Tag Archives: Government

Pennsylvania Women’s Advocacy Leaders Condemn Anti-Obamacare Ad

Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy Call for Immediate Stop to Ad

Leaders from women’s rights advocacy group the Women’s Law Project and its action arm WomenVote PA, expressed strong condemnation today about the anti-Obamacare ad from the group Generation Opportunity and has called for its immediate stop.

“We join other women’s organizations today in expressing our outrage at Generation Opportunity’s new online ad ‘Want Creepy Uncle Sam?” said Kate Michelman, co-chair of WomenVote PA.  Michelman continued:

This ad represents a profound violation of a woman’s personal privacy and blatantly uses a woman’s most vulnerable situation – an OB/GYN exam – for political purposes.  It left me nearly speechless for the shocking insult it is to a woman’s dignity.  Further, this ad makes the case for removing government interference in health care, yet is brought to you by the same people who work day and night to insert government into decisions affecting a woman’s right to privacy and access to abortion and contraception.

Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair with Michelman of WomenVote PA, said:

This ad is beyond offensive.  The strange Uncle Sam character is not just creepy; it is menacing and, with a leering grin and speculum in hand, it a clear depiction of sexual violence.  Those media outlets choosing to run this ad should be forewarned: the gender gap will undoubtedly grow larger with ads like this and women will be watching.  We believe this ad should be removed from circulation immediately.

The ad produced by conservative group Generation Opportunity and funded by the Koch Brothers, depicts a horror-movie version of Uncle Sam rising from between a young woman’s legs at her doctor’s office and assuming the doctor role himself — a satirical jab at President Obama’s government being allowed to “play doctor.”

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Women's health

IRS Ruling a Victory for Married Same-Sex Couples Across the Country!

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal government will recognize the marriages of legally married same-sex couples for all federal tax purposes, regardless of where those couples reside.

This landmark ruling comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor in which the Court overturned a key provision (Section 3) of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Section 3 defined the terms “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as pertaining only to legal unions between one man and one woman.  Yesterday’s announcement clarifies that when it comes to evaluating the federal tax status of same-sex married couples, it is the “place of celebration” – where the wedding took place – that controls, not the state where the couple resides.  Thus, same-sex couples that marry in one of the states where same-sex marriage is legal, such as New York or Massachusetts, but reside in Pennsylvania will be recognized as married by the IRS and Treasury Department for federal tax purposes.

Pursuant to this new policy, all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, IRA contributions, child tax credits, gift and estate taxes, etc. will apply to all legally married same-sex couples.  The Treasury Department further announced that, under the policy, refunds can be filed for the prior three years’ returns (2010, 2011, and 2012). According to Jacob Lew, Treasury Secretary, this interpretation “provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide.  It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve.”

While there is still significant progress to be made to achieve marriage equality rights in Pennsylvania and most other states, yesterday’s ruling is a tremendous victory and step forward for married same-sex couples.

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Filed under Federal Court, Government, Internal Revenue Service, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality

Women have the power – why aren’t more of them using it?

Co-chairs of WomenVote PA, Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project, and Kate Michelman, President Emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America

AT A RECENT meeting a colleague of ours presented us with a challenge and posed the following questions:  Imagine if every woman of voting age participated in this upcoming presidential election? How would that determine the outcome of the election and the legislation and policy coming out of Washington?  What would happen – would anything really change?

The implications of such a reality are staggering.

For one, you would never hear any politician utter the phrase “legitimate rape” nor would a “transvaginal ultrasound” be prescribed by anyone other than a woman’s doctor; equal pay for equal work would be obvious; our reproductive rights would be championed by politicians, not jeopardized; support for efforts to end violence against women would be expanded; Social Security and Medicare would be stabilized and strengthened, not privatized and minimized.

Sadly, the question is hypothetical and the reality is quite the opposite – but we believe it doesn’t have to be. And we believe we can start by increasing the political participation of women here in Pennsylvania. In 2004, the Women’s Law Project, based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, began an initiative called WomenVote PA. The goal was and is straightforward: Increase the participation of women in the electoral process. We are focused on making WomenVote PA a resource for voters to learn more about legislative and policy initiatives and, equally important, a community both in the real world and the digital world, a place that uses education, collaboration and information-sharing to mobilize women voters.

The focus on the November election all but guarantees more Americans will vote this November than in any election since 2008 (assuming voter-ID requirements don’t deprive them of their right to vote). In 2008, 6 million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential race and yet just two years later, 4 million voted in the U.S. Senate race – a staggering 2 million Pennsylvanians who voted in 2008 failed to do so in 2010. That is likely over 1 million women not voting in off-year elections – and each of these off-year elections determine who sits in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as well as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Increasing that off-year participation number even slightly has real policy implications and real-world effects on women.

A reason behind WomenVote PA’s re-emergence has been what we will generously describe as politicians simply “not getting it.” Whether it is using the phrase “legitimate rape,” attempting to define rape only as “forcible rape,” blocking legislation in support of equal pay for equal work, rolling back our reproductive rights or limiting protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence, WomenVote PA is active in educating our network on the federal, state and local legislation that affects their lives. We believe in assisting our elected officials and policy makers in “getting it.”

And we have the data to back it up. WomenVote PA is an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, which has just published a remarkable study titled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, which will inform our education and outreach efforts. The study provides important research and data about how ongoing bias against women – in the home, in the workplace, in the classroom, and in the community – negatively impacts women’s health. We see it as a necessity that women’s voices are informed and are heard on issues that are essential to their health and well-being and that of their families.

The question “What if all women voted?” really does set the mind reeling – but in Pennsylvania WomenVote PA will focus our efforts on seeing what happens when more women vote. We believe much will.

This opinion piece appeared in many newspapers throughout Pennsylvania.  Please share this with your friends and remember to vote!

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Filed under 2012 Election, Abortion, Equal pay, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, Women's health, WomenVote PA

The Affordable Care Act Extends No-Cost Preventive Care to Women

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

Wednesday, August 1st  is an important day for women’s health. After this date, all new insurance plans must cover certain women’s preventive health services, including contraceptives, without co-pays or deductibles. This represents an essential change in access to health care for women. Women, who have long been subjected to denial of access to insurance coverage for essential health services are more likely than men to forgo needed health care due to cost.  The number of women who can access these benefits will continue to expand as older plans lose their “grandfathered” status and become subject to the ACA’s preventive health services requirements.  For now, many college and university students will benefit if they receive health insurance through their schools, as those plans usually begin their health plan years around the start of the school year.  Other insurance policies that are renewed with substantially different content (usually on January 1st) will also comply with the new law.

Women whose insurance plans fall under the new guidelines will now have access to a number of services that will “keep them healthier and…catch potentially serious conditions at an earlier, more treatable stage,” according to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. This includes annual well-woman visits, as well as screening and counseling for HPV, HIV, and STIs. Insurance policies will also have to cover testing for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support, and domestic violence screening and counseling. Perhaps most significantly, women will also have access to birth control and other forms of contraception without a co-pay, though exceptions have been made for religious institutions and self-funded plans. These services add to the no-cost coverage that has already been implemented for pap smears and mammograms.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 20.4 million women have been and will be affected by this expansion in coverage. A startling 52% of women “report delaying needed medical care because of cost,” a number that will be decreased under the ACA. The Women’s Law Project (WLP) explained in its report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women that “lack of access to the full range of women’s health care has many adverse health consequences.”  Many women are unable to afford contraceptives, which range from $15 to more than $1,000 up front depending on the methodThe contraceptive coverage rule will increase women’s access to these methods of contraception, which will help them plan pregnancies and address other health concerns, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, for which birth control pills are a common treatment.

Controversy continues over the provision requiring employer-provided insurance plans to cover birth control and other forms of contraception, including sterilization. As WLP blogged about today, twenty-four legal challenges are still pending in courts. The ACA already provides exceptions for religious institutions, and allows religiously affiliated businesses to push cost and administration on to the insurance companies. These accommodations, however, have not stopped the debate. WLP has blogged before about lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the provision on the basis of the First Amendment. As Terry Fromson, WLP’s Managing Attorney, explained, “the First Amendment does not give church leaders any right to impose their beliefs about contraception on women.”

Overall, the implementation of this provision of the ACA represents an important and necessary change to the way we view women and women’s health. Reproductive and sexual health must be seen as central to ensuring the health and well-being of all women, and not as a secondary concern. America will be healthier if women are given better access to the services necessary to care for themselves and their families, and increasing access to contraception is a step in the right direction.

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Filed under Contraception, First Amendment, Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Women's health

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

House Passes DHS Spending Bill with Anti-Choice Rider

Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

On June 7, the House passed a Homeland Security spending bill which included a provision that would prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from providing abortions to undocumented women who are detained. The measure was proposed by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala) and allows for exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the life of the woman. While “the provision is unlikely” to pass in the Senate and become law, Rep. David Price (D-NC), spoke out against the rider, stating that “These abortion riders, while unnecessary, are inflammatory. They’re divisive.”

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the ICE, said that the agency has not paid for abortion services since its creation.  However, the anti-choice rider would prohibit women from accessing abortion even though ICE has never paid for one. Planned Parenthood released a statement after the bill passed arguing that

Not only is this amendment unnecessary and redundant to existing policy, but it is a clear case of bringing election-year politics into a critical discussion about U.S. homeland security issues. This unnecessary amendment disallows access to the full legal range of reproductive health care for women, including access to abortion services.

The Senate has yet to begin debate on the spending bill and its anti-choice rider but it may do so later this summer.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Congress, Government, Health Care, Immigrants, Women's health

Employment Non-Discrimination Act Gets Hearing in the Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

On June 12th, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing to debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Currently no federal law exists barring discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would provide an equal standard of workplace protection for LGBT Americans. It was last discussed in 2009, and has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. Activists hope the Senate hearing will be the first step to getting the bill moving in Congress once again.

To gain bipartisan support within the committee, and, it is hoped, within the full senate, a broad exception for religious organizations is included in the bill. The exception is more extensive than in previous discrimination bills, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which ENDA is based. The Civil Rights Act lays out protections for individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Religious organizations are allowed to take an individual’s religion into account, but that is the only exemption they are given. For example, a Catholic school can require that all staff and faculty is Catholic, but they cannot fire someone for being a woman or being African American.

The religious exception in ENDA goes one step further, and allows religious organizations to continue to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Religious organizations will not be held accountable for firing employees whom they learn to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. While this weakens the force of the bill, lawmakers believe it is the only way to ensure the bill is passed.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that does not have a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While 24 local governments in Pennsylvania have ordinances that prohibit “discrimination against LGBT people, approximately 70% of the state’s population remains unprotected,” according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House debated employment discrimination bills in 2011, but neither came to a vote and there has been little talk for the last year of granting these protections.

This hearing also marks the first time that an individual who is openly transgender has testified in the Senate. Kylar Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition of Columbia, Missouri. He started the organization after he was fired from his job for coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. He had no way to fight his employer because there was no law that made firing him illegal.

There is widespread support for passing ENDA within the American public, even among Republicans and those usually unsympathetic to LGBT rights. A poll found that 73% of Americans believe Congress should pass ENDA, and many think that federal workplace protection already exists for LGBT individuals.  Proponents of ENDA are hopeful that the bill will come to a vote sometime this year.

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Filed under Congress, Employment, LGBT, Politics, Sexual orientation, Sexuality

Hillary Clinton Launches the Women in Public Service Project

Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

Monday, June 11th, marked the official launch of the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP), a program created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that aims to mentor emerging female leaders from all over the world in public policy and social justice.

 Forty-nine women from 21 different countries were selected through an application process to participate in the project. WPSP kicked off its first annual two-week series of intensive seminars, which will focus on how women can successfully lead and influence the governments and societies in which they live. Participants will also have the opportunity to network with global political leaders.

 The project is sponsored by The U.S State Department and the five remaining “Seven-Sister” schools, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Smith, and Mount Holyoke. The first summer institute will take place at Wellesley College, which is the alma mater of both Clinton and Madeline Albright, the first female Secretary of State.  The other sponsoring colleges, all leading liberal arts colleges, will host the event in the future.

Clinton’s ambitious project will further the pro-women initiative President Obama undertook when he issued the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security this past December. The Women’s Media Center explained that NAP mandated increased participation of women in the negotiation of peace treaties, as well as a promotion of women’s role in conflict prevention. This program is one that was greatly needed: only 8% of all peace treaties negotiated during the last several years involved women at all.

Furthermore, as State Department ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer pointed out, almost half of all peace agreements negotiated during the 1990s failed within five years of their passage. “Peace won’t happen if we leave out half of those who are affected by conflict and will benefit from peace,” said Verveer in support of the NAP.

Her sentiment, crucial to the birth of the WPSP, is shared by many leaders urging increased participation by women in politics. As women continue to be underrepresented in politics, we fail to hear the opinion of half of the population. This leads to a plethora of problems, including imbalanced decisions and a narrow range of expertise and perspective.

Gender equality efforts are underway worldwide. Newly-elected French president Francois Hollande appointed an equal number of women and men to the country’s 34-member cabinet for the first time in history .

Clinton’s hopes are that the WPSP will help this trend to continue on an international level. The project’s ultimate goal is for at least 50% of the world’s elected leaders to be women by the year 2050. Currently, that number is at only 17.5%. According to a Women’s Media Center article, the proportion of women to men in the U.S Congress is only 17%, even lower than the international average of 20% of parliamentary seats held by women. Clinton was quoted as saying she was embarrassed by this statistic. She also stated that, “The World Bank has found that women tend to invest more of their earnings in their families and communities than men do,” adding that “those are the kinds of instincts and priorities we would all like to see” at the government level.

If half of a society’s population fails to have proper representation in politics, the desires and goals of that society cannot be properly met. The WPSP aims to broaden the range of perspectives at the political forefront to include more women, as well as give women the resources and contacts to become effective leaders. Here at the Women’s Law Project, we support and applaud this endeavor. This is a bold and innovative approach to international policy that aims to drastically alter global leadership.

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Filed under Democracy, Education, Events, Gender Discrimination, Government, Women Leaders

Pay Equity Bill Voted Down in Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Summer Intern and Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

On Tuesday June 5th, the Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act in a largely party-line vote. The bill would have helped to strengthen already existing legislation on gender discrimination in the workplace, but proponents were unable to win the necessary 60 votes in order to pass it.

The Act would have required that employers prove that pay differences are based on qualifications and not on gender. U.S Senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, explained in an article on the Huffington Post that the Paycheck Fairness Act would also help to reduce gender discrimination by:

  • Prohibiting employers from punishing employees for sharing salary information with co-workers.
  • Making discrimination costly to employers by making those who bring gender discrimination cases eligible for compensatory and punitive damages, as is the case with race and ethnicity discrimination cases.
  • Developing new training programs for women and girls on how to negotiate compensation packages and recognizing employers who have eliminated pay disparities.

While the rate of women in the work force has increased, their salaries as compared to their male counterparts have not. As we have blogged about before,  “2010 census data shows women still make only 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. For women of color this discrepancy is even larger. African American women earned only 67.7 cents and Latinas earned 58.7 cents to the male dollar.”  This is all in spite of the fact that women, on average, are more educated than men, and are increasingly acting as dual-earners or sole providers for their families. Pay discrimination for women and minorities is a major problem that has important consequences for families and the economy. 

The Paycheck Fairness act was meant to improve upon previous legislation, like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that was passed in 2009. Backers of the bill (largely Democrats) said the Act would have closed loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act and that it is necessary to ensure pay equity. Those who opposed the bill (largely Republicans) argued that “they oppose pay discrimination but disagree with the Democrats’ bill.”

Though the Act only got 52 of the 60 votes needed to be passed into law, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, (D-Md), who was the chief sponsor of the bill, said that she would not be deterred and “vowed to return to the bill until it passes.”  Women, it seems, will remain a central topic for both this Congress and in the upcoming presidential campaigns.

To read the entirety of the Paycheck Fairness Act, click here.

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Filed under Congress, Equal pay, Gender Discrimination, Government

Senate Defense Bill Would Allow Women in Combat

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

A proposed measure in the Senate’s National Defense Reauthorization Act would demand that the military come up with a plan to allow women in fight on the frontlines. While the House version of the bill does not include the same measure, a separate bill with the same provision is pending in the lower chamber. The measure allowing women in combat could be added to the House bill when it is meshed with the Senate bill. While the Pentagon recently announced that women are now formally permitted to serve in jobs that would put them in the frontlines, such as serving as a tank mechanic or fire detection specialist, the measure is still needed because women may still not officially serve in combat.

As we have written before, “there is no reason to restrict the role of women in the military” since when women have been asked to perform more dangerous jobs in the military they have exceled in their roles. Not only is there no reason to bar servicewomen from serving in combat positions, but the restriction makes it more difficult for women to be promoted to higher ranks in the military since, as the Huffington Post reports, “battle experience is a key to promotion.” As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who proposed the measure said,

Women are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines, but without the formal recognition that is essential for them to advance and obtain the benefits they have earned. Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender.

We hope that the National Defense Authorization Act will include the provision allowing women to serve in combat since women should be given the same opportunities to advance in the military as their male counterparts. We will keep you updated about this issue.

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Filed under Congress, Military