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4/8/2015 - Kansas Has Banned the Safest, Most Common Kind of Second-Trimester Abortion

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R), who is openly anti-abortion, just signed into law a bill that makes Kansas the first state to ban most second-trimester abortions.

SB95, which was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, will take effect July 1. The bill outlaws a "dismemberment" abortion, which essentially bans any dilation and evacuation procedure; this procedure is used in most second-trimester abortions and in about 9 percent of all abortions performed in Kansas. Pro-choice advocates are not sure if they will challenge the law in court, and are unsure how much of an impact the bill could have because its language is not clear.

"We've never seen this language before," said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute. "It�s not medical language, so it's a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do."

Opponents of the bill also say the graphic language used in SB95 is sensational, is not medical, and is used to gain supporters.

The dilate-and-evacuate method is the safest for second-trimester abortions, according to many professionals. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President Laura McQuade says the procedure is "considered the safest across the board for women's health."

"This legislation could force physicians to provide substandard care to their patients," McQuade said in a statement. "The bill not only fails to improve women's health and safety but puts them in harm's way by denying doctors the ability to provide the safest care available for their patients based on their individual medical circumstances."

SB95 is part of a large ongoing push to outlaw abortion. In the first three months of 2015 alone, nine abortion restrictions have been enacted and 53 abortion restrictions have been approved by one legislative chamber or more. It also isn't the first anti-abortion restriction Gov. Brownback has signed. He told lawmakers to create a "culture of life" when he took office in 2011.

4/6/2015 - Brutally Murdered Afghan Woman Becomes Symbol for Women's Rights

Last month, 27-year-old Farkhunda was falsely accused of burning the Koran then brutally murdered after standing up for her beliefs in front of a shrine attendant in Kabul, Afghanistan. She's now being held up as a champion of Islam and women's rights.

Farkhunda, who was an Islamic law student, decided to speak up against the practice of mullahs selling tahwiz, which are verses from the Koran that are said to bring good luck. Farkhunda said the practice was un-Islamic. The shrine attendant then began to shout that Farkhunda was an infidel who had burned the Koran, she was also accused of being mentally ill - both accusations were later said to be false. A crowd of hundreds of men beat her and set fire to her body.

"This is heartbreaking - she was innocent and she was a woman," said Fawzia Koofi, a women's rights activist and politician who is also on the investigation team created by the Afghan president. "This happened to her because of her gender."

But now, weeks after the incident, Farkhunda is being called a martyr among women's rights and Islamic people alike who believe the woman was unjustly killed for speaking up for her beliefs. The beatings were caught in cell phone videos and led to an uproar on social media. A group of all women carried Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral, which breaks the tradition that has men carrying the coffin.

"Farkhunda was a true Muslim, a religious hero," said Shahla Farid, a Kabul University law lecturer and a part of the team appointed by the Afghan president to investigate Farkhunda's death. "Here a woman challenged a man and defended Islam." Women in Afghanistan are hopeful that these protests shed light on the injustices women face. "She has improved the status of women in Islam and in our community," Farid said. "I believe Farkhunda is now giving more hope to more women."

But while these protests are encouraging, they do not end a culture that perpetuates violence against women in Afghanistan. "After more than a decade of efforts to improve the standing of Afghan women, violence against them occurs across much of the country with impunity," writes Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times. "A man's accusation against a woman is often the final word, as it was here last [month]."

The shrine attendant, along with 47 other people - including 19 police officers - were arrested in connection to the murder. Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry pledged to stop the selling of tahwiz, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Farkhunda's family to offer condolences. President Ghani says there is no question that Farkhunda was innocent, and 12 attorneys have been assigned to review Farkhunda's case.

Farid's female students tell her that it horrified them to see how quickly a mob of angry men formed to beat Fakhunda. Farid said one of her students told her, "How can I sit here in class with boys? I'm afraid of them."

4/6/2015 - Major League Baseball Begins Mandatory Domestic Violence Prevention Training

Six months after Major League Baseball met with the players union to discuss their domestic violence policy, the organization has begun mandatory training on domestic violence prevention.

The brutal and much publicized footage last summer of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his fiance unconscious sparked national dialogue on gender based violence in professional sports. And although much of that conversation centered on the NFL, the MLB quickly became under fire as well. At a Senate committee hearing last December, Senator McCaskill (D-MO) voiced her frustration with the MLB, pointing out "Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has never sanctioned an MLB player for domestic violence, never in 22 years." And although Bud Selig has since been replaced with Rob Manfred, Senator's McCaskill's point was clear: the MLB needs to be taking this issue seriously.

Months later it appears as though MLB is listening. Last month, all 30 major league teams were brought to training sites and participated in domestic violence prevention sessions and workshops coordinated by Futures Without Violence, a California non-profit that strives to end violence against women. Futures Without Violence led sessions to promote healthy relationships, to encourage players to ask for and seek support, and to speak up about violence if they believe it may be occurring. There are plans to continue this training at the minor league level as well.

Advocates and legislators agree that although these actions are promising, much more will be necessary for sustainable change in the culture of violence that seems to enshrine professional sports institutions. In response to violence in the NFL and other professional sports leagues, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create $100 million in funding for domestic violence prevention programs- paid for by closing a tax loophole used by the NFL and other professional sports leagues to enjoy a tax-exempt status that has been around since the 1960s.

4/3/2015 - Malta Passes Law to Ban 'Normalization' Surgery on Intersex Infants, Allow Self-Determination of Gender

Malta's parliament just passed new legislation that allows self-determination of gender (with a simple process to legally change gender), and outlaws unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. This bill makes Malta the first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex infants.

Intersex is a term used to describe a variety of people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fall into society's expectation of either male or female. Intersex babies around the world often undergo surgery, either at the request of the parent or the recommendation of the doctor, to remove parts of their genitalia. In almost every case, the procedure is completely medically unnecessary and denies the child the ability to make choices about their own body. Some people call the surgery "normalization" surgery, which is a term that falsely implies there is something wrong with being intersex.

"To say that this Act is a groundbreaking human rights milestone is almost an understatement," said Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. "It provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards."

The new law also allows people to change their gender identity on documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, which ends the requirement for surgery in order to legally identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. The process of changing one's gender in the system, under the new bill, won't take more than 30 days.

"Demanding sterility, divorce, a mental health diagnosis in legal gender recognition or completely lacking procedures are more and more an inacceptable [sic] thing of the past," said Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe. "Lawmakers in the rest of Europe should take inspiration from this trail-blazer for swift action."

"The GIGESC Act creates the conditions for an equal society as it recognises and protects trans and intersex persons in all spheres of life," adds Alecs Recher, who is also co-chair of Transgender Europe.

In 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture announced it condemns unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. "The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments," the UN statement reads, "including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, 'reparative therapies' or 'conversion therapies,' when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned."

Maltese officials and medical professionals are now working to come up with guidelines to make sure all surgeries done on infants are medically necessary and not "driven by social factors without the consent of the minor."

4/2/2015 - An Indiana Woman Was Just Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Having a Miscarriage

Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman from Indiana, has been found guilty of feticide and neglect and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Patel was convicted of both terminating her pregnancy on purpose and abandoning a live, delivered fetus. However, there is no evidence to support the idea that she abandoned a living fetus - there was no evidence she took an abortion-inducing pill, and no proof the fetus was alive once it existed her body. Patel has remained consistent that what happened was that she suffered a miscarriage.

Indiana law bans "knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy" in any case except to produce a live birth, clear out a dead fetus, or to perform a legal abortion. Since Patel was accused of using illegal abortion drugs, and of abandoning a live fetus, she was convicted under this Indiana law.

The only evidence prosecutors used against Patel were text messages she sent to a friend talking about online abortion drugs. A toxicologist could not find any evidence of these types of drugs in Patel's body or in the fetus. The only evidence used by prosecutors on the second charge was that the fetus, at 30 weeks old, could potentially have survived outside the womb, and its lungs passed a "floating test" that could possibly have suggested the baby drew breath at one point (the science of this test, which was developed in the 17th century, is highly contested).

"It's an absolutely discredited test," said Gregory Davis, who is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky. "It boggles my mind that in the 21st century ... this test is still being relied upon to determine whether a baby is born alive or dead."

Patel received care at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center's maternity ward after she was bleeding and showing an umbilical cord. Dr. Kelly McGuire, who later testified against Patel, called the police. Patel told doctors she has a miscarriage and left the fetus in a dumpster outside a shopping center. McGuire followed police cars to the scene and pronounced the fetus dead on arrival. Patel says she felt cramping that resulted in bleeding and a miscarriage. She says she tried to resuscitate the fetus but was unsuccessful, then was in too much shock to call the police and "didn't know what else to do" because she didn't want her parents to find out, so she put the fetus in the dumpster and went to the hospital.

"Any time a pregnant woman does something that can harm a fetus, now she has to worry, 'Am I going to be charged with attempted feticide?'" David Orentlicher, a medical ethics specialist and former Indiana state representative told PRI. "If you discourage pregnant women from getting prenatal care, you're not helping fetuses, you're harming fetuses."

Patel's attorney plans to appeal the verdict.

4/2/2015 - Louisiana Personhood Bill Would Ban Some Forms of Birth Control and Give Fetuses Full Legal Rights

Louisiana Senator Elbert Guillory (R) pre-filed a personhood bill this week calling for a constitutional amendment that would give full legal rights to a fetus, ban many forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, as well as some health care procedures for pregnant women. Senate Bill 80 would add a section to the Louisiana constitution defining personhood as "a human being from the moment of conception."

The Louisiana state Senate is in session starting April 15, and is in session until June 11. SB 80 will be voted on in the Louisiana primary October 24, 2015, rather than in the general election in November.

Guillory, who just two years ago switch parties and became a Republican, is running for lieutenant governor against Billy Nungesser (R), President of Plaquemines Parish, and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden (D). While Nungesser and Holden are showing campaign funding in the millions, Guillory is running a campaign in debt for the second year in a row.

This personhood bill is the latest in a long series of attempted restrictions for women seeking abortion care in Louisiana. Just this December, under the administration of Governor Jindal, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals issued a letter to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast refusing to allow its new state of the art clinic in New Orleans to perform abortions on the legal "excuse" that it did not show a need for a new facility to perform abortions in Louisiana. In 2012, Jindal's administration passed a state law requiring abortion clinics to show that there is need for another clinic before applying for a license.

Similar personhood bills have been introduced in other states, including Colorado, North Dakota, and Mississippi, all of which defeated the proposed personhood bills over the past year.

4/1/2015 - On Transgender Day of Visibility, Advocates are Celebrating Trans Lives and Experiences

Today marks the sixth annual International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), a designated day for the trans community to share and celebrate their lives and experiences.

Visibility for the trans community is crucial in a world where 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school, 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, and where 50 percent of trans people have been raped or assaulted by a romantic partner. It is important to amplify the experiences and successes of trans people in order to create community for trans people, and to encourage a space in a society that might otherwise push trans identities and experiences to the side.

TDoV contrasts Transgender Day of Remembrance in that is it not a day for mourning, it is instead a day for the trans community to be recognized and empowered. Rachel Crandall, the head of Transgender Michigan, created TDoV after wanting an event for trans people that is celebratory.

"The Day of Remembrance is exactly what it is," Crandall said. "It remembers people who died. [Transgender Day of Visibility] focuses on the living."

In one example of the bigotry the trans community faces, Marshall High School in Michigan began receiving complaints from parents who were uncomfortable with TDoV support from students. A bulletin board was decorated for TDoV and featured facts about trans people and words of encouragement for the trans community. The board was taken down by school officials.

Trans advocates are taking to social media and using the hashtags #TDoV and #TransDayOfVisibility to share their photos and experiences with others.

3/27/2015 - Security and Women's Rights are Essential to Afghan Recovery

President Ashraf Ghani and a delegation of some 70 plus Afghan leaders came to the US this week to urge Congress and President Obama to extend the deadline for removing support troops from Afghanistan. Afghan public opinion polls have shown that Afghans' top priority is currently security.

"Many Afghan women leaders, as well as other Afghans, have also expressed their concern over security and safety. They fear that pulling virtually all American troops would send the wrong signal to the Taliban and the gains Afghan women and girls have won would be lost if the Taliban was emboldened," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and President its sister action organization, the Feminist Majority. "This is why we recently began a Shoulder-to-Shoulder campaign with Afghan Women and Girls Campaign urging President Obama and members of Congress to extend the deadline and keep the remaining US support troops in Afghanistan."

"This is no time to pull out virtually all support troops when women and girls are making progress and the new unity government, pledged to democracy, women's empowerment and rebuilding the nation, is trying to move forward," Smeal continued. "We applaud President's Obama decision to delay the 2015 removal of US troops from Afghanistan."

At the beginning of this week President Obama changed the timeline for removing US support troops. Instead of removing some 5,000 of remaining troops in Afghanistan by December 31, 2015, as had been previously planned, the President announced the US will keep some 9,800 troops through 2015. At this time, he has not changed his decision to remove all troops by December 31, 2016.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's address yesterday to a Joint Session of the United States Congress commended the decision by President Barack Obama to delay the withdrawal of US support troops in Afghanistan and to allow the current level of troops to remain through the end of 2015.

President Ghani's address highlighted the extraordinary progress that Afghan women have made since 2001 when, under a system of gender apartheid, women and girls were not allowed to attend school, hold a job, receive medical care, or even go outside of their homes without being covered from head-to-toe and accompanied by a male relative. Ghani pointed out some of the current gains of women such as today some 3 million girls are in primary school; women's maternal mortality rate, although still high, has been dramatically reduced; and some 38 percent of the voters were women, despite threats of violence, in the recent provincial and presidential elections. He pledged "to increase to parity the number of women graduating from high schools and colleges."

Ghani said women's rights were a central foundation block for Afghanistan to recover from some 40 years of war. He said women's rights were not only a "matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity," he said. "No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away, uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity, and drive to national development."

3/27/2015 - Senate 'Vote-A-Rama' Passes Amendments for Equal Pay, Pregnant Workers, Paid Leave, Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

A bipartisan majority of Senators this week voted in favor of budget amendments that show growing momentum for paid sick leave for employees, social security and veterans benefits for same-sex couples, equal pay, and fair treatment for pregnant workers.

The votes, though significant, are symbolic. None of the amendments are binding. The bipartisan votes, however, show the popularity of these policy proposals and signal that both Democrats and Republicans realize that these issues are a priority for the American public.

One amendment to the budget resolution tracks the Healthy Families Act, sponsored in the Senate by Patty Murray (D-WA) and in the House by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), which allows employees to earn seven days of paid sick leave. Prospects for passing the Healthy Families Act were seen as slim in the GOP-majority Senate, but Thursday's 61-39 vote in favor suggests bipartisan support is possible.

Sens. Pat Rooney (R-PA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) surprised the measure's supporters by voting in favor - backers of the paid sick leave amendment did not expect the measure to receive 61 Senate votes. Wisconsin has banned paid sick leave laws on the local level, but Philadelphia has recently changed to mandate employers give workers one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked.

Another amendment, which passed 56-43, calls to establish a "deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to promoting equal pay" that would apply largely to preventing sex discrimination and would prevent retaliation against employees who discuss wage information. A similar but stronger version of this amendment (vote 82), which tracks the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), was rejected 45-54. Vote 82 would have allowed for punitive damages and limited the "other than sex" exceptions to the 1963 Act.

The Senate also unanimously passed a resolution calling for reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers - just one day after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Young v. UPS which set out a legal roadmap for pregnant workers discriminated against in the workplace to vindicate their rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Additionally, the Senate "Vote-A-Rama" supported an amendment to the budget that would give same-sex married couples access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and Social Security benefits.

"Gay couples legally married in any state should be entitled to veterans and Social Security benefits identical to any other married couples. [This week], eleven Republicans joined Democrats in recognizing that gay couples deserve equal treatment, regardless of where they live," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said in a statement. "We still have work to do to, but this is progress and a win for equal rights."

These budget amendments are mostly symbolic, but provide insight into where Senate members stand on crucial issues. No Democrats voted for the final budget, but the budget passed anyway at 3:28 AM by 52-46.

3/25/2015 - Afghan Woman Beaten to Death After Complaining to Mullah

Updated 4/6/2015

A 27-year-old woman ‎who was falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran outside of a riverside mosque in a very poor part of Kabul, Afghanistan was brutally beaten and burned alive in March.

Shocking videos quickly spread on social media showing crowds of men surrounded by hundreds of onlookers assaulting the 27-year-old Farkhunda with bricks and sticks and repeatedly kicking her. The woman’s body was then thrown onto the banks of the Kabul River and was burned. Farkhunda’s parents told the police that their daughter was mentally ill and that she had not committed the act intentionally.

It was later revealed Farkhunda, was a religion student who confronted the mullah of the mosque with charging poor people for writing tahwiz, or verses from the Koran to bring an individual good luck and keep the person safe. She reportedly complained to him that her tahwiz did not bring her good luck. The mullah allegedly initiated the attack on Farkhunda.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior confirmed from his official Twitter account that four suspects had been arrested in connection with the attack, and a report from Tolo News claims that the police have detained 9 men accused of killing and burning woman in Kabul. Kabul’s head of criminal investigation said that the officers fired into the air to try to dispel the crowd, but that they “reacted too late.” Human rights groups, however, have raised concerns about whether enough was done to stop the mob.

Afghanistan’s President Ghani denounced the actions of these men in a statement, saying that "no one has the right to take it upon themselves to act as judge and court, nor to commit violence against anyone for any reason." He ordered an inquiry into the attack to be conducted by the interior ministry together with the Ulama Council - which oversees religious issues - and the leadership of the mosque.

"I would certainly hope the government would be trying to arrest and prosecute everyone who was involved and doing an internal investigation into whether the police response was appropriate," said Heather Barr, a senior researcher for women's rights in Asia for Human Rights Watch.

3/25/2015 - Masked Intruder Attacks Last Abortion Clinic Standing in Mississippi

In the early hours of the morning Monday, a person in a mask wielding what appeared to be a machete attacked the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi.

The clinic revealed in a post on their website the details of the attack on what is affectionately referred to by staff and community members as The Pink House. "A review of our DVR showed that in the early hours of the morning, a masked intruder came onto our property and proceeded to methodically destroy our cameras. Other damage found indicates they were trying to destroy the power lines coming into the building, no doubt hoping to stop all patient care for the near future." The state-mandated generator for the clinic was also targeted and damaged.

"It angered some of us, it scared some of the staff, but we are a resilient group," said Michelle Colon, Security Director for the Jackson Women's Health Organization, told the Feminist Newswire. She also detailed the strong relationship the clinic has with local law enforcement, and the extra steps the staff are taking to make sure that the clinic is open for those who need it. "We didn't miss a beat. The women of Mississippi and the surrounding states have been coming to the Pink House for 20 years, and yesterday, today, and tomorrow won't be any different. We'll keep doing the good work we've always done."

Clinic violence is a serious problem in the US, and has been increasing despite increase support from law enforcement. In fact, the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Clinic Violence Survey has shown that since 2010, the distribution of old west-style WANTED posters and pamphlets targeting doctors and clinic staff, and featuring doctors' and staffs' photographs, home addresses, and other personal information, have almost doubled from 27 percent to 52 percent. Furthermore, the survey shows that clinics impacted by the most serious anti-abortion threats increased from 26.6% of clinics in 2010 to 51.9 percent of clinics in 2014.

Anti-abortion extremist groups are organizing mass protests and targeting clinics in Mississippi and elsewhere in upcoming weeks. One group in particular, Operation Save America, is led in part by Jason Storms, a man who is an advocate of Justifiable Homicide of doctors, clinic workers, and supporters, along with his father-in-law Matt Trewhella. Operation Save American is partnered with a new extremist group based out of Oklahoma City, OK, called Abolish Human Abortion, which publishes the home address of clinic doctors and encourages harassment through their "Call out the Killers" campaign.

Earlier this year, anti-abortion extremists gathered outside the home of Executive Director of South Wind Women's Center Julie Burkhart, holding signs such as "Prepare to Meet Thy God" meant to intimidate her. Another sign read "Fear Him Who Has the Power to Cast You into Hell," and yet another said "Where is Your Church?" Dr. Tiller was murdered in the lobby of his church in Wichita, Kansas, where Burkhart's clinic is now.

Take Action: Take a stand against extremism today and help defend the last clinic in Mississippi with a donation. Or, support the Feminist Majority Foundation's work to end clinic violence.

3/17/2015 - Vice President Biden Pledges 41 Million to Clear Rape Kit Backlog

Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Mikulski (D-MD) spoke yesterday at a Maryland State Police Laboratory to declare their support for a $41 million budget proposal to combat the national backlog of rape kits.

"Testing rape kits should be an absolute priority for the United States of America," Vice President Biden said, referring to the estimated 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide. "If we're able to test these rape kits, more crimes would be solved, more rapes would be avoided."

"We applaud this budget as the first step in ensuring that survivors who courageously report these heinous crimes can finally obtain justice," said Gaylynn Burroughs, Director of Policy and Research at the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Houston, Texas is testament to the progress that can be achieved when cities have access to the funds for processing rape kits. Houston was one of the first of the major cities nation-wide to clear their backlog of over 6,000 untested rape kits - some of which were more than thirty years old. As of last month, the evidence from these test kits has led to 850 DNA matches, 29 filed cases, and 6 convictions. The $41 million budget is designed to both clear and process the backlog of rape kits, but also to create a more efficient process for testing, so as to avoid more backlogs in the future.

3/17/2015 - Penn State Fraternity Suspended for Facebook Page of Nude, Unconscious Women

A Penn State fraternity has been suspended over the discovery of a private Facebook page with photographs of nude women, some of whom appear to have passed out, as well as photos of drug deals and hazing.

The State College police, the Interfraternity council, and Penn State are all investigating fraternity Kappa Delta Rho and the damaging evidence on the Facebook page, which had 150 members of current students and fraternity alumni. "In response to the discovery of the two Facebook pages allegedly hosted by Kappa Delta Rho, the chapter was immediately placed on full chapter suspension by Penn State's Interfraternity Council," the council said following the fraternity's suspension.

The State College police obtained a search warrant following a tip about the Facebook account, but by the time they searched fraternity members' computers the account had been wiped clean. They did, however, obtain around 20 photographs that had been printed out from the account. According to the Interfraternity Council, the fraternity will be summoned upon completion of the investigation to "undergo a conduct review session."

Colleges and fraternities have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly. The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary opening last month, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice. Some colleges are beginning to respond to this epidemic. Just last month, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university's sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations governing fraternal organizations to enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations by Jan 16. Two fraternities, Alpha Tau Omega and Kappa Alpha Order announced however that they would not sign the new FOA.

3/16/2015 - 'No Ceilings' Report Shows Major Gains and Gaps in Women's Equality

The Clinton Foundation "No Ceilings" report reveals data measuring women and girls' participation worldwide over the past twenty years. In many ways, there have been significant increases for women and girls, but there are still massive gaps to be filled and progress to be made.

The "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project" report contains data collected over the past 20 years, following 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.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the report "encouraging" and "impressive" in an interview with C-Span this morning. Smeal emphasized the importance of data in effecting change. "You can't make progress unless you know exactly where you are," she said.

The "No Ceilings" data-driven approach to gender equality shows that significant gains have been made for women and girls, especially in the maternal mortality rate, which is down 42 percent globally since 1995. Other improvements include global enrollment rates for boys and girls in primary school, which is now almost equal.

There are, however, many areas that still need drastic improvement. The United States is the only developed country that does not offer paid maternity leave, and it is only 1 of 9 countries worldwide that does not provide for paid maternity leave. Equal representation in government worldwide is also lagging, and although the number of women in the United States Congress is at an all-time high, women still only make up around 20 percent of Congress. Furthermore, globally 1 in 4 girls are married before her 18th birthday, and in Niger that rate skyrockets to 3 in 4 girls. Progress is uneven, and women and girls still lag behind -specifically marginalized women.

As far as further progress goes, Smeal is optimistic. "You'd be surprised - just having a goal does help [equality] in many countries," Smeal said. "I'm very excited about what the new goals will be."

3/16/2015 - Attorney General Confirmation Delayed Over Anti-Abortion Provision of Human Trafficking Bill

The Senate hit an unexpected delay in the consideration of nominee Loretta Lynch for attorney general due to the discovery of an anti-abortion provision hidden within a bipartisan human trafficking bill, which has recently reached an impasse.

"I had hoped to turn to her next week, but if we can't finish the trafficking bill, she will be put off again," said majority leader Mitch McConnell on CNN on the delay in Lynch's confirmation. This delay is the latest in a series of interruptions in the more than four months since Lynch's nomination, who would make history as the first black woman to serve as the Attorney General.

The trafficking bill in question is the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The bipartisan bill had been expected to pass smoothly through Congress, until Democratic party noticed a small provision of the bill that would effectively strengthen the Hyde Amendment, which bans spending federal dollars on abortion.

"This bill will not be used as an opportunity for Republicans to double down on their efforts to restrict a woman's health-care choices," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). "It is absolutely wrong and, honestly, it is shameful. I know there are a whole lot of us who are going to fight hard against any attempt to expand the Hyde Amendment and permanently impact women's health."

Democrats are hopeful that the trafficking bill can be settled and passed quickly, so long as there is Republican support to remove the language limiting abortion access.

"We can finish this bill in 20 minutes," said Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid. "The only thing that needs to be done is the language relating to abortion should come out of this bill. Abortion and human trafficking have nothing to do with each other."

3/12/2015 - Iowa Supreme Court Hears Telemedicine Abortion Case

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday contesting a 2013 decision by state regulators to order limitations on the use of telemedicine for women seeking a medical abortion.

Telemedicine is the widely used practice of conferencing with a doctor through a video camera in order to diagnose or prescribe treatment to patients. Two years ago, the Iowa Board of Medicine ruled that doctors must perform in-person examinations before dispensing abortion pills, severely limiting access to the drug for many women in Iowa, specifically women from small towns who cannot travel to urban areas. State regulators claim they are trying to protect patient safety, while those contesting the limitations claim that the move is yet another restriction to women's access to a safe, legal form of health care.

"Telemedicine has become a common practice for many different medical treatments to increase services to people in remote, rural areas," explained Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Once again a Republican governor is stacking a state medical board with opponents to abortion to restrict access to abortion services, this time by banning the use of telemedicine for the provision of mifepristone, the abortion pill, for very early abortion via the doctor on a telephone video conference and the patient in a rural clinic." Instead the state is trying to force women to travel many miles to a doctor or to have a surgical abortion at a later day. Clearly this is placing an undue burden on women."

The Iowa medical board has made no such restrictions for any other drug administered through telecommunications, a point which was brought up yesterday to the Iowa Supreme Court. Justice David Wiggins asked whether the Iowa board had such specifications for other areas of medicine. "Is there any other standard of care such as this contained in any rule or regulation of the [Board of Medicine] that you're aware of?" he asked the Iowa state lawyer Jeffery Thompson. "Not that I'm aware of," replied Thompson.

Putting the decision into perspective with a lack of restrictions on any other procedure or drug has some thinking that abortion is being singled out for special regulation.

"Can you imagine a state limiting for men access to Viagra in order to so-call "protect" men's health and getting away with it?" asked Smeal.

3/12/2015 - New Law Cracks Down on Domestic Abusers in Brazil

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law this week creating harsher penalties for the murder of women and girls connected to domestic violence.

Men who commit the newly defined crime of "femicide," or the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender, can now expect to go to jail for anywhere from 12 years to 20 years. Longer terms have been defined for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.

President Rousseff said that 15 women are killed daily in Brazil, and that these new strict policies are aimed at defending Brazilian women. Government figures also show a startling increase of 230 percent in the number of women murdered in Brazil from 1980 to 2010.

"This law typifies femicide as a grave crime and identifies it as a specific crime against women. It's a way to talk about this problem, make it visible by giving it a name and increasing sanctions for this crime," Nadine Gasman, who heads the agency United Nations Women in Brazil, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It has taken us a long time to say that the killing of a woman is a different phenomenon. Men are killed in the street, women are killed in the home. Men are killed with guns, women with knives and hands," continued Gasman.

President Rousseff has demonstrated a particular commitment to the women of the Brazil since taking office in 2011. In 2013, she signed legislation requiring all public hospitals to provide rape victims with certain treatment, including emergency contraception, and screening and treatment for STIs and HIV.

3/5/2015 - Supreme Court Hears Crucial Affordable Care Act Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in King v. Burwell, a case that could threaten the ability of millions to access affordable health insurance, including over 4 million women who are currently enjoying insurance coverage.

In King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court will decide whether federal financial assistance under the Affordable Case Act (ACA) should be available to all eligible individuals, or only to those who live in states that have established their own state-based Health Insurance Marketplaces.

Under the ACA, the federal government provides financial help, in the form of tax credits, to middle- and low-income individuals to purchase health insurance through Health Insurance Marketplaces. Some states created their own marketplaces, but 34 states use federally-facilitated marketplaces where individuals and families can buy health insurance. The argument in this case centers on a small bit of language in more than 1,000-page law, that some have interpreted to mean that the federal government cannot give financial assistance to individuals and families in those 34 states.

The outcome of King could have potentially devastating effects for over 9 million people who could lose health insurance coverage if the Court determines that they are not eligible for tax credits. Without those credits, millions of people will no longer be able to afford their coverage, including over 4 million women, approximately one-third of whom are women of color, according to a new report released by Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

"This is an invidious attack on the Affordable Care Act and on the millions of people who have finally been able to afford quality healthcare coverage," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "We can only hope that the Supreme Court sees through this desperate attempt to gut the ACA and protects the accessibility of life-saving health insurance coverage. For women especially, losing health coverage under the ACA would mean losing preventive care, maternity benefits, and annual well-woman visits, all essential components for women's health."

"Having health insurance coverage also shores up economic security for young people, women, and families who are eligible for the ACA tax credits," continued Smeal. "In the absence of insurance coverage, these folks - already vulnerable - could be financially devastated by a medical emergency."

The decision, however, does not only affect those who benefit from the financial assistance. If the Supreme Court dismantles tax credits in states using federally facilitated marketplaces, insurance rates for everyone in those states could potentially skyrocket. The success of the ACA is premised on three core components: (1) prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions; (2) requiring individuals to purchase insurance; and (3) making insurance affordable through subsidies, in the form of tax credits. If the tax credits are eliminated, millions of people - a good proportion of which are healthy young adults - will be unable to obtain insurance coverage. Having fewer people in the insurance pool will drive up costs, as will having a greater proportion of sicker people.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by late June.

3/4/2015 - Obama Administration Announces Global Initiative for Girls' Education

The Obama Administration announced yesterday expanded efforts to help adolescent girls worldwide attend and complete school through an initiative called Let Girls Learn.

According to a White House press release, the new effort will build on investments the US already has made in global primary school education and expand them to help adolescent girls complete their education. First Lady Michelle Obama is teaming up with the Peace Corps to carry out the initiative, who will recruit and train about 650 additional volunteers to focus specifically on adolescent girls' access to education. The volunteers will be charged with starting conversations in the communities to figure out what's keeping girls from school, then working with leaders, parents and the girls themselves to come up with ways to remove those barriers.

When girls receive an education, they are more likely to improve their own quality of life as well as the standard of living in their communities. Yet 62 million girls around the world aren't in school, and attacks on girls who are have been on the rise. These facts persist in a global environment where girls' education has come to the forefront as a human rights issue and various nations are taking action to get girls into the classroom.

Last year, the world watched as Nigerians took action for over 200 girls who were kidnapped from a school in Chibok by military insurgency group Boko Haram - a group which opposes girls' education. In Afghanistan, USAID has launched programs to support girls' education. Nations like Malawi are taking action against child marriage, and advocates like Kakenya Ntaiya are speaking out against the practice that so often disrupts girls' futures.

In the most recent issue of Ms. magazine, Ntaiya tells her story of escaping child marriage and, ultimately, opening a school for over 150 girls in Enoosaen. "I wanted to see a different future for them," she said in the piece, "[and] school was the place I could achieve that." In the same issue, the magazine profiles the film Difret, which is backed by Angelina Jolie and tells the true story of an Ethiopian girl who was kidnapped on her way home from the fifth grade to be forced into child marriage.

Girls Learn International (GLI), a Feminist Majority Foundation program, educates and energizes US students around the global movement for girls' access to education. GLI pairs its middle and high school chapters in the US with partner schools in 11 countries where girls still lag behind boys in access to education and are far less likely than boys to stay in school past the primary grades. By opening communication between students and managing exchange projects, GLI fosters cultural understanding and fuels activism for girls' human rights around the world.

3/3/2015 - Nebraska Could Become the Next State With Marriage Equality

US District Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled Monday morning that Nebraska's same-same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The decision means same-sex couples in Nebraska could get married within a week.

The federal judge issued the preliminary injunction after the case was brought to him by seven same-sex couples in the state. Bataillon called the ban an "unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens."

A state request was issued to stay the decision, but Bataillon denied the move but announced the injunction would go into effect on March 9 to give time for administrative work.

In 2000, Nebraskans voted to adopt a state constitution that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman - they also voted not to recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or any similar relationship between two people of the same sex.

One of the plaintiffs in the case brought to Bataillon is Sally Waters, who currently has stage-four breast cancer and who wants to see her 2008 marriage in California recognized in Nebraska in order to allow for financial protections for the children she has with her partner.

The office of the Nebraska Attorney General is studying the decision and will present a statement at a later time.

Next week, Nebraska could become the 38th state with marriage equality.

3/2/2015 - Iranian Activist Wins International Human Rights Award for Hijab Campaign

Journalist Masih Alinejad was awarded the Women's Rights Award at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week for her activism supporting Iranian women who choose not to cover their heads in a hijab.

Alinejad's Facebook page, "My Stealthy Freedom," has gained international attention and more than 700,000 followers by posting pictures of Iranian women without the hijab. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the government made it mandatory for women to cover their heads when in public or in a governmental building. In the years since then, women have been protesting what one woman on the Facebook page called "our most basic right, our right to choose what to wear."

Compulsory head covering has been protested by Iranian women in varying degrees since the law passed over thirty years ago. Perhaps one of the most severe and dramatic actions against the law came from Homa Darabi, a pediatrician in Iran who killed herself in 1994 through self-immolation in the middle of a busy square, where she tore off her headscarf and yelled messages such like "Death to oppression! Long live liberty!" Darabi had been fired after refusing to wear the hijab, as she claimed it interfered with her ability to care for her patients and be a good doctor. Media coverage for Darabi's protest and death was poor, and sources within Iran painted Darabi as mentally ill.

The human rights award was presented to Alinejad for giving voice to "voiceless" women like Darabi, and for Alinejad's part in "stirring the consciousness of humanity to support the struggle of Iranian women for basic human rights, freedom and equality."

"From seven-year-old schoolgirls to 70-year-old grandmothers, women in Iran are all forced to wear the hijab," said Alinejad in a statement for the Geneva Summit. "Hopefully this award will create an opportunity for the voices of Iranian women who say no to the forced hijab to echo throughout the halls of the United Nations."

2/27/2015 - This Bipartisan Bill Will Hold Colleges Accountable for Ending Campus Sexual Assault

A bipartisan bill aimed at holding colleges and universities accountable for rape and sexual assault cases was introduced in Congress yesterday, spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Some of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act's key key provisions include a requirement of confidential reporting systems on colleges and universities, minimum training requirements for campus personnel, and stricter penalties for schools found to be in violation of Title IX or the Clery Act. Senator Gillibrand expressed her confidence in these new provisions, explaining that "for the first time it is in [a college or university's] best interest to solve the problem, and do so aggressively."

Joining those announcing the bill were Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, co-founders of End Rape on Campus. "Campus violence does not have a political party, and we need this bill because our students need better than the current status quo," said Clark, reminding the audience that currently one in four women attending college experience sexual assault.

"It's time for our students to be students again- without the challenge of single-handedly holding their schools accountable, and without the fear of sharing their degree with their rapist," said Pino, calling on Congress to pass the bill. "The time to fight is now."

Pino and Clark's stories are told in an unprecedented documentary opening this weekend in New York City and Los Angeles. The Hunting Ground details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice. It also highlights campus activism that has risen in response to the lack of action taken by colleges and universities to combat sexual assault and support survivors.

Paige McKinsey, president of Feminist United, the Feminist Majority Foundation affiliated student group at Mary Washington University, is one such student organizing around this issue. She is hopeful that her university is taking more notice to the issue of campus sexual assault, but recognizes that there is still a long way to go. "I think that no university right now is doing as much as they could or as much as they need to be doing to support victims and survivors," McKinsey said.

The Act was first introduced to Congress last year, but was not approved. The bill has been strengthened, however, and Senator Gillibrand and the 12 Senators who support the bill are confident that this time it will pass.

2/27/2015 - Houston Is Finally Testing a Backlog of Thirty-Year-Old Rape Kits

The city of Houston, Texas has finally begun testing decades-old rape kits - and in just one week, those have led to hundreds of leads.

Houston is one of the first of the major cities nation-wide to clear their backlog of over 6,000 untested rape kit s- some of which were more than thirty years old. So far, the evidence from these test kits has lead to 850 DNA matches, 29 filed cases, and 6 convictions.Police are continuing to review evidence from the kits to see if charges can be made in other cases. The city was able to process the untested kits with the help of a $4.4 million plan approved by the Houston City Council last year.

"This milestone is of special importance to rape survivors and their families and friends because it means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago," said Houston Mayor Annie Parker at a news conference.

Cities across the country possess thousands of untested and unprocessed rape kits. Six years ago, it was discovered that the city of Detroit had over 11,000 untested rape kits in an abandoned police storage unit. Since then, the Detroit police department has been working to eliminate the backlog, and have processed over 2,500 of the kits. In Memphis, there are almost 12,000 untested rape kits. There are over 4,000 in Las Vegas. Last November, Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of Manhattan pledged $35 million to try to eliminate the backlog of up to 70,000 untested rape kits nationwide.

"This is not a Houston problem," Parker said in her remarks. "It's not a Texas problem. It's a nationwide issue that built up over years and years." If Houston and Detroit's example illustrates anything, it's how important it is for the entire nation to work to fix it.

2/26/2015 - If This Bill Passes Federal Law Will Add Consent to Sex Ed Curriculums

Right now, federal law does not require health or sex education to include sexual assault prevention - but that could change with a new bill introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).

The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which was introduced earlier this month, would require all public secondary schools in the country to include teaching "safe relationship behavior" in order to help prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. Women between 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, making the bill particularly important in ending an epidemic of sexual violence.

McCaskill, who has also pushed legislation to combat military sexual assault, noted that sexual assault prevention starts young. "One thing we've learned in our work to curb sexual violence on campuses and in the military is that many young people learn about sex and relationships before they turn 18," she said in a recent statement. "And one of the most effective ways to prevent sexual violence among adults is to educate our kids at a younger age."

She was echoed by Kaine. "Education can be a key tool to increase public safety by raising awareness and helping to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, but many students are leaving high school without learning about these crimes that disproportionately impact young people," he said in a press release. "With the alarming statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and in communities across the country, secondary schools should play a role in promoting safe relationship behavior and teaching students about sexual assault and dating violence."

The Act came after Sen. Kaine met with members of One Less, a University of Virginia group that advocates for rape and sexual assault survivors. UVA's policies surrounding campus sexual assault have been in the spotlight since Rolling Stone released an article about the college's mishandling of a gang rape.

2/26/2015 - President Obama Pushed for Immigration Reform at a Florida International University Town Hall

President Obama attended an immigration town hall at Florida International University yesterday to discuss immigration policy. It marked the first time a president has ever visited the FIU campus.

Obama spoke largely about his two biggest promises for immigration reform: that undocumented persons contributing to the community should get priority for staying here in America, and that his Administration will focus on "deporting criminals, not families."

President Obama was joined at the town hall meeting by Eric Narvaez, an Army veteran who returned home after fighting for his country to discover that his mother was facing deportation. "I love this country," he told Obama, "but I'm facing another war - trying to keep my mother here." The President thanked him for his service, emphasizing that his administration is not prioritizing people like Narvaez's mother for deportation.

"The message I want to send today is that we are not prioritizing people like your mother for enforcement or deportation," the President responded. "We are prioritizing felons, criminals, gang members - people who are a threat to our communities - not families who have lived here a long time."

"People that are here to better themselves, to better our country, that pay their taxes, that do the right thing - why not keep them here in America?" asked FIU student Alian Collozo, echoing the President's sentiment.

President Obama later mentioned that his executive actions are a short term solution, and that a long-term solution must come out of Congress. He has, however, promised to veto any bill out of Congress that would cripple Homeland Security over immigration issues.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg opened the town hall meeting. "We live immigration in this community," he said, "so this is the appropriate place to have this conversation."