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10/30/2014 - UPS Switches Pregnant Worker Policy Ahead of Supreme Court Case

The United Parcel Service (UPS) is changing its policy on light duty assignments for pregnant workers, even though the company will stand by its refusal to extend accommodations to a former employee in an upcoming Supreme Court case.

UPS announced on Monday in a memo to employees, and in a brief filed with the US Supreme Court, that the company will begin offering temporary, light-duty positions to pregnant workers on January 1, 2015. "UPS takes pride in attaining and maintaining best practices in the area of equal opportunity and employment, and has elected to change our approach to pregnancy accommodations," the memo read. In the brief sent to the Supreme Court this week, the company said it "has voluntarily decided to provide additional accommodations for pregnancy-related physical limitations as a matter of corporate discretion."

This change in policy does not mean UPS is admitting that it violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) when it denied former employee, Peggy Young, a light-duty work assignment when she became pregnant in 2006. That case, Young v. UPS, will be argued at the Supreme Court this December.

In fact, the company maintains that it committed no wrongdoing when it denied Young's request for a light-duty assignment after her doctor recommended that Young not lift boxes more than 20 pounds - even though UPS had a policy of modifying job assignments for other employees temporarily unable to fulfill their job duties.

Advocates say that the UPS policy change only highlights that its treatment of Peggy Young unjustly denied her equal opportunity. "It undermines every argument they've been making," said Emily Martin, Vice President and General Counsel of the National Women's Law Center. "They said they couldn't give pregnant workers like Peggy Young accommodations because of collective bargaining agreements, and because it would be unduly burdensome. Well, apparently that's not true anymore."

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court this week, attorneys for UPS wrote, that their policy change "is not required by the PDA," but that "UPS's revised policy is permitted under that statute and will aid operational consistency given that a number of States in which UPS operates have relatively recently mandated pregnancy accommodations." That trend is the direct influence of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's new guidelines on accommodations for pregnant workers.

Peggy Young was a UPS driver in Landover, Maryland. After UPS denied Young's request for a workplace accommodation, she was forced to take unpaid leave and lost her employer-provided medical coverage for the remainder of her pregnancy as well as her right to disability insurance benefits. Young sued the company, but lost in the lower courts which found that UPS's policy of accommodating workers with disabilities or those injured on the job were "pregnancy-blind" and did not amount to impermissible sex discrimination under the PDA.

The US Supreme Court will now weigh in on whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually does what it says, which is protect pregnant workers from discrimination on the job. The case will be heard on December 3.

10/30/2014 - North Dakota Medical Students Speak Out Against Measure 1

Medical students at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences are asking North Dakotans to vote no on Measure 1, a personhood measure on the state ballot this fall.

The students issued published a letter in the Grand Forks Herald stating that they opposed Measure 1 in part because they are against "the government's taking control of the personal health care decisions of its citizens." Nearly 60 UND School of Medicine students signed the letter, citing concerns over the "very broad and ambiguous language" used in the proposed amendment, which has no regard for serious and life-threatening medical situations such as ectopic pregnancies.

Measure 1 would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. If passed by North Dakota voters in this election, it will be the first personhood amendment to take hold in the United States, and would ban all abortions in the state, without exception, as well as outlaw many forms of birth control including the IUD, stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization.

In their letter, the students also pointed out that Measure 1, if passed, could also dissuade doctors from practicing in the state. "[Measure 1] would make it less likely for many of us to choose to return home to practice medicine in North Dakota," the letter read, "over some other state that does not carry the risk of criminal charges every time a woman who is of childbearing age and potentially pregnant steps into your emergency room, operating room or even clinic." Many North Dakota's communities are already experiencing a shortage of physicians, and the fear of fueling that shortage is serious.

Students in North Dakota have been leading the charge against Measure 1 by mobilizing and educating voters on campuses across the state with the help of the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Campus Organizers.

"My peers and I are against Measure 1 because we trust women to make their own choices," Emily Ramstad, a senior at North Dakota State University, wrote for the FMF CHOICES Feminist Campus Leadership Program blog. "We want to have the right to make choices for our own bodies and we want to feel safe in the state we live and go to school in. Voting no on Measure 1 ensures that, for the time being, we can."

But students are not the only ones urging North Dakotans to vote no on Measure 1. The North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota doctors, opposes the measure, as do the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Several doctors providing in vitro fertilization in the state have also spoken out against Measure 1, saying that it would force the only clinic in North Dakota providing IVF to close. In addition, the AARP of North Dakota has also expressed concern that the Measure goes too far because it threatens end-of-life care, and other organizations have highlighted the Measure's potential negative impact on organ donation

Early voting in North Dakota takes place from October 27 to October 31. Election Day is November 4. There is no voter registration in North Dakota, but an ID is required.

10/30/2014 - Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling

An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.

The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. The court's decision denied their request to temporarily block the legislation pending a final ruling on its constitutionality, rubber stamping 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. The law bans medication abortion after seven weeks, even though the new standardcan be administered safely beyond that time.

In short, the Oklahoma law forces some women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights to undergo a medically unnecessary surgical procedure.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs in the case, said that the state court's ruling "endorses sham restrictions passed under false pretenses to deny doctors the ability to prescribe certain kinds of care and women a safe option when they have decided to end a pregnancy." The Center has already announced its intention to immediately appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

"Politicians have no more business playing doctor than they do intruding on our personal, private medical decisions," said Northup. "We now look to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to maintain women's ability to get high-quality, compassionate care based on the expertise of the reproductive health care providers they trust, not the agendas of politicians who presume to know better."

The Center for Reproductive Rights is also fighting an Oklahoma TRAP law (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers)set to take effect Saturday that would require abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges or face shutdown. Dr. Larry Burns, who performs 44 percent of all abortions in Oklahoma, filed an emergency motion Monday in the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block the law. Burns attempted to obtain admitting privileges with at least 12 area hospitals, but was denied by each one. If the law is permitted to take effect on November 1, Burns will be forced to shut his practice down, leaving hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma women at risk.

Politicians claim that TRAP laws like Oklahoma's increase patient safety, but that is deceptive. Complications from legal abortion are rare, and both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and American Medical Association (AMA) have repeatedly stated that these measures are medically unnecessary. Because admitting privileges can also be extremely difficult to obtain, these laws result in closing women's reproductive health clinics - thus further jeopardizing the health of women seeking access to safe and legal abortion care.

HB 2684 was passed after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down previous medication abortion restrictions the state had passed in 2011. Oklahoma had attempted to appeal that ruling to the US Supreme Court, but the Court dismissed the case from its docket after receiving clarification on the law from the state supreme court. Earlier this week, the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld similar restrictions on medication abortion. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however, ruled earlier this year that medication abortion restrictions in Arizona were unconstitutional.

10/29/2014 - The Japanese Government is Being Sued for Institutional Sexism

For the first time, the Japanese government is being sued by a civil servant for "institutional sexism."

The plaintiff, who asked not to be identified, is alleging that the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, where she has worked in her current position since 1996, has unlawfully withheld promotions and pay increases - because she is a woman. She is suing for more than 6 million yen in damages, an amount equivalent to what she would have earned if she had been promoted and compensated at the same rate as her male counterparts.

The civil servant said she is launching the lawsuit now "in the hopes that my action will help eradicate discrimination against women and rectify the under-valuing of what women do." She continued, "No matter how much we contribute or how well we perform, we stand virtually no chance of advancing in our careers."

Of the arguments made, the complaint alleges that the human resources department is predominantly male, ensuring jobs are more frequently filled by male employees. The Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry is tasked with enforcing Japan's Equal Employment Opportunity Act for Men and Women.

10/29/2014 - Georgia Court Refuses to Recognize 40K Voter Registrations From Primarily People of Color and Young People

A state court judge on Tuesday refused to order the Georgia Secretary of State to add some 40,000 voters to the voter rolls, potentially disenfranchising thousands of African Americans and other people of color in the state.

Judge Christopher Brasher of the Fulton County Superior Court denied a petition from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCR), the New Georgia Project and the Georgia branch of the NAACP asking the court to force Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) to process an estimated 40,000 "missing" voter registrations.

More than 100,000 voters were registered by the three groups, but about a third of those registered never made the rolls. The civil rights groups had focused on registering young people and people of color to vote. Some saw the Secretary of State's failure to ensure that the "missing" voter registrations were processed, and the court's support of that failure, as a ploy to suppress the vote of those groups.

"All in all - a Republican appointed judge has backed the Republican Secretary of State to deny the right to vote to a largely African American and Latino population," said Dr. Francys Johnson, President of the Georgia NAACP.

The Secretary of State had previously launched an investigation into the new voter registrations, citing "numerous complaints about voter applications submitted by the New Georgia Project." A completed investigation, however, recovered only 50 fraudulent applications and another 49 regarded as "suspicious" - less than 1 percent of the voter registrations submitted by the groups.

In a 14-page ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Brasher said the suit amounted only to "suspicions and fears" on the part of the groups representing the newly registered voters. Brasher suggested that the petitioners' complaint was premature - even though early voting has already begun in the state - because the Secretary of State's office is still in the process of registering voters.

The day before the decision, Georgia Moral Monday led a #LetUsVote rally outside of the state capitol building. According to the New Georgia Project, about 10 people were threatened with arrest for occupying Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office.

One demonstrator, Atlanta resident Atuarra McCaslin, told Think Progress, that the Secretary of State's failure to process the voter registrations was "an unjust thing." He continued, "Those 40,000 now can't participate in the voting process, even though it's their right as citizens. The Secretary of State doesn't really care about those 40,000 people, who are primarily people of color and youth. Those kids have been waking up politically, and now their voices are going unheard. It's just not right."

Voters who do not appear on the rolls can still vote using a provisional ballot. Early voting runs until October 31. Election Day in Tuesday, November 4.

10/29/2014 - North Dakota Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Restrictions

The North Dakota Supreme Court yesterday upheld a set of misguided restrictions on medication abortion, allowing what is effectively a ban on early, non-surgical abortions in the state to go into effect immediately.

The decision overturned a lower court order finding the law, known as HB 1297, unconstitutional and permanently blocking its enforcement. North Dakota's only abortion clinic, the Red River Women's Clinic, challenged HB 1297 - which, among other things, required doctors to follow an outdated protocol for abortion medicationapproved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. That protocol on the use, dosage and administration of mifepristone no longer represents the predominate medical standard of care. Instead, doctors have developed a new standard endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that calls for a significantly lower dosage of mifepristone, one that can be safely administered beyond seven weeks.

A majority of the justices on the North Dakota Supreme Court - three of five - found that the medication restrictions at issue were unconstitutional under federal law. But the North Dakota state constitution requires that four of the justices must decide that a law is unconstitutional before it can be struck down. Only two justices found that the restrictions violated the North Dakota state constitution; one justice - who did find that the law violated the federal constitution - did not decide the state constitutional question.

Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the clinic in the case, said that the court's decision "directly conflictswith courts across the U.S. that have rejected the idea that politicians have any place in the practice of medicine or in women's deeply personal decisions about their pregnancies, their health, their families, and their future." The clinic may decide to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled earlier this year that similar medication abortion restrictions in Arizona were unconstitutional, and last fall, the US Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision permanently blocking medication abortion restrictions in that state. Oklahoma has since passed new restrictions that are now being challenged in court. Ohio and Texas have also passed restrictions on medication abortion in their states.

North Dakota has seen a rash of anti-choice legislation in the past few years. In 2013, the Governor signed into law what amounted to a 6-week abortion ban. The ban was later declared "invalid and unconstitutional". The state also passed a TRAP law (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) that required doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. This requirement was also challenged in court, and that case settled earlier this year.

Now, North Dakota voters are deciding on whether to approve a "personhood" amendment that would outlaw all abortion, some forms of birth control, and all in vitro fertilization in the state. Known as Measure 1, this ballot measure, would change the North Dakota state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" - including the moment of fertilization and conception. If passed by North Dakota voters in this election, it will be the first personhood amendment to take hold in the United States.

"Giving constitutional rights to a nonviable fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus - which Measure 1 would do - is dangerous to women," wrote Kate Black, a student at North Dakota State University who is working through the Feminist Majority Foundation to help defeat the amendment. "Measure 1 would not only eliminate a woman's right to choose abortion; it would destroy her control over her own reproductive health."

The North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota doctors, has opposed Measure 1, as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Early voting in North Dakota began on October 27 and runs until Friday, October 31. Election Day is November 4. There is no voter registration in North Dakota, but an ID is required.

Media Resources: Bismark Tribune 10/29/14; Center for Reproductive Rights 10/28/14; North Dakota Supreme Court 10/28/14; RH Reality Check 10/28/14, 3/14/14; Feminist Newswire 10/22/14, 4/17/14; Feminist Campus Blog 10/16/14; Guttmacher Institute 10/1/14; North Dakota Secretary of State; Vote No on Measure 1

10/28/2014 - Campus Sexual Assault Survey Finds One in Six MIT Women Are Survivors

One in six women at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have experienced some form of sexual assault, but only 5 percent have reported it, according to the results of a survey released Monday.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology emailed its nearly 11,000 graduate and undergraduate students a survey on campus sexual assault in April, only days before the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report. 35 percent of MIT students responded to the survey, which asked questions about several different types of unwanted sexual contact.

"We are interested in learning about the problem, measuring it and solving it," MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart told reporters during a teleconference. She emphasized that the school plans to expand prevention and education efforts and add resources to help survivors. The college also plans to conduct a follow-up survey.

Conducting and publishing such a survey is a rare move for colleges and universities nationwide. "Very few schools have publicly released any data," John D. Foubert, a professor of higher education at Oklahoma State University who studies campus sexual assault, told the New York Times.

MIT University President L. Rafael Reif hopes that the survey will help his administration and the MIT campus community fight what the White House has called an epidemic of rape on college campuses. "Sexual assault violates our core MIT values," Reif wrote in an email to students. "I am confident that, with this shared understanding and armed with this new data, the MIT community will find a path to significant positive change."

In September, the White House launched the It's On Us campaign, a social media-driven campaign aimed at encouraging bystander intervention to help prevent rape and sexual assault on campus.

10/28/2014 - Ohio Officials Threaten to Close Cincinnati's Last Remaining Abortion Clinic

Ohio's TRAP law may soon force the last remaining abortion clinic in the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area to close, leaving an estimated 2.1 million people without access to a comprehensive reproductive healthcare site.

Planned Parenthood's Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center received a notice earlier this week from state health officials threatening to shut down the facility for failure to obtain a transfer agreement with a local private hospital.

Last year, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) signed into law a requirement that abortion clinics obtain a written agreement with a local hospital willing to take patients from the clinic in an emergency, despite the fact that emergencies are extremely rare and hospital emergency rooms must already accept patients. The Governor also signed new rules that prohibit publicly-funded hospitals from having so-called transfer agreements with abortion clinics, leaving clinics at the mercy of private hospitals, many of whom are religiously-affiliated and oppose abortion.

Existing clinics, however, could apply for a variance that would exempt the facility from the requirement. The Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center applied for a variance over a year ago, but according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, the state failed to respond to that request. A second clinic, Women's Med in Dayton, has also applied for a variance and is also still awaiting a response.

This summer, the Lebanon Road Surgery Center, also in the greater Cincinnati area, faced closure when it could not find a hospital willing to sign a transfer agreement. The state department of health also denied the clinic a variance, though the facility had received it in past years. After losing an appeal, the clinic decided to stop performing abortions in late August.

Kellie Copeland, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, criticized the state's failure to respond to these requests. "This is the sort of behavior we expect from political hacks, not public health professionals," she said. "This is politicians playing games with women's health, and it is shameful."

Since 2013, Ohio has gone from 14 abortion providers to 8 because of the Ohio TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law, and Cincinnati is now slated to become the largest metropolitan area in the country without a provider.

TRAP laws like the one in Ohio are political ploys meant to close abortion clinics. "'Protecting women's health' is a phrase that gets used often in the abortion debate," Nancy Pitts, the Director of Development and Communications at Preterm, one of the last remaining abortion clinics in Ohio, told Feminist Newswire. "But it's important to understand that these regulations have nothing to do with the health and safety of women."

Politicians claim these laws promote patient safety, but in fact, they compromise women's health by forcing out legitimate reproductive healthcare providers through a patchwork of medically unnecessary, burdensome, bureaucratic rules. "The women truly at the mercy of these legislative onslaughts are the low-income women without the means to overcome these barriers that politicians are placing in front of them," says Pitts.

10/27/2014 - Mullah Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Rape Under Afghanistan's EVAW Law

Judge Mohammad Suliman Rasuli sentenced Mullah Mohammad Amin - a religious leader from Afghanistan - to 20 years in prison Saturday for the rape of a 10-year-old girl in Kunduz province.

Mullah Amin admitted to having sex with the girl, whose name has not been released, but claimed that the child had seduced him. The judge rejected that reasoning, which would have made both parties subject to punishment for adultery under Sharia law. "She cannot commit adultery; she is a child," he said. "This is rape."

During the trial, the young girl confronted Mullah Amin, saying, "You shamed me, liar, you destroyed my life."

According to reports, the rape occurred in May at a local mosque in Kunduz where the young girl had been receiving religious instruction from Amin. After a lesson, Amin asked the girl to remain at the mosque. He then tied her hands, taped her mouth and raped her. After the rape, the girl went to a shelter run by the advocacy group Women for Afghan Women (WAW). The group transported the girl to Kabul for medical treatment of a fistula, a tear between the vagina and the rectum caused by the rape, which had to be surgically repaired.

WAW social workers have been working closely with the girl's family to ensure the child's safety and continued education. Allegedly, the girl's family had threatened to kill her for bringing dishonor to the family. Honor killings are not uncommon in Afghanistan, especially for rape survivors. The family has denied planning to harm the girl, and the girl's father traveled with her to Kabul to attend the trial.

Women's rights advocates celebrated the judge's decision on Saturday. "It makes us believe and trust more in the justice system in the country," WAW Program Director Naheed Samadi Bahram told CNN. "A little young girl frolm a far province gets justice for herself, this is amazing. This is a success for human rights in the country."

Judge Mohammad Suliman Rasuli sentenced Amin under the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law (EVAW Law), which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai. The EVAW Law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women - including rape, child and forced marriage, domestic violence, trafficking, and forced self-immolation - and specifies punishment for perpetrators. The Law has been in effect since 2009 but has still not been passed by Parliament.

10/27/2014 - Disparities Persist for Women of Color in States with the Smallest Wage Gaps

Newly released US Census data shows the wage gap for African American and Latina women is worse in some areas where the overall gender wage gap is small.

The gender wage gap in Washington, DC is overall the smallest in the country - but, according to analysis by the National Women's Law Center, it turns out the wage gap for African American women in the District is the second worst in the entire country. And California's gender wage gape is the fifth smallest in the county, but its wage gap for Latina women is the absolute worst in the US. Maryland and North Carolina shows this discrepancy, too: the overall gender wage gap is in the top ten smallest, but in the top ten largest for Latinas.

To make the comparison even clearer, the largest gender wage gap is in Louisiana, where women make 34.1 percent less than men (comparing those who work full-time, all year) - but the wage gap for African American women is even worse than 34.1 percent in 36 states and DC. And Latina women don't make even half of what white, non-Hispanic men make in 17 states and DC.

In an attempt to lessen the gender wage gap, activists have pushed for the Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) which would require employers to provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pay data by sex, race and national origin of employees. The PFA would also prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees for discussing wages with coworkers and strengthen remedies for pay discrimination. However, the Act was blocked twice this year by Senate Republicans and four times since 2012 by legislators who voted along party lines.

The gender wage gap costs women, on average, about $434,000 in salary over the course of their careers. Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children under 18, but they still earn 78 cents on average for every dollar earned by men - and that figure hasn't changed much in a decade.

10/27/2014 - Tennessee OB/GYNs Urge Voters to Reject Amendment 1

A coalition of local doctors is urging Tennesseans to vote no on Amendment 1, an anti-abortion ballot measure that one doctor called "a setback for women's rights."

During a press conference at a Planned Parenthood facility in Nashville last week, one obstetrician-gynecologist warned that Amendment 1 would give politicians the right to make medical decisions they aren't qualified to make.

"Supporting Amendment 1 will erode a woman's fundamental right to autonomous decision-making and privacy regarding her own health care," Dr. Deborah Webster-Clair, a retired OB/GYN, said. "Politicians should not be interfering in personal medical decisions when they do not understand the medical basis of those decisions or the physical, emotional or economic impact of each individual pregnancy," she added.

Amendment 1 would change the Tennessee state constitution to declare that there is no right to abortion in Tennessee - even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. If passed, the Amendment would give the state legislature even more room to create far-reaching restrictions on abortion access, even for women in the most tragic circumstances. In addition, Amendment 1 could restrict access to certain forms of birth control, like emergency contraception and IUDs, that some state politicians, contrary to respected medical information, claim are abortifacients.

"As a physician, I can tell you that there is no one-size-fits-all kind of answer to medical care," Dr. Roger Young said. "Care has to be customized, individualized to each individual person, each individual circumstance."Amendment 1, however, opens the door to legislation that could endanger women's health by preventing doctors from providing appropriate medical care.

This is not the first time the medical community has voiced opposition to a ballot measure that would allow politicians to determine women's reproductive healthcare. The North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota doctors, has urged voters in that state to vote no on Measure 1, a proposed personhood amendment that would change the state constitution to provide an "inalienable right to life" at "any stage of development" including the moment of fertilization and conception. If passed by North Dakota voters this November, it will be the first personhood amendment to take hold in the United States, giving fertilized eggs more rights than women in the state, banning abortion and birth control, and outlawing in vitro fertilization.

Early voting in Tennessee began on October 15 and runs to October 30. Early voting in North Dakota takes place from October 27 to October 31. Election Day is November 4. There is no voter registration in North Dakota, but an ID is required.

10/24/2014 - Thousands of Women in Iran Protest Acid Attacks in Wake of Religious Law

On Wednesday, thousands of Iranians in the historic city of Isfahan gathered to protest recent acid attacks on women. The attacks have come just as a new law protecting anyone who "corrects" others for acting "un-Islamic" was passed.

As many as 14 women in Isfahan have recently been attacked by men who have thrown acid at them. Acid attacks cause extreme burns that lead to disfigurement, blindness or sometimes death. One woman in Isfahan reportedly died on Sunday from an acid attack.

The protest in Isfahan drew at least 2,000 people and likely developed from social media action. Protests of this kind are not common in Iran where citizens fear government retaliation for demonstrating.

Yet, the acid attacks on women have sparked outrage toward extremists and a stronger resistance to the new law passed in Parliament on Sunday. Details of the law are not yet completed, but it would give government and private citizens official authority to give statements on those who behave in an "un-Islamic" way. The law does not state that attacking people is an acceptable way to react to breaking social rules.

Since the installment of an Islamic Republic in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, citizens have been made to follow Islamic law, which includes women being required to wear a hijab whenever she is in the public eye. Post-revolution policies have greatly reduced the legal status of women in the country.

While women in the country have now had to follow these strict laws for decades now, women are fighting back. A social media movement called "My Stealthy Freedom," which has nearly 700,000 "likes," features Iranian women who post photos of themselves without a hijab. Posting these photos was already dangerous for these women, but with the passage of this new law it becomes an even more dangerous act.

One recent post on the Facebook page reads, "Mr. President [Rouhani], women make up half of the Iranian population, the half which have always been oppressed, the half of those who voted for you in hopes of attaining equality with men, the very women you said you would give them a proper status. Mr. President, the proper status of an Iranian woman is not staying at home out of fear for her life. The most basic rights of every human being are peace and safety, the very things of which Iranian women are deprived, not only these days, but always."

Many women are now afraid to leave their homes for fear of being attacked, especially as the acid attacks have reportedly not necessarily targeted women who are breaking social rules.

One woman who works in Isfahan writes, "I am thinking of taking some days off, or even [to] quit my job. I hold a notebook in front of my face, whenever I walk in the streets. ... I am so worried and scared that sometimes I feel my face is burning."

Acid attacks, which are not the norm in Iran, have long been used to keep women and girls afraid, as a method of controlling them. The prevalence of acid attacks are unknown, as this violence often goes unreported. According to experts, however, women and girls are victims in up to 80 percent of all cases, and of these cases, about a third of victims of under 18.

10/24/2014 - Potential Ballot Measure in DC Would Raise Minimum Wage to $15

Low-wage workers in Washington, DC might see a significant increase in their pay, thanks to national labor rights group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC).

This month, the DC Board of Elections approved language submitted by a local chapter of ROC to raise the minimum wage in the District to $15/hour by 2019. The measure, which will be called Initiative 74, also proposes to eliminate the "tipped minimum wage," and extend the minimum wage increase to tipped workers by 2024. This means that tipped workers, who are often left out of state or federal increases to the minimum wage, would be paid the same as all other hourly wage workers.

The proposed $15 an hour is a major step forward from the wage increase currently in progress. In July, legislation passed by Mayor Vince Gray went into effect, raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.50 an hour. Mayor Gray's legislation will continue to increase minimum wage for the next two years until it reaches $11.50.

Meg Fosque, the policy director of ROC, says that the legislation has one major gap: it does not include tipped workers, who make $2.77 per hour under the present law. "[Restaurants are] one of the biggest, if not the biggest private sector employer in terms of an industry in the U.S. and have some of the absolutely lowest-paying jobs," says Fosque.

Currently, in DC employers must ensure that tipped workers' pay, including tips, adds up to $9.50 an hour, or pay the difference. But ROC and other labor rights groups say that this rarely happens in reality. Seven states recognize this as a problem, and have already made laws to ensure that tipped workers are paid minimum wage. Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of ROC, says that it is especially important for lessening a server's burden to please. "There is no other industry where we let employers allow other people to pay their workers," she said.

In pushing for action to increase the minimum wage, Fosque also pointed out the need to ensure that the minimum wage represented a fair wage. "We absolutely want to be part of and help move forward efforts to also increase the regular minimum wage and bring it closer to something that's going to be a living wage, not only for restaurant workers, but all workers."

The fight for $15 has been spearheaded by fast food workers, organized all around the country. Michelle Chen, reporting on this movement in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine, noted that the fast food workers had "broadened the horizons for low-wage labor organizing." She continued, "Its media splash has put the face of today's low-wage worker - one that's less white, more female and struggling harder than ever - into the foreground of public consciousness."

Nearly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are women. Many are people of color. Tipped workers are also largely women: more than 70 percent of all servers are female, according to ROC.

"Workers trying to make ends meet deserve a fair wage," said Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy & Research. "Raising the minimum wage for all workers, including tipped workers, will not only help close the gender wage gap, it will give women more opportunity for economic security."

For Initiative 74 to make it onto the DC ballot, ROC will now have to collect signatures from five percent of the city's voters. If the group collects the required signatures, the measure may make it to the ballot in 2016.

With federal legislation stalled in Congress, workers have looked to state and local governments to act on raising the minimum wage. Hawaii, Maryland, and Seattle, Washington recently raised their minimum wage, and this fall, several state - including Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota - will be voting on ballot measures to decide whether to raise their minimum wage.

Election Day is November 4.

10/23/2014 - All of Tennessee's Major Newspapers Have Urged Voters to Reject Anti-Abortion Amendment 1

All four of Tennessee's major papers have spoken out to oppose Amendment 1, a dangerous anti-abortion measure that will be decided by voters this fall. The Tennessean, Knoxville News Sentinel, Chattanooga Times, and Commercial Appeal have all published editorials criticizing the Amendment and encouraging a "no" vote from their readers.

Amendment 1 would change the Tennessee state constitution to read: "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother."

In other words, the Amendment would open the floodgate to draconian abortion restrictions and prevent legal recourse against anti-abortion legislation.

"Making any type of law immune from a court challenge is shortsighted, prejudicial - and in the case of what should be a woman's own decision about her health - downright dangerous," wrote the Tennessean editorial board. "For those reasons, The Tennessean recommends a vote of NO on Amendment 1."

"We are advocating for a woman's right to make private, personal health care decisions, including decisions on reproductive issues, without being held to the whims of partisan politicians," wrote the Commercial Appeal. "We urge voters to vote NO on Amendment 1."

If passed, Amendment 1 would give state politicians the right to make decisions about the health and lives of women and take those rights away from women and their doctors. Lawmakers could use the Amendment to pass legislation that denies life-saving care to women with critical illnesses and bans abortion - even in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the health or life of the woman - as well as common forms of birth control like the pill, IUDs, and emergency contraception. The four Tennessee papers agree: Amendment 1 goes too far, especially in a state where privacy laws are some of the strongest in the nation and held dear by its residents.

"Tennesseans are a fiercely independent folk, defiantly resistant to government interference in their personal lives, especially in matters of faith and family," wrote the Knoxville New Sentinel. "Tennesseans should reject this intrusion into the private lives of women."

"Decisions about contraception and abortion - like decisions about Viagra and fertility treatments - should be made by a man or woman in consultation with their faith, their family and their doctors," wrote the Chattanooga Times. "Keep Tennessee government out of your private life, and vote no on Amendment 1."

The editorials echo the voices of 40 faith leaders in Memphis as well as the voices of student activists in the state working on the Vote No on 1 campaign, including members of Feminist Majority Foundation's Feminist Majority Alliance groups at Vanderbilt and East Tennessee State Universities who are working to mobilize and educate voters. Students have been training fellow students on activism, encouraging students to vote, disseminating information, and staging visibility events.

"We will defeat Amendment 1," Max Smith, ETSU's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance President, wrote for the Feminist Campus blog. "And we'll work like heck to make sure of it."

Early voting in Tennessee began October 15, and residents can vote early and in-person through October 30. Voters can also head to the polls on Election Day, November 4.

10/23/2014 - Instead of Returning Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Boko Haram Reportedly Abducted More Women and Girls

Despite Nigerian military officials announcement last week that they had negotiated with militant group Boko Haram for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in April, it appears the girls have not be brought home - and residents say more women and girls have been kidnapped since.

Last week, in a deal brokered in neighboring country Chad, a ceasefire agreement was supposedly made between Boko Haram and Nigerian military officials. The announcement came two days before fighters - whom some suspect have ties with Boko Haram - attacked northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram leaders have not yet made any public statements giving their support to the ceasefire agreement with Nigerian military officials. The Nigerian government says it is scheduled to have more talks with Boko Haram this week in Chad.

Although authorities have not yet confirmed the news, residents in northeastern Nigeria say dozens of women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram. Residents say a large militant group attacked villages in the northeastern state of Adamawa. The group reportedly forced a group of women and girls to harvest groundnuts then abducted some of the young women and teenage girls.

When hundreds of girls were initially kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok, the Nigerian government did little to nothing to get them back to safety. The government's inaction sparked acts of resistance in the country, which eventually spurred a viral #BringBackOurGirls campaign that was joined by people from around the world.

Since the kidnapping in April, Boko Haram has killed hundreds of civilians. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group last week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda. The US declared the extremists a terrorist group in 2013, the same year Nigeria declared a state of emergency in three states over "fear among our citizens and a near breakdown of law and order in parts of the country" that they have caused.

Earlier this month, Boko Haram released 27 hostages that had been taken in two separate raids this summer. Their release had given hope to activists and families still fighting for the safety of others still held by the group. Of those abducted in April, 57 have successfully fled; one young woman was found roaming a small village, pregnant and traumatized. Scholarships made possible in part by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai were given to 15 escaped girls so they could continue their studies.

10/23/2014 - Ferguson October Continues With National Day of Action Against Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration

Activists organized actions nationwide yesterday to protest police brutality in cities across the country as part of ongoing Ferguson October events, while outrage grows in Missouri over the the grand jury proceeding on whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson should face criminal charges in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown.

As part of the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration, on-the-ground organizers in Ferguson, Missouri and St. Louis County called on supporters and fellow activists from all over the nation to coordinate local, community-based vigils, sit-ins, marches, and other activities or civil disobedience actions that raise awareness and encourage meaningful response to excessive force and its disproportionate impact on people of color.

Families of victims of police brutality led protests in New York City, chanting "No More Stolen Lives!" Speakers at the demonstration stressed the impact that police brutality and mass incarceration has had on LGBT communities, people of color, women, and immigrants. Mothers Against Police Brutality gathered at City Hall in Baltimore, MD to call for police to wear body cameras and for more accountability for excessive use of force. "Every life counts. Nobody deserves to be brutally murdered. I'm sick of turning on the news and seeing another victim of police brutality," said protester Tawanda Jones, whose brother died in police custody last year.

Protesters temporarily shut down Interstate-75 in Atlanta, GA as part of the nationwide action. Protester Will Mason told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he came in solidarity with those whose lives had been affected by police violence. "The police are becoming increasingly militarized, and there's no real, sane explanation or justification for it from political leadership at any level," said Mason. "People are getting tired of what essentially is looking more and more like fascism." Activists, families, and victims took to the streets in Tallahassee, Fl, staging a die-in, and in cities in places like California, Michigan, Utah, Washington, and Washington, DC.

The October 22 day of action marked 75 days since the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Activists have called for Wilson's indictment, but to date, there has been no arrest, only growing speculation that Wilson could walk free.

Last week, the New York Times gave Wilson's account of the shooting, in which, the officer claimed he reasonably believed his life was in danger following a struggle with Brown over the gun at Wilson's car. Now, unidentified sources have allegedly provided details that appear to support Wilson's account, and leaked documents have made their way into the press. The mounting amount of supposed information leaked from the grand jury - a confidential proceeding - suggest a non-indictment for Darren Wilson.

The US Department of Justice strongly condemned the leaks as "irresponsible and highly troubling." The DOJ also expressed concern that the leaks appear to be a part of "an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case."

The grand jury leaks have also highlighted residents' concern about the appropriateness of Prosecutor Bob McCulloch handling this case. A spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor's office told the LA Times that the office wouldn't investigate the leaks, offering the excuse that prosecutors cannot force journalists to reveal their sources. He also suggested that the leaks might be coming from federal officials in Washington. Earlier requests to replace Bob McCulloch with a special prosecutor were rejected by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Thousands of people from across the nation have also petitioned McCulloch to recuse himself. He has chosen not to.

The grand jury has been meeting since August 20. The St. Louis County Prosecutor's office said they expect a decision by mid-November.

Take Action: Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #O22.

10/22/2014 - Doctors Warn That Measure 1 Would End In Vitro Fertilization in North Dakota

Doctors at North Dakota's only clinic offering in vitro fertilization (IVF) are speaking out to warn voters that Measure 1, a proposed personhood amendment in the state, would make the practice illegal.

Dr. Steffen Christensen, who helped found Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic 20 years ago, announced earlier this month that Measure 1 would "literally shut [the clinic] down," ending IVF services for not only all North Dakota women, but many women from neighboring Minnesota. North Dakotans seeking IVF would be forced to travel out-of-state to receive treatment, restricting access for many. Doctors at the clinic, which has successfully helped families have more than 1,000 babies, have strongly opposed the Measure, which Dr. Stephanie Dahl says would make IVF treatments "impossible."

Measure 1 would create an "inalienable right to life" for humans "at any stage of development" in the state constitution - including the moment of fertilization and conception. If passed by North Dakota voters in this election, it will be the first Personhood Amendment to take hold in the United States, banning all abortions in the state, without exception, and making illegal many forms of birth control, stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization.

IVF involves surgically removing eggs from the ovaries, combining them with sperm in a laboratory, and then placing the fertilized eggs in the uterus. According to Dahl, IVF is an effective procedure for many patients, especially in cases with male-factor infertility. However, sometimes the procedure can create abnormal fertilized eggs, which could threaten the woman's health. "However, under Measure 1 these abnormally fertilized eggs must be protected, even if they have no chance of growing into a health baby and will result in a miscarriage," explained Dr. Dahl.

Measure 1 would subject Dr. Christensen and his colleagues to criminal charges for trying to help families who want to achieve a pregnancy. Even an accident in the lab that results in the destruction of a fertilized egg could become a criminal offense. Under these conditions, the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic would be forced to close.

"It is ironic that personhood Measure 1 will eliminate the possibility of having a family for many North Dakota and Minnesota residents," said Dr. Kristen Cain.

Measure 1 has been opposed by many leading health organizations, including the North Dakota Medical Association, which represents North Dakota doctors, as well as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The AARP North Dakota has also expressed concern that the Measure goes too far, as it threatens end-of-life care, and other organizations have highlighted the Measure's potential negative impact on organ donation.

College students in North Dakota, with the help of the Feminist Majority Foundation, are also organizing against Measure 1. Students have sounded the alarm over the Measure's impact, not only on IVF, but also on women's reproductive health and rights more broadly, pointing out that it directly threatens the Red River Valley Women's Clinic, North Dakota's only abortion clinic. One student, blogging on, wrote, "Women and their partners simply must be allowed access to choices that enable responsible reproductive health - including contraception and emergency contraception, IVF treatments, and safe abortion."

"Giving constitutional rights to a nonviable fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus - which Measure 1 would do - is dangerous to women," she continued. "Measure 1 would not only eliminate a woman's right to choose abortion; it would destroy her control over her own reproductive health."

Early voting in North Dakota takes place from October 27 to October 31. Election Day is November 4. There is no voter registration in North Dakota, but an ID is required.

Media Resources: North Dakotans Against Measure 1, 10/9/14; Fargo Forum 10/7/14; Feminist Campus 10/17/14, 10/6/14; AARP North Dakota; Northern Plains Conference United Church of Christ; Mayo Clinic; North Dakota Secretary of State

10/22/2014 - Students Protest Fordham University's Anti-Birth Control Policy

Students at Fordham University are engaged in a battle against the New York City Catholic school's anti-birth control policy.

Students for Sex & Gender Equality and Safety (SAGES) has launched a petition drive, calling on Fordham to provide free and confidential access to birth control and STI testing on-campus, free condoms, professional gynecological services at the university, and resources for pregnant women, among other things. Fordham University currently does not allow contraceptives - including condoms - to be "distributed or prescribed on premises."

The policy allows health services staff to "make limited exceptions in writing appropriate prescriptions for the treatment of an existing medical condition accompanied by supporting documentation," but students say that this exception is not always honored. Senior Rachel Field told the Village Voice that a nurse at the Fordham student health center refused to provide her with Depo-Provera, which Field explained she used to prevent ovarian cysts. As a result, Field had to go off of the medication for a month before finding a doctor unaffiliated with the university. Eventually, however, she had to stop taking the shots - landing her in the hospital with a ruptured cyst and a hernia. Though Field later presented documentation of this medical history to the university health center, she explained that she was once again denied birth control.

The school's birth control policy, SAGES argues, not only threatens students' health, it also contributes to a "sex-negative campus culture." The group hopes the university will "foster an environment in which students are encouraged to talk about sex in healthy and safe ways." Currently, Fordham has no "free speech zone," in which students can demonstrate against the anti-birth control policy. SAGES has had to anonymously live-tweet meetings about sexual health on campus. They have also clandestinely engaged in "condom drops," providing free condoms to students at school dances and other events.

Lack of transparency around birth control can also contribute to student frustration with the university. Martha McKinley, a senior at Fordham, says that the school's policy is kept hidden from incoming students. "It's not a well-known thing on campus," she told the Feminist Newswire. Students have to download and leaf through a lengthy document from the school's website, or visit an on-campus health clinic to be told of the anti-birth control rule. According to McKinley, the process is not a friendly one.

"They're very judgmental [at the clinic]," she said. "If you want to go on birth control, they won't give it out, but if they find out you're sexually active and not on birth control, they demand to know why not." Once turned away, students are faced with a difficult search for a reasonable alternative. "It's not easy to walk into the City and find a good, affordable gynecologist," McKinley adds.

Despite student protests, Fordham does not appear to be backing down. "Like any other private University, Fordham has certain values it holds dear, including the right - as a University in the Jesuit Catholic tradition - to act on those values by following Church teaching on contraception," said Christopher Rodgers, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Fordham's Rose Hill campus.

Senior Courtney Code, a retreat leader for Campus Ministry, however, told USA Today that Fordham's policies contradict the school's Jesuit standards. "I think that Fordham's contraceptive policies - while perhaps aimed at upholding Catholic values - in fact undermine the Jesuit standard of cura personalis (care for the whole person)," Code said. "The inability to acquire any kind of birth control from the Health Center compromises students' physical, sexual health and the imposition of Catholic expectations of sexual behavior on a largely non-Catholic student population compromises psychological health by coloring sexual encounters and experiences as shameful."

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans must cover prescription contraceptives without requiring co-pays. However, religiously-affiliated institutions, like Fordham, do not have to provide, or pay for, contraceptive coverage directly. Students must still be able to access contraceptives, without copays, through their insurance, but there is no requirement that Fordham itself provide birth control, prescriptions for birth control, or contraceptive counseling. This places many students who cannot easily access health care services, in a bind, especially those students who must access birth control for medical reasons, like Rachel Field.

"Student health and safety is non-negotiable," said Field. She cited the UN listing of access to birth control as a basic human right, asking "why are we being denied human rights at Fordham?"

10/21/2014 - Afghanistan's New First Lady Advances Women's Issues

Just a few days after moving to the presidential palace, Afghanistan's new First Lady Rula Ghani said that she hopes to encourage greater respect for women.

Rula Ghani already broke tradition by participating in her husband, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's, campaign for President. He even thanked her during his inaugural address for her continuous support, calling her "Bibi Gul," a term of endearment. Rula points to her husband's emotional tribute in his inauguration speech as a sign of the changing norms for Afghan women. "By mentioning me the way he did," she said, "my husband really showed exactly what I mean by helping Afghan women be more assertive, more conscious of their role, more respected."

The new First Lady knows that there is still a long way to go. "I am not looking to change the existing social structure," she told the BBC, noting that she is aware of the sensitive nature of Afghanistan's conservative society. She also plans to work within the existing framework of Afghanistan's focus on family to open new opportunities for women. "Having lived in the West, I have suffered from not having an extended family around me," she said. "I would like to give women out there the courage and the possibility to do something about improving their lives."

President Ghani's support of the First Lady and her activities to improve status of women seems to be an indication that the new Afghan administration will support efforts to advance women and girls' education, health care and political status. The President has already said that he wants Afghan women represented at the highest levels of government, and he promised to encourage the participation of women in Afghan politics by forming a Women Advisory Board during meetings with civil society and women's groups within his first week in office.

10/21/2014 - Hulu Silences Rape Survivor Speaking Out Against Anti-Abortion Amendment 67 in Colorado

Hulu, an online, ad-supported streaming service, has refused to run an advertisement from the "No on 67" campaign in Colorado, citing the company's policy regarding "controversial" political positions on issues like abortion.

In a letter to the CEO of Hulu, dated October 10, the Vote No on 67 Campaign, which is supported by the Feminist Majority Foundation, asked the company to reconsider its unwillingness to air a 35-second spot featuring a rape survivor's testimony about the far-reaching impact of Colorado's proposed Amendment 67. The proposed amendment, a "personhood"measure appearing on the Colorado ballot, is considered a "trigger" law, which means if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, Colorado law would ban abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life or health of the woman. But the impact of Amendment 67 doesn't end there.

If passed, Amendment 67 would change the definition of "person" and "child" in the Colorado Criminal Code and Wrongful Death Act to include "unborn human beings." This move would not only threaten abortion rights, but it would also threaten birth control, fertility treatments and some medical treatments for critically ill pregnant women. Amendment 67 would also open up the possibility of criminal investigations into miscarriages. As Feminist Majority Foundation Director of Policy & Research explains in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms. Magazine, "All pregnant women's bodies would become potential crime scenes."

According to Hulu's advertising restrictions, the company accepts political advertising on a "case by case basis - with approval." However, according to a letter from campaign organizers for "No on 67," representatives for the site claimed running the advertisement meant Hulu was "taking a position" on the issue. Last week, in follow-up correspondence, Hulu again rejected the advertisement. An account manager for the company wrote: "According to our advertising bylaws we are unable to accept 'Ads that advocate a controversial political or other public position' which unfortunately No 67 falls under due to the subject matter of abortion."

Now, Colorado-based Progress Now is circulating the #HuluLetHerSpeak petition. The petition demands Hulu reverse its decision about the ad "so that Colorado voters hear the truth."

Just last week, Feminist Majority Foundation Board Member, human rights leader, feminist activist, and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta pressed young voters to reject Colorado's personhood amendment. "Amendment 67 is saying, 'Go back to the kitchen,'" Huerta said. "Be barefoot and pregnant and don't come back." She pushed back against supporters of Amendment 67 who claim that the measure would protect pregnant women, warning that it would "make pregnant women into criminals."

"If we can't decide on our own bodies, we can't decide on anything," Huerta said.

duVergne Gaines, the Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation's Choices Campus Leadership Program called Hulu's decision an outrage. "How dare Hulu censor fundamental free speech for women?" Gaines said. "Millions of Colorado women's lives are being threatened with this proposed constitutional amendment," she said. "If it passes, it will ban all abortions, ban most forms of birth control - including emergency contraception, the pill, IUDs - and it will criminalize women who suffer miscarriages, not to mention their doctors," Gaines warned. "We demand Hulu run this important ad!"

Take Action: Sign the "Hulu: Let Her Speak" petition here.

10/21/2014 - Obama Administration Issues New Rule to Strengthen Response to Campus Sexual Violence

The Obama Administration announced a new rule last week to more effectively address sexual violence on college campuses by increasing transparency around campus disciplinary proceedings involving sexual violence and establishing rights for survivors within those proceedings.

The new rule, announced by the Department of Education, implements changes to the Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid in the United States to publicly report crime information. The Act was created following the 1987 rape and murder of 19-year-old Jeanne Clery in her Lehigh University dorm room; her family noted the lack of laws requiring schools be transparent about the frequency and types of crimes committed at universities. The Act went into effect in 1991.

In March of last year, Congress passed the Campus SAVE Act as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Campus SAVE amended the Clery Act to strengthen the requirement that schools report on the level of crime on or near campus by broadening the range of reportable crimes to include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. It also requires schools to create proactive campus sexual assault prevention programs and to improve the institutional response to allegations of sexual assault by creating standards for disciplinary proceedings dealing with sexual assault and providing information on victims' rights.

"With one in five women sexually assaulted in college, it's clear that we have a major problem that needs to be addressed," said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who called the new rule, "a major step forward in the effort to curb the outrageously high rate of sexual assaults on college campuses." Maloney introduced and spearheaded the Campus SAVE Act in the US House. She continued, "Schools will now be required to describe in detail the prevalence of sexual assault among their student populations. Schools will be required to declare what programs are in place to prevent and address dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The rules will strengthen protections for survivors of sexual assault."

The Department of Education's new rule will now require schools to detail each type of disciplinary proceeding used by the institution in cases of alleged dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, including the decision-making process, anticipated timelines, and the process by which schools determine which type of disciplinary proceeding to use. Schools must also ensure that the disciplinary proceeding used allows the accuser and the accused the same opportunities to have an advisor of his/her choice present during the proceeding or other related meetings. Survivors had reported that they were often either assigned advisors or were barred from having one.

In addition, the new rule requires colleges and universities to report their statement of policy regarding its prevention programs as well as the procedures the institution follows when a crime of sexual violence is reported. The rule also requires school to collect and release statistics on alleged crimes that were determined to be unfounded, and to include gender identity and national origin as categories of bias that can be used as the basis for a determination of a hate crime

"The Department has the responsibility to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe environment," said US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "These new rules require institutions to ensure that students and employees have vital information about crime on campus and the services and protections available to victims if a crime does occur, which will be significant assets in addressing the growing problems of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking on our nation's campuses."

The final rule will go into effect July 1, 2015. VAWA statutory provisions, including those in Campus SAVE, are in effect now.

10/20/2014 - Jay Leno Receives Mark Twain Prize, Salutes Mavis and Her Work for Women's Rights

Former long-time host of "The Tonight Show" Jay Leno saluted his wife, Mavis, for her work on behalf of women's rights around the world when he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor this weekend at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The Mark Twain prize is awarded for comedic achievement, and the event, where Leno performed a monologue and paid tribute to the many comedians he has worked with throughout his career, brought together supporters of the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as well as leading comedians and performers. The "Tonight Show" team that worked with Jay for over 20 years, including Tonight Show producer Debbie Vickers, were in attendance. The Lenos were also saluted at a pre-event brunch at the home of Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, attended both the brunch and the event at The Kennedy Center. "Who says feminists don't have a sense of humor? The one thing I have learned from my years of knowing Jay Leno is that he not only loves a good joke, but he has a deep commitment to helping others," Smeal said of Leno's accolade. "He deserves not only the Mark Twain Prize, but recognition for his longstanding support of women's rights and human rights."

The Lenos are both ardent supporters of the Feminist Majority Foundation's work, and Jay called Mavis, who is on the Foundation's board of directors and has chaired the Campaign for Afghan Women and Girls since 1997, his "conscience." Long before most Americans even knew where Afghanistan was, the Lenos held events protesting gender apartheid in Afghanistan and galvanized celebrities and national leaders to speak out and organize against the US and UN recognition of the Taliban. Under Mavis's leadership, the Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign For Afghan Women And Girls was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Mavis continues to chair this campaign and bring awareness to the continuing need for international support for Afghan women and girls as well as the need to eliminate violence against women and girls worldwide.

For the past nine years, Mavis and Jay Leno have also hosted the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards, which this year was pulled from its traditional venue, The Beverly Hills Hotel, in protest of the Sultan of Brunei's new Taliban-like penal code which calls for the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians as well as the public flogging of women who have had abortions. The Lenos not only immediately pulled the event, but also publicly led a rally across the street from the hotel before the event. Their actions sparked a worldwide protest.

10/20/2014 - North Carolina Board of Elections Eliminates On-Campus Voting Sites Across the State

North Carolina will begin state-wide early voting on Thursday, and unlike the 2012 presidential election, many students across the state will have no polling place on-campus, making it more difficult for students to exercise their right to vote.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections recently eliminated the only on-campus voting location for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a campus with more than 20,000 students. Students at UNC-Charlotte will now have to travel over a mile, across a dense highway, in order to vote, effectively restricting access for any student without a car.

Jennifer Byrd, who is conducting get out the vote efforts for the Feminist Majority on the Charlotte campus, called the decision unacceptable. "It's really posing a problem to these young students to get their voices heard," she told Feminist Newswire. Byrd has announced plans to organize shuttles to take students to off-campus voting sites on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4.

The elimination of on-campus polling places is not unique to UNC-Charlotte. Rulings by the State Board of Elections have also affected Appalachia State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Winston-Salem State University. All four campuses have turned out in large numbers for past elections, and have historically favored Democratic candidates.

Robert Iffergan, also with the Feminist Majority, feels the elimination of the on-campus polls will have negative effects on the election. "By eliminating on-campus voting," he said, "we're eliminating diversity in the vote."

Voting rights advocates have criticized the closing of on-campus voting sites as politically motivated. "When it seems like a county board would rather open a polling site on the moon than on campus to serve students and faculty, you have to wonder about the motivations," said Allison Riggs, a voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Her sentiments were echoed by Bob Phillips, state director of voting rights group Common Cause. "It makes one think there are other reasons for this that have to do more with politics than, again, the goal of making voting easy and accessible for everybody," he said.

Click here for more information about voting in your state.

10/20/2014 - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Slams Supreme Court for Upholding Voter Suppression in Texas

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a blistering dissent after a ruling by the US Supreme Court this weekend threatened to disqualify more than half a million Texas voters from early voting.

In an unsigned order Saturday, a majority of the Supreme Court sided with a Texas law requiring voters to produce specific forms of photo identification in order to cast a ballot in the 2014 election. Now, an estimated 600,000 voters - predominantly black and Latino - could be turned away at the polls. Justice Ginsburg was joined in dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who argued that they would have left a lower federal district court ruling in place.

Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos issued a 143-page order that ultimately struck down the state's request to require one of seven forms of approved photo ID. The controversial list includes concealed handgun permits, yet excludes student identification cards, a form of ID that other states seeking similar last-minute changes to their voting laws have approved. Judge Ramos said the law was "an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote" and has an "impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."

Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, immediately appealed the district court decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit then stayed Judge Ramos's order, allowing the voter ID law to be enforced during the 2014 elections.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg echoed Judge Ramos' concern that the the new law amounts to a poll tax - the likes of which was encouraged by Texans in the late 19th century and codified into Texas state law in the early 1900s. "The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters," Ginsburg wrote.

Ginsburg said the Texas law went further than recent restrictions on voting rights in other states, and was further distinguished by the extensive record supporting the argument that the law blatantly disenfranchises voters. Unlike Ohio and North Carolina - where the Supreme Court recently upheld problem voting laws - the Texas law went to trial, with arguments concluding in late September. Justice Ginsburg said the body of proof produced during the trial in Texas strengthened the lower court's call for an injunction. "The fact-intensive nature of this case does not justify the Court of Appeals' stay order; to the contrary, the Fifth Circuit's refusal to home in on the facts found by the district court is precisely why this Court should vacate the stay," Ginsburg wrote.

Justice Ginsburg also detailed Texas' duplicity in calling for such sweeping change, when the state "knew full well that the court would issue its ruling only weeks away from the election." Ginsburg also criticized the state for failing to familiarize Texas voters and poll workers regarding the new voter ID requirements, citing the lower court's argument of "'woefully lacking' and 'grossly' underfunded" public education campaigns. Ginsburg wrote, "In short, any voter confusion or lack of public confidence in Texas' electoral processes is in this case largely attributable to the State itself."

Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Political Participation Group, argued against the Texas voter ID law at the trial. "During the trial we heard from Texas voters who could not satisfy this strict law's requirements," she said. "One voter testified that she would need to choose between paying for a birth certificate so she could vote, or buying groceries for her family. This is not a choice that anyone should ever have to make."

Early voting in Texas began Monday.

10/17/2014 - Boko Haram Claims Kidnapped Chibok Girls Will Be Released Monday

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria's military are reportedly negotiating the release of the nearly 300 young women and girls who were abducted by Boko Haram more than six months ago, ostensibly bringing an end to six months of activist efforts calling for their return.

An adviser to President Jonathan, Hassan Tukur, told Voice of America that President Jonathan and the self-described "secretary-general of Boko Haram," Danladi Ahmadu, have been in talks in Saudi Arabia regarding the over 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group in April. The President of Chad, Idriss Deby, and high-ranking Cameroonian officials have also been party to the dialogue.

Although videos released by Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau indicated that they intended to sell the girls into slavery and hold them until members of the group were released from prison, Ahmadu said the girls are "in good condition and unharmed." A spokesperson for Boko Haram claimed the girls will be released Monday in Chad.

Initial reports of the girls' disappearance were met with inaction by the Nigerian government, which sparked acts of resistance in Nigeria and eventually spurred the viral - and global - #BringBackOurGirls campaign. In the United States, activists staged protests and rallies calling for government support to help locate the missing girls. Ultimately, President Obama announced that he had dispatched a team of military and law enforcement agents to the region, but although the Nigerian army announced in May that they had located the girls, they remained missing months later, over 100 days after their abduction. As activist and media attention waned, advocates and the families of the abducted were frustrated and angered by the failure to rescue the girls.

"As far as our girls are concerned, they have been abandoned," Mkeki Mutah, uncle to two missing teens, told Al Jazeera prior to the news of the neogitations. "There is a saying: 'Actions speak louder than words.' Leaders from around the world came out and said they would assist to bring the girls back, but now we hear nothing. The question I wish to raise is: 'why?'"

Even so, optimists have pointed to Boko Haram's release of 27 hostages last weekend as evidence the tide could turn in favor of parents and loved ones who have come to fear the worst. Last Saturday, the wife of Cameroon's Vice-Prime Minister, Akaoua Babiana, and 10 Chinese workers were among those released. That group was taken captive during two separate raids in May and July. How or why the group was set free is unknown, but to date, of the 276 captured over 180 days ago, far fewer have been so fortunate.

Of the young women and girls abducted in April, 57 successfully fled. Late last month, a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram in early April from her dormitory was found roaming a small village. The 20-year-old was pregnant and "in a state of extreme trauma." 15 young Chibok women who managed to rescue themselves from Boko Haram were granted scholarships to continue their studies made possible, in part, by Nobel Prize winner and champion of girls' education, Malala Yousafzai. This summer, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also announced government-sponsored scholarships to support the young women's return to school by improving infrastructure, telecommunications, and community engagement to decrease the risk of comparable attacks and create a model for school safety in conflict zones.

The freed are encouraging thousands of other girls - who'd stopped attending school for fear of Boko Haram - to bravely resume their studies.