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11/14/2014 - Fifth Circuit Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to Affirmative Action at University of Texas
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has refused to rehear a ruling that permits the use of race as a factor of consideration in undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas.
In a brief order issued on Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit indicated that the decision to refuse rehearing was 10-5.
Twice before, the Fifth Circuit sided with the University of Texas at Austin in a case brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who believes UT discriminated against her when she was denied admission six years ago. UT considers race as a factor for roughly 25 percent of students who are not admitted under the Top 10 percent rule, which grants automatic admission to the top students of a high school's graduating class. Fisher did not meet the 10 percent threshold and was denied admission. She claimed that UT rejected her because of her race and that the school's admission policy is therefore a violation of the 14th Amendment.
"We are pleased with the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit," UT Austin President Bill Powers said in a statement following the Court's decision. "The University of Texas at Austin is committed to maintaining a student body that provides the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. The exchange of ideas and cultural richness that occurs when students from diverse backgrounds come together on our campus prepares all our students for life in a global society."
Fisher's attorneys plan to file an appeal to the Supreme Court within the next 90 days.
The Supreme Court is not unfamiliar with the case. In 2012, the Supreme Court heard Fisher's appeal from the Fifth Circuit's original ruling in favor of the University. At that time, the Supreme Court voided the Fifth Circuit's decision and sent the case back for the Fifth Circuit to determine whether the University's use of a race-conscious admissions policy could survive "strict scrutiny." After hearing the case again, the Fifth Circuit continued to uphold the University's admissions policy.
Police brutality, military sexual assault, and gender-based violence in the US came under scrutiny this week as the United Nations Committee Against Torture conducted its periodic review of the United States' compliance with the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
In preparation for the review, the UN asked the United States to provide the Committee with specific information on what steps the US has taken to "prevent and punish violence and abuse of women," in particular women of color. The Committee also requested information on "brutality and use of excessive force by law enforcement officials and ill-treatment of vulnerable groups, in particular racial minorities, migrants and persons of different sexual orientation."
To assist the Committee with its review, US-based advocates, organized by the US Human Rights Network, provided information, reports, and testimony earlier this week.
The Black Women's Blueprint, which will be honored by Ms. magazine with a Wonder Award next week, provided the Committee with its report, "Invisible Betrayal: Police Violence and the Rapes of Black Women in the United States." The report highlights how Black women's experience of rape and sexual assault constitute a form of torture. The group also focused on the continued minimization of sexual violence as it relates to Black Women. As an example, the group cited the recent arrest of white Oklahoma City, Oklahoma police officer Daniel Ken Holtzclaw. Despite facing 16 felony counts of sexual assault and misconduct - including the sexual assault, rape, stalking, fondling, and indecent exposure of himself to at least eight black women while on duty - Holtzclaw was released on $500,000 bond, after having an initial $5 million.
The report goes on to note: "Despite the facts that 22 percent of Black women and 50 percent of racially mixed Black women experience rape in higher amounts when compared to white women, the long-standing legacy and continued devaluing of Black women as legitimate victims of rape and assault generally compound Black women's continued victimization and likelihood to get a conviction against a police officer no less."
Women's All Points Bulletin (WAPB) provided the Committee with information on the hyper-policing of transgender women of color. "Transgender women are four times more likely to experience police violence compared to all victims of police violence," according to WAPB, and 22 percent of all who've had an interaction with law enforcement reported they were harassed, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted by an officer. More than one-third reported "they were harassed by correctional staff while a sizeable portion had reported being physically (16 percent) and sexually (15 percent) assaulted" with rates increasing for people of low-income or racial minority backgrounds.
Appearing before the Committee on Wednesday, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., parents of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown who was slain by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August, testified about the excessive use of force that ended their son's life. Martinez Sutton, the brother of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd spoke on behalf of his family as well. Boyd was killed when an off-duty Chicago police officer fired his gun at another unarmed man in 2012. No member of law enforcement has been fully prosecuted in either case. The family of Israel "Reefa" Hernandez Llach, along with the Dream Defenders and the Community Justice Project of Florida Legal Services, also testified about a Miami Beach, FL police officer's reckless use of a taser that ended 17-year-old Llach's life.
Abortion and military sex assault were also brought before the UN this week. The Global Justice Center and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) asked the UN to regard the US policy that denies safe abortion services to people raped in conflict zones as a violation of the Convention. The groups reiterated the Committee's repeated stance that "access to abortion, at least in certain circumstances, implicates the rights guaranteed by the Convention" and that "impediments to safe abortion access, in particular for rape victims, lead to 'grave consequences, including unnecessary deaths of women.'"
The Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Now, the Global Gender Justice Clinic at Cornell, the Military Rape Crisis Center, and the Service Women's Action Network also submitted testimony calling on the UN to recognize military sexual assault as a reality that "violates service members' right to be free of torture." The groups acknowledged some effort by the US Department of Defense to address the prevalence of sex assault in the military, however, they said, "By failing to adequately prevent and address incidents of sexual violence in the US military, the DoD fosters a culture of impunity."
The US has been a party to CAT since 1994. The Committee Against Torture conducted its review of the United States on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The Committee will continue to meet through November 28.
One in seven women could die during childbirth in the West African countries most impacted by the Ebola crisis, according to members of the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of aid organizations in the UK.
Though on the decline before the outbreak, maternal mortality rates in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea were still some of the highest in the world. Now, these rates are expected to soar. The state of many local hospitals and clinics, strained by the influx of patients fighting the disease, has discouraged pregnant women from seeking antenatal care due to fear of interaction with bodily fluids. Korto Williams, the head of ActionAid in Liberia, said online videos have emerged of women giving birth in the streets with no help, because bystanders feared they had the disease.
"We have to do more to stop this horrendous prediction (from) coming true," Williams said. "We have to ensure that pregnant women get the care they urgently need or we will see the rate of maternal deaths skyrocket. Ebola has taken enough lives already."
According to the World Health Organization, more than 13,000 people have been infected with the disease since March. Almost 5,000 people have died in the three worst-hit countries. Some healthcare providers have turned into exclusive Ebola treatment facilities, leaving pregnant women, and people battling other diseases like malaria or tuberculosis, without any care. Save the Children chief executive Justin Forsyth said Ebola is having a "huge impact on wider health issues," even spilling over into public education. "No children have gone to school since March and pregnant mums are avoiding health clinics and hospitals," Forsyth said, adding that where pregnancy-related admissions averaged 80 a day, they are now around 20.
According to the UN Population Fund, of the 800,000 women that are expected to give birth over the next 12 months in the three countries, 120,000 will likely face complications that could lead to death if the current strain on medical services is sustained. If that happens, the maternal mortality rate could jump 20 times higher than it is now.
Aid groups are working to train more care givers and staff Ebola treatment facilities. Save the Children has worked with more than 250 providers and midwives, and has provided sanitation supplies to help workers stay safe. Meanwhile, there has been a drop in the number of new Ebola cases in Liberia, but the groups warn that the outbreak is far from over.
UN Women has been calling for a "gender-based" humanitarian response to the Ebola crisis that targets outreach services specifically to women. The UN Country Team in Sierra Leone launched an Ebola Gender Mainstreaming Strategy last month to better integrate women into all aspects of the Ebola response. The Strategy seeks to "build confidence among heath workers, and reestablish trust among communities to utilize public health facilities and services."
12 countries have come out this week in public opposition of El Salvador's extreme abortion ban.
As part of a review currently being conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK all submitted statements urging El Salvador to lift its complete ban on abortions. The assessment, the Universal Periodic Review, is conducted regularly by the United Nations to see whether UN member states comply with human rights commitments.
"The chorus of countries worldwide calling for El Salvador to end its unjust abortion ban is growing ever larger and louder," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). "The Salvadoran government cannot ignore the calls any longer, and must not be allowed to evade accountability for the human rights abuses that countless women continue to suffer. Access to safe and legal reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right, not a crime." There are currently about 28 countries that hold full bans on abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
El Salvador's abortion ban makes no exceptions for rape, incest or threats to a mother's life or health. Women for the last 16 years have faced prison charges of up to 30 years for attempting to take control of their reproductive rights - and, in some cases, for having miscarriages.
El Salvador, which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in all of Latin America, has put the lives of women and girls on the line with their draconian ban on abortion. Since the ban was instated, hundreds of girls and women who became pregnant after rape have committed suicide every year, and teen pregnancy is reportedly one of the leading causes of suicide in the region. Nearly one third of all pregnancies in El Salvador occur in girls between 10 and 19, but initiatives to improve sex education in schools and to improve contraception access have been denounced by the powerful Catholic Church in El Salvador.
In 2013, a 22-year-old caled "Beatriz" sought relief from an unviable pregnancy in El Salvador, but the Supreme Court denied an abortion to the young woman. Beatriz's life was at risk, and she was ultimately forced to undergo a C-Section to end her pregnancy.
To make matters worse, a strong stigma surrounding rape prevents girls and women from reporting sexual violence - and of reported sexual violence, only a small number of perpetrators actually go to jail. "Sometimes the person carrying out sexual violence is the family's sole breadwinner," Mario Soriano, a doctor who works with adolescent development in El Salvador, told Reuters, "and so the possibility that their economic help will be taken away is used as a threat against the girl not to report the crime."
El Salvador's government has chosen to postpone a response to the UN recommendations until the next session in March 2015. "Now more than ever the international human rights community must continue to advocate and pressure the Salvadoran government to ensure women's reproductive rights," said Monica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at CRR.
After almost a year of negotiations, the US and China announced an unprecedented pledge to limit their carbon emissions, giving hope to climate change activists worldwide.
This morning, President Obama pledged that the United States will increase their efforts to curb carbon emissions, aiming for a 26-28% decrease in overall emissions by 2025, and President of China Xi Jinping announced the country's first-ever commitment to cap fast-growing carbon emissions by 2030. As the United States and China are the two largest producers of carbon emissions, the pledge has been largely praised by international communities interested in preventing climate change.
This move by Presidents Obama and Xi follows an urgent environmental push by the UN through the release of their report on climate change earlier this month. The report warned of the "clear and growing" human influence on the climate, stating that if we were to continue with its "business as usual" attitude, climate change will increase severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
Brian Dixon, vice president for media and government relations at Population Connection, places the decision within the context of global impact. "Certainly by itself, this is not going to solve the problem," he told Feminist Newswire, "but it's important that these two countries are willing to take aggressive steps to deal with our carbon issue."
The two goals are highly ambitious, and already there has been some criticism from Republicans for President Obama's plan. To meet the 2025 goal, the US will have to more than double carbon pollution reduction from an average of 1.2 percent per year to an average of 2.8 percent per year until 2025. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the plan "unrealistic," and thinks it "would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs." Many more people, however, are applauding the landmark agreement and its implications for the environment. Former president Al Gore called the decision "a major step forward in the global effort to solve the climate crisis."
Although the United States' agreement to cut back emissions is still far from what the UN has called for, President Obama is optimistic. "This is a major milestone in the US-China Relationship," he said while standing alongside President Xi this morning, maintaining that "[the US has] a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change."
China and the United States made more than one agreement during President Obama's meeting with President Xi. As well as the historic climate change pledge, the two presidents agreed on the importance of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, increasing cybersecurity, strengthening military relations and increasing trade.
The Pentagon is conducting its largest-ever report of sexual assault in the military this year, with over half a million active-duty troops being called on to submit responses.
The report, to be conducted this year, will be issued online to all 200,000 active-duty servicewomen and 300,000 servicemen.
The Pentagon hired professional Rand Corp to create and distribute the poll in the hopes of getting more responses than ever before. "Rand's survey methodology will allow the department to accurately compate data among all previous surveys so that we can semlessly asses progress the department is making in preventing and responding to the crime of sexual assault," says Army Major James Brindle, a spokesperson for the Pentagon.
"Great care was taken to obtain a representative sample," says Rand Corps spokesperson Jeffrey Hiday, who added that the survey will not exclusively be about sexual assault.
The US military faced massive criticism in 2013 in the wake of a report on sexual assault which revealed an increase of unreported sexual assaults from 19,000 in 2010 to over 26,000 in 2013. A separate report released at the same time showed an increase of 6 percent in reported sexual assault cases. The 2013 report sparked outrage on Capitol Hill, where President Obama held a conference to urge officials to take charge and assigned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to "step up our game exponentially" in both preventing sexual assault in the military and charging those responsible.
The Rand report is part of a requirement made by President Obama in 2013 for a full-scale report on progress made to eradicate military sexual assault by December of this year. The President has fought to end military sexual assault throughout his term, most recently in January when he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which expanded efforts for sexual assault prevention and strengthened victim protections. Efforts to curb the military sexual assault epidemic have floundered in Congress, where legislators remain split about whether or not to remove prosecution of sexually violent crimes from the chain of command.
11/11/2014 - Over 50 Women Hospitalized and 11 Dead in India After Botched Mass Sterilization at Government-Run Camp
At least 11 women are dead and more than 50 women have been hospitalized in India following botched sterilization procedures in government-run health camps.
According to reports, more than 83 women between the ages of 26 and 40 were operated on in only six hours by one doctor and an assistant. At least 20 women who were hospitalized as a result of these procedures are in critical condition. Witnesses say the procedures were carried out "hurriedly." The women were sent home, but soon began reporting fever and pain. A few days later, many of them were taken to a hospital and several died. The exact cause is unknown, though first investigations suggest the deaths were from blood poisoning or extreme loss of blood.
So-called "sterilization camps" reportedly exist in several states in India, with authorities in some areas offering couples incentives like cash payments for undergoing the procedure. In this case, each woman was offered 600 rupees, which is the equivalent of less than $10 US dollars, to undergo the procedure. The botched laparoscopic tubectomy operations were performed in Chhattisgarh, one of the poorest states in India, with at least a 49 percent poverty rate.
After the deaths, state surgeons met to debate whether or not to continue the state sterilization schedule, which would see 180,000 women sterilized by March of 2015. Activists say these schedules and quotas are a danger to women as they pressure doctors to lead women in the direction of sterilization over other effective methods of contraception.
"These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control," All India Democratic Women's Association member Brinda Karat told the Associated Press. The Indian government estimates 4.6 million women were sterilized in the country from 2011 to 2012.
Although four health officials, including one man who received an award last year for having performed 50,000 sterilization procedures, have been suspended, the Indian government denies claims of negligence.
This is not the first time botched sterilization procedures in India led to hospitalizations and death. In early 2012, three men were arrested for performing the procedure without anesthesia on 53 women in just two hours. Sterilization camps are put in place to perform mass procedures. A national sterilization campaign was abandoned in the 1970's after people complained that thousands of people were forced into getting sterilized. While these procedures are now said to be voluntary, poverty and health officials have pushed women into sterilization - sometimes without proper consent forms.
The United States Agency for International Development launched its largest women's empowerment program in the world on Saturday. Called "Promote," the program will invest up to $416 million dollars into the education, training, and promotion of Afghan women in civil society, government, and business.
The US has committed $200 million to Promote and is seeking $216 million from other donors for the five-year program. Promote will target Afghan women between the ages of 18-35 who have had secondary education. The program has four components: leadership training; the promotion of women in decision-making roles within the government; inclusion of women in the workplace, particularly in technology, finance, and administration; and strengthening the capacity of women's rights groups and coalitions.
Both President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Adbullah attended the launch of Promote in Kabul with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and other officials. Ghani and Adbullah both spoke about giving more roles to women in government and the need for women's inclusion in economic development.
Administrator Shah explained that Promote, while a women's empowerment program, is designed to foster development in Afghanistan as a whole. "Promote helps the Afghan people see that investing in a woman's chances to succeed is essential to their own economic prosperity and national security," said Shah. "By investing in women as champions for development, we can advance peace and broad-based growth across Afghanistan."
Women in Afghanistan have made extraordinary progress over the last 13 years since the collapse of the Taliban regime and have played a critical role in the rebuilding of civil society. US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Catherine Russell acknowledged this progress in video remarks prepared for the launch, but noted that much work remains for Afghan women to be "fully empowered to participate in their communities."
"For us to see this take shape in Afghanistan, women have to be at the table--and in even greater numbers," said Russell. "It is essential that women hold elected office and leadership positions at the highest levels, and to participate in all aspects of Afghan life." Russell remarked that Promote is "about a commitment to doing everything we can to help the Afghan government continue to build momentum for women and especially the next generation of women leaders."
Promote was welcomed by Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, who also spoke at the launch on Saturday. Rula Ghani emphasized her desire that Promote reach not only urban women, but also "their educated sisters in the provinces."
In addition to providing small grants to women's organizations throughout the country, Promote will work with the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) to provide funding for internship and fellowship programs in government ministries for Afghan women high school and college students. It will also promote policy reform at the national and local level and encourage the creation of more economic opportunities, primarily in urban areas.
MOWA Deputy Minister Muzhgan Mustafavi expressed optimism around the launch, telling Tolo News, "This program will bring visible changes in the working conditions of the women in the country." At the same time, Mustafavi was candid about the need to monitor the program closely. "We ask that the government of Afghanistan is allowed to monitor the budget to ensure transparency and that aids are not wasted."
In addition to Promote, USAID Administrator Shah also announced more than $110 million in aid for health and nutrition programs for Afghan women and girls. That aid will be used to improve nutrition among Afghan women and girls and reduce stunting, anemia, and iron deficiency.
11/10/2014 - Supreme Court Upholds Decision on Disclosure Law for Crisis Pregnancy Centers in New York City
The Supreme Court declined last week to review a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding a New York City law that requires so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in New York City to inform patients that they do not have any medical professionals on staff.
The Supreme Court's decision lets stand a portion of a New York City law that requires CPCs to post a "status disclosure" in English and Spanish at the entrance to its facilities and in waiting rooms, informing patients whether or not a licensed medical professional works on-site at the facility. CPCs must also communicate the disclosure orally during meetings and in telephone conversations with potential clients.
The law requiring CPCs to disclose their non-medical status was enacted in 2011. It mandates that imitation clinics must post a "status disclosure" in English and Spanish at the entrance to facilities and in waiting rooms. The disclaimer must be communicated orally to clients or potential clients, in-person and in advertisements. The law also required CPCs to disclose that the New York City Department of Health encourages women who are or may become pregnant to consult with a licensed medical provider. In addition, the original law mandated that CPCs disclose their policy on referrals for abortion services, emergency contraception, or prenatal care.
The New York City Council passed the CPC law in response to evidence that certain CPCs in New York City were engaging in "deceptive practices" intended to mislead clients about the services they provide, which include misleading consumers about the types of goods and services they provide on-site, the types of goods and services for which they will provide referrals to third parties, and the availability of licensed medical providers that provide or oversee services on-site. It is the Council's intention that consumers in New York City have access to comprehensive information about and timely access to all types of reproductive health services.
Shortly after the law took effect in 2011, five CPCs - including Evergreen Association Inc and the Life Center of New York, Inc - filed suit against the city, alleging that the law was an infringement of their right to freedom of speech and due process. A lower court judge, siding with the anti-abortion centers, ruled that the law was "unconstitutionally vague," and granted a preliminary injunction. Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the "status disclosure" provision of the law, but struck down the portions of the bill that required CPCs to acknowledge the NYC Health Department message or state its referral policy for services like abortion.
The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the anti-abortion groups' suit means the law will be enforced according to the ruling of the Second Circuit.
A student-run feminist group at Columbia University is facing up to $1,500 in fees due to a protest of campus rape and sexual assault held last week.
The Columbia Student group Carry That Weight Together garnered nationwide attention last week when they organized a national Day of Action, in which over 130 campuses from Stanford University in California to Eastern European University in Budapest, Hungary, participated. The Day of Action was inspired by student Emma Sulkowicz, whose senior thesis titled "Carry That Weight" includes Sulkowicz carrying her mattress around campus to protest the University's decision not to punish the student she and two other students have accused of rape.
As part of the national protest last week, Columbia students carried 28 mattresses around campus with messages of protest against rape and sexual assault, words of support for survivors, and demands for change to the University's sexual assault policy. At the end of the protest, the mattresses were placed on Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's lawn, for which the students are now being charged with up to $1,500 in clean-up fees.
Columbia spokesperson Robert Hornsby says the fees were not unusual. "These are entirely typical matters in apportioning direct costs for facilitating student events," he said, referring to the University's decision to throw the mattresses into dumpsters within an hour of being placed on President Bollinger's lawn. However, according to student and protest organizer Michela Weihl, the University's actions held more meaning than a simple clean-up. "The symbolism of them literally dumping the mattresses in the trash within an hour," said Weihl, "it's so indicative of how they handle sexual assault on this campus - they literally throw out rape cases without a second thought."
The Carry That Weight Together group, led by Sulkowicz, continues to protest rape and sexual assault, and has been pushing their list of demands for Columbia University. The list includes improvements to the reporting process on campus, a comprehensive and recurring review of the University's policy for handling rape and sexual assault, among other demands for making the campus safer for survivors.
The Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine will be honoring Sulkowicz and the Carry That Weight project with a Wonder Award next week for her courageous efforts to fight college rape and sexual assault. For more about the upcoming Wonder Awards Luncheon, visit our homepage.
Saturday, President Barack Obama officially announced Loretta Lynch as his nominee to replace outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder. If confirmed, she would be the first African American woman in US history to hold the position.
In his announcement, the President emphasized the need for the next Attorney General to continue building on the civil and human rights legacy being left behind by Eric Holder, and pointed to the quiet, but solid record of his nominee. "It's pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta," President Obama said on Saturday. "Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has the reputation for being a charming 'people person.'"
Lynch, who is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, rose through the ranks of New York's Eastern District, serving as chief of the Long Island Office, then moving on to Chief Assistant US Attorney, then US Attorney. Twice - under President Bill Clinton's Administration, then again under President Obama - the Senate unanimously confirmed Lynch as head of the US Attorney's Office. She is best known for successfully prosecuting the New York City police officers who assaulted and brutally sodomized Abner Louima with a broken broomstick in a Brooklyn precinct bathroom in 1997. Louima received $8.7 million in settlement money years after the gruesome attack, with one of the officers receiving a 30-year sentence. Lynch also successfully prosecuted the suspects that plotted to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank and the New York City subway system in 2012.
This morning, Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told NewsOne host Roland Martin that Lynch is "clearly" qualified for the job. "There's no doubt that she has the background, the qualifications, and the experience to lead this important agency," Arnwine said. "And it means the world to me that there will finally be an African American woman in this cabinet."
According to the Los Angeles Times, Lynch rarely gives news conferences or interviews, a quality the President lauded over the weekend. "Loretta doesn't look to make headlines, she looks to make a difference," he said. "She's not about splash, she is about substance. I could not be more confident that Loretta will bring her signature intelligence and passion and commitment to our key priorities, including important reforms in our criminal justice system."
During his comments, the President stopped to thank current Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for showing his support of Lynch as nominee. However, the new Republican majority in the Senate could prove trying for Lynch's confirmation. Despite the President's call for a speedy confirmation on Saturday, top ranking Republicans have already suggested her confirmation be delayed until the Senate shifts to Republican control next year. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said Lynch's nomination "should be considered in the new Congress through regular order." Iowa Republican and incoming Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley congratulated Lynch on her nomination in a statement issued late last week, but warily added that "US Attorneys are rarely elevated directly to this position."
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked two new abortion restrictions, allowing Oklahoma women to continue to access safe, legal abortion while the legal challenge to the state's laws continues in court.
The decision by the state's highest court means that Dr. Larry Burns, who provides 44 percent of all the abortions in the state of Oklahoma, will be allowed to continue offering services. Dr. Burns had been forced to stop providing abortion services after 12 area hospitals refused to extend admitting privileges, as required by an Oklahoma law, which took affect on November 1 after a lower court ruling allowed the law to go forward.
The admitting privileges requirement was signed into law by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) earlier this year. According to the new law, abortion providers must be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, however, a hospital is under no obligation to grant these privileges. Advocates and doctors agree that admitting privileges requirements have no medical purpose, and only serve to burden women seeking care.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court also temporarily blocked restrictions on medication abortion. Those restrictions, which had also taken effect on November 1, requires doctors to use an outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol for administration of mifepristone. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the broader medical community have long abandoned the FDA protocol for a new standard of care that requires a lower dosage of the drug. Based on the old protocol, the Oklahoma law bans medication abortion beyond seven weeks, but abortion providers say the drug can safely be used beyond that time. The state tried to appeal a 2011 medication abortion law attempt to the US Supreme Court, but the Court dismissed the case after receiving guidance on the law from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
"The Oklahoma Supreme Court handed the women of Oklahoma a crucial victory by protecting their constitutional rights and restoring critical options for those seeking safe and legal abortion services," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who is representing the plaintiffs in both cases. "Time and time again, courts are seeing that the true motive behind these underhanded and baseless restrictions is to push essential reproductive health care services out of reach for as many women as possible."
Both cases will now return to a trial court, which will consider the legality of the laws.
11/7/2014 - Sixth Circuit Ruling on Gay Marriage Bans Could Send Marriage Equality to the Supreme Court
A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. The 2-1 decision, issued on Thursday, makes it more likely that the US Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of marriage equality bans - perhaps as early as this Term.
Last month, the Supreme Court denied review of the issue. Experts explained that the denial of review was not unusual because the federal Courts of Appeal had not split on the issue; all of the lower courts at that time had ruled that same-sex bans were unconstitutional. This Sixth Circuit, however, has changed the legal landscape, becoming the first federal Court of Appeals to uphold a ban since the US Supreme Court decided US v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
Although same-sex marriage is now legal in 32 states, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, joined by Judge Deborah L. Cook, both George W. Bush appointees, relied heavily on "tradition" to uphold same-sex marriage bans, calling same-sex marriage a "new social issue" that must be decided through the democratic process. Writing in dissent, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, a Clinton appointee, blasted the majority for failing to address the central issue in the appeal: whether same-sex marriage bans violate the US Constitution.
"The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy," Judge Daughtrey wrote. "But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal. In the main, the majority treats both the issues and the litigants here as mere abstractions. Instead of recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there, my colleagues view the plaintiffs as social activists who have somehow stumbled into federal court, inadvisably, when they should be out campaigning to win'the hearts and minds' of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee voters to their cause."
Judge Daughtrey noted, however, that the plaintiffs were not "political zealots," but instead were ordinary citizens "who want to achieve equal status" by "exercising a civil right that most of us take for granted - the right to marry."
Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the legal organizations representing the plaintiffs, indicated that the ACLU would immediately appeal the case to the US Supreme Court, explaining that the majority decision, "is an outlier that's incompatible with the 50 other rulings that uphold fairness for all families, as well as with the Supreme Court's decision to let marriage equality rulings stand in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia."
"It's wholly unconstitutional to deny same sex couples and their families access to the rights and respect that all other families receive," Strangio continued. "We will be filing for Supreme Court review right away and hope that through this deeply disappointing ruling we will be able to bring a uniform rule of equality to the entire country."
In a recently released video, a man who says he is the leader of extremist group Boko Haram denied a claim that successful ceasefire talks had taken place between the group and Nigerian officials laying out a plan for the return of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in April. Now, their families are still waiting.
[caption id="attachment_16875" align="aligncenter" width="605"] via Michael Fleshman[/caption]
Nigerian officials had announced the ceasefire would lead to the release of the girls, but in the video a man named Abubakar Shekau claims the Nigerian government had negotiated with a man who does not represent Boko Haram. Nigeria will hold general elections in three months, a fact that some believe is leading the government to handle the situation with Boko Haram poorly. Others point out that Boko Haram is not always a unified group, and that one faction may agree to a ceasefire while another may not.
"[Boko Haram] has split into many factions with varying aims, to the point that some believe it is too fragmented to present a common front for dialogue," wrote International Crisis Group in a report released earlier this year.
Instead of releasing the schoolgirls, Boko Haram has continued its attempt to takeover Nigeria's northeastern region. According to residents in Mubi, the town has been renamed by Boko Haram from Mubi to "Madinatul Islam," which translates to "City of Islam." Thousands have fled the towns taken over by Boko Haram and have taken refuge nearby.
International activists and human rights organizations have pressured Nigerian officials to concentrate on the release of the schoolgirls during ceasefire talks, but Boko Haram has been unwilling to negotiate every step of the way. Directly after Nigerian officials seemed certain a truce had been agreed upon, Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped more girls and women. Veteran diplomat Bolaji Akinyemi told BBC News that peaceful negotiation may no longer be a reasonable solution.
"The government needs to stop sending mixed signals about the possibilities and now consider that maybe the solution is a military one," Akinyemi said. "Unfortunately we have to accept that the loss of lives is inevitable and maybe we need to prepare ourselves for that."
The #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which looks to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian girls and to quell the insurgency in the country, points out that the Nigerian government has been inconsistent - or flat-out wrong - about the narrative of rescuing the kidnapped schoolgirls; whether this is purposeful misinformation or a result of confusion in talks with Boko Haram's factions is unknown.
Families of the kidnapped schoolgirls remain hopeful for the return of the girls, but are justifiably skeptical of any announcements of their release. Despite some analysts suggesting efforts should be concentrated on restoring stability in Nigeria instead of on rescuing the girls, #BringBackOurGirls insists the international community should not give up on bringing the girls back home.
"...We DEMAND the immediate rescue of our 219 Chibok Girls," wrote the campaign in a statement on November 1. "We cannot but remind our Federal Government that time is running out and that these endangered daughters of our nation have been in travail for too long."
11/6/2014 - Election Day Victories Will Bring Paid Sick Leave to Massachusetts California and New Jersey
Employers in one state and three municipalities will now be required to provide their employees with paid sick leave after a string of Election Day victories at the polls. Employees in Massachusetts and in the cities of Oakland in California and Trenton and Montclair in New Jersey will be able to utilize their newly mandated sick leave by 2015.
Massachusetts passed Question 4 with 59 percent of the vote on Tuesday, making Massachusetts the third state, along with Connecticut and California, to require employers to provide paid sick leave to both full- and part-time workers. Though considered a big win for paid leave advocates, Question 4 is by no means generous. Under the new law, employees who work for employers with eleven or more employees can now earn 40 hours, or five days, of paid sick leave per calendar year. One hour of sick leave is earned for every 30 hours an employee works - but an employee cannot begin accruing leave until after 3 months on the job. Employees can use the sick leave when they're ill, injured, or when a spouse, child, or parent needs to be cared for.
Employees in Oakland, California now have the ability to earn up to five paid sick days, two more than the California state law requirements passed in September. Similarly, Trenton and Montclair in New Jersey passed laws requiring employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to five earned paid sick days.
Workers' rights groups hope that this is an indication of more improvements to come. Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of New Jersey Working Families, celebrated the success in New Jersey. "Tonight's victories ensure that, for 20,000 more New Jersey workers, a case of the flu or a sick child won't mean losing pay or getting fired," she said.
These successes are a part of a sick leave movement that has been picking up in recent years. Since 2013, the number of cities requiring paid sick leave has increased from six to 16, and the number of states with similar requirements rose from one to three.
Nationally, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, 76 percent of part-time workers in the US private sector have not one single paid sick day, and the most vulnerable employees are the most at risk of having no paid time off for illness. Of workers in the bottom quarter of the wage scale, 70 percent have no paid sick leave, and of those in the bottom 10 percent, 80 percent have no paid sick days.
Voters threw their weight behind state, county, and city referendums raising the minimum wage across seven states on Election Day Tuesday.
420,000 minimum wage workers in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska can now expect a higher hourly beginning January 1, although many of the approved increases will happen gradually over the course of the next two years. Alaska's minimum wage is now set to be $9.75 an hour by January 2016, with an $8.75 rate taking effect in the new year. Arkansas will boost their minimum wage to $7.50 this January and $8.50 in January 2017. Nebraska's will increase to $8.00 on January 1 and $9 in January 2016. South Dakota's minimum wage will ultimately increase to $9.00 in January 2016, but workers will see a $1.25 jump this January to $8.50 an hour.
Illinois voters also passed an advisory measure raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour Tuesday, but it was non-binding. If Illinois were to take up the increase, 680,000 low-wage workers across the five states - two-thirds of whom are women and one quarter of whom are raising children - will get a raise as they ring in the new year.
Although the increases are modest, they send a strong message to national legislators about the broadening support for living wages for all workers across the country. Yesterday's victories united voters across party lines, and over 25 states have now taken action to raise the minimum wage. On Election Day, efforts to give low-wage workers a raise even won at the county and city level.
190,000 workers in San Francisco and Oakland will also see raises after two successful measures to raise the minimum wages in those California cities were approved by voters. San Francisco's Proposition J will gradually raise the minimum wage in the Bay Area city to $15 an hour by July 2018, beginning with an increase on January 1. The move rivals nearby Seattle's historic decision to do the same earlier this year and affirmed the "living wage" activists have been championing since 2012 across the country as part of the Fight for 15, but unlike Seattle's minimum wage law, San Francisco's wage hike covers nearly all workers - including those that earn tips - and takes effect faster.In Oakland, Measure FF will give up to 48,000 workers a raise in March of 2015 when the city adopts a $12.25 an hour minimum wage.
Shum Preston, a spokesperson for the SEIU Local 1021, which was a proponent of Proposition J, called the city-based strategy "The California Model" in an interview with the SFGate. "These ballot initiatives are the right issue at the right time," he told them. "This is a strong example of the traditional progressive left in the Bay Area not only being relevant, but driving a national agenda."
California's municipalities were not alone, however, in expressing support yesterday for local initatives to raise the minimum wage. In Wisconsin, nine counties and four cities including Racine, Milwuakee, and Kenosha approved an advisory referendum raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee championed Proposition J, and spoke out prior to the election to voters about his time washing dishes in his family's restaurant growing up. "I know what [low-wage workers] are going through," he said to SFGate. "I've washed those dishes." Lee also looked forward in his remarks. "We are now going to be the light for the rest of the country to lead the way on a real, true minimum wage."
Nationally, support for minimum wage increases is high, but efforts to raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 floundered this year in Congress when Republicans voted along party lines to reject the Minimum Wage Fairness Act. President Obama increased the minimum wage for nearly 200,000 workers employed by federal contractors in February, but the Minimum Wage Fairness Act would extend the same increase to 28 million workers. Many families relying on minimum wage salaries are still living well below the poverty line, and women and minorities - who disproportionately make up low-wage workers - are suffering the most.
"Faced with an unresponsive Congress and opposition by Republican-controlled legislatures in a numbers of states, Americans came out in force to vote for minimum wage increases across the country," Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, told NBC news. "Rare is the issue that can bring together voters in South Dakota and San Francisco."
11/6/2014 - Election Day Decisions on Marijuana and Nonviolent Crimes Also Counter Racial Biases of War on Drugs
Voters in three states and Washington, DC made significant headway in ending criminalization of nonviolent and low-level drug offenses on Election Day. The new laws could help to significantly reduce the disparate impact of overpolicing and incarceration of people of color.
Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia approved legislation to legalize marijuana Tuesday. Alaska and Oregon approved marijuana for recreational use and sale, while voters in the nation's capital weighed in on possession.
In Alaska, more than 52 percent of voters approved Measure 2, which would "tax and regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana" in the state. In Oregon, nearly 1.5 million residents cast their vote, with roughly 56 percent approving Measure 91. The Oregon law also permits the "possession, manufacture, sale of marijuana" and subjects the substance to state regulation and taxation.
Washington, DC voters may face the most uncertainty following Tuesday's advances toward decriminalization of marijuana. DC voters overwhelmingly passed Initiative 71, which legalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, up to two ounces, for personal use. Individuals in DC are also allowed to grow marijuana in their homes, but sale is still prohibited. Days ahead of the vote, the DC Council held a joint hearing addressing regulation and taxation of marijuana. DC mayor-elect Muriel Bowser suggested she did not want to move forward with full implementation of the voter-approved initiative until sale and regulation had also been addressed.
"I see no reason why we wouldn't follow a regime similar to how we regulate and tax alcohol," Bowser said following her win, adding that her transition team will take up the issue in the coming weeks. DC's subjection to federal oversight, however, could delay -if not unravel -these efforts to further decriminalize marijuana in the nation's capital. Maryland Republican Representative Andy Harris has already said he would actively attempt to block the DC law from taking effect.
DC Chief of Police Cathy Lanier commented that she respects "the clear intent of District voters," but is calling for the DC Council to "provide clarity to the public and law enforcement officers" going forward. "[W]e need to recognize that the initiative cannot be immediately implemented," Lanier said. "If the initiative is held up in Congress, attorneys for the District will need to provide additional guidance."
In Massachusetts, voters were not asked to legalize the substance - but in eight districts, residents overwhelmingly endorsed a non-binding question that asked legislative representatives in the state house to vote in favor of legislation to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. On average, 72 percent of voters supported the question, though it has no impact on state law.
In California, voters passed a much broader decriminalization law. Nearly 3 million voters approved Proposition 47, which reclassifies certain drug and property offenses as lower level misdemeanors. The money the state saves in housing low-level offenders will be reinvested to support "school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail," according to the text of the initiative.
According to The Sentencing Project, approximately 10,000 people will be eligible for re-sentencing under the new law, helping alleviate the burden of overcrowding facing California's prison systems. In 2006, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzneggar declared a state of emergency when the prison population reached its peak. In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that the administration of health care in the state's prisons was constitutionally inadequate because of overcrowding. The Court ruled that the state must reduce overcrowding to 137.5 percent within two years. Last year, the United Nations lead torture investigator, Juan Mendez condemned the state of US prisons nationally, and called for access to California prisons specifically to ensure that prisoners' rights were being protected.
Despite the fact that African Americans and Hispanics make up only a quarter of the US population, they represent 58 percent of all prisoners in the US. African Americans represent 12 percent of monthly drug users in the US, but make up nearly a third of persons arrested for possession. When it comes to time served for non-violent offenses, people of color are sentenced to as much time for non-violent drug offenses as white folks are sentenced for a violent offense. According to a 2013 report from the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, more than 80 percent of all arrestees in the nation's capital were African American. Of that number, 90 percent were arrested for drug-related offenses. More than 19 out of 20 arrests in Washington, DC were for nonviolent offenses. A similar picture emerges for people of color nationally. Together, all the state-based measures help chip away at the disproportionate rate of arrest, incarceration, and over-policing of people of color by law enforcement.
Florida was the only state to emerge from Tuesday's elections with a failed vote on marijuana. Amendment 2, which would have legalized medical marijuana, fell shy of the 60 percent majority required for approval. However, more than 3.3 million people voted in favor of the amendment - more than any single federal or executive candidate in the state.
Media Resources: Alaska Secretary of State Election Results 11/2014; Alaska Board of Elections 3/2014; Oregon Secretary of State Election Results 11/2014; DC Board of Elections 11/5/14; Council of the District of Columbia Hearing Notice 10/30/14; WAMU-FM News 11/5/14; Washington Post 11/5/14; Florida Division of Elections 11/2014; MassLive.com 11/6/14; California Secretary of State Statewide Results 11/6/14; The Sentencing Project 11/6/14; California Office of the Governor Emergency Proclamation 10/4/06; Los Angeles Times 10/18/13; Washington Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights & Urban Affairs 7/2013; NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet
Measure 89, a state constitutional Equal Rights Amendment which was placed on the ballot in Oregon by a citizen's petition, passed overwhelmingly by a nearly 2-1 margin, with 64 percent of voters turning out in support of constitutional equality for women.
Over 116,000 signatures from registered voters in Oregon put Measure 89 on the ballot. Voting in Oregon is done by mail, and around 69.5 percent of voters submitted ballots for the 2014 general election yesterday, making up the highest voting percentage by any state in the nation.
Measure 89 was a project of Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, president of VoteERA.org, who ran the petition drive and subsequent campaign with the support of the Feminist Majority Foundation. DiLorenzo argued for explicit protections for women in the state constitution. "The language of Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution, written in 1857, has not changed," she wrote. "Under it women could not vote, could not serve on juries, most could not own property, and women still do not have equal pay for equal work."
"I am proud that the FMF campus campaign in Oregon worked on 9 campuses throughout the state to educate and mobilize students for passage of Measure 89," Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the FMF, told Feminist Newswire. "The students were shocked to find out that there was no provision against sex discrimination in the Oregon constitution and they worked hard for passage of this state Equal Rights Amendment."
Four former Oregon Supreme Court justices wrote an open letter supporting Measure 89. "We believe that passage of the Oregon ERA will acknowledge the contributions and importance of more than 50 percent of our citizens by finally providing women express recognition in our state's most important document, its constitution," the justices wrote. In addition, Measure 89 was endorsed by many state officials including the Governor John Kitzhaber both U.S. Senators from Oregon, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who was re-elected on Tuesday. Many organizations, including the YWCA, NAACP, American Association of University Women, Feminist Majority Foundation, Oregon labor groups, business groups, the Oregon Nurses Association, and the Oregon Education Association endorsed Measure 89.
Twenty-three states now have an equal rights provision in their state constitutions. The wording of the Oregon ERA is based on the federal ERA, which has been ratified by 35 states and needs just three more states to approve it for final ratification. Measure 89 reads, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex." It continues, "The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section. The final provision reads, "Nothing in this section shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution."
11/5/2014 - While Colorado and North Dakota Rejected Personhood on Election Day, Tennessee's Anti-Abortion Measure Passed
In a strong win for reproductive rights advocates, voters in North Dakota and Colorado handily defeated - by a 2-to-1 margin - two state constitutional personhood amendments that would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs and ban access to abortion and some forms of birth control. In Tennessee, however, a state constitutional amendment that takes away privacy rights to abortion from women and gives state legislators more power to restrict abortion access and birth control passed.
Students in Colorado rallied against Amendment 67, a personhood measure. In North Dakota, voters decided on Measure 1 on Election Day, a proposed change to the state constitution that would have created an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development," including the moment of fertilization and conception. North Dakota voters overwhelmingly defeated Measure 1 64 to 36 percent, despite stories of voter confusion that spread in some polling places.
In Grand Forks, students from the University of North Dakota were told they could not vote at their local precinct because their student ID certificates did not properly indicate their campus addresses. Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) National Campus Organizers on the ground in North Dakota, Taylor Kuether and Alyssa Seidorf, estimate that about half of all student voters were turned away at the polls in Grand Forks. However, in Fargo, the vast majority of students were able to vote using their student ID certificates.
"We are so proud of all the students that helped get out the vote," Kuether and Seidorf said in a statement to the Feminist Newswire. FMF's organizers tweeted guidance throughout the election to students, reporting problems and encouraging others to get out and vote.
Despite the ballot initiative victory, realizing full access to comprehensive reproductive health care under North Dakota law is still a challenge. There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state, and that clinic continues to operate despite a state TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law that requires doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges to an area hospital. The North Dakota Supreme Court also just upheld HB 1297, a bill that dramatically limits access to medication abortion in the state. The law took effect November 1.
In Colorado, voters rejected personhood but also elected a proponent of similar legislation as their Senator. Representative Cory Gardner (R) - who cosponsored a federal personhood bill - defeated incumbent candidate and personhood opponent, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), by 10 points.
Amendment 67, however, a measure which would have banned abortion without any exceptions, end in-vitro fertilization across the state, severely restrict access to common forms of birth control, and potentially subject anyone who suffered a miscarriage to a criminal investigation, was trounced. 64 percent of voters rejected the extreme amendment, marking the third time that a personhood measure has failed on the state ballot. Amendment 67 drew strong criticism from 18 national and local newspapers, legendary human rights activist and FMF Board Member Dolores Huerta, and a host of other high-profile advocates. FMF organized campaigns across the state to mobilize student voters against the ballot measure led by National Campus Organizer Nancy Aragon and duVergne Gaines, Director of both the FMF's CHOICES Feminist Campus Leadership Program and National Clinic Access Project.
In Tennessee, however, voters passed Amendment 1 - a state constitutional amendment that takes away privacy rights for abortion and birth control access and permits state legislators to pass laws restricting abortion and birth control - despite strong opposition from students, medical doctors, and survivors of sexual violence, including Ashley Judd. The Amendment passed by six points, with 53 percent voting yes and 47 percent voting no.
Two FMF National Campus Organizers, Edwith Theogene and Ashleigh Moses, were working with students and advocates on the ground in Tennessee to defeat Amendment 1. Although they were dismayed by the results, they remain hopeful. National Campus Organizers Edwith and Ashley worked with students to defeat Tennessee's Amendment 1. "This is a stumbling block, but by no means an end to everything our students have been working so hard towards," added Moses. "Right after they realized we were defeated, the students' first thought was what do we do next to win reproductive rights in Tennessee. The students are still fired up and determine to make sure women's rights are not denied by a bunch of male politicians." Theogene echoed her. "Every county where we organized the student vote, we won - against tight opposition." The defeat in Tennessee intensifies the statewide movement to roll back infringements on women's right to comprehensive reproductive health access. Under the rule of current Governor Bill Haslam (R) - who also won last night - Tennessee laws have turned increasingly sour for women's reproductive rights, thanks to provisions like the state's "pregnancy outcome" law and a sex education bill that prohibits instruction related to so-called "gateway sexual activity."
In separate studies, the Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Reproductive Rights have deemed Tennessee one of the most hostile states in the country on abortion rights. Now, analysts say the passage of Amendment 1 is now in direct conflict with a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that deemed abortion "an inherently intimate and personal enterprise" that should be protected from "government interference" by the Tennessee Constitution's right to privacy laws. Tuesday night, the Vote No On 1 Campaign tweeted a thank you message to all of their supporters. "We'll see you soon when the fight continues for privacy rights and women's access to healthcare."
Students in North Dakota and Tennessee are getting out the vote against anti-abortion and anti-birth control ballot measures being decided today at the polls. In both states, students and young people have been leading campaigns on the ground with the assistance of Feminist Majority Foundation National Campus Organizers.
In Tennessee, voters will be deciding on Amendment 1 - a proposed change to the Tennessee state constitution that would take away the right to abortion and give politicians the green light to enact abortion bans, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Students throughout the state have been educating voters on the dangerous consequences of Amendment 1, which could allow politicians to restrict access to birth control and pass laws denying life-saving treatments to pregnant women with critical illnesses like cancer.
Determined to make sure the student voice against Amendment 1 is heard, students at Vanderbilt University and Belmont University in Nashville are organizing ride shares and transporting people to the polls. Students working with the Feminist Majority Foundation at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro are collaborating with the MTSU NAACP to hand out flyers urging students to vote no on Amendment 1, and students at Austin Peay State Univeristy in Clarksville, near the Tennessee border with Kentucky, are engaging in visibility actions to get out the no vote.
But getting out the vote hasn't been easy. Students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville have reported that their Vote NO posters were torn down all over campus. And at the University of Memphis on Sunday, an anti-abortion group harassed students organizing against Amendment 1, calling female supporters "whores." According to student reports, the harassment escalated, resulting in an altercation that left one student with a dislocated shoulder.
Feminist Majority Foundation field organizers in North Dakota, where students have been mobilizing the vote against Measure 1, a proposed personhood amendment, have reported a stream of voters at the Fargodome, where about a quarter of voters this morning were young people. Organizers braved the cold to hold up Vote NO posters visible to those driving by the Fargodome. They were greeted by voters honking their horns in support and giving the thumbs up. Over in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the mood is also upbeat, with students increasing visibility for Election Day.
If passed by North Dakota voters, Measure 1 would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. It would ban abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, as well as some forms of birth control, and all in vitro fertilization in the state.
Election Day is TODAY. Click here for information on where to vote to your state.
18 newspapers in Colorado have spoken out against Amendment 67, a personhood amendment being decided by voters tomorrow which would ban all abortions in the state - including in cases of rape, incest, or to save a woman's life - as well as end in-vitro fertilization and restrict access to common forms of birth control like the pill and IUDs.
The 18 newspapers include the Denver Post, the state's most popular paper garnering more than 10 million digital page views per month and read regularly by more than 610,000 readers. The Denver Post Editorial Board called Amendment 67 "a radical measure that would undermine constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights."
Many of the local editorials opposed to Amendment 67 touch on how dangerous it would be for women and doctors in the state. The state's media giants - who have watched as voters rejected similar measures twice before - also aren't holding back. "Amendment 67 is wrong for women and wrong for the state of Colorado," the Steamboat Pilot said. "Amendment 67 deserves to go down in flames," Sky Hi Daily News wrote.
National papers have also weighed in. The New York Times Editorial Board wrote, "Amendment 67 in Colorado is a modified but no less unconstitutional version of the preposterous 'personhood' proposals Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2008 and 2010... The wording advertises the initiative as protecting women, when, in fact, it would do the opposite."
Colorado's voters feel just as strongly. Students across the state are working to ensure that Amendment 67 doesn't pass, and many are doing so in conjunction with the Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Campus program. Last month, FMF Board Member Dolores Huerta championed the Vote No on 67 campaign at a rally in Denver. More than 80 faith leaders in Colorado have also strongly opposed Amendment 67.
Amendment 67 would amend the Colorado constitution to define "person" and "child" in the state criminal code and Wrongful Death Act to include "unborn human beings." As Gaylynn Burroughs, Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy & Research, explains in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. Magazine:
If passed, Amendment 67 would threaten abortion rights, birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women - and open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. All pregnant women's bodies would become potential crime scenes.
Colorado voters can vote by mail, as long as the ballot is received by 7 PM on November 4, or in-person at polling centers through Election Day tomorrow. Find more information on how and where to vote here.
11/3/2014 - Celebrities and Survivor Advocates Encourage Tennessee and North Dakota Voters to Reject Anti-Abortion Measures
Advocates for survivors of sexual violence in North Dakota and Tennessee urged voters to turn down two dangerous anti-abortion measures when they go to the polls on this Tuesday, stressing the damage these measures would cause.
Saturday, in South Nashville, Vote No On 1 supporters were joined by actor-activists Ashley Judd and Connie Britton, who shared their own reasons for opposing Amendment 1 in Tennessee. Speaking to a crowd of around 100 advocates, Judd talked about how her life would have been devastated by the anti-abortion measure. She bravely shared with fellow supporters that she was raped twice before the age of 18 - a reality Amendment 1 makes no exception for.
"What if I were that vulnerable young woman at the age of 15 who was put in that horrific position?" Judd asked. "I don't want any child, teenager, or woman in Tennessee to have to bear the double burden of sexual violence and unintended pregnancy. That is not something that is appropriate or sustainable for her life." She added that being a person of faith does not have to preclude opposition to Amendment 1. "I'm Ashley Judd. I am a southerner, I'm a Christian, and I'm pro-choice."
[caption id="attachment_16754" align="aligncenter" width="605"] via Ashleigh Moses[/caption]
If passed by Tennessee voters on Tuesday, Amendment 1 would take away state constitutional privacy rights and give politicians far-reaching power to pass laws banning abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. The Amendment could also threaten access to some forms of birth control.
Edwith Theogene, a National Field Organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation, has been in Tennessee mobilizing students against Amendment 1. "Politicians have no concept of or idea what I am doing with my private life," Theogene told WZTV in Nashville. "I don't think they should impede on my privacy rights and make these decisions for me. This is a private decision left for a woman, her faith, and her family."
Amendment 1 has been opposed by local clergy, medical doctors, women of color activists, and every major Tennessee newspaper.
Advocates for survivors of sexual assault in North Dakota also came out against another dangerous measure being proposed in their state this weekend. Measure 1, a proposed personhood amendment, would amend the state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" starting at "any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization or conception. If passed by North Dakota voters, Measure 1 would ban abortion with no exception for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Measure 1 would also restrict access to common forms of birth control like the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception; ban in vitro fertilization; and could make women who suffer a miscarriage subject to criminal investigation.
Linda Isakson, the Assistant Director of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services, emphasized how Measure 1 would undermine a woman's agency with no regard for the circumstances she faces. "So many victims want that decision-making power after a sexual assault," Isakson said. "By denying them that right, we further traumatize somebody who's already been traumatized."
Renee Stromme, the executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network, added that there is nothing pro-life about Measure 1. "When a woman and her unborn child have equal rights in the eyes of the law, this presents a conflict," Stromme said. "If only one life could survive, the state would have to decide whether the mother or the child would die."
Measure 1 has been widely opposed by students, the North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota's doctors, medical students, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The AARP of North Dakota has expressed concern that the Measure goes too far because it threatens end-of-life care, and other organizations opposing Measure 1 have highlighted its potential negative impact on organ donation.
Election Day is tomorrow, November 4.
Media Resources: WZTV Nashville 11/2/14; Grand Forks Herald 11/1/14; Feminist Newswire 10/31/14,ï¿½10/30/14, 10/27/14, 10/23/14, 10/22/14, 10/17/14, 10/6/14; North Dakotans against Measure 1; AARP North Dakota; Northern Plains Conference United Church of Christ;ï¿½Vote No on One Tennessee
Election Day is tomorrow, November 4 - and this year, there is much at stake for women, people of color, and young people.
In many states, voters will directly decide several critical issues in their states - from raising the minimum wage to paid sick days, from abortion access and women's civil rights to decriminalization of marijuana - through ballot measures.
In Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota voters will have the opportunity to increase their state's minimum wage at the polls tomorrow. The current federal minimum is $7.25 per hour, placing some families well below the poverty line. Women and minorities disproportionately make up minimum wage jobs, and would hugely benefit from an increase in wages. Massachusetts voters may also decide to pass statewide, paid sick days for both part-time and full-time workers. If passed by the voters, Measure 4 would allow the almost 1 million workers in Massachusetts who can't earn a single hour of paid sick time, to earn up to 5 days of paid sick leave per calendar year.
Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee each have anti-choice measures on the ballot that would effectively outlaw abortion in all circumstances, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the mother. Tennessee's Amendment 1 would take the right of privacy for reproductive rights out of the state constitution and give local legislators the power to restrict access to abortion, and outlaw many forms of birth control, such as the IUD or the pill. North Dakota's Measure 1, a "personhood amendment" would create an "inalienable right to life" starting "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. Similarly, Colorado's Amendment 67 would include "unborn human beings" in the definition of "person" and "child" in the state's criminal code and Wrongful Death Act, and would also ban all abortions - even in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life or health - if the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.
The language of both Measure 1 and Amendment 67 is dangerously vague, and both proposed changes could eliminate or restrict access to some common forms of birth control (such as the pill and IUD), deny pregnant women with life-threatening illnesses access to treatment, ban in-vitro fertilization, and subject all women who have miscarriages - and their medical providers - to criminal investigations.
Oregon is the only state in this election voting on a civil rights bill for women's equality. While we are still waiting to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), giving women equality under the United States constitution, Oregon voters will decide directly whether to adopt a state constitutional ERA. If passed, Measure 89 would guarantee all Oregonians equal rights under the state constitution, regardless of sex. This measure would be a boon to women fighting employment, wage, benefit, or educational discrimination, or women seeking protection against violence, as they would be protected by the full weight of the state constitution.
Marijuana use is on the ballot for three states this election. In Alaska, Measure 2 is on the ballot for the decriminalization of marijuana. Oregon is proposing a similar ballot in Measure 91, which would legalize recreational marijuana use. Young people and people of color are more likely to be arrested for marijuana use. Decriminalizing marijuana may help prevent unnecessary criminalization of these communities. it will prevent these communities. In addition, Florida will be voting on Amendment 2 which would allow for the use of marijuana when recommended by a physician. Marijuana has many medical benefits and should be included as a part of comprehensive healthcare.
When going to the polls to vote tomorrow, remember that many voter ID laws have changed since the 2012 election. To find out what you'll need to vote, visit our state-by-state voter information guide. For more about state ballot measures, click here.
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost.
The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives - such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted entirely from the requirement and do not have to provide employees with health insurance that covers contraceptives. Certain religiously affiliated non-profits, like Ave Maria University, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptive coverage directly to their employees.
Under rules issued in 2013, a religiously affiliated non-profit seeking accommodation would simply self-certify its religious objection to providing contraceptives and submit that self-certification to its insurance issuer or to a third-party administrator who would then pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.
This summer, however, in the wake of its Hobby Lobby decision, the US Supreme Court blocked enforcement of the 2013 rules against Wheaton College, a Christian College in Illinois, who claimed that it violated the organization's religious beliefs to submit a self-certification to its health insurance issuer, on the theory that this action made the organization somehow complicit in the provision of birth control. In that case, the Court noted that nothing in its ruling prevented women from obtaining contraceptives without cost-sharing as intended by the ACA because Wheaton College had otherwise notified the government of its objection, and the government itself could facilitate the contraceptive coverage.
Relying on the decision in Wheaton College, the Obama Administration issued interim rules in August 2014 to provide an alternate process for religiously affiliated non-profits to claim an accommodation from the ACA mandate. Under that process, the organization would notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of the objection and provide the agency with its insurance carrier's information in order to allow HHS to set up contraceptive coverage for affected employees.
Ave Maria University contends, however, that even these new rules were too onerous, and US District Court Judge James S. Moody, Jr. agreed, granting the school a temporary injunction until a complete trial can be held.
Ave Maria University, founded by anti-abortion and anti-birth control Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, is located in the the town of Ave Maria, Florida, a town developed by Monaghan in 2005 to be "based on traditional family values," according to Monaghan's development partner. According to a report on the Daily Kos, there is only one OB/GYN in the town and the doctor will not prescribe contraceptives to any woman, for any reason.
In 2004, describing the plans for the town of Ave Maria, Monaghan said that he and the developers intended to "own all commercial real estate" in the town.
"That means we will be able to control what goes on there," he said. "You won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."
So far, according to the Daily Kos, there is no pharmacy in Ave Maria Town, and for now, there is no birth control coverage for employees of Ave Maria University.
The government may choose to appeal the district court judge's ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. Amendment 1, a proposed state constitutional amendment, would take away the right to an abortion within the state - even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. If passed by Tennessee voters on November 4, Amendment 1 would give politicians far-reaching power to restrict access to many forms of birth control and abortion, even for those in the most tragic circumstances. In addition, if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, Amendment 1 would lay the groundwork to outlaw all abortion in Tennessee.
Reverend A. Faye London, the Inter-Faith Outreach Coordinator for SisterReach, told the Feminist Newswire that black women's images are being used to bait support for Amendment 1. "People are using the idea of this irresponsible 'welfare queen' with the wanton sexual desire, who's using abortion for birth control, even though that's not the reality," London said. "We often have to say we do love our children and want our children, and it's sad that we have to say that out loud, but we do."
London also highlighted how the impact of Amendment 1 could be particularly devastating for low-income women and women of color who are steadily losing access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare options. Rev. London pointed to the national reduction in food assistance for low-income families, the state's slow crawl to Medicaid expansion, and limited sex education opportunities, despite the desires of women of color in the state. The University of Memphis Center for Research on Women - a SisterReach Policy partner - found that of all groups surveyed in 2012, black women from Shelby County were most likely to want sex education for their children that included information about birth control and contraceptives. Despite this demand, the state has restricted comprehensive sex education, giving preferential treatment to abstinence-only programs, and criminalizing teachers or outside programs that condone so-called "gateway sexual activity" like genital touching.
"There are young women who have no idea how their bodies work," London said. "There are women who have the very basic health care, but it doesn't offer them birth control," she continued. "This is the state of poor women, women of color, and women who just don't have access to resources they need - and that is the thing that SisterReach is trying to lift up."
Part of SisterReach's outreach has also involved challenging damaging stereotypes about black women that have traditionally worked as a tool of political gain and empowering women to vote in this election.
"(It's important) to call to people's attention to the historical attempt to vilify the black woman for everything that goes wrong in the African American community," London said, pointing to the framework erected by the work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan that contributes to the political practice of discrediting black women's decision-making. "Set in the minds of some people is this process of removing the black woman from the picture. So, she's not a person. She's a dangerous place for black babies. She's the murderer that's killing black babies. She's not a person, she's the woman that's killing the man's seed. She's not a person, she's being duped into stopping nation-building. In all of these things - the black woman is not a person, and therefore has no agency."
Thursday, during a Twitter chat led by African Americans for Planned Parenthood, SisterReach was one of several organizations using the #BlackVotes hashtag to highlight the issues facing black voters and the reproductive challenges that are at stake in the 2014 election.
SisterReach isn't the only organization opposed to Amendment 1. The Feminist Majority Foundation is organizing on the ground in opposition to this dangerous amendment, and a broad coalition of national and Tennessee-based women's rights and civil rights groups, medical doctors, religious leaders, students across the state, and every major Tennessee newspaper have come out swinging against the measure.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 4. Click here for more information on voting in Tennessee.