Gov. Cuomo fights for women
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who coaxed legislators into allowing same-sex marriage two years ago, has challenged them to broaden and strengthen the rights of women, including abortion rights. Should he persuade the Legislature to go along, he would stand in striking contrast to Republican governors across the country who are doing just the opposite.
A bill he proposed last week would provide assurance that abortions would remain safe and legal in New York even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing the right to an abortion. Yet with only two weeks left in New York’s official legislative session, the excuses about why the Women’s Equality Act cannot be passed are already flying.
The Senate’s coalition leadership is working to keep the abortion rights section of the bill from reaching the floor. That is pure legislative cowardice; polls show that even in Republican areas almost two-thirds of women want the option to choose a safe and legal abortion, but the leaders apparently don’t want to risk making anyone unhappy.
Cuomo has been taking his message around the state. At a meeting last Wednesday in Poughkeepsie, he struck a note of outrage before a cheering crowd. “The truth,” he said, “is we discriminate against women in society in this state and in this country, and it is pervasive, and we haven’t admitted it, and it goes on every day, and it’s a shame, and it’s wrong, and it’s immoral, and it’s unethical, and it has to stop, and it’s going to stop in the state of New York, and then it’s going to stop everywhere.”
His bill would strengthen wage protections, prohibit employers from discriminating against women with children, and provide more safeguards from housing discrimination for victims of domestic violence or female heads of household on welfare. It would increase penalties for human trafficking and expand the state’s sexual harassment law to include all workplaces.
But the Senate’s Republican leader, Dean Skelos, says he will not allow the abortion section of the bill to come to the floor, even though some Republican senators would almost certainly support it. And Jeffrey Klein, the Democrat who shares the leadership of the Senate, has insisted that while he supports abortion rights, he also could carve out that section before a floor vote.
The full bill deserves the support of every lawmaker who is ready to do more than talk about equal rights and increased protections for women.
HORRENDOUS ABUSE IN MISSISSIPPI PRISONS
Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the inmates — many seriously mentally ill — at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility. The conditions shock the conscience and, as the complaint charges, have “cost many prisoners their health, and their limbs, their eyesight, and even their lives.”
The “solitary confinement zones house dozens of seriously mentally ill prisoners who are locked down in filthy cells for days, weeks, or even years at a time,” the suit alleges. “Rapes, stabbings, beatings, and other acts of violence are rampant,” and inmates have set fires as “the only way to get medical attention in emergencies.”
This suit is the latest chapter in a series of challenges to horrendous conditions in Mississippi prisons. In March 2012, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson approved an agreement between the state and the Justice Department to reform a prison then called the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. The agreement was in response to a lawsuit, which was also brought by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The abuses there included staff members coercing prisoners to have sex in exchange for food or even phone privileges, officers responding to minor aggression of prisoners by slamming them headfirst into the ground and widespread rape among the young prisoners. A withering Justice Department report called the sexual misconduct by the prison staff and rape there “among the worst that we have seen in any facility anywhere in the nation.”
The conditions at East Mississippi, experts found, were even worse than at Walnut Grove, with “an epidemic of suicide attempts, completed suicides and other self-injurious behavior.”
Under the federal Constitution, Mississippi is responsible for each prisoner’s safety and well-being. These cases make clear, as the Justice Department said, that the state is “deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights” of inmates forced to suffer unspeakable abuse.