Pittsburgh City Council: UPMC Must Enter Community Benefits Agreement Before Building Expansion

UPMC is the biggest private employer in Pittsburgh (Photo: Brian Donovan, via Flickr CC)

 

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Council held a hearing on University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s proposed $2 billion expansion plan. Approximately 160 people registered to speak, and even more community members attended.

The hearing was held to give community members an opportunity to express their concerns about UPMC’s expansion and the effect on people who live and work in the Hill District.

Topics discussed at the meeting included whether people living in the area where the new hospital will be built will be able to afford to use their services and ensuring racial equity in hiring practices.

You can read more details about the hearing in this PublicSourcePA report.

The Women’s Law Project spoke out by sending a letter to Pittsburgh City Council supporting a call for UPMC to enter a Community Benefits Agreement between UPMC and the surrounding community before approving expansion.

From our letter:

“UPMC’s plan to build a new specialty hospital in the Hill District of Pittsburgh gives City Council the opportunity to address the community’s concerns and ensure that the public interest factors into decisions about this massive development project. We request that Council reject the requested amendment to UPMC’s Institutional Master Plan unless UPMC agrees to enter a Community Benefits Agreement. Community Benefits Agreements can transform the community that hosts a major development in many ways. Benefits that have been negotiated as part of CBAs in other jurisdictions include:

  • A living wage requirement for workers employed in the District;
  • A “first source” hiring system, to target job opportunities in the development to residents of low-income neighborhoods;
  • Investments in community health and access to healthcare;
  • Space for a neighborhood-serving childcare center;
  • Construction of affordable housing.

After four hours of hearings, Pittsburgh City Council concluded they would not support UPMC’s plan unless they enter into a Community Benefits Agreement.

“Today the people of Pittsburgh spoke with a unified voice: UPMC, our largest charity, employer and landowner, must address the needs of the community if it wants to keep building hospitals in this city,” Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United, wrote in a statement. “A community benefits agreement is about nothing less than the people of this city demanding to be invisible no more.”

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Victory: Anti-Abortion Radicals Denied Request for Personal Information of Abortion Providers & Staff

The anti-choice movement has a long history of attempting to collect personal information of people who work at healthcare facilities that provide abortion care, as well as information on patients. Their tactics include scraping identifying information from state licensure records obtained through right-to-know laws.

Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project just helped thwart an effort to do this in Pennsylvania.

Last summer Jean Crocco, a staff person with the Pro-Life Action League, tried to force the Pennsylvania Department of Health to give her identifying information from abortion providers’ clinic licensure records about their owners, directors, doctors, nurses, and administrators.

The Department of Health partially complied with Crocco’s right-to-know request by providing redacted copies of the records. In response, Crocco and the Pro-Life Action League appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

Earlier this summer, the Women’s Law Project represented a group of abortion providers as “direct interest participants,” and filed a brief and ten declarations laying out the factual basis for our argument that disclosing abortion providers’ names and contact information was tantamount to placing a target on their backs.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ruled in Jean Crocco v. Department of Health, denying their request to force the Department of Health to provide the redacted information. 

Appeals Officer Magdelene Zeppos issued a ruling which holds that “the names and medical license numbers of medical providers, as well as the names of others affiliated with the abortion facilities, are exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(1)(ii) of the Right to Know Law because disclosure of this information is reasonably likely to result in a risk of physical harm to these individuals.”

The ruling discusses the providers’ declarations, which were extremely powerful and detailed a lengthy and chilling history of threats, intimidation, and outright violence against abortion providers.

Anti-abortion harassment and violence has become more intense under the Trump Administration, according to the National Abortion Federation. In 2017, abortion providers reported 62 death threats or threats of harm, a number that has nearly doubled since 2016. 

Crocco has the right to appeal to Commonwealth Court within 30 days of this ruling. Stay tuned.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Good News: “$1 Per Touch” Judge Will Not Preside Over Domestic Violence Hearings

Judge Lester Nauhaus

In late June, a group of women’s organizations in Pittsburgh including the Women’s Law Project sent a letter to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas protesting the appointment of Senior Judge Lester Nauhaus to preside over protection from abuse (PFA) contempt hearings.

Judge Nauhaus is an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge with a history of making controversial comments. Last year, he made headlines when he fined a defendant $1 for each time he “inappropriately touched” the 15-year-old victim by grabbing her in the crotch as she walked in the hallway during school.

As Pittsburgh Citypaper reported, that incident was just the latest in “a long line of questionable behavior regarding crime victims.”

PFA contempt hearings are proceedings that follow an alleged domestic abuser’s violation of a protection-from-abuse (PFA) order. They are among the most sensitive of proceedings, as an abuse survivor’s very life may hang in the balance. We believe Judge Nauhaus has not demonstrated the judicial temperament or understanding of domestic and sexual violence required for this assignment, given his history in the courtroom.

“I can’t think of a more inappropriate and dangerous assignment than to put Judge Nauhaus in charge of domestic abuse victims,” Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney with the Women’s Law Project, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in response to the news. “He traumatizes people.”

We are happy and relieved to tell you that, after receiving our letter, the Court of Common Pleas decided that Judge Nauhaus’s will not be scheduled to preside over the PFA contempt hearings.  We thank the Court for hearing our request and for working with the domestic and sexual violence advocacy community on this issue.

We hope that the court will work to ensure that PFA contempt hearings are given judicial priority and receive the resources to ensure that survivors are treated with dignity, fairness and compassion when they seek the protection of our legal system.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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A Victory of Sorts: Allegheny County Police Will Stop Criminalizing Condoms

We recently told you that Allegheny County police were abusing their authority when making prostitution arrests by adding on a “possession of instruments of crime” charge if the alleged sex worker possessed condoms.

Criminalizing condoms defies public health recommendations to use condoms to prevent unplanned pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

In practice, criminalizing condoms provided police leverage to coerce the accused person into pleading guilty to prostitution charges, a lesser charge. The threat of being arrested for possession of condoms forced sex workers to choose between risking transmitting an infection and arrest.

Advocates argued this practice targets low-income people, LGBTQ people, and people of color.

The Women’s Law Project joined a coalition of 17 organizations led by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) of Pittsburgh in organizing an advocacy response that included sending an open letter to District Attorney of Allegheny County Stephen A. Zappala, Jr.

After initially receiving a disappointing response from the District Attorney, Allegheny County police superintendent Coleman McDonough confirmed the Allegheny County police will no longer bring possession-of-instruments-of-crime charges for condom possession in prostitution-related cases, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

From the latest report in the Tribune:

“I understand that public health concerns, at times, they line up with criminal justice concerns, but sometimes they are at odds, and we have to make a decision,” police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said. “Looking at it and taking all the public health concerns into consideration, too, we will not charge possession of an instrument of crime for condoms.”

The Trib analysis showed police charged people with both prostitution and possessing an instrument of crime in 100 cases last year in Allegheny County. In 15 of those cases, condoms were the alleged instrument of crime. In 14 others, police seized condoms as evidence.

McDonough noted that “no one has ever gone to jail for possession of an instrument of crime for (only) condoms,” noting that the charge for condoms was coupled with prostitution charges and, more often than not, a charge of possession of an instrument of crime for cellphones.

He indicated that police can still file possession charges based on cellphones, which are often categorized as instruments of crime in criminal complaints when they are used by sex workers to set up appointments with clients.

Significantly, the Allegheny County Police have not promised to stop seizing condoms during prostitution arrests, nor have they indicated they will stop regarding condom possession as evidence of sex crimes.

“We are glad that the Allegheny County Police will no longer regard condom possession as a crime,” said Susan J. Frietsche, senior staff attorney who runs the Pittsburgh office of the Women’s Law Project. “That’s a victory, but just a partial one. It will not be safe for sex workers to carry condoms until the police agree to stop using them as evidence of a crime. There should be no penalty whatsoever for condom use or possession.”

Jessie Sage, a c-founder of Pittsburgh SWOP, called the policy change a win but also told the Tribune that there was damage that still had to be undone.

“These practices have already negatively impacted the sex work community by disincentivizing safer sex practices,” Sage said. “Education and outreach about these changes in norms will now be an important project for all public health organizations who work with this population.”

The Women’s Law Project and the advocacy coalition that came together to respond to this crisis in Allegheny County plan to press the Allegheny County police and district attorney to stop seizing condoms and using them as evidence of prostitution. The group will also assess if criminalizing condoms is happening anywhere else in the state.

Do you know of this practice happening anywhere else in Pennsylvania? Let us know. Please contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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On Today’s U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Regarding “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”

In 2015, California passed the Reproductive FACT Act, requiring licensed “crisis pregnancy centers” that provide services such as pregnancy tests and ultrasounds to post information about affordable abortion and contraception services offered by the state. The second provision required unlicensed facilities that provide these services to disclose their lack of medical certification.

California-based “crisis-pregnancy centers” sued in response to the requirements.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the law. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the law by a 5-4, all-male majority.

This ruling essentially allows virtually anyone to try to trick pregnant women into believing they are in a medical facility under the guise of free speech.

“This ruling is a blow to reproductive rights, but it’s even bigger than that. It’s a blow to evidence-based healthcare for women, period,” says Susan J. Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “We’re seeing laws that try to force doctors to lie to patients. We already know many states give out so-called informed consent booklets that contain misleading and inaccurate medical information. We’re seeing an all-out attack on reproductive healthcare in the United States, and it’s rooted in depriving women of both information and access to reproductive healthcare.”

The first crisis pregnancy centered opened on Hawaii in 1967. Since then, these facilities have exploded in number and vastly outnumber real healthcare facilities that provide abortion care.

In Pennsylvania, crisis pregnancy centers receive millions of taxpayer dollars every year. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that diverts Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds—safety-net funds for low-income families in need—to fund crisis pregnancy centers.

In September, 2016, the Auditor General of Pennsylvania launched an audit of Real Alternatives, chain of crisis pregnancy centers in Pennsylvania. At the time of the audit, Real Alternatives had a five-year grant worth $30.2 million. The audit was launched in part in response to a request from the Department of Human Services, because they could not determine how some of the grant money was being used.

In response to the audit, Real Alternatives sued the Auditor General for attempting to assess how they are spending taxpayer money.

Today, Real Alternatives is still funded with taxpayer money.

Now, with today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, those facilities can continue to refuse to inform women of their full range of reproductive healthcare options in some cases, even refuse to inform clients that they are not a medical facility.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Full Opinion Issued in Boyertown Case Protecting Transgender Rights

We recently told you how thrilling it was to be at the federal courthouse to witness a landmark victory for transgender rights.

In late May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that upheld a Pennsylvania school district’s policy that permits transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.

Court observers had the opportunity to witness a rare spectacle. Rather than take weeks or months to issue an opinion after arguments, the three-judge panel convened for a less than 30 minutes before ruling in favor of Boyertown Area School District’s policy and by extension, the rights of transgender students.

Now, the full opinion in Doe v. Boyertown Area School District has been issued. From the opinion, which you can download or read here:

The plaintiffs—a group of high school students who identify as being the same sex they were determined to have at birth (cisgender) —believe the policy violated their constitutional rights of bodily privacy, as well as Title IX, and Pennsylvania tort law. As we shall explain, we conclude that, under the circumstances here, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to constitutional or Pennsylvania-law privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. Nor does their presence infringe on the plaintiffs’ rights under Title IX.

Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project and co-counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the Boyertown policy that argues that the presence of transgender students in facilities corresponding to their gender identity does not violate Title IX. Rather, Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use those facilities.

“The Third Circuit panel’s immediate and unanimous ruling in Doe v. Boyertown sent an important message about the scope of Title IX,” says Amal Bass, Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “As Title IX advocates, amici are pleased to see the Third Circuit join the growing number of courts that understand that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students.”

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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Five Ways to Fight Family Separation From Right Here in Pennsylvania

“On the afternoon of their second day in detention, two male agents entered the cell. “They didn’t say anything,” Rivera told me. “They just walked over and grabbed Jairo. It felt like my son was stuck to me. He clung to me, cried and screamed. They had to pull him away.” She pleaded with the agents to tell her what was going on. The other women in the cell were too stunned to speak, Rivera told me. In the next few hours, the agents started taking other children, too.” – “In ICE Detention, a Honduran Woman Fears Deportation Without Her Son,” a report in the The New Yorker

The practice of family separation at the borders is traumatizing and cruel, and we strongly oppose it. Warehousing children in cages is barbaric and cruel, and we strongly oppose it.

Here are five things you can do to take action in Pennsylvania.

Protest in Person

Today, a protest is scheduled for 5PM in Philadelphia to coincide with the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence, who will be in town to attend a fundraiser in Rittenhouse Square.

On June 30, protests against family separation will take place all over the country.

According to this list of events, Pennsylvania-based protests are being planned in Doylestown, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and State College, so far.

  • Doylestown

11AM, Old Bucks County Courthouse

  • Pittsburgh

Noon, Grant Building – Sen. Toomey’s office

  • Philadelphia

Noon, Location TBA

  • State College

Noon, Allen St. Gates

 

On June 20, Speak Up During Lunchtime for Change

Families Belong Together is calling for American citizens to take simple and specific actions like making phone calls and signing petitions to speak out against family separation during lunchtime on Wednesday, June 20. Check the list of actions here.

Call Congress Right Now

Public pushback is already making a difference by putting pressure on Congress to end the practice.

Find the phone number for your U.S. House Representative here, then contact them to urge them to act to stop the practice of family separation. If they are taking action and speaking out, thank them for doing so.

According to Vox, there is currently only one bill in the U.S. Senate that would halt family separation. Introduced on June 8, the Keep Families Together Act would ban the separation of families at the border unless there is evidence that a child is being trafficked or abused by their parents. The bill is supported by American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense, Children’s Law Center, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

You can check who has signed on to the bill here.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey is listed as a co-sponsor. Contact Senator Casey through his website, by calling him at (202) 224-6324, faxing him through FaxZero, tweeting or posting on Facebook and thank him.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is not currently listed as a co-sponsor. Contact Senator Toomey through his website, by calling him at (202) 224-4254, faxing him through FaxZero, tweeting or posting on Facebook and urge him to oppose family separation.

Act Locally to #ShutDownBerks

Children and families aren’t only detained at the border.

The Berks County Detention Center, known officially as the Berks County Residential Center, is a prison for immigrant families, where children as young as two-weeks-old have been incarcerated right here in Pennsylvania. Learn more here.

Fight Anti-Immigrant State Policy Proposals

Pay attention and advocate against anti-immigrant state legislation advancing through the Pennsylvania Legislature. Review a list of bills and their status here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Follow us on twitter and like us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

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