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A recently released study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals that the proportion of US women who paid zero dollars out-of-pocket for birth control significantly increased after the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee went into effect in August 2012. The proportion of women paying zero dollars for oral contraceptive pills increased from 15 to 40 percent, and the proportion of those paying zero for vaginal rings increased from 23 to 52 percent [PDF].
"Our analysis provides the first quantitative evidence that the cost-sharing protection under the ACA is indeed working as intended," says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. "Large numbers of women who couldn't previously do so are now obtaining birth control without co-pays or deductibles, which allows them to more easily attain contraception's well-documented health, social and economic benefits."
The researchers, however, found that there has not been a significant change for injectable or IUD users, even though the ACA guarantees that all new health insurance plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles. The findings suggest that some private insurers may not be applying the ACA's mandate to the full range of contraceptive methods available. "Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence from media reports and from health insurance companies' own publicly available documents suggest that some plans are improperly requiring cost-sharing in circumstances where they shouldn't," said Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and study co-author. "This is unacceptable, and state and federal policy makers should step up enforcement as needed."
The US Supreme Court will also soon determine how many women will benefit from the ACA birth control benefit. In November, the Court agreed to hear a challenge to the ACA contraceptive coverage provision. The Court will decide whether for-profit companies can assert religious objections in order to opt-out of the provision's requirements and deny this coverage to their female employees.
The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a petition to send the Supreme Court a clear message that companies should not be able to use religion as cover to discriminate against women. Sign our petition, leave stories,and tell the Court why birth control coverage matters to you! You can also share the petition online using the tag #MyBodyMyBC!
12/12/2013 - Feminist Majority Celebrates Introduction of Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act)
WASHINGTON -- Feminist Majority today celebrates and applauds Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for introducing the critically-needed paid family medical leave legislation.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) will allow workers to take paid time off to address a serious illness of their own, a spouse, parent or child or to care for a new baby or adopted child. If passed, employees can earn up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year through the creation of a national insurance fund. Both employers and employees would contribute to the fund, which would be administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration.
The United States passed unpaid family medical leave in 1993 through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off to care for themselves or new children, or critically ill spouses, parents or children. However, it only covers employees who have worked for the same employer for at least one year and who worked 1,250 hours the previous year. Additionally, only employees in organizations of 50 or more employees are covered -- meaning that 40 percent of workers in the United States have no job-guaranteed leave.
"The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't provide paid maternity leave and we are grossly lagging behind other countries in paid employee and family leave," said Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority president. "When a medical emergency strikes or when a child is born or adopted, women are the ones most likely to leave the workplace â€“ and their paychecks â€“ to provide care at home. Loss of their incomes just when it is needed the most can be devastating. No one should have to risk financial insecurity to care for a loved one or themselves in such circumstances."
Feminist Majority launched an online action today, allowing constituents to directly contact their senators and representatives and urge them to support the Family Act.
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12/12/2013 - Senate Confirms Two Women To DC Circuit Court
The US Senate confirmed Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this week, making this the first time the court has had five active female judges.The court is the second most important in the US because of its jurisdiction over most federal agencies.
The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett by a 56-38 vote on Tuesday. Millett, an appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court and served in the Department of Justice, fills a vacancy open since 2005.
Nina Pillard was confirmed late last night in a vote of 51-44. "Throughout her career, Ms. Pillard has displayed an unwavering commitment to to justice and integrity," said President Obama in a statement on her confirmation. "Her landmark accomplishments on behalf of women and families include Supreme Court cases defending the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act and opening the doors of the Virginia Military Institute to female students."
In October, Senate Republicans filibustered two highly qualified women nominees to the DC Circuit, including Millett, and they were set to filibuster Pillard as well. "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," said Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal about the filibusters. After women's groups called attention to the number of women being blocked from confirmation, the Senate voted 52-48 in November 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.
12/12/2013 - Michigan Will Require Extra Abortion Insurance Fee
Michigan's legislature approved an extra insurance fee for abortions Wednesday, making it the 24th state to ban most coverage of safe abortion care in the new insurance exchanges. It prohibits insurance companies from offering abortion coverage in both public and private health plans, except when the woman's life is at risk, and requires employers and individuals who want coverage to buy extra policies.
"This body made up of 80 percent men will make a decision that will impact 100 percent of women," said state representative David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights).
The anti-choice group Right to Life collected enough petition signatures to bring the measure to the legislature, even though Governor Rick Snyder had already vetoed a similar measure last year because it was too extreme. State senators voted 27-11 and representatives voted 62-47, largely along party lines, to pass the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" using a special measure to make it veto-proof. It will become law 90 days after the current session ends.
The act will have the largest effect on private insurers because federal funds are already restricted when it comes to paying for abortions. Low-income women using Medicaid already must pay for often expensive abortion care themselves.
12/12/2013 - FAMILY Act Introduced Today
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (The FAMILY Act) today. If passed, the act will help millions of workers afford take time off to address their own serious health condition or to care for an immediate family member or new child.
The FAMILY Act will provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off to care for their health or the health of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner. It will be funded by employee and employer payroll contributions administered through a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave in the Social Security Administration [PDF]. Unlike the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the new FAMILY Act allows all workers to be eligible for benefits, including part-time, younger, and lower-wage employees.
Currently, only 12 percent of US workers have access to paid family leave and fewer than 40 percent have paid medical leave, meaning many workers - particularly women and low wage workers - are just one illness or birth away from financial disaster. "Motherhood should not lead to poverty," Feminist Majority Policy and Research Director Gaylynn Burroughs wrote on the Feminist Majority blog. "Caring for a loved one should not mean insurmountable debt and bankruptcy. Lost income combined with new medical costs can be financially devastating to a family at a time when they may be most vulnerable and unable to recover."
TAKE ACTION: Urge your representatives to support this critical legislation.
12/11/2013 - Human Rights Day Celebrated Around The World
Yesterday marked International Human Rights Day, a day to celebrate human rights advances and to assess the challenges that lie ahead in protecting them.
"The fundamentals for protecting and promoting human rights are largely in place: these include a strong and growing body of international human rights law and standards, as well as institutions to interpret the laws, monitor compliance and apply them to new and emerging human rights issues," said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a statement. "The key now is to implement those laws and standards to make enjoyment of human rights a reality on the ground."
One of the most pressing global human rights concerns that the United States can easily help improve is women's access to family planning services and protection from HIV/AIDS. Every minute, a young woman becomes infected with HIV/AIDS. Women need reproductive health programs to be integrated with HIV/AIDS services, and vice-versa, for improved efficiency and effectiveness in preventing AIDS infection and unplanned pregnancy and improving maternal and child health.
The United States, through PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - has made an unprecedented commitment to helping create an AIDS Free Generation. Yet, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, nor are family planning services provided at PEPFAR sites, meaning that women cannot access a full range of contraceptives at the same site where they receive HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, or treatment. Moreover, continued U.S.-funding preferences for abstinence-based programs undermine comprehensive HIV-prevention services, including the provision of condoms.
TAKE ACTION: Urge decision makers to integrate comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare services with HIV/AIDS treatment for women globally.
LEARN MORE: Read our week-long blog series about human rights.
Democrat Katherine Clark will become the fifth woman to represent Massachusetts in the US House Tuesday, after easily defeating three opponents in a special election.
"Six years ago, there wasn't a single woman representing Massachusetts in Congress," said Niki Tsongas, the only other woman representing Massachusetts in the House. "As Katherine Clark joins me in the House of Representatives this week, Massachusetts gains another strong voice to its increasingly diverse Congressional delegation."
Clark, a former public interest attorney, ran because she was "tired of extremist Republicans attacking a woman's right to make her own health care decisions instead of focusing on the issues that really matter to middle class families," according to her campaign website. Clark plans to focus on a variety of issues, including equal pay for equal work, minimum wage, education, gun safety, and retirement security.
Her seat in Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District was vacated when US Representative Edward Markey won a special election to fill the Senate seat John Kerry left to become secretary of state. Clark will complete the remainder of Markey's term and then face re-election next fall.
The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) informed the University of Connecticut on Monday that it will investigate the school for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases and violating Title IX, the federal law that requires all recipients of federal financial assistance for education programs and activities to prohibit sex discrimination and sexual harassment [PDF].
The investigation was sparked after seven women filed a formal complaint in October alleging that UConn had failed to protect them from sexual assault and exposed them to a sexually hostile environment.One woman says her attacker was expelled from campus but later readmitted without her knowledge. Later, when she went to campus police after he harassed her in a dining hall on campus, an officer told her, "Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening until the cows come home."
The investigation could take up to six months. If the civil rights complaint is upheld, the university could face a fine, sanctions such as the loss of federal funds, or harsher punishments.
Universities across the US have come under fire lately for mishandling sexual assault cases, more recently Occidental College. While some, like the University of Maryland, are working towards making campuses safer spaces for women, others are facing or have faced criticism and similar investigations for mishandling cases.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released their annual report on violence against women in Afghanistan yesterday, revealing mixed results of the country's Elimination of Violence against Women Law.
"A Way to Go: An Update on Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan [PDF]," found that there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women from 2012 to 2013 , but only 17 percent of those were prosecuted under EVAW - a small 2 percent increase from last year.
The law, which was issued by the executive decree of President Hamid Karzai in 2009, criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women and specifies punishment for perpetrators. It has still not been passed by Parliament, after women's rights activist and head of the women's committee of the Lower House, Fawzia Kofi, introduced it for a vote in 2013. Kofi was concerned that, without approval for EVAW by Parliament, the decree might be reversed by a newly elected President in 2014.
While it has "provided protection to Afghan women facing violence," said Georgette Gagnon, the UNAMA Director of Human Rights and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has not helped as many as it could due to "a lack of investigation" and "continued under reporting. "The report's authors wrote that an increase in the number of female police officers and leaders, establishing a system to track incidents of violence, and increasing funding and training for EVAW commissions would make the law stronger. "We have found that police, prosecutors and courts, in our view, need increased resources and technical and political support and direction from the highest levels of Government to deal adequately with the increase in reporting and registration of cases of violence against women documented in this report," Gagnon said.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 5/20/13, 9/11/13, 10/10/13; United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 12/8/13; Al Jazeera 12/8/13
WASHINGTON -- Feminist Majority Foundation today remembers the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela and celebrates his life-long commitment to peace and equality.
"Mandela remains an inspiration for all those fighting for liberty, equality and freedom, including feminist activists," said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. "I will always be proud that, as the President of NOW, I was arrested with other civil rights leaders at the South African Embassy protesting apartheid. And I am proud of the role feminists played in eliminating the scourge of apartheid in South Africa."
Mandela's courage, example and determination inspired multiple generations of activists fighting for social and economic justice. His work and impact is visible today and will continue through the efforts of social justice advocates around the world.
Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation that would require women to purchase a separate insurance policy for abortion coverage. The proposed law would prohibit insurance plans offered in the state from covering abortion without the rider, but the proposal also does not require insurers to offer or provide the rider.
The measure would force women who don't purchase these separate policies to pay for abortion services out-of-pocket -- even women who have become pregnant because of rape or incest. Although Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R ) vetoed the same insurance ban last year, pro-choice opponents, led by Michigan Right to Life, circumvented the veto and collected enough petition signatures to send the measure back to the legislature [see PDF].
"Forcing women to decide whether they want to buy 'rape insurance' and even compelling parents to make the unfathomable decision about whether to buy it for their daughters is truly despicable," State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said on Monday. "Requiring Michigan women to plan ahead for an unplanned pregnancy is not only illogical, it's one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen in the Michigan Legislature."
Legislators now have 40 days to act on the ban. If lawmakers take no action, the issue will be put to a statewide vote on the 2014 ballot. If they approve the proposal, it will immediately become law, even without the governor's signature.
In a speech Wednesday, President Barack Obama discussed the US economy and the Affordable Care Act, and he called for changes to reduce the growing income inequality in the US.
"I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American," he said.
President Obama highlighted several facts about income inequality - for example, the fact that the bottom 20 percent of income levels has less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top income levels - before calling for several changes. He discussed closing corporate tax loopholes, discarding incentives to send jobs overseas, and increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from the current $7.25.
An increase in the federal minimum wage would be especially beneficial for women and families, who make up 64 percent of all workers earning minimum wage or less. Senator Tom Harken (D-Iowa) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 in March, but it is currently sitting in a congressional committee awaiting approval.
President Obama also discussed leaving behind stereotypes of low-income people and workers in order to have more productive dialogue. "We have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts," he said.
Research completed by the Guttmacher Institute and released this week exposes the considerable financial toll taken on Ugandan women and their families when they pursue unsafe abortions. "Documenting the Individual and Household-Level Cost of Unsafe Abortion in Uganda" [PDF], by Aparna Sundaram of the Guttmacher Institute et al, uses data collected between 2011 and 2012 from more than 1,300 women to gain insight into how the costs of both unsafe abortion and post-abortion care impact women's finances and the well-being of their families.
Uganda's abortion rate is one of the highest in the world. In 2003, 54 of every 1,000 women in Uganda had had an induced abortion between the ages of 15 and 49. Confusing and restrictive laws lead many women to pursue dangerous and unsafe abortions, and in 2003 85,000 women in Uganda were treated for complications from their abortions in local hospitals. On average, Ugandan women in the study paid 59,600 shillings for their abortions (equivalent to $23), but post-abortion care increased that average cost to 128,000 shillings on average (or $49). These costs are significant for women in Uganda, where per capita income in 2011 was $510 and 38% of the population lived on $1.25 per day in 2009. 73% of the women in the study reported that they had lost wages due to treatment, 60% reported that their children had less to eat and/or were unable to attend school after their treatment, and 34% reported that they experienced a decline in economic stability after their care was complete.
"These findings make clear that more must be done to reduce unintended pregnancy by ensuring Ugandan women have access to family planning services," said Moses Mulumba, executive director of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development. "Accurate information on contraception and high-quality services must be made available as a matter of constitutionally guaranteed rights to allow women to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Young and poor women in particular need access to these services."
The Guttmacher report recommends increased family planning services and contraceptive access in Uganda. 34% of married women and 35% of sexual active unmarried women in Uganda experience an unmet need for contraception. A recent Ms. magazine report on PEPFAR funding in the region found that abstinence-only policies in the country lead to frequent condom stockouts. The Uganda Ministry of Health has stated that condom availability over the past five years doesn't meet the needs or demands of the population. A lack of available family planning resources is directly responsible for both the high rate of unsafe abortions in Uganda as well as rising HIV/AIDS infections.
Fast food workers across the US are striking and holding rallies today to call for higher wages.
This will be the largest action yet in the recent history of the fast food labor movement, with actions in 200 cities. Protesters are calling for $15 an hour wages, almost double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Raising wages for fast food workers is particularly important for women. Seventy-three percent of all front-line workers are women, and 43 percent are black or Latino. Fifty-two percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance because their wages are too low to survive on. But as Michelle Chen reports in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms., the National Restaurant Association has opposed increases in wages, and the industry "lobbies fiercely against local, state and national minimum-wage legislation, claiming the pay boost would cause job losses and hurt businesses. Meanwhile, the CEO of McDonald's raked in about $13.8 million in fiscal 2012, an estimated 737 times what the average fast-food worker earned."
"There's a lot of McDonald's workers with different issues, but in the end it's the same story: We're not getting paid enough," McDonald's worker and striker Nancy Salgado told Chen. "We're worried about how are we gonna feed our kids tomorrow, how are we gonna pay the rent."
While President Barack Obama has said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, legislation is unlikely to pass the House. Several states and counties have had more success raising their local minimum wages, including California and Connecticut.
GET INVOLVED: The Ms. Blog invites you to be a citizen journalist: Tweet your pictures and first-hand reports from today's protests with @msmagazine, using the hashtag #StandWithRosie.
Female soldiers testified on Monday that they were recruited for a prostitution ring organized by a sergeant at Fort Hood in Texas.
The officer who organized the ring preyed upon and recruited young female soldiers through a sexual assault and harassment program, which he coordinated. The current trial involves a different man, who allegedly used the prostitution ring, and arose from an investigation into the coordinator, who remains unnamed.
This case adds to the growing outcry over the rate and mishandling of sexual abuse cases in the U.S. military. Reports of sexual assault in the military increased by a whopping 36 percent in 2012, but the vast majority of victims - 89 percent, according to the Pentagon itself - do not report sex crimes at all.
One-half of female victims indicate not reporting sexual assault because they do not believe anything will be done by their commanders. The Military Justice Improvement Act, which is languishing in the Senate, aims to improve the situation by taking prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and giving it to independent military prosecutors
TAKE ACTION: Email your Senators to tell them that we must change the current system of handling sexual assault cases. It is simply not working.
Two civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Friday against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of Tamesha Means, a woman who was denied a full range of care options when she rushed to Mercy Health Partners after her water broke at 18 weeks of pregnancy.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Michigan allege that because the hospital abided by the Bishops' religious directives, doctors endangered Tamesha's life by failing to inform her there was virtually no chance her pregnancy would survive or that terminating her pregnancy would be her safest medical decision.
"They never offered me any options," said Means. "They didn't tell me what was happening to my body. Whatever was going on with me, they discussed it amongst themselves. I was just left to wonder, what's going to happen to me?"
Catholic-sponsored hospitals like Mercy Health Partners are required to adhere to the Ethical and Religious Directives written by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Directives prevent health care providers from informing their patient that terminating their pregnancy is a legitimate care option, even when the mother's life is at risk or there is no chance the fetus will survive.
The lawsuit argues that because Means was not provided a comprehensive list of care options, she suffered unnecessary harm at the hands of the USCCB.
"A pregnant woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care has the right to expect that the hospital's first priority will be to provide her appropriate care," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "Medical decisions should not be hamstrung by religious directives."
The US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama entered a final judgment last week in United States v. Alabama, permanently prohibiting Alabama from enforcing seven provisions of HB 56, a severely restrictive anti-immigration law that affected all aspects of an undocumented immigrant's life.
"The law forced parents to uproot their sons and daughters from their home, and it punished immigrant children for exercising their constitutional right to go to school," said US Attorney Joyce White Vance who called the decision "a return to common-sense immigration law enforcement."
The provisions affected employment, education, transportation, and housing for undocumented immigrants. They required schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students, criminalized giving a ride or renting to someone who is undocumented, criminalized failing to register one's immigration status, and criminalized the solicitation of work by unauthorized immigrants, among others.
The judgment of the District Court finalized a settlement reached between the parties. It follows an earlier ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to temporarily block the provisions because they unconstitutionally conflicted with federal immigration law.
Three separate lawsuits challenging HB 56 were filed shortly after the law passed. In addition to the challenge by the federal government, a group of church leaders filed suit as well as a coalition of civil rights groups, called the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, represented by the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
12/3/2013 - President Obama Announces HIV Cure Initiative
US President Barack Obama announced the launch of The HIV Cure Initiative yesterday, a $100 million investment in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research into a cure to HIV/AIDS.
"The United States should be at the forefront of the discoveries into how to put HIV in long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies," President Obama said at a White House event commemorating World AIDS Day. "Or, better yet, eliminate it completely."
The funds for the initiative will be drawn from existing resources and will be redirected from expiring AIDS research grants. The funds will focus on further developing research into a treatment that has appeared to cure several people of HIV, but has been too "toxic or premature to apply beyond the research setting."
Other high-priority AIDS research will continue to be supported alongside research for a cure, including treatment during pregnancy, and the effect of the interaction of factors like sex, race, and stigma on treatment. The US will also give five billion dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next two years.
The US has been a world leader in funding prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, accounting for 64 percent of total international assistance to low- and middle- income countries. The President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) currently provides life-saving treatment for 6.7 million people. However, PEPFAR and other prevention programs have been held back by the influence of abstinence-based programs, frequent condom shortages in countries with high rates of those living with HIV/AIDS, and the lack of integration of family planning and HIV/AIDS services.
TAKE ACTION: Tell US leaders that HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs must be integrated with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services including family planning services for women and girls.
A pregnant Italian woman who was visiting England for a work training course had her baby forcibly removed and taken into the custody of social services.
While in a psychiatric facility in Essex, a court declared her incompetent, so doctors sedated her and performed a caesarean section on her against her will. When she woke up, doctors told her they had removed her child and taken it into custody. Prior to the operation, the woman reportedly suffered a panic attack when she could not find her daughters' passports, and she called the police. They took her to the psychiatric facility, where she was held under Britain's Mental Health Act for five weeks.
Essex social services refuses to return the now 15-month-old girl to her mother and plans to put her up for adoption. The mother is currently fighting to have the court's ruling overturned before the adoption process is completed. A judge formed a favorable opinion of her, but he ruled to put the child up for adoption anyway because of the risk that the woman may suffer a relapse.
This case has been called "unprecedented" by the woman's attorneys. "I worry about the way these decisions about a person's mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected," said Member of Parliament John Hemming, according to The Telegraph.
12/2/2013 - Federal Court Blocks Indiana TRAP Law
Last Tuesday, a federal court blocked a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law that could have shut down the only healthcare facility in Indiana providing RU-486, or mifepristone, the medication abortion drug. The blocked law would have unnecessarily required the Planned Parenthood of Lafayette to adhere to the same licensing standards as facilities that perform surgical abortions, even though the clinic does not perform surgical procedures.
"Imposing requirements for such things as surgical scrub facilities and surgical recovery rooms when there is no surgical procedure ever performed at the clinic is not only unreasonable, it is utterly irrational," the Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky wrote in their filed complaint.
The federal court ruled in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, confirming that the law violated the Planned Parenthood clinic's equal protection rights by targeting it for regulation. However, the judge rejected the portion of the lawsuit that claimed the law was unconstitutional because it was not related to patient safety or care.
While this clinic will now stay open, reports have shown that over 50 abortion clinics across the United States have closed since 2010 because of a coordinated effort in state legislatures to regulate abortion clinics out of existence.
Indiana now has 30 days to decide if it will appeal the judge's ruling.
A bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress are urging US President Barack Obama to issue stronger protections to prevent the sexual abuse of immigrant detainees in a newly-released letter.
The letter comes in light of a report recently released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealing the need for additional actions by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to address sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers. The report revealed that investigations into allegations of sexual abuse and assault in detention centers after often missing important documentation and are not reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters. It also showed that detainees face obstacles when trying to report abuse.
"The government has a moral responsibility to ensure the safety of any person under its charge,"said Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL). "The pervasive and systematic abuse of detainees held in immigration detention facilities, essentially at the hands of the government, is unconscionable. This urgent matter must be addressed quickly and at the highest possible level."
Based on the study, GAO recommends that DHS develop ways to ensure allegations are being reported to the necessary headquarter office, ensure the hotline has access to connectivity data for recording of reports, document consistent standards on detention, and create an oversight process for sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention efforts in all department facilities. The dozen representatives are calling for four additional actions in their letter to the president: they urge him to finish implementing several aspects of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), including requiring facilities housing immigrant detainees to have a Prevention of Sexual Abuse Compliance Manager, and require ICE and their facilities to implement proper and thorough investigation procedures around sexual abuse, among other changes.
Yesterday marked the 25th annual World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"We remember the friends and loved ones we have lost, stand with the estimated 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and renew our commitment to preventing the spread of this virus at home and abroad," said US President Barack Obama in a statement. "If we channel our energy and compassion into science-based results, an AIDS-free generation is within our reach."
As a direct result of increased availability of HIV testing, counseling, and treatment, new HIV infections around the world dropped 33 percent between 2001 and 2012, and AIDS-related deaths have dropped 30 percent since 2005. Current treatment can reduce infectiousness by 96 percent, and great progress has been made to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, with "more than 850,000 new childhood infections averted between 2005 and 2012 in low- and middle-income countries," according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Despite significant progress in fighting HIV worldwide, there are still 35 million people living with HIV, and over half of those are women. It is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 69 percent of all people with HIV live, women are over half of the epidemic with women ages 15-24 as much as 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged an end to discrimination and violence against women, which can increase risk of HIV infection and death from AIDS, and a focus on increasing access to treatment for pregnant women and children. "To create conditions for an AIDS-free generation, we must also step up efforts to stop new HIV infections among children and ensure access to treatment for all mothers living with HIV," he said.
11/27/2013 - Fast For Families Calls for Immigration Reform
Leaders from immigrant rights groups, labor, women's rights organizations, and faith groups have been taking part in "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship" to pressure lawmakers to bring the immigration reform bill to a vote. The fast in Washington, DC is now in its fifteenth day. Many have been fasting for two or three day periods, but longer-term fasters have chosen to go without food until medically necessary.
The immigration reform bill would provide a comprehensive, earned path to citizenship for many of the approximately 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. It has already been passed by the Senate and is currently awaiting House approval.
Fast for Families is calling on the nation to join them in a national day of fasting and prayer between December 1 and December 3. Eliseo Medina of SEIU, one of the fast organizers, indicated yesterday that the action has inspired 103 solidarity fasters who have joined Fast for Families in tents the fasters have set up near the Capitol, as well as thousands of other fasters nationwide.
Dae Joong Yoon, a faster with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, explained why people are fasting: "Immigration reform is not about politics or policy, it is about people. The human cost of our broken system has created moral urgency that demands action. That is why we are fasting."
The fasters have received messages of support from several U.S. leaders including President Barack Obama. Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) both visited the Fast for Families tent earlier this month.
Fasters have declared, "We will fast and pray until the bonds of families are no longer broken. We will fast and pray until immigration reform is no longer a notion, but a reality. We will fast and pray until citizenship is no longer a dream for 11 million aspiring Americans."
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights released a report last week documenting the impact of state funding cuts to family planning services on Texas women, particularly women living in the southern Rio Grande Valley [see PDF]. The report asserts that Latinas in Texas - where more than 60 reproductive health clinics have closed since 2010 - face such severely restricted and limited reproductive health care that their human rights are violated.
Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley face almost insurmountable barriers to obtaining reproductive health care that can delay or prevent treatment. Distant and inaccessible clinics, lack of transportation to those clinics, and immigration status can prevent women from receiving the care they need. The high cost of care, as well as appointment wait times that can exceed several months, are also large barriers.
"We want to grow, give back to this country," said a woman interviewed for the report named Liria. "But for that to happen we need to be in good health."
Because of the difficulty in accessing quality care, women may be driven to use illegal products and services that are potentially dangerous to their health, and they may face increased stress, anxiety and insecurity. More unintended pregnancies, higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, and limited access to fertility treatment are also negative outcomes.
Texas has grown increasingly hostile to reproductive rights and access over the past few years. Women's health clinics that offer abortions have been excluded from state funding for women's health, and they have been required to abide by Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) that are impossible to follow, causing many to close. A law passed over the summer requiring physicians who provide abortion to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital has gone into effect as well after surviving a court battle.
11/27/2013 - Karzai Signals Delay On Bilateral Security Agreement
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has declared that he will not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) until after Afghanistan's Presidential elections are held in April 2014.
The Obama Administration has urged Karzai to sign the agreement by the end of the year. The BSA provides that the US will continue to offer assistance to strengthen the security in Afghanistan, provide humanitarian aid, and support economic and civic development. The agreement provides no combat role for US troops.
The Afghan Loya Jirga, or grand council, approved the BSA earlier this week and advised President Karzai to sign the agreement without delay. The Afghan Parliament is expected to consider the agreement soon and present it to President Karzai for finalization. Certain members of Parliament have already voiced strong support for the agreement.
If President Karzai does not sign the BSA before the end of the year, the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan could potentially disrupt and Afghan women and girls could be placed at grave risk. The Obama Administration has indicated that failure to finalize the agreement could lead to a complete pullout of US forces and the loss billions of dollar in international aid.
With the help and support of the U.S. and the international community, Afghan women and girls have made steady progress in every sector of society. Previously stripped of all human rights and forced into a state of virtual house arrest, women are now 27 percent of Afghan Parliament, over 10 percent of candidates for the upcoming provincial council elections, about 35 percent of all primary and secondary school students, and nearly 19 percent of students attending university.
TAKE ACTION: Ask President Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement and ensure that Afghan women's rights do not move backwards.