There’s no need to sugarcoat 2015: The attack on reproductive rights is still going strong. A well-funded anti-choice movement is attempting to block not only women’s access to legal abortion, but contraception and preventative care also. Clinic violence and targeted harassment of doctors has increased.
Meanwhile, the rape apologists are out in full force. The brewing backlash to recent improvements regarding institutional response to sexual assault has been loudly criticized by defenders of the status quo, who are suddenly interested in justice … despite all we know, and have known for a long time, about the system being stacked against sexual assault survivors.
But with the generosity of supporters like you, we have made progress this year despite the hostile climate. We not only stood up to these attacks, but we’ve increased women’s access to healthcare, helped improve police response to sexual assault and domestic violence, advocated for bills to eliminate discrimination against women in the workplace, and more.
2015 Distinctions & Honors
On her 25th anniversary, Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol E. Tracy accepted the prestigious President’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Justice from the American Society of Criminology. The award recognizes Tracy’s work reforming how the Philadelphia police investigate sex crimes in the wake of a scandal that revealed one of every three complaints was not investigated, and the WLP’s successful campaign for the FBI to revise its outdated definition of rape, which resulted in more accurate sex crime data.
In August, Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson was honored alongside Vice President Joe Biden as a trailblazer with the 20/20 Vision Award from the American Bar Association for her work spearheading legal reform to improve systemic response to violence against women. One of Fromson’s many accomplishments noted by the Commission was her pioneering work exposing disgraceful and widespread practices of insurance companies that discriminated against domestic violence victims. Currently, Fromson serves as an advisor to the American Law Institute’s project to update the Model Penal Code’s sexual assault provisions.
Also in August, Tara Pfeifer, staff attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office, was recognized by the American Bar Association for her service to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
In July, WLP’s Development and Program Coordinator Lachelle Binion was honored with inclusion in the inaugural edition of “Who’s Who in Black Pittsburgh.”
In November, staff social worker and associate director Dabney Miller was recognized by Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research — marking its 100th birthday — as one of 100 distinguished alumni.
2015 Select Highlights of Our Work
The U.S. Department of Justice formally issued the first-ever guidance to address the crisis of gender discrimination in police response to violence against women. “Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.” The guidance, which highlights the need for clear policies, robust training and responsive accountability systems, was developed in collaboration with a wide variety of government stakeholders, police leaders, and legal advocates, including the Women’s Law Project.
We continue to function as the de facto legal arm of the reproductive rights movement in Pennsylvania. As clinic violence is spiking around the country, we are leading the fight to protect patients and health center staff from anti-abortion violence and harassment in Pennsylvania. The Alliance Defending Freedom, the well-funded right-wing organization that represented “sidewalk counselors” in the Supreme Court, subsequently targeted Pittsburgh’s buffer zone. Pittsburgh successfully defended its buffer zone in a significant ruling that represents the first time a local statutory buffer zone was upheld by a federal judge since the landmark Supreme Court ruling last year.
Women’s Law Project board member, professor of law at the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law and co-author of Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism David S. Cohen and co-author attorney Krysten Connon recently appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross to discuss the rise of clinic violence and targeted harassment of abortion providers and staff.
The Women’s Law Project and allies conducted a review of rape and sexual assault complaints at the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. Known as “the Philadelphia Model,” this annual collaborative effort of community advocates and police is now spreading to other parts of the country.
As founding members of the PA Campaign for Women’s Health, we continue our work as a leading voice advocating for the Agenda for Women’s Health, a package of evidence-based health and economic justice policies that address real problems faced by real Pennsylvania families.
Our in-house Telephone Counseling Service helped thousands of women with information, referrals, and empowerment this year. This is a vital resource particularly in Philadelphia with its low literacy rates and the highest rate of deep poverty, where 90% of women enter family court without legal representation.
The new Family Court Building opened in Philadelphia this year—after 10 years of advocacy ignited by our 2003 report, Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court.
We advocated for paid sick days legislation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and we are currently working with our allies to halt the passage of a bad bill currently under consideration by the Pennsylvania Legislature that would repeal some of this progress.
75,000 women who qualified for subsidized health coverage through Medicaid or the federally facilitated marketplace this year were not automatically enrolled in or referred for coverage. WLP and Community Legal Services co-represented plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit, and the situation was resolved.
We participated in several screenings of The Hunting Ground, the new documentary about campus sexual assault and the widespread failure of college administrators to adequately address the problem, calling for improved response and strategic investment in prevention.
We advocated against chronic wage theft of low-income women, and for an ordinance that established an office to investigate wage theft complaints in Philadelphia.
With our advocacy for the Patient Trust Act, we’re calling for Pennsylvania to lead the country by stating unequivocally that politicians should stay out of exam rooms, and medical professionals—not politicians or priests—should determine healthcare policy in Pennsylvania.
In February, Senior Attorney Sue Frietsche shared her expertise in abortion clinic regulation and reproductive health policy on a panel at the Keystone Progress Summit.
In September, we spoke out at the 2015 March to End Rape Culture in Philadelphia.
In October, Staff Attorney Amal Bass provided expert legal testimony for bills that would address discrimination against pregnant and nursing workers in Pennsylvania during a hearing held by the PA House Labor & Industry Committee.
As part of The Alliance, a coalition of five state-based legal non-profits in the country that focus on advancing women’s and LGBT rights, we published The Road Ahead: Gender Equality After Hobby Lobby, a report 18 months in the making.
We co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a plaintiff in a horrific rape case out of Alabama, where a student was assaulted after being advised to enter a bathroom with the alleged assailant so he could be “caught in the act.”
We advocated against a proposed bill that would restrict access to pap smears and contraception by stopping Medicaid reimbursements for preventative healthcare services at Planned Parenthood facilities.
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Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is one of just a few state-based legal centers devoted to women’s rights in the country, and the only one in Pennsylvania. We’re proud to be a state-based organization with a significant track record of national impact. We work across a spectrum of inter-related issues that affect women’s legal status, health and economic security, with a focus on reproductive rights and healthcare; institutional, legal and police responses to sexual and domestic violence; equity in athletics, workplaces and schools; and economic justice initiatives such as equal pay and eliminating discrimination against pregnant and nursing employees.
We forge progress through strategic high-impact legal representation, policy advocacy and community education.