What the GOP’s Supreme Obstruction Means for Women

Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo on several crucial issues.

— by Martha Burk, OtherWords.org author
Martha BurkSenators, constitutional scholars may tell you, must “advise and consent” on the president’s Supreme Court nominees. But apparently the official GOP policy is to “refuse and obstruct.” They’ve vowed not even to give President Obama’s nominees a vote.

These Republicans claim that leaving the Supreme Court understaffed is no big deal. Well, it’s certainly a big deal for women. Pending cases on abortion, birth control, education, and public employee unions are all sitting before a divided court.

The scariest case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.

It’s a challenge to a Texas law that would close all but about 10 abortion clinics in the state — down from more than 40 — by requiring them to essentially become mini-hospitals. They’d have to employ only doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a regulation almost unheard of for safe and common procedures like abortion.

LaDawna Howard / Flickr
LaDawna Howard / Flickr

Since an appeals court upheld the requirements, a 4-4 deadlock on the Supreme Court would give Texas the green light to enforce them. And it would almost certainly encourage other states to enact similar laws.

On the birth control front, the court will consider Zubik v. Burwell. A successor to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s an argument over whether religiously affiliated institutions have to observe the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer-provided health plans cover birth control.

These groups are allowed to avoid the requirement by filling out a form, in which case the government will arrange with their insurer to cover their employees. A few of these groups are claiming that still makes them complicit in sinful conduct.

A 4-4 tie at the Supreme Court would be a mixed bag, since most — but not all — appeals court decisions have upheld the accommodation as not burdensome to religious practice.

Meanwhile, established labor law is on the line in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where the court will consider whether public employees who choose not to join unions can still be required to pay fees for collective bargaining activities. A decision against the unions could mortally wound them.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, women are the majority of the public sector workforce, and the wage gap with their male counterparts is smaller for public union women than non-union women. The lower court favored the unions, so a tie would stave off a major blow to their viability. But that’s still a lot to risk.

Women are now also the majority of college students, and women of color could be greatly affected by a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas. In that case, the court will decide whether the school’s race‑conscious admissions program violates the Constitution’s equal protection principles.

Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself. So if the Senate leaves Scalia’s seat unfilled, the case will be decided by seven justices — which means there can be no tie. Three judges — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito — oppose affirmative action, and a fourth, Anthony Kennedy, has previously expressed doubts about the University of Texas policy.

So what’s the score?

In four cases affecting women the most, two could go in women’s favor with tie votes. A third tie vote would go against women, and a 4-3 conservative majority would hurt them in the final case as well.

However you score it, Senate Republicans are leaving women in limbo until a new justice is chosen and new cases can be brought. That could take years. Women — and the country — deserve better.


Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics, and the Change We Need. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk.

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The Abortion Case That Could Overturn Roe v. Wade Has A Lot Of Opponents

— by Alex Zielinski, a health reporter at Think Progress

CREDIT: AP PHOTO, PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

US Capitol police officers line-up in front of pro-abortion rights demonstrators on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, at the Supreme Court in Washington.

A looming Supreme Court case that could severely undermine the right to an abortion has attracted an unprecedented amount of opposition from across the country.

A slew of organizations and individuals filed 45 legal briefs in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, each brief examining the case through a unique lens and each coming to the same conclusion: State laws that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional.

The case will examine the validity of a Texas law, known as HB2, that places burdensome, unnecessary guidelines on the state’s dwindling abortion clinics. These regulations, while framed as improvements to safeguard “women’s health,” ultimately have nothing to do with patient safety — and were instead created by anti-abortion legislators to impose additional, costly red tape on clinic staff. So far, it’s been successful. HB2 has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close, thus cutting Texas’ abortion providers in half.

The Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, won’t only decide if Texas’ law is constitutional. Depending how the court rules, the decision could also give legal cover to all states seeking to enact laws that appear to function as health regulations, but that actually exist to restrict access to abortion. The oral arguments for the case begin in March.

Reproductive rights advocates have been outspoken since HB2 passed in 2013, but since the Supreme Court’s  November decision to hear the case, the diversity of opponents has grown. The 45 briefs were filed by a variety of petitioners, including physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself.

“Never before has such a diverse array of organizations and leaders…stepped forward to condemn abortion restrictions at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

Among the briefs were voices of actual women who’ve been affected by the lack of abortion access in the past — a voice some say is forgotten in the high-level case.

“The Supreme Court justices need to hear the real effects of restrictive abortion laws on women like this one in Texas,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a group helping young people access comprehensive sexual health education. Hauser shared her personal experience with abortion in her organization’s brief.

“What is missing from this issue are our personal stories. The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.”

Many of those women shared their stories in another brief submitted Tuesday, representing 110 law professionals who’ve had abortions. Some noted how they would have never had the chance to become a lawyer if they hadn’t had an abortion when they did.

“[Our] experiences demonstrate the real world effects of abortion access on the lives and careers of women attorneys, and underscore the truth of the court’s observation that reproductive choice facilitates women’s ability ‘to participate in the economic and social life of the nation,’” the brief reads.

According to Northup, the briefs represent the largest coalition of faith leaders and faith organizations ever to oppose anti-choice laws at the Supreme Court level. In the legal brief filed by a large collection of different religious leaders, the petitioners stress their support of abortion access — despite efforts from more radical religious organizations to say otherwise.

“As religious leaders and pastoral counselors, [we] provide spiritual guidance to women facing this decision and believe that this complex decision is ultimately a moral one,” the brief reads. “While various religious groups in this country hold differing views on abortion, there is substantial agreement that women have a moral right to make their own decisions on the issue.”

A group of 40 prominent scientists also submitted a brief Tuesday, hoping to overrule the “flawed pseudoscience” that will be used in testimony to support the case.

“We hope the court is able to put abortion politics aside and focus on the illegitimacy of the medical claims propping up the restrictions,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. “When science claims are used to infringe a constitutional right they had better be valid, but that’s not the case here.”

A Tuesday press call drew a variety of opponents together, including Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator who led an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to defeat HB2, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, to further illustrate the severity of this case. Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also spoke on the call, representing the women already harmed the most by the current Texas law.

“For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course,” she said. “Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”

Since HB2 was enacted, at least 100,000 Texan women have tried to induce their own abortion, due to the cost driving to a distant abortion clinic, taking time off work to do so, and other frustrating roadblocks to make it difficult for them to legally end a pregnancy.

The legal briefs filed, which represent more than 1,000 opponents in total, may shine more light on the broader impact the pending case could have on women across the country — an impact that has already left Texas in a health crisis.

“These briefs present a thorough record of the undeniable damage Texas’ sham law has,” concluded Northup. “It will continue to cause, and an indisputable legal argument for why it must be struck down.”


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ them on Twitter

Legally Married and Legally Fired

— by CAP Action War Room

The Fight For Equal Rights For LGBT Americans Does Not End At Marriage

We’ve been talking a lot about a certain Supreme Court case over the past month, with the Affordable Care Act under attack for a second time. Next up, the Supreme Court will hear another important case in April on whether to legalize marriage for committed same-sex couples throughout the country. While proponents of equality are hopeful for a historic decision to finally ensure marriage equality nationwide, regardless of the outcome, the fight for LGBT equal rights will not end in June. One aspect of that fight is securing basic non-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

While the fundamental right to marry the one you love has been extended to Americans in over thirty states, we still have a ways to go in enacting meaningful anti-discrimination laws across the country. As the graphic below demonstrates, LGBT Americans are still vulnerable to discrimination in many other ways. And click here to learn more about all the protections that LGBT Americans don’t have.

LGBT-Discrimination

BOTTOM LINE: While the Supreme Court may soon rightly decide that marriage equality is constitutional, the fight for fairness and full equality will not be over this summer. Congress and the States need to act to ensure equal protections for LGBT Americans.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.  Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

The President Just Announced This —

Our immigration system has been broken for decades. And every day we wait to act, millions of undocumented immigrants are living in the shadows: Those who want to pay taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else have no way to live right by the law. That is why President Obama is using his executive authority to address as much of the problem as he can, and why he’ll continue to work with Congress to pass comprehensive reform.

ImmigrationPlan

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Think Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling was just about birth control? Think again!

— Anthony Romero, ACLU Action team

HobbyLobby01

Immediately after the Hobby Lobby ruling, Rick Warren and other high-profile religious leaders began lobbying the Obama administration. Their demand? A religious exemption from his executive order which would ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not about freedom of religion—it’s about corporations using religion as a license to discriminate with taxpayer dollars.

This executive order is the next battleground between those clamoring for exemptions and those, like us, who believe that religious liberty shouldn’t be an excuse to impose your beliefs on others. While we can’t change the Supreme Court’s ruling, we can call on Obama to resist the pressure from the religious right.

Urge Obama to protect LGBT workers. Let him know we don’t support giving federal contractors the legal right to discriminate.

The Court’s decision created the potential for far-reaching, discriminatory ramifications. In their ruling, they set a dangerous precedent, sanctioning discrimination against women under the guise of religious liberty. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it best: “the court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Just yesterday, the ACLU withdrew support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because of a loophole that would grant religiously affiliated organizations free rein to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people–the very thing ENDA is intended to prevent.

There is a clear line connecting the Court’s ruling about contraception and the hiring and firing of LGBT employees. That line is allowing bosses to use their personal religious beliefs to discriminate against their employees.

If tens of thousands of us speak out against this today, we can help Obama resist the mounting pressure from religious groups seeking the right to discriminate.

Tell Obama not to water down his landmark anti-discrimination executive order by including religious exemption.

Our bosses’ beliefs shouldn’t impact our rights as an employee. Let’s stop this before the floodgates open. Sign our petition today.