Monthly Archives: July 2012

U.S Department of Justice Launches Investigation into PA Voter ID Law

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

The U.S Department of Justice has begun a formal investigation on the legality of Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID Law, which was passed in March of this year. The law, which we have blogged about before, stipulates that voters must show certain approved forms of ID before voting in every election. The law is under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department for its unequal effect on minority voters in the state.

Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth and the chief election official in Pennsylvania, received a three page letter on Monday, July 23rd from Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General. In the letter, Perez “requested state data on registered voters as well as the state’s list of individuals with driver’s licenses and ID cards.” The Department of Justice has also asked for information about Pennsylvania’s “efforts to educate voters about the new law.” The state has 30 days to compile all the requested information and send it to the Justice Department. 

According to Politico, while it isn’t clear what triggered the Department of Justice’s investigation, the letter does refer to a statement made by Aichele “indicating that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters don’t have a state-issued photo ID.” Pennsylvania has stated that “more than 758,000 voters may be disenfranchised” because they lack a correct form of ID, which also includes passports, military ID, and certain student IDs.

This is the first time the Department of Justice has investigated a state not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This section “requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their voting laws pre-cleared.” Two states that fall under this section, Texas and South Carolina, are currently facing opposition from the Department of Justice to their voter ID laws.

The investigation into Pennsylvania’s law falls instead under Section 2 of the VRA, which bars any state from enacting a “voting standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

The law is also being challenged in a lawsuit before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is likely.  While opponents of the law wait to hear whether it will go into effect for the November 2012 election, they are focusing on educating the public and on helping those in need obtain proper IDs in the hopes that such efforts can decrease the law’s harmful effects.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, Pennsylvania, Voting rights

Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Law Disproportionately Impacts Women as Election Draws Near

Molly Cohen, WLP Intern

When Pennsylvania passed a law earlier this year imposing a voter ID requirement on voting in every election and narrowing the list of acceptable forms of ID, critics quickly pointed out that the law targets specific populations. Low-income voters, racial minorities, and elderly voters are less likely to possess the necessary photo ID. For many, obtaining proper identification entails a descent into the oft unnavigable maze of state bureaucracies. Additionally, despite Governor Corbett’s promise that there would be no financial cost to this process, those who do not have a raised-seal copy of their birth certificate must pay ten dollars to obtain one. Without this, they cannot apply for a photo ID if they have never had PennDOT issued ID before. The cost and effort of this process may dissuade otherwise eligible voters from participating in the coming election.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to cast their votes this November because of the new regulations, alleging that the law creates an “undue burden” on voters without photo identification and disproportionately affects the poor.

However, in addition to targeting the aforementioned marginalized groups, voter rights advocates warn that this issue significantly impacts women across the socioeconomic spectrum. As we explained in an earlier article, women commonly change their names and their addresses to marry or divorce. According to Faye Anderson, the chief spokesperson of a voter information network called the Cost of Freedom Project, approximately 34% of eligible female voters do not possess citizenship documents that bear their current name. Anyone who does not take steps to correct a mismatched last name or outdated address may be unpleasantly surprised to find that she cannot cast a ballot at the polls.

The validity of the Voter ID law is, at best, questionable. Proponents of the legislation peddled it as the cure for voter fraud, yet there is no evidence that any such problem actually exists. While Governor Corbett, who signed the bill, initially claimed that the law would only impact 1% of Pennsylvanians, a new study places the number closer to 9% statewide. In Philadelphia County, 15.6% of active voters do not possess PennDOT ID and may be ineligible to vote. These statistics have been proffered as evidence that the law, which passed along strict party lines, was designed to suppress liberal votes and ensure the GOP retains political primacy in the state. Mike Turzai, the State House Majority Leader,  reinforced these concerns when he spoke at a recent Republican State Committee meeting. He named the law as one of the party’s accomplishments for the year: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

A hearing slated for July 25th in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al. will determine whether the law will be in effect this November.

Those who oppose the Voter ID Law have organized several protests and events for the week leading up to the hearing in order to increase media attention and public pressure. A partial schedule is included below.

Saturday 7/21:
PA Voter ID Coalition Operations Center Open House from 11 am to 2 pm at 310 West Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia

Tuesday 7/24:
NAACP Rally for Justice at 1 pm at the State Capitol (3rd Street & State Street) in Harrisburg

Wednesday 7/25:
Hearing in Commonwealth Court to stop the Voter ID Law at 10 am in Courtroom 3002 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center (601 Commonwealth Avenue in Harrisburg). This is a public hearing, and supporters of the lawsuit are encouraged to attend.

There will also be protests across the state on the same day.

Philadelphia: 11 am – Thomas Paine Plaza (Broad Street & JFK Blvd)

Lehigh Valley: 12 pm – Lehigh County Government Center (7th Street & Hamilton Street, Allentown)

Pittsburgh: 1 pm – Freedom Corner (Crawford Street & Centre Avenue)

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, PA Legislature, PA Supreme Court

Abington Memorial Hospital and Holy Redeemer: Putting Women’s Health at Risk by Imposing Religious Doctrine on Patients

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health Systems announced that they have abandoned their plan to merge.

In late June 2012, Lawrence Merlis, president and CEO of Abington Health System, and Michael Laign, president and CEO of Holy Redeemer Health System announced a joint venture between the two suburban Philadelphia systems with the goal of creating a regional health system by the spring of 2013.  The result will be a partnership between a secular hospital system and a Catholic system, a partnership that will dilute the quality of care women across the region have come to expect from Abington Health’s facilities.  In particular, the partnership will force Abington to stop providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women, thereby putting women’s lives at risk.

In 2011, Abington performed 64 abortions, primarily for women with high risk pregnancies that compromised their health.  For women with such high risk pregnancies, abortion can be a life-saving procedure.  For other women, abortion terminates non-viable pregnancies, possibly due to fetal abnormalities or placental problems.  For all women, regardless of the reasons behind needing the procedure, it is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution, and it should be a choice that is available at a hospital they trust.

Women who receive their gynecologic and obstetric care from Abington Health, which is one of the largest maternity care providers in the Commonwealth, will have to find abortion services elsewhere.  Hospital officials have not commented on whether Abington will continue to perform selective reduction, a process after infertility treatments where the number of embryos is reduced to increase the woman’s chances of carrying a pregnancy to term, which is typically banned at Catholic hospitals. The hospital claims that it will continue to perform contraceptive services and counseling, such as tubal ligations and vasectomies, which are typically prohibited by Catholic doctrine, but it is unknown if the services could be withdrawn at any time.  

Thus, the full impact of the imposition of Catholic doctrine on Abington’s medical services, if the joint venture goes through, remains to be seen.  Catholic health systems are slowly monopolizing health care across the country.  As of 2011, approximately one-fifth of all hospital admissions in the United States and between 10 and 20 percent of admissions in Pennsylvania are to Catholic hospitals.  These systems impose their religious beliefs, contained in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” on patients of all backgrounds and faiths, interfering with the medical practitioner-patient relationship.  In 2010, the Catholic Church made its position on women’s health very clear when it excommunicated a nun serving as a hospital administrator for permitting doctors to perform an abortion to save the pregnant women’s life.

The result of this policy in practice could be that women in need of abortion, possibly needed to save their lives, may have a delay in treatment or may require a transfer while they are unstable to a non-Catholic hospital.  Abington may thus become vulnerable to medical malpractice lawsuits and claims for violations of the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) for putting religious doctrine before women’s health.  The imposition of Catholic Directives on patient care may cause experienced staff to leave the hospital, and it may also cause patients in the area to seek maternity and other care elsewhere.

Opposition to Abington’s partnership with Holy Redeemer is growing.  Rabbis from congregations in the area have written a letter to Abington’s Lawrence Merlis, protesting the planned joint venture.  A Facebook group, Stop the Abington Hospital Merger, has also formed.

To learn more about the dangers of receiving reproductive health care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals, see the prior posts on this blog, “Patients Are Denied Health Care on Ideological Grounds” and “Nun Excommunicated from Catholic Church for Saving Woman’s Life” and WLP’s 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Ms. Magazine Reports on the Women’s Law Project and Charlotte Murphy

Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

It’s been forty years since the passage of Title IX, a crucial piece of legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded educational programs.  Although we’ve come a long way, cases continue to pop up that prove we still have a good deal of work to do before we obtain gender equity.

Last month, Ms. Magazine featured a story about eleven-year-old Charlotte Murphy of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Charlotte was distraught last year when her public elementary school disbanded the girls’ basketball team for a season due to lack of funding.  Then she learned that the boys’ basketball team would continue to operate as normal that season.

Charlotte was upset about the school’s decision.  However, unlike most people, she chose to speak up and call attention to the school district’s mistake.  She wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, Dr. Linda Lane, explaining that her school violated Title IX and asking for a meeting to discuss the situation.  Senior Staff Attorney Susan Frietsche of the WLP Pittsburgh office prepared Charlotte for the meeting.  Charlotte’s tenacity and her collaboration with the WLP resulted in a new policy that permits elementary schools in the Pittsburgh Public School District to sponsor a boys’ basketball team only if they also sponsor one for girls. The policy also requires equal treatment for both teams.

Charlotte won her battle and is once again able to play basketball at her school.  This year, there were girls’ basketball teams at 14 elementary schools, up from 3 in previous years.  While Charlotte and her team didn’t win, she was grateful to be given the chance to play just like her male peers.  As Erin Buzuvis, Western New England University law professor and Title IX expert, explained,

If the last 40 years are any indication, Title IX’s success is due to the eternal vigilance of the law’s supporters, who continue to defend it through the political process and in the courts. This vigilance must continue in order for the law to address persistent sex discrimination, and to guard against unwarranted sex segregation.

On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, WLP looks forward to future successes for gender equity.  We congratulate Charlotte Murphy for her spirited advocacy!

Visit our website to see a video of Charlotte discussing why she chose to speak up and why she thinks Title IX is so important.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Equality, Gender Discrimination, Pittsburgh, Title IX

Victory for Women’s Athletic Equity: PA High School Disclosure Bill Passes

During the closing hours of last week’s state budget frenzy, 40 years after the enactment of Title IX, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed its own landmark legislation to advance gender equality in educational opportunities. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Bill passed the state House of Representatives on June 30 as part of an omnibus school code bill (HB 1901) which the Governor has approved. This provision, strongly supported by the Women’s Law Project and many other advocates for women’s equality, including the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, will require all public high schools, middle schools, and junior high schools in Pennsylvania to report annually the number of athletic opportunities they provide to girls and boys, broken down further by race/ethnicity, as well as other data that may reflect the quality of the athletic programming offered. Pennsylvania will join Kentucky, Georgia, and New Mexico in requiring secondary schools to disclose basic information that will help inform students, parents, and community members of whether their schools may be in violation of Title IX.

Since Title IX was enacted in 1972, the number of girls participating in interscholastic high school athletics has increased significantly. However, a large gap remains between the number of high school girls and the number of high school boys playing competitive sports. In recent years, this gap has widened. There are now approximately 1.3 million more boys than girls participating in high school sports. This imbalance is greatest in urban schools, where 73% of the boys but only 45% of the girls in grades 3-12 are involved in athletics, a disparity that affects girls of color most significantly. And even where girls have the opportunity to play, in many districts, they receive inferior equipment, uniforms, fields, facilities, coaching, publicity, scheduling, and transportation compared to the boys.

Currently, female students who suspect that their school’s athletic program is treating  them unfairly must either confront school officials before they have all the facts, or file a Right-To-Know request, which can sometimes lead to administrative battles and time-consuming appeals. Beginning in 2013, Pennsylvanians will only have to visit the Department of Education’s website to obtain the basic information that is key to grassroots reform efforts.

At stake is far more than just the fun and friendship that team sports create. Participation in organized sports improves leadership skills, opens doors for college scholarships, and correlates with better grades, a better chance of graduating and getting a job, and lower rates of depression, drug and alcohol use, smoking, teen pregnancy, and obesity. In fact, over 80% of female executives report that they played a team sport in their youth.

For more information on athletic inequalities in Pennsylvania, see WLP’s publication:  Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women (2012);  2009-2010 Title IX Audit of the Pittsburgh Public Schools ;  Are Schools Giving Female Athletes a Sporting Chance? A Guide to Gender Equity in Athletics in Pennsylvania Schools (2009); and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Where Does Pennsylvania Stand? (2005)

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Filed under Athletic Equity, PA Legislature, Title IX