PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Bills introduced as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health are summarized here – Get update on Twitter using #PA4WomensHealth.

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WLP at the Big Latch On 2015

The sun was shining in Franklin Square Park last weekend when I headed toward the carousel for the Big Latch On 2015. The Big Latch On is a worldwide event where groups of women come together at registered events in public places to breastfeed their babies. The goal is to celebrate breastfeeding, raise awareness of breastfeeding support within the community, and advocate for nursing women. Organizers of the Big Latch On imagine a world where every family was supported, nurtured by their community, and where breastfeeding is a normal part of life. Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers (HB1100), sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Daley, would require employers to provide a private, sanitary space and break time for employees who need to express breast milk. The bill is currently under consideration in the Pennsylvania legislature, and is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.It was a record year for the Big Latch On: 14,536 children latched, at 654 events across 28 countries. The Franklin Square event was organized byMaternity Care Coalition, members of the PA Campaign for Women’s Health. Members of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health attended several Big Latch On events across Pennsylvania to support breastfeeding women and share information about a bill called Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers. The PA Agenda is a bold, pro-choice legislative package of bills sponsored and supported by the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, a bipartisan, pro-choice group of lawmakers committed to promoting evidence-based policy solutions to real problems faced by Pennsylvania women and families. The fact is that right now, nursing mothers in Philadelphia enjoy more workplace protections than women living elsewhere in the state. Pennsylvania needs policies that reflect modern reality: Not only do women work, but many women are both the primary breadwinner and caretaker for their family. At the Big Latch On, women shared stories of the joy of nursing their babies, and the trauma of having to stop before they felt their child should because of challenges of expressing milk in the workplace. Many of the women nursed their babies before Philadelphia’s current law. We believe all women across Pennsylvania deserve the right to pump milk at work in private, sanitary spaces, and that’s why we’re advocating for HB1100. Stay up to date on this topic and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook.  Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in...

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Bad Bill Alert: HB 1112 Threatens Athletic Opportunities for Girls

Please urge your Pennsylvania lawmakers in the House Education Committee to vote against HB 1112, legislation that would suspend education data collection laws, including those related to athletics. This bill is scheduled for a vote in the Education Committee on Monday, June 15, 2015. The problem: HB 1112 could result in a backdoor repeal of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act. This act, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2012, created a good gender-equity law. It requires public secondary schools (grades 7-12) to report basic information about their school-sponsored athletic programs once a year. True, HB 1112 specifies that the Department of Education would only suspend data collection laws it finds unnecessary, burdensome or redundant. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act is not unnecessary, burdensome or redundant, but that doesn’t mean the DOE won’t assert otherwise, and repeal it if HB 1112 is passed into law. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act is still necessary.  Pennsylvania schools are shortchanging girls. A random review of a few of the first year’s reports shows that school districts are failing to provide female students with athletic opportunities in proportion to the percentage of female students enrolled. Gender gaps as big as 18.72% suggest that girls are losing out on the chance to play sports. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act is not burdensome.  The data on athletic opportunities, such as the number of students on athletic teams and what year teams were added or eliminated, is readily available to schools. It should take only between two and six hours to fill out Pennsylvania’s reporting form. In Kentucky and Georgia, where gender equity disclosure laws have been on the books for more than a decade, school administrators take between two and six hours to complete very similar reports. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act is not redundant.  Without this law, it is difficult to find gender equity data. This law puts all of the information related to athletic opportunities for girls in one place, enabling parents, students, coaches, and others in the community find out whether their public schools are providing female athletes with the equitable opportunities and treatment they deserve, as required by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Without this law, it would be much more difficult for a community to discover if their school’s athletic program is discriminating against girls. Repealing the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act would also increase the burden on schools, which would have to respond to possible multiple “Right to Know” requests from parents, students or community members — responses to which are due within a few days —...

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11 “Revenge Porn” Cases in First Six Months of PA’s New Law

A law criminalizing a type of digital harassment known as “revenge porn,” an initiative of the Agenda for Women’s Health, passed into law last year. A new analysis by The Tribune-Review reveals that in the first six months the law has been on the books, 11 cases are already underway. “I don’t know that I want to say I’m encouraged, but I do feel vindicated,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus. Schwank championed the legislation last year. From the report: A year ago, the explicit photos she didn’t know were taken would have remained online. Calls and photos from strangers would have kept coming. She would have had no recourse. The young woman, who attended college in the Pittsburgh area, discovered that her former boyfriend had posted explicit photos of her on the Internet. Hers is one of 11 cases across Pennsylvania in which prosecutors have used a “revenge porn” law that was enacted six months ago. The law makes it a crime for anyone to post explicit photos of a former partner online or send them to others. Violators could be sentenced to a year in prison and fined $5,000 if the victim is an adult, or five years with a $10,000 penalty if the victim is a minor. “It’s scary to know that a law has been implemented specifically to address situations such as these. It means that this is becoming a common occurrence, and that’s really frightening,” the woman said.   According to a survey conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-revenge porn advocacy group, 93 percent of victims say they have experienced “significant emotional distress,” and 49 percent say they have been stalked or harassed by people who saw their images. The group notes that 90 percent of revenge porn victims are women. As more and more states pass similar laws, a Pennsylvania State University (PSU) fraternity has made national headlines for allegations of digital harassment. Last week, it was reported that the (PSU) fraternity Kappa Delta Rho was suspended for three years following an investigation initiated after authorities discovered a Facebook page featuring images of naked women who seem to be unconscious. According to the Washington Post, fraternity members were allegedly harassing two specific female students “who were degraded through multiple postings.” Pledges were reportedly ordered to create and share “pornographic images.” It remains to be seen if any members of PSU’s KDR fraternity will face charges under the new law. The Agenda for Women’s Health is a legislative package of bills sponsored and supported by the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, a bipartisan, pro-choice group of...

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WLP on the Radio Discussing Pregnant Workers’ Rights

On Wednesday, WLP staff attorney Tara Pfeifer talked with WITF Smart Talk’s Scott LaMar about the rights of pregnant workers. The rights of pregnant workers is at a tipping point, especially since the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in the landmark pregnancy discrimination case Peggy Young v. UPS back in March. “What the decision means is an [affirmation] of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an act passed way back in 1978, that was designed specifically to eradicate discrimination against pregnant workers,” Pfeifer told LaMar. “As that particular law has played out in court decisions over the last few decades, it’s not being consistently applied. Employers such as UPS in the Young case, had policies they identified as “pregnancy-blind,” but in reality, what it was doing was shutting out pregnant women exclusively for certain accommodations that other workers, as you identify, even ones that were convicted of DUI, were given routinely.” The Young decision, Pfeifer explains, lands in the middle ground. It is a victory for pregnant workers, but also underscores the need for additional protections, and the need to clarify the requirements around providing temporary, reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. One helpful fix: Passing a state-level law requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Currently, the Pennsylvania Legislature is considering the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PPWFA). Sponsored by Sen. Matt Smith (D-Washington/Allegheny), the PPWFA would require covered employers to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless it poses an undue hardship on the employer. It is part of a legislative package of bills to improve women’s health called the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. There is also a forthcoming companion bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) and Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia). Women are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of modern families. No woman should have to worry that she could be forced off the job if she gets pregnant, and lose her paycheck and health care at the very moment her family needs her most. So far, fourteen states and several cities have passed laws requiring some employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers—including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That leaves an overwhelming number of Pennsylvania women with less protections, simply because of their zip code. Listen to the full interview Smart Talk: What Rights do Pregnant Workers...

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Report: Why We Need to Raise the Minimum Wage in PA

As the Pennsylvania Legislature considers bills to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10, a new report breaks down the big-picture and local benefits of hiking the minimum wage. Currently, minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25, the lowest amount allowed by federal law since 2009. HB 250 (sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim) and SB 195/196 (sponsored by Sen. Christine Tartaglione) would raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Kim’s bill would raise the tipped minimum wage to 75% of that rate; Sen. Tartaglione’s SB 196 would raise the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the minimum wage. Governor Wolf has stated that he supports the effort. Boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 would raise the wages of 1.2 million workers and create 6,000 new jobs, according to a new Policy Watch report from the Keystone Research Center. The report also breaks down the impact of a raised minimum wage by county. From the report: When a significant number of jobs in Pennsylvania don’t pay enough for our neighbors to afford the basics – things like food, car repairs and eye glasses – the local economy suffers. For many in our communities wages are so low that they are forced, even while working, to rely on the local food bank to help make ends meet. Policies to raise the wage and benefits floor can help restore spending on the basics and, in the process, boost the local economy. Notably, in the Western Pennsylvania counties of Mercer, Armstrong and Indiana, a $10.10 minimum wage would raise the wages of workers by 30% or more. Additional highlights from the report: *The majority of workers in Pennsylvania that would get a raise as a result of a statewide minimum wage increase are adults (87%) working full-time (50.3%). *Philadelphia and Allegheny counties have the largest number of workers that would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour at 135,640 and 113,852 respectively. *In 46 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, at least one in four workers would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. One the reasons so many adults would benefit from a minimum wage increase is that on average, from 1969 to 2015, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by 0.4% a year. As corporate lobbying has successfully suppressed the wage floor, the purchasing power of laborers working full-time has plummeted. After adjusting for inflation the hourly earnings of the bottom fifth of workers in Pennsylvania are lower today than they were in 1979. To attempt to correct that fundamental imbalance, 29 states have already raised minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25. Pennsylvania is one...

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WLP of Western PA Joins the Fight for $15

Our fight for health and economic security of Pennsylvania families is usually waged behind closed doors, in offices and courtrooms. But yesterday, hundreds of low-income workers and advocates took that fight to the streets by calling for $15 minimum wage and union protections. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: More than 1,500 workers, students and local activists in Oakland joined a nationwide day of protests Wednesday that organizers said hit 236 cities as low-wage workers walked off their jobs to call for higher wages. The Oakland march was more than three blocks long on Forbes Avenue, which was closed for the event, backing up rush-hour traffic. “We advocate for low-income Pennsylvanians every day,” says Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at Women’s Law Project of Pittsburgh. “I can’t tell you how energizing it was to stand alongside people coming together in the streets to call for the simple right to support themselves. I heard story after story of people working full-time and still unable to support their families.” A recent study revealed that when corporations are able to under-pay their workers, taxpayers get stuck with the bill. Critics of citizens relying on public assistance may sneer for them to ‘get a job,’ but the fact is that most Americans on public assistance alreadyhave a job. Families in which at least one member is working now make up the vast majority of those enrolled in major public-assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps.The Fight for 15 movement, which began in 2012 when fast-food workers in Chicago and New York City protested their inability to live on minimum wage, also came to Philadelphia this week. “For more than two years, fast-food workers have been striking to sound the alarm about how wealthy companies are profiting by paying their employees wages that are too low to survive on,” Devan Spear, a University of Pennsylvania student, wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Washington Post called it a “hidden cost” of low minimum wage. Taxpayers are effectively subsidizing corporations to the tune of $153 billion a year. Two bills addressing minimum wage will be introduced within the Agenda for Women’s Health. The Agenda for Women’s Health is a legislative package of bill designed to address real problems faced by real Pennsylvanians with evidence-based policy solutions. The Agenda is supported by the pro-choice, bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature. HB 250 (sponsored by Rep. Patty Kim) and SB 195/196 (sponsored by Sen. Christine Tartaglione) would raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Kim’s bill would raise the tipped minimum wage to 75% of that rate; Sen. Tartaglione’s SB 196 would raise the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the minimum wage....

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WLP Joins Rally for the Agenda for Women’s Health

On Monday, a sea of pink flooded the Capitol for Planned Parenthood’s Day of Action. Women’s Law Project was there to join constituents in asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. The Agenda is a legislative package of bills designed to promote and protect the health and economic security of women in Pennsylvania. Agenda bills are sponsored and supported by members of the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, pro-choice caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Since the first wave of Agenda bills was introduced last session, more than a dozen bills have been introduced, and three have successfully passed into law. We were thrilled to join young women and men from all over the state, many who were visiting the Capitol for the first time, to express their support for the Agenda and concern that too often in Pennsylvania politics, “women’s health” is just code for “abortion restriction.” “What a thrill to be surrounded by hundreds of women’s health activists fighting for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” says Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh. “The Capitol looked beautiful in pink.” Pennsylvania consistently ranks as one of the worst states for women’s health andeconomic security. It’s clear we need less rhetoric and more solutions to the very real problems faced by women in Pennsylvania. For example, did you know that women who work at small businesses in Pennsylvania have less protections against sexual harassment than employees at large corporations? It’s true. An Agenda bill has been proposed to close that legal loophole by extending the protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sexual discrimination, to all companies across the state. Even though pregnancy discrimination is technically illegal, in practice, some employers try to force pregnant workers off the job by refusing to provide minor temporary accommodations such as letting an employee sit on a stool or carry a bottle of water. We routinely receive phone calls from women around the state who are stuck in this situation. The Agenda’s “Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers” would ensure that women are not forced to choose between employment and a healthy pregnancy.Philadelphia and Pittsburgh passed limited local protections, but the rest of the women in state are left without protection. Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass, who testified in support of the Philadelphia ordinance, addressed the crowd on the Capitol steps. “There are many women who will never need a workplace accommodation during their pregnancies, but for individuals who do, the consequences are dire when their employer refuses to provide one,” said Bass. “Let’s make it happen. The health and economic security...

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What ‘Young v. UPS’ Means for Pregnancy Discrimination in PA

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff   The Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion yesterday in the landmark pregnancy discrimination case Peggy Young v. United Parcel Service. At issue is whether or not the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. In short, the news is good for women. The Supreme Court pushed the case back to a lower court, giving Peggy Young another chance to prove that the company discriminated against her. “We think it’s a big win for Peggy Young,” said Samuel Bagenstos, Young’s lawyer at the Supreme Court. “We think it’s a big win for pregnant workers around the country.” This decision tells employers that if you are accommodating most non- pregnant workers with injuries or disabilities, while refusing to accommodate most pregnant workers who need it, you are likely violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by placing a significant burden on pregnant workers. However, individual pregnant workers may still face uncertainty about their rights in the specific contexts of their own workplaces. Pregnant workers’ rights also vary by zipcode. In Pennsylvania, for example, certain workers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh currently have more protections against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace than elsewhere in the state, though that could change if a proposed bill passes into law.   The background The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by clarifying that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Title VII applies to companies with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. Despite the PDA, many pregnant women have been fired or forced to exhaust paid or unpaid leave after requesting temporary accommodations due to physical limitations from pregnancy and related conditions. This type of discrimination disproportionately affects low-income women working jobs with physical demands, like Peggy Young. When Ms. Young told UPS she was pregnant, UPS required her to get a doctor’s note “listing her restrictions,” which included her doctor’s directive to not lift more than 20 pounds. Ms. Young was otherwise willing to continue her regular duties, but Ms. Young was advised that she could not work while under a lifting restriction because she was “too much of a liability.” Meanwhile, UPS regularly provided so-called “light duty” and similar accommodations to people with disabilities and people with on-the-job injuries. They even accommodated workers who had lost their commercial drivers’ licenses as a result of DUI convictions. The Young opinion is encouraging step toward protecting pregnant workers from discrimination, but it also underscores the need to clarify protections for pregnant workers through...

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Bad Bill Alert: “Admitting Privileges” Coming to PA

Admitting privilege legislation is the latest trick deployed nationally by opponents of abortion rights to shrink the (already inadequate) number of abortion providers. That’s why it’s been all over the news for months. Recently, we learned the admitting privilege controversy is coming to Pennsylvania. The bill will be co-sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp. You may recall Rapp, a member of the Susan B. Anthony National Pro-life Caucus, as a sponsor of Pennsylvania’s mandatory ultrasound bill–an idea ridiculed by professional medical associations. (Then former Governor Corbett advised women endure the medically unnecessary procedure by just closing their eyes, and the entire country wondered what was wrong with Pennsylvania.) The other sponsor is Rep. Bryan Barbin, the Democratic leader of the Pennsylvania House Pro-Life Caucus.   What are admitting privileges? Admitting privileges refer to a specific type of contractual arrangement between hospitals and doctors. It is not required for a doctor to send patients to a hospital.   So why suddenly require an unnecessary new contract? What’s the trick here? As usual, proponents of the bill claim they want to protect women. In reality, admitting privileges have nothing do with medical safety and everything to do with creating an opportunity to force doctors who provide abortion care to stop working and abortion clinics to shut down. Hospitals are not required to provide admitting privileges to qualified doctors because they aren’t necessary. Because admitting privileges are unnecessary, many hospitals deny granting them to a doctor unless he or she sends them a certain number of patients per year. So ironically, one reason doctors who perform abortions are often not granted admitting privileges is because abortion is safe. Hospital administrators can deny doctors admitting privileges if the doctor doesn’t live within a certain number of miles of the hospital. But really, hospital administrators don’t need any reason at all to deny admitting privileges. Catholic hospitals, for example, are required to follow health care directiveshanded down by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—they aren’t exactly handing out admitting privileges to doctors who provide abortion care and contraception. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic hospitals continues to grow. All that suddenly and randomly requiring doctors and hospitals draw up an “admitting privileges” contract does is give administrators of hospitals that don’t provide abortion care the power to veto abortion from happening at any clinic or office within a 30-mile radius of their hospital. It just doesn’t make sense. While always unnecessary, the concept of admitting privileges is particularly absurd in Pennsylvania, one of the few states where facilities providing abortion care have, by law, already maintained transfer agreements with hospitals for decades. Under the new law,...

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Women’s Law Project Heads to the PA Progressive Summit

by Tara Murtha, WLP Staff As a non-profit Pennsylvania-based organization dedicated to advancing the legal status of women and girls, we are, of course, heading up to Harrisburg for the Progressive Summit today. These are a few of the panels that you will not want to miss: At 11AM on Saturday, Senior Staff Attorney Sue Frietsche—a well-recognized expert in policy and regulations relating to reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania–will co-host a session called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” This panel will describe the state of abortion rights after the 2014 state legislative session, including both harmful and progressive laws, implications for abortion care and law in Pennsylvania, and how the way we talk about abortion can change the way people think and legislators act. The panel will also discuss opportunities to change abortion access and the culture around abortion in your local community, regardless of the politics in Harrisburg. Frietsche is co-hosting the panel with Jordan Goldberg, Senior Counsel for the National Institute for Reproductive Health; Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates; and Ravina Daphtary, Senior State Strategies Manager at All Above All. Right after that session, we’re heading over to “The Agenda for Women’s Health: Where This Groundbreaking Package of Bills is Heading in 2015.” The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a bipartisan, pro-choice package of bills that is changing the conversation around reproductive healthcare in the Capitol and the public sphere. Since it was introduced last legislative session, Pennsylvania has been lauded as a model for developing proactive legislation to protect women’s reproductive freedom and economic security amid unprecedented anti-choice legislative attacks. With a pro-women’s health governor at the helm, will we see the attacks on reproductive health diminish and efforts to strengthen women and families flourish? This session will explore this, and other pertinent questions. At 5:00PM, Associate Director of Strategic Communications Tara Murtha will co-host Media Training 101 with Keystone Progress Communications Director John Neurohr. This session will detail what to expect when talking to reporters, strategies to keep in mind when trying to get “earned media” for your organization, and how to use all available media platforms to get your message out. Participants will learn about building relationships with journalists and outlets, about proactive and reactive media outreach and how to think about media from the perspective of a journalist, not just from your perspective. We are also looking forward to attending a slew of workshops and panels that address eliminating discrimination and securing economic prosperity in Pennsylvania. In particular, we are interested in “Building the Movement for Reproductive Justice,” co-hosted by Jasmine Burnett and Julia...

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Catch Up on News You Might Have Missed in January

by Tara Murtha, WLP Staff It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new… legislative session in Pennsylvania. There’s no time to waste: we’re working toward bills to close the loophole in equal pay law, protect equal access to reproductive healthcare services, and to end pregnancy discrimination at work … among other important things. First, the aerial view: On their first day in office, Congress introduced a 20-week abortion ban. These bans, though blocked for being unconstitutional in several states, are an increasingly popular way to chisel away women’s rights, so you will be seeing a lot more of them introduced in state legislatures anyway. Congress’ plan to vote on the federal version on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade fell apart, though, when several Republican Congresswoman withdrew their support. Instead of voting on the 20-week abortion ban, they voted on a bill that they claim stops taxpayer money from funding abortion. But in reality, the Hyde Amendment has banned the use of federal tax dollars for abortion care since 1976. What this new bill wouldactually do is codify the Hyde Amendment forever. It would also prohibit women from purchasing insurance policies through the exchange that cover abortion, with no exception for health of the pregnant woman. This is just one of at least five anti-abortion bills that have been introduced in Congress so far this year. Things are a little better than that, at least, here in Pennsylvania. Recently,Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced a resolution calling for paid parental leave for some city workers. WLP attorney Amal Bass testified at Philadelphia’s third hearing on earned paid sick daylegislation, and many advocates are saying that the third time will be a charm. In response to Philadelphia’s progress, though, some state lawmakers are rushing to pass a pre-emption bill that would “bigfoot” Philadelphia’s legislation. On the equal-pay front, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research issued a report that revealed poverty could be slashed in half if women earned equal pay for equal work. The Women’s Law Project is proud to be on the steering committee for the Equal Pay Today campaign, a unique partnership of 17 organizations working together to eliminate the wage gap. You can sign on to the Equal Pay campaign here. Last year, Women’s Law Project senior staff attorney Sue Friestche testified at the first hearing held in Pennsylvania before a state legislative standing committee on the subject of equal pay in 50 years. Keep an eye out for more information on the effort to progress toward equal pay in PA, there’s going to be a lot happening there. Congratulations are in order for our friends at...

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Bad Bills Alert: Dangerous Legislation on the Horizon in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania already has several laws on the books that enable physicians and other healthcare employees to refuse to provide certain health care services they find personally objectionable. Such provisions are found within the Religious Freedom Protection Act, the Human Relations Act, and the Abortion Control Act. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania Senator John Eichelberger plans to re-introduce yet another “conscientious objection” refusal bill. As with all legislation that seemingly duplicates existing law, you have to wonder what this one would really do. In a memo, Eichelberger explicitly mentions contraception, abortifacients and “chemical” abortion, also known as medical abortion. But Women’s Law Project senior attorney Sue Frietsche says that the bill lacks clear boundaries. “It would free the hospital janitor from having to clean the hallways leading to the operating room in which an abortion is scheduled to occur,” says Frietsche. Another example: In the event of an abortion covered by Medicaid—which by law would mean the patient was either a rape survivor or in fatal danger–a billing coordinator could refuse to transmit the paperwork to the appropriate department. As written, Senate Bill 292 eliminates the right of patients to sue for negligent, reckless, or malicious malpractice in the event of damage or death resulting from a provider’s refusal to provide care. For example, a doctor could refuse to terminate the pregnancy of a woman with a life-threatening condition, or to immediately transfer her to a doctor who will provide industry-standard care. Eichelberger’s legislation appears to be taken directly from the “recommendations” posted for Pennsylvania by Americans United for Life. (AUL). AUL is a bill factory that drafts much of the anti-choice state legislation popping up simultaneously in state legislatures across the country. “Founded in 1971 … AUL first focused on reversing Roe v. Wade flat out, but in the 1990s it turned its attention to rolling back reproductive rights incrementally at the state level.” In Pennsylvania, we see more of these “incremental” state bills on the horizon in 2015. While tactics vary, they’re designed to make it impossible for working and poor women to access safe, affordable abortion by forcing clinics to close and driving up the cost of the procedure in a clinic setting. Wealthy women can obtain abortions from private physicians in a hospital setting. By focusing on over-regulating clinics and driving up clinic costs, the incremental strategy makes the fact that abortion is legal irrelevant to working and poor women who can’t afford to obtain one. Another tactic to reserve constitutional rights for the wealthy is to sever funding streams, real and imagined. In fact, Senator Eichelberger is the sponsor of another bill (Senate Bill 291) that would forbid municipalities...

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Federal Lawsuit Targets DHS For Illegally Delaying Health Coverage for 85,000 Pennsylvania Women

Women qualified for full coverage on January 1 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (1/13/2015) Today, two women’s health organizations and a private citizen filed a federal class action claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is unlawfully delaying the enrollment of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women into comprehensive Medicaid coverage for which they qualified effective January 1. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, approximately 85,000 women in Pennsylvania who are currently enrolled in SelectPlan for Women, a limited Medicaid program that only covers family planning services, currently qualify for full health coverage either through Healthy PA, the Corbett Administration’s version of Medicaid expansion, or through subsidized insurance on Pennsylvania’s federally facilitated health insurance Marketplace. “These 85,000 women are the working poor,” said Amy Hirsch, attorney for Community Legal Services. “While DHS is dragging its feet, these women are being denied health coverage.” Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is a plaintiff in the case, commented: “Planned Parenthood provided more than 5,000 SelectPlan recipients with family planning services last year.  We see women on a regular basis who have to delay diagnostic tests and urgent care for conditions we discover, because they lack the financial resources to pay for health care, and their insurance coverage is limited to family planning.  Refusing 85,000 Pennsylvania women the health coverage that they’re qualified for is dangerous and inexcusable.” “No one can deny that DHS has mismanaged the SelectPlan transition,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project who together with Ms. Hirsch represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Our clients can’t even get information about their coverage out of the Department because when they call, they get a recording telling them to call back another time.” Hirsch explained that a February 15th open enrollment deadline is looming for approximately 15,000 SelectPlan women whose income disqualifies them for Healthy PA. Applicants must complete the enrollment process in the Marketplace by that date, or miss their chance to get health coverage until 2016. “DHS never told these women they would qualify for full health coverage starting January 1, and they never mentioned the February 15 open enrollment deadline,” said Frietsche, who also called the notices DHS sent SelectPlan recipients in November and December misleading and confusing. “Instead, DHS told them it was evaluating what coverage to offer them and if they want timelier help, they should call the Helpline or fill out another application.” The complaint notes that DHS automatically transferred other groups of limited-coverage recipients to full coverage by January 1 using information already in their...

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed over Pennsylvania Medicaid Cuts

By Tara Murtha, WomenVote PA, WLP Staff – Two big problems with Pennsylvania Medicaid emerged yesterday [December 22]. The problems aren’t with Medicaid per se, but with the chaos-riddled transition from traditional Medicaid to Governor Corbett’s controversial, non-expansion alternative. To further complicate matters, Governor-Elect Tom Wolf, who promised to expand Medicaid as intended under the Affordable Care Act, takes office next month, and benefit changes are scheduled to take place January 1. Under the Affordable Care Act, states are encouraged to expand access to Medicaid coverage, with the federal government picking up the tab through 2016 and then paying no less than 90 percent on a permanent basis. The background: Ever since the Supreme Court decided that states can refuse to expand Medicaid, the situation here in Pennsylvania been a saga fueled by partisan politics–at the expense of the health and well-being of more than 500,000 low-income residents. As every state bordering Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid, Pennsylvania has become “the island of the uninsured.” In order to obtain the federal dollars without actually expanding Medicaid, the Corbett administration assembled an alternative plan called Healthy Pennsylvania, called Healthy PA for short. The plan was “met with harsh criticism by many and for good reason.” As predicted by experts and advocates all along, the federal government rejected the majority of proposals within HealthyPA, such as tethering work requirements to health benefits. The rejection shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Corbett Administration either, since some of the proposals had already been refused in other states even before Pennsylvania submitted this proposal. In August, after nearly a year of negotiation, the federal government approved a stripped-down version of HealthyPA. Then in November, Corbett became the first Pennsylvania governor in 60 years to lose re-election when people of the Commonwealth voted Tom Wolf into office. Governor-Elect Tom Wolf ran on a promise to expand traditional Medicaid. Meanwhile, 500,000 residents are still left in the gap created by Corbett’s refusal to expand last year. Now, as Governor Corbett gets ready to leave the governor’s mansion, the whole system is a mess. On December 19th, Pennlive.com reported that healthcare providers serving low-income mentally ill and drug-addicted Pennsylvanians state stopped receiving reimbursement for services because of a “glitch” in the transition process. From PennLive.com: Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, said the problem is creating a crisis for providers, particularly small nonprofits, which are being forced to decide whether to swallow the cost of care or deny treatment. “It’s just incredible,” Beck said earlier this week. “We have families who desperately want help, kids who want help and access. This has...

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Young v. UPS Heads to SCOTUS: What You Need to Know

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Young v. United Parcel Service (UPS) to determine whether the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by clarifying that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Title VII applies to companies with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. Despite the PDA, many pregnant women have been fired after requesting temporary accommodations due to physical limitations from pregnancy and related conditions. This type of discrimination disproportionately affects low-income women working jobs with physical demands. Former Wal-Mart employee Heather Wiseman was fired after following her doctor’s recommendation to stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle at work. Victoria Serednyj was fired from a nursing home after her employer refused to excuse her from moving heavy objects, though her doctor advised she should avoid such exertion to reduce her risk of miscarriage. Amber Walker, a truck driver, was fired after asking someone to help her with heavy lifting during the later months of her pregnancy, even though the company provided similar assistance to other truck drivers with temporary physical limitations. All of these women challenged their terminations in court, and they all lost. The woman suing UPS is an employee named Peggy Young. Young requested a temporary shift in duties due to her pregnancy, and UPS refused. Yet, the company routinely accommodated similar medically-advised requests for temporary lighter duty. Reproductive health advocates are watching the case very closely. “The case illustrates the often hostile legal and policy environment U.S. women confront on issues surrounding pregnancy,” writes Ann M. Starrs, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “Policymakers and the courts should ensure that women like Young who want to achieve a healthy pregnancy are reasonably accommodated by their employers without sacrificing their economic security.” Law professors and women’s organizations with expertise in pregnancy discrimination law, including the Women’s Law Project, have demonstrated support for Peggy Young by filing and signing on to amici curiae briefs, also known as friend-of-the-court briefs. From the amici curiae: “This case presents an issue of great significance for working women in the United States, who comprise nearly half the labor force. The vast majority of working women will become pregnant at some point during their working lives, and many of them will experience at least minor conflicts between job requirements or working conditions and the temporary, but real physical effects of pregnancy.” Meanwhile, as Young’s...

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Victory! Bill to Protect Domestic Violence Victims from Eviction Heads to Governor’s Desk

We asked for your help, you gave it. We heard about all the phone calls and emails. Now, together, we achieved a huge victory for the rights of domestic violence survivors in Pennsylvania, who can no longer be legally evicted from their homes for calling authorities for help when they need it. The background: Sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, HB1796, titled “Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordinances” was drafted in response to a situation so outrageous that it gained national attention. Thanks to a so-called “nuisance property ordinance” that enabled landlords in Norristown, Pa. to evict tenants for calling 911, a domestic violence victim named Lakisha Briggs was forced to choose between eviction and enduring physical abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, who would not leave the home she shared with her toddler. But after passing through the House, this good faith bill was hijacked by one bewildering amendment after another. First, a bad sick day amendment was the problem. Then, a pro-gun amendment was tacked on to the bill the same day domestic violence advocates traveled to Harrisburg to remember the victims of DV murdered in Pennsylvania last year—many of them with a gun as the weapon. Following the lead of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we called out for supporters to contact their senators and ask to drop the amendments and pass the bill—and that’s just what happened an hour ago on the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate on their last day in session. They listened. “No woman or man should have to risk their life, or their family because they’re scared of being evicted,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Do I need to remind us when we all saw a few weeks ago the senseless beating of a woman in an elevator?” asked Senator John Rafferty, Jr., before pointing out that this victory is an example of the good work that can get done when both sides of the aisle come together to cooperate on important issues. In the end, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. “I am glad that you colleagues in the Senate decided to do the right thing and remove the paid sick leave preemption language from House Bill 1796,” Senator Vincent Hughes, an advocate of the bill, told Women’s Law Project. “We must do everything we can to protect the victims of domestic violence and this version of the bill is a step forward instead of a step backwards.” Next, it heads to the desk of the Governor to be signed into law. This bill is the third initiative of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a bipartisan,...

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Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney Doctors aren’t dummies. They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments. On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized. Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature. The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors. Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation. These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety. Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures. Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate. The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.” From the Bad Medicine report: *Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer. *Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility. *Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative. *Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded...

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Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy Pennsylvania is facing a 1.3 billion deficit and the annual state budget is due June 30. The obvious solution is to expand Medicaid, but some Pennsylvania legislators won’t consider it. When Governor Corbett rejected expanding Medicaid as designed under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the state gave up millions of dollars in federal funds that are still available, ready to be disbursed. By expanding Medicaid, even temporarily, Pennsylvania lawmakers could immediately draw down $600 million dollars for the 2014-15 budget – $500 million more than Governor Corbett’s Executive Budget – which would slash the 1.3 billion deficit considerably. Of course, Medicaid expansion would also mean that the 600,000 Pennsylvanians left in the “coverage gap” without access to healthcare could actually see a doctor. Refusing to expand Medicaid immediately in the face of a budget crisis not only means forgoing $500 million dollars in readily available revenue, but also maintaining an unacceptable status quo that means some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians receive the least help. Currently, because Pennsylvania didn’t expand Medicaid, the qualification cut-off for “traditional” Medicaid for non-disabled parents is 38% of the federal poverty level, or about $9,000 a year for a family of four. Meanwhile, the ACA provides families of four earning between $24,000 and $95,500 a year with tax subsidies to assist them with purchasing a private insurance plan through the online marketplace. Families with incomes between $9,000 and $24,000 are left uninsured. Refusing to expand Medicaid as intended under the ACA has created a bizarre system where a mother of two children who earns $10,000 a year does not qualify for subsidized coverage, while a childless single person earning $44,000 a year does. Healthy mothers mean healthy families. Women’s lack of access to healthcare contributes to ailments that cause premature births, infant mortality and maternal mortality. With recent research showing that pregnant women and infants in Philadelphia suffer higher incidence of maternal and infant mortality than the rest of the country, we can’t afford to continue to play politics with health policy. Health shouldn’t be determined by geography. Every state touching Pennsylvania’s borders has expanded Medicaid. To be clear, the 600,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians in the coverage gap are stuck there simply because they live in Pennsylvania. In addition to improving health and adding $500 million dollars in revenue, expanding Medicaid would create approximately 35,000 jobs. State budget secretary Charles Zogby recently admitted that if the state attempts to balance the budget with only existing revenues, there would be no new funding for basic education, higher education or to reduce waiting lists for services for people with intellectual...

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Alert: HB 1796 Has Been Hijacked

Update on PA Agenda for Women’s Health:  Right now, one of the Agenda’s bills, House Bill 1796, which would provide important housing protections for victims of domestic violence, has been hijacked by conservatives who have amended it by adding language that would prohibit municipalities in Pennsylvania from enacting local ordinances requiring paid or unpaid sick leave. This amendment clearly adds insult to injury, as domestic violence survivors are often most in need of sick leave. This bill is moving quickly. We need you to contact your state senator today requesting her/him to vote to remove Amendment AO5863 language from HB 1796 and support the original intent of the...

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History in the Making in Pennsylvania

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania legislature announced the first phase of a comprehensive Agenda for Women’s Health. It is a groundbreaking approach to addressing the unique health needs and concerns of women that could serve as a model for other states who seek to improve the lives of women. Historically, Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion, rather than enacting legislation that would improve the health of women, including, ironically, pregnant women and nursing mothers. But the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, made history last week. They took a proactive, positive approach by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality, and in recognizing that women’s reproductive rights and reproductive health are the keystone. The agenda is not born of ideology, but reflects the very real struggles of real women and families throughout Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda is seven pieces of legislation, including protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring unimpeded and safe access to women’s health centers, strengthening the equal pay law and prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement. One of the key pieces of legislation is a 15-foot buffer zone to protect women’s clinics. The prime sponsor of this bill is a former clinic escort who has seen first-hand the violence and harassment that women seeking abortion at these clinics experience. This unprecedented focus on improving the condition of women’s lives comes on the heels of Pennsylvania’s “C-” grade on women’s issues given by the Center for American Progress, putting it 28th out of the 50 states in the treatment of women. We say “given” because those of us who toil in these fields know that the C- grade was generous. It would be tempting for advocates of women’s rights and equality to fall back to the defensive posture we so often find ourselves in or to just be outraged that we need legislation to address matters as basic as permitting a pregnant woman to take a bathroom break or carry a bottle of water. But this positive vision presents an opportunity to make things better for the women of Pennsylvania, who encounter numerous barriers to good health and full equality. And it’s something we can do right now. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health offers...

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PA Agenda for Women’s Health

December 11, 2013 Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative To Improve Women’s Health Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality. Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement. “Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.” “This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.” Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person...

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