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Insurance Reform Decision from Supreme Court Welcome News to Women, Minorities

28 Jun

The U.S. Supreme Court decision today upheld the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act by ruling 5-4 that the government can tax individuals who choose not to buy health insurance.

The principal opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

  • Five members of the Court agreed that the requirement that individuals either purchase health insurance or make an additional payment on their federal income taxes – the so-called individual mandate – was a constitutionally permissible tax imposed on those who did not purchase health insurance.
  • The individual mandate was thus upheld even though five members of the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts, rejected the government’s principal argument that the individual mandate was a proper exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.
  • Five members of the Court also agreed that Congress could withhold new Medicaid funds from states that did not expand their Medicaid coverage as required by the new health care law, but could not withhold funds for pre-existing Medicaid programs.

“The ACLU welcomes today’s decision, which recognizes that Congress has the constitutional authority to fix a health care system that does not work for millions of Americans,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU legal director. “The decision is especially welcome for disadvantaged minorities, who are more likely to be uninsured, and for women, who are more likely to suffer gaps and discrimination in their health care coverage. We trust that the states will recognize those needs and accept the additional funds that the federal government is offering under the new law to expand Medicaid coverage for needy individuals.”

The American Civil Liberties Union joined with the NAACP on a friend of the court brief which is available online.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker restated his opposition to insurance exchanges and President Obama’s insurance reform plan. He also signed a bill into law that would ban abortion coverage in any potential health insurance exchanges in Wisconsin. We testified against the bill and continue to oppose discriminatory limits on women’s health care services or insurance coverage.

The text of this blog post can also be found on the national ACLU’s website.

I ♥ Boobies! Bracelet Ban Stays in Place: WI District Court Denies End to Sauk Prairie Ban

8 Feb

This week a federal district court judge denied a request by the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys to end a ban on “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets at the Sauk Prairie Middle School. The decision described “I Boobies!” as a “vulgar and sexually provocative statement” despite the educational context of the Keep A Breast foundation’s national campaign.

We blogged about this lawsuit last year when the lawsuit was originally filed. We asserted that student free speech should include the right to wear these breast cancer awareness bracelets. “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

“Our middle school client is dedicated to effectively and constructively educating her peers about breast cancer,” said Attorney Tamara Packard. “It is disappointing that this decision will leave in place a ban on student speech that conveys our plaintiff’s belief that breast cancer is a critical women’s health issue of our time. The very purpose of the bracelets is to educate other young people about cancer prevention, testing, research and treatment.”

While the decision recognizes that students’ rights to free expression must be protected, it leaves too much discretion in the hands of school boards and administrators to punish controversial student expression by relying on a too-subjective and vague definition of “vulgar, offensive or inappropriate.” In the future, schools may punish students arbitrarily based on nothing more than a hypersensitive principal’s “I know it when I see it” notion of vulgarity rather than on an objective standard for free speech.

The Wisconsin suit was filed in September, 2011 on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school for months without incident before the school district banned them. Last year, a federal district court in Pennsylvania stopped a ban on the bracelets and issued an opinion that the bracelets could not be considered lewd or vulgar. In B.H. v. Easton Area School District decision, as in the Sauk Prairie M. S., school officials failed to present evidence that the bracelets had or would cause a disruption at the school. The Pennsylvania case is facing an appeal by the school district. The ACLU of Wisconsin and the Sauk Prairie student plaintiff are evaluating their appeal options in the Wisconsin case.

You can read our press release on this decision on our website. You can also download and read the full U.S. District Court for Western District of Wisconsin ruling on K. J. vs. Sauk Prairie Middle School. This issue was covered in the Baraboo News Republic and the Wisconsin State Journal (while the text and author of the articles are the same, the comments sections of the stories are lively). The same week as the Wisconsin decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Monticello, IN student. You can read more (and weigh in on the poll) in an article on the Huffington Post.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Wisconsin Senators Move to Turn Back the Clock on Sex Ed

18 Oct

In a fast-moving piece of legislation, Senators are using Governor Walker’s special session on job creation to repeal the progress made after the passage of the 2009 Healthy Youth Act. The Healthy Youth Act raised the state standards for public school human growth and development instruction.

We just read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that teen pregnancy rates have been declining since 2009,” said Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Strategist for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “This bill is so poorly timed. Not only does this piece of legislation not create a single job in our state, it threatens to move us backwards in building up the next generation of informed, healthy youth. We all know teens need information to make healthy and responsible decisions about sex. Parents and youth should be outraged at this legislative sabotage.”

This bill removes information on the health benefits of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections as well as a requirement for schools to identify support for victims of sexual assault. This bill requires schools to revert back to the proven failure of abstinence-until-marriage types of instruction. This bill even redefines what “medically accurate” and “age appropriate” means.

The comprehensive sexuality education model is based on evidence that when teens participate in school and community programs that stress both the importance of waiting to have sex while providing accurate, age-appropriate, medically accurate and complete information about the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, teens delay sex and reduce sexual risk-taking.

For all young people, but especially those who do not receive medically accurate information from their parents, church or peers, our public schools are the best places to give them nondiscriminatory facts about how to stay healthy and make responsible choices. Repealing the Health Youth Act would be a regressive move for Wisconsin’s students and public health.

Senate Bill 237 will get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Education Wednesday, October 19 at noon in room 201 SE in the Capitol. You can read ACLU of Wisconsin live tweets of the hearing @ACLUMadison.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Why Does Your State Senator Want Teen Pregnancy Numbers to Go Up?

14 Oct

That would be a good question for Senators Lazich, Galloway, Grothman and Leibham as well as Representatives Thiesfeldt, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Craig, Jacque, Kleefisch, Knodl, Kooyenga, Tom Larson, Litjens, Meyer, Nass, Nygren, Alvin Ott, Pridemore, Ripp, Spanbauer, Strachota, Stroebel, Wynn, Ziegelbauer and LeMahieu who have all signed on to a bill that would repeal the Healthy Youth Act.

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at noon in room 201 Southeast at the State Capitol, the Senate Education Committee will have a hearing to repeal the Healthy Youth Act, a bill passed during the Doyle Administration that raised the state standards for human growth and development curriculum in public schools. The proposal to repeal the law is so poorly timed, it’s astounding. In light of the recent news that teen birthrates in Milwaukee have plunged for the second straight year, we know that for this and other reasons comprehensive sex ed works to keep young people informed of the facts of how their bodies work and how they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancy.

Why do these legislators want to roll back the clock and keep teens in the dark about the facts of life? You’ll hear a lot of myths about sex ed from so-called family values, anti-gay and anti-abortion activists on Wednesday. Read more about the myths versus the facts on our blog.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Incarcerated Women at Taycheedah Now Have More Options for Psychiatric Care

12 Sep

The recent opining of the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric hospital for women prisoners, will go a long way towards providing desperately needed mental health care, the ACLU said today. Previously, the services that will be offered at the WWRC were available only to male prisoners. The ACLU filed a law suit in 2006 that challenged this unequal and unfair treatment. The WWRC, which can house 45 prisoners, will begin accepting patients this month.

“Until now, the Wisconsin prison system could not provide critical treatment to women suffering from severe and debilitating mental illnesses,” said Gabriel Eber, staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, DC, who represented women at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in a lawsuit against the state. The class action lawsuit challenged unconstitutional conditions at Taycheedah, the state’s maximum security women’s prison in Fond du Lac. In November 2009, federal district Judge Rudolph Randa found there was sufficient evidence that the lack of inpatient resources for female prisoners violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution to hold a trial.

The ACLU and the state settled the lawsuit in December 2010. The agreement requires the state to make substantial improvements to medical care and mental health care and to increase access to programs for women prisoners with disabilities. The agreement also enabled the ACLU to seek court sanctions if the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center was not completed in a timely manner.

“For too long, female prisoners needing psychiatric care in a hospital setting were treated by overworked staff in poorly equipped facilities at Taycheedah,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, who represented prisoners in the litigation. “We commend the Department of Corrections and are pleased that women prisoners will now have access to desperately needed inpatient mental health care services.” The WWRC is located in Waupun.

Student Free Speech Includes “Boobies” Bracelets: Lawsuit Filed Against Sauk Prairie Middle School Bracelet Ban

8 Sep
I heart boobies bracelets

Keep A Breast Foundation's I heart Boobies Bracelets

Student free speech should include the right to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys today. The suit was filed on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school and prompted a school ban.

“While a public school can put some reasonable limits on expression that poses a credible threat of a disruption of its educational activities or school mission, the mere discomfort some may have with the bracelets’ slang language is not a justification for banning the bracelets and punishing students who wear them,” said Attorney Tamara Packard.

“I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

The Sauk Prairie Middle School had deemed the term “boobies” to be inappropriate slang for the school setting. However, the term, especially in the context of the serious issue of breast cancer awareness, is not lewd, vulgar or indecent and should be allowed as a form of free student expression.

“It is the very social stigma of discussing women’s breasts that keeps breast cancer prevention, education and research from moving forward,” said Attorney Lori Eshleman, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “When nearly 40,000 Americans will die of breast cancer this year, we should engage in a national discussion about prevention rather than suppress young women’s speech that includes the term boobies.”

This spring a federal court issued an injunction stopping a similar bracelet ban and agreed that the “boobies” bracelets were not indecent or disruptive student expression. Pennsylvania’s Easton Area School District has appealed that decision.

The lawsuit against the Sauk Prairie Middle School comes after repeated requests for the school to drop the bracelet ban were ignored and rejected. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys hope the school will rescind the ban and allow this form of student expression without further legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP is a well-respected full-service Madison law firm with a passion for the constitutional principles upon which our nation was founded, including free speech, equal protection, and participatory democracy.  Attorney Lori Eshleman specializes in health care and disability discrimination law at Traver, Haass & Eshleman.

For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Forward for Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

ACLU of WI Wins Federal Lawsuit Over Grossly Deficient Health Care in WI Women’s Prisons

19 Aug

Here is an update on how the ACLU is settling a lawsuit charging inadequate care at the Taycheedah women’s prison. Dramatic improvements in medical and mental health care will ensure female prisoners receive same levels of care as male inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm Jenner and Block have filed papers seeking court approval of an agreement to settle a longstanding class-action lawsuit charging that grossly deficient medical and mental health care jeopardized the lives of female prisoners at the state’s largest women’s prison.

As part of the agreement, filed on August 20th in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, state officials have agreed to implement a number of significant structural improvements aimed at ensuring that constitutionally adequate levels of care are provided to all prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), and that female prisoners receive the same levels of mental health care as the state’s male prisoners.

“Today’s settlement is a real victory for all female prisoners at TCI who will no longer have to suffer needlessly in a system that fails to comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “This settlement will lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of health care prisoners will receive.”

Under terms of the settlement agreement, state correctional officials must hire a full-time medical director who will oversee all health care at TCI, be on-site five-days-a-week and be devoted to administration and patient care. State officials will also be required to hire a consultant charged with regularly monitoring the medical care being provided to prisoners, provide recommendations about how to improve care and analyze TCI’s compliance with agreed-upon health care performance standards.

State officials must also complete construction by June 2012 of an off-site women’s resource center that will accept prisoners from TCI who need inpatient-level psychiatric services. Construction of planned annexes at TCI which will provide space for out-of-cell therapeutic activities and group and individual therapy for prisoners with serious mental illnesses must also be completed by June 2012.

Additionally, state officials must make a number of improvements to ensure the safety and access to core programs and services of prisoners with disabilities, including providing prisoners with hearing impairments access to sign language interpreters, reading assistance and Braille materials for prisoners with vision impairments and increased maintenance of paths, walkways and thoroughfares between buildings.

“The health care system at TCI has been in crisis for years and today’s settlement agreement is a monumental step toward achieving much-needed improvements and accountability,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The measures that will be put in place will have a positive impact not only on the prisoners at TCI but on the communities to which prisoners will return upon release.”

The first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit was filed in 2006 by the ACLU on behalf of women prisoners at TCI. The lawsuit charged that the state prison system put the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provided far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services.

The lawsuit sought reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care be made available. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa entered a preliminary injunction ordering that significant changes be made immediately to TCI’s dangerous system of administering medications to prisoners.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charged that the prison’s health system violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and that the mental health care system violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women received mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available online.

We’ve blogged before about our progress in the case. As the lawsuit is being settled, the story is getting media attention from Wisconsin Public Radio (RealPlayer audio), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, UPI and News Talk The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article has a lively comments section, so please post your comments in support of the continued work of the ACLU of Wisconsin to secure humane conditions in our state prison system.

Stand Up For Women’s Rights in Health Care Reform

14 Jan

Negotiations on the final health care bill pick up speed this week. As you may know, anti-choice forces in Congress have used this legislation as a vehicle for advancing their agenda.

We must make sure that the final bill will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Tell Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. Herb Kohl and your state legislator in the House to protect women’s access to abortion in health care reform.

Health care reform should improve people’s lives. That’s why we have to make the most of our last opportunity to insist that health care reform should improve women’s health and lives — not interfere in their ability to get the health care they need.

Representative Bart Stupak and other architects of the severe restrictions on women’s health in both the House and Senate bills are campaigning hard, threatening to derail health care legislation altogether if anyone tampers with the severe restrictions they forced into both bills. Even our allies in Congress are feeling pressure. That’s why it’s so urgent that you take action today.

Both bills stigmatize abortion coverage and ignore the reality that abortion services are basic health care for women.

Tell your members of Congress that Stupak-style restrictions must not be part of any final legislation that goes to President Obama’s desk.

Anti-choice forces are working round-the-clock to keep severe abortion restrictions in the health care bill. We have to work just as hard to get those restrictions out.

Negotiations on a final bill are happening now. Please act immediately to insist on health reforms that will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Thank you for standing with us.
Vania Leveille
ACLU Legislative Counsel

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban – Rally for Women’s Health

2 Dec

Join us today at noon:

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban
Rally for Women’s Health

Wednesday, December 2 at Noon
Capitol Square – State Street Steps
Featuring Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton

Email Sen. Russell ‘Russ’ D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl right now to protect all women’s health options in health care reform.

Report from D.C. at the prochoice rally from a public policy staffer from the Maine ACLU:

“I’m here in Washington, D.C., after a long bus ride from Maine that took me nearly nine hours — and more than 500 miles. But nothing could have stopped me from getting here because the fight to protect reproductive rights is too important, and it’s personal.

“My own commitment to reproductive freedom is rooted in my grandmother’s story about her difficult decision to have an abortion when it wasn’t even legal. I’m sure that the hundreds of other women and men who have joined me in Washington today to take part in this lobby day have their own reasons for caring so deeply.

“But we’re all here to send a powerful message to our senators: we want health care reform that will protect reproductive freedom — not put it in peril as the House did with their Stupak-Pitts Amendment, banning abortion coverage.

“We’re going to be heading to Senators’ offices to deliver this message in just a few moments, but it would be great if they could hear from all of you, too!

Email Sen. Russell ‘Russ’ D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl now. Let them know you want health care that will improve women’s lives — not interfere with them.

“Just off the bus, my fellow bus-mates and I are ready to fight for women’s reproductive freedom. Tell your senators that you want health care that will improve women’s lives not interfere with them.

“Many people have come to D.C. today because they’re alarmed by a recent rise of extremism that is influencing decisions on Capitol Hill.

When the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was added to the House bill, it drastically altered and interfered with a woman’s ability to get the health care she needs. But what’s possibly even more alarming is that a reinvigorated extremist movement is determined to advance their own personal ideology and use the power of our government to force their own narrow view of morality on the rest of us.

“So now we all need to join together and let our senators know that this kind of thinking has no place in our government — and it doesn’t belong in our health care reform.

“We need to come together — whether it’s riding a bus to D.C. or clicking a button to email your senators and make sure they know we won’t let the same thing happen in the Senate.

“Whatever your reason for getting involved in this critical fight today, I hope you’ll join with me and let your senator know how strongly you feel about this. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of women.

“Thanks for standing with us.”
Alysia Melnick
Public Policy Counsel
Maine Civil Liberties Union

Take Action: Demand Abortion Rights Protection in Federal Health Care Reform

30 Nov

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban
Rally for Women’s Health

Wednesday, December 2 at Noon
Capitol Square – State Street Steps
Featuring Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton

The House of Representatives passed a health care reform bill that includes an amendment by Reps. Stupak and Pitts that will effectively eliminate all insurance coverage for abortion. Currently, 85% of insurance plans in the private market currently cover these services. This ban on abortion coverage in health care reform is a direct attack on women’s health.

Now the Senate is set to begin debate on health care reform. We must ensure that the Senate bill does not include a similar amendment banning abortion coverage.

Please join us for a Rally on Wednesday, 12/2, to tell our legislators that we will not stand for attacks on women’s health in health care reform and to Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban!

The rally coincides with a National Day of Action & Stop Stupak-Pitts event in Washington D.C. and the ACLU will be among the protesters.

Here is what we need from you:

1. Join us in Madison on Wednesday, December 2 at Noon, for a Rally for Women’s Health at the State Capitol (State Street Steps). More information is attached and also pasted below. Note: in the event of rain, the rally will be moved inside to the Assembly Parlor on the 2nd floor west of the State Capitol.

2. Call Senator Kohl at (800) 247-5645 and Senator Feingold at (608) 828-1215 to let them know we are counting on them to vote against any amendment that bans abortion coverage in the health care reform bill.

3. Attend the National Stop Stupak-Pitts Rally and Lobby Day in Washington DC on 12/2. For more information about bus transportation departing 12/1 and returning 12/3, contact or as soon as possible.

4. Email Senators Kohl and Feingold by going to the ACLU take action page on this issue and completing a simple form.

5. Volunteer to help collect petition signatures at the rally on 12/2. Contact Lisa at NARAL Prochoice Wisconsin or call (608) 287-0016 if you are available to volunteer.

Rally Sponsors: NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Madison NOW, Wisconsin Law Students for Reproductive Justice, Women’s Medical Fund, Single Payer Action Network, Beloit College GOGA Women’s Health Club, Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, ACLU Wisconsin, Wisconsin Women’s Network.

When government patents limit women’s health – the ACLU lawsuit over breast cancer testing and research

18 May

Imagine you are a woman who may have breast cancer. The cancer runs in your family and you need a diagnosis to know if you have one of the two genes associated with breast cancer. The test can tell you if you are at risk for cancer, but there is only one diagnostic test for the gene and therefore no way to get a second opinion on the life-changing test results.

Or imagine you are a woman who is a breast cancer survivor and who has had a double mastectomy. The gene that is linked to the breast cancer could mutate and be the cause of ovarian cancer. Whether or not you have a chance of having the ovarian cancer gene will affect your decision to have your ovaries removed along with your future option to have children.

There is only one company in Salt Lake City that offers the test for $3000.

These choices are facing women across the country. Testing for genetic links to breast and ovarian cancer is possible. But there is only one company that holds the patents to the genetic test. The government, through the patent system, has granted one company a monopoly over the gene (and its mutations), future testing and research.

The ACLU’s website on the breast cancer gene patent says that: “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has granted thousands of patents on human genes – in fact, about 20 percent of our genes are patented. A gene patent holder has the right to prevent anyone from studying, testing or even looking at a gene. As a result, scientific research and genetic testing has been delayed, limited or even shut down due to concerns about gene patents.”

On May 12, the ACLU filed a lawsuit (along with partner, the Public Patent Foundation) against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, holders of the gene patents. The lawsuit charges that the patent is a virtual monopoly over something in nature, a human gene and its variations, that cannot be patented.

Want to learn more? Details on the lawsuit can be found on the ACLU website. You can also read more about the implications of the gene patent in this CNN article.

Want to do more? Become a member of the ACLU – your membership supports our important litigation work like the patent lawsuit. You can also sign a message of support on this issue.