Catch up with the Latest WLP News

It’s been a busy summer. So busy, in fact, that we wanted to reach out to give you a brief round-up of some of what’s been going in case you haven’t been able to keep up.   WLP’s Terry L. Fromson Honored as a Trailblazer We’re thrilled to share the news that Women’s Law Project Managing Attorney Terry L. Fromson is being honored with a prestigious award by the American Bar Association for spearheading legal reform to improve systemic response to violence against women. Fromson will be honored along with Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy, and other visionary leaders from across the country. Terry will receive her well-deserved award on August 1 during a ceremony in Chicago. You can read the full story here.   Women’s Law Project Stands with Planned Parenthood This week, we’ve seen cynical politicians use deceptively edited video as a pretext to attack, and try to defund, Planned Parenthood. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so if you haven’t had a chance to sort through the coverage yet, we suggest you begin with this investigation by FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania. FactCheck’s findings clearly debunk the claims made by the creators of the videos, and the lies told by anti-choice activists seeking to use them for political gain. From FactCheck.org: The edited video, released July 14 by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress, leaves the impression that [senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood] was talking about Planned Parenthood affiliates making money from fetal tissue. But the edited video ignores other things [she] said that contradict [their claim]. The fact is that some Planned Parenthood affiliates, with the consent of their patients, legally and lawfully enable patients who choose to donate fetal tissue for biomedical research to do so. As repeatedly stated—but edited out—of the video, Planned Parenthood does not profit from this service. These attacks are not simply attacks on Planned Parenthood. They are also an attacks on biomedical research, and a cynical attempt to use propaganda to subvert ethical and legal scientific research. Anti-choice extremists will go to any length to stigmatize abortion providers, politicize women’s health, and try to restrict abortion. It is shameful that they are politicizing tissue donation for further their agenda. We are not deceived, and will not be bullied. We #StandwithPP.   Women’s Law Project Fights to Protect the Buffer Zone in Pittsburgh After federal courts repeatedly upheld Pittsburgh’s 15-foot clinic buffer zone ordinance, opponents of legal abortion are still fighting to knock it down. This week, Women’s Law...

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WLP’s Terry L. Fromson Honored as Trailblazer

Fromson honored for spearheading legal reform to improve systemic response to violence against women Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project, has been chosen to receive a prestigious 20/20 Vision Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence. Marking its 20th anniversary, the Commission created the 20/20 Vision Award to honor 20 lawyers who have played key roles in improving societal response to domestic and sexual violence. Fromson will be honored along with Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy, and other visionary leaders from across the country. One of Fromson’s many accomplishments noted by the Commission is her pioneering work exposing disgraceful and widespread practices of insurance companies that discriminated against domestic violence victims. As it so often does, Fromson’s inquiry began when a courageous woman reported that she was denied health, life and mortgage insurance because she had told her doctor she was assaulted by her husband. After investigating the details of this woman’s case, Fromson worked with allies to collect documentation of similar stories, and analyzed insurance company regulations and procedures regarding domestic violence. Fromson discovered that insurance companies were using information about abuse learned from medical records and insurance databases to deny insurance altogether, charge increased premiums, cancel coverage, and refuse to pay claims. And they were doing it in health, life, disability, and property insurance. In some cases, insurance companies refused to provide group coverage for a business if any employees had a documented history of domestic violence. Such discrimination has dangerous consequences. For example, if a batterer set a spouse’s house on fire, the insurance company could deny the claim made by the victim by using an exclusion for “intentional acts.” Through this practice, insurance companies were essentially helping abusers achieve their goal of leaving victims without any options or ability to recover, or move on. After investigating and documenting the problem, Fromson and allies spearheaded legal reform by working with insurance regulators and lawmakers to draft legislation. Since then, 45 states and D.C. have passed legislation that prohibits insurers from using a history of domestic violence to inform coverage. Battling insurance discrimination is just one of many pioneering projects Fromson has undertaken through her career, which has been entirely dedicated to serving the public interest. In Pennsylvania, Fromson helped change the law to provide victims of domestic violence a safe and confidential process to change their names. In Philadelphia, Fromson played a leading role in a 15-year campaign to improve police and prosecutorial responses to sexual assault and domestic violence, which ultimately led to the FBI...

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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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Judge Upholds Pittsburgh Buffer Zone

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff   A federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of a 15-foot buffer zone ordinance that protects health care facilities in Pittsburgh. The decision is the first federal ruling on the constitutionality of a clinic buffer zone since McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court case decided last June. In the Pittsburgh case, Nikki Bruni and four other anti-choice protesters sued the city, claiming the buffer zone prevented her and other protesters from “sidewalk counseling” patients entering the Planned Parenthood health center on Liberty Avenue. Bruni is the local campaign director of “40 Days for Life,” a campaign wherein anti-choice protesters picket clinics daily for forty days every spring and fall. The campaign is happening now. The protesters were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same organization that represented the plaintiffs in McCullen. The Alliance announced their intention to challenge the Pittsburgh buffer zone immediately in the wake of McCullen, which struck down the 35-foot buffer zone established by the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act as insufficiently narrowly tailored. In ruling in the Bruni case, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon held that the protesters were unlikely to be able to prove that the Pittsburgh buffer zone ordinance was unconstitutional under McCullen. She also denied the protesters’ request for a preliminary injunction and dismissed all of the protesters’ claims except for an allegation that a police officer did not enforce the law evenhandedly, which could not be resolved without additional evidence. From Judge Bissoon’s ruling: Prior to the enactment of the Ordinance, there were incidents of physical intimidation, violence and obstruction where the buffer zone now stands. Such incidents have rarely, if ever, occurred since the buffer zone has been implemented… The buffer zone does not prevent a willing listener from stopping within the zone in order to accept Mrs. Bruni’s literature and listen to her message, or from exiting the zone in order to converse with her further. The Ordinance does not prevent Mrs. Bruni or anyone else from engaging in sidewalk counseling with individuals leaving the clinic, once they exit the buffer zone.   “This ruling is a great victory for the City of Pittsburgh and will help protect both the patients in need of medical care and the doctors and medical staff at Planned Parenthood,” says Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office in Pittsburgh, which represented Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and its volunteer escorts in the suit. “Women who have to fight their way past anti-abortion protesters in order to see their doctor deserve, at least, the safety and dignity of a small secure...

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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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WLP Supports Passage of Philadelphia Earned Paid Sick Day Bill

Today, Philadelphia City Council is holding a hearing on the merits of proposed bill mandating earned paid-sick leave for certain employees. This is the third hearing on the issue since 2011. Mayor Nutter has vetoed earned paid sick-day legislation twice, then convened a task force to study the issue. In December, the task force endorsed the measure. The current bill would require companies with 10 or more employees to provide earned paid sick time, and mandate businesses with fewer than 10 employees provide unpaid sick time. Women’s Law Project staff attorney Amal Bass is testifying today in front of City Council. WLP strongly endorses the bill for the sake of the economic and physical health of working Philadelphians, with some additional recommendations. From our testimony: At the WLP, a large portion of our work involves efforts to improve the health, safety, and economic security of women. We have seen how the absence of paid leave exacerbates the work-family imbalance that women bear disproportionately as the primary caregivers of their families. A paid leave ordinance like the one we are discussing today would alleviate many of the burdens on these caregivers. It would protect the health of women and their families, address public health concerns, and promote efficiency and stability for the city’s businesses. Women are disproportionately the primary caregivers in modern families and increasingly, the primary breadwinners, too. In a recent survey, 47 percent of women who stayed home to care for a sick child reported losing pay, a particularly difficult burden in tough economic times. Some workers lose their jobs. National Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that low-income workers, who are disproportionately women and minorities, have less access to paid sick leave than other workers. While endorsing the bill, Women’s Law Project recommends Philadelphia lower the threshold so the paid leave mandate applies to companies with 5 or more employees. According to an analysis cited by the task force report, only 28.7% of Philadelphia businesses have 10 or more employees. By lowering the threshold from 10 to 5 employees, the bill would extend the mandate to another 18.5% of Philadelphia companies. Even at that threshold, the legislation would not apply to more than half of Philadelphia employers, since 52.8% of local businesses have between 1 to 4 employees. WLP also urges City Council to reconsider the exemptions; specifically, the exclusion of adjunct faculty members . Across the nation, well over half of higher education instructors are non-tenure track faculty, including adjunct faculty, and many live below the poverty line. A large percentage of them are women, who are less likely to receive tenure than their male peers, particularly...

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Pittsburgh Introduces Paid Family Leave Bill

Having a child is the single most expensive health event faced by young families. In fact, thirteen percent of families with a new infant become poor within a month, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. Yet, the United States remains one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave to new parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), adopted 20 years ago, enables some parents to take up to 12 unpaid weeks to care for a new baby. Only 40% of the workforce is eligible for FMLA, though, and because the leave is unpaid, many eligible families simply can’t afford to use it. “Most families cannot go for 12 weeks without getting paid, and imagine how much more compelling that is when it’s not just you and your husband, but you have a new baby as well,” Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney for Women’s Law Project, told Pittsburgh’s NPR station WESA90.5 FM. “That is exactly the wrong time to go without a paycheck.” To that end, Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced legislation yesterday calling for at least six weeks of paid leave for certain city employees. The legislation covers parents of any gender, and to parents adopting or fostering children. From WESA’s report: While those opposed to paid family leave argue that it’s too expensive, Tara Simmons, Vice President of the Women and Girls Foundation, said the country is already paying for it every time an employee quits a job. “The Society for Human Resources Management has quantified that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it could six to nine months’ salary on average” Simmons said. Rudiak highlighted studies showing that paid parental leave helps reduce infant mortality and shorten hospital stays as well as leading to higher IQs and educational attainment. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto supports the bill, which would apply to the city’s 430 nonunion employees. It’s a start. Councilwoman Rudiak hopes the bill will encourage private employers to adopt similar policies, and her proposal comes at a time when the issue has momentum. President Obama called for paid family leave during the last State of the Union address. “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue,” he said, “and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.” So far, 16 other cities and three states have passed similar...

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A Road Map for Our New Governor to Improve Women’s Health and Economic Security

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy Democratic challenger Tom Wolf defied a national tide and 60 years of Pennsylvania history in defeating incumbent Republican governor Tom Corbett on November 4. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. October polls showed 61 percent of voters believed the state was on the wrong track — as did 100 percent of advocates for women’s health and economic security. It’s little wonder that Tom Wolf won the vote of women by 16 points. Read more...

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Women of PA, Get Informed and Vote on Nov. 4th!

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy Pennsylvania women have the power to change the future of their state, and their own lives, by voting in next month’s election. The question is, do they understand the high stakes that make their participation vital? In the midst of political campaigns, with the inevitable preposterous claims and accusations flying around, it is easy to dismiss politics as a game, or to think that one vote won’t make a difference. That’s precisely what the people who hold political power in Pennsylvania hope you will think. The reality is very different.The women of Pennsylvania, more than five million strong, can and should be the decisive force in electing the policymakers who will determine the laws on issues like economic security, reproductive rights, domestic violence, and education. These issues affect women more than they do men. And poll after poll shows that women care more about these issues than men do. The reason our laws have been out of step with what would be best for women is simple: Women have not voted as if their lives depend on it. The women of the commonwealth need to think about these questions while deciding whether voting is worth the effort: Is it time for equal pay to become a reality? Despite all the evidence of a pay gap between men and women, Pennsylvania hasn’t updated equal-pay laws in more than 50 years. Is it time that so-called family-friendly values make their way to the workplace? Our elected officials talk a big game about support for families. Yet in most of Pennsylvania today, pregnant women don’t have the right to get a drink of water or take a bathroom break, and after giving birth, they don’t have the right to pump breast milk at work. Bills introduced to correct these discriminatory practices have languished in committee for months. Is it time to stop discriminating against poor and working women? For four years, the Pennsylvania legislature has passed measure upon measure that disproportionately burdens poor and working women. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of reproductive health. The simple truth is that women cannot control their own lives if they can’t control their own reproductive decisions. You don’t need to take our word for it. Experts repeatedly confirm that Pennsylvania’s record on women is abominable. The Center for American Progress recently gave Pennsylvania a C-minus grade on women’s issues, ranking us 28th among the 50 states in the treatment of women. Things can be different. The Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, led by Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny)...

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Pittsburgh Passes “Reasonable Accommodations” for Pregnant Workers

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation that calls for “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant women who work for the city or city contracts, and bans discrimination against pregnant employees. The ordinance, Reasonable Accommodations Due to Pregnancy, Childbirth or Related Medical Conditions, was introduced by councilmembers Dan Gilman and Deb Gross. At a hearing introducing the bill last month, Gilman called the legislation “essential.” “Many times women don’t know the rights they have,” Gilman said. “It’s an important opportunity to use the megaphone of city hall to tell all women in Western Pennsylvania that if you’re going to work for the city or do business with the city, you have a reasonable expectation of a healthy and vibrant pregnancy while working.” The ordinance notes that “more than 35 years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) made it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of her pregnancy, women still face discrimination on the job when they become pregnant, especially in physically-demanding jobs.” It also cites examples of discrimination from around the state, including a supermarket cashier in central PA who lost her job because she followed her doctor’s orders to carry a water bottle and a pregnant security guard denied a request to sit down part of her shift in downtown Pittsburgh. Though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 banned discrimination against pregnant workers, it does not address reasonable accommodations under all circumstances. Women’s Law Project provided legal guidance and strongly supported the ordinance. Staff attorney Tara Pfeifer testified at a hearing earlier this month in support of the bill. “At the Women’s Law Project, we have seen an increasing number of pregnant women contact us over the past few years because of the obstacles they face at work,” Pfeifer testified. “The majority of the women who have contacted us work in low-wage, physically demanding jobs, are having healthy pregnancies, and need only minor adjustments in the workplace as their pregnancies progress. “ As the ACLU noted, Pittsburgh City Council, unfortunately, doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers. Earlier this year, Rep. Mark Painter and Senator Matt Smith introduced bills to extend similar protections to pregnant workers throughout the state as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Both bills have been sitting in committee for months. Pennsylvania is one of the top ten worst states for pregnancy discrimination, according to a 2008 report by the National Partnership for Women and Families. In January, Philadelphia amended the Fair Practices Ordinance to provide reasonable accommodations protection for pregnant workers. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. has been...

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Supreme Court Rules That For-Profit Employers Can Refuse to Cover Birth Control

Pennsylvania Women’s Advocates Cry Foul June 30, 2014 – In a sharply divided 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., two for-profit businesses employing thousands of women of diverse faiths, could refuse to include coverage of FDA approved contraceptive methods by invoking the companies’ religious opposition to birth control. “Faced with the choice of protecting the religious exercise rights of thousands of women workers or that of private businesses, the Supreme Court sided with the businesses,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “Contraception is an essential part of women’s health care, and today’s ruling is a dramatic setback to the cause of women’s health and economic security.” Kate Michelman, Co-Chair of WomenVote PA stated, “As an advocate for women’s equality, I was dismayed to see that the majority took pains to make it clear that today’s ruling only applies to health care needed by women.” The Affordable Care Act and its implementing regulations require that all new health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, for-profit corporations that assert religious objections to certain methods of contraception, claimed that corporations have a right to practice religion, and that this right is being illegally infringed by the contraceptive coverage rule. Today’s majority opinion from Associate Justice Samuel Alito did not dispute that the government’s interest in ensuring that women had access to contraception was compelling, but held that other means were available to advance that interest. The Court cited the accommodation already established for religious employers and suggested that the cost of coverage could be paid by with public funding. “We urge HHS to act quickly to fill the coverage gap created by today’s ruling,” said Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney in the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office in Pittsburgh. “In both this case and last week’s buffer zone ruling, the Court has shown little concern for the health, safety and rights of America’s women,” continued Tracy. “They are sadly out of touch with women’s experiences, struggles, and needs. It’s my hope that these rulings energize every woman and lead to a surge in activism and civic engagement by all supporters of women’s equality and gender...

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Educate. Advocate. Communicate.

WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, is a non-partisan effort focused on educating and mobilizing the women of Pennsylvania during election season and beyond. Through education and collaboration WomenVote PA will work to increase the participation of women in the electoral process in local, state and federal elections in 2013, 2014 and...

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