12/14/2015 - Planned Parenthood Files Lawsuit in Ohio
Planned Parenthood announced yesterday that it has filed a federal lawsuit to protect abortion access in Ohio. The suit comes two days after state Attorney General Mike DeWine threatened to take legal action against the health care provider and introduce legislation to further restrict abortion care in the state.
DeWine claimed in a press conference on Friday that Planned Parenthood clinics in the state had improperly handled fetal tissue - a claim that the organization calls "bogus." Planned Parenthood has said that it did not receive any formal communication from the Ohio Department of Health concerning DeWine's allegations, has never received a citation on the matter, and follows all applicable Ohio laws and regulations.
This new accusation against Planned Parenthood was announced after DeWine admitted on Friday, after a state investigation, that the claim that Planned Parenthood had "sold fetal tissue" was completely false.
"It's clear from the Attorney General's press conference that we've acted properly and legally, and this is just part of his longstanding political agenda to ban abortion in all cases," said CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Jerry Lawson. "We won't let that happen."
Planned Parenthood has asserted in its lawsuit that Ohio has violated its due process and equal protection rights. It is seeking an order to block the state from taking action unfairly targeting Planned Parenthood.
Since the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released several surreptitiously recorded and highly-edited videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of "selling" fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood has been under a barrage of state- and federal attacks. The videos have been debunked repeatedly, and to date, zero investigations have found evidence of wrongdoing.
12/11/2015 - Affirmative Action Returns to SCOTUS
For the second time in three years, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, the case that threatens to destroy affirmative action.
Wednesday's oral arguments included shocking racial animus and stereotyping.
Justice Scalia said: "There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.
Scalia went on to say, "I'm just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don't think it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible."
This is the same Justice Scalia who, during a 2013 interview, argued: "Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't."
The Fisher case is expected to be decided in June 2016.
12/11/2015 - Holtzclaw Convicted of Rape, Sexual Battery
After 45 hours of deliberations, a jury found former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty on 18 charges, including rape and sexual battery, for assaulting 13 black women over the course of seven months while on duty.
Holtzclaw was found guilty of 5 counts of first and second-degree rape, 6 counts of sexual battery, 4 counts of forcible oral sodomy, and 3 counts of procuring lewd exhibition. He was found not guilty on 18 of the 36 charges. Sentencing will take place on January 21. Holtzclaw faces up to 263 years in prison, and activists are calling on the court to impose a life sentence.
Holtzclaw used his position and power to systematically target at least 13 black women for rape and assault.ï¿½All 13 survivors testified during the trial, a courageous act for women who were predictably shamed, smeared, and disparaged in court.
Prior to the verdict, the case received scant attention in the mainstream media. Black women, including the black woman-led activist group OKC Artists for Justice, spearheaded online and on-the-ground organizing to mobilize action around the case. The group attended the trial and verdict, and also held a rally which brought attention to their hashtag, #BlackWomenMatter.
At a press conference today, Grace Franklin, one of the group's cofounders, proclaimed, "These women deserve to be heard. These women deserve to have justice. These women are important enough for the nation to have been following this case from the beginning. The 18 counts are important. And the 18 'not guilty' are reflective of an issue that we have in this country. Black women matter." The jury in this case did not include any black women or any people of color.
"While this is a key moment of accountability for police, we must recognize that black women disproportionately experience certain forms of police brutality, including sexual assault," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "We need to do more than acknowledge police brutality - we need to ensure that these women have access to justice."
In May, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) released a report, Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, highlighting stories of Black women who have been killed or assaulted by police.
"Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality," explains Kimberle Crenshaw, AAPF founder and director. "Yet, inclusion of Black women's experiences in social movements, media narratives and police demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color."
The jury's decision comes on the heels of an investigation by the Associated Press, which found that over the last six years, about 1,000 police officers in the United States lost their badges because of sexual misconduct. That amounts to an officer being fired for sexual misconduct nearly every other day.
Robert Dear, the man accused of killing three and injuring nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs late last month, was formally charged with 179 felony counts yesterday, including eight counts of first-degree murder and 131 counts of attempted first-degree murder. Dear's rampage was one of the worst acts of violence ever carried out by an anti-abortion extremist in the United States.
During the hearing, he made a series of outbursts, saying, "I'm guilty. There's no trial. I'm a warrior for the babies." Dear had allegedly spoke of "baby parts" upon his arrest, leading many to believe that his motivation for attacking the reproductive health clinic was tied to the release of several deceptive and surreptitiously-recorded videos by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) this summer. The videos, which claim to document the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood employees, have been debunked repeatedly.
Attacks on Planned Parenthood increased in the wake of the videos, according to the FBI, though threats and violence against abortion clinics have been on the rise for the last four years. The Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey found that more than 50 percent of clinics have faced targeted threats-such as stalking of doctors and clinic workers, and the use of WANTED-style posters-and about 1 in 5 clinics have experienced severe violence, including blockades, arson, gunfire and bombings.
"This lethal attack [in Colorado] must be viewed with a lens also focusing on the nationwide campaign of threats and violence against abortion providers," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal, in a statement following the shooting. "We cannot wait for another deadly attack before we start asking questions about the larger campaign of terror and violence against abortion providers. Rather than jumping to the conclusion of a lone wolf, we must determine if this wolf ran in a pack. Quite simply, wolves normally run in packs and the amount of threats hardly could be carried out by one lone wolf."
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was named Time's 2015 Person of the Year for her leadership on the Syrian refugee and Greek debt crises. Merkel becomes just the fourth woman to win the honor - outside of a group of winners - since it was first presented in 1927. She is also the first individual woman to win since 1986, and the first individual woman to receive the award since Time changed its title from "Man of the Year" in 1999.
In announcing the magazine's decision, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs said, "For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is 'Time's Person of the Year.'"
Earlier this year, Merkel helped shape Europe's response to Greece's continuing debt crisis, insisting on strict austerity measures before any bailouts went ahead.
With the Syrian conflict forcing millions of refugees away from home, Merkel opened Germany's doors, committing to accept 800,000 asylum seekers this year. It is expected that the number will approach 1 million by year's end.
"She has stepped up in a way that was uncharacteristic even for her," Gibbs continued. "She's been a very long-serving leader, the longest-serving in the west. She controls the world's fourth largest economy, but this year she really was tested in how she would respond to some of the most difficult challenges that any leader is facing in the world."
The title is awarded to the person or people who have had the most impact on the world and on the news - for better or worse - that year. While Time runs a reader poll, the Person of the Year decision is ultimately made by the magazine's editors.
Merkel beat out seven others on the shortlist for the award, including ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Black Lives Matter activists, television personality and former Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
12/9/2015 - State Lawmakers Advocate For Debt-Free College
On Monday, state legislators demonstrated their commitment to addressing the ever-growing student debt crisis in the US by announcing their support of new legislation making public colleges debt-free.
Joining a nationwide campaign spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Democratic lawmakers in 10 states including Massachusetts, Ohio and South Carolina are introducing resolutions, assembling study committees and developing strategies to place higher education within reach of all Americans by making college debt-free.
The need for increased accessibility to affordable education could not be more urgent. Not only do full-time workers with bachelor's degrees earn 60 percent more than workers with high school diplomas alone, 68 percent of managerial job postings and 60 percent of computer and mathematical job listings require them. With public and private institution costs skyrocketing in just fifteen years, 40 million Americans now owe more than $1.3 trillion dollars in student loans, each with an average outstanding balance of $29,000 and a repayment period extending some 13.4 years, deepening economic inequality and hindering social mobility.
These state legislators are the latest policymakers to answer the PCCC's call to action. In April, ninety-nine members of Congress signed on to formally endorse the idea of debt-free college.
"From New Hampshire to Iowa, and all across the nation, voters want students to be able to graduate from college without debt," said PCCC's campaign director Kayla Wingbermuehle.
Supreme Court Rejects Latest Delay Tactic by Center for Medical Progress
On Friday, the Supreme Court denied an emergency request from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that would have allowed the anti-abortion group to avoid disclosing the names of key supporters "intimately involved in the planning and funding for the Center's alleged conspiracy."
This is the third time that CMP and its President, David Daleidan, have tried â€“ unsuccessfully â€“ to avoid producing this information in connection with a federal lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF). The lawsuit, against CMP, Daleiden, and CMP board member and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, alleges civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud and breach of contract following the distribution of falsified, misleading videos suggesting NAF members, including Planned Parenthood, illegally sold fetal tissue.
Both the federal district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have ruled that CMP must provide NAF with a series of emails sent by Daleiden to CMP supporters, as well as the names of the supporters to whom the emails were sent. The emails contain "information gleaned from the Center's infiltration and surreptitious recording" at NAF conferences. CMP had refused to provide this information, citing erroneous First Amendment claims.
The Supreme Court's denial of CMP's application means that the organization must now turn over the names of those who were involved in its scheme.
"The defendants have stalled as long as they can, but enough is enough," said NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta who previously noted that "every day that the defendants refuse to disclose who they gave access to our confidential information puts our members in harm's way."
The release of several fraudulent videos by CMP which claim to capture the sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood have been proven false repeatedly, but have nonetheless sparked endless state and federal investigations into the organization, NAF and abortion providers nationwide. To date, zero investigations have found evidence of wrongdoing.
The release of these videos has also corresponded with an increase in threats against abortion clinics, providers, and staff. "The Feminist Majority Foundation started to receive reports of an escalation in severe harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against abortion providers immediately following the launch of the smear campaign by the Center for Medical Progress this past Summer," explained du Vergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project.
NAF is seeking a preliminary injunction to block CMP, Daleiden, and others from releasing any material or information that was illegally obtained at any of NAF's educational meetings. A hearing on NAF's request is scheduled in the district court later this month.
Despite a mass shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last week, Senate Republicans stepped up efforts to dismantle the reproductive healthcare provider by pushing forward a bill yesterday to defund the organization.
Using a legislative tactic called reconciliation, which enables lawmakers to advance budget-related measures with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60, the Senate voted 52 to 47 to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation must now go to the House, which passed a different version of the bill in October. The White House has already announced that President Obama will veto the measure should it reach his desk, and supporters of the legislation do not have the necessary two-thirds House and Senate majorities to override the President's veto.
Congress' most recent maneuver marks another in a series of legislative attacks against Planned Parenthood; they've come in the wake of the release of several fraudulent and surreptitiously recorded videos that falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. The videos, manufactured and distributed by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), have been debunked repeatedly.
Nonetheless, in September, House Republicans called Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on her organization's conduct and practices. Though the committee found no fault in Planned Parenthood's actions, just one month later, House Republicans announced the formation of a select committee-this time under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee-with the intent of investigating and defunding Planned Parenthood through budget reconciliation. To date, federal and state-level investigations have turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood clinics and independent women's healthcare facilities nationwide have experienced an increase in anti-abortion violence and severe threats since the release of the CMP videos.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said, "It is outrageous that politicians in Congress continue to attack Planned Parenthood and take away vital funding for women's healthcare on the excuse of false accusations leveled by anti-abortion extremists."
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced today that all military combat jobs will be opened up to women beginning next year, adding that "there will be no exceptions."
"Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer," Carter said at a press conference. "In the 21st century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent ... We can't succeed to defend the nation by eliminating half of the U.S. population from combat roles."
The groundbreaking announcement overturns a 1994 Department of Defense directive that banned women from units that primarily engage in direct combat.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta removed the ban on women in combat in January 2013, mandating that women be fully integrated into all combat jobs by 2016--unless an exemption was requested by a military branch. In order to receive an exemption, the branch would have to use hard data to explain why a woman would not meet the requirements of a specific post.
The Marine Corps was the only military branch to express an objection to the new directive, requesting exemptions to the rule for certain jobs, such as machine gunner. But Carter denied the request, saying there would be no exemptions. When asked about a study by the Marines that appeared to show that all-male units are more capable than mixed units, Carter said the data presented was "not definitive and not determinative."
Women's groups have celebrated the decision, which opens up new career opportunities and helps to break down deeply entrenched beliefs that men are more physically powerful than women.
"This is extremely important not only for women in the military, but for all women," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Women have been in combat for years, but the false premise that they were not in combat was used to discriminate against women in the military for promotions to leadership positions. Meanwhile, it was also being used against all women as an excuse to restrict full rights and vote against the Equal Rights Amendment."
The Pentagon's announcement comes only a few months after three women made history by graduating from the elite Amy Ranger School.
Despite increasing threats for over one year and the tragic shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, clinics nationwide stay opened over the weekend and performed vitally necessary health services for women. The Feminist Majority had released a survey about anti-abortion clinic violence in early 2015 that showed a dramatic increase (nearly doubling) in the percentage of clinics experiencing threats and intimidation from a high of 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9% of clinics in 2014.
This very high threat level appeared to only escalate after the July, 2015 release of highly edited videos fraudulently purporting that Planned Parenthood was "selling baby parts." According to du Vergne Gaines, Director of the FMF's National Clinic Access Project, "The Feminist Majority Foundation started to receive reports of an escalation in severe harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against abortion providers immediately following the launch of the smear campaign by the Center for Medical Progress this past Summer."
"Contrary to some media reports, the attack on the Colorado Springs clinic cannot be passed off as the act of a so-called 'lone wolf,' or an 'unstable' man who was 'off the grid.' This clinic was targeted on Operation Rescue's website "AbortionDocs.org" along with many other clinics and abortion providers," noted Kathy Spillar, FMF Executive Director. Operation Rescue's Leader, Troy Newman, is an officer of the Center for Medical Progress. Newman, for seven years, conducted a campaign against Dr. George Tiller who was murdered by Scott Roeder who, according to his trial testimony, had participated in Operation Rescue activities against Dr. Tiller.
"What little is known about the shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, raises alarm bells in his resemblance to other violent anti-abortion extremists. His anti-government views, survivalist life-style, and his history of violence, petty run-ins with the law enforcement, and use of illegal drugs - fit the profile of other extremists who have been convicted of murder and attempted murder of abortion providers," said Spillar.
"This lethal attack must be viewed with a lens also focusing on the nationwide campaign of threats and violence against abortion providers, in which nearly 1 in 5 women's health clinics have experienced severe violence in 2014," commented Eleanor Smeal, FMF president. "We cannot wait for another deadly attack before we start asking questions about the larger campaign of terror and violence against abortion providers. Rather than jumping to the conclusion of a lone wolf we must determine if this wolf ran in a pack. Quite simply, wolves normally run in packs and the amount of threats hardly could be carried out by one lone wolf," continued Smeal.
The Feminist Majority Foundation has led efforts nationwide for 28 years to keep women's health clinics open in the face of violence and intimidation. FMF's National Clinic Access Project monitors anti-abortion violence and works with local, state and federal law enforcement to prevent violence. FMF's annual National Clinic Violence Survey is the most comprehensive measure of anti-abortion violence and trends.
Last night, dozens of activists gathered outside the Supreme Court for a candlelight vigil calling for an end to anti-abortion terrorism.
The vigil, hosted by Reproaction, included representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority Foundation, GetEQUAL, the National Council of Jewish Women, and others.
Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL) and Mike Quigley (IL) joined the crowd and spoke of the need for abortion access and an end to the dangerous anti-choice rhetoric. Schakowsky recounted how she "has never seen such a blatant attack on women's health and women's reproductive rights on abortion."
Erin Matson, co-founder and co-director of Reproaction also gave an impassioned speech: "Anti-abortion terrorism and the tolerance to it in the United States - for far too long we've tolerated a poisonous rhetorical climate." Speakers called for a renewed dedication to ending clinic violence and urged activists to organize to preserve access to comprehensive women's healthcare, including abortion and birth control.
The vigil comes days after the shooting in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three and injured at least nine.
There will also be a Planned Parenthood-led national day of action on Saturday, December 5th. Stay tuned for details!
12/1/2015 - On World AIDS Day, PEPFAR Announces Partnership Targeting Infection of Young Women and Girls
Today, on World AIDS Day, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced it will partner with Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare to reduce AIDS infection of young women and girls globally.
According to PEPFAR, nearly 400,000 adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 are infected with HIV every year. With the help of their private sector partners, PEPFAR hopes to achieve a 40 percent reduction in HIV infections women and girls in the 10 most vulnerable countries in sub-Saharan Africa by the close of 2017.
Launched in 2003, PEPFAR has trained 190,000 new health care workers, provided life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 9 million men, women and children and HIV testing and counseling for over 68 million people around the world. Over 13 years of service, more than 1 million babies have been born HIV-free.
"No greater action is needed right now to end AIDS than empowering adolescent girls and young women," said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Ambassador Deborah L. Birx in a statement Tuesday. "These new partners will bring innovative thinking and critical resources, which will prevent new infections and save lives."
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the hospital admitting requirement for Wisconsin abortion providers is unconstitutional.
The scathing 2-1 ruling states that this kind of targeted restriction on abortion providers is unconstitutional because it lacks any basis to suggest that it improves safety at clinics. In his decision, Judge Richard Posner (a Reagan appointee) dismantles the argument for implementing onerous anti-abortion laws under the guise of protecting women's health:
"Some of them proceed indirectly, seeking to discourage abortions by making it more difficult for women to obtain them. They may do this in the name of protecting the health of women who have abortions, yet as in this case the specific measures they support may do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion."
These laws, known broadly as targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP laws), have become common practice for conservative lawmakers looking to restrict abortion access without banning the procedure outright. Posner's opinion reinforces that the Wisconsin law "cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women's health," adding that the evidence of health benefits for women is "nonexistent."
A similar case will be heard by the Supreme Court next year. Whole Woman's Health v. Cole challenges two provisions of Texas' omnibus abortion law, known as HB2. The first provision, which has already forced more than half of the clinics in the state to close, requires providers to secure hospital admitting privileges. The second provision forces clinics to fulfill costly, medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements. Should the Supreme Court rule that requiring hospital admitting privileges is legal, the 7th Circuit Court ruling would be overturned.
In the United States, women's groups join in the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. This public awareness of the need to end sexual assault and violence, which is also rampant in the United States, is being marked by a massive social media campaign and global online vigil to ask President Obama to stand with women and girls raped in conflict. Currently, the Helms Amendment and the Geneva Conventions are being interpreted extremely narrowly by the United States government so that U.S. is not providing comprehensive humanitarian aid, including the provision of abortion, to victims of rape and conflict.
"We hear the cries for help from countless women and yet, the largest provider of humanitarian aid has turned a deaf ear to the cries from raped women seeking comprehensive reproductive health services, including the provision of abortion. This is causing unimaginable suffering and even death to women and girls around the world," says Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
11/24/2015 - New Study Shows More Women Choosing LARCs
Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) is the "fast-growing" form of birth control in the United States, according to a new report released this month.
Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics found of the 62 percent of US women using birth control between 2011 and 2013, 11.6 percent opted for LARCS with 10.3 percent choosing intrauterine devices (IUDs) and 1.3 percent preferring an implant. By contrast, only 6 percent elected to use LARCs between 2006 and 2010. In 2002, the percentage was even smaller with just 2.4 percent of women using LARCs. The birth control pill, however, still remains the most popular, accounting for 26 percent of all women employing contraceptives from 2011 to 2013. Meanwhile, alternate forms of contraception including sterilization and condoms trailed closely behind at 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
The benefits of LARC are undeniable. In the United States, nearly half of the 6.6 million pregnancies annually are unintended. With a failure rate of less than 1 percent, LARC methods, like the IUD, are regarded as the most effective forms of reversible birth control available today. In fact, pilot programs providing free LARCs for low-income women and teens, like that in Colorado, has seen measurable success, cutting the teen birth rate in half statewide over just five years.
LARCs have also proven the most affordable. Though the uninsured can pay upwards of $1,000 upfront for IUDs, the device makes up the cost over its 5-to-10-year use life. Fortunately, most employers (with the exception of those religiously-affiliated) are required to cover LARCs under the Affordable Care Act, putting them within reach of working women.
Kentucky's last remaining full-time abortion clinic has been vandalized twice in less than one month.
On the night of October 26, EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville suffered a broken window when an unidentified man bolted past protestors across the street and threw his body into the clinic's window. The clinic's executive director, Anne, who withheld her name for security reasons, said following the incident, the man walked away calmly, leaving the window in pieces. Just three weeks later on November 11, surveillance cameras captured a male perpetrator kneeling and praying in front of the clinic. According to Anne, forty-five minutes later, the man returned, this time with "a blanket over his head" and in a matter of minutes, hurled a rock through the office's window before walking away. Louisville police report the clinic sustained some $1600 in damage in the two incidents combined.
The twin incidents in Kentucky are the latest in a spate of vandalism and violence against women's healthcare providers nationwide, the most recent attacks occurring in the wake of the release of several fraudulent and surreptitiously-recorded videos by anti-abortion group the Center of Medical Progress (CMP). Last month, an intruder wielding a hatchet destroyed telephones and other office equipment in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Claremont, New Hampshire. In September, two clinic were set ablaze by arsonists in Washington state and California respectively. This summer, two clinics in Louisiana suffered property damage in separate incidents of vandalism and in March, trespassers destroyed security cameras and a power generator at Mississippi's Jackson Women's Health Center. CMP's so-called "sting" videos claimed to document the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, but have been debunked repeatedly.
For now, Kentucky's EMW have affirmed their commitment to providing reproductive care and abortions services to the women of Louisville. "We're not angry, we're not afraid, we're just really sad that the mentality out there isn't more understanding and compassionate for women," said EMW's Anne. "They're not going to intimidate us."
11/20/2015 - Spotify Announces Impressive Parental Leave Program
On Thursday, music-streaming service Spotify announced the launch of a broad parental leave program that includes six months leave for new mothers and fathers.
Effective immediately, the Swedish-born company is offering full-time employees time off with 100 percent pay, which can be broken up into three separate periods and taken within the first three years of a child's life (employees who become parents by birth, adoption or surrogacy are all eligible). The policy also extends to employees who became parents as far back as 2013. On top of that, the company is offering a one-month "welcome back" program where new parents can ease back into their work lives with part-time hours and the option to work from home.
According to a statement from Katarina Berg, Spotify's chief human resources officer, the parental leave policy was created with Swedish cultural values in mind. "This policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work/family balance, gender equality and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people that matter most in their lives."
Spotify joins a growing list of tech companies that have announced new parental leave policies in the last year, including Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft. Some have suggested that the wave of new policies reflects the age demographic of typical tech employees, who started working in their early-to-mid 20s and are now becoming parents.
Stateside, workers' rights organizations are applauding Spotify's decision, but caution that the U.S. remains the only developed nation in the world that does not offer federally mandated paid family leave to workers.
"This is great news for Spotify's employees, and a sign of the times that it joins several other companies in pulling their workplace policies out of the past," said Vivien Labaton, co-founder and co-director of Make It Work, in a statement. "But these kind of policy changes shouldn't just be happening in the tech industry. It's time for our elected officials to take notice and pull America out of the past. Paid family leave is a world standard, and it's time for America to stop failing its workforce."
Added Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work,
Our policymakers must take note. Company policies go a long way in influencing culture, and it's great that some companies are leading the way on this issue. However, these companies remain a small minority. We need a universal social insurance fund like the FAMILY Act so that every working American can both provide and care for their families new babies but also seriously ill loved ones.
A Washington state investigation into Planned Parenthood has found "no evidence" of wrongdoing on the part of the women's reproductive healthcare provider following allegations the organization was selling or profiting from fetal tissue donations.
Washington state joins a growing list of states where probes into Planned Parenthood have failed to turn up proof of any illegal activity. This announcement, however, is particularly meaningful because Washington is one of the only two states-the other being California-where the organization offers patients the option to donate fetal tissue for scientific research.
In July, citing several deceptive and surreptitiously-recorded videos by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), Washington state lawmakers sent two letters to Attorney General Bob Ferguson requesting an investigation into the healthcare provider's activities. The videos, which claim to document the illegal sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood, have been debunked repeatedly.
Despite eight states' investigations coming up empty, right-wing lawmakers continue to target Planned Parenthood. Following the release of CMP's deceptively-edited "sting" videos, several congressional committees launched investigations into the organization. In September, House Republicans called Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Last month, House Republicans announced the formation of a select committee - this time under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee - in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood through budget reconciliation.
For now, Ferguson hopes his state's findings reveal the true motivations of Planned Parenthood's opponents. "Unfounded allegations against Planned Parenthood are troubling," said Washington State Attorney General Ferguson in a statement. "They seek to discredit the organization and divert resources away from patient services, making it more difficult for Washington women to exercise their constitutional rights."
The Ohio state House yesterday voted to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, only weeks after the state Senate passed a similar bill. Legislators must now decide which bill to advance.
In a 62-33 vote mostly party line vote-with all Republicans voting 'yes' and all Democrats except for one voting 'no-the House passed legislation that would redirect Ohio Department of Health grant money from healthcare providers that perform abortions.
In the most recent fiscal year, the state provided approximately $1.3 million to 28 Planned Parenthood clinics, excluding $2.4 million in Medicaid reimbursements. While the bills passed by the House and Senate do not affect the Medicaid reimbursement, the $1.3 million it eliminates will hamper Planned Parenthood's ability to provide a variety of services, including sexually transmitted disease testing, programs to prevent infant mortality, and breast cancer screenings.
Only 3 of the state's 28 Planned Parenthood clinics perform abortions, and none of the state-administered grant funding goes to these services.
"Testimony given by people all around our state-from Planned Parenthood staff to community partners-demonstrated that women and men rely on Planned Parenthood. Their stories and experiences directly contradict what is being said by the legislators who support this bill," said Stephanie Kight, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio. "Their blatant disregard for the truth and the well-being of Ohioans is shameful. They are willing to disrupt community programs that help some of our most vulnerable citizens, all to score cheap political points. These are not the leaders that the people of our state deserve."
The Ohio bills are the latest in a series of anti-family planning and women's health measures introduced by Republican lawmakers to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood following the release of a series of surreptitiously obtained and heavily edited 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 in several states have insisted on eliminating funding that enables millions of women, especially low-income women, to access health care.
The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) today released a groundbreaking report on self-induced abortion. The report found that at least 100,000 Texas women have ever attempted to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance. These findings demonstrate that in the face of burdensome restrictions on abortions, like Texas' onerous House Bill 2 (HB2), women will resort to self-induction to terminate their pregnancies.
The Texas law has shuttered 22 clinics, leaving only 19 clinics across the entire state, cutting women's access to safe, legal abortion. "Women still need abortions in our communities, and many of those women take matters into their own hands. Poor Texas women are finding themselves experimenting on their bodies when abortion is supposed to be legal," said President and CEO of Whole Woman's Health Amy Hagstrom Miller, who is the lead plaintiff in the legal challenge against HB2. The study confirms that when women don't have access to abortion options and accurate health information, they will use whatever options and information are available, even if those turn out to be inaccurate or dangerous.
"Every woman should be able to get safe reproductive care in her community, including prenatal care, birth control, and abortion," continued Hagstrom Miller.
The study-performed over five weeks from December 2014 to January 2015-is the first time statistics on self-induced abortion in the general population have ever been calculated by researchers. TxPEP estimates that somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 women age 18-49 in Texas have ever tried to end a pregnancy on their own without medical assistance. The study outlines four primary reasons why women attempted to self-induce their abortion: financial limitations to travel to a clinic or pay for the procedure, the closure of their local clinic, the suggestion from a close friend or family member to self-induce, or to avoid the stigma or shame of going to an abortion clinic, especially if they had prior abortions.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to review a challenge to HB2, which threatens to close more than 75% of abortion clinics in the state and deny millions of women access to safe, legal abortion. The case, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, seeks to permanently block two provisions of HB2. The first provision, which has already forced more than half of the clinics in the state to close, requires providers to secure hospital admitting privileges. The second provision forces clinics to fulfill costly, medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements. The TxPEP study suggests that self-induction may become more common should the Supreme Court uphold these provisions as constitutional.
On Friday, the White House's Council on Women and Girls hosted a day-long summit focused on advancing equity and elevating the status of women and girls in the United States. The Summit also served as a venue for institutions to announce new initiatives focusing on women and girls. Unlike the previously announced My Brother's Keeper program, the initiatives unveiled on Friday are not public-private partnerships and will receive no funding or resources from the Obama Administration.
MSNBC's Melissa Harris Perry, the director of the Anna Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, led the event and was joined by expert panelists including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Cecilia Munoz of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Ms. Foundation's Teresa Younger. The summit introduced key strategies for addressing inequity experienced by women and girls of color. Women and girls from around the world joined the conversation via social media using the hashtag #YesSheCan.
At the event, the Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research-a coalition of American colleges, universities, and research organizations led by Wake Forest University-announced an $18 million funding commitment to support research efforts about women and girls of color. The coalition currently comprises 24 institutions, including the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, Harvard University, Bennett College, and Howard University School of Divinity.
Prosperity Together, a project of the Women's Funding Network-a group of public U.S.-based women's foundations committed to investing in women's economic security-also announced a five-year, $100 million funding initiative to increase economic opportunities for low-income women.
In 2014, the Obama Administration created the My Brother's Keeper Taskforce, which has attracted over $300 million in funding, and an additional $85 million for its non-profit spinoff. The total for the new private initiative for women and girls is only $118 million and does not come with any White House infrastructure like the aforementioned Taskforce.
My Brother's Keeper has received criticism for failing to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by their female peers. Studies show girls of color experience a disproportionately higher rate of school suspensions than their white counterparts, comprise 32 percent of juvenile arrests and detentions and remain more than twice as likely to become pregnant as teens as young white women.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will review an anti-abortion Texas law that threatens to close more than 75 percent of abortion clinics in the state and deny millions of women access to safe, legal abortion.
"Today, my heart is filled with hope," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and President of Whole Woman's Health, the lead plaintiff in the case. "Although this is the first step in a much longer process, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy."
"I have hope," Hagstrom Miller continued, "for my staff members, who, for years, have poured themselves into providing Texas women with high-quality and comprehensive reproductive health care. And most of all, I have hope for the families and communities all across Texas who now may be able to get the safe and comprehensive care they need from a clinic they trust."
Last week at its Women Money Power Summit, the Feminist Majority and the Feminist Majority Foundation, honored Hagstrom Miller with a Courage Award.
"We are thrilled that the Supreme Court has decided to review this politically-motivated law, whose goal is to end abortion access and all but overturn Roe v. Wade," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Laws designed to force the closure of women's reproductive health clinics are not only discriminatory, they are dangerous for women. The Supreme Court should expose the Texas law, and all those like it, for what they are - an end run around Roe - and reaffirm the constitutional right of millions of women to access safe, legal abortion."
The Supreme Court will likely hear the case Whole Woman's Health v. Cole in 2016. The case challenges two provisions of Texas' omnibus abortion law, known as HB2. The first provision, which has already forced more than half of the clinics in the state to close, requires providers to secure hospital admitting privileges. The second provision forces clinics to fulfill costly, medically unnecessary ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements.
Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have spoken out against both the ASC and admitting privileges requirements as medically unnecessary. Without any medical justification, all these laws seek to do is make it increasingly difficult-or even impossible-for a woman to get an abortion.
"We are confident the court will recognize that these laws are a sham and stop these political attacks on women's rights, dignity, and access to safe, legal essential health care," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Whole Woman's Health and other providers in the case.
The Supreme Court has twice stepped in to temporarily block the law from fully going into effect-once in October 2014 and again in June 2015. The 2014 decision came after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that both restrictions could take effect even though the case was still being heard in court. The Supreme Court's decision kept the ASC requirement from going into effect until the Fifth Circuit could make a final ruling on the law's constitutionality. When the Fifth Circuit issued its final decision in June, upholding both requirements, the Supreme Court again stepped in to temporarily block the decision, maintaining the status quo while the clinics continued their legal challenge back to the Supreme Court.
This week, at the National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) 2015 Annual Conference, Ms. in the Classroom, a college curriculum based on Ms. magazine, will introduce two innovative new digital readers. The readers compile the best of Ms. magazine and the Ms. Blog into easily accessible online textbooks for the 21st century feminist classroom.
Designed to engage digital-savvy undergraduate students in an ever-growing number of women's studies and online education courses and programs, Ms. Digital Readers are edited and introduced by distinguished faculty from the Ms. Committee of Scholars and feature more than 100 articles from Ms. and the Ms. Blog from 1972 to present day. Currently available, the new Ms. Digital Reader: Gender, Race & Class, introduced by Beverly Guy-Sheftall and edited by Aviva Dove-Viebahn, introduces students to the intersections that connect gender, race and class, strengthening students' relationships to progressive activism on their campuses, in their communities and the larger world. For the first time ever, the Ms. Digital Reader, in partnership with Women Make Movies, will offer students the opportunity to supplement their reading with documentary films related to their topic of study.
The Ms. Digital Reader series, inspired by an appeal to educators issued by the NWSA Curriculum Institute (led by Guy-Sheftall) to approach women's studies in transnational and intersectional terms, is the brainchild of Ms. in the Classroom program director Karon Jolna. Building on four key concepts identified as central to women's studies and feminist activism, including intersectionality, transnationalism, knowledge production and social justice, Ms. Digital Readers feature articles written by such feminist and social justice pathbreakers as bell hooks, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Bonnie Thornton-Dill, Dolores Huerta and Brittney Cooper, addressing topics like work and labor, media, and reproductive justice.
Arriving January 2016-just in time for Winter and Spring 2016 classes!-the followup Ms. Digital Reader: Introduction to Women's Studies: So You Want to Change the World?, edited by Michele Tracy Berger, introduces students to the field of women's studies. The articles highlight the transformative influence of studying women, gender and sexuality on students, universities, communities and feminism.
Want to join the 700+ undergraduate women's studies programs worldwide using Ms. in the Classroom Ms. Digital Readers, but can't attend NWSA's Annual Conference? Sign up for Ms. in the Classroom TODAY!
Between Thursday and Sunday this week, as many as 1,800 feminist scholars from around the country will meet in Milwaukee for the National Women's Studies Association's (NWSA) annual conference. Ms. and the Feminist Majority Foundation's national campus organizers will join distinguished faculty and graduate students from across academic disciplines in celebrating the latest feminist scholarship.
In addition to hundreds of workshops, panels will feature such feminist luminaries as Kimberle Crenshaw, former NWSA president Beverly Guy-Sheftall as well as event keynote speaker Sara Ahmed, the director of the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Since 1977, the NWSA has worked to strengthen the field of women's studies through feminist scholarship, building an ever-expanding membership of individuals and institutions nationwide. In recent years, addressing the need for a more inclusive space, the NWSA has centralized scholarship by women of color within its programs. It launched the NWSA Women of Color Leadership Project, a conference mainstay, at which esteemed scholars, including Angela Davis and bell hooks, will deliver keynote addresses.
Each year, some of the most well-attended conference workshops are the Ms. Sessions, featuring Ms. scholars sharing their experiences and insights about writing for the popular press. Currently in their fourth year at the conference, these Ms. writing workshops provide feminist scholars with the tools they need to translate their cutting-edge research into articles and blogs for Ms. and other media outlets.
In addition to the Ms. Sessions, Ms. in the Classroom will be introducing two innovative new Ms. Digital Readers at the exhibition booth. The readers are the first of their kind, compiling the best articles from Ms. magazine and the Ms. Blog into accessible, engaging online textbooks to be used in feminist classrooms in the U.S., Canada and globally.
Ms. in the Classroom program director Karon Jolna hopes this year's NWSA conference will grow Ms.' network of feminist scholars and offer them new and creative ways to engage their students."Ms. in the Classroom strengthens the connections between academia, women's studies, and the Ms. community of activists," says Jolna. "With faculty participating in 48 states and more than 500 universities and colleges, [teaching tools like] Ms. Digital Readers, designed for use in the most popular women's studies and general education courses, take on an even greater sense of currency for the next generation."
11/11/2015 - SCOTUS Protects Use of Deadly Force by Police
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed a Texas police officer to avoid a civil suit for shooting and killing a fleeing suspect, despite two federal appeals court decisions that would have allowed the lawsuit to go forward.
In March 2010, DPS trooper Chadrin Mullenix fired his rifle six times from atop a highway overpass at suspect Israel Leija, Jr. who had been engaged in a high-speed chase with police. Minutes before the shooting, trained DPS officers had set up tire spikes at three strategic locations to disable Leija's vehicle in order to apprehend the suspect. Mullenix, who was never trained in shooting to disable a car in a high-speed chase, asked permission from his superior to fire at the approaching vehicle. The superior told him not to shoot, ordering Mullenix to "stand by" and "see if the spikes work first."
Mullenix shot anyway. None of the six bullets he fired hit the car's radiator, hood, or engine - which would have disabled the vehicle - but at least four shots hit Leija in the upper body, killing him at the scene.
Leija's mother brought a civil suit against Mullenix, alleging that the officer had violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force against her son. In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Mullenix could face trial. That decision was later upheld after the entire Fifth Circuit, in a 9-6 ruling, refused to rehear the case.
On Monday, in an 8-1 decision, the Court reversed the Fifth Circuit, finding that the officer's actions did not clearly violate a constitutional prohibition on excessive force and that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity, meaning that Leija's mother will not be able to seek justice for her son through the courts.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused the Court of "sanctioning a 'shoot first, think later' approach to policing [that] renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment hollow." She noted, "When Mullenix confronted his superior officer after the shooting, his first words were, "How's that for proactive?" Justice Sotomayor described this "glib comment [as] revealing of the culture this Court's decision supports when it calls it reasonable-or even reasonably reasonable-to use deadly force for no discernible gain and over a supervisor's express order to "stand by.""
The court's decision comes amid massive, nationwide protests of police use of deadly force, whose victims are disproportionately African American. According to the Washington Post, 843 people have been shot dead by police this year alone.