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Reproductive Rights News

Bad news, friends in Oklahoma. Anti-choice politicians are trying yet again to b...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:27
Bad news, friends in Oklahoma. Anti-choice politicians are trying yet again to block access to medical abortion. A court order prevented a previous, similar law from taking effect.


Oklahoma Won’t Stop Trying To Restrict Women’s Access To The Abortion Pill
thinkprogress.org
For the third time, Oklahoma has approved legislation to make it more difficult for women to access medication-induced abortion.

Good news! A buffer zone bill, which would help protect people entering abortion...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 16:15
Good news! A buffer zone bill, which would help protect people entering abortion clinics from anti-choice protesters, recently had a hearing in the New Hampshire legislature.

Nice work on this, NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire!


Abortion Foes Fight Buffer Zone Bill In New Hampshire
www.thenewamerican.com
A hearing on a bill to create a buffer zone, free of protesters, around abortion clinics drew an overflow crowd in Concord, New Hampshire. by Jack Kenny

Florida Legislature Passes Fetal Homicide Bill

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 15:47

The Florida Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to HB 59, known as the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which will make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during a crime against a pregnant woman. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for approval.

Current state law only allows for manslaughter or murder charges if a viable fetus is killed. HB 59 expands criminal penalties to a fetus at any stage of development from conception onward, and includes injury as well as death.

Similar bills have been repeatedly rejected by the Florida legislature since 2005, when the law affecting only viable fetuses was passed. This year, however, legislators may have been influenced by the story of Remee Jo Lee, who lost an early pregnancy after being slipped an abortion pill by her boyfriend. The boyfriend, John Welden, was ultimately sent to prison for 14 years on drug-tampering charges, less than the life sentence he could have received under HB 59.

This will make Florida the 24th state to pass a fetal homicide law applying to the earliest stages of development. At least 38 states have some form of fetal homicide law on the books.

Reproductive justice advocates fear that fetal homicide laws could indirectly create “personhood” rights for fetuses that would end up outlawing abortion and even some forms of contraception. Florida’s bill would not in itself create “personhood” rights, but it “raises the specter of personhood” by defining a fetus as a person in the criminal code, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, has told RH Reality Check.

A spokesman for Gov. Scott told the Associated Press that the governor looks forward to signing the legislation.

Image: Florida capitol via Shutterstock

The post Florida Legislature Passes Fetal Homicide Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

#TBT: Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the March for Women's Lives. What a...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 15:08
#TBT: Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the March for Women's Lives. What an amazing, inspirational day! We're proud to have been one of the March's lead sponsors. Were you there with us?

Medical Groups File Brief With Ninth Circuit Against Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions

RH Reality Check - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 13:27

In preparation for upcoming oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the fight over new Arizona regulations on medication abortions, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) filed a joint amicus curiae brief in support of the reproductive rights advocates challenging the regulations.

At issue in the lawsuit are regulations that require abortion providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol when administering medication abortions. In March, reproductive rights advocates sued to block the new restrictions, arguing they threatened to ban entirely medication abortion in the state and were unconstitutional. A lower court disagreed and ruled the regulations could go into effect April 1. Advocates immediately filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which issued a temporary emergency injunction blocking the lower court order and preventing the regulations from taking effect pending a hearing on the appeal.

Arizona’s medication abortion restrictions are similar to those passed in states like Texas that, while passed under the guise of promoting patient safety, seek to severely restrict, if not ban altogether, the practice of medication abortion. The brief filed by ACOG and the AMA goes right to the heart of the “patient safety” concerns to detail the damage these kinds of abortion restrictions inflict in the community. According to the medical organizations, there is simply “no evidence” that these kinds of restrictions promote patient health and safety.

The law also jeopardizes women’s health, the organizations state, by “requiring that physicians deny women the benefit of the most current, well-researched, safe, evidence-based and proven protocols for the provision of medical abortion, and, instead, prescribe a regime that is less safe.” The result, the doctors argue, is a legislative mandate that is against the best interests of patients and forces doctors to “depart from their ethical obligation to provide the best possible care for their patients using their sound medical judgment—insisting, rather, that physicians substitute the judgment of the Arizona legislature for their own.”

Arizona’s fight over medication abortion is the latest front where the medical community has amplified its objections to increased meddling by anti-choice lawmakers into medical practice and patient care. Last year, the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the efforts in Texas and elsewhere to dictate medical practice by forcing physicians who prescribe medication abortions to follow FDA protocol. But despite opposition from the medical community, federal and state courts have split on blocking similar restrictions. Most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld similar restrictions in Texas, while another federal court did the same for Ohio. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down that state’s medication abortion restriction, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule, while a state court in North Dakota blocked a similar law there.

A second lawsuit challenging the Arizona medication abortion restrictions is also pending in state court. That lawsuit was filed before the Ninth Circuit had issued a ruling on the federal action, but advocates note that the two cases are not dependent on one another. The state court action argues that because the regulation of doctors is a matter of state concern, the Arizona legislature violated Arizona law by unlawfully delegating to the FDA a matter of state concern. The complaint also claims that Arizona lawmakers violated their own rule-making procedures when passing the regulations, because they failed to provide for enough time for the public to comment, as required under law. The state court action seeks a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction stopping its enforcement.

The hearing before the Ninth Circuit is scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 13 in San Francisco, California.

Image: Court via Shutterstock

The post Medical Groups File Brief With Ninth Circuit Against Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Take a quick break to watch The Daily Show's segment on sexism in politics. We p...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 12:00
Take a quick break to watch The Daily Show's segment on sexism in politics. We promise you won't regret it.


The Broads Must Be Crazy
Hillary Clinton and Diane Feinstein receive different treatment than their male counterparts.

What was it like to need an abortion before it was legal? Kate Michelman, our fo...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 09:03
What was it like to need an abortion before it was legal? Kate Michelman, our former president, shares the experience that "sparked a lifetime of activism" for women's rights.


Long road since 'Roe'
www.philly.com
For me and millions of other women, inequality before the law has been the story of our lives. Most recently, advocates on both sides of the equal-pay issue seem to forget that personal stories are more compelling than statistics. They also ignore the fact that equal pay will not be resolved until w…

Oklahoma Governor Signs New Bill Restricting Medication Abortion

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 20:02

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law Tuesday that would place restrictions on medication abortion by mandating that providers follow outdated protocols for the delivery of the drugs that induce early abortion. The new law will take effect on November 1.

HB 2684, sponsored by Rep. Randy Grau (R-Edmond), would update restrictions on medication abortions originally put in place in 2011, but found unconstitutional in December. Grau said that the bill is essentially the follow-up to HB 1970, the 2011 law, and is meant to “[address] the concerns of the Oklahoma Supreme Court” by removing the language that created an effective ban on medication abortion in the state.

Responding to the news, Nancy Northup, president and CEO with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that “Oklahoma politicians have yet again proven they are hell-bent on restricting women’s access to a safe and proven method of ending a pregnancy at its earliest stages, substituting their own ideologies for years of scientific research and the expertise of medical professionals worldwide.”

As noted in a report by the Guttmacher Institute, the current medication abortion regimen specified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is outdated. FDA labeling and protocols are based on findings from the original application and data submitted by pharmaceutical companies for approval of specific drugs. Because of the administrative and bureaucratic hurdles required in the FDA approval process, existing labeling and protocols often lag well behind evolving scientific evidence on the use and dosages of a wide range of drugs. As a result, physicians and medical societies base their best practices on the actual science, and not the label. The original protocol used for medication abortion calls for much higher doses than are actually required to induce a safe, early abortion. The Guttmacher report underscores that requiring stringent adherence, the FDA-approved regimen “prohibits alternative, evidence-based protocols in wide use for at least the past decade” and prevents providers from “engaging in practices that are accepted as mainstream in other medical specialties.”

The restrictions under HB 2684 are the same measures that have gone into effect in Arizona, where reproductive rights advocates have filed a pair of lawsuits challenging their legality on both the federal and state levels.

“Courts time and again have found these restrictions unconstitutional, and yet Oklahoma politicians refuse to give up their costly crusade of choking off access to safe, legal abortion care,” said Northup. “It should not take a series of court orders to convince these politicians to reevaluate their priorities and refocus their energy on making laws that truly protect women’s health, safety, and dignity.”

Image: WikiMedia Commons

The post Oklahoma Governor Signs New Bill Restricting Medication Abortion appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Really, Terri?! Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land seems to think that, since she'...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 19:25
Really, Terri?! Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land seems to think that, since she's a woman, she can't possibly be part of the War on Women. Even though she is against access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Watch her ad below and tell us what you think.


Really?
http://www.terrilynnland.com/

BREAKING: The Governor of Mississippi just signed an extreme and dangerous abort...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 17:06
BREAKING: The Governor of Mississippi just signed an extreme and dangerous abortion ban into law.


Miss. Governor Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban
abcnews.go.com
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has signed legislation to ban abortion starting at the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy. Abortion-rights advocates say it's unconstitutional.

Mississippi Governor Signs 18-Week Abortion Ban

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 16:08

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signed into law on Wednesday a bill that will ban abortion 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, or after 18 weeks’ gestation.

Twelve other states have passed 20-week abortion bans since 2010, relying on medically disputed claims that fetuses can feel pain at that age. But Mississippi’s HB 1400, while popularly known as a “20-week ban,” will actually outlaw abortion two weeks earlier than the 20-week bans in those other states.

The only other recent “20-week ban” that outlawed the procedure so early was Arizona’s, and that was blocked by courts because it unconstitutionally restricted abortion pre-viability. A fetus is generally considered viable around 24 weeks.

In its original form, HB 1400 did ban abortion at 20 weeks “post-conception,” which is similar to the language in other states and equates to 22 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. But the senate amended the bill to push back the cutoff date.

Whether at 18 or 20 weeks, however, these bans contradict Supreme Court rulings that abortion cannot be banned before a fetus is viable. Three 20-week bans, including Arizona’s, have already been blocked by courts for this reason, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) cited legal concerns when he recently vetoed a 20-week ban in his state.

Mississippi’s bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and only a limited exception for severe health issues or fatal abnormalities in the fetus.

Advocates say that legislators are wasting time passing unconstitutional bills that limit women’s health, especially in a state with such poor health outcomes for women as Mississippi. “With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi’s elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women’s well-being in their state,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

Mississippi has one remaining abortion clinic, which only performs abortion until 16 weeks of pregnancy, and which has been fighting in court to stay open since state legislators passed a law in 2012 intended to close it.

Image: Signature via Shutterstock

The post Mississippi Governor Signs 18-Week Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Make no mistake: Senate candidate Cory Gardner is anti-choice. He recently tried...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 15:12
Make no mistake: Senate candidate Cory Gardner is anti-choice. He recently tried to obscure his extreme views, but his record reveals the truth.


I Just Flipped But Trust My Record
www.huffingtonpost.com
On conservative KNUS radio last week, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner assured listeners that he remains "pro-life" even though he recently un-endorsed the personhood amendment, which would ban abortion in Colorado. "I remain a pro-li...

More Contraception Challenges Wait in the Wings as SCOTUS Considers ‘Hobby Lobby’

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 15:11

While the Supreme Court considers the question of whether or not for-profit, secular companies can use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment to avoid complying with the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act, dozens of other legal challenges to the birth control benefit march on in the federal courts.

Those challenges have been filed primarily by religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations that claim the process for opting-out of contraception coverage under the law’s exemption for some religiously affiliated entities unduly burdens their religious rights. The rule allows a nonprofit that holds itself out as religious and has religious objections to birth control to refuse to cover it, by self-certifying under a form filed with the federal government. That self-certification acts as a trigger for independent insurance providers to provide contraception coverage for the nonprofit’s employees or anyone else covered by the nonprofit’s benefits’ package. So far, 34 nonprofits have sued, arguing that exemption process is not sufficient, and of those cases 20 are pending in some way in federal appeals courts across the country.

A couple of things stand out when looking at the full list of legal challenges to the birth control benefit filed by nonprofits. First, it is clear that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is increasingly becoming an important jurisdiction for conservatives. The Tenth Circuit includes the federal courts located in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. While it has a reputation as a conservative jurisdiction generally, the Tenth Circuit more recently has shifted from being merely a reflection of conservative influences in the Western Plains and mountain states to being clearly ideologically opposed to reproductive rights and equality, as recent decisions upholding Kansas’ Planned Parenthood funding ban and Hobby Lobby demonstrate. Currently three nonprofit challenges are pending before the Tenth Circuit, including Little Sisters of the Poor, a case that has already made one brief appearance before the Roberts Court.

To the west of the Tenth Circuit is the more reliably liberal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That federal appeals court jurisdiction covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Notably, there are no pending cases challenging the contraceptive coverage requirement in either the Ninth Circuit or any of the lower federal district courts in the states making up that jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, to the east sits the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas; and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Between these two federal circuits there are at least eight pending challenges in either the lower district court or the courts of appeals. That means that over half of the legal challenges filed by religiously affiliated nonprofits have been filed in jurisdictions west of Chicago, Illinois.

Second, the geographical distribution of legal case filings is a pretty accurate reflection of our current political landscape when it comes to issues of reproductive rights and justice. On the one hand, this is not surprising. Conservative states will likely have conservative-minded federal judges appointed to the bench, which means that when national advocacy groups craft a litigation strategy they will look to conservative-leaning jurisdictions as one place to file their lawsuits. On the other hand, for anyone who still believes these legal challenges exist independently of any political campaign to undermine health-care reform, these numbers should do away with that belief. Consider the fact that other than the liberal Ninth Circuit, only one other federal jurisdiction, the First Circuit, currently has no pending nonprofit legal challenges. The First Circuit, also considered a more liberal-leaning appellate circuit, is home to Massachusetts (as well Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island), where health-care reform first took off in the United States. Meanwhile, the more conservative courts of appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the Third Circuit—with the important political swing states of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which are all locked in battles over voting rights, Medicaid expansion, and abortion access—have nearly ten pending legal challenges to the birth control benefit between them.

It will likely be late June before the Supreme Court issues its decision in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, and by that time we could have several more appellate decisions in the religious nonprofit challenges like Little Sisters of the Poor. And with so many more cases in the federal courts pipeline, it’s a question of when, not if, these challenges also reach the Roberts Court. That’s why where these cases are being filed matters; it is the circuit court justices who will frame the issue for the Supreme Court to consider. And if we’ve learned any lessons from the for-profit legal challenges to the birth control benefit, it is the danger of letting conservative judges control the framing of reproductive health-care issues.

Image: Birth control via Shutterstock

The post More Contraception Challenges Wait in the Wings as SCOTUS Considers ‘Hobby Lobby’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Find out what it's like to run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. We're...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 13:11
Find out what it's like to run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. We're thankful for Red River Women's Clinic and other providers across the country who are making the right to choose a reality for women every day.


How the Director of North Dakota's Only Abortion Clinic Found an Unexpected Ally
www.cosmopolitan.com
"Clinics like Red River need to remain open, or women's lives will be at risk."

Anti-choice laws have very real consequences. Case in point: Arizona.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 10:00
Anti-choice laws have very real consequences. Case in point: Arizona.


Five Ways Arizona's Abortion Restrictions are Hurting Women
www.rollingstone.com
The state's new laws will only cause more illegal abortions, shame women and impose undue extra costs

Invoking ‘Choice’ When Discussing Surrogacy as a Feminist Concern Is a Mistake

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 08:10

It is troubling to see the vexing question of commercial surrogacy treated as a litmus test for feminists at RH Reality Check. While some lifelong supporters of women’s rights may see nothing problematic about contract pregnancy, others argue that it should be prohibited, and still others believe it should be allowed but carefully regulated. Contract pregnancy can’t be understood in a simplistic pro-choice versus anti-choice framework, or as only a matter of self-determination. Thirty years after “Baby M” and more than a decade after the emergence of a cross-border surrogacy industry, some of us are still unsure where we come down on commercial surrogacy. But it seems indisputable that the issue of contract pregnancy deserves careful thought.

We at the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research believe that social justice, safety, and human rights must be paramount in public policy and private practice in emerging biotechnologies, and we are striving to assess commercial surrogacy from that perspective. The surrounding quandaries are many and complex, especially for women working as surrogates and the children they bear, but also for commissioning parents. Consider:

  • By definition, commercial surrogacy operates in a market context. At a minimum, that means we should look closely at supply and demand, power and control, and workers’ safety and rights. In a world of stark inequalities, outright exploitation in cross-border surrogacy arrangements is not surprising.
  • In the real world, contract pregnancy is a class issue. We won’t see many women working as surrogates for people who are less privileged or affluent than they are.
  • Regulation of contract pregnancy varies wildly among countries, and within the United States it is mostly absent and usually inadequate. In most jurisdictions, for example, surrogacy brokers and agents are completely unlicensed. This policy hodgepodge has facilitated numerous scandals that have harmed surrogates, commissioning parents, and children, including the infamous case in which prominent surrogacy attorneys were running what the FBI termed an international “baby selling ring.”
  • Many women working as surrogates are subjected to strict limits on where they live and travel, whom they see, what they do, and what they eat. How many commissioning parents know that the women in India who will bear and deliver their children typically sign contracts in a language they cannot read, live apart from their own children for the duration of their pregnancy, are prohibited from seeking independent medical advice, and must sign away their abortion rights?
  • Contract pregnancies are often delivered by cesarean section in the absence of medical indication, in large part for the convenience of commissioning parents. C-sections carry greater risk for both mother and baby—especially for women who may subsequently have children of their own without ready access to high-tech medical care. Many countries have chosen to ban surrogacy, including the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France, Canada, and Australia. By any social indicator, all are more “feminist” and protect abortion rights far more strongly than the United States.

Even these brief notes demonstrate that surrogacy is a complex issue for all those involved. From the point of view of commissioning parents, surrogacy involves not only themselves but the woman who is carrying the child or children they have commissioned and, more and more often, another woman from whose ovaries eggs will be harvested. From the point of view of women working as surrogates, it’s about whether, and under what conditions and restrictions, and for what payment, to undertake a pregnancy for someone else. And let’s not forget the interests of the children who result from contract pregnancies.

We need to insist on adequate safety data, responsible policies and oversight, and more information to help women make informed choices, whether they are providers or buyers of surrogacy services. Until those conditions are in place, we can’t know whether a surrogacy arrangement is a truly informed and non-coercive contract in which all understand the short-term and long-term implications. We know enough about on-the-ground conditions of commercial surrogacy (and commercial egg retrieval) to be convinced that caution is warranted, and that policies to help ensure everyone’s rights and well-being are needed.

The commercial surrogacy market is growing and spreading rapidly. Because third parties are involved, the messy issues it raises are appropriate matters for public policy. They are also matters about which feminists should think carefully. Having insisted so powerfully on women’s rights, how do we ensure that we are not pitting one woman’s rights and well-being against another’s? Having fought so hard for our own bodily autonomy, do we really want to partake in arrangements that curtail other women’s?

We need this conversation and we need it soon. Shutting down careful examination of commercial surrogacy is not in our interests. Invoking “choice” and “paternalism,” as if those were the final words about contract pregnancy, is a mistake. These moves ill serve all the parties to commercial surrogacy arrangements, our own political and intellectual integrity, and our ongoing struggles for reproductive justice.

Image: Pregnancy via Shutterstock

The post Invoking ‘Choice’ When Discussing Surrogacy as a Feminist Concern Is a Mistake appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Cecily McMillan’s ‘Occupy’ Trial, and the Fight Against Sexual Assault at Protests

RH Reality Check - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 08:04

The Occupy Wall Street movement was responsible for some of the largest protests the United States has ever seen, with thousands of people rallying and occupying spaces to fight Wall Street greed and economic inequality.

But large demonstrations, such as OWS protests and those we saw during the Arab Spring, have also seen significant incidents of male violence against women. As other writers commenting on violence at protests have noted, law enforcement officers have been known to commit some of that violence.

Cecily McMillan is one activist who says she was a victim of such violence. According to McMillan, someone grabbed her right breast from behind on March 17, 2012; photos supplied by McMillan show bruising in the area of her right breast. She says after she was grabbed, she accidentally elbowed Officer Grantley Bovell in the face as she spun around, swinging her arm, and that she was unaware he was law enforcement. McMillan, who was, according to reports, yelling and flailing her arms in response to the police clearing the park, was then injured as the officer attempted to subdue her, and she had a seizure, after which she was hospitalized.

In an interview she gave to Democracy Now! several days after the incident, McMillan says she was repeatedly denied her constitutionally protected right to call an attorney following her arrest.

McMillan has been charged with “intentionally assaulting an officer with the intent to interfere with the ability to perform his duties” and faces up to seven years in jail. McMillan’s attorneys did not respond to RH Reality Check’s request for comment.

McMillan is one of some 2,600 OWS protesters who were arrested as part of the movement. But, according to the New York Times, she is one of just a handful of arrested Occupy protesters who has chosen to go to trial in an attempt to avoid a felony on her criminal record. Her trial started in New York City earlier this month.

To prosecute a woman who was apparently trying to defend herself at a demonstration seeking to disrupt systemic wealth inequality—an issue that disproportionately affects women—speaks volumes about sexism in this country.

McMillan’s decision to fight back—both immediately after she was groped and now, in court—is brave, and sends a powerful message that women should not be blamed for defending themselves.

Women and OWS

McMillan, now 25, has for years been active in demonstrations for economic justice causes. In 2011, she protested Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to dismantle his state’s public sector unions—particularly those representing teachers, nurses, and child-care providers, all of which are women-dominated fields.

McMillan went on to participate in the Occupy demonstrations in New York City, which began in September 2011. OWS, too, was a protest against economic injustice—though on an even grander scale, targeting the people, businesses, and systems that led to the economic collapse of 2008 and the resulting recession. As progressive writer Naomi Klein wrote about OWS, “We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet.”

It is impossible to disconnect OWS from the economic status of women in the United States and globally. Not only do women the world over dominate the lowest paid sectors, but they are also the least likely to be in a position to hire, set wages, or influence the flow of capital or how private or public resources are allocated. Women are also saddled with most unpaid domestic labor.

In other words, the issues OWS sought to address are in many ways fundamentally women’s issues. But the Occupy protests became yet another place where women were at times physically unsafe and vulnerable to sexual assault.

Sexual Assaults at OWS

As the New York Times reports, “Ms. McMillan has said that Officer Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and that she reacted reflexively, unaware that he was a police officer.”

Why might McMillan have “reacted reflexively”?

There were numerous reports of sexual assaults happening at Occupy protests, though details were, at times, difficult to come by. A Feminist Wire article from November 5, 2011, reported that “As of today, there are at least 4 reported rapes in Baltimore, Cleveland, Glasgow and Dallas, the latter of which includes a14-year-old runaway girl and a convicted sex offender … Occupy Wall Street created a 16-square-foot ‘safe house,’ designed to shelter up to 30 women.” The piece quotes writer Katha Pollitt saying very on point, “Can you imagine hetero MEN having to set up a safe space to protect them from women and LGBT?”

Writer Kristen Gwynne spent a good deal of time reporting on OWS for AlterNet. During one afternoon, Gwynne spoke at length with a young woman who was sexually assaulted by the man sleeping next to her. Gwynne told RH Reality Check,

At times, the space’s dedication to inclusivity and anti-authoritarian sentiment made remedying character — and even sexual assault — complaints challenging. How does one, for example, forcibly evict an alleged predator without involving the police or becoming physical? This woman, and several others, were angered by what they considered to be a persistent problem: lack of established, reliable methods of accountability and remediation. Obviously, patriarchy is everywhere — including in spaces that want to smash it — and the combination of typical misogyny, apolitical freeloaders, anti-authoritarianism, and the painstakingly slow system of decision making made dismantling it a challenge in a space where people were literally sleeping next to strangers.

The violence and sexual violence was both a problem inflicted by protesters against each other and by police against protesters. One report published by experts at Stanford, Fordham, Harvard, and NYU law schools, entitled Suppressing Protests: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street, shows that there have been “130 incidents [of physical force] in New York City which warrant investigation by authorities.”

There is also substantial history and context revealing the vulnerability of women to sexual assault by law enforcement outside of the context of protests; police taking advantage of women they arrest or detain; the 1991 Supreme Court case Mary M. v. the City of Los Angeles illustrates a more egregious example of this. And according to the National Police Misconduct and Reporting Project, of the nearly 5,000 cases of police misconduct in 2010, sexual misconduct was the second highest type of misconduct officers were accused of nationally (following excessive force). Sexual misconduct and excessive force can go hand in hand, however, as McMillan’s bruises reveal.

McMillan herself has stated that based on her experiences in Wisconsin, New York, and elsewhere, “I’ve come to the opinion that police are scary.”

“A New and Frightening System”

In her terrific piece in The Toast, entitled “The Silencing of Cecily McMillan,” writer Kathryn Funkhouser chronicles McMillan’s case and possible targeting of women by the New York City police on March 17, 2012:

From March 17th on, there were numerous reports of police intentionally grabbing the breasts of female protesters. An account by David Graeber tells the story of a female friend whose breast was grabbed by a police officer. When she screamed at the officer, calling him on the action, she was dragged behind the lines, partly by her hair. When she was thrown to the ground, she told the officers that she was going to retrieve her glasses, which had fallen off beside her, to clarify that the move was not one of resistance, but when she reached out for them, an officer savagely broke her wrist. When she was arrested, she was restrained with the tightest possible handcuffs although she and other protesters concerned about her begged for them to be loosened.

The correlation to Cecily’s case is not a coincidence, according to Graeber, but part of a new and frightening system:

Arbitrary violence is nothing new. The apparently systematic use of sexual assault against women protestors is new. I’m not aware of any reports of police intentionally grabbing women’s breasts before March 17, but on March 17 there were numerous reported cases, and in later nightly evictions from Union Square, the practice became so systematic that at least one woman told me her breasts were grabbed by five different police officers on a single night (in one case, while another one was blowing kisses.)

Again: OWS sought to shed light on broader scale economic injustice that, for so many reasons, disproportionately affects women. Sadly, OWS has also shown the dangers women face simply by speaking about economic justice in a public forum.

McMillan’s decision to fight these charges is brave. She could, like many of the more than 1,300 OWS protesters who were arrested but whose cases were “adjourned contemplating dismissal,” just slink off into the night and never challenge the premise that it’s fair to lock her up for defending herself when she felt someone violently grab her breast.

By choosing to take her case to trial, McMillan can of course avoid having a criminal record, but she is also bringing to light the cruel message to women from all of this: “You are worth less money than men. You must manage all unpaid labor. And you can’t even participate in advocating for better economic conditions because you may be groped, raped, or worse.”

Cecily McMillan’s case fights back against this message. I hope she wins.

Image: RT America / YouTube

The post Cecily McMillan’s ‘Occupy’ Trial, and the Fight Against Sexual Assault at Protests appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Mississippi Governor Bryant Signs Dangerous and Unconstitutional Ban on Abortion

Center for Reproductive Rights - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 23:00
Mississippi Governor Bryant Signs Dangerous and Unconstitutional Ban on Abortion Center for Reproductive Rights calls on politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected health care, focus on real work of improving women’s well-being

04.23.14 - (PRESS RELEASE) Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law today a measure banning abortion in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy—with zero exceptions for survivors of rape or incest and only an extremely narrow exception for medical emergencies and lethal fetal abnormalities.

The very few Mississippi women who may need to seek abortion services after 20 weeks already face extreme barriers to care, as the sole remaining abortion clinic in the state only provides abortion services through 16 weeks of pregnancy. According to the state Department of Health’s most recent data from 2012, only two abortions were performed after 20 weeks—most likely in a hospital—in the state that year.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Two years ago, politicians in Mississippi tried to use an underhanded law to close the only abortion clinic in the state, which is now hanging on by a federal court order.

“Now, these very same politicians have set their sights on shutting down exceptionally rare instances of abortion care after 20 weeks, of which there were only two in 2012.

“With the women and families of their state facing extreme poverty, unacceptable rates of maternal mortality, and skyrocketing teen pregnancy, Mississippi’s elected officials have more than enough real work to do to bolster women’s well-being in their state.

“It’s time for these politicians to stop passing laws that attack constitutionally protected women’s health care and finally focus on policies that would support the health, lives, and rights of Mississippi women and families.” 

Mississippi has one of the worst records in the nation when it comes to women’s health, with the largest number of women living in poverty and some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and maternal mortality in the country.  Mississippi women also face some of the most burdensome restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion in the U.S., with the Jackson Women's Health Organization—the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi—fighting to keep their doors open in the face of political attempts to make safe, high quality, and legal abortion completely inaccessible in the state. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and courts in Idaho and Georgia have also recently blocked similar pre-viability bans.  Just last month, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a similar measure, stating that the bill was unconstitutional and “unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship.” 

Harmful and unconstitutional bans like these further underscore the need for the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like Mississippi from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.

Federal Judge Blocks All Enforcement of Mississippi Admitting Privileges Requirement Supreme Court Refuses to Review Arizona Abortion Ban Introduction of Women’s Health Protection Act is Critical Step in Safeguarding Reproductive Rights for All U.S. Women

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