Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That Was Us!
Reinterpreting Immigrant Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with Grace Huang

By Grace Huang

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In 2002 and 2003, in my capacity as a steering committee member of what was then known as the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women (NNEVAIW), I had the privilege of working in partnership with Laura Luis Hernandez, Legal Voice (or Northwest Women's Law Center, as it was then called), and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), in a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved the interpretation of the provisions of the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allow for someone to defend herself against deportation if she is married to a U.S Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, and that spouse has physically abused her or subjected her to extreme cruelty.

In Ms. Luis Hernandez' case, her permanent resident husband was violent and abusive, but all of the physical abuse took place in their home country, and she had fled to the United States. Under the law at the time, a VAWA applicant was required to prove he or she was physically abused or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. (the law has since changed), and her case had been denied by an immigration judge, who had found that none of the relevant abusive behavior had taken place in the U.S.

It was clear to Sara Ainsworth (staff attorney at Legal Voice) and the attorneys at NWIRP that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Immigration Judge had misapplied the law, based on their lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, which involves an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behavior, including the physical violence.

However, to even get to the merits of the Immigration Judge's decision, Ms. Luis Hernandez had to overcome a jurisdictional hurdle disallowing review of this misapplication of the law. Federal immigration law specifies that there is no judicial review of decisions that are left in the "discretion" of the Immigration Court. Through the amazing collaborative efforts of Legal Voice, its pro-bono counsel Kay Frank, Rima Alaily, and Angela Niemann, NWIRP, and NNEVAIW, we were able to persuade the Ninth Circuit in Hernandez v. Ashcroft. In the end, the Court agreed with us that the interpretation of what constitutes "extreme cruelty" is a legal determination and not a purely discretionary decision, that the Court had jurisdiction to review the erroneous decision of the Immigration Judge, and that Ms. Luis Hernandez had been stalked and subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S., and was therefore eligible for the protections under VAWA.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to see Ms. Luis Hernandez again in person, and am thrilled to say she is thriving and continues to be grateful for the efforts that Legal Voice and the legal community put in to assist not only her, but immigrant survivors of domestic violence throughout the country.

Grace Huang is the Public Policy Coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide organization of over 70 domestic violence shelter and advocacy programs. At WSCADV, Grace has had the opportunity to work alongside Legal Voice, in partnership with amazing survivors of domestic violence, to bring their experiences to the legislature, court system, and administrative agency policy making processes. In between meetings, Grace enjoys watching her child cheer on the Seattle Mariners, WSCADV's strong partner in the 'Refuse to Abuse' domestic violence prevention campaign.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seattle to Join National Movement Affirming a Woman's Right to Abortion Shouldn't Be Decided by How Much Money She Makes

By Jenny Dodson Mistry

Since 1976, federal dollars have been withheld from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. That precludes even a health exception for women who qualify for federal insurance plans, jeopardizing the well-being of women with serious medical complications during pregnancy.

These unfair limitations are imposed not only on families who use Medicaid, but also on women who qualify for other government-sponsored insurance programs, including military personnel, female veterans who receive coverage from the VA, federal employees, Native American women who utilize the Indian Health Service, women in federal prison and Peace Corps volunteers.

Discrimination in benefits for eligible women threatens what is, for many, an already precarious financial situation. The unexpected expense of an abortion can have devastating consequences, particularly on low-income families who already struggle to pay for basic necessities like food and rent.

Out of frustration with this insidious inequality in access to reproductive health care that effectively puts abortion out of reach for many women, a national movement to restore funding for abortion has evolved. Cities across the country are leading that charge, both through grassroots efforts and local government action. On the grassroots front, the All* Above All “Be Bold Road Trip” is traveling to cities across the nation, engaging scores of activists who are fed up with politicians withholding health care benefits from women for political reasons.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health has worked with cities and localities across the country— such as Travis County, Texas; New York City; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—to pass local resolutions advocating for coverage of all pregnancy-related care, including annual check-ups, prenatal care, maternity care, family planning and abortion. We are so excited that Seattle could be next on that list! Seattle City Council is currently considering a resolution urging President Obama and Congress to repeal all federal bans on public coverage of abortion. Championed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell and sponsored by Legal Voice and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, this resolution would encourage federal lawmakers to reinstate insurance coverage for abortion services for women enrolled in public insurance programs—including the more than 4,000 Seattle women of reproductive age insured through the federal government.

The State of Washington is already a leader on this issue, as one of just 17 states that uses its own funds to provide coverage for abortion. By calling on the federal government to follow its example, Seattle is seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the full impact that autonomy in medical decisions has not only on women’s health, but also on the economic stability of our most vulnerable communities.

By joining the growing chorus of communities calling for decisive action to eliminate health care inequality, Seattle is taking a bold stand to improve the lives of women across all 50 states.

Jenny Dodson Mistry is the Manager of Local Initiatives at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, where she gets the opportunity to support organizations doing proactive work on the city and county level all across the country. She is inspired by the resolute and creative activists that have made cities a beacon for the progressive movement, and in her spare time, likes to travel to as many of these cities as she can.


Do you want to take a stand and affirm the idea that all women deserve access to insurance coverage of abortion? Here's how you can get involved:
- Talk about it: Tell your family, friends, and Congress why this issue matters to you. Join us in a Tweet Storm on Thursday, September 4, from 1-2 p.m. PDT. For sample social media posts, please email Sarah MacDonald, Legal Voice Marketing & Communications Manager.

- Write a Council Member: The best way to ensure decisions coming out of your local city council are aligned with your values is to tell your local council members what your values are! We encourage you to write to Seattle City Council Members and tell them why they should pass this resolution. Whether you share a personal story or use our sample letter (also available by emailing Sarah), your voice matters.

- Sign the petition: Join the national movement by signing All* Above All's petition asking members of Congress to support lifting all restrictions on coverage of abortion care.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Are You a Woman Against Women Against Feminism? Maybe There's More To It
By Kelsey Martin

Recently, a “Women Against Feminism” webpage has outraged feminists on the internet. On this Tumblr page, young women hold up signs expressing their discomfort with modern feminism. Their critiques vary, but include ideas such as feminism is sexist against men, feminism makes women into victims, feminism does not address other kinds of discrimination, and the patriarchy does not exist.

Some feminists have responded to this website with their own satirical messages poking fun at how outrageous they think it is for women to be against feminism. They’ve written articles explaining why the women are wrong to say that feminism creates victims, responded with their own signs defining feminism, and even photographed their feline friends next to signs proclaiming an equal hatred of all humans. But while the snarky comments of "Confused Cats Against Feminism" made me chuckle, I started to wonder if there’s another way to respond to people questioning the validity of feminism.

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that feminism itself is what grants women the opportunity to be against feminism—feminists who came before us paved the way for women to be able to speak out about why they don’t need feminism. (Is your head spinning, yet?) While it is easy to just get angry and brush off those with differing opinions—They’re misguided! They’re uninformed! They’re wrong!—I think we could have a much more productive conversation by engaging the Women Against Feminism. Their opinions could teach feminists how to reach larger audiences and dispel some of the persistent myths about feminism. Having real conversations with people who see some issues with the movement could actually benefit the movement as a whole.

Many of the women featured on the site expressly mention that they identify as pro-equality, which is a core definition of feminism. Some reflect on the problems with feminism’s association with mainly white, privileged women, and call for a more inclusive movement. If we were to listen to their issues with the feminist movement, maybe we could start to change the stereotype of the bra-burning, men-hating feminist, and build solidarity among those striving to achieve gender equality.

I’d like to talk with the Women Against Feminism and ask why they think that patriarchy is a fiction. I’d like to probe into their opinions about men’s issues and suggest that working for equality of the sexes includes addressing the struggles that men face as well as the ones women face. I’d like to support those women who chose to be stay-at-home mothers and housewives; feminism is all about choice, and I’m happy they had the ability to choose the path that fulfills them. More than anything, I’d like to show these women the feminism that I have experienced: a welcoming movement that empowers me to strive for my own chosen goals and fight for everyone else’s ability to do the same.

Perhaps it’s not just the Women Against Feminism who I would engage in this conversation. To break the stereotypes and reach a common understanding of what it means to be a feminist, the conversation could use more voices—women of color, immigrant women, transgender women, women from a variety of religions, and men. Maybe together, we can fight for a world with equal rights for all.

Kelsey Martin is a legal intern at Legal Voice and a rising third-year student at the University of Washington School of Law. She has big dreams of single-handedly dismantling the patriarchy through her legal career.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That Was Us!
Taking Down Montana's Deviate Sexual Conduct Law with Rosemary Daszkiewicz

By Rosemary Daszkiewicz

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

Sometimes, the fates put you in the right place at the right time. In mid-April, 2013, I happened to be in my company’s offices in Columbia Falls, Montana for a few days when I learned of an important update in a case I handled between 1993 and 1997, first as a Legal Voice employee, then later as a Legal Voice volunteer attorney. The case, Gryczan v. State, involved the successful attempt to declare unconstitutional Montana’s Deviate Sexual Conduct law, commonly referred to as a “sodomy law.” The law was not actually a sodomy law in the traditional sense. Instead, enacted in the 1970s, it did not prohibit any specific type of sexual conduct, it simply prohibited any sort of sexual conduct engaged in by two adults of the same gender. It was considered “progressive” in the 1970s because it did not restrict heterosexual couples from performing any consensual sex acts, as traditional sodomy laws had done.

These days, with marriage equality reaching more and more of the citizens of the U.S., it’s hard to imagine a time when such laws were common. And even though there wasn’t a current history of enforcement, every LGBTQ person in Montana knew, in the back of their mind, that such enforcement was possible. Legal Voice partnered with Montana attorney Holly Franz to challenge that law. At the start Holly and I road tripped across Montana, meeting potential plaintiffs and attempting to gain their trust to convince them that it would be worth the risk to put their name on a lawsuit. We were asking them to “come out” in a very public way. Our approach worked, and three brave women and three brave men agreed to be named plaintiffs. Lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan knew she was taking on an especially public role, but she was an activist through and through and was willing to do whatever she could in the fight for justice.

We filed suit in December 1993. Ironically, I was visibly pregnant at two important moments in the case, including during our argument before the Montana Supreme Court on April 11, 1997. (My second daughter, Emma, was due on May 11, though she waited until May 28 to actually arrive.) Our opponents weren’t quite sure what to make of me under the circumstances. Was I a lesbian who had conceived via turkey baster? Was I a straight woman silly enough to align herself with “those kinds of people?” You could hear them praying for my salvation whenever I walked by.

The oral argument was great fun. Each year the Montana Supreme Court arranges for one civil and one criminal case to be argued at the University of Montana Law School in Missoula, rather than at the Court’s chambers in Helena. They chose our case. There wasn’t an empty seat in the room with the number of mostly-supportive law students in attendance, something as close to a media frenzy as I’ll ever participate in—Holly and I were interviewed by the local NPR radio station!—and plenty of good choices for our post-argument merriment. My husband was even able to miss a few days of work to join in the fun. Though I can’t remember the context for the question, at one point I was asked about the circumstances in which you might be able to assume a person had engaged in sexual relations, even if you hadn’t seen the sexual act itself. I decided to answer by mentioning that my present condition certainly made an assumption of sexual activity pretty easy to make. Oddly, the justice did not have a follow up.

We won on July 2, 1997, in a beautifully written decision that played a role in some future legal decisions on gay rights. But because the forces of evil are strong, for many years the Montana legislature refused to remove the laws from the books. Out of spite, pure and simple. Typically, the attorney general presents a single bill each legislative session with updates to laws that are the result of Montana court rulings. Time and again it was not possible to include changes to the sodomy law using that approach.

Finally, with the help of many in the progressive community in Montana, the legislature passed a bill that repealed part of the deviate sexual conduct statue dealing with consenting adults. On April 18, 2013, Governor Bullock signed the bill into law.

The signing occurred in the rotunda of the Montana Capital building. It was another standing-room only event, with crowds filling the main floor and leaning over from the balconies. Many dignitaries were introduced, and special recognition was given to a Republican senator who ultimately agreed to change his position and support repeal. Every potential applause line was greeted with long rounds of applause, happy hoots—the works. The room thundered for minutes after the Governor put ink to paper.

One of the leaders of the repeal effort was our lead plaintiff Linda Gryczan. Linda also played a prominent role in the festivities. I know this because I was able to make a last minute change to my work plans, and to fly to Helena for the signing event. I saw many other familiar faces in the crowd, LGBTQ activists from the ‘90s, Holly Franz and her partner, who remain dear friends, etc. It wasn’t my victory this time around, but I was part of the chain that led to that glorious signing ceremony.

I treasure every moment of working on that case, and the friendships and relationships I developed during those years. It was a team effort from start to finish with many high and low moments to savor. What an experience for an emerging lawyer; I had only been practicing for 11 years when I gave that oral argument. And I cannot believe how lucky I was to play a meaningful role in the efforts to secure justice for the LGBTQ community. It makes writing an annual check to Legal Voice easy to remember, to help it support the work that needs to be done today.

Rosemary Daszkiewicz is a senior director, law with Plum Creek Timber Company. Her responsibilities include ethics and compliance, litigation oversight, and supporting the manufacturing operations and the human resources team. A former Legal Voice employee and long-time volunteer, Rosemary’s proudest non-legal accomplishment is raising two young women who know their way around whatever wave of feminism we’re currently living through.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

(Mis)Informed Consent:
Exposing a Prevailing Injustice in Access to Abortion

By Deborah E. Klein, M.D.,
based on questions posed by Andrea Greenstein

As a physician and longtime reproductive health advocate, I have been disturbed and incensed by the increasing number of states that require special mandated counseling prior to an abortion. Allowing legislators to insert their own scripts into informed consent counseling subverts a standard medical practice that is an essential component of every medical procedure. So I sat down with Andrea Greenstein, my Legal Voice work group colleague, to answer some questions about informed consent.

One of the major concerns surrounding anti-choice legislation has to do with informed consent. As an advocate for reproductive health and justice, what are some things I should keep in mind when reading about recent attacks on abortion access and services?

Informed consent is based on truth. The provider-patient relationship is based on trust. Truth and trust go out the window when state-mandated misinformation is injected into abortion counseling.

Informed consent is a cornerstone of medical ethics, and is required by law, for all medical procedures in all 50 states. Informed consent requires that patients and their providers discuss the benefits and risks of a medical procedure in order to arrive at a sound medical decision.

The principles of informed consent include:
1. The provider must disclose all relevant medical information needed to make the decision, including risks, benefits, expected outcomes and alternatives
2. The patient must have the ability to understand and process the information
3. The patient must make the decision free from coercion or unfair incentives

Women’s health services, including abortion, seem to be treated differently than most other medical procedures. Why is that? How might additional restrictions affect the relationship between a healthcare provider and her patient?

Under the guise of informed consent, many states have enacted additional requirements unique to abortion. In some cases the required information is outdated, biased, or false—some states require women seeking abortions be told that personhood begins at conception, be provided with information on the ability of a fetus to feel pain, or be presented with inaccurate medical information, such as:

• Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a possible link between abortion and breast cancer.

• Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia require that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and infertility.

• Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia require that that a woman seeking an abortion be told there is a link between abortion and long-term psychological harm.

All these assertions are inaccurate.

Legislators without medical expertise can require that providers deliver medically inaccurate materials, undermining the provider-patient relationship, and putting patients at risk for making medical decisions based on false information. These special laws, required only for abortion procedures, not only provide deceptive information, but are an attempt to disrupt and invalidate the provider-patient relationship, and to undermine the integrity of the medical and scientific evidence that informs medical decision making.

Is there any reason abortion procedures should be subject to different informed consent requirements?

There is no reason that abortion procedures should be singled out for unique informed consent requirements. Anti-choice forces rely on the fact that the public may be unaware of the rigorous informed consent protocols already in place. Since these laws apply only to women, there is the suggestion that women need special protections with regard to medical decisions, and do not have the capacity to engage in medical decision making. State-mandated counseling is further intended to suggest that clinicians might not provide accurate information to patients without specific legislation requiring them to do so. In fact, informed consent is a process that is tailored to each procedure, and the clinician who will perform the procedure is the one who has the greatest expertise to appropriately counsel the patient.

As a women’s healthcare provider, what is your approach to building trust with patients and helping them make decisions about their health?

Shared decision making is a relatively new concept, and is at the heart of the patient-provider relationship. It’s a collaborative process that allows patients and their providers to make health care decisions together, taking into account the best scientific evidence available, as well as the patient’s values and preferences. The patient is placed at the center of the decision making process; patient preferences are honored, and the process is an open dialogue that enhances patient autonomy and confidence.

How can women’s health advocates frame informed consent and abortion counseling as a problem? What is your opinion on these requirements as a healthcare provider who is familiar with advocating for your patients’ health and well being, and helping them make healthcare decisions?

The requirement for unique informed consent counseling for abortion is different from the counseling required for all other medical procedures. It distorts the informed consent process, imbuing it with often medically incorrect, politically driven, coercive, discriminatory, and dangerous statements. This violates medical ethics, and may result in women making decisions that compromise their health.

As a healthcare provider, I believe healthcare decisions should be informed by medical evidence, using standard informed consent and shared decision making processes that protect patients and help them arrive at decisions that are right for them. Politicians should have no authority to obstruct safe medical practice and no right to interfere in the relationship between the provider and the patient.

Deb Klein has practiced family medicine in Seattle for 21 years, and serves on the Legal Voice Reproductive Justice Work Group.

Andrea Greenstein is a women’s health advocate, Seattle young professional, and graduate of the University of Washington where she studied Law, Societies, and Justice. Andrea volunteers with Legal Voice on the Reproductive Justice Work Group.