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Afghanistan celebrates 95 years of independence today.
President Hamid Karzai, along with the two presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, attended a special ceremony at the Ministry of Defense to commemorate the recognition of Afghanistan as an independent nation by the British Empire. US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement in honor of the celebrationon behalf of President Obama and the United States reiterating our continued partnership with Afghanistan as well as US support for a democratic transition of presidential power.
"With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters' aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country," wrote Secretary Kerry. "We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government."
Noting the contributions of ordinary Afghan men and women to the peace and continued redevelopment of the country, Kerry pledged an ongoing relationship between the US and Afghanistan. "As Afghans stand up, we will stand with you," said Kerry, "and the American people look forward to many more years of friendship and partnership with the inspiring people of Afghanistan."
Final election results for the Afghan presidential race have not yet been released. The first-round of elections took place in April. Because none of the presidential candidates won at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election was held between the top two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Following disputes about the election process, Secretary Kerry visited Afghanistan to meet with both candidates and current president Karzai. The negotiations produced an agreement to audit all of the runoff election votes before determining the winner of the presidential race and to create a national unity government to share political power.
Both Abdullah and Ghani have indicated that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which specifies that the US will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The candidates also signed a petition for women's rights, which calls for women's empowerment with the goals of equality in education and leadership and an end to violence against women.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, shared her hurt over the killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown and offered words of encouragement in a heartbreaking letter to the Brown family published by Time magazine.
"I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents," Sybrina Fulton wrote. "I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don't. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day, but I can't. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won't."
Fulton continued, however, that neither the death of Michael nor Trayvon would be in vain. "The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies," she wrote. "While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light."
Last week, Fulton joined Ron Davis, the father of slain teen Jordan Davis, in Geneva, Switzerland, where the parents testified before the United Nations Committee responsible for the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Trayvon Martin was 17-years-old when he was gunned down by George Zimmerman. Jordan Davis was also 17-years-old when his life was taken by Michael Dunn at a Florida gas station. Both teens were unarmed. Zimmerman was acquitted. A mistrial was declared on Dunn's first-degree murder charge. Fulton and Davis testified about the role race-based privilege played in the sentencing of their sons' killers. The US government's CERD Review took place last Wednesday and Thursday, just as reports of media arrests in Ferguson were breaking news.
After a full week of standoffs between law enforcement and demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed two lawsuits against the local police department.
Thursday, the ACLU of Missouri sued St. Louis County and county police in order to obtain initial reports about the deadly shooting that took the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The County's police department rejected an earlier open records request for the documents on Wednesday. The second suit, filed Friday morning, sought to keep St. Louis County, the town of Ferguson, and Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle from barring media coverage. The ACLU filed the federal suit along with plaintiff Mustafa Hussein, a journalist with the Argus Media Group.
In a letter addressed to Ferguson Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson, the ACLU of Missouri took issue with the Department's "direct attack on protected expressive activity." The organization quoted excerpts of the Supreme Court's recent decision in McCullen v. Coakley in addressing the St. Louis Police Department's suppression of media coverage in Ferguson. "We acknowledge that limiting protests to daylight hours and demanding a 'respectful manner' might make your job easier," a statement to the Chief of Police stated, "'[b]ut that is not enough to satisfy the First Amendment. ...[T]he prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency."
Friday, the ACLU of Missouri successfully reached an agreement over media coverage with the three parties in a Missouri U.S. District Court. The agreement holds that "media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgement" unless there is a justified threat of danger or physical interference.
Following two days under mandatory curfew, Governor Jay Nixon is calling on the Missouri National Guard to "help restore peace and order" according to a news release issued by the Governor's office this morning. "Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from the outside community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk," Gov. Nixon said in a brief statement. "I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning this criminal activity that included firing upon law enforcement officers, shooting a civilian, throwing Molotov cocktails, looting, and a coordinated attempt to block roads and overrun the Unified Command Center."
The Governor's Executive Order came just as the public learned the details of a preliminary autopsy conducted by former New York City medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden. This morning, Dr. Baden shared that the unarmed teenager was shot at least six times by Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. The U.S. Department of Justice announced it also intends to conduct an autopsy.
Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama to address the ongoing situation in Ferguson.
Last week, Oregon state officials voted to ensure the state's low-income transgender residents have access to transition-related care.
The Oregon Health Evidence Review Commission (HERC) has not reviewed its treatment of transgender care since the late 1990s. The 13-member board reviewed the material and decided to add gender dysphoria - defined as a condition in which "people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with" - to the state's list of conditions that require government-funded treatments. As of 2015, low-income transgender residents of Oregon will have access to gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy if they want it.
Removing transgender exclusions in healthcare coverage saves lives and money," said Danielle Askini, Basic Rights Oregon's policy director. "All major health provider associations agree: It is time to end health coverage discrimination based on gender identity.
This change follows a ruling earlier this summer by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Departmental Appeals Board that stated transgender people cannot be automatically denied coverage for transition-related health care. Oregon estimates the new rules will be utilized by about 175 people per year, and will cost the state less than $150,000 in that period. Individuals will need to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria in order to qualify for coverage.
According to The Oregonian, 935,000 people are currently enrolled in Oregon's Medicaid program. In 2013, some services for transgender people were added to the Oregon Health Plan, including therapy and medical visits.
8/18/2014 - Suicidal Rape Victim Denied Abortion in Ireland
A suicidal young woman who became pregnant as a result of rape was refused an abortion in Ireland.
The woman, now 18, was raped as a minor. When she discovered she was pregnant at eight weeks, she became suicidal and immediately tried to obtain an abortion under a clause in the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. She could not bypass the law by going to England or another European country to obtain an abortion - like thousands of Irish women do each year - because she is not an Irish citizen.
In this case, two psychiatrists determined the young woman was suicidal and should have access to the procedure, but the obstetrician on the panel declared that the fetus was viable and should be delivered. After the panel's examination, the woman had to wait 17 full weeks to hear back about the outcome. She believes the government purposely delayed her case until the fetus was viable. When her request for an abortion was ultimately rejected, she started a hunger and water strike in protest but stopped when authorities threatened to put her on forced hydration. She then agreed to have a premature caesarean section at 25 weeks. The baby is expected to go into state care.
This case "illustrates quite clearly that women are treated as little more than incubators under Irish law," Sarah McCarthy, a spokesperson for Galway Pro-Choice, told The Guardian.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act legalized abortions in cases only where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including thoughts of suicide. It was approved in July 2013 by Parliament after the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died from an infection because she was not allowed to have an abortion, and the ensuing uproar over her death. It recently went into effect in January. Under the law, a panel of three doctors must examine each case and agree unanimously to allow a woman to have the procedure. While the Act is thought to be a step forward, Ireland's laws around abortion are still severely restrictive. Abortions are not allowed in any cases besides life endangerment, including cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or if the fetus is not expected to survive outside of the womb.
After close to two decades, a Peruvian woman raped by a doctor while she was seeking care at a local hospital will finally receive justice. The Peruvian government has at last complied with a settlement agreement reached by the parties after human rights groups filed a petition on the woman's behalf with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The woman, known as M.M., visited Carlos Monge Medrano Juliaca Public Hospital in 1996. She had been in a car accident a few months before, and at the time of the visit she complained she was suffering headaches and body pain. Instead of being treated or examined for her symptoms, the doctor drugged and raped her in the examination room. M.M. filed a criminal report after the incident, but hospital staff and police mistreated the case, and the judicial system dismissed it for lack of evidence in 1997.
Several human-rights groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for Justice and International Law, Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights, and DEMUS (Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer), filed a petition in 1998 on behalf of M.M. to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
No woman should fear that she will be raped by a doctor entrusted to provide her with critical medical care, and no woman who suffers such deplorable treatment should have to wait this long for justice to be served, said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. We commend the Peruvian government for accepting its responsibility for this young woman's suffering and taking action to prevent this situation from being repeated.
The March 2000 settlement requires the Peruvian government to provide financial reparations to the woman and to revoke the medical license of the rapist. The settlement also requires the State to admit it violated human rights under international law and to improve access to justice in cases of sexual violence. Last March, as a part of the settlement, Peru adopted a resolution that requires judges to be trained on gender and justice issue - but the resolution has yet to be implemented.
In an overwhelming display of solidarity and outpouring of grief, hundreds of students, activists, parents, allies, and members of the press gathered at the center of Malcolm X Park in Washington, DC as part of the National Moment of Silence (NMOS) for Michael Brown and all victims of police brutality that took place across the country last night.
NMOS14 was coordinated by online and community activist Feminista Jones in collaboration with individual community leaders following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Last night's gathering in the nation's capital was organized by a small group of young activist leaders, including former Feminist Majority Foundation intern and current Spelman College Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance member Yemisi Miller-Tonnet.
"What side are we on, my people? What side are we on?" Jonathan Lykes, another leader of last night's event, shouted to the crowd. The masses shouted back, "We're on the freedom side!"
More than 2,300 people committed to attend the DC event alone. Seas of demonstrators wearing red ribbons and arm bands packed onto the main platform of the park, located just blocks from historic U Street. The location lent symbolic significance to the gathering. The U street corridor was one of the many predominantly African-American communities impacted by the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the riots of 1968 that followed his assassination.
Miller-Tonnet called the names and details surrounding other deadly examples of police brutality. The leaders asked the crowd to call out the names of victims they personally knew, leading students from Howard University to begin chanting for Mya Aaten-White, a 2012 alum shot in the head amidst protests in Ferguson. Police told local news outlets the injuries were the result of a drive-by shooting, but students participating in NMOS14 told the Feminist Newswire the shooting was carried out by police, as supported by eyewitness accounts.
NMOS14 leaders reiterated that this was not "a day of rage," but of mourning, prompting one man to shout out, "They're killing our babies!" during the moment of silence, which took place in over 100 communities - including in New York City, Boston, and St. Louis - simultaneously at 7:20 PM EST.
As the event concluded, an impromptu march began down U Street. Local police immediately blocked off side streets to allow the crowd to proceed peacefully. Demonstrators chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" as they marched through Shaw, and finally Chinatown in downtown Washington, D.C. Drivers honked their horns in support as the procession passed, and people in nearby residences took to their sidewalks, either holding their arms high in surrender as in images from Ferguson demonstrations, or raising fists in solidarity with the Ferguson community.
"This is just the first step," leaders of the rally told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D)is calling for a closer look at police conduct in Ferguson. McCaskill was in Ferguson on Thursday meeting with community leaders on the ground. "We need to demilitarize this situation - this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution," Sen. McCaskill said. "I obviously respect law enforcement's work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right."
Governor Jay Nixon, after receiving heavy criticism, also toured the area on Thursday. Nixon announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol would be taking over the responsibilities of the St Louis County Police in Ferguson. The decision was met with hostility by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch who commented, "To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful."
Today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is seeking to replace McCulloch with a special prosecutor to handle the case against the officer - identified as Darren Wilson - who shot Brown. A spokeswoman for Dooley explained, "The county executive believes Bob McCulloch is biased and shouldn't handle this case."
NARAL Pro-Choice Texas recently released a video exposing anti-abortion extremists' use of alarming intimidation tactics in Texas.
The video contains audio recording of a training, entitled "Keeping Abortion Facilities Closed," hosted by anti-abortion groups at the Texas State Capitol on August 4. In it, an anti-abortion extremist can be heard telling a crowd to record and catalog the physical description of cars and license plate numbers of doctors and patients at the clinic in order to "track people." Another speaker cites statistics on women being turned away or intimidated into leaving the clinic before receiving care. Speakers also talk about lining sidewalks outside of clinics with the hope of preventing patients from entering.
The training coincided with the first day of trial in Whole Women's Health v. Lakey, a federal challenge to two provisions - the admitting privileges and the ambulatory surgical center requirements - of Texas' omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB2.
"The same groups that lobbied Texas lawmakers to pass HB2, a law that has nothing to do with the health and safety of women, are those outside abortion clinics, harassing and intimidating patients, blocking them from accessing the care they need, and threatening abortion providers," said NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Executive Director Heather Busby. "With fewer clinics for these stalking protestors to target, the dangerous impact of their intimidation tactics will be exacerbated. Texas women are now not only forced to travel hundreds of miles to even access a safe and legal Texas clinic, but once they reach a clinic they must also confront the very real threat posed by these anti-abortion activists. The anti-abortion harassment tactics outlined in this disturbing training lead women to seek dangerous alternatives.
Access to abortion in Texas has been significantly reduced since HB2, with nearly half of all abortion providers in the state forced to stop providing services, according to a study released last month by the Texas Evaluation Project. Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women's Health, reports that she has been forced to close three of five clinics in the wake of HB2 and that the absence of abortion providers has already led some Texas women to resort to dangerous self-induced or illegal abortions.
The intersection between clinic violence, including harassment and intimidation of abortion providers, and lack of access to comprehensive reproductive health care was described in detail last week by Federal US District Court Judge Myron Thompson in a 172-page opinion finding unconstitutional an Alabama TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is asking the full US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reverse a panel decision that upheld a preliminary injunction of Mississippi's TRAP law, allowing the state's only abortion clinic to remain open.
Just weeks ago, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction barring implementation of HB 1390, Mississippi's 2012 TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law that requires doctors to gain admitting privileges from an area hospital. Because HB 1390 would have effectively shut down the Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO), the last abortion clinic in the state, the Court ruled that the law placed an "undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right" of an individual to choose an abortion.
"Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state." the Fifth Circuit panel said. "Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state's obligation under the principle of federalism - applicable to all fifty states - to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens."
The state of Mississippi, however, argues that this rationale is misplaced in the context of abortion. Hood is formally asking the entire Fifth Circuit Court - which handles cases in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas - to reverse the panel's decision and allow the state to enforce HB 1390, arguing that the court's decision contradicts a ruling issued by a different panel of Fifth Circuit judges in Texas. There, a three-judge panel upheld hospital admitting privileges, noting that despite the fact that the law made abortion inaccessible to some women in the state, abortion services were not completely cut off in Texas because of the admitting privileges requirement. The opposite, however, would be true in Mississippi under HB 1390.
Mississippi filed its request on Wednesday, just as a federal district court heard closing arguments in a second challenge to Texas's admitting privileges requirement.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of several women farmworkers alleging that a Colorado potato warehouse violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by allowing managers to sexually harass female employees.
In a press release issued last week, the EEOC said managers at MountainKing Potatoes - which also does business as Smokin' Spuds, Inc. and Farming Technology, Inc - subjected women farmworkers to "inappropriate sexual touching, comments, gestures and propositions." Some workers were reassigned or fired after complaining about the sexual harassment. According to the EEOC, one employee was disciplined for arriving to work late to avoid her abuser. The company took no action to stop the harassment.
According to Law360, production supervisor Samuel Valdez personally "directed sexually inappropriate behavior toward women" at the Colorado warehouse location. "Valdez had a habit of licking his finger and putting it in the ears of at least two of the female plaintiffs," reports the news site. "Valdez also allegedly sexually propositioned some of the women, touched female employees' buttocks while they clocked in for work, forced [one of the plaintiffs] to sit on his lap in a dark office and made inappropriately sexual remarks."
"Farm workers, whether in remote and underserved areas, or isolated in a warehouse, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace, and it is essential for their employers to stop the kind of conduct we charged in this civil action," said Mary Jo O'Neill, regional attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Colorado.
The EEOC stressed that farmworkers should feel empowered to report sexual harassment and discrimination to the agency, noting that the EEOC has Spanish-speaking investigators and will accept reports by mail.
According to the 2010 National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), which surveyed crop workers, about 72 percent of farmworkers in 2007-2009 reported that they were born outside of the United States, with 68 percent reporting they were born in Mexico. The proportion of undocumented workers has, on average, represented at least 50 percent of the crop worker labor force since 2001. At least 24 percent of this population is female, with 3 percent representing minors.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a 95-page report chronicling the incidence of sexual violence and harassment of immigrant farmworkers. The organization found that most farmworkers interviewed had either experienced or knew someone who had been the victim of rape, groping, exhibitionism, or some other form of sexual harassment or abuse.
Incorporating NAWS' demographic data, the HRW determined that one of the most common barriers to reporting was "fear of deportation" and growing skepticism about increased cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer on Saturday has sparked days of protests in and around the St. Louis suburb and has called national attention to continued and persistent police violence in African-American communities. Less focus, however, has been placed on how this police violence is directly linked to African-American women's struggle for reproductive justice.
Michael Brown's death brought immediate reaction from residents in Ferguson, where African-Americans make up 65 percent of the population. Protesters marched peacefully to the Ferguson police department on Sunday morning, but by Sunday night, with tensions high, riots broke out. SWAT teams and police in riot gear descended. Police were captured on video by CNN saying, "Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!" The Ferguson police department, with 53 commissioned officers, has only five non-white officers, of which three are black. The department has only three women officers.
Protests in Ferguson have been ongoing since Sunday, with protesters holding their arms in the air, chanting "Hands up! Don't Shoot!" Police have reportedly used tear gas and rubber bullets on some protesters. Cell phone video has now been circulated showing police slamming a six-month pregnant woman to the ground.
"Speechless," Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst at RH Reality Check, tweeted in response to the images. "I'm going to say it again: police brutality - especially against pregnant women - is a #reprojustice issue."
Gandy told the Feminist Newswire she was astonished by the silence from larger national reproductive rights organizations in response to the recent police-involved fatalities. Gandy said she wanted to encourage the entire feminist movement to recognize the situation in Ferguson as inextricably tied to the broader fight for reproductive rights, a fight that includes the right of mothers to parent and bear children.
"Step up and say, 'It's not cool to throw this pregnant woman on the ground,'" Gandy said. "I'm really trying to force reproductive rights folks to broaden their scope." Gandy said she observed many people on social media expressing panic about Brown's death. "They're saying things like, 'As soon as I get pregnant, I'm leaving the country' or 'I don't want to make them a target,'" she said.
"Black women are raising children and fearing that their children are going to be gunned down in the street. That affects their ability to parent freely," continued Gandy. "That's a real hardship for a lot of people. You have to sit down and tell your nine-year old this is how you have to interact with the police. That's stressful."
In a longer piece for RH Reality Check ahead of the Ferguson police-involved shooting, Emma Akpan underscored the same message as she described criticism of women of color who embraced organizing around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. "We cannot tell women of color what issues are important to them," Akpan wrote. "Implying that the grief of losing Trayvon Martin is not a women's issue erases the experience of Black mothers across the United States. Facing stark realities, Black mothers have to raise their sons with mistrust of the police and constantly remind them how to avoid violence and arrest."
On Monday, the FBI launched a formal civil rights investigation into Michael Brown's shooting. In a statement, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the shooting deserved a "fulsome review." He added, "In addition to the local investigation already underway, FBI agents from the St. Louis field office, working together with attorneys from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and US Attorneys' Office, have opened a concurrent, federal inquiry." President Obama issued a short statement yesterday calling Brown's death "heartbreaking."
After IUDs and contraceptive implants were made more affordable in Colorado, teen pregnancies and abortion rates and public health spending in the state significantly decreased.
The number of teen pregnancies in Colorado decreased 40 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. This was most likely due to a program in the state that gives free or low-cost, long-acting contraceptives to young women ages 15-24 who want them. The initiative, which also included training, outreach and technical help, was made possible by an anonymous donor who provided $23 million dollars. When Colorado's health department conducted a study to examine the effects of the program, they found that between 2008 and 2012, Colorado's ranking on teen birthrates went from 29th lowest to 19th lowest. Teen abortion rates decreased 34 percent during the study's time period, and in 2010 alone, Colorado saved over $42 million on health care costs that normally would have gone to expenses associated with teen births.
Colorado's Family Planning Initiative gave funding to family planning clinics all over the state that resulted in around 30,000 IUDs and implants offered to low-income young women at little or no cost. Without insurance, an IUD would cost between $500 and $900, preventing many low-income women from accessing this highly-effective, reversible, long-acting form of contraception.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) praised the program last month, saying that "it has helped thousands of young Colorado women continue their education, pursue their professional goals and postpone pregnancy until they are ready to start a family.
The authors of the study say the Colorado initiative should serve as an example of how family planning coverage should look under the Affordable Care Act. A spokesperson from Colorado's public health department told CNN, "By showing the effectiveness of long-acting, reversible contraceptives, we're providing the evidence needed for health plans ... to cover family planning services." In 2007, a comparable program was carried out in St. Louis, Missouri, where 10,000 teen girls were provided with their choice of birth control at no cost to them. In just a year, the rate of teen pregnancy in Missouri became significantly lower than the US average.
Liz Romer, a family planning nurse at Denver Children's Hospital told BBC News, "We really strongly believe that adolescents need access to contraception. ... It needs to be readily available, the same day, and it needs to be free."
Funding for the initiative will end in 2015, and it's not clear what steps will be taken once funding for affordable contraceptives runs out.
A Tennessee state court last week broke away from a tide of court rulings in favor of marriage equality by upholding the state's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere.
In a broadly worded decision, state court judge Russell Simmons, Jr. ruled that the Tennessee Anti-Recognition Law, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages, did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Writing that "neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state's responsibility," Judge Simmons appeared to be signaling his belief in the constitutionality of the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages more generally.
In making his decision, Judge Simmons found that the US Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor, finding Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, did not offer any guidance with respect to Tennessee's state definition of marriage or its obligation to recognize, or not, same-sex marriages performed in other states.
"In the Windsor case the Supreme Court opines that if a state finds same-sex marriage to be valid, the Federal Government cannot trump that State's law," he wrote. "The Supreme Court did not go the final step and find that a State that defines marriages as a union of one (1) man and one (1) woman is unconstitutional. Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one State's refusal to accept as valid another State's valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution."
Judge Simmons agreed that marriage is a fundamental right, but stated that "the battle is not between whether or not marriage is a fundamental right but what unions are included in the definition of "marriage."
The fight for marriage equality in Tennessee does not end with Judge Simmons. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last week heard, along with challenges to bans in Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio, a federal challenge to the Tennessee's failure to recognize legally performed same-sex marriages. A decision in that case is expected later this year.
This Thursday, a National Moment of Silence will be held in cities across the country to remember the lives lost and impacted by police brutality. In the wake of two deadly police-involved shootings in less than a week, online activist Feminista Jones and individual Twitter followers were able to coordinate the event in a single day.
Mounting tension over increased acts of deadly force by law enforcement agencies across the country brimmed over this weekend, following only the most recent deaths at the hands of police officers.
Last Wednesday, the Dayton Daily News first reported the shooting death of 22-year-old John Crawford by police at an Ohio WalMart. Ronald Ritchie, another shopper, called 911 after seeing Crawford with an air gun in the store. LeeCee Johnson, the mother of Crawford's children, told the Dayton Daily News she was on the phone with Crawford when he was killed. "He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said, 'It's not real,' and the police start shooting and they said 'Get on the ground,' but he was already on the ground because they had shot him."
Saturday, 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed following, what St. Louis County Police said, was a physical altercation between Brown and the officer. The unarmed teen was shot multiple times by local police. He was slated to begin classes at Vatterott College in Missouri on Monday. Hundreds of residents in Ferguson built a small memorial outside of a news conference updating the details of Brown's death, but images of overnight riots dominated mainstream news coverage of the community's response. Critics of the coverage took to social media, comparing the photos of destruction in Ferguson to racist coverage of other major news events, and unflattering images of the deceased to the photos circulated following the death of Trayvon Martin.
In a statement issued by the St. Louis NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO said, "The death of yet another African-American at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve the community where he lived is heartbreaking. Michael Brown was preparing to begin college, and now his family is preparing to bury their child - his life cut short in a tragic encounter with the police." The organization will lead a local vigil in Missouri today, but Brooks called on the community to act "collectively and calmly" while the state and national branches pursued further investigation of the incident.
The #NMOS14 organizers hope Thursday's event will provide some means to channel still-raw emotions. "People are hurting right now. People are angry. People are seeking understanding and compassion," Feminista Jones said in a tweet yesterday. "It is a small gesture (in my opinion) but one that could tangibly unify us, ALL of us, as a launching pad for further action," she said.
The event will also acknowledge other victims of police brutality, including the recent choking death of Eric Garner in New York City at the hands of the NYPD. Garner was unarmed when police attempted to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.
Still, many hope the outrage over the use of excessive force extends to African American women recently attacked by police. In July, a 51-year-old homeless grandmother, Marlene Pinnock, was brutally beaten by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer. In the video, the CHP officer is seen repeatedly punching Pinnock in the head as she lay on the ground. Just last week, cell phone video began circulating of NYPD officers ruthlessly dragging a naked 48-year-old Brooklyn grandmother out of her apartment. According to news reports, the officers were at the wrong residence, but neighbors can be heard shouting for a female officer to intervene.
8/11/2014 - France Dumps Abortion Restrictions, Will Cover the Cost of All First Trimester Abortions
A new law in France will now allow first-trimester abortions without requiring women to prove a justification for needing the procedure.
The new law, proposed by the French Minister for Women's Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was promulgated last Tuesday. It amends the country's current law, which allows abortion only if a pregnant women can prove "distress." The new law also bans any attempt to restrict women from getting information about abortion services.
The French National Assembly voted to approve the new law in January amid heated controversy. At that time, Vallaud-Belkacem defended the change to the current law, saying Abortion is a right in itself and not something that is simply tolerated depending on the conditions." Under a law passed in 2012, the French government must pay 100 percent of the cost of an abortion from the social security budget. During the debate on the new abortion law, French lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to repeal the funding requirement. The 2012 law also allows adolescents between 15-18 years old to obtain certain contraceptives for free at family planning centers.
The new abortion law is part of a package of proposed gender equality measures to extend paternity leave, promote sex equality at work, decrease sex stereotyping in media, and provide increased support to low-income women and survivors of domestic abuse.
"At a time when women in many parts of the world, including in the United States and Spain, are seeing their rights restricted, violated, and disrespected, France has set an important example for the rest of the globe with its progressive stance toward reproductive health care," said Lilian Sepulveda, Director of the Global Legal Program for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Ensuring a woman's right to control her fertility is fundamental to achieving gender equality. But passing today's law is just the first step - we now look to French policymakers to ensure women see the benefits of this historic law implemented this year."
In the United States, women have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, but restrictions on abortion access vary from state to state. An explosion of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws has also limited access to abortion, by forcing comprehensive women's reproductive health clinics to close.
Affordability is also a continuing obstacle for some women to obtain an abortion. Most women in the US pay out-of-pocket for the procedure. The availability of private insurance coverage for abortion now varies from state to state, and since 1976, the federal government has withheld funds for abortion coverage in most circumstances. State and federal restrictions on abortion coverage have had a disproportion impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and the young. The lack of affordable access for abortions in the US has lead to a significant gap between low-income women who carry to term an unintended pregnancy versus wealthier women who do. Of those under the federal poverty level, unintended pregnancies that ended in birth went up 11 percent between 2001 and 2008.
While women in the US wait for better and more affordable access to abortion services, France's new law could go into effect as early as 2015.
A federal judge on Friday refused to grant civil rights groups and the US Department of Justice a preliminary injunction against a North Carolina voter suppression measure, signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory last year. The law will now take effect for the November 2014 general election while the groups' three consolidated lawsuits are pending.
The ruling by US District Court Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, nominated by President George W. Bush, allows four provisions of the North Carolina voter suppression law, HB 589, to remain in effect: the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration during the early-voting period, a prohibition on counting provisional ballots cast by voters in their home county but outside their home voting precinct, and the termination of a preregistration program for 16- and 17-year-olds. The voter identification portion of the law was not specifically at issue in this ruling since it does not take effect until 2016.
"The right to vote lies at the hear of our democracy," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP. "Our movement against this voter suppression law is built on the legacy of those who have testified before us, with their feet and blood, to fight for equal rights in North Carolina and the nation. We will not falter in our efforts to mobilize until this extreme law is repealed."
In his decision, Judge Schroeder found that the plaintiffs - which included the North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and many others - did not meet the burden for a preliminary injunction, but that the case should not be dismissed outright, as the state of North Carolina had urged the court to do. A full trial, also dealing with the voter ID provision, is scheduled for next year.
Voter suppression laws like the one enacted in North Carolina after the US Supreme Court's decision in Shelby v. Holder, specifically target voters of color as well as low-income voters, women, and the elderly. North Carolina's voter identification provision is particularly restrictive for college students because student identification cards (including those issued by state-run universities) and out-of-state driver's license will not be accepted - although military and veteran identification cards will be. African-American voters, Hispanic voters, and voters over age 65 are also less likely to have a government issued photo id, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, and many women do not have a government ID that reflects their current name. The elimination of early voting, same-day registration, and counting of provisional ballots in North Carolina are also expected to disproportionately affect voters of color who used these processes at a higher rate than white voters.
Approximately 63 percent of sexually active Cameroonian women who want to avoid pregnancy do not have access to a modern form of contraception, according to a recently released report by the Guttmacher Institute and the French Institut de Formation et de Recherche Demographiques (IFORD).
Around 6,000 Cameroonian women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. A tragic figure, representing the reality of living in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, with 782 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. But, according to the report, "Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Cameroonian Women," nearly 30 percent of these women did not want to become pregnant in the first place.
Women cite several reasons for not using contraception, including the lack of adequately trained health care providers, frequent unavailability of contraceptive supplies, and limited choice of methods. As a result, they are at risk for unintended or mistimed pregnancies. The poorest women are especially at risk, with 90 percent of them at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. On average, the poorest women in Cameroon have two more children than they report wanting. These women are also the least likely to have access to quality obstetric care.
About 36 percent of unintended pregnancies in Cameroon end in abortion, but restrictions on the procedure force women to resort to clandestine, potentially lethal methods of abortion. However, according to the report, if the need for contraceptives for all women were met, there would be a 75 percent decrease in unplanned births, abortions and miscarriages. The lives of 1,300 women who die in pregnancy and childbirth would be saved each year, and there would be 13,000 fewer infant deaths annually. Additionally, each dollar spent on contraceptive services would save the Cameroon health system $1.23 on maternal and newborn care.
Globally, 529,000 women and girls die each year due to complications related to pregnancy. Millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal, abortions. Although maternal deaths have dropped 45 percent since 1990, only 11 countries have reached their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015, and several countries - including the United States - actually saw their maternal mortality rates increase over the last decade.
Increased international funding for maternal health care and family planning that is inclusive of contraception and abortion is vital to reducing maternal mortality. To fully combat maternal death, however, governments everywhere need to take an even broader approach by empowering women and girls economically and socially, confronting sexual violence and conflict, providing comprehensive health care, ending child marriage and ensuring that girls everywhere have access to basic education.
Women's health advocates came together in Central Florida last week to rally against the US Supreme Court's June ruling in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell and push for federal legislation to overturn the decision.
"It's unbelievable that in 2014, politicians and now bosses are trying to interfere with access to birth control," said Anna Eskamani, Director of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, about the Hobby Lobby decision. The Supreme Court ruled that because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby could avoid paying for insurance coverage of birth control without penalty if they claimed a religious objection to contraceptives. "This shows a troubling level of disregard for American women, who should be able to make private medical decisions without asking for a permission slip from their bosses," Eskamani said.
In an attempt to reverse the ruling, several Democrats introduced the Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act, referred to as the Not My Boss's Business Act, in both the House and Senate in July. It would prohibit employers from refusing to offer health coverage - including contraceptives - guaranteed to their employees under federal law. The bill also provides that no federal law, including RFRA, permits employers from refusing to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The bill was blocked in the Senate last month, but Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that he intends to hold another vote on the bill later this year. The House version of the bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. Last Friday, constituents delivered 135 petitions to Congressman Daniel Webster (R-FL) in support of the bill.
A jury yesterday found Theodore Wafer, the Michigan man who shot and killed Renisha McBride, guilty of murder. The ruling disputed his claim that the killing was an act of self-defense justified under the state's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Wafer, a 55-year-old white man, was found guilty of one count of felony firearm, homicide, and the second-degree murder of McBride, a 19-year-old black woman. A 12-person jury deliberated over the decision for nearly ten hours over two days. Wafer will appear in court for sentencing Aug 25.
"As much as I think there was a sigh of relief when this verdict was rendered, there was also this sense that this was an exceptional case, and that this really could've gone another way," Dr. Treva Lindsey, Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University, said on Huffington Post Live. "Due to the sexist and racist logic embedded in our American injustice system [that] so often that leaves bodies like Renisha even a perpetrator in death. We still refer to it as the Renisha McBride trial as opposed to the Theodore Wafer trial. She's not even given the adequate status of a victim in this instance."
In November 2013, Wafer shot McBride when she came to his Dearborn, Michigan home looking for help following a car accident. WDIV-TV in Detroit reported that McBride knocked on the door and windows of Wafer's home. Wafer said he believed he was in danger and that more than one person was outside, so he retrieved his firearm. He did not call police until after he shot and killed McBride, who was unarmed. When he was charged, he maintained that he had acted in self-defense, claiming that Michigan's Stand Your Ground law should be applicable to his case.
Stand Your Ground laws, which allow individuals to act with force in self-defense even if they themselves have not been attacked with force, exist in approximately 30 states nationwide. McBride's death, which followed the Trayvon Martin case and arrest of Marissa Alexander, re-ignited dialogue nationwide about how those laws not only fail to protect people of color, but also put them in direct danger and disadvantage within the justice system. Some activists, however, believe the overall response to Renisha McBride's murder still has not resonated as much as the recent deaths of African American males whose killers also claimed Stand Your Ground laws as a defense.
"The thing that I felt yesterday, in addition to a level of relief, still, to me, the Internet was really, really, really silent," said Dr. Brittney Cooper, Assistant Professor of Women's & Gender Studies at Rutgers Universities, said in the same Huffington Post Live segment. "When you compare the level of conversation... Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and Eric Garner, I don't feel like we got the level of catharsis for having gotten a conviction with Renisha."
Children should begin receiving formal education about sexual health as early as age 10, according to a new study published in the journal Global Public Health.
The study's researchers note that although sexual health programs typically focus on older adolescents, sexuality and gender identity begin emerging between the ages of 10 and 14. Programs should therefore be refocused to to help ensure that this age group has the opportunity to learn about sexual health, contraception, and healthy relationships well before they begin experimenting with sexual activity.
"As younger adolescents experience rapid transitions to unfamiliar experiences and face life-changing situations such as leaving school, having sex, becoming parents or acquiring HIV, parents, teachers and concerned others have a narrow window of opportunity to facilitate their healthy transition into later adolescence and adulthood," the researchers write. "If programs, based on the healthy adolescent framework, rooted in human rights and gender equity, are implemented at a time when adolescents are still malleable and relatively free of sexual and reproductive health problems and gender role bias, very young adolescents can be guided safely through this life stage, supported by their parents, families and communities."
These findings call into question the wisdom of sex education, even in the US, that starts well-after most teenagers have already become sexually active as well as abstinence-based programs. But, the study authors emphasize that formal sexual education is especially important in lower- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world's adolescents live.
The World Heath Organization reports that complications from pregnancy and childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls, and each year, an estimated 529,000 women and girls die worldwide - some 70,000 from unsafe abortion - with millions more left maimed or injured. Ninety-nine percent of these pregnancy-related deaths occur in the developing world. While there are many other factors compounding this issue, including child marriage and lack of access to modern contraception, improved sexual health education for adolescents could help to prevent some of the thousands of maternal deaths worldwide, as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Florida lawmakers are in Tallahassee today for a special nine-day session to redraw the state's congressional districts after a state court ruled last month that Republicans had illegally redrawn the districts for their own benefit.
Leon County, Florida Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis found in July that state Republicans had created "a shadow redistricting process" that violated the state constitution and "made a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting." He continued, "they might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the Plaintiffs' determined efforts to uncover it in this case."
The League of Women Voters of Florida brought the lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan, arguing that state Republicans had drawn congressional districts with the purpose of favoring GOP-candidates in violation of the Fair Districts Amendments to the state constitution, specifically intended to prohibit this kind of gerrymandering. Judge Lewis agreed, finding that the congressional redistricting plan was constitutionally invalid and ordering two districts, District 5 and District 10 to be redrawn as well as any other district affected by the redrawing. District 5 is currently held by Democrat Corrine Brown, and District 10 is held by Republican Dan Webster.
Florida state legislators now have until Aug 15 to redraw a map. Judge Terry, in a subsequent order, stressed that "time is of the essence," and noted that Florida's 2014 election could be delayed. "Even if a revised map was in place today," Lewis wrote, "the legal and logistical machinations it would take to have the election take place on November 4th under that revised map is not something justified by law or common sense. There is just no way, legally or logistically, to put in place a new map, amend the various deadlines and have elections on November 4th, as prescribed by Federal law."
After the deadline, Judge Terry will consider evidence concerning the "legal and logistical obstacles to holding delayed elections for affected districts in 2014." Legislators expect to close the special session by Tuesday, August 12, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times.
After three days of unprecedented meetings between the US and leaders from nearly 50 African countries, the US Africa Leaders Summit ended Wednesday. In addition to public and private commitments of up to $33 billion for trade and investment, the United States called on leaders of the African continent to make a considerable investment in advancing the status of women and girls.
Before the summit kicked off, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, part of the President's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). There, she emphasized the need to address the status of women and girls across the African continent and commit to making girls' education a priority. "We all know that the problem here isn't only about resources, it's also about attitudes and beliefs. It's about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It's about whether societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether they view women as full citizens entitled to fundamental rights," she said.
Mrs. Obama acknowledged the advances made in decreasing maternal mortality, and increasing female legislative representation, but she explicitly condemned gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation (FGM), forced child marriage, human trafficking, rape, and domestic violence, calling the practices "serious human rights violations" not "legitimate cultural practices."
"These practices have no place in our shared future, because we all know that our future lies in our people - in their talent, their ambition, their drive," Mrs. Obama said. "And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens."
President Barack Obama echoed the same sentiment when he announced an infusion of $3.3 billion to support the first of four regional leadership centers being established across the continent to spur youth cultural and economic development. "If you're a strong man, you should not feel threatened by a strong woman," he told the group during a town hall. The leadership centers - which will launch first in Kenya in 2015, then expand to Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa - will provide leadership training and professional development opportunities to young Africans who aspire to leadership roles across the continent, most of whose population is under the age of 35 and predominantly female in many countries.
Wednesday, the last day of the official Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama and her predecessor, Laura Bush, turned the focus to the health needs of African women and girls. The two called on first ladies to maximize their role for the benefit of the continent's females. Former President George W. Bush also addressed women's health needs, announcing commitments of $2.2 million from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to expand the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon health partnership program on the continent.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is a joint effort founded by the Bush Institute in Dallas, along with PEPFAR, Susan G. Komen, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The program works to reduce the rate of breast cancer and cervical cancer, the top cancer killer of women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The White House called this week's summit the largest event any US President has held with African heads of state and government.
The US Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Police last week alleging that the state police has engaged in a pattern and practice of employment discrimination against women.
In its suit, the DOJ alleges that the Pennsylvania state police excluded qualified women from consideration as entry-level troopers by requiring candidates to pass a physical fitness test that did not test for physical skills necessary to perform the job.
According to the DOJ complaint, the test "disproportionately screened out female applicants, resulting in a disparate impact against those applicants" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Between 2003 and 2012, the female pass rate for the physical exam was less than 80 percent of the male pass rate. That gap kept 45 qualified females from becoming state troopers despite the physical fitness test being unrelated to the performance of the job.
The DOJ is seeking a court order to end to the physical fitness test and to require defendants "to provide make-whole relief, including backpay with interest, offers of employment, retroactive seniority, and other benefits to women who have suffered losses or will suffer losses" because of the state police's policies. A spokesperson for current Gov. Tom Corbett (R) said lawyers for the state are reviewing the DOJ's lawsuit.
"The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work," said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. She reiterated the Department's overall commitment to challenge all discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of sex.
"Despite overwhelming evidence that women and men are equally capable of police work," a 2002 report by the Feminist Majority Foundation found "widespread bias in police hiring, selection practices and recruitment policies keeps the numbers of women in law enforcement artificially low." According to data collected by the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the number of women within state police departments has traditionally been sparse. Nationwide, in 2007, only about 6.5 percent of full-time state police and highway patrol officers were women, representing only a small increase from 1987 when women were only 3.8 percent of state police departments.
Cities and states across the United States have been responding differently to the US Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down Massachusetts' 35-foot abortion clinic buffer zone in McCullen v. Coakley, with some jurisdictions suspending their buffer zone laws and others continuing to enforce the protective measures.
The McCullen decision invalidated only one statute: a fixed, 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts. In making its decision, the Court found that this specific Massachusetts law was unconstitutional, not that state and local governments could never enact measures to protect patients, doctors, and staff from harassment and intimidation outside of reproductive health clinics. In addition, the Court did not overturn a previous buffer zone case, Hill v. Colorado, that upheld a statute prohibiting a person - within 100 feet of a clinic entrance - from approaching within 8 feet of another person, without that person's consent.
After the ruling, the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, issued a statement clarifying that the McCullen decision did not implicate his state's clinic buffer zone laws. Seventeen counties in New York state have buffer zones as a result of a court injunction. Additionally, New York City, encompassing 5 additional counties, has a 15-foot buffer zone law. Noting that anti-abortion activists had attempted to assert that McCullen invalidated all buffer zones, Schneiderman issued an open letter to clarify the law.
"We will not allow activists to use a narrowly targeted Supreme Court decision as an opportunity to create confusion about the critical protections here in New York," wrote Schneiderman. "Not only do New York State's clinic protection laws remain completely in place, I am committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to ensure they are fully enforced."
Other state and local governments, however, have - reluctantly and often in the context of ongoing legal disputes - either repealed, in the case of Portland, Maine, or suspended enforcement of their buffer zone laws. The city of Madison, Wisconsin recently announced that it would not enforce its buffer zone law, one that is similar to that in Hill v. Colorado, and New Hampshire has stopped enforcing its 25-foot buffer zone. Both jurisdictions are in the middle of legal challenges to their laws.
In the wake of the ruling in McCullen, the state of Massachusetts enacted a new state law to protect access to reproductive health facilities. The new law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick last week, went into effect immediately.
"Patients, doctors, and healthcare workers are under siege at clinics across the nation," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal in a press release issued on the day of oral argument in McCullen. "Simply put, safety buffer zones help prevent violence and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services." Clinic safety zones have been a vital tool to help ensure that patients, doctors, and healthcare workers can enter reproductive healthcare facilities without harassment, intimidation, or violence.
For over 20 years, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has tracked incidents of violence, harassment, and intimidation at women's health clinics in the US. FMF brought the first lawsuit in the nation on buffer zones to the US Supreme Court in 1994. That case, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, established the constitutionality of an injunction creating a clinic safety buffer zone in Florida.
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Federal US District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled yesterday that an Alabama TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges is unconstitutional.
In his 172-page opinion, Judge Thompson detailed the history of violence against Alabama abortion providers, explaining that the context of violence could not be overlooked in deciding whether the admitting privileges requirement placed an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain a legal abortion. Specifically, Judge Thompson recounted the 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn, an Alabama resident who provided abortion services in Alabama and Florida; the 1997 arson of a clinic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; the 1998 bombing of the Birmingham, Alabama clinic by extremist Eric Robert Rudolf; and more recent incidents of violence, harassment, and intimidation, including an incident five or six years ago when someone drove through the front of the Tuscaloosa clinic. In addition, during the 10-day bench trial, doctors - who were identified by pseudonyms and had to testify from behind a black curtain - described their "daily fears" as abortion providers in the state, explaining how they had not only experienced threats to their professional reputations but also to their personal safety.
In this climate, none of the doctors involved in the case - many of whom travel into the state to provide services at the Alabama clinics - could obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals, leading Alabama's clinics - already dwindling in number - to close.
"At last sanity," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "The Feminist Majority Foundation has been defending the abortion clinics in Alabama since 1989, and Judge Thompson's account of the violence was spot on. In the hostile climate created by extremists, it is no wonder that doctors have to be flown in to provide care. The TRAP law had only one purpose: to close comprehensive reproductive health clinics for women."
Judge Thompson found that hostility toward abortion providers created significant obstacles to recruiting local doctors, who could perhaps - though not certainly - obtain admitting privileges, including "that the number of abortion doctors nationally and throughout the South is declining; the decision to perform abortions carries detrimental professional consequences in Alabama; violence against and harassment of abortion providers, beyond run-of-the-mill political protest, persist in the State." Also "prior attempts to recruit local doctors have failed dramatically; and there are significant regulatory barriers to entry for a new doctor to begin providing abortions at any scale."
Given this situation, and finding that the law was unnecessary to protect patient health and safety, Judge Thompson ruled that Alabama's admitting privileges requirement places a needless difficulty on a woman's right to an abortion. "The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama's five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability."
Alabama passed the admitting privileges requirement in 2013. The law was immediately challenged by Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood Southeast which operate comprehensive women's health clinics in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile. As a result, the law has not been enforced.
Judge Thompson asked the parties in the case to provide more information to determine whether a permanent injunction of the law is necessary. In the meantime, the law will continue to go unenforced against the plaintiffs.
After the ruling, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast Staci Fox issued a statement saying, "Politicians passed this law in order to make it impossible for women in Alabama to get abortions, plain and simple. ... This victory ensures that women in Alabama can make their own private health care decisions without the interference from politicians."
Judge Thompson, an African-American judge appointed to the bench by President Carter, delayed his decision in order to review a ruling by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholding a preliminary injunction against a similar Mississippi TRAP law. The Fifth Circuit opinion, written by District Court Judge E. Grady Jolly, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, was decided 2-1.