The recent events highlighted in this issue of AP(eye) on the Hill are a stark reminder that some politicians will stop at nothing to insult women’s decision-making, that people color continue to experience disproportionate amounts of injustice, and that—in spite of all this— women are resilient and we’re fighting back.
The women in Texas are boldly standing up to politicians, and we’re standing with them. Even after the whole country watched Sen. Wendy Davis bravely speak for 13 hours in her now famous marathon filibuster, Gov. Rick Perry shamelessly called a special session to reconsider the anti-choice bills she was opposing. Thousands of women and allies rallied at the Texas Capitol on July 1st, and they’re not letting up.
Late Friday night, the Texas Senate voted to approve the bill package, which includes a 20-week ban and restrictions that will close all but 5 of 42 abortion facilities in the state. It now awaits the governor’s signature. This law will affect many women of color— 40 percent of the TX population is Latino, 12 percent is African American, and the state has the third largest Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) population in the country. It will also disproportionately harm poor women, for who traveling can be difficult and coming up with enough funds for abortion can take time.
In an interview, Davis said that even if the bill passes, “[wo]men and men across Texas are in an uproar about it and I don’t expect that their concerns on this issue are going to go away with the passage of the law.”
Governor Rick Perry announced last Monday that he will not run for reelection in 2014 and left open the possibility of making a second run for president. Perry faced criticism from the nation and members of his own party for his recent attacks on Davis, suggesting that Davis, who was born to a single mother and is a single mother herself, should have “learned from her own life experiences.” Davis responded, saying Perry’s comments were “without dignity and tarnishe[d] the high office he holds.”
Early this month, it was revealed that at least 148 women in California prisons were sterilized and that many of them felt pressured or misled to undergo the surgery. The vast majority of these women are of color. The women, inmates at the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, were sterilized without required approval from a state medical committee. Kelli Thomas of Los Angeles went into surgery for a biopsy and to have two cysts removed. She gave the doctor permission to remove her ovaries if cancer was found. No cancer was found, yet the doctor removed her ovaries despite the lack of permission and her statement that she wanted children in the future.
There is a long and gruesome history of forced, racist sterilization of institutionalized people and women of color in the United States. During the 20th century, African American, Puerto Rican and Native American women were forcibly or coercively sterilized in an effort to “preserve the white race” and “get rid of inferior elements of society.” After World War II, Japanese women in internment camps were also forcibly sterilized. Some of these procedures took place in penal institutions, though they were in the relative minority. All together, during the 1900s over 65,000 people were sterilized in 33 states under state compulsory sterilization programs.
NAPAWF and other advocates for women of color, believing that this form of control over black, brown and yellow women’s bodies was a thing of the past, are alarmed at this development.
The prison facilities claim the sterilizations were consented to, because consent forms were signed.
House Using Piecemeal Approach to Avoid Equity in Immigration Policy
House Republicans have been using a piecemeal approach to immigration policy reform instead of basing their version off of the bipartisan Senate Bill which, though not perfect, offers many positive provisions for women and families. House members have proposed multiple bills that threaten equity and access to the immigration system for women. They include a bill (HR 2131) that will increase visas for high-skilled workers, disproportionately disadvantaging immigrant women because they are less likely than men to have access to education, and eliminate sibling visas, which women disproportionately rely on, after 10 years. There is also HR 1773, which would separate families by not allowing spouses and children of agricultural guestworkers to be in the U.S., and HR 2278, which would further militarize our border and encourage self-deportation for the undocumented. Among the bills that have passed committee, we expect at least one will make it to the floor before the House recess in August.
Some Good News from North Dakota, for a Change
A North Dakota judge struck down a ban on medical abortions, ruling that the 2011 state law outlawing the two drugs used in medical abortions was “simply wrongheaded” and violated the North Dakota and United States Constitution. Corwin wrote that “no compelling state interest justifies this infringement …” Medical abortions make up approximately a quarter of abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy and are considered safe and effective. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the organization that brought this case, the ban “needlessly forc[es] women seeking an abortion to undergo surgery even when such a procedure may be medically inadvisable.”
A Step Forward for LGBT Employment Equity
The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, was passed by a Senate committee with a bipartisan vote of 15-7 and now moves on to the full Senate. This is the farthest the bill has moved since it was introduced 17 years ago to Congress. Advocacy groups are hopeful that this bill will get bipartisan support in the Senate and then move to the GOP-controlled House. A positive outcome is expected in the House as well, since the Act contains an exemption for religious employers.
Currently, federal law prohibits most employers from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and/or disability; some states do include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected identities. If the bill is signed by President Obama, there will finally be federal recognition of the struggle LGBT people face in finding and retaining jobs because of employer discrimination. Those who are discriminated against will be able to file suits for employment discrimination in court and receive damages.
New York Legislative Session Ends with No Women’s Equality Act
The New York legislative session adjourned without approving a single element of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. It was no big surprise that the most controversial piece would ensure abortion rights are upheld if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. The over 1, 500,000 API women in New York would stand to benefit from this measure.
On June 21st, the New York legislative session adjourned without approving a single element of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. The 10-point legislation would have improved equity for women in many areas.
The act would improve conditions for women in the workplace by increasing pay equity, banning employers from denying jobs or promotions to workers because they have children, and expanding sexual harassment protections. It would also address a range of other critical women’s issues. Despite passing the state assembly by a wide majority, the bill encountered resistance in the state senate, where Republicans and even a handful of Democrats vowed not to support the bill unless the abortion language was removed.
House Shamelessly Approves Banning Abortions After 20 Weeks
On Tuesday, June 18th, the House voted to approve a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on the false and completely disproven “evidence” of fetal pain and largely capitalizes on public outrage surrounding Kermit Gosnell. Tuesday’s vote marks the first time Congress has voted to ban abortion prior to viability. While the bill is not expected to become law, as it faces opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate and a White House veto, it sends a daunting signal about where lawmakers are taking the country—further and further to the right. Supreme Court rulings have established that a woman has a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, around the 24th week of pregnancy, and 20-week limits in Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho have been blocked by court orders.
Ohio’s Sneaky Assault on Women’s Health
On the evening of Sunday, June 30th, surrounded by a group of other male officials, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) signed a controversial bill (HB 59) into law. The two-year budget bill, a nearly $62 billion plan that attempts to spur economic growth, also includes underhanded anti-abortion measures that were unrelated to the state’s economy. The anti-abortion budget provisions ensure that Ohio now has some of the most stringent abortion laws in the nation. They defund Planned Parenthood clinics, reallocate family planning funding to deceptively-named “crisis pregnancy centers,” block rape crisis centers from mentioning abortion to women who have been raped, and require doctors to give women seeking abortions information about the presence of a “fetal heartbeat.”
Ohio has over 238,000 APIs, a population that has increased by nearly 50 percent in the last ten years.
Wisconsin Governor Stealthily Signs TRAP Law, Federal Judge Blocks It
On Monday, July 8th, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of a new Wisconsin law that would ban doctors who lack admitting privileges at nearby hospitals from performing abortions. The new law (SB 206), which was supposed to go into effect the same day, was signed by Governor Scott Walker (R) in the middle of the long Independence Day weekend, when no one was watching. Despite Gov. Walker trying to sign the bill quietly, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood responded immediately with the lawsuit that led to the temporary restraining order, challenging the new law on the hospital admitting privileges requirement. Another provision of the bill that would force women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours before a procedure was not challenged. Federal courts in Alabama and Mississippi recently blocked similar staff privilege requirements after courts found they were unconstitutional and would prevent women from obtaining abortions.
North Carolina Lawmakers Add Abortion Restrictions to Motorcycle Bill
Conservative lawmakers in North Carolina are trying to push through a set of abortion restrictions that would ban sex-selective abortion (a deceptive measure that targets API women), restrict access to medication abortion, ban insurance coverage of the procedure, and force all but one clinic in the state to close. And, get this. First, they attached the provisions to an anti-Sharia law bill (HB 695)—yes, this is a real thing—and then they snuck it into another bill (SB 353) regulating motorcycle safety. Because motorcycles and abortions go hand in hand. The Republican-controlled North Carolina House pushed through the legislation on Thursday, 74-41. The bill now heads back to the state Senate for approval. More than 60 activists were arrested in related protests at the North Carolina capitol. “I ride a motorcycle,” said Rep. Beverly Earle (D), who spoke out against the bill. “And I want to let my motorcycle buddies know that when I vote against this, it’s not because I’m not concerned about their safety on the highways.”