Women's rights

  • July 1, 2015
    BookTalk
    Under The Bus
    How Working Women Are Being Run Over
    By: 
    Caroline Fredrickson

    by Caroline Fredrickson, President, American Constitution Society for Law & Policy

    When she was 18, my great-grandmother Mathilda Olafsson left Sweden to escape poverty, sailing alone in steerage to Boston where she was lucky to find a job as a maid. Like countless immigrant women, Mathilda was subject to sexual harassment, underpayment, and abusively long hours. As she endured backbreaking labor and meals consisting of her employers’ scraps, she hoarded her meager earnings, working toward a better life.

    Growing up, I found Mathilda’s story ‒ so far in the past, so different from today ‒ inspirational. But sadly, even after the enactment of various labor laws and worker protections, many working women are still enduring the abuses that my great-grandmother suffered. The truth is, domestic workers and workers in other undervalued, female-dominated professions have little more legal protection than Mathilda and her peers had.

    Americans tend to think working conditions aren't so bad today; the U.S. has prohibited discrimination against women, mandated equal pay for equal work, and adopted family leave legislation. But few Americans know that the progressive laws designed to improve wages and working conditions left out large portions of the working population. That’s because during the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt struck bargains with “Dixiecrats,” trading the rights of African American and female workers for votes in support of a minimum wage, overtime, and the right to join a union.

    As a result, certain workers – including nannies, housekeepers, farmworkers, small business employees, part-time workers, independent contractors, and temporary workers – have almost zero protection under U.S. law. Not coincidentally, these workers are disproportionately female and people of color.

  • June 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Linda Greenhouse, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, and Reva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor at Yale Law School.

    *This post originally appeared on Balkinization.

    "Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt," the famous first line of the joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, sounds more than a little ironic following the Fifth Circuit's latest endorsement of the unrelenting anti-abortion campaigns conducted by the elected leaders of the states within the circuit. Liberty of reproductive choice finds no refuge in the Fifth Circuit.

    Unless stayed by the Supreme Court, the recently-decided Whole Women's Health v. Cole will soon close three-quarters of the abortion clinics left in Texas.  Where there were 41 clinics less than two years ago, there will soon be as few as eight in a state of 27 million people. The disappearing clinics can't meet the law's requirements that their doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals or that the clinics be retrofitted as mini hospitals themselves. There is no evidence that either regulation contributes to the health or safety of abortion patients. But the state justified both requirements as serving its interest in protecting women's health, and the Fifth Circuit, invoking Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, accepted the state's claim at face value.

    In a forthcoming article in the Yale Law Journal, we argue that Casey and Carhart require more: that courts must examine how effectively a health-justified regulation actually serves the state’s asserted health interests in order to determine whether the burden it imposes on women’s access to abortion is undue.  On this analysis, a roadblock statute of the kind the Fifth Circuit recently upheld is plainly unconstitutional. We demonstrate this, not only through the language of Casey/Carhart, but also through an understanding of the compromise the undue burden framework represents.

    Recall that, in neither overturning nor wholly reaffirming Roe v. Wade, Casey authorized government to take steps to protect potential life throughout a woman's pregnancy, but only by means of persuading a woman to forego abortion and become a mother.  “[T]he means chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.” Thus, Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period and a mandatory counseling requirement, while striking down a law requiring married women to notify their husbands of their intention to terminate a pregnancy. The line Casey drew—allowing the state to persuade a woman to choose childbirth, but forbidding the state to "hinder" her choice of abortion—is one that protects women's dignity, a value as much at the core of the Casey compromise as the protection of prenatal life.

  • June 22, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School and Executive Vice President for University Life at Columbia University.

    *This post originally appeared on The HuffPost Blog.

    As the U.S. Supreme Court considers taking up another case related to abortion rights, now is the time to reexamine the old-chestnut narrative that abortion rests solely on a tenuous right to privacy and take heed that the Court ‒ yes, this Court ‒ has a long track record of protecting not only privacy but also the liberty that is part of such deeply personal decision-making.

    Over the last several decades, a popular, but inaccurate, narrative has taken hold about the constitution and abortion. Many argue that the right to privacy, set out in Roe v. Wade in 1973, is the sole constitutional protection for a woman's right to end a pregnancy. But this analysis rests on a limited and restrictive understanding of the law.

    The right to abortion is grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects all of us from undue government interference with our liberty interests. More than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court made this clear when it reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, the Court explained that this right was rooted in a woman's Fourteenth Amendment liberty right, which covers decisions about marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing and education. 

    In the words of the linchpin justices, Souter, O'Connor and Kennedy:

    These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

    At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

  • June 19, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    For those who attended, the 2015 ACS National Convention was not only an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new connections, and obtain CLE credits; it was also a time to reflect upon the important work that attorneys do every day and gain inspiration for the road ahead.  Speakers from across the country and from diverse professional backgrounds delved into the issues of the day, including voting rights, women’s access to reproductive health care, LGBT rights and marriage equality, access to counsel, and more.  Here are some highlights with links to high-quality video for those who missed the live event.

    Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, received a stirring round of applause when he encouraged students and young lawyers to represent unpopular clients, saying “we need to see the kinds of injustices that got . . . people where they are.” In attendance with Mr. Bright were Theo Shaw, one of the exonerated “Jena 6” who is now on his way to law school on a full scholarship, and Jarrett Adams, an exoneree who graduated from law school and will soon begin clerking for the court that exonerated him.

    Wendy Davis, women’s rights crusader and a former state Senator from Texas, discussed how rampant voter suppression has led to bad policies in her state, particularly concerning access to reproductive health care. “Women who lack the means to manage their fertility lack the means to manage their lives,” she declared. “It is just that simple.”

    Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for automatic registration of all eligible voters in the U.S., stating that “the ability to vote is a right, it is not a privilege.” He decried efforts to make voting less accessible, explaining that in-person voting fraud is very rare and no such widespread schemes have been detected.

    U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries discussed the ongoing need to address faulty police practices, including so-called “taxation by citation,” “stop and frisk,” and “broken windows” tactics that disproportionately target low-income people and communities of color.

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drew laughs and applause during her conversation with California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu. Speaking about her groundbreaking career, she said “I don’t think the meaning of feminism has changed,” it has always meant “girls should have the same opportunity to dream, aspire, achieve . . . as boys.” It’s about “women and men working together to help make society a better place.”

  • June 8, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nancy Northup, President and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s symposium honoring the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut.

    Fifty years ago yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that forever changed the legal landscape of our right to plan our families and make private decisions that are fundamental to our lives.  The 1965 case, Griswold v. Connecticut, found that married couples have a constitutional right to obtain and use birth control when planning their families, free from antiquated laws that criminalized their doctors and prevented them from making personal decisions about when and whether to have children.

    Griswold’s recognition of a constitutional right to privacy was a first step towards the Court’s subsequent decisions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Lawrence v. Texas, which found the right to liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment protects a broad set of liberty rights ― including the rights to bodily integrity, family decision making, and personal dignity and autonomy ― as well as privacy.

    But the story does not end there.  Far too many American women still face an uphill battle when trying to plan their families ― including efforts by politicians to choke off women’s access to emergency contraception and defund family planning clinics which provide low or no cost birth control.

    Political hurdles such as these are especially high for women living in poor, rural, and immigrant communities ― where access to any health care services can be sparse and the cost of contraception could mean the difference between making the rent and putting food on the table.  And when women don’t have access to reproductive health care, the impact is clear: Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended or mistimed ― one of the highest amongst developed nations in the world.