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9/4/2015 - In Lawsuit, NYPD Officers Claim They're Punished for Refusing to Discriminate

NYPD officers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the city and the NYPD over alleged mistreatment and unlawful racial profiling. The group is also claiming that officers of color are facing backlash for speaking out.

Amongst the dozen officers behind the lawsuit is Adhyl Polanco, an officer with the NYPD who is filing a separate lawsuit claiming he has been mistreated since bringing the department's racialized quota system to media attention. Polanco claims his locker has been vandalized, and that he has been subjected to workplace harassment for speaking out against the quota system.

The 12 officers filing the lawsuit Tuesday, all of whom are racial minorities, allege that forcing officers to comply with a ticketing quota disproportionately affects minority officers. These officers say they are "unwilling to perform racially discriminatory and unwarranted enforcement actions against the minority community."

As the NY Post reports:

"By forcing minority cops to comply with the 'illegal quota system,' the city and the NYPD are subjecting black and Latino cops to unfair evaluations and discipline."

The officers claim they are being punished for not complying with the quota system with threats of termination, poor evaluations, denial of benefits or promotions, and being transferred to less desirable positions.

Polanco filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD in 2009 after recording a conversation with one of his supervisors revealing unlawful "stop and frisk" orders that pressured officers to meet quotas for ticketing. The use of quotas as consideration for punishment for officers is illegal in New York.

This "stop and frisk" quota has contributed to racial profiling throughout the city. 90 percent of the people stopped by the NYPD between 2002 and 2011 were black or Latino, and a large majority were male. Almost all of the stops resulted in no arrests or summons.

The NYPD has continuously denied that a quota system exists or is being enforced. The suit is being reviewed.

9/3/2015 - Kentucky Clerk Defies Supreme Court, Refuses to Issue Marriage Licenses

UPDATE: Kim Davis has now been jailed for contempt of court.

A county clerk in Kentucky is being summoned to court this morning where a federal judge could hold her in contempt for refusing to issue a marriage licenses to gay couples.

Claiming she is acting "under God's authority," Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis continues to defy a Federal District Court ruling and most recently, a Supreme Court order, ordering her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis, a devout Apostolic Christian, argues doing so violates religious beliefs.

Early Tuesday morning, gay marriage advocates and opponents alike, with journalists in tow, flooded Davis Rowan County Courthouse office to protest her noncompliance with federal law. After a brief but tense standoff with David Moore, who vowed to remain in her office until Davis issued him and his partner David Ermold a license to marry, Davis responded, "Then you're going to have a long day." Davis then retired to her office and closed the blinds.

Davis' defiance marks the first official challenge to this summer's historic Supreme Court decision which grants legal recognition and protection for gay couples seeking martial unions. Since the Supreme Court's ruling in June, Davis has turned away several same-sex couples seeking licenses, sparking homosexual and heterosexual couples countywide to file suit. In August, Federal District Court Judge David L. Bunning ordered Davis to resume issuing licenses. In response, Davis and her attorney, Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend Bunning's order, insisting her religious convictions "be accomodated." The Supreme Court denied their request on Monday.

Davis may suffer severe consequences as a result of her actions Tuesday. If found in contempt of court at a District Court hearing scheduled Today in Ashland, Davis could face significant fines and up to 1 year in prison.

"She has absolutely no legal ground to stand on," says Columbia University law professor and director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Katherine Franke. "Kim Davis has all sorts of religious liberty rights secured under the First Amendment and under other laws. But they are not at stake in this case. All she's asked to do with couple that come before her is certify that they've met the state requirements for marriage. So her religious opposition to same-sex marriage is absolutely irrelevant in this context."

UPDATE: Kim Davis was ordered jailed for contempt of court after a hearing before Judge David L. Bunning of Federal District Court. Judge Bunning called Davis' reasoning for refusing to do her job "simply insufficient."

"The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order," Bunning said. "If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that's what potentially causes problems."

9/3/2015 - Target Forced to Pay $2.8 Million to Women and Minority Applicants

As a result of a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the popular mega-chain Target has to pay out nearly $3 million to the more than 3,000 applicants who were discriminated against while vying for management positions.

According to the lawsuit, the groups that were "disproportionately screened out" by a biased hiring exam were women, African Americans and Asian American job seekers, according to the EEOC.

The settlement concludes a long investigation that began when the EEOC filed the complaint back in 2006. The $2.8 million payout, which will be distributed among the affected candidates, is one of the highest for discrimination in hiring.

In addition to violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe the hiring test also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A component of the test involved an examination by a psychologist before an offer could be made, a practice that is prohibited by the ADA.

Target discontinued its use of the problematic assessment test during the investigation, but still denies any wrongdoing.

9/2/2015 - Judge Rules Employers Can Object to Contraceptive Coverage on Moral Grounds

A district court judge ruled in favor of anti-choice group March for Life Monday, deciding that employers don't have to meet the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act if they have moral objections to birth control. "This differs from and further cracks open the June 2014 Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision from June 2014 that granted ACA exemptions to organizations that were religiously opposed to covering contraception in employee insurance policies.

March for Life, which is a "nonreligious, pro-life organization," directs the annual anti-abortion march in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It is only one of many nonprofit groups that believe they should be exempt from covering contraception based on moral grounds, not just religious ones.

The group opposes IUDs and emergency contraception like Plan B, considering them abortifacients even though the consensus of the medical community runs counter to this assertion. March for Life filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services last year, arguing that the government should afford it the same treatment as churches and that to not do so was a violation of the 14th Amendment right of "equal protection of the laws."

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon wrote in the opinion for March for Life v. Burwell:

"If the purpose of the religious employer exemption is, as HHS states, to respect the anti-abortifacient tenets of an employment relationship, then it makes no rational sense-indeed, no sense whatsoever to deny March for Life that same respect."

Cindy Pearson, the executive director of the National Women's Health Network, condemned the judge's ruling, saying that it denies women basic health care:

"Women already took a loss with the Hobby Lobby decision, and yesterday's ruling was another slap in the face. Once again, [a judge thinks that] bosses are allowed to make women's sexuality their business. I don't believe the ruling will stand, but it's wrong it even happened."

This is the first decision of its kind and will likely be brought to the D.C. Circuit Court in an appeal.

9/1/2015 - Nation's "Strongest Equal Pay Law" Set to Pass in California

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) is set to sign what has been called "the strongest equal pay law in the nation."

The Fair Pay Act, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-CA), passed unanimously in both the State Assembly and Senate earlier this summer. The Act would ensure that women receive equal pay for work that is the same or substantially similar to that done by men. The legislation also protects from retaliation any woman who asks her male colleagues about their wages.

"After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap, and an equal pay law [in California] that has been on the books since 1949 but that is not as strong as it should be, the time is now for women's paychecks to finally reflect their hard work and true value," said Sen. Jackson in a press release. "Equal pay isn't just the right thing for women, it's the right thing for our economy and for California. And it is long overdue. Families rely on women's income more than ever before."

The bill is a breakthrough for working women, who have long been concentrated in lower-wage occupations such as nursing, elementary school teachers, cashiers and clerical work. Comparable worth laws, such as this bill, aim to close the wage gap by giving employees in female-dominated fields the legal means to push for pay that's equal to that of employees doing substantially similar work, requiring comparable education and skill, in different, male-dominated fields. For instance, SB358 would allow a female hotel room cleaner to challenge her employer for paying a male janitor a higher wage, since the jobs are comparable and demand similar skills.

"Over time, what we see is women consistently starting off behind men from the get go," Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, told the San Jose Mercury News. "What may start off as a barely noticeable difference over time really grows and is the reason why over a woman's lifetime, a woman is losing close to a half a million dollars due to the wage gap."

Women in California make an average of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man. That gap is even starker for women of color; Black women earn 64 cents to the dollar and Latinas earn a startling 44 cents.

There is a national law that protects women from pay discrimination the 1963 Equal Pay Act but according to Jackson, the Fair Pay Act would go much further. The California bill not only protects women from retaliation, but it also allows employees to challenge pay disparities between workers doing the same job at different branches of the same company (for example, two grocery store clerks working for the same parent company at different locations) and those doing comparable work. In addition, the bill requires employers to prove that pay disparities are based on qualifications and not on gender.

Said Jackson, "It is time that we fix the wage gap that women face at work and lead the nation in showing how it can be done."

8/31/2015 - Afghan Women Awarded for Women's Rights Advocacy

Ten Afghan women activists were awarded a prestigious prize and honor last week for their courageous fight for women's rights. The medals were presented by the Minister of Women's Affairs, Dilbar Nazari, on behalf of President Ashraf Ghani during a special ceremony at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, August 26.

The Medal of Malalai was named for a well-known 19th century Afghan shero. Recipients of the award included TOLO news journalist Shakeela Ibrahimkhail; Nobel Peace Prize nominee Suraya Parlika; Women's Council Head Fatana Gailani; Afghan Women Network's director Hasina Safi; Feminine Solidarity For Justice Organization(FSJO) director Liah Jawad Ghazanfar; deputy minister of women's affairs Fawzia Habibi; Faryab provincial women's affairs director Sharifa Azimi; Nangarhar women's affairs director Anisa Imrani; Herat women's affairs director Mahboba Jamshedi; and Dai Kundi women's affairs director Zakia Rezai.

Afghan women activists lauded the awardees and said that this action by the government motivates them to carry on the fight for their rights. "The medal that I received today is the medal of Malalai - who is a well-known national hero of Afghanistan. I am proud [to receive] this medal," said Suraya Parlika.

The ceremony occurred during the occasion of Afghanistan's 96th Independence Anniversary in Kabul.

8/31/2015 - Chicago Activists Continue Hunger Strike to Save Predominately Black Public High School

Chicago residents have entered the second week of their hunger strike protesting the closure of Dyett High School, in the predominately African-American Bronzeville neighborhood located on the South Side of Chicago.

Parents and community members are calling on the Chicago Board of Education to keep Dyett - the only open-enrollment, neighborhood school in its area - open and accept a community plan to revitalize the school with a focus on science and green technology. The Chicago Public Schools indicated that it would consider proposals from private organizations to run the school, but community organizers have rejected privatization in favor of a publicly-operated, district-run, neighborhood school. The protesters began their hunger strike on August 17, demanding that the city respond to their plan.

The Chicago School Board decided in 2012, the same year the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, to close Dyett High School by 2015, claiming that it was an under-performing school. At least 49 school closures were announced shortly thereafter, mostly in African-American neighborhoods. Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, called the closures "racist."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel defended the school closures as being beneficial for all students, but there is no guarantee that closing and replacing under-performing schools will lead to educational benefits. A 2013 report of school closures in Chicago between the 2001-2002 school year and the 2011-2012 school year, showed that only 15 percent of the replacement schools were rated as high performing by the Chicago Public Schools, but 32 percent were given the lowest rating. Of the more than 100 schools that were closed or completely re-staffed, almost all were neighborhood schools in African-American neighborhoods.

"We're tired of our children and our communities being demonized and being blamed for being underserved," said hunger striker Jitu Brown.

Protesters are also wary of closing neighborhood schools to replace them with admissions-based public schools or privately-run charter schools. Protester Monique Smith, told the Washington Post, "This is really about the privatization of education, it's about having sustainable community schools in every neighborhood. This is a much larger struggle.

Three federal civil rights complaints were filed last year with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice asserting that African-American students from Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans have been disproportionately impacted by school closures, negatively impacting African-American communities. Even worse, advocates claim that publicly-run neighborhood schools have largely been replaced by privately-operated charter schools, which have not produced large scale academic benefits for African-American students.

Against this backdrop, activists around the country have shown support for the Dyett hunger strikers. Hundreds have fasted in solidarity, sharing their support through the hashtag #FightForDyett. At a rally last week, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, joined Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery at Dyett to call on the Chicago Public Schools to accept the community-developed plan for the school.

At least two of the hunger strikers have had to seek medical assistance so far, but the protest continues. "We are undeterred, even though we are weaker physically," said Smith. "Our mental determination gets stronger with each day."

8/28/2015 - Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women

The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.

The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.

The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.

Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.

"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.

"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. "Every Alaskan woman, regardless of income, should be able to make the pregnancy decision that's best for herself and her family."

Access to full and unrestricted Medicaid coverage for Alaskan women seeking an abortion is critical. One in ten Alaskan women is living in poverty, and poverty rates are especially high for single mothers, women of color, and elderly women.

8/27/2015 - Los Angeles Mayor Announces Model Gender Equity Directive

On Women's Equality Day Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, signed a progressive and inclusive executive directive to take a major step toward gender equity for the city and to be a model for other cities. As one of the first cities to pass (CEDAW), Garcetti announced Los Angeles "must be a model for its implementation."

Garcetti's executive directive states that good governance includes addressing the needs of all people, and coming up with gender-specific responses to the challenges of governing a city. Garcetti created a Gender Equity Coalition comprised of Gender Equity Liaisons, who are to be appointed by city department heads.

"Gender equity must permeate every level of City operations- as leaders, employers, and service providers," the directive reads.

Each city department has until February 2016 to submit a Gender Equity Action Plan. City departments are also required to implement a strategy to address issues such as under-representation of women in certain work forces, equal pay, equal contracting opportunities for women-owned businesses, as well as aggregate and analyze data on sex and gender in the city and submit these data to the Office of the Mayor.

The progressive directive is the first of its kind, and has specific goals and criteria for populations that are considered "critical areas," including transgender women, undocumented women, lesbian women, women of color, senior women, women living with HIV/AIDS, and young women and girls. The intersectional approach includes race, gender, ethnicity, age, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, health, marital status, religion, or sex assigned at birth.

"I was proud to stand with Mayor Garcetti as he signed this executive directive to make Los Angeles a model city in implementing CEDAW," said Katherine Spillar, who as Executive Director of the Feminist Majority is based in Los Angeles. "This is historic, and I believe it will help all women in Los Angeles and hopefully encourage other city councils and Mayors to immediately pass CEDAW resolutions."

The signing of this directive was timed not only with Women's Equality Day, but also with the final installments of the city's Report on the Status of Women and Girls, which were released on Wednesday. This five-part report focuses on Los Angeles demographics, opportunities for women in positions of leadership, the needs of women veterans, education and workforce development, and public safety for women.

Mayor Garcetti is also responsible for the largest anti-poverty effort in the city's history, when he announced in May that the city would be moving to adopt a $15 per hour minimum wage by 2020.

8/26/2015 - Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time

The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.

This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. At the time, the royal decree was criticized as an attempt to redirect international attention from a harsh governmental crackdown on women drivers.

Voter registration began over the weekend in cities Madinah and Makkah, where a small number of women showed up to register. Jamal Al-Saadi was one such woman, saying that she was "quite ready' for this time to come.

"The participation of Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us," Saadi said. "The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making." Voting for all women will be opening in upcoming weeks.

Saudi Arabia still has far to go in reaching gender parity. Last year, a UN report ranked the country at 136 out of 140 in terms of gender equality. Saudi women still face massive barriers to autonomy, such as not being able to open a bank account, obtain a passport, or sometimes walk down the street on their own. Even more concerning is the Saudi male guardianship system, which gives men authority over women's lives. The Feminist Majority and the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have long called for the removal of this antiquated sexist system.

The women registering to vote in this election recognize that this small win is just part of a larger fight for women's rights and gender equality.

"We are just at the beginning of the road," Saadi says.

8/25/2015 - Fraternity Signs Promote Rape Culture, Elicit Outrage

Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia is receiving national attention for a fraternity's vulgar and offensive signs that were on display as first-year students moved into their dorms.

The signs, which were hung on fraternity Sigma Nu and displayed derogatory messages for incoming female students- and their mothers- have since been removed, and the University has promised disciplinary action. They read "Rowdy and fun/ Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time," "Freshman daughter drop off," with an arrow pointing to Sigma Nu's front door, and finally, "Go ahead and drop off mom too."

"This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action," a statement from ODU President John Broderick read. Many advocates for better sexual assault prevention education and training, however, are saying this is not enough. ODU student government also released a statement, saying the incident "does not reflect the University's commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable."

Signs like these undoubtedly feed into what is known as "rape culture." Rape culture is a complex set of beliefs that create an environment in which sexual violence is prevalent, normalized, and sometimes encouraged. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language- like calling a woman entering college "baby girl"- objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence, usually against women. Behaviors associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual assault.

A further break-down of the messaging of these Sigma Nu signs also shows a concerning notion of consent. "A good time" is a clear reference to sexual activity, and "hope your baby girl is read" implies that this activity is going to happen- regardless of whether she wants it or not.

It has been widely proven that first-year students, specifically first-year women, are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual assault on college campuses. The first six weeks of school have been termed the "red zone" by experts to refer to the time when there is an increased risk of victimization for female students.

Fraternities in particular 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 that premiered this year, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice.

Just this year, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the universitys sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations to prevent sexual assault and enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations. Two fraternities, however, announced that they would refuse to sign the new regulations. And more recently, a Penn State fraternity was suspended for creating a private Facebook page with photos of nude women, some of whom appeared to be unconscious. So it would appear that some colleges are beginning to respond to this epidemic.

The Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Campus has a comprehensive toolkit and other resources for students interested in combatting rape culture and preventing college sexual assault.

8/24/2015 - Ohio Bill Would Ban Abortion Due to Down Syndrome Diagnosis

In the latest attempt to restrict abortion access, legislators in Ohio are proposing a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

The measure, HB 135, would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion for a pregnant person who is seeking an abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome in the fetus.

Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has supported various anti-abortion legislation since his election in 2010. Kasich signed a law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, and has included limitations on abortion providers' ability to obtain transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. Kasich also signed provisions making it more difficult for family planning centers to receive funding for preventative care, such as screening for cancer or STIs.

Democratic lawmakers have asked how the state would enforce such a ban, and why decisions based on one medical condition are banned by the state but not others.

"This legislation would remove a choice from a woman who may be considering terminating a pregnancy due to a medical situation," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. "Women should be able to make these big decisions in their lives without political interference," Copeland continued.

Ohio legislature is expected to vote on this measure this fall, where it will likely pass as the National Right to Life Committee makes up more than two thirds of both Ohio houses. Such a ban on abortion would likely be found to be in violation of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman's right to have an abortion before fetal viability.

8/24/2015 - Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Overtime, Minimum Wage for Home-Care Workers

A federal appeals court decision on Friday could mean big things for caretakers, workers' rights groups, and labor unions across the country.`

The appeals court ruled on Friday to reinstate Obama administration regulations that ensure overtime and minimum wage protections for home care workers who aid the elderly and disabled persons in the United States. These changes were originally instated in 2013 by the Department of Labor, when the department announced that it would expand the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover domestic home care aides and workers. Earlier this year a federal judge overturned this expansion, but the US Court of Appeals for the Washington, DC Circuit upheld that the Labor Department does have the ability to make these expansions to the law.

This workforce is overwhelmingly made up of women workers; the CDC reports that 90 percent of home care workers are female, and half are women of color. Furthermore, aides and home care workers make an average of $9.61 per hour, and one fifth of aides had no health insurance.

Twenty-one states and Washington, DC offer overtime protections or mandate state minimum wage protections for homecare workers. A handful of those states filed legal papers supporting the US Appeals Court decision last week.

This industry is rapidly growing. Almost 2.5 million people work as homecare workers, and that number largely represents those who work through a contracting agency. It is estimated that millions more work unofficially in this business, receiving pay under the table. Experts estimate that the number of jobs as personal care aides and home care aides will grow by up to fifty percent by 2020. This number partly represents the United States' shifting trend from getting elderly care through nursing homes to getting at-home care.

8/21/2015 - Two Women Graduate from Army Ranger School, Making History

Two women are making military history this week as the first women to graduate from Army Ranger School.

Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, is a military police platoon leader who received a bronze star during her deployment in Afghanistan last spring, and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, 25, is an Apache attack helicopter pilot. Both women graduated from Ranger School this week.

The Ranger Schools is notorious for being one of the most physically and emotionally grueling military training schools in the country. With a less than 50 percent graduation rate, the 62-day program is designed to put soldiers through situations of stress and exhaustion.

Women were admitted to the program for the first time this year in a trial run. 17 women were admitted to the program, but Griest and Haver were the only two to graduate. Major Gen. Austin S. Miller, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, said that nothing about the program was changed to accommodate for having female participants, and the women were held to the same standards as the male soldiers.

At a press conference yesterday, men in the program admitted that they were skeptical as to whether or not Griest and Haver could handle the physical demands of the program. 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski remembers a night of training that changed his mind.

"I had a lot of weight on me and I was struggling," Janowski recounts. "At the halfway point, I asked if anyone could help take this weight." He said his request was met with silence from the group. Then:

"Shaye was the only one to volunteer to take that weight." Haver carried the extra weight for the final half of the mission. "She literally saved me," Janowski said. "I probably wouldn't be sitting here if not for Shaye. From that point, no more skepticism."

"At the end of the day everyone was a Ranger," another solider added.

Of their own accomplishment, the women said they were proud.

"I was thinking really of future generations of women that I would like them to have that opportunity so I had that pressure on myself," Griest said.

"I think the battles that we won were individual. And the fact that at each event we succeeded in, we kind of were winning hearts and minds as we went," Haver added.

Currently, even though the women have graduated from Army Ranger School, they are still not allowed to take part in front-line combat. That policy may change this fall.

8/20/2015 - Research Shows the Cost of Unsafe Abortions in Developing Countries

New research shows that inadequate access to safe and legal abortion worldwide causes up to 7 million women in developing countries to be treated for complications from unsafe abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute data was collected by Susheela Singh and Isaac Maddow-Zimet and shows that an estimated 6.9 million women in developing regions worldwide were treated for medical complications resulting from unsafe abortions in 2012. The data indicate that because many women who experience unsafe abortion-related complications often do not seek medical attention or are unable to receive care, the actual number is likely much higher. What’s more, an estimated 15 percent of maternal deaths per year are related to complications from unsafe abortions, and the cost of treating these complications globally reaches up to $232 million.

This astounding number reflects the lack of access to safe, legal abortion for women worldwide. Previous research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that 22 million unsafe abortions are performed each year, killing 22,000 women. Researchers estimate, however, that these data are likely low due to a lack of reporting for unsafe abortions.

Access to funding for safe and legal abortion is also an issue. Currently, the Helms Amendment prohibits the use of US funding to provide abortion, although exceptions are made in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Organizations and activists have long fought for a reinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, or a repeal of the Amendment altogether.

The Guttmacher research notes that treatment for abortion complications in Latin America is declining, whereas the rate in Asia has remained mostly constant. In Latin America the rate dropped from 7.7 per 1,000 women in 2005 to 5.3 per 1,000- a 31% drop.

“The specific causes of this decline are uncertain,” said Singh, “but it is possible that increased use of misoprostol—a drug used to end pregnancy—played a role.” The drug is FDA approved in the United States and has been shown to be highly effective and safe when used correctly.

Singh calls on better preventative measures to help prevent this level of death and suffering from unsafe abortions.

“Better contraceptive counseling and services, a better range of choice of methods, a follow-up of women if they have a problem with a method to offer them something else,” Singh recommends. “Doing so would reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy, which is the root cause of most abortions.”

8/19/2015 - Threat to Kansas Abortion Clinic Quickly Resolved

A bomb squad was summoned to the South Wind Women's Center in Wichita, Kansas, yesterday after a man attempted to bring an improvised explosive device into the clinic.

The 20-year-old Moises Trevizo was at the South Wind clinic for an interview for a job with the clinic when security searched his backpack, finding several knives and a bottle filled with gun powder and a fuse. The clinic was evacuated while police investigated, and the man was taken into police custody.

Trevizo was arrested and charged with one count of unlawful possession of an explosive, local television station KWCH reports.

"Today, our staff and local law enforcement handled a threat to the safety of our patients and staff promptly and effectively. The systems that we have in place to protect our patients and staff worked," said Julie Burkhart, director of the clinic.

8/18/2015 - White House Hires First Openly Transgender Official

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan has made history as the first openly transgender person to serve as an official in the White House.

President Barack Obama appointed Freedman-Gurspan as the outreach and recruitment director for the White House Office of Presidential Personnel this morning, thrilling LGBT advocates across the country.

Freedman-Gurspan previously served in trans advocacy as policy adviser for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) on their Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, and has been noted for her leadership and commitment to trans activism.

"President Obama has long said he wants his administration to look like the American people. I have understood this to include transgender Americans," said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling, who said she was "elated" to hear the news. Keisling continued, "A transgender person was inevitably going to work in the White House. That the first transgender appointee is a transgender woman of color is itself significant."

Indeed, violence against transgender people, specifically trans women of color, has been called an epidemic in the United States. In just this year alone, 19 trans women have been reported murdered- well beyond the record-high 14 reported murders of trans women in 2014. Of the 19 women murdered, 17 were women of color. As Feministing reports:

"The names of the 19 trans women reported murdered in the US this year are: Papi Edwards, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Bri Golec, Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Yazmin Vash Payne, Penny Proud, Kristina Grant Infiniti, Mya Hall, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, India Clarke, KC Haggard, Shade Schuler, Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, Ashton O Hara, and Tamara Dominguez.

There is currently a petition calling for the Obama Administration to formally investigate violence based on gender identity against transgender women of color in the United States. LGBT advocacy organizations are also calling on major media outlets to increase airtime for the murders of transgender folks.

Freedman-Gurspan commented on this petition in April, calling violence against trans women an "undeniable crisis" in the United States. "Major news networks have largely ignored these attacks including the deaths of transgender women... To get the story right on news in America, that news must include the stories of transgender people," she said.

8/18/2015 - The Feminist Majority Foundation Remembers Julian Bond

The Feminist Majority Foundation and activists across the country are mourning the loss of Julian Bond. Bond passed away over the weekend at 75, leaving behind a legacy of activism as civil rights, social justice, and progressive leader.

Bond was a strong supporter of women's rights. He was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, for a full range of reproductive healthcare, and spoke out against anti-abortion extremist harassment of women's health clinics. Bond often tied his fight for civil rights to the fight for women's rights, saying in an interview with the Center for American Progress:

"I think you could not be in the civil rights movement without having an appreciation for everyone's rights. That these rights are not divisible- not something men have and women don't."

"I had the privilege of knowing Julian Bond. When he spoke out, his words were always inclusive-- he left no group nor fight for justice behind in thought or deed," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Bond's activism can be traced back to his 20s, when he co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Morehouse College. At only 25 Bond was elected to the House of Representatives in Georgia, where he would serve for four terms. He also served for six terms in the Georgia State Senate. Bond became chairman of the NAACP in 1998 and later was the founder and first President of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bond was also known for his firm opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. Bond was outspoken for LGBT rights, publicly supporting and marching for same-sex marriage.

8/17/2015 - Four States Have Now Defunded Planned Parenthood

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) has moved to remove state funding from Planned Parenthood, bringing the number of states to cut funding from the family planning and women's health center to four.

Alabama and Louisiana ended their contracts with Planned Parenthood earlier this month, and Utah cut funding on Friday in response to accusations that the organization illegally profits from selling fetal tissue. Despite five separate investigations that have found these claims to be entirely false, as well as investigations in other states such as South Dakota and Georgia that have concluded no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, Republican legislators are using the attacks against Planned Parenthood to push an anti-choice agenda.

The Obama Administration warned states this month that defunding Planned Parenthood may in fact be against the law. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a US federal agency, purportedly spoke with officials from Alabama and Louisiana, two states moving to take away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, warning the officials that doing so may illegally restrict beneficiary access to services. State Medicaid programs are federally mandated to cover family planning services for anyone of child-bearing age. According to the Center, closing Planned Parenthood clinics in Alabama and Louisiana may cut off access to these services, violating Medicaid law.

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.

Earlier this month, Senate democrats struck down a bill that would have prohibited all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Pure and simple, a public health crisis would be the result of this bill," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) remarked on the floor.

Already some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he was absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it. White House press secretary Josh Earnest has confirmed that President Obama would veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

8/17/2015 - Amnesty Votes on Policy to Decriminalize Sex Work, Sparks Feminist Debate

Amnesty International adopted a resolution last week at an International Council Meeting allowing for the development of a policy supporting the decriminalization of sex work. As part of a greatly contested debate on the issue, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) has released an open letter to Amnesty asking them to reconsider.

In announcing the vote from the International Council Meeting, Amnesty International wrote of its intentions to protect sex workers from prosecution, exploitation, and violence.

"Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International's future work on this important issue."

Amnesty cited the evidence brought before them by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UN Women, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health in informing this decision.

CATW, however, feels that this Council Meeting vote and the decriminalization of sex work "renders pimps 'business people' who sell vulnerable individuals, overwhelmingly with histories of poverty, discrimination, homelessness and sexual abuse, to buyers of sex with impunity." This legitimizing of buying and selling sex has many concerned. Over 400 women's rights groups including US-based and international groups, medical doctors, and survivors of the sex trade signed an open letter to Amnesty International expressing their concern with Amnesty's decision.

Those signing the letter make it clear that those bought and sold in the sex trade must not be criminalized, agreeing with Amnesty. They disagree, however, in "the wholesale decriminalization of the sex industry," which they feel will make the industry much less safe for the women involved.

The letter cites data from Norway and Germany following the governments" decriminalization of the sex industry in the early 2000s. Both countries saw an increase in violence against the women being bought and sold in this industry, as well as a notable increase in sex trafficking. "Without a vibrant sex industry, there would be no sex trafficking," the letter reads.

One signatory was Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem. "I hope and believe that Amnesty will understand the parallels with other forms of economically compelled body invasion for instance, the sale of organs, Steinem said in a press release for CAWT. "The millions who are prostituted experience trauma and shortened lives. Legalization keeps pimps, brothel keepers, and sex-slavers in freedom and riches."

8/14/2015 - Texas Woman Files Complaint After Officer Forcibly Searches her Vagina

An African American woman in Texas says an officer sexually assaulted her when the officer searched her vagina for marijuana outside a Texaco gas station after a traffic stop last month.

21-year-old Charnesia Corley was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign on June 21st, whereupon the Harris County deputy said he smelled marijuana. Corley was handcuffed and put in the back of the sherrif's car while her car was searched for almost an hour. No marijuana was found.

The deputy then returned to his car and called a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. Despite Corley's protests and lack of consent to a cavity search, Corley was forced to the pavement of the gas station parking lot, stripped, and searched.

"I bend over and she proceeds to try to force her hand inside of me. I tell her, 'Ma'am, No. You cannot do this," Corely told local TV report station KTRK.

"It's undeniable that the search is unconstitutional," said Sam Cammack, Corley's attorney.

Corely is charged with two misdemeanors, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, as investigators claim they found .02 ounces of marijuana on her. The Harris County Sherriff's Department insists that Corely consented to the cavity search, leaving many to wonder why she is then being charged with resisting arrest.

A spokesman for the Harris County Sherriff's Department said that "the deputies did everything as they should." As the Washington Post put it:

"And so there you have it. Holding a woman down and forcibly penetrating her vagina to search for pot is official policy in Harris County."

Corely has filed a complaint with the Harris County Sherriff's Office Internal Affairs Division. The County Sherriff's Office is refusing comment until the completion of the internal affairs investigation.

"Once again, it seems that a Black female body has been violated by Texas law enforcement for no reason," Jamilah Lemiuex wrote for Ebony Magazine.

Police violence against women of color, specifically Black women, often manifests as sexual violence, although sexual assault by police officers is not often considered in public dialogue about police violence. The African American Policy Forum, founded by UCLA Professor of Law Kimberle Crenshaw and leading theorist in race and racism, issued a report in May of this year titled "Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women," in which gender-specific issues of police brutality are analyzed. In this report, Crenshaw and other authors hope to expand the analysis of police violence to include gender-specific issues faced by Black women.

Currently, there is a great paucity of data surrounding gender-specific of police brutality against Black women. There is no concise collection of sexual or other forms of gender-based violence committed by police officers in this country. But as the AAPF report says, "the erasure of Black women is not purely a matter of missing facts." National media attention for #BlackLivesMatter has largely been on the shooting deaths of African American men at the hands of white police officers, and this media attention shapes how researchers and advocates tend to shape national dialogue.

8/13/2015 - US Government Warns Southern States Against Defunding Planned Parenthood

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a US federal agency, warned of the negative impact of defunding Planned Parenthood this month, a spokesperson for parent agency the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports.

The Center purportedly spoke with officials from Alabama and Louisiana, two states moving to take away funding from Planned Parenthood clinics, warning the officials that doing so "may illegally restrict beneficiary access to services."

State Medicaid programs are federally mandated to cover family planning services for anyone of child-bearing age. According to HHS, closing Planned Parenthood clinics in Alabama and Louisiana may cut off access to these services, violating Medicaid law.

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.

In states like Alabama and Louisiana, affordable family planning and access to these services is greatly needed. Almost one third of Alabama children live below the poverty line, and Louisiana is ranked 49th in the country in poverty rates.

Earlier this month, Senate democrats struck down a bill that would have prohibited all federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Pure and simple, a public health crisis would be the result of this bill," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) remarked on the floor.

Already some Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he was "absolutely confident that if Republicans try to defund Planned Parenthood in a government spending bill at the end of September, Democrats will unite against it." White House press secretary Josh Earnest has confirmed that President Obama would veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

8/12/2015 - Obama Takes Step for Paid Sick Leave

President Obama's Administration drafted an executive order to expand paid sick leave for all federal contractors and their subcontractors last week.

The order would also allow for federally contracted employees to take up to seven days of time off per year in paid sick days or to care for sick relatives, potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of American workers.

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.

The sick day proposal is modeled on a bill called The Healthy Families Act, championed by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). The move also would allow new parents up to six weeks of paid parental leave. Currently, the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

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.

"No worker should have to sacrifice a day's pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child," said Senator Murray.

Advocates are applauding this move by the Obama Administration in the hopes that it will extend well beyond federally contracted employees.

"The federal government should lead by example," said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work. "Such a move is precisely its role: to create model standards for the rest of the country to follow and to make sure taxpayer dollars are used wisely."

8/11/2015 - Oklahoma Court Blocks Medication Abortion Restriction

An Oklahoma law restricting access to medication abortions was blocked by a County District Judge, who ruled the state law unconstitutional yesterday.

HB 2684 was signed into law by Republican Governor Mary Fallin last year, prohibiting off-label use of the drug mifipristone. The Center for Reproductive rights then filed a lawsuit challenging the law. As RH Reality Check reported, the law "requires physicians to ignore decades of medical research, the opinion of leading medical organizations, and their own clinical experience, and instead administer medication abortion drugs according to an outdated and inferior regimen."

The law would have banned medication abortions past 7 weeks, requiring patients to undergo an unnecessary surgical procedure rather than using medications alone. It also mirrors the efforts of Oklahoma politicians to force doctors to use an outdated protocol for administering a medication abortion using the drug mifepristone- one that the medical community and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have rejected in favor of a new standard of care that calls for a significantly lower dosage.

In October a state court failed to block this measure a month before it was supposed to take effect, however the Oklahoma Supreme Court then stepped in, blocking the law while the lawsuit continued.

Oklahoma County District Judge Patricia Parrish issued her ruling following a hearing yesterday morning, finding that the restrictions in this measure clearly violate the state constitution.

"Today's ruling affirms that Oklahoma politicians cannot single out women for discrimination simply because they don't agree with their health care decisions," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive rights. "For years, Oklahoma politicians have made it their mission to stand between women and safe, legal abortion care, and the courts have stepped in time and time again to stop them."

8/10/2015 - Target to Stop Gender-Based Toy Signage

Target announced on Friday that it will be discontinuing the practice of dividing toy sections into "boys" and "girls" toys, instead calling these sections "kids." Target will also stop separating other children's items, such as bedding, into gendered categories.

The push for this move has largely come from frustrated customers who want to see the store represent the many varying interests of their children. "Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer suggestions based on gender," Target remarked. "As guests have pointed out, in some departments like toys, home or entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary."

The decision has largely been met with praise. Abi Bechtel of Ohio, one of the many parents who took to social media to express their concern with gendered toys, called "color-coded" marketing "regressive and harmful." Bechtel lauded the company's shift in marketing and for listening to consumers.

Mental health experts have noted that gender-neutral playtime has many positive impacts for kids. "Toys are a form of self-expression, so if you can increase that repertoire, you're really saying 'You're OK,' and as a result our mental health will be far better," said psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma.

Target says these changes will be implemented over the next few months.

Media Resources: Target News 8/7/15; Today Show Reporting 8/10/15