‘Letters: Bykofsky’s ideas skate on thin ICE’ via Philly.com

On Friday, July 18, 2014, Daily News Columnist Stu Bykofsky wrote an article entitled ‘Welcome, foreign felons.’ The following Letter to the Editor is in response to that article:

NO ONE should be held in jail for days on end because some federal agent wants to “run checks” on them to see whether it would be lawful to arrest them for something. In fact, the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments to our Constitution prohibit that kind of tyrannical police-state behavior.

Yet, Stu Bykofsky, in his column “Welcome, foreign felons,” takes Mayor Nutter to task for upholding this basic American principle. The city has a policy, in place since mid-April, of refusing to honor non-binding “detainer” requests lodged by federal immigration authorities on prisoners in city jails whom our criminal justice system has determined should be released. In the court case – won by the ACLU – that determined that these ICE “detainers” are legally unenforceable, the plaintiff was a U.S. citizen, born in New Jersey, whom Allentown police wrongly suspected of being an undocumented noncitizen. As a result, he spent over three extra days in jail, despite having already made bail, while ICE got around to figuring out the police were wrong. (As it turned out, he was mistakenly in jail in the first place; when his trial came up, he was acquitted of the charge for which he had been arrested.)

Philadelphia’s policy avoids travesties like that one (and the resulting liability) by refusing to keep people in jail at the mere request of ICE. Under the policy the city, quite properly, will hold someone for pickup by ICE only if the feds have gotten a warrant for their deportation or arrest.

Instead of engaging in baseless fear-mongering, Bykofsky should be praising the city administration for standing up for everyone’s equal civil rights. A country where any low-level government official can tell the police to jail you for days on mere suspicion, or for “investigation,” is not the country described in the Constitution of the United States.

Peter Goldberger
President
ACLU of Greater Philadelphia

Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

Read the original article, including a letter from Everett Gillison, Chief of Staff/Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, at Philly.com

You’re on The Grid. And so is your government.

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Map

State laws on privacy – June 2014 (click to enlarge)

When talk around here turns toward privacy in our use of electronic technologies and everyday activities, my mind goes straight to the Jason Bourne movie franchise and its characters’ references to popping on and off “the grid.” Although the Bourne series is fiction, it’s not a stretch to think of today’s electronic technologies as “the grid,” even for those of us who aren’t trained CIA assassins. And we shouldn’t have to escape to a beachside hut in India to escape the government’s probing eyes.

At the end of June, the ACLU released an interactive map that illustrates how well states are keeping up with protecting the people’s privacy in an age of evolving technologies. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania isn’t.

The ACLU examined state law on four key topics- government access to mobile location data, electronic communication data, and license plate reader data, and government use of drones. Utah, Tennessee, and Maine protect their residents’ privacy in at least three of those areas. Seven more states protect privacy in at least two of those issue areas. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has no protections in state law on any of these topics.

Here in the commonwealth, we’ve been too busy fighting off new legislative initiatives for the government to expand its collection of your personal data to think much about making the law better. In the 2013-14 session, we’ve dealt with a bill to create a government-run database of prescription medication records and another bill to collect DNA from people who have been merely arrested but not convicted of a crime.

The former has been tied up in part due to privacy concerns- among Democrats and Republicans- over the bill’s loose standard for prosecutors to access the database. The latter should be dead after Public Source published findings last month that 30,000 arrestees in Pennsylvania in 2013 were never fingerprinted, leading one to reasonably wonder how police are going to add DNA collection to their duties.

And alarm bells went off throughout the capitol (figuratively) in April when the state Supreme Court ruled that police officers no longer need a search warrant issued by a court to search a stopped vehicle. While the court maintained the constitutionally-sound “probable cause” standard, it removed the neutral third party- the judge- to determine that the officer actually reached the standard. That will force Pennsylvanians who are unfairly searched to fight it after the fact. Numerous state legislators and staff approached me after that ruling to say, in so many words, “WTF?”

All is not lost, though. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has teamed up with legislators from both parties to stop or at least neutralize awful legislation that would undermine privacy over the last two legislative sessions. The ground is fertile to push back with initiatives that enhance privacy in Pennsylvania and that keep the government from expanding its reach into our business.

Unless you’ve found a way to live electronic-free (and you’re reading this blog so I assume you haven’t), you’re on the grid. You shouldn’t have to choose between modern conveniences and your right to be free from government snooping. State lawmakers need to hear that message, too.

Andy HooverAndy Hoover is the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. That means he lobbies, even though his colleagues often ask him, “How can you stand it?” He goes onto the grid on Twitter, @freedomsfriend.

Meet Julie Zaebst, Project Manager of The Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate. Most recently, she directed the Policy Center at the Coalition Against Hunger, where she led the organization’s advocacy initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps and school meals. Before getting started, we asked Julie some questions about her previous experience and what she’s looking forward to in her new role as Project Manager of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

What most interested you about this position?

I always imagined that I would devote my career to women’s health and reproductive rights. These were the issues that first politicized me as a student, and I spent much of my time and energy as a student and young professional working on these issues in a volunteer capacity. But a different opportunity came my way. Instead, I had a chance to serve as an advocate for low-income people who are struggling with hunger and for the federal nutrition programs, like food stamps, that help them put healthy food on the table. This has been an incredible experience, and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be an effective advocate. I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring my skills and passion to the issue of reproductive rights at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Where were you before joining the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve worn many different hats at the Coalition Against Hunger – volunteer coordinator, advocacy coordinator and interim executive director. Most recently, I managed the Coalition’s policy center, where I directed initiatives to protect and enhance the federal nutrition programs in Pennsylvania, including food stamps, school meals, and the child care food program.

Prior to that, I served as the Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Office at Bryn Mawr College, which facilitates service-learning and volunteer opportunities for undergraduates. I learned an enormous amount from the students, faculty and community partners about what it means to be an engaged citizen and how to foster that type of engagement in our communities.

How do you think your previous experiences will help you in this new role?

In my roles at the Coalition Against Hunger and at Bryn Mawr College, I had the chance to hone a diverse set of skills that I’ll be tapping into as the Duvall Project Manager: public education, constituent mobilization, coalition-building, and legislative and administrative advocacy. I love putting these different strategies and skills to work to effect policy change, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to do so in the area of reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

What are you most excited about taking over the project?

I’m excited to carry forward the incredible work that the Duvall Project has been doing to ensure incarcerated women’s access to reproductive health services. This initiative raises critical civil liberties issues that sit at the intersection of prisoners’ rights and reproductive rights, and I see ACLU-PA as uniquely positioned to address these issues that otherwise might go unnoticed. Carol has laid a terrific groundwork for this initiative, both in terms of research and relationship-building, and the Duvall Project has already achieved some great successes in reforming jails’ policies about reproductive health care.

What are some future projects you foresee the CBD Project taking on?

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that stigma impacts the issues that I care about and the public policy work that I do. For instance, I’ve worked closely with Witnesses to Hunger, a program at Drexel University that provides a space for mothers to share their personal experiences with hunger through photos and story-telling and that brings their perspectives to bear in policy debates about the nutrition programs. I’ve been humbled by these women’s willingness to share their experiences and impressed with the ways in which their personal stories can humanize and ground technical, often polarized public policy debates and influence their outcomes.

I was excited to hear that the ACLU is having a similar conversation about stigma around reproductive rights. I see great opportunity to address issues of stigma and center the voices and experiences of women and men who have had to grapple with difficult reproductive health decisions. By engaging in public education and organizing with the goal of addressing this stigma, I think we can begin to bring about the cultural shift necessary to ultimately affect public policy.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles to reproductive freedom?

It sometimes seems that the story of reproductive rights is one of death by a thousand cuts. The specific restrictions placed on women’s reproductive rights are often complex or obscure in nature, and considered in isolation they may seem insignificant to much of the general public. Yet together, this patchwork of laws and regulations makes access to safe and affordable abortions – and sometimes other critical reproductive health services – increasingly difficult for women across Pennsylvania, especially low-income women. One of the ongoing challenges for the reproductive rights movement will be to continue to educate supporters about the impact of these restrictions and to galvanize strong opposition to each and every effort to limit women’s reproductive freedoms. This is especially critical as more and more supporters – like myself – belong to the post-Roe generation and don’t have a personal, first-hand understanding of what it would mean to entirely lose the freedoms granted by that court decision.

After Windsor: Marriage Stories

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

June 26, 2014 marks the 1-year anniversary of the Windsor decision that struck down the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since that historic decision six more states have gained marriage equality, including Pennsylvania, bringing the country-wide tally to 19! Here are just a few couples who have taken advantage of their right to get married since DOMA was overturned:

Kristin Keith, Catherine Hennessy

Kristin Keith (left) and Catherine Hennessy

Catherine Hennessy and Kristin Keith

After meeting at a farewell party for mutual friends, Catherine and Kristin never said goodbye to one another. The two women have been together for 11 years and are excited, yet still shocked they were able to get married today. Until now only their inner circle has recognized their relationship but today, all of Pennsylvania does.

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John Krafty, Clayton

John and Clayton Krafty

Clayton and John Krafty

My husband Clayton and I got married on June 21, 2009 in PA. We had a ceremony complete with string quartet, DJ, bridal party of 12 etc. we did this so our friends and family could share in the joy when we were legally married in CT one month earlier. We were thrilled to high heavens when DOMA was killed last year and even more so last month when our marriage was recognized by our home state of PA.

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Justin Jain, Adam Woods

Justin Jain (right) and Adam Woods

Justin Jain and Adam Woods

Nine years together, now one day married. After Justin and Jain were together for eight years they decided to have a ceremony for their family and friends, to show their love for one another. Today they married to make it official in the eyes of their home state that they love. Moving forward the couples hopes to adopt children and grow their family.

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Michelle Mamo, Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Christy and I were married April 26, 2014 twelve years to the date of our commitment ceremony! We decided on 6/27/13 to get married in DE because it wasn’t legal in PA. Three weeks after the wedding PA ruling came down and now we are happily married in our home state!!!

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Derek Finn, Eddie Chang

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang (left)

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang

During a Japanese language class at the University of Pennsylvania, Derek and Eddie met and fell in love. They feel getting married today after twelve years together, brings legitimacy, safety and security to their lives and makes it just a little less stressful to be together. They plan to buy a house big enough for their two dogs and hopefully a few babies.

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Nick Kurek‎, Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

This is myself and partner Jason right after leaving the Lehigh County Courthouse June 9, 2014 with our Marriage License! Jason and I have been together 7 years this September, and celebrated our commitment ceremony to each other with tons of friends and family present on December 17, 2011. Since we have done the “big wedding bash” already, our original minister has volunteered to officiate for us as we have a small, intimate ceremony celebrating not only our permanent bond to each other, but recognizing this enormous milestone in history. One Love!

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Oscar Cabrera, Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Today Oscar and Chris no longer feel like second class citizens in their own state because today they were able to marry after 18 years. Finally being recognized as a couple makes their family unit feel more real and they say there is no going back now. They plan to honeymoon in Nicaragua and come back to the life they’ve already been building together for so long.

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Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and I married each other three times. The first time in Washington DC in 1993 at the March on Washington, the second time (legally) in Canada in 2004, and the third time on July 31, 2013, after obtaining our marriage license from the Montgomery County, PA register of wills office. We are delighted that our marriage is legal in PA.

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Sue Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

May 16th 2014, my wife an I got married in Atlantic City NJ and May17th we had a commitment ceremony for family. That following Wednesday Pa became legal. Now we are happily married in our own state!!!

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Colleen R Ott, Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen and Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen R. Ott and Michelle Crawford-Ott

On June 21, 2014 Michelle Crawford-Ott and I, Colleen R. Ott, got married at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, we had been planning since Attorney General Kathleen Kane stirred up the PA Marriage Equality pot, by not defending the Gay Marriage Ban, and noted that it was “wholly unconstitutional,” when she spoke at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, PA. my home town. As a Philadelphia Summit LGBTQ member I knew that was the start of many rallies, and that we needed to take action. Heck, my Church recognized it before the state of PA. So we set a date, the date had to be after the hearing with the ACLU and the couples vs the State Ban of PA. The day after we got our Marriage Certificate, and we went forth with our date. The fight is not over in PA, we now need to ECHO OUR VOICES for FULL FEDERAL MARRIAGE EQUALITY. Amen!!

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If you’re interested in sharing your marriage story with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please submit a photo and a short story to our Facebook page.

BenBen Bowens is a social and digital media enthusiast. Before joining the ACLU of Pennsylvania as the Communications Associate, he served as the Digital Media Producer for CBS3/KYW-TV, where he covered the 2008 election and launched the station’s social media presence.

Happy Pride Season!

By Melissa Morris, Campaign Manager, Why Marriage Matters-PA

Melissa Moriss Pride

Melissa Morris marches in the Philadelphia Pride Parade (credit: Ben Bowens)

Pride has officially kicked off in a big way this month. In the past ten days, Pennsylvania’s largest cities held their pride events with record turnouts. I can’t say that the ACLU-PA winning marriage equality in the state was the catalyst for communities to show up and show out, but I don’t think it hurt.

In Philadelphia, the three main days of Pride kicked off with a large block party running straight through the blocked off streets of the gayborhood, where people danced and rode a shark in the middle of the street. Saturday was the 7th Annual Dyke March where hundreds of women took over the streets to stand for equality. Of course Pride wouldn’t be Pride without the annual Philadelphia Pride Parade and Festival, where 173 groups participated in marching and festival events. The parade was especially festive because 15 same-sex couples that were now legally able to get married, did just that right in front of Independence Mall! Events closed with the Village People headlining the festivities at Penn’s Landing, where it was standing room only.

Pittsburgh held four days of events starting with a splash pool party on Thursday and a pub crawl on Friday night, where over a dozen bars across the city welcomed partiers and got them around safely by providing shuttle services to each location. Pride in the Street is Pittsburgh’s big outdoor concert, headlined by the one and only Chaka Khan and followed by the group Magic. Sunday was the annual Pride March and Festival where over 100 groups marched and approximately 150 vendors and organizations shared community information and sold goods. (Pride in the Street celebrates the LGBT community – Melissa Morris featured in #Seen)

Hundreds of thousands have already come out to Prides throughout Pennsylvania and the festivities will continue throughout the summer. 2014 is already breaking numbers for Pride participation and we are looking forward to all the festivals yet to come.

MelissaMelissa Morris comes to the ACLU-PA with more than 15 years of experience as a program developer and trainer for community based organizations and within higher education. Prior to joining the ACLU-PA she was the founding Director of Diversity Initiatives at a private Pennsylvania college. Melissa has led programming in the areas of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues and awareness, diversity programming, domestic violence awareness and HIV/AIDS counseling.

Immigrants in the Shadows: Warehousing Noncitizens in Our Nation’s For-Profit Prison System

By Scott Kelly, Columbia Law School Social Justice Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

CAR

By definition, a “for-profit” corporation has only one goal: to make money for its shareholders. For Coca-Cola, that means selling cans of soda. For ExxonMobil, that means drilling oil wells.

And for The GEO Group, Inc., that means putting immigrants behind bars.

You heard that right: The same way Coca-Cola profits when someone buys a two-liter, GEO Group makes money when an immigrant is thrown into prison—often for no other crime than crossing the border in search of a better life.

You see, GEO Group is one of three private companies that run the 13 federal prisons for nonviolent immigrant criminals, called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons. And one of GEO Group’s CAR prisons—a 1,495-bed low security facility called Moshannon Valley Correctional Center—is located right here in Philipsburg, PA.

That’s why the report that the ACLU and its Texas affiliate released today is a must-read. Representing the culmination of four years of investigation, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped In Our Shadow Private Prison System describes the rampant prisoner abuse and lack of accountability at five CAR prisons in Texas—including two operated by GEO Group.

The report catalogues in grim detail what happens when the profit motive collides with our penal system: prisoners languish in overcrowded, chronically understaffed facilities, while GEO Group and its ilk rake in billions in annual revenue and millions in executive payouts.

And the problem is only getting worse: dating back to 2009, more people have entered the federal prison system for immigration offenses than for violent, weapons, and property offenses combined.

Here are some of the most startling findings from the report:

    • Excessive Use of Isolation

      The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) routinely negotiates contracts with private prison companies that incentivize excessive use of isolation cells (called “the SHU”). For example, the contracts for the two CAR prisons in Texas operated by GEO Group—Big Spring and Reeves—contain clauses requiring that these overcrowded prisons set aside 10% of their bed space as isolation cells. To compare: confining 10% of the prisoners in CAR facilities to isolation represents almost twice the rate of isolation in facilities run by the BOP itself, even though the majority of the BOP-run prisons are higher-security.

      This isolation quota encourages the excessive—and often arbitrary or malicious—use of the SHU. At Big Spring, staff frequently placed prisoners in isolation for months at a time while they carried out never-ending “investigations” into disciplinary infractions. A recent wrongful death suit filed against the Reeves CAR prison even alleged that the facility had a policy of using the SHU to punish prisoners who repeatedly asked for medical attention or filed grievances. The lawsuit pointed to this policy as responsible for the death of a prisoner named Reyes Garcia Rangel, who committed suicide after being confined to the SHU and denied his psychotropic medications.

    • Limited Access to Rehabilitative Programming

      CAR prisons are not contractually required to provide the programming, drug treatment, and work opportunities offered in most federal prisons, in spite of the fact that studies overwhelmingly show the efficacy of such programs. As a result, prisoners housed in these facilities often face years of boredom and idleness—years that could have been spent bettering their lives and preparing for life after release.

      BOP justifies this policy by reasoning that rehabilitating people who face deportation wastes resources. Not only is this thinking callous but it’s also deeply flawed: many prisoners in CAR facilities may have a legal right to stay in the country, including valid claims for asylum and derivative citizenship. And assuming that deported immigrants won’t try to enter the country again ignores the strong pulls of economics and family that brought many people to America in the first place.

    • Inadequacy of Medical Care

      The report documents the widespread failure of CAR prisons in Texas to meet the medical needs of prisoners. A lack of oversight and accountability has combined with cost-cutting pressures to create a perfect breeding ground for medical negligence. In one extreme example detailed in the report, the prison staff at Reeves placed an epileptic prisoner in the SHU because the facility didn’t have an infirmary. The man, Jesus Manuel Galindo, pleaded continually with guards to adjust his medication but reported in letters to family that the “medical care here is no good and I’m scared.” Tragically, the day after Mr. Galindo wrote those words, he went into a seizure and perished unattended in his cell.

      In a series of internal documents, BOP officials even acknowledged the systemic inadequacy of medical care at Reeves, writing that the “[l]ack of healthcare has greatly impacted inmate health and wellbeing” and that the private prison had mismanaged the treatment of HIV patients. Similarly, prisoners at Big Spring complained of the chronic understaffing of medical personnel. Aware of many of these problems, BOP officials nonetheless chose to renew the contracts of all CAR facilities in 2010, because the Bureau didn’t want to lose “credibility as a solid customer” of the private prison industry.

    • Lack of Accountability and Transparency

      CAR prisons aren’t subject to the oversight and transparency that applies to other federal prisons. For example, under the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies like BOP must disclose their records to the public upon request. But CAR prisons are exempt from FOIA, meaning that the most basic details about how these facilities operate are often unknown. The BOP even fights to shield the information it has on CAR prisons from the public, citing FOIA Exemption 4, which permits withholding the “trade secrets” of private companies.

      Nor do many BOP policies—called “program statements”—apply to CAR prisons, including those related to important issues like the filing of grievances and attorney visits. This leaves companies like GEO Group to set their own policies—the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. It’s unsurprising that prison officials turn around and use this discretion to further restrict access to their facilities—for example, by prohibiting NGOs from touring their prisons or conducting interviews.

Read the full report and you’ll understand why the practice of contracting out prisoners to for-profit companies must stop. The ACLU is also calling for an end to the criminalization of immigration, which has served only to line the pockets of the for-profit prison industry at the expense of taxpayer dollars and the dignity of immigrants. Short of ending these practices, the federal government should at the very least subject CAR prisons to greater transparency and oversight.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is investigating the CAR prison here in our own state: GEO Group’s Moshannon Valley Correctional Center. As detailed in the Texas report, GEO Group has a record of abuse and mismanagement at both of the CAR prisons it operates in Texas. We ask that anyone with information about the conditions and practices at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center please contact us to share your stories. Only with your help can we shed light on another one of our nation’s shadow prisons.

Email us at info@aclupa.org or call 877-PHL-ACLU (877-745-2258) if you live in the eastern half of the state or 877-PGH-ACLU (877-744-2258) if you live in the western half of the state.

Scott KellyScott Kelly joined the ACLU in February of 2014. He is a recent honors graduate of Columbia Law School, where he received the Milton B. Conford Book Prize for the best essay on jurisprudence.

Abortion: Breaking the Silence

By Lisa Wildman, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

Clara Bell Duvall

Clara Bell Duvall

Why are we re-fighting abortion forty years after Roe v. Wade? State legislators across the country are putting forth regulations that target abortion at an increasing rate. Alarmingly, many of these have become law. Why have these laws succeeded in eroding abortion rights?

A big part of the answer lies in the stigma surrounding abortion, which has helped keep abortion hidden. The movement working against abortion has shamed and intimidated people who seek abortions and those who provide abortion care. Look and listen to the condemning, demonizing language they use outside of clinics. When I volunteered as a clinic escort, why did protesters call me a whore? And who can forget Rush Limbaugh’s vicious slander of Sandra Fluke just for seeking birth control? American society is uncomfortable with abortion in part because it is uncomfortable with female sexuality. The war over abortion is a war over who controls women’s bodies. If we use our reproductive rights, we frighten those who would control our bodies for us.

A woman considering abortion care likely feels very alone and frightened. I know I did. Many Americans may think that they do not know anyone who has chosen to have an abortion. But one woman in three has an abortion by age 45. We all know someone who has had had an abortion. She is our coworker, our friend, our neighbor, our sister, our mother. In fact, most women who choose abortion are already mothers.

Silence perpetuates the stigma surrounding abortion. We can help remove the stigma surrounding abortion by breaking the silence. Empower yourself by beginning to talk about abortion. If a family member of yours died from an abortion in pre-Roe days, tell that story. (Mitt Romney did.) If you are pro-choice, say so. If you had an abortion, say so. Tell anyone who will listen.

Studies have found that how we talk about abortion does make a difference. Talk about how abortion is a personal and private decision. Talk about how abortion is a right under the U.S. Constitution, not something that should vary state by state. Talk about how politicians should not be allowed to interfere in what is a decision a woman makes with her own doctor and her own family.

But most importantly, keep on talking.

Learn more about the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Lisa WildmanLisa Wildman interned at the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Project while completing a master’s degree in social work at Temple University.

Our Wildest Dreams

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole (credit: Dani Fresh)

On July 9, 2013, Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, along with 10 other same-sex couples, a widow, and two children of a same-sex couple, sued for the freedom to marry in Pennsylvania and for recognition of out-of-state marriages for same-sex couples. On May 20, 2014, they won. Read more about the lawsuit at aclupa.org/marriage.

By Julie Lobur

I’ve simply been walking on air since Judge Jones’s decision nullifying Pennsylvania’s DOMA. Little in this world meant more to Marla and me than the legitimization of our relationship. For 28 years, we fought for marriage equality. We wrote checks, went to protests, and harangued anyone who would listen. On May 20, our dreams came true with seemingly surreal abruptness.

Until recently, many of us never thought we would see this day come in Pennsylvania. When I officially came out 41 years ago, it was still illegal to be gay in Pennsylvania (under penalty of 5 years in prison!). Of course, coming “out” in those days meant only identifying oneself to the gay community. The thought of public exposure of one’s sexual orientation terrified most of us.

In the 1970s, Harrisburg’s gay community was hidden underground. We lurked in the shadows equally fearful of the gay bashers and the police—sometimes one and the same. Closeted professionals who passed themselves off for straight lived in continual fear of blackmail. People who couldn’t “pass” for straight were grateful to be able to hang onto any job long enough to pay a few bills. We were relegated to gay ghettos where “respectable” people would never set foot. (Some of these same neighborhoods became chic gayborhoods where “respectable” people now pay a fortune to live.)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

Julie Lobur and her wife Marla Cattermole, attend the #DecisionDayPA rally in Harrisburg (credit: Dani Fresh)

In hindsight, one might say that we were too quick to accept our second-class status. But mindsets are difficult to break. At our marriage ceremony decades later, I nearly had a panic attack when after saying our vows, the judge naturally instructed me to kiss Marla. My mind raced, “Gasp! Kiss Marla? In front of a judge??? Won’t I get in trouble? Is this a set up?” I somehow regained my composure before anyone noticed. That was when I fully realized how far we had come.

The life we have now is certainly beyond anything in my wildest dreams in 1973. It is a life that we are happy to see our young people take for granted. But I will be indebted to my dying day for all of the hard work, persistence, and bravery on the part of those who made it happen. Without the contributions of thousands of supporters and sympathetic friends, none of us would have seen justice. Every little bit helped.

On the Right Side of History: October 1, 1996

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Rainbow Flag

A rainbow flag is raised outside of city hall in Philadelphia. (credit: Ben Bowens)

At the suggestion of a colleague, I pulled up the General Assembly’s archives to look at the votes and the journals from the legislature’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

After the events of the past week, it was quite a read. The state Senate passed DOMA on October 1, 1996, by a vote of 43-5. The five no votes are all names that are familiar to Pennsylvania politicos- Democrats Vincent Hughes, who is now the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Vincent Fumo, who retired several years ago after legal troubles; Hardy Williams, who passed in 2010 and whose son, Anthony, now serves in the Senate; Allyson Schwartz, who serves in Congress and ran for governor this year; and Republican Dave Heckler, who later became a judge and is now the district attorney of Bucks County.

Reading the floor debate, which is available here, is fascinating. Here are some choice quotes:

“Our country was founded on the principles of liberty and justice for all. It is our responsibility, in fact our obligation, as elected officials to assure a society that prohibits discrimination against any class of people. It is wrong to express words of tolerance and to condemn bigotry only when it is easy and safe, only when it is in the abstract. Well, today we are faced with a choice to condemn discrimination, to end a minority group’s isolation, and to build understanding. It should not be so hard. And I ask each of my colleagues not to waste this opportunity and instead to stand up for understanding, to stand up for acceptance, to stand up for fairness, and to vote against…this legislation.”
– Senator Allyson Schwartz

 

“I am of the belief that government has no place in the bedroom, and I do not know why we have to rush to judgment on this issue right now. I recognize it as an inflammatory issue, it is one that drives some people crazy, but my plea is that these people are human beings, too, and have the right to their beliefs and the exercise of their beliefs the same as the majority of people do. They present no threat to society. In fact, they complement society and assist society by being honest, law-abiding individuals.

 

“…I do not kid myself. I know the vote today will probably be overwhelming, the same way the vote in a southern legislature years ago would have been overwhelming in discriminating against black minorities. That does not make the vote right. It is still wrong. It is no business of ours to interfere in the lives of others, in the most private and intimate way, and it is shameful that we are doing this(.)”
–Senator Vincent Fumo

Six days later, on October 7, the House passed the bill with just 13 members voting no. We’ll have a follow up post to recognize those representatives.

On October 16, Governor Ridge signed the bill and it became Act 124 of 1996.

And on May 20, 2014, Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act was swept into the ash heap of history.

On #DecisionDayPA: A letter from Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Vic Walczak

Dear ACLU Supporter,

I have been blessed to be a part of some pretty historic cases, whether it’s intelligent design creationism, Hazleton’s immigration fiasco, or, most recently, knocking out voter ID. But our marriage case on behalf of 25 Pennsylvanians holds a special place for me.

I was at the Pittsburgh celebration on the night of the decision with several of our clients and their children when the magnitude of what we had achieved began to hit home. People I didn’t know were hugging me, wetting my suit with their tears as they thanked me for transforming their lives. I don’t ever recall seeing so much unabashed joy, open affection, and excitement created by one of our victories.

All ACLU cases involve vital rights, but it hit me just how life-defining this case is for so many people. It is everyday existence. This decision affirms people for who they are and establishes gay men and lesbians as equal citizens. Those who fall in love with a person of the same sex now have the same rights.

Who would have thought that in less than a year we would make Pennsylvania number 19 for freedom-to-marry states? It’s amazing and just plain beautiful!

The ACLU of Pennsylvania could not have achieved this win, or any of our other victories, without the help of our supporters.

If you’re not a member, please consider joining the ACLU today.

Thank you for your unwavering faith in the ACLU! Let there be more love in the world. And let wedding bells ring!

Sincerely,

Witold ‘Vic’ Walczak, Esq.
Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

PS – What some of you may not know is that I’m a dancing legend. Bad dancing legend :)

Vic Walczak dancing

Vic dancing on stage at the #DecisionDayPA rally in Pittsburgh (credit: John Altdorfer)