Wednesday, February 3, 2016

This is NOT how to fight gender inequality.

By Janet Chung

Some people think that outlawing abortions for parents who don’t want a child of a particular gender would be a good way for Washington State to show it won’t stand for sex discrimination in any form. As one advocate put it, sex-selection abortion is equitable to women being “discriminated against in the womb.”

But that actually isn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong: Legal Voice condemns the practice of “son preference”—preferring sons to daughters—in all its forms. But an abortion ban like the one currently being considered by the Washington State Senate is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a solution to a problem that does not exist in this state—nor the rest of the United States—and perpetuates ugly stereotypes against Asian Americans.

The bill would charge physicians with criminal and civil liability and the possibility of losing their medical license. Threatening doctors and asking them to police their patients creates a disincentive to the honest, open communications between providers and patients that are essential to ensuring appropriate patient centered-care.

And the targets are women in a community that already faces barriers to health care, including language and cultural barriers, lack of insurance, and poverty. Washington has seen a 55% increase in its Asian American population since 2000. Asian American and Pacific Islander women need more access to safe, comprehensive reproductive health care—not less.

Proponents of sex-selection abortion bans say that they’re standing up for women and girls, but this is not the way to address gender inequality. As I told the Senate Law & Justice Committee yesterday, you can’t give women rights by taking away their rights. This bill will set a dangerous precedent and lead to even more restrictions on access to safe, legal reproductive care for all women.

Take action against this bill by urging the Senate Law & Justice Committee to vote "NO" on SB 6612!

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wage Gap is a Myth!
Or is it?

By Janet Chung

We hear it all the time: “The wage gap is a myth!” Or, “We have all the laws we need to eliminate pay inequality.”

But even in jobs predominantly held by women—such as administrators, registered nurses, and teachers—men take home more pay every single week. So, despite what the critics say, the wage gap persists.

And many employers still punish workers for discussing their pay with co-workers, depriving them of the information that could help all workers make sure they are being paid fairly. Legal Voice, our allied organizations, and our legislative champions are not willing to accept that status quo, so we are advocating for an equal pay bill currently before the Washington Legislature.

We are excited that HB 1646 passed out of the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee last week, and it is now ready to be scheduled for a vote by the full House. But we need your help to ensure this important bill also receives a hearing in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee.

Please urge Chair Michael Baumgartner and other members of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee to schedule SB 6442 for a public hearing. Here's how:

• Call the legislative hotline at 800-562-6000 between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm Monday through Friday. Your message will be passed along to your Senator.

• Email Senator Baumgartner or the other members of the Committee. Use this link to email them all at once (sample message included). Having trouble? Copy and paste this list into the “To” field of your email, and use the sample message below:;;;;;;

Sample message: Please hear and pass SB 5630 before next week’s cutoff. Join me in standing up for Washington’s working women and families by updating our equal pay laws. We all deserve paycheck transparency and equal employment opportunities.

Together, we can make sure that someday, the wage gap really IS a myth. Thank you for your help and support!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Stalking Awareness Month

By Joshua Bam

After the fight, James Bateman was convicted of simple assault. His girlfriend at the time decided to dump the abuser and move on. But that’s not the end of the story. 

A few months after the breakup she reported that she started receiving text messages from Bateman. Some of them were pictures of her boyfriend’s vehicle with corresponding threats, according to the Yakima Herald; one was a picture of a pistol.  She said that Bateman told her that if she didn’t break up with her boyfriend, he would post a “compromising” video of her online. And she reported that he made threats to her physical safety over the course of 150 unwanted text messages.

In July 2015, she took her cellphone to a police station in Benton County, Washington. Investigators scanned the texts, which lead to a felony charge against Bateman for cyberstalking with a domestic violence allegation. Bateman’s trial was set for November 16, 2015. The case is still ongoing, Bateman is currently out on $10,000 bail.

Yes, you read that right. A cyberstalker who is charged with threatening violence against two victims over the course of 150 texts is out on bail while his criminal trial is pending.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far too indicative of the time we live in. 

January is Stalking Awareness Month, the perfect time to begin changing the status quo. In 2016, approximately 7.5 million people will be stalked in the U.S. The majority of victims will be stalked by someone they know, and about 11% will have already been stalked for five years or more. 

Most organizations and laws classify stalking as an intentional incident of threatening, harassing, following, surveillance, or coercive behavior that occurs more than once and causes you to fear for your safety, the safety of someone you know, or your property. Stalking is a serious crime. In today's world, cyberstalking—or electronic communication with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass another person—is just as serious. 

In December, Legal Voice shared the story of Karen’s experience with cyberstalking and nonconsensual pornography. She was faced with an abuser who sent threatening text messages, and then posted her intimate images and personal information online. When she sought help, no one treated her abuser’s actions as a crime.

But stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states. Some states treat the crime as a felony; others don't. In fact, every state's stalking laws are a bit different. Some states require victims to experience actual fear of death or bodily harm; others say reasonable fear is enough. And, just like it happened in Benton County, many perpetrators accused of stalking can post bail and roam free while their criminal trial is pending.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Three out of four women killed by their partners were being stalked by those partners before the murder. Three out of four. And even if the stalking doesn’t lead to physical violence, the psychological impacts are often severe.

We must make sure stalking victims get the protection they need. Washington State offers a protection order created specifically for victims of stalking who experience more than “unlawful harassment” but do not qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. Stalking victims can further protect themselves by enrolling in the Address Confidentiality Program, filing a civil or criminal lawsuit, or requesting a notification of the stalker’s release from jail or prison. More information on these options is available in the Legal Voice memo, Are You Being Stalked? Tips for Protection.

During Stalking Awareness Month (and all year round), education is key. With a complete understanding of the realities of stalking—how common it is, what it actually looks like, and what can happen if left unaddressed—we can better empower stalking victims to protect themselves and help to end the stalking before a physical attack occurs.

Josh is a managing partner at Benchmark Legal where he practices business, commercial, and tax law. He volunteers his time as a site manager with the UWKC Free Tax Preparation Campaign and serves on Legal Voice's Self Help Committee. Josh is also currently the president of Seattle Select Attorneys Association.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

for Transgender Washingtonians!

By David Ward

In 2006, Legal Voice and our allies won passage of the Anderson-Murray anti-discrimination law, which protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in Washington. Now the protections that this law provides to transgender people are under attack—and we need your help to fight back.

Bills have been introduced in Olympia that would eliminate protections that allow transgender people to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity. These protections have existed for ten years and are essential for transgender people to live and work safely in Washington.

These bills are part of a new wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation that is being pushed across the country. We can't allow them to pass in Washington.

That's why we've joined with our allies to form the Washington Safety & Access for Everyone (SAFE) Alliance to protect our anti-discrimination law from these attacks.

Please call or email your state legislators and ask them to preserve our state's anti-discrimination law by opposing HB 2589 and SB 6443.

Your voice is needed. Please take action today.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Justice Kennedy and the Undue Burden

By Catherine Roseman

Next year the U.S. Supreme Court, or more precisely swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, will decide whether to defend safe, legal, and equitable access to abortion in the United States or to restrict its availability to wealthy women in blue states.

In its 2016 session, the Court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that challenges the constitutionality of HB2, an omnibus anti-abortion bill passed in Texas in 2013. Wendy Davis blocked the first vote on this bill with her famous 11-hour filibuster in pink tennis shoes, but shortly thereafter then-Governor Rick Perry called a special legislative session and the bill passed. HB2 includes many provisions that restrict abortion access, including limiting the ability to administer medication abortion to physicians, banning telemedicine abortion, and banning abortion past 20 weeks gestation.

Two provisions will be considered by the Court: ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, which mandate that any clinic providing abortions be built to strict hospital-like standards; and admitting privileges, which require that doctors providing abortions be able to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of their practices. Both of these provisions reflect an increasingly common legislative strategy called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) to limit abortion access. Enacted under the weak guise of protecting women’s health, these laws are medically unnecessary and put women at greater risk for complications. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States: fewer than 1% of all patients who undergo it have complications that require hospitalization.

Under the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, states may impose a range of requirements on women seeking abortion, but they may not impose obstacles so great as to place an “undue burden” on women. The Court ruled that states are free to regulate abortion to protect women’s health, but not in order to hamper their access to abortion. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court is expected to examine whether the admitting privileges and ASC requirements of HB2 constitute an undue burden on women seeking abortion.

Before HB2, there were 41 abortion clinics in Texas; there are now 17, which are almost all located in major cities. If the Court upholds both the admitting privileges and ASC requirements, there will be 10 clinics in the entire state of Texas. The average county in Texas is 111 miles from a clinic, nearly double the national average of 59 miles. Women in west Texas counties must travel an average of 250 miles. A fifth of all counties in Texas are over 100 miles further from a clinic today than then they were in 2012, before HB2 was enacted.

Seven additional clinics will close if the Court upholds HB2. These seven closures would not drastically change the travel distance for an abortion beyond the large increases wrought by the initial spate round of closures, but it would increase the average cost by 15% to an average of $701 per procedure (including travel costs but not accounting for expenses incurred through lost wages and childcare). This is because those seven clinics offer less expensive procedures than the clinics that are already licensed as ASCs. Converting a freestanding clinic to an ASC can cost over $1 million upfront and increase yearly operating costs anywhere from $600,000 to $1 million.

Furthermore, as the number of clinics decreases, the time patients must wait for an appointment increases. As women move later into their pregnancies, they pay more for the procedure. Some end up past Texas’ 20-weeks gestation limit and cannot obtain a procedure safely and legally. A recent study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin concluded that anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Texas women have attempted to self-induce abortion without medical assistance. The methods commonly used to self-induce are taking misoprostol, which is the second of two drugs used in a typical, legal medication abortion regimen in the U.S. (Texas women can obtain it in Mexico or on the black market); or attempting to use herbs, alcohol, illicit drugs or even a punch in the abdomen. Misoprostol is often an effective and safe method, but some of the others are neither effective nor safe.

The burden that HB2 places on Texas women is not only undue, it is unjust and unsafe. The purported purpose of HB2 is to protect women, but it does exactly the opposite. Because of dwindling clinic numbers, women are forced to travel long distances and take extra time off work, arrange and pay for childcare (a common factor given that 61% of women obtaining abortions already have at least one child), have the procedure later in their pregnancy than they wanted (appointment wait times in Texas have increased from average of 5 days to 20-30 days) or resort to unpredictable, unsafe and/or illegal methods of self-induced abortion. HB2 blatantly places undue burden on women seeking abortion. The real question is, to what extent will Justice Kennedy enable Texas (and other states) to continue to use TRAP laws to oppress a woman’s right to choose safe and legal abortion?

Catherine Roseman is an Administrative Assistant in the Healthcare Division at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The views expressed in this piece are solely her own.

Photo courtesy of RH Reality Check.