The Senate last week unanimously approved the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002 (S 2313), a bill aimed at reducing the growing nationwide backlog of DNA evidence for sexual assault cases. Passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, the bill requires local law enforcement agencies to assess their DNA backlog and provides $335 million over the next five years to facilitate efficient processing of DNA rape kits. Introduced by Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the act also boosts federal grants to expand DNA testing, establishes grant programs for evidence collection and handling training, and stipulates upgrades for the FBI’s DNA computer system. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the bill’s co-sponsor, praised the Senate’s action: “This legislation will help bring justice to women for whom justice is long overdue.”
The Act includes provisions from a companion bill, the Debbie Smith Act, which requires that health officials test rape victim DNA samples within 10 days of receipt, introduced in the House and Senate by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Cantwell in May.
Prompt testing is particularly critical since the perpetrators are able to roam free in the meantime — which not only adds anxiety to the victim, but also leaves all women at risk, given that the average rapist commits eight to 12 sexual assaults. Adding considerable legal punch, the Act authorizes John Doe/DNA indictments whereby DNA evidence may extend the five-year statute of limitations on a federal sexual offense and also includes privacy requirements for handling DNA evidence.
The legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
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. . . .