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7/7/2014 - North Carolina College Students Join Challenge to Voter ID Laws

North Carolina college students are joining the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the US Department of Justice in a challenge to restrictive state voting laws that they argue violate the 26th Amendment. The amendment states that the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age."

State legislators in North Carolina passed sweeping voter suppression laws last year, which include creating a strict voter identification law, ending same-day voter registration, cutting down the length of early voting, and eliminating a program that encourages high school students to register to vote before they turn 18. The voter identification law is particularly restrictive for college students because student identification cards (including those issued by state-run universities) and out-of-state driver's license will not be accepted - although military and veteran identification cards will be.

"There's an unprecedented effort nationally by Republican-controlled legislatures to restrict the franchise in a way we haven't seen in a long time" said Marc Elias, the election lawyer bringing the claim. "Young voting in particular is a part of that effort."

In a hearing today, lawyers in the case will ask a judge to temporarily delay implementation of parts of the law until the court determines whether to uphold or strike down the law in July 2015.

Several other states have passed or attempted to pass voter identification laws, including Texas, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Supporters of these law claim that the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, found that voter fraud is extremely rare. These voter suppression laws, however, do disproportionately affect the ability of certain groups to vote, in particular people of color, women, the elderly, and the poor. The Brennan Center found that in addition to students, 25 percent of eligible African-American voters and 18 percent of people aged 65 and up do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name.


7/7/2014 - SCOTUS Decision On Wheaton College May Expand Hobby Lobby

In an unsigned order issued on Thursday, a majority of the US Supreme Court granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, ruling that the school does not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)contraceptive coverage benefit, prompting a severe rebuke from the three women Justices.

The decision comes on the heels of the Court's 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations do not have to provide health insurance coverage of contraception if the owners of the corporation object on religious grounds. In Hobby Lobby, a majority of the Court determined that the ACA violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), noting that the ACA contraceptive coverage benefit was not the "least restrictive means" of obtaining the government's goal to provide preventive health services to women. In reaching that conclusion, the Court cited the fact that the government had provided an accommodation to religiously affiliated non-profits who opposed birth control.

Now, however, the Court has signaled that the accommodation itself - which requires religiously affiliated non-profits to submit a form declaring that it objects to providing contraceptive coverage - may not survive.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, issued a blistering dissent of the majority's opinion and of the Court on the whole. "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word," she wrote. "Not so today." Justice Sotomayor continued, "Let me be absolutely clear, I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one's religious beliefs are substantially burdened--no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be--does not make it so."

Justice Sotomayor said the decision to grant Wheaton a temporary injunction "evinces disregard for even the newest of this court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution."

The ACA requires health insurance providers to cover preventive health services - including all FDA-approved contraceptives, such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Religious employers, such as churches, are exempted entirely from the requirement. Certain non-profits, who object to contraception on religious grounds, can obtain an accommodation that would allow these groups not to provide contraceptives to their employees. If the non-profit has an employer-provided group health insurance plan, then the employer would submit a certification to the insurance issuer. The issuer would then have to provide contraceptive coverage. If the non-profit employer has a self-insured plan, one that relies on employer-contributions without outside insurance contributions, then the employer would contract with a third-party administrator who would pay for and process claims for contraceptive services.

122 non-profits have sued the Obama Administration, claiming that the self-certification form itself is a violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom.


7/3/2014 - SCOTUS Will Hear Pregnancy Discrimination Case Next Term

The US Supreme Court will decide next term whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires an employer to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant employees if that employer also provides comparable accommodations to non-pregnant employees who become temporarily unable to perform their jobs without the accommodation.

The case - Young v. United Parcel Service - was brought by Peggy Young, a UPS delivery driver in Landover, Maryland. In 2006, UPS denied Young's request for a light duty assignment after Young was instructed by her medical provider to avoid lifting more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. Although UPS had accommodated other employees who needed light duty assignments because of disability or injury, it forced Young to take an unpaid leave of absence - without health insurance - for the duration of her pregnancy. Young sued alleging pregnancy discrimination, but two lower courts ruled against her. The Supreme Court will now decide whether the PDA requires employers who provide accommodations to non-pregnant employees must provide comparable accommodations to pregnant workers.

The passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 was championed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Eleanor Smeal, then-president of NOW. The PDA explicitly recognizes discrimination against pregnant women as a form of sex discrimination and prevents employers from legally discriminating against pregnant women in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, career development, or benefits. The PDA expanded economic opportunities for women, helped women maintain job stability, protected women against lost wages and costs associated with job loss, and contributed to families overall financial well-being. Yet, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace persists. A report released last summer by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) demonstrates that many pregnant women are not given even basic accommodations during pregnancy, and many pregnant workers-especially those in lower-paying jobs or jobs traditionally held by men-are fired or forced to take unpaid leave when they request these adjustments.

"It's time to put the Dark Ages behind us. Women are still losing their jobs because of pregnancy." Employers routinely accommodate non-pregnancy-related disabilities as a matter of course, but pregnant workers are still second-class citizens in too many workplaces," said Emily Martin, NWLC Vice-President and General Counsel. "If a worker has a medical need for accommodation because of pregnancy, all too often she is forced to make an impossible choice: risk her own health and pregnancy to keep a job, or lose her income at the moment she can least afford it. These women and their families pay a steep price. It's time for the Supreme Court to clarify the law and put a stop to employers pushing pregnant workers out of work."

The Supreme Court is only the latest institution to weigh in on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is working on new guidelines that would clarify employment issues related to pregnancy under the PDA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and several state and local governments, including most recently Delaware, have passed laws to require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, such as allowing a worker to sit on a stool rather than stand, permission to carry water and food on the job, and re-assignment to temporary light duty. Young's case also led Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley to pass the "Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities Due to Pregnancy Act."

President Obama at the White House Summit on Working Families last month also called on Congress to act on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which would clarify that pregnant employees are guaranteed the same workplace protections that are in place for other workers temporarily unable to perform job duties without reasonable accommodations. The PWFA would also prohibit an employer from forcing a pregnant worker to use unpaid leave if she is able to work with a reasonable accommodation.


7/2/2014 - Supreme Court Ruling in Harris v Quinn May Reduce Power of Unions

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that certain public sector employees who benefit from a labor union's representation will no longer have to pay union fees.

According to the decision in Harris v. Quinn, written by Justice Alito, unions can now only take dues from full state employees, not "partial public employees" - people that may be employed by an individual but who are paid by the state, like the Illinois home health care workers in the case. Illinois is one of 26 states that requires public sector workers to pay partial dues to unions. A 5-4 majority of the Court, however, found that such a requirement, as applied to "partial public employees," violates the First Amendment. Justice Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor.

The Harris decision will affect around 26,000 home care workers who are paid with Medicaid funds, as well as their patients. In the 10 years since home healthcare workers have been allowed to unionize in Illinois, there have been not only significant improvements in their working conditions but also significant improvements in training. "Wages have nearly doubled, from $7 to $13 an hour; training and supervision has increased, as well as standardization of qualifications, and workers now have health insurance," reported NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in January.

The ruling in Harris is expected to lead to a large loss of union members and therefore a loss of union services that improve working conditions for all people in the union industries, like negotiating contracts and providing legal representation for grievances.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court did not strike down Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case that allows public sector unions to require fees from nonmembers who benefit from the union's representation.


7/2/2014 - Restrictive Abortion Laws in Mississippi and Florida Take Effect

Laws restricting access to abortion went into effect in Mississippi and Florida yesterday.

Mississippi law now bans abortion 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, about 18 weeks gestation -beforefetal viability. Last May, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arizona 20-week abortion ban as an unconstitutional violation of Roe v. Wade. The Mississippi law makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and includes only a narrow exception for medical emergencies or fatal fetal abnormalities. Earlier this year Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) announced his intention, during his state of the state speech, to "end abortion in Mississippi." As it stands, there is only one abortion clinic remaining in the entire state.

Also on Tuesday, a new Florida law went into effect banning abortion at any point in the pregnancy once a fetus is deemed viable unless two doctors certify in writing that it is necessary to protect the health and life of the woman. If two doctors are not available, one must certify in writing that a second was unable to consult on the matter. The law also further limits abortions after 24 weeks - allowed if the pregnant person's life or health is threatened - by removing mental health conditions as a reason to allow a late abortion.


7/2/2014 - Iraqi Women Face Reproductive Health Care Shortage During Crisis

The United Nations warned this week that due to the escalating crisis in the northern and western parts of the country, about 250,000 Iraqi women and girls - including almost 60,000 pregnant women - need urgent health care as soon as possible.

Recent violence in Iraq has displaced approximately one million people, overwhelming health facilities in parts of the country. The problem is especially acute for women in need of maternity care. The United National Assistance Mission for Iraq reports, for example, that the Erbil Maternity Hospital has had an influx of women seeking services and has had to discharge women from the hospital as little as three hours after delivery. Although the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provided the hospital with reproductive health and delivery kits for emergency obstetric care, the kits only contain supplies for up to 1,200 deliveries, meaning that the supplies will run out in a few weeks.

UNFPA estimates that 1,000 pregnant women in Iraq will face life-threatening complications each month. The organization is calling for immediate action to help those in Iraq who are suffering as a result of the current crisis, including an estimated 20,000 women and girls who are at increased risk of sexual violence during this period.


7/2/2014 - US Supreme Court upholds California gay conversion therapy ban

The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that "gay conversion therapy," which aims to change the sexual orientation of children under the age of 18, is within a state's right to regulate and can therefore be banned. The Court upheld an August 2013 ruling by California's Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated that "therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous."

The law's sponsor, California state senator Ted Lieu, called the conversion therapy "psychological child abuse."

"The Court's refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles," Lieu said in an Associated Press story.

Opponents to the ban, primarily Conservative Christians, say the ban infringes on therapists' right to free speech. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled that because the ban covers professional activities including counseling and therapy by a licensed provider, it is under state jurisdiction and is not a threat to free speech. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern called the ban "a narrowly tailored, eminently sensible way to curb a dangerous, suicide-inducing practice that is condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association."

New Jersey also has a ban on the controversial therapy. A challenge to the ban will be heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9. If the Circuit Court rules against the ban, the split decision among circuit courts may require the Supreme Court to revisit the issue, according to Time Magazine.


7/1/2014 - Hobby Lobby Decision Values Corporations Over Women

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along rigid gender and ideological lines that "closely-held" corporations could not be required to provide health insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the corporation'ssincerely held religious beliefs -- preventing employees who work for these companies from accessing certain FDA-approved contraceptives.

In a statement issued by the Feminist Majority Foundation, President Eleanor Smeal said the decision "not only deprives women of comprehensive healthcare, but it sets a terrifying standard in affirming the 'personhood' of corporations."

Though the Court did not provide a definition of a "closely held" corporation (there are multiple state definitions), the Wall Street Journal reports that roughly 90 percent of all companies in the US are "closely held," and according to a 2009 NYU research study, roughly half of all private sector employees work for such corporations. Most of these corporations, however, have no religious affiliation, so it remains unclear how many women will be affected by the Court's decision yesterday. Currently, 30 million women have access to birth control without co-pays or deductibles because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Even as the Court decided that closely-held corporations could have religious rights protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the conservative majority minimized not only the importance of women's health but also the goal of women's equality.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito suggested that "gender equality" might be too "broadly formulated" to satisfy a compelling government interest that would justify the ACA birth control benefit. This downplay of women's equality did not go unnoticed by Justice Ginsburg, who wrote, in dissent, that the government's interest in "women's well-being" is "concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence." Justice Ginsburg also noted that in providing for contraceptive coverage for women without co-pays or deductibles, Congress was acting on the understanding - articulated in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) - that "the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest delivered a statement on the Hobby Lobby decision yesterday, stating that "President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them." He continued, "Today's decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies . . . the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits." The White House is calling on Congress to take action to ensure that the women and employees affected by the Court's decision will have coverage for contraceptive care.


7/1/2014 - Obama Pledges to Sign Executive Order Protecting Transgender Federal Employees

At the White House annual LGBT Pride Month reception Monday night, President Obama reiterated his commitment to sign an executive order protecting transgender federal employees from discrimination.

President Obama told the crowd, "If Congress won't act, I will."He pledged that the Executive Order would include employees already protected on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal workplace, but it did not limit discrimination against employees on the basis of gender identification.

"Though this administration has previously interpreted existing law to cover transgender federal employees, updating the language of this executive order makes it 100% clear that transgender federal employees must be treated equally at work," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality stated.

Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) every term since it was first introduced in 1994. ENDA would protect people from discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Senate passed ENDA in November, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) opposes the bill and has yet to bring it to the floor.

Last week, Boehner announced his intent to file a lawsuit against the Executive Branch, alleging that the President is violating the Constitution by using the power of an Executive Order. In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous, the President called Boehner's lawsuit "a stunt." President Obama also announced his intent to address immigration reform by executive order.

The White House has not set a timetable for the non-discrimination executive order for transgender employees.


6/30/2014 - Mississippi Freedom Summer Focuses On Fighting Voter Suppression

MISSISSIPPI - Two members of Feminist Majority Foundation's campus team were in Jackson, Mississippi this past week engaging with social justice groups on the subject of modern-day voter suppression.

National Campus Organizer Edwith Theogene and Campus Communications Associate Taylor Kuether attended plenaries, workshops, and breakout sessions centralized around voting and labor issues as part of Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary conference at Tougaloo College. They joined 1500 conference participants from 23 states, including 500 youth participants.

Theogene and Kuether also represented Feminist Majority Foundation in the conference's youth component, Freedom Summer Youth Congress. On Thursday, they trained a group of high school and college students to create student groups of their own, organizing around issues including voting rights.

Wednesday's workshops and sessions heavily featured the issue of voter suppression, the very issue that incited a groundswell of grassroots organizing in the summer of 1964, or Freedom Summer. This year, rather than fighting for equal voting rights, the issue is reclaiming voting rights that were stripped away by the Supreme Court last summer. The Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted, with a slim 5-4 decision, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court declared unconstitutional Section 4 of the act that established the formula determining which states, primarily in the South, with a history of prior racial discrimination needed to obtain prior federal approval or preclearance before a change in the state's voting laws could go into effect.

Hollis Watkins, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and National Chair of Freedom 50, spoke during a press conference about registering African American voters in the summer of 1964. "We gradually gave power not only to a few, but begin to spread the power among the masses of the people. When I say power, I'm talking about having the capacity to make things happen," Watkins said. "One of the ways that this would come about would be through registering a lot of our people to vote."

Derrick Johnson, Mississippi state president of NAACP, said a vote for every single person is imperative in the democratic system. "Voting is not about election cycles, it is about using our democratic currency," Johnson said. "The voter ID law is similar to the poll tax; it prevents African Americans from being able to vote."

Theogene attended for FMF a breakout session on Wednesday titled, "Voting Rights: 'Our Southern Strategy Taking the Leadership,'" receiving further training in voter rights issues both current and historic.

"How do we live in this post-Shelby world?" asked Theogene, "In 1964 we fought so hard for the voting rights act, and last year it was gutted. We're still fighting the same fight we fought in 1964. It may look different, but it's not."

"We need to use old strategies to inform new strategies," said Theogene, "this isn't a new battle. We need to come up with a strategy to break down a political platform built on excluding people, and that's why voting matters."

The Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference continued through Saturday. On Thursday, Theogene and Kuether trained students in grassroots organizing on their campuses in the areas of voting rights and other social justice issues as part of the conference's Freedom Summer Youth Congress.

Follow Theogene and Kuether's trip, including event recaps, photos, and live-tweets of conference sessions, at @FeministCampus.

###


6/30/2014 - BREAKING: SCOTUS Decides Corporations Have Religious Liberty, Women Do Not In Choosing Birth Control

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 30, 2014 WASHINGTON -- In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. today in a major blow to reproductive rights for women across the nation.

"Today's decision not only deprives women of comprehensive healthcare, but it sets a terrifying standard in affirming the "personhood" of corporations. In siding with Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court yet again affirms the personhood of corporations, giving closely-held (i.e. limited number of stockholders) corporations so-called religious liberty and taking religious freedom away from their employees at the expense of women's health," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "This sets a dangerous precedent for the future of religious liberty and women's rights."

A majority of Americans agree that women should have access to affordable birth control and support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. "The Supreme Court ignored, not only public opinion, but individual rights of women to religious freedom," Smeal continued.

Hobby Lobby, a for-profit national craft store chain, and Conestoga Wood, a wood cabinet manufacturer, challenged the benefit and sought to give religious freedom to corporations rather than give women the right to truly affordable and comprehensive health care. The Supreme Court case is the first for-profit challenge to the law to make it to the highest court.

HIGHLIGHTS YOU SHOULD KNOW:


  • At least 14% of all women using a contraceptive are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, severe cramps.

  • Studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

  • As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used some form of contraception.



The Feminist Majority Foundation has worked diligently for affordable contraceptive access for all women. This decision is a blow to women who work for corporations who claim to have religious views that trump the religious views of their employees. The Affordable Care Act still provides for the vast majority of women who have insurance coverage birth control access without co-pays or deductibles.

###


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 30, 2014
Contact: J.T. Johnson,jjohnson@feminist.org, 703-522-2214 (office), 703-522-2214 (cell)


6/30/2014 - BREAKING: SCOTUS Decides Corporations Have Religious Liberty, Women Do Not In Choosing Birth Control

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 30, 2014 WASHINGTON -- In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. today in a major blow to reproductive rights for women across the nation.

"Today's decision not only deprives women of comprehensive healthcare, but it sets a terrifying standard in affirming the "personhood" of corporations. In siding with Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court yet again affirms the personhood of corporations, giving closely-held (i.e. limited number of stockholders) corporations so-called religious liberty and taking religious freedom away from their employees at the expense of women's health," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "This sets a dangerous precedent for the future of religious liberty and women's rights."

A majority of Americans agree that women should have access to affordable birth control and support full coverage of birth control as a preventive service. "The Supreme Court ignored, not only public opinion, but individual rights of women to religious freedom," Smeal continued.

Hobby Lobby, a for-profit national craft store chain, and Conestoga Wood, a wood cabinet manufacturer, challenged the benefit and sought to give religious freedom to corporations rather than give women the right to truly affordable and comprehensive health care. The Supreme Court case is the first for-profit challenge to the law to make it to the highest court.

HIGHLIGHTS YOU SHOULD KNOW:


  • At least 14% of all women using a contraceptive are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, severe cramps.

  • Studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers.

  • As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used some form of contraception.


The Feminist Majority Foundation has worked diligently for affordable contraceptive access for all women. This decision is a blow to women who work for corporations who claim to have religious views that trump the religious views of their employees. The Affordable Care Act still provides for the vast majority of women who have insurance coverage birth control access without co-pays or deductibles.


###


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 30, 2014
Contact: J.T. Johnson,jjohnson@feminist.org, 703-522-2214 (office), 703-522-2214 (cell)


6/27/2014 - New York Women's Equality Act Stalled For A Second Time

For the second year in a row, the New York State legislature closed its legislative session without voting on the Women's Equality Act (WEA). Part of a 10-part legislative package introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in June of 2013, the Act focused on strengthening laws on equal pay, pregnancy discrimination, domestic violence, and sexual harassment.

Although the State Senate passed nine planks of the WEA as separate bills, the full act ultimately did not move forward because Senate Republicans opposed a provision that would codify Roe v. Wade in the state. The provision would ensure that a woman can get an abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy and protect providers from prosecution. The State Assembly, which had voted to pass the omnibus WEA in January, then refused to vote on the separate bills unless all 10 of the Act's planks were passed. The WEA did not pass the Senate last year because of similar conflict over the abortion provision.

"Simply put, we find it shocking that such a straightforward update of our state's abortion laws - nothing more than codifying Roe - could not garner enough votes to pass in our State Senate, even though 67 percent of New York voters supported it," said President of the National Organization for Women of New York City, Sonia Ossorio, in a statement. "While it is disappointing that we were not able to secure a critical update to our abortion law, women still deserve to see progress in other areas of their lives. There is a concrete opportunity to make a difference in the lives of New York's women and girls - and it is especially critical for women facing poverty, abuse, and discrimination."

Other planks in the full package include extending protections against sexual harassment to all workplaces, allowing the recovery of attorney fees in harassment cases, ending employment discrimination based on whether a woman has children or is pregnant, and strengthening order of protection laws and human trafficking laws in the state.


6/27/2014 - Federal Court Strikes Down Austin CPC Ordinance

A United States District Judge struck down a city ordinance in Austin, Texas that required Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) to post signage declaring that they do not offer medical care.

Judge Lee Yeakel ruled on Monday that the ordinance, approved by the Austin City Council in 2012 to provide clarity to potential clients unfamiliar with clinics in the area, is unconstitutionally vague and violates the centers' guarantee of due process, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The CPCs now do not have to tell visitors that they do not provide actual medical care.

CPCs pose as comprehensive women's health clinics and advertise under "abortion" and "family planning" services, but do not offer abortion services, contraception, or referrals. They often provide false information about abortion, birth control, and the effectiveness of condoms for the prevention of STIs and HIV. Ultimately, their tactics delay or intimidate women from receiving comprehensive medical care.


6/27/2014 - Most Media Missed Chance to Uncover Violent Undercurrents in McCullen

In the hours following the Supreme Court's ruling on "safety buffer zones", few mainstream media outlets called attention to the violence that necessitated them; but social media was awash with stories about violence, harassment, and intimidation at clinics.

Hashtags like #ProtectTheZone, #ClinicViolenceIsReal,#NotCounseling, #SCOTUSFail, #clinicthreats, #antichoiceterrorists--all appeared in thousands of tweets from firsthand victims of clinic violence. The Rachel Maddow Show was one of the only prominent cable media voices to immediately weigh in on the reason safety buffer zones came to be. "Let this paint a picture for you," Maddow opened.

Maddow went on to review the murders of doctors in Pensacola and an escort in Pensacola, as well as the murders of two young women in Brookline, Mass. clinics. She recounted the murders of 38-year-old Lee Ann Nichols, and 25-year-old, Shannon Lowney. Both women were clinic receptionists in Brookline, Mass. John C. Salvi killed Lowney and Nichols, and was captured a day later in Norfolk, Va, where he shot up a third reproductive health clinic.

Her guest, Marty Walz (President of the Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts) said of the Supreme Court decision, "They didn't do anything about their own buffer zone law, so apparently they think they have one set of rules, and women seeking healthcare should be subjected to a different set of rules."

Walz went on to say PPFA lawyers are reviewing the Supreme Court's decision, and they will frame a new buffer zone law that complies with the ruling.


6/26/2014 - Statement: SCOTUS Decision Endangers Women And Healthcare Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Today, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) is outraged by the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a Massachusetts buffer zone law as unconstitutional.

"The lives of doctors and clinic staff are being threatened as we speak," said Feminist Majority Foundation President, Eleanor Smeal. "This decision emboldens more extreme violence, harassment, and intimidation of women and health care providers in the name of free speech."

"The Court's decision failed to acknowledge that the Massachusetts law was enacted after the murder 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."

"The Court wants to believe that these anti-abortion protestors are merely 'sidewalk counselors', but let us not forget that initially Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, acted as a 'sidewalk counselor' to gain information about vulnerabilities of the clinic; Paul Hill, who killed Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort, James Barrett, outside a Pensacola clinic was a 'sidewalk counselor' first. Hill was mistakenly thought to be handing them a leaflet. Instead he delivered lethal bullets."

"Even with today's outcome, we shudder to think that this decision could've been worse. Four Justices would have gone even further. Three Justices--Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy--would overturn the Colorado buffer zone established by Colorado v. Hill. That ruling establishes an even narrower, 8-foot, floating buffer zone around individual patients."

"Thankfully, a majority of the Court did not overturn Hill. Citing Madsen v. Women's Health Clinic, the Court also stated a preference for court-ordered injunctions around individual clinics."

"But the problem with injunctions is that women and health workers must first endure harassment and intimidation. Why must harassment, intimidation and terror have to be endured before women's constitutional rights are protected?

The Feminist Majority Foundation took Madsen to the Supreme Court. This Florida case establishing a buffer zone through an injunction was upheld by the Court in 1994 and in today's decision.

###


The Feminist Majority Foundation conducts the National Clinic Access Project (NCAP). To date, FMF has trained over 60,000 volunteers how to keep clinics open. NCAP is the largest project in the nation defending clinics against violence. NCAP provides legal support to reproductive health clinics across the country, and provides security assessments and equipment to targeted providers.Click here to support NCAP today.




Contact: J.T. Johnson
jjohnson@feminist.org
703-522-2214


6/26/2014 - SCOTUS Decision Endangers Women And Healthcare Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 26, 2014
Contact: J.T. Johnson,jjohnson@feminist.org,703-522-2214


Today, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) is outraged by the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a Massachusetts buffer zone law as unconstitutional. The following is a statement by our Founder and President, Eleanor Smeal.




The lives of doctors and clinic staff are being threatened as we speak. This decision emboldens more extreme violence, harassment, and intimidation of women and health care providers in the name of free speech.

The Court's decision failed to acknowledge that the Massachusetts law was enacted after the murder 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.

The Court wants to believe that these anti-abortion protestors are merely "sidewalk counselors", but let us not forget that initially Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller, acted as a "sidewalk counselor" to gain information about vulnerabilities of the clinic; Paul Hill, who killed Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort, James Barrett, outside a Pensacola clinic was a "sidewalk counselor" first. Hill was mistakenly thought to be handing them a leaflet. Instead he delivered lethal bullets.

Even with today's outcome, we shudder to think that this decision could've been worse. Four Justices would have gone even further. Three Justices--Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy--would overturn the Colorado buffer zone established by Colorado v. Hill. That ruling establishes an even narrower, 8-foot, floating buffer zone around individual patients.

Thankfully, a majority of the Court did not overturn Hill. Citing Madsen v. Women's Health Clinic, the Court also stated a preference for court-ordered injunctions around individual clinics.

But the problem with injunctions is that women and health workers must first endure harassment and intimidation. Why must harassment, intimidation and terror have to be endured before women's constitutional rights are protected?

The Feminist Majority Foundation took Madsen to the Supreme Court. This Florida case establishing a buffer zone through an injunction was upheld by the Court in 1994 and in today's decision.

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The Feminist Majority Foundation conducts the National Clinic Access Project (NCAP). To date, FMF has trained over 60,000 volunteers how to keep clinics open. NCAP is the largest project in the nation defending clinics against violence. NCAP provides legal support to reproductive health clinics across the country, and provides security assessments and equipment to targeted providers. Click here to support NCAP today.


6/25/2014 - House Committee Approves Extending Abortion Coverage to Peace Corps Volunteers

The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2015 State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill yesterday with an amendment to remove a provision banning the Peace Corps from funding abortions for its volunteers, even in cases of rape or incest.

Unlike other employees with 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. The Republican-controlled committee had blocked previous efforts to repeal this restriction, but yesterday the amendment passed by a voice vote with bipartisan support. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve an identical amendment last week. The full House and Senate must now vote on the FY 2015 appropriations legislation for the repeal to go into effect.

"With today's vote, no longer will women in the Peace Corps be denied coverage for abortion care after they've been raped or when they face life-threatening pregnancy complications," said Nancy Northop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "And no longer will they have to face the indignity of being forced to pay for essential medical care with their own limited resources." Peace Corps volunteers, more than 60 percent of whom are women, receive only a small stipend of $250-$300 per month.

Although the Peace Corps amendment was a victory for reproductive health and rights, the House Appropriations Committee failed to pass three other amendments that would have improved US funding for reproductive health programs. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced an amendment to strike the Global Gag Rule from the appropriations bill. The Global Gag Rule prohibits foreign organizations who received US funds from counseling, advocating, or making referrals on abortion. That amendment failed by 19-25 vote.

"Year after year, Republicans attempt to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. This policy endangers the lives of low-income women around the world by denying funds for critical health services," said Lee in a statement. "I remain committed to the fight to prevent this dangerous policy from being reinstated."

Amendments offered by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to remove restrictions on US funding for UNFPA, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) to strike language that caps overall funding for international family planning and reproductive health at no more than $461 million - a 25 percent cut from the 2014 level of $610 million - were also defeated.

If passed, these amendments to the appropriations bill would have improved, or even saved, the lives of thousands of women and girls around the world. Approximately 99 percent of pregnancy related deaths occur in the developing world. Each year, 529,000 women and girls die worldwide due to complications related to pregnancy, and millions more are left maimed or injured. In addition, some 70,000 women and girls die annually from unsafe, often illegal abortions.


6/25/2014 - TRAP Law Shuts Down North Alabama Clinic

Before the week is out, another Alabama clinic will shut its doors thanks to the state's TRAP bill, set to take effect July 1.

Last April, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Women's Health and Safety Act. The TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law requires reproductive health clinics to create wider hallways to accommodate gurneys, and state-of-the-art fire suppression systems. Clinics have to begin making changes within 180 days of the law's effective date. The new zoning regulations are the same for ambulatory surgical centers, but the cost of such renovations leaves smaller reproductive health clinics crunched for time and money.

"It will be a sad day for us to close our doors, because it means women of North Alabama will no longer have access to the multiple health care services we provide, not just abortions," Dalton Johnson told WAFF-TV. Johnson is the clinic administrator for the Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville, Ala. The clinic is the first in the state to choose to surrender its license, according to The Huntsville Times. The decision came after state inspectors declaredthe clinic would need "moderate to significant alterations" to stay in compliance with the new law. Once the Alabama Women's Center shuts its doors, the closest clinic in Alabama for women in Huntsville is a Planned Parenthood nearly two hours south in Birmingham, with only a handful of clinics remaining statewide.

According to The Huntsville Times, Johnson told the state health department the clinic wanted to relocate to a medical office building in downtown Huntsville. State health officials said those blueprints are still under review. If the new site is approved, however, the clinic would need to reapply for a provider license.


6/24/2014 - Strong Support For IVAWA and CEDAW in Senate Hearing

In an iconic display of support, eight women Senators testified today at a Senate subcommittee hearing in support of the need to take action against violence against women globally. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women's Issues, made clear that to fully address violence against women the Senate must pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Testifying at the hearing today were Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

"You can't see it, but there's a line outside," said Sen. Heitkamp before beginning her testimony.

The committee room was standing room only, packed with women leaders and activists, and a long line of supporters - who were never able to enter the room - gathered at the door to hear testimony from the women Senators, US Ambassador for Global Women's Issues Catherine Russell, USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Susan Markham, Promundo International Director Gary Barker, Institute for Inclusive Security Director Jacqueline O'Neill, and Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim, an expert on sharia law who spoke about the still-missing Chibok girls abducted by terrorist group Boko Haram in April.

The hearing, entitled Combating Violence and Discrimination Against Women: A Global Call to Action," focused on the epidemic of violence against women around the world, and called on the Senate to take action on two tools to help reduce violence and advance the status of women: IVAWA and CEDAW.

"The United States ratification of the CEDAW treaty would not only enhance its status, but also make it a more effective tool in combating violence against women," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "The women of the world are looking to the US for leadership on this issue. We can no longer remain silent."

That point was continuously emphasized in the hearing, especially by Nigerian attorney Hauwa Ibrahim, who departed from her prepared statements to put the United States' role in this worldwide fight in perspective: "You are indeed a beacon of hope, and a city on a hill. The passing of IVAWA and CEDAW would lighten our load."

Ambassador Russell stated unequivocally that the Obama Administration supports ratification of CEDAW. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) also stated his support, as well as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Both are co-sponsors of IVAWA, introduced in the Senate by Senator Boxer, and in the US House of Representatives by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

The Feminist Majority joins 74 organizations in thanking Sen. Boxer for holding these important hearings and taking a significant step toward moving the United States to action on this human rights crisis.

See the Feminist Majority's full release on today's hearing here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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