ICYMI: September at the Women’s Law Project


September brought some encouraging wins, and sends us into October with big challenges on the horizon as the Pennsylvania Legislature enters the final weeks of the two-year session.

At the end of a session, all proposed bills that are not passed into law expire, and need to be reintroduced next session. That includes, of course, all of the bills that we support in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

Now, we get to see what is really important to your representatives. For example, will they pass HB1100, a bill supported by medical experts that is designed to improve infant health? Or spend their time focused on an abortion ban opposed by doctors, and expanding the rights of gun manufacturers?

We’ll let you know. Meanwhile, here’s a review of some of our recent work.


A Win: Philadelphia Calls to End Hyde

Susan of Women's Medical Fund testifies in favor of Philadelphia City Council passing a resolution calling on Congress to end the Hyde Amendment

Susan of Women’s Medical Fund testifies in favor of Philadelphia City Council passing a resolution calling on Congress to end the Hyde Amendment

On September 29, after hearing testimony from citizens and advocates (including WLP Executive Director Carol Tracy) in support of Resolution No. 160828, City Council passed a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Philadelphia is the 11th city to formally call for equal access to abortion care this way. Another recent win: U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo refuses to preliminarily enjoin Harrisburg clinic buffer zone.


Award for Improving Justice for Rape Victims

WLP Executive Director Carol Tracy traveled to Georgia recently to accept an award from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice. The awards  recognize innovative programs for improving justice that can serve as models for others. The Foundation recognized the Women’s Law Project in recognition of our work improving institutional response to rape victims and eliminating gender bias in policing.


Repealing Dangerous Abortion Bans

On September 15, Rep. Steve Santarsiero introduced House Bill 2332. In the wake of the big reproductive rights victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in June, every state with severe abortion restrictions like Pennsylvania is actively re-assessing the constitutionality of state restrictions. We are certainly reviewing Pennsylvania laws and regulations right now in light of the clarified standard. Meanwhile, HB2332 has been introduced to repeal Act 122 of 2011, otherwise known as the ambulatory surgical facility requirements. More on that soon.


Marching Against Rape Culture

Photo: Darragh Dandurand

Photo: Darragh Dandurand

Women’s Law Project proudly co-sponsored and attended the 2016 Philadelphia March to End Rape Culture, where we listened to survivors and advocates share stories of pain and resilience.


What Goes on at “Crisis Pregnancy Centers?”

Every year, millions of Pennsylvania taxpayer money is funneled to a network of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers.” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced an audit of the organization, which has come under fire for refusing to reveal relevant financial records to Pennsylvania officials. WLP Senior Staff Attorney Sue Frietsche commented in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that while transparency of what funds are spent is important, we must also consider “if the quality of the information they provide is worthy of public support.”


Bill to Prohibit Employers from Asking Prior Salary

Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Greenlee introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from asking applicants about prior salary. “Basing compensation on an applicant’s prior wages instead of the value of the work perpetuates and amplifies the wage gap, which typically widens as women get older,” WLP’s Terry L. Fromson recently said in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the effort. Fromson noted the wage gap is more acute for women of color, “which makes this legislation especially important in diverse cities like Philadelphia.”


State of Women’s Health in Pennsylvania

On September 14, WLP Executive Director spoke on a panel at the 2016 State of Women’s Health Forum in Philadelphia. We sat in a room decorated with dozens of oil paintings of white men as Sen. Judy Schwank noted that Pennsylvania has the lowest percentage of women in the state legislature of any state in the Northeast—and maybe that has something to do with Pennsylvania’s failure to adequately support women’s health. Carol Tracy discussed the genesis of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health: “We said to lawmakers, you’re concerned about pregnant women? Then do something about it.”


A Statewide Audit of Backlogged Rape Kits

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced that an eight-month review of the state’s backlogged rape kits has shown inadequate communication to local law enforcement agencies, errors in the Department of Health’s (DOH) report of kits and resource shortages that could lead to delayed justice for rape victims.


Gag Rule on Pennsylvania Physicians Found Unconstitutional

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a provision commonly known as a “gag order” on physicians in a law known as Act 13 is unconstitutional. From a report in the Observer-Reporter: “The medical confidentiality enforcement against physicians – a gag order – was ruled unconstitutional despite an earlier Commonwealth Court ruling that proprietary chemicals in fracking fluids were valid as trade secrets not to be discussed with patients. The high court ruled “no other industry in the commonwealth has been statutorily shielded in this manner” and it would create an undue conflict of interest for a doctor weighing obligations to effectively treat and consult with a patient or to accidentally disclose supposed proprietary business information.”

We applaud this decision, which serves to highlight why we support the Patient Trust Act, a proposed bill designed to prevent this kind of government and corporate overreach into doctor-patient communications.


Sexual Harassment Costs Taxpayers Money

Did you know the City of Philadelphia spent more than a million dollars settling complaints and lawsuits so far this year? Nearly three-quarters of those payouts involved sexual harassment or discrimination claims, and most arose from the police and fire departments, according to WHYY Newsworks. “With sexual harassment, like sexual assault, for the most part, people don’t file complaints. They continue to put up with it. The fact that people are coming forward is a really good sign,” WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy told WHYY. “Taxpayer money could be better utilized in doing more prevention work.”


What we’re reading:

The New York Times wrote a riveting story about America’s Shocking Maternal Deaths. Students at the University of Pennsylvania called out rape culture in a really public way. There’s a pill that prevents HIV. So why don’t more people take it? Domestic violence has a huge impact on the wage gap, as women who suffer violence are likely to see an impact on their earning potential due to lost productivity and lost work days. The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that Pennsylvania has its first case of Zika virus infection by sexual transmission. The rise of female athletes in the United States was enabled by passing—and enforcing—Title IX. “In effect, keeping the minimum wage at the current rate [in Pennsylvania] constitutes a form of public subsidy for employers.” For those who were enslaved, sexualized violence was not something in addition to slavery. A new report analyzed the effect of restrictions on bathroom use on transgender teens. The same lawmakers who claim they are “pro-life” by passing abortion bans have failed to move legislation designed to improve infant health. Millennial women have the highest “poverty gap.” Black-white wage gaps are larger today than they were in 1979, with young Black women hit hardest since 2000. A doctor’s lament: “When I moved to Pennsylvania, my interactions with patients seeking an abortion completely changed.” Most Pennsylvanians support raising the minimum wage.


What’s Next

A new film screens every month through May at the Just Films festival in Pittsburgh

A new film screens every month through May at the Just Films festival in Pittsburgh

Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil

The Women’s Law Project is a proud co-sponsor of the Just Films festival, which will feature a series of social justice documentaries in Pittsburgh, screening one film per month from September through next June.

The first film, Don’t Tell Anyone, premiered on September 15, and was a great success.

Next, on October 27, we will screen Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil.

Alice Walker is a special guest panelist for the October screening (Photo: alicewalkerfilm.com)

Alice Walker is a special guest panelist for the October screening (Photo: alicewalkerfilm.com)

This new award-winning documentary film by Donna C. Roberts (a Pittsburgh filmmaker) and Donna Read is about the fascinating Candomblé spiritual culture in Bahia, Brazil, a vibrant African-derived tradition which evolved from the ways of enslaved Africans in the New World’s largest slave port.

The film is narrated by Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, who will be our special guest panelist at this Pittsburgh premiere!

Register for your free ticket here.


Defeating HB1948


This dangerous abortion ban is back, and we will need your voice to defeat it if our lawmakers choose to prioritize endangering women’s lives with unconstitutional abortion bans before the end of the session. Make sure you are signed up to receive our Action Alerts to hear of opportunities to help us fight back.



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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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