2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly

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one of every three complaints was not investigated, and the WLP’s successful campaign for the FBI to revise its outdated definition of rape, which resulted in more accurate sex crime data.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.

How to Support Our Work

Raise your voice. Sign up for our Action Alert emails.

The Women’s Law Project is a non-profit organization. We rely in part on contributions from supporters like you. Your tax-deductible contribution to the Women’s Law Project is an investment in a better future for women and girls.

Donate online at www.womenslawproject.org

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.



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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5 Responses to 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly

  1. Pingback: ICYMI: January at the Women’s Law Project | Women's Law Project Blog

  2. Pingback: Carol Tracy Discusses Rape Law & the Bill Cosby Case | Women's Law Project Blog

  3. Sara Bergstresser says:

    WLP does amazing work. As much as I want to support you, I do not donate on-line and do not live In Philly. Have looked carefully at this site but see no mailing address! (somewhere on 9th St the last I remember) Is there any reason why the office address cannot appear in the emails you send out?

    • Hi. Thanks for the suggestion about our address. It does appear on our website, but you are entirely correct in that having it on our email would make it easier for people to support us.

      Women’s Law Project
      125 S. 9th Street, #300
      Philadelphia, PA 19107

      Thank you again for your kind words and support.

  4. Rev. Roger Buchanan says:

    My letter to Priests for Life:
    115 Foulkeways
    Christmas Eve, 2015

    Fr. Frank Pavone
    National Director, Priests for Life

    Dear Father Frank,

    I am writing to plead a cause. Please stop using the terms “murder” and “evil” with respect to abortion and Planned Parenthood. This language makes Priests for Life a spiritual supporter of violence toward others, and no credit to the Church. Surely the number of people who embrace this language and manage to act within the law are greatly outnumbered by those for whom this language is profoundly offensive. A change in vocabulary will have many benefits. Consider:

    You, Priests for Life, can change the world. You are in a very unique and awesome position. Your movement has the enviable power to reverse the spiral of destructive rhetoric that has made civil discourse on the subject of reproduction all but impossible. The current climate of hostile attacks has lead to armed camps but no peace, and no peace in sight. We can not afford to go on repeating ad infinitum more talk of hatred toward our fellow human beings. Today, both the world and the Church desperately need new and less hostile ways of peaking to each other. This new dialogue could very appropriately start with Priests for Life.

    I believe data will show that your current strategy and the words chosen with passion to state your position, are increasingly counterproductive. Consequently, A change in vocabulary will not lead to an increase in abortions; but it will decrease the number of distressed souls making their exit from the Church.

    At the beginning of our era, the Church created the convent as a communal refuge protecting women from unwanted pregnancies. But today the opposite is true. Women find in the Church an anti-birth-control message. Family planning fails. In the course of events, all too often, an abortion is elected. Guilt is endured and both women and men leave the Church. It need not be this way. Given our resources, a rich covenant and teaching tradition, the Church in the modern world can again be an inspiration and blessing for women. All women deserve what the ancient Church provided- dignity, protection from unwanted pregnancy, and a live lived with courage as a blessing to others.

    The future of the Church will depend on our ability to change our vocabulary and embrace a new vision of peace and justice for all.

    Most sincerely,

    Rev. Roger Buchanan

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