In Glossip v. Gross, the United States Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the use of a lethal injection drug that might not prevent pain violates the Constitutional prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Last week,  Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, found that it doesn’t because hey, lots of people die painful deaths. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, “[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out.” And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

Pro-lifers, does this argument sound familiar? It should. It’s the pro-execution equivalent of “over half of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so who really cares about killing an embryo?” It’s wrong in both instances, for the obvious reason that not everything that happens naturally is OK to do to another person. Everyone dies, one way or another, but we still have a responsibility not to deliberately or recklessly take their lives. Everyone experiences pain, but it’s wrong to be cruel. Everyone’s life ends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter how.

In a 5-4 decision today (SCOTUSblog analysis here), the United States Supreme Court ruled that Peggy Young’s employment discrimination lawsuit against UPS could proceed. Young was forced to take leave without pay when she was pregnant due to a 20-pound lifting restriction, even though UPS accommodated other drivers in conditions that were similarly, or even more, restrictive.

Young’s suit claimed that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that Young couldn’t show that “similarly-situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment” than she did. People who had lost their drivers’ licenses due to DUIs weren’t similarly situated because Young wasn’t legally barred from driving; other workers with physical limitations weren’t similarly situated because they were covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Young wasn’t. She appealed, and the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of the PDA was too narrow.

Young can now go back and make the case that UPS denied her accommodations that were available to other workers who were similar in their ability or inability to work. If she can show that — and in this case, she has — UPS can try to demonstrate that the reasons for not accommodating her were pregnancy-neutral and not based on discrimination. The argument that accommodations would cost money, though technically neutral, can’t be used as a reason not to provide them to pregnant workers.

All in all, this is a victory for pregnant workers and their babies. However, there’s still uncertainty about what accommodations the law requires, and that uncertainty will mean that the only way for many women to get fair treatment is by taking employers to court. That’s why Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), one of the lead sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, said on Twitter: “While today’s #SCOTUS ruling in #YoungvUPS is a victory for Peggy, it does not create a predictable, simple standard for pregnant workers. Congress should pass my #PWFA, to establish a clear and predictable standard, guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.” We agree. Pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs on the one hand, and their health and that of their children on the other.

Thanks to Consistent Life for alerting us to this petition. It asks the Secretary of HHS to make pregnancy a “qualifying life event” allowing people to obtain insurance coverage outside of the three-month open enrollment period. Childbirth is already considered a qualifying life event — pregnancy should be too. Making sure pregnant women have access to affordable medical care is good for both mother and child.

Petition: All pregnant women deserve access to insurance coverage

Seeing black children as nothing but criminals, worthy of death, starts early.

Among the findings likely to provoke reaction, sources say, are two emails written by Ferguson police and municipal court officials.

One, written in November of 2008, said that Barack Obama could not be president for four years because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

Another, written in May 2011, read: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’”

Ferguson police, court showed pattern of racial bias, Department of Justice to report

Just one more reason why justice for moms is good for their children too: Babies born to mothers who face ethnic discrimination have higher levels of cortisol than babies whose mothers did not, meaning that their mothers’ stress has an effect on their bodies. This could set them up for health problems down the line.

The placenta, that semi-clear sac that nourishes the fetus, has enzymes that convert cortisol into a weaker version of itself. However, the placenta can only convert so much cortisol. When the concentration is abnormally high, Thayer posits, some of the non-converted hormone seeps into the womb. Again, a moderate amount of cortisol is healthy for fetal development. Babies who are born prematurely sometimes need synthetic cortisol injections to prompt lung development. But, too much cortisol comes with health problems.

Generational fallout: The meaning of high cortisol levels during infancy isn’t entirely clear. But infants who already have more symptoms of stress compared to their teeny-tiny peers could face health disparities down the road, perhaps related to mood disorders and cardiovascular disease.

Looking at the study more broadly, inheriting bias-induced stress might be part of an observed phenomenon in which maternal health influences a child’s health and development. Some researchers focus on what’s called the epigenetic impact of maternal health, which is roughly the study of how environmental factors (e.g., stress, smoking, diet) actually change genes. Thayer says she’s working on an epigenetic study to see if discrimination against mothers could change the expression of genes related to cortisol production in children.

Inequality compromises its victims’ life chances in so many ways — discrimination, diminished educational opportunities, criminal justice disparities, housing segregation. Now it appears that its effects are written on the body before a child is even born.

For Immediate Release

December 3, 2014

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service, a case that will help determine what accommodations employers are legally obligated to provide to their pregnant employees.

Peggy Young is a UPS employee who sought light duty after her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. Although it grants accommodations for other medical needs, UPS refused to allow Young to return to work until she was no longer pregnant.

Women’s rights and labor rights organizations filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs on behalf of Peggy Young. In addition, 23 anti-abortion groups signed on to a brief filed by professors from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Some media accounts have framed this as a case of “strange bedfellows”—but not everyone finds it strange.

All Our Lives and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices are two of the organizations that joined the pro-lifers’ amicus brief. Both groups work to address the social and economic factors that put unjust pressure on women to have abortions. Both see pregnancy discrimination in employment as an example of social structures that fail to respect human life.

“Our society claims to value children and motherhood so highly, and yet we don’t value them enough to put them before the maximization of profit,” said Jennifer Roth of All Our Lives. “Without reasonable accommodations, a pregnant worker might have to choose between protecting her health and her baby’s on the one hand, and supporting her family on the other. If their lives really matter, they’re worth the cost of a few extra water breaks or a light duty assignment.”

Dr. Mary Dahl Maher, president of Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, stated, “For a truly pro-woman, pro-life decision, the Supreme Court must rule that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act mean employers are to meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. Employer policies that are merely ‘pregnancy-neutral’ are, in fact, prejudiced against pregnancy and therefore against women.”

For more information, visit: http://www.allourlives.org and http://www.ffnvc.org.

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This is why it’s so important to push back against claims like “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Options for rape victims in Pakistan: Stay silent, get an abortion or set yourself on fire

I feel sorry for Pakistani rape victims who can never get the justice they deserve. In the first instance, going by what Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Chief Syed Munawar Hassan said in an interview that a rape victim should stay silent and not report the incident to the police, or anyone else for that matter.

I asked another member of his party,

“What will she do if she gets pregnant?”

He replied,

“Impossible, a woman cannot get pregnant unless she’s willing”, quoting a US Republican Congressman who said the same thing.

 

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“Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.”

Does that headline get your hackles up? It got mine up. But then I read the article, and it was devastating. The author describes the experience of hoping that this time, someone would care that an unarmed black kid had been killed by the police. Maybe this time, someone would think that Mike Brown — and his community — had gotten far worse than they deserved. Until people went looking for reasons why he must have brought it on himself.

For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.

But that’s all been ruined.

We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.

And Fox News has been trying to cast doubt on whether he was actually going to go to college in the first place.

All signs that his life was worth less than we might have hoped.

The inevitable had happened. Apologists for police violence had successfully painted Mike Brown as a “thug” who deserved what he got. If the question is “what could a black person do that would make their death not their own fault?”, there’s no answer. The question should be “why are black people required to prove — over and over again, in a rigged game — that they don’t deserve to be killed?”

Remember literacy tests for voting? They were ostensibly in place to ensure that applicants were educated enough to qualify as voters. But in reality:

Determination of who “passed” and who “failed” was entirely up to the whim of the Registrar of Voters — all of whom were white. In actuality, whites almost always “passed” no matter how many questions they missed, and Blacks almost always “failed’ in the selective judgement of the Registrar.

If you don’t want to grant someone a status in the first place, any excuse to revoke it will do. So it is with the right not to be killed. If people wanted to see an 18-year-old black man as a fully human person deserving of the right to life, then video of him allegedly swiping a handful of cigars and shoving a store clerk wouldn’t change that. Photos of him making a hand signal wouldn’t change that. Rap lyrics wouldn’t change that. That he was tall and heavy wouldn’t change that. How do I know? Because white people miss those questions on the humanity test, as it were, all the time without being dismissed as thugs who need killing.

For obvious reasons, nobody who considers themselves pro-life should embrace an ideology that requires human beings to pass tests to be considered worthy of living.

And speaking of pro-life, consider this: In the United States, the abortion rate is highest among black women. Black women in America have 40 abortions per 100,000 women — almost 4 times the rate among non-Hispanic white women. That’s 360,000 black lives ending in abortion every year. That’s who knows how many black women ending up in clinics like Kermit Gosnell’s. How many of those abortions would have been avoided if black Americans, on average, had the same healthcare, access to resources, and life prospects as white Americans? If we acted like black lives, born and unborn, really matter?

All Our Lives has joined 22 other pro-life organizations in filing a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief in Young vs. United Parcel Service, which the United States Supreme Court will hear during the 2014-2015 session.

Peggy Young is a UPS employee whose doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. She sought an accommodation that would allow her to have lighter duty. Although it grants accommodations for other medical needs, UPS refused to allow Young to return to work until she was no longer pregnant. Young sued on the basis that the refusal to accommodate her needs during pregnancy was illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to join this brief, which makes the case that “policies structured around a male-centered ‘ideal worker’ paradigm” are invalid, discriminatory against women, and anti-life.

You can download a PDF of the brief here.