Women's rights

  • May 31, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Lisa Heinzerling, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law. Heinzerling is also a Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member Scholar. This piece is crossposted at CPRBlog.

    A panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has just taken under consideration the Food and Drug Administration’s motion for a stay of a district court order directing the agency to make levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives available to women and girls of any age without a prescription and without other point-of-sale restrictions. In deliberating on this motion, the panel of judges should not, I am sorry to say, take anything the FDA has said in its briefs at face value. The government’s opening and reply briefs on the motion to stay are so full of misstatements and omissions that the court could badly err if it did not take everything the government says with a shaker full of salt.

    One of the factors in deciding whether to grant a stay pending appeal is the likelihood that the moving party will succeed on the merits. The government devotes most of its briefs to this factor. It makes two arguments as to why the court of appeals should find that the government is likely to win on appeal and should thus stay the district court’s order on emergency contraception. Both arguments depend crucially on incomplete and inaccurate renderings of the law and facts of the case.

    Before turning to these arguments, a bit of context is necessary. The levonorgestrel-based emergency contraception at the center of this legal dispute takes two forms. One, Plan B and its generic versions, requires two pills. The other, Plan B One-Step and its generic versions, requires one pill. Both involve the same total dose of levonorgestrel. Despite these obvious similarities, the FDA has worked very hard to treat these drugs very differently; it has made Plan B One-Step available without a prescription to all women and girls over the age of 15, it has apparently blocked nonprescription market access to generic versions of Plan B One-Step for girls under 17, and it has resisted requests to make Plan B and its generic versions available without a prescription to girls under age 17. The district court’s order would make all of these drugs (except Plan B, which is no longer marketed) available without a prescription; the FDA would like to keep treating them differently.

  • May 7, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Fatima Goss Graves & Amy K. Matsui, National Women's Law Center

    This week the Senate HELP Committee will vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor.   In the midst of the many unfair and unfounded attacks lobbed against Mr. Perez in recent weeks, an important legal doctrine for combating sex discrimination has also come under attack: disparate impact. Under Mr. Perez’s leadership as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice, the Department has employed the longstanding disparate impact analysis to combat employment discrimination.  Its application is not only legally sound, but exceptionally important to eliminate discrimination and further justice.

    The Supreme Court and Congress have long made clear that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “prohibits employers from using employment practices that cause a disparate impact” based on sex and other protected classes. The doctrine of disparate impact allows for a remedy when an employment practice that may be neutral on its face has an unjustified adverse effect on members of a protected class.

    Disparate impact has been crucial to addressing entrenched discriminatory employment practices.  Indeed, women’s entry into high-wage, nontraditional occupations has been made possible in large part by challenges to unfortunate employment practices that disproportionately disadvantage women, which would have otherwise remained unchanged but for the Title VII’s disparate impact doctrine.  Courts, for example, have struck down height, weight or strength requirements implemented by employers in police departments, fire departments, in construction and in correctional facilities because the requirements were not related to job performance, but instead reflected stereotypes about the skills required for a position.  Moreover, there are often alternative practices that may both satisfy job performance demands and allow for a diverse workforce.

  • April 19, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Allison Guttu*

    On April 5, U.S. federal judge in Tummino et al. v. Hamburg ordered that the Morning-After Pill be made available "without a prescription and without point-of-sale or age restrictions within thirty days."

    Until the court’s ruling, emergency contraception was only available without a prescription for women 17 and up, forcing all women to be “carded” to buy it. Now, the Morning-After Pill or “Plan B” can be stocked on any shelf in any store, next to condoms, aspirin, or shampoo. No prescription or identification will be needed to buy it.

    The Morning-After Pill prevents pregnancy up to 5 days after sex; but is most effective within the first 24 hours. It is not RU-486, which induces an abortion. If you are pregnant, it will not work. But, having this form of birth control at our fingertips will give women enormous freedom--if we don’t want to have a child, we won’t have to.

    When women can’t control how many children we have, it impacts us as a group, not just individually. Not being able to control the course of our lives has deep implications for women. It means we have less leverage, whether in the workplace, with partners, in our families, or in our public lives. No birth control method is foolproof. Sometimes our partners resist using condoms, condoms break, and sometimes we forget to take the pill. Less frequently we are "swept away" by the moment, but should that mean that we have to bear a child? The Morning-After Pill is one more way for us to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

    For over a decade, grassroots feminists with National Women’s Liberation (NWL) -- including lead plaintiff Annie Tummino -- have been waging the most important fight in decades to expand access to birth control in the United States: making the Morning-After Pill available over-the-counter without any restrictions.

  • April 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a bleak era of state and federal lawmakers striving to dictate to women on health care concerns, primarily centering on birth control, a federal court today offered a respite. It ruled that the federal government must stop making it difficult for young women to get access to emergency contraception.

    U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman found that the FDA’s refusal to remove restrictions on the availability of Plan B, a medication to help prevent pregnancy, was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

    The Atlantic’s James Hamblin notes that “leaders in the FDA have advocated” the availability of the drug for some time now. “In 2011, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg concluded that it was safe to sell Plan B One-Step over the counter. The American Medical Association, Americans Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and American Academy of Pediatrics have since endorsed unrestricted access to emergency contraception.”

    But, in a move reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration’s disdain for science, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last year ignored the FDA’s recommendation and held that young women could not get access to Plan B without a prescription.

    Judge Korman blasted Sebelius’ decision as revealing “a strong showing of bad faith and improper political influence,” TPM’s Sahil Kapur reports.

    President of NARAL Pro-Choice American Ilyse Hogue lauded Korman’s decision, saying it is an “affirmation that policy can and should be driven by facts and by public health. For years, women have had to jump through hoops because officials in Washington played politics with our health. Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to putting women in control of our destinies.”

    It’s also a court ruling that will undoubtedly be attacked by the rabid and righteous groups bent on controlling certain health care decisions that should be left solely to women.

  • April 3, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even before the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases dealing with government discrimination of gay couples who want to get married, a growing chorus of legal scholars and others urged the high court to move slowly. Because, according to these folks, if the justices declare that lesbians and gay men have a constitutionally protected right to wed, a backlash against the marriage equality movement could be unleashed.

    And proof for such a backlash centers on the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which found that the right of privacy includes the right of women to make their own decisions on abortion. According to proponents of moving slowly on marriage equality, Roe sparked a backlash against growing support of abortion and now we have state after state trying to trample the fundamental right. Therefore the backlash proponents argue that the justices should learn from Roe and avoid handing down a ruling that would end government discrimination against gay couples seeking to wed. This backlash story has been fueled in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who while defending the Roe decision, said the Court moved to fast.

    But as an editorial in The New York Times notes, the backlash proponents are basing their argument on a “false reading of politics before and after Roe v. Wade ….” The editorial cites the work of ACS Board Members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, both teach at Yale Law School, documenting the fact that the fevered opposition to reproductive rights was forming long before the high court handed down Roe.

    In a 2010 interview with ACSblog, highlighting their Before Roe v. Wade book, Greenhouse and Siegel said the documentation they collected for the book showed “that, contrary to the commonly expressed view that it was the Supreme Court and its decision that unleashed a ‘backlash’ against abortion reform, a vigorous counter-movement was forming well before Roe. In the late 1960s, as public support for liberalization surged, the Catholic Church helped organized an anti-abortion movement to oppose liberalization in every state legislature and court considering abortion laws. Strategists for President Nixon’s 1972 re-election then decided to denounce ‘permissive’ abortion laws to attract Catholics from their longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party and court the support of a ‘silent majority.’”