women's rights

The Supreme Court’s Attack on Working Women

The following is a guest blog by Beth Huang, 2010 Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in two critical cases with major implications for working women. The Supreme Court ruled once again that corporations are people, this time conferring religious rights that trump workers’ rights to access full healthcare. In a dissent to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted “that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Justice Ginsberg’s dissent reveals the real impacts of denying coverage of contraception for low-wage working women -- something the slim five-justice, all-male majority fails to comprehend.

To compound the attack on working women, five male Justices severely undermined the ability of care workers – 95 percent of whom are women – to collectively bargain in the case Harris v. Quinn. This assault on working people stems from the Justices’ view that the care workers in the case are not “real” public employees and thus the union cannot charge the appropriate agency fee to all of them for its bargaining services. This ruling serves the interests of anti-worker extremists at the expense of these invaluable workers who care for our families and our children.

It’s clear: a majority of Justices are trampling over the rights of working women. In light of these attacks, it’s time to organize for gender equity and economic justice for working women.

Back in 2010 when I was a student, Young People For helped me develop organizing skills that have led me to effectively advocate for and with women and workers. Through my work in student labor organizing as an undergraduate and since graduation, I have seen that workers’ rights are women’s rights, from having access to comprehensive healthcare to having a voice on the job. To build an economy that works for today’s students and youth, we need to organize locally and train new leaders in the broad effort to advance our agenda for gender equity and economic justice.

At the Student Labor Action Project a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, we’re doing just that by building student power to advance an agenda that protects the rights of current workers and promotes a more just economy for students to enter when they graduate. Our campaigns focus on demanding funding for public higher education, which we know is a major source of good jobs and upward mobility for women and people of color; pushing back on Wall Street profits that fuel the student debt crisis; and raising the working conditions for Walmart workers, 57 percent of whom are women.

The Supreme Court’s decisions last week underscored the urgency of organizing for these changes. Women’s access to equal rights, power in the workplace, and comprehensive healthcare depends on it.

PFAW Foundation

Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, and the Importance of Women Justices

Days after the Supreme Court handed down its damaging 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS issued an order that underscored the danger that Hobby Lobby poses for women’s health.

In Wheaton College v. Burwell, SCOTUS temporarily granted relief to Wheaton College, a religious institution that is “categorically” opposed to providing contraceptive services, from the contraception coverage compromise solution that the  Court explicitly endorsed in Hobby Lobby. The order says that Wheaton may be exempt from submitting a form that would inform the government that they object to covering birth control. Wheaton College argued that submitting this form would make it “complicit in the provision of contraceptive coverage.” The temporary order indicates that the Court’s majority may accept this problematic argument.

In what Think Progress called a “blistering dissent” to the order, Justice Sonia Sotomayor — joined by the two other female Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — sharply criticized the order. Sotomayor wrote in the dissent:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

While this order is temporary until the case may be heard in front of the Court, the female Justices’ strong dissent demonstrates not only the division within the Court, but also the importance of having diversity on our courts. Women on the bench provide a critically important perspective on all cases, but especially those that deal with women’s lives. It is more important than ever, when women’s rights are under assault, that women are more fairly represented at all levels of government.

PFAW Foundation

African American Ministers on Hobby Lobby: Employers Shouldn’t Be Able to Dictate Women’s Health Decisions

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the female clergy members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council released the following statement:

“In today’s Hobby Lobby decision, the men of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority took special pains to argue that companies can’t dictate all of their employees’ health decisions, just those about women’s health.

“This is a full-scale attack on women, and it’s unacceptable. Today’s ruling threatens to prevent countless women from accessing the reproductive health services they need. Women’s health decisions should be between them and their doctors, not them and their employers.

“As faith leaders, we are deeply concerned about the distortion of the concept of religious liberty in today’s decision. Allowing corporations to infringe on the rights of their employees in the name of religious freedom is not what our Constitution’s framers had in mind, and it’s not in line with our values as Americans.”

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PFAW Action Fund Endorses Young Progressive Candidates in Michigan

People For the American Way Action Fund today endorsed a slate of young progressive candidates running for the Michigan State Legislature. The endorsements are part of PFAW Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program that supports progressive candidates age 35 and younger. The Michigan candidates endorsed today are a diverse mix of progressive leaders who are positioned to make Michigan’s legislature be more inclusive and accountable.

“These candidates are the best and brightest young progressive candidates running for the legislature in Michigan,” said PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager. “They are people-oriented folks from all walks of life who will fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, and promote equality for all. Their leadership in their communities demonstrates a progressive vision that will benefit all Michiganders.”

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse the following Michigan YEP candidates for 2014:

•         Stephanie Chang – MI House District 6
•         Jon Hoadley – MI House District 60
•         David Knezek – MI Senate District 5
•         Kristy Pagan – MI House District 21
•         Rebecca Thompson – MI District 1
•         Robert Wittenberg – MI House District 27

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People For the American Way Action Fund Endorses Young Progressive Candidates in Michigan

People For the American Way Action Fund today announced its endorsements of a slate of young progressive candidates running for the Michigan State Legislature. The endorsees include a diverse mix of 35-and-younger candidates running for the Michigan state House of Representatives and state Senate, representing a new generation of progressive leaders who will put Michigan’s legislature back-on-track towards a common sense, inclusive, accountable public policy agenda for the state’s future. Their leadership represents a progressive vision that will benefit all Michiganders as they fight for social, economic, environmental justice and equality for all.

The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates age 35-and-younger in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these Michigan YEP candidates for 2014:

Stephanie Chang – MI House District 6

Running for Michigan’s House of Representatives District 6, Stephanie Chang is a Michigander whose dedication to the community has benefited many. Chang has worked around the state advocating for Affirmative Action, serving as a mentor for Detroit Asian Youth Project, and promoting a fair justice system. Chang’s knowledge and breadth of experience in Michigan make her an important leader for the state as she fights for social, economic, and environmental justice. Visit Stephanie’s page for more details.

Jon Hoadley – MI House District 60

Jon Hoadley is the clear choice to represent Michigan’s 60th District in the state House of Representatives. Hoadley, a small business owner and member of several advocacy organizations in Kalamazoo, is deeply ingrained and in tune with the needs of his community, which makes him the ideal representative. He has already worked to better Kalamazoo advocating for full LGBTQ equality, creating strong and sustainable public schools, and protecting the environment. Visit Jon’s page for more details.

David Knezek – MI Senate District 5

David Knezek is running for Michigan state Senate’s 5th District and has proven that he is the ideal candidate for the position. Knezek is a true leader, having been promoted to the rank of Sergeant during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, he was elected Student Government President, and in his senior year of college he was elected to be a Michigan state representative. Knezek has proven that he will advocate for his community and improve education, public safety, and job opportunities for Michigan citizens. Visit David’s page for more details.

Kristy Pagan – MI House District 21

Born and bred in Michigan, Kristy Pagan is the ideal candidate for the 21st District of Michigan’s state House of Representatives. She has worked in Washington, D.C. as a legislative aide and a national grassroots organizer. Her determination to serve coupled with her knowledge of and dedication to Michigan will serve the state well. Pagan is a true progressive, and has both the resolve and the passion to reform Michigan’s educational system, advocate for women and children, and improve job growth. Visit Kristy's page for more details.

Rebecca Thompson – MI District 1

Rebecca Thompson is running for election to the 1st District of the Michigan state House of Representatives. Thompson was born and raised in Detroit, and overcame experiences with poverty and homelessness to become a leader in the community. She has worked tirelessly to better Detroit for everyone, using her own experiences to positively impact those around her. Thompson is passionate about affordable education, improving safety, protecting women’s rights, and advocating for her community. Visit Rebecca's page for more details.

Robert Wittenberg – MI House District 27
                                                                                                                     
Robert Wittenberg is running to represent District 27 in the Michigan state House of Representatives. After being inspired by his parents’ and brothers’ work, he is determined to follow in their footsteps and serve his community. As a public servant, he advocates for full equality for the LGBTQ community, increased public transportation, and access to healthcare for all. Visit Robert's page for more details.

PFAW

People For the American Way Action Fund Endorses Ariana Kelly for Delegate in MD-16

Today People For the American Way Action Fund announced its endorsement of Ariana Kelly for delegate in Maryland’s 16th Legislative District.

Ariana Kelly currently serves Maryland’s 16th District in the House of Delegates. She is one of six primary candidates for the three delegate seats. First elected in 2010, Kelly is the former national campaign director for MomsRising.org. Prior to that she served as executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, and served on the board of directors of the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland. A lifelong Democrat and native of Bethesda, Kelly is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As delegate, she has been a strong advocate for women’s rights, education, and access to healthcare. She serves on the health and government operations committee, the insurance subcommittee, and the bi-county agency committee. Kelly was named Legislator of the Year by the Mental Health Association of Maryland, won the Young Woman of Achievement Award from the Women’s Information Network, and is secretary for the Women Legislators of Maryland.

“Ariana Kelly is a committed champion for women, survivors of domestic violence, and children, who has established herself as a true leader,” said Randy Borntrager, PFAW Political Director. “She is a true progressive leader who will fight for a better future as delegate.”
               
Visit Ariana Kelly’s campaign website for more details.

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People For the American Way Action Fund Endorses Lucy Flores for Nevada Lieutenant Governor

Today People For the American Way Action Fund announced its endorsement of Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores for Lieutenant Governor.

Flores, one of the first Latinas to serve in the Nevada legislature, rose rapidly into leadership. By 2013, she was already serving as Assistant Majority Whip, and she now serves as vice chair of the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

“Lucy Flores is exactly the kind of young, dynamic, progressive leader that Nevada needs,” said PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager. “Her story of overcoming adversity puts her in a unique position to fight for women’s rights and minority rights from a place of personal experience. I am confident she will continue to fight for equal protection under the law for all Nevadans.”

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Flores grew up as one of 13 siblings and struggled as a teenager, ultimately dropping out of high school. But with encouragement and support, Flores put her troubled years behind her, received a GED, and became the first in her family to go to college. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and later a law degree from the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In 2008, Flores served on the Nevada Commission on Minority Affairs, where she was an advocate for the renewal of the state’s ombudsman for minority consumer affairs, ensuring equal protection under Nevada’s consumer protection laws. In the legislature, she passed landmark legislation improving high school testing, protecting consumers from predatory unauthorized practice of law, and protecting survivors of domestic violence from their abusers.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to support Flores’ quest to “bring a vision and voice to Nevada that hasn’t been heard before.”  Learn more about her campaign for Lieutenant Governor at http://www.lucyflores.com.

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Women Justices Press Important Questions During Hobby Lobby Arguments

Crowds of activists and advocacy groups gathered outside while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc. case.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not shy away from asking difficult questions that demonstrate the broad implications this case could have. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan voiced concerns regarding the implications of a ruling for the first time in our nation’s history that for-profit corporations have religious rights. Both justices questioned whether this decision would allow companies to deny access to coverage of not only contraceptive methods, but also of other lifesaving procedures employers might object to on religious grounds—like blood transfusions or vaccines.

The Huffington Post quotes Justice Kagan as saying, “There are quite a number of medical treatments that could be religiously objected to… Everything would be piecemeal, nothing would be uniform.”

Pushing the issue further, Justice Sotomayor asked, “How are courts supposed to know whether a corporation holds a particular religious belief?”

Similarly, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

was a law that was passed overwhelmingly [by] both houses of Congress. People from all sides of the political spectrum voted for it. It seems strange that there would have been that tremendous uniformity if it means [corporations are covered].

She added…

[T]here was an effort to adopt a … specific conscience amendment in 2012, and the Senate rejected that… That amendment would have enabled secular employers and insurance providers to deny coverage on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions. It was specifically geared to secular employers and insurance providers. And that…was rejected.

Justice Kagan noted that RFRA was considered non-controversial when it passed, an unlikely reaction if it had been understood to open the door to employers citing religious objections to complying with laws relating to sex discrimination, minimum wage, family leave, or child labor.

Justice Kagan also noted that women are “quite tangibly harmed” when employers don’t provide contraceptive coverage. This decision, however, could have far-reaching implications beyond women’s reproductive rights since this case deals with some of the same core issues seen in “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s, as we pointed out yesterday morning.

PFAW Foundation

‘Right to Discriminate’ Bills, Meet Hobby Lobby

Last month, as Arizona governor Jan Brewer deliberated whether to sign or veto a law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, the public outcry was immense. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain shared their opposition via Twitter. Companies including American Airlines, Apple, and AT&T urged a veto. Multiple state senators who had voted for SB 1062 asked Gov. Brewer to veto it. When she did, advocacy groups praised the decision and many in Arizona and across the country breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief.

But it turns out that sigh may have been premature.

This morning the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a case that, on its face, appears to be dealing with a different issue – women’s access to contraception – but in fact grapples with some of the same core issues in play with “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s. In the Hobby Lobby case, as in its companion case Conestoga Wood Specialities v. Sebelius, corporations are trying to avoid complying with the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. But both the Supreme Court cases and the “right to discriminate” bills address the question of whether for-profit corporations have religious rights and can use those “rights” in a way that brings harm to others. 

Comparing the vetoed Arizona bill to efforts to let companies deny covering contraception, National Women’s Law Center vice president Emily Martin put it like this: “What you’re seeing in both cases are corporations asserting the right to break the law in the name of religion, even if it results in harm and discrimination for third parties.” And The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin noted,

Indeed, a victory for Hobby Lobby might bring in an Arizona-style rule through the back door….The Arizona law and the Hobby Lobby case represent two sides of the same coin. Both assert that the invocation of a religious belief allows a company to opt out of a government requirement that applies to everyone else.

But corporations have never had religious rights, and as affiliate PFAW Foundation senior fellow Jamie Raskin wrote in a recent report, that concept is simply “absurd.”

[I]t is time for the Court to restore some reality to the conversation.  Business corporations do not belong to religions and they do not worship God.  We do not protect anyone’s religious free exercise rights by denying millions of women workers access to contraception.

PFAW

How Money in Politics Undermines Diversity in Elected Office

During a speech to a packed audience at the University of Washington on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was asked by a student what problems need to be fixed in order to see more women and people of color in government. 

Sotomayor’s answer, as reported by The Seattle Times, was simple: “Money.”

“Money,” Sotomayor said to laughter. “No, seriously. Look at what’s happening in politics. What’s talking the loudest is money.” For more minorities and women to gain more of a foothold in government decisions, “we’re going to have to work the political system at the highest level,” she said.

Justice Sotomayor is right. Today our country is represented by leaders who, as a whole, look little like the electorate they are supposed to represent and serve. Women are a majority of the population, and yet only make up 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House, putting us 83rd in the world for women’s political representation. We have only one openly LGBTQ person and only a handful of people of color in the US Senate – in 2012 there were no African Americans. This picture is not only problematic in itself, but it also has broad implications for policy outcomes.

It’s true that we have also seen some promising developments in political representation in recent years. The 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, with a record number of women and minorities elected, as well as a number of firsts. As the policy director for the Young Elected Officials Network, I am heartened by the changing faces of leadership at all levels of government, and what this means for our country both symbolically and substantively. But, like Justice Sotomayor, I’m also concerned that our country’s money in politics problem is standing in the way of further progress.

Much has been said lately about the impact of money in politics on political representation. At The Atlantic’s Shriver Report summit on women and poverty in January, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted,

If you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility in debate, more women will run for office… We say to women, we want you to go raise 12 million dollars, and by the way, subject yourself to 10 million dollars in negative publicity.

The influence of money in politics not only fuels corruption and the elevation of special and powerful interests, but it exacerbates the imbalance of power as a whole in our country by creating barriers to political representation for communities who are already marginalized. It perpetuates a system where the country is led by people who don’t understand the daily lived and embodied experiences of their constituents.

On Capitol Hill, we see the effects of this imbalance play out each day. From thwarted gun violence prevention efforts to legislation attacking women’s reproductive health voted on by committees and panels made up entirely of men, we continue to have elected leaders who side against the demonstrated wishes of its voters and with the moneyed interests.

We must pursue reforms that transform our electoral processes, even the playing field for all candidates, and restore the power to the people by reducing the outsized influence of big money and protecting the rights of voters. All indications show that we get better results for everyone when there’s diversity in governing bodies.

It’s both common sense, and a matter of basic human rights.

PFAW Foundation

Heroic Filibuster in TX Stops Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill

A sweeping anti-abortion bill that would have decimated women’s rights in Texas was defeated thanks to Sen. Wendy Davis’s 13-hour filibuster.

Election Is Mandate for Policies Grounded in Progressive American Values

The American people have made their choice -- a resounding victory for President Obama and Vice President Biden and a mandate for their policy agenda.
PFAW

Aspirin as the New Birth Control: The GOP War on Women Reaches New Lows

Last year, right-wing lawmakers attempted to defund the entire $317 million federal family program and tried to redefine "rape." Well, the War on Women's Health is back -- and now it's a flat-out, all-out War on Women.
PFAW

Supreme Court Slams the Courthouse Door on Women Facing Discrimination

Today, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, reversing a 9th Circuit Court decision and making it much more difficult to hold large corporations accountable for their treatment of employees.

House Moves to Deny Women’s Constitutionally-Protected Rights

The House has passed a sweeping bill that will resurrect the failed "Stupak ban" from the healthcare debate, effectively banning even private coverage of abortion care, and adds a new tax penalty to ensure that the ban becomes a reality

Republicans Set to Deny Preventative Healthcare to Women

This week, the House and Senate plan to vote on the Pence Amendment, which would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, putting the health and safety of millions of Americans at stake.

PFAW Condemns House Republicans’ Ban on Local Support for Women’s Health

In the budget deal reached last week, the GOP didn’t only win huge tax cuts for their corporate supporters and the super-rich; they also used the impending government shutdown as leverage to ban local support for women’s health in Washington, DC.

House-Passes Devastating Amendment in Latest Attack in the GOP's War on Women

Moments ago, the House passed an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence that would eliminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics, which provide critical health services to millions of women each year.

Backlash Against SD Anti-Choice Bill Proves Voters Want Jobs, Not Attacks on Women

A proposed bill in South Dakota that would have classified murders of abortion doctors as “justifiable homicide” has been shelved after a national outcry, according to news reports. The bill, the latest in a series of attacks on women from state and federal lawmakers, drew outrage from pro-choice groups, including People For the American Way.

PFAW Condemns Abortion Provider Murder Bill

South Dakota’s House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on a bill that would legalize the killing of abortion providers. The bill would expand the state’s definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings meant to protect the life of a fetus.
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