I’m a fan of birth control and religious freedom

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of March Madness. I jumped on board with the madness; making the effort to watch my favorite team (go Bruins!) specifically at the bar that serves as DC’s “official” UCLA bar, hanging out with friends who had brackets so we could enthusiastically and nonstop talk/compare our brackets, and basically addictively watching the games.  While this March Madness is at the end of the day all fun and games, the real madness that is going on this March is the Supreme Court hearing of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.
The precise legal question has to do with religious freedom.  As this National Public Radio piece points out, the legal standard for whether a law infringes upon the constitutionally granted right from laws “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion has changed over the years.  And this summer the Supreme Court will issue its decision as to whether  the new law requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes coverage for contraception poses a substantial burden on the corporate owner’s of Hobby Lobby’s right to free exercise of religion and whether as corporate owners they even have such a legal right.  The madness in this all, for me, is the non legal question here is that, for some, the question exists as to whether contraception is even considered a preventive health measure.  
Former Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement bemoans that “The federal government for the first time has decided that they are going to force one person to pay for another person’s not just … hip replacement, but something as religiously sensitive as contraception and abortifacients.”  Hobby Lobby, of course, would never challenge coverage of a hip replacement for a 75 year old employee who fell down the stairs.  Nor should they challenge the use of a medication by a 34 year old fertile woman to prevent pregnancy, a medical condition that changes a woman’s body so that she’ll grow a whole new human within her.  According to the world health organization family planning, ”allows spacing of pregnancies and can delay pregnancies in young women at increased risk of health problems and death from early childbearing, and can prevent pregnancies among older women who also face increased risks.“  Spacing of pregnancies, as experts at the Mayo Clinic describe, has medical implications.  So yes, contraception is just another medical treatment that should be included in health insurance coverage as routinely as say, a hip replacement or high cholesterol medication. Hopefully, a majority of the justices see it the same way and publicly identify contraception as a critical, routine and medically accepted preventive health measure.
Today, the Supreme Court is listening to oral arguments on this case and like most women in the U.S., I oppose Hobby Lobby’s attempt to carve out some contraception from the health insurance plan it provides its employees. I’m publicly acknowledging today that I’m a fan of birth control and religious freedom.  You should too.  Make your new cover page this or pledge your support here.

Getty Images & The Lean In Collection – There’s Room to Lean Further

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

Last month Getty Images, in collaboration with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org nonprofit foundation, launched over 2,500 new stock images aimed at depicting “female leadership in contemporary work and life”. As a collection, the images are a beautifully composed collage of picture perfect women, girls, families, and friendship. However, taken individually, some of the images may perpetuate a problematic oversimplification of what it takes for women to thrive in the corporate world.

A number of the images play with the work/life balance motif, showing thin, stylish women in contemporary work and home office settings.  In an interview with NPR, Getty’s Pamela Grossman discussed how these images were intended to present an updated and more dynamic vision of motherhood.

“The older model would be that … the mother looked incredibly harried, and she would be juggling a dinner plate in one hand and a baby in the other. Sometimes even more arms would be Photoshopped onto her to show just how indeed she was juggling it all.”  Grossman compared this outdated model of a multitasking mom with that depicted in the LeanIn Collection, “They really feel like they have contemporary style, and they’re engaged and energetic.”

Although the intent behind the collection is admirable, it is hard not to question whether this contemporary view of working mothers may be setting an unobtainable bar for those of us contemplating or trying to balance motherhood with a career.  In a country where income inequality continues to grow and women face a wage gap of $.77 to every dollar earned by a man, where most lack access to paid maternity leave, where the glass ceiling and maternal wall are still very much intact for women pursuing corporate leadership, and where female attorneys represent less than one-third of lawyers at law firms (a number that has actually been dropping for the past four years), the new Collection presents a picture that is hard to reconcile with the reality working mothers face.

Many of the images of working mothers show them sitting at their immaculate desks, working on their laptops while young children balance on their knee or sit serenely nearby. How do these women manage to keep their children from grabbing at the laptops, pouring coffee over the keyboards or pulling on their dangly earrings and perfectly coiffed hair?  Where are these women supposed to be?  Certainly not at work-I have no data on this but I bet there are more dog friendly offices in the U.S. than child friendly.  So are these mothers supposed to be representing the women who are fortunate enough to have a flexible working schedule that allows them to work from home? If so, they must be wealthy enough to afford housekeeping because their offices are immaculate with few or no toys in sight for their perfectly behaved children.

Although the collection does include women of various ethnic backgrounds and ages, it fails to move past the model thin and designer dressed. The idea of a more “contemporary” working mother is nice, but at the end of the day these are stock photos used to depict artificial scenarios in order to sell a product or service, or to communicate a point of view or sentiment..

To claim that the Collection serves a loftier dual purpose is an overreach and I question whether these images of the “contemporary” working mother are actually an improvement upon the traditional multi-armed multitasking mother. What woman can possibly live up to the unrealistic standards these images depict while trying to succeed in a world where working women continue to be discriminated against because they are mothers. The Collection’s embrace of the unrealistic while touting it as “empowering,” left me feeling just the opposite – how will I ever be able to obtain such a lifestyle while balancing my legal career with the needs of my family?

Republicans State of Abortion Address

Christine Poquiz, Resident Blogger (’12, University of California, Davis School of Law)

After celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty” and on the day of President Obama’s State of the Union address focusing on the economy and poverty, what do House Republicans spend their valuable time on? You got it–abortion. Like voting to repeal Obama care for the 40umpteenth time, Republicans dogged focus on anti-abortion measures, that won’t reach the Senate, are infuriating to say the least. Republicans are once again obsessed with denying women the ability to make their own personal reproductive health decisions. If the all-male HR7 hearing is any indication, instead of waging a war on poverty, Republicans are waging a war against poor women who aren’t able to pay for abortion care.

HR7 deemed the “No Taxpayer for Abortion Act” is an extreme abortion ban that withholds coverage from virtually all women in the U.S. There are current laws that ban women who use Medicaid as their insurance, to cover their abortion care. This law would extend this coverage ban to both public and private insurance companies. There was even an original “rape audit” provision that would require women to prove to the IRS their rape or incest circumstance in order to get insurance coverage for their abortion. Conservatives took this portion out of the bill to make it seem more palatable, believing that the other provisions of the bill are that much more reasonable.

There was one highlight of the hearing, and one of the few moments I was not yelling at my computer screen, when Democrats stepped up and used this opportunity to talk about real issues our country is facing, like unemployment and the job market, instead of this anti-women absurdity. The optics of democrats lining up and repeatedly insert their statement into the record “in support of extending unemployment insurance for 1.6 million Americans instead of this radical Republican assault on women’s health care rights,” was right out of the conservative play book.

After the Republican controlled House passed the measure 227-188, the GOP undoubtedly wanted to show that they do support women and chose Rep. Cathy McMorris to give the party’s rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address. McMorris brought up abortion (shock!), an issue that didn’t come up in Obama’s address. McMorris talked about her own personal circumstances, how she and her husband have a son with Down syndrome who has been able to thrive, and therefore abortion should not be a viable option for other women. It is wonderful that McMorris’ son is doing so well and I’m sure their family has their share of struggles. I hope nothing but the best for her family, but not every woman will have the same experiences and resources, it is simply not a reason to make pregnancy decisions for others and their families.

However we feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t be allowed to deny a woman’s insurance coverage for it just because she’s struggling to get by. When it comes to the most important decisions in life, such as whether to become a parent, it is vital that a woman is able to consider all her options–including an abortion–even if she is poor. Instead of sweeping bans, it’s time for Congress to lift the restrictions on abortion coverage so women can make decisions based on what’s best for their circumstances.

Roe: One Con Law Experience

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

I had been dreading and yet also looking forward to this con law class for months – the class on Roe v. Wade. The attacks on Roe were the reason I came to law school. I meticulously read the opinion the night before, and steadied myself for a battle. But the class came and went without so much as a 1L wincing at the word “abortion,” which turned out being the worst case scenario – Roe passing by as just another case to remember for the final.

I looked back at the (truncated) case in my textbook and realized that all of the fervor from the opinion had been sucked dry. There was nothing from the original opinion on the incredible hurdles that women had transcended to get an abortion, or on the devastating effects unplanned pregnancies had on women who were forced to carry them to term. Or just as importantly, there was no discussion of the federal and state policies put in place since Roe that have made it so difficult to access abortion that Roe is practically moot.  Instead, my 1L con law class read a few legalese passages on the “penumbra” of privacy rights. So for Roe’s anniversary, as a LSRJ chapter leader at my law school, I hope to bring the real Roe story to my classmates – that it’s not just a case to memorize for the final, its about women and our right to control our bodies

Roe v. Wade: A Reminder That We Deserve More

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

I first learned about Roe v. Wade as an eager, nerdy, middle school student. No, it was definitely not covered in my history classes and it was barely discussed in my constitutional law class. I learned about it because my Latina mother introduced me to the world of feminism and feminist heroes at a young age. When I first learned about Roe, I was amazed and thought it was the best thing that ever happened to the women’s movement.  As each anniversary passes, I’m less amazed and more circumspect about the meaning of Roe. I know now that we have a long way to go before we achieve full equality and justice for all women, including transgender men. Roe is not the pinnacle of our movement, but it is a starting point.

Since Roe, it’s relevance to women’s lives has become somewhat diminished due to relentless political assaults.  In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which is an almost total ban on abortion coverage for women who qualify and are enrolled in Medicaid, making abortion inaccessible in practice for low income women of color.  It has continuously been reauthorized in each federal budget.  Lack of insurance coverage for abortion care isn’t the only barrier for many women.  Several states have passed laws to “regulate” abortion care, again effectively making it inaccessible – take for instance TRAP regulations and laws pertaining to misoprostol.  Then, we have issues of accessing care – many women live in areas of the country where there are no abortion providers and they do not have the means to travel to the closest abortion provider,sometimes hours away. And’s let not forget about Casey and the “undue burden” standard.

Finally, transgender men who may need abortion care may not receive the care they need because of the lack of culturally competent providers in general for this community, let alone providers who are trained and licensed in providing abortion care.  Not to mention the fact that transgender and gender non-conforming persons also face high rates of discrimination and violence, even in healthcare settings.   

So yes, let’s celebrate Roe v. Wade, but the next day we need to get back to work.   

Reflections on Roe: Out of Clinic Violence and Ash Rises a Reproductive Justice Advocate.

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

McCullen v. Coakley, the case that could decide the constitutionality of all abortion clinic buffer zones, was heard by the Supreme Court less than two weeks before the forty-first anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The plaintiff was well chosen, a “grandmother” figure not immediately fitting the image of intimidation and violence that the zone around the Boston clinic was set up to protect entrants from.  Last year the Massachusetts buffer zone was upheld by the First Circuit Court as a way to mitigate “the persistence of a disorderly and threatening climate at facility entrances.”

Perhaps the plaintiff herself believes that she poses no risk to the women she encounters, but within the larger anti-choice/pro-choice movement she is allied with those who do. Boston knows well the devastation of clinic violence where, in 1994, two health workers were brutally murdered while serving their clients.

My own experience as a health worker was born out of the ashes of a local clinic – I was inspired to join the health center’s staff shortly after its offices were firebombed.  The subsequent arson investigation remains open. Clinic violence is a daily reality for those of us trying to ensure that the rights granted by Roe remain accessible to women of all ages and incomes.

Thirty-five feet is all that stands between a peaceful protest and a clinic blockade.  Even with the buffer zone, insults, photographing, and threats of religious retribution create a culture of intimidation whether the conservatives on the Court recognize it as such or not.  So on this anniversary of Roe, remember those who work behind bullet-proof glass, and their clients: women and men brave enough to make a decision for themselves and their families despite anti-choice protesters subjecting them to religious rhetoric, hateful name calling and other forms of aggression.

18.7 percent is not enough

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

This month marks the start of the second session of the 113th Congress — the most diverse Congress in U.S. history.   My own home state of New Hampshire played a big role in this distinction having sent the only ever all female delegation to Washington, D.C.  Hawaii is a close second, having sent three women as part of its four-member delegation. However, with eighty-one House members and twenty Senators, women still account for only 18.7% of Congressional members.[1]

Despite their comparatively low numbers, women have increasingly gained recognition for their leadership on a variety of issues.  Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelley Ayotte (R-NH) and others garnered attention for their role in last year’s budget negotiations and are largely credited for saving our country from the dreaded fiscal cliff.  Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the voice for family unity and women’s equality during the immigration debate introducing a number of amendments including one to allocate 30,000 residency cards for traditionally female employment, employment that goes largely unrecognized in our current system.

The Shaheen amendment, passed late in 2012, and named for Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), ended the decades long ban on insurance coverage for abortion services for military rape survivors. The attention to sexual violence in the military has only grown over the past year thanks to the efforts of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).  Although not always in agreement – only eighteen of the twenty female Senators are pro-choice – the women serving in Congress are a force in their own right.  A recent study found that regardless of their party, women are “thirty-one percent more effective than men at advancing legislation.”

As we embark on the second session of this historic Congress, it is tempered by the fact that half of all states have never elected a woman to the Senate and in the words of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), “Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”



[1] https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42964.pdf

If I Were Ruth Bader Ginsburg…

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

Last week, I watched in horror as the Fifth Circuit approved a Texas law that will prevent one third of abortion providers from performing much-needed services. I had two thoughts: (1) I was reminded of the saying in Austin, TX, “The problem with Austin is that once you leave it, you’re in Texas;” and (2) if this gets appealed to SCOTUS (it did), and I were Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), what would I do? If I (RBG) don’t grant certiorari,Texan women will face almost insurmountable barriers to abortion access and let’s face it this is just the latest terrible attack on access to reproductive health services; but if I do, I risk making the Texas law a model move in the war-on-women playbook.

After pondering RBG’s thoughts, I began to think about the cultural climate that produced anti-abortion sentiments today. We have movies like Juno and Knocked Up (recall “shmashmortion”) that gloss over unplanned pregnancies, and that refuse to entertain abortion as an option. But remember the ‘70s? Abortion wasn’t a bad thing. Remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High? That movie had an excellent abortion scene. Stacy has a regretful sexual encounter, she gets pregnant, and the guy (Damone, ugh.) refuses to help her pay for the abortion. But she gets one, and there’s no uproar. The outrage is correctly directed at Damone (ugh.) for just sucking overall. Let me be clear, Fast Times—the movie that features oral sex on carrots, and Sean Penn as a greasy-haired, Hawaiian-shirted stoner—handles abortion better than most of the country today. I don’t know what I would do if I were RBG, but if I were Harvey Weinstein, I would be getting at least one of my leading ladies out of maternity clothes, and into the abortion clinic.

A Piece of Good News

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

As a reproductive justice advocate, there are many days when there is no good news.  In the midst of a government shutdown (which thankfully ended!) and the proposed 20 week ban in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have something to celebrate.  Last Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 154, formally known as Early Access to Abortion, into law.

AB 154 will expand the pool of qualified and trained health professionals who can provide abortion care within the first trimester.  Currently, in California and in other states, women may need to forego early abortion care because there are no accessible providers.  For instance, in some areas of California, women have to travel five hours by train or bus to reach their provider.  On top of that, they also have to pay for child care and take time off of work.  In fact, on a related note, Texan women seeking abortion care may pay an additional $146 for this care because of the state’s 24-hour waiting period.  AB 154 will not only remove barriers to needed care but may ultimately cut the cost of abortion care, which we know is an impassable barrier for many women.

Wouldn’t it be a great democratic experience if we could replicate AB 154 in other states?  As a movement, we sometimes get bogged down in the political reality that says we can’t be proactive, let alone visionary, but AB 154 goes to show that with the right amount of patience and organizing and the right group of people, we can achieve something extraordinary.

Channeling Human Trafficking Survivors

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

New York announced that it will be among the first to create specialized courts for human trafficking and prostitution.  This move is indeed a step in the right direction.  Human trafficking has achieved celebrity status in human rights reform – likely because there aren’t many sympathetic defenses to “modern slavery” (e.g.,“Oh, whoops, I just forgot to pay my cleaning lady while I kept her in my basement for the past eight years” doesn’t fly too well in federal court).

However, the path to justice for victims of sex trafficking is complex.  We know (as The West Wing aptly noted) that no little girl says, “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up.”  And yet, the way the criminal justice system treats prostitutes would lead anyone to improperly deduce this motive.  This inference is so strong that it trickles into punishing children who are forced into sexual exploitation for money (most or all of which they don’t get).  Somehow, states find no problem in punishing children for prostitution, while contemporaneously declaring their inability to consent to sex (in statutory rape), their inability to enter into a contract (in contracts), and their inability to work (in child labor).

Proving that human trafficking is afoot requires “force, fraud, or coercion” – this burden does not seem high, but in practicality can be insurmountable.  “Pimps” use a grooming process (like that of pedophiles) for both children and women.  This tactic can even lead to victims defending their trafficker.  Despite New York’s laudable step, the trafficking courts will continue processing prostitutes through the criminal system (aka prosecuting them). Courts would do well to remind themselves, in considering “force,” that girls grow up wanting to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., rather than an object of commercial sexual exploitation.