WLP Statement: Victory in Pittsburgh Buffer Zone Case

Amid a documented rise in targeted harassment of patients and doctors, anti-choice activists have been aggressively trying to knock down the Pittsburgh buffer zone. In 2015, “pro-life” protesters sued the city of Pittsburgh, claiming the city’s 15-foot statutory buffer zone, passed in 2005, unconstitutionally violated protesters’ right to free speech.

It does not, per yesterday’s ruling by Judge Cathy Bissoon of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

“We are so pleased with the ruling in Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh,” says WLP Senior Staff Attorney Susan Frietsche. “The buffer zone is a common-sense ordinance that respects protesters’ right to demonstrate, but also gives doctors and patients a small piece of the sidewalk where they can be safe. We’re very grateful to the City of Pittsburgh for defending this ordinance and standing up for women’s health and safety.”

Women’s Law Project represented Planned Parenthood staff and volunteer clinic escorts, who were witnesses in this case.

“We are relieved,” says Kim Evert, President of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. “This ruling preserves our buffer zone which has been so important in protecting people’s ability to access our healthcare services freely and without intimidation.”

Anti-choice harassment has been spiking in tandem with efforts to knock down buffer zones. Last year, nearly half of all abortion providers in the country (49.5%) experienced some form of severe violence, threats of violence and harassment in 2016, up from 43.3% in 2014.

“Buffer zones are important not only to protect patients, but also to make sure that providers entering and exiting clinics are safe,” says attorney David S. Cohen, WLP board member, professor at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University, and co-author of Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism. “Today’s decision allows Pittsburgh to continue to send the message that both women’s reproductive rights and providers’ right to be free from threats and abuse are essential.”

Download or read the summary judgment ruling here.

Background: The city of Pittsburgh adopted a 15-foot buffer zone ordinance in 2005. At the City Council hearing to assess the need for a buffer zone, Evert testified that between February and November 2005, “there were 13 cases of aggressive pushing, shoving and hitting, and 30 complaints of harassing behavior that included shoving literature into people’s pockets, hitting them with signs and blocking their entrance to the building.”

Pittsburgh police testified they were dispatched 22 times in just the six months prior to the hearing, and asserted a buffer zone, having “clearly defined” parameters, would be more effective at ensuring access to clinic entrances than enforcing existing laws.

Plaintiffs, including Nikki Bruni, an organizer of “40 Days for Life,” a campaign that calls for gathering anti-choice activists to protest outside of healthcare facilities that provide abortion for 40 days in a row every year, failed to cite an instance where patients or doctors were unable to hear them shouting from behind the buffer zone. In fact, Bruni admitted she had no evidence that the buffer zone impeded her from talking with willing listeners at all.

In 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in McCullen v Coakley, striking down a 35-foot state statutory buffer zone in Massachusetts as insufficiently narrowly tailored to balance the first-amendment rights of the protesters with the civil rights of patients, doctors and staff.

Plaintiffs challenged the Pittsburgh buffer zone three months later, claiming that it too was unconstitutional. But Judge Bissoon determined that the two laws were substantially different, and noted that “unlike in [the Massachusetts case], there is undisputed evidence in this case that [protesters] are able to communicate their anti-abortion message using their preferred form of expression.”

It is unknown at this time whether the plaintiffs plan to appeal this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

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For more information or to request an interview with a WLP attorney, contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org or 215.928.5762.

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is a public interest legal organization devoted to advancing and protecting the rights of women and girls.

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Women’s Equality Advocates Sue the Trump Administration over Equal Pay

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration on behalf of NWLC and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement for illegally rolling back critical pay transparency requirements intended to root out discrimination and close the wage gap.

At issue is the Trump administration’s decision to block what is known as the EEOC’s EEO-1 equal pay data collection.

After six years of analysis, the EEOC concluded that collecting employee pay data was necessary to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws. In August, the Trump Administration abruptly reversed the prior approval of this data collection.

Without the requirements, roughly 60,886 employers —who collectively employ 63 million workers—are empowered to continue shielding race and gender pay gaps from scrutiny.

“Equal pay cannot be achieved without transparency, bottom line,” says WLP Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson, who has testified before the House Democratic Policy Committee in Philadelphia on the persistence of the wage gap and proposed policy solutions. Fromson also testified in support of Philadelphia City Council’s ban on relying on prior pay as a basis for wage decisions and co-authored, along with WLP Staff Attorney Amal Bass, an amicus curaie brief on behalf of WLP and 27 organizations supporting the constitutionality of that ordinance, which has been challenged by business interests.

In just the last year, equal pay initiatives have been aggressively blocked on the federal, state, and local levels.

Legislation to close the loopholes in the state equal pay law continue to be neglected, despite robust evidence of the need to update the law. Pennsylvania adopted an Equal Pay Act in 1959, then weakened it less than a decade later to reduce the number of employees it applies to. Our equal pay law only applies to a very small number of Pennsylvanians.

Our refusal to update equal pay law shows in our sky-high wage gap: Pennsylvania’s wage gap is larger and more persistent than the nation’s average. If current trends continue, Pennsylvania women are not projected to earn equal pay until 2068. That estimate is an average, because the wage gap is much wider for women of color than white women. White women will not see equal pay until 2056. Black women will not see pay equity until 2124, while Hispanic women must wait 231 more years until 2248.

Since state legislators against workplace equality know they can’t simply ignore the issue forever, they floated a fake fix that would actually reverse the state’s meager protections while stalling on real legislative solutions.

To close the gender wage gap, we need strategic policy solutions that support wage transparency on the local, state and federal level.

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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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“Birthright: A War Story” Documentary premieres in Philadelphia 11/16

This new documentary shows how the U.S. is becoming “The Handmaid’s Tale.” ~ Newsweek

Birthright: A War Story is a new documentary that premieres in Philadelphia on Thursday, November 16 at the International House.

The 7PM screening will be followed by a Q&A with local healthcare providers and the film’s director, Civia Tamarkin.

About the film: Birthright: A War Story is the real-life version of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In America today, a radical movement has tightened its grip on state power, seeking to control whether and how women bear children. In this crusade, pregnant women are subject to state control, surveillance, and punishment. Even women who don’t want an abortion face shocking risks—like the pregnant woman in Alabama who faced criminal charges for taking half a Valium. Or like the grieving woman in Nebraska who, already devastated by a bleak diagnosis at 22 weeks, was forced to continue an unviable and dangerous pregnancy because of a new “fetal pain” law. Birthright: A War Story tells these stories of women caught up in a frightening new legal system, which criminalizes and physically violates women, threatens our lives, and challenges our constitutional protections.

Buy tickets 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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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December 1: Please Join Us at Our Annual Gala in Philadelphia 

It’s been a year and we’re still here–fighting harder than ever for gender justice and equality for women and girls in Pennsylvania.

The theme of our December 1 party is “Nevertheless, She Persisted.”

Our party is Friday December 1, 5:30 – 8:30 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Kids are welcome. Buy your ticket here, and then help us spread the word by clicking “Going” on the Facebook event page here.

It is, of course, a reference to the iconic moment when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shushed Senator Elizabeth Warren as she objected to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General by reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King when opposing the nomination of Sessions for federal judge back in 1986.

Our party theme was inspired by Warren, but is in honor of you, and in honor of all the resisters and persisters that refuse to be silenced and continue to fight for equality and justice—including of course the almost 200 Pennsylvanians who tattooed the phrase on their bodies to help raise money for our work.

Can’t make the party but want to support our work? Consider honoring a woman who has persisted, or inspired you to persist this year.

We are also persisting, but we need your support. Considering the onslaught of attacks on healthcare, reproductive rights, rape victims, LGBTQ community, people of color and low-income Americans, our role as the legal watchdog for Pennsylvania women is more important than ever. We’ve been assessing the constitutionality of abortion restrictions, testifying about the need for workplace equality protections, filing lawsuits, writing amici curaie briefs for the Supreme Court of the United States, developing legislation, and organizing Community Conversations about Women’s Health across the state of Pennsylvania to do what our so-called representatives will  not: listen to women, and help develop solutions to improve their health and economic security.

We continue to expand our work to eliminate gender bias in policing and improve police accountability. The Philadelphia Model, the advocate-led review of rape case files we conduct every year at the Philadelphia Police Department, continues to spread across the continent, with multiple American and Canadian cities adopting the best practice.

We worked on an action plan to protect contraception access in the wake of the Trump administration widening exceptions, and developed and launched a website that exposes discrimination against female athletes in Pennsylvania schools.

Equal pay and workplace equality are also priorities. In Philadelphia, we authored an amicus curaie brief supporting the City of Philadelphia in the lawsuit filed by businesses to block an equal pay prior-wage ordinance. Alongside our partner advocates, we declared May 23, the day the ordinance was supposed to take effect, Unequal Pay Day in Philadelphia. We continue to advocate for a bill to close loopholes in the state Equal Pay Act, which has not been updated in 50 years, call to raise the minimum wage, and work to protect pregnant workers.

This is just a glimpse into our 2017, and we have much, much more to do in 2018.

Please join us on December 1 to support and celebrate our work. Introduce yourself. Bring a friend. Let’s create a story of persistence together, and win.

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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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Standing Up for Female Athletes & Correcting Myths About Title IX

In our line or work, we often encounter what can politely be called strategic misinformation about women and girls.

We hear lies about our bodies, about how our reproductive system works (no, women’s bodies do not come equipped with secret powers to “shut down” pregnancy from rape), and about how economic inequality is simply a matter of the choices women make.

We’re just one small-but-mighty organization, and it is impossible to keep up with it all.

Sometimes, though, the misinformation is so ludicrous that it simply must be addressed and corrected. Such is the case with a recent op-ed in the Altoona Mirror about Title IX and girl athletes.

Here’s the response from WLP Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson, as recently published in the print edition of the Altoona Mirror:

Pennsylvania Schools Are Discriminating Against Female Athletes

This letter is in response to a bizarre, error-ridden op-ed (“The difficult balance of Title IX”) published October 29.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that protects equal opportunities in education programs. It is not, as the author stated, a part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was not, as the author stated, “created to force schools to offer the same number and equal funding of sports between the sexes.”  Title IX was designed to eliminate sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs, which includes admission into graduate and professional schools as well as athletics. When it comes to sports, Title IX requires equitable opportunities and does not, as the author stated, mandate equal funding or numbers.

What else? The “Battle of the Sexes” was a commercial endeavor. Bobby Riggs was not forced by law by challenge Billie Jean King (that’s “Billie,” not “Billy”) to play tennis.

With these basic factual mistakes as the foundation, it’s unsurprising the author reaches such cynical conclusions about female athletes. I’ve never met a girl motivated to play what Satka refers to as “boys sports” as a mere gambit to get media attention.

Worst of all is the author’s suggestion that “extreme” compliance with Title IX has produced “horrible injustices” for young boys. I suggest the author review FAIR:PLAY, our new website that allows anyone to easily check the Title IX compliance rate of public secondary and middle schools across Pennsylvania. You’ll quickly find disparities in opportunities for male and female student athletes into the double-digits. Forty-five years after Title IX, the best data suggests ongoing, serious Title IX violations and discrimination against female athletes.

Talk about horrible injustice.

Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney at Women’s Law Project

Type the name of any public Pennsylvania high school, junior high, or middle school into the search bar at FAIR:PLAY, and you will be shown the Title IX gap. Learn more about FAIR:PLAY 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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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We Filed a Brief to the Supreme Court of the United States Fighting for Women’s Economic Security

Attorneys at the Women’s Law Project have filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in a case that will have significant impact on American women’s economic security.

At issue in the case, Carolyn Lazer v. Mark G. Kroncke, is the constitutionality of retroactively applying obscure state laws that automatically revoke a decedent’s designation of a former spouse as a beneficiary of assets such as an IRA or life insurance.

These “revocation-on-divorce” statutes have been passed in 29 states. Of those states, 17 have also adopted a retroactivity clause. (Pennsylvania does not have this statute.)

In states with these statutes, the law blatantly disregards and usurps the explicit written wishes of the person who has died. The law assumes he or she must have simply forgotten to remove a former spouse as a beneficiary of these assets. In states with the retroactivity clause, the statutes apply even to assets that designated a beneficiary prior to the statute passing into law.

Federal courts of appeals and state supreme courts have split on whether retroactive application of these state statutes violates the contract clause of the U.S.  Constitution.

In our brief, written on behalf of ourselves and six other organizations and filed by attorneys at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, we argue that these laws statutorily mandate a disadvantage that affects millions of American women, who may automatically lose their status as beneficiaries of their former husbands’ retirement accounts and life insurance policies, despite wishes of the deceased.

The premise underlying these bills is wrong. The courts already recognize that a man may very well intend to keep a former spouse as a beneficiary of his IRA, especially if she (or he) is the primary caretaker of their children. Automatically overriding the explicit wishes of the deceased person may have negative affect on the former couples’ children. We argue that at the very least, the Constitution requires a case-by-case analysis of the divorcing spouses’ intent before a formal beneficiary designation can be retroactively overridden by the state.

Women are already disadvantaged in retirement. According to a 2011 study, 73 percent more women than men over 65 lived in poverty. More than 20 percent of divorced women live in poverty, with some estimates as high as 37 percent.

The inequality of women’s financial status in retirement stems in part from inequality during working years. Beyond pregnancy and pay discrimination, women generally spend more time out of the workforce than men to care for children and other family members. Sometimes, they are forced out of the job market for a time altogether, due to lack of paid leave and childcare.

As a result, men typically have much more money saved in IRA accounts and life insurance coverage. Meanwhile, following divorce, women are more likely to maintain primary or sole custody of children, thereby creating greater financial need.

Additionally, the premise of retroactively applying these statues is illogical. These statutes intervene based on an assumption that a person will be inattentive to updating their IRA and life insurance designees in the wake of divorce, but also assume that the same person would know about an obscure statute, retroactively applied.

The six other amici on the brief are American Association of University Women (AAUW), Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), National Partnership for Women & Families, California Women’s Law Center (CWLC), Legal Voice, and Southwest Women’s Law Center.

Read the amicus curiae brief 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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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What Can Be Done About Street Harassment?

Photo via @stopstharassmnt Instagram

Temple University Kayla Watkins calls street harassment a “daily terror.”

“I’ve been being street-harassed since I was 12 and it’s been a constant struggle,” Watkins said at a roundtable convened to explore the problem of street harassment in Philadelphia. “I have missed school to avoid harassment … I have been late to avoid certain routes so I am not harassed. I pick out my outfits every single day in an attempt to avoid harassment, knowing that it really doesn’t matter because I’ve been harassed in pajama pants and a winter coat.”

Watkins shared her experiences and perspectives at Philadelphia City Hall yesterday at a roundtable discussion focused on the prevention and deterrence of street harassment.

WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson (right) joins advocates in exploring the problem of street harassment.

Women’s Law Project Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson participated in the roundtable.

“While street harassment has not been a specific focus of our work it is on the continuum,” said Fromson. “It is yet one more arena where people are treated in controlling, degrading, inappropriate, and sometimes criminal ways on the basis of sex and gender by people who believe they are entitled to do so.”

Street harassment is a broad term that begins with whistling or words, but has no clear end. What starts out as “just words” can escalate to aggressive attempts to coerce a response, following a victim, or assault. One thing people who consider catcalling harmless fun may not realize is that to victims, even just a wolf whistle can function as an announcement that escalated harassment or even violence is about to happen. Catcalling is threatening even when it does not escalate beyond words because it relies on and exploits the fear created by worse offenders and worse experiences.

Billy Penn’s Anna Orso skillfully dissected this dynamic in a recent series of articles exploring street harassment in Philadelphia, and noted that despite being a common experience, street harassment is still largely an invisible problem when it comes to data.

From Billy Penn: Philadelphia Police have no way of discerning how many reports they have fielded because there’s no specific crime for “street harassment.” The Department keeps statistics using Uniform Crime Reporting codes, a federal standard, and there’s no UCR code for street harassment.

A 2014 study commissioned by Stop Street Harassment found that 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men reported experiencing public harassment in their lifetimes. From an analysis published in Slate: “More than half of women in the survey reported experiencing verbal harassment, while 41 percent had experienced physical aggression in public: 23 percent of women reported nonconsensual sexual touching, 20 percent had been followed down the street, 14 percent had been flashed, and 9 percent had been ‘forced to do something sexual’ while out and about. Meanwhile, 18 percent of men had experienced verbal harassment and 16 percent had experienced physical aggression in public.”

The Committee that convened yesterday to explore street harassment and possible solutions is chaired by Pennsylvania Senator Lisa Boscola and co-chaired by Senator Farnese and Senator Judy Schwank, who serves as co-chair for the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

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. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking 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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