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United Parcel Service has reached a settlement with former UPS air driver Peggy Young, concluding a nine-year pregnancy discrimination case that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The parties filed to dismiss the case this morning in a reportedly amicable settlement, the details of which were not released. "We are grateful that this case has finally come to a just conclusion, and we thank UPS and its counsel for their cooperation," said Young's attorney Sharon Fast Gustafson. "Not many victims of discrimination would have had the grit that Peggy Young displayed in sustaining this struggle for nine years."
When Young discovered that she was pregnant, UPS denied her doctor-recommended request for light duty assignment and forced to take unpaid medical leave without health insurance, despite UPS granting similar requests for other employees with disabilities or injuries. Young sued, but the federal district court dismissed her case without a trial, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the ruling against her, finding that UPS's policy of accommodating workers with disabilities or those injured on the job were "pregnancy-blind" and did not amount to impermissible sex discrimination under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts in March 2015, allowing Young's case to finally go to trial. By that time, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had issued new enforcement guidance related to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act clarifying protections for pregnant workers and UPS itself officially changed its pregnant worker policy allowing pregnant workers to be placed on light duty assignments.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), championed by the National Organization for Women and Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW, was passed in 1978. The law prohibits employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families' overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace has persisted, with many pregnant women fired or forced to take unpaid leave.That's why advocates are calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act (PWFA), which would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.
The root of pregnancy discrimination, however, is sex discrimination. In her book, Equal Means Equal, Jessica Neuwirth, President of the ERA Coalition, traces pregnancy discrimination to the presumption "clearly based on sex" that "a worker is someone who does not become pregnant." The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment, something that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was supposed to remedy, but hasn't. Neuwirth argues that this type of persistent discrimination shows the continued urgent need for the Equal Rights Amendment, a constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination based on sex.
"An Equal Rights Amendment," she writes, "could change the legal landscape by creating a right to sex equality that is fundamental and substantive. What this might mean in the context of pregnancy is recognition that women and men have equal rights to work and have children at the same time. It would require recognition that women and men have biological differences and that the workplace cannot be structured solely around the biology of men."
Resolutions supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.
Amid calls from anti-abortion lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood, the organizations's president Cecile Richards testified today in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The initial purpose of the hearing was to "investigate" Planned Parenthood's use of federal funds in light of unscrupulous and thoroughly debunked claims that the organization profits from fetal tissue donation.
In her testimony, Richards outlined how Planned Parenthood's work providing healthcare to some 2.7 million people each year is being distorted by the anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), who "acted fraudulently and unethically" and perhaps illegally to smear the organization's reputation. Seven states have already investigated the CMP allegations and found no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. Patients at only one percent of Planned Parenthood clinics (in only two states) are able to chose to participate in legal fetal tissue donation programs that support critically important medical research.
Despite no evidence that Planned Parenthood misuses federal funds or has engaged in any illegal activity, Congress, in just the past few months, has already taken 14 votes to restrict women's access to reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood serves many regions where there are no other providers. Defunding Planned Parenthood therefore threatens to cut off vital health care for women, many of whom are low-income.
"The federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives allows doctors and clinicians at our health centers to provide birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections," explained Richards who noted that because of- the Hyde Amendment, a discriminatory federal law, Planned Parenthood is unable to provide many low-income women with abortion services except in the limited circumstances allowed by law.
The hearing, which lasted around five hours, was often tense, with some members curtly interrupting Richards's testimony or preventing her from providing information. At one point, in response to Committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) who presented information prepared by the anti-abortion Americans United for Life, Richards attempted to explain that the information was inaccurate. After repeatedly trying to respond, Richards finally stated, "It doesn't feel like we're trying to get to the truth here."
Planned Parenthood organized a Pink Out Day to coincide with the hearing, delivering two million petitions to the Capitol this afternoon. Thousands of people also participated in over 300 events across the country.
This weekend, on the 20th anniversary of the fourth world conference on women in Beijing, leaders from around the globe met in New York City to discuss concrete and measurable plans for eliminating discrimination against women.
The plans were announced and reviewed by over 80 world leaders over the weekend at the "Global Leaders" Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: A Commitment to Action," summit co-hosted by the UN and China. These commitments are country-specific, and include tangible and realistic steps toward increasing gender parity. For example, Arthur Mutharika the president of Malawi announced plans for gender-responsive budgeting in the national budget, using the HeforShe Campaign as one strategy of implementation. Similarly, Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has promised to maintain its commitments under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The summit also coincided with demonstrations demanding that the 20 some women imprisoned for their feminism various countries, including three in China, be released.
"The highest leaders in the land are taking personal responsibility for their commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women," UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said. "Now the world looks up to them to lead the game-changing actions that secure and sustain implementation. Today we take the first firm steps towards 25 September, 2030."
In March, the Clinton Foundation released the "No Ceilings" report, revealing data measuring women and girls' participation worldwide in the 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where the 1995 Declaration and Platform for Action made women and girls a priority. The groundbreaking 14th plank of the platform declared "Women's rights are human rights," laying the groundwork for governments worldwide to implement action plans for the goal of full participation for women and girls. In many ways, the report showed significant increases for women and girls, such as a dramatic lowering of the maternal mortality rate; but it also revealed massive gaps to be filled and progress to be made. For example, women still make up only 22 percent of parliament globally, and 1 in 4 girls in the world was married before her 18th birthday.
Feminist Majority Foundation led the campaign to win FDA approval of mifepristone for early medical abortion from 1989 until victory on September 28, 2000. Today some 40% of all early abortions in the United States are performed simply by women taking medication by mouth with no surgical procedure needed. For millions of women who need to or want to end their pregnancy, it has provided a preferred method and is truly a medical advancement.
But the FMF believed then and still believes that the drug can and should be further researched to achieve additional important medical advancements. In the meantime, it should be widely available to treat life-saving medical and mental health conditions now that disproportionately impact women.
Decades of evidence-based, scientific studies indicate that mifepristone, an anti-hormone drug, could be an important treatment for a variety of gynecologic and obstetric conditions. It has been shown to be effective in easing the delivery of at-term babies and is widely used in European countries for this purpose. Moreover, other scientific research has indicated its potential in treating some types of breast, ovarian and uterine tumors as well as psychiatric conditions such as bi-polar disorder, generalized depression and post-partum depression, but because the FDA (for what is believe to be political, not medical safety reasons) severely restricts access to the drug for even doctors and researchers, such research concerning potential usage has been limited.
Doctors cannot even write prescriptions for mifepristone- they have to enter a special agreement with the manufacturer and purchase it for their clinic or hospital only for early medication abortion. Additionally, unlike most drugs, mifepristone is not even able to be used in an "off-label" manner-- that is to say, used for conditions other than what the drug was originally approved for by the FDA.
Thankfully, because of its anti-cortisol properties, mifepristone was finally approved by the FDA (in a different dosage) in 2012 as an anti-glucocorticoid for treatment of Cushing's Syndrome, a rare, but serious, condition most often affecting people in their 20s to 50s and affecting women three times as often as men. A man and a woman who were treated with mifepristone and cured testified in the 1990's before Congress on how the drug had saved their lives.
Off-label use of medications is common. Look at methotrexate: it's been on the market for more than 60 years, and was developed as a chemotherapy drug. It's still used for chemotherapy in a wide variety of cancers, but is also used to treat skin conditions, bowel disorders and auto-immune conditions. It, too, is used as an abortifacient drug, most often to treat ectopic pregnancies, but because its use as a critical treatment in other life-threatening conditions has been established, it can't be taken away by conservative forces that would like to see any abortifacient restricted or removed from the market
Even though the scientific literature shows that mifepristone could be very helpful for some types of breast cancers, ovarian cancers, uterine fibroids, and other tumors disproportionally impacting women, doctors cannot provide this drug to their patients in an off-label manner- because of the restrictive use the FDA agreed to in order to appease the anti-abortion opponents who threatened its approval. FMF believes that restrictions around accessing mifepristone should be removed so that its full therapeutic value can be thoroughly explored.
FMF understood that even with FDA approval of mifepristone for medical abortion, its severely restricted access would limit its potential to treat patients with life-threatening medical and psychiatric conditions. When no other professional medical organization stepped in to help patients access this novel anti-hormone medication, FMF took the bold step of entering into an arrangement with the Food and Drug Administration to develop a "Mifepristone Compassionate Use program." For over 15 years, our Compassionate Use program has been the only way for doctors to access this drug for their patients with life-threatening conditions who had exhausted all other forms of traditional treatments. FMF also partnered with the Gynecological Oncology Group, the country's foremost gynecologic cancer research group (funded by the National Cancer Institute) in conducting a small study on mifepristone for ovarian cancer.
Today, 15 years after its approval for early abortion, FMF remains the sole provider of mifepristone for compassionate use in the United States. Since the Compassionate Use Program began in 1998, nearly 170 patients have received treatment for their various life-threatening conditions. The continuation of this program is integral to the treatment, livelihood, and lives of these patients with various advanced and terminal conditions. Some patients have depended on mifepristone for nearly 20 years, crediting the drug for saving their lives. They have testified to such before the U.S. Congress.
FMF was a critical force in the fight to get mifepristone approved for medical abortion and remains a vital voice in the cry to lift onerous restrictions around mifepristone's access to doctors, patients and researchers so that its full potential as a novel anti-hormone therapy can finally be explored.
By Dr. Beth Jordan
In a statement released Wednesday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), president Barbara Blaine blasted Pope Francis for his praise of US bishops' "courage," accusing the pontiff of doing "little if anything" to meaningfully address the Catholic Church's decades-long sex abuse crisis.
Pope Francis, in a homily delivered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., one of several stops on his first US tour, told the nearly 300 bishops in attendance that he was "conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficulty moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice."
Blaine, who founded SNAP in 1988 as a self-help organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse, wasted no time in challenging the pope's characterization of the Church's disastrous handling of the scandals, noting no clergy have been "defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even publicly denounced" despite the revelation of at least 100,000 victims over the course of 30 years of known abuse.
"What sacrifice?," questioned Blaine. "What bishop takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he's shielding predators and endangering kids? None."
Today, the Vatican stood by the pope's comments. "I am not surprised that there are critics that are not happy," said Vatican Press Secretary, Rev. Federico Lombardi. "This is not the first time."
Despite decades of occurrence, clergy sexual abuse only entered the public consciousness thirteen years ago, following an explosive expos by the Boston Globe. According to Blaine, in the years since, Catholic Church officials have taken few steps to protect children from future victimization.
"[Pope Francis'] remarks today confirm what we've long suspected: this pope, like his predecessors, is doing and will do little if anything to bring real reform to this continuing crisis. Those who care about kids must focus on secular authorities, not church figures (however popular they may be).
Senators voted 47-52 yesterday to block a short-term spending bill, falling short of the 60 votes needed to defund Planned Parenthood beginning in October.
Eight Republican senators joined Senate Democrats to vote against moving forward on the spending bill that would have stripped federal funding for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not announced a plan to avoid shutting down the government come next Wednesday at midnight.
The bill, HR 61, is the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures introduced by Republican lawmakers to eliminate funding to the nation's leading reproductive health care provider following the release of several fraudulent videos by the Center for Medical Progress. Despite no evidence that there is any truth to the videos' claims that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue, Republicans insisted on eliminating funding that enables millions of women, especially low-income women, to access health care.
Given that Planned Parenthood provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to 2.7 million women, men and teens at approximately 700 health centers nationwide, the stakes could not be higher.
Furthermore, Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. 79 percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that the anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress must provide documents and respond to questions concerning deceptive videos the group produced to mislead the public about Planned Parenthood.
In July, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) filed a federal lawsuit against CMP, its leader David Daleiden, and CMP board member and Operation Rescue president Troy Newman alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud and breach of contract. This lawsuit follows the distribution of falsified, misleading videos suggesting NAF members, including Planned Parenthood, illegally sold fetal tissue.
There is no evidence that Planned Parenthood has ever sold fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood clinics in two states (making up only one percent of Planned Parenthood health centers in the country) allow patients to participate in legal fetal tissue donation programs. Fetal tissue donation contributes to groundbreaking medical research.
Federal District Court Judge William Orrick extended a temporary restraining order in August on behalf of NAF, prohibiting Daleiden, Newman, CMP, and Biomax, another defendant involved in the CMP scheme, from releasing any videos, documents, or other confidential information obtained from NAF Annual Meetings. This information included the dates and locations of future meetings. Judge Orrick also ordered defendants to produce discovery, documents and other materials that will aid in resolving the legal dispute between the parties.
Defendants immediately petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, opposing the discovery request, and notified the district court that they would plead the Fifth Amendment, a protection against self-incrimination. The Ninth Circuit briefly suspended the discovery order while it reviewed the anti-abortion group's petition. Its decision yesterday means that the defendants must comply with Judge Orrick's order and produce documents and submit to questioning.
Judge Orrick ruled earlier this month that CMP and Biomax could not plead the Fifth to avoid complying with NAF's requests for discovery. Judge Orrick also ruled that Daleiden and Newman could not use the Fifth Amendment to assert a blanket refusal to answer all questions posed by NAF. Instead, as individuals, they can plead the Fifth only on a question-by-question basis, allowing NAF to challenge each instance and the Court to rule on a question-by-question basis whether Fifth Amendment protections apply.
The temporary restraining order against CMP, Biomax, Daleiden, and Newman remains in effect.
In a joint letter delivered Tuesday, more than 20 national women's groups called on California Governor Jerry Brown to sign into law A.B. 775, the Reproductive FACT Act, a measure requiring unlicensed clinics providing pregnancy-related services to disclose that they are not medical providers.
The law, introduced in April by Assembly members David Chiu and Autumn Burke, would also require reproductive health clinics to provide information about the state's public programs offering access to affordable family planning, prenatal and abortion services. It was passed by the California State Assembly in May this year.
Twenty-three national women's organizations nationwide, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, signed the letter in an effort to curb the proliferation of anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and address the public health threat posed by their deceptive practices.
"For far too long, anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) have used misleading tactics to lure women in their centers where they intentionally misinform women with long-debunked myths about family planning and abortion," wrote the groups. "Regardless of one's opinion on abortion, no woman seeking medical care should be shamed or lied to; let's start holding CPCs accountable in California."
Last week, a new poll conducted by Tulchin Research for NARAL Pro-Choice California found overwhelming support statewide for increased regulation of CPCs with more than half of voters backing the measures proposed in the FACT Act.
"This common sense legislation enjoys overwhelming support," said Amy Everitt, Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, a co-sponsor of the bill. "We urge the Governor to sign it immediately and stand up for women of California who have been defrauded by CPCs for long enough."
The fight for clear and accurate information for pregnant women has long been a fight for women's rights activists. Last year in response to a campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America and efforts by the Feminist Majority Foundation to expose fake clinics, Google removed deceptive crisis pregnancy center (CPC) advertisements from search engine results when users seek information about abortion services. Most of the advertisements claimed that the CPCs provided abortions when they did not.
Senate Democrats yesterday blocked a restrictive 20-week abortion ban, which had passed the House in May, in a cloture vote 54 to 42. To pass this ban, Republicans needed a super-majority of 60 votes. Senate leadership had decided that the motion would be a cloture vote, requiring 60 votes to pass.
The vote fell mostly on party lines, with the majority of Republicans voting for it and a majority of Democrats voting against it. There were a few acceptions: Democrats Casey (PA), Manchin (WV), and Donnelly (IN) voted for the bill and Republicans Collins (ME) and Kirk (IL) voted against it.
HR 36, which passed through the House in May, is a restrictive 20-week abortion ban would force rape survivors under 18 years of age seeking abortion care to report the crime to authorities. For survivors over the age of 18, the only option other than reporting the crime to authorities under this restrictive bill is for the woman to seek medical attention or counseling at least 48 hours before their procedure at a location other than where they plan to have their procedure. This requires seeking two separate providers- one for medical attention or counseling and one for an abortion- and is expensive, unrealistic, and overly burdensome. There is no exception to the requirement to report rape or incest for minors.
This bill was originally brought to the House floor in January, but House Republicans were forced to pull the bill just before midnight due to concerns from Republican women about reporting requirements for rape and incest survivors. Although sponsors of the bill claim that these concerns have been addressed, HR 36 still includes immensely onerous steps for women seeking abortion care to go through.
Although the overwhelming majority of voters, both Democrats and Republicans alike, feel that this is the wrong issue for Congress to be spending its time on, Republicans in Congress have made it clear from the beginning of the year that limiting women's access to comprehensive health and reproductive care is a top priority. House Speaker John Boehner referred to this 20-week ban as one of the most important priorities for Congress.
9/23/2015 - PPFA President Agrees to Testify Before House Committee; House Dems Demand CMP Testify, Too
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards has agreed to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is chaired by Reps. John Chaffetz (R-UT).
The House Committee is "investigating" allegations against Planned Parenthood after the release of highly edited and misleading videos from anti-choice group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) claiming the organization profits from fetal tissue donation. The claims have been repeatedly proved to be false, and House Democrats are calling for CMP testify before the House Committee, too.
In a statement issued Monday, Planned Parenthood spokesperson and Vice President Eric Ferrero said Richards expects to be invited to the hearing on Sept. 29 and "if invited, she will accept that invitation."
"We look forward to sharing the facts with this committee," Ferrero continued, "which include that fetal tissue donation for medical research is an important but tiny part of Planned Parenthood's work in just two states, that we've had guidance in place for more than a decade in this area that goes well beyond the legal requirements, and that even doctored and discredited videos show no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood."
Meanwhile, in a letter to Chaffetz, all 18 Oversight Committee Democrats urged Republican members to call David Daleiden, the founder of the Center for Medical Process (CMP), to testify as well, alleging the Committee, many of whom belong to the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right faction of the GOP, have engaged in a "biased, one-sided attack" against the women's healthcare provider in the wake of several fraudulent videos released by CMP this summer. Should the Committee refuse House Democrats' request, they have vowed to call Daleiden to testify at a separate hearing that same day.
"We believe it is fundamentally unfair to hold a public hearing to essentially indict Planned Parenthood in the court of public opinion without hearing directly from their accuser, David Daleiden, who deceptively edited secretly-recorded videos in an ultimately unsuccessful three-year crusade to entrap Planned Parenthood," the Democrats wrote.
Though not officially announced, the hearing is expected to be held the day before the House votes on the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government. In recent weeks, House Republicans have threatened to shut the government down unless the government cuts funding to Planned Parenthood.
Mike Perrin, a lawyer and former college football player, was chosen as the new interim athletic director for University of Texas over Chris Plonsky, a woman who has worked in the athletic department of the university for a quarter of a century. The announcement of this decision has many pointing to the lingering gender gaps in athletics at the collegiate level and beyond.
Decades after Title IX was passed in an attempt to address and prevent sex discrimination, statistics show there is a major disparity between male and female head coaches in college athletics. According to NCAA reporting, more than 80 percent of men still make up Division I collegiate head coaches, and of a total 313 Division I athletic directors, only 37 are women. As the New York Times reported:
"It's not that women aren't qualified, or that Texas has something specific against hiring [Plonsky] for its top job. It's just that the sad numbers don't lie."
North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow, one of only three women in the country employed as full-time athletic directors, understands these hurdles and says "if you want to overcome that barrier, here's a strategy: Wipe that question mark right out of their heads."
This is easier said than done, as women at both the collegiate and professional level face massive inequalities. As Meg Linehan of Vice Sports reported, the salaries for professional athletes in the National Women's Soccer League and the National Women's Hockey League are below the poverty line. Similarly, more established women's leagues like the WNBA are paid enormously less than their male counterparts.
The United States' women's soccer team made headlines this summer for both bringing home the FIFA World Cup trophy, but also for lingering disparities in pay coverage between the men's and women's teams. In this summer's world cup tournament alone, the US world champions of the women's World Cup earned collectively $15 million- a stark difference from the $576 million earned collectively by the US men's team, who lost in the first round of the tournament last year.
At the same time, tiny victories are taking place for women in athletics. Jen Welter was hired as a coach for the Arizona Cardinals this summer, becoming the first woman to be an NFL coach. And just this season, Sarah Thomas was named the first female referee official for the NFL. San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon also made history as the first woman to coach an NBA team.
9/21/2015 - Feminist Groups Oppose FratPAC Bill
Feminist groups, student activists, and survivor advocates announced their opposition to the proposed Safe Campus Act of 2015, also known as the "FratPAC bill," at a House subcommittee hearing on "Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses" earlier this month.
The bill, backed by the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FratPAC), is sponsored by Representatives Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Kay Granger (R-TX), and Pete Sessions (R-TX). The bill would make it more difficult for colleges and universities to address campus sexual assault by requiring survivors to report incidents of sexual assault to a law enforcement agency before a school could investigate sexual assault allegations. Even then, schools could not institute disciplinary proceedings against an alleged attacker until the law enforcement agency completes its investigation, a process that could take several months and sometimes years.
"This measure is designed to drastically reduce the ability of schools to respond to sexual violence allegations at all," said Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President Eleanor Smeal and FMF Director of Policy & Research Gaylynn Burroughs in a statement submitted to the subcommittee. "Blocking a school from fully addressing sexual violence complaints is . . . not only misguided, it undermines the intent and purpose of Title IX."
Only 12 percent of college student-survivors report to the police, with male survivors reporting at lower rates than women. "If you're looking for a way to not have students report - not only just to the school, but also to law enforcement - make it mandatory," said Lisa Maatz, Vice President for Government Relations at the American Association of University Women who testified at the hearing.
Instead of using an approach that disempowers survivors and prevents schools from protecting the safety and rights of their students, Maatz advocated for adoption of the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). Under the SOS Campus Act, "Schools would establish an independent, on-campus advocate to support survivors of sexual assault. Advocates would connect survivors with resources including emergency and follow-up medical and counseling care, how to report to law enforcement if they so choose, and information about legal rights on campus and off."
Students from Stanford University held up signs at the hearing protesting the FratPAC bill, and Know Your IX actively opposed the bill, calling the legislation the "Unsafe Campus Act." School administrators have also largely criticized the bill, including Dr. Penny Rue, Vice President for Campus Life at Wake Forest University, who testified before the subcommittee.
With one in five women students experiencing a rape or attempted rape during her time in college, feminist groups are calling on Congress to strengthen Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act, both of which are critical tools helping students and schools address sexual assault on campus. Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education program and activities, obligates schools to take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate possible incidents of sexual assault on campus, determine what occurred, and, if necessary, take prompt and effective steps to remedy the situation, eliminate the hostile environment, and prevent its recurrence. Title IX protects all students from sex discrimination, including men and LGBTQ students, and helps to promote a safe and equitable educational environment.
The Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IX. Between FY 2009 and FY 2014, complaints to OCR involving sexual violence on college campuses increased by more than 1000 percent. OCR plays an important role in remediating Title IX violations and encouraging schools to take voluntary steps toward implementing action plans to reduce sexual violence on campus. The flood of complaints and lack of adequate resources, however, have led to delays in OCR investigations. Legislation, such as the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) would, among other things, give OCR more resources to ensure thorough and timely Title IX investigations.
A federal judge ruled last week that the anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and BioMax, the two defendants in a lawsuit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) in response to the release of several fraudulent "sting" videos, cannot invoke the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid NAF's requests for discovery.
In a defeat for CMP and Biomax, Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Francisco, ordered that both organizations must comply with the court's requests for documents and other potential pieces of evidence. No U.S. court has allowed a corporation to plead the Fifth Amendment, a protection against self-incrimination.
"It's telling that the defendants have been very vocal in the media saying that they have nothing to hide, yet in federal court they want to plead the Fifth," said NAF President Vicki Saporta. "We are pleased with the results of today's hearing and are eager to move forward with the discovery process."
Both CMP founder, David Daleiden, and Troy Newman, head of Operation Rescue and one of CMP's founding officers, had previously indicated that they intend to plead the Fifth, as individual defendants. The Court rejected their argument that they should be able to use a blanket Fifth Amendment protection against all questions posed by NAF, but that they could assert Fifth Amendment rights on a question-by-question basis. Judge Orrick made clear, however, that plaintiffs could challenge the assertion of the Fifth Amendment and that the Court would rule on a question-by-question basis whether Fifth Amendment protections applied.
In July, NAF filed a lawsuit against extremist organization CMP and Biomax alleging civil conspiracy, racketeering, fraud and breach of contract, following the wide distribution of falsified videos suggesting NAF members, including Planned Parenthood, illegally sold fetal tissue. There is no evidence that Planned Parenthood has ever sold fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood clinics in two states (making up only one percent of Planned Parenthood health centers in the country) allow patients to participate in legal fetal tissue donation programs.
The decision by Judge Orrick marks another victory for NAF and Planned Parenthood as anti-abortion extremists continue to blur the lines of fact and fiction. Last month, the court granted NAF a temporary restraining order against CMP, Biomax, Daleiden, and Newman
In a 241-187 vote, the House of Representatives voted this afternoon, mostly on party lines with Republicans for and Democrats against, to strip federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a full year. The House also voted 248-177 to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which threatens doctors with new criminal penalties, up to five years in jail, for providing legal abortion.
"Once again, the Republican majority demonstrated it is hell-bent to restrict abortion rights for women and to scare doctors out of providing this constitutional, necessary and often life-saving procedure for countless women," exclaimed Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority.
The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), is the latest in a series of anti-abortion measures introduced by Republican lawmakers to eliminate funding to the nation's leading reproductive health care provider following the release of several fraudulent videos by the Center for Medical Progress. Despite no evidence that there is any truth to the videos' claims that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue, Republicans insisted on eliminating funding that enables millions of women, especially low-income women, to access health care.
Given that Planned Parenthood provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to 2.7 million women, men and teens at approximately 700 health centers nationwide, the stakes could not be higher.
This week, House Representatives are expected to vote on a bill which would suspend funding to Planned Parenthood for one year in order for Congress to further investigate the organization.
The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), is the latest in a series of anti-choice measures introduced by conservative lawmakers to eliminate funding to the nation's leading reproductive health care provider following the release of several fraudulent videos by the Center of Medical Progress.
The videos, deceptively edited, claim to capture the illegal sale of fetal tissue, a charge that has been dis-proven repeatedly. Experts, including an investigative reporter for the FBI- have now discredited the videos in a formal report to Congress.Additionally, state agency representatives from Georgia, South Dakota, Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts have independently confirmed that all five states have not violated any laws.
Despite no evidence of wrongdoing (several congressional probes and investigations of Planned Parenthood in a dozen states have turned up nothing to date), Republicans insist on targeting the organization. In addition to Black's proposed bill, which would bar federal funding to any entity that provides abortions with exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the woman, 31 House Republicans (all of them men) have pledged to oppose any federal spending bill and risk government shutdown unless the legislation blocks funding to Planned Parenthood as well.
Given that Planned Parenthood provides quality, affordable reproductive health care to 2.7 million women, men and teens at approximately 700 health centers nationwide, the stakes could not be higher.
"Now that the false claims against Planned Parenthood have fallen apart, politicians are heartlessly scrambling to attack women's access to health care however they can," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Eric Ferrero. "It's clear those behind these attacks have always had a clear agenda: to ban abortion, and cut millions of women and men across the country from necessary reproductive care."
In an unprecedented effort to spur legislative action, 203 professors from the nation's highest ranking business schools sent Congress a letter Tuesday, urging the passage of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, a law which would guarantee up to 12 weeks of partial income for employees on medical leave. Currently, a mere 13 percent of US workers receive paid family leave and less than 40 percent have access to paid medical leave.
The letter, signed by deans and professors from 88 revered institutions nationwide including The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, detail the benefits enjoyed by businesses that offer paid leave such as reduced turnover, controlled costs and increased productivity. This year, industry titans like Microsoft, Adobe and Nestle, expanded their paid leave policies, citing employee retention and recruitment as motivating factors.
Moreover, the authors underscore the positive impact of paid leave on employed women (who comprise nearly half of the paid U.S. labor force) and their families. In the year following the birth of a child, for example, new mothers with access to paid leave are more likely to stay in the workforce than those without and 54 percent are more likely to see wage increases as a result. Families in California, where statewide paid family leave policies like those proposed by the FAMILY Act have prospered since 2004, report positive effects on their ability to care for their children.
Today, the letter's authors are confident the FAMILY Act will build on the successes of California's paid leave program, as well as that of New Jersey and Rhode Island, creating a nationwide system of support "for all workers, no matter where they live or work."
"At a time when companies are increasingly making paid leave policy changes to support their employees and the president just expressed his support for a national paid leave law for the first time, we, as a nation, have an opportunity to adopt a policy that supports the populations, workforces and businesses of today and tomorrow," said Dr. Stewart D. Friedman, director of the Wharton School's Work/Life Integration Project and the letter's lead author. "The FAMILY Act is that policy."
New York utility company Con Edison will be forced to pay $3.8 million to more than 300 of its women workers who were subjected to sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
Con Edison, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York attorney general's office reached the joint settlement this week, ending a government investigation that began in 2007.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said:
"This agreement sends a clear message to employers across New York State: All women, including those working in male-dominated work-places, are entitled to equal justice under law."
The female field workers who filed the complaints said male co-workers frequently made lewd remarks towards them and created a hostile work environment. They reported they were routinely denied on-the-job training, promotions and overtime. Women workers also claim they weren't even given the same access to safety gear that their male colleagues had.
One female employee called working for Con Edison "a constant fight," explaining:
"I have learned to toughen it out just so I can be able to maintain employment. Our opinions don't matter. If we have a discrepancy, we are labeled angry black women, or just angry women. It's still a little boys club. They'll team up against us."
In addition to the hefty payout, Con Edison will have to hire an independent equal employment opportunity specialist to train employees.
In a landmark victory, a federal jury unanimously decided to award a $17 million settlement to five women farmworkers who were subjected to sexual harassment and intimidation.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, three male supervisors at Moreno Farms "engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment" within the Florida packing house that included rape, attempted rape, propositioning and groping.
Sandra Lopez, who came to the United States from Chiapas, Mexico to provide for her child, said she was dragged into a supervisor's trailer and raped for half an hour, according to the Miami New Times.
The five women in the case were all fired for refusing the supervisors' sexual advances, according to the lawsuit.
The EEOC filed the suit in August 2014, hoping for not only justice for the wronged employees but greater awareness of the special challenges women farmworkers face, especially those who are undocumented.
EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said:
"We are committed to ensuring that all immigrant and vulnerable populations are protected by the anti-discrimination laws, and this is the latest in a number of successful cases that we have litigated to stop these discriminatory practices."
Unfortunately, it may prove difficult to collect the $17.4 million. As the case was concluding, the Moreno Farms packing plant abruptly closed and its owner fled to avoid jailing.
The Florida attorney who represented the women, Victoria Mesa, said that it's still a significant ruling regardless.
"It's really an important win for Florida farmworkers, who need to know that they have rights regardless of their immigration status."
9/11/2015 - President Obama Signs Pay Transparency Rule
The Department of Labor yesterday released its final rule in implementing President Obama's Executive Order on equal pay. This rule protects all federally contracted employees from retaliation for discussing their pay.
Currently, almost one-quarter of the American workforce is employed by federal contractors, giving millions of women further tools to combat pay discrimination. Executive Order 13665, the new rule, not only prohibits retaliation against employees who wish to discuss their pay, but also requires contractors to discuss nondiscrimination protection with employees and job applicants. Previously, nearly half of all workers in the US were either expressly forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay with colleagues.
"President Obama is making history through his executive order, and is step-by-step fighting to end gender, race, and ethnicity pay discrimination," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "This Labor Day he announced an executive order granting all federally contracted workers much needed paid sick leave. It's time long overdue for Congress to extend these rights to all employees and to raise the minimum wage."
The President also signed a federal memorandum to requiring federal contractors to provide wage information by sex, rave, and ethnicity.
President Obama signed the first part of this executive order last year, aiming to promote fair pay and safe workplaces for federally contracted workers. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is intended to hold corporations accountable, offer guidance to companies on how to improve, and streamline implementation and contractor reporting. The order also gives employees more power in confronting workplace discrimination and pay inequities.
The Executive Order is being implemented in stages, and will be fully implemented in 2016. President Obama previouslyï¿½signed executive ordersï¿½banning LGBT discrimination in the workplaceï¿½for federal contracts andï¿½promoting pay equity for women in the workplace.
On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden, together with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, announced efforts to process some 70,000 untested rape kits, committing nearly $80 million to their resolution.
During a press conference held at New York City's medical examiner's office, Biden and Lynch underscored the importance of clearing the national backlog, pledging $41 million of federal funds to test 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions. Vance, upholding a promise made last fall, will apportion $38 million in forfeiture funds and provide grants of up to $2 million to examine 56,000 rape kits in 32 agencies across the country.
Conservative estimates suggest approximately 400,000 rape kits sit untested in crime labs nationwide. At $1,000 per kit analysis, some police departments resist addressing their cities' backlogs, citing lack of funds.
The benefits of testing rape kits are undeniable. Rape kits afford prosecutors the opportunity to indict "John Does," securing their DNA in a national database and effectively stopping the clock on the statute of limitations imposed on sexual assault cases. Moreover, given an estimated 90 to 95 percent of rapes are committed by serial rapists, rape kits allow law enforcement to apprehend repeat offenders before they rape again.
Efforts to eliminate the backlog have already yielded results in cities nationwide. In Detroit, for example, the analysis of 10,000 previously untested rape kits exposed 487 serial rapists in at large in several states. Los Angeles has eliminated their backlog entirely with grant assistance and now processes rape kits within three months of receipt.
"The bottom line is simple," said Biden, who authored and spearheaded passage of the VAWA law and has long championed programs to end violence against women, "[I]f we're able to test these kits, more crimes could be solved and more women can live with the comfort of knowing her rapist will not return."
On Wednesday, 65,000 4-year-old New Yorkers began their first day of fully funded pre-kindergarten. This marks the second year of the program, which has been gaining visibility and adding new students since its launch.
"People are demanding this," said New York mayor Bill de Blasio in an interview with The Washington Post. "They believe it's something government can and should do. Bringing all kinds of kids together in a classroom lifts all boats. This is where we have to go. This is where the modern world is taking us."
Quality early childhood education (from birth to age 5) has been shown to improve life outcomes for individuals later in life; it has been linked to lowered crime rates, increased adult earnings and a more highly skilled workforce. It's also critical to closing the achievement gap between lower-income children and their wealthier peers. As Ms. magazine reported in 2009, an average child whose parents are on welfare has heard 32 million fewer words by age 4 than the child of professional parents.
Not only is early learning important for individual children's development, it's also a smart public investment. According to a longitudinal study in Chicago, early-education programs implemented there resulted in lower special-education costs for at-risk children, which dropped by as much as 41 percent. Plus, juvenile arrests and violent offenses were 33 and 42 percent lower respectively among kids who received early support compared to their at-risk peers who did not attend quality early learning programs.
In New York City, nearly two-thirds of eligible children are enrolled in the city's free, full-day program. Last year, enrollment hovered around half, with 53,000 children in publicly funded preschool.
Following the release of fraudulent videos from the Center of Medical Progress, a wave of anti-abortion protests nationwide and an aggressive legislative attack on Planned Parenthood, a fire at a reproductive health clinic near Spokane, Washington has been determined an arson.
According to the Pullman Fire Department, flames consumed the Planned Parenthood Center in Pullman in the early morning hours last Friday and burned for nearly three hours. The clinic, which did not provide abortion services, sustained extensive damage, rendering the facility unusable for at least a month. No one was injured.
The Pullman arson is the latest example of anti-abortion extremism inflicted upon Planned Parenthood facilities and independent women's reproductive health care providers nationwide. Last month, two Louisiana clinics suffered property damage when a unidentified perpetrator doused the construction site of a New Orleans Planned Parenthood with gasoline while in nearby Metairie, a suspect allegedly removed signage from a local abortion clinic. In March, a trespasser destroyed Mississippi's Jackson Women's Health Organization's security cameras and power generator.
"We urge federal law enforcement to deploy the resources at their disposal to investigate not only this latest act of violence, but also, but also the Center for Medical Progress," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project director duVergne Gaines. "These deceitful videos spread misinformation, demonize Planned Parenthood and all abortion providers, and inspire violent threats and action."
Republicans, seizing on the opportunity presented in the wake of the videos' release, have rushed to introduce new legislation on both the state and federal levels to restrict women's health care options, including eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood. Last month, several states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Utah and New Hampshire attempted to cutting funding to Planned Parenthood entirely. This week, Rep. Mick Mulvany (R-S.C.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) circulated separate letters urging lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood or face government shutdown over the federal budget negotiations.
On Wednesday, the House judiciary committee will hold the first in a series of congressional hearings deceptively entitled "Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider," in the hopes of dismantling Planned Parenthood and stirring up even more anti-abortion sentiment. The hearing, in which Planned Parenthood was not allowed to testify, will feature "experts on the issues surrounding the alleged acts of Planned Parenthood," including two "abortion survivors" and National Right to Life lawyer James Bopp, with no acknowledgement of the Center for Medical Progress' illegal "evidence"-gathering activities or the recent rash of clinic violence.
"Make no mistake, the attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on women's health and access to abortion and birth control," adds Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "We must stop these extremists, and their friends in Congress, from pushing their agenda to ban abortion and limit access to family planning and basic healthcare services for women."
9/8/2015 - Conservative Lawmakers Use False Planned Parenthood Videos to Introduce New Anti-Choice Laws
In recent weeks, in the wake of the release of doctored videos falsely depicting Planned Parenthood as the illegal purveyor of fetal body parts, a spate of conservative lawmakers nationwide are seizing the opportunity to introduce new, more restrictive measures to limit women's access to necessary healthcare and abortion services by specifically targeting abortion providers.
Last Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a press release detailing his new LIFE initiative, a four-point plan designed to criminalize abortion providers and defund Planned Parenthood. Tenets of the broad effort include designating second-trimester abortion procedures felony offenses, criminalizing the harvesting of fetal tissue by an abortion clinic "for any purpose whatsoever," eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood "both at the State and local levels" as well as introducing vague proposals to improve adoption services and "increase awareness" about Texas' child-support enforcement program.
Abbott is not alone. Nebraska Sen. Tommy Garrett (R), in partnership with Nebraska Right to Life, is crafting legislation to outlaw dilation and evacuation procedures commonly performed following miscarriages and during second-trimester abortion care. Rep. Laura Cox (R) introduced similar legislation last month in Michigan and Arkansas Right to Life is already preparing to make their case for banning the procedure during the state's 2017 legislative session.
Meanwhile in Ohio, presidential hopeful Gov. John Kasich (R) is expected to sign a bill banning abortions for pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Co-authored by Ohio Right to Life, the legislation has already been approved by a health committee in the Ohio House of Representatives predicted to pass easily in the state legislature (two-thirds of whom enjoy National Right to Life Committee endorsements). The bill, which would threaten physicians with up 18 moths of jail time should they knowingly perform the procedure on a woman carrying a fetus with the condition, is danger of becoming one of some 16 TRAP laws enacted during Kasich's tenure. Since Kasich took office in 2011, half of the state's abortion providers have been forced to close their doors.
And most recently, top officials for Gov. Rick Scott in Florida went so far as to change and re-write a press release that had found no wrongdoing in the state's Planned Parenthood clinics. Many feel that this act of deception confirms Planned Parenthood's claim that investigations into the organization are politically motivated.
But advocates for women's reproductive rights are not taking new measures such as these lying down. This week, several allied women's health care providers, with the support of the Center for Reproductive Rights, requested the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider their recent decision to uphold a Texas law which would shutter more than 75 percent of abortion clinics in the state. The law, which mandates all abortion providers secure admitting privileges from local hospitals as well as requires reproductive healthcare facilities to shell out millions of dollars in unnecessary ambulatory surgical center updates, has closed 41 clinics in the state since its enactment. Only 10 remain.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: these restrictions have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with closing down clinics and pushing abortion care out of reach," says president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health Amy Hagstrom. "Our ability to get safe medical care should not depend on whether we have the resources necessary to navigate a horrific and complex obstacle course dreamt up by anti-choice lawmakers. This is the real world and these laws have real implications on real women's lives."
The Obama Administration stayed busy this holiday weekend, revealing yesterday a series of actions that will expand paid sick leave for hundreds of thousands of Americans by 2017.
President Obama issued an executive order yesterday ensuring that all federally contracted workers- some 300,000- are able to earn up to seven days of paid sick time for illness, preventative care, or to care for sick relatives. The order would also allow for federally contracted employees to take a paid week off per year to care for sick relatives.
During his State of the Union address this year, President Obama demonstrated his commitment to working families and placed a historic emphasis on improving the lives the American working class:
"We are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. . . . And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home," the President said.
President Obama also noted this weekend that the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, would be one strong option for American families. The FAMILY Act would also provide up to 12 weeks of much-needed paid maternity and paternity leave, as well as paid leave for prolonged illness or to care for a family member with a long-term illness.
"Today, President Obama took concrete and very welcome steps to make our nation more family friendly," Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, wrote in a press release. "We applaud his executive order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to allow all employees who work on federal contracts to earn paid sick time, and his powerful message urging Congress to- at long last- create the national family and medical leave program this country needs," Ness continued.
In January President Obama announced his intention to move in such a direction, promising to sign a memorandum directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, and to grant up to seven paid sick days to federal workers. The President encouraged state and local governments to do the same. Then, earlier this summer President Obama drafted an executive order to expand sick leave for all federal contractors and their subcontractors.
Paid parental and sick leave has a direct impact on working women and families. Often times for single parents or families with two working parents, having a sick child means taking unpaid time off or the risk of getting fired for staying home with the child.
A bill introduced by California State Senators Kevin de Leon (D) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) that aims to prevent sexual assault in the state's high schools has passed the California Assembly with bipartisan support.
Recent attention on sexual assault has surrounded mainly colleges, but the pair recognized that sexual assault is also a critical issue in high schools. That's why earlier this year they introduced SB 695, which would combat sexual violence in the state's high schools by including curricula about rape and consent in health classes.
Sen. Jackson said in a press release:
"If we want to prevent sexual assault, it"s important that we start early. This bill will ensure that discussions about healthy relationships and consent are taking place in high school, with young women and young men, so we can help establish boundaries of acceptable behavior."
This pending legislation comes on the heels of another bill that was also introduced by De Leon last year and was recently enacted. The affirmative consent law was the "first application of the "yes means yes" concept in the country."
Rather than depending on the popular mantra "no means no," consent under this legislation requires an "affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." It helps to combat the harmful idea that the survivor must have actively resisted in order for rape to have occurred and put more of an onus on prevention.
This new bill, SB 695, takes those same notions to the state's high schools, stating that high schoolers are the "most vulnerable population" and that educating them is "paramount to reducing the number of incidents."
Women between 18-24 experience the highest rates of sexual assault. Sofie Karasek, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, believes the bill could go a long way in combating the epidemic.
"Educating students about consent, respect, and healthy relationships is vital to eradicating sexual violence on campuses and beyond, and I hope that other states will follow suit."
The California Senate had already passed the bill in a unanimous vote. The bill will now go back to the Senate for a final vote and if it passes, heads to the Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.