ACLU - Focus on Women - Seán Kinane


Last night at the downtown Tampa library, the Greater Tampa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) celebrated Women’s History Month with a program focusing on women’s political presence in Florida. WMNF’s Seán Kinane was there and files this report.

“Of the people who are in poverty in Hillsborough County, and there’s about 22% in poverty, of those, 42% are women with children under the age of five.�

That was Pat Frank, the Clerk of Court for Hillsborough County. She was one of three speakers at the ACLU meeting, which was attended by 25 people. Frank spoke about women’s issues and her life in politics. She said that poverty and the lack of government assistance lead some pregnant women to their only option - abortion:

“There are a lot of reasons why people can’t have more children. And that’s a sad thing to say. But some of it is economic. And the reason is because the government doesn’t help you. There are not programs that are there that really assist you. So if everybody wants to say get rid of abortion, take care of the children for goodness sakes. Take care of the families.�

Frank told of the obstacles she faced in her career because she is a woman, including the sexism and harassment from her professors and peers after she was the first woman to enroll at Georgetown University Law School.

“I really never thought that it was a harassment thing because I thought well, I have to earn my way. They didn’t think I was going to make it and if I can ‘t make it this way I can’t make it at all. So it didn’t strike me as being anything like that, but it was. And the Real Property Professor said gentlemen, I understand there’s a lady in my school, but she’ll never make it through my class.�

Rebecca Steele is the ACLU Regional Director in Tampa. She discussed four current issues in women’s rights that the ACLU is working on: Violence against women, Education, Reproductive Freedom and, as Steel describes, Employment.

“There still remain significant gaps in earnings between men and women of all races. But particularly for women who are African American and Hispanic. And nowhere is the need greater probably than for the rights of low-wage immigrant women workers.�

Steele describes the case of the Town of Castle Rock Colorado vs. Gonzales, which points out the inadequate protection for victims of violence against women.

“A woman was a victim of domestic violence and she had obtained a protective order from her estranged husband that under the law of Colorado the police were mandated to force compliance with. Despite that, although she called the police, contacted them repeatedly, told her that she feared violence from her husband. There had been this in the past she feared that this would happen. They willfully refused to enforce the order. What happened unfortunately was that her husband took the three children, killed them.�

Because US police, laws, and courts have not been responsive enough to the needs of women victims of violence, the ACLU has had to take creative steps, including citing violations of international law.

“The United States is a signatory to the Inter-American Treaty with respect to human rights, so we’ve filed a petition with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and are seeking rights under international law [applause] that women have a human right as a matter of human rights that victims of domestic violence have the right to be protected and that it’s the duty of the state to protect that right that it’s a basic human right and this is really groundbreaking litigation and I’m so proud we’re doing it.�

The Guttmacher Institute has ranked the fifty states and the district of Colombia for their efforts to help women obtain contraceptives. Steel points out how Florida compares with other states.

“Florida ranks 31st in service availability. And it is 42nd in laws and policies. 23rd in public funding and it is 39th overall.�

Steele mentioned that some hospitals that treat victims of rape don’t carry emergency contraceptives, also known as the “morning-after pill� or Plan B.

“Women do have the second chance to prevent an unintended pregnancy with an emergency contraceptive. We surveyed hospitals that provide rape services so that if a woman is raped and she goes into the hospital for treatment and counseling. Unfortunately a lot of the hospitals in Florida do not provide EC. So imagine what you’ve gone through already, you’ve been victimized and then either you’re not provided the information about EC and then you are subjected to the possibility of having become pregnant by someone who has already victimized you.�

Recently the Florida legislature passed the Florida Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which requires physicians performing an abortion on a minor to notify one parent or guardian at least 48 hours before the procedure. For many minors seeking an abortion this is an impossible burden.

When asked why people don’t seem to care about the erosion of their rights, Pat Frank responded that it might be due to taking rights for granted.

“The only thing we haven’t been able to do to our young people is take from them some of their rights so they would understand how valuable they are. And maybe this is what has to happen. Maybe the pendulum is going to have to swing until they begin to fight for what they thought was insured for them. It’s not insured and they will find that out in a very harsh way. And it’s astonishing that other countries have given more protection to women in some cases than we have here and we’re stepping backwards instead of forwards.�

Minors seeking an abortion have the right to request a waiver from a court to end an unexpected pregnancy without telling a parent. Susan Derwin is the new director of the ACLU of Florida’s Providing Access to Teen Health or PATH Project. It is the responsibility of the community to make sure that teens know that the judicial bypass is an option because if they don’t, as Derwin explains, they have as little access to an abortion as they would if it were illegal.

“In South Dakota where a ban was passed last week there’s already a blog that I’ve seen posted that tells women how to self-abort. … This blog contains very, very accurate information. The next thing that happens is that we’re going to have people who are saying oh you don’t need to buy all these instruments. You can take pennyroyal. You can drink Drano. A lot of us remember what was happening before 1973. What needs to be understood is that can be happening now because for teenagers who don’t have a parent they feel they can talk to, it’s just as unavailable as it is in South Dakota.�

There is a bill in the legislature, which would dramatically increase the time a judicial bypass may take, making it even more difficult for minors, as Rebecca Steele explains.

“Representative Stargel from Polk County has filed a really horrible bill. It’s in the House right now. And you should stay alert to this. What Stargel’s bill would do would be to extend that process to as much as 38 days and you realize that for the vast majority of young women that pushes them into the 2nd trimester of pregnancy. Greatly increasing the risk. Greatly increasing the emotional impact this has. And it’s a public health issue not to mention the constitutional problems that we see.�

If you are a lawyer who would like to volunteer or if you are a minor seeking advice on requesting a judicial bypass, contact the PATH Project at the toll-free number 877-FLA-PATH or on the web at

For information about the ACLU of Florida, visit

For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane


PATH Project (Providing Access to Teen Health)
1 (877) FLA-PATH

American Civil Liberties Union

ACLU of Florida

Guttmacher Institute

Rep. John K. Stargel

Pat Frank

comments powered by Disqus