On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a county clerk from Virginia’s request for a stay of a federal appeals court decision striking that state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
Michele McQuigg, the county clerk for Prince William County, Virginia, had filed the emergency request for a stay of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The request was filed with Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles requests from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals region. According to Wednesday’s order, the chief justice referred the matter to the entire Court for consideration, which then ordered the stay. Had the Court not acted, the appeals court decision would have gone into effect Thursday.
The one-page order said the stay was to remain in place while the parties file their petition for Supreme Court review of the merits of the challenge to the law. Should that request not be filed, or should the Supreme Court not grant review, then the stay would lift automatically, allowing same-sex marriages to begin in the state. The order appears to have the support of the entire Court, since there were no dissenting opinions filed.
Federal courts have experienced a flood of cases challenging state-level bans on same-sex marriages since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, the case that struck as unconstitutional the federal ban on same-sex marriages. But that decision left open the question of whether or not states could legally restrict marriages to unions between one man and one woman. Wednesday’s order staying the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision brings that question one step closer to the Roberts Court for resolution.
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Melissa Flournoy has resigned from her position as director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana, following criticism from reproductive justice activists that she was an “example of the schism in work around reproductive rights.”
Flournoy had been with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana for a year. During that time, she was involved in the push against anti-choice legislation by state lawmakers and the organization’s planned expansion of reproductive health-care services to New Orleans residents. In a post on her Facebook page, Flournoy thanked her friends at Planned Parenthood before announcing her resignation on Friday, August 15.
The resignation comes after remarks Flourney made following an August 13 screening of We Always Resist: Trust Black Women, during a panel discussion organized by Deon Haywood of Women With a Vision and Paris Hatcher of SPARK and Race Forward.
Kris Ford, a member of the Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, described Flourney’s actions as “rudely derail[ing] the entire conversation.” Ford says Flourney asked Haywood what she could “do about Katrina”—a reference to State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), the main sponsor of HB 388, which will likely close at least three of the state’s five abortion clinics. Flourney allegedly said that she wanted to “put [Haywood] into a ring and let you kick [Katrina's] ass.” Ford noted in her open letter to Flourney, “How is this helpful? Deon had told us about the police reports she sees where police officers describe black women as primarily ‘big,’ ‘black,’ and ‘angry.’ You turned around and did the same thing.”
What’s more, “[y]ou asked question after question, made statement after statement, and barely paused for Deon or anyone else to answer,” wrote Ford in her letter. “When she was able to sneak a word in edgewise, you cut her off again! This went round and around. You interrupted most of the people who spoke last night, including me.”
Melaney Linton, president of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, published a response to Ford’s letter in which she said that Flournoy made “comments and conducted herself in a manner not at all reflective” of the organization’s values and beliefs at the event. Linton added that Flourney’s conduct at the event was “absolutely unacceptable” and that “immediate action” would be taken.
“On behalf of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, I offer my sincerest apology to you and others who were in attendance,” wrote Linton.
Flournoy’s departure comes on the heels of criticism by reproductive justice activists of a New York Times article about Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations’ shift away from using the term “pro-choice.” The article erased “the long-term work of scores of reproductive justice organizations, activists, and researchers that have challenged the ‘pro-choice’ label for 20 years,” explained Monica Simpson of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in an open letter endorsed by dozens of organizations and published on RH Reality Check. “Many of us received feedback from the New York Times reporter, Jackie Calmes, confirming that this history was not presented to her by the mainstream reproductive rights organizations with which she spoke,” said Simpson.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, responded to Simpson’s letter, saying that Planned Parenthood valued the work of reproductive justice activists. “We appreciate that you push us to do this more, and to do it better. And we hear you when you say that we are not doing enough,” wrote Richards. “I am eager to meet with leaders of national women of color-led RJ organizations to formulate shared strategies that honor all of our strengths. I’m also eager to talk to you about the events of the last few weeks, and what we can learn from this experience going forward.”
Responding to the news of Flournoy’s departure, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast released the following statement to RH Reality Check:
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is deeply disappointed in the events of the past few days. They do not reflect Planned Parenthood’s values or beliefs. We are committed to being a better ally to the reproductive justice movement and continuing a dialogue around how to do so. We have started to have meaningful conversations with organizational leaders, partners and allies. We are passionate about the important work that we do and realize that it is only through working together, as true partners and allies, that we will make progress to improving our communities. More than ever, we remain committed to our work in Louisiana. We will continue to partner with advocates and organizations in the communities we serve to ensure that every person who needs high-quality preventive health care is able to get it. We are committed to health care access across Louisiana and in particular to building our new health center in New Orleans.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast has not yet determined who will serve as interim director following Flournoy’s resignation, and is in the beginning stages of the decision-making process on how to move forward in permanently filling the position. The organization told RH Reality Check that it remains committed to the residents of the state.
Image: Laura Stone // Shutterstock
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This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
There is a rising sentiment in this country that places value and regard for Black life at a fatally low level. It has been made dangerously evident that Black demise at the hands of anti-Black, racist violence—state-sanctioned or otherwise—has become far too common. Society has not been taught to value or respect Black lives. The shooting deaths of Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and the hundreds of thousands of slain Black people who came before them should illustrate that point. But to further drive the point home, consider that there are 64,000 Black women and girls who have gone missing in the United States just since 2010.
This lack of regard for the safety of Black people and the protection of our rights is symptomatic of the established order of white supremacy in this country, which must be dismantled. Dismantling white supremacy is a tall order, and one way to start is through equity in media exposure as an entry point for re-education. There are examples of these successes as videos recorded by active bystanders become viral on social media and raise the visibility of the frequency of these violent offenses. Similarly, for missing persons of color cases, social media campaigns raise their visibility through memes, Facebook, and Twitter. Luckily, social media has been used to tighten efforts and strengthen the exchange of information and actions taken in attaining justice for Black victims.
Specifically, the media attention for victims in missing persons cases are primarily reserved for white women and has been diagnosed as the “missing white woman syndrome.” Media executives have argued that “privileged people disappear and die less frequently, and therefore are more newsworthy in their unusualness.” Ultimately this means that violent crimes and abductions of Black people have become common in our society—a matter of fact. To live with the idea that there is a high probability and expectation that Black people are going to get abducted and killed is a human rights issue. The missing white woman syndrome articulates a lived experience of the intersectional realities of racism, sexism, and classism, which currently supports the myth that Black people are not valued, important, or worthy of efforts to enforce laws in protecting Black lives.
While Black Americans make up only 13.2 percent of the U.S. population, they represented over 40 percent of its missing persons cases in 2010. The disparities that are evident in missing person cases of Black women and girls are primarily linked to the mainstream media’s unwillingness to cover their stories. Too often mainstream media will only cover a story about violence against innocent Black people if it’s about a journalist who reports the truth only to receive state-sanctioned reprisals of jail or, worse yet, violence and discrimination from law enforcement, as in the case of the Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery, who’s been reporting from Ferguson. And it is all but guaranteed the media will cover a story about a crime if a Black person was the one who committed it.
However, anti-Black violence is erupting in Black communities all across the country. As a 2010 federal report from the FBI Civil Rights Division explains, 66 percent of single-bias hate crimes reported by law enforcement were motivated by “anti-Black bias,” which means that the crimes were racially motivated based on the person being Black.
Fortunately, there are some ethnic media outlets that feed content and information to mainstream media for missing Black women and girls. Sadly though, even those ethnic media outlets have been accused of drawing greater visibility to the more aesthetically attractive Black woman. This sentiment is a far cry from the “Black Is Beautiful” cultural movement, which had the sole purpose of celebrating the fact that Black people’s natural features, such as skin color, facial features, and hair, were inherently beautiful. In the face of the mainstream opinion, which identified Blackness as ugly, this built the esteem of the Black aesthetic and community. Unfortunately, the “Black Is Beautiful” movement did not go far enough in solidifying that attitude as fact in the public sphere. The historical trauma impressed on the minds and psyche of Black people, and our treatment by the systems of this country manifests itself in the form of internalized racism. This could explain why even ethnic media struggle with featuring missing women who they find undesirable.
At this point, it is too early to determine whether exposure in ethnic media markets will increase mainstream media’s coverage for missing people of color. However, what we do know is the potential to elevate the media spotlight on the disappearances of Black women and girls could also address yet another disparity, and that’s how quickly the authorities investigate a Black missing person’s case. These attitudes are connected to the belief in Black communities that violence and abduction is all but assured. Media has the resources and power to draw attention to missing people of color, as well as the power to put necessary pressure on authorities that are frequently slow to investigate the disappearances of Black women and girls. Far too frequently, the consequence of the constant racial bias that is inflicted on the Black community from law enforcement situates the perpetrators at an advantage, while placing the victim in fatal harm. Especially, if the perpetrator is white and the victim is Black.
This fact goes along with an adage frequently used and deeply understood among Black women in the reproductive justice movement: “If we don’t protect and defend ourselves, no one else will.” One of the core principles of this human rights framework centers the right to parent our children without fear that he or she will be hurt or killed. Freedom from violence is reproductive justice. What is clear is that there is no equity in the visibility of missing person cases involving Black women and girls. When the media neglects to cover these stories, it is omitting the fact that people care about missing Black women, and permitting the conditions for this toxic environment of invisibility and violent actions with no recourse to thrive. Families, communities, and activists care about missing Black women and girls. There are nonprofit organizations that respond specifically to this need for visibility through bringing awareness and resources to missing people of color. And, access to social media like Facebook and Twitter is also a quick and cost effective way to raise visibility and get alerts out about missing Black women and girls.
Among the recent cases putting on trial gunmen of slain Black people, the Theodore Wafer case in which Renisha McBride’s killer was found guilty sets a strong example for attaining the human rights of safety and justice for Black people. McBride’s story is not the first case where a killer has been brought to justice for crimes against Black lives, and we certainly hope that it won’t be the last.
The post The Media’s Role in Attaining Justice for Black and Missing Persons appeared first on RH Reality Check.
An Iowa judge ruled on Tuesday that state regulators did not abuse their authority when they voted to ban the use of video-conferencing systems that allow doctors to dispense abortion-inducing medication to patients in rural clinics across the state.
Following the decision, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced it would appeal the lower court’s ruling with the Iowa Supreme Court.
Last year, the Iowa Board of Medicine adopted an administrative rule that requires in-person meetings between doctors and patients for the administration of medication abortions and direct after-care services, effectively banning the use of telemedicine abortion services.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland challenged the rule, arguing that it was politically motivated because it directly targets its telemedicine practice, the only one in the state. The board of medicine’s ten members were all appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican and outspoken anti-choice advocate.
Planned Parenthood’s system was the first of its kind and, according to health advocates, has the potential to revolutionize abortion access in rural communities. The system allows Planned Parenthood doctors in Des Moines or Iowa City to communicate with patients and view sonogram results via closed-circuit video; if they conclude a patient is eligible for a medication abortion, the doctors enter a computer command that opens a drawer in front of the patient. The patient then reaches into the drawer, removes the pills, and takes the first one while the doctor watches via video. The patient then goes home to take the remaining medication.
“The court’s ruling is incredibly disappointing, but our fight for Iowa women continues,” said Penny Dickey, chief operating officer of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in a statement announcing the appeal. “While the Board of Medicine claims it is acting to protect women’s safety and health, its true purpose is to prevent women from receiving an abortion if and when they need one. And the rule would actually jeopardize women’s health by delaying their care.”
The rule will remain blocked by court order for 30 days while Planned Parenthood of the Heartland files its appeal.
Anti-choice activists have targeted Planned Parenthood’s practice of telemedicine in Iowa for years. In 2010, the Iowa Board of Medicine first investigated the telemedicine delivery system and concluded it was safe and consistent with prevailing standards of care. Following that investigation, Gov. Branstad replaced the entire medicine board with anti-choice activists, including a priest. In August 2013, the new board reversed the former board’s decision and moved forward with the ban.
“[T]his was a political decision and not a decision based on medical science, even though it’s been touted as that,” said Dr. John Olds, a physician who previously served on the board and who now acts as an advisor to the body, in a statement.
According to reproductive health-care advocates in Iowa, should the ban be allowed to take effect some patients in the state would be forced to travel more than 500 miles round-trip, multiple times, to access safe, legal care at one of the three clinics in the state providing abortion services. “What is happening in Iowa is part of a dangerous trend: using any means necessary, politicians are imposing restrictions on abortion that will take safe and legal abortion away from women living in parts of the country where access to health care is already very limited,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “It’s unacceptable and unconstitutional to deny safe care from women in need, which is why we are going directly to the state Supreme Court and fighting with everything we’ve got.”
Image: Yanik Chauvin / Shutterstock
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On Monday, attorneys for the State of Virginia asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay a federal appeals court decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and also urged the Court to take up the fundamental question of whether or not states can ban same-sex marriages, “as quickly as possible.” The request is the latest to land before the Roberts Court after a summer filled with federal court decisions striking same-sex marriage bans in states across the country, including in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Utah, making it all but certain the Court will take up the issue of whether or not states can ban marriages between same-sex couples next term.
The request is one of three filed with the Roberts Court requesting that it consider taking up the Virginia case at its September 29 conference, ahead of the formal opening of the Court’s term in October. Late July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling striking down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages.
In a separate filing, marriage equality advocates urged the Roberts Court to reject the state’s request but agreed that if the Court decided to grant the stay, it should accept the case for full review promptly. “We will fight these last-ditch desperate attempts to delay the inevitable arrival of the day when same-sex couples can marry in Virginia,” said Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “But if the Court grants a stay, we want this issue to be decided as quickly as possible.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said in a court filing that he would support delaying gay marriage in the state and granting the stay because he would prefer the Supreme Court take up the case to immediately decide the core issue of whether or not states can ban marriage equality.
The Virginia case is one of at least two cases the Supreme Court could act on to decide the question of whether or not states can constitutionally restrict marriages to the union of one man and one woman. Attorneys defending marriage equality bans in Utah and Oklahoma have also filed petitions asking the Roberts Court to uphold their respective state bans on marriage equality. Other federal appeals courts, including the Sixth Circuit, are expected to issue rulings on state bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee later this fall. So far only one court, in Tennessee, has ruled against marriage equality; it was a narrow ruling with limited, if any, impact on the state ban challenges currently working their way through the federal courts.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. handles emergency requests from the Fourth Circuit and can either decide Virginia’s request on his own or refer the matter for the entire Court. The Fourth Circuit’s decision is scheduled to take effect August 21, unless the request filed with the Supreme Court is granted.
Image: WikiMedia Commons
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In 2007, a 13-year-old Peruvian girl became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by a man in her Lima neighborhood. Scared, ashamed, and desperate, she flung herself off a neighbor’s roof. Doctors examining the girl after the incident concluded that her spine needed to be realigned immediately, but they refused to operate because she was pregnant, despite the fact that therapeutic abortion—defined in Article 119 of the Peruvian penal code as the interruption of a pregnancy to save the life of the pregnant woman or to avoid serious and permanent damage to her health—had been legal in Peru since 1924. The young woman, known by her initials L.C., is a quadriplegic today.
Sadly, such stories are becoming more and more familiar to those of us who follow women’s health and rights issues around the world. When a woman or girl is denied access to abortion, she frequently suffers devastating consequences.
These cases are not just tragic; they are indefensible. Peru has more reported cases of rape and sexual violence than any other country in South America. Eight in ten of these victims are minors. No woman should be turned away from the care she needs, especially when she is raped or faces a pregnancy that threatens her life and her physical, mental, or social health.
Recently, the Peruvian government took a big step forward for L.C. and those like her. After 90 years of having the law on the books, Peru has finally issued national guidelines recognizing that women in in the country have the right to therapeutic abortion, and outlining the Peruvian government’s responsibility to secure this access.
This historic win comes after nearly a decade of pressure from many nongovernmental organizations and advocates, including PROMSEX, a leading Peruvian advocacy organization supported by Planned Parenthood Global. In 2009, the Center for Reproductive Rights and PROMSEX jointly brought L.C.’s case before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), challenging the government’s lack of accountability regarding the provision of legal, therapeutic abortion. CEDAW agreed, declaring that Peru had violated the human rights of L.C. by failing to ensure her access to safe and legal abortion services, and called for reform. Specifically, the committee declared that Peru must amend its law to allow women to obtain an abortion in cases of rape and sexual assault; establish a mechanism to ensure the availability of those abortion services; and guarantee access to abortion services when a woman’s life or health is in danger—circumstances under which abortion has been legal in Peru since 1924.
In addition to bringing the case before the UN, PROMSEX, with support from Planned Parenthood Global, has been working for years in Peru with medical professionals to develop their capacities and knowledge regarding sexual and reproductive health, and to ensure that the personal beliefs of individual health professionals do not impede women’s effective access to reproductive health-care services, including abortion and post-abortion care.
It is heartening to see such tireless work pay off, and for L.C. and the women of Peru to see a measure of justice. The new guidelines are a big step forward. They create an undeniable basis for expanding access to abortion services for Peruvian women. They provide clarity for both women and health-care providers, and get at the importance of taking on a broad interpretation of the right to health in the future, which would have greatly improved L.C.’s outcome.
Despite these gains, much work remains for advocates. The new guidelines include some unnecessary barriers to accessing safe abortion, such as requiring a review by a committee of three physicians. They also fail to address ongoing issues relating to confidentiality. Currently, Peruvian law dictates that health-care providers must report women for the alleged crime of abortion if they suspect one has been attempted. This policy leaves women afraid of going to health facilities, and consequently increases maternal injury and death—especially among poor women. Still, the guidelines show good faith and demonstrate the government’s ongoing commitment to ensure access to abortion and further women’s rights.
Advocates in Peru, across Latin America, and around the world will continue to work toward improved health outcomes for women and girls. The L.C.s of the world have been denied for too long. With this small victory in Peru in hand, we will together march forward to see justice realized for all women and girls.
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