Keeping Score: FDA and Justice Dept. Improve Abortion Pill Access; Patty Murray Makes Senate History; Remembering Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Barbara Walters

In every issue of Ms., we track research on our progress in the fight for equality, catalogue can’t-miss quotes from feminist voices and keep tabs on the feminist movement’s many milestones. We’re Keeping Score online, too—in in this biweekly round-up.


Lest We Forget

“The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help. … President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too. I will use my platform to do whatever I can to help you. I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be whole.”

—A statement from WNBA player Brittney Griner following her release from Russian prison on Dec. 8, months after she was arrested and sentenced for cannabis possession in mid-February. She landed in San Antonio soon after, where she was reunited with her wife and parents.

“Today, the FDA did the job it is designed to do. It made a decision that is rooted in medical evidence and science, not politics and ideology. As a result, mifepristone can officially now be accessed without the burdensome and medically unnecessary in-person dispensing requirements. …

“As physicians and providers of comprehensive reproductive healthcare for our communities, we work to build a world where abortion care is no longer singled out, shrouded in shame and stigma, or subject to unnecessary restrictions. We seek a world where access to abortion care is safe, equitable and accessible, including access in pharmacies. This is the future we seek.”

—President and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health Dr. Jamila Perritt in response to the FDA’s approval of mifepristone in retail pharmacies in states where it is legal. Though patients will still need a prescription, they can obtain them at local pharmacies rather than at healthcare facilities or through the mail.

Abortion rights activists demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, as the justices hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case which ultimately resulted in the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

“We are proud to have defeated Lebanon’s attempt to criminalize social workers for simply doing their jobs. Prior to our successful litigation, social workers across Ohio were at risk of being sent to jail not only for helping people access essential healthcare but even just providing therapeutic space for clients to talk about abortion. This is a critical victory in ensuring our clients receive quality care.”

—Danielle Smith, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in Ohio, where the city of Lebanon was challenged and defeated for its attempt to criminalize those who aid or abet abortion procedures.

“This litigation exposes local ordinance bans as dangerous acts of political theater, and our lawsuit demanded accountability for the logistical and legal nightmare Lebanon’s City Council created. This win is so unique in the context of our post-Dobbs legal landscape, establishing a strong, united front against these heinous attacks.”

—Interim executive director of the Abortion Fund of Ohio, Maggie Scotece, on the legislative victory.

Milestones

+ Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist, died at age 84 on Thurday, Dec. 1. She and Ms. founder Gloria Steinem were close friends and embarked on a national speaking tour together in the 1970s.

A protester holds a poster with an image of Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, during a rally against the killing of George Floyd at Foley Square on May 29, 2020, in New York City. (Kevin Mazur / Getty Images)

“Hughes’ style as a speaker was to directly call out the racism she saw in the white women’s movement. She frequently took to the stage to articulate the way in which white women’s privilege oppressed Black women, yet she offered the example of her explicit friendship with Steinem as proof that this obstacle could be overcome,” author Laura Lovett wrote in Ms. “In more general terms, their relationship speaks to tensions in the early women’s movement regarding race and the ease with which Black women’s experience and activism could be pushed to the margins.”

+ Barbara Walters, the first female anchor of an evening news program, died on Friday, Dec. 30 at age 93, over 46 years after first joining ABC News. She subsequently hosted 20/20, followed by The View in 1997.

“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” Walters said regarding her last appearance on The View in 2014. “I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women—and okay, some men too—who will be taking my place.”

+ Dr. Alan Braid, a physician in San Antonio, was sued for aiding or abetting an abortion, but a Texas state court recently discarded the lawsuit. Last year, he intentionally violated Texas’s S.B. 8 by performing an abortion after more than six weeks of pregnancy. The ruling does not overturn S.B. 8, but it “sets an important precedent” for enforcement.

An abortion rights demonstrator outside of the Harris County Courthouse in Houston during the Women’s March on Oct. 8, 2022. (Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)

+ A legal opinion from the Justice Department condoned the delivery of abortion medication via the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

“We conclude that [the statute] does not prohibit the mailing, or the delivery or receipt by mail, of mifepristone or misoprostol where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully,” chief Christopher Schroeder of the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote.

+ In a historic victory, the Senate added the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to the end-of-year omnibus package, after Senate Republicans attempted to block it. It will provide accommodations to ensure that employees can safely continue working throughout their pregnancy

+ Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law sweeping reproductive healthcare legislation to protect out-of-state abortion seekers. “We are ensuring that Illinois will continue to serve the thousands of people traveling to our state every month to receive abortions and other reproductive and gender-affirming health care, which they can no longer access in their home states,” said state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D).

+ The expansion of a Justice Department program will permit the early release of some women who experience sexual assault while federally incarcerated. Deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco is encouraging inmates who have been victims of abuse by prison employees to apply for early release.

+ Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will be the first woman president pro tempore of the Senate, following elections on Tuesday, Jan. 3. She first joined the Senate in 1992, and will now be third in line for presidential succession.

+ Colorado became the second state to have a majority-women state legislature in 2023, with women making up nearly two-third of the House. It also has the largest LGBTQ caucus nationally, and women serve in the House’s top three leadership positions.

How We’re Doing

+ With its new Republic majority, the House of Representatives will have twice as many committee chairs named Mike or Michael (six) as it will have women chairs (three). The previous Congress had seven women serving as committee chairs.

+ The Prison Policy Initiative analyzed data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2019-20 and found that not only are police interacting with Black people disproportionately likely to employ threats or use of force, but that Black residents also “experience police misconduct at 12 times the rate of white residents.”

Additionally, women have seen a 488 percent increase in police use of force between 1999 and 2020, as compared to 148 percent among men. One-in-seven adults age 65 and older experienced police contact, and “the number of older people experiencing the threat or use of force nearly doubled between 2018 and 2020.”

+ Nearly a quarter of the top 20 TV markets lack any AAPI representation, according to a new report from the Asian American Journalists Association studied, and found that amongst reporters. Seventy percent of the 94 stations analyzed are not representative of AAPI populations in their own communities.

“You can say that these issues are important to you, but you’re not acting upon that intention. So that was really surprising to us,” AAJA director of programs and partnerships Waliya Lari said.

+ Of 60 “abortion plotlines or mentions” on television in 2022, at least one-third of them “portrayed barriers to access,” according to a study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at UCSF. (In 2021, only two shows illustrated the challenges of obtaining an abortion.)

However, only 6 percent of the characters had medication abortions, which comprise more than half of real-life abortions in the U.S. “We hope these shows and others continue to build on these depictions by giving main characters abortion plotlines instead of only guest actors and working to reflect the reality of abortion patients in the U.S.,” the report authors wrote.

+ Nine of the top 20 living composers in 2022 were women, according to Bachtrack’s analysis of the most performed contemporary composers. The full report lists 106 composers and includes 27 Americans, 10 of which were women.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About

Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a sophomore at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.