WLP Attorneys: Penn Professors Are Wrong

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy, Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson and Staff Attorney Amal Bass, lawyers with extensive experience working with Title IX, the civil law that prohibits discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, have written an open letter responding to University of Pennsylvania professors’ criticism of their school’s new system for adjudicating sexual assault complaints.

The background: Last month, in response to ongoing criticism and national debate regarding how schools should appropriately handle accusations of sexual assault, the University of Pennsylvania announced a new disciplinary system designed to improve adjudication of rape allegations. The changes went into effect on February 1.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Penn joins a growing number of schools around the country that have examined their practices in the wake of increased scrutiny over the handling of sexual assault and harassment on campus. More women are coming forward to lodge complaints, and men who are accused of assault in some cases are suing universities for disciplinary action taken against them. More than 90 universities around the country — Penn is not one of them — are under review by the U.S. Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault.

Last week, 16 of the University’s 49 tenure or tenure-track law school faculty members (16 of 67 full-time law school staff, according to the school’s website) signed an open letter criticizing the new system. The dean of the law school did not sign the letter.

On Wednesday, 26 students at University’s law school responded to their professors’ criticism and defended the new system.

From the letter from students to professors:

“[Your] letter perpetuates the harmful myth that survivors of sexual violence should be disbelieved, silenced and denied non-criminal relief unless they seek and obtain criminal conviction of their assailant.”

Specifically, the law students accused the professors of “conflating” the rules, scope and evidentiary standards applicable to courtroom trials of criminal defendants with the actual issues at hand, which are the rules, scope and evidentiary standards of the school-based adjudication process for identifying student misconduct.

“[The professors’] Open Letter must be seen for what it is: a disagreement with Title IX’s mandate that sexual assault survivors not be made to struggle through grievance procedures that specially insulate those accused of sexual assault,” wrote the students.

Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project with extensive experience working with Title IX also responded to the professor’s letter.

From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

With all due respect, the 16 law professors who have objected to the new disciplinary procedures for sexual violence have it wrong… Our decades of experience working directly with victims of sexual misconduct and with Title IX, the civil law that prohibits discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding, informs our view that the new procedures appropriately attempt to correct injustices inflicted on victims while safeguarding fairness for all parties involved.

Read the rest of the letter here.

WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy teaches part-time at the University of Pennsylvania, where she attended undergraduate school. In 1973, as a sophomore, Tracy led a sit-in protesting the administration’s handling two gang rapes. In 1982, while working at the Women’s Center, Tracy was the whistle-blower in an alleged gang rape that took place at Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house.

Tracy, a national expert regarding institutional response to sexual assault, makes a cameo appearance in The Hunting Ground, the new documentary examining the problem of sexual assault on college campuses released in select cities today.

To arrange an interview with a Women’s Law Project attorney about Title IX, the Penn policy or institutional response to sexual assault, contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org.

Posted in Equality, Rape, Title IX | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bad Bill Alert: “Admitting Privileges” Coming to PA

Admitting privilege legislation is the latest trick deployed nationally by opponents of abortion rights to shrink the (already inadequate) number of abortion providers. That’s why it’s been all over the news for months.

Recently, we learned the admitting privilege controversy is coming to Pennsylvania.

The bill will be co-sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp. You may recall Rapp, a member of the Susan B. Anthony National Pro-life Caucus, as a sponsor of Pennsylvania’s mandatory ultrasound bill–an idea ridiculed by professional medical associations. (Then former Governor Corbett advised women endure the medically unnecessary procedure by just closing their eyes, and the entire country wondered what was wrong with Pennsylvania.) The other sponsor is Rep. Bryan Barbin, the Democratic leader of the Pennsylvania House Pro-Life Caucus.

What are admitting privileges?

Admitting privileges refer to a specific type of contractual arrangement between hospitals and doctors. It is not required for a doctor to send patients to a hospital.

So why suddenly require an unnecessary new contract? What’s the trick here?

As usual, proponents of the bill claim they want to protect women.

In reality, admitting privileges have nothing do with medical safety and everything to do with creating an opportunity to force doctors who provide abortion care to stop working and abortion clinics to shut down.

Hospitals are not required to provide admitting privileges to qualified doctors because they aren’t necessary.

Because admitting privileges are unnecessary, many hospitals deny granting them to a doctor unless he or she sends them a certain number of patients per year. So ironically, one reason doctors who perform abortions are often not granted admitting privileges is because abortion is safe.

Hospital administrators can deny doctors admitting privileges if the doctor doesn’t live within a certain number of miles of the hospital.

But really, hospital administrators don’t need any reason at all to deny admitting privileges. Catholic hospitals, for example, are required to follow health care directives handed down by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—they aren’t exactly handing out admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortion care and contraception. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic hospitals continues to grow.

All that suddenly and randomly requiring doctors and hospitals draw up an “admitting privileges” contract does is give administrators of hospitals that don’t provide abortion care the power to veto abortion from happening at any clinic or office within a 30-mile radius of their hospital.

It just doesn’t make sense.

While always unnecessary, the concept of admitting privileges is particularly absurd in Pennsylvania, one of the few states where facilities providing abortion care have, by law, already maintained transfer agreements with hospitals for decades.

Under the new law, if passed, a Pennsylvania doctor who performs an abortion who doesn’t have an admitting privileges contract with a hospital within 30 miles of his or her office can be convicted of a third degree misdemeanor for providing patient care.

Urge Representatives Rapp and Barbin to really support women’s health

Forcing abortion providers to close their doors by inventing new regulations doesn’t help the hard-working women of Pennsylvania.

It’s unfortunate that anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers are spending their time trying to shut down the 13 remaining providers of safe and legal abortion left in Pennsylvania instead of working to actually protect women’s health and economic security.

Since Representatives Rapp and Barbin say they’re interested in protecting women’s health, it’s hard to understand why they haven’t seen fit to cosponsor health-protecting measures that women actually want and need. We formally invite them to support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a bipartisan landmark legislative package designed to enable women’s health and economic security.

The Agenda for Women’s Health offers Pennsylvania lawmakers plenty of opportunities to protect and promote women’s health and economic security, including eliminating discrimination against pregnant and nursing employees, ensuring doctors are not forced to lie to patients, and promoting equal pay protections for women.

Take Action Now!

“Admitting privileges” is an attempt to disempower doctors and trick the people of Pennsylvania. It is a bad bill. Don’t let it come to Pennsylvania.

Click here to tell your representatives that you trust doctors and medical experts, not politicians to determine best healthcare practices. Tell them if they really want to protect women’s health, they should support bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health instead of playing tricks with doctor’s rights and women’s lives.

Posted in Abortion Access | Leave a comment

Philadelphia Passes Paid Earned Sick Days Bill

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

We did it! Philadelphia is now the 20th  jurisdiction in the United States to guarantee certain workers the ability to earn paid sick days.

The measure has been passed by City Council twice before, so it’s easy to say the third time’s a charm. But this success is, of course, is the result of a full-court press by advocates who refused to give up. As Ellen Bravo of Family Values at Work wrote earlier today, “This third time has nothing to do with charm and everything to do with smart organizing, grit, and a transformed political landscape.”

From Bravo’s article:

It started with the broad and diverse Philadelphia Healthy Families and Workplaces Coalition, dozens of groups concerned about ending poverty and caring for seniors, about gender and racial justice, about the well-being of kids and about economic growth.

The coalition included low-wage workers looking for a small but significant reform that would let them hang on to their paychecks and their jobs when they or a loved one was ill. As restaurant worker Jason McCarthey put it, “There’s a sick worker at nearly every restaurant in this city every day. We should be able to stay home and not spread germs when we’re sick.”

Women’s Law Project is proud to have been part of this effort. We gave feedback on the bill and recommendations of the Task Force. Staff attorney Amal Bass testified in City Hall to support the bill while making recommendations.

From our testimony:

At the WLP, a large portion of our work involves efforts to improve the health, safety, and economic security of women. We have seen how the absence of paid leave exacerbates the work-family imbalance that women bear disproportionately as the primary caregivers of their families.

A paid leave ordinance like the one we are discussing today would alleviate many of the burdens on these caregivers. It would protect the health of women and their families, address public health concerns, and promote efficiency and stability for the city’s businesses.

National Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that low-income workers, who are disproportionately women and minorities, have less access to paid sick leave than other workers. Women are disproportionately the primary caregivers in modern families and increasingly, the primary breadwinners, too. In a recent survey, 47 percent of women who stayed home to care for a sick child reported losing pay, a particularly difficult burden in tough economic times.

In a nice bit of progressive symmetry, Philadelphia is celebrating the passing of earned paid sick days the same day that Senator Murray and Representative DeLauro plan to reintroduce the Healthy Families Act. Follow us on twitter at @womenvotepa as we show our support for the Healthy Families Act by participating in a twitter storm today kicking off at noon at #HFAnow.

This victory reinforces what we already know: We can make significant progress if we work together. Mayor Nutter is expected to sign the bill at 2pm in City Hall.

To stay posted about similar issues and efforts to improve the lives of women and girls in Pennsylvania, follow us on twitter at @womenvotepa & like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womenvotepa.

Posted in Earned Sick Leave | 1 Comment

Women’s Law Project Heads to the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit

As a non-profit Pennsylvania-based organization dedicated to advancing the legal status of women and girls, we are, of course, heading up to Harrisburg for the Progressive Summit today.

These are a few of the panels that you will not want to miss:

At 11AM on Saturday, Senior Staff Attorney Sue Frietsche—a well-recognized expert in policy and regulations relating to reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania–will co-host a session called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” This panel will describe the state of abortion rights after the 2014 state legislative session, including both harmful and progressive laws, implications for abortion care and law in Pennsylvania, and how the way we talk about abortion can change the way people think and legislators act. The panel will also discuss opportunities to change abortion access and the culture around abortion in your local community, regardless of the politics in Harrisburg.

Frietsche is co-hosting the panel with Jordan Goldberg, Senior Counsel for the National Institute for Reproductive Health; Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates; and Ravina Daphtary, Senior State Strategies Manager at All Above All.

Right after that session, we’re heading over to “The Agenda for Women’s Health: Where This Groundbreaking Package of Bills is Heading in 2015.” The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a bipartisan, pro-choice package of bills that is changing the conversation around reproductive healthcare in the Capitol and the public sphere. Since it was introduced last legislative session, Pennsylvania has been lauded as a model for developing proactive legislation to protect women’s reproductive freedom and economic security amid unprecedented anti-choice legislative attacks.

With a pro-women’s health governor at the helm, will we see the attacks on reproductive health diminish and efforts to strengthen women and families flourish? This session will explore this, and other pertinent questions.

At 5:00PM, Associate Director of Strategic Communications Tara Murtha will co-host Media Training 101 with Keystone Progress Communications Director John Neurohr. This session will detail what to expect when talking to reporters, strategies to keep in mind when trying to get “earned media” for your organization, and how to use all available media platforms to get your message out. Participants will learn about building relationships with journalists and outlets, about proactive and reactive media outreach and how to think about media from the perspective of a journalist, not just from your perspective.

We are also looking forward to attending a slew of workshops and panels that address eliminating discrimination and securing economic prosperity in Pennsylvania.

In particular, we are interested in “Building the Movement for Reproductive Justice,” co-hosted by Jasmine Burnett and Julia Johnson of New Voices Pennsylvania. For women of color, access to reproductive healthcare is only one part of a vast and interconnected web of issues that are transformed through the framework of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice focuses on the human right of us all to control our bodies, sexuality, gender, work and reproduction free from violence. It addresses racial, gender, economic, political and social disparities and the ways in which they affect healthcare, abortion rights and how those issues specifically impact women of color.

Throughout the Summit, Women’s Law Project will be hosting a table for anyone interested in learning more about how to participate in the very big conversations about the equality of women and girls in Pennsylvania. Come by and say hello if you can.

For those of you following along from home, we will be tweeting from @WomenVotePA, using the hashtag #PAProgSummit.

WomenVotePA is the action arm of Women’s Law Project. As always, stay up-to-date by following us on twitter at www.twitter.com/womenvotepa, following on tumblr at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com and liking us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WomenVotePa.

Posted in Abortion Access, Economic Justice, Gender Discrimination, Medicaid, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, pregnancy discrimination, Title IX, Women's health, Women's Law Project, WomenVote PA | Leave a comment

Catch Up on News You Might Have Missed in January

It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new… legislative session in Pennsylvania. There’s no time to waste: we’re working toward bills to close the loophole in equal pay law, protect equal access to reproductive healthcare services, and to end pregnancy discrimination at work … among other important things.

First, the aerial view: On their first day in office, Congress introduced a 20-week abortion ban.

These bans, though blocked for being unconstitutional in several states, are an increasingly popular way to chisel away women’s rights, so you will be seeing a lot more of them introduced in state legislatures anyway. Congress’ plan to vote on the federal version on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade fell apart, though, when several Republican Congresswoman withdrew their support.

Instead of voting on the 20-week abortion ban, they voted on a bill that they claim stops taxpayer money from funding abortion. But in reality, the Hyde Amendment has banned the use of federal tax dollars for abortion care since 1976. What this new bill would actually do is codify the Hyde Amendment forever. It would also prohibit women from purchasing insurance policies through the exchange that cover abortion, with no exception for health of the pregnant woman.

This is just one of at least five anti-abortion bills that have been introduced in Congress so far this year.

Things are a little better than that, at least, here in Pennsylvania. Recently, Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced a resolution calling for paid parental leave for some city workers.

WLP attorney Amal Bass testified at Philadelphia’s third hearing on earned paid sick day legislation, and many advocates are saying that the third time will be a charm.

In response to Philadelphia’s progress, though, some state lawmakers are rushing to pass a pre-emption bill that would “bigfoot” Philadelphia’s legislation.

On the equal-pay front, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research issued a report that revealed poverty could be slashed in half if women earned equal pay for equal work.

The Women’s Law Project is proud to be on the steering committee for the Equal Pay Today campaign, a unique partnership of 17 organizations working together to eliminate the wage gap. You can sign on to the Equal Pay campaign here.

Last year, Women’s Law Project senior staff attorney Sue Friestche testified at the first hearing held in Pennsylvania before a state legislative standing committee on the subject of equal pay in 50 years. Keep an eye out for more information on the effort to progress toward equal pay in PA, there’s going to be a lot happening there.

Congratulations are in order for our friends at New Voices Pittsburgh, who helped launch The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

Then there’s Medicaid. Last month, Women’s Law Project and Community Legal Services filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Voices Pittsburgh, and a private individual, against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) for unlawfully delaying the enrollment of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women into comprehensive Medicaid coverage for which they qualified effective January 1.

The press is wondering what we are we: Why is Pennsylvania Unlawfully Delaying Health Coverage for Low-Income Women?

So far this year, we’ve already issued a bad-bill alert. The first official bad bill of 2015 would enable virtually anyone to refuse to do their job if they “conscientiously object” to a patient obtaining contraception or having an abortion, even a medically necessary termination.

A recent report revealed that abortion clinic harassers are “emboldened” by a wave of anti-choice bills: threats against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.

It’s distressing news. Know that Women’s Law Project is working closely with Senator Larry Farnese on a new state bill that would protect providers and patients trying to enter healthcare facilities.

In a recent issue of The Legal Intelligencer, Staff attorney Amal Bass highlighted four key bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health that we’ll be working on this year.

The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health will be one of the hot topics at the Progressive Summit, happening this weekend in Harrisburg. In addition to an entire panel dedicated to exploring the Agenda, senior staff attorney Sue Friestche is co-hosting a panel called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” Tara Murtha is co-hosting a “Media Training 101″ for advocates interested in learning how to successfully work with editors and reporters.

That’s it for now. It’s going to be a very busy next few months.

Stay up-to-date by following us on twitter at www.twitter.com/womenvotepa, following on tumblr at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com and liking us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WomenVotePa.

Posted in Abortion Access, economic security, People of Color, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

WLP Supports Passage of Philadelphia Earned Paid Sick Day Bill

Today, Philadelphia City Council is holding a hearing on the merits of proposed bill mandating earned paid-sick leave for certain employees.

This is the third hearing on the issue since 2011. Mayor Nutter has vetoed earned paid sick-day legislation twice, then convened a task force to study the issue. In December, the task force endorsed the measure.

The current bill would require companies with 10 or more employees to provide earned paid sick time, and mandate businesses with fewer than 10 employees provide unpaid sick time.

Women’s Law Project staff attorney Amal Bass is testifying today in front of City Council. WLP strongly endorses the bill for the sake of the economic and physical health of working Philadelphians, with some additional recommendations.

From our testimony:

At the WLP, a large portion of our work involves efforts to improve the health, safety, and economic security of women. We have seen how the absence of paid leave exacerbates the work-family imbalance that women bear disproportionately as the primary caregivers of their families.

A paid leave ordinance like the one we are discussing today would alleviate many of the burdens on these caregivers. It would protect the health of women and their families, address public health concerns, and promote efficiency and stability for the city’s businesses.

Women are disproportionately the primary caregivers in modern families and increasingly, the primary breadwinners, too. In a recent survey, 47 percent of women who stayed home to care for a sick child reported losing pay, a particularly difficult burden in tough economic times. Some workers lose their jobs.

National Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that low-income workers, who are disproportionately women and minorities, have less access to paid sick leave than other workers. While endorsing the bill, Women’s Law Project recommends Philadelphia lower the threshold so the paid leave mandate applies to companies with 5 or more employees. According to an analysis cited by the task force report, only 28.7% of Philadelphia businesses have 10 or more employees. By lowering the threshold from 10 to 5 employees, the bill would extend the mandate to another 18.5% of Philadelphia companies. Even at that threshold, the legislation would not apply to more than half of Philadelphia employers, since 52.8% of local businesses have between 1 to 4 employees.

WLP also urges City Council to reconsider the exemptions; specifically, the exclusion of adjunct faculty members . Across the nation, well over half of higher education instructors are non-tenure track faculty, including adjunct faculty, and many live below the poverty line. A large percentage of them are women, who are less likely to receive tenure than their male peers, particularly if they have children.

We thank Philadelphia City Council for requesting our input, and applaud the decision to finally move forward on earned paid sick days in Philadelphia.

Download the full Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Leave report here. The hearing is at 11:30AM in Room 400 of Philadelphia City Hall, and it is open to the public.

To stay posted about this issue and other concerns for women and girls of Pennsylvania, follow us on twitter at @womenvotepa & like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womenvotepa.


Posted in Earned Sick Leave, Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Council | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Bad Bills Alert: Dangerous Legislation on the Horizon in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania already has several laws on the books that enable physicians and other healthcare employees to refuse to provide certain health care services they find personally objectionable. Such provisions are found within the Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Human Relations Act, and the Abortion Control Act.

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania Senator John Eichelberger plans to re-introduce yet another “conscientious objection” refusal bill. As with all legislation that seemingly duplicates existing law, you have to wonder what this one would really do.

In a memo, Eichelberger explicitly mentions contraception, abortifacients and “chemical” abortion, also known as medical abortion. But Women’s Law Project senior attorney Sue Frietsche says that the bill lacks clear boundaries.

“It would free the hospital janitor from having to clean the hallways leading to the operating room in which an abortion is scheduled to occur,” says Frietsche. Another example: In the event of an abortion covered by Medicaid—which by law would mean the patient was either a rape survivor or in fatal danger–a billing coordinator could refuse to transmit the paperwork to the appropriate department.

As written, Senate Bill 292 eliminates the right of patients to sue for negligent, reckless, or malicious malpractice in the event of damage or death resulting from a provider’s refusal to provide care. For example, a doctor could refuse to terminate the pregnancy of a woman with a life-threatening condition, or to immediately transfer her to a doctor who will provide industry-standard care.

Eichelberger’s legislation appears to be taken directly from the “recommendations” posted for Pennsylvania by Americans United for Life. (AUL).

AUL is a bill factory that drafts much of the anti-choice state legislation popping up simultaneously in state legislatures across the country. “Founded in 1971 … AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level.”

In Pennsylvania, we see more of these “incremental” state bills on the horizon in 2015. While tactics vary, they’re designed to make it impossible for working and poor women to access safe, affordable abortion by forcing clinics to close and driving up the cost of the procedure in a clinic setting. Wealthy women can obtain abortions from private physicians in a hospital setting. By focusing on over-regulating clinics and driving up clinic costs, the incremental strategy makes the fact that abortion is legal irrelevant to working and poor women who can’t afford to obtain one.

Another tactic to reserve constitutional rights for the wealthy is to sever funding streams, real and imagined. In fact, Senator Eichelberger is the sponsor of another bill (Senate Bill 291) that would forbid municipalities from funding abortions. Federal funds have not been used to pay for abortions since the Hyde Amendment initially passed in 1976. Pennsylvania law prohibits the use of state money to pay for abortion services except in cases of rape and threat to the patient’s life.

We’ll keep you posted on both of these bills. We’ll also keep you posted on our proactive efforts to protect reproductive rights and ensure economic security for women. Just this week, Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass highlighted four key Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health bills in the Legal Intelligencer.

The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a package of pro-choice bills that protect a woman’s reproductive freedom and promote economic security by eliminating structural discrimination against women and girls.

We anticipate a tough but productive year, and we need your voice more than ever. Sign up to follow updates at @womenvotepa & like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womenvotepa.

Posted in Abortion Access, Contraception, Family Planning, Health Care, Pregnancy, Women's Law Project, women's rights | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment