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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Your Server Isn’t on the Menu

For women who make their living off tips, sexual harassment is a constant workplace peril.

By Marjorie E. Wood

Marjorie_Elizabeth_Wood

At a popular sit-down restaurant in Independence, Missouri, Allison waits tables for $3.60 an hour — the going rate for servers at her restaurant.

Advocates of raising the federal hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 up to the standard minimum wage — currently pegged at $7.25 — understand that living on tips is difficult. As Allison put it, “There are times when guests have left me one dollar or 50 cents just because they got angry at something.”

Sexual Harrassment and Tipped Workers
No Crop Photo/Flickr

In other words, tipped workers are financially insecure. According to the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty and nearly twice as likely to be on food stamps as the general population.

But there is another, less obvious, reason to abolish this sub-minimum wage, according to a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

Not only are servers like Allison more likely to be poor — they are also highly likely to experience sexual harassment on the job. The new report found that a staggering 90 percent of tipped workers in the restaurant industry are sexually harassed.

Surveying nearly 700 current and former restaurant workers, ROC — in partnership with Forward Together — found that customers, co-workers, and management regularly impose “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” on industry employees.

Women reported experiencing sexual harassment more often than men, with a majority of respondents encountering it on at least a weekly basis. Women were also more likely to say that sexual harassment was “an uncomfortable aspect of the work environment.”

Living on tips means that women — who make up two-thirds of all tipped restaurant servers — are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than on their employer.

This creates an environment, the report says, in which women must “please and curry favor with customers” for their livelihood. Often, that means tolerating unwanted sexual advances. So it’s no surprise that while the restaurant industry employs only 7 percent of American women, it generates more than a third of all federal sexual harassment claims.

Yet the phenomenon varies widely from state to state. Interestingly, the report found that in states that pay the same minimum wage to all workers — tipped and non-tipped alike — women were less likely to experience sexual harassment.

In so-called “$2.13 states,” however, tipped women workers were three times more likely to be told by management to “alter their appearance and to wear ‘sexier,’ more revealing clothing” than they were in states that had eliminated the tipped wage. And they were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as women in states that have one minimum wage for all workers.

Men and non-tipped workers were also more likely to report being sexually harassed in $2.13 states.

What does all this add up to?

Eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers would do more than just improve women’s financial security. It would also create a safer, more equitable workplace where servers like Allison won’t have to tolerate inappropriate advances to make a living.

ROC is continuing to collect stories from tipped restaurant workers on its website at rocunited.org. If you’ve ever experienced sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, share your story with ROC.

It’s time to send a message to the industry and to policymakers that servers aren’t on the menu.

OtherWords columnist Marjorie E. Wood is a senior economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and the managing editor of Inequality.org. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

Today’s Mad Men

The military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.

— by Colleen Teubner

Colleen_Teubner

I remember when I first started watching Mad Men. Like most of America, I got hooked. How could I not? The glitz and glamour of 1960s Manhattan was irresistible. But from the very first episode, I knew there was something deeply wrong with this world — the business-as-usual, casual attitude towards sexual harassment.

As a modern “working gal,” I can’t imagine being productive in that kind of environment. In fact, I know I wouldn’t be. I’d be uncomfortable and unhappy, and my performance would suffer. We may not have equal pay for women yet, but at least workplace sexual harassment is no longer considered playful banter.

Aren’t we mostly past the Mad Men era? Not if you’re in the armed forces.

Our military men and women risk their safety everyday — but not in the ways you might think. The most recent Pentagon survey revealed that out of the estimated 26,000 sexual assaults that occurred in the military in 2012, only 3,374 cases were reported. That brings the report rate to a meager 13 percent, compared with the national average of 46 percent.

With all the progress women have made in the military, why is the sexual assault reporting rate so low?

The answer is clear: Military commanders have created an environment where women are afraid to stand up to their attackers. Of the women who reported instances of sexual assault, 62 percent suffered retaliation. The current system forces survivors to make an impossible choice: career or due process? It looks like the military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.

And Senator Kirsten Gillibrand agrees. The New York Democrat proposed a bill that would remove prosecuting power from the military chain of command. She wants to replace this outdated system with a new one that would inspire confidence through accountability.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? Not to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Instead, Levin agrees with the top brass that the prosecution of assault cases should be kept within the ranks.

This won’t work. It’s already failed.

And James Taranto isn’t helping. The Wall Street Journal writer offers living proof that misogyny remains alive and well today. Taranto wrote that any attempt to address the military’s sexual assault problem is the equivalent of declaring a “war on men” and an “effort to criminalize male sexuality.”

Really? Justice for sexual assault survivors threatens your sexuality? Tell that to the 70 women and men who are attacked every day.

I think we can all agree that this hasn’t been the best year for women. First, there was the media sympathy toward the Steubenville rapists. Then came the news that the already overwhelming number of sexual assaults in the military had increased yet again. And recently, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 24 weeks.

It’s unrealistic to expect that the sources of these problems — the media, military, and the misinformed — can, or will, develop constructive solutions.

I understand that military commanders want the opportunity to reform from within, but the time for Mad Men style, backroom meetings is over. When Gillibrand reintroduces her bill later this summer, Congress needs to give change a chance.

Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.  Photo credit to www.feedtacoma.com

A Deceptive Win on Plan B for Women

Our reproductive rights are still in danger.

By 
Kathleen_JoyceGood news for advocates of sensible birth control policy: The Obama administration announced that it’s dropping the fight to impose an age restriction on sales of Plan B One-Step, the emergency contraception pill.

Reproductive rights advocates are celebrating this move toward empowering all women to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies.

gruntzooki/Flickr

It’s about damn time. Considering the glaring need for safe and available contraception for all women, I’m glad the government finally has our backs on this one.

But don’t let your guard down just yet.

Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) said recently that the percentage of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low,” so victims of rape shouldn’t be exempt from his proposed ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Thanks to the uproar his remarks made, the bill did wind up with exceptions for survivors of incest and women who are raped and report the crime within 48 hours. The House passed his legislation 228-196. Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, made yet more weird comments in the course of the debate: He implied that male fetuses masturbate at 15 weeks.

There’s no chance the bill would clear the Senate and President Barack Obama is threatening to veto the measure if it somehow did. But, seriously? This is happening again?

Franks’ ban involves radically shifting the deadline for legal abortions, making it weeks earlier than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.

Summary of provisions of H.R. 1797: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

  • Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit any person from performing or attempting to perform an abortion within the District of Columbia except in conformity with this Act’s requirements.
  • Requires the physician to first make a determination of the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child, or reasonably rely upon such a determination made by another physician, by making inquiries of the pregnant woman and performing such medical examinations and tests as a reasonably prudent physician would consider necessary.
  • Prohibits the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater.
  • Makes an exception where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, excluding psychological or emotional conditions.
  • Makes an exception where the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor, if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency, or if the incest against a minor has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency or to a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect.
  • Permits a physician to terminate a pregnancy under such exception only in the manner which provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless termination of the pregnancy in that manner would pose a greater risk of the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions, of the pregnant woman than would other available methods.
  • Prescribes penalties for violations.
  • Bars prosecution of a woman upon whom an abortion is performed in violation of this Act, but authorizes such a woman or the father or maternal grandparent of the unborn child to obtain appropriate relief through a civil action.
  • Provides for injunctive relief to prevent violations.
  • Sets forth specified privacy protections in court proceedings for the woman upon whom an abortion has been performed.
  • Whoever violates the act shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both.

It’s safe to say that not all Republicans learned from the fiasco caused by Representative Akin (R-MO) and his incredibly offensive theory of “legitimate rape.” Or the electoral disaster that befell Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican who lost his Senate bid last year after implying that post-rape pregnancy was some kind of gift from God.

Though Franks quickly attempted to walk back his outrageous, not to mention false, comment, his statement reveals his total ignorance and insensitivity. It’s a bad sign for women who value their reproductive health. Once again, it looks like medical evidence, especially the kind that involves lady parts, isn’t welcome in the GOP.

Individual states are also advancing anti-choice, anti-women legislation. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he’ll sign into law a bill requiring women seeking abortions to look at images of their fetus through an ultrasound — an invasive medical procedure that, in this case, is a cruel and unusual punishment for women already making a difficult decision.

Though there’s no evidence that ultrasounds deter women from having abortions, 21 states already have some form of pre-procedure ultrasound law. Walker told reporters “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound.” That’s nice, Governor. Why don’t you get one?

The state’s legislative drive to strip women in Wisconsin of their reproductive rights also includes a measure that would allow employers to refuse to cover contraception in their health insurance plans.

As a young woman about to enter the workforce, this is a particularly scary one. I don’t want to have to turn down my dream job because of gaping holes in my potential employer’s insurance plan. Forget dream job — in today’s hyper-competitive conditions, I can’t afford to turn down any job.

And I feel like my rights are under siege. My right to choose what happens to my own body should be inviolable, plain and simple. I shouldn’t be forced to undergo an unnecessary medical procedure before I can choose what’s right for me and for my family. It insults me that these lawmakers want to make such an important decision for me, a decision that should belong to me and to my doctor.

So the federal government’s decision to stop standing between women and effective emergency contraception is a great start, but it’s just that: a start. Women may have just gotten a new tool with which to fend off the anti-choice lobby, but the threat to our control over our own bodies is still looming as large as ever.


Kathleen Robin Joyce is a student at Georgetown University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.  Photo Credit to: gruntzooki/Flickr Distributed by OtherWords.org

REPUBLIBAN Approaching Ability to Impose Their Theocratic Beliefs on North Dakota Females

North Dakota Becomes First State To Ban All Abortions By Defining Life At Conception

By Tara Culp-Ressler on Mar 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm

North Dakota lawmakers voted on Friday afternoon to pass a “personhood” abortion ban, which would endow fertilized eggs with all the rights of U.S. citizens and effectively outlaw abortion. The measure, which passed the Senate last month, passed the House by a 57-35 vote and will now head to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s desk.

The personhood ban will have far-reaching consequences even beyond abortion care, since it will charge doctors who damage embryos with criminal negligence. Doctors in the state say it will also prevent them from performing in vitro fertilization, and some medical professionals have vowed to leave the state if it is signed into law.

The measure is so extreme that some pro-life Republicans in the state have come out against it, planning to join a pro-choice rally in the state capital on Monday to oppose the far-right abortion restriction. “We have stepped over the line,” Republican state Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) said of the recent push to pass personhood. “North Dakota hasn’t even passed a primary seatbelt law, but we have the most invasive attack on women’s health anywhere.”

Personhood advocates have pushed their agenda in states throughout the country over the past several years, but their measures have so far been unable to advance. North Dakota is the first state to pass a personhood abortion ban.


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.