonized and being blamed for being underserved," said hunger striker Jitu Brown.

Protesters are also wary of closing neighborhood schools to replace them with admissions-based public schools or privately-run charter schools. Protester Monique Smith, told the Washington Post, "This is really about the privatization of education, it's about having sustainable community schools in every neighborhood. This is a much larger struggle.

Three federal civil rights complaints were filed last year with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice asserting that African-American students from Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans have been disproportionately impacted by school closures, negatively impacting African-American communities. Even worse, advocates claim that publicly-run neighborhood schools have largely been replaced by privately-operated charter schools, which have not produced large scale academic benefits for African-American students.

Against this backdrop, activists around the country have shown support for the Dyett hunger strikers. Hundreds have fasted in solidarity, sharing their support through the hashtag #FightForDyett. At a rally last week, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, joined Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery at Dyett to call on the Chicago Public Schools to accept the community-developed plan for the school.

At least two of the hunger strikers have had to seek medical assistance so far, but the protest continues. "We are undeterred, even though we are weaker physically," said Smith. "Our mental determination gets stronger with each day."

8/28/2015 - Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women

The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.

The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.

The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.

"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.

"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. "Every Alaskan woman, regardless of income, should be able to make the pregnancy decision that's best for herself and her family."

Access to full and unrestricted Medicaid coverage for Alaskan women seeking an abortion is critical. One in ten Alaskan women is living in poverty, and poverty rates are especially high for single mothers, women of color, and elderly women.

8/27/2015 - Los Angeles Mayor Announces Model Gender Equity Directive

On Women's Equality Day Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, signed a progressive and inclusive executive directive to take a major step toward gender equity for the city and to be a model for other cities. As one of the first cities to pass (CEDAW), Garcetti announced Los Angeles "must be a model for its implementation."

Garcetti's executive directive states that good governance includes addressing the needs of all people, and coming up with gender-specific responses to the challenges of governing a city. Garcetti created a Gender Equity Coalition comprised of Gender Equity Liaisons, who are to be appointed by city department heads.

"Gender equity must permeate every level of City operations- as leaders, employers, and service providers," the directive reads.

Each city department has until February 2016 to submit a Gender Equity Action Plan. City departments are also required to implement a strategy to address issues such as under-representation of women in certain work forces, equal pay, equal contracting opportunities for women-owned businesses, as well as aggregate and analyze data on sex and gender in the city and submit these data to the Office of the Mayor.

The progressive directive is the first of its kind, and has specific goals and criteria for populations that are considered "critical areas," including transgender women, undocumented women, lesbian women, women of color, senior women, women living with HIV/AIDS, and young women and girls. The intersectional approach includes race, gender, ethnicity, age, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, health, marital status, religion, or sex assigned at birth.

"I was proud to stand with Mayor Garcetti as he signed this executive directive to make Los Angeles a model city in implementing CEDAW," said Katherine Spillar, who as Executive Director of the Feminist Majority is based in Los Angeles. "This is historic, and I believe it will help all women in Los Angeles and hopefully encourage other city councils and Mayors to immediately pass CEDAW resolutions."

The signing of this directive was timed not only with Women's Equality Day, but also with the final installments of the city's Report on the Status of Women and Girls, which were released on Wednesday. This five-part report focuses on Los Angeles demographics, opportunities for women in positions of leadership, the needs of women veterans, education and workforce development, and public safety for women.

Mayor Garcetti is also responsible for the largest anti-poverty effort in the city's history, when he announced in May that the city would be moving to adopt a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2020.

8/26/2015 - Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time

The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.

This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. At the time, the royal decree was criticized as an attempt to redirect international attention from a harsh governmental crackdown on women drivers.

Voter registration began over the weekend in cities Madinah and Makkah, where a small number of women showed up to register. Jamal Al-Saadi was one such woman, saying that she was "quite ready' for this time to come.

"The participation of Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us," Saadi said. "The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making." Voting for all women will be opening in upcoming weeks.

Saudi Arabia still has far to go in reaching gender parity. Last year, a UN report ranked the country at 136 out of 140 in terms of gender equality. Saudi women still face massive barriers to autonomy, such as not being able to open a bank account, obtain a passport, or sometimes walk down the street on their own. Even more concerning is the Saudi male guardianship system, which gives men authority over women's lives. The Feminist Majority and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have long called for the removal of this antiquated sexist system.

The women registering to vote in this election recognize that this small win is just part of a larger fight for women's rights and gender equality.

"We are just at the beginning of the road," Saadi says.

8/25/2015 - Fraternity Signs Promote Rape Culture, Elicit Outrage

Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia is receiving national attention for a fraternity's vulgar and offensive signs that were on display as first-year students moved into their dorms.

The signs, which were hung on fraternity Sigma Nu and displayed derogatory messages for incoming female students- and their mothers- have since been removed, and the University has promised disciplinary action. They read "Rowdy and fun/ Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time," "Freshman daughter drop off," with an arrow pointing to Sigma Nu's front door, and finally, "Go ahead and drop off mom too."

"This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action," a statement from ODU President John Broderick read. Many advocates for better sexual assault prevention education and training, however, are saying this is not enough. ODU student government also released a statement, saying the incident "does not reflect the University's commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable."

Signs like these undoubtedly feed into what is known as "rape culture." Rape culture is a complex set of beliefs that create an environment in which sexual violence is prevalent, normalized, and sometimes encouraged. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language- like calling a woman entering college "baby girl"- objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence, usually against women. Behaviors associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual assault.

A further break-down of the messaging of these Sigma Nu signs also shows a concerning notion of consent. "A good time" is a clear reference to sexual activity, and "hope your baby girl is read" implies that this activity is going to happen- regardless of whether she wants it or not.

It has been widely proven that first-year students, specifically first-year women, are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual assault on college campuses. The first six weeks of school have been termed the "red zone" by experts to refer to the time when there is an increased risk of victimization for female students.

Fraternities in particular have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly."The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary that premiered this year, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice.

Just this year, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the universitys sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations to prevent sexual assault and enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations. Two fraternities, however, announced that they would refuse to sign the new regulations. And more recently, a Penn State fraternity was suspended for creating a private Facebook page with photos of nude women, some of whom appeared to be unconscious. So it would appear that some colleges are beginning to respond to this epidemic.

The Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Campus has a comprehensive toolkit and other resources for students interested in combatting rape culture and preventing college sexual assault.

8/24/2015 - Ohio Bill Would Ban Abortion Due to Down Syndrome Diagnosis

In the latest attempt to restrict abortion access, legislators in Ohio are proposing a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

The measure, HB 135, would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion for a pregnant person who is seeking an abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome in the fetus.

Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has supported various anti-abortion legislation since his election in 2010. Kasich signed a law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, and has included limitations on abortion providers' ability to obtain transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. Kasich also signed provisions making it more difficult for family planning centers to receive funding for preventative care, such as screening for cancer or STIs.

Democratic lawmakers have asked how the state would enforce such a ban, and why decisions based on one medical condition are banned by the state but not others.

"This legislation would remove a choice from a woman who may be considering terminating a pregnancy due to a medical situation," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. "Women should be able to make these big decisions in their lives without political interference," Copeland continued.

Ohio legislature is expected to vote on this measure this fall, where it will likely pass as the National Right to Life Committee makes up more than two thirds of both Ohio houses. Such a ban on abortion would likely be found to be in violation of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman's right to have an abortion before fetal viability.

8/24/2015 - Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Overtime, Minimum Wage for Home-Care Workers

A federal appeals court decision on Friday could mean big things for caretakers, workers' rights groups, and labor unions across the country.`

The appeals court ruled on Friday to reinstate Obama administration regulations that ensure overtime and minimum wage protections for home care workers who aid the elderly and disabled persons in the United States. These changes were originally instated in 2013 by the Department of Labor, when the department announced that it would expand the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover domestic home care aides and workers. Earlier this year a federal judge overturned this expansion, but the US Court of Appeals for the Washington, DC Circuit upheld that the Labor Department does have the ability to make these expansions to the law.

This workforce is overwhelmingly made up of women workers; the CDC reports that 90 percent of home care workers are female, and half are women of color. Furthermore, aides and home care workers make an average of $9.61 per hour, and one fifth of aides had no health insurance.

Twenty-one states and Washington, DC offer overtime protections or mandate state minimum wage protections for homecare workers. A handful of those states filed legal papers supporting the US Appeals Court decision last week.

This industry is rapidly growing. Almost 2.5 million people work as homecare workers, and that number largely represents those who work through a contracting agency. It is estimated that millions more work unofficially in this business, receiving pay under the table. Experts estimate that the number of jobs as personal care aides and home care aides will grow by up to fifty percent by 2020. This number partly represents the United States' shifting trend from getting elderly care through nursing homes to getting at-home care.