Women's rights

  • 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.’”

     

  • March 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Tea Party activists and many of today’s Republican politicians claim to loathe big government. They say they want a limited government role in our lives. But when it comes to the autonomy of women or privacy rights of gay couples, many of those same activists and politicians clamor for government interference.

    A few weeks after Arkansas lawmakers adopted one of the nation’s most restrictive measures on abortions, banning them at 12 weeks of pregnancy; North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law an even more outlandish attack on abortion. The law forbids abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, as The New York Times reported earlier this week. Fetal heartbeats, the newspaper noted can be detected “as early as six weeks” by using an invasive procedure, a transvaginal ultrasound.

    In his statement announcing signing of the bill, HB 1456, into law, Gov. Dalrymple said “the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question,” but it is nevertheless “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

    Discovering the boundaries of Roe is a euphemism for lawmakers’ efforts to topple the landmark Supreme Court opinion. State lawmakers have been on a tear over the last few years passing measures aimed at making it incredibly difficult for women to obtain abortions, especially for women with little means to travel long distances to find a physician willing and able to perform abortions. It is not enough that lawmakers have crafted laws that force women to listen to government propaganda about the alleged dangers of abortions or undergo invasive medical procedures; they want the ability to bar women from receiving abortions.

    In Roe, the high court held that the Constitution’s protections of privacy include the decision to have an abortion. The Roe Court only said that states could regulate that right at the point of viability, about 24 weeks.