South Dakota Abortion Ban Defeated

Well, what a night (and day)! Among other things, here we have been celebrating the defeat of South Dakota’s abortion ban. Voters turned out to repeal this dangerous restriction on women’s reproductive healthcare (breakdown is 56-44).

The ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project has been supporting the activists involved with South Dakota’s Campaign for Healthy Families for months and some staff were able to join them late last week to help make phone calls and go door-to-door to make sure people were aware about what was really at stake. Sondra Goldschein, State Strategies Attorney, wrote in her blog entry:

Someone should tell my body that this race is now over. This morning, I woke up at 6:00am ready to put on my “No on 6” t-shirt and spring into campaign mode. But not today–today is the time to savor these amazing victories against attempts to interfere with our personal and private decisionmaking.

Yes, let’s all savor this moment because we all know that there’s still so much more work to be done. Thanks to ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Campaign for Healthy Families, and all the volunteers who live in or traveled to South Dakota for all their hard work.

Woo-hoo!

Julie in Philly

Radio calls on voting machine problems bogus

It turns out the calls to the local AM station about problems with electronic voting machines were just activists behaving badly:

In Dauphin County, a group of people opposed to the use of electronic voting machines called in bogus reports to a local radio station. Several callers said they voted for one party but their votes were recorded for the opposite party.

Dauphin County election chief Steve Chiavetta said there were no such problems in Dauphin County.

Chiavetta said the callers had targeted Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland and York counties with false reports about problems with electronic machines.

Actually, it would be impossible to have those kinds of problems in Dauphin County because we are using the same machines we’ve used since I was a kid, although the callers I heard did not identify the county. In Dauphin, we use a lighted push board. You push the button by your candidate and a flashing red light appears next to his/her name, and then you push a green “Vote” button. My parents took us into those booths when we were kids, a tradition carried on this morning by my wife with our daughter.

Meanwhile, the polls are going to stay open an extra hour in Lebanon County due to operator failure:

But by mid-morning, Ludwig isolated the voting machine problem to faulty disks her staff prepared for each of the county’s voting machines.

“It was our fault,” Carpenter said, not the voting machine manufacturer.

And the Department of State is happy with the electronic voting machines, which is a relief:

“Overall, we’re pretty happy with the way things are going,” said Department of State spokeswoman Cathy Ennis. Out of the 9,271 polling places and the more than 25,000 voting machines (across the state) it’s a very small percentage of problems. And most of those were technical glitches when the polls opened that have been resolved.”

Andy in H-burg

Rock the vote!

So today democracy is in full swing. Feel free to share your Election Day anecdotes here. No SF bloggers will tell you, of course, who we voted for since ACLU-PA is nonpartisan. I will tell you, though, that I asked myself these questions about the candidates: Will this person uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution? Does this person believe in liberty and justice for all?

Already, at 9:28am EST, stories are popping up about problems with electronic voting machines. Our local AM newstalk station reported that they received about six calls from voters from unidentified counties who claimed that when they pushed the buttons for candidates for one party, the candidates from the other party popped up. Fortunately, all of the callers said they were able to fix it before finalizing their votes.

Here’s a more benign machine problem:
Pennlive.com: Voting machine glitch strikes some Lebanon County machines

Also, here’s an op-ed from yesterday’s Harrisburg Patriot News that I found thought-provoking. A professor at Juniata College states that voter registration disenfranchises voters. I’m not aware of an ACLU position on this issue. As a general rule, we believe in expanding the vote, not restricting it:

Long before the first ballot is cast tomorrow, government officials in 44 states and the District of Columbia already will have taken away the right to vote in the upcoming congressional elections from more than 53 million Americans. No, they are not under the age of 18, illegal immigrants or convicted felons.

They are citizens whose only crime is being too busy to notice the arbitrary cutoff date for voter registration.

UPDATE, 10:30am: I intended to put this in the original post but forgot. Here’s a piece on prisoners at Bucks County prison (suburban Philly) opting not to vote, even though many/most of them have that right. Speaking of expanding voting rights…

Andy in Harrisburg

To everything…turn, turn, turn

The ACLU has returned to court for the latest round in the battle against Internet censorship with ACLU v. Gonzales…

originally ACLU v. Reno…

then ACLU v. Ashcroft…

and now ACLU v. Gonzales.

My, how time flies.

The ACLU is challenging the “Child Online Protection Act” (COPA), which would impose draconian criminal sanctions, with penalties of up to $50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment, for online material acknowledged as valuable for adults but judged “harmful to minors.” The court will decide whether the law violates the constitutional right to free speech.

The Child Online Protection Act sounds like it would be all about restricting kiddie porn, right? Not quite. Our clients include Salon.com Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh and Aaron Peckham, owner and maintainer of UrbanDictionary.com, among a number of others. (Check out the entries for ACLU in the Urban Dictionary.)

In the spirit of Dover, ACLU National staff is blogging on the trial. Testifying today is Professor Ronald Mann, a law professor who specializes in the study of electronic commerce and payment systems with a particular emphasis on credit cards.

The ACLU also set up a pretty good page on this case here.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Miscarriage of justice in Allentown

The case of Dennis Counterman, a case that death penalty opponents have tracked for many years, finally resolved itself two weeks ago when Counterman took an Alford plea in which he accepted lesser charges, without admitting guilt, in exchange for time served and his freedom.

Counterman was in prison for 18 years, including 11 years on death row, for a crime he likely did not commit. In fact, the house fire that killed his three sons was probably not a crime at all and instead a tragic accident that was set by one of his sons. Counterman was convicted because the Lehigh County DA’s office withheld multiple pieces of evidence that pointed to his innocence.

Here is some coverage:

(Allentown) Morning Call: Death row to freedom
Morning Call op-ed by yours truly: Counterman case highlights death penalty problems
CounterPunch, Joey DeRaymond of Lehigh Valley Committe Against State Killing: A Case of Injustice in Pennsylvania

Andy in the HBG

Digging, Chipping, To-may-to, To-mah-to

If you’re a woman who’s had an abortion in Kansas, your medical records are likely to be reviewed by Attorney General Phill Kline in his quest to find “rapists, sex offenders with child victims and doctors involved in abortions.”

The Kansas City Star reports:

Attorney General Phill Kline’s office has received records from 90 patients at two abortion clinics and is reviewing for evidence of possible crimes.

Kline, who is opposed to a woman’s right to an abortion, is not only seeking to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence. He says the doctors who would be under investigation “could include physicians performing abortions, providing a second opion for late-term abortions or failing to report abuse of a child.”

Women who have had abortions in Kansas are not the only vulnerable ones in this scenario. Although the attorney for one Planned Parenthood clinic said “the records don’t show any wrongdoings by the clinic,” doctors who perform abortions will be subject to the extreme scrutiny of Kline’s office. Abortion rights supporters believe that Kline’s motive is not solely to find and prosecute sexual predators–they believe “he’s on a fishing expedition designed to ensnare the clinics.”

Kline’s opponent in this election race is District Attorney Paul Morrison. Morrison’s campaign manager says,

“Phill Kline has used the power of the attorney general’s office to finally get what he wanted all along: the chance to dig through Kansans’ private medical records. . . It’s desperate and it’s dangerous.”

In South Dakota (abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest), in California (Proposition 85), in Pennsylvania (where conservative politicians want to prevent a woman’s access to contraception), and in Kansas. . .it’s male politicians who seem to be leading the way in chipping away at a woman’s right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

You know, I bet all of our problems would be solved if only everyone received abstinence-only-until-marriage indoctrination from the age of 6 until they were no longer of reproductive age (see yesterday’s post). I guess this means for you men out there, you’ll have to suffer through the federal government’s lessons on chastity a little longer than us gals since we can bail after menopause. Could this be a really twisted triumph for women!?

Julie in Philly

What’s Common Sense Got to Do With It?

Since this little tid-bit of information got quite a chuckle at our staff meeting today, I thought I’d let you in on the “joke”.

The federal government has recently expanded the targeted age group for which abstinence-only-until-marriage funds are directed. Now, it won’t just be children who receive inaccurate and biased information about sex and sexuality. Unmarried adults up to the age of 29 are the latest age group that the federal government is trying to make chaste. From yesterday’s USA Today:

“They’ve stepped over the line of common sense,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that supports sex education. “To be preaching abstinence when 90% of people are having sex [according to the National Center for Health Statistics for ages 20-29] is in essence to lose touch with reality. It’s an ideological campaign. It has nothing to do with public health.”

For many of us, it’s not such a surprise that the Bush administration has lost touch with reality. But, since the majority of us think in terms of the real world, let’s think about how this would play out.

Imagine that a 29 year-old single male might be told,

For condoms to be used correctly, over 10 specific difficult steps must be followed every time. This tends to minimize the romance and spontaneity of the sex act. (Choosing the Best, p. 25).

Or, a 25 year-old female would be told this about how her needs differ from a male partner (because that is the only possible option–apparently, if we ignore homosexuality it will not exist):

“Women need affection while men need sexual fulfillment; women need conversation while men need recreation companionship; women need honest and openness while men need physical attractiveness; women need financial support while men need admiration, and women need family commitment while men need domestic support” (WAIT Training, p. 199).

While I can’t help but laugh, it’s quite scary to think about how this new “clarification” in the federal government’s grant guidelines may impact public health.

Remember, if you’re in your late 20s and still single (whether or not getting married is in your life plan and/or legal for you and your partner), it’s not too late to take a virginity pledge!

Julie in Philly

First victory in Hazleton


Congrats to our great legal team, who picked up a “W” yesterday when a federal judge ruled that Hazleton cannot enforce its anti-immigrant ordinance until November 14:

U.S. District Judge James Munley, ruling that landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics face the prospect of “irreparable harm” from the laws, issued a temporary restraining order blocking their enforcement.

“We find it in the public interest to protect residents access to homes, education, jobs and businesses,” he wrote in a 13-page opinion.

Mayor Lou Barletta, who spearheaded the law, has argued that illegal immigrants have brought an increase in drugs, crime and gangs to the city. The city’s lawyers on Tuesday cited a 10 percent increase in crime between 2004 and 2005 as a reason why the ordinances should be enforced.

Munley, however, wrote that the city “offers only vague generalizations about the crime allegedly caused by illegal immigrants, but has nothing concrete to back up these claims.”

Which is what we’ve been saying almost from the start.

Here’s some local coverage of the decision. And here’s a good AP article that appeared on the WaPo’s website yesterday:

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the measure for at least two weeks, but the evidence suggests many Hispanics- illegal or otherwise- have already left.

That, in turn, has hobbled the city’s Hispanic business district, where some shops have closed and others are struggling to stay open.

“Before, it was a nice place,” said Soto, 27, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic a decade ago. “Now, we have a war against us. I am legal but I feel the pressure also.”

Pennsylvania native Kim Lopez and her husband, Rudy, a Mexican immigrant, closed their grocery store Oct. 1 after business tailed off dramatically over the summer. They lost more than $10,000- their life savings.

“Everyone was running scared and left town,” said Lopez, 39. “We had customers who came in who were legal citizens and they didn’t want the harassment and hassle and told us they were leaving.”

Andy in H-burg