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8/6/2014 - Supreme Court Decision Affects Buffer Zone Laws Around the Nation

Cities and states across the United States have been responding differently to the US Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down Massachusetts' 35-foot abortion clinic buffer zone in McCullen v. Coakley, with some jurisdictions suspending their buffer zone laws and others continuing to enforce the protective measures.

The McCullen decision invalidated only one statute: a fixed, 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts. In making its decision, the Court found that this specific Massachusetts law was unconstitutional, not that state and local governments could never enact measures to protect patients, doctors, and staff from harassment and intimidation outside of reproductive health clinics. In addition, the Court did not overturn a previous buffer zone case, Hill v. Colorado, that upheld a statute prohibiting a person - within 100 feet of a clinic entrance - from approaching within 8 feet of another person, without that person's consent.

After the ruling, the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, issued a statement clarifying that the McCullen decision did not implicate his state's clinic buffer zone laws. Seventeen counties in New York state have buffer zones as a result of a court injunction. Additionally, New York City, encompassing 5 additional counties, has a 15-foot buffer zone law. Noting that anti-abortion activists had attempted to assert that McCullen invalidated all buffer zones, Schneiderman issued an open letter to clarify the law.

"We will not allow activists to use a narrowly targeted Supreme Court decision as an opportunity to create confusion about the critical protections here in New York," wrote Schneiderman. "Not only do New York State's clinic protection laws remain completely in place, I am committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to ensure they are fully enforced."

Other state and local governments, however, have - reluctantly and often in the context of ongoing legal disputes - either repealed, in the case of Portland, Maine, or suspended enforcement of their buffer zone laws. The city of Madison, Wisconsin recently announced that it would not enforce its buffer zone law, one that is similar to that in Hill v. Colorado, and New Hampshire has stopped enforcing its 25-foot buffer zone. Both jurisdictions are in the middle of legal challenges to their laws.

In the wake of the ruling in McCullen, the state of Massachusetts enacted a new state law to protect access to reproductive health facilities. The new law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick last week, went into effect immediately.

"Patients, doctors, and healthcare workers are under siege at clinics across the nation," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal in a press release issued on the day of oral argument in McCullen. "Simply put, safety buffer zones help prevent violence and allow women to safely access critical reproductive health services." Clinic safety zones have been a vital tool to help ensure that patients, doctors, and healthcare workers can enter reproductive healthcare facilities without harassment, intimidation, or violence.

For over 20 years, the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has tracked incidents of violence, harassment, and intimidation at women's health clinics in the US. FMF brought the first lawsuit in the nation on buffer zones to the US Supreme Court in 1994. That case, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, established the constitutionality of an injunction creating a clinic safety buffer zone in Florida.

Take Action! Keep women's clinics safe and open! Support the Feminist Majority Foundation's National Clinic Access Project.

8/5/2014 - Federal Court Rules Alabama TRAP Law Unconstitutional

Federal US District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled yesterday that an Alabama TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion provider) law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges is unconstitutional.

In his 172-page opinion, Judge Thompson detailed the history of violence against Alabama abortion providers, explaining that the context of violence could not be overlooked in deciding whether the admitting privileges requirement placed an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain a legal abortion. Specifically, Judge Thompson recounted the 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn, an Alabama resident who provided abortion services in Alabama and Florida; the 1997 arson of a clinic in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; the 1998 bombing of the Birmingham, Alabama clinic by extremist Eric Robert Rudolf; and more recent incidents of violence, harassment, and intimidation, including an incident five or six years ago when someone drove through the front of the Tuscaloosa clinic. In addition, during the 10-day bench trial, doctors - who were identified by pseudonyms and had to testify from behind a black curtain - described their "daily fears" as abortion providers in the state, explaining how they had not only experienced threats to their professional reputations but also to their personal safety.

In this climate, none of the doctors involved in the case - many of whom travel into the state to provide services at the Alabama clinics - could obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals, leading Alabama's clinics - already dwindling in number - to close.

"At last sanity," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "The Feminist Majority Foundation has been defending the abortion clinics in Alabama since 1989, and Judge Thompson's account of the violence was spot on. In the hostile climate created by extremists, it is no wonder that doctors have to be flown in to provide care. The TRAP law had only one purpose: to close comprehensive reproductive health clinics for women."

Judge Thompson found that hostility toward abortion providers created significant obstacles to recruiting local doctors, who could perhaps - though not certainly - obtain admitting privileges, including "that the number of abortion doctors nationally and throughout the South is declining; the decision to perform abortions carries detrimental professional consequences in Alabama; violence against and harassment of abortion providers, beyond run-of-the-mill political protest, persist in the State." Also "prior attempts to recruit local doctors have failed dramatically; and there are significant regulatory barriers to entry for a new doctor to begin providing abortions at any scale."

Given this situation, and finding that the law was unnecessary to protect patient health and safety, Judge Thompson ruled that Alabama's admitting privileges requirement places a needless difficulty on a woman's right to an abortion. "The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama's five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability."

Alabama passed the admitting privileges requirement in 2013. The law was immediately challenged by Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood Southeast which operate comprehensive women's health clinics in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Mobile. As a result, the law has not been enforced.

Judge Thompson asked the parties in the case to provide more information to determine whether a permanent injunction of the law is necessary. In the meantime, the law will continue to go unenforced against the plaintiffs.

After the ruling, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood Southeast Staci Fox issued a statement saying, "Politicians passed this law in order to make it impossible for women in Alabama to get abortions, plain and simple. ... This victory ensures that women in Alabama can make their own private health care decisions without the interference from politicians."

Judge Thompson, an African-American judge appointed to the bench by President Carter, delayed his decision in order to review a ruling by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholding a preliminary injunction against a similar Mississippi TRAP law. The Fifth Circuit opinion, written by District Court Judge E. Grady Jolly, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, was decided 2-1.

8/5/2014 - Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Union Limits and Voter ID Laws

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday to uphold a 2011 law, championed by Governor Scott Walker (R), that significantly decreased collective bargaining rights for workers in public employee unions. The Court also ruled in favor of the state's 2011 voter identification law - the same law that was found unconstitutional by a federal district court judge in May.

In the collective bargaining case, the Court ruled 5-2 that the law did not violate the constitutional freedom of association. "No matter the limitations or burdens a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process," wrote Justice Michael J. Gableman for the majority, "collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation."

The anti-union law, known at Act 10, sparked giant protests in Madison, Wisconsin in 2011. Tens of thousands rallied against the bill, with some camping out in the state Capitol Rotunda. Schools were closed during the protests, and students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison staged a walk out, marching from campus to the Capitol. The law ultimately led to recall efforts against Governor Walker.

Also on Thursday,the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled to uphold a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. A federal district judge had ruled earlier this year that the same law unjustifiably targeted minority voters, who were less likely to have qualifying identification than whites, and would result in less opportunities for minorities to participate in the political process, a finding that District Court Judge Lynn Aldelman found particularly troublesome given "the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination." Judge Adelman also found that Wisconsin had experienced virtually no voter fraud that would justify the law.

The impact of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling on voter ID is limited, though the state hopes to use it in the federal case. The federal court decision on the voter ID law is pending appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

8/4/2014 - Congress Introduces Legislation to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill Wednesday that aims to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, cosponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), focuses on steps colleges can take to proactively protect students. The bill specifically aims to establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors, ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel, create transparency requirements, increase campus accountability and coordination with law enforcement, and establish enforceable Title IX and Clery Act violation penalties. It will require colleges to designate a Confidential Advisor, conduct annual surveys to identify the scope of the problem, and use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings, among other requirements.

"To curb these crimes, students need to be protected and empowered, and institutions must provide the highest level of responsiveness in helping hold perpetrators fully accountable," said Senator McCaskill in a press release. "That's what our legislation aims to accomplish."

To develop the bill, McCaskill surveyed 440 institutions of higher education, held roundtable discussions with key stakeholders, and produced a survey report of her findings. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the House on Thursday.

Several other pieces of legislation have been introduced to protect students and hold attackers accountable. The Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (S.O.S. Campus Act), sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) in the House, focuses on requiring colleges and universities to establish an independent, on-campus advocate to support survivors. The advocate would be responsible for ensuring that survivors of sexual assault have access to emergency care and information on their legal rights. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) with Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) also introduced the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) on Campus Sexual Assault Act.

8/4/2014 - New Bills Would Advance Reproductive Healthcare Gains of Affordable Care Act

Two new bills introduced in Congress could help improve health outcomes for people of color, low income communities, and female members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Authors of both bills are using the legislative gains of the Affordable Care Act to increase access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

In the House, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Task Force, introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2014. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus have all supported the bill, which seeks to "eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes."

The HEAA is intended to build on the advancements of the Affordable Care Act by making federal resources available to target inequitable health access in vulnerable communities; creating federal guidelines for data collection and reporting; increasing cultural and linguistic-appropriate health care; and improving federal efforts to better health outcomes for women and families.

"We believe that no one's life expectancy should be determined by the color of their skin, or the zip code in which they are born," said Rep. Roybal-Allard in a statement announcing the introduction of the bill. "By adopting HEAA's wide spectrum strategy of racial, ethnic, ability, language, and gender health disparity elimination initiatives, we hope to dramatically reduce the disproportionately high rates of premature death and preventable illness in our minority communities."

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) issued a release on Wednesday highlighting the HEAA's specific impact on reproductive wellness. The bill would increase "access to comprehensive sexuality education and emergency contraception for communities of color" and help reduce unintended pregnancies for disproportionately impacted young people of color "including rural, LGBTQ, immigrant, and youth in the juvenile justice system."

In the Senate, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014. The bill would dump existing Department of Defense policy on contraceptive health coverage and family planning counseling and replace it with a health care policy that matches civilian offerings under the Affordable Care Act. If passed, female service members would be entitled to FDA-approved contraception with no health insurance co-pays, like civilian populations.

"Female service members deserve access to the same basic health care as the women they protect," Sen. Shaheen said in a statement. "It's unacceptable that they don't." The bill is meant to build on the "Shaheen Amendment" which was signed into law last year. The Shaheen Amendment extends reproductive health services to females in the Armed Forces.

Currently, only service members on active duty have full coverage of prescription contraceptives without co-pays through the military health insurance program, TRICARE. Service members who are not on active duty do not have similar coverage through TRICARE. According to recent report by the Center for American Progress, the rate of unplanned pregnancy in the military is up to 50 percent higher than in the civilian population because of insufficient access to contraceptive care services.

8/4/2014 - President Obama Signs Executive Order Promoting Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces

President Obama signed an executive order last week aimed at promoting fair pay and safe workplaces for workers employed by federal contractors.

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order is intended to hold corporations accountable by requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations from the previous three years and to collect that information from subcontractors. It will also crack down on repeat violators, protect responsible contractors, offer guidance to companies on how to improve, and streamline implementation and contractor reporting, which will promote the efficiency of federal contracts. The order will also give employees more power by giving them information about their paychecks and giving them "a day in court:" it will prevent companies from requiring them to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement for problems that arise from violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or torts related to sexual assault or harassment.

More than one in five American workers is employed by a firm that contracts with the federal government, and nearly one in three companies with the worst safety and wage violations are federal contractors. According to a recent US Senate Committee report, w

"Our tax dollars shouldn't go to companies that violate workplace laws. They shouldn't go to companies that violate worker rights. If a company is going to receive taxpayer money, it should have safe workplaces. It should pay its workers the wages they've earned. It should provide the medical leave workers are entitled to. It should not discriminate against workers," President Obama said when he signed the Order. "The vast majority of the companies that contract with our government, they play by the rules. They live up to the right workplace standards. But some don't."

The Executive Order, part of President Obama's "Year of Action," will apply to new federal contractors valued at over $500,000 and will be implemented in stages throughout 2016. President Obama previously signed executive orders banning LGBT discrimination in the workplace for federal contracts and promoting pay equity for women in the workplace.

8/1/2014 - A Call for Action to Reduce Gun Deaths Among Victims of Domestic Violence

Over 250 people gathered inside the Dirksen Senate building on Wednesday to support legislation aimed at decreasing intimate partner homicide through gun violence.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) chaired the standing-room only Senate Judiciary Committee hearing - which required an overflow room – and was joined by Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

"As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how domestic violence and stalking can destroy lives and tear apart families," Klobuchar said. "My legislation would help protect victims and keep our families safe, and I will continue to work to pass this commonsense bill."

Current federal law restricts domestic violence offenders' access to firearms, but loopholes in the law have allowed abusers to gain access to guns – often with tragic results. Elvin Daniel, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his sister Zina who was murdered by her estranged husband and abuser. Zina had a restraining order against her murderer, who “continued to terrorize Zina, slashing her tires while she was at work, and threatening her physically." Then, in 2012, he purchased a gun – without a background check –through an online gun seller. The very next day after receiving the weapon, he "stormed into the spa where Zina worked in Brookfield, Wisconsin," where "he shot and killed Zina, murdered two other women, and injured four others before killing himself."

The national gun lobby defeated bipartisan legislation last year that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales. Websites like the one Zina’s shooter used to purchase a gun often connect buyers with unlicensed sellers, a problem still in need of a solution.

Women fleeing domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to increased violence and death. Senator Blumenthal introduced the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act (S. 2483) in June to prevent domestic violence abusers served with temporary orders of protection from owning firearms. Blumenthal named the law after Lori Jackson, a mother of two, who was shot and killed by her estranged husband. Jackson had fled her home and obtained a temporary order of protection. She was murdered by her husband with a legally-possessed firearm only one day before the court was to hold hearings on a permanent order of protection, that if granted would have prevented him from possessing the gun.

Senator Blumental, along with Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) has also introduced legislation to strengthen the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, which prevents abusers convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence assault from owning a firearm. Legislation has also been introduced by Senator Klobuchar that would provide victims of dating violence and stalking with the same legal protections as victims of domestic violence. Senator Blumenthal commented at the hearing that "federal law is a shadow of what it should be," and called on Congress not only to set the standard but to give incentives and punishments to states to ensure that federal legislation aimed at preventing domestic violence homicide, is enforced.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries, and victims of domestic violence who live in homes with guns have an 8-fold increase in homicide risk.

8/1/2014 - Constitutional Court Invalidates Uganda's Anti-Gay Law

Uganda's Constitutional Court today struck down - on procedural grounds - a package of anti-gay policies signed into law this February by President Yoweri Museveni, but left room for lawmakers to attempt to pass the law, or another version of it, again.

Ten petitioners, including activists, academics, advocates, and MPs, challenged the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act in court, claiming that it was passed improperly and violated the constitutional rights of Ugandans to live free from discrimination and with privacy and dignity. Although the five-judge panel ruled that the legislation was "null and void" because it had been passed illegally - without a proper quorum in the Parliament - the Court did not address the claims that it violated Uganda's constitution.

"The ideal situation would have been to deal with the other issues of the law, to sort this thing out once and for all," said Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer and one of the petitioners.

The decision was met with cheers in the courthouse. Frank Mugisha, a gay-rights activist Uganda, said the ruling was a "step forward."

The government has not yet determined whether it will appeal the ruling. The Anti-Homosexuality Act expanded the scope of a colonial-era law, still in place in Uganda, that criminalized "sex acts against the order of nature." The now defunct law included lesbians for the first time and implemented extreme punishments for anyone who engaged in "aggravated homosexuality" or "attempted to commit homosexuality." It also imposed punishments of imprisonment and fines on organizations that promoted or supported the LGBTQ community.

The court's ruling comes in advance of next week's US-Africa Summit in Washington. Activists and legislators from the United States had asked President Obama to speak out against anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda at the Summit, which will be attended by Uganda's President. Several European countries and the United States restricted or ended aid programs with Uganda after the Anti-Homosexuality Act became law.

Uganda saw an increase in discrimination and violence against gay people directly after the Anti-Homosexuality Act was proposed. As reported by Jeanne Clark in "Unholy Alliance" in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine, David Kato, a leader of the gay rights movement in Uganda, was beaten to death shortly after the introduction of the bill. In addition, "The attacks against gays in the country have further demonized condom usage," Clark writes - a tragedy in a country where HIV prevalence rates for gay men, in the capital of Kampala, is at 13 percent. The bill has also interfered with HIV/AIDS programs. The AP reports that Ugandan police raided a US-funded HIV/AIDS clinic after the bill was passed.

Commenting on the Ugandan Court's decision,Michel Sidib, Executive Director of the UNAIDS, proclaimed, "This is a great day for social justice."

7/31/2014 - First World Day Against Human Trafficking Encourages International Action

The first World Day against Trafficking in Persons took place Wednesday in an effort by the United Nations to bring attention to the continuing need for international support to help trafficking victims and end impunity for perpetrators.

Millions of people are still trafficked every year, sold to work in brothels, fields, and sweatshops. Although men, women, and children are trafficked globally, human trafficking, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, affects women and girls more than any other group in the world, and a majority of all people trafficked - 79 percent - are sexually exploited.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "This first World Day against Trafficking in Persons is a call to action to end this crime and give hope to the victims, who often live unrecognized among us."

The World Day against Trafficking in Persons will be held every year on July 30. The resolution to create the World Day was adopted by the UN in 2013. The resolution stated the day is necessary to "raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights."

The Twitter hashtag #IGiveHope was used in conjunction with the World Day against Trafficking in Persons to show solidarity with the millions of people who suffer as a direct result of the human-trafficking crisis.

Human trafficking is considered a form of modern-day slavery. It is ranked as the third greatest revenue source of organized crime after narcotics and arms, according to the UN. The people who are trafficked tend to be those who are already victims of war, poverty, discrimination and/or violence. The most common forms of trafficking are: labor trafficking, which includes child labor, child soldiering and working in sweatshops; sex trafficking, which includes child sex tourism and "mail order brides;" and domestic servitude.

7/31/2014 - Massachusetts Enacts New Law to Protect Access to Reproductive Health Facilities

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) signed into law yesterday a bill to help protect access to reproductive health care facilities in the state.

The law, entitled An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities, enables a law enforcement official to order the "immediate dispersal of a gathering that substantially impedes access to or departure from an entrance or a driveway to a reproductive health care facility." The order would "remain in place for 8 hours or until the close of business of the reproductive health facility, whichever is earlier," and make noncompliance punishable with a fine or jail time. The law also enacts a state-version of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE),prohibiting the use of force, threats, intimidation, or other acts meant to impede access to a clinic.

"I am incredibly proud to sign legislation that continues Massachusetts leadership in ensuring that women seeking to access reproductive health facilities can do so safely and without harassment, and that the employees of those facilities can arrive at work each day without fear of harm," said Governor Patrick.

The new Massachusetts legislation was passed in response to the US Supreme Court decision in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down the state's 35-foot clinic buffer zone law, which had been set up to protect doctors, clinic patients, and staff from violence, harassment, and intimidation. The law will go into effect immediately.

"The US Supreme Court failed to appreciate the history of violence, harassment, and intimidation that doctors, patients, and clinic staff have had to endure," said Feminist Majority Foundation Executive Director Katherine Spillar. "This new law will help ensure that no one will have to walk a gauntlet to exercise her constitutional right to abortion."

Massachusetts had first enacted a buffer zone law in 2000 after repeated incidents of clinic violence and intimidation in Massachusetts, including the murders in 1994 of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline. Five other people were wounded in those attacks. The law was subsequently strengthened in 2007 to create the 35-foot safety buffer zone after anti-abortion demonstrators continued to crowd clinic entrances, block cars from entering driveways, and intimidate patients, doctors, and healthcare workers. At the time, local law enforcement made clear that having a better-defined buffer zone would promote public safety.

7/30/2014 - Fifth Circuit Court Rules In Favor Of Mississippi's Last Clinic

Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic will remain open after a the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against HB 1390, the Mississippi TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at area hospitals.

Had the court not upheld the lower federal's court's injunction, HB 1390 would have shuttered Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO), the state's only comprehensive reproductive health center. After the enactment of the law, two of the three doctors affiliated with the clinic attempted to obtain admitting privileges at at least seven Jackson-area hospitals, but every hospital denied their request, citing reasons such as "the nature of your proposed medical practice is inconsistent with this Hospital's policies" and that their medical practice would disrupt the hospital's relationship with the community. Because the doctors could not obtain admitting privileges, Mississippi threatened to revoke the clinic's license and shut its doors.

Mississippi's TRAP laws have gradually eroded families' access to comprehensive care, bringing the total number of clinics from 14 in 1981 to just one in 2014. When HB 1390 was signed into law, Gov. Phil Bryant called it the "first step in a movement" to end abortion in Mississippi.

"The Mississippi TRAP law would have closed the only comprehensive women's reproductive health clinic in the state and necessitated women driving hundreds of miles to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "For women who could not afford to travel out of state, this ruling literally saves lives."

Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly said the decision boiled down to whether or not the state of Mississippi could get in the way of a woman's Constitutionally protected right to choose an abortion. Jolly called out the state's argument that Mississippi citizens could obtain an abortion in Tennessee, Louisiana, or Alabama. "Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the constitutional rights of its citizen to another state," Jolly wrote. "Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state's obligation under the principle of federalism--applicable to all fifty states--to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens."

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Jackson Women's Health Organization. In a press release issued by the organization yesterday, President and CEO Nancy Northrup said, "For far too long, women in Mississippi have been teetering on the precipice of a reality similar to the dark days before Roe v. Wade, where reproductive health care options were limited at best and life-threatening at worst."

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he will work with the state's Attorney General, who is petitioning for the full Fifth Circuit to review the panel's decision.

Meanwhile, three anti-abortion extremists were convicted in Jackson City Municipal court on Monday for interfering with access to the Jackson clinic. DuVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project, was in Jackson for both the local convictions and for the Fifth Circuit decision. She called the convictions of Roy McMillan, Chet Gallagher, and Harriet Ashley, "a huge victory." She continued, "These extremists have, literally, laid siege to this facility for the last two years since we learned its fate was in jeopardy because of Mississippi's TRAP law. We're thankful for the police department's vigilance in enforcing the law."

7/30/2014 - Legislation Introduced to Establish Fair Work Scheduling Practices

Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced a bill last week that aims to protect hourly workers from scheduling abuses and allow for greater flexibility and certainty around their work schedules.

The Schedules that Work Act (HR 5159) will protect employees from retaliation if they request a more flexible or stable schedule, require that retail, food service and cleaning employees receive their work schedules at least two weeks in advance, and create a process for employers to consider special scheduling requests of employees. It will also ensure that workers are compensated for at least four hours of work if they show up to work when scheduled for four hours but are sent home early, and provide them with an extra hour of pay if they are scheduled to work non-consecutive shifts in one day.

"Low-wage workers in America are too often being jerked around," said Rep. DeLauro, Co-Chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. "These women - and they are usually women - cannot plan ahead, or make arrangements to see that their kids and family are being taken care of. This bill would protect low-wage workers from abuse and help ensure they can look after their families. Congress needs to ensure that people putting in a hard day's work get a fair day's pay and the ability to care for their loved ones."

An improvement in scheduling practices would largely benefit women workers, who account for almost three-fourths of federally funded, low-wage workers, and people of color, who are over-represented in this workforce. According to a study released by Demos last month, 1.3 million women working in the retail industry live in or near poverty. Low-wages, unpredictable hours and lack of full-time opportunities present real obstacles to these workers' economic security.

Companion legislation to HR 5159 is being sponsored in the Senate by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

7/30/2014 - North Carolina Mayor Journeys 273 Miles for Medicaid Expansion

After journeying 273 miles on foot, Adam O'Neal, Republican Mayor of Belhaven, North Carolina, arrived on the lawn of the US Capitol earlier this week for a special Moral Monday gathering. O'Neal hiked to Washington, DC to protest the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital in rural Beaufort County, NC, and to call attention to the impact of his state's failure to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"We the people need to stand together to produce health care for us all," wrote O'Neal before embarking on his first steps of his 15-day trip to the Capitol. Over 100 members of O'Neal's community as well as folks from the NAACP-NC chapter, including Rev. Dr. William Barber, joined him in solidarity.

Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven was forced to close on July 1, in part because of North Carolina's refusal to expand Medicaid. Only days later, Portia Gibbs, a 48-year old mother of three, died of a heart attack and other health complications while awaiting transport to the next nearest hospital - over 75 miles away. "She spent the last hour of her life in a parking lot at a high school waiting for a helicopter," explained O'Neal on Monday.

"If the governor and the Legislature don't want to accept Medicaid expansion, they need to come up with another program to assure that rural hospitals don't close," said O'Neal. "They;re allowing people to die to prove a point. That is wrong, and I'm not going to be a party to that." He continued, "Rural citizens dying should not be soldiers of the South;s defiance to the new health care law."

Rural hospitals in states such as Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee - which have all refused Medicaid expansion - will soon be closing or cutting vital health care services. Many of these hospitals serve poorer populations with higher numbers of uninsured individuals. In North Carolina, according to O'Neal, the rejection of Medicaid expansion costs the state's health care system $2 billion a year, denying hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals access to care.

A recent study released by George Washington University found that community health centers in states that have expanded Medicaid subsidies have seen 2.9 million patients gain health coverage in 2014. O'Neal is calling for this kind of progress to occur in North Carolina, explaining that the situation has become "do-or-die".

Twenty-seven states and Washington, DC have already expanded Medicaid, leading to a 15.3 percent increase in Medicaid enrollment in those states. Medicaid is our nation's health insurance program for low-income families and individuals. The program - celebrating, along with Medicare, its 49th anniversary today - also funds health centers that provide care for under-served communities. Historically, the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries - over 22 million in 2009 - have been women. Though programs differ by state, before the ACA Medicaid expansion, Medicaid covered only pregnant women, children under 8, adults with dependent children, the elderly, the differently-abled and the blind. The ACA, however, now allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to all Americans with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level. There is no deadline for states to opt into ACA Medicaid expansion and eligible individuals can enroll in Medicaid at any time.

7/29/2014 - Supporters March for Marissa Alexander in Jacksonville

Hundreds of supporters from all over the United States marched to the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, FL yesterday to demand that all charges against Marissa Alexander be dropped. Chants heard on the way to the Courthouse also underscored growing demand for State Attorney Angela Corey's dismissal.

Free Marissa Now and Sister Song, Inc. are leading a week-long mobilization on Alexander's behalf. The Standing Our Ground Week of Action kicked off Friday, July 25 and will continue through August 1. Satellite participants in the week of action have shown their support for Alexander using the #StandingOurGround and #SelfiesForSelfDefense hashtags.

Alexander, an African American mother of three, fired a warning shot after being strangled and threatened to death by her estranged husband in August 2010. A restraining order was in place at the time of the incident. Alexander's husband, Rico Gray, has a well-documented history of domestic violence against Marissa and other former partners. Alexander was once hospitalized because of injuries sustained in an incident with Gray. Nevertheless, Florida's mandatory minimum sentence for "pulling the trigger during a crime" is 20 years. Alexander could face up to 60 years in prison for allegedly endangering Gray's life and the lives of her two stepsons.

"Today, it's Marissa. Tomorrow, it's you. And yesterday, it was Trayvon," said poet Staceyann Chin with Free Marissa Now. "We see this as a human rights violation against [Marissa's] right to parent, against her bodily autonomy," Monica Simpson, Executive Director of Sister Song, told WTEV-TV.

Last week, a judge denied attorneys' requests to grant Alexander a new hearing under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. In June, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law that includes warning shots under "Stand Your Ground," but it will not retroactively apply to Marissa Alexander's case. Free Marissa Now and Sister Song intend this week's action to coincide with Alexander's retrial, which was previously scheduled for this month. A Florida appeals court ordered a new trial for Alexander after finding the lower court had issued improper jury instructions on self-defense.

Alexander is now set to be retried in December.

7/29/2014 - Extensive Female Genital Mutilation Study To Be Conducted in the US

The Obama administration plans to conduct a large study on female genital mutilation (FGM) to try to assess how many girls and women in the US are at risk, and how many have already experienced, FGM.

According to experts, FGM tends to take place during summer break when parents take their daughter outside of the country for the practice.

Jaha Dukureh, a 24-year-old woman who grew up in Gambia, experienced FGM there, and then child marriage in the US, started a petition that gained more than 220,000 supporters. Dukureh, whose campaign was backed by The Guardian, says her half-sister died from complications of FGM. The successful campaign called on the Obama administration to conduct a report on the statistics of FGM in the United States.

Catherine Russell, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, attending the Girl Summit in London last week, indicated that the study would be conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and attended by more than 600 people, aimed at mobilizing global efforts to end FGM and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation.

In her petition, Dukureh says: "Many in the US hear about FGM and think it only happens in far away lands. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. I hear from girls every day that were born here in the United States who have been through FGM. These young women are your average American teenagers -- some of them you know, some of them you went or go to school with. And there are many more girls in the US that are at risk of being cut. The practice of FGM is illegal in the US but girls are being taken to other countries, usually their parents country of origin where they are cut in what is now known as 'vacation cutting.'"

The Obama administration has set up a preliminary working group for FGM prevention and action. Its first step is to examine the extent of FGM in the US and explore ways to eliminate the practice. The practice of FGM on girls under 18 has been a crime in the US since 1996. Last year, President Obama strengthened the law by making it a crime to transport a girl outside of the US for the purpose of FGM.

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.

Video via and The Guardian.

7/29/2014 - Three Anti-Abortion Extremists Sentenced In Mississippi

Last night, three of four anti-abortion extremists were found guilty by a Jackson, Miss. court for activities carried out during protests against the state's last-standing abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO).

Roy McMillan was found guilty for obstructing the sidewalk entrance to a Mississippi clinic. McMillan is already subject to a federal injunction that bars him from entering a certain radius of the clinic. Harriett Ashley was found guilty for obstructing the sidewalk entrance of the abortion clinic and for failing to obey a police officer. Ashley cannot attempt to make contact with the clinic or use the clinic sidewalk. Chet Gallagher was found guilty for interference with a lawful business. Gallagher was also barred from making contact with the clinic and charged a $500 fine.�Charges against Cal Zastrow, a fourth defendant and anti-abortion activist, were dropped last night.

The Feminist Majority Foundation's National Clinic Access Project (NCAP) Executive Director, duVergne Gaines, was in Jackson City Court last night for the proceedings. "This was a huge victory," Gaines said. "These extremists were held accountable for obstructing access to the last remaining clinic in the state of Mississippi, the Jackson Women's Health Organization," she said. "They have, literally, laid siege to this facility for the last two years since we learned its fate was in jeopardy because of Mississippi's TRAP law." Gaines continued, "We're thankful for the police department's vigilance in enforcing the law."

Each of the convicted defendants has a notorious past in clinic aggression and intimidation. Chet Gallagher was fired by the Las Vegas, NV Police Department after participating in an Operation Rescue demonstration in uniform, using his uniform to gain access to a clinic, then destroying clinic property. Gallagher later served time in prison for those offenses. Another defendant is a supporter of justifiable homicide. Harriett Ashley has ties to anti-abortion extremists that have championed justifiable homicide of doctors, clinic workers, and supporters.

Over the past two days, NCAP has been training local volunteers, clinic escorts and legal observers countering the Operation Rescue/Operation Save America protests aimed at JWHO. Patients visiting the facility were able to safely enter the clinic despite dozens of anti-abortion demonstrators who staged a service outside of the clinic on Sunday.

7/29/2014 - Women Just Won Big In Mississippi

Feminist Majority Foundation leaders are elated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a preliminary injunction against a Mississippi TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) law that would have closed the only abortion clinic in the state. FMF congratulates the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO) for this important win.

"This is a major victory for the women of Mississippi and potentially for the women of the United States. The Mississippi TRAP law would have closed the only comprehensive women's reproductive health clinic in the state and necessitated women driving hundreds of miles to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. For women who could not afford to travel out of state, this ruling literally saves lives," said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who encouraged the founder of the JWHO, Susan Hill, to establish the clinic. Hill opened JWHO to ensure that low-income women in Mississippi could access a full range of reproductive health services.

"Although we celebrate this ruling," continued Smeal, "we cannot rest until this law and all other TRAP laws are permanently struck down."

DuVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project said, "As leader of the Feminist Majority Foundation's clinic defense team, I am here in Mississippi, and we are elated by this federal appeals court decision today as well as with the local convictions yesterday of three anti-abortion extremists in Jackson City Municipal court for interfering with access to the Jackson clinic."

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Mississippi state law requiring doctors at the only abortion clinic in Jackson to have admitting privileges at a local hospital was an unconstitutional burden on women's right to choose an abortion. This decision means that the Jackson Women's Health Organization will remain open despite state legislative attempts to make Mississippi an abortion-free state.

7/29/2014 - Women Just Won Big In Mississippi

Feminist Majority Foundation leaders are elated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a preliminary injunction against a Mississippi TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) law that would have closed the only abortion clinic in the state. FMF congratulates the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Jackson Women's Health Organization (JWHO) for this important win.

“This is a major victory for the women of Mississippi and potentially for the women of the United States. The Mississippi TRAP law would have closed the only comprehensive women’s reproductive health clinic in the state and necessitated women driving hundreds of miles to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. For women who could not afford to travel out of state, this ruling literally saves lives,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who encouraged the founder of the JWHO, Susan Hill, to establish the clinic. Hill opened JWHO to ensure that low-income women in Mississippi could access a full range of reproductive health services.

“Although we celebrate this ruling,” continued Smeal, “we cannot rest until this law and all other TRAP laws are permanently struck down.”

DuVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation National Clinic Access Project said, “As leader of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s clinic defense team, I am here in Mississippi, and we are elated by this federal appeals court decision today as well as with the local convictions yesterday of three anti-abortion extremists in Jackson City Municipal court for interfering with access to the Jackson clinic.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Mississippi state law requiring doctors at the only abortion clinic in Jackson to have admitting privileges at a local hospital was an unconstitutional burden on women’s right to choose an abortion. This decision means that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization will remain open despite state legislative attempts to make Mississippi an abortion-free state.

7/28/2014 - Study Proves Texas Laws Have Significantly Reduced Access to Abortion

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) released a study in the medical journal Contraception finding that access to abortion has been significantly reduced since the state enacted it omnibus anti-abortion law HB2.

The study, released last week, details the striking impact that HB2 has had on abortion access in Texas. The researchers collected data on abortion services for the first six months after one of HB2's four provisions, which requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, went into effect in November 2013. They found that the abortion rate decreased at an unusually rapid rate of 13 percent, likely because of the large number of clinic's that closed or stopped providing abortion care. In May 2013, there were 41 facilities providing abortion throughout the state, but 20 of those clinics have now either closed to stopped providing abortion services.

When another provision requiring facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers goes into effect this September, the researchers predict that the six or seven facilities that already meet the standards are the only ones that will be able to remain open. But less than one-fourth of abortion procedures took place at an ambulatory surgical center during the research period, so they do not expect those clinics to be able to handle a four-fold increase in abortion procedures.

"There is no evidence that any of the provisions [of HB2] has improved the safety of abortion in the state," said Daniel Grossman, the lead researcher and an obstetrician-gynecologist and Vice President for Research at Ibis Reproductive Health, in a statement. "They have just made it harder for women to access the services they want and need."

Smaller cities and rural areas have been hit the hardest. All of the clinics in the Lower Rio Grande Valley have closed, restricting access to reproductive health care so much that some consider it a human rights violation. The number of women of reproductive age living over 200 miles from a clinic providing abortions has increased from 10,000 in May 2013 to 290,000 in April 2014. That number is expected to increase to 752,000 when the ambulatory surgical center provision goes into effect. Such great distances can force women to delay care, because they cannot afford the higher costs of travel and lodging or the time they have to take off work, and because they may not have access to reliable transportation. Many women have already been forced to resort to illegal abortion methods, such as obtaining abortion-inducing drugs on the black market.

HB2 was passed by the Texas legislature in a special session in July 2013, after earlier being defeated by a filibuster. Its two other provisions ban abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization, and require providers to use the Food and Drug Administration's outdated protocol for medical abortions.

7/28/2014 - Wisconsin Will Not Enforce Contraceptive Coverage Law If Employers Raise Religious Objections

Citing the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) announced that it will no longer be enforcing the contraceptive benefit rule for employers with religious objections.

Current state law in Wisconsin requires companies with insurance plans to cover services including outpatient care, preventive treatment, prescription drugs, and FDA-approved contraceptives prescribed by a healthcare provider. According to OCI, however, the state will now allow employers with religious objections to birth control to opt out of providing coverage. Instead, insurers will have to provide separate contraceptive coverage to those employees who seek the coverage.

An OCI spokesman claimed that the change was required after the Hobby Lobby decision, but legal experts from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) issued a legal memo last week explaining that "Wisconsin state law is a separate legal requirement on insurance plans in the state that is not directly affected by the Hobby Lobby decision."

"It appears that the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance is making up a new standard that does not comply with either state law or federal law," said Gretchen Borchelt, Senior Counsel and Director of State Reproductive Health Policy at NWLC.

Borchelt also warned that the change in contraceptive coverage could limit accessibility of birth control for some women in Wisconsin. "Putting the burden on the employees by forcing them to seek out and ask for a plan that covers contraception stigmatizes a critical health care service, ... raises concerns about privacy, and could be an insurmountable barrier for some women."

Wisconsin State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) called the OCI announcement another attempt by Republican Governor Scott Walker to inhibit access to birth control. In an interview with Wisconsin Radio Network, Rep. Taylor said that Governor Walker, "had no authority to unilaterally decide that this administration is not going to enforce a law passed democratically through the Legislature."

In 2011, Governor Walker included a provision in the biennial budget bill that would have repealed the state's Contraceptive Equity Law, which mandates contraceptive coverage in certain insurance plans. That provision failed along with a legislative attempt in 2013 to create a religious exemption.

7/25/2014 - Women's Equality Party Launched in New York

In November, voters in New York may elect the first Women's Equality Party ticket. Former New York State Representative Kathy Hochul, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, and the National Organization for Women-NYC announced last week they were launching efforts to create a Women's Equality Party ballot line in the state.

"The women's equality party will send a loud message that women are paying close attention this election cycle, said NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio. "Elected officials should understand that women's economic empowerment can be a driver for our economy. Our health and safety matter. What happens to women, happens to families."

The new party - which will have current Governor Andrew Cuomo on its ticket, along with Hochul as candidate for Lieutenant Governor - plans to support initiatives that are important to women, including the 10-point women's legislative agenda that the New York State Legislature failed to approve before the close of the 2013-2014 session. That legislative package included stronger laws against gender-based workplace discrimination, tougher laws on human trafficking, resources for victims of domestic violence, and an abortion provision that would match the language of Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York welcomed efforts to create a Women's Equality Party. "We will never see our needs addressed without representation that understands and reflects the reality and totality of women's lives," the organization said in a statement. "The Women's Equality Party is a visible reminder that New York State's women can't be discounted or dismissed."

Supporters of the Women's Equality Party must secure 15,000 signatures by August 15 before the party can appear on the ballot. The Cuomo-Hochul ticket will already appear on the Democratic, Working Families, and Independence party ballot lines. New York election laws permit major party candidates to appear under a third-party's ballot line if organizers of that party endorse the candidate.

7/25/2014 - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Passes Disabilities Treaty

By a vote of 12 to 6, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed to recommend ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the full US Senate.

"One hundred forty six nations and the European Union have ratified the Disabilities Treaty, but it will require American leadership to ensure the treaty's protections become a reality," said Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. "The treaty embodies the highest of American standards. From the U.S. Constitution, it borrows principles of equality and the protection of minorities. From the Declaration of Independence, it reflects the unalienable right to pursue happiness. From the Americans with Disabilities Act and other landmark accessibility laws, the treaty enshrines the concept of reasonable accommodation."

The treaty, among other things, reaffirms the need for fundamental human rights for all people with disabilities, and highlights the need to recognize and respond to discrimination against those with disabilities.

Every Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of the treaty, as well as two Republicans: Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John Barrasso (R-WY). Voting against the Disabilities Treaty were Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), James Risch (R-ID), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Two-thirds of the Senate, 67 Senators, must now vote in favor of the treaty before it can be ratified by the United States. The Senate previously, in 2012, failed to vote to ratify the Disabilities Treaty, by a vote of 61-38 against. All 38 opposing votes were cast by Republicans; seven voted in favor. More than 120 countries have already ratified the UN treaty.

Supporters of the Disabilities Treaty will gather on Tuesday, July 29, at 12:15pm on 3rd Street, NW between Pennsylvania Ave, NW and Maryland Ave, SW in Washington, DC for a march and rally for ratification.

7/24/2014 - From Passion to Progress Briefing Brings Together Feminist Leaders and Hundreds of Young Activists

Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) staff, two congresswomen, and over a hundred DC interns came together yesterday for FMF's Intern Student/Activist briefing in Dirksen Senate building to discuss how to put a women's rights agenda into action.

Over plates of donuts and cups coffee, participants listened to a succession of engaging and passionate speeches from congressional and feminist leaders: Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and FMF President Eleanor Smeal. Each of the speakers focused on the need for an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution, stressing how an ERA remains relevant and important in the light of the US Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby - that prioritized corporations over women's health and rights - as well as the continuing scourge of violence against women and the severity of the gender wage gap.

The all-star feminist lineup also addressed the crowd with their own experiences in the feminist movement and passions that keep them fighting for gender equality. "I was you once," said Rep. Speier, as she encouraged the audience to take this briefing as an opportunity to become involved, and become activists for equality. Eleanor Smeal reiterated this point, discussing how the current generation is the one that will have to continue their legacy, and although "we fight to get something passed, and then we spend the next decade or so to try and keep it on the books," equality is always goal worth fighting for, no matter how many generations it takes. Congresswoman Maloney, too, said that the students and interns sitting in the room are the next generation of feminists and activists.

Practically unprecedented in hill briefings, FMF's own interns where the primary facilitators of the event, as they spearheaded an informative and empowering panel on several modern issues facing women. Campus leadership and government relations intern Yemisi Miller-Tonnet echoed the congresswomen and Smeal in calling for action on the ERA, saying "It's up to us now to pass the ERA.:

Jennifer Lee, FMF government relations and education equity intern, followed Yemisi, discussing campus sexual assault. Campus sexual assault is a hot button issue for many college students across America, and Lee reiterated how important campus activism around this issue is, saying "The time is now, and everyone here has the right to demand more from their college or university."

Intern Paige McKinsey, who is on the education equity, government relations, and global health and rights teams at FMF, gave a passionate speech about international family planning. Mckinsey gave many devastating statistics, several from her own summer research, saying that fully funding international family planning would only cost 1 percent of our current defense budget. "I think we can spare the change," she added, pushing for increased investments in the well-being of women around the world.

The final panelist, government relations and global health and rights intern Kathleen Wilson, discussed CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which has yet to be ratified by the United States. She reiterated how "it's important not just to our women, but to women all over the globe."

The FMF interns on the panel eloquently and succinctly addressed the topics they had been researching all summer, in the hopes that the crowd would be inspired by one (or all) the topics enough to adopt it as something they could be advocates for, and bring back into discussions with their representatives, on their campuses, and in their offices. Judging by the crowd response and the questions following the panel, the briefing had inspired more than a few people; questions were asked on how to engage others in the feminist discussion, and participants asked panelists for advice on how to do so, as well as ways to start feminist groups in their communities.

Take Action! Get more involved through the FMF's Choices Feminist Campus Leadership Project or by signing up for FMF action alerts. You can also support the continued work of the FMF by donating today.

7/24/2014 - Feminist Leaders and Activists Rally for the Equal Rights Amendment

This morning, Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) led a solid crowd of Equal Rights Amendment activists and supporters just beyond the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Congressional leaders cited the Supreme Court's rulings in Burwell v.Hobby Lobby and McCullen v. Coakleyas key reasons for calling the rally. "Recent Supreme Court decisions have sent women's rights back to the Stone Age," Rep. Speier said in a release issued on Tuesday. "Justice Scalia reminds us that the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex and that corporations have more rights than women do," she continued.

Leaders of national gender equality groups addressed the crowd, including Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal; Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organization for Women; Dr. E. Faye Williams, Chair of the National Congress of Black Women; Desiree Hoffman, Advocacy Director for the YWCA; and Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the ERA Coalition.

The representatives shared stories of constituents whose experiences reflect the need for a constitutional amendment that explicitly protects against sex-based discrimination, particularly in light of court decisions that leave victims of sexual violence with limited legal recourse.

Leah Meredith, a former GEICO employee, told the crowd about her own fight to resume consideration for a promotion after she learned she was pregnant. "I kept up my work really hard, despite a physically trying pregnancy," Meredith said. "I was very sick, and in the last trimester, I could hardly walk." Despite her commitment to maintaining her work, she heard nothing further about a promised promotion until she was going on maternity leave. "I got called in for my meeting, but instead of hearing about my promotion, I was advised I wouldn't be getting it."

As it stands, the U.S. Constitution makes no explicit reference to "women" or the rights of individuals on the basis of sex. The Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced in every Congress between 1923 until it passed in 1972. Thirty-eight states are required to ratify the ERA before it can become a constitutional amendment. Thirty-five states ratified the Equal Rights Amendment by the June 1982 deadline imposed by Congress. Congresswoman Speier has introduced a resolution in the House that would abolish that deadline, and require only three additional states to ratify the amendment before it could become part of the US Constitution. Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) have introduced identical legislation in the US Senate. Earlier this year, the Virginia State Senate and the Illinois State Senate passed measures to ratify the ERA.

Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal said she's encouraged by the momentum around the ERA. "In the 2014 Virginia state legislative session, the Senate approved the ERA. In late May of 2014, the Illinois Senate approved the ERA by a 60 percent majority. The Equal Rights Amendment will come up in the veto session of the Illinois House in November, and Illinois could become the 36th state to ratify the ERA," she said. "Moreover, the Equal Rights Amendment will be on the state ballot of Oregon in November 2014. The Oregon measure will amend the state Constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment with wording similar to the federal ERA that was approved by Congress in 1972," Smeal continued.

7/23/2014 - UConn to Pay Over $1.2 Million in Sexual Assault Settlement

The University of Connecticut (UConn) will pay $1.28 million in settlement fees for a sexual assault lawsuit brought against the university by five sexual assault survivors.

The federal lawsuit was brought by five women after four of the women had filed complaints with the Department of Education (ED) alleging that UConn had mishandled rape cases and failed to take action on reports of harassment, in violation of Title IX. As part of the settlement, the women have agreed to request suspension of their ED complaints and not to make any disparaging statements against the university. UConn has not admitted any wrongdoing, and is not obligated to make any institutional policy changes as part of the settlement. The university has, however, created a new Special Victims Unit within the campus police department as well as an assistant dean of students for victim support services since the litigation was filed.

Despite the settlement, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will continue its UConn investigation, as three other current or former students - who were not plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit - had signed onto the original ED complaint. OCR is currently investigating 66 other colleges and universities to review their handling of sexual assault cases.

This case doesn't even come close to being the first campus sexual assault case that has gotten media attention. Earlier this year, Michigan State University, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley and Penn State all went under investigation after student sexual-assault survivors filed charges.

In response to growing concerns about the handling of sexual assault on campuses, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was formed. Its first report was filed in April of this year. The report states that one in five women is sexually assaulted during their time in college, and calls for steps to be taken to prevent sexual assault: conducting surveys to assess the problem, engaging men in the fight against sexual violence, responding effectively when a student says they were assaulted, and making enforcement efforts more transparent.