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11/26/2013 - Feminist Majority Foundation Urges US Supreme Court to Let Women Not Bosses Make Decisions About Birth Control
The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the contraceptive coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The provision guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives, including the pill and IUDs, without co-pays or deductibles.
Hobby Lobby, a for-profit national craft store chain, and Conestoga Wood, a wood cabinet manufacturer, are arguing that this benefit 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.
"Religion should not be used as a cover for profit-making businesses to discriminate against women," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, "nor should women be held hostage to their boss' personal religious beliefs."
"Religious freedom does not mean using your power as an employer to impose your views on others. If the Supreme Court accepts Hobby Lobby's arguments, it will set a dangerous precedent - allowing your boss to determine what medicines and medical procedures you will have access to. What's next? Will the Court allow some bosses not to cover blood transfusions, immunizations, or HIV/AIDS treatment because their contrary to their beliefs?" continued Smeal.
Birth control is basic health care for women. 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. As many as 88% of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch, or IUDs at some point in their lives. What's more at least 14% of women using the pill are doing so to treat painful conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or severe cramps, and studies have shown that the pill reduces the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is launching a plan to help over 3.2 million women and girls of reproductive age in the Philippines who have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan and are still in need of urgent care. The $110 million plan is aimed at ensuring that no woman dies giving birth and that women are protected from violence.
Typhoon Haiyan, which hit two weeks ago, has wreaked havoc in the Philippines. The death toll currently stands at 5,200 people and growing. Millions more have been displaced, and the typhoon destroyed health and security infrastructures, leaving women - particularly the estimated 230,000 pregnant women in affected areas - especially vulnerable.
"In the rush to provide assistance, women and girls were invisible," said Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) Humanitarian Response. "We now must ensure that their needs are met so that every woman and every girl affected by Typhoon Haiyan is protected and lives with dignity."
Program funds, which will be implemented in coordination with humanitarian partners and national authorities, will go to providing life-saving maternal health services, such as temporary maternity wards and ambulances, kits for women of reproductive age that include sanitary pads and other basic hygiene items, and kits with supplies for pregnant and lactating women.
UNFPA will also support the deployment of female police officer teams, the reconstruction of safe havens, and the designation of spaces for women in evacuation centers to help protect women from violence.
"Targeted support to women is one of the best ways to ensure the health, security and well-being of families and entire communities," said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA's Executive Director.
Four San Jose State University students have been charged with misdemeanor hate-crime and battery for committing hate crimes against their 17 year-old black roommate.
The harassment and crimes started when the victim's three roommates and an unnamed student started calling the victim "three fifths," referring to a time when slaves were considered three fifths of a person during census counts. From there the harassment increased. The roommates wrote racial epithets on a dry erase board in their shared living space, displayed pictures of Hitler and other Nazi related images, and put up a confederate flag. They physically harassed him by barricading him in his room and piling furniture against his door, as well as physically restraining him and locking a U-shaped bike lock around his neck. The roommates also tried to get him to enter a closet, knowing that he was claustrophobic, where they had removed the inside doorknob.
"He told university police he always locked his door at night because he was scared of most of the other students living in the four-bedroom suite," the San Jose Mercury News reports about the victim. "He also didn't feel safe studying in his own room and believes his grades weren't as good as they could be as a result."
In October, the parents of the hazed roommate reported the harassment to campus police, who then reported it to the District Attorney's Office. The accused roommates claim that the hazing was all in jest and was not racist. If convicted of the misdemeanor hate-crime and battery charges, the students could face up to a year in prison.
Fellow students have held rallies on campus in support of the victim, and the NAACP has called for felony hate-crime charges against the students in question.
Today marks the fourteenth annual United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a part of the United Nations Secretary General's Campaign to End Violence Against Women (UNiTE). Through these campaigns, the UN seeks to raise awareness of the epidemic levels of violence against women and to increase political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls around the world.
Globally, 70 percent of women experience violence in their lifetime. In the United States alone, more than one million women are raped every year, though that number may be higher due to low reporting levels. The World Bank estimates that women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk of injury or death from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria.
"This International Day to End Violence against Women is an opportunity for all people to recommit to preventing and halting all forms of violence against women and girls," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. "I welcome the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects an estimated one in three women in her lifetime."
11/22/2013 - Senate Fails to Vote on Military Sexual Assault Bill
After hours of debate, the Senate failed to vote yesterday on the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), MJIA would move the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain-of-command and give it to independent, objective, trained military prosecutors.
Six in ten Americans support letting independent prosecutors decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases in the U.S. military, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Support is equally divided between men and women, and majorities of Republicans and Democrats also support taking sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. The Feminist Majority urged the Senate to take up MJIA last week.
MJIA would amend the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), but Senate Republicans - using the filibuster - blocked MJIA from coming to a vote on the floor yesterday. There was also no vote on NDAA. The Senate then headed into a two-week recess.
11/22/2013 - Janet Yellen Closer to Becoming Fed Chief
The Senate Banking Committee voted 14-8 to approve the nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve. This bipartisan vote means that the Yellen will now be considered by the full Senate. If confirmed, she will be the first woman in history to lead the central bank.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) applauded the committee for its vote. "Janet Yellen has impeccable credentials, and I'm very pleased she was voted out of committee with bipartisan backing, said Senator Warren. She recognizes middle-class families are still struggling to dig out of the hole the financial crisis created, and that now is no time for the Fed to pull back."
The Senate vote yesterday to change the filibuster rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on certain presidential nominees means that Republicans will not be able to block Yellen from receiving a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate is expected to vote on her nomination after the Thanksgiving recess.
Yellen is the current vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and has a long history of experience with central banking.
The United States and Afghanistan have agreed on the final language of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that will help determine the role of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan post-2014. The agreement is now being considered by the Loya Jirga, a council composed of 2500 members including Afghan political, community, business, youth and non-profit organization leaders.
The BSA provides that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to strengthen the security and stability of Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan to continue coordinating counter-terrorism efforts. The agreement provides no combat role for U.S. troops, a point that has been emphasized by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The agreement also does not specify the number of U.S. troops that would remain in Afghanistan in training, advisory and assistance capacity after 2014, nor does it specify how long U.S. troops would stay in the country. In June 2013, U.S. and NATO transferred security and combat responsibilities to the Afghan armed forces, began the drawdown of their troops, and remain for training and advisory missions.
Presidents Obama and Karzai had signed, in May 2013, a ten-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the two countries which included "U.S. commitments to support Afghanistan's social and economic development, security, institutions, and regional cooperation." Afghanistan committed "to strengthen accountability, transparency, oversights, and to protect human rights of all Afghans - men and women." The SPA required a BSA be negotiated.
President Obama has urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the BSA by the end of the year. President Karzai in his address to the Loya Jirga on Thursday had indicated that the BSA should be signed after the April 2014 Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections. Karzai urged the Loya Jirga to approve the BSA. Next the BSA goes to the Afghan Parliament for final approval.
Congress passed the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013 on Tuesday, reaffirming and strengthening its commitment to reducing global HIV/AIDS. The 2013 act updates the program to require, among other changes, more collaboration between US departments to combat HIV/AIDS, to require a study of treatment providers, and to extend funding for orphans and other children left vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.
The program, which began in 2003, has supported HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral treatment for millions of people. PEPFAR has created partnerships to support countries' efforts to implement HIV prevention programs and care services and has focused efforts on reaching particularly vulnerable populations.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-IL), an original co-author of PEPFAR in 2003, praised the passage of the Act and its continued bi-partisan support. She also expressed confidence in the program. "I believed then, as I do now, that we can achieve an AIDS-free generation with the right investments, like protecting funding for programs for orphans and vulnerable children, supporting the Global Fund, and guiding the transition toward greater country ownership, while also expanding effective combination prevention programs and HIV/AIDS research," said Lee.
Although PEPFAR has had unprecedented success in fighting HIV/AIDS globally, the problem remains staggering - particularly for women. Over half of all people living with HIV are women, and it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill have urged that the next leader of PEPFAR must therefore ensure that women's rights are at the center of the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS. US Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby - who led the implementation of PEPFAR - stepped down from his position earlier this month. Smeal and O'Neill have called on President Obama to appoint a woman in the past.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2013
Feminist Majority Applauds Change in Senate Filibuster Rules
WASHINGTON --The U.S. Senate voted 52-48 today to change the filibuster rules to require a simple majority - rather than 60 votes - to end debate on presidential nominees to the executive branch and the federal bench, with the exception of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We congratulate Senator Reid on his leadership," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. "Republicans have been engaging in an egregious abuse of power by systematically blocking presidential nominees to the federal bench and disproportionately affecting the appointment of highly qualified women and people of color."
Patricia Millett is likely to be the next person confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Millett is an accomplished lawyer who has argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and has had over a dozen years of service in the Department of Justice. She was one of three very qualified women nominated to this D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals who were recently blocked by Senate Republicans.
"At last we will break the logjam of judicial and executive appointments, end the dysfunction of the Senate, and stop Republican denial of the re-election of President Obama" said Smeal.
The Massachusetts Senate voted Tuesday to gradually raise the state's minimum wage from $8 to $11 per hour by 2016. The raise will help over 600,000 workers, particularly women, who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationwide.
"Hard working people working full time and being paid our minimum wage now are living in poverty," Senator Dan Wolf told the Associated Press. "Raising the minimum wage is an important step to rebalancing our top-heavy economy."
The Senate also voted to tie the minimum wage to inflation, to require it to always be at least 50 cents higher than the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour), and to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, like waiters, to half of the minimum for other workers.
The bill was approved by a 32-7 vote. It will now head to the House, which is unlikely to vote on it until next year, and then to Governor Deval Patrick, who has expressed support for increasing the state's minimum wage. If it passes, Massachusetts will have the highest state minimum wage in the US. It will begin taking effect on July 1, 2014 when it will rise to $9, and then it will rise by one dollar each July until it reaches $11 in 2016.
California recently enacted a similar law raising the state's minimum wage from $8 to $10.
11/20/2013 - Supreme Court Refuses to Block Texas Abortion Law
In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The law, which went into effect on October 31, immediately forced about one-third of the state's abortion providers to stop providing services.
"We are disappointed by the Supreme Court's failure to block this unnecessary, burdensome Texas law. It's only purpose is to deny women access to abortion - an essential part of women's reproductive health care," said Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Texas women deserve better."
The Court's decision was not on the constitutionality of the Texas law. That question will be considered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to hear arguments in January.
Last month, a federal district court struck down the Texas admitting privileges requirement, ruling that it was unconstitutional. Judge Lee Yeakel found that the provision had no rational relationship to improving patient care, treatment, or outcomes, and would place an undue burden on women seeking abortion services.
The state immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which granted the state's request to stay Judge Yeakel's decision and allow the law to go forward pending a decision on the law's constitutionality. Texas abortion providers then filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court to block the law.
Last night, voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico defeated an unprecedented ballot measure that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks and contained no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the woman.
The proposed measure was the first of its kind to be introduced on the city-level and drew national coverage for the robust campaigns launched around it, both for and against. Yesterday's election drew record numbers of voters, with about a quarter of Albuquerque's registered voters, 87,296 in total, voting in the special election -- more than voted in the regular election for mayor earlier this month, according to MSNBC.
"Together, we sent a strong message to the legislators across the country -- both on the state and national level -- who are proposing similar bans: We will not go back. We will not stop fighting," said Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation.
FMF sent a team of National Campus Organizers to Albuquerque to mobilize student voters on the ground. FMF, Young Women United and ProgressNow New Mexico also sponsored shuttles from local campuses to the polls, which were overwhelmed by students.
Dolores Huerta, FMF board member and co-founder of United Farm Workers, also campaigned with student leaders in Albuquerque.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 20, 2013
WASHINGTON -- Feminist Majority Foundation today applauded and celebrated Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Steinem was one of 16 honorees to receive the prestigious award from President Barack Obama today at The White House. She was honored for her leadership "in the women's liberation movement," the White House said, as well as for cofounding Ms. in 1972.
Before she helped start the groundbreaking feminist magazine, she helped launch New York magazine, where she was a political columnist and features writer. The author of a number of books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, she's also an inspirational, widely traveled speaker and a founder of the Women's Media Center.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and Ms. Executive Editor Katherine Spillar were both present at the ceremony.
"Gloria has been instrumental in promoting feminist issues for more than 40 years," said Smeal. "The FMF has been honored to carry on her work with Ms. for the past 12 years. I value my long and productive friendship with Gloria and look forward to many more. She is a beacon of feminist wisdom and strength."
"We can never thank Gloria enough for all the work she's done on behalf of women's rights," said Spillar. "This presidential honor is so well-deserved - and, as Gloria said, it honors the entire women's movement."
Other medal recipients today include the late astronaut Sally Ride, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, country singer Loretta Lynn and former president Bill Clinton.
Last week, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division rejected a lower Family Court's ruling that a woman's decision to move across the country while pregnant was tantamount to "appropriation of the child while in utero" and therefore could bar her custody case from being heard in her new location.
The lower Family Court had found in May that petitioner Sara McK's decision to relocate from California to New York to attend Columbia University while pregnant could bar New York courts from hearing her child custody case. The Family Court referee departed from typical custody statute - that custody cases be heard in a child's home state, in this case New York, where the child was born - based on the "appropriation" characterization. This interpretation of the statute placed unconstitutional constraints on a woman's basic decisions, such as where she lives, works, and attends school while pregnant. It also meant fathers could limit the movement of pregnant women.
The recent decision to reject the earlier ruling "affirms that women who become pregnant may not be penalized for exercising their rights to travel and to seek an education," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
The Appellate Division's ruling made clear that courts cannot hear custody matters that are filed prior to birth, and that McK's relocation should not have factored into the lower Family Court's finding.
In several other cases, the rights of pregnant women have been restricted in the name of protecting the fetus. One pregnant woman was detained after trying to get help for her painkiller use, and another was charged with attempted feticide after a suicide attempt.
LGBT people of color are the most disadvantaged workers in the US, according to a new report released last week by the Movement Advancement Project, Center for American Progress, Freedom to Work, Human Rights Campaign, and the National Black Justice Coalition.
The report, entitled A Broken Bargain for LGBT Workers of Color, details how LGBT people of color, who live at the intersections of various marginalized identities in the US, face unique barriers to employment and education. Inequality, lack of workplace protections, and violence and discrimination in schools all contribute to high rates of poverty and unemployment for many LGBT workers of color.
"Contrary to popular stereotypes, LGBT workers are more racially diverse than the general population, making it critical to address the unique obstacles they face," said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition. "Bias and prejudice based on race, sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression intersect to the detriment of LGBT workers of color."
According to the report, LGBT youth of color often face multiple forms of harassment at school, have fewer support systems, and are at greater risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline [see PDF]. At work, LGBT people of color experience higher rates of discrimination and are less likely to have adequate mentors. Discriminatory immigration and tax laws as well as unequal job benefits, including lack of appropriate forms of family leave, also disadvantage LGBT workers of color.
The report makes several concrete recommendations to achieve workplace equality. In particular, the authors recommend that Congress pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act to help LGBT students feel safer at school. National laws to ban employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation should be implemented at the federal, state and local levels. In addition, efforts should be taken by Congress and state lawmakers to protect against wage discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
"While there are laws in place to help protect workers from discrimination based on race and ethnicity, it is still legal to fire or refuse to hire someone on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in the majority of states," said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President of External Affairs at CAP.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) which would protect people from discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation in the work place. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), however, has opposed the legislation.
Residents in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico will vote on a ballot measure today that, if passed, would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation without exceptions for the life and health of the mother or survivors of rape or incest.
The New Mexico state legislature has generally been able to block anti-choice legislation, but out-of-state anti-abortion activists were able to collect enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot, eliciting a special off-year election. "These efforts callously disregard the personal circumstances that surround a woman's decision to end her pregnancy," writes Respect ABQ Women, a group of allied women, families and organizations dedicated to protecting the decision to end a pregnancy and keeping it between women and their doctors. "The out-of-touch groups behind this ballot measure don't care about women's health or safety; their only goal is to judge our families and make it impossible for women to access safe and legal abortions."
Only about one percent of abortions in the US take place after 20 weeks gestation, and women usually decide to have them because of fetal anomalies, a risk to their health or life, or other often difficult reasons.
This measure is particularly significant because both Texas and Arizona have strict regulations on abortion that force women from across the region to travel to New Mexico for reproductive health care. Albuquerque is the only city in the Southwest where women can terminate a pregnancy past 20 weeks gestation, but if this measure passes, many women would have to travel even further for reproductive health care. In addition, the measure is unique for going through a city legislature rather than through the state, and it could inspire other anti-abortion extremists in cities around the US to attempt the same strategy.
Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former First Lady Laura Bush called for increased support for Afghan women during the "Advancing Afghan Women: Promoting Peace and Progress in Afghanistan" symposium held in Washington, DC last week.
The US leaders asserted that women must be a strong part of Afghanistan's upcoming political, security, and economic transitions as Afghanistan holds new elections and the US withdraws its troops in 2014.
"Societies where women are safe, where women are empowered to exercise their rights and to move their communities forward - these societies are more prosperous and more stable - not occasionally, but always," said Kerry. "And nowhere is the pursuit of this vision more important, and in many ways more compelling and immediate and possible than in Afghanistan."
Kerry reminded the audience of just how far Afghanistan has come in terms of women's rights since 2001, when the Taliban was in control. Only 900,000 children were in school then, all of whom were boys; today, there are eight million school children, one-third of whom are girls. Women's health has also improved dramatically with a 60 percent increase in access to basic care for the entire population and an 80 percent decrease in the maternal mortality rate.
Both Clinton and Bush encouraged an increase in support of NGOs and other organizations working in the region and called for increased public attention on women's rights in Afghanistan. "Investing in Afghan women is the surest way to guarantee that Afghanistan will sustain the gains of the last decade and never again become a safe haven for international terrorists," Kerry said.
11/15/2013 - Man Charged in Renisha McBride's Death
Prosecutors charged the Michigan man who shot and killed 19-year old Renisha McBride. Theodore Paul Wafer now faces charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony or during an attempted commission. If convicted, Wafer could face life in prison.
"We have issued these charges because we believe the evidence will show that self-defense was not warranted," Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.
The charges come two weeks after Wafer shot McBride in the face through his locked screen door. Police believe McBride had been in a car accident and was confused and disoriented when she approached Wafer's residence for help.
Wafer's lawyer told the press the shooting was "justified", using language found in Michigan's "shoot first" law that allows people who feel threatened to shoot first, ask questions later. Wafer's justification has caused many to draw comparisons to George Zimmerman who invoked Florida's "stand your ground" laws and was found not-guilty in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin.
A report released Wednesday by Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), "a global partnership that supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have," details successes and progress made in international commitments to improving family planning since the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning.
According to the report, titled Partnership in Action, 24 countries have committed to doing more to improve family planning since the 2012 summit. One-fourth of them have already launched detailed strategies, including Kenya, Niger, and Burkina Faso, among several others. One-third have increased their budgets for family planning, including Ethiopia and Indonesia. Half have also held family planning conferences. FP2020, supported by the United Nations Foundation, has developed tools to monitor the progress of these countries.
Partnerships between governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector in countries like Senegal and Nigeria, as well as the development of innovative ways to deliver services, such as reducing the cost of contraceptive implants by 50 percent to make them more accessible for poorer women, are also helping to expand access to family planning services and commodities.
For family planning strategies to succeed, organizations and governments must listen to what women want and need, and integrate those responses into their strategies. "For FP2020 to succeed in spirit as well as fact, we must deliver for women on their terms," said Grethe Petersen, the Regional Director for East and Southern Africa at Marie Stopes International and a member of FP2020's Country Engagement Working Group. "Reflecting their choices: whether to use contraception or not; whichever method of contraception they like; whenever, wherever and from whichever provider they choose."
Barriers that often prevent women from getting the family planning services they need include the cost of services and products, inadequate medical professionals and supplies, and difficulty accessing services. Other underlying issues include gender inequality, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, child marriage, lack of access to education, and lack of economic opportunities for girls and women.
"Across the board, it's clear we need strong global leadership and enhanced understanding of these challenges in order to continue to make progress," said Anne C. Richard, US Department of State Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in her closing remarks at the third annual International Family Planning Conference in Addis Ababa that wraps up today. "Together, so much has already been achieved, and the incredibly positive spirit expressed during this conference convinces me that we can do so much more."
11/14/2013 - Hawaii Governor Signs Marriage Equality Bill
Hawaii became the fifteenth state to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday after Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a marriage equality bill into law.
The bill "recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex and extends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive," according to a press release from Governor Abercrombie. It will also allow the civil unions previously afforded to same sex couples to be "converted" to marriages through an online procedure.
"We have moved into a new era of Aloha for same-sex couples, who can now share in the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," said Attorney General David Louie.
The Hawaii Senate had previously passed a different bill, but the current one contains two amendments delaying the bill's effective date to December 2 and broadened religious exemptions. The House passed it last Friday by a 30-19 margin, and the Senate passed it Tuesday night 19-4.
The Hawaiian victory comes on the heels of several others, including a bill passed by the Illinois state legislature last week (which Governor Pat Quinn has committed to signing), and the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in October to allow same-sex marriage.
In response to a national abortion ban introduced by Republicans last week and three years of state legislative attacks on access to abortion, a group of Democratic, pro-choice Congress members introduced the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013 to the Senate on Wednesday.
The act would prevent states from passing Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, also known as TRAP laws. TRAP laws attempt to create barriers to abortion access by creating extraneous regulations for providers, such as requiring specific dimensions for clinic restrooms or mandating doctors performing abortions to enter into transfer agreements with a local hospital.
State legislatures have attempted to undermine a woman's right to abortion in record numbers over the past three years. According to Laura Bassett of the Huffington Post, since 2010, some 54 abortion clinics have closed their doors across the nation due to restrictive legislation. Recent legislation in Texas alone has led to 12 abortion clinics closing, and cuts in funding in Texas have led to over 50 family planning clinics that do not perform abortions closing recently.
In 2011 through 2013, some 178 abortion restrictions were passed by state legislatures and signed into law. These are the highest numbers since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not imposed on other medical professions.
"Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services," Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Judy Chu, who are both co-sponsors of the act, wrote in the Huffington Post. "Our bill will nullify dangerous regulations that stifle access to abortion care and endanger women." Blumenthal and Chu were joined in introducing the act by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as well as Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL).
It has been almost a decade since federal proactive legislation protecting abortion access has been passed. The last time was the passing of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.
A new report by the ACLU, the Service Women's Action Network, and the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School alleges that the US Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) discriminates against thousands of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors seeking mental health disability benefits.
While the VA has a vested interest in ensuring that those seeking disability benefits have a condition caused by their time in the military, members who are seeking benefits for PTSD related to combat or other sources of trauma are taken at their word. According to the report, the VA scrutinizes claims made by sexual assault victims more intently, even when they provide the kind of documentation their counterparts are not required to.
"Under the current regulations, survivors of military sexual trauma have to provide a decent amount of documentation in order to get a compensation pension exam, as part of the benefits process," explained Rose Carmen Goldberg, one of the authors of the report. Structural barriers to justice, like the ability of commanding officers to single-handedly vacate guilty verdicts, and a culture of skepticism, means many sexual assault victims don't report their trauma, making providing the documentation the VA requests almost impossible.
Even though women who experience sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than their male counterparts, in 2011 the VA granted 74.2 percent of non-MST trauma claims and only 44.6 percent of MST claims. "The mental health effects of PTSD related to sexual trauma can make it very difficult if not impossible to work, so in many cases [disability benefits] will be their only source of income," said Goldberg.
A Facebook group called on anti-abortion extremists in Texas to kidnap women who are headed to abortion clinics.
Cicada Collective, a pro-choice group that provides a legitimate volunteer shuttle service for women going to abortion clinics, shared with their listserv an email address for folks interested in volunteering to operate the shuttles. Shortly after, the group "Praying for you" posted to the "Abolish Human Abortion" Facebook page with the email address and encouraged their supporters to volunteer and then kidnap the women in lieu of taking them to their abortion clinic appointments.
"I'm not suggesting you actually take a woman to an abortion clinic," the post read. "It's a Wonderful opportunity to minister to an abortion minded woman for an hour while you DON'T take her to the clinic."
Cicada Collective became aware of the post and shared it with other women as a warning, stating, "Anti-choicers attempting to infiltrate was bound to happen at some point right? Here is a concerning message we got this morning. Other groups out there wanting to provide practical support to people seeking abortion care in Texas, please be careful."
The Abolish Human Abortion group denies any involvement, suggesting it had actually been written as an attempt to slander the group by a pro-choice campaigner.
The Supreme Court decided yesterday not to take up an Oklahoma case to reinstate required ultrasounds to women before being able to proceed with their abortions. The case, Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems, asked to reinstate The Oklahoma Ultrasound Act, which requires a physician or certified technician to perform an obstetric ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion, show the woman the ultrasound, and repeat a detailed description of the embryo and visible organs.
A brief written by representatives of Andrew Davis, PC and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Nova Health Systems, urges the top US court not to hear the case. They argued, "It does not merely make information available to a woman who wishes to terminate her pregnancy ... it compels women to undergo an invasive medical examination and listen to a state-scripted narrative even if they object."
The act was originally passed in Oklahoma in 2010, but it was struck down by a district judge in May 2010 and eventually granted a permanent injunction -, essentially a cease and desist order for anyone trying to implement the law - in March 2012. In December 2012, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld the decision by the state trial court.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court mentioned the 1992 Supreme Court case Casey v. Planned Parenthood in their ruling, which "permitted reasonable regulation of abortions that didn't impose an 'undue burden' on a woman's right to the procedure," in their statement supporting the former ruling on the law. However, the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said their ruling actually conflicted with the case's precedent.
The US Supreme Court recently rejected another review of an Oklahoma law that aimed to restrict medical abortions.
Political leaders and health advocates from around the world will meet in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abba, this week for the third annual International Conference on Family Planning. The conference, held by the Gates Institute, will take place from November 12 to 15. Those in attendance, including Malawian President Joyce Banda and Melinda Gates, will discuss their continuing commitment to ensuring every woman has access to comprehensive family planning services.
The theme of the conference, "Full Access, Full Choice," encourages governments and charities who committed to expanding family planning access at the 2012 London conference to honor their commitments. The conference hopes to provide a platform for successful strategies in expanding access to 120 million women by 2020 as well as many of the hurdles that countries and organizations have faced in trying to reach the goal thus far. Attendees will also discuss the role of political leadership in expanding access to family planning services, the involvement of female advocates to champion such efforts, and effective teenage pregnancy prevention programs.
"Access to family planning information and contraceptives empower women to plan their families, get a better education, and provide a healthier future for their children," said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.
While there has been a global drop in the rate of unintended pregnancies, the proportion of unintended pregnancies remains high, especially in developing regions. High rates of unintended pregnancies reflect the barriers to contraceptive methods that women and men face: in many developing countries, the high cost of quality contraceptives, unpredictable donor funding, and cultural and knowledge barriers all prevent women from accessing family planning services. Additionally, women living in rural communities are often geographically removed from reproductive health care facilities, only compounding the difficulties in being able to regularly access contraception.