Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sad Reality: New President, Same Fight

by Stephanie Drahan, National Women’s Law Center

In 2008 when then Senator Barack Obama was still campaigning for the presidency and there were notions that the Bush administration would offer a parting shot to women’s groups and the reproductive health community, Obama’s take on the proposed regulation to expand religious restrictions was clear

“We need to restore integrity to our public health programs, not create backdoor efforts to weaken them. I am committed to ensuring that the health and reproductive rights of women are protected.”

But now, here we are three years later, and under President Obama, we are still having a very similar fight.

In August, we secured a huge victory when a set of preventive health services were adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be covered by all new health insurance plans without co-payments included contraception. But even then, we were disappointed by the inclusion of an exemption for certain religious employers. Our supporters helped us send nearly 15,000 messages to HHS expressing our opposition to the refusal language included in this groundbreaking rule.

But religious institutions are pressuring, President to expand the refusal language to exclude a broader range of instituions. Before Thanksgiving, we gathered nearly 10,000 messages from our supporters opposing both the original exemption and any expansion of it.

But that may not be enough! We need to continue to keep the pressure on. Please make sure your friends, family, peers, and colleagues know that the President is under pressure to the refusal language and that women may lose the coverage they gained this summer and encourage them to get involved. You can call the White House directly 1-888-534-5471 to register your opposition or send the President an email.

If the current language is expanded, more than a million women may lose coverage for birth control that we fought so hard for. We can’t let that happen. Tell President Obama that all women need access to affordable birth control!

To learn more about why denying contraceptives harms women, check out our factsheet.

Cross-posted with the National Women's Law Center

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Fight Against an Expanded Religious Exemption that Denies Birth Control Coverage

by Dren Asselmeier, Center for Inquiry on Campus

I have my own opinions about birth control and whether it should be made available at no cost to women who want to have control over their reproduction, but I think that there is something that we can do to solve this issue that is more decisive than weighing our biased and subjective opinions. We need to look to unbiased sources. It is imperative that we turn to science and critical thought in order to study and truly understand the implications of the decision we are going to make.

Why do Catholic bishops have any say in what we do as a matter of public health? Are they doctors? Have they studied society in order to understand what happens when birth control is outlawed or available only at prohibitive costs to some women? Do they think that the rights of women, and all people, are more important than faith? I can not possibly speak for all Catholic bishops; in fact, you might be surprised to find out that I have never met one. Regardless, it is very unlikely that in his free time any Catholic bishop has decided to study science, sociology, or public health to an academic and professional level at which other experts in such fields could consider the bishop an authority on those topics. Bishops may have studied some things outside of faith and may be academically knowledgeable people, but I am going to assume that being a bishop means studying and regarding faith and religious doctrine above every other area of study.

Because their expertise is in faith and understanding of religious texts, I think that bishops should have absolute say over church doctrine. If they think that everyone should wear those cool hats to church and high-five as they eat crackers, that’s perfectly fine and well within their right as bishops (I think). No philosophy or religion or worldview, however, has the right to deny people medicine, to be allowed to hurt others, to repress women, or to take away the rights that are mandated by our government. I think that a religious exemption in order to avoid providing mandated health care is unacceptable because we do not have a religious government. We have to trust in professionals who study actual outcomes and efficacy of social programs to make important societal decisions. We have to look to what is best for society and not what is best according to one religion that bases its knowledge on a creed written several hundred years ago. Plus, if we allow for religious organizations to deny some healthcare to their employees because it upsets their religious views, then where is the line drawn? Is it okay for religious organizations to deny some rights but not others?

I don’t want to spend too much time on hypothetical situations, but what if we allowed other religious exemptions, like honor killings? What if we decided that it was okay for Mormon organizations to not provide healthcare to black people because of the Curse of Cain Doctrine, which some have interpreted to mean that black people are cursed? What if we determined that it was okay for a man to kill his son for being disobedient, as the Bible states he should (Deuteronomy 21:18–21)? We, as a society, do not allow religious conviction to excuse murder, rape, theft, oppression, or the denial of rights to our citizens where there are laws to criminalize these things. No matter how much someone thinks that he or she is acting justly based on faith, that individual is not allowed to infringe on the rights of others. Okay, why not? Well, we have laws that exist for all people. Everyone is subject to laws and to the judicial system no matter what they believe. We have a secular government which means that no one religion is allowed to exercise its rules over anyone else if those rules contradict our laws. Period. Being an American means you have rights no matter what religion you are, and the case of basic health care should be no exception.

If the Catholic bishops said that they have proof of no-cost birth control hurting society in a real, tangible, measurable way that can be observed by science, then I think that we, as responsible thinkers and people who care about the wellbeing of our society, would have to ask scientists and scholars to look at more data and use universal systems of gaining knowledge in order to come to a conclusion. Scientific fields such as sociology and public health have already considered the question of whether easy access to birth control causes more pregnancies, more unwanted children, and other outcomes that most of us would agree are bad for society. Look for news sources that state information from studies and not from religious organizations whose motives are to make people live according to a particular faith:

“About half of all pregnancies in Colorado and across the country are unplanned or unwanted, and many of those result in abortion, according to government reports.” From Health Policy Solutions

“Two new studies taking different methodological approaches arrive at the same conclusion: Unintended pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $11 billion each year. Both estimates are conservative in that they are limited to public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care, and both studies conclude that the potential public savings from reducing unintended pregnancy in the United States would be huge. A related new study provides first-ever estimates of unintended pregnancy for each state, and a starting point for future efforts to monitor states’ progress toward reducing unintended pregnancy.” “Contraceptive use is critical to couples’ ability to reconcile their sexual lives and their childbearing goals.” From a study by the Guttmacher Institute; the second from another study by the Guttmacher Institute

“Despite the advances that have been made in contraception over the past fifty years, an estimated 150 million women worldwide cannot get the birth control they desire. In many parts of the world most young women become mothers before they are 20 years old. A woman who bears children at a younger age tends to have more children over all, is less able to care for them, and is more likely to suffer ill health.” From the Our Bodies Ourselves health resource center (it has a list of sources here)

“Laws limiting teenagers’ access to contraceptive services and information fail to reduce sexual activity and increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to two studies” From The Alan Guttmacher Institute

I don’t want to only cite the sources that reinforce my opinion because that would go against my original premise of counting on authorities to help us make important decisions, but I did not find any information stating that greater access to birth control would have negative consequences for the United States. There may be other studies that I don’t know about; furthermore, many of the studies I did find relate to abstinence-only education, or birth control statistics for specific groups and not the broader population (but they are also positive). The point is that it is not my decision to make, nor should it be a decision made by the Catholic bishops or any other member of clergy or any average layperson. Matters of medicine and public health need to be handled by doctors, scientists, and other professionals whose only goals are to make our society as prosperous, happy, safe, and healthy as it can be.

The Center for Inquiry released an alert asking supporters to urge President Obama to keep religion our of reproductive health care regulations. Read that alert and see how to get your voice to President Obama here.

To read other blog posts about the proposed expansion to the religious exemption for birth control coverage, visit the HERvotes blog carnival page or check #HERvotes on Twitter. Go to the National Women’s Law Center to learn more about important women’s issues.

Cross-posted with Center for Inquiry on Campus

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Make the Promise of Preventative Care in the ACA Real for All Women

by The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health

Back in August we were celebrating a win for women’s health – the recognition that contraception is prevention. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) required health insurers (for all new plans after August 1, 2012) to cover a number of women’s preventive health care services, including the full range of FDA-approved contraception, with no out-of-pocket costs, which is a huge step forward for fairness and improved health outcomes for women and their families. We blogged on that victory here.

There was one glitch with this rule when HHS approved it, the Secretary took comments regarding a religious employer exemption for the contraceptive coverage provision of the rule. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s health responded strongly to this proposal, stating that no woman should be denied health care coverage because of the religious views of her employer. We emphasized that there is strong medical and public health consensus that contraceptive services are a critical part of women’s preventative care and that denying this benefit to some women because of their employer would fail to make real the promise of the Affordable Care Act for all women.

Now this religious employer exemption is being held up in the White House. Catholic Bishops are using their influence to try to expand the religious employer exemption in the rule. This cannot happen.

Wisconsin women have seen recent strides towards providing comprehensive reproductive health care and access to contraception in our state. In 2010, we became one of only 28 states to require health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to include contraception.[1] The Wisconsin law does not include any religious employer refusal clause. The HHS rule is, in fact, more limited in that way than the current Wisconsin law. For that reason, it is critical that the Federal Government does not lead Wisconsin backwards. Our current Governor included a provision repealing contraceptive equity in the state budget, and though it was removed due to its non-fiscal nature, it could be brought up later this legislative session. We need a strong federal rule – saying that contraception is prevention for all women.

Call (202-559-1164) or email the White House today, to tell them that all women deserve access to affordable, comprehensive, preventative care.

This is the ACA provision most likely to impact women’s lives, and two thirds of Americans support it. Tell the President not to weaken this important rule because of the pressure of a few, because nearly all sexually active women, regardless of their religious beliefs, use contraception at some point in their lives.

Cross-posted with the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health

art of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Check out the action petitions:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Feminist Majority Foundation

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

National Council of Jewish Women

HERVotes Blog Carnival: Women v. the Bishops

by Kim Gandy, Feminist Majority Foundation

Welcome to the sixth #HERvotes blog carnival on the effort by the Catholic bishops to allow some institutions to refuse, under the Affordable Care Act, birth control coverage without co-pays to students and employeesof hospitals, universities, and other institutions, or other religious affiliated or connected institutions such as Catholic Charities.

Birth control coverage with no co-pays? Without a doubt one of the most popular benefits of the Affordable Care Act, the preventive care provisions for women require nearly every health insurance provider to cover contraception without any cost sharing.

Until now. Maybe. Because there’s a full court press from the Conference of Catholic Bishops (yes, reportedly even the Archbishops are weighing in) pressuring the White House to dramatically expand this refusal clause.

The Catholic bishops want to exempt the health insurance of every religiously-connected or affiliated institution from this requirement, and millions of Americans would lose this benefit – students, teachers and staff at religiously-connected schools and universities; social workers, nurses, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-affiliated hospitals that employ thousands of people, huge organizations like Catholic Charities, and many more – regardless of the religious beliefs of those employees and students.

Although the pro-choice community opposed having any exemptions from contraceptive coverage, the guidelines issued by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contained a narrow exemption that applied primarily to houses of worship. But the bishops want more. Much more.
If the bishops have their way, at least six million women with health insurance will lose this new contraceptive coverage benefit, for no reason other than where they work or go to school.

We must keep the Affordable Care Act strong, and preventive care for women is critical.

Join us by sharing the posts below on Facebook, Twitter (using the hashtag #HERvotes), and other social media.

If we spread the word far enough we can make sure the White House hears women’s voices as strongly as they are hearing from the bishops.

The blog posts below share more reasons why we need to take action now. Happy reading and thanks for joining the fight to save contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

#HERvotes, a multi-organization campaign launched in August 2011, advocates women using our voices and votes to stop the attacks on the women’s movement’s major advances, many of which are at risk in the next election. We are very excited HERvotes is growing in membership and reaching millions of people.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Birth Control Under Attack- Debra Ness, National Partnership for Women and Families

Losing My Religion: Catholic Bishops Attack Reproductive Rights, Hoping to Undermine Birth Control Coverage- Megan Kearns, Opinioness of the World
Don't Boss My Birth Control- Amy Cotton, National Council of Jewish Women

Conservative Media Are Still Pretending That Catholics Don't Support Insurance Coverage For Contraception- Marcus Feldman, Media Matters

President Obama: Don't Cave in to Bishops- Say It Sister, NOW's Blog for Equality

Fight Against an Expanded Religious Exemption that Denies Birth Control Coverage- Dren Asselmeier, Center for Inquiry on Campus

Latinas urge Obama Administration to Support Birth Control Access For All Women- Rebecca Pleitez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Conscience Clause: Preserving Morality or Creating Immorality?- Liz Beaulac, National Women's Law Center

Sad Reality: New President, Same Fight- Stephanie Drahan, National Women's Law Center

Make the Promise of Preventative Care in the ACA Real for All Women- The Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health

Calling On President Obama to Demonstrate His Respect for Women- Amy Allina, Raising Women's Voices for the Health Care We Need
The Catholic Church Wasn’t on My Ballot: What’s Next for President Obama and Birth Control - Abigail Collazo, Fem 2.0

What is So Wrong With Abstinence Education? - Kat Sabine - the Bitch in the house

Take Action: Don't Let the Catholic Church Deny Birth Control Coverage to Millions - Holly L. Derr, Ms. Magazine

Is Obama Caving to Bishops out of Misplaced "Gratitude"? - Holly L. Derr, Ms. Magazine

The Other 99% - Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, blogging on Huffington Post

Message About Birth Control from the 71% - Meghan Shalvoy, Feminist Majority Foundation

The Other 99%: Will Obama Betray Them? - Carole Joffe, RHRealityCheck

Washington Post's Gerson Ignores Catholics' Opinions To Accuse The Obama Administration Of "Anti-Catholic Bias"- M.F., Media Matters

Right-Wing Media Twist Pelosi's "Conscience" Comment To Claim She "Bash[ed] Catholics"- C.R., Media Matters

Fox & Friends Hypes Gerson's Op-Ed To Accuse Obama Of Being "Anti-Catholic"- Media Matters

Women’s Basic Health Coverage Is Not For Sale- Miri Cypers, Jewish Women International
Tell Obama to Protect Birth Control- Maureen Shaw, sherights

Tell President Obama All Women Need Affordable Birth Control- Judy Waxman, National Women's Law Center

My Employer Shouldn't Control My Contraception Decisions- Leila Abolfazli, National Women's Law Center

Blog Carnival: #HERVotes against the Bishops- Heather Prescott, Knitting Clio

Should Catholic Bishops Have the Right to Control Your Life?- Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)
An Open Letter to President Obama- National Organization for Women

Should Organized Religion Have More Rights Than Women?- Georgia Platts, Ms. Magazine

Check out the action petitions:

Catholics for Choice

National Women's Law Center

Feminist Majority Foundation

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

National Council of Jewish Women

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Correct. Protect. Respect. Promoting Economic Security with Safe Workplaces

by Donna Addkison, President/CEO, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW)

Women work. A lot of women work, making up 47% of the American workforce today. Two out three do so to provide the sole or a substantial part of a household income. Yet women in the workforce continue to be the targets of unwanted, unwelcome sexual harassment in the workplace. While the EEOC handles 10-12,000 cases every year, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sexual harrassment threatens women's ability to provide financial support and economic security for themselves and for their families.

Ever heard the story of the woman on the road as a corporate trainer who had company salesmen appear at her hotel door in the nude? Or the one about the mid-level manager with a boss who continued to ask her out again and again and again in spite of her saying no? And the one about the woman working in construction who was subjected to physical intimidation along with the more subtle forms like 'pin-ups' of naked and nearly naked women in the onsite office? Probably not - estimates suggest that only 5-15% of incidents of sexual harassment are reported.

Why? The answers are as simple as they are complex. When your paycheck puts a roof over your family, food on the table, and gas in the car, how do you take on the bad behavior of those who have some level of authority over your work life? Do women sacrifice their jobs or their dignity? Or both?

While women struggle to get a strong foothold in industries and careers with good pay and benefits, they often face the specter of sexual harassment in the workplace. How many women do you know who have their own stories to tell? How many mothers, sisters, and daughters have faced or fallen victim to sexual harassment? How many is enough?

Men and women - both bring value to the workforce. Let's create safe working environments where men and women are respected at work, protected from sexual harassment, and afforded opportunities to climb career ladders that lead to economic security for themselves and for those who depend on them.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Preparing America's Future Workforce: Harassment and Bullying in Schools and How We Can Stop It

by Devi Rao, Fellow, National Women's Law Center

Sexual harassment in the workplace is back in the news, for better or worse. But any productive discussion about sexual harassment should include harassment in schools as well as the workplace, both of which are prohibited by federal civil rights laws.

As a new study by the American Association of University Women shows, sexual harassment in schools is a serious problem, one that deserves serious public attention. The study found that about half of students in middle or high school experienced some form of sexual harassment at school during the 2010-2011 academic year.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, charged with enforcing Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, has recently reiterated that what may be commonly referred to as “bullying” may actually be prohibited sexual harassment.

But who’s left out? Although some harassment and bullying of LGBT students may be covered by Title IX — if those actions are due to a student’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes — there is no federal law that prohibits discrimination solely based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is a significant loophole in federal civil rights law; the AAUW study found that being called gay or lesbian in a negative way was the second most prevalent form of harassment. And in a 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 84% of LGBT youth reported verbal harassment, 40% reported physical harassment, and 18% reported being assaulted at school in the previous year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But two pending bills could help solve this problem and provide much-needed protection to LGBT students.

First, the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), would outlaw discrimination in public K-12 schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Senator Franken recently introduced SNDA — and then withdrew it for procedural reasons — during the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Franken gave a passionate and moving speech on the importance of SNDA, and plans to offer it again on the floor of the Senate when the chamber as a whole takes up the ESEA.

Second, the bipartisan (!!!) Safe School Improvement Act (SSIA), sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and 32 co-sponsors, including Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would require schools to undertake efforts to prevent bullying and harassment, including that on sexual orientation or gender identity. Senators Casey and Kirk introduced and then withdrew SSIA as an amendment to ESEA during the markup, but Sen. Casey plans to introduce it on the floor of the Senate. The SSIA has 113 co-sponsors from both parties in the House andSNDA has 147.

We need to ensure that Title IX, a historic advance in educational opportunities for women and girls, is protected against attack. But at the same time, we need to extend existing civil rights protections to LGBT students. All children deserve an education free from harassment. And if harassment is effectively addressed at school, there is hope that the employees of tomorrow will not face as much harassment in the workplace.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Unions and Sexual Harassment

by Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director, Coalition of Labor Union Women
At a time when women’s rights are under attack in so many areas – we need to be sure that sexual harassment is recognized and taken seriously. Candidates who seek our vote must be clear that they will support, enforce and strengthen protections for women on the job.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) recently gathered information through personal interviews of CLUW officers, other union officials and online research to determine what unions have done to establish procedures on sexual harassment. What follows is an overview of the information we collected and examples of what workers experience on the job.

In March 2009 the AFL-CIO Executive Council issued a statement on the Charter Rights of Working Women which stated in part…” the AFL-CIO will do all in its power to secure for women the rights set down in this Charter One of the provisions under “Access to employment and promotion” is: “Employers must be held responsible for ensuring women have a safe workplace free of all forms of violence and sexual harassment.” And in closing calls on its affiliated organizations and other progressive forces to commit themselves to the promotion and implementation of the principles set out in this Charter.

AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) has online “Sexual Harassment: It’s About Power” and includes:

  • Don’t think it is your fault.

  • Seek support from family and friends.

  • Object. Speak to the harasser and be specific about what behavior you find unwelcome.

  • Keep a log.

  • Speak to your union steward.

  • Speak to your supervisor.

  • If these steps don’t solve the problem file a formal complaint with your state human rights agency or the EEOC.

UE, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America’s online “Fighting Back!” Information for workers and stewards states:“Every instance of sexual harassment will be unique and creating appropriate responses will require the Steward to be thoughtful, sensitive, and resourceful”Some of the suggestions they offer are:

  • The Union should make all members aware that sexual harassment is illegal and the union will fight on behalf of its members to stop it.

  • Make the employer post notices that sexual harassment is illegal.

  • Many women are not sure who to turn to when they are being harassed.The union can appoint several stewards (some of whom should be women) who are well known and respected by the members to be a special committee to deal with sexual harassment.

  • When dealing with the issue in grievance meetings make sure the victim isn’t harassed again by the company by being made to recount what happened in front of many bosses. Make the company show some sensitivity.

  • Make the harasser pay for the crime, not the victim. Too often, the boss’s solution is to move the victim off of her job.

Ray Bradford, the National Director of The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Equal Employment Opportunities Department said that because many of their members do not have steady jobs, they fear that reporting sexual harassment may subject them to retaliation up to termination. Education is particularly important, utilizing Labor Radio, Twitter and Facebook in order to reach a larger and younger audience.

And the casting couch is still alive and well in Hollywood, Gwyneth Paltrow, Megan Fox, Lisa Rinna and others have all talked publicly about their experiences.

Janet Hill, CLUW’s National Vice President from the United Steelworkers said the sexual harassment policy is incorporated in Civil Rights Guidelines that have been established to provide guidance for union members and leaders to help eradicate discrimination in the workplace. It is a pocket guide for Civil Rights Committees that exist in every local union and it explains how a member with a civil rights problem or grievance should proceed in accordance with the policy of the Union. A Committee on Sexual Harassment has been established that investigates complaints and develops educational programs for USW employees.

Connie Cordovilla, Assistant Director of the American Federation of Teachers Human Rights and Community Relations Department said the union urges its locals to pursue contract language which protects members from sexual harassment citing it as a form of discrimination and encourages and supports programs to further understand and combat sexual harassment. Schools are not required by law to provide sexual harassment training, but school districts that are found to have incidents of sexual harassment are viewed more harshly by courts than those who have extensive staff and student training.

Carolyn J. Williams, the Director of the Human Services Department of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers informs us that in addition to training that is provided for business agents and stewards, a Women’s Conference takes place every two years that is attended largely by rank and file members and workshops on sexual harassment are part of the program. They also provide suggested contract language on sexual harassment to their locals, urging them to adopt.

Sandra Burleson, Director of the Human Rights Department of the Transport Workers Union expressed that transit companies should train employees on sexual harassment in the same manner as security training. Female bus drivers encounter passengers who flash or make physical contact. How to respond is important, yet reporting a customer still has to be done with care. The growing numbers of women in leadership in the union has helped as women members who experience sexual harassment find it easier to raise these issues with someone of the same gender.

Georgi-Ann Bergamian, CLUW’s National VP for the United Autoworkers informs us that the international union demands that broad anti-discrimination language be included in all contracts and sexual harassment policies are established by a special bargaining convention that occurs every year.

KC Wagner, Director of Workplace Studies of Cornell University stated that employers usually have sexual harassment policies and some level of employee training. It is common practice for unions to train stewards. However, she stated that sexual harassment is still part of a continuum of violence towards women.

We need to be vigilant in raising awareness about sexual harassment and doing all within our power to combat this ugly form of discrimination including making our expectations clear to any candidate seeking our support as the 2012 election cycle moves into high gear.

HERVotes Blog Carnival: Fighting Sexual Harassment

By Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation President and Ms. Magazine Publisher

Welcome to the fifth #HERvotes blog carnival. This time we're focusing on the need to keep strong the laws and public policies to end sex discrimination and sexual harassment in schools and in the workplace. HERvotes, a multi-organizational campaign launched in August 2011, advocates that women must use our voices and votes to stop the ongoing attacks on the major advances of the women's movement. We are very excited that HERvotes is reaching a growing list of member groups and organizations and millions of people.

HERvotes called attention in early November to the dangerous personhood state constitutional amendment on the Mississippi ballot--which we're pleased to report was soundly defeated last week by a margin of 58-42 percent. Now, sexual harassment has emerged as an issue in the presidential primaries at the same time that a member organization of HERvotes, the American Association of University Women, has released a historic report on the high levels of sexual harassment in our nation's schools.

Sexual harassment has been ruled decisively by courts as a form of sex discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people in the workplace from sex discrimination. Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 protects students, teachers, professors and staff in all educational institutions receiving federal funding from sex discrimination.

Both of these federal laws, major advances of the women's movement, are under attack by members of Congress who seek to gut such protections and by Supreme Court decisions that have weakened them.

We must keep Title VII and Title IX strong. We have a right to know where policymakers stand on these issues.

How to join the fight:

*You can share the posts below on Twitter --using the hashtag #HERvotes--and on Facebook. If we spread the word far enough we can make sure Title VII and Title IX are enforced.

* You can ask where candidates and policymakers stand on issues of Title IX, Tile VII and sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational institutions.

The blog posts below share more reasons why we need to take action now. Happy reading, and thanks for joining the fight to end sexual harassment.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Mississippi’s ‘Personhood’ Measure Is a Threat to Women Everywhere

By Lauren Kalina, Advocates for Youth Intern

On November 8, the state of Mississippi will vote on ballot initiative 26, which will attempt to change the Mississippi constitution to define human life as beginning at conception. The actual text of the initiative is as follows:

Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

For the women of Mississippi, this initiative would attempt to ban abortion, certain types of birth control as well as treatment for infertility and miscarriage. This is a major violation of a woman’s reproductive rights. Additionally, Initiative 26 could have many more far-reaching, unforseen legal and political implications.

Recently, many anti-choice presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, have come out in support of this life-threatening measure. Romney, like many other conservative politicians, seems to be confused about just how extreme Initiative 26 is. Here, you can watch Rachel Maddow set men straight about how birth control works.

Women’s access to birth control could be severly limited by Initiative 26 because this measure considers a fertilized egg as a human life. However, many forms of birth control prevents the implantation of fertilized eggs, therein creating a conflict. Maybe if our politicans had received better sex education they might understand this more thoroughly…

This vote on November 8th is of particular importance to Mississippians, but should be of great importance to women all over the country. According to CNN, Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. However, according to the CNN article, similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio; and efforts in at least five other states are in the planning stages.

A yes vote on this measure would open the floodgates for more bills such as this to be introduced in other states. Mississippians for Healthy Families has created a coalition of organizations that oppose Initiative 26. The coalition includes: the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists and many more.

Regardless of where you live, you can help make a difference in the lives of women and families throughout Mississippi by donating today to the Vote No on 26 campaign. Your support will help the campaign’s grassroots efforts to prevent the passage of this harmful initiative.

Crossposted from Amplify Your Voice.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Losing Your Rights Via Personhood

By Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women, National CLUW Vice President (United Steelworkers)

Don’t be fooled by Initiative 26, Mississippi's the “personhood amendment." Government has gone too far and this amendment raises many disturbing questions about the status of women if enacted. The essential question to ask is, if a woman is lying unconscious in a burning building with a rack of embryos, which would be saved first? Initiative 26 would seem to imply the rack of embryos. Why else would Initiative 26 make it possible to deny lifesaving treatment to women? It raises serious questions about medical treatment of common problems such as ectopic pregnancies, infertility and even high-risk pregnancies. This could be why the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and Mississippi Chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are opposed to this initiative. Clearly it comes between the doctor and his or her patient. The Mississippi Nurses’ Association and the Mississippi State Medical Association oppose it as well.

Even more appalling, a girl raped by her father could be forced by the state to bear her father’s child because there are NO allowances for rape or incest. This goes against all of our society’s values. Perhaps this is why Catholic Bishops in several states oppose this law.

Initiative 26 also poses this disturbing question: If a woman miscarries, no matter how early, no matter what the reason, does the personhood amendment allow her to be charged with murder? Keep in mind that between 50 and 70 percent of first-trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg. Studies estimate that between 30 to 50 percent of fertilized eggs miscarry before or during implantation.

This amendment may radically change over 4000 laws in the state and cause strange lawsuits and criminal charges. It would also outlaw many common forms of contraception. Shouldn’t a state with the highest poverty rate and 31.9 percent of its children living in poverty be thinking about creating good paying jobs not more children? Over the past decade, the cost of raising a child to 18 for a two income middle class family rose 40% to $226,920. Then there is the $155 million a year price tag for Mississippi teen pregnancies, the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate.

The folks in Colorado voted down the personhood amendments--twice. I encourage everyone in Mississippi to vote NO on Initiative 26, aka the “personhood amendment,” November 8. If you don’t live in Mississippi but have friends and family there encourage them to vote no. Make sure to contact your state representative in Mississippi and ask her or him how this amendment creates jobs when the average income went down and more women and children are slipping into poverty. Ask how this helps create jobs and, finally, tell him or her to quit wasting time and do something about the jobs crisis.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Cross-posted with HERvotes

Photo from Flickr user themonnie under Creative Commons.

Wisconsin Rep Planning "Personhood" Bill to Criminalize Abortion

By Sofia Resnick, The American Independent

The “personhood movement” has recently grown legs in Wisconsin, where state Rep. Andre Jacque (2nd Assembly District) has promised to introduce a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would change the definition of a person to include “preborn” babies. The intended effect of “personhood” amendments is to criminalize abortion; many critics say such laws could also criminalize some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization.

In a YouTube video on the recently launched website of Personhood Wisconsin — affiliated with Pro-Life Wisconsin and Personhood USA — Jacque explains that his state’s constitution is flawed because in order to have access to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Wisconsinites must first be born.

He continues:

“What this simply does is takes out that requirement that you be born to have these inalienable rights that I think we all should enjoy as human beings. Unfortunately, if you take a look at the possibilities of Roe v. Wade being overturned, we would not have constitutional protection for the unborn in Wisconsin. And that’s why I feel that short of having this change in the constitution and putting it before the voters, there will be the ability for an activist Wisconsin state Supreme Court to deny rights to people that clearly should have that kind of protection – all people, every person at all stages of development.

It really is something where if you take a look at the statute that we already have on the books here in Wisconsin, in terms of prohibiting abortion, that could be stripped away, and it’s important that we find a way to restore that guarantee to all Wisconsin citizens that their human dignity will be respected from the movement of conception until natural death.”

According to Personhood Wisconsin, the amendment is “currently in drafting” but will be introduced this month. This week Personhood Wisconsin unveiled a billboard advertising the to-be-proposed amendment with pictures of humans at different stages of development and an all-caps message on the billboard reading: “YOU. ME. EVERYBODY. WE’RE ALL JUST GROWN-UP EMBRYOS.”

The billboard was designed by Youth Defence, an anti-abortion-rights media group based in Dublin, Ireland, and is sponsored by Pro-Life Wisconsin, 40 Days for Life of Green Bay, Personhood USA and Youth Defence. According to Pro-Life Wisconsin, it is currently located on Highway 41, south of Green Bay, but will move to a different location in Green Bay every three months.

“Demonstrating that at one point, all of us were just embryos, the personhood message is one we can all identify with,” said Pro-Life Wisconsin spokesperson Virginia Zignego in a statement.

On November 8, Mississippians will vote on whether to add a “personhood” amendment to their state constitution.

Excerpted from The American Independent News Network.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Original photo of bowl and spoons from Flickr user gniliep under Creative Commons 2.0; text added.

HERvotes Takes On the Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment

By Eleanor Smeal

Welcome to the fourth #HERVotes Blog Carnival! This time, we’re writing with an especially urgent focus. There’s an extremely dangerous constitutional amendment to the Mississippi state constitution on the November 8th ballot. It grants personhood and constitutional rights to a fertilized egg.

Election day is just one week away. We must stop the outrageous movement to give fertilized eggs more rights than women and girls.

The implications are staggering. By giving constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, the amendment could ban emergency contraception, birth control pills and IUDs as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It could eliminate medical choices for women, such as some cancer treatments or in vitro fertilization. It could allow the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage. Undoubtedly it would lead to many court cases.

How to join the fight:

  • You can help in this get-out-the-vote effort by urging everyone you know in Mississippi– your friends, family, co-workers, or members of groups you are affiliated with–to Vote No on Initiative 26.
  • To take direct action, you can donate here to help the statewide Mississippi coalition campaign buy desperately needed television and radio ads.
  • You can share the posts here on Twitter–hashtags #HERvotes and #NoOn26—and Facebook. If we spread the word far enough, we can reach every women’s-rights voter in Mississippi.

With your help, this outrageous Mississippi Initiative 26 will be defeated. The blog posts here share more reasons why we need to take action now. Happy reading, and thanks for fighting for women’s lives!

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from the Mississippians for Healthy Families Facebook page.