Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Women Athletes ROCK!

By Sarah MacDonald

Today is National Girls and Women in Sports Day, a time to acknowledge the achievements of female athletes and recognize the positive influence of sports participation for women and girls.

Last year alone saw some incredible "firsts" for women in athletics: unstoppable pitcher Mo’ne Davis made headlines as the first girl to pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history, and went on to be the first Little League baseball player to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Former WNBA player Becky Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach for the NBA, while Michele Roberts was named executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), becoming the first woman to lead an American union of male athletes. Amélie Mauresmo was hired to coach Andy Murray, one of the top tennis players in the world, which made her the first female to coach an elite male tennis player.

Even with the incredible achievements of women in athletics – including Mo’ne, Becky, Michele, and Amélie – we are still battling an overwhelming amount of discrimination and harassment for girls and women in sports. So today is also a time to talk about the progress we’ve yet to make. 

Professional cheerleaders are lobbying for basic employment protections like worker’s compensation insurance and overtime pay. Women soccer players in this summer’s Women’s World Cup are being forced to play on artificial turf (an inferior material to the natural grass on which male players compete) after organizing body FIFA essentially ignored their gender discrimination lawsuit. And female athletes are routinely asked questions – usually moments after an awe-inspiring achievement – that focus on fashion, beauty, and motherhood rather than their sport, performance, or athletic abilities (see: Twirlgate).

Legal Voice has a long history of protecting equal access to athletics. In fact, you could say our organization is built on sports: in our very first case, Blair v. WSU, we won equal access to sports facilities and programs for the women of Washington State University and set a national precedent. Since then we’ve helped the Alaska Firebirds hockey team gain equal access to ice time, successfully advocated for school districts to change slow-pitch to the more competitive fast-pitch softball teams (increasing access to scholarship opportunities for girls), fought policies that exclude girls from playing on boys’ teams based solely on their gender, and more.

Back in 1972 Title IX gave women and girls equal access to education programs and activities, including sports. We are steadily enforcing Title IX by monitoring our region for equality in athletics to ensure every girl has access to the sports she wants to play. But here’s how you can help:

- Know the facts! Did you know that Title IX requires equality in every facet of athletic participation, including equipment, practice facilities, and the quality of coaches? Or that a girl must be allowed to try out for the boys’ team if her school doesn’t offer a girls’ team in that sport?

- Start a team! If your school or athletics league doesn’t currently offer a girls’ team in a certain sport, ask the administrators what it takes to start one. Sometimes you can make positive change simply by bringing inequality to the attention of decision-makers.

- Be the best! Don’t let anyone stop you from playing the sport you want to play. Show the world what it means to do something “like a girl” by being the best you can be! Better yet, remind yourself or a loved one to never give up with a fabulous Legal Voice “Fights Like a Girl” t-shirt!

We’ll continue to work for your right to play. So go out and show them what you’ve got!

Sarah MacDonald is Marketing & Communications Manager for Legal Voice where she strives daily to keep you in-the-know. While she's never been a particularly athletic individual, she eagerly awaits being selected to participate in the Puppy Bowl.

Photo courtesy of Danny Ngan Photography.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's Time to Move Beyond Roe

By Janet Chung

At 42 years, measured by standard reproductive age (ages 15-44), Roe v. Wade is reaching an advanced age. But rather than this anniversary marking advances sufficient to end the need to fight for this most basic right – the right to decide whether, when, and how to bear and parent children – it sometimes feels closer to marking the end of Roe.

Women comprise more than half of the U.S. population. Over 99 percent of women of reproductive age who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Simply put, a full range of reproductive health care is an essential part of primary care for women.

Yet increasingly, women’s access to reproductive health care has been eroded by restrictions. During the 2014 state legislative session alone, state lawmakers introduced 341 provisions aimed at restricting access to abortion. Earlier this month, during the first few days of session for the current Congress, lawmakers introduced five different bills restricting abortions, including a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks that was scheduled to be voted on today. (House Republicans scrapped that vote yesterday evening, but will instead vote on a bill that restricts taxpayer funding of abortion, which disproportionately impacts low-income women.)

These bills are not only anti-women, but also often infused with disrespect toward communities of color. Another new federal bill would ban sex-selective abortions, cynically claiming the title “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act” (Arizona’s similar law is even more cynically named the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act). Already on the books in seven states, these bills don’t combat any form of discrimination, but rather, are based on, and perpetuate, racist and anti-immigrant stereotypes about women of color and their communities.

Currently, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider, and 35 percent of women aged 15–44 live in those counties. In Washington State, 64 percent of counties had no abortion clinic (2011 data), and from 2008 to 2011, Washington experienced a 10 percent decline in overall providers (from 50 to 45). Nonhospital providers estimated in 2005 that nearly two in 10 women traveled 50–100 miles to access abortion services, and almost one in 10 traveled more than 100 miles.

And the restrictions on reproductive health care access are not limited to abortion care. It’s already the case that in many communities, independent clinics have had to fill the gap in comprehensive reproductive services for women. For example, while Planned Parenthood is best known for providing abortion services, those account for about 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities, which include contraception (35 percent), STD testing (also 35 percent), and cancer screening and prevention (16 percent).
Further accelerating the segregation of women’s health care from “general” health care is the rise in mergers between religious and secular hospital systems. Because Catholic policy forbids providing certain services including contraceptive counseling and care, sterilization, as well as abortions, access to comprehensive reproductive care often falls victim to corporate dealmaking.

Instead of further restricting access to basic reproductive health care, lawmakers should be working to increase access.
As the President stated earlier this week in his State of the Union address, surely we can agree it's a good thing that unintended pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.

Support for improving reproductive health care access is widespread. For instance, a poll commissioned by In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda initiative shows overwhelming support in the Black community, across ideological and generational divides, for not just abortion rights but also comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. It is time not only to defend Roe, but move beyond it.

In her novel A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood famously depicted a dystopia in which women were valued and segregated based on their reproductive capacity. Maybe we aren’t quite there yet, but only through proactively expanding protections can we reverse this trend toward a separate and unequal health care system for women. Washington can start with ensuring that every woman has access to coverage for contraception and abortion care, regardless of who her employer is, and ensuring that hospital systems can’t restrict providers from providing the care their patients need. Equity demands no less.

Janet Chung is Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, based in Seattle, Washington, where she works to advance reproductive and economic justice for women through advocacy, litigation, and legal rights education. She is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.

Photo courtesy of William Murphy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Everyday Sexism: Kids' Edition

By Chloë Phalan

Everyday sexism alert! The other day I was perusing the greeting cards at a local drug store, looking for a birthday card for my nephew who was turning three. He’s a doll—so fun and cheerful and bright! I was looking for a card that would make him smile, make him feel special, and have room for a packet of stickers. The section full of brightly colored birthday cards for kids offered only two choices for a 3-year-old: “Birthday Boy – 3” read one tag, and “Birthday Girl – 3” read the other. Guess which was which! I’ll give you one guess!

I think you could have gotten that one even if the pictures were in black and white. The messages are pretty clear:
Boys, you’re strong and smart and generally awesome—feel good about yourself for being YOU.
Girls, you’re pretty and sweet—feel good about yourself for pleasing others.

Yes, this was my experience at just one store. And yes, they’re just birthday cards. Kids open them, maybe shake them out for any dollar bills (or stickers) that may be inside, a grown-up makes them read it, and then in to the recycle bin they go. But the messages kids get from friends and family—the questions you ask, your tone of voice, your compliments, the games you propose, the chores you assign, the gifts you give, and yes, EVEN THE CARDS—is a huge piece of the personal-identity puzzle kids are constantly working on. A puzzle that shows them a picture of who they are, who they will grow up to be, and where they stand socially.

As “Suz” says in this piece, “All children are born a seed. These seeds carry in them all the predispositions we house in our genes, a massive tree with branches sprouting off at all sides. But from the moment that pink or blue swaddling hits our skin, those branches begin being pruned. What should little girls look like, do, be? What about little boys?”

And the pink and blue surely doesn’t stop with swaddling blankets. Gendered messages are propagated in toy stores, many of which have segregated aisles for “girl toys” and “boy toys.” The girl aisles are overwhelmingly pink, and promote the idea that girls are domestic, maternal, and princesses-in-the-making; the boy aisles are predominantly blue, black, and silver and feature toys that indicate boys as strong and destructive, as well as scientifically and mechanically inclined.

Dinosaurs? That’s a boy thing. Cooking and baking? So girly. Cars and trains? Boys only, through and through. But according to who?

A few young people are challenging the “girl toy” v. “boy toy” status quo, and I tip my hat to them (and their families!):  

Six-year-old Parker Dains penned a letter to ABDO Publishing Company, creators of The Biggest Baddest Book of Bugs, after she read (and loved!) the book, but flipped it over to discover it was part of the company’s Biggest Baddest Books for Boys series. In her letter she recommended that the company change the series to Biggest Baddest Books for Boys and Girls because “some girls would like to be entomologists too.” The company listened, and dropped the “For Boys” part of the name. Sweet!

Seven-year-old Charlotte Benjamin took issue with Lego’s portrayal of girls. Not only was she disappointed that there were “barely any” Lego girls in the kits, but the ones that were included didn’t really do much. “All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” wrote Charlotte. “I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun, ok!?!” YES.

Twelve-year-old McKenna Peterson wrote a similar letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods after flipping through the company’s basketball catalog and noticed a glaring lack of females in the publication. “There are NO girls in the catalog,” wrote McKenna. “Oh wait, sorry. There IS a girl in the catalog on page 6. SITTING in the STANDS.” Burn.

It’s not to say that it’s impossible to find gender-neutral greeting cards, toys, and books. (Technically, that “boy” card was generic, but still filed under “Boy”, so…) It’s also not to say that there is anything wrong with a girl loving the color pink or a boy loving the color blue. But there is really no need to choose that for them.

In the end, I found a card with happy animals and a message that read, “Wishing you a stupendous birthday!” It took about five additional seconds to find it—five seconds that I commit to taking each time I make a choice for a child in my life. I take the time to ask myself not just ‘will it hold stickers' but also 'am I telling them what they should be, or am I telling them what they can be?’

Chloe Phalan is Program Assistant at Legal Voice, where she works to advance justice for women and girls by scheduling meetings and keeping files properly labeled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bodily Autonomy Matters to Everyone

By Legal Voice Staff

The notion of bodily autonomy should not be a difficult concept to grasp. It isn’t radical: it is simply that each person should have control over his or her own body. Yet we continue to see policies that deny this autonomy to individuals, particularly women, through rationales often based on religion or other personally held moral objections.

Over the last few years, women’s basic reproductive rights have been trampled through systematic discriminatory legislation on the state and federal levels. This backward motion shows no signs of slowing, especially in conservative states that use women’s reproductive autonomy as a political bargaining chip. State legislatures enacted 205 abortion restrictions from 2011–2013, more restrictions than the total number enacted in the entire previous decade. Then, earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. favored corporations’ religious freedom at the expense of women’s access to contraceptive care, a decision that has led to a fresh onslaught of religious exemption lawsuits and requests.

Some of these challenges follow in Hobby Lobby’s footsteps and seek exemptions specifically from the ACA contraceptive care requirement. But, troublingly, others are using the Hobby Lobby decision as leverage for exemptions from other legal requirements, such as the group of religious leaders who urged President Obama to include a religious exemption to his LGBT anti-discrimination executive order.

The aftermath of Hobby Lobby proved what we’ve known for years—an attack on women’s rights can very easily translate into an attack on everyone’s rights. So while bodily autonomy is at the core of the reproductive justice movement—women and their families should be able to decide how, when, and with whom to form their families—Legal Voice is also working in other issue areas to change systems that deny women (and men) the right to control, protect, and make decisions for their own bodies.

For instance: health care coverage for transgender people. In the health care system, transgender people have repeatedly been denied the opportunity to have control over their health care decisions. Both public and private health insurance policies routinely include clauses that specifically prevent transgender people from having the same coverage for medical services that is provided for other policy holders. Some plans exclude coverage for surgical or non-surgical services for medically necessary transition-related care, while in other cases, insurance companies outright deny coverage to the individual. We are currently representing a transgender woman who was denied coverage for gender reassignment surgery by her insurer on the grounds that it was “cosmetic”—despite the fact that her health care providers unanimously regard the surgery as medically necessary under well-established standards of care.

Bodily autonomy is also at the core of end-of-life decision-making and care. Death with Dignity laws provide options for elderly and terminally ill individuals to control their own end-of-life care. People living in states with these laws—Washington, Oregon, and Vermont—have access to one of the greatest human freedoms: to live, and die, according to their own desires and beliefs.

But people living in states without Death with Dignity laws—or people whose secular, taxpayer-supported hospitals have merged with Catholic hospital chains—lack the ability to control what happens (or does not happen) to their bodies at the end of their lives. You may have heard of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and who wanted to die on her terms—without suffering and surrounded by the people she loved. Living in California at the time, Brittany lacked the legal right to request that her physician aid her in dying. To obtain the right to control her end-of-life care and to access appropriate medication legally, Brittany and her family moved to Oregon and, in an act of complete autonomy, Brittany ended her life on November 1.

We believe all people have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies without politicians, insurance companies, employers, hospital policy-makers, or anyone else telling them what decisions to make or how to make them. We have actively worked to change culture and policies that threaten individuals’ autonomy over their own bodies by:
·         Sending a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to renounce enhanced criminal penalties for women on the basis of pregnancy.
·         Working with the Seattle City Council to pass a resolution calling on federal lawmakers to repeal all bans on public insurance coverage of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.
·         Engaging in civil discourse about sexual abuse, street harassment, non-consensual pornography, and other violations to women’s bodies.
·         Advocating for Washington’s Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) to provide inclusive health benefits for transgender people covered by PEBB plans, which they approved earlier this year.

When a woman has the power to decide when and how to get pregnant—or when and how to not get pregnant—she has control over her body. When transgender people have the ability to receive the medical treatment they need without the fear of discrimination, they have control over their bodies. When a woman approaching the end of her life has the ability to make important decisions for herself, she has control over her body.

A woman’s right to her body is her right alone.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rainwater.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Whose (Health Care) Conscience Is It, Anyway?

By Janet Chung
Originally published by Huffington Post
More and more, we live in a world where the religious beliefs of those who want to refuse health care services trump the rights of patients who deserve and need those services. This is untenable. The time has come to return the focus to patients, and an important first step is to protect those health care providers whose consciences tell them that they are obliged to provide health care at least as much as we protect the rights of their colleagues to refuse it.

How did we get here? It's important to understand that this state of affairs has been a long time coming. The U.S. Supreme Court's now notorious decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign that makes health care providers' beliefs—not patients' needs—the basis for determining what services will be offered.

A mainstay in this assault is a fresh barrage of laws containing so-called "conscience clauses," designed to give health care providers the right to refuse to offer services that they personally disapprove of, regardless of patient needs. In recent years, such state and federal laws have been expanding their reach in troubling new ways. Where they once focused on the right of providers to refuse to participate in specific services, primarily abortions and sterilization, they are now even broader in scope. For example, pharmacists in many states have the right to refuse to dispense any medication—and some have exercised that right to deny women emergency contraception based on the categorically false belief that such contraception causes an abortion.

Longstanding exemptions for not just individual providers, but also religious institutions further widen the gap between what patients need and what providers are required to offer. For example, in my home state of Washington, the insurance code provides that religiously sponsored plans can opt out of including legally mandated insurance benefits in their plan offerings, based on conscience. Elsewhere, hospitals that generally are required by law to provide emergency contraception to patients who have been sexually assaulted may refuse to do so on religious grounds. Similarly, even before the Hobby Lobby decision, religious institutions, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage requirements, and nonprofits with religious objections to ACA coverage requirements could refuse as well. The Hobby Lobby Court then further extended this doctrine, adding for-profit employers with religious objections to the list of entities exempt from providing otherwise mandated health care benefits.

While the Hobby Lobby decision focused on contraceptive coverage, it would be a mistake to think that its reach stops there. By recognizing a for-profit corporation's religious free exercise rights, the Court opened the door to religiously-based refusals of services of all sorts. For example, some providers object to aid in dying, or providing health care services of any kind to LGBT patients. Some religions proscribe vaccinations or blood transfusions. What's more, courts, not wanting to become arbiters of spirituality, do not question the sincerity of claims of religious belief. Thus, a religious objection might just prove to be the trump card justifying denials of such health care services.

This situation is unacceptable. The time has come to accord legal protection to other forms of "conscience." Providers should be protected if their religion or conscience compels them to provide care, not only when they choose to refuse it.

This broadened frame for conscience clause protection is especially needed in light of the precipitous rise in religiously affiliated health care systems; the number of Catholic-run acute-care hospitals increased by 16% from 2001-11. These hospital systems usually come with accompanying restrictions on services based on religious institutional doctrine. To comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, a Catholic-affiliated hospital may require its employees, as a matter of policy, not to provide certain services, including non-emergency pregnancy termination, medication for aid in dying, and infertility treatment. These prohibitions can extend not only to employees of the hospital itself, but also to affiliated clinics, hospices, physicians with admitting privileges—even separately owned medical practices that lease office space from a religiously affiliated health system. Studies of physicians at religiously affiliated hospitals have found over half (52%) of ob-gyns and one in five primary care physicians experienced conflict between the care they wanted to provide and hospital policies.

Institutional policies should not be allowed to prevent health care professionals from exercising their professional judgment, to practice evidence-based medicine, and to provide comprehensive care to their patients.

At best, privileging the conscience of providers who refuse care results in inconvenience to the patient and delay of care. At worst, it results in a complete barrier to timely access to health care -- such as when there is a time-sensitive medication that a pharmacist refuses to provide, or a procedure that no hospital in the region will provide.

It is time to recognize the hypocrisy of protecting only the moral beliefs of those providers who use their beliefs as a basis for refusing to provide care. We need to also protect the providers who believe it is their duty to provide care, and thus, protect the patients who need care. A core ethical obligation for medical professionals is nonmaleficence—do no harm. That form of conscience deserves protection, too.


Janet Chung is Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, where she works to advance reproductive and economic justice for women through advocacy, litigation, and legal rights education. She is a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.