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8/28/2014 - New California Law Takes Military Sexual Assault Cases Out of the Chain of Command

Last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill that would take military sexual assault cases out of military purview and instead assign them to civilian prosecutors in the state. The law also now requires the California Military Department to report annually to the state government on sexual assault incidences and prevention plans.

Prior to the passage of SB 1422, all investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault cases was done within the military chain of command and by military lawyers. Under the new legislation, only cases in which a civilian prosecutor refuses to see a case would involve military personnel.

Last year, the Pentagon released a report that revealed epidemic levels of sexual assault in the military, as well as a culture of silence in which victims rarely came forward to report the crimes. Although 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military in 2012 alone, the report found that just 3,374 cases were reported. This year, the Pentagon identified a 50 percent increase in reported cases, but only 10 percent went to trial. Advocates have urged military sexual assault cases be prosecuted outside ofthe chain-of-command to reduce retaliation against victims and increase reporting.

Since 2013, there has been a growing effort to curb sexual assault in the military, led largely by women in the Senate. In March, the Senate blocked the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would have removed all military sexual assault cases from the chain-of-command on a national level. Later that month, the Senate passed legislation eliminating the "good soldier defense" for accused perpetrators.

Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military," California State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said in a statement. "While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California can lead by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system.

President Obama, who signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 to prevent military sexual assault and strengthen protections for survivors, called for a review of the military's progress to end the epidemic last December that should take place later this year.

8/28/2014 - Illinois Expands Medicaid Funding for Contraception in Wake of Hobby Lobby

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services has announced plans to expand Medicaid funding for contraception, effective October 1.

The Illinois Family Planning Action Plan would increase the amount of money set aside for health care organizations providing reproductive health care. It would double Medicaid reimbursement rates for vasectomies and IUDs (intrauterine devices). The plan also includes an accommodation for religiously-affiliated providers who may object to providing contraceptives. Under the proposal, patients not covered by their employer and receiving Medicaid will be referred to providers that offer contraceptive care.

Julie Hamos, the director of the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision had a direct impact on the new proposal. Hamos said the Supreme Court ruling was of "extreme concern" to Governor Pat Quinn. Of the 3 million Illinois residents enrolled in Medicaid, a third are women of childbearing age. Unplanned pregnancies are a major expense for that population, which, Hamos said, is expected to grow under the Affordable Care Act.

"Providers need to make family planning accessible," Hamos told attendees at the Illinois Contraceptive Equity Summit last week. Nearly 100 doctors, nurses, social workers and members of the women's health community attended the summit.

The public is welcome to comments on the new proposal until September 15th.

8/28/2014 - Senator Boxer Pushes for Sexual Assault Victim Advocates at California Universities

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) urged California universities to create independent sexual assault victim's advocates on their campuses in a letter sent out on Tuesday.

"As our students return to campus, they are counting on their universities to not only educate them, but also to protect them," Senator Boxer wrote in the letter to university presidents and leaders. "Yet, as you know too well, campus sexual assault has reached epidemic levels in our country, and I am writing to ask you to create an independent victim's advocate on your campuses."

Boxer is urging the schools to voluntarily implement the provisions of the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), which she introduced with Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) last month. If passed, the act will require federally-funded institutions of higher education to create an independent campus advocate who will work on prevention and response of campus sexual assault. Specifically, the advocate would conduct public information campaigns about sexual assault on campus as well as ensure survivors have access to medical care and forensic exams, crisis intervention and counseling, guidance on reporting assaults and information on their legal rights.

One in five women in the US will experience a rape or attempted rape at some point during her years in college, but many universities have mishandled sexual assault cases and are now facing federal investigations. In response, legislation has been introduced to hold universities accountable, and the White House convened a task force on campus sexual assault.

Take Action: Bring the Campaign to End Campus Sexual Violence to your campus!

8/28/2014 - New Report Urges US Military to Allow Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly

A recent report concluded that the US military has the resources it needs to allow transgender personnel to serve openly. Unfortunately, military policies don't allow them to do so.

The study, conducted by Palm Center, found that 15,000 transgender personnel currently serve in US armed forces, although standards dictate that they don't do so openly. Researchers found that it is feasible for the US military to form and implement a more inclusive policy for transgender personnel, therefore joining 18 countries around the world that allow transgender individuals to openly serve. The report also recommended that transition-related surgery be "regarded no differently from any other surgery."

"The decision to allow transgender personnel to serve in the military reflects the core values and principles that all military personnel should serve with honor and integrity," the survey concluded, "and the military should not needlessly separate personnel who are willing and able to serve."

US military policy currently classifies identifying as transgender as a psychological disorder, and standards require that anyone who has had transition-related surgery be rejected for service. The language the military currently has in its Standards of Medical Fitness excluding trans-identified folks was possibly based on an old version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that said transgender people experience a "gender identity disorder." However, the most recent DSM classifies this as "gender dysphoria" and suggests that the condition is not be pathological.

"This is a little different than 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Aaron Belkin, founder and director of the Palm Center, said. "With 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [a former US policy that banned openly LGBT personnel that also prohibited discrimination against closeted LGBT personnel], you could really just get rid of the ban, and it was fine. With transgender inclusion, you don't want to just get rid of the ban and do nothing. There are a few steps, but those steps aren't difficult.

8/27/2014 - Study Highlights Disparities in Well-Being for Girls in Southern States

A recent report by the Girl Scouts Research Institute shows that the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic are the best regions of the United States to raise girls, while the South - specifically Mississippi, Arkansas, and Georgia - is the worst.

The findings were based on 23 indicators of education, extracurricular activities, emotional health, physical health, safety and economic well-being. States that offer preschool education and have low high school dropout rates are consistently ranked higher in terms of best places to raise young girls, with New Hampshire at the top. The Girl Scout Research Institute conducted the survey in response to changing demographics within the Girl Scouts of the USA.

"Our aim is to inspire a national dialogue about the challenges girls are facing in communities throughout America," said Anna Maria Chavez, the CEO of the Girl Scouts. "Only once we know where girls are succeeding and where our society needs to do more to support them can we help girls reach their maximum potential."

The higher rate of low-income children in the southern and western US play a large part in their lower ratings. A 2013 report by the Southern Education Foundation found that a majority of public school students throughout the Southern and Western United States are low-income. Mark Mather, lead researcher of the report and a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, told Al Jazeera America that the difference between region rankings can also largely be attributed to the intersections between poverty and education. "[The report] tells the story of the importance of education for girls," Maher said.

"Girls are thriving in some areas, but there are portions of our population really left behind," Kamla Modi, senior researcher with the Girl Scout Research Institute and a co-author of the report, told AlJazeera. It's the first we've really seen how different the data is geographically. There are real issues girls are facing in the South.

8/27/2014 - White House Releases New Rules Governing Birth Control Mandate

Tthe White House released new health insurance rules Friday for nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby earlier this summer.

According to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog, the new rules seem to achieve two purposes: "to keep the mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within the new limits required by the Court's decision, and "to make sure that women who work for employers who object to the mandate for religious reasons would continue to have access to that coverage."

A fact sheet summarizing the new rules reiterated the health benefits of expanded preventive care, including contraceptive access. "The [Independent Institute of Medicine] recommended covering all FDA-approved contraceptive services for women with child-bearing capacity, as prescribed by a provider, because there are tremendous health benefits for women that come from using contraception."

The Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby held that closely-held corporations, like Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., could claim a religious exemption from the ACA mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and skip paying the cost of some forms of birth control believed to be in violation of the company's religious beliefs. The decision meant such businesses were eligible for the accommodation put in place by the White House for religious institutions, but immediately following Hobby Lobby, the accommodation form itself was challenged by Wheaton College.

Under the new rules, non-profit organizations must indicate their exemption status in writing to the Department of Health and Human Services. The for-profit rules issued by the White House do not set a standard definition of a "closely-held corporation." Instead the document says "the Departments are considering and seek comment on how to define a qualifying closely held for-profit entity."

8/27/2014 - California Legislature Votes to Restrict Sterilization of Prison Inmates

Both the California Senate and assembly unanimously passed a bill last week significantly restricting the sterilization of state prison inmates.

SB1135 bans the practice of sterilization with a few exceptions, including if the person's life is in danger or sterilization is medically necessary to treat a diagnosed condition. Jails and prisons will also be required to publish data about the procedures online, with the information broken down by race, age, and justification for the procedure.

The bill was introduced after an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) found around 150 women may have been illegally sterilized without state approval between 2006 and 2010. Many women had been intensely pressured by prison doctors, and some were sterilized without the proper approval and documentation from the state. California has a history of forced sterilizations, with tens of thousands of sterilizations taking place in the 20th century of people deemed "unfit" to have children, and legislators have made several attempts to restrict the practice. The current bill aims to fill some of the gaps left by previous legislation restricting it.

"It's clear that we need to do more to make sure that forced or coerced sterilizations never again occur in our jails and prisons," Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the author of the bill, said in a statement. "Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent violates our most basic rights."

The bill now awaits Governor Jerry Brown's signature. If he does not sign it within 12 days, it will go into effect by default.

8/26/2014 - More Investment in Women's Health Needed as Africa's Population Rises

Africa's population will reach four billion by 2100, according to a report released by UNICEF early this week. As the population grows, more investment in maternal health and family planning resources will be needed to ensure women's reproductive health.

The authors of the report, titled Generation 2030 Africa, predict 1.8 billion births will occur in Africa over the next 35 years. By 2050, children born in Africa will make up 40 percent of children under 18 worldwide, and the number of women of reproductive age will double in the next 35 years.

Although fertility rates have fallen in Africa, an average of 5.2 children are still born to each African woman, far outpacing the rates for other regions. This high rate may be partially attributed to lack of access to family planning resources. In Cameroon, close to two-thirds of women have an unmet need for contraception. They cite several reasons for not using contraception, including the lack of adequately trained health care providers, frequent unavailability of contraceptive supplies, and limited choice of methods. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Democratic Health Survey found that only 9.8 percent of Nigerian women use family planning, while 16.1 percent have an unmet need for family planning services. Additionally, Africa has a high child mortality rate, with one out of every 11 African child dying by age five.

"We want to see African leaders... make the correct and right investments in children that are needed to build a skilled, dynamic African labor force that's productive and can grow, and can add value to the economy," said lead author David Anthony in an interview with NPR.

At the recent 2014 US-Africa White House Leaders Summit, President Obama and other speakers also emphasized the need to address the status of women and girls across the African continent. In addition to public and private commitments of up to $33 billion for trade and investment, the United States called on leaders of the African continent to make a considerable investment in advancing the status of women and girls, which would potentially help reduce the maternal mortality and population growth rate.

8/26/2014 - 92 Million Dollar Project Will Improve Higher Education in Afghanistan

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a $92 million project to improve the higher education system in Afghanistan last week.

The University Support and Workforce Development Project (USWDP) represents a five-year plan between USAID and the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and Ministry of Economy to improve Afghanistan's educational programs according to international standards. The USWDP will encompass faculty and student training sessions, curriculum changes, management changes at MoHE, and efforts to improve access to higher education in the region.

This represents a milestone in improving the higher education system in Afghanistan, Minister of Higher Education Obaidullah Obaid said in the press release announcing the partnership.

Since the fall of the Taliban, women and girls in Afghanistan have seen unprecedented access to educational opportunities thanks to the work of activists in Afghanistan and abroad and the support of the US government. "Thirteen years back - during the dark era of the Taliban - it was merely a dream for Shora Qadiri and other girls to go to school," Feminist Majority Foundation Global Issues Associate Fatema Syed wrote on the FMF blog in May. "But now, after the collapse of the Taliban regime and with the help of the international community, Afghan girls are once again attending school, at the primary secondary, and university levels, and they are proving that if given opportunities, they can thrive."

USAID has already contributed $1.1 billion to the improvement of Afghanistan's education. In July, the agency announced "Promote," a five-year program seeking to educate, promote, and train women between 18 and 30 in the region. Previously, the agency launched a program aimed at increasing literacy for Afghan women and girls called Afghanistan Reads that established community libraries and opened up literacy classes for 840 women.

8/25/2014 - Advocates Seek to Block Louisiana TRAP Law in Federal Suit

Friday, the Center for Reproductive Rights joined a federal lawsuit challenging a Louisiana TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law set to take effect September 1.

The suit, filed on behalf of health care workers in Baton Rouge, seeks an injunction against Louisiana HB 388, which requires abortion providers in the state to obtain local hospital admitting privileges. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed HB 388 into law in June. In the written complaint, the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the law makes an impossible demand since hospitals will not be able to respond to providers about admitting privileges before the law takes effect.

"Although all of Clinic Plaintiff's physicians who do not have admitting privileges have applied for such privileges at a local hospital, there is not enough time for the hospitals to consider and decide the submitted applications before the Act takes effect," the complaint reads. "The process of applying for privileges and receiving a decision from a hospital on such an application can and generally does take months."

HB 388 will effectively close any clinics located in rural areas or other neighborhoods without a hospital located within 30 mile, and also instated a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions. The law was modeled after a similar law in Texas which has decimated clinic access across the state.

Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, reiterated widely shared frustration about the function of the law in a statement released Friday. "Leading national medical associations oppose admitting privileges requirements and federal courts nationwide have blocked them, recognizing them as the underhanded attempts to ban abortion that they really are," Northrup said. "Louisiana is the latest state to advance the unconstitutional objective of denying women safe, legal abortion care under the phony pretext of protecting their health."

Attorneys for Hope Medical Group for Women, Causeway Medical Clinic, and Bossier City Medical Suite are named as plaintiffs in the suit. If the law goes forward, the Center for Reproductive Rights said three of the five clinics in the state would be forced to stop providing abortion services or close altogether.

8/25/2014 - California Reverses Decision Allowing Catholic Colleges to Refuse to Cover Abortion

Two Catholic universities in California will no longer be allowed to exclude abortion coverage from their health insurance plans, according to a decision from the state;s Department of Managed Health Care.

The state of California had previously decided to allow the insurance companies for Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara universities to deny abortion coverage, except in cases where it was needed to save a woman's life or health. On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown's Department of Managed Health Care reversed the decision, citing a 1975 state law requiring group health plans to cover all basic services, and sent letters to the insurance companies to inform them of the change.

"Abortion is a basic health care service," said the department's director, Michelle Rouillard, in the letter. "The California Constitution prohibits health plans from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally."

The universities employ around 1,000 people each. Faculty groups at both universities protested the exclusion of abortion coverage.

Other religious colleges have tried to cut abortion and contraceptive coverage as well by challenging the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs without charging co-pays, deductibles, or co-insurance. In July, a majority of the US Supreme Court granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, ruling that the school does not have to comply with the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit.

8/25/2014 - Advocates for Youth, Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Generation Launch

WASHINGTON, DC -- Advocates for Youth (Advocates), Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), and Planned Parenthood Generation (PPGen), a project of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, are joining forces for an exciting new national civil engagement campaign - the 2014 Youth ShowOUT!

In 2014, young voters will do more than just turn out - they will ShowOUT! Youth leaders are educating their peers, registering voters, participating in voter pledge drives, volunteering, and more. Young people are at the helm of lasting change in our country. They are taking charge and becoming part of the political process.

"The Feminist Majority Foundation is proud to join Youth ShowOUT," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Young women have much at stake in this election - access to abortion, birth control and comprehensive health insurance, pay equity, ending violence against women, comprehensive immigration reform, and equal rights. Our organizers on college campuses throughout the country will help to ensure that student votes are not suppressed and that young women and people of color, who have been traditionally targeted for suppression, are heard at the ballot box."

"No person in our country should face barriers in accessing health care, exercising their right to vote, marrying the person they love, or pursuing other fundamental rights," said Kelley Robinson, Assistant Director of Youth Organizing, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Planned Parenthood Generation is a movement of young people across identities and issues that advocates for their generation to change the world. We must work together and strive to develop strong leaders with the spirit and determination to move our country forward and show that we are a nation committed to fighting for and preserving equality for all."

"Young people are an essential component of the rising electorate. Every day, nearly 12,000 young people turn 18 years old and become eligible to vote," said Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth. "At Advocates for Youth, we know firsthand the power of young people is undeniable. There are tens of thousands of youth activists and leaders who are actively reshaping their communities and changing what politics looks like in this country. We have a responsibility to work alongside these young people as they lead us to new solutions and lasting change."

More information is available at


Taylor Kuether,, 703-522-2214

8/25/2014 - Moral Mondays Movement Expands to Other States for the Moral Week of Action

The Moral Mondays movement, which consists of weekly protests in North Carolina against the state legislature's far-right policies, has announced a Moral Week of Action from August 22 to 28 that will take place in 11 additional states. Now, faith, labor, and social justice activists in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin will be holding protests of their own.

Moral Mondays protests have been taking place in Raleigh for almost 70 consecutive weeks. At the helm of the movement is Reverend William Barber, who preaches in advocacy of progressive ideas and has called for "a moral fusion movement" to push back against policies that harm vulnerable or otherwise underprivileged communities, often in the name of religion. The Moral Mondays movements protest issues ranging from union-busting to infringement on reproductive rights to cuts in social spending.

During the Moral Week of Action, protests will take place every day outside the North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh. Each day, those protest center on a different issue. Today was "Youth Moral Monday," and on August 26, the activists will focus on women's rights to commemorate Women's Equality Day. On Thursday, August 28, voting rights will take the stage to coincide with the 51st anniversary of the March on Washington. Other participating states are holding daily rallies, and some are also hosting larger one-day events throughout the week.

Events are available via livestream. HKonJ People's Assembly Coalition has more information about the Moral Week of Action and the events around the country.

8/22/2014 - Ohio TRAP Law Forces Cincinnati Clinic to Shut Down

The Greater Cincinnati, Ohio area will lose one of its abortion providers today when the Lebanon Road Surgery Center closes its doors. The clinic closure is another loss for Ohio women whose access to comprehensive reproductive care has been limited by a 2013 TRAP law.

The Lebanon Road Surgery Center in Sharonville, Ohio once provided 2,000 abortions a year. When it is forced to shut down today, it will leave just two clinics in southwest Ohio and a total of nine clinics in the entire state.

Last year, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) signed into law new state rules prohibiting publicly funded hospitals from having patient transfer agreements with abortion clinics, while at the same time upholding an existing Ohio law that requires clinics to have patient transfer agreements. The Lebanon Road Surgery Center had operated through a variance to the rule, but its variance was denied in 2012 and the state ordered the clinic's closure. The Sharonville center had until this week to file an appeal. Dorothea Langsam, an attorney and spokesperson for the clinic, said the cost of litigation became too much.

The two remaining clinics in southwest Ohio are also in jeopardy. Both clinics applied to the Ohio Department of Health more than a year ago for the same variance that was denied Lebanon Road. The clinics are still awaiting a decision.

Under Kasich's Administration, there have been four clinic closures, more than any other governor in the last 14 years, according to the Dayton Daily News. Kasich has also cut $2 million in family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and redirected those funds to misleading crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

"Gov. (John) Kasich ran and won by promising jobs," Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said. "Once he got elected, he didn't talk about jobs. He talked about controlling a woman's uterus."

8/22/2014 - Supreme Court Blocks Marriage Equality in Virginia

The US Supreme Court granted a request Wednesday to stay a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturning Virginia's marriage equality ban. The appeals court decision - finding the ban unconstitutional - would have allowed same-sex couples to start getting married this week in Virginia.

"Loving couples and families should not have to endure yet another standstill before their commitment to one another is recognized here in Virginia," said James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia.

The Supreme Court's decision means that Virginia is also not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed out-of-state.

Lambda Legal, which filed one of the lawsuits that led to the Fourth Circuit decision, vowed to "do everything in our power to make sure this issue is decided as quickly as possible" by the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued a similar stay on same-sex marriages in Utah last January.

Same-sex couples currently have the right to marry in 19 states and in Washington, D.C., and there are lawsuits on the matter pending in all remaining states. Virginia's attorney general, Mark R. Herring, refuses to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban and is pushing to have the Supreme Court review the case.

In a news conference in Richmond, Virginia, when the Fourth Circuit decision was announced, Herring said, Sometimes battles have been fought in the legislature, sometimes in the courtroom, sometimes even in the streets, but inevitably no effort to restrict the rights or limit the opportunities of our fellow Americans has ever succeeded in the long term.

The Fourth Circuit includes North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.

8/21/2014 - Flexible Work Requests Produce Fatherhood Bonus and Motherhood Penalty

According to a recent study, men who request flexible work schedules are advantaged over women who make the same requests.

In the study by Dr. Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University in South Carolina, a sample of 646 people between the ages of 18 and 65 living in the United States were asked to read a transcript of a fabricated conversation between an employee and human resources person. During the conversation, the employee either requested flexible work hours or to work from home a few days per week or did not make a request. Participants were then asked how likely they would be to grant the request and to evaluate the employees on their likeability, commitment, dependability, and dedication.

What Dr. Munsch found was a "fatherhood bonus" for men who requested flexible work schedules in order to fulfill child care obligations.

About 70 percent of the participants who read a transcript with a male employee said they would be "likely" or "very likely" to approve his request when it was for child care reasons, compared to only 56.7 percent of those who read the same transcript with a female employee. About 24 percent found the man to be "extremely likeable" compared to only three percent who found the woman "extremely likeable." Interestingly, only 2.7 percent found the man to be "not at all" or "not very committed," while 15.5 percent found the woman to be "not at all" or "not very committed."

"These results demonstrate how cultural notions of parenting influence perceptions of people who request flexible work," explained Dr. Munsch. "Today, we think of women's responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men's primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare or to other household tasks."

Whereas men are rewarded at work for trying to help out at home, women continue to be penalized. The reason? Entrenched gender stereotypes. People continue to believe that men will meet their obligations at work - because they are men. In other words, according to Dr. Munsch, "We think, What a great guy."

"For a mother, we think there's no way she can work at home effectively. This goes back to our expectation that motherhood is intensive and that being a mother should be a woman's number one priority, Munsch told the Washington Post. So if she's working flexibly at home, we expect that she'll be putting puzzles together with her kids or taking them to the park. We think, How could she possibly get her work done? But with a man, we think he'll just plop his kids in front of the TV and get the job done.

Dr. Munsch's study suggests that flexible work schedules - on their own - are not enough to counter gender inequality in the workplace. Without oversight into how these policies are implemented, they may serve to promote gender inequity.

8/21/2014 - Reproductive Justice Activists Testify Before UN About Health Care Discrimination

A joint study by three major women's health advocacy groups calls attention to the overwhelming disparity in health outcomes for women of color in the United States. The results of the study are now under the consideration of the United Nations.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) released the report last week during the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination's (CERD Committee) review of the United States in Geneva, Switzerland. The study found that African-American women are four times as likely to die in childbirth as their white counterparts. The data reflect that the problem is particularly astute in the US south. Citing the World Health Organization, the groups said the maternal mortality in the United States actually increased in the period between 1990 and 2013, doubling the mortality rate in Saudi Arabia, and tripling the United Kingdom.

Women without US citizenship were also three times less likely to have private or public health insurance, resulting in minimal to no access to comprehensive reproductive health care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) preserved a 1996 restriction requiring non-citizens to wait five years before enrolling in Medicaid, with many still barred after obtaining lawful status. The study reported that even private exchanges are off-limits to undocumented persons under the ACA. The organizations detailed how racial discrimination at the level of policy and implementation undermine women of color and migrant women's fundamental human right to health.

The groups applauded the passage of the ACA and the domestic movement to expand Medicaid as steps in the right direction, but noted the strong political resistance even to these policy efforts.

"For too long, these women, their families, and their communities have been shut out of this country's health care system," said Angela Hooton, the state policy and advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "A woman's race or immigration status should never determine whether she will survive childbirth or access critical cancer treatments," Hooton continued. "The United Nations must hold the US government accountable for these grave injustices."

The UN CERD Committee is an independent body of experts that monitors participating countries' implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 2008, the committee "expressed concern about persistent disparities in sexual and reproductive health" and called on the US to "increase efforts to expand health insurance coverage, facilitate access to maternal health care and family planning, and improve sexuality education and information."

8/21/2014 - Ugandan President Signs Law Making HIV Transmission Illegal

A bill that criminalizes HIV transmission has been signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Provisions of the law include possible imprisonment of HIV-positive individuals, a ten-year prison sentence and fine for the "intentional transmission of HIV," a five-year prison sentence for "attempted transmission of HIV," and compulsory testing in some situations. The law also allows courts to order the release a person's HIV status without that person's consent. The signing comes not long after the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down the country's Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that many believed would steer LGBT people away from getting necessary health services.

The new law was denounced earlier this year by the United States - the biggest funder of Ugandan HIV/AIDS programs. After the Ugandan Parliament voted in favor of the legislation, but before Museveni signed the bill into law, US Global AIDS coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx called on Uganda to reject criminalization of HIV transmission.

Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed time and again how stigma, discrimination, and fear - and the misguided policies that stem from them - further fuel the epidemic by deterring those most in need from accessing lifesaving HIV prevention, treatment, and care services," said Dr. Birx. "I join with the many health practitioners, HIV/AIDS and human rights activists, multilateral institutions, and individuals everywhere - in Uganda and around the world - in calling for the people and the Government of Uganda to reject this regressive bill.

The stigma against those with HIV/AIDS is not limited to Uganda. HIV transmission is criminalized in many US states, too, where there have been 200 prosecutions against people on charges related to HIV transmission. And too often, HIV transmission is not fully understood. This ignorance was apparent in Texas, for example, where a man with HIV was sentenced to 35 years for spitting at a police officer - even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."

The Center for HIV Law and Policy says, "Many people with HIV internalize and accept this judgment and the perception of those with HIV as toxic, highly infectious, or dangerous to be around. This has serious adverse ramifications for those individuals, as well as on the broader effort to combat HIV."

8/20/2014 - In Liberia, The Ebola Outbreak is Also a Maternal Health Issue

The current outbreak of Ebola has killed more than 1200 people in West Africa, with Liberia having the largest increase in deaths according to the latest reportable data. Although the death toll from the virus itself is astounding, many people - including pregnant mothers - are also dying as hospitals and clinics shut their doors.

Liberia was already a country with one of the highest rates of maternal death worldwide, but the Ebola outbreak has intensified the maternal health crisis. According to reports, some health care practitioners are turning away patients for fear of spreading the virus or contracting it themselves. The interruption of health care delivery can be especially dangerous for pregnant women. One clinic in the capital of Monrovia used to see 10 to 15 births per week; now, it only sees one or two per week - and some�pregnant women leave the clinic before they even give birth because of fear of contracting Ebola from others.

That's why some of the clinics are closed - fear, fear, fear," Lucy Barh, the president of Liberia Midwifery Association, told Buzzfeed. "There's no protective equipment, and the lives of those health care workers are threatened.

The Ebola outbreak in Liberia is the largest outbreak of the virus to date. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 400 people have died of Ebola in Liberia alone - including dozens of health care workers. WHO has called the outbreak an "international health emergency," but Doctors Without Borders says the international effort to help control the spread of Ebola is "dangerously inadequate."

"The World Health Organization, the international community in general, and nongovernmental organisations must rapidly scale-up their response and send in more teams," Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement. "It is urgent that management and coordination are improved, but also that strategies are implemented to reach all affected areas and to help improve general access to healthcare in areas where the system has collapsed."

8/20/2014 - United Nations and US Attorney General Defend Rights of Demonstrators in Ferguson

The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri caught the attention of the world this week, with UN officials and US Attorney General Eric Holder speaking out in defense of demonstrators there. The statements come as local prosecutors begin presenting evidence to a grand jury on whether criminal charges should be filed in the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

A spokesman for the United Nations told reporters on Monday that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was calling on the United States to protect the rights of demonstrators in Ferguson. "The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected," said spokesman Stephane Dujarric. "He calls on all to exercise restraint, for law enforcement officials to abide by US and international standards in dealing with demonstrators."

The conflict between law enforcement and protesters also did not go unnoticed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. "I condemn the excessive force by the police and call for the right of protest to be respected," she said in Geneva on Tuesday.

Holder, who is traveling to Ferguson today to be briefed on the DOJ civil rights investigation into the case, stressed in an op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the DOJ "will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told." Holder also reiterated the commitment of the DOJ to learning "exactly what happened."

"This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson," he wrote. "Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent." The DOJ has sent approximately 40 FBI agents to Ferguson and has assigned a number of prosecutors to lead the investigation, with the assistance of the United States Attorney in St. Louis.

In his address to the public on Monday, President Barack Obama also indicated that experts from the DOJ Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services would travel to Ferguson to work with law enforcement in an attempt to reduce tensions between the community and police. When asked if he'd considered making his own trip to Ferguson, the President acknowledged there were historically legitimate reasons at the root of the unrest, but shared his concern about "prejudging" the investigation. "The DOJ works for me. And when they're conducting an investigation, I've got to make sure that I don't look like I'm putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other."

8/20/2014 - Statement of Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal on Ferguson, Missouri

The following is a statement by our Founder and President, Eleanor Smeal, on the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Feminist Majority Foundation calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct a thorough, unbiased investigation into the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.

The killing of Michael Brown and the blundered, militarized response by law enforcement to the call for justice is a tragic reminder that in many African American communities across the nation, the police themselves can be a threat.

Given the distrust of the police by the local African American community, the close ties between the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and the police, and the fact that McCulloch has had no less than 5 close relatives who have worked on the local police force, the Feminist Majority Foundation calls on Governor Jay Nixon to reconsider his decision on appointing a special prosecutor to handle the criminal investigation.

Over the past 10 days, the African American community in Ferguson has demanded answers. They've demanded justice. There is still no arrest. One man is dead and his shooter free. People want to know why. But until recently, the protesters in Ferguson, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, have been met with tear gas, armored vehicles, rubber and wooden bullets, and rifles.

Ferguson, Missouri at night has looked like a battlefield with militarized police and national guard troops, and guns pointed at protesters. It is not surprising that this show of excessive force has failed to build trust in law enforcement and has failed to de-escalate tensions in the community. In this environment, the Governor must appoint someone independent to perform the investigation into this tragic shooting.

The Feminist Majority Foundation also supports the call from African American civil rights leaders, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, for implementation of a long-term, comprehensive police reform agenda that includes, among other things, the demilitarization of state and local law enforcement and the promotion of community policing. We also demand that the police incident report be released.

Police should reflect the communities that they serve. Increasing the number of African Americans in policing will go a long way in improving police response in communities of color. The sheer numbers tell the story in Ferguson. Although, African Americans represent 67.4 percent of the population in Ferguson, Missouri, they made up 92.7 percent of arrests in 2013 alone.

Research conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Center for Women and Policing also shows that increasing the number of women in policing reduces police brutality and the excessive use of force.

Make no mistake. Ferguson is not an isolated case. It represents a horrific pattern of discriminatory policing and excessive use of force against African Americans in this country. As feminists, as advocates for racial justice and non-violence, we cannot rest until all people - no matter who they are - can enjoy the right to life, liberty, and justice.

8/19/2014 - Afghanistan Celebrates 95th Anniversary of Independence

Afghanistan celebrates 95 years of independence today.

President Hamid Karzai, along with the two presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, attended a special ceremony at the Ministry of Defense to commemorate the recognition of Afghanistan as an independent nation by the British Empire. US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in honor of the celebrationon behalf of President Obama and the United States reiterating our continued partnership with Afghanistan as well as US support for a democratic transition of presidential power.

"With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters' aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country," wrote Secretary Kerry. "We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government."

Noting the contributions of ordinary Afghan men and women to the peace and continued redevelopment of the country, Kerry pledged an ongoing relationship between the US and Afghanistan. "As Afghans stand up, we will stand with you," said Kerry, "and the American people look forward to many more years of friendship and partnership with the inspiring people of Afghanistan."

Final election results for the Afghan presidential race have not yet been released. The first-round of elections took place in April. Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election was held between the top two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Following disputes about the election process, Secretary Kerry visited Afghanistan to meet with both candidates and current president Karzai. The negotiations produced an agreement to audit all of the runoff election votes before determining the winner of the presidential race and to create a national unity government to share political power.

Both Abdullah and Ghani have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which specifies that the US will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The candidates also signed a petition for women's rights, which calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.

8/19/2014 - Trayvon Martin's Mom Sends Words of Encouragement and Strength to Michael Brown Family

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, shared her hurt over the killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown and offered words of encouragement in a heartbreaking letter to the Brown family published by Time magazine.

"I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents," Sybrina Fulton wrote. "I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don't. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day, but I can't. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won't."

Fulton continued, however, that neither the death of Michael nor Trayvon would be in vain. "The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies," she wrote. "While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light."

Last week, Fulton joined Ron Davis, the father of slain teen Jordan Davis, in Geneva, Switzerland, where the parents testified before the United Nations Committee responsible for the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Trayvon Martin was 17-years-old when he was gunned down by George Zimmerman. Jordan Davis was also 17-years-old when his life was taken by Michael Dunn at a Florida gas station. Both teens were unarmed. Zimmerman was acquitted. A mistrial was declared on Dunn's first-degree murder charge. Fulton and Davis testified about the role race-based privilege played in the sentencing of their sons' killers. The US government's CERD Review took place last Wednesday and Thursday, just as reports of media arrests in Ferguson were breaking news.

8/18/2014 - ACLU Sues After St. Louis County Police Deny Open Records Request in Ferguson

After a full week of standoffs between law enforcement and demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed two lawsuits against the local police department.

Thursday, the ACLU of Missouri sued St. Louis County and county police in order to obtain initial reports about the deadly shooting that took the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The County's police department rejected an earlier open records request for the documents on Wednesday. The second suit, filed Friday morning, sought to keep St. Louis County, the town of Ferguson, and Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle from barring media coverage. The ACLU filed the federal suit along with plaintiff Mustafa Hussein, a journalist with the Argus Media Group.

In a letter addressed to Ferguson Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson, the ACLU of Missouri took issue with the Department's "direct attack on protected expressive activity." The organization quoted excerpts of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCullen v. Coakley in addressing the St. Louis Police Department's suppression of media coverage in Ferguson. "We acknowledge that limiting protests to daylight hours and demanding a 'respectful manner' might make your job easier," a statement to the Chief of Police stated, "'[b]ut that is not enough to satisfy the First Amendment. ...[T]he prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency."

Friday, the ACLU of Missouri successfully reached an agreement over media coverage with the three parties in a Missouri U.S. District Court. The agreement holds that "media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgement" unless there is a justified threat of danger or physical interference.

Following two days under mandatory curfew, Governor Jay Nixon is calling on the Missouri National Guard to "help restore peace and order" according to a news release issued by the Governor's office this morning. "Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from the outside community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk," Gov. Nixon said in a brief statement. "I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning this criminal activity that included firing upon law enforcement officers, shooting a civilian, throwing Molotov cocktails, looting, and a coordinated attempt to block roads and overrun the Unified Command Center."

The Governor's Executive Order came just as the public learned the details of a preliminary autopsy conducted by former New York City medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden. This morning, Dr. Baden shared that the unarmed teenager was shot at least six times by Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. The U.S. Department of Justice announced it also intends to conduct an autopsy.

Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama to address the ongoing situation in Ferguson.

8/18/2014 - Low Income Transgender Residents in Oregon to Gain Access to Government Funded Care

Last week, Oregon state officials voted to ensure the state's low-income transgender residents have access to transition-related care.

The Oregon Health Evidence Review Commission (HERC) has not reviewed its treatment of transgender care since the late 1990s. The 13-member board reviewed the material and decided to add gender dysphoria - defined as a condition in which "people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with" - to the state's list of conditions that require government-funded treatments. As of 2015, low-income transgender residents of Oregon will have access to gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy if they want it.

Removing transgender exclusions in healthcare coverage saves lives and money," said Danielle Askini, Basic Rights Oregon's policy director. "All major health provider associations agree: It is time to end health coverage discrimination based on gender identity.

This change follows a ruling earlier this summer by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board that stated transgender people cannot be automatically denied coverage for transition-related health care. Oregon estimates the new rules will be utilized by about 175 people per year, and will cost the state less than $150,000 in that period. Individuals will need to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria in order to qualify for coverage.

According to The Oregonian, 935,000 people are currently enrolled in Oregon's Medicaid program. In 2013, some services for transgender people were added to the Oregon Health Plan, including therapy and medical visits.