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A new report by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) found that in 2012 and 2013, marriage equality expanded at a quick pace while other LGBT needs - including anti-discrimination protections for workers, safe schools for LGBT youth, and simplifying changes to identity documents - remained largely unmet.
The biennial Momentum Report has, since 2007, followed and charted the progress of the LGBT movement in achieving legal, social, and political equality. The report this year analyzes local and state laws, federal action, and visibility around marriage equality and relationship recognition, employment nondiscrimination, parental recognition and adoption laws, safe schools and anti-bullying laws, hate crimes, health, identity documents, and cultural and public visibility.
The report found that marriage equality has gained significant traction, but that equality in other areas has lagged. If you look at the 17 states that extend the freedom to marry, marriage was the culmination of a years-long journey that first included passing employment nondiscrimination protections, hate crime laws, safe schools legislation, and more, said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP. Yet over half of states either haven't begun or are just in the beginning phases of this journey. They often lack even the most basic statewide legal protections, meaning gay workers can be fired just because of who they are, transgender youth can face unchecked bullying in schools, and LGBT parents can remain legal strangers to their children. These low-equality states are home to half of the nation's LGBT population, including many who experience extreme discrimination and high rates of poverty, but who are often bound to stay by their jobs and love for their communities and families.
On the federal level, several pieces of legislation which could contribute to a higher level of equality for LGBT people remain stalled in Congress - including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Every Child Deserves A Family Act, and comprehensive immigration reform.
"Unprecedented progress on marriage has led to a widespread impression that nationwide equality for LGBT people is imminent," the report states. "A closer look at the full range of LGBT rights at all levels of American society, however, reveals a different picture. While the past two years have shown incredible gains toward securing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, the LGBT movement still has a long way to go to achieve full equality and broad acceptance for LGBT people across the nation."
You can view interactive maps of various LGBT rights state-by-state on the MAP website.
Anti-choice Missouri legislators have wasted no time in the new year introducing extreme bills that restrict access to abortion. State legislators have already introduced 15 bills that create unnecessary burdens for women seeking a safe and legal abortion.
"In a state that only has one remaining abortion provider, anti-women's health politicians in Missouri are doing whatever they can to limit a woman's right to make her own personal medical decisions," Planned Parenthood wrote in a statement about the bills.
In early January, legislators introduced a bill that would increase Missouri's current 24-hour waiting period to 72 hours. Waiting periods do not promote health or safety. They simply increase economic hardships for women who may not be able to make multiple trips to a clinic or pay for transportation and a hotel while they wait to have the procedure. "This harmful bill would triple the current waiting period for women accessing safe, legal medical care in Missouri," Ryann Summerford, the statewide manager of government affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, told ThinkProgress. "This bill is designed to demean and shame a woman in an effort to try to make her change her mind."
Several bills were also introduced that would require women to have a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours prior to having an abortion, enshrine protections for crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) from any regulations - even though CPCs have been shown to mislead women seeking an abortion or information about their options if they become pregnant - and increase inspection requirements for Missouri's only clinic.
A two-parent notification bill is the most recent piece of anti-choice legislation to be introduced, which would require both parents or the legal guardian of a minor to be notified if the minor wants to have an abortion. Under current law, one parent would also be required to provide written consent. The Guttmacher Institute reports that these laws have led to more minors travelling out of their state to another one with fewer restrictions.
A Vanderbilt University graduate and sexual violence survivor launched a fundraising drive yesterday to open a home for fellow college-aged survivors in Nashville, Tennessee.
Activist Sarah O'Brien came up with the concept forÂ Dara House - coming from the Irish word doire and representing transformation, bravery, survivorship, and community - during her final undergraduate year at Vanderbilt University. While recovering from her own experience with sexual violence and connecting with other college-aged survivors, O'Brien said she saw a need for a safe space for those coping after an assault.
"The Dara House has been formed to address the inadequate resources, education, services, and community present on college campuses around the nation for survivors of sexual violence," according to Dara House's website. "It is our hope that by the time our residents leave Dara House they have successfully began their healing journeys, been giving the proper tools and coping mechanisms to acclimate back into campus life, and that they feel empowered over their own bodies and identities."
Dara House will serve female identifying college age individuals ages 18-25. Â Applicants and residents will be enrolled in a college or university, or taking time off with the plan to return.
O'Brien launched her project's first online fundraising drive yesterday, seeking to bring in $3,000. As of Monday morning, the Go Fund Me campaign had brought in $1,310. Sunday night, O'Brien had raised enough to officially file for 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
To donate to Dara House, visit O'Brien's online fundraising page. You can also visit the project's website, like it on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.
A new report issued by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that allegations of rape and sexual assault by prison inmates are increasing, and that 49 percent of the alleged crimes involve correctional officers.
The report, which defined sexual victimization as non-consensual sexual acts, abusive touching, threats, and verbal sexual harassment, found 8,763 cases of alleged sexual abuse of inmates in a 2011 survey of administrators across federal and state prisons, local jails, military prisons, and jails in Indian country. Collectively, the survey encompasses 1.97 million inmates. Although women prisoners comprise 7 percent of state and federal prison inmates, 33 percent of staff-on-inmate incidents involved them.
The survey also showed that although reports are increasing, prosecution is not: a growing proportion of the allegations were dismissed as "unfounded" or "unsubstantiated," and although most staff involved in misconduct cases lost their jobs, less than half were referred for prosecution and only 1 percent were convicted of a crime. Most staff members resign before their investigations come to a close, eliminating any public record of what happened and making it possible for them to remain in their field at another facility.
"These findings point to a level of impunity in our prisons and jails that is simply unacceptable," Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International, told ProPublica. "When corrections agencies don't punish or choose to ignore sexual abuse by staff members... they support criminal behavior."
It is unclear whether the rising number of alleged assaults indicates a general increase in violent behavior or a growing awareness by prisoners and prison administrators.
Marlise Munoz, the brain-dead pregnant Texas woman who was kept on life support against her and her family's wishes, was finally disconnected from life support yesterday.
After her fetus was found to be significantly deformed and non-viable last week, the 96th District Court of Tarrant County, Texas ordered the hospital to take Munoz off of life support, and it obeyed.
According to attorneys for her family, they "will now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Munoz's body to rest, and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered. May Marlise Munoz finally rest in peace, and her family find the strength to complete what has been an unbearably long and arduous journey."
Marlise Munoz had been brain dead since November 26 after collapsing in her home because of a possible pulmonary embolism. Even though she had made it clear while alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything happened to her, her hospital would not allow it because she was 14 weeks pregnant when she died.
The Population Institute released its 2013 report card on reproductive health and rights in the US earlier this month, giving the nation an overall grade of "C-" for the second year in a row.
"The State of Reproductive Health and Rights: 50-State Report Card" gave thirteen states a failing grade, including Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas, among others. Only seventeen states received a "B-" or above, with four states earning an "A": Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and California. Oregon received the highest overall score. The grades were based on measures of effectiveness, prevention, affordability, and clinic access within each state. Possible changes or legislation were also taken into account.
The report discussed several national victories in the area of reproductive rights and health, and listed the "HHS ruling that Plan B One Step be made available over the counter without an age restriction, the Affordable Care Act giving women access to family planning services without a co-pay requirement, and expanded Medicaid eligibility ensuring that millions more women would be eligible to access reproductive health services." However, twenty-five states still refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility, blocking millions of women from receiving increased access to services. Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute reports there have been more legislative attacks on reproductive rights in the past three years than in the entire previous decade, with attacks continuing. "Reproductive health advocates must remain ever vigilant," said Robert Walker, president of The Population Institute.
The fetus of Marlise Munoz, the pregnant, brain-dead Texas woman who has been kept on life support by her hospital against her and her family's wishes, has been reported to be "distinctly abnormal."
According to attorneys representing Munoz' family in a lawsuit against the hospital, the fetus' lower extremities are very deformed, making its gender impossible to determine. It has hydrocephalus, or fluid building up in the skull, and it may have heart problems, but it cannot be determined because of the condition of Munoz' body. The attorneys said the fetus is "gestating within a dead and deteriorating body as the horrified family looks on."
Marlise Munoz has been brain dead since November 26, but her hospital will not let her off life support because of her pregnancy. Munoz, who was a paramedic, made it clear when she was alive that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything ever happened to her.
But when Munoz collapsed and was found with no breath or pulse in November, possibly caused by a pulmonary embolism, she was 14 weeks pregnant. She is now 22 weeks pregnant. She had been without oxygen for too long for her brain to recover, but her heart was revived by electric shock, and doctors found a fetal heartbeat. Under the Texas Advance Directives Act, the state of Texas requires that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient." The hospital interpreted this to invalidate her wishes, even though experts interviewed by the Associated Press said a brain-dead patient would not be covered by the law. A 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies found that Texas is one of 12 US states that invalidate a woman's end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant.
A hearing is scheduled in the lawsuit for today.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Wisconsin asked the federal Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education last week to investigate a single-sex education program at a Wisconsin middle school.
The program at Somerset Middle School relies on harmful stereotypes about boys and girls. Their materials outlining differences between genders claims that girls and boys are genetically programmed to learn differently, girls hear better, boys are messy, and teams work better for boys because boys value team affiliation above friendship, among others.
"There is no solid evidence supporting the assertions about supposed differences between boys' and girls' brains that underlie these programs, and there is absolutely no evidence that teaching boys and girls differently leads to any educational improvements," said Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "It's harmful for schools to promote these types of generalizations about boys and girls."
The ACLU claims the program is unlawful and does not have any valid evidence to support it. It may violate Title IX, which bans discrimination in education on the basis of sex. Additionally, it cites a recent article in the journal Science that argues that sex segregation fosters stereotypes and does not improve academic performance.
A similar complaint against two other Wisconsin schools was filed last March. The complaints are part of ACLU's national "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" campaign to gather information about sex stereotypes in single-sex education.
The Archdiocese of Chicago released internal documents on Tuesday revealing its active role in concealing the sexual abuse of children by clergy for decades. The documents show the lengths taken to protect priests, with complete disregard for the safety and well-being of abused children or those at risk.
"It's a big victory for these 40 brave men and women who had the courage to step forward, seek justice and file lawsuits, and to endure 8 years of needless delay from the archdiocese of Chicago," said David Clohessy, the Executive Director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "Frankly it's a victory for every survivor, for those who desperately want to see the names of those who committed and those who concealed child sex crimes."
The 6,000 pages of internal communications, meeting schedules where allegations were discussed, testimony, and letters were released through settlements between attorneys for the victims and the archdiocese. They reveal that leaders in the archdiocese, including the late Cardinal John Cody, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and the current Cardinal Francis George, moved priests to different parishes when they were accused of abuse to protect them. They would ask other priests to monitor their behavior around children, but they would not inform the police. Prosecution was rarely pursued because of a fear of losing parishioners or potential priests, damaging their image, and in one case, because the priest "sounded repentant," according to Al Jazeera.
The documents reflect [a] systematic, ongoing, decades-long continuous pattern of conscious choices by top officials of the archdiocese from Cardinal Cody to Bernardin to Cardinal George, attorney Jeff Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times. Anderson and another attorney Marc Pearlman represented over 50 victims and negotiated the release of the documents. "Blame is also to be shared by bishops, members of the clergy and other top officials, each of whom became aware of reports that priests were offending children, and they made intentional and conscious choices to conceal that, to protect the priests, protect the reputation of the archdiocese and in effect conceal the crime and give safe harbor to the offender."
The documents reveal information about only 30 of the 65 clergy who the Chicago archdiocese says have been accused of child sexual abuse. Documents about the Vatican's involvement were not included.
Globally, thousands more priests have been accused of child sexual abuse but protected from any repercussions. In the US alone between 1950 and 2010, 6,100 priests were accused of abuse, leading to an estimated 100,000 victims, according to Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) held a hearing last week for the Vatican to address global child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and their role in protecting perpetrators, but it's leaders have yet to take real responsibility for their involvement.
A federal appeals court reinstated a portion of a 2011 New York City law that regulates Crisis Pregnancy Centers, known as CPCs or fake clinics. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling means that CPCs operating in New York City must now disclose whether or not a licensed medical professional works on-site at the facility.
To comply with the law, CPCs must post the disclosure in English and Spanish at their entrances and in their waiting rooms. Disclosures must also appear on advertisements and be made orally, either in-person to potential clients or during telephone conversations with potential clients.
"A pregnant woman deserves and has the right to know whether the person posing as her medical provider is actually just an anti-choice activist," said NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller. "We look forward to the City moving forward to impelement this important protection."
A lower court had temporarily blocked enforcement of the 2011 law, finding that it was "unconstitutionally vague." Overturning that decision, Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote: "The Status Disclosure is the least restrictive means to ensure that a woman is aware of whether or not a particular pregnancy services center has a licensed medical provider at the time that she first interacts with it. Such a law is required to ensure that women have prompt access to the type of care they seek."
The Second Circuit did not reinstate the New York City law in its entirety. CPCs in New York City will still not be required to disclose whether they provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortions, or prenatal care. The court also ruled that the City could not require CPCs to disclose that "the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women whoa re or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider."
WASHINGTON â€” Feminist Majority Foundation today applauds President Barack Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls for taking concrete steps to prevent and respond to the national epidemic campus sexual violence.
Today, President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum creating a task force of cabinet officials to come up with recommendations for universities to prevent campus rape and for federal agencies to hold accountable schools that donâ€™t adequately address sexual violence.
The White House also released a report, entitled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," that highlights what a rampant problem campus rape is: It notes that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted in college, only 12 percent of survivors report the abuse and that no one in America is more at risk of being raped than college women.
"This is a momentous day for the movement to end violence against women and, in particular, campus rape," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Sexual assault is an issue that is affecting millions of young women, yet they are often forced to deal with it silently because of the shame and stigma surrounding it. By creating this task force, President Obama and the White House are sending a strong message to survivors: 'You do not have to deal with this by yourself.' We look forward to reviewing the task forceâ€™s recommendations in 90 days."
In October, Feminist Majority Foundation's Campus Program launched a Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence â€“ an online toolkit that gives students resources to educate others on sexual assault and create an anti-violence movement.
The Feminist Majority Foundation also led a successful campaign in 2012 with the Women's Law Project, which resulted in the modernization of the FBI Uniform Crime Report definition of rape. The new definition, as it appears on the FBI website, is: "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."
President Barack Obama announced today the creation of a task force to combat campus sexual assault and released a report that declares "no one in America is more at risk of being raped or assaulted than college women."
The task force and report mark the first time the White House has taken such public and aggressive steps to address campus violence. According to the report, "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted in college but only 12 percent of student victims report the assault. To combat these startling statistics, President Obama is giving the task force of administration officials 90 days to recommend measures for colleges to prevent sexual violence, raise public awareness of campus policies and hold schools accountable if they do not address sexual violence problems.
The report, compiled by the White House Council on Women and Girls, notes that nearly 22 million American women and 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes. Survivors are more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse and a wide range of physical ailments.
Today, Obama is inviting Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to discuss the problem of campus assault. He will then join a meeting of the Council on Women and Girls attended by more Cabinet members in the East Room, where he will sign the memorandum creating the task force. Vice President Joe Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act and has led other efforts to reduce sexual assault, will also be in attendance, according to the Associated Press.
To learn more about Feminist Majority Foundation's efforts to combat sexual assault, check out our Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence.
Pro-choice Democrat Jennifer Wexton beat out two Republicans yesterday to win a special election seat in the Virginia Senate's 33rd District.
According to reports from 90 percent of the precincts last night, Wexton beat her opponents with 53 percent of the vote. Republican John Whitbeck received 37 percent of the vote, while former Republican state Delegate Joe May only received about 10 percent of the vote.
"They're sick of divisive and extreme politics," Wexton told Loudoun Times about why her constituents voted for her. "They want to send someone to Richmond who will work across the aisle on common sense solutions--transportation, schools, the economy."
Wexton, a former attorney and substitute judge, lists other issues she fights for on her website, including gun safety, ethics reform, voter's rights, and women's health. "We need to protect women's rights to control our own healthcare and keep the government out of family planning decisions," she writes. "I'm pro-choice, and will fight to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law and the TRAP regulations that target women's health clinics."
Wexton will succeed Mark Herring, who won the attorney general race in November and left his seat vacant. If Democrat Lynwood Lewis keeps his victory after a recount, then the 40-member Senate will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. However, Democrats will have the tie-breaker vote with recently elected Lt. Governor Ralph Northam.
President Obama has nominated Dr. Deborah Birx to become the next leader of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which funds HIV/AIDS programs and prevention efforts around the world. Once confirmed, Dr. Birx will be the first woman to serve as the Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.
"The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the nomination of Deborah Birx to be the next Global AIDS Coordinator," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal. "Dr. Birx is the right woman at the right time. As a highly qualified medical doctor who has dedicated her career to HIV/AIDS research and treatment, Dr. Birx is well-positioned to lead the important work of saving lives through the PEPFAR program."
Since 2005, Dr. Birx has served as the Director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she was responsible for all of the agency's global HIV/AIDS activities. Prior to that role, Dr. Birx served as Director of the US Military HIV Research Program and as Director of Retrovirology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She has extensive experience in HIV/AIDS vaccine research and development and has earned various honors and awards for her work.
Dr. Birx will take the helm of PEPFAR at a critical time. Although PEPFAR has had success in fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide by supporting HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people, the problem remains staggering. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
A federal district court permanently blocked a 2011 North Carolina law that required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and describe the images to the patient, even if the woman objected.
U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles ruled that the "speech-and-display" provision of the law violated the First Amendment. State lawmakers had acknowledged that the ultrasound law was designed to persuade women not to obtain abortions. "Requiring a physician or other health care provider to deliver the state's content-based, non-medical message in his or her own voice as if the message was his or her own constitutes compelled ideological speech and warrants the highest degree of First Amendment protection," wrote Judge Eagles.
"The court's ruling makes clear that politicians cannot use physicians as mouthpieces for their political agenda, and reaffirms the constitutional right of ever woman to decide for herself whether to continue or end a pregnancy," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights which brought the challenge along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and Planned Parenthood on behalf of several North Carolina physicians.
North Carolina may appeal the district court's decision. Mandatory ultrasounds have been challenged in Texas and Oklahoma with mixed results. In July 2013, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) signed into law several other extreme anti-abortion measures which require abortion clinics to meet the same requirements as ambulatory surgical centers, eliminate abortion coverage under state employee insurance plans, ban sex-selective abortions, and allow health care providers to refuse to participate in abortion-related care.
CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman, was sentenced to 41 months in a men's prison in July 2012 for defending herself from a hate crime. On Monday, she was released early.
In June 2011, McDonald was involved in an altercation with ex-convict and white supremacist Dean Schmitz and his friends, in which they taunted her with homophobic, transphobic, and racist slurs and threw broken glass at her face. During the incident, she brandished a pair of scissors to defend herself, and Schmitz died from sustaining stab wounds to the chest. McDonald pled guilty as part of a plea deal to second-degree manslaughter in June 2012, though she maintained that she had acted in self-defense.
As a trans* woman of color, McDonald's case exemplifies the high levels of violence faced by her own community and the mishandlings of these cases which so often occur in the hands of law enforcement. "It's time we stop re-victimizing young transgender women of color by pushing them into the criminal system," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. "We all need to come together and find ways to prevent the extraordinarily high rates of violence and discrimination against trans women so that there will be no more cases like CeCe's."
McDonald's case sparked outrage, and her supporters maintained a website to keep folks updated on her case, her sentence, and her time in prison. After her release, supporters tweeted messages using #BecauseofCeCe to commemorate what her case had done to bring awareness and spark activism around the treatment of trans* women in prison. Laverne Cox, transgender actress and advocate and cast member on Orange is the New Black, a show about a women's prison based on a true story, is working to complete a documentary about CeCe's case and the experience of trans* women in men's prisons. She greeted McDonald upon her release.
McDonald is not yet ready to release a public statement about her case or her experience.
WASHINGTON -- The Feminist Majority today urges the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban.
The Court heard arguments yesterday in U.S. v. Castleman, a case that appears to narrowly involve just one individual, but if the Court does not reverse lower federal court decisions, the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban will be gutted. Castleman is arguing that the law does not apply to him because his conviction did not state whether or not he used physical force against the victim. However, in most local jurisdictions, misdemeanor domestic violence cases are resolved under assault and battery statutes and do not specify whether physical force was used. The conviction only states that the offender is guilty.
Domestic violence is violence and convicted abusers should be covered under the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal.
"In a country where three women are already murdered every day through domestic violence, it would be tragic beyond measure to re-arm tens of thousands of abusers," said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).
According to NNEDV, women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries, and victims of domestic violence who live in homes with guns have an 8-fold increase in homicide risk.
"The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban has protected millions of women and domestic violence victims since it was first enacted," said Smeal. "Abusers cannot be given access to deadly weapons."
The Feminist Majority played a pivotal role in passing the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban often referred to as "the Lautenberg Amendment," after its sponsor Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in 1996. The law prohibits individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes from owning or possessing a gun.
WASHINGTON -- The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether local governments can create safety buffer zones around reproductive health clinics to ensure that patients, doctors, and healthcare workers can enter these facilities without harassment, intimidation, or violence.
The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts clinic safety buffer zone law at issue in McCullen v. Coakley.
"Patients, doctors, and healthcare workers are under siege at clinics across the nation," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "Simply put, safety buffer zones help prevent violence and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services. These laws are part of a tradition of protecting the exercise of fundamental rights from violence, harassment, and intimidation."
For over 20 years, FMF has tracked incidents of violence, harassment, and intimidation at women's health clinics in the U.S. FMF brought the first lawsuit in the nation on buffer zones to the US Supreme Court in 1994. That case, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, established the constitutionality of an injunction creating a clinic safety buffer zone in Florida.
"We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence," said Smeal. "Surveys show that buffer zones decrease criminal activity and increase safe access to clinics."
The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks.
In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature strengthened its law, creating a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers. Local law enforcement made clear that having a better-defined buffer zone would promote public safety.
The current Massachusetts law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts, which have all found that the law is a content-neutral, narrowly tailored time-place-manner regulation that protects the public without infringing on the First Amendment rights of others.
"The law doesn't offend the First Amendment, but it does protect against violence," said Smeal. "Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed entering his clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Before his murder, Dr. George Tiller was shot and wounded as he was leaving his clinic in Kansas. Dr. John Bayard Britton and a volunteer clinic escort Lt. Col. James Barrett were murdered in Pensacola in the driveway of their clinic. Dr. C. Jackson was stabbed 15 times outside his clinic in New Orleans. Bombs have exploded at clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham. We don't know if clinic safety buffer zones would have prevented these atrocities, but they do provide a line of defense to those who desperately need it."
A federal judge ruled late yesterday that Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages violates the US constitution.
US District Judge Terence Kern specifically found that Part A of the state constitutional amendment, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution by not affording equal benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
"The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationship for many years," Judge Kern said of one of the couples who challenged the amendment in 2004. "They own property together, wish to retire together, wish to make medical decisions for one another, and wish to be recognized as a married couple with all its attendant rights and responsibilities. Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment excludes the Bishop couple, and all otherwise eligible same-sex couples, from this privilege without a legally sufficient justification."
Kern also cited United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
While Kern's decision is another victory for same-sex marriage rights, Oklahoma same-sex couples cannot marry right away. After what happened in Utah, Kern decided to issue a stay of his decisionin anticipation of an appeal by Oklahoma, so that no same-sex couples would marry and then be unsure of their status as appeals proceed through the courts.
The Senate confirmed United States District Judge Robert Wilkins to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday with a vote of 55-43. Wilkins has worked as both a public defender and a private attorney and has served on the US District Court for the District of Columbia since 2011.
"In 2010, I nominated Judge Wilkins to the US District Court for the District of Columbia, and since being confirmed without opposition by the Senate to that position, he has applied the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity," President Obama said in a statement. "I am confident that he will continue to do so on the D.C. Circuit."
This was the second attempt to have Wilkins confirmed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after Senate Republicans blocked his nomination two months ago. After Republican blocked several other qualified women nominees as well, Senate Democrats, led by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), moved to change the rules. The Senate voted 52-48 in November to change the filibuster rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on presidential nominees to the executive branch and the federal bench, with the exception of nominees to the US Supreme Court, making it harder for Republicans to block qualified nominees for political gain.
Wilkins is now the fourth confirmed nominee of Obama's to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second most powerful court in the nation after the Supreme Court. Obama says the court now has a "full bench to render justice fairly and swiftly."
1/14/2014 - Marissa Alexander Remains Free on Bail
Marissa Alexander, the African-American Florida woman sentenced to 20 years for firing a "warning shot" at her abusive husband, will not return to jail for violating bail, a judge ruled Friday.
Alexander is currently awaiting retrial for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. In 2010, she was sentenced to 20 years under the state's mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for firing a warning shot in the air during an argument with her abusive husband. She spent three years in jail before a state appeals court ruled in September that she was entitled to a new trial. She was released on $200,000 bond in November, but was put under house arrest and could leave only for court appearances, medical emergencies and pretrial appointments.
Alexander, however, was told by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office officials that she could leave the house for various errands. Florida State Attorney Angela Corey filed a motion to put Alexander back in prison for violating the provisions of her bond, but a state judge rejected it Friday.
Unfortunately, the State of Florida, knowing that [her corrections officer] had authorized and given Marissa Alexander permission for each of the trips and stops alleged by the State to be willful violations of Marissa Alexander's bond, failed to include those exonerative facts in its application to this Court, attorney Bruce Zimet wrote in his motion.
Alexander's case sparked a national outcry when she was sentenced but George Zimmerman, the Florida man who fatally shot African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, was acquitted. Both defenses used "Stand Your Ground," a state law that legally protects people who use deadly force to defend themselves from serious injury.
Alexander, who is 5-feet-two, said her 245-pound husband, Rico Gray, was about to attack her when she fired a gun once into the air during a August 2010 incident. Gray had been convicted of domestic violence. At the time of the shooting, Alexander had both a concealed weapons permit and active restraining order against Gray.
Alexander's retrial will begin on March 31.
Over 2 million Americans have enrolled in health insurance plans offered through state marketplaces. According to a report released yesterday by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost 2.2 million people selected marketplace plans from October 1, when enrollment started, through December 28. A surge in enrollment took place in December before the deadline to get coverage by January 1. Of those enrolled, 80 percent qualified for financial assistance, almost a quarter are aged 18-34, and 30 percent are aged 34 and under.
"Americans are finding quality affordable coverage in the Marketplace, and best of all, because coverage began on New Year's Day, the promise and hope of the Affordable Care Act is now a reality," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The majority of those who have enrolled are women, at 54 percent. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made it much easier for women to get affordable, quality health care coverage that fits their needs. It guarantees that plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles, cancer screenings, domestic violence counseling, and well women exams, as well as maternal care, mental health care, and pediatric services - among many others. It also does not allow insurance policies to charge women more simply because of their gender.
Enrollment remains open until March 31, and HHS expects to see an even greater surge in upcoming months, especially among young people.
Visit HealthCare.gov to learn more about the health insurance marketplaces and how to enroll.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Feminist Majority announced today its support for Del. Heather Mizeur in her bid to become governor of Maryland. Mizeur is an established state leader who fights for women's and human rights, health care access and education. If elected, Mizeur will become Maryland's first woman governor and the first openly gay governor in the nation.
Mizeur, a state delegate representing Montgomery County, is running one of the most progressive 2014 election campaigns in the country. A staunch protector of women's reproductive rights, Mizeur has been a leading force on expanding health care, creating new jobs and securing marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland.
"Maryland has a chance to make history by electing Heather Mizeur," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "I am extremely impressed with Heather's leadership in the General Assembly. If elected as governor, she will surely win advancements for Maryland's women, working families, young people and members of the LGBT community."
In 2008, Mizeur sponsored and passed the nation's first-ever Kids First Act, which targeted 100,000 minors who were eligible for but not enrolled in public health coverage. In 2009, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee and to a White House health reform advisory group. She sponsored and passed in 2011 the Family Planning Works Act to expand Medicaid family planning services to nearly 35,000 additional low-income Maryland women.
Mizeur has been called the "Maryland Health Care Hero" by the Daily Record and "one of the leading environmental advocates in the General Assembly" by the Baltimore Sun. She received NARAL's Choice Advocate Award, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montgomery Countyâ€™s State Hero Award and the Maryland Association of Resources for Family and Youth's Legislator of the Year Award.
Mizeur, in addition to Feminist Majority, has been endorsed by EMILY's List, Maryland NOW, National NOW and Women's Campaign Fund.
The Supreme Court decided today to reject a case that would have been a direct assault on Roe v. Wade.
Horne v. Isaacson is a legal challenge to an Arizona law that bans abortions 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May that the law was unconstitutional and permanently blocked its enforcement. The law would have interfered with a woman's decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability, in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade. The law also included only very narrow exceptions, permitting an abortion only if the woman faced a life-threatening medical emergency or serious physical impairment.
The State of Arizona had appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court. The Court's denial to take up the appeal means the restrictive law will remain permanently blocked.
"The Supreme Court soundly declined to review the Ninth Circuit's sound decision that Arizona's abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which originally filed the challenge to the law along with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2012. "This ensures that no Arizona women's lives or health are harmed by this callus and unconstitutional law."
The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in another case concerning safe access to abortion, McCullen v. Coakley. In that case, the Court will consider whether a Massachusetts clinic safety buffer zone law is constitutional.
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that it will recognize the approximately 1,300 marriages of same-sex couples who married in Utah in the past few weeks.
The legal battle over same-sex marriage has been progressing quickly in Utah after US District Judge Robert Shelby ruled on December 20 that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates same-sex couples' federal constitutional rights under United States v. Windsor. Utah subsequently filed an emergency request to stay the judge's ruling, which the Supreme Court temporarily granted last week. Following the temporary block, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said state recognition of the couples married during the time period when same-sex marriage was legal - December 20 to January 6 - would be on hold while the appeal to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals progresses.
"These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds," US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video announcing the DOJ decision to recognize the marriages. "In the days ahead, we will continue to coordinate across the federal government to ensure the timely provision of every federal benefit to which Utah couples and couples throughout the country are entitled--regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages."
Several states have followed the federal government's lead with their own announcements recognizing Utah same-sex marriages, including Washington and Maryland. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.