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‘Cromnibus’ Budget Bill Falls Short of Requested Funding for Homeless Assistance

RH Reality Check - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 13:44

The House on Thursday approved a $1.1 trillion budget to fund the government through September, voting 219-206 in favor of the bill that previously was seen as likely to fail. The bill, known as the “Cromnibus” because of its function as both an omnibus budget and a continuing resolution, includes significantly less funding than was requested for several progressive efforts, including homelessness support and prevention.

The Cromnibus bill passed includes funding for homeless programs, but provides $300 million less than what was asked for by the administration.

The Obama administration this year laid out its plan to aid the homeless for the 2015 fiscal year, asking for more than $5.69 billion for “targeted homeless assistance funding.”

The plan was a 12 percent increase in the budget for homeless advocacy from the year prior, and would have bolstered an existing plan called “Opening Doors,” which includes programs like Housing First, permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing, while focusing on ending veteran, family, and chronic homelessness by 2020.

“President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget clearly demonstrates the high priority this Administration has for achieving the goals of ‘Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,’” wrote the U.S. Interagency Council on Homeless in a fact sheet on how the money should be spent.

But proposals go nowhere without support, said Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, at the time “Opening Doors” was proposed.

“The big question is whether preventing children and families in the U.S. from becoming homeless is important enough to Congress” to warrant increasing homeless-program funding, she said. “In order to achieve these goals, the funding has to be there, and that means the [Obama] administration has to really be firm and advocate.”

The budget bill is now headed to the Senate, where it needs to be approved.

Image: Shutterstock

The post ‘Cromnibus’ Budget Bill Falls Short of Requested Funding for Homeless Assistance appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Here’s why you should pay attention to this case out of Arizona.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 13:00
Here’s why you should pay attention to this case out of Arizona.

Supreme Court may take up abortion case
On Friday, the Supreme Court will meet to decide whether to take an Arizona medication abortion law.

Pregnant Wisconsin Woman Jailed Under State’s ‘Personhood’-Like Law

RH Reality Check - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:15

Tamara Loerstcher was suffering from an untreated thyroid condition and depression and had begun to self medicate with drugs when, in late July 2014, she suspected she might also be pregnant. Loerstcher, uninsured at the time, went to an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, hospital for medical treatment and to confirm her pregnancy.

After submitting to a urinalysis, Loerstcher disclosed her past drug use to hospital workers. But instead of caring for Loerstcher, who as it turns out was 14 weeks pregnant, hospital workers had her jailed.

Those are the allegations in a soon-to-be-filed federal civil rights lawsuit by attorneys from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Carr Center for Reproductive Justice at New York University School of Law, and the Perkins Coie law firm.

Loerstcher and her attorneys, in a call with reporters, detailed her experience, including her alleged mistreatment by Wisconsin officials and the ongoing deprivation of Loerstcher’s constitutional rights under a Wisconsin law that grants authorities the power to involuntarily detain and confine a pregnant woman for substance use if she “habitually lacks self-control” and her substance use poses a “substantial risk” to the health of an egg, embryo, or fetus.

The Wisconsin policy is similar in nature to radical “personhood” laws pushed in state legislatures controlled by anti-choice lawmakers. “Personhood” amendments, which would outlaw abortion at any stage of pregnancy, were roundly rejected by voters in several states on Election Day.

According to Loertscher and her attorneys, unbeknownst to her, as hospital workers were preparing a prescription to treat Loertscher’s thyroid condition, they were also initiating unborn child protection proceedings on behalf of Loertscher’s then 14-week-old fetus.

Loertscher and her attorneys claim that within days of Loertscher seeking care, hospital workers had already turned over Loerstcher’s hospital records to the state without Loerstcher’s knowledge or consent. They also claim that with those records in hand, state officials filed a petition accusing Loerstcher of abuse of an unborn child and held a hearing in which the state had appointed an attorney, known as a guardian ad litem, for the 14-week-old fetus, but granted Loerstcher no meaningful representation.

At the hearing, Loertscher and her attorneys allege she was ordered by the court into in-patient treatment even though she had not used drugs recently and voluntarily sought medical care. When Loerstcher refused to go to in-patient treatment, she was held in contempt of court and sent to jail, where she was held for 17 days without prenatal care and subject to abuse and harassment.

“This was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Loerstcher told reporters. “I was having lots of cramping and a lot of stress from everything and they [jail officials] wouldn’t allow me to see the doctor. They told me I would have to see a jail-appointed doctor who told me she wanted me to take a pregnancy test to confirm the pregnancy even though that’s why I was in jail, because I was pregnant. They knew that’s why I was there.”

Loerstcher claims she refused the pregnancy test, and in response, correction officials put her in solitary confinement and threatened to use a taser on her. “The jail doctor told me if I chose to miscarry, there wasn’t anything they could do about it anyways,” Loertscher said through tears.

About a week after Loerstcher’s release, she says she got a notice in the mail from the state stating they had found she had engaged in child abuse.

“It was really devastating to get that letter,” said Loerstcher. Unless it’s overturned on appeal, Loerstcher’s name will appear on the state’s child abuse registry for life. That would mean Loerstcher, who is a certified nurse’s aid, would be unable to work in her field, noted her attorney, and that she would be barred from ever volunteering at her son’s school after he is born in January. “This has very serious ramifications for her life and economic stability long term,” said Sara Ainsworth, director of legal advocacy at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and counsel for Loerstcher.

In order to be released from jail, Loertscher had to sign a consent decree agreeing to additional drug tests, so she remains under state custody to some extent, her lawyer said.

Wisconsin Act 292, known as the “cocaine mom” law, extends the court’s juvenile jurisdiction to include “fertilized eggs, embryos, and pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy where the pregnant woman ‘habitually lacks self-control’ in the use of alcohol or controlled substances ‘to a severe degree’ such that there is a ‘substantial risk’ that the health of the egg, embryo, fetus, or child upon birth will be ‘seriously affected.’”

In effect, Act 292 grants “personhood” rights to fertilized eggs and embryos by granting the state power to initiate child protective actions against the expectant mother anytime the state believes she has substance use issues that will “seriously affect” the health of the egg, embryo, fetus, or child.

Under Act 292 Wisconsin officials have broad authority to arrest and detain the expectant mother for up to the duration of her pregnancy and can appoint an attorney, known as a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the “unborn child,” like they allegedly did in Loerstcher’s case. But because the law empowers the state to act through the juvenile courts rather than the criminal courts, much of the proceedings and findings are sealed. “This law operates through juvenile court, so everything that happens is essentially secret,” said Ainsworth. “There’s no way to know the full extent of how this law has been used against pregnant women in Wisconsin.”

While the total numbers of Wisconsin women swept up under Act 292 may not be known, Loerstcher’s case is not the first.

Last year, attorneys from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alicia Beltran, another Wisconsin woman involuntarily detained at a drug treatment facility despite no evidence she had used drugs while pregnant. The attorneys sued in federal court, but that case was eventually dismissed as moot and without a ruling on the merits of her claims after Wisconsin officials released Beltran out of custody. In the order dismissing Beltran’s claim, the court noted that ”if Beltran’s allegations are true, what happened to her is extremely disturbing.”

Wisconsin is one of a number of states that have some kind of process in place that allows the state to effectively suspend the civil rights of pregnant people in the name of protecting against fetal harm. Most recently, Tennessee enacted a law that essentially empowers prosecutors to charge pregnant people with fetal assault for a host of activities, including drug use.

Meanwhile, South Carolina and Alabama through judicial decisions have made various criminal laws applicable to pregnant women, while both Minnesota and South Dakota amended their civil commitment laws to include a special process for committing pregnant people if they are determined to be a risk to their developing fetus.

But of all the state laws punishing pregnant people, Wisconsin’s is the most broad, said Ainsworth, and no court has yet ruled on its constitutionality.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Pregnant Wisconsin Woman Jailed Under State’s ‘Personhood’-Like Law appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Birth control = the best.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:12
Birth control = the best.

10 Bonus Health Benefits of Birth Control
We women hear a lot about side effects of birth control, but we don't hear as much about the side benefits. If you haven't had a conversation with your doctor lately about family planning, you may be in for some surprises....

How the ‘Cromnibus’ Bill Affects Women’s Health

RH Reality Check - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:04

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday night funding most of the government through September and the Department of Homeland Security through February. The bill is expected to pass the Senate in the next few days.

It was a bitterly controversial piece of legislation. Critics on the left, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), refused to support the bill because it radically loosens campaign finance rules and gets rid of an important financial reform in the Dodd-Frank bill. On the right, some said it didn’t do enough to block President Obama’s executive order that temporarily protects nearly five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Less remarked upon has been what the spending bill has to say about lawmakers’ priorities for women’s health. There are some steps forward and some steps backward for reproductive and sexual health issues, but in some ways the bill is most remarkable for adhering to the status quo.

Anti-choice Republican legislators “really laid off a lot of areas they could have gone after, at least in this round,” Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, told RH Reality Check.

That is, the pots of money for the kinds of family planning programs routinely targeted by conservatives remained untouched, but those programs didn’t get any new funding either.

This could be further evidence of the Republican Party trying to hide its anti-choice stances, as many candidates did in the midterm elections. It could also signal a party biding its time until it takes the majority and is able to push more extreme anti-choice measures like a national 20-week abortion ban.

The so-called “Cromnibus” bill included a long-overdue fix would make sure that Peace Corps volunteers can finally get equal access to abortion coverage in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Right now these volunteers, who often make only a $300 a month stipend and may work in war-torn countries where abortion is illegal, are the only group with federally funded health insurance who don’t get coverage even in these limited, desperate circumstances.

Survivors of rape and domestic violence would benefit when the federal Crime Victims Fund gets a fourfold increase in funding—or, more accurately, when Congress allows the fund to spend four times more of the money it already receives in fines.

That means more money to test rape kit backlogs, and more funding for community organizations that help victims of domestic violence.

For military sexual assault victims, the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program would get $257 million in funding, including $25 million to expand the “special victims’ counsel” (SVC) program, which was created to give victims an ally in court and help them through the reporting process.

Advocates caution, however, that while the SVCs are a good step, they fall short of their promise—SVCs aren’t quite full lawyers for victims, they don’t have the same access to the documents a prosecutor does, and they often face retaliation in the same way victims do.

Funding for fiscal year 2015 will stay the same as it did last year for Title X domestic family planning programs ($286.5 million), international family planning programs ($610 million), and evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention ($101 million).

Women’s health advocates see these numbers as solid, if not necessarily ideal.

They wanted to see at least $300 million for Title X programs, which provide low-income women with key reproductive health-care services. The spending bill falls short of that.

Craig Lasher, director of U.S. government relations for Population Action International, told RH Reality Check that the eventual goal for international family planning and reproductive health is $1 billion in U.S. funding, along with a near doubling of the current $35 million contribution to the United Nations Population Fund.

But with this Congress, advocates are just happy not to see cuts.

“The status quo is a good outcome in the current political environment,” Lasher said.

One funding tweak could create a “step backward,” Boonstra said, by increasing the number of abstinence-only sex education programs on the ground. Money that some states decline to use for these programs can now be reallocated to other states that use them, instead of being reallocated elsewhere or going back to the Treasury.

Another step backward is a $93 million cut (about 1.4 percent) to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which gives food aid to low-income families.

But the status quo is already backwards, and has been for a long time, for groups who struggle to access safe and legal abortion care.

Lawmakers had little appetite this year to even consider lifting several long-standing prohibitions on federal funding for abortions, which hits women of color and poor women the hardest.

“We know that Latinas are more likely to need access to abortion, they’re less likely to be able to afford it, and they’re overrepresented among those who are Medicaid eligible,” Kimberly Inez McGuire, director of public affairs at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told RH Reality Check.

Women of color are also the most affected by a measure that prevents the District of Columbia from spending its own money on helping low-income women get abortion coverage through Medicaid.

That provision went through in 2011, during the last budget negotiations debacle, when President Obama was quoted telling House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), “John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it.”

This provision is “not only a denial of health care for women in D.C., it’s a double denial of self-determination,” Inez McGuire said.

NLIRH is part of a coalition of dozens of organizations organized under the “All Above All” campaign, which makes a social justice case for repealing the Hyde Amendment and other federal abortion funding restrictions.

The coalition is calling on President Obama to lift these restrictions in his next budget request to Congress, since it’s the last chance he will have to take a principled stand on the issue.

“Oftentimes with the budget process, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget we’re talking about people’s lives,” Inez McGuire said.

Image: Shutterstock

The post How the ‘Cromnibus’ Bill Affects Women’s Health appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Here Too: Domestic Violence Is a Community Concern

RH Reality Check - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 08:53

On Black Friday this year, Marcus Dee fatally shot his former girlfriend, Nadia Ezaldein, during her shift at the busy Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. He then killed himself in the store. Although the media was quick to identify Dee as Ezaldein’s former boyfriend, coverage of the event repeatedly failed to label the tragedy for what it was: an act of domestic violence.

News outlets did highlight the tenuous relationship between Ezaldein and Dee, even citing Dee’s history of physical abuse and Ezaldein’s sister’s attempt to file an order of protection on her behalf. For the most part, however, the media portrayed the murder as an out-of-the-ordinary tragedy rather than an aspect of a larger, systemic issue. Fox Chicago, for example, quoted one shopper as saying the incident was “an individual’s problem”; another agreed, “A bullet has no name on it but you wouldn’t expect it in this area.” “You would never think it would happen here,” another passerby told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ezaldein’s killing was indeed horrifying. Unfortunately, however, it was not uncommon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic violence kills thousands of people a year; almost one-third of female victims of homicide are killed by an intimate partner. Not all domestic abuse ends in murder; however, it can still result in years—or even a lifetime—of trauma for the abused partner. And domestic abuse is rampant throughout every city, suburb, and county in the United States. It occurs in all kinds of relationships, to people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, professions, income levels, genders, and sexualities.

As outside observers, we cannot be aware of the ways Ezaldein may have reached out to potential allies for help during or after her abuse. Her family and friends may have done everything possible to protect her. Regardless, though, treating Ezaldein’s death as an anomaly diminishes the pervasiveness of domestic violence in Chicago and throughout the country—and it erases why it is imperative for communities to make preventing and intervening in domestic violence a central concern.

Despite the fact that millions of Americans are directly affected by domestic violence, it remains one of the most chronically underreported crimes, thanks in large part to the shame and stigma associated with abuse. Victims may already be facing isolation; abusers commonly control their partner’s professional and social lives, cutting them off from potential support networks. A victim may also shy away from asking for help from friends and family out of fear of being judged or pitied. Oftentimes, abusers are well-liked and would appear to be unlikely perpetrators; as we know from the recent calls to attention of domestic violence in the NFL, abuse can take place among figures that we cheer for, admire, and trust.

All of this can combine to make victims feel confused, trapped, or uncertain whether they need or can even find help. And when, such as in the tragedy in Chicago, community members express doubt about whether domestic violence “could happen here,” survivors may be even more reluctant to bring attention to their own abuse—because they have no reason to think they will be believed.

In addition, members of the public themselves can be squeamish when it comes to having open, honest conversations about domestic violence, because it can feel private, intimate, and complicated to understand. However, learning to identify the warning signs of abuse can help communities come to terms with the reality of domestic violence, and even identify abusers in their community.

For that matter, the ill effects of domestic violence nearly always extend beyond the abuser and the abused. Like we saw in the Nordstrom case, immediate and extended families, places of worship, and workplaces also suffer the negative effects of abuse, which can include harassment, stalking, threats, and a decrease in public safety. In Ezaldein’s situation, Dee had reportedly been harassing her for almost a year before he killed her. According to the Chicago Tribune, he’d made threatening phone calls to Ezaldein’s siblings and father too. Just a few days before Dee opened fire in a packed store on the busiest shopping day of the year—putting passersby in danger—Chicago law enforcement says that he physically attacked a friend of Ezaldein’s, thinking he was her new boyfriend.

In a broader sense, domestic violence also heavily taxes multiple social institutions, such as the justice and health-care systems. Last year, the Chicago Police Department received 171,077 domestic-related calls, which amounted to almost 500 calls each day. They also responded to a total of 48,141 domestic-related incidents in person. Countrywide, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that the annual cost of domestic violence to employers is around $700 million; the national health-care costs of domestic violence amount to about $4 billion a year.

With all this in mind, community members arguably have a vested interest in responding to domestic violence; furthermore, they are often ideally positioned to do so. Friends, family, and personal and professional support networks are usually the first contact point for a victim, which creates multiple chances to intervene. Friends can support the victim’s choices, for they are the expert in their own situation, and continue to maintain the friendship whether or not the victim stays with or leaves the abuser. Family members can ask about physical signs of the abuse, continue to make contact with and care for their non-violent loved one, and choose to hold the abuser accountable. Neighbors can knock on the door to check in with the survivor, or call the police when they hear an incident occurring. (Of course, a police response may not be ideal for many communities, and alternate ways of intervening can and should be implemented.) Clergy, health-care professionals, and social service providers can talk about warning signs of abusive relationships, how to have healthy ones, and remind their communities that abuse will not be tolerated.

In addition, instead of referring a victim to, say, couples counseling, supporters can steer the victim toward nearby services, whether they be in need of individual counseling, a safe place to stay the night, or assistance in filing an order of protection. Police, lawyers, and judges can learn to identify the myth of mutual abuse, and that abusers may have wounds because of a victim’s willingness to protect oneself. From a city leadership perspective, a recent CDC report has pointed to the success of towns who have limited alcohol vendors have also seen a decrease in domestic violence, though it is important to remember that alcohol is a risk factor but not a cause of domestic violence, and a policy like this should not be a one-and-done effort.

Employers also have options for assisting victims. They can opt to create a flexible schedule for the victim, based on her unique needs, and not publicly post that schedule where an abuser would see it. They could also choose to screen incoming calls to deter the abuser’s behavior or develop other security measures for their employees. They can even go as far as to write workplace policies that prohibit domestic violence and that give victims or supporting individuals paid leave to care for someone experiencing domestic violence.

Anyone can call the national domestic violence hotline to voice a concern or ask a question. Everyone can choose to educate themselves about the dynamics of domestic violence and how to help a loved one who may be in danger. Plenty of organizations, such as Futures Without Violence, INCITE!, Creative Interventions, the Allstate Foundation, and the CDC are working to develop resources, intervention strategies, and prevention education curricula for those who may know someone in an abusive situation.

Combating domestic violence is not one person’s responsibility; in fact, it is not even the responsibility of a victim’s family or friends alone. We all must resist the kind of media narrative that paints Ezaldein’s situation as an individual aberration. By confronting the ubiquity of domestic violence throughout our society, friends, families, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow city residents can support current victims and work to prevent other tragedies in the future.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Here Too: Domestic Violence Is a Community Concern appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Here are a few great holiday gift ideas for the pro-choice feminists on your list!

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 20:00
Here are a few great holiday gift ideas for the pro-choice feminists on your list!

10 Awesome Pro-Choice & Feminist Gifts For The Advocate In Your Life
It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means – it’s the season to give gifts! Not sure what to get that special someone in your life who’s passionate about reproductive freedom and...

What to do when the truth is against you? Hire fake “experts”:

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 18:30
What to do when the truth is against you? Hire fake “experts”:

Great news out of Ohio! Thanks to Naral Pro-Choice Ohio for all their hard work...

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 17:00
Great news out of Ohio! Thanks to Naral Pro-Choice Ohio for all their hard work to defeat this bill.

Ohio's Anti-Abortion Heartbeat Bill Fails, Because Even Anti-Abortion Activists Hated It
Over the last few years, Ohio lawmakers have been trying to pass a fetal heartbeat bill, which could ban abortion as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. On Wednesday, they were unsuccessful once again: Ohio’s fetal heartbeat bill failed to pass the state’s House of Representatives by a 46-39

Wage Theft Costing Workers Millions of Dollars

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 16:25

More than 300,000 wage and salary workers in California and New York are victims of wage theft, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The study examined data from the two states and found that between 3.5 and 6.5 percent of workers in those states were paid less than the state or federal minimum wage. Service industry workers were the most likely to experience wage theft, specifically in the restaurant and hotel industries.

The lost wages in those two states represent $20 million in lost income per week in New York and $29 million in lost income per week in California. Even if the number of workers that experience wage theft is only half of that in the two states studied, that means that more than two million workers across the nation are victims of wage theft.

The study also found disparities in who experienced wage theft across gender and race. Women were more likely to experience wage theft than men, and people of color were more likely to experience wage theft than whites.

One of the largest disparities was between citizens and non-citizens. While the data did not include information on the numbers of undocumented workers who experienced wage theft, the study found that in California, non-citizens were 1.6 times more likely to experience wage theft. Non-citizens in New York were 3.1 times more likely to experience wage theft.

Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times, told Marketplace that many of the people experiencing wage theft are undocumented. “Perhaps these numbers actually understate the problem,” Greenhouse said. “When the Census Department does its survey, it generally under-counts and under-interviews [undocumented workers].”

Greenhouse reported for the New York Times this year that more and more workers are taking employers to court, and accusing them of wage theft. David Weil, the administrator of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, told Greenhouse that changes in business practices are driving the surge in wage theft.

“We have a change in the structure of work that is then compounded by a falling level of what is viewed as acceptable in the workplace in terms of how you treat people and how you regard the law,” Weil said.

The study concluded that wage theft is associated with increases in the number of families and individuals in poverty, increasing the amount of public assistance needed. The economic burden, in the end, is largely shifted from the private sector to the government.

An additional $15.6 million in California and $7.8 million in New York was spent on school breakfast and lunch programs due to minimum wage violations. Monthly food stamp benefits were increased by $857,900 in California and $2.8 million in New York due to minimum wage violations.

“These findings are alarming in terms of the prevalence of the problem, particularly in a set of industries where we already know workers earn low wages and struggle to earn a basic family budget,” Weil told the New York Times in response to the new study.

While the prevalence of wage theft throughout the United States is unknown, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the total amount of money recovered in 2012 for the victims of wage theft was at least $933 million.

The study was conducted for the Department of Labor by the Eastern Research Group, which provides research services in various areas for dozens of federal and state agencies.

This is not the first study to show that wage theft is prevalent throughout the country. A study conducted in 2009 by the Center for Urban Economic Development examined data from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and found that 26 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage in the week prior to the survey.

The study was based on data from 2011, when the minimum wage was $7.25 per hour in New York and $8 per hour in California. The minimum wage is now $8 per hour in New York and $9 per hour in California. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

While Congress has taken no action to raise the minimum wage, voters across the country have approved raises to the minimum wage, as the measure has continually netted across-the-board support from voters.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, voters approved increases to the states’ minimum wage in November. The Chicago City Council recently approved raising the minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $13 per hour by 2019.

Low-wage and fast-food workers have been organizing labor strikes in recent months in nearly 200 cities across the country. Workers are demanding a minimum wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Wage Theft Costing Workers Millions of Dollars appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Sin Justicia

Center for Reproductive Rights - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 16:01
Bajo la prohibición absoluta del aborto en El Salvador, 17 mujeres han sido injustamente criminalizadas y encarceladas.

11.12.14 - Con una de las restricciones más extremas del mundo, El Salvador prohíbe que las mujeres acceden un aborto en todos los casos, ni siquiera para salvar sus vidas o en casos de violaciones sexuales o incesto. Desde 1998, muchas mujeres han sido injustamente encarceladas por esta ley, incluso en casos en donde el embarazo terminó debido a causas naturales. Toma acción hoy para presionar al gobierno Salvadoreño para que liberen a Las 17 y así ellas puedan pasar estas fiestas de fin de año con sus familias.

Estas mujeres vienen de pequeños pueblos, áreas rurales y grandes ciudades. Son adolescentes, esposas y madres. Ellas son costureras, empleadas domésticas y trabajadores en fábricas.

Colectivamente, han pasado más de 130 años en prisión.

Son Las 17 -17 mujeres que se encuentran actualmente tras las rejas en El Salvador. Sus historias son diferentes, pero tienen un denominador común: cada una ha sido juzgada y encarcelada después de tener complicaciones traumáticas relacionadas con sus embarazos. Muchas han sido declaradas culpables de homicidio y condenadas a hasta 40 años de prisión.

A continuación encontrara algunas de sus historias.


Teresa, a sus veinte y nueve años, trabajaba en una fábrica en San Salvador y vivía en un barrio de clase trabajadora con su hijo de ocho años.

En noviembre de 2011, sin ni siquiera saber que estaba embarazada, entro en un parto prematuro, y dio a luz en un inodoro. El feto no sobrevivió. A raíz de este trauma, Teresa experimentó una fuerte hemorragia y se desmayó. Su familia la llevo a urgencias. En el hospital, los médicos que la atendieron le informaron a la policía que sospechaban que ella había inducido un aborto.

A pesar de las inconsistencias y la falta de pruebas de que Teresa realizó un acto intencional que llevara al aborto espontáneo, fue declarada culpable de homicidio y condenada a 40 años de prisión.

Ella ha estado en prisión por más de dos años. La abuela de Teresa está cuidando a su hijo.


Mirian tuvo dificultades de aprendizaje en la escuela y es analfabeta. A los 25 años, viviendo en el pueblo aislado de Morazán, Mirian quedó embarazada y luego tuvo una emergencia obstétrica.

Aunque la autopsia no pudo determinar la causa de la emergencia obstétrica, las autoridades la acusaron de haber inducido un aborto.

Mirian no tenía el dinero para pagar a un abogado y su defensor público no proporcionó una defensa legal adecuada. Acusada de homicidio, fue condenada a 30 años de prisión, donde ha permanecido por los últimos 13 años.


Cuando tenía 21 años, Alba se enteró que estaba embarazada con su tercer hijo. Ella y su madre plantearon maneras de sostener la creciente familia de Alba. Poco después su madre murió y Alba se quedó sola para cuidar de sus dos hijos y su hermana, quien estaba enferma.

Un día, Alba entró en un parto prematuro precipitado en su casa durante el cual se desmayó.  Cuando despertó, buscó la ayuda de un vecino, quien le dijo que el bebé respiró por una media hora, pero luego dejó de respirar. Ellos realizaron una vigilia y oraron en una casa cercana. La mañana siguiente, antes de enterrar al niño, llamaron a las autoridades para reportar la muerte.

Si bien no existe ninguna prueba de que ella hizo algo para causar la muerte del bebé, Alba fue condenada a 30 años de prisión. Hasta el momento, ha pasado más de cuatro meses en prisión, sin que nadie cuide de sus dos hijos y su hermana.


Después de 11 años de cárcel, a Verónica todavía le quedan 19 años para cumplir con su condena de 30 años.

A los 19, mientras trabajaba como empleada doméstica, Verónica quedó embarazada. Poco antes de llegar a término,  experimentó una emergencia obstétrica que dio lugar a la pérdida del embarazo.

Sus empleadores la llevaron al Hospital de Chalchuapa, donde fue denunciada a la policía por los médicos del hospital. Sin testigos, ni ninguna prueba, Verónica fue rápidamente condenada por homicidio. La sentencia condenatoria incluso reconoce la falta de pruebas y afirma que "los motivos del sujeto por [el asesinato] son desconocidos, aunque se puede deducir que su motivación era evitar el reproche social."


Aunque una trabajadora social describió la casa de Mirna como un hogar "estable y responsable donde tenía apoyo y respeto," los jueces se negaron a creerle a Mirna o a su esposo cuando dijeron que estaban emocionados por tener otro hijo.

A las treinta y seis semanas de embarazo, Mirna  entró en un parto prematuro precipitado y sin saber lo que estaba pasando dio a luz en el inodoro de su casa. Su familia la llevó rápidamente al hospital. El bebé había sufrido una herida al caer en el inodoro, pero afortunadamente sobrevivió.

Aunque el ginecólogo responsable confirmó que la lesión del bebé no fue debido a un intento de abortar, Mirna fue condenada a 12 años y 6 meses de prisión por homicidio en grado de tentativa.

Después de pasar 11 años de prisión, la liberaron por haber cumplido la mayor parte de su condena.


Cinthia recuerda que fue alrededor de las 11:30 de la noche cuando comenzó el dolor. Tenía ocho meses de embarazo y sólo 17 años de edad. Ella estaba sola en casa y al darse cuenta de que estaba experimentando un  parto prematuro, salió al patio para dar a luz. El bebé nació con el cordón umbilical envuelto alrededor de su cuello. Ella trató de cortar el cordón con tijeras y en su esfuerzo desesperado por salvarle la vida de su bebe que se ahogaba por el cordón umbilical en el cuello, ella lo lastimo.

El bebé de Cinthia murió y ella fue acusada de asesinato, a pesar de que no se presentaron pruebas que demostraran que ella era la causa directa de la muerte del bebé o de que la muerte del bebé fuera intencional.

Ella lleva 6 años en prisión por una condena de 30 años.


Hay casi una docena más- Maritza, Salvadora, Ena, Guadalupe, Marina, Evelyn, Carmen, Mariana, Teodora, Johana, Maria-todas con historias igualmente alarmantes, vidas arruinadas de manera similar. Las 17 son las víctimas de un sistema que amenaza contra los derechos humanos de miles de mujeres que viven con temor de este sistema.

El Centro de Derechos Reproductivos y nuestros socios La Agrupación Ciudadana siguen trabajando para exponer las graves violaciones de los derechos de las mujeres como consecuencia de la prohibición del aborto en El Salvador, ante los órganos de derechos humanos de la ONU, la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, y ahora al Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos.

Actúa hoy para presionar al gobierno salvadoreño para que liberen a Las 17, para que ellas puedan ir a casa y estar con  sus familias en estas fiestas de fin de año.

Women on both sides of the aisle agree - there’s still a lot of work to be done.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 15:00
Women on both sides of the aisle agree - there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Women leaders meet after historic year at polls
The 2014 midterm elections shattered the record number of women in the House, cracking 100 for the first time in history.But on Tuesday, nearly a dozen women politicians of both parties agreed it’s not enough — citing examples of sexism they’ve experienced, pointing to treatment of…

Vote Blocked on Gillibrand’s Military Sexual Assault Bill

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 14:16

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) hit another roadblock Thursday when a vote on the bill was blocked in the U.S. Senate, though this won’t be the last the chamber sees of the bill.

The MJIA would give independent prosecutors, not military commanders, the power to decide whether to prosecute cases of sexual assault in the military. Advocates say that the reform is necessary to help survivors feel more comfortable coming forward, and that more incremental reforms haven’t helped.

Gillibrand’s request to vote on the MJIA as a stand-alone bill was blocked by Sen. James Inhofe (R-IA), who was joined in his objection by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“This is no longer about reforming a system, this is a political cause going out of control,” Graham said on the Senate floor.

Graham also erroneously claimed that Gillibrand’s bill would “fire every commander and replace the commander with a bunch of military lawyers.”

Many military advocacy groups have joined Gillibrand’s call for major reforms to the military’s justice system, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The bill has been blocked before despite its bipartisan support, but Gillibrand vows to keep bringing it up until it passes.

“We’re disappointed that our brave men and women in uniform didn’t get the vote that they deserve, but we will not walk away from them, and we will continue this fight in the next Congress,” a spokesperson for Gillibrand told RH Reality Check. 

Image: Shutterstock

The post Vote Blocked on Gillibrand’s Military Sexual Assault Bill appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Sexual Violence Is Present in More Games Than ‘Grand Theft Auto V’

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 14:04

Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence in video games.

Last week, Target pulled the popular game Grand Theft Auto V from its Australian stores after pressure to do so from a petition highlighting the game’s depictions of sexual violence against women. The petition invoked gameplay mechanics that encourage the abuse and murder of women “for entertainment,” such as murdering a sex worker in order to get one’s money back. Shortly after Target’s announcement, Kmart Australia pulled GTA V from its shelves too.

After Kmart made its decision, company representatives claimed that they had been ignorant of the offensive content. And indeed, in Australia, the game is rated as “R18” for violence, sexual material, drug use, and language—with no mention of the sexual violence many members of the public found objectionable. The omission is illustrative of a major problem of many game rating organizations, both in Australia and elsewhere: Sexual violence in video games is often overlooked or conflated with “violence” or “sexual content,” allowing horrifying depictions of gendered abuse to remain in material with few, if any, warnings for retailers or consumers.

In the United States and Canada, this oversight seems particularly egregious, given that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), responsible for rating all games in both countries, does have a content warning for “sexual violence.” However, the ESRB has not given this descriptor—which it defines as “depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts”—to GTA V. In fact, since that classification’s introduction in 2003, the ESRB has reportedly only put that descriptor on two games.

And it is not as if sexual or gendered violence is absent in today’s mainstream games. In her video “Women as Background Decoration Part 2,” media critic Anita Sarkeesian documents several instances of violence against women in many of the most popular video games on the market, including some unambiguous examples of sexual assault. Even so, none of the games compiled have received the “sexual violence” content descriptor from the ESRB.

The ESRB is responsible for the small black-and-white letter on the corner of every video game box, which displays ratings such as “E for Everyone,” or “M for Mature.” Much like movie ratings, these labels also feature “contest descriptors” listing potentially offensive material that contributed to the rating, such as “blood,” or “sexual themes,” so that consumers may make an informed purchase.

As a “self-regulatory” organization, the ESRB has no federal oversight through a government body, such as the Federal Communications Commission; game producers voluntarily enter the ratings process and pay a fee that reportedly ranges from $800 to $4,000. Even so, many retailers will not carry games without official ESRB ratings. As such, for the last 20 years, the ESRB has operated as gaming’s moral gatekeeper, righteously touting itself as a wholesome, family-oriented organization. However, this also gives it immense power to shape the content of games themselves—and their reception by audiences.

In a market where many purchases are made by parents for their children, the difference between “T for Teen” and “M for Mature” can be a deciding factor in sales. Therefore, game designers are arguably incentivized to try to achieve as low a rating as possible, while still producing a game that will be considered “edgy” in the industry’s ever-heightening standard for visceral intensity. As a consequence, creators often carefully tailor their games to avoid certain ESRB triggers. For example, enemies may have green goo in place of red blood to avoid having the ESRB’s “blood” descriptor on their games’ packaging; dancers in a strip club may have pasties over their nipples to get around the “nudity” descriptor.

By contrast, the ESRB’s failure to apply its “sexual violence” descriptor has given game designers no motivation to shy away from scenes that may be triggering for assault survivors. Depictions are often included in which women are beaten by men in a sexually dominant manner. For example, in Red Dead Redemption (2010), a scantily clad woman falls to the ground on all fours and squeals in breathy moans as she is beaten by a man and called a number of misogynistic slurs. The scene is both sexually charged and brutally intense, yet the ESRB does not regard it to be “violent” enough to merit a specific content warning.

There are more resources offered by the ESRB than just what can be found on video game packaging. It also provides rating information online that offers a more detailed description of all the examples of offensive content that contributed to the game’s final rating. Too often, however, these summaries still strip the content of its context entirely. For example, as far as “violence” is concerned, ESRB Rating Summaries only list the array of weapons a player has to kill enemies and how realistic or gory those enemies’ injuries are—effectively putting decapitating a monster and beating a woman to death on the same scale.

This extends to its takes on “sexual content” and “nudity” as well. In its synopsis of Watch Dogs (2014), the ESRB mentions that there is a scene where topless women are standing in a room. What is left out, however, is that the topless women are standing on an auction block and being sold as sex slaves. Meanwhile, in the rating summary for Heavy Rain (2010), the ESRB even notes that a female character is forced at gunpoint to dance after stripping. However, the event is only mentioned as contributing to the game’s rating for sexual content and nudity, and not for its violently coercive character. And the ESRB’s rating summary for The Walking Dead (2012) blatantly demonstrates how its rating system reduces the idea of rape to a matter of “sexual suggestion.” It reads:

The game contains some suggestive material in the dialogue (e.g., “Might as well leave a sign out that reads, ‘The men are out, come rape our women and children’”).

In fact, in recent years, 2014’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has been the only mainstream game that warranted a “Sexual Violence” content descriptor. The ESRB’s Rating Summary admitted to there being “an audio file in which a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters.” However, this completely overlooks the full extent of the game’s sexually violent content, which includes a bomb being inserted into a female character’s vagina.

In defense of the ESRB, its representatives don’t actually play the games they rate. Game creators fill out a detailed questionnaire regarding all of the potentially offensive content, for which they must send in video footage. The ESRB then takes all the factors it has been given into account to write the rating. So, it can only rate the content that it is given. However, the ESRB does write the questionnaire for game makers in the first place, which is kept highly confidential—raising the question of whether the organization thoroughly inquires about the specifics of potentially graphic scenes.

By not including warnings about sexually violent content, the ESRB is leaving individual players vulnerable to being caught off-guard by potentially triggering imagery. In addition, it is implicitly endorsing the idea that the abuse of women does not warrant offense, outrage, or even adequate emotional preparation. In this way, sexual violence has become effectively normalized in virtual spaces; as Sarkeesian pointed out in her video series, the casual abuse of women is rendered so common as to be effectively unremarkable. Video games are sold as power fantasies, and why not? It’s fun to embody a super strong badass in a fantastical situation. In a video game, a player can literally be a “God of War.” But with the overwhelming trend of depictions of sexualized violence against women, it seems that the power fantasy has come to extend over female bodies, which are routinely physically and sexually dominated. And in turn, that misogyny often extends to gaming culture as a whole, where women players can face harassment from male gamers or, at the least, be continuously subjected to depictions of female characters as victims or sex objects.

The subject of video game violence (unrelated to gender) and whether or not it contributes to impressionable players becoming more violent in “real life” is well-tread ground of popular debate. Parent groups—and sometimes even politicians—have occasionally rallied around the issue of making games less violent. However, the topic of depictions of violence against women and their potentially harmful ramifications has been given little to no public attention. As the namer of controversial content in video games, the ESRB essentially controls the discourse of that controversy. And as such, the question of gendered sexual violence has been overwhelmingly—and disturbingly—absent from the conversation.

This year, the ESRB is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary of a job well done for being a champion of the public, providing families with the tools to keep them safe. After 20 years, it’s about time for the organization to actually be held accountable and make some progressive change for the better. Right now, the institution is effectively enabling retailers and creators to profit off of games featuring horrifically brutalized female bodies without having to acknowledge it. Words are powerful, and if the ESRB cares about making games safe for everyone, then it must use its power to name violence against women for what it is. Only the organization’s actions, when pressed for change, will reveal where its true priorities lie.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Sexual Violence Is Present in More Games Than ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.

We’re ready to fight back with you.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 14:00
We’re ready to fight back with you.

Anti-Abortion Laws Are Expected To Get Even Worse In The New Year
Looking ahead to 2015, states will probably amend their existing restrictions to make them even more stringent.

Ohio’s Extreme Heartbeat Abortion Ban Fails in House

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 13:17

A bill that would have made Ohio’s abortion restrictions the most far-reaching in the country failed Wednesday in the state house by a vote of 46 to 39. The bill needed 50 votes to pass.

If enacted, HB 248 would have banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy—before many people are aware they are pregnant. That makes so-called heartbeat bans some of the most extreme abortion restrictions in the country. The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protected abortion until fetal viability, which is often defined as around 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.

HB 248 and its companion senate bill were added at the last minute to the state’s House Health and Aging Committee, where it was scheduled for a quick vote. Republican state leaders then altered the composition of the committee, stacking it with members more friendly to the radical bill.

The bill passed that GOP-controlled house committee in an 11-6 vote, where it moved to the house floor.

In 2011, the Ohio state legislature became the first state to introduce a fetal heartbeat ban. Such legislation has since gained traction among anti-choice legislators nationwide, and has been introduced in Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Both North Dakota and Arkansas passed similar legislation, but the restrictions were struck down by federal judges who declared them unconstitutional.

Image: woaiss via Shutterstock

The post Ohio’s Extreme Heartbeat Abortion Ban Fails in House appeared first on RH Reality Check.


NARAL Pro-Choice America - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 11:59

Sorry, but the Abortion Rate Is Not Going Down Because Women “Choose Life”
The abortion rate is down and anti-abortion folks would very much like to take credit for it. Last week, David Frum at the Atlantic wrote a piece arguing that "the pro-life movement really does seem to have changed American minds about the morality of abortion" and that, along with a...

Cornell’s Response to Intimate Partner Death of Student Doesn’t Go Far Enough

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 09:24

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

As my fellow Cornell University students and I returned to campus from the Thanksgiving holiday and started our final week of classes, we were heartbroken to learn that one student would not be returning.

Reports of Shannon Jones’ death by strangulation at the hands of her boyfriend, Benjamin Cayea, 32, on Thanksgiving evening spread throughout campus. Jones, 23, hailed by her peers as a bright student, was expected to graduate with a degree in engineering next May.

In the days after her death, my classmates spoke of “the girl who was murdered” with bewilderment and frustration. In classrooms, students could be heard expressing confusion, muttering things like, “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to people like us. It’s not supposed to.” Many of them believed that intimate partner violence wouldn’t enter the ivory tower. But in reality, intimate partner violence is extremely rampant on college campuses. It’s also not getting the attention it deserves nor being dealt with adequately.

If Cornell truly wants to reduce intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence against its students, the university needs to do more than create another program aimed at addressing violence and sexual abuse; it needs to get the entire campus involved in changing the culture that has allowed this sort of violence to persist. We must have an ongoing conversation about healthy relationships, consent, and intimate partner violence, not only during orientation week, but throughout the school year and students’ entire time at Cornell. The school must also stress how serious gender-based violence is as an issue—attending this campus is not a right; it is a privilege that should be taken away when you assault or rape another human being.

According to police reports, Jones and Cayea had an argument at Jones’ off-campus apartment at approximately 6:30 p.m. In a police interview, Cayea admitted to strangling Jones during the fight, then drove her car to a friend’s apartment and told him, from the parking lot of his apartment, what he had done. Jacob Ives, Cayea’s friend, then called the police, and Cayea was arrested. “She would not stop coming at me, she would not stop yelling. I did it; I choked her,” Cayea reportedly said, according to Ives. When police arrived at Jones’ apartment, she was found without a pulse and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Cayea was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder without bail, and his case has been transferred to Tompkins County.

“I feel that Shannon’s unfortunate death has been a surprise to most people in the Cornell community,” said Runjini Raman, Cornell University graduate student and intimate partner violence advocate, told RH Reality Check. “We tell ourselves stories about women in abusive relationships so that they can feel like far away faceless women, that it only manifests in bruises and blood, and that makes us blind, not realizing it happens to someone we may know.”

A 2011 online survey of U.S. college students found that only 8 percent of students believe that intimate partner violence is a major problem on campus, and almost 50 percent believe it is not a problem at all. In fact, intimate partner violence is quite common among college students, though many survivors are reluctant to come forward due to retaliation. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five students have reported experiencing violence by a current partner, and 32 percent have reported dating violence by a former partner. These rates increase at the intersectionality of class, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. For example, Black women are three times more likely to be murdered by their intimate partners than white women, according to an analysis of homicide data conducted by the Violence Policy Center.

According to Cornell’s records provided in compliance with the Clery Act, there were four reported cases of domestic violence and one stalking case last year. 2013 was the first year they began recording such statistics, and of course these figures don’t reflect the number of women who feared coming forward.

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and women between the ages of 20 and 24 are most at risk, explained Jessica Li, Cornell University alumni and executive director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). Li says that while she attended Cornell, a classmate was in an unhealthy relationship and Li recognized the early warning signs of jealousy, possessiveness, and isolation from friends by her abuser. “As friends, we didn’t know where to refer her to on campus, and she didn’t recognize that she was a survivor of dating violence.” A college-wide effort focused on improving students’ knowledge of rape culture and campus resources might reduce this sort of confusion and increase the number of students reporting violent acts.

Recent research also shows an overlap of intimate partner abuse and violence: Among the female respondents to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey who experienced sexual abuse, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner, about “8.7% experienced rape and physical violence, 14.4% experienced physical violence and stalking, and 12.5% experienced all three forms” of intimate partner violence. This abuse has a deep and negative impact on their health, leading to anxiety, depression, physical harm, sexually transmitted diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in some cases death. Not to mention, student survivors in particular experience challenges in finishing class assignments or fear being on campus, which makes finishing their education difficult.

Title IX, the federal law that protects students from gender-based violence, guarantees a student’s equal access to education. Title IX outlines steps that colleges must take when investigating gender-based violence on campus, including: providing support to students including changing of a student’s housing, changing class schedules, and offering protection when they’re experiencing stalking, harassment, and other violence by their abuser.

In 2011, the White House issued a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining steps colleges should take to reduce sexual assaults on campus; however, little attention was paid to intimate partner violence. In a article, survivor and campus sexual assault activist Wagatwe Wanjuki explained that sexual assault is getting much-needed attention, though we must not forget to include intimate partner violence as part of the conversation. “Title IX can force schools to provide support for student survivors, but unfortunately the narrative around the law has focused on sexual assault to the detriment of intimate partner violence survivors,” said Wanjuki. “It is crucial for the Department of Education to provide more Dear Colleague letters to further clarify and state what schools need to do to help the abused.”

Cornell University, like other schools, has put many of the Dear Colleague letter recommendations in place to reduce gender-based violence on campus. “We have zero tolerance for intimate partner violence in any form,” said Mary Opperman, Cornell University’s vice president for human resources, in an email to RH Reality Check. “In 2013, we established the Council on Sexual Violence Prevention to develop and implement new programs, and the group is currently developing an action plan to incorporate new educational programs, support services, reporting mechanisms, and data collection.”

But are these individual programs enough to ignite a campus-wide culture change discussion? Some students say no. Campus organizers have identified gender-based violence as a key issue that they would like the school’s first female president, Elizabeth Garrett, to tackle in her incoming administration. President-elect Garrett was instrumental in changing the sexual assault policies at the University of Southern California and passing California’s affirmative consent or “yes means yes” law.

The lack of discussion around Jones’ murder has left students feeling frustrated with the school and larger Ithaca community, especially in light of a recent article about what a “great” guy her killer is. “I feel disappointed and wish that more people saw this act of violence within the larger context of domestic abuse and violence against women,” said Cornell graduate student and social justice activist Johanna Zussman-Dobbins. “Refusing to do so is a way that the university and the community side steps accountability on these issues.”

During her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Zussman-Dobbins says she served as a panelist for an intimate partner case while working on campus. “One summer they really needed a student to come sit on the panel,” she said. The case she heard was one that had already been postponed several times to accommodate the accused’s schedule and made her question Cornell’s commitment to survivors. “In my opinion, postponing the trial sent the message to me as a young undergraduate that Cornell valued the future of this man more than the future and safety of this young woman.”

When a report of intimate partner violence is filed, both students attend a hearing that consists of faculty and several student panelists who hear the case. “We think that’s a huge benefit for both parties,” explained Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator at a recent campus event. “We don’t force students to file a report … he or she can choose which avenue they want to pursue.” Grant outlined that students could choose to file reports with Cornell, the local police, or both, and that investigations would include hearing from witnesses and sifting through texts, social media, and other documentation for evidence. Should either party not agree with the panel’s decision, they are able to appeal the decision.

Even though Cornell’s reporting process exists to support students claiming they have experienced gender-based violence, the university needs to improve how it talks about intimate partner violence with students. In class, for example, Raman, who advocates for bystander awareness and campus-wide discussion of violence against women, said the issue was often addressed in “a textbook manner” without any empathy for students experiencing violence. “The fact that we still discuss it so nonchalantly … is not OK.”

As a program at Yale University shows, educating bystanders is key to changing the conversation around intimate partner violence on campus. In 2013, Yale was in the news for refusing to expel several students found guilty of “nonconsensual sex.” The Ivy League school has publicly begun to clean up its act after being fined $155,000 by the Department of Education for failing to report gender-based violence crimes in keeping with the Clery Act. “We worked through this with a series of cases dealing with intimate partner violence and using them to enhance the wording, descriptions, and training materials for incoming and current students,” said Vanessa Lamers, who served on the Yale University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and in the Marion County Oregon District Attorney’s Office on Sexual Assault Victim Assistance.

“One of the trainings I find most helpful with college students, especially with male athletes and university fraternities, is masculinities and the bystander approach … [educating men about how the] pressures to appear masculine, strong, and in control push this status quo of violence,” she said. “Training men to be aware of these pushes in their conscious and subconscious is a great way to assist young men be leaders in college.”

Li of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project agrees that educating bystanders is an important strategy when reducing intimate partner violence. Too often, friends, classmates, and family members aren’t aware of the warning signs, and schools could do a better job of holding campus-wide discussions of intimate partner violence and teaching students to intervene when a peer is in need of support. She says some of the warning signs to look out for are abusers checking cell phones and emails without permission, constant texting to check up on the individual, extreme jealousy, isolation from family and friends, pressuring someone to have sex, possessiveness and false accusations, putting someone down constantly, physical violence, and stalking.

Cornell University has a strong presence of fraternities on campus and has programs, such as Wingman 101, targeting men in addressing gender-based violence; however, at a recent campus event titled “State of Sexual Assault at Cornell University,” the administrative staff who spoke about the school’s sexual assault investigative process and student rights under Title IX couldn’t identify any of the programs. If the university’s chief investigator has to rely on audience members to explain what programs are available on campus, that doesn’t bode well for student confidence in the administration.

Similar to other schools, Cornell has set up websites and counseling to support survivors on campus, but they require that the survivors or their peers seek out the resources; students feel the university isn’t as proactive as it could be.

In the wake of Jones’ death, students hope Cornell will not squander this moment and finally begin to shed light on the epidemic that is campus intimate partner violence. “I hope that Cornell takes this horrible crime as a call to arms and puts serious academic and professional thought into creating a safer culture on campus,” said Lamers. Shifting the culture, educating bystanders, and supporting survivors are the only ways we will achieve campuses free of gender-based violence.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Cornell’s Response to Intimate Partner Death of Student Doesn’t Go Far Enough appeared first on RH Reality Check.

Missouri Bill Seeks to Undermine Obamacare by Punishing Insurers Who Participate in Exchanges

RH Reality Check - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 08:33

A Missouri lawmaker last week pre-filed a bill that could revoke the licenses of insurers who offer plans through the Affordable Care Act, directly undermining the federal health law and making affordable health insurance more difficult to find for many Missourians.

The bill, SB 51, expands on Missouri’s Health Care Freedom Act, which says residents of the Show-Me State are not compelled to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, in contradiction to the federal law’s insurance mandate that was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The proposed effort to undercut the success of President Obama’s health-care program comes from a conservative guide detailing ways in which Republican-dominated state legislatures can effectively stop the ACA from expanding health-care access.

“Missourians spoke loudly against Obamacare with 71 percent voting in favor of the Health Care Freedom Act in 2010 and a majority voting to not allow the Governor to establish a state exchange in 2012,” said Senator-elect Bob Onder (R), who pre-filed SB 51 early last week.

Onder’s bill not only reiterates that Missourians don’t have to abide by the federal insurance mandate law, but also seeks to add a more extreme amendment to the 2010 act: It would effectively enable the state to revoke the license of a health insurance company that participates in the ACA’s insurance exchanges set up to make buying insurance easier for consumers.

Under the Affordable Care Act, those ineligible for Medicaid but who can’t afford to pay the full price for a private health plan can often receive government subsidies to help pay for premiums and other out-of-pocket costs. Recipients of those subsidies could trigger penalties for their employers, however, if that employer was obligated by law to offer employee health insurance but didn’t.

SB 51 would change that by prohibiting insurers from accepting “any remuneration [government subsidy money] that may result in the imposition of penalties.” In other words, the law would outlaw the acceptance of subsidies from the government that would result in penalties on employers. Insurers who violate the bill would have their license suspended until it has “returned the remuneration to its source and will decline any further remuneration.”

As Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress notes, the Missouri bill likely would not be implemented since federal law overrides state law. And in this case, federal law requires that both state-run and federally-run insurance exchanges include cost-sharing options in the way of government subsidies.

A lawsuit seeking to change the way subsidies are handed out could affect whether SB 51 is implemented, if it’s passed at all.

The lawsuit, King v. Burwell, which was this year picked up by the Supreme Court, argues that only state-run insurance exchanges can offer health care subsidies, not federally-run exchanges. If the conservative Roberts Court upholds that law, states like Missouri, with no state-run exchange, would not be compelled to provide subsidies, and any insurer seeking subsidies would be doing so under no obligation from federal law.

Onder is just one Republican midterm election victor who has challenged the Affordable Care Act, and conservatives across the country have made it a priority to effectively repeal the federal health law, despite the widespread popularity of its central features.

Iowa Senator-elect Joni Ernst for example, has said she would support a law allowing “local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement” Obamacare, and has also advocated the radical “nullification” theory charging that states should ignore federal laws.

Image: Shutterstock

The post Missouri Bill Seeks to Undermine Obamacare by Punishing Insurers Who Participate in Exchanges appeared first on RH Reality Check.

This thank you note is awesome.

NARAL Pro-Choice America - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 19:00
This thank you note is awesome.

An open letter to the AWESOME pregnant lady who stood up to anti-abortionists
"Thank you for saying the words I wasn't strong enough to say"


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