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."
10/31/2014 Federal Judge Exempts Another Catholic University from Birth Control Coverage - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost.
The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives - such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. . . .
10/31/2014 Women of Color in Tennessee Are United in Opposition to Amendment 1 - Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot.
SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy."
"We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event.
SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. . . .
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1.
The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .