Is Donald Trump’s Cabinet Anti-Woman?

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Donald J. Trump’s campaign was dogged by accusations of misogyny. Now his cabinet is shaping up to be one of the most hostile in recent memory to issues affecting women, advocacy groups for women say. Tax credits for child care and the prospect of paid maternity leave are exceptions to a host of positions that could result in new restrictions on abortion and less access to contraception, limits on health care that disproportionately affect women and minorities and curbs on funding for domestic violence, as well as slowing the momentum toward raising the minimum wage or making progress on equal pay.

Consider their positions on these issues.

Domestic violence

Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s selection for attorney general; Tom Price, chosen for Health and Human Services secretary; and Mike Pompeo, the pick for C.I.A. director, all voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, which funds…

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Action Alert: Help Prevent Domestic Violence Homicides in Pennsylvania

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Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Women's Law Project Blog

We need you to take one minute to help hold domestic abusers accountable.

Strangulation is the single most accurate predictor of a future domestic violence homicide. In fact, one widely accepted study indicates that strangulation domestic-violence victims are 800% more likely to be killed by their intimate partner during a future assault.

Last year, 141 Pennsylvanians were killed by domestic violence.

Historically, strangulation has been difficult to prosecute. Sometimes victims don’t show visible injuries, though in many cases, their esophagus swells later and they suffocate to death. Experts also recognize that strangulation is a uniquely terrifying form of physical abuse and psychological control used by domestic abusers.

In the last ten years, in response to a growing awareness of strangulation as a predictor of preventable homicides, at least 35 states have passed statutes to enhance victim safety and offender accountability.

Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Chester) has introduced a similar bill (

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PA Senate: Remove Preemptive Language Amendment on Domestic Violence Bill

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Stop Violence Against Women NOW

On March 12, I wrote a blog about the “Shenanigans in the PA Senate.” The day before my blog, the PA Senate essentially eviscerated a bill that makes it illegal for communities to evict a domestic violence victim from her home for calling 911 “too often.”  The Senate Local Government Committee gutted HB 1796 by denying local communities creating paid and/or unpaid sick leave ordinances which threatens victims of domestic violence with loss of their livelihood if they have to take off from work to protect themselves or their family members and cannot get paid or unpaid sick leave that goes beyond federal or state law.

Because of concerns raised by advocates, the Senate so far has not taken the bill to the floor for debate and a vote.  However, this morning, the Senate posted their floor calendar for Tuesday, September 16.  On the agenda is this bill for third and final consideration.  That means that it is likely to be voted on after some debate.

Over the last month, 157 individuals and human rights, anti-violence, public health, and legal services organizations signed onto a letter to the entire Senate calling on them to remove the preemptive employment leave language adopted in Senate Local
Government Committee and pass a clean bill as originally passed in the House.

Here is that letter; FYI, I am one of the signees:

HB 1796_Sign on Letter

Please take a moment and call your Pennsylvania State Senator and tell him/her to remove the preemptive employment leave language and pass a clean bill.  You can find your Senator’s contact information here.

Thank you.

Shenanigans in the PA Senate

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Stop Violence Against Women NOW

Shenanigans in the Senate. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Senate Local Government committee added an amendment to HB1796. This bill passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives on January 14, 2014.  As it arrived in the Senate, it was designed to make it illegal for communities to evict a domestic violence victim from her home for calling 911 “too often.” The amendment that was added would outlaw local communities from passing/enforcing local paid or unpaid sick leave ordinances.

The amendment added by the  Senate Local Government Committee—shown in all caps here—basically guts this bill. On one hand, it protects victims of domestic violence from being evicted but, on the other hand, it threatens them with loss of their livelihood if they have to take off from work to protect themselves or their family members and cannot get paid or unpaid sick leave that goes beyond federal or state law.  Note, federal and state law only protect people who take sick leave who are employed by companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees.  Since the majority of employers have fewer than 50 employees, this amendment could threaten a victim of domestic violence in two ways:

  1. She could lose both of her livelihood and her home should she be unable to pay the rent as a result of her job loss.
  2. She might be forced into continuing the violent relationship should she want to leave if she fears losing her job and can’t take off time from work to productively deal with the violence and injuries that have been inflicted, even after having emergency service intervention.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee need to be contacted asap to ask them to strip the “paid/unpaid sick leave preemption” amendment out of the bill. See note below.

The members of the committee are as follows. You can get their contact info by either going to the Senate Appropriations page or by linking directly to your state Senator below.

Majority Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee

Minority Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee

Minority Members of Senate Appropriations Committee

Thanks for contacting your legislator if she/he is on the Appropriations Committee.  Tell her/him to call for the removal of the paid/unpaid sick leave amendment that was added to the bill in the Senate Local Government Committee and then send the clean bill to the Senate floor for a full vote.

Sample Letter Opposing Sick Leave Preemption Bill

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC

Yesterday afternoon, the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee forwarded a sick leave preemption bill — HB 1960 — to the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representative without amendment.  I have previously written about this ALEC-initiated bill and a similar one on this blog.

The vote on the amendments and on referral of the bill “as committed” was completely along party lines.  All 15 Republicans voted to limit local control and disallow exceptions to the bill for pregnant women and victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; all 10 Democrats voted for the amendments and against the bill.

Now the bill goes to the full floor for debate.  In Pennsylvania, bills can be amended from the floor ONLY on “Second Consideration.”  And that is expected as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, January 29.

Every legislator—Republican and Democrat—needs to know our concerns about this type of  bill.

So in an effort to assist my readers on contacting their representatives about a preemption bill such as this one, I decided to post my letter to Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-171, Centre & Mifflin Counties) on this blog. FYI, he is a conservative Republican, but is not a member of ALEC.

If you live in Pennsylvania, now is the time for you to write a similar letter OR call your state Representative(click here to find your Representative).

This bill is also being “shopped” around the country by ALEC. So… if you live elsewhere in the country, keep this in mind, as a sick leave preemption bill is likely to show up in your state.

Hi Kerry,

I’m writing to strongly urge that you oppose and vote NO on  HB 1960 when it comes up for second consideration as well as on final consideration.  Voting and debate on several amendments is expected on the House floor tomorrow, January 29 under the rules for Second Consideration.

I want you to vote NO on HB 1960 because:

  1. Laws that preempt local decision-making strip cities and counties of their right to adopt policies that will benefit their communities, in violation of core conservative and democratic principles;
  2. It represents attempts by national businesses to circumvent policy at its most basic level; and
  3. Local innovation is the lifeblood of progress. Preemption efforts, driven by special interests, should not stand in the way of local innovation or self-rule. Bills like this represent an ominous attempt to remove power from locally elected officials and make the voters mere bystanders in the democratic processes that define the character of their communities.

I’m particularly concerned about its effect on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  This proposed law will threaten the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who need this form of leave to receive critical services to protect their and their families’ lives – like medical treatment, counseling, and dealing with all court and law enforcement related business.  If local communities can’t make laws that allow victims who work for employers with less than 50 employees, you will be potentially sending these victims back into the hands of their violent perpetrators because they will be unable to financially stand on their own two feet.

Even if preemption bills seem to have a narrow focus, passage of this type of legislation could result in preemption of a wide range of local ordinances in municipalities throughout the state. These include efforts to expand protections for those who have experienced domestic violence, laws prohibiting wage theft, consumer protection initiatives, and many more.

Based on all of these concerns, I am therefore also requesting that you vote for any amendment that makes this bill less onerous.  I understand that several such amendments will be offered, including ones that

  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to maternity leave.
  • That grandfather in any existing local ordinance.

Please vote for all of these life-protecting amendments.  And when the bill comes up for a final vote, VOTE NO!  on HB 1960.

Please let me know what you will do regarding this bill. Thank you.

Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health Initial Roll-Out

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On December 11, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Health Agenda Caucuses rolled out the first set of bills that are part of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Agenda.  The Agenda was spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery). These legislators were assisted by several of their colleagues, including  Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware and Philadelphia), Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny), Mark Painter (D-Montgomery), and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) made the announcement of the roll-out. They announced that this first set of bills would soon be going to committee.

Video Statements

During the media advisory session, several of the Representatives were videotaped by the Pennsylvania House.  Here are those videos:

Representative Dan Frankel Announcing the Roll-Out of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Representative Brian Sims and Erin Molchany Introducing the Pay Equity Bill

Representative Sims spoke first:

Then Representative Molchany followed up with additional information:

Representative Tina Davis Introducing Digital Intimate Partner Violence Bill.

This bill would “make revenge acts that include pictures of partners who are naked or involved in sexual acts illegal.”

Representative Mark Painter Introducing Employment Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Women Bill

Representative Mary Jo Daley Introducing Bill to Require Sanitary Conditions in the Workplace for Breastfeeding Women

Representative Maria Donatucci Introducing Bill to Expand Access to Cervical Cancer Screenings

Advocates Support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Standing next to the legislators were representatives of many different advocacy groups who stood in support of this agenda.  The Women’s Law Project was the lead organization in working with the legislators to help create this agenda.  Pennsylvania NOW was also there.  None of the organizations present spoke at the press conference but did deliver their Statements of Support to the media.  Here are the statements from these two organizations.

Women’s Law Project

This statement is currently posted on the Women’s Law Project Legislative Action page and is repeated here just in case the URL is moved:

Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative
To Improve Women’s Health

Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality.

Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement.

“Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.”

“This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.”

Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person in this state.”

For more details on the proposed legislation, please visit our web site in the coming weeks for updates, as well as visiting the WomenVote PA web site.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org

Pennsylvania NOW

This statement was crafted by Caryn Hunt, President-Elect; Susan Woodland, Secretary-Elect and current  At-Large Member of the Executive Committee, and myself.

Pennsylvania NOW Supports the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

HARRISBURG, December 11, 2013—The Pennsylvania state chapter of the National Organization for Women (PA NOW) applauds the work of the House and Senate Women’s Health Caucuses as they roll out a comprehensive plan to address the real issues affecting Pennsylvania women today. Spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel, Senator Judy Schwank and Senator Chuck McIlhinney in conjunction with the Women’s Law Project, and then developed by a broad coalition of Pennsylvania advocacy organizations that work on behalf of women every day, it is based on years of experience about what women want and need to stay healthy. This Agenda goes a long way to redressing entrenched inequities for women in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania Republicans, like their counterparts in other state legislatures, have obsessed about women’s reproductive rights and have waged a non-stop campaign to control them from the capital, rolling back not just access to safe, legal abortion, but also the sense that women are full citizens entitled to a government and society that also works for them,” said Pennsylvania NOW President-Elect Caryn Hunt. “This agenda provides an antidote to the shallow, rhetorical policy-making of those in the General Assembly who have led the calls for women’s restrictions and called it concern for women’s health. It’s refreshing to see so many bills introduced that will genuinely help women, and that together provide a much truer portrait of the needs women want their representatives to address.”

These first bills address a variety of concerns for women: pregnancy accommodation is a common sense step to ensure that pregnant women are treated not as liabilities, but as persons with a temporary need for reasonable accommodations in the workplace; the bill to provide at 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health clinics is a necessity in our state to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner; bills targeting “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that for too long have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work. Other bills fill gaps in existing protections for nursing mothers, victims of intimate partner harassment and of domestic violence.

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women,” added Joanne Tosti-Vasey, President Emerita and Lobbyist for Pennsylvania NOW. “They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Pennsylvania NOW has high hopes for the Women’s Health Agenda. Finally, the concerns and needs of Pennsylvania are being honestly addressed by their representatives, rather than attacked and abridged.

I will report on more of these bills as they are announced.

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

When Men Murder Women: The Violence Policy Center 2013 Report

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The following is a guest blog originally published here by Jerin Arifa, with an acknowledgement to Patricia Reuss for staying on top of this issue and sending the report to us.

Jerin serves with me on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and chairs NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force.

Patricia is the “godmother” of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), having worked very closely with now Vice-President Joe Biden when he authored the original VAWA back in 1994.  She describes herself as “a longtime women’s rights activist pretending to be retired and currently serving as a policy adviser to NOW and the National Task Force [to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women].”

Earlier this year, Pat wrote a guest blog for me on the Violence Against Women Act. It focused on a watered-down version of VAWA introduced by Republican legislators that fortunately failed and was replaced by a strong re-authorization bill signed into law by President Obama on Women’s Equality Day last March. Thank you Pat for all you do for women’s lives.

Here’s Jerin’s guest blog:

The Violence Policy Center has released their annual report, When Men Murder Women, in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study reports the statistics for females murdered by males, and includes a list of the top ten states with the highest homicide rates.

Some key findings:

  1. For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims were murdered by someone they knew. Compared to a man, a woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.
  2. For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 51 percent of female victims were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 73 percent were killed with handguns.
  3. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than five times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents
  4. For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 87 percent were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
  5. Of these, 60 percent involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
  6. For homicides in which the age of the victim was reported, 8 percent were less than 18 years old and 10 percent were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 39 years old.
  7. Owning a gun doesn’t protect women. Females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.
  8. A gun in the home is a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spousal abuse to homicide. In one study, firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults between family and intimates.
  9. Women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.
  10. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2010, the most recent final data available, are suicide (19,392), homicide (11,078), or fatal unintentional injury (606).
  11. South Carolina was followed by Alaska and Oklahoma as the states with the highest homicide rates for women.

Good Start on Facebook Guidelines, But More is Needed

This morning, the Huffington Post posted an article about yesterday’s statement from Facebook.  Facebook has agreed to take the following steps to reduce online violence against women and children on their pages:

  • We will complete our review and update the guidelines that our User Operations team uses to evaluate reports of violations of our Community Standards around hate speech.  To ensure that these guidelines reflect best practices, we will solicit feedback from legal experts and others, including representatives of the women’s coalition and other groups that have historically faced discrimination.
  • We will update the training for the teams that review and evaluate reports of hateful speech or harmful content on Facebook. To ensure that our training is robust, we will work with legal experts and others, including members of the women’s coalition to identify resources or highlight areas of particular concern for inclusion in the training. 
  • We will increase the accountability of the creators of content that does not qualify as actionable hate speech but is cruel or insensitive by insisting that the authors stand behind the content they create.  A few months ago we began testing a new requirement that the creator of any content containing cruel and insensitive humor include his or her authentic identity for the content to remain on Facebook.  As a result, if an individual decides to publicly share cruel and insensitive content, users can hold the author accountable and directly object to the content. We will continue to develop this policy based on the results so far, which indicate that it is helping create a better environment for Facebook users.
  • We will establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area, including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate our standards. We have invited representatives of the women Everyday Sexism to join the less formal communication channels Facebook has previously established with other groups.
  • We will encourage the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Cyberhate working group and other international working groups that we currently work with on these issues to include representatives of the women’s coalition to identify how to balance considerations of free expression, to undertake research on the effect of online hate speech on the online experiences of members of groups that have historically faced discrimination in society, and to evaluate progress on our collective objectives.

What I don’t see in this Facebook statement is an agreement to be more transparent in their monitoring process. I would like to see them report how many and what types of pages/ads that they have monitored, shut down, and/or contacted for possible violation of their regulations.  In addition, in their efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” I believe they need to provide to the public upon request reasons they allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates the new anti-rape policy from remaining online.
There were several petition sites where you could raise your voice to call on Facebook to follow through on this statement to end their misogynistic rape ads that they have called “humor.”  The one that gathered the most signatures was called Demand Facebook Remove Pages That Promote Sexual Violence.  It is now closed.  This petition collected signatures that were sent to Facebook. It successfully called upon Facebook to do several things (others are listed on the petition page itself), including

  1. Make a public statement that rape is never acceptable; that promoting sexual violence and violence against women is repugnant; remove content that advocates rape, sexual violence, and violence against women; and that the terms of service/community standards will be updated to specify this.
  2. Be transparent about the content monitoring process; to state publicly if and how many pages are removed that promotes sexual violence or violence against women.  (Note, this was not part of Facebook’s recent statement, but I believe should be part of their new policy).

Since the second issue of transparency was not covered in Facebook’s statement, I would suggest we continue making comments to Facebook about the need for more transparency.  There is another petition on Change.org. It is still open and allows you space to comment on this issue.  In that comment box, you can make your suggestion for more transparency as they craft this new policy.  Here’s what I wrote to them in that comment box:

Thank you for issuing your statement to review and update your policy on any type of hate speech that allegedly condones or promotes violence against women including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault (whether it is in ads or on pages).  And thank you for agreeing to “establish more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working in this area [of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking], including women’s groups, to assure expedited treatment of content they believe violate [your new] standards.”
However what I don’t see you your agreement is a willingness to be more transparent about this issue to the public.  I am therefore asking that your efforts to “balance the consideration of free expressions,” that you to provide to the public upon request reasons why you either allow or disallow a particular ad or page that allegedly violates your new anti-violence policy from remaining online.

Nel's New Day

MySpace was a popular social network several years ago, but it was quickly taken over by Facebook and pretty much disappeared. Now, the most popular social network is showing very bad judgment.

Last week, protesters boycotted Facebook advertising because the network permitted images of domestic violence against women at the same time that it banned ads about women’s health. Companies that pulled their advertising include online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street. Dove, a Unilever brand running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, faces pressure on Twitter although Procter & Gamble responded, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Zappos replied that users upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.” Zipcar is still advertising but “expressed to Facebook…

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