In our April/May 2000 issue, Ms. profiled Christy Brzonkala, the woman behind the Supreme Court case that tested the civil rights provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA allows victims of gender-based violence to sue their attackers in federal court; Brzonkala brought her case against two university football players who allegedly raped her in her college dorm. We reported that the justices would decide by June. And indeed, on May 15, 2000, the vote came with five justices voting to strike down the civil rights remedy and four offering dissenting opinions.
In our original article, we interviewed six feminist legal scholars. All supported the civil rights remedy but none predicted that the Supremes would rule in favor of Brzonkala. Sadly, they were right. Ms. asked Martha Davis, legal director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NLDEF), where we go from here.
"The concern is that the decision is so sweeping in scope that it will chill Congress from addressing in a serious way violence against women and other civil rights violations," said Davis. "The majority is trying to move the country to an early nineteenth-century concept of rights, when women were written out of the Constitution. The majority wholly failed to recognize that we were talking about discrimination—women being prevented from full participation in the economy. It ignored the views of the states and the homework Congress had done."
Davis said that VAWA—which provides funding for hotlines and other services for victims of gender-based violence—is up for reauthorization and is more important than ever, now that the civil rights remedy is not available. Said Davis: "Our focus is on making sure the issue remains a national priority, despite the Court action. It's going to be tough for advocates to get Congress to take action if the Supreme Court is going to act as a superlegislature."
For her part, Brzonkala told Ms., "I was happy for myself that this was finally over, but sad for every other rape victim who has to go through what I went through. In the court's decision I read that only 4 out of every 100 men who commit rape are charged, and the average sentence is 11 months in prison. I just wish the federal government could step in. Otherwise, the epidemic of rape will grow and continue to go unpunished."
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .