National Organization for Women Foundation
Public Policy Report
To: NOW Foundation Board Members
From: Bonnie Grabenhofer, Vice President-Education, and
Jan Erickson, Director of Programs
Date: June 11, 2014
Contraceptive Coverage Before the Supreme Court – Can Corporations Practice Religion?
A lengthy Issue Advisory, Contraceptive Lawsuits Meant to Elevate Religious Discrimination, Deny Women’s Equality, about the Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc./ Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. challenge to the contraception health insurance coverage case before the U.S. Supreme Court is being finalized by staff at NOW Foundation. The decision in Hobby Lobby is expected at the end of June; speculation is focused on an adverse ruling from this conservative majority Court.
These two for-profit corporations’ cases, consolidated into one, were selected to be heard by the Court; the two are part of a collection of 109 challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for no-cost sharing contraception insurance coverage. Hobby Lobby’s claim of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) violation in requiring their company to provide coverage for birth control in their employee health insurance plan was found to be meritorious by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court said that the Hobby Lobby corporate entity was to be recognized as a "person" under RFRA and therefore deserving of RFRA’s protections, meaning that corporations can practice a religion (Wow!). Interestingly, Hobby Lobby owners, the Green Family of Oklahoma City, have provided insurance coverage of contraception for their thousands of employees for many years, only exempting IUDs but covering emergency contraception—at least until the idea of suing the government over the birth control mandate was presented to them; then the withdrew EC coverage from their plan. The Greens’ are claiming that emergency contraception (Plan B and Ella) and two forms of IUDs are abortifacients and thus violate their religious belief against abortion. Contraceptive scientists say that none of these types of birth control cause abortions. Hobby Lobby is also heavily invested in mutual funds that include companies that manufacture contraceptives.
The other company, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinet maker in eastern Pennsylvania makes a similar claim, saying that contraceptives are against their Mennonite Christian faith. Their challenge comes under the RFRA and several provisions of the First Amendment, including the Free Exercise Clause protecting a person’s exercise of religion. The Mennonite faith has no formal stance against contraception and some of its leaders are even reported to encourage families to use contraception if they want to control their family size. Mennonites who live in urban areas are more likely to use birth control as they do not need a large family to help with farm chores – as many Mennonites do. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Conestoga could not claim violations of either RFRA or First Amendment protections as corporations are not persons.
The Issue Advisory makes it clear that all or nearly all the 109 lawsuits, divided almost equally between for-profit companies and non-profit religiously-related organizations and individuals have been recruited, funded and provided legal expertise by Catholic bishops, Catholic men’s groups, fundamentalist opponents of abortion, right wing political funders and their extensive legal advocacy network. And, we correctly identify these same groups as those who for decades have led the effort to pass restrictive legislation in Congress and state legislatures, pursued litigation strategies to narrow access, helped to organize clinic demonstrations and other activities that have sometimes led to violence.
Whether the Court will take up any of the 59 cases brought by non-profit, religiously related organizations and individuals remains a question; 36 of those are still pending, the others having been decided in the lower courts or withdrawn. Many of these groups have refused to accept the "accommodation" that the Obama administration offered them to avoid paying directly for contraceptive coverage.
NOW Foundation joined with 68 other women’s rights and women’s health organizations on an amicus brief prepared by the National Women’s Law Center to be submitted to the SupremeCourt. In sum, the brief:
focuses on the rights of the women who would be harmed by for-profit companies refusing to provide coverage of birth control without cost-sharing as guaranteed under the contraception regulations. It analyzes how the contraception regulations further the government’s compelling interests in women’s health and gender equality. More specifically, it explains how providing access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy, thereby forwarding the health of women and children; promotes equal access to health care for women; and leads to greater social and economic opportunities for women. The brief emphasizes that the rights and interests of the women covered by the companies’ health plans weigh heavily against the companies’ RFRA claims and that the Supreme Court has never held that religious exercise provides a license to harm others or violate the rights of third parties as the companies seek to in these cases.
You can read the full brief athttp://www.nwlc.org/resource/nwlc-supreme-court-amicus-brief-supporting-contraceptive-coverage-benefit NOW Foundation has also signed on to amicus briefs in several dozen other lower court cases involving the contraceptive insurance coverage lawsuits. Further information on all the lawsuits can be found at: http://www.nwlc.org/status-lawsuits-challenging-affordable-care-acts-birth-control-coverage-benefit Many documents can be accessed at the website for the U.S. Supreme Court is http://www.supremecourt.gov/
Buffer Zone Case Likely to be Announced this Week – May Lose Protective Bubble
We are holding our collective breath for the announcement from the Supreme Court which may tell us what the Court has decided in the case of McCullen v. Coakley, a clinic activist/abortion opponent’s challenge to a 2007 Massachusetts law making it a crime for speakers to enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk within 35 feet of an entrance, exist, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility. There have been other buffer zone cases to make their way through the courts, but McCullen is the first to come before the conservative majority Robert’s Court. A previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, Hill v. Colorado in 2000 upheld the state law restricting anti-abortion activists within a 100 foot radius of any health care facility and specifically prohibiting them from coming within eight feet if another person without their consent.
Both the Hill precedent and the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act may be jeopardized by an adverse decision in McCullen. The FACE Act, passed in 1994, has been very effective in reducing the numbers of acts of vandalism, clinic invasions, arsons, burglaries as well as the numbers of harassing calls, stalking, death threats, and murders.
Lest we forget, at least ten people – five doctors, two receptionists, an escort and a security guard have been murdered and 17 people wounded, including eight doctors at a clinic or in connection with their work at women’s reproductive health care clinics. Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church five years ago May 31 in Wichita, KS; Dr. Tiller had been shot and wounded several years previous to his death in 2009. Two clinic workers in Brookline, MA were shot and killed, five wounded in Brookline, MA by John Salvi in 1991.
The lawsuit claims that the buffer zone violates the free speech protections of anti-abortion demonstrators or "counselors" as they call themselves who seek to talk directly to patients entering the clinics. They maintain that they are not able to convey their messages from 25 feet. But we know that these demonstrators wish to do more than just "counsel" – they wish to get directly in the face of patients, insult and harangue them as they have before and to make an intimidating presence – if not physically assault patients.
NOW Foundation joined with Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood Federal of American, the National Abortion Federation and 31 other organizations in submitting briefs detailing 30 years of harassment, intimidation and obstruction directed at patients, clinic staff and volunteers at three health care facilities. More information on the issue and the case can be found at:http://now.org/resource/clinic-buffer-zones-at-risk-in-massachusetts-case-before-supreme-court/
NOW Foundation Family Law Update
The Annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference was held in early May Washington, D.C. again this year, and Jan Erickson, NOW Foundation Director of Programs, attended the Saturday events. Next year’s conference will be held in New York City. Florida NOW activist, Linda Marie Sacks, made an excellent presentation about how she coaches protective parents who have lost custody of their children. A reception prior to the conference honored several members of Congress for their work on this issue, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D- Md.). Activist Eileen King (Child Justice, Inc.) showed the public service television messages that a group of students have prepared that are available for activists to promote with their local television stations. Eileen can be firstname.lastname@example.org Actress Kelly Rutherford (Gossip Girls television series star) also spoke about the film on the family court crisis she is hoping to produce.
Among the more important news to be shared is the following announcement concerning testimony about child fatalities to be taken in various cities over the summer, including Tampa, Fla. and Detroit, Mich.by a federally-sponsored commission. Written testimony can be submitted and activists encourage reports about near-fatalities and severe beatings that have occurred in the contest of custody switching or high conflict court case.
Activists on behalf of battered mothers (many of whom have lost custody to their abusive ex-spouses) are hoping to collect information about child fatalities that have occurred when there has been a high conflict custody proceeding or when custody has been given to an abusive parent (usually, the father). The intent is to show that family courts are paying little or no heed to warnings by the protective parent about their former partner’s violent behavior. The activists have collected data on 200 child deaths over 10 years that occurred related to a high conflict custody proceeding, although these were ones that had been identified as such in news accounts and likely to represent a fraction of the true number of incidents.http://childrensmonitor.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/commission-members-on-child-fatalities-raise-wide-array-of-concerns/
Commission on Child Fatalities Holds First Of Series of State Hearings Monday
The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF) will hold the first of a series of local hearings starting today. The hearings will allow the Commission to examine the range of issues that have been raised so far. The first meeting is in San Antonio, TX followed by a hearing on July 10, in Tampa, FL and a third hearing on August 28 in Detroit, MI. Additional hearings may be held in the fall of this year. The meeting details for the San Antonio meeting is , Monday, June 2, 2014, from 1:00–5:30 p.m. CDT, and Tuesday, June 3, 2014, from 8:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. CDT, held at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Downtown Campus, 501 W. César E. Chávez Blvd., Southwest Room, Durango Building 1.124, San Antonio, TX 78207. Although late, it may still be possible to register to phone in athttps://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5WLJYWH. A call-in number is available upon registration. The first day will be dedicated to actions and policies in the state of Texas and will include policy and practice presentations from various Texas-based presenters including comments by commission-sponsor, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). Tuesday will focus more attention on national policy and perspectives.
The state of Texas has had the highest number of child deaths in each of the past five years with 215 child fatalities in 2012 according to the 2012 Child Maltreatment report. According to rates, the fatalities rate at 3.08 per 100,000 children ranks the state lower than New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas with the last two states at approximately four and a half child deaths per 100,000.
The Commission is expected to have a website up and running by this week which should include tools to submit comments. You can also send comments via the mail to: Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, c/o General Services Administration, Agency Liaison Division, 1800 F St., NW, Room 7003D, Washington, DC 20006.
According to the enabling legislation, the commission’s work includes an examination of best practices in preventing child and youth fatalities that are caused due to negligence, neglect, or a failure to exercise proper care; the effectiveness of federal, state, and local policies and systems aimed at collecting accurate and uniform data on child fatalities; the current barriers to preventing fatalities from child abuse and neglect, how to improve child welfare outcomes; trends in demographic and other risk factors that are predictive of or correlated with child maltreatment, such as age of the child, child behavior, family structure, parental stress, and poverty; methods of prioritizing child abuse and neglect; and methods of improving data collection and utilization, such as increasing interoperability among state and local and other data systems .
Intern Contributions to NOW Foundation Work
Corinne Schwarz - Conservative Women Go for National Women’s History Museum
(Note: Corrine is working on a letter to the Senate suggesting amendments to the NWHM bill.)
NOW Foundation has been monitoring for quite some time developments in connection with a proposed National Women's History Museum (NWHM) – the effort has been struggling along for more than 17 years. A bill (H.R. 863) was passed by the House of Representatives 383 to 33 on March 7, to establish a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum. Republican leaders in the House pushed for their party's support—throwing their weight behind this bill certainly creates the illusion of concern, which is not reflected in their other legislative endeavors to restrict women's rights and autonomy.
The NWHM began nearly two decades ago by Joan Wages, a lobbyist and several colleagues. Wages has no professional background in museums. The idea of a women’s museum has drawn quite a few supporters, but a number of feminists who have worked with Wages on the NWHM have become disenchanted and no longer support her efforts. NWHM backers have been quoted as saying their museum would not be covering such controversial topics as women’s reproductive rights. Several virtual exhibits have recently contained errors on the NWHM website.
Though a NWHM still only exists on paper, conservative leaders have already targeted it as a politicized site of "feminist indoctrination" that would contradict family values and promote a liberal agenda. For example, after H.R. 863 passed the House, Peggy Nance of Concerned Women for America demanded to serve as chairperson of the museum or choose another chairperson with her ideological affiliation.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who voted against H.R. 863, was reported to have said, "this museum will enshrine the radical feminist movement that stands against the pro-life movement, the pro-family movement, and pro-traditional marriage movement." Women's history is notably a non-partisan, non-sectarian academic discipline; these comments indicate that a future museum reflecting this scholarship will not be as removed from the tumultuous political climate that targets women's rights and representation. More on conservative women’s reactions can be read at:http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/after-complaining-women-s-museum-will-indoctrinate-visitors-feminism-cwas-nance-demands-chai
H.R. 863 would establish an eight-member commission (appointed by Congress) to complete a plan for this private museum within 18 months and the legislation asks for no federal support. Why Congress is putting a stamp of approval, in effect, on a private enterprise is an important question. An even more important question is whether the plan as envisioned by the legislation lays out a viable process for planning a museum of national – and perhaps even international --importance. All indications are that it does not.
A series of articles several years ago by Huffington Post revealed accounting irregularities and lack of transparency in NWHM’s operations. Additionally, the poor quality of some of NWHM’s virtual exhibits and lack of involvement by historians, political scientist, museum professionals, women’s studies academics and other scholars have raised concerns. In fact, 18 scholars on an advisory board were selected after pressure was brought a few years ago, but some members became concerned with the accuracy of content and poor quality of NWHM’s virtual exhibits and were preparing to resign. But Wages asked them to resign just before the bill was brought to the House floor.
A number of amendments could be proposed for S. 398, the companion bill to H.R. 863, to reflect a higher degree of accountability and transparency as well as assuring a high quality museum. Following the lead of other recently commissioned and constructed museums in Washington, D.C., and the most important change would be that a National Women's History Museum that is both a private and public partnership. Without support by the federal government, the museum may never come to exist. Recent museums on the National Mall have cost as much as $500 million (African-American History and Culture Museum) to construct, and many millions of dollars annually to acquire exhibits and provide for operational costs.
A larger commission (25 - 30 voting members) that is strictly comprised of museum professionals and the disciplines related to women’s history will reduce the opportunity for political controversies and demands from the right wing to appoint their women’s organizations’ leaders. Several leaders from prominent women’s organizations could serve in an advisory capacity. Funding for professional staff and compensation for commission members should be part of the plan. Additionally, compliance with federal open meetings law should be required, it is currently exempt under the current bill. These components will make the commission more publicly accountable for the careful planning and construction of a quality women's history museum. Also envisioned is a longer planning period, such as 24 months or longer – which is standard in the field. Public input on the plan should be solicited.
NWHM’s backers continue to imply that this museum could join other museums on the National Mall. But at the time NWHM was considering making a bid for the Arts and Industries Building, next to the Smithsonian Castle, it was reported that the Smithsonian regents decided that no private museum should be allowed on the Mall.
Women's history is non-partisan and should be insulated as much as possible from competing political agendas. We need all women's experiences present in a National Women's History Museum, not just women who align with what the status quo sees as appropriate women's history. And, most importantly, an honest accounting of women’s history – not a censored version—should be assured.
Pavitra Abraham – Immigration Reform, Voting Rights, and the Robin Hood Tax
As a government relations intern at the National Organization for Women, I have been working on various projects over the past 10 days including an issue advisory concerning the need for comprehensive immigration reform, an extensive Voter Empowerment Section for the Foundation webpages, and a blog post on the Robin Hood Tax (Financial Transition Tax).
With regards to immigration reform, research has focused on problems encountered in detention facilities, issues facing immigrant women and children, the economic repercussions of NAFTA in the deterioration of local communities and Central America and issues faced by children born in the U.S. to undocumented parents and the exploitation of undocumented workers. There is also the recently-reported crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing over the border into the U.S., some as young as four years of age. Lack of access to health care and reproductive health care services continue to be an issue for undocumented women immigrants. NOW Foundation is part of the National Coalition of Immigrant Women’s Rights (NCIWR), which was founded by the late Olga Vives who served on NOW’s board and was a national vice president. NCIWR has been working with several members of Congress, including Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mex.) to pass legislation assuring access to critical health care services for undocumented immigrants.
The Voter Empowerment unit for the Foundation webpages will include a status report on current efforts to suppress voter turnout, especially noting at the ways in which women and people of color are disproportionately impacted. The recent Supreme Court decision which effectively repealed the Voting Rights Act’s provision for pre-clearance of certain states’ election rules and legislation to address the continuing problems of voter suppression will be discussed. The unit will explore a possible Constitutional right to vote which was supported in a 2013 NOW Resolution. We will emphasize the importance of the women’s vote, list resources for activists and advise activists on how to combat voter suppression. The unit will suggest actions to increase voter turnout and registration in upcoming elections.
Finally, I am working on a blog post about the proposed Robin Hood tax or Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) which would impose a small tax on Wall Street stock trades. It would also limit speculation to prevent fraud and restore stability to the stock market. Spearheaded by National Nurses United, this tax would generate approximately $350 billion a year which can be reallocated to education, healthcare and sustainable manufacturing. This post details the economic benefits of an FTT, particularly as they apply to the redistribution of wealth to overcome income inequality,
Financial transaction taxes are not a new idea, since they have been around since 1914. For 52 years, the U.S. had a .02 tax on all sales or transfers of stocks, which assisted the American economy through the Great Depression. Currently, 40 countries worldwide have an FTT, including 11 countries in the European Union. One example: stock trading in the U.K. is subject to .5 percent, which generated approximately $6.5 billion a year.