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1/7/2014 - Guttmacher Report: More Attacks on Reproductive Rights in Past Three Years Than in Entirety of Previous Decade
A study published last week by the Guttmacher Institute reveals that the last three years have seen more legislative attacks on reproductive rights than the entire previous decade.
Since 2011, 205 new restrictions on abortion have cleared state legislatures, while only 189 were enacted from 2001-2010. The most were passed in 2011, with 83, and 2013 came in second with 70. Twenty-seven states are now considered to be hostile to abortion rights, up from just 13 in 2000. These hostile states that limit access and rights to abortion are home to 56 percent of US women.
Almost half of the abortion restrictions enacted since 2011 fall into one of four categories: targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), limitations on insurance coverage of abortion, 20 week abortion bans, and restrictions for medication abortion. States have also adopted restrictions involving parental notification, waiting periods, counseling and ultrasounds, among other issues. Pro-choice groups have been able to tie some of these measures up in court by filing lawsuits, but the outcomes for many are uncertain. The Supreme Court will soon take up an Oklahoma law that could outlaw all drug-induced abortions. Fortunately, some states, like California, have passed laws expanding abortion access and comprehensive sex education.
"The historic rise of these attacks on women's health can be traced back to 2010," Cecile Richards, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told The Progressive, "when out-of-touch tea party politicians picked up key seats in legislatures across the country, promising to create jobs and boost our economy--but immediately focused on ending access to safe and limiting women's health care options."
The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged (Little Sisters of the Poor), a non-profit religious organization that operates a chain of nursing homes for the elderly poor, has argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that it should be exempt from the contraceptive coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it places a substantial burden on its exercise of religious liberty.
Let's be clear, the substantial burden of being exempt from ACA regulations is not on the Little Sisters but is squarely on the shoulders of its low- and middle-income nursing home employees, mostly women, and their families.
The Little Sisters of the Poor obtains its employees' health insurance plan from the Christian Brothers Employees Benefit Trust, a self-funded "church plan." The church plan is already exempt from the ACA contraceptive coverage provision. Christian Brothers Services, the Catholic organization that administers its plan, is also already exempt. And, under the current rules, the Little Sisters of the Poor, as a religious organization, is exempt from having to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees. It must only fill out a simple certification that such coverage would violate its religious principles.
The Little Sisters of the Poor is in no way burdened by the ACA. So why did it ask for emergency relief from the Supreme Court? Little Sisters of the Poor has claimed that even completing a self-certification would place a burden on its religious liberty. Both the federal district court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Little Sisters' request for injunctive relief, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted temporary relief and asked the Obama Administration to respond. The U.S. Solicitor General has argued that the Little Sisters of the Poor has no claim, and the Feminist Majority Foundation agrees.
Acquiring contraceptives without insurance coverage is costly and often beyond the reach of low-income and middle-income employees. Denying the means of effective family planning is a denial of fundamental health care for women of reproductive age. Moreover, contraceptives are frequently prescribed to treat common, yet serious, disorders such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. The burden here is clearly on women and their families.
Fortunately, millions of women now have access to contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles under the ACA. The Little Sisters of the Poor case affects only a small number of religious institutions that employ people - from many different religious or non-religious backgrounds - and have a third-party administrator that is religiously exempt, as well as a self-insured plan. The Feminist Majority Foundation believes these employees should also be covered. No woman should be denied the opportunity for coverage. Simply put: women, not their bosses, should decide.
Marlise Munoz has been brain dead since November 26, but her hospital is keeping her on life support - against the wishes of her and her family - because she is pregnant.
Munoz, who was a paramedic, made it clear that she never wanted to be kept on life support with no hope of recovery if anything ever happened to her. "It's our decision that we didn't want [her] to live in that condition," said her husband Erick Munoz.
But when Munoz collapsed and was found with no breath or pulse in November, possibly caused by a pulmonary embolism, she was 14 weeks pregnant. She had been without oxygen for too long for her brain to recover, but her heart was revived by electric shock, and doctors found a fetal heartbeat. Under the Texas Advance Directives Act, the state of Texas requires that "a person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment under this subchapter from a pregnant patient." The hospital interpreted this to invalidate her wishes, even though experts interviewed by the Associated Press said a brain-dead patient would not be covered by the law. A 2012 report by the Center for Women Policy Studies found that Texas is one of 12 US states that invalidate a woman's end-of-life wishes if she is pregnant.
Munoz's family also worries about the health of the fetus. "That poor fetus had the same lack of oxygen, the same electric shocks, the same chemicals that got her heart going again," said her father Ernest Machado. "For all we know, it's in the same condition that Marlise is in."
The Supreme Court issued a temporary order today blocking new same-sex marriages in Utah in order to allow more time for a federal appeals court to consider the issue.
The order follows a ruling by US District Judge Robert Shelby that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, added to the state's constitution in 2004, violates same sex couples' federal constitutional rights under United States v. Windsor. Utah subsequently filed an emergency request to stay the judge's ruling. Since the ruling on December 20, 900 gay and lesbian couples have married in the state.
The order will remain in effect until the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals decides whether or not to uphold Shelby's ruling. A date for argument has not been set yet, but the state's first brief is due January 27. If Shelby's ruling is upheld, Utah will join 17 other states and the District of Columbia that allow, or soon will allow, same sex marriage.
Protests have erupted in India after a 16-year-old girl was gang raped in two separate attacks and fatally set on fire.
The girl was first assaulted in late October by more than six men near her home in Madhyagram town, near Calcutta. She went to the police the next day to report it, and on her way home, was assaulted again. On Dec. 23, two close friends of the girl's accused rapists set her on fire in her home, possibly for reporting the assaults. She was able to identify her attackers before dying in a hospital on Dec. 31.
"The accused tried to kill my daughter by setting her on fire to hush up their crimes," the victim's father told Agence France-Press.
The girl's story has sparked protests in Calcutta, a little more than a year after the gang rape and torture of a medical student that resulted in her death. The violent attacks have led many to protest about the status of women and police indifference to violence against women in the country. So far, the protests have led the government to enact harsher punishments for rapists, but activists say more needs to be done.
Police made their first arrests on Wednesday -- two months after she initially reported the assaults -- and charged two men with murder.
On Wednesday, Rhode Island became the third U.S. state to offer a paid family leave program, which will make most of the state workforce eligible to take paid time off to care for a new child or a sick loved one.
"It's for those unexpected, serious health crises that people can't plan for," said Senator Gayle Goldin (D-RI). "It's a very useful tool for families facing a challenge."
The program will be funded through a paycheck deduction, similar to Social Security. The benefit would equal 66 percent of an employee's paycheck, but it is capped for workers who make over $61,400 per year.
A similar federal program, The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), was introduced in December by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). If passed, the much-needed Act will allow workers to take paid time off to address a serious illness of their own, a spouse, parent or child or to care for a new baby or adopted child. If passed, employees can earn up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year through the creation of a national insurance fund.
Currently, only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave and fewer than 40 percent have paid medical leave, meaning many workers - particularly women and low wage employees - are just one illness or birth away from financial disaster.
The Israeli government may start funding abortions for women aged 20 to 33 if recommendations recently made by a Health Ministry committee are enacted.
Israeli women under the age of 17 and over the ago of 40 already receive subsidized abortion services for personal reasons. Women also get almost automatic approval for an abortion if they are pregnant as a result of rape or incest, if the fetus has a birth defect, or if the pregnancy may endanger the woman's physical or mental well-being.
Under Israeli law, a committee determines which procedures should be funded through the government and sends recommendations to the Health Ministry for approval. The committee proposed early this week to expand abortion funding for women ages 20 to 33.
"It was brought to our attention that there is a large group of women between 20 and 40 who for various reasons -- financial or reasons of secrecy -- do not terminate pregnancies," said panel head Professor Yonatan Halevy.
The committee wanted to fund the procedure for all women but was limited by budgetary constraints.
Abortion is illegal in Israel, and women must appear before a government panel --consisting of two physicians and a social worker, one of whom must be a woman -- to gain approval for the procedure. However, there is a wide range of exceptions for women seeking abortions, and 98 percent of cases that come before the panel are approved.
The committee's recommendations now go to the Health Council for final approval. If approved, the recommendations could help the 6,300 women in the proposed age range who are expected to terminate their pregnancies in 2014.
Late last week, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (NDAA), which expands efforts to prevent sexual assault and strengthens protections for victims.
Under the new law, any individual in the military who sexual assaults another will face dishonorable discharge, and commanders will not be able to overturn jury decisions. Legal assistance will be provided for victims, and retaliation against a victim will be punished.
The inclusion of efforts to prevent sexual assault and improve protections for victims comes after a long campaign led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and activist groups. The Senate is expected to vote on another potential improvement, Sen. Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), this month. The Act, which will take the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and give it to independent, objective, trained military prosecutors, was supposed to be included in the NDAA, but will instead be voted on as a stand-alone measure.
President Obama has also called for a year-long report on progress eradicating sexual assault in military.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld a lower court's decision to block a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
"[The Dec. 20] ruling marks a major victory for Wisconsin women and sends a message to lawmakers across the country: it is unconstitutional for politicians to pass laws under a false guise of women's safety in order to interfere in a woman's personal medical decisions," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). "Far from protecting women's health, the effect of this law if it took effect would be to force an abortion later in pregnancy or cut off access to safe and legal abortion."
Soon after the original measure was passed in July, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Wisconsin, PPFA and Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin filed charges, arguing that the law singles out doctors who provide abortions for medically unnecessary restrictions, and a judge temporarily blocked it.
The law threatened to close at least two clinics and reduce access and services at others in Wisconsin. It will stay blocked while a trial on the constitutionality of the admitting privileges proceeds.
On Dec. 1, 2014, defense and military leaders will be required to issue a full-scale report on progress made to eradicate military sexual assault, President Obama announced Friday.
Less than one year from now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will report on improvements to prevention and response of sexual assault in the military. Obama and his administration will consider "additional reforms" if they are not satisfied with the progress made in 2014, he said.
The White House and Pentagon also issued 16 executive provisions to combat sexual assault in the military. And the National Defense Authorization Act, passed Dec. 19, includes 37 important reforms. The most important reform to pass was that beginning in Feb. 2014, every victim who reports an assault will be immediately assigned a lawyer to assist her or him. Moreover, no commander will be able to overturn a guilty verdict in such high-level crimes.
Additionally, the Senate is expected to vote on one potential improvement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), this January. The Act, which will take the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and give it to independent, objective, trained military prosecutors, was supposed to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but will instead be voted on as a stand-alone measure.
Military sexual assault has reached epidemic proportions, many advocates for sexual assault in the military say. According to ThinkProgress, "few survivors will come forward to make charges, since victim and perpetrator usually fall under the same command, and perpetrators are often of a higher rank than their victims. A Pentagon report issued earlier this year estimated some 26,000 instances of 'unwanted sexual contact' perpetrated service members over a two-year period, but fewer than 3,400 were reported."
Urge your senator to support Sen. Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act today.
The owners and 11 employees of a Bangladeshi garment factory are facing charges for culpable homicide after the death of 112 workers in a fire last year.
Those charged - including owners Delwar Hossain and Mahmuda Akter, and 11 factory managers, security guards, and engineers - created dangerous conditions for the workers that contributed to their deaths. The building had no emergency fire exits, and it's fire certificate had expired. The factory was nine stories high, even though it only had permission to be three stories, and it was located in a narrow alley where firefighters could not reach the flames.
On the day of the fire, managers and security guards locked the doors, trapping the workers inside." The managers and security guards misguided the workers by saying that it was nothing but a part of a regular fire drill when the blaze broke out," said Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul. "So the workers went back to work after the fire alarm went off, but they got trapped as the managers locked the gates."
This is the first time Bangladeshi authorities have charged factory owners in a country where several factory disasters over the past two years have injured and killed hundreds of workers. A court will decide on December 31 whether to accept the charges and allow the trial to proceed. If those charged are convicted, they could face life in prison.
Pharmacists often give teens misleading information about emergency contraception that may prevent them from obtaining it, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
After pediatrician Dr. Tracy Wilkinson, the lead study author, heard strange information from her teenage patients about emergency contraception, she decided to investigate. She and several researchers called over 940 pharmacies in five cities posing as 17-year-old girls who wanted information about the morning after pill. At the time, emergency contraception was available to all people 17 years and older, so they researchers should have been able to buy it easily on their own.
Instead, they found that some pharmacists incorrectly told them that they had to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to obtain emergency contraception or that an older friend could not buy it for them. Some said they did not stock or dispense it for moral reasons or religious beliefs. There was also some confusion around the rules, with several pharmacists saying the researchers needed to be 18 or have a prescription to buy it.
"About 20 percent of the pharmacy staff said that, because the callers identified themselves as teens, the callers couldn't get it at all. That's completely incorrect," Wilkinson said. "Of the remaining 80 percent of respondents, about half of them got the exact age requirement correct and half of them did not."
This confusion around emergency contraception regulations makes it harder for young women to access it and take it in time for it to be effective. In a fortunate decision this July, the Obama administration made Plan B One-Step available over the counter to all people of all ages with no photo identification required, but other brands have different rules, only adding to some of the confusion. Medical professionals recommend women obtain emergency contraception in advance so they can easily access it when necessary.
The deadline to enroll in new health insurance plans through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces is December 23 for coverage starting on January 1.
There are several ways to apply for coverage, including online at Healthcare.gov. You can also apply in-person with an individual - sometimes called a navigator, application assister, or certified certified application counselor - who will provide free, expert help with the application and enrollment process. Additionally, you can apply over the phone - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - by calling 1-800-318-2596 or TTY 1-855-889-4325.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows millions of individuals to access quality, affordable health insurance through the state marketplaces. Families will no longer have to choose between medical care and other basic necessities, like food, housing, and education. Medical emergencies do not have to lead to financial instability or bankruptcy. And more people will be able to access preventive care and other services to help them stay healthy or care for themselves and their families when they are sick.
All new health insurance plans must cover essential benefits like hospitalization, ER visits, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, prescription drugs, and pediatric health services, including vision and dental care. Plans must also cover preventive services, without copays or coinsurance, even if you have not met your deductible. For women, that means no additional costs for well-woman visits, birth control, counseling and screening for STIs, and mammograms, among other services.
There are a few important things to remember. No one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and health insurance companies are no longer allowed to discriminate against women by charging them more for coverage than men. Financial help is also available to make health insurance more affordable. The federal government is offering tax credits to those who qualify to help them purchase health insurance through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces. Tax credits will be sent directly to the insurance provider of your choice. You can find out whether you qualify, and the amount of your tax credit, when you apply.
The enrollment period lasts until March 31, 2014, but you must enroll by December 23 if you want health coverage that will begin on January 1. Treat yourself this holiday - get covered and spread the word to your family, neighbors, and friends.
12/19/2013 - Pro-Choice Democrat Wins VA Attorney General Race
Pro-choice state Senator Mark Herring (D) is the new attorney general of Virginia, defeating State Senator Obenshain (R) who conceded the race - after a vote recount - yesterday.
This is a huge victory for women's reproductive health and rights. Sen. Obenshain introduced legislation that would have required women to report their miscarriages to the police within 24 hours of them happening. He supported Virginia's Personhood Act and the mandatory ultrasound legislation.
Election totals on November 5 had Herring winning the race by a margin of 165 votes out of over 2.2 million. Obenshain subsequently requested a recount. Yesterday, with 73 percent of the votes counted, the votes showed Herring ahead by a larger margin of at least 800 votes, and Obenshain announced his concession. Herring will succeed Ken Cuccinelli, who lost in the Virginia Governor race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
"Virginians are looking for mainstream leadership," said Herring during a news conference yesterday. "They want good jobs. They want better education for their children. They want a good transportation system that will serve our growing economy."
Congratulate Herring on his victory!
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced a bill - Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act of 2013 (HR 3774) - this week that would end federal funding of abstinence-only programs and support comprehensive sexuality education.
"We need to get serious about educating our young people about sex," said Lee. "Abstinence-only programs fail to address the challenge of unplanned pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections among our youth, which have reached a critical level. We must ensure that we provide comprehensive sex education programs that have been proven to work, instead of throwing money away on programs that don't."
Since 1996, the US has spent almost two billion dollars in federal funding for abstinence until marriage programs under Title V of the Social Security Act, which allows the government to make grants to states for abstinence education. These programs are ineffective at teaching teens how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections. Lee and several groups supporting the bill support comprehensive sexuality education instead, including education about contraceptives and STIs, through an Affordable Care Act program called the Personal Responsibility Education Program.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with a group of eight mothers yesterday to discuss how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) benefits their families and to learn about the work these women have done in their communities to encourage people to learn about the law and sign up for health coverage.
"There's something about moms," remarked President Obama, who also noted that "women oftentimes are the ones who are making the health care decisions of the family."
The ACA guarantees that all new health insurance plans, including plans purchased through state Health Insurance Marketplaces, must cover - without additional copays or coinsurance - maternity benefits, including pre- and post-natal care, as well as comprehensive breastfeeding counseling and support, contraception, and screening for STIs. Pediatric healthcare services are also covered without copays or coinsurance, including developmental screening, immunizations, pediatric dentistry, and vision screening, among other services.
"What the Affordable Care Act provides and can provide for so many families out there is peace of mind," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "This isn't about politics; its about making sure that every family has the peace of mind to know that if a child gets sick, or someone loses a job, or someone has an illness that requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in coverage, that they're going to have the safety net that they need to make sure that they don't lose their home, that they aren't spending the rest of their lives paying off medical fees."
Millions of Americans have visited Healthcare.gov to learn about the new health insurance options available to them and their families. Financial help is also available, so many families and individuals for whom health insurance was out of reach, may now be able to afford quality coverage.
Enroll by December 23 to get coverage by January 1. Visit healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 and treat yourself to healthcare for the holidays!
12/18/2013 - Report: Police Harassment May Worsen LA Aids Crisis
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report last week detailing how aggressive police harassment and the consideration of condoms as evidence of prostitution may be worsening Louisiana's HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly in New Orleans.
"Sex workers, transgender women and others at high risk of HIV infection told us that they were afraid to carry condoms and that they sometimes had to engage in sex without protection out of fear of police harassment," the report explains.
Louisiana has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the US, and the state's AIDS death rate is over two times the national average. Over half of New Orleans' residents are also living in or near poverty and face homelessness and incarceration at high rates. Despite these statistics, HRW claims that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) "has chosen punishment over health" among at-risk, marginalized communities.
Other major cities have faced criticism for similar issues. This summer, New York passed a law to prevent police from using condoms as evidence against prostitution, and HRW recommends that Louisiana should do the same. HRW also suggests the state should create a syringe exchange program for drug users, accept ACA's Medicaid expansion rates to help more people get healthcare, and take into account other public health factors that affect the HIV/AIDS rates, like its high poverty levels, which can lead people to turn to sex work for survival.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced The Equal Employment for All Act yesterday. If passed, the bill would prohibit employers from requiring potential employees to disclose their credit history.
Forty-seven percent of employers currently check job applicants' credit history as an indicator of their employability, even though research reveals that credit scores are not related to one's employability. This practice disproportionately affects people who struggle financially, minorities, women, LGBTQ workers, and those who have faced home foreclosures. Moreover, errors in credit reports are common and difficult to correct.
"A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected medical costs, unemployment, economic downturns, or other bad breaks than it is a reflection on an individual's character or abilities," Warren said in a statement. "Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness - let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills."
The bill would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to stop employers from asking applicants to disclose their credit history and prohibit employers from disqualifying potential employees based on a poor credit rating [PDF]. It will include some exemptions for positions that require national security clearance.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. M arkey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are co-sponsoring the bill, and over 40 organizations have already endorsed it.
A federal judge ruled yesterday that a group of Catholic institutions in New York do not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement. The ACA guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles.
US District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn ruled that the six plaintiffs - Archdiocese of New York, Catholic Health Care System, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Diocese of Rockville Centre, Cardinal Spellman High School, and Monsignor Farrell High School - are exempt from the mandate because of their religious beliefs. This case is Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius [PDF].
Although the ACA provision has helped thousands of US women obtain contraception - the proportion of women paying zero dollars for oral contraceptive pills increased from 15 to 40 percent since it went into effect - this ruling will make it harder for the more than 25,000 employees of the plaintiffs to obtain affordable contraception.
Several for-profit companies have also challenged the ACA contraceptive coverage requirement in federal courts. In November, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge by Hobby Lobby, a for-profit national craft store chain, and Conestoga Wood, a wood cabinet manufacturer. Both are arguing that the requirement violates the religious beliefs of these corporations and that they should not be required to provide health insurance plans that cover certain types of birth control.
The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a petition to send the Supreme Court a clear message that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Sign our petition, leave stories,and tell the Court why birth control coverage matters to you! You can also share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!
A Michigan woman who was forced out of her job after becoming pregnant filed a federal lawsuit last week against her employer, Hope Healthcare Center, alleging violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state anti-discrimination law.
Asia Myers, a certified nursing assistant, experienced complications early in her pregnancy that threatened to lead to miscarriage. Her doctor recommended that she remain home on bed rest for a week and then return to work, but only if she did not perform any heavy lifting. Meyers therefore requested a reasonable accommodation from her employer. Instead of accommodating Meyers as the company had done for other workers with similar restrictions, her employer refused and forced Meyers onto unpaid leave, causing her to lose her health benefits and incur significant financial hardship.
"It's unfair to make me choose between earning a living and protecting my health and the health of my baby when I could still perform my job without doing any heavy lifting," said Myers. "I was only asking to be treated the same way as other workers who had temporary restrictions on lifting."
Pregnancy discrimination is illegal under the federal Pregnancy discrimination Act, whichasserts that pregnant women should be "treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs." Although the act has had a huge positive impact since it was passed in 1978,there is still room for improvement. Courts around the United States have been interpreting the act narrowly, often allowing employers to fire, force unpaid leave, or refuse reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.
12/17/2013 - FMF Releases Video on ACA Enrollment
Feminist Majority Foundation released a short video today detailing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and urging people to Get Covered for the Holidays through the state Health Insurance Marketplaces. Watch it here!
The ACA has made it easier for women to get affordable, quality health care coverage that fits their needs. It guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill, IUDs and emergency contraception, without co-pays or deductibles. It ensures that new insurance plans cover cancer screenings, domestic violence counseling, and well women exams, as well as provide maternal care, mental health care, and pediatric services - among many others. It also does not allow insurance policies to charge women more simply because of their gender. Check out the video to learn about even more benefits.
Enrollment is ongoing, but if you enroll by December 23 on Healthcare.gov, you can get covered by January 1!
A graduate student reached a settlement with Logan College in Missouri last week after the school failed her on exams she could not take while recovering from an emergency Caesarean section.
Brandi Kostal was two weeks away from completing her masters and doctorate-level classes when she began having medical issues with her pregnancy and required an emergency C-section. The school told her that its policy did not excuse pregnancy or childbirth-related absences and that she had to return to school or be penalized. As a result, Kostal attended a few classes just 11 days after her surgery. Kostal, however, had not fully recovered, felt physically worn down, and ultimately had to miss final exams for two classes. Her professor, who taught both classes, failed her, causing Kostal to lose $16,000 in tuition and 40 credit hours and damaging her grade-point average.
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC), along with local counsel, filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint on Kostal's behalf with the Chicago office of the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The complaint alleged Logan College violated Title IX, the federal law that requires all recipients of federal financial assistance for education programs and activities to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment [PDF].
The discrimination suit was settled last week when Logan College agreed to adopt policies for pregnant and parenting students under Title IX that excuse pregnancy-related absences,include the policy on its website and student handbook, and hold an annual training on the issue. It will also remove the F's from Kostal's transcript and allow her to complete the courses at no cost.
"We applaud Logan College for adopting a new policy that honors its responsibility under Title IX to help pregnant students and parents get the education they need to position themselves in our competitive economy," said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President of Education and Employment. "Student parents routinely juggle academic workloads, the rigorous demands of caring for children and the financial pressures of student loans and child care. When these students aren't protected, far too many drop out of school, which hurts them and their families."
12/16/2013 - Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Presidency
Feminist Michelle Bachelet is once again the president of Chile, winning 62 percent of the vote - the largest victory for any presidential candidate since the country resumed democratic elections in 1989.
As president, Bachelet will address the profound gap between the rich and poor in Chile. The country has the highest level of income inequality among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Bachelet also intends to establish free university education, a priority for Chilean youth who have organized massive protests against the prohibitively high cost of education there.
"Feminists worldwide applaud Michelle Bachelet's victory and great leadership for women's rights," said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal in reaction to the win.
Bachelet, a medical doctor by training, served as the president of Chile between 2006 and 2010. The first woman to lead the country, Bachelet reformed Chile's pension system, developed new social welfare programs for children, and was known as a strong champion for women and girls. Constitutionally barred from seeking a consecutive second term, Bachelet went on to become the first Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of UN Women.
A recently released study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals that the proportion of US women who paid zero dollars out-of-pocket for birth control significantly increased after the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee went into effect in August 2012. The proportion of women paying zero dollars for oral contraceptive pills increased from 15 to 40 percent, and the proportion of those paying zero for vaginal rings increased from 23 to 52 percent [PDF].
"Our analysis provides the first quantitative evidence that the cost-sharing protection under the ACA is indeed working as intended," says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. "Large numbers of women who couldn't previously do so are now obtaining birth control without co-pays or deductibles, which allows them to more easily attain contraception's well-documented health, social and economic benefits."
The researchers, however, found that there has not been a significant change for injectable or IUD users, even though the ACA guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles. The findings suggest that some private insurers may not be applying the ACA's mandate to the full range of contraceptive methods available. "Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence from media reports and from health insurance companies' own publicly available documents suggest that some plans are improperly requiring cost-sharing in circumstances where they shouldn't," said Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and study co-author. "This is unacceptable, and state and federal policy makers should step up enforcement as needed."
The US Supreme Court will also soon determine how many women will benefit from the ACA birth control benefit. In November, the Court agreed to hear a challenge to the ACA contraceptive coverage provision. The Court will decide whether for-profit companies can assert religious objections in order to opt-out of the provision's requirements and deny this coverage to their female employees.
The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a petition to send the Supreme Court a clear message that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Sign our petition, leave stories,and tell the Court why birth control coverage matters to you! You can also share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!
India's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to reinstate a ban on gay sex. Their decision overturned a 2009 Delhi High Court decision finding that Section 377 of the penal code, the 153-year-old colonial-era law criminalizing gay relationships, was discriminatory and violated human rights.
Violating the law can be punished with up to 10 years in jail. Although the BBC reports that the law is rarely used for prosecution, it is often used by police to harass gay people.Â "This decision is a body-blow to people's rights to equality, privacy and dignity," said G. Ananthapadmanabhan of Amnesty International India in a statement.
Although various conservative groups had petitioned the two-judge Supreme Court to reinstate the ban, the decision prompted protests in cities across India and dismay from Indian leaders.
"To say in this day and age that LGBT rights should not be recognized is extremely regressive and extremely disappointing," said Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.
India's parliament can vote to change or remove Section 377, or the government can file a curative petition to have the case reviewed quickly by a five-judge panel.