Webinar: Communicating for Change

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National Council of Jewish Women leaders are the ambassadors who represent NCJW to Section members, advocates, and broader communities. In this webinar, hone communications skills for how we talk about NCJW, share our passion for the work, and communicate effectively about why others should care about and support our mission. Sarah Garfinkel, Senior Director at West End Strategy Team, shares core national messaging along with storytelling tools to add to your repertoire. Learn how to strengthen our message and bring more attention to NCJW’s social change work and community impact across the country.

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Webinar: What Judaism Really Teaches About Abortion

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Reproductive freedom is a Jewish value. Our tradition not only permits the termination of pregnancy, but even requires it when the life of the pregnant person is at stake. It’s time to reclaim the narrative around religion and access to abortion. Now, more than ever, we need to show that supporting reproductive health, rights, and justice is an issue of moral concern, of religious concern, and of Jewish concern.

In this webinar, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, NCJW’s Scholar in Residence, teaches how to make the Jewish case for abortion access, so that you can speak about our tradition’s approach from a place of deep knowledge and understanding. In preparation for NCJW’s inaugural Repro Shabbat (Feb. 12-13), this webinar shares tools to get involved, partner locally with other organizations, and plan a Repro Shabbat program.

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On the Hill Updates: January 15, 2021

Federal Courts

SCOTUS decides first abortion case with Justice Barrett

On January 12, the Supreme Court issued a shameful decision in its first abortion case following the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In Food and Drug Administration (FDA) v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Court reinstated the FDA’s requirement that mifepristone, an abortion medication, can only be picked up in person at a clinic or hospital. In the midst of a global pandemic that has infected more than 20 million Americans and left at least 370,000 dead, each contact poses a risk of contracting the virus. Mifepristone can be prescribed remotely and does not need to be taken under medical supervision. Forcing people to pick up the medication in person — a requirement that does not exist for any of the other 20,000 plus FDA-approved drugs on the market — unnecessarily jeopardizes patient well-being and lives and undermines public health efforts. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her thoughtful dissent, “maintaining the FDA’s in-person requirements for mifepristone during the pandemic not only treats abortion exceptionally, it imposes an unnecessary, irrational, and unjustifiable undue burden on women seeking to exercise their right to choose.” While the Court’s decision, in this case, is narrow and the incoming Biden-Harris administration can likely reverse the FDA’s policy, it proves what we already know to be true: the six conservative justices do not support the constitutional right to abortion and will continue to undermine Roe v. Wade. NCJW advocates for the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) and the EACH Woman Act, federal legislation with the potential to create a future where all — particularly those struggling to make ends meet; Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities; young people; immigrants; and LGBTQ individuals who are disproportionately impacted by bans and restrictions — can access the abortion services they need without cost barriers, delays, or burdensome limitations.

  • Take Action! Urge your lawmakers to commit to passing WHPA and EACH when they are reintroduced in the 117th

SCOTUS accepts new case to watch, hears immigrant rights case

On January 8, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Sanchez v. Wolf, which will determine whether people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who did not enter the country legally are eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. TPS allows immigrants from countries facing war or natural disasters to living and works legally in the United States. The Sixth and Ninth Circuits ruled that these individuals could apply for LPR status, but the Third Circuit ruled they cannot. This ruling could impact hundreds of thousands of people.

On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Pham v. Guzman Chavez, which examines whether immigrants applying for an asylum-like form of protection called “withholding of removal” are eligible to seek bond while their cases are pending or whether they have to spend the entire duration of their cases (which could be years, including appeals) in detention. Read more about the case in NCJW’s “What’s At Stake? US Supreme Court 2020-2021 Term” resource. NCJW is watching this case closely and opposes immigration detention, including indefinite detention, and believes that immigrants are entitled to due process prior to deportation.

Administration’s efforts to undermine the census fizzle

On December 18, the Supreme Court dismissed Trump v. New York, a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count used to allot seats in the House of Representatives. In July 2020, President Trump issued a memorandum stating that the total population used for apportionment would not include undocumented immigrants, a decision blocked by the Southern District of New York and ultimately appealed up to the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision was only about timing, not the merits of the case, and in its wake, the administration continued its efforts to create a count of undocumented immigrants in order to remove that total from the census. However, this week, the head of the Census Bureau, under pressure from internal whistleblowers and the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), ended the administration’s efforts to produce this count. Officials in the Census Bureau reported to the OIG that the data was not ready and what they were being asked to do was “statistically indefensible.” NCJW was watching this case closely, and is relieved by both the Supreme Court’s ruling and this week’s decision to abandon these unconstitutional efforts. We applaud the courage of the whistleblowers within the Census Bureau and call on the Biden administration to formally rescind the deeply flawed memo.

Trump continues to nominate judges

On January 3, President Trump submitted 16 new federal judicial nominations to the Senate for consideration, including four new lifetime appointments. With the fast-approaching inauguration of President-elect Biden and COVID-19 infection rates continuing to climb during the initial stages of vaccine distribution, this is another unprecedented and irresponsible move. While the Senate is currently in recess until January 20, the continued nominations to the judiciary reflect a deep callousness toward the needs of millions of people negatively impacted by the pandemic and an irresponsible commitment to ultraconservative political aims.

Fourth Circuit rejects anti-refugee order

In September 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order allowing state and local jurisdictions to veto refugee resettlement, and further, requiring jurisdictions to actively consent to resettlement. Three refugee resettlement agencies (HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service) challenged the order, and this week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a nationwide injunction put in place by a district court last year. The order was one of many attacks by the administration on the nation’s refugee resettlement program. NCJW applauds this ruling and joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting the refugee resettlement agencies.

Voter Engagement

DC statehood bill introduced

On January 4, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced HR 51, which would make the District of Columbia the nation’s fifty-first state and give its more than 700,000 citizens two senators and one representative in Congress. In the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed HR 51 but the Senate did not take up the legislation. NCJW supports this critical bill, as DC statehood is both a voting rights and racial justice issue.

  • Take Action!

Civil Rights

Trump administration advances harmful regulations

The Trump administration continues to finalize regulations paring back civil rights for people of color, LGBTQ people, and others. On January 8, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a final rule rolling back Obama-era regulations that barred HHS grantees from discriminating based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion, as well as requiring grantees to treat same-sex marriages as valid. This rule will impact foster care and adoption agencies, health services, and more.

This week, the administration announced its intent to finalize its “disparate impact” rule, which will change how it enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin, and covers education, employers, hospitals, and beyond. The change would narrow the law’s protections by only applying to cases where intentional discrimination can be proved, and not cases in which unintentional discrimination occurs. NCJW and other civil rights groups oppose this change as intentional discrimination is very difficult to prove. While the final rule is imminent, the Biden administration is expected to take action to roll it back.

While not a regulation, this week the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a memorandum that it would only consider certain forms of discrimination based on LGBTQ identity as discrimination under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions, like public schools) and that “sex” should only be interpreted to mean “biological sex, male and female.” The memo was in response to a 2020 Supreme Court decision, Bostock, which ruled that “sex” in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin) should be interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The memo is expected to be rescinded by the incoming Biden administration, but NCJW condemns it as just one more attack against LGBTQ students.

Human Needs

Biden introduces first massive recovery plan

On January 14, President-elect Biden introduced the first in his two-part plan to help the nation respond and recover from the twin crises of the pandemic and an economic recession. Part one — the American Rescue Plan — is a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package to fund vaccinations, provide immediate and direct relief to families bearing the brunt of COVID-19, and support struggling communities. It includes many of NCJW’s priorities to help women, children, and families: emergency paid sick and family leave; extended unemployment benefits, eviction moratorium, and increased nutrition assistance; funding for state and local governments; $1400 for individuals, including households with immigrants; additional child care funding; aggressive action to speed vaccinations and contain the virus; and more. Importantly, the package focuses on those hit hardest, communities of color and women of color in particular. While NCJW urges additional funding to buttress the child care system, we support this critically needed plan. We urge Congress to swiftly approve the President-elect’s emergency relief package, which would help so many people in need as infections increase and job losses mount.

  • Take Action! Contact your lawmakers to urge their support for the next COVID-relief package.

Sign-on Letters

  • On January 8, NCJW joined a women’s community letter signed by 26 female leaders/heads of organizations to condemn the actions of January 6.
  • On January 9, NCJW joined 51 organizations on a letter to House and Senate leadership in support of the COVID Community Care Act (HR 8192/S 4941).

On the Hill Updates: January 8, 2021

Federal Courts

Trump continues to nominate judges

On January 3, President Trump submitted 16 new federal judicial nominations to the Senate for consideration, including four new lifetime appointments. With only weeks until the inauguration of President-elect Biden and COVID-19 infection rates continuing to climb during the initial stages of vaccine distribution, this is another unprecedented and irresponsible move. While the Senate is currently in recess until January 20, the continued nominations to the judiciary reflect a deep callousness toward the needs of millions of people negatively impacted by the pandemic and an irresponsible commitment to ultraconservative political aims.

Voter Engagement

House prioritizes democracy reforms

Signaling the priority for the new Congress, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) introduced HR 1/ S 949, For the People Act, on January 4. This first bill introduced — a package of sweeping democracy reforms — was introduced in the last Congress and passed the House (234-193). HR 1 would expand access to the ballot box, restore the Voting Rights Act, end dark money in politics, buttress our campaign finance laws, impose ethics enforcement, and more. NCJW supports HR 1/S 949, a transformative bill that would make voting simpler, safer, and fairer; hold our elected officials accountable, and put democracy back in the hands of the people.

On the Hill Updates: December 18, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Trump administration continues attacks on reproductive health care

On December 16, the Trump administration announced two actions aimed at limiting access to reproductive health care in specific states using federal religious refusal laws. First, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center alleging that its policy for providing abortion care violates the federal Church Amendment, which specifies that receipt of federal funding under certain laws does not require any individual to perform or assist in sterilization or abortion procedures if those procedures are contrary to the individual’s religious or moral beliefs. Second, the Department of Health and Human Services announced they are withholding $200 million per quarter in federal Medicaid funds from the state of California, claiming that California’s abortion coverage requirement is a violation of the federal Weldon Amendment. The Weldon Amendment is actually a subsection of the Hyde Amendment found in Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bills; the rider prohibits federal agencies and programs and state and local governments that receive money under the bill from “discriminating” against individuals, health care facilities, insurance plans, and other entities because they refuse to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

Let’s be clear: allowing the personal beliefs of health care entities and providers to override patient care jeopardizes public health and lives. Religious liberty is meant to be a shield protecting free exercise, not a sword used to advance the administration’s anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ agenda and to deny vulnerable patients needed care. What’s more, stripping our nation’s most populous state of federal Medicaid dollars — meant to provide essential insurance coverage and services to people who are struggling financially and are already facing multiple, intersecting barriers to accessing health care — in the midst of a raging global pandemic is morally bankrupt and absolutely unconscionable. NCJW strongly opposes all religious refusals laws, clauses, and regulations and supports the EACH Woman Act (HR 1692/S 758) to ensure abortion coverage in federal health programs and to prohibit interference in private insurance coverage of abortion.

Federal Courts

Senate votes to maintain all-white Seventh Circuit

On December 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed Thomas Kirsch for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a 51-44 vote, making it the only all-white appellate court in the nation. Thomas Kirsch, who now fills Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s former seat, is the fifth nominee named by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit, none of whom were people of color. In addition to this move adding to the dire lack of diversity on our federal bench overall, the Seventh Circuit presides over 7.5 million people of color between Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. The circuit lost its only judge of color early in the current administration due to retirement, and President Trump has only named white nominees since then. Adding to this, President Obama had named Myra Selby, the first woman and Black woman on the Indiana Supreme Court, to this seat in January 2016. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Selby, keeping the seat open for President Trump to eventually fill with now Justice Amy Coney Barrett. NCJW opposed the confirmation of Kirsch and continues to fight for a diverse federal bench that reflects the communities it serves.

Senate continues to focus on unqualified judicial nominee instead of COVID relief

On December 17, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on Thompson Michael Dietz, who has been nominated for a 15-year appointment to the US Court of Federal Claims. The full Senate is expected to vote on Saturday, December 19. By his own account, Dietz has not tried a case during his law practice. While he does have fifteen years of experience in federal government contracts, he lacks the litigation experience necessary for this federal judiciary position. Notwithstanding, it is unprecedented for the Senate to be confirming judges during a lame-duck Congress — it has only happened one time and with bipartisan support. With COVID cases on the rise across the country and no relief package in months, the Senate needs to get their priorities in order and focus on the immediate needs of the American people. NCJW opposes Dietz; prioritizing judges over people in the middle of a pandemic is shameful and misguided.

SCOTUS rejects religious school COVID challenge

The Supreme Court on December 17 declined to exempt religious schools in Kentucky from a state order to temporarily shutting down in person instruction at elementary, middle, and high schools due to the coronavirus. The case was brought by a Christian school in Kentucky and the Attorney General. While similar to other cases restricting religious services that have already come before the Court, in this instance, the state closed all K-12 schools, not just the religious ones — indicating no hostility to religion. Further, the Court noted the temporary order is due to expire shortly. The Court did leave open the possibility that the case could be brought back to the Court should the governor issue another school closing order. Justices Alito and Gorsuch issued separate dissents.

Human Needs

Lawmakers scramble to address COVID and budget

As this update goes to press, Congress has yet to pass a budget bill to keep the government funded beyond 11:59 pm ET on December 18. Lawmakers are also continuing negotiations on the contours of a COVID relief bill expected to be attached to the larger $1.4 trillion government funding measure. Based largely on the bipartisan proposal circulated last week, the $900 billion relief package could include $600 in individual payments (including mixed-status families) and $300 per week for 10 weeks in supplemental Unemployment Insurance benefits — with aid to state and local governments, and emergency child care and paid sick leave absent from the bill. While not as robust as we would like, NCJW is pleased these items are included. Still at issue is a Republican demand to end the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending program, which could hamstring the incoming Bident administration’s ability to provide future aid without congressional action. Thanks to calls from advocates, the current draft does not include a liability shield for businesses. Importantly, the details and programs could change as negotiations continue. If lawmakers can’t agree to pass another short-term continuing resolution, it is expected that the government will shut down for a brief period as negotiators work to finalize details and pass a package in both chambers to send to the president’s desk for signature. In addition to stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits, NCJW is fighting for inclusion of critical programs: an extension of rent forgiveness, eviction moratorium, emergency paid leave, state and local aid, and increases to nutrition assistance.

  • Take Action! Call your lawmakers TODAY! As COVID cases climb and our economy plummets, this could be our last chance for a meaningful package to meet the urgent needs of American workers and families.

Sign-On Letters

  • On December 14, NCJW joined 80 organizations on a statement expressing the need for President-elect Joe Biden to name an attorney general of the United States and other senior leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice who have strong records with regard to civil rights enforcement and justice reform.
  • On December 14, NCJW and 50 other organizations representing a diversity of stakeholders joined a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission urging withdrawal or suspension of action on the Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination.
  • On December 15, NCJW joined 79 organizations on a women’s community letter to the President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris transition urging a COVID relief package that centers Black and Brown women, including immigrant women.

On the Hill Update: December 11, 2020

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

House committee considers the impact of abortion coverage restrictions.

On December 8, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a virtual hearing on “The Impact on Women Seeking an Abortion but are Denied Because of an Inability to Pay.” The hearing, which you can watch here, investigated the effects of coverage bans like the Hyde Amendment, which has long blocked those enrolled in federal health programs from using their insurance to pay for abortion care. Expert witnesses Dr. Herminia Palacio (Guttmacher Institute), Dr. Jamila Perritt (Physicians for Reproductive Health), and Amanda Beatriz Williams (Lilith Fund) explained that this policy disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and is a painful example of how systemic racism permeates our federal laws and regulations. On the other hand, the opposition witness, Christina Bennett (Family Institute of Connecticut), and lawmakers intended to spread harmful rhetoric and misinformation about abortion. As a reminder, abortion is safe — safer than getting your wisdom teeth out and safer when performed early — and so-called “pregnancy resource centers” are better known as fake clinics that use misleading language, websites, and signage to deceive pregnant people. NCJW was proud to lead a letter from 60 religiously-affiliated and values-based organizations, including 27 NCJW sections, calling on Congress to pass the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act (HR 1692/S 758) to end Hyde and related restrictions permanently and to prohibit political interference in private insurance coverage of abortion.

Federal Courts

#CourtsMatter to immigration

On December 4, two consequential court decisions pertaining to immigration were issued. In El Paso County v. Trump, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that President Trump could redirect $3.6 billion in military funds to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. The court concluded that those challenging the policy were not able to prove that they were sufficiently harmed and, therefore, had no legal standing to sue, overturning an earlier decision finding that Trump broke the law by declaring a national emergency to redirect military money after Congress specifically refused to pay for the wall construction. This term, the Supreme Court will hear a related case, Trump v. Sierra Club, brought by the administration after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the transfer of funds was illegal. NCJW watches this case closely and believes that diverting funds for an unnecessary border wall earmarked for other efforts is shortsighted, misguided, and no substitution for humane immigration and refugee policy.

In much better news, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York finally ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program following a lengthy legal battle. In June, the Supreme Court held that the process through which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attempted to end the program — which allows nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children to live and work here — was illegal. However, this incomplete victory did not prevent the administration from ending the program through other means as Chad Wolf, the Undersecretary of DHS’s Office for Strategy, Policy, and Plans, issued a July memo directing personnel “to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA.” While President Trump named Wolf Acting DHS Secretary in November 2019, the Eastern District for New York held that he was not lawfully serving in this role under the Homeland Security Act and, as such, lacked the authority to make changes to DACA, rendering the memo legally void. While the program’s future remains uncertain, this ruling will protect thousands of people from deportation by forcing the administration to accept applications from new potential recipients (also known as Dreamers). NCJW celebrates this decision and supports the DREAM and Promise Act (HR 6) to provide Dreamers with a permanent citizenship path.

Victory for transgender advocates as SCOTUS rejects bathroom case.

On December 7, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case aimed at ending an Oregon school district’s policy of allowing transgender students to use facilities that match their gender identity. Parents for Privacy, a group of students and parents, argued that the district’s “Student Safety Plan” violates the privacy rights of cisgender parents and students, as well as Title IX.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit after it found the district’s plan “sought to avoid discrimination and ensure the safety and well-being of transgender students” and “did not violate Title IX.” The Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal means that this ruling stands, permitting transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity. NCJW applauds this decision to protect the civil and human rights of transgender youth.

Senate prioritizes federal judicial nominees over COVID relief.

On December 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination of Thomas Kirsch for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Thomas Kirsch, nominated to fill now Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s seat, is the fifth nominee named by President Trump to the Seventh Circuit, all of whom are white — adding to the dire lack of diversity on our federal circuit courts. Before President Trump’s nomination of Barrett to fill the seat, President Obama had named Myra Selby, the first woman and Black woman on the Indiana Supreme Court, in January 2016. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Selby, keeping the seat open for an eventual President Trump to fill. And Thompson Michael Dietz, nominated to a 15-year appointment to the US Court of Federal Claims, was passed out of committee in October and currently awaits a vote in the full Senate. By his own account, Dietz has not tried a case during his law practice. Notwithstanding the concerning backgrounds of these nominees, it is unprecedented for the Senate to be confirming judges during a lame-duck Congress — it has only happened one time and with bipartisan support. NCJW opposes Kirsch and Dietz. Prioritizing judges over people in the middle of a pandemic is shameful and misguided.

Human Needs

Budget, stimulus talks continue

On December 9, the House passed (343-67) a short-term measure (HR 8900) to keep the government open through December 18. The Senate must pass the bill so the president can sign it into law before midnight on December 11. HR 8900 extends current government funding beyond the deadline of December 11 to give appropriators time to finish both the omnibus spending bill and a COVID relief measure to go along with it. While there is largely agreed on the omnibus spending bill, House and Senate leaders are at odds over COVID relief: from the price tag to Senator McConnell’s insistence on a liability shield for businesses to bipartisan calls for including aid to state and local governments to stimulus checks for individuals to an extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits. As we approach the end of the year, 12 million Americans are expected to lose their unemployment benefits, with even more people impacted by the federal eviction moratorium’s expiration. Because a budget bill must pass, it is now or never to provide real relief before conditions worsen for millions. NCJW supports a package that includes our urgent priorities to protect women, children, and families — especially the Black people disproportionately infected and killed by the virus.

Immigration and Refugees

Trump administration eviscerates asylum protections with final rule

On December 10, the Trump administration finalized regulations marking the most sweeping attack on his presidency’s asylum. The 419-page rule from the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice would once again make it more difficult for asylum seekers to find safety in the United States by (among many harmful provisions) increasing the standard of proof in “credible fear” screenings, summarily dismissing claims of persecution based on gender or sexual orientation, and penalizing an asylum seeker for passing through more than one country on their way to the US. These restrictions are set to take effect on January 11, 2021, just days before the President-elect Joe Biden will assume office, and are certain to face legal challenges. NCJW submitted comments vehemently opposing this proposal and works for comprehensive, humane, and equitable asylum laws, policies, and practices.