October Roundup

B y Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

With a new Governor coming to Harrisburg, we have a lot of work to do to get ready for the next legislative session. In the meantime, let’s get up to speed on what went down in October, in case you missed it the first time around.

First, the good news: a new domestic violence shelter opened in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia city has long had only one emergency safe haven for victims of domestic violence. In recent years, advocates have watched, exasperated, as the number of women and children in desperate need of emergency shelter have been turned away due to a lack of resources. So we couldn’t be more pleased that the number of safe-haven beds in Philadelphia DOUBLED with the opening of a new shelter by Women Against Abuse named “Carol’s Place,” in honor of Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy.

Another big win for women in Pennsylvania is the passage of a bill that stops towns from evicting domestic violence survivors for calling 911 for help.

Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, HB1796, titled “Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances” was drafted in response to a situation so outrageous that it gained national attention.

Thanks to a so-called “nuisance property ordinance” that enabled landlords in Norristown, Pa. to evict tenants for calling 911, a domestic violence survivor named Lakisha Briggs was forced to choose between eviction and enduring physical abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, who would not leave the home she shared with her toddler.

It sounds like the kind of initiative everyone, even everyone in Harrisburg, could agree on. The problem was special interests kept trying to ride on its coat tails by tacking on unrelated, bad-news amendments. In the end, the bad-faith amendments were stripped from the bill, and it passed. Big thanks to everyone who called, emailed and tweeted your representatives… it worked.

Here’s something that didn’t work: Earlier in the month, anti-choice activists came to Philly to play video of what they claimed were “abortions in progress” on a JumboTron on Independence Mall. This particular group’s shtick is to try and filter anti-choice messages through the legacy of civil rights. Our friends at New Voices for Reproductive Justice Pittsburgh had something to say about that, and that something was very powerful indeed. We recommend reading it.

It’s important to remember that while anti-choice radicals can be loud, but they are not representative. In fact, a new poll shows that most Pennsylvanians support Roe v Wade, and recognize that abortion and contraception access—that is, reproductive public health policy—is not only a matter of women’s rights and economic security, an economic issue, too.

In Pittsburgh, New Voices urged the Susan G Komen Foundation to reject a donation from a Texas-based fracking company.

What else? Things are slowly but surely getting a little bit better for pregnant workers in Pennsylvania. We’re still calling for statewide protection of pregnant employees by way of a bill in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

In the meanwhile, Pittsburgh followed Philadelphia’s example and passed a “reasonable accommodations” ordinance that will protect some local pregnant workers.

Back to Philly, we celebrated a new family court that finally opened up at 15th and Arch Streets. Women’s Law Project advocated for a new building for the last decade, and we were delighted to see it finally open.

Our work on equality for girls in sports was highlighted in The New York Times. Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson addressed the stereotypes that inform discrimination in sports. “The Harrisburg Archdiocese relies on stereotypical generalizations about the differences between girls and boys and notions about safety and propriety that simply don’t stand up,” Fromson said.

Women’s Law Project is proud to have signed onto a letter to former Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for pregnant offenders.

On the night stand: Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

What we’re doing in the middle of the night: Tweeting Congress! You can too with this cool new tool from the National Women’s Law Center. Click and issue, put in your zipcode, and voila!

Happy nocturnal tweeting, and have a great Thanksgiving!

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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