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6/24/2014 - President Obama Highlights Women's Economic Agenda at White House Summit

President Obama addressed a packed audience Monday at the White House Summit on Working Families to support policies aimed at helping women workers and their families achieve greater economic stability.

Declaring that when women succeed, America succeeds, the President highlighted several items on the Women's Economic Agenda - an agenda promoted by major women's leadership organizations such as the National Women's Law Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority, and championed by the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), the ranking member of the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

"It was thrilling to see the White House focusing national attention on desperately needed public policies for employed women and men of paid family leave, paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, and accessible, affordable child care," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "Of course these policies disproportionately affect employed women who still provide the lion's share of care giving in our nation."

"We've been working to gain these programs for 40 years. It's long overdue," continued Smeal. "Women are half of our nation's paid workforce, and we can't pretend any longer that these programs are a luxury. Every day without action means that millions of women, their families, and their loved ones suffer needlessly."

President Obama specifically called on Congress to pass legislation providing paid family leave. "There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us," said the President. "And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome. It's time to change that, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for their families."

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Leave Act(FAMILY Act), introduced by Congresswoman DeLauro and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would permit employees to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year through the creation of a national insurance fund.

The President also focused on raising the federal minimum wage, the importance of fair labor practices for pregnant women "because too many are forced to choose between their health and their job," and on accessible child care. "Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth," he said, "now that's a pretty low bar." President Obama also announced at the Summit that he would sign a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to expand flexible workplace policies.

In his remarks, however, the President made clear that these policy changes were also personal. "I was raised by strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me. I saw what it was like for a single mom who was trying to go to school and work at the same time," said the President. "And most of all, I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies. And I want them to be able to have families. And I want them to be able to have careers. And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them. And I want a society that supports that."

The White House Summit on Working Families convened Monday to promote "creating a 21st century workplace" for all Americans. The Summit featured President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Executive Director of the White House Council of Women and Girls Tina Tchen, and US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, among others.


6/23/2014 - White House Holds Summit on Working Families

The White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress are hosting a Summit on Working Families today to discuss "creating a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans." The Summit will address ways to strengthen the economic security of working families through the creation of policies that promote, among other things, equal pay, paid leave, elder care, and affordable and accessible child care.

"At a time when women make up about half of America's workforce, outdated workplace policies that make it harder for mothers to work hold our entire economy back," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday about the Summit. "But these aren't just problems for women. Men also care about who's watching their kids. They're rearranging their schedules to make it to soccer games and school plays. Lots of sons help care for aging parents. And plenty of fathers would love to be home for their new baby's first weeks in the world."

Addressing the Summit, President Obama announced that he would sign a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to expand flexible workplace policies to the maximum extent possible. The Memorandum will clarify that federal workers may request a flexible work schedule and that agencies must establish procedures to address such requests.

This latest executive action follows several other actions the President has taken this year to improve policies for working families, including issuing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors, signing two executive actions on equal pay, banning discrimination against LGBT employees, and planning an expansion of sick leave for same-sex couples.

Ahead of the Summit, the White House released two reports on working families. "Nine Facts about American Families at Work" and "The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave" provide updated research on the modern American family and detail the widespread need for more leave, both paid and unpaid.

You can watch the Summit live at workingfamiliessummit.org and follow The Feminist Majority tweets on the event @femmajority.


6/23/2014 - Senate Subcommittee to Tackle Violence Against Women Globally

Engaging the US in the global fight to end gender-based violence will take center stage tomorrow as part of a Senate subcommittee hearing aimed at fully combating violence and discrimination against women worldwide.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Foreign RelationsSubcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues hearingwill preside over the hearing at which several women Senators will testify, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

The Senate Subcommittee hearing will focus on how the US and the international community can work to prevent violence against women, promote women's rights, and empower women and girls globally. Senator Boxer introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) in May as a step toward reducing violence against women worldwide. The international community has also used the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women's Treaty, as a tool to fight violence against women globally. Although 187 countries have ratified the treaty, the US has not, joining Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau in its failure to ratify CEDAW.

Gender-based violence is the most widespread human rights violation around the world. According to the World Health Organization at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime, although some national studies show prevalence rates as high as 70%. In conflict zones, women are more susceptible to rape, which has been systematically used as a weapon of war. Child marriage also continues to be a scourge. More than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides who suffer from sexual assault and life-threatening early pregnancy. One in nine girls in the developing world are married before age 15, and 90% of pregnancies to girls under age 18 occur within child marriage according to a recent UNFPA report.

Follow @FemMajority for live tweets during tomorrow's hearing, starting at 9:45am.You can also watch the webcast.


6/20/2014 - UK Religious Groups Unite to Condemn Female Genital Mutilation

Community and religious leaders in the United Kingdom came together this week to condemn the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The Church of England and the Muslim Women's Network UK were two of 160 groups who supported the announcement denouncing FGM as a form of violence against women and a denial of women's human rights not supported by religious doctrine. The groups will sign a joint declaration condemning FGM - currently a criminal offense in the UK - during the government's Girl Summit in July.

"No girl or woman should ever be forced to choose between her safety and her religious community and tradition and it is our sacred obligation to be just agents of change against this unjust practice," said Shahin Ashraf, Muslim Chaplain and National Network Coordinator for the Muslim Women's Network UK.

Sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision, FGM is the removal or cutting of part or all of a woman or girl's genitals. The practice, which is medically unnecessary, can lead to serious health issues such as infection, illness and death. FGM still affects up to 140 million women and girls worldwide, with an estimated 20,000 girls at risk in the UK.

The practice of FGM on girls under 18 was made a crime in the United States in 1996. The law was strengthened by President Obama in 2013 to make it a crime to transport a girl outside of the US for the purpose of subjecting her to FGM.


6/20/2014 - President Plans Expansion of Sick Leave For Same Sex Couples

The White House announced plans today to draft an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act that would ensure people in same sex couples can take unpaid leave to care for a sick spouse.

The new rules would apply even in states that don't recognize same-sex unions.

President Obama said he has instructed the Department of Labor to start writing rules for the new provision. According to the Wall Street Journal, the President will also push Congress to pass legislation qualifying same-sex couples for additional benefits that aren't extended to LGBT-identified employees and their spouses.

"We will work closely with Congress to ensure that veterans and elderly and disabled Americans can obtain for themselves or their spouses the essential benefits they have earned no matter where they live," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a memo.

The Department of Labor cites the Supreme Court's 2013 decision on same-sex marriage as the guiding influence on their proposed definition of a "spouse" under FMLA.

Earlier this week, the President announced he would issue an Executive Order calling for a ban on workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors.


6/20/2014 - Michigan Democrats Aim to Repeal Law Requiring Separate Insurance Coverage of Abortion

Two Michigan lawmakers introduced state legislation to repeal a Michigan law that forces women to buy additional health insurance coverage for abortion, even in cases of rape or when a women's health is endangered.

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, the Senate Minority Leader, and State Representative Sarah Roberts, both Democrats, introduced the legislation this week. In December, the Michigan legislature passed a bill prohibiting insurance companies in the state from offering abortion coverage in both public and private health plans, except when the woman’s life is at risk, and requires employers and individuals who want coverage to buy extra policies.

"This regressive law hurts women when they are most vulnerable and puts unreasonable barriers between them and the health care they need,” said Roberts. "Prohibiting insurance companies and employers from doing what’s best for the women they serve and care for is wrong and must be stopped immediately.”

Whitmer, who disclosed her own experience with sexual assault when fighting to garner opposition to the law, called it “one of the most misogynistic laws I’ve ever seen.” She explained, “It’s downright insulting to expect Michigan women to anticipate and financially plan for rape, incest or a miscarriage. This law should never have been enacted in the first place, and wouldn’t have if it had gone to the voters of Michigan, but the time to repeal it is now."

As intended, the law severely limits insurance coverage for comprehensive women's reproductive health care. Michigan has 42 health insurers, but only 7 offer the supplemental abortion insurance rider. The rider, however, is also only available to a subset of Michigan women: those who have employer-sponsored health plans. According to Whitmer and Roberts, women who buy insurance on their own have no access to abortion coverage.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R ) vetoed the abortion insurance ban 2012, but pro-choice opponents, led by Michigan Right to Life, circumvented the veto and collected enough petition signatures to send the measure back to the legislature, which approved the ban largely along party lines.


6/19/2014 - US Labor Secretary Speaks Out In Support of Paid Family Leave

US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in an interview Wednesday that paid family leave is one of the most critical issue facing working families today.

"So many people don't have the luxury of taking an hour away from the workplace to attend indispensable family commitments," Perez said on HuffPo Live Wednesday. "What we have to do right now, is again, bring our policies into the 21st century." The US Labor Secretary said he was allowed to skip a Cabinet meeting recently for a more important appointment: his daughter's graduation.

On Monday, the White House will convene its Summit on Working Families. The event will address equal pay, the federal minimum wage, paid leave, and a host of other challenges.

According to a United Nations survey of countries, the US is one of only four countries without paid family leave and one of only three that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-NY) Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act allows four weeks of paid leave after the birth or placement of a child; the FAMILY Act, introduced in December 2013 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would grant up to 12 weeks of paid family medical leave to millions of workers. Both pieces of legislation are stalled in Congress.


6/19/2014 - American Apparel CEO Dov Charney Fired Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Following sexual misconduct allegations, American Apparel's founder and Chief Operating Officer Dov Charney has been fired.

The company's executive board voted Wednesday to remove Charney from the position. John Luttrell, American Apparel's executive vice president and Chief Financial Officer will be taking over Charney's position during the interim, according to NPR.

The sexual misconduct allegations surfaced back in 2008, according to NPR. Former employee Irene Morales was forced to perform sexual acts on Charney at his apartment shortly after she turned 18, under the threat of otherwise losing her job, reported Reuters. In the 2011 story, Reuters reported that Morales' lawyer, Eric Baum, stated that Charney was abusing his power.

"Victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace often don't take action to protect themselves," Baum said. "This does not give Dov Charney the right to sexually assault and abuse his employees."

NPR also reported on the other sexual misconduct allegations - totaling four - Charney faced. One employee alleged Charney created a hostile work environment by using sexually explicit language and walking around in his underwear.


6/19/2014 - Activist Groups Allege Child Abuse by Border Agents

Immigration activist groups have filed a complaint against the US Customs and Border Protection agents, citing 116 allegations of child abuse at the US-Mexico border in Texas and Arizona.

The complaint includes the allegation that more than 80 percent of those child immigrants did not receive enough food and water, around half were not given medical care, and nearly one in four minors were abused physically. Unfortunately, the allegations don't end there. The activist groups, which include the National Immigrant Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, are also alleging unsanitary conditions and the sexual abuse of children and the complaints say all of this has been going on for years.

"After completing a perilous journey into the United States, many are subjected to various forms of abuse, harassment and other harms at the hands of the Border Patrol," part of the complaint reads. "Children consistently reported being held in unsanitary, overcrowded and freezing-cold cells."

Chris Cabrera, a leader within the National Border Patrol Council, estimates that more than 60,000 of these unaccompanied minors have crossed the Mexican border into the US just this year. Often these children are coming to escape poverty or violence in Mexico or Central America and are hoping to join a parent who is already in the country. Many unaccompanied minors end up turning themselves in to Border Patrol in hopes of being helped into the US. The allegations come just a few days after the Obama administration assigned a third US military base to these unaccompanied child immigrants for emergency housing.

"Given these longstanding problems, and in light of the rising number of unaccompanied children seeking relief from dangerous conditions in their home countries," the complaint reads, "the need for broad and lasting agency reforms is clear."


6/18/2014 - Senate Set to Approve Rape Kit Backlog Funds

The Senate today is expected to approve $41 million in funding to process hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country.

The measure is part of the $51.2 billion Justice Department budget for 2015.The House passed the budget in May leaving the funds in tact.The bill has been up for consideration in the Senate since June 12, with a final vote expected today.

"Outrageous that 10s of thousands untested sex assault kits sitting in crime labs or police lockers, "Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) tweetedon Tuesday. "Victims must know they're not forgotten."

Critics of the funding question how the Justice Department is spending the money they already have. According to the Washington Post, the DOJ's main source of rape kit analysis fundingcomes from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, a $1.5 billion federal program authorized by Congress in 2004 to "assess the extent of the backlog in DNA analysis of rape kit samples," but last summer, the Government Accountability Office found that a little more than half of those funds were appropriated from 2008 to 2012without any explicit description of how the money was spent. Last year, Congress required that 75 percent of Debbie Smith funding be devoted to DNA testing and rape kit auditing.

"Each box holds within it vital evidence that is crucial to the safety of women everywhere," Debbie Smith herself said to Congress in 2009 during a hearing on the rape kit backlog. "Can you imagine going through an exam like what goes on in one of those things for nothing? To know that you were just traumatized again, for it to sit on a shelf, it's not fair."

According to WXYZ in Detroit, authorities found 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit Police storage facility in 2009. Authorities were able to identify over 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists after the first 1,600 were examined. Nationally, officials estimate there may be 400,000 unprocessed sex assault kits. In 2011, the Feminist Majority Foundation andMs.magazine launched the "No More Excuses" campaign to reduce the rape kit backlog.


6/18/2014 - Young Americans Healthier Under Affordable Care Act

Young adults in the United States are now more likely to report they are in good physical and mental health following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a new report published in the Journal of the American Medial Association (JAMA).

Millions of young adults have gotten health insurance under the ACA, which includes a provision that allows individuals to remain covered under their parents' health insurance plans until they're 26. The study compared those 19 to 25, who now have the opportunity to be covered by their parents' plans, with those 26 - 34 who no longer qualify. The results showed young adults are now 7.2 percent more likely to have health insurance, 6.2 percent more likely to report "excellent physical health" and 4 percent more likely to say they are in "excellent mental health."

The health insurance that people are gaining seems to be doing what it is supposed to do, Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times.

This is not the first study to show the number of uninsured young adults in the US, and those who pay out-of-pocket for their insurance, declined greatly after the ACA's implementation in 2010. However, it is one of the first studies to examine how the ACA has broadly impacted Americans these last four years.

The provision extending coverage for young people is one of the most popular in the ACA. Often, even politicians who oppose the ACA are supportive of the extension provision.


6/18/2014 - New York Senate Passes Three Planks of Women's Equality Act, Defying Advocates for the Comprehensive Package

The New York state Senate passed three bills on Monday that are part of the omnibus Women's Equality Act introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in June of 2013. The chamber passed bills preventing discrimination based on family status, preventing housing discrimination against domestic violence victims, and demanding equal pay regardless of gender.

The Women's Equality Act, a 10-part legislative package, failed in the Senate last year when Republicans refused to support a plank that codifies Roe v. Wade and protects abortion providers from prosecution. In response, Senate Republicans introduced nine bills that directly mirrored the WEA - but failed to reproduce the abortion provision as a piece of legislation.

The three bills will now move to the Assembly, where members are divided on which strategy they will support for moving the package through the chamber. Although Assembly members are now requesting that the package be debated and passed as 10 separate bills, Assembly leaders and a coalition of women's groups in the state have refused to take them up individually and are demanding they be passed as a comprehensive package instead. The three bills add pressure to Assembly leadership and members to forgo the package in favor of passing individual planks from the WEA instead.

Other planks in the full package include extending protections against sexual harassment to all workplaces, allowing the recovery of attorney fees in harassment cases, ending employment discrimination based on whether a woman has children or is pregnant, and strengthening order of protection laws and human trafficking laws in the state. Advocates who remain committed to passing the omnibus bill insist that the issues represented in the planks intersect and therefore must be passed together rather than individually, especially because the latter strategy puts the abortion plank at risk of being ultimately forgone.

A poll in June 2013 found that two-thirds of voters in New York supported the package with the abortion plank included, with support divided evenly among men and women.


6/17/2014 - Obama to Issue Executive Order Banning Discrimination Against LGBT Employees

The Obama administration announced yesterday that the President will issue an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for any contractor or subcontractor who does at least $10,000 worth of business with the federal government within one year.


The executive order is expected to cover 28 million workers in total, including an estimated one in five LGBT employees nationally, and reach into the 29 states where no protections for LGBT workers currently exist.

The White House plans to host a meeting Thursday afternoon on the executive order. According to a White House official, the order "will build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the president�s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.�

Although 9 out of 10 voters believe that federal law already prohibits discrimination against LGBT employees, there is no federal law that addresses LGBT workers. In November, the Senate voted 64-32 to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation in the work place, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor.


6/17/2014 - Pakistan Metropolis Gets First Female Police Chief

Syeda Ghazala made history this week as the first woman to become chief of police in Pakistan's largest city.

In 2011, Pakistan was rated the third-most dangerous country for women. Karachi still ranks as one of the top 10 most violent cities in the world. Now, Ghazala manages a 100-unit police force, made up of only men, in Clifton, a Karachi suburb with a population of more than 18 million people.

"My husband opposed my decision to join the police force 20 years ago," Ghazala told the Associated Press. The 44-year-old mother earned the highest score during the training promotion, besting her male colleagues. She says of the new job, "It was a big challenge. I was a little bit hesitant to accept it."

The promotion is evidence of a larger shift in thinking about women in leadership across Pakistan. Senior leadership in Ghazala's unit want to see more women joining the force in non-traditional roles. "Our society accepts only stereotype roles for women," senior police officer Abdul Khaliq Sheik said. "There is a perception that women are suitable only for particular professions like teaching."

According to the Associated Press, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women do run police forces, but only in stations specifically designed to help female victims.


6/17/2014 - Anti-Choice Group May Challenge Law Prohibiting False Political Speech

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday that anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) could challenge an Ohio state law prohibiting "false statements" in political campaign speech.

The Ohio law makes it a crime to offer false statements during an election campaign. Under the law, any person who posts, publishes, or distributes "a false statement" about a political candidate, either "knowing" the statement to be false "or with reckless disregard" of whether the statement was true or not could be punished with up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000 for the first violation. Over a dozen states have laws criminalizing false political campaign speech.

SBA, joined by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), attempted to challenge the Ohio law in federal court but both the district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that the challenge could not go forward in the courts because neither group had suffered a concrete injury under the law. The Supreme Court's unanimous decision means that the case can now go forward.

SBA sought to challenge the law after the Ohio Elections Commission found probable cause that the group had made false statements about a political candidate during the 2010 election cycle. SBA issued a press release and planned to display a billboard stating that former Congressman Steve Driehaus, then running for office, had voted for "taxpayer-funded abortion" by voting for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Driehaus filed a complaint with the Commission but withdrew his complaint after he lost the November election. SBA then filed a complaint in federal court to challenge the Ohio statute on First Amendment grounds. COAST filed a separate suit, which was then consolidated with the SBA case, alleging that it wanted to publish similar materials but feared prosecution.

The Supreme Court, in allowing the case to go forward, found that neither SBA nor COAST had to wait until they were prosecuted under the law before challenging its constitutionality. It was sufficient that both groups intended to continue making statements about abortion and the ACA in future election cycles and that these statements would open them up to proceedings by the Elections Commission and possible criminal prosecution.

The Supreme Court made no finding yesterday on whether the Ohio law is constitutional or whether SBA's statements on "taxpayer-funded abortion" were in fact false. The decision only means that the case against the Ohio law can be litigated in court. This is not the first time, however, that anti-choice activists have attempted to obfuscate the ACA and abortion.


6/16/2014 - High Turnout in Afghanistan's Presidential Runoff Election

Over seven million Afghans, or 58 percent of the population, successfully voted in the runoff presidential election on Saturday, despite several attacks from the Taliban at polling centers.

"The participation of men and women across the country demonstrates, once again, the commitment of the Afghan people to shape the future of their country and to reject violence and intimidation," Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote in the April election, a runoff was held between the top two contenders - Abdullah Abdullah, who won 44.9 percent of the vote in the first election, and Ashraf Ghani Amadzai, who came in second with 31.5 percent.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) will announce preliminary results for the runoff election on July 2 and expect the final results to be announced on July 22. Whoever wins the majority of the vote will replace current president Hamid Karzai, marking the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.

Both Abdullah and Amadzai have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which provides that the U.S. 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, announced in a press conference held Thursday. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.


6/16/2014 - Florida Governor Signs Bill Restricting Abortion Access

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that redefines the state's current third trimester abortion ban, creating further restrictions for women seeking later abortions.

Current state law does not allow abortions after 24 weeks except if the pregnant person's life or health is threatened. HB 1047 will limit the existing exceptions by removing mental health conditions as a reason to allow a late abortion.

In addition, the law bans abortion at any point in the pregnancy once a fetus is deemed viable unless two doctors certify in writing that it is necessary to protect the health and life of the woman. If two doctors are not available, one must certify in writing that a second was unable to consult on the matter.

"Sadly, this is really about advancing an agenda of political interference with women's decision-making," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in a statement. "Despite continued attempts to legislate women's health, this is not what we want. Personal medical decisions, like the decision to end a pregnancy, should be kept between a woman and her doctor."

The law will go into effect July 1.


6/13/2014 - Women of Afghanistan Push Equality on the Eve of Runoff Presidential Election

Afghan women's groups Thursday held a press conference announcing that both of the presidential front-runners had signed a six-point petition for women's rights. The news comes on the eve of the nation's runoff elections for the presidency, which are being held tomorrow. Initiated by 117 women-led organizations, the petition calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.

A runoff election for the presidency will take place tomorrow in Afghanistan after the first election on April 5 failed to earn any candidate running over 50% of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Minister and World Bank economist, will compete.

Afghanistan's April elections were a tremendous success. Over 7 million Afghans came out to vote in the elections across the nation despite inclement weather, and at least one-third were women. Turnout was so high that the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC) extended voting hours at voting centers to accommodate crowds. The electoral commission has added 3,500 more polling sites for the runoff election.

For the women of Afghanistan, the elections represent an opportunity for their burgeoning women's rights movement to elect a leader who supports their equality.

"Despite desperate efforts of anti-government elements to thwart the 2014 electoral process," former Minister of Women's Affairs Massouda Jalal wrote on the FMF blog in May, "the will of the Afghan people prevailed. We made it. We were able to show the world that our security forces are robust enough to protect our infant democracy and our people remain worthy of international support."


6/12/2014 - Trade Association Files Suit Against Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

A lawsuit filed today challenges Seattle's new $15 minimum wage, set to go into effect over the next several years.

The International Franchise Association (IFA), a DC-based trade association representing corporations like McDonald's, Taco Bell, Dunkin' Donuts, and Dairy Queen, filed the lawsuit alongside five franchise owners who operate their businesses in Seattle. The suit, which names the City of Seattle and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services as defendants, claims the city's new minimum wage law unfairly targets franchises [PDF] by categorizing them as "large businesses."

Seattle's City Council approved an ordinance on June 2 that will gradually raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour; Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance into law the next day. The law gives large businesses, defined as any company with more than 500 employees, over three years to implement the changes. Smaller businesses are given an extra four years to phase in the increase. Because franchises are part of national company networks employing, typically, over 500 people, local franchises of larger corporations must adhere to the three-year schedule.

The IFA lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect, claiming it violates both the Equal Protection Clause and Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

Seattle Mayor Murray explained in a press conference that franchisees should be treated differently from small, independent local businesses because franchisees receive advertising, marketing, training, and brand identity from their parent companies. He added that the city had done thorough research on compliance with various laws, and felt confident against any challenges, saying, "I think we're on pretty solid ground here."

The IFA estimates there are 600 franchises in Seattle employing 19,000 workers.


6/12/2014 - Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to ACA Birth Control Benefit

In a unanimous decision, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) birth control coverage benefit does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) or the First Amendment, upholding two lower courts' denial of a preliminary injunction against the law to a group of Catholic-affiliated non-profit entities.

The ACA 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. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. In that case, if the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.

The non-profit groups in the case argued that the process to obtain the exemption or the accommodation unduly interfered with their religious beliefs and burdened their exercise of religion, violating both RFRA and the First Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments, finding that the ACA did not substantially burden the religious exercise of any group eligible for either the exemption or the accommodation. The court noted that the law was specifically crafted so that these groups would not be required to "provide" contraceptives to anyone, to "pay for" contraceptive coverage, or to "facilitate" access to contraceptives.

Together with the National Women's Law Center, the Feminist Majority Foundation and 20 other national, regional, and local groups submitted an amicus brief to the Sixth Circuit in support of the ACA birth control benefit. Nationwide, over 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the benefit. The Supreme Court is expected to decide this month whether for-profit companies should be exempted from the contraceptive coverage requirement.

A majority of Americans support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives, and at least 14% of women using the pill are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers. Birth control is basic health care for women.


6/11/2014 - Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict Convenes This Week

Representatives from over 140 nations are attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London this week. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress and United Nations special envoy Angelina Jolie are co-chairing the event, the largest ever of its kind.

The summit aims to "shatter the culture of impunity" for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict, take practical steps to reduce the dangers women face during conflicts, increase support for survivors, and debunk the myth that rape in war is inevitable.

"It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians . . . done to torture and humiliate people and often to very young children," Jolie said. "We need to see real commitment and go after the worst perpetrators, to fund proper protection for vulnerable people, and to step in to help the worst-affected countries."

The summit, with up to 1,200 government ministers, activists, and other leaders attending, will feature meetings and discussions, film screenings, theater and art displays. Several of the events are open to the public, and you can watch by livestream.

Hague and Jolie launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) in 2012, which included a United Nations Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that has been endorsed by 141 countries so far. Hague and Jolie began to work together after Hague saw a film Jolie directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey, about how rape was used as a weapon of war in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict in the 1990s.

Rape is frequently used as a military tactic to "humiliate and demoralize individuals, to tear apart families, and to devastate a href="http://stoprapenow.org/uploads/aboutdownloads/1282162584.pdf">communities." Soldiers often see rape as a spoil of war, and the lawlessness of countries in conflict means perpetrators usually face no punishment, and survivors rarely receive justice or the medical or other recovery services they need. Past conflicts in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Bosnia and Herzegovina included the rape of thousands of women and girls. Currently, an average of 40 women are raped per day in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


6/9/2014 - South Carolina Legislators Fail to Pass Anti-Choice Measures

South Carolina lawmakers concluded their legislative session Friday without passing two bills that would have restricted access to abortion across the state.

A bill criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks and another that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital were both being considered by South Carolina's legislators until they adjourned for the summer. Some lawmakers were also attempting to define life as beginning at conception. None of the bills moved through the body, which women's groups locally are hailing as a victory.

"Today is a victory for the men and women across South Carolina who have stood up to say 'enough is enough,'" said VP of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Melissa Reed in a statement. "And most importantly, it is a victory for the thousands of women who would have been hurt by these cruel and misguided policies."

The failure to pass the bills comes after a recent poll found that a majority of South Carolina voters in key districts did not think abortion restrictions should be a priority for the state's lawmakers. In addition, Planned Parenthood reported that over 2,000 residents called and emailed their legislators to urge them not to pass restrictions and over 24 medical professionals, researchers, advocates, and voters testified against the bills.

"The bills had little to do with women's health," Jennifer Dalven, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told ThinkProgress. "They were 100 percent about inserting politics where they don't belong."

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. A law requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers in Oklahoma may force two of their three remaining clinics to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.

Many state legislatures have also considered 20-week abortion bans, despite concerns that these bans violate Roe v. Wade by unconstitutionally banning abortion before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a 20-week ban into law this April; however, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a 20-week ban this year because of legal and privacy concerns. At the federal level, Senate Republicans have been pushing unsuccessfully for a vote on a 20-week abortion ban. The US House passed a companion 20-week ban last June.


6/9/2014 - Anti-Choice Group Asks SCOTUS to Review New York City's CPC Regulations

The American Center for Law and Justice asked the US Supreme Court Friday to review a federal appeals court decision reinstating parts of New York City's landmark set of regulations for Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), or "fake clinics."

Earlier this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the portion of the New York City law, passed in 2011, that requires CPCs operating in New York City to disclose whether or not a licensed medical professional works on-site at the facility. This so-called "status disclosure" must be posted in both English and Spanish at the entrance to the facility and in the waiting room and must also be communicated orally during meetings and in telephone conversations with potential clients.

The petition filed by the American Center for Law and Justice asks the US Supreme Court to review the Second Circuit's decision to reinstate the status disclosure requirement as well as the court's finding that the law's definition of a CPC is not unconstitutionally vague.

The New York City law immediately became a target after it passed in 2011. At the request of several CPCs, a lower court temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, and although the Second Circuit reinstated its "status disclosure" provision, it did not restore the requirement that CPCs disclose whether their provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortion, or prenatal care. The appeals court also ruled that the City could not require CPCs to disclose that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider.

A Congressional investigation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers found that 87 percent provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion, and many use misinformation to deter their clients from using contraception or pursuing abortion. CPCs target women of color and poor women in particular, including college students. CPCs are common across the nation, and outnumber comprehensive women's health clinics. Most are affiliated with anti-choice or religious organizations.


6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws

WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.

"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."

Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.

"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.

FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.


6/9/2014 - Women's Rights Groups Demand that US Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws

WASHINGTON - A coalition of women's rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States - or to suspend TPP talks - until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.

"Women's rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity."

Twelve women's rights organizations - including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women's Online Media and Education Network, and the US National Committee for UN Women - delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei's new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.

"The US must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the US continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP," continued Smeal. "There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei's new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such "crimes" as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.

FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel - part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan - to protest the law.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 9, 2014
Contact: Megan Perry
(703) 522-2214
mperry@feminist.org