09.12.14 - Cinco Estados recomiendan al Estado de Costa Rica garantizar el acceso a los servicios de salud reproductiva sin discriminación y despenalizar el aborto en los casos de violación ante las Naciones Unidas
12.2014 - El Centro de Derechos Reproductivos junto con la organización aliada local, “Grupo a Favor del In Vitro”, presentaron un reporte ante el Consejo de Derechos Humanos (CDH) de las Naciones Unidas en abril de 2014 para la revisión del Examen Periódico Universal (EPU) de Costa Rica. Las organizaciones solicitaron al CDH recomendar al Estado Costarricense: i) tomar las medidas legales necesarias para permitir el acceso a servicios de salud reproductiva de fertilización in vitro (FIV) para parejas infértiles sin ningún tipo de discriminación; ii) el cumplimiento de lo ordenado por la sentencia de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Corte IDH) en el caso Artavia Murillo y otros v. Costa Rica; y iii) el cumplimiento de Costa Rica frente a sus obligaciones internacionales de respeto y garantía de los derechos humanos, relativas a la garantía de acceso al aborto legal cuando la vida y/o la salud de la mujer se encuentran en riesgo y la despenalización en los casos de violación.
En la revisión del EPU de Costa Rica en septiembre de 2014, el Estado recibió seis recomendaciones relacionadas con el acceso a los servicios de salud y aborto. De estas recomendaciones, cinco países, incluyendo Bélgica, Suiza, Francia, Islandia y Noruega, solicitaron a Costa Rica garantizar el acceso a los servicios de salud sexual y reproductiva sin ningún tipo de discriminación y despenalizar el aborto, particularmente en los casos de embarazo producto de violación o incesto. En respuesta a la solicitud de los cinco Estados, Costa Rica “tomó nota” de las recomendaciones y argumentó que las observaciones planteadas en materia de aborto, “van más allá de lo que la legislación vigente contempla en materia de aborto, por lo que su análisis involucra a poderes del Estado, como el Poder Legislativo”.
En Costa Rica las mujeres enfrentan barreras para acceder a los servicios de salud reproductiva. En particular, en los casos de Aurora y A.N., quienes fueron obligadas a continuar con el embarazo con malformaciones incompatibles con la vida extrauterina, a pesar que la ley permite el aborto en los casos donde el embarazo genere un riesgo a la salud de la mujer. Estos casos fueron presentados por el Centro de Derechos Reproductivos y la “Colectiva por el Derecho a Decidir” ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), y actualmente se encuentran pendiente de resolución. Costa Rica aún no ha creado un protocolo de atención para interrumpir el embarazo tanto en casos de riesgo para la vida, como para la salud física y mental de la mujer. Del mismo modo, a pesar que la Corte IDH estableció que a la luz de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, Costa Rica viola los derechos humanos de las personas infértiles al prohibir la FIV, las parejas infértiles aún no pueden acceder a servicios de salud reproductiva sin discriminación.
The day after North Dakota voters overwhelmingly defeated a much-publicized “personhood” measure on the November ballot, the Bismark Diocese, led by North Dakota Bishop David Kagan, issued a statement expressing optimism that “society will, one day, value and protect life decisions at every level,” but disappointment that the measure “failed at the polls.”
Colorado’s Catholic bishops, on the other hand, were silent after a “personhood” amendment was defeated in their state. They’d publicly taken what they called a “neutral stance” in the weeks before Election Day, like they had on Colorado’s “personhood” amendments in 2008 and 2010.
Kagan’s Diocese in North Dakota worked hard this year to pass Measure 1, distributing campaign literature, homily notes, and a DVD to all parishes, according an October 11 Bismark Tribune article, which quoted Tara Brooke, coordinator of the Diocese of Bismarck’s Respect Life ministry.
Another North Dakota Bishop. Rev. John T. Folda, campaigned against Measure 1, saying in a North Dakota Campaign for Life YouTube video that Measure 1’s language is “remarkably similar to the stated beliefs and teachings of the Church.”
“Don’t be afraid to stand up for life in a public way,” Folda says at the end of the video. “Go to NDChooseLife.com and share the link to the video you just saw. Be a witness to the truth about Measure 1. I hope you’ll join me in voting yes for measure 1 this fall, so that North Dakota might continue to move toward a culture of life.”
Colorado’s bishops articulated their position on “personhood” amendments in 2008 when activists first placed the measure on the ballot.
At the time, the bishops stated their support of the amendment’s goal but worried that its passage could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to “actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe.”
“While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado,” read the Colorado bishops’ statement.
Asked by RH Reality Check for her analysis as to why bishops in Colorado and North Dakota had different positions on “personhood,” Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, director of domestic programs at Catholics for Choice, said Colorado’s bishops gave their tacit support for the Amendment 67 in Colorado, allowing local parishes to campaign for its passage.
“The bottom line is less that they had a different position on personhood than a different tactic,” said Ratcliffe, whose work opposing Amendment 67 was denounced by Colorado’s bishops.
“North Dakota is a much smaller and less diverse population,” said Ratcliffe, pointing out that the measures in Colorado and North Dakota were presented differently. “There are different constituencies in the two states. It’s about the reality of the electorate and the voting power the conference.”
“We know that the history of Catholic teaching has never declared when personhood begins and that the disagreements across the centuries have something to do with why bishiops won’t come out for it,” Ratcliffe said. “The power of the bishops is an illusion. For us, regardless of whether the bishops are pushing a personhood amendment from the front lines or behind the scenes, Catholics are not in agreement with the bishops and vote against it.”
“We considered it a life measure as opposed to personhood,” said Sonia Mullally, communications director of the Bismark Diocese, when asked why North Dakota bishops spoke out on the measure. “As Catholics we’re called to protect the sanctity of life at every level. To protect the laws that were already on the books, that’s what compelled our bishops to comment.”
“This measure protected not only ‘pro-life’ state laws, but moving forward too, there are bound to be more challenges,” Mullally said. “This tried to provide a baseline as more challenges come to life issues in North Dakota.”
The post Catholic Bishops Take Divergent Public Stances on ‘Personhood’ Measures appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri dropped a lawsuit last week challenging the constitutionality of a requirement that abortion providers in Kansas have a link on their websites’ home pages to state anti-abortion materials.
The lawsuit, filed in June 2013 in federal court, claimed a requirement that doctors inform people seeking abortions that they are ending the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living human being,” by linking to the state materials, violated doctors’ free speech rights.
The requirement was part of HB 2253, a massive anti-choice omnibus bill that also bans abortions based on gender, bars employees of institutions that perform abortions from providing sexual education materials to public schools, seeks to block all direct or indirect tax incentives for the procedure, and revises the state’s informed consent materials given to those considering an abortion to include false and misleading information about a link between the procedure and breast cancer.
The bill also defines human life as beginning “at fertilization.”
Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit alleged that stating an abortion terminates the life of a separate human being requires doctors to make “a misleading statement of philosophical and/or religious belief” in violation of the First Amendment.
The lawsuit also challenged a provision of the law that requires its website to link to a Kansas Department of Health and Environment site on abortion and fetal development and challenged a requirement that abortion patients receive information that a fetus can feel pain 20 weeks after fertilization.
Planned Parenthood argued that by forcing clinics to link to the department’s website, it is required to endorse the health department’s message in violation of the First Amendment.
As a result of the dismissal, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri’s website home page now contains the required link and mandated language, but with a disclaimer in all caps ahead of it that reads, “We are required by the State of Kansas to state the following, which does not necessarily reflect current medical opinion or that of comprehensive health.”
The mandated text and link appear after the disclaimer.
“The Kansas Department of Health and Environment maintains a website containing information about the development of the unborn child, as well as video of sonogram images of the unborn child at various stages of development. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website can be reached by clicking here.” www.womansrighttoknow.org.
The one-page order dismissing Planned Parenthood’s claim states only that the counsel for the parties notified the court that the matter had been resolved.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood dismissed without prejudice, which means they could re-file their claims at a later date. The case was scheduled for trial this week.
The post Planned Parenthood Drops Legal Challenge to Kansas Misleading Consent Requirement appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Researchers who studied more than 50,000 California Medicaid patients who obtained legal abortion care in the state concluded that “major complications” after legal abortion care are extremely rare, and that overall, legal abortion care has a “very low complication rate.”
The University of California at San Francisco study, published this week in Obstetrics & Gynecology, followed 54,911 abortions obtained by 50,273 patients enrolled in Medi-Cal in 2009 and 2010, and found that of those nearly 55,000 medication abortion and first- and second-trimester surgical abortion procedures, 252 required treatment for “major complications,” defined as “requiring hospital admission, surgery or blood transfusion.”
Nearly all of the abortion procedures included in the study—97 percent—were performed in an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office, with about 3 percent performed in hospitals. In total, less than 2 percent of all studied abortions resulted in complications within six weeks of the initial procedure, and researchers cautioned that in fact their estimated complication rate, calculated among low-income women, might be “somewhat overstated” when compared to “the total group of women seeking abortions around the country,” because wealthier patients who have private insurance coverage “may be healthier” overall.
A press release accompanying the study’s journal publication compared the safety of legal abortion care to that of colonoscopy, and called into question many conservative lawmakers’ claims that requiring legal abortion care be provided in ambulatory surgical centers, or requiring abortion-providing doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, would increase the safety the procedure.
“Abortion is very safe as currently performed, which calls into question the need for additional regulations that purportedly aim to improve safety,” said Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, an assistant professor at UCSF’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program.
Legislators like those in Texas, which passed a multi-part omnibus anti-abortion bill, HB 2, in 2013, have claimed that putting more stringent regulations on abortion providers would increase the “health and safety” of those who receive legal abortion care. Texas, which had more than 40 legal abortion providers before the passage of HB 2, now has a little more than a dozen legal abortion providers.
The UCSF researchers warned in the newly released study that the shuttering of abortion providers as a result of these more stringent laws could put those who need abortion care in danger, forcing them to travel longer distances to access legal abortion care or attempt illegal pregnancy terminations at home.
The post Study of Over 50,000 Abortion Patients Finds Low Complication Rate appeared first on RH Reality Check.
South Carolina lawmakers, in their first opportunity to pre-file bills ahead of the 2015-2016 legislative session, last week submitted at least eight anti-choice bills to be taken up next year, featuring an array of radical abortion restrictions pushed by anti-choice legislators across the country.
State Sens. Kevin Bryant, Larry Grooms, and Lee Bright, all Republican, were together responsible for the eight bills filed last week. The bills include at least one “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which bans abortion after 20 weeks of conception, and a fetal-heartbeat abortion ban that would outlaw abortion after the detection of a heartbeat, or as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Republicans also pre-filed a ban on medication abortion in most cases and a restriction on how they are performed in those cases, an admitting privileges law, and a ban on state health insurance plans from being used to get an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman’s health is in danger.
Forty-six percent of South Carolinians are in favor of a 20-week abortion ban, while 43 percent oppose such restrictions, according to a poll released in April. The poll’s results fell within the 3.3 percent margin of error.
All of these South Carolina anti-choice bills rest on inaccurate information and myths about pregnancy and fetal harm, under the guise of helping women and families. A federal judge last spring struck down a fetal heartbeat ban in North Dakota similar to the one filed last week in South Carolina.
Several of the bills would ban abortion at different points during pregnancy, but Bright, who pre-filed six of the eight bills, told the Huffington Post that he’s waiting to “see which [bill] gets the most traction.”
This year, South Carolina managed to end its legislative session without enacting any restrictions on abortion.
Alyssa Miller, the South Carolina public affairs director at Planned Parenthood Health Systems, said in a Facebook statement that she wishes the state would stop spending its time on unconstitutional legislation.
“Given South Carolina’s high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy and teen births, it is time to focus on putting prevention first, rather than working to restrict access to care,” she said.
The post Anti-Choice Legislative Agenda Laid Out in South Carolina appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A broad “religious freedom” bill passed both the Michigan House Judiciary Committee and the full chamber in a rare fast-tracked process on Thursday. Civil rights advocates, however, call the new law a “license to discriminate” for religious people across the state.
House Speaker Jase Bolger, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation was designed to protect those with strongly held religious beliefs from government actions that would burden their exercise of those beliefs. Bolger says the law is necessary and points to examples such as a Jewish mother who does not want her son’s body to be autopsied after a car accident.
Bolger says he modeled the bill, known as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, after the federal law of the same name. That bill was passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. This was the law at issue in the recent Hobby Lobby case. Its goal is to protect people from laws that would interfere with their sincerely held religious beliefs unless the government can prove that the law serves a compelling interest and accomplishes the goal using the least restrictive means possible.
That law only applies to the federal government but many states have passed their own religious freedom acts.
Critics say the Michigan version is so broadly worded that it has more in common with the legislation passed in Arizona earlier this year that would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed that bill, saying it would do more harm than good. Brewer’s veto enraged staunch conservatives nationwide.
Civil rights advocates have come up with a number of scenarios in which this law could sanction discrimination. Brooke Tucker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, pointed out to MSNBC: “In many religions, it’s OK for a man to beat his wife. Based on language in this bill, all he has to say is my religion allows me to do this.”
Others suggested it could allow a pharmacist to refuse to fill any prescriptions for birth control, let an EMT refuse to treat a gay or lesbian patient, or let someone at the DMV refuse to provide a driver’s license to someone who was divorced as all of these actions could be said to conflict with deeply held religious beliefs.
Bolger said these “parade of horribles” will not happen and instead the law will allow people to practice their religious free of interference.
He argued that the law focuses specifically on government actions that would infringe on religion, not the actions of individuals or businesses. For example, he said, a landlord could try to use the law against a gay tenant but it doesn’t mean he or she would win.
The ACLU disagrees. Tucker told MSNBC:
What RFRA will do is give businesses and landlords the opportunity to contest everything in court, and force individuals who are now able to live discrimination-free lives to demonstrate that the government has a compelling interest in making those landlords act in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Even if that individual prevails, he will have spent a lot of time and money, and may be out of a job or out of a home while he’s waiting.
Last week the Michigan house also passed a law that would allow adoption agencies to refuse service to people if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
Many in the state believe this law is an attempt to make it even harder for gay and lesbian couples to adopt. Same-sex couples in Michigan already have a hard time adopting because they cannot do so jointly, which means one member of the couple would have to qualify as a single parent.
In yet another blow to gay and lesbian rights in Michigan, an attempt to expand an existing non-discrimination bill seems to have died after a hearing in the house commerce committee on Thursday. Bolger supported the effort to add gays and lesbians to those protected by the Elliot-Larsen Non-Discrimination Act but opposed attempts to include transgender people in the expanded law.
Democrats on the committee would not let the bill proceed without mention of transgender people.
The RFRA passed the house with a party-line vote of 59 to 50. It now heads to the state senate, which is also controlled by Republicans. If it passes that chamber it will go to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.
The post Michigan GOP Passes Religious Freedom Bill Legalizing Discrimination appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Final exams are approaching on college campuses across the country, and at the University of Oregon, school administrators are scrambling to prepare students, canceling and altering classes, and hiring temporary instructors.
That’s because, in the rainy college town of Eugene, Oregon, hundreds of educators are outside striking for paid sick and parental leave and fair wages, the result of a year-long negotiation process between a graduate employees’ union and the university administration, including its president, whose field of research is family sociology and who has published studies on the importance of paid family leave.
The educators that the school is hurrying to replace aren’t faculty, but graduate teaching fellows (GTFs), called graduate teaching assistants elsewhere. They are students seeking advanced degrees who are employed by the university in various ways, such as researchers, undergraduate teachers, and graders.
Fellows at the University of Oregon, represented by the union Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF), have this month left classrooms and labs for picket lines, demanding that the school raise wages and offer paid leave.
The university offers no paid leave to graduate teaching fellows. A GTF’s monthly wages fall $200 below the cost of living, as calculated by the University’s own Financial Aid Office, according to the picketers.
In a video on the GTFF website, graduate teaching fellow Katie Jo LaRiviere explains why she supports paid family leave and a living wage:
Each of my two daughters…were born during fall terms. After each birth I returned to work on the following Monday. I did not have paid leave in either situation and my family could not afford a short paycheck, so I did not cancel any classes as a result of giving birth, and only missed one graduate seminar. I was having a baby that night.
When asking for living wage and a paid parental leave, I do not ask for things to be easy. Even with these benefits we will struggle to pay for childcare, my spouse’s student loans, rent, and groceries. Rather, with these benefits I ask to be treated fairly for the work I do for the students of this university. I ask, for other brand new parents, that they be treated humanely.
“I tirelessly and persistently worked my way into grad school, and I have fought to stay here so that I can try to give my son more than I was ever given,” says one woman, with her son in tow, in a video of GTFs explaining why they are going on strike. “Right now it feels like the university is pulling the rug out from under my feet. More than that, it is pulling the rug out from under my son. I am ready to strike because as a parent, as a GTF, and as a student, I have given so much to the university, and it breaks my heart that they are unwilling to give back.”
Fellows’ contribution to the university’s academic programs is not insignificant. Along with grading the undergraduate coursework, serving as teaching assistants, or as a lab or discussion section leaders, GTFs are often the sole instructor for a class, according to the university website.
Graduate students at the University of Oregon teach about one-third of all undergraduate courses, according to two sources, a GTF and a spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers who has worked closely on the issue in Oregon.
But the lack of paid leave and low wages makes doing their job difficult.
“When we get sick, or need surgery, or get in an accident, and our doctors tell us, ‘You need to take time off to heal,’ we can’t do that,” Richard Wagner, a physics graduate student and the vice president of communications for GTFF, told RH Reality Check. “We risk losing wages and are forced to return back to work before we’re healthy, or when we have lack of sleep after having a child. [Paid leave and fair wages] are really a very important component of our mission, making sure not only that we are protected but that we have the ability to perform at our top effectiveness and produce world class research. But we aren’t getting the support we need.”
The striking, which started December 2, is the result of failed contract negotiations between the graduate teaching union, which represents some 1,500 GTFs, and university administration. The union and university administration started bargaining in November 2013, and were able to settle on all issues except for paid leave and increased wages.
After a year of tense back-and-forth exchanges, the GTFF voted to strike, calling on graduate employees to stop their work and start picketing until the administration agrees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, along with two weeks of paid parental leave, and wages that reflect the cost of living in Eugene.
During the year of negotiations, the university’s president resigned, and Scott Coltrane was hired as interim president. Coltrane, who received a PhD in sociology, conducts research on paternity, stay-at-home fathers, and families, and has been an outspoken advocate of paid parental leave.
The university boasts of Coltrane’s work on paid leave, writing in a university blog post that “Coltrane believes paid paternity leave is better for men, women, and children and that more significant steps need to be taken toward paid leave for both parents.”
In an article for The Atlantic, Coltrane wrote about the findings of a study he conducted on paid parental leave (emphasis added):
Today’s jobs still seem designed for the 1950s, when one partner was the sole breadwinner and the other was fully devoted to caring for home and children. Based on that model, ideal workers are still expected to be totally committed to their careers with few obligations at home.
[…] Only a handful of US states currently have government-mandated paid leave for fathers, even though our culture as a whole is beginning to change…But even without programs as generous as those in Scandinavia, I suspect that any costs associated with taking parental leave will be outweighed by potential gains. … And corporations and governments, who want to see a more resilient and equal-opportunity work force, will realize it is in their best interests to help balance work and family obligations for everyone.
Still, the university under the leadership of Coltrane has not offered paid leave. Instead, it has offered a flex time program for GTFs, along with a financial hardship fund that will help GTFs financially in the case of a medical event, including the birth or adoption of a child. President Coltrane has said the administration has done its best to work with the graduate students at the negotiating table.
“The university believes strongly that flex time and a student assistance fund will best serve the medical and parental hardship needs of our graduate students,” he wrote in a message to the community. “Unfortunately, the GTFF remains focused on the concept of automatic paid leave.”
The university did not respond to interview requests from RH Reality Check.
The United States has some of the worst paid-parental leave policies in the world, and is the only OECD member state that offers no paid maternity leave. Only three states, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, have paid parental leave policies.
And while it’s difficult to track, the lack of government-supported paid parental leave pushes the burden onto employers, many of whom still offer little to nothing in the way of leave for mothers, let alone fathers.
Asked about whether GTFF plans to continue protests, which attracted some 700 people last week, Wagner said they won’t stop until they get results. “Yes,” he said, “until the university comes to the table and is willing to discuss paid leave.”
The post Oregon Educators Strike for Paid Leave Under University President Who Once Advocated for Leave appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Last week, following the announcement that the New York grand jury had decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would be opening an investigation into the matter. And the Monday prior, after the no-indictment decision by the grand jury in Ferguson, the DOJ reassured us that the investigation into Darren Wilson that they had begun back in August immediately after Mike Brown’s death would continue.
We often greet such announcements with cheers and open arms. And indeed, a DOJ investigation may lead to much-needed structural reforms of the police departments under scrutiny. But for those of us who want justice for Eric Garner and Mike Brown specifically, the truth of the matter is that the DOJ doesn’t have a lot of options.
As mentioned previously by Jessica Mason Pieklo on RH Reality Check, the DOJ could bring a lawsuit against the police officers under 18 U.S. Code section 242, a federal statute that authorizes the prosecution of police officers for violation of citizens’ constitutional rights. In addition to the problems Pieklo discussed that can arise from federal prosecutors coordinating with local police forces, the burden of proof for such cases is practically insurmountable: The prosecutor has to prove that the police officer willfully subjected a person to the deprivation of his or her constitutional rights.
In other words, a federal prosecutor would have to prove that not only did Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo use excessive force against Mike Brown and Eric Garner respectively, but also that they intended to do so. And as you might imagine, it’s very difficult to prove intent at trial unless there is video evidence of an egregious violation of constitutional rights, as there was with the eventual successful federal prosecution of two of the four police officers who assaulted Rodney King.
But, you may be thinking, there’s video evidence in the Eric Garner case—isn’t that enough?
Maybe. The fact that Pantaleo used a banned technique to subdue Eric Garner—the chokehold that ultimately led to Garner’s death—certainly helps. But it’s likely that a federal grand jury wouldn’t find that constitutes sufficient probable cause to believe that Pantaleo willfully violated Garner’s constitutional rights. And it’s even more likely that a federal prosecutor would find it impossible to prove that Pantaleo intended to kill Garner. A federal jury would likely decide that Garner’s death was an accident. I think it’s safe to say that Pantaleo’s actions don’t rise to the same level of egregiousness as a police officer beating Rodney King into a pulp at the behest of his police sergeant.
The fact of the matter is that the DOJ is better at dealing with structural problems in a particular police department through “pattern or practice” cases than it is at prosecuting individual police officers for instances of excessive force or police brutality.
Pattern or practice cases are brought by the Department of Justice under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots. The law authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to file lawsuits against entire police departments that have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of violating citizens’ civil rights in order to force them to reform.
For example, just last week, the DOJ released a “pattern or practice” report containing the results of its investigation into the Cleveland Police Department, which it began in March 2013. (That police department currently happens to be in hot water because one of its officers essentially executed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in what journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates aptly described as a “state-authorized drive-by.”)
As a result, Cleveland, under threat of being sued for civil rights violations by the DOJ, will be forced into a consent decree, which is a settlement agreement authorized by a federal judge, between the police department and the federal government. Based on the requirements of previous consent decrees, this will likely require Cleveland to implement reforms such as mandating cultural sensitivity training for police officers, creating new “use of force” policies, keeping automated records on the performance of police officers, enacting early warning systems to identify problem officers, increasing community outreach, and the like. Once the Attorney General is satisfied that Cleveland has complied with the terms of the consent decree, the federal judge overseeing the case will release Cleveland from its obligations under it.
Most consent decrees last for a period of five years, but some reform efforts can take a decade or more. For example, the consent decree imposed on the LAPD in 2001 in the wake of the Rampart Division Scandal was just lifted last year. And of course, if at some point in the future Cleveland regresses and there are more rights violations, then the federal government can open a new investigation and subject Cleveland to yet another consent decree. (The Pittsburgh Police Department, for example, is currently under investigation for corruption and may be subject to another consent decree barely a decade after the first consent decree was lifted.)
Since cop culture is generally resistant to change, these sorts of consent decrees are important tools that compel police departments to examine the way they have been operating and to reform their practices in order to better serve the communities they police. And, in a sense, they are more useful than the prosecutions of individual police officers, since consent decrees require structural and meaningful change in the ways that police departments operate. In turn, these sorts of reforms can reduce incidents of police misconduct and senseless brutality. While prosecutions of individual police officers may be satisfying, they can lead to complacency in police departments, which may be quick to dismiss an individual case as the rogue actions of one bad apple.
I don’t mean to suggest that the DOJ never prosecutes individual police officers. They do. The Rodney King trial is a shining example of that. But the Rodney King trial involved a group of police officers practically beating a man to death in a manner that could never be construed as “accidental” or “unintentional.” In general, however, the burden of proof in federal police misconduct cases is so high that winning such a case is nearly impossible—and it’s therefore unlikely a prosecutor would take it on.
Ultimately, it is unrealistic for us to expect the federal government to swoop in and provide justice in individual cases, especially when the tools that they have at their disposal are limited. I hate to be a downer, but we need to be realistic about the sort of justice we can expect from federal prosecutors after state prosecutors refuse to file charges or secure grand jury indictments.
The bottom line is this: It’s unlikely Wilson or Pantaleo will be prosecuted. It’s far more likely that the Ferguson and New York City Police Departments will be forced to reform.
And while that is cold comfort to the families of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the sort of reform that results from consent decrees just might decrease tensions between the police and the communities they are supposed to serve.
The post When It Comes to Police Brutality, a DOJ Investigation Is Not a Magic Wand appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved changes to the state’s regulation of public utilities that will allow electric providers to nearly double their fixed rates in 2015. The changes were approved by commission members appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R), just days after he won re-election campaigning against raising taxes and fees.
The rate changes were proposed by Wisconsin utility companies We Energies, Madison Gas & Electric, and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS). The utilities proposed an increase to the fixed monthly fee charged to customers, while reducing the usage-based kilowatt-hour charge.
The commission voted 2 to 1 to approve the changes. The change will increase the fixed electricity charge by about $9 per month and the fixed gas charge by about $8 per month.
Commissioners Phil Montgomery and Ellen Nowak, appointed by Walker, voted to approve the increase. Commissioner Eric Callisto, appointed by former Gov. Jim Doyle (D), opposed the change. Commissioners have six-year appointments, and must be confirmed by the state senate.
The Citizens’ Utility Board of Wisconsin, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, criticized the increase for having a disproportional effect on low-income residents who live in smaller housing.
The Wisconsin Budget Project predicted that low-income residents would see their overall bills increase while higher-income customers would save money.
Wisconsin already has the second highest utility rates in the region, as customers in the state pay higher rates than Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Only residents of Michigan pay higher utility rates within the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s North Central region.
The change also comes just months after We Energies’ parent company bought the WPS parent for $9.1 billion. Walker praised that deal, saying that it would “result in better service for their local ratepayers.”
The post Scott Walker Appointees Jack Up Energy Rates on Low-Income Residents appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Department of Defense’s long-awaited report to President Obama on military sexual assault doesn’t show nearly enough progress in dealing with the problem, advocates for survivors say.
The report claimed good news, and was lauded by military higher-ups. The total estimated number of sexual assaults went down from 26,000 in 2012 to about 20,000 in 2014. The number of victims who reported the crime has gone up by 50 percent in 2013 and by another 8 percent in 2014, and the percentage has also gone up, from about one in ten victims reporting their assault to about one in four.
Fewer victims and higher rates of reporting would seem to be a step in the right direction. “This is exactly the combination we’ve been looking for,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said Thursday in a statement.
But the editorial boards of both the New York Times and USA Today took the Pentagon’s report to task on Sunday for its “optimistic spin” and “overstated” analysis. And advocates say that the Department of Defense (DOD) and its defenders are cherry-picking favorable numbers and ignoring important context.
While fewer assaults are encouraging, 2014’s drop may not be much more than a statistical blip, Miranda Petersen, program and policy director at the victims’ advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, told RH Reality Check in an interview.
“In eight years, this number has not dropped below 19,000,” Petersen said, noting that sexual assault rates have fluctuated between 4.3 and 6.8 percent for women since 2006, and that rates for men have remained unchanged.
The issue of how many victims report the crimes against them is also more complicated than the Pentagon suggests, Petersen said.
Proportionally, more of the increase in reporting is due to “restricted” reports, which don’t have a victim’s name attached to them, than “unrestricted” reports, which do, and which can be prosecuted.
More restricted reports suggests less confidence in the system, Petersen said.
As for the overall increase in reporting, Petersen said, there’s no evidence that any of the military’s reforms are responsible for that.
“People are reporting in higher numbers, but there is also a flood of media attention, congressional attention, presidential attention, on the issue,” she said. “Survivors are feeling emboldened.”
More reports doesn’t mean more prosecutions or convictions. The percentage of reports that were prosecuted went down slightly, and only 175 out of 5,983 reports resulted in a sex offense conviction.
And regardless of other factors, the number of reported assaults are still seen as much too high.
“Let me be clear, an estimate of 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact a year in our military, or 55 cases a day, is appalling, and remains at 2010 levels,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in a statement. “There is no other mission in the world for our military where this much failure would be allowed.”
Gillibrand also called it a “screaming red flag” that there was no change in the number of victims—nearly two-thirds—who said they experienced either social or professional retaliation for reporting their assault.
Sens. Gillibrand and McCaskill have been at opposite ends of a battle for a major military justice reform that would have prosecutors, not military commanders, decide whether to bring sexual assault cases to trial. Advocates say the reform is necessary to help victims feel more comfortable coming forward and to prevent conflicts of interest if a commander knows an accused assailant.
Gillibrand hopes to push that reform through this week as an amendment to the defense spending bill.
In a press conference on the DOD report’s findings Thursday, McCaskill pointed to a survey of survivors that showed high levels of confidence in the military justice system and commanders’ role in it. Seventy-three percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their unit commander’s response, and 82 percent said their unit commander supported them.
These results, McCaskill said, help prove that it isn’t necessary to change the way assaults are prosecuted by removing the chain of command from the process.
But that survey isn’t scientific or generalizable, Petersen said. Only 150 victims respond out of more than 5,000 who were given the survey. Not only that, but the survey was distributed 30-150 days after reporting—not enough time for the survivor’s case to go through the system.
“Most of the people we deal with, at that point, don’t know the results of the investigation or pre-trial hearing,” Petersen said. “They don’t know whether or not their case will be taken seriously, or if they will face professional repercussions or have their privacy violated.”
Even successful reforms cheered by advocates seemingly aren’t enough. It’s now a crime to retaliate against service members who report a sexual assault, but Petersen said there’s been no evidence of any efforts to prosecute it.
And while newly-mandated “special victims counselors” give survivors the feeling of having someone in their corner, these attorneys still aren’t guaranteed the right to represent a survivor in court outside of a limited set of issues, and many counselors are themselves experiencing retaliation.
The bottom line, Petersen said, is that more serious reforms to the justice system are needed, and the Pentagon isn’t even interested in making the more modest reforms that have already passed.
“A lot of these are programs that they fought tooth and nail to prevent, and now they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re following Congress’s instructions and implementing them.’ And that’s the metric of progress.”
The post Amid Pentagon Spin, Military Sexual Assault Problem Still Rampant appeared first on RH Reality Check.
12.08.14 - With one of the world’s most extreme abortion bans, El Salvador prohibits women from receiving an abortion under any circumstance—not in cases of rape or incest, not even to save their lives. Since 1998, dozens of women have been wrongfully criminalized and imprisoned under this law—even when the pregnancy ended due to natural causes. Take action today to pressure the Salvadoran government to release Las 17 in time to go home to their families for the holidays.
They come from small coastal villages, rural farms, and crowded cities. They are teenagers, wives, and mothers. They are seamstresses, maids, and factory workers.
Collectively, they have unjustly served over 130 years in prison.
They are Las 17—17 women who are currently held in prison cells across El Salvador. Their stories are varied, but with one overwhelming common thread: they have each been tried and imprisoned after experiencing traumatic pregnancy-related complications. Many have been convicted of murder and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
The following are just a few of their stories.
Twenty-nine-year-old Teresa worked in a sweatshop in San Salvador and lived in a working-class neighborhood with her 8-year-old child.
In November 2011, without ever realizing she was pregnant, she went into early labor, giving birth in a toilet. The baby did not survive. Following this trauma, Teresa experienced heavy bleeding and eventually fainted. Her family summoned emergency services. At the hospital, she was reported to the police on suspicion of having induced an abortion.
Despite inconsistencies and lack of proof that Teresa performed an intentional act leading to the miscarriage, she was convicted of murder and condemned to 40 years in prison.
She’s been in prison for over two years. Teresa’s elderly grandmother is currently caring for her young child.
Mirian had learning difficulties in school and is illiterate. At age 25, living in the isolated town of Morazan, Mirian became pregnant and then experienced a miscarriage.
Although the autopsy was unable to determine the cause of the miscarriage, authorities accused Mirian of inducing an abortion.
She could not afford to pay a lawyer, and her public defender provided an inadequate legal defense. Charged with murder, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where she has remained for the last 13 years.
When 21-year-old Alba found out she was pregnant with her third child, she and her mother together strategized ways to sustain Alba’s growing family. When her mom passed away a short while later, Alba was left alone to take care of her two children and her sister, who was ill.
One day, Alba went into early and intense labor at home and fainted while giving birth. When she came to, she sought help from a neighbor, who said that the baby breathed for a half hour but later stopped breathing. They held a vigil and prayed in a nearby house. The following morning, before burying the baby, they called the authorities to report the death.
While no proof exists that she did anything to cause the death of the baby, Alba was sentenced to 30 years in prison. So far, she has served more than four months, leaving no one to care for her two children and her sister.
After 11 years in jail, Verónica is not yet halfway through her 30-year sentence.
At age 19, while employed as a domestic worker, Verónica became pregnant. Shortly before reaching full term in her pregnancy, she experienced an obstetric emergency that resulted in a miscarriage.
Her employers took her to the Chalchuapa Hospital, where she was reported to the police. Without witnesses or any direct proof, Verónica was swiftly convicted of murder. Even the judgment acknowledges the lack of evidence and states, “the motives the subject had for committing [murder] are unknown although it can be deduced that her motivation was to avoid social reproach.”
Even when a social worker described Mirna’s home as “stable, with support, respect, and responsibility,” the judges at her trial refused to believe either Mirna or her husband—when they said they were looking forward to having another child.
Thirty-six weeks into her pregnancy, Mirna went into sudden labor and gave birth in the toilet at her home. Her family quickly rushed her to the hospital. The baby had been hurt falling into the toilet, but fortunately survived.
Although the attending gynecologist confirmed that the baby’s injury was not due to attempted abortion, Mirna was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months in prison for attempted homicide.
She has served 11 years in prison, and was released after having fulfilled most of her sentence.
Cinthia remembers that it was about 11:30 at night when the pain began. Eight months pregnant and only 17 years old, she was home alone. Realizing she was experiencing a rapid, early labor, she went out to the patio to give birth. The baby was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. She tried to cut it away with scissors, hurting the baby in her desperate effort to save its life.
Cinthia’s baby died, and she was charged with murder, despite the fact that no evidence was presented proving that she was the direct cause of the baby’s death or that the baby’s death was intentional.
She is six years into her 30-year sentence.
There are almost a dozen more—Maritza, Salvadora, Ena, Guadalupe, Marina, Evelyn, Carmen, Mariana, Teodora, Johana, Maria—all with similarly haunting stories, similarly broken lives. Las 17 are the victims of a system so harsh it threatens the human rights of thousands of other women who live in fear of its reach.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and our partners La Agrupacion Ciudadana continue a relentless campaign to expose the severe violations of women rights as a consequence of El Salvador’s abortion ban—on the ground in El Salvador, in front of UN human rights bodies, before the Inter-American Court, and now to the U.S. State Department.12 Countries Call on El Salvador to Decriminalize Abortion UN Committee: El Salvador’s Absolute Ban on Abortion Violates Women’s Human Rights
In recent weeks, Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson have both become high-profile examples of white police officers who killed unarmed Black men and got away with it. Tragically, however, they are far from the only ones to have done so. In fact, the history of white cops escaping accountability for their use of lethal force goes back as far as the grand jury process designed to foster that very accountability. The concept originally immigrated to the United States along with British colonists as a way to protect them from abuses by the Crown. But thanks to a combination of built-in structural biases that favor protecting, rather than exposing, violent police culture, what was conceived as a way to hold leaders responsible for abuses of power has instead become a tool to enable them.
Eric Garner’s case is the perfect illustration of this. Despite videotaped evidence showing Staten Island police officer Pantaleo using an NYPD-banned chokehold on Garner while the latter pleaded for his life, a New York grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges in Garner’s death this Wednesday.
How can this be possible? The answers, sadly, seem both easy to explain and impossible to remedy. It’s possible Pantaleo wasn’t indicted in Garner’s killing, just like it’s possible that Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted in Michael Brown’s, because prosecutors never wanted to see them charged to begin with.
When looking to bring criminal charges against anyone, whether police officer or civilian, state-employed prosecutors have two choices. They can bring the charges themselves directly, based on evidence gathered by their office and police officers. Or, they can call a grand jury, which is a group of civilians that hears evidence from the prosecutor concerning the possible crime. The grand jury process varies from state to state, but there are some basic similarities: Grand juries meet in secret and their proceedings are usually driven by the prosecutor, meaning he or she has sole discretion in which witnesses to call, what evidence to put forward, and, often, what criminal charge he or she wants the grand jury to decide on.
As in the Brown and Garner cases, juries can decide whether a violation of criminal law at the state level has occurred. Federal grand juries also exist, but because the U.S. Constitution is generally more protective of individual rights than the states are, that process is a little different.
And this can’t be said enough: grand juries are not trials. Let’s repeat that again. A grand jury is not a trial. That means grand juries are not tasked with determining the guilt or innocence of an accused person. Instead, their only job is to determine whether there’s enough evidence that a crime was committed, and if so, what the appropriate criminal charge should be. If someone is indicted, that doesn’t mean he or she is guilty of a crime; once that happens, the usual criminal justice proceedings move forward, with the indicted person entering a plea and the matter proceeding to trial. It’s there, at trial, where prosecutors face the high burden of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of someone’s guilt.
In order to indict someone, however, prosecutors only need to convince the jury that there is “probable cause” to believe that crime was committed at all. This is part of the reason why many people are so enraged about Pantaleo’s non-indictment, for example. In theory, footage of an officer using overwhelming force on a man who was unarmed and who had not acted with violence toward officers should count as “probable cause” that a crime was taking place.
The process of choosing jurors for a grand jury mirrors the usual juror selection process in most instances. For instance, in the case of Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis County Circuit Court selects the grand jury from a randomly chosen master jury list, comprised of citizens based on voter registration information, property tax rolls, and driver’s license records. Once a grand jury has been chosen, the prosecutor then presents the state’s case, usually by calling a series of witnesses. The grand jurors are, in general, allowed to ask the witnesses questions, but there are no rules that require any actual eyewitness to an alleged crime, nor the alleged victim of that crime, to appear. Normally, the accused person is not present during this process unless he or she is called as a witness. In fact, the accused often doesn’t even have counsel to represent them during these proceedings, even if he or she is called as a witness.
When it comes to police use of deadly force, though, this whole process often gets turned on its head. First, the state’s job is supposed to be to present a case for prosecuting officers like Pantaleo and Wilson. But, as both those cases show, the opposite is frequently true. Instead of presenting the case for charging the cops, prosecutors instead put forward cases that look more like “justifiable homicide” claims, which present the dead suspect as the aggressor and give the officers involved wide berth to testify to grand jurors. Wilson, for instance, was present as a witness during the proceedings; Pantaleo was as well.
Second, grand juries are also not required to follow the rules of evidence, which means prosecutors are free to present, and rely on, hearsay when seeking a grand jury indictment. Hearsay evidence is kind of like gossip, in that the person testifying can offer up as fact their understanding of what another person did or said, and there is no burden on the prosecutor to actually prove the truth of that witness’s statement. That means a police officer like Darren Wilson can—and did—simply testify as to Brown’s actions during the altercation that led to Brown’s death.
At the close of the state’s case, a grand jury either issues a bill of indictment if it finds probable cause to believe both that a crime has been committed and that the accused person is responsible, or a “no-bill” if it does not find probable cause.
With this is process in mind, it’s easy to see how prosecutors and police officers can work the grand jury system to almost guarantee a non-indictment in cases of excessive policing. To begin with, police officers are the front-lines investigators for the prosecution. Like we saw in Ferguson, where local police did not retrieve Michael Brown’s body for four hours, file a substantive incident report, or even photograph much of the scene, there’s evidently a very strong impulse to not carry out a thorough investigation in these cases. And those investigations would, presumably, be the building blocks of any grand jury charge.
Prosecutors also have institutional pressure to drag their feet and avoid prosecuting cops for excessive force claims. Their prosecution rates for civilians often depend on having good relationships with the police—again, on whose investigations they rely for evidence. And in turn, since prosecutors drive, almost entirely, the grand jury process, including suggesting possible charges, relying on prosecutors and a grand jury to indict a cop can be like relying on Wall Street to police its own.
Institutional, procedural hurdles are not the only explanation for a failure to indict officers in excessive force cases. It is also possible that in Pantaleo and Wilson’s cases, neither were indicted because citizens siting on grand juries—especially white citizens—are willing to support white officers’ excessive uses of force, thanks to latent or not-so-latent racism. Police departments are whiter than the communities they police, while Black men remain the predominate target of state police power. At BuzzFeed, Adam Serwer has this great piece on how the lingering stereotypes left over from slavery contribute to the hyper-policing of Black communities as well as the unwillingness to indict white officers when they police members of the Black community to death.
There is also a disconnect between police training on the use of force and the constitutional rights of citizens. The Constitution protects against the use of unreasonable force, and it seems like a given that killing an unarmed man for selling loose cigarettes like Eric Garner’s case is, by its definition, unreasonable. Even so, according to the Supreme Court, police can use lethal force if they have a “reasonable belief” they are facing danger or if a fleeing suspect poses a danger to others. But some states, like Missouri, allow an officer to use deadly force if the officer “reasonably believes” that force is necessary to arrest a “non dangerous” fleeing felon, which is broader than the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.
In addition to potentially confusing legal standards on when federal and state law permit the use of deadly force, most police officers are trained that a “continuum of force” exists, and that, in theory, an officer’s use of force should match the threat posed by the citizen at that moment. But that training doesn’t actually require officers to start with the least amount of force when confronting suspects. Instead, it defers to the officer’s sense of danger to determine the “reasonableness” of the force he or she uses in a particular situation. Again, this comes down to an arbitrary, split-second decision—and when the laws are murky to begin with, this training can mean unjust death for people who appear “dangerous.”
To make matters worse, law enforcement has also taken a page from the gun lobby and done whatever they could to make data on police killings difficult, if not impossible, to accurately track. That lack of data makes the political case for wide-scale policing reform harder to push in white populations—the very group refusing to indict officers to begin with.
So where does that leave us? If we know police killing of civilians, especially Black civilians, is on the rise, and we know the criminal justice system is especially ill-equipped to deal with police violence, is there any answer—short of burning it all down and starting over—that can provide some actual justice?
For one thing, there’s the possibility of a federal prosecution of both Pantaleo and Wilson for professional misconduct. Federal civil rights prosecutions in police misconduct cases are centered on 18 U.S.C. §242, which outlaws anyone who “under color of any law … willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights.” But in order to do this, federal prosecutors must show that police deliberately deprived victims of their civil rights (including the right to be alive) through excessive force. In addition to conducting their own investigations, federal prosecutors rely on evidence gathered by local officers and investigations taken on by local prosecutors to help build their federal case. Because of this, all the flaws inherent in prosecuting cops at the state level emerge at the federal level as well—meaning federal prosecution of civil rights claims against police are incredibly rare.
Other reform ideas include naming independent prosecutors or citizen panels to handle investigations in cases where citizens are killed by police officers.
Ultimately, however, none of those reforms or possible remedies will make any difference if the underlying structural racial bias in our criminal justice system is not addressed. And to address that structural bias, a majority of white Americans will first have to acknowledge that bias exists. As the stories unfolding from New York to Missouri tell us, this is still a long way from happening.
Image: a katz / Shutterstock.com
The post Why the System Won’t Indict Cops for Killing Black Men appeared first on RH Reality Check.