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The Nebraska Supreme Court refused on Friday to grant a 16-year-old foster child's request to get an abortion without parental consent.
A 2011 Nebraska law requires minors under 18 to obtain notarized parental consent in order to obtain an abortion. Minors may receive a judicial waiver of this requirement under three circumstances: if there is a medical emergency, if the minor is a victim of abuse or neglect, or if a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence that the minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion. The 2011 law replaced the state's parental notification law, which did not require notarized consent.
The girl, who is not identified in court papers, was 10 weeks pregnant when she sought a judicial waiver of the parental consent requirement. She needed a waiver because, as a ward of the state, she did not have legal parents who could give consent for her to obtain an abortion. Nebraska had earlier terminated the parental rights of her physically abusive biological parents, and although the girl and her two siblings live in a foster home, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services remains her legal guardian.
After advising the girl that "when you have the abortion, it's going to kill the child inside you," lower court judge Peter Bataillon denied her request for a waiver. Bataillon, who according to RH Reality Check, had been an attorney for extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, found that the girl was not mature and informed enough to make the decision to have an abortion. He also found that the girl should have sought consent from her foster parents, even though the girl's foster parents are not her legal guardian and the state regulations governing the Department of Health and Human Services gives minors in its custody the right to consent to abortion, without seeking permission from the Department.
During her judicial bypass hearing, the girl testified that she could not financially support a child or "be the right mom that [she] would like to be right now." She also stated that she feared that she would lose her foster placement if her foster parents, who are anti-abortion, knew of her pregnancy, and that she felt that carrying her pregnancy to term and placing the child up for adoption "would be worse for her and her family because her foster parents would have resentment toward her," according to court papers.
The state Supreme Court denied the girl's appeal, meaning that the government would force a 16-year old girl to carry a pregnancy to term. Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the ruling was "concerning" because it eliminated "a safe and legal option for a woman in a dire circumstance."
Attorneys for Wisconsin woman Alicia Beltran filed a petition in federal court this week seeking her immediate release from state custody. The suit challenges the constitutionality of a 1997 state law that gives Wisconsin courts jurisdiction over any pregnant woman who "habitually lacks self-control" in using alcohol or drugs "to a severe degree" such that the physical health of her "unborn child" will be "seriously affected or endangered."
Beltran was arrested after she sought early prenatal care and told health care workers about her prior use of painkillers and her attempts to stop use on her own. Instead of receiving support, she was arrested in July 2013, when she was only 15 weeks pregnant. Beltran was brought to court in shackles for her initial hearing, and without a right to counsel, she had no attorney for her initial hearing--even though an attorney had been appointed to represent her fetus. Without hearing any testimony from a medical expert, the court ordered Beltran to be detained at an inpatient drug treatment program two hours from her home.
The petition argues that there have been numerous violations of constitutional rights, including the right to physical liberty, the right to due process notice, and privacy in medical decision-making, among several others. This is the first constitutional challenge to such a law. Statements from medical experts supporting the petition say the arrest and detention of Beltran actually increases risk to the pregnancy and has no medical justification.
Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and co-counsel for the case, said, "This kind of dangerous, authoritarian state-action, is exactly what happens when laws give police officers and other state actors the authority to treat fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are already completely separate from the pregnant woman."
Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin have similar laws allowing the detention of pregnant women alleged to have used alcohol or drugs.
10/4/2013 - Wendy Davis Announces Run For Texas Governor
Wendy Davis announced yesterday that she will run for Texas governor in the November 2014 elections. Second-term Senator Davis (D-Fort Worth) became an overnight icon in June, with the help of social media, when she successfully filibustered a restrictive anti-abortion bill that bans abortion at 20 weeks and places unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion, among other things. The bill later passed, but it is being challenged by women's health centers and reproductive rights organizations across Texas.
The current Texas Governor, Republican Rick Perry, will not run for reelection, so Davis' most likely opponent will be Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He is heavily supported by conservatives and has already amassed a large amount of campaign funds. His anti-abortion policies mean he and Davis may go head-to-head over abortion rights in the race. In a recent poll conducted for the Texas Lyceum, Abbott leads Davis 29 percent to 21 percent, but half of the voters polled said they didn't know who they would support.
In Davis' announcement, she emphasized improving education, creating jobs, and building a better, more equal Texas. On her Twitter account yesterday, Davis wrote, "Texas deserves a leader who understands that making education a priority creates good jobs for Texans and keeps Texas on top" with the hashtag #TeamWendy.
The US Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to consider the scope of a federal law that bans people who have been convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.
In 2001, James Castleman pled guilty in Tennessee state court to misdemeanor domestic assault against the mother of his child and was sentenced to supervised probation for 11 months and 29 days. Then, in 2008, law enforcement agents found that Castleman and his wife were purchasing firearms from gun dealers and selling them on the black market. Castleman was subsequently charged in federal court with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" and with making false statements to a federally licensed firearm dealer.
Castleman moved to dismiss the federal charges, arguing that his domestic assault conviction was not a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" as defined in the federal law because his state court conviction did not establish that Castleman had used physical force against the victim. A lower court and court of appeals agreed and threw out the indictment. The United States petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
The Supreme Court will now decide when the federal law banning gun ownership will apply to individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes. The Obama administration argues that if the Court upholds the lower court decisions, it will invalidate the federal domestic violence gun prohibition. The administration also argues that any assault that results in bodily injury includes some degree of physical force.
Oral arguments in United States v. Castleman have not yet been scheduled.
Last week over a dozen women's health care providers in Texas filed a joint lawsuit to immediately block two provisions of a law that would reduce women's access to safe and legal abortion.
Texas House Bill 2 gained national spotlight after Texas state Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) held a marathon filibuster to defeat the bill. It passed after Governor Rick Perry called a second special session after the filibuster and signed it in July, despite opposition by 80 percent of Texas voters and medical experts across the country. Planned Parenthood v. Abbott aims to block the portions of the bill with the most immediate impact before they take effect at the end of October: restrictions on the use of medication abortion, and a requirement that physicians who provide abortion must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital--even though abortion is an extremely safe procedure, and other medical providers do not face the same requirements.
These restrictions would make "essential reproductive health care services for many Texans, especially poor and rural women, practically impossible to access," said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas firm George Brothers Kincaid & Horton filed the suit on behalf of the health care providers.
Northup added, "Today's lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health, and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda."
10/2/2013 - NYC Council Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The New York City Council unanimously passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act last week. The bill extends current protections against employer discrimination to pregnant workers and expands the city's Human Rights Law to include pregnant workers.
Employers will now be required to provide reasonable accommodations for a worker's needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Those accommodations can include rest breaks, a period of recovery from childbirth, and help with manual labor. Employers must also give pregnant workers written information about their rights.
These protections for pregnant women are vitally important. Almost two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, and 90 percent of those women continue to work into their last two months of pregnancy, reports ThinkProgress. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to be affected by this kind of discrimination, because they are more likely to hold low-paying jobs with limited flexibility.
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) reports, "When women face a physical conflict between work and childbearing, they will often lose their job, and their families will lose income at the very moment their financial needs increase." For example, one pregnant woman who was a Wal-Mart sales associate started experiencing urinary and bladder infections, so she started to carry a water bottle at work under her doctor's advice to stay hydrated. She was fired because of a Wal-Mart rule that only cashiers could have water bottles. She challenged her termination in court and lost.
According to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fifth of discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are related to pregnancy. Last year alone, over 3,700 were filed. Under the new bill, if employers fail to follow the new bill's requirements, employees can bring actions in civil court or bring a complaint to the city's Human Rights Commission. Employers could be fined up to $250,000, face jail time, or be required to change their practices, provide compensation, or re-hire employees, among other remedies.
Currently only a handful of states provide protections for pregnant workers. A federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was reintroduced in Congress last May.
Dr. Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), has been named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in South and Central Asia for 2013 by Central and South Asia Business.
As chairperson of the AIHRC, Dr. Samar oversees the progress of human rights education programs across Afghanistan, the implementation of a nationwide women's rights education program, and the monitoring and investigation of human rights abuses. She is also the United Nation's Special Rapporteur on human rights for Sudan.
Previously, Dr. Samar was the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan. She has long been a strong supporter of Afghan women's rights, working shoulder to shoulder with Afghan women leaders to bring positive change to the lives of Afghan women and girls. In 1989, Dr. Samar founded The Shuhada Organization, providing healthcare services and education to Afghan women and girls. The Shuhada Organization continues to operate in Afghanistan and has expanded its reach.
Dr. Samar is well-respected in the international community and has been nominated and awarded numerous honors throughout her influential career, including being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and winning Feminist Majority's Award for Global Women's Rights in 2007.
Other Top 10 awardees include philanthropists, government leaders, and activists like Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old educational activist who survived an attack by the Taliban.
10/2/2013 - Hundreds March at Statehouse to Protest Anti-Woman Legislation; Tell Governor, State Leaders We Won't Go Back
COLUMBUS - Angered by a string of attacks on women's health care - including legislative efforts to require doctors to give false information to women patients - hundreds of people marched on the state capital Wednesday and vowed to defeat anti-woman legislation and the politicians who support them.
"Gov. (John) Kasich ran and won by promising jobs but Ohio is third from the bottom in creating jobs," said Eleanor Smeal, who heads the Feminist Majority. "Once he got elected, he didn't talk about jobs. He talked about controlling a woman's uterus."
Other speakers echoed her comments and promised to continue fighting for the rights of women to have access to quality care and for doctors - not politicians - to decide what is best for patients.
"Women are not fooled by the hide-and-sneak tactics of John Kasich and his pals who want to push us back to the 1950s," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "Make no mistake, the politicians who keep waging this outrageous war on women will pay a price at the polls next year."
Smeal and O'Neill were among 10 speakers who addressed the 90-minute rally and urged attendees to make their opposition to the anti-woman legislation known, stand up for the rights of doctors and patients and consider changing Ohio's political climate by running for office.
Stephanie Kight, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said the laws put in place by Ohio politicians "hurt our most vulnerable women - like the gag order on rape crisis counselors. Our politicians have passed laws that are medically unnecessary and that are designed to reduce access to the care women need."
NARAL's Kellie Copeland said, "Gov. Kasich's work to close abortion clinics and family planning centers is a serious threat to women's health. Ohio women and their families deserve better and won't forget these attacks on their health care."
Sara Hutchinson, Domestic Program Director for Catholics for Choice, said Catholics won't sit idly by while women's lives are placed at risk. "There are 2 million Catholics in Ohio and only 15 are bishops," she said.
Doctors and patients also spoke, with doctors complaining that they have been pushed aside while politicians legislate how doctors must practice medicine.
The rally comes as legislators return from their summer recess and prepare to debate legislation that would set Ohio back even father. Ohio already has some of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws and pending bills would require doctors to tell women there is a link between breast cancer and abortion when none exits and prosecute doctors who refuse to lie to patients.
Buses, vans and cars brought supporters from Cleveland, Youngstown, Warren, Akron, Solon, Geauga and Lake counties, Cincinnati, Athens, Toledo, Dayton, Columbus and elsewhere.
For More Information, Contact:
Brian Rothenberg, 614-207-3237
Sandy Theis, 614-940-0131
10/1/2013 - Health Insurance Marketplaces Open Today
The government shutdown did not prevent one of the centerpieces of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from going into effect: health insurance marketplaces opened today. Individuals and families can access their states' marketplaces through Healthcare.gov. The marketplaces will allow consumers to shop for and compare healthcare plans available in their state, find out if they qualify for lower costs, and learn about coverage options. To qualify for coverage in 2014, individuals must enroll by March 31, 2014.
"At last, 50 million Americans without health insurance, most of whom are women, will have access to low-cost health insurance plans," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "Don't be fooled by the scare tactics. If you have insurance, you won't lose it, but for the 50 million who do not, this is a great deal."
Insurance plans will be offered in four categories that reflect the level of coverage and price: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Most eligible individuals will be able to purchase a plan for $100 or less per month. The federal government will subsidize plans by offering tax credits to individuals and families within 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level- $11,490 and $45,960 for an individual and $31,322 and $94,200 for a household of four. Twenty states have also decided to expand Medicaid eligibility under the ACA. People with incomes below 133 percent of the federal poverty level and able-bodied adults will no longer be excluded from the program as long as they meet income eligibility.
Young adults and those in need of lower-cost options will be able to choose catastrophic plans, which are designed to help cover unexpected, high medical costs, and have higher deductibles but lower monthly premiums. Adults under 26 may also remain on their parents' insurance plan.
Under the Affordable Care Act, plans offered must cover ten essential benefits, including ambulatory patient services, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, and pediatric services including vision and dental care, among others. Plans must also cover the cost of preventive services without copays, coinsurance, or deductibles, including annual well-woman visits, contraceptives, HPV testing, HIV counseling and screening, domestic violence screenings, and mammograms, among others. Dental and vision coverage are included in some plans, but may also be purchased as separate stand-alone plans.
10/1/2013 - US Justice Department To Sue NC Over Voting Law
The US Justice Department sued North Carolina yesterday over the state's new restrictive voting law.
The lawsuit challenges four parts of the new law: the photo identification provision, the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period, and the prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct.
These types of voting restrictions disproportionately affect the ability of racial minorities, students, and women to vote. As many as 25 percent of eligible African-American voters and 16 percent of Hispanics do not have government-issued photo identification that would allow them to vote in states with strict voter-ID laws. Many students who vote in their college communities do not have IDs that would allow them to vote in these states, and in one survey, 34 percent of women voters did not have an ID that reflected their current name. Restrictions on early voting have also been shown to place unnecessary burdens on the ability of these groups to vote.
"Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation," Attorney General Eric Holder said in remarks yesterday.
The state's Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed the law last month, claiming it would protect against voter fraud. However, a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, found that voter fraud is extremely rare.
The Justice Department will also ask the court to require North Carolina to get preclearance before making any more changes to its voting laws. Previously, several states and parts of states that have histories of discrimination were required under the Voting Rights Act to obtain approval before changing any voting laws. The Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder this June requires that Congress create a new formula for determining which states must obtain this preclearance.
The US government shut down today after the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected the Republican-controlled House of Representatives' measure that would keep the government operating for 10 weeks in exchange for a delay in implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, over 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed and a variety of government services will be put on hold.
Historically marginalized communities and the working poor are most likely to feel the negative effects of the shutdown. Around 20 out 1,600 Head Start programs will shut down right away, and more will be affected over time. The Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), which helps pregnant women and new moms buy healthy food if they are poor and facing "nutrition risk," could shut down for lack of funds. And there will be delays in processing new disability benefit applications, student loan and federal grant applications, home loans, and new visa and citizenship applications. More programs may lose funding or shut down if the government impasse lasts longer than a few days.
In a statement at the White house yesterday, President Obama said, "Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you 'give' to the other side. It's our basic responsibility."
On September 28, advocates mobilized in over 50 countries for the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. A flash mob in Indonesia, a pro-choice picnic in New Zealand, and a silent march in Kenya are examples of the variety of events organized by sexual and reproductive rights organizations and women's advocacy groups around the world. They demanded an end to discrimination of women and girls, an end to stigma around abortion, and they called on governments to "uphold, protect, and fulfill women's right to safe and legal abortion."
According to the September 28 Campaign, statistics show that 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortion, accounting for 13% of maternal deaths worldwide.The majority of deaths, 98% according to the Guttmacher Institute, occur in developing countries where modern family planning methods are the least accessible.
"What is needed is the political will on the part of the governments to ensure the right of women to decide on all aspects of their reproductive health, including the right to choose whether to continue or end pregnancy," said Kathy Mulville, Executive Director of Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), according to the campaign's press release.
The September 28 mobilization also demanded the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the United Nation's post-2015 goals. However, activists believe SRHR should go beyond maternal healthcare and reproductive health to cover a wider range of issues, such as access to contraceptives, sexual orientation and gender identity, and abortion rights, among others.
9/30/2013 - NJ Court Orders State to Allow Gay Marriage
A New Jersey court ruled on Friday that state officials must allow same-sex couples to marry beginning October 21, stating that the current civil union system deprives same-sex couples of equal protection under the law. A spokesman for Republican Governor Chris Christie said the state would appeal the decision, but did not say whether it would seek a stay to delay the ruling from taking effect.
Judge Mary Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County found that denying marriage equality to same-sex couples violated the New Jersey state constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously considered the issue in 2006. Although stopping short of finding that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, the state supreme court, in Lewis v. Harris, ruled that committed same-sex couples must have the same legal rights, benefits, and privileges as heterosexual married couples. In response, the state legislature created a new civil union law.
In her ruling, Judge Jacobson found that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Windsor this June, same-sex couples in New Jersey could never access federal marital benefits. "Under these circumstances, the current inequality visited upon same-sex civil union couples offends the New Jersey Constitution, creates an incomplete set of rights that Lewis sought to prevent, and is not compatible with 'a reasonable conception of basic human dignity,'" she wrote, quoting Lewis.
If the ruling stands, this will be the first time a state has lifted a ban on gay marriage as a result of Windsor, which struck down the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively conferring federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, but not to same-sex couples in civil unions. It will also make New Jersey the 14th U.S. state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will be even more affordable than planned. When the health insurance marketplaces open on October 1, millions of uninsured individuals will be able to choose healthcare plans with lower premiums than originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
A report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week revealed that 95 percent of consumers purchasing health insurance through the marketplace live in states with average premiums below CBO estimates. Some monthly premiums are now projected to be more than 16 percent lower than originally estimated, meaning that people will soon enjoy inexpensive, quality health care options that they did not have before.
Tax credits will make health insurance even more affordable. The federal government will subsidize plans by offering tax credits to families and individuals within 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, up to $45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four. These credits will be paid directly to insurance providers, so consumers will not have to front that cost. Factoring in these tax credits, about 6 in 10 uninsured individuals will be able to purchase health insurance through the marketplace for $100 or less per month.
In a speech yesterday, President Obama emphasized that once the marketplace opens, shopping for health insurance will be as easy as booking a plane ticket or hotel room online. Each state's marketplace, accessible through Healthcare.gov, will offer several plans from which to choose. Health insurance providers will display instant price quotes, and individuals will be able to see right away if they qualify for tax credits or other lower costs.
Enrollment begins on October 1, 2013 and runs through March 31, 2014.
9/27/2013 - California To Gradually Raise Minimum Wage
California enacted a law Wednesday that will gradually raise the minimum wage from $8 to $10, making Californians the highest-paid hourly workers in the U.S. The rate will increase to $9 on July 1, 2014, and to $10 on January 1, 2016.
Over 90 percent of California's minimum wage workers are over the age of 20, and women of color are disproportionately employed in industries paying minimum wage. The increase, the state's first since 2008, will boost a full-time worker's income by $4,000 to about $20,000 a year. "For millions of California's hard working minimum wage employees, a few extra dollars a week can make a huge difference to help them provide for their families," said Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg in a statement earlier this month.
California's law follows protests around the U.S. by fast food and Wal-Mart workers demanding higher wages. President Obama has also pushed for a federal minimum wage raise, from the current $7.25 to $9, with indexing for inflation.
9/27/2013 - Afghanistan Holds First Social Media Summit
Afghanistan held its first social media summit this week in Kabul, the first in a three-part project. The summit - entitled "Paiwand," meaning "connection" in Dari - was organized by local digital media agency Impassion Afghanistan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Themed "Social Media for Social Good," the summit brought together over 200 activists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and government officials from across the country to discuss social activism, entrepreneurship, governance, transparency, and the upcoming April elections. Participants explored ways to expand the use of social media in the country, particularly in relation to civic engagement.
About 2.4 million Afghans, around 10 percent of the population, have access to the internet, and around 1.7 million use social media, primarily Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google-Plus. There are some 700,000 Facebook users alone, and 10 percent of them are women. The growth in internet access since the collapse of the Taliban is striking, but many Afghans still live in rural areas with no reliable electricity supply, and internet resources are not always available in local languages.
Despite obstacles, youth are finding ways to use social media forums to express themselves and start online campaigns for social change. A video about sexual harassment in Kabul went viral this summer. Luisa Walmsley, a Kabul-based independent information and communications technology sector and business development consultant who was a panelist at Paiwand said, "young educated Afghans see the Internet as a really powerful way to solve those problems poverty, illiteracy, lack of quality education, and more, and social media as a tool for discussing the solutions."
Following the summit, workshops in the country's provinces will be held to teach people how to use social media tools in the hopes of growing the online community.
9/26/2013 - New Trial for Marissa Alexander
Marissa Alexander, the African-American Florida woman sentenced to 20 years in prison for discharging a gun in self-defense, will get a new trial. Alexander fired her gun into the ceiling because she was afraid her abusive husband, Rico Gray, would kill her. Alexander claimed protection under the "Stand Your Ground" law, the same law relied upon to acquit George Zimmerman of the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Gray has a history of abusive behavior with Alexander and other women. At the time of the incident in August 2010, Alexander had a restraining order against him, and had been previously hospitalized due to injuries sustained from his abuse. On the day she fired the warning shot into the ceiling, Alexander had gone to her old home to retrieve some personal items when Gray began to threaten her. Alexander locked herself in the bathroom for safety, but Gray broke through the door, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her before she was able to break away and run to the garage. When she could not open her garage door, Alexander grabbed her gun, for which she had a concealed carry permit. When Gray saw the gun, he told her he would kill her, so she fired a shot in the air to warn him to stay away. She thought it was "the lesser of two evils."
The jury took only 12 minutes to convict Alexander, a mother of three, of three charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon--even though nobody was hurt and she did not aim her gun directly at her husband.
To parallel Alexander's case with the Zimmerman trial produces disturbing questions about race, gender, and the justice system in Florida and across this nation. "The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today," said Representative Corrine Brown after Alexander's sentencing. "One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the 'Stand Your Ground Law' will not apply to them. The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently."
A Florida appeals court ordered a new trial after finding the lower court had issued improper jury instructions on self-defense.
9/25/2013 - Native American Woman Nominated to Federal Court
President Obama announced last Thursday his nomination of Diane J. Humetewa to the U.S. District Court of Arizona. If she is confirmed, Humetewa - a member of the Hopi tribe in eastern Arizona - will be the only active member of a Native American tribe to serve as a federal judge and the first Native American woman to do so.
Humetewa, an expert in federal Indian law, natural resources law, and federal criminal law, previously served as a U.S. attorney in Arizona, a position for which she was nominated by President George W. Bush at the recommendation of Senator John McCain (R-AZ). She was the first Native American female to be appointed to that position. Humetewa also served from 2002-2007 as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court. She is currently Special Advisor to the President and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University and a professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
"Diane Humetewa will make an excellent judge. She was a very capable US Attorney for Arizona and a capable career prosecutor before that," said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, a Chicksaw Nation citizen. "She is tough, but compassionate, and I know that she can gracefully handle the stress of being the first Native American woman to travel this path. This is a historic nomination."
According to Indian Country Today Media Network, Humetewa hopes her nomination will encourage more young Native Americans to consider careers in the legal field.
9/25/2013 - UN Report Shows Reductions in Global AIDS
A United Nations report released Monday shows reductions in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, as well as significant progress towards reaching the 2015 UN Millenium Development Goal on HIV.
The report by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS finds that new HIV infections among adults and children were estimated at 2.3 million in 2012, a 33% reduction since 2001. Among only children, there was a 52% drop in new HIV infections. Part of this reduction can be attributed to programs, such as one in Ethiopia, that work to prevent transmission of the virus from HIV-positive mothers to their children, and train nurses and midwives on emergency obstetric and newborn care.
AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 30% since the peak in 2005, as the number of people accessing antiretroviral therapy has significantly increased. In 2005, only 1.3 million people in low- and middle- income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy, while an estimated 9.7 million people were accessing treatment in 2012. Free treatment has helped with this increase in access, as shown in Zambia.
As little as 54% of all people eligible for HIV treatment worldwide actually receive it. Prevention efforts are also often stymied by persistent condom stockouts, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 69% of all people affected by HIV live. This problem is especially acute for women and girls. Women make up 58% of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region, and young women ages 15-24 are as much as eight times more likely than men to be HIV positive. More than 90% of pregnant women living with HIV reside in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Gender inequality, punitive laws and discriminatory actions are continuing to hamper national responses to HIV," according to UNAIDS, "and concerted efforts are needed to address these persistent obstacles."
9/24/2013 - Pakistan Frees Taliban Military Commander
Pakistan freed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former Taliban military commander and second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The release came on Saturday and was welcomed by the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) as a move to reinvigorate stalled peace negotiations with the Taliban militia before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014.
Afghan women leaders have criticized the prospect of Taliban peace negotiations and the release of Taliban detainees. Female MP Shukria Barakzai expressed concern to the BBC that the Afghan government wanted to make a peace deal "whatever the price," even if it meant sacrificing the women of Afghanistan. Pakistan has already released 33 Taliban prisoners this year. Senator Lailuma Ahmadi cautioned, "The released prisoners will join the Taliban again."
Her fears are not unfounded. Just this month, Tolo news reported that Mullah Ghulam Mohammad--released this August by the Afghan government from Bagram Prison--had rejoined the Taliban and was responsible for the killing of 13 Afghan local police in the Badghis province. Several experts have warned that the release of Taliban prisoners could lead to further insecurity and violence and pressed that the government should have proper mechanisms in place to ensure that former prisoners do not return to the battlefield.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Pakistan released Mullah Baradar but would not comment on his location. HPC deputy head Attaullah Ludin noted, however, that Baradar had not been handed over to the Afghan government.
Catholics for Choice launched its "See Change" campaign last week calling for a review of the status of the Roman Catholic church at the United Nations.
The Holy See--the government of the Roman Catholic church--currently holds Non-Member State Permanent Observer status at the UN which gives it an influential role in the intergovernmental body, including access to UN proceedings, that no other religion enjoys. According to Catholics for Choice, the Holy See has used its position to prevent progress for sexual and reproductive health, women's rights, and other areas. "It's high time that the Vatican is required to act as other religions do at the UN, said Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien. "Religious voices are important, but should not be granted extra deference simply because they are religious."
In its campaign, Catholics for Choice notes that since 1964, the Holy See has used direct access to the General Assembly and international conferences to attempt to impose an ultraconservative agenda on the global population, Catholic and non-Catholic alike." The organization has demanded that the Holy See be treated as a participating nongovernmental organization at the UN--like every other religious group.
The Holy See claims that its possession of a territorial entity, Vatican City, qualifies it as a state. However, to be considered a state, it must have a defined territory, a government, the ability to have relations with other States and a permanent population. Vatican City does not meet all of these requirements, but it still holds influence today largely because of custom.
A short video details the history of the Vatican's status and influence, as well as the goals of the "See Change" Campaign.
9/24/2013 - 50 People Injured in Bangladesh Protests
At least 50 people were injured Sunday in Dhaka, Bangladesh after police tried to break up massive garment worker protests with tear gas and rubber bullets, and workers responded by throwing bricks at the officers.
Up to 50,000 garment workers have been protesting for several days to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $100. The current minimum wage is around $38 per month, which is only 14 percent of a living wage for the country. A protesting woman said, "We work to survive but we can't even cover our basic needs." A new law was expected to make it easier for garment workers, 80 percent of whom are women, to form unions to demand higher wages and better working environments, but management has responded to recently registered unions with violence, bribes, and threats.
Bangladesh has seen significant labor unrest after a series of deadly factory incidents, including the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed 1,132 workers. While there are 2,000 factories in Dhaka like Rana Plaza, there are only 40 building inspectors, and 3 in 5 industrial structures are reportedly vulnerable to collapse.
The country is the cheapest place to make clothing because of lax safety rules and low wages. Several retailers that purchase clothing made in Bangladesh have entered into a pact to improve factory fire and safety rules, but some major ones have not, including Walmart and GAP.
Indian Health Services (IHS), the agency that provides most primary health care services for American Indian and Alaska Native people free of charge, will now provide emergency contraception without a consultation or prescription at its federally-operated facilities. This is a victory for reproductive health advocates who have worked to expand Native American women's access to Plan B for years.
IHS does not have any retail pharmacies, so women seeking emergency contraception must wait at emergency care clinics, urgent care centers, or emergency rooms to obtain a prescription, then take it somewhere to have it filled. The time this takes can prevent some women from getting Plan B within the recommended 72-hour window.
Access to Plan B is especially important for Native American women because of the high rates of sexual assault they face. According to the US Department of Justice, about one in three Native American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, a number that is greater than any other racial group in the United States.
Women's health advocates applaud the news but will still push for a formalized policy. IHS is only under a verbal directive right now to offer Plan B for women 17 years and older, which could easily be revised or rescinded. They also want IHS to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration's new emergency contraception guidelines that make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages.
Charon Asetoyer, the director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, said, "We've made some progress, and we have to acknowledge that, but there's still more. They're still violating our rights to access by denying women who are age 16 and under . . . We have to ask, why are we being treated differently?"
Over the past 10 years, the Republic of Congo has reduced the number of women dying in childbirth by 50 percent and, if progress continues at this rate, may reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015. Experts cite improvements to maternal healthcare and efforts to enhance family planning programs as contributing factors to this sharp decrease in maternal death.
The majority of women in Congo live in urban areas and give birth in health care facilities, but these facilities were often inadequate. According to Dr. Leon Herve Iloki, director of the National Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality, birthing facilities have improved tremendously. "Forceps? You didn't have them. You didn't have other instruments for helping in delivery. Even beds were not always there."
The government, with the help of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also began offering women free Caesarean sections in 2011. The procedure used to cost $500 or more, an insurmountable obstacle to many poor women whose choices were to come up with the money or "die there, on the table," according to Rose-Marie Moundele, a woman whose sister-in-law recently delivered a child by Caesarean. UNFPA has also supported the government's initiative to prevent and treat obstetric fistula, a preventable medical condition caused by prolonged labor. Women can now receive free care for this condition. Obstetric fistula is a major contributor to maternal death among poor women.
Experts also credit family planning for the decline of maternal mortality. UNFPA has supported the Congo Health Ministry's attempts to create better family planning programs."Promoting family planning is among the cheapest investments to reduce maternal mortality," said UNFPA Representative David Lawson at the launch of the initiative in November 2011. A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Health showed that 45 percent of Congolese women use contraceptives.
Progress, however, has been uneven. For women living in rural areas and for indigenous women, there is little access to quality health centers. Although midwives attend births in rural facilities, improvements to infrastructure are needed. Health officials in the country hope to see further developments in other areas of maternal health as well, including cheaper pre-natal checkups and strengthening of family planning and HIV/AIDS programs.
9/23/2013 - SNAP: Pope's Comments Do Not Protect Children
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) sharply criticized Pope Francis for failing to make child sexual abuse in the church a top priority. Pope Francis made headlines last week for remarking that the Catholic church had become obsessed with gay rights, abortion and birth control, and for putting moral doctrines before serving the poor and marginalized. He described his vision of the church as a "home for all."
"It's good to make adults happier," said SNAP director David Clohessy. "But it's better to make children safer. That should have been the pontiff's top priority on day one. It should become his top priority now. He's done nothing to protect children, expose predators and deter cover ups. Not as a priest, bishop, archbishop or cardinal. Not as the pope."
SNAP stressed that the Pope has not confronted the church's history of child sexual abuse and cover ups, despite statements he made after his election that he wanted to root out the sexual abuse of children and punish perpetrators.
According to BishopAccountability.org, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has counted 16,795 individuals who have alleged that they were abused as minors by priests between the years of 1950 and 2013.