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6/2/2014 - Obama Proclaims June 2014 LGBT Pride Month

President Obama proclaimed June 2014 to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.

"During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains," Obama said in the proclamation.

"Here at home, we have strengthened laws against violence toward LGBT Americans, taken action to prevent bullying and harassment, and prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals. Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act." The act (ENDA) passed the Senate in November, but it has not moved forward since.

Obama added that his administration will remain dedicated to addressing health disparities in the LGBT community, with the help of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS strategy. He also said that his commitment to equality for LGBT people extends around the world, where people face arrest, violence, and execution for who they are.

"I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people," he said in ending the proclamation.

TAKE ACTION: Protest Brunei's Kill-A-Gay and Flog-A-Woman Penal Code!

5/30/2014 - Complaint Filed Against Insurers for Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDS

The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and The AIDS Institute filed a complaint yesterday with the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS OCR) alleging that four Florida insurers are discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS. The complaint claims that the insurers are creating prescription drug policies that discourage people with HIV/AIDS from using their plans, which violates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and federal civil rights laws.

"The ACA provides robust consumer protections, including putting an end to discriminatory practices by health insurers," said Wayne Turner, NHeLP staff attorney, in a statement yesterday. "But these insurance plans are running afoul of that by placing all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest tiers with exorbitant co-insurance and co-pays, and instituting other barriers to obtaining commonly prescribed HIV/AIDS medications. The companies are going out of their way to discourage people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in their plans--a blatantly illegal practice."

The four insurers noted in the complaint - CoventryOne, Cigna, Humana and Preferred Medical - are alleged to have placed all HIV/AIDS medications in the highest drug tiers and to require expensive co-insurance and co-pays, high up-front costs, and prior authorization. For example, Humana requires that members spend a $1,5000 deductible and then contribute 50 percent towards the cost of their HIV/AIDS medication - which can cost over $2,000 for a one-month supply.

The groups are calling on the HHS OCR to investigate the plans and require them to take corrective actions. They want to send a strong message to other plans to prevent this tactic from spreading, which "would make insurance coverage impossible for people with HIV/AIDS, and jeopardize their health and well-being," continued Turner.

5/30/2014 - Oklahoma Governor Signs Admitting Privileges Bill

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill on Wednesday that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. HB 1848 also requires the Oklahoma Board of Health to establish standards around equipment and supplies that may be necessary if a medical emergency occurs.

Admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; hospitals may refuse to provide privileges because of religious affiliation or fear of anti-choice protesters and violence; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion.

They are "a veiled attempt to really close down clinics in the name of women's health," said Tamya Cox, staff attorney of lobbysit for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

These laws and the resulting closures of clinics leave many women without access to vital abortion services. Some already have to drive hundreds of miles or across state lines to get to the nearest clinic, but if multiple states continue to pass these laws, even those limited options may disappear. "We are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement after Louisiana's legislature passed their admitting privileges law last week.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close. Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign one into law soon as well. Only one of Oklahoma's three clinics already has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, so the other two may be forced to close when the law goes into effect on November 1.

5/29/2014 - Pakistani Woman Stoned to Death for Marrying A Man of Her Own Choosing

A 25-year-old Pakistani woman was brutally and publicly murdered by her family this week for marrying the man she loved.

Farzana Parveen married a man several months ago following a years-long engagement. She was three months pregnant. Her family did not approve of the marriage because they did not arrange it, and the husband believes they were trying to get money from him. After the couple married, Parveen's family threatened them and filed an abduction case against the husband. On the couple's way to the courthouse Tuesday to contest the abduction claim, 20 of Parveen's extended family members waited outside for them and started beating them with batons and bricks from a nearby construction site until she died.

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it," the father was quoted saying to a police investigator. He is currently under arrest and facing murder charges.

"HRCP is appalled by the manner of Farzana Parveen's death just a few yards from the Lahore High Court on Tuesday," said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement. "Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognises for all adult citizens but one where the state has failed to prevent abuse and violence."

HRCP reports that almost 900 women were murdered in 2013 in so-called honor killings, and many perpetrators who commit violence against women are acquitted or given light sentences due to poor police work and prosecutions and the unwillingness of the state to confront the issue.

5/28/2014 - New Hampshire Governor to Sign 25-Foot Clinic Buffer Zone Bill

The New Hampshire Senate voted last week to create a 25-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide abortion services.

SB 319 was filed in response to over 60 complaints by patients of Planned Parenthood of Manchester since the start of 2013. The complaints detailed verbal harassment, intimidation, and passage-blocking by anti-choice protesters. It had largely bipartisan support when it was introduced.

"Regardless of where they are on abortion, they believe that women ought to be able to enter health-care facilities to obtain a legally protected service without harassment and intimidation," said Jennifer Frizzell, senior policy advisor at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, regarding some Republican support of the bill.

The bill had already passed the Senate in February, but the House made a few changes before passage and then sent it to the Senate for another vote. It will now go to the governor's desk, where Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCullen v. Coakley on whether a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot clinic safety buffer zone is constitutional. The Massachusetts state legislature enacted a clinic safety buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in the attacks. In 2007, the Massachusetts state legislature, with the support of local law enforcement, strengthened its law to create a 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers.

"We know that buffer zones aid law enforcement and reduce violence," commented Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "These laws are instrumental in protecting patients, doctors, and healthcare workers from harassment and intimidation and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services."

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined other women's and civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts law at issue in McCullen. The law has survived multiple challenges in the lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case next month.

5/27/2014 - Deadly Shooting at UCSB Motivated by Misogyny

A 22-year-old man went on a shooting and stabbing rampage on Friday night near the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus in Isla Vista, killing six students and injuring 13 more. The confirmed suspect claimed it was his "day of retribution" for a lifetime of rejection by women.

The suspect frequently posted misogynistic and racist comments on "Men's Rights Activist" online forums and posted several videos online detailing his hatred of women and humanity in general and his feelings of alienation. In a YouTube video posted before the attack, the suspect details his plan to "punish" women through a killing spree. He had also written a 140-page manifesto about his life and his thoughts on women, calling women "a plague" and claiming they should be kept in concentration camps.

The suspect's mother and therapist had previously become concerned by the suspect's increasingly violent online posts and videos. According to a lawyer for the family, the therapist reported concerns to a local mental health service which referred the report to police. Officers conducted a welfare visit a month before the attack, visiting the suspect in his home, but did not see the need to investigate further.

The course of events Friday night left nine crime scenes. He first stabbed to death his three roommates in his apartment, then tried to enter the Alpha Phi sorority house on the UCSB campus. The sorority members did not open the door when he repeatedly knocked. He then drove around Isla Vista, shot a man in a deli, then opened fire on pedestrians, killing two women. His reckless driving injured more as he attempted to flee from police. Eventually, he got in a shoot-out with the police before killing himself with a gunshot wound to the head.

The attack triggered a massive Twitter conversation about the harassment and abuse women face on a daily basis, with 1.2 million people tweeting with the hashtag #YesAllWomen as of Sunday evening. "Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen" tweeted Emily Hughes. "Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down. #yesallwomen" tweeted Kate Tuttle.

One in four women will experience rape in their lifetime, one in four women also experience domestic violence, and almost all have experienced some form of street harassment. Women are particularly threatened by gun violence. Women dealing with domestic violence are more than five times more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the home, and many mass shooters start off their attacks by murdering an intimate partner.

5/27/2014 - Nigerian Army Has Located Girls Abducted by Boko Haram

The Nigerian army announced yesterday that it has determined the location of the 200 girls abducted by extremist group Boko Haram more than one month ago, noting that they are still in the country. They have ruled out the use of force to rescue them and turned down a deal to exchange prisoners who are members of Boko Haram for the girls' release, so it is unclear what their next step will be.

"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," said Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh. "But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back."

After the government faced an outcry from Nigerians and people around the world for acting too slowly to find them, several international forces got involved. The US has provided air surveillance, and President Obama sent military personnel to Chad last week to help find the girls.

Since the kidnapping in April, Boko Haram has killed hundreds of civilians. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group last week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.

5/23/2014 - Illinois Senate Passes Resolution to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment

With a 39-11 vote, the Illinois Senate voted - by more than the necessary three-fifths margin of elected senators, as required by state law - to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). If it moves forward in the state House, Illinois will become the 36th state to ratify the ERA.

"Ratification is not just a hugely important symbolic step but a move to establish women's rights as a bedrock principle in the Constitution," said Illinois Senator Heather Stearns, who has previously supported proposals for the state to adopt the amendment. "From equal pay to equal access to health care, freedom from gender-based discrimination should be the law of the land and not subject to political whims. Equal rights are not a fad; they're in the fabric of our nation, and the ERA confirms that."

"It's exciting to see that the Illinois Senate has voted to ratify the ERA," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, who led a massive national ERA campaign as President of the National Organization for Women. "The ERA has strong support in Illinois, and women deserve action."

"The ERA is on the move again. In February, the Virginia Senate voted to ratify, and now the Illinois Senate," continued Smeal. "The overwhelming support of voters for the ERA and the gender gap in voting is moving the ERA forward."

Authored by suffragist and National Women's Party leader Alice Paul, the Equal Rights Amendment directs, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex" and gives Congress the power to enforce the Amendment through appropriate legislation.

Congress first approved the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification in 1972. Within five years, 35 states had ratified the ERA, but corporate interests and right-wing politicians have blocked the movement from obtaining the three additional states necessary for the ERA to become part of the US Constitution. States that have not ratified the ERA include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

5/23/2014 - Obama Sends US Military Personnel to Help Find Abducted Nigerian Girls

The White House announced this week that it has deployed 80 US military personnel to Chad to help find the over 200 Nigerian girls abducted in April by militant group Boko Haram.

"These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area," he wrote in a letter to the House and Senate leaders. "The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required."

They will join the US military and law enforcement officials and international forces already there.

It has been over a month since the girls were abducted, and the search for them has come up empty. Boko Haram released a video last week showing some of the girls praying and offering to exchange them for imprisoned members of the group, but there have not been many other leads. The group, which has a long history of terrorism in Nigeria, appears to be escalating its violent attacks. The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the group this week, adding Boko Haram to a list of organizations associated with al-Qaeda.

5/22/2014 - Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill That Threatens to Close Clinics

The Louisiana House voted 88-5 yesterday to pass an omnibus anti-abortion bill that could force three or four of the state's five abortion clinics to close. Governor Bobby Jindal has already indicated that he will sign it into law.

HB 388 will require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. These admitting privileges do not increase patient safety - complications from legal abortion are rare - and privileges can be extremely difficult to obtain. A hospital may not be located within 30 miles of the clinic, especially in rural areas; religiously affiliated or other hospitals may refuse to provide privileges; and clinics in smaller cities must often use visiting doctors who are ineligible for admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Because hospitals will admit women suffering from abortion complications anyway, the requirement is nothing but a strategy to close clinics and reduce access to abortion. Closing abortion clinics, however, will push many women to attempt unsafe abortions.

"It's clear the intent of this legislation is to shut down health centers, which would have devastating consequences for women across Louisiana," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement yesterday.

A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas - on which HB 388 is partly based - has caused at least 20 clinics in Texas to close, and Alabama and Mississippi have also passed similar laws. "With similar restrictions passed in neighboring states over the objection of leading medical experts, we are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely," Richards added.

The bill will also implement a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions. Once signed, it will go into effect on September 1.

5/21/2014 - Mississippi Personhood Initiative Fails

A campaign to put a "personhood" initiative on Mississippi's November 2015 ballot failed last week after the initiative's organizers - Personhood Mississippi - did not turn in petitions with the required number of signatures on time.

The measure, known as Initiative 41, proposed to amend the Mississippi state constitution to create an "inalienable right to life" beginning at conception. If passed, Initiative 41 would have banned emergency contraception, birth control pills, and IUDs, as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It would also have banned some cancer treatments, select fertility treatments, and would have allowed the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage.

Initiative 41 was nearly identical to a 2011 measure, also proposed by Personhood Mississippi, known as Initiative 26. A coalition of groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union, together with student groups, and scores of volunteers worked to defeat that measure at the polls, which Mississippi voters rejected with 58% of the vote.

"When organizers filed Initiative 41, they claimed Mississippi voters were 'confused' about Initiative 26, and that they only needed a few linguistic tweaks to ensure victory. However, the slightly-reworded language of Initiative 41 carried the same potential unintended consequences for infertility treatment, contraception, and life-threatening pregnancy complications," wrote Parents Against Personhood in a statement. "We are relieved that personhood will not appear on the 2015 ballot, and we hope that organizers will respect the opinions that Mississippians have now expressed twice over and decline to pursue future personhood efforts."

Initiative 41 was proposed in the spring of last year. Anti-choice organizers had one year to collect signatures from at least 107,216 registered voters.

Although personhood will not be on the ballot in Mississippi, voters in Colorado and North Dakota will vote on personhood measures in their states this November, and voters in Tennessee will vote on whether to amend the Tennessee state constitution to declare that there is no right to an abortion in the state.

Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's 2014 State Ballot Measures to Watch fact sheet to learn more.

5/20/2014 - Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal court yesterday struck down Oregon's state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, finding that the ban violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Minutes later, officials in Oregon began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who had been eagerly awaiting the decision, some having camped out in front of a Portland county building to be among the first to wed.

"I am so thrilled to have the freedom to marry the love of my life. Marriage strengthens families like mine, and for me, it's as simple as treating others as one would hope to be treated," said Paul Rummell, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "No one should be told it is illegal to marry the person they love."

Oregon voters in 2004 approved a ballot initiative - known as Measure 36 - to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In his opinion, Judge Michael J. McShane acknowledged that political process, but noted that the political process could not be used to limit fundamental rights. "At the core of the Equal Protection Clause . . . there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds," Judge McShane wrote, "that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities."

The case is unlikely to be appealed. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum - like attorneys general in six other states - refused to defend the marriage ban during the litigation, arguing that it was unconstitutional, and Oregon Governor John Zitzhaber praised the court's decision to "overturn institutional discrimination in Oregon's constitution." The governor continued, "No longer will Oregonians tolerate discrimination against the gay, lesbian, and transgender community."

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit yesterday denied a request from the National Organization for Marriage(NOM) for an emergency stay of Judge McShane's decision. The Court, however, will allow NOM to submit a brief on why it should be allowed to intervene in the case. Judge McShane had previously denied such a request from the group.

The national trend toward marriage equality is strong. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, and courts in 11 states have recently overturned marriage equality bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages, although many of these decisions are pending review.

"I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure," wrote Judge McShane in his opinion. "With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community."

5/19/2014 - Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson Fired

The first woman to lead the New York Times as Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, was abruptly fired from her position last Wednesday. Although the New York Times officially denies the dismissal has to do with her gender or compensation, many feminist sources speculate that her dismissal had to do with her request for compensation equal to her male predecessors and point out that her abrupt firing, without any acknowledgment of her 17 years of service, indicates gross sexism.

"Several weeks ago, I'm told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs," writes Ken Auletta in the New Yorker. "'She confronted the top brass,' one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management's narrative that she was 'pushy,' a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect."

Abramson also referred to sexism in the newspaper industry during her commencement speech at Wake Forest University. She referenced her heroes who faced discrimination. "Nan Robinson, a groundbreaking reporter of the New York Times, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story. They both faced discrimination in a much tougher more male dominated newspaper industry, and they went on to win Pulitzer prizes," she said.

Abramson had worked for the New York Times for 17 years and took over the top position in September 2011. Her work as Executive Editor is viewed as largely successful. She led the paper to increase its online engagement and brought more women into leadership roles.

However, she has often been characterized as "pushy" and "mercurial" - terms considered to be gendered because a man in her position would likely not be described in such a way. She is also said to have clashed with the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other senior management. Her dismissal came as a surprise to staff at the paper, and she was not given a proper send-off, even though her predecessor, Howell Raines, who was believed to be let go because of a scandal, received a much more respectful dismissal.

Some outlets are using this news to call for a renewed interest in legislation around pay discrimination and efforts to break the glass ceiling. On average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers - impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women's Social Security, pensions, and retirement. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help these issues, but Senate Republicans filibustered it last month.

Abramson will be replaced by Dean Baquet, previously the managing editor of the paper. He will be the first African-American to lead the paper.

5/16/2014 - ACLU Calls for Investigation of Single-Sex Program in Florida Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint this week with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida. The complaint claims that the district's single-sex classrooms violate Title IX - the federal amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in education - and calls for a federal investigation of the district.

The Hillsborough County Public School district is the second largest school district in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. It has operated sex-segregated classes in 16 coeducational schools and two completely single-sex middle schools since 2009, justifying the sex-segregation with pseudoscience stereotypes about how girls and boys learn differently and paying as much as $100,000 to outside consultants to promote the stereotypes.

"The Hillsborough School District has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a hidden curriculum promoting the theory that boys and girls are so fundamentally different that they need to be taught using different teaching methods," said Galen Sherwin, Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "The truth is that every student learns differently, and our public schools should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children's educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl."

Although major meta-analyses of quality research have found no benefit to single-sex classrooms and that sex stereotyping is harmful in various ways, teachers in the Hillsborough School District were trained in teaching methods based on stereotypes. For example, the district encouraged teachers in boys' classes to be louder and have higher expectations, while teachers in girls' classrooms were expected to be calmer and less critical. In one instance, a boys class was allowed to play with electronics if they behaved well, while girls were given dabs of perfume for completing a task correctly.

A bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last week will spread this teaching method throughout the state by requiring training and providing funding for teachers of "gender specific" classrooms throughout Florida. HB 313 will go into effect on July 1.

Between 2007 and 2010, more than 1,000 public K-12 schools in the US reported having single-sex academic classes. Author Susan McGee Bailey, former head of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, writes in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine that sex segregation in public schools, often based on pseudoscience, creates inequities in education and increases discrimination and sex stereotyping. "The U.S. has moved far beyond the days when girls were excluded from many educational options," writes Bailey. "Rolling back the progress of the past century on the mistaken notion that sex segregation will provide better learning opportunities for girls and boys in this country is a worn-out fallacy that has no place in the 21st century."

The ACLU filed a similar complaint against a middle school in Wisconsin in January.

Check out Feminist Majority Foundation's Education Equality Toolkit to learn more about sex segregation in schools.

5/15/2014 - Missouri Legislature Passes 72-Hour Waiting Period Bill

The Missouri House voted last night, in the middle of an ongoing 3-day protest on the steps of the state capitol, to approve a measure that will triple Missouri's waiting period for an abortion procedure from 24 hours to 72 hours. The Missouri Senate had already voted on Tuesday 22-9 to pass the waiting period bill.

If signed into law, women seeking an abortion will have to wait three days between an initial appointment with the physician who will perform the procedure and the actual procedure. The long waiting period will significantly increase the financial and transportation burdens on women seeking abortions, especially since there is only one clinic in the entire state that provides abortions. There is also no exception to the waiting period for victims of rape or incest.

"Those of us who oppose this bill believe it's designed to demean and shame a woman in an effort to change her mind and places unnecessary hurdles on her decision to end a pregnancy," said Missouri Representative Judy Morgan before the House voted on the legislation yesterday.

It is unclear whether Governor Jay Nixon plans to sign or veto the bill, but if he signs the measure into law, Missouri will join South Dakota and Utah as the states with the longest waiting period.

The Missouri state legislature has considered 29 other anti-abortion proposals during this session alone.

5/15/2014 - State Refusals to Expand Medicaid Leaves Millions Still Uninsured

Nearly five million low-income Americans do not have access to affordable insurance because state legislators in 24 states refuse to expand Medicaid, and people of color are disproportionately impacted. A new report released last week, however, gives a picture of some of the most vulnerable uninsured.

Of those low-income Americans who depend on community health centers for care, over one million people still lack health insurance coverage because of state refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Community health centers receive federal funding to operate in communities that are medically under-served and typically poorer than the overall uninsured population. Seventy-one percent of the people who depend on community health centers live in just 11 southern states.

"These low-income patients, many of them living in the South, already face significant challenges to obtaining health care," said Dr. Peter Shin, the lead author of the study and director of George Washington University's Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health. "Our analysis suggests these patients will remain without access to affordable insurance, which will almost certainly lead to delays in care and the risk of more serious health conditions."

In contrast, community health centers in states that have expanded Medicaid have seen 2.9 million patients gain health coverage in 2014.

Researchers determined that community health centers in states that refuse Medicaid expansion will ultimately forgo $569 million in revenues. Some centers have already been forced to close due to lack of funding and patients - further limiting access to health care for people who depend on them. "In addition to forgoing the major gains in overall cost savings from greater access to preventive services, these states will also forgo gains in job creation, labor income and productivity, and related tax revenues," the report states.

Some 3 million individuals enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) between October 2013 and the end of February. There is no deadline for states to opt into the Medicaid expansion.

5/15/2014 - Louisiana Senate Passes Omnibus Anti-Abortion Bill

The Louisiana Senate voted 34-3 to pass an omnibus abortion bill yesterday that would limit access to abortion in the state by imposing burdensome regulations on abortion providers and forcing women to wait longer to obtain an abortion.

HB 388 will implement a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions and require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Admitting privileges requirements are very difficult to follow if the clinic is in a rural area far from a hospital - a concern voiced by Senator Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) - or if the closest hospital will not agree to let the clinic doctor have admitting privileges. A law implementing admitting privileges requirements in Texas has caused 19 clinics in Texas to close, and the Louisiana version is expected to close three out of five of the state's current abortion clinics.

"This bill will seriously impede a woman's ability to access a procedure that is perfectly legal in the state," said Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans). "Clearly this is a deeply personal decision for women, and a complex decision that women often struggle with. The bottom line is that this is a decision a woman should make and not a politician."

The Louisiana House approved a version of the anti-abortion bill earlier this year. The Senate bill contained some amendments, so the bill will now return to the House for a vote.

5/14/2014 - Minnesota Governor Signs Women's Economic Security Act

Minnesota Governor Mike Dayton signed a package of bills into law this weekend aimed at eliminating discrimination against women in the workplace.

The Women's Economic Security Act includes 9 pieces of legislation that address a variety of issues women face in the workplace. The act will work to narrow the compensation gap between men and women in Minnesota by requiring larger-sized businesses that contract with the state at a certain amount to undergo a pay equity analysis and earn an "equal pay certificate." The act also bans salary secrecy, doubles unpaid maternity leave time from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, creates more employment protections for nursing and pregnant women, and creates "safety leave" for those who need time off due to sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking, among several other changes.

"We know that strong women make a strong Minnesota, and that underlies the Women's Economic Security Act," said Representative Carly Melin. "When future generations look back we will be able to tell them that we did something to make the lives of working women and working families better."

The act was originally introduced in January and passed the state's House and Senate last week. Other states, including Nebraska and New York, have introduced expansive legislative packages to combat these problems as well. In July, Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) unveiled the "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds" agenda, which addresses universal childcare, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and equal pay. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which was included in their legislative package, failed to advance in the Senate in April after a filibuster along party lines.

5/14/2014 - Advocates Push NYPD for More Reform Following Recent Condom Seizure Policy Revision

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced changes Monday to their policy of using condoms as evidence of sex work, but advocates maintain that practice should be put to rest rather than modified. Under the revised policy, officers will no longer confiscate condoms from suspected sex workers in order to use them as evidence in individual prostitution cases, but can still seize condoms as evidence in cases where someone is suspected sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution.

While this is an important change, advocates say the NYPD should stop confiscating condoms at all. "This is a step in the right direction but it doesn't go far enough and creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through," Andrea Ritchie, a coordinator at Streetwise and Safe, told the Associated Press. "We will be monitoring the NYPD carefully to see how they implement this policy."

Opponents of the former NYPD policy have long criticized it for contributing to police harassment and undermining efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. A 2012 Human Rights Watch (HRW) study found that as a result of the condom confiscation and arrest policy, sex workers and transgender women who are often profiled as sex workers in New York City "feared carrying condoms either for use with clients or with other sexual partners, and sometimes engaged in unprotected sex." Another HRW report found that condom confiscation policies and police harassment of sex workers in Louisiana may be contributing to the state's high HIV/AIDS rates.

"A policy that inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and dangerous," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a recent event announcing the changes.

5/13/2014 - Senator Lindsey Graham Pushes Federal 20-Week Abortion Ban

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is expected to push for a vote today on a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks.

The bill, S. 1670, has no Democratic sponsors, but 41 Republican Senators have already pledged support of the bill and the Republican National Committee recently released a resolution in support of a 20-week ban. A companion measure passed the House last June.

Several news outlets have noted that Graham's increased advocacy for the abortion ban coincides with the one-year anniversary of the murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, a rogue doctor who performed illegal abortions in Pennsylvania. Graham's abortion ban, however, would do nothing to protect women. Instead, a 20-week abortion ban undermines women's health and safety and prohibits safe abortion care to women whose pregnancies go wrong. The proposed ban does not contain an exception for fetal anomalies, and contains only a narrow health exception for women. The ban would also interfere with the ability of a woman to choose abortion before fetal viability - usually after 20 weeks - in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade.

Senator Graham, who is up for re-election, is also facing a primary challenge in South Carolina, spurring some to believe that his push is motivated by a desire to appeal to certain voters before the June 10 contest.

5/13/2014 - Boko Haram Proposes Swap of Kidnapped Girls for Prisoners

Boko Haram, the terrorist group that kidnapped over 200 teenage girls from their school in Northeast Nigeria one month ago, released a video yesterday on YouTube offering to free the girls in return for the release of imprisoned group members.

Around 100 girls are shown in the video praying and wearing full grey veils. "We will not release them while you detain our brothers," Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau says. Nigeria has reportedly deployed two army divisions to find the girls. "The government of Nigeria is considering all options towards freeing the girls and reuniting them with their parents," said senior Ministry of Information official Mike Omeri.

Several countries have offered assistance to the Nigerian government, including the United States. An anonymous source told the New York Times that US surveillance aircraft have already joined the search for the girls and satellite images have been provided to the Nigerian government.

Nigerian officials updated the number of girls still in the hands of Boko Haram to 223 after 53 escaped. After the kidnapping, Nigerians demanded that the government needed to do more to secure the girls' safe return home. Rallies were held around the world in support, and a social media campaign spread using the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Shekau threatened in an earlier video to sell the girls into slavery, and many feared that the girls had already been trafficked into other countries or forced into marriage to Boko Haram members.

Boko Haram has a long history of terrorism in northern Nigeria. Human Rights Watch reported in 2012 on the group's atrocious activities, which have included murder, abduction, rape, mutilation, and the use of child soldiers. The group kidnapped 8 more girls from Warabe and killed as many as 300 people in an attack on a city in the northeastern region of Nigeria last week.

5/13/2014 - Missouri Activists Stage 72-Hour Protest of Abortion Waiting Period

Reproductive rights activists in Missouri are halfway through a 72-hour rally on the steps of the state capitol in protest of a state bill that would require a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion.

The Women's Filibuster began yesterday at 2 pm and will end on Thursday at 2 pm. Activists are protesting against the expected passage of the bill that would triple Missouri's waiting period for an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours - a change that will significantly increase the financial and transportation burdens on women seeking abortions, especially in a state with only one clinic that provides abortions. A live feed of the protest is being shown on the event's website.

"Missourians are outraged by this dangerous and misguided agenda and have been organizing for months - hundreds rallied last month at a Lobby Day for Women's Health, and thousands more have called and emailed their legislators," the website for the protest says. "The bottom line is: Lawmakers should be helping Missouri women have more access to medical care, not less.

The Missouri Senate voted shortly after midnight on Tuesday to pass the waiting period bill. Last week, the Missouri Senate voted against providing victims of rape and incest an exemption from the waiting period. The Missouri House already approved a 72-hour waiting period, but the Senate version of the bill removed a requirement, approved by the House, that women watch a state-created video prior to obtaining an abortion. As a result, the Senate-approved version of the bill will return to the Missouri House for a vote.

The Missouri state legislature has considered 29 other anti-abortion proposals during this session alone. If the 72-hour waiting period is passed, Missouri will join South Dakota and Utah as the states with the longest waiting period.

5/13/2014 - VA Governor Orders Review of TRAP Regulations

In a victory for Virginia women, Governor Terry McAuliffe directed the state Board of Health yesterday to review TRAP regulations adopted last year that would require clinics providing abortion care to meet the same construction standards for new hospitals.

"I am very concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations that were adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women's health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women," the governor told reporters. "There is a perception across the commonwealth that the Board of Health was pressured into approving rules that impede the ability of women to access preventive services and even sometimes lifesaving care," he continued. "Let me be clear - I share those concerns."

The Virginia TRAP laws - targeted regulation of abortion providers - have been heavily criticized for imposing unnecessary, onerous burdens on women's health clinics. Examples of the changes required by the regulations include making additional parking available, replacing existing ceilings, and adding showers to all facilities for staff members. Critics say that the regulations are not based on medical practice and are an attempt to shut off access to abortion care by closing clinics that cannot afford to comply. The Virginia regulations have already caused at least two clinics in the state to close.

The Virginia Board of Health had initially exempted existing clinics from the new TRAP rules. But after pressure from then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the board reversed itself. Cuccinelli, who unsuccessfully ran for Virginia governor in 2013, had threatened Board of Health members with the denial of state legal counsel if they did not change their decision on the exemption. The Falls Church Healthcare Center has sued the Board of Health for disregarding an executive order by then-Governor Bob McDonnell requiring state agencies to consider how regulations impact small businesses and to make alternative options available. The case is still pending.

The TRAP regulations will remain in effect pending the state Board of Health's review. Clinics have until the end of June to comply.

5/12/2014 - Arkansas Same-Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down

An Arkansas state judge struck down an Arkansas law and state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Calling the ban an "unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality," Circuit judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday in Wright v. Arkansas that the state legislative and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage violate the state constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution's 14th Amendment.

In his decision, Piazza cited Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that eliminated the ban on interracial marriage, and rejected the notion that religious objections to same-sex marriage were reason enough to support a ban. "A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith," he wrote. "Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution."

"It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice," continued Piazza. "The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."

Judge Piazza did not stay his ruling in anticipation of an appeal. Couples immediately obtained marriage licenses this morning, lining up before dawn at the state's largest courthouse. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, however, asked the Arkansas Supreme Court today to suspend Judge Piazza's ruling in anticipation of his appeal. As of this writing, the state Supreme Court has not issued a decision.

Eight judges have now invalidated state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, including Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas this year alone.

5/12/2014 - Bill Extending Abortion Coverage to Peace Corps Volunteers Re-Introduced

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) re-introduced the Peace Corps Equity Act in the Senate and House last week. The bill, previously introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would extend coverage for basic reproductive health care services, including abortion, to all Peace Corp volunteers.

"Extending basic reproductive health services to female Peace Corps volunteers is long overdue," said Sen. Shaheen in a statement. "Peace Corps volunteers face inherent risks living and working abroad and there's no reason they should be denied standard health care services offered to most women with federal health care coverage."

Unlike other employees under federal health care plans - including Peace Corps employees - Peace Corps volunteers currently do not have access to abortion coverage even in cases of rape, incest, or endangered health or life.

"This is about fairness - fairness for American ambassadors working in every corner of the world to save and change lives," said Rep. Lowey. "It is absolutely unconscionable that female Peace Corps volunteers who are victims of sexual assault, or whose pregnancies endanger their lives, are not afforded the same health care access as virtually all other women with federal health coverage."

A study and report on the abortion experiences of Peace Corps volunteers, also released last week, found that many peace corps volunteers viewed the ban on abortion coverage even in cases of rape as being particularly punitive. The study, consisting of over 400 interviews with returned volunteers, documented at least 125 different sexual assault and rape experiences. Of those who discussed their own personal experience with abortion, the majority reported that they did not know about the abortion ban before becoming pregnant and that they found it difficult to cover the cost of abortion. Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month. The report recommendations include lifting the "no exceptions policy" on abortion coverage and ensuring that volunteers receive access to a full-range of contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception.