Tag Archives: Women’s Law Project

Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney

Doctors aren’t dummies.

They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments.

On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized.

Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation.

These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety.

Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures.

Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate.

The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.”

From the Bad Medicine report:

*Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer.

*Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility.

*Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative.

*Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite lack of scientific evidence.

In 2012, anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed mandating that doctors perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The bill, one of the most severe of its kind in the country, was quietly abandoned after a similar bill led to a backlash in Virginia.

But that doesn’t mean the mandatory ultrasound bill, or legislation like it, won’t be proposed in Pennsylvania again.

Laws like these enable politicians to act like ventriloquists, throwing their words into the mouths of doctors. It’s time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists.

Doctors aren’t dummies. Patients deserve better. Women need to be able to trust that the voice they’re hearing is from their physician, not from Harrisburg’s political puppeteers.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Contraception, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Pennsylvania Should Adopt A Law to Protect Women in Midlife From Employment Discrimination Based on Caregiving Responsibilities

By Caroline Buck, WLP Law Intern and Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women moving into the workforce has been one of the most important economic trends in the last 30 years. In April, the Center for American Progress issued a report that detailed the substantial impact of working women on the economy.

One of the report’s key findings was that if women’s employment had remained at the same level it was in 1979, the 2012 gross domestic product would have been roughly 11 percent lower. “In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.”

The most dramatic increase in working women has been the influx of mothers into the workforce. In 1979, 27.3 percent of mothers worked outside of the home. In 2007, this number grew to 46 percent.

Since 2007, both the percentage of working mothers and the overall number of women working outside the home has dropped.

It’s bad news for both women and the economy.

Last week, the New York Times published a report digging into the dynamics and consequences of the trend of women, and particularly middle-aged women, dropping out of the workforce while at the peak of their earning potential.

There’s no single explanation for the drop, but caring for elderly parents is one reason for the statistically significant reduction of women in the workforce. In a recent article investigating the issue, the New York Times profiled Tracy Murphy. Formerly a non-profit agency manager, 54-year-old Tracy left her job to care for her sick mother five years ago.  As we know, women are the primary caretakers of both parents and children. Though middle-aged women are dropping out of the workforce at a higher percentage than their younger counterparts, women in their 20s are also dropping out to focus on young children or to return to school.

Another factor is that the edge of the recession cut into government budgets, where statistically more women than men earn a paycheck. Almost half of the government jobs lost between 2008 and April of this year were in education – a job still overwhelming female – and illustrative of the ongoing job segregation that depresses women’s wages and opportunities.

From the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster for the women concerned,” said Ian Shepherdson, an independent economist, “but it’s also bad news for the economy because they are not contributing to growth and their skills are eroding through extended inactivity.”

With parents living longer and having children later, the report explains that women are pinned between caring for parents and children themselves to “save money,” and losing earnings and benefits that ideally would be incrementally increasing over the years.

Then, when they try to return to work, they find themselves pinned between being too young to retire and too old to be competitive. In addition, they are often discriminated against in hiring processes and passed over for promotions based on the assumption that they will be less committed to their jobs as a result of their caretaking responsibilities.

So what can we do?

There are certainly cultural factors at play: Women account for two-thirds of caretakers. Daughters are so much more likely to be tapped to care for elderly parents that studies of a recent report on the phenomenon commented, “it’s almost like being back at the turn of the century.”

Policies that acknowledge the shifting configurations of family, the labor market and the economy, as well as legislation that protects caregivers against employment discrimination, could help.

In Pennsylvania, 1.39 million people – primarily women – serve as informal caregivers for adults requiring long-term care at any given time. Additionally, three-quarters of adults requiring long-term care rely exclusively on family members to provide the daily assistance they need. Some states and localities have adopted laws to expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities.  Pennsylvania has not yet done so.

On June 5, Tara Pfeifer, Staff Attorney for the Women’s Law Project, presented testimony before the Pennsylvania House Labor Committee in support of a state bill that would provide some necessary protections.

H.B. 2271, if passed, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on “familial status” in the employment context. Although this is an important step that would provide much needed protections for working parents with caregiving responsibilities, the current bill does not provide legal protections to those who are caring for adults that require long-term assistance. As a result, other legislation is needed to fill this gap.

The economic and social impact of caretaking responsibilities on women’s workforce participation is clear, and the potential for discrimination in the employment context because of these responsibilities looms large. Yet until further legislative action is taken, those caring for other adults will remain vulnerable.

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Filed under Caretaking, familial status, PA Law, PA Legislature, working women

Court Enters Consent Decree So Pennsylvania Girls Can Wrestle

The Women’s Law Project and Flaster/Greenberg P.C. announce the successful resolution of a lawsuit on behalf of a Pennsylvania seventh-grade female student who was denied the opportunity to participate in the Line Mountain School District’s all-male wrestling program, in violation of her constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2013 in federal court and alleged that the district’s all-male wrestling program discriminated against girls on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In January 2014, Flaster/Greenberg lawyer Abbe F. Fletman and Women’s Law Project attorney Terry L. Fromson were successful in obtaining a preliminary injunction requiring the school district to allow seventh-grader Audriana Beattie to join the all-male wrestling program for the duration of the lawsuit.

The Court has now approved a consent decree entered into by the parties that will allow Ms. Beattie to remain on the previously all-male wrestling team and other young women who wrestle competitively may join the team.

The school district has also rescinded its policy that kept girls off boys’ teams and will not adopt any policy in the future that will unlawfully deny athletic opportunity on the basis of sex.

“Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for young women; the school district’s agreement to resolve this action both brings the school into compliance with the law and addresses girls’ athletic interests,” said Fromson of the Women’s Law Project. “Audriana has been a competitive wrestler for more than four years, and we are pleased that she will be able to continue competing at Line Mountain,” said Fletman of Flaster/Greenberg. Because of this action, Audriana has been able to wrestle with the boys’ team, where she achieved a 6 win/13 loss record this season, while also preparing for the Pennsylvania Girls State Wrestling Championships, where she came in first in her weight class in Middle School competition.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Title IX

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.

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Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women

Title IX Advocates Await Release of New Athletic Gender Equity Reports

Attorneys from the Women’s Law Project announced that the first annual athletic gender equity reports from public high schools, junior highs and middle schools are due today under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act, formally known as Act 82 Article XVI-C, requires secondary schools to publicly report basic information about school-sponsored athletics programs on an annual basis in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and achieve gender equity.

“For more than 40 years, Title IX has required schools to treat girls equally,” said Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project. “Sadly, there is evidence that girls are still being excluded and shortchanged and have actually lost ground in recent years.”

Fromson explained that starting today and each year thereafter, Pennsylvania secondary schools (grades 7 through 12) will have to submit a form to the state Department of Education containing the following information, which must be publicly posted by November 1:

  • Number of students in each school by gender;
  • Listing by gender of each varsity, junior varsity and freshman athletic team, together with year when each team was established;
  • Number of team participants by gender;
  • The seasons during which each team competed;
  • Total value of contributions and purchases made on behalf of each team by booster clubs;
  • Expenditures for each team, including travel, uniforms, equipment and supplies, coach compensation, facilities, and athletic trainers;
  • Number of coaches and trainers per team;
  • Number of competitions per team;
  • Name of school’s Title IX officer.

To find and download the forms online, go to:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/school%20services%20office/9153/disclosure%20of%20interscholastic%20athletic%20opportunities/1419362

The state legislation is modeled after the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires federally funded colleges and universities to publicly disclose similar information annually on an easily searchable website.

“The Women’s Law Project intends to look carefully at the new gender equity reports to ensure that parents and students know how their schools are treating them,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney in the Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Girls, PA Law, Sports, Title IX

New Philadelphia Family Court Building is Topped Off

By Dabney Miller, WLP Associate Director

Beam rising in topping off ceremony.

Beam rising in topping off ceremony.

Philadelphia is finally getting a new Family Courthouse.  Construction reached the topping off point on May 2, 2013, when dignitaries, advocates, and construction workers signed a beam, which was then hoisted to the top of the sixteenth floor, amid cheers from the crowd.  Ten years ago, the Women’s Law Project released Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court: A Report to the CommunityOur lead recommendation was a new courthouse; we argued that critical concerns about safety, openness, and the fair dispensing of justice could not be addressed in the current building, which is a labyrinth of crowded, narrow halls, courtrooms too small for observers, and waiting rooms where conflict plays out.  Our report became a rallying cry, and we are delighted to have been part of the Topping-Off Ceremony for the new Family Courthouse, which will also unify the juvenile and domestic relations divisions.

Much remains to be done, however.  Tens of thousands of people come to this Court each year to resolve personal and intimate family matters involving domestic violence, child support, child custody, divorce, and dependency.  Profound and life-altering decisions are made in the Court about where and with whom children will live, when and under what circumstances parents may see their children, and who will make decisions about the education, health care, and religious upbringing of children.  Its judges have the awesome responsibility of issuing orders to protect people from violence and stalking.  It is imperative that those coming to the new Courthouse find justice after they arrive.  Above all else, the courthouse must be a place that litigants can come and go without fear and where children and parents may have safe and supervised visits when required by the law.  Second, the court must be open to the public consistent with constitutional standards.  The bright light of open courts always leads to fairer processes and outcomes.  Third, this courthouse must be accessible to those Philadelphians who may not be able to read or understand legal processes.  Ninety per cent of Family Court litigants cannot afford lawyers, so they must advocate for themselves in an intimidating system, often at a time of crisis in their lives.  Many technologies now exist to assist them in completing forms and filing petitions.  These technologies, along with trained staff who are motivated to help, will make all the difference for Philadelphia’s families.  Finally, the court must be adequately staffed so that judges, masters, conference officers, and other individuals who work with the public have time to handle their cases in a way that assures the litigants that their positions are heard and carefully considered.

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Filed under Family Court, Philadelphia, Women's Law Project