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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fraternities in particular have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly."The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary that premiered this year, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. 79�percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. 79 percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In January President Obama announced his intention to move in such a direction, promising to sign a memorandum, "directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child," and to grant up to seven paid sick days to federal workers. The President encouraged state and local governments to do the same.

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

Paid parental and sick leave has a direct impact on working women and families. Often times for single parents or families with two working parents, having a sick child means taking unpaid time off or the risk of getting fired for staying home with the child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10/2015 - NYC Police Officers Win Big in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Pregnant police officers in New York City will now face one less barrier to career advancement after a new policy announcement by the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The change was made in response to a case brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by Legal Momentum on behalf of NYC Officer Akema Thompson who was denied the opportunity to take a promotional examination. The Civil Service test is required for consideration of promotion to Sergeant. Officer Thompson was scheduled to take the exam to be considered for promotion, and when she found out that it was scheduled on the same day as her delivery due date, she requested to re-schedule the exam.

Although exceptions are made for many other reasons such as religious observances, work-related injury, court appearances, or funerals, Thompson, who has been working for the NYPD since 2010, was told by city officials that her request for a makeup test was "not approvable," because pregnancy or childbirth were excluded. Three days before the exam, as Thompson went into labor, she was told that she could not reschedule the exam, but would be allowed extra time and a cushion to sit on.

Thompson, with the help of Legal Momentum, filed a complaint with the EEOC, and the DCAS settle the case paying Thompson $50,000 and allowing her to take a makeup exam in January. The city also agreed to change its policy to allow for rescheduling exams due to pregnancy and giving birth.

"In 2015, there is no excuse for denying pregnant women reasonable accommodations to enable them to work on an equal basis with everyone else," said Carol Robles-Roman, President and CEO of Legal Momentum.

Pregnancy discrimination complaints have dramatically increased over the past decade. In 2014 alone the EEOC received around 3,400 complaints with settlement fees reaching up to $14 million.

Media Resources: Legal Momentum Press Release 8/3/15; NY Times 8/9/15; NYC PBA Press Release 8/3/15; Feminist Majority Blog 10/31/13; EEOC Data FY2011-FY2014;

8/7/2015 - Sandra Bland's Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Sandra Bland's mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday claiming that Bland should never have been arrested and blaming Texas officials for her death.

Bland is the 28-year-old African American woman who died in police custody last month. Authorities initially ruled it a suicide, but after pressure from the Bland family and the public, which spread news of the death using the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland, the Waller County, Texas District Attorney announced that the death will be investigated as a homicide. The FBI also joined the Texas Rangers in conducting the investigation.

The wrongful-death lawsuit names state trooper Brian Encinia, the Texas trooper who arrested Bland, as well as the two guards at Waller County Jail. According to the lawsuit, guards at the jail did not check on Bland frequently enough, and failed to act when Bland refused meals. Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Encina of using excessive force during the arrest, which "caused Sandra Bland to suffer injury and death."

"We are looking for Waller County and for individuals involved in this situation to take accountability," said Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for Bland's family, at a news conference in Houston. "This family is frustrated."

"What happened to Sandra Bland is outrageous," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, after the release of dashboard camera footage from Bland's arrest. "She should never have been ordered to leave her car in the first place and never have been arrested. This was a minor traffic violation that the officer escalated because he was challenged by a Black woman who knew her rights. How many more Black and Latino people have to die before we make fundamental change in police recruitment and training, and overhaul a justice system that is permitting police brutality with impunity?"

In the footage that was released, Encinia is heard telling Bland, who had been stopped for a traffic violation, to get out of her vehicle. Tensions seem to escalate when Bland questioned Encinia's authority to order her out of her car. The officer then opened the car door himself and threatened to drag her out. Bland can be heard telling the officer, "Don't touch me. I'm not under arrest."

Soon thereafter, Encinia pointed a taser at Bland and yelled, "I will light you up!"

After Bland exits the car, she is and heard telling the officer, "you slammed my head into the ground, do you even care about that? I can't even hear." Encinia tells her that she is resisting arrest. Bland asked the officer multiple times to tell her why she was being arrested.

8/6/2015 - Federal Judge Extends Restraining Order Against Anti-Abortion Extremists

A federal judge in California has extended a temporary restraining order against an anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as well as Biomax Procurement Services LLC, CMP leader David Daleiden, and Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue and CMP board member.

The restraining order, issued at the request of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) prohibits these groups and individuals from releasing any videos, documents, or other confidential information obtained from NAF Annual Meetings, including the dates and locations of future meetings.

District Judge William H. Orrick III issued his opinion extending the order on Monday. In his ruling, Judge Orrick wrote:

Critically, the parties do not disagree about NAF's central allegations: defendants assumed false identities, created a fake company, and lied to NAF in order to obtain access to NAF's annual meetings and gain private information about its members.The evidence presented by NAF, including that defendants' recent dissemination of videos of and conversations with NAF affiliates has led to harassment and death threats for the individuals in those videos, is sufficient to show irreparable injury for the purposes of the temporary restraining order.

The restraining order, which was originally issued last Friday, will now be in effect until a hearing scheduled for the end of the month.

"We are grateful to Judge Orrick for extending the temporary restraining order," said President and CEO of NAF Saporta. "Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our members and taking these criminals to task for their illegal activities."

CMP has not filed one tax return as a non-profit, according to the Nation, and its leadership consists of well-known anti-abortion activists. Troy Newman's group, for example, has been engaging in a campaign of terror, harassment, and intimidation against abortion providers, patients, and clinic staff for years, including in Wichita, Kansas where Dr. George Tiller was murdered by extremist Scott Roeder.

8/6/2015 - Federal Court Blocks Strict Texas Voter ID Law

In a victory for Texas voters the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling blocking a restrictive Texas voter ID law as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

In October 2014, US District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos issued a 143-page order striking down the Texas voter ID law, which was the strictest in the country and required voters to present one of only six state-approved photo IDs before being able to vote. The controversial list included concealed handgun permits, but not student identification cards. The court found that approximately 608,470 registered voters did not have the kind of photo ID required under the law, and that the law disproportionately discriminated against minority voters. According to Judge Ramos, 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 [in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.]"

Despite Ramos' ruling, the Fifth Circuit allowed the discriminatory law to stand for the November 2014 elections while Texas sought an appeal. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court, confusing and disenfranchising many Texas voters.

The 5th Circuit court decision yesterday invalidating the law was praised by Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe, saying that "this decision acknowledges the problems Texas African American and Latino voters have experienced as cited by their leaders since the law was first implemented, that it blatantly discriminates against minority voters." Bledsoe also called for the Attorney General not to seek an appeal with the Supreme Court. "There is no need to prolong discriminatory practices that are truly hurting Texans of color," he said.

Since the 2010 elections, 21 states have implemented new laws making it more difficult to vote, and 15 more will have new rules in place for the upcoming presidential election in 2016. Multiple states are facing major lawsuits challenging restrictions on voting. A North Carolina trial determining the validity of several strict voting laws just wrapped up.

8/5/2015 - Netflix Employees Now Have Access to One Year of Paid Maternity or Paternity Leave

Netflix announced yesterday that it will now be offering all employees a year of paid maternity or paternity leave.

The online movie and television show streaming platform says that all employees will continue to receive their regular pay for up to a year after the birth or adoption of a child. This progressive policy also includes that parents can return to work then take additional time off as needed. "Each employee gets to figure out what's best for them and their family, and then works with their managers for coverage during their absences," Tawni Cranz, Chief Talent Officer for Netflix, said in a statement.

Netflix joins others in the industry leading the way for more fair and progressive employee policies. Earlier this year, Facebook Incorporated announced that the company will be requiring improved benefits from its contractors, including higher pay and paid leave. Facebook also offers four months of paid leave for all employees with a new child, $4,000 to employees with a new child, and subsidizes day care programs and fertilization or surrogate parenting programs. Twitter offers up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave to employees, and 10 weeks of paid paternity leave.

Paid family leave is a big concern for working women and families, and last year Thomas Perez, the US Secretary of Labor, called paid family leave one of the most critical issues facing working families. And in January, President Obama announced his intention to sign a Presidential Memorandum that would greatly improve paid sick leave and child care leave for parents with a new child.

Extending greater maternal benefits has been shown to improve the rate at which parents return to work after having a child. In 2007, Google extended its paid maternity leave to 18 weeks and found that the rate at which mothers with a new child left Google permanently was cut almost in half.

8/5/2015 - This Year's Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice is Centered Around Its Intersection with Economic Justice

This week is the 6th annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, hosted by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. This year's theme of "Fighting for Economic and Reproductive Justice" lies at the intersection of economics and the Latina community.

Latinas in the United States often face a multitude of discrimination in the workplace, including pregnancy discrimination, low wages, and workplace abuse, especially for immigrant Latinas. Latina women's pay falls far behind the national average for women in the United States; while the average US woman is paid 78 cents for every man's dollar, Latinas in the US are paid an average of 56 cents for every white man's dollar. This statistic varies greatly on a state-to-state basis, and in states like California, Texas, and New Jersey that statistic drops to 44 cents to the dollar. Currently, the median wage for a Latina worker in the US is just over $30,000 annually.

"Across the country, Latinas, our families, and our communities are deeply engaged in the struggle for reproductive justice," said the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in a statement. "We're working for health equity including access to affordable reproductive healthcare, bodily autonomy, and the ability to make our own decisions about pregnancy, parenting, and abortion. We're also struggling to support our families, against tremendous barriers."

The National Latina Institute's goals include access to affordable contraception, Medicaid expansion, fair wages, pay equality, and affordable childcare. As part of the week of action, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) hosted a demonstration for higher wages for Latinas in Colorado yesterday, and tomorrow the Institute is hosting a social media campaign and Twitter chat using the hashtag #WOA15.

The week of action reinforces how economic justice and reproductive justice are linked. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently explained recently, "poor women don't have choice." Their lack of access to reproductive health services often furthers the cycle of poverty.

The Hyde Amendment bans using funding from Medicaid to pay for abortions disproportionately affects poor women's ability to access abortion care. Since the passage of the Hyde amendment in 1976, Congress has withheld coverage for abortion services from women insured through the Medicaid program. Approximately 1 in 6 women are enrolled in Medicaid are of reproductive age. Democratic women in Congress, supported by organizations such as All Above All and the Feminist Majority, introduced last month the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act. This Act would make insurance coverage for abortion available to all women, regardless of income, type of insurance, or zipcode.

8/4/2015 - Senate Democrats Protect Funding for Planned Parenthood

Yesterday, Senate Democrats blocked legislation introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) that would have stripped all federal funding from Planned Parenthood.

Senate Bill 1881 would have slashed $528 million in federal funds from Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides sexual and reproductive health care to millions of women and men each year. To advance, the bill required 60 votes in its favor. The final vote was 53-46.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) voted with Senate Republicans to defund, while a single Republican, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), opposed the bill. Senator Lindsay Graham did not vote. The bill was introduced after an anti-reproductive rights group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress released heavily-edited, misleading videos falsely suggesting that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donation.

"We won the battle, but the war isn't over," tweeted Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood. "Anti-abortion politicians vowed to do everything in their power to cut patients off from care."

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

79 percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. Ending Planned Parenthood's services would put women's lives at risk, especially low-income women who would not be able to afford care elsewhere.

8/3/2015 - Anti-Abortion Extremist Will Stand Trial for Threatening a Provider

A Kansas anti-abortion extremist will have to stand trial for threats made against a doctor planning to provide abortions, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

In a powerful decision for abortion providers being threatened by extremists, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2-1 ruling that a jury - not a judge - should determine whether or not a 2011 letter Angel Dillard sent to Dr. Mila Means constitutes a true threat actionable under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The ruling overturns a lower court's summary decision that Dillard's letter was constitutionally protected free speech.

"This decision sends a critical message to extremists across the country," said Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project director duVergne Gaines. "The law is clear: threatening abortion providers with stalking, car bombs and murder is not protected speech under the First Amendment. The decision strongly reinforces the integrity of FACE and its use to stop threats and other conduct designed to terrorize and intimidate providers and patients. We applaud the Department of Justice's commitment to prosecute extremists like Dillard and protect abortion providers across the country."

The Department of Justice brought a civil FACE lawsuit against Dillard after she sent a threatening letter to Dr. Means, a family practitioner who was in training to provide abortions in Wichita. "We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it," Dillard wrote. "You will be checking under your car everyday - because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it." At the time the letter was sent, abortion services had not been available in Wichita since May of 2009, when Dr. George Tiller was murdered by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder.

The Appeals court decision corrected the lower court's two key findings when granting summary judgment for Dillard, stating that it did not matter that the threats contained in Dillard's letter were conditional because many "true threats" are conditional and are not protected by the First Amendment. Secondly, the Appeals court stated it did not matter whether or not Dillard intended to carry out the threats contained in her letter; the letter could still be construed by a jury to intentionally threaten and intimidate Dr. Means out of providing safe legal abortions.

Critically, the appeals court also declared that "the context in this case includes Wichita's past history of violence against abortion providers, the culmination of this violence in Dr. Tiller's murder less than two years before Defendant mailed her letter, Defendant's publicized friendship with Dr. Tiller's killer [Scott Roeder], and her reported admiration of his convictions." Dillard had developed a relationship with Roeder while he was awaiting trial for the murder of Dr. Tiller, and visited him several times in jail. She even declared to the Associated Press in a 2009 interview that she admired Roeder for having "followed his convictions."

At the time she received the letter from Dillard, Dr. Means had been the target of a campaign coordinated by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue (OR) and its leader, Troy Newman, to try and stop her from providing abortions in Wichita. OR first exposed Means' name to its followers and to the press and then led efforts to end her plans to provide abortions, which included trespassing into her family practice office, organizing protests outside her office, following her employees home, publishing and circulating WANTED-style posters and emails targeting her, demonstrating at her rural home outside of Wichita, and terrorizing a potential landlord for her new clinic. Dr. Tiller was the target of a similar campaign led by Operation Rescue prior to his murder.

There is a longstanding history of violence against abortion providers by anti-abortion extremists and historically, these kinds of threats have often preceded serious crimes of violence, including murder. The Foundation's 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey shows that since 2010, the distribution of WANTED-style posters, pamphlets and online postings targeting doctors and clinic staff, and featuring provider's photographs, home addresses, and other personal information, has almost doubled from impacting 27% to 52% of clinics. Nearly 1 in 5 abortion providers in the U.S. are the targets of severe violence.

FMF's National Clinic Access Project is the largest of its kind in the U.S., leading efforts nationwide to keep women's health clinics open in the face of violence and intimidation and to bring anti-abortion terrorists to justice. Read more about the history of the NCAP project.

8/3/2015 - The Senate is Voting on Planned Parenthood Funding Today

A Senate bill to defund Planned Parenthood is expected to come to a vote today.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Joni Ernst (IA), Senate Bill 1881 would prohibit all Federal funding of Planned Parenthood or "any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, successors, or clinics." The Senate will need 60 votes to advance the bill, which is being proposed following the release of highly edited video footage by anti-abortion group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

The CMP's misleading videos claim that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue. Though this claim has been thoroughly proven as false, and the National Abortion Federation has since filed a lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress, Republicans in the Senate are still using these recent events as reason to push anti-abortion legislation.

Planned Parenthood serves almost five million women, men, and young people each year and provides basic health care like contraception, well-woman exams, cancer screenings, abortion care, and comprehensive sex and reproductive health education - and for many of their patients, the shuttering of their clinics means the end of affordable, accessible care.

"When you say, 'Let's defund Planned Parenthood'...what you are saying is that women, primarily in low-income communities, and many women of color, won't have access to a wide range of essential health services," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said on the floor Thursday, "because of an ideological desire to control what choices are made between a woman and her doctor."

Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and Planned Parenthood serves more clients of publicly funded family planning centers than any other provider in the country. The Feminist Majority has encouraged their supporters to not only vote no on the bill, but also work to increase funding for women's health care services, and signed on to a letter with the 95 civil and human rights and labor organizations urging every Senator to oppose all efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Although it is widely believed that the Senate does not have the votes to move this forward, it's just the beginning of what Senate Republicans are showing that they are willing to do in order to push forth an anti-choice agenda. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said that Republicans should do everything they can, including shutting down the government this fall, to take away funding from Planned Parenthood.