Domestic Human Rights Movement

Appeals Court Hears Case of Purvi Patel

On Monday, the Indiana Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the feticide and child neglect conviction of Purvi Patel. Patel, the first woman in the U.S. to be convicted for terminating her pregnancy, has served 14 months of a 20 year prison sentence. Since her arrest, reproductive justice advocates have argued vehemently that Patel and other women should not be prosecuted for their pregnancy outcomes.

Patel was arrested in 2013 after seeking emergency medical treatment following the loss of her pregnancy. Instead of treating her with respect and quality care, the attending doctor called the police, who interrogated and then arrested her while she was still in her hospital bed. She was later convicted of both neglect of a dependent and feticide (charges which Patel’s lawyers have argued are contradictory).

At Monday’s hearing, Patel’s lawyers argued that that the feticide law in Indiana was intended to protect pregnant women against attacks by third parties, not to prosecute women for having abortions, miscarriages, or stillbirths. The upholding of this conviction would set a dangerous legal precedent for feticide laws being used to punish pregnant women, not only for self-induced abortions but also for drinking, smoking, or any other conduct prosecutors could link to pregnancy outcomes. In addition to denying women their civil and human rights, this precedent may discourage any pregnant person from seeking important medical care during pregnancy or miscarriage. While the judges weighed these implications of the precedent in court on Monday, their standing on the case is still unclear.

The conviction, along with the 2011 Indiana case against Bei Bei Shuai and increasing laws policing reproductive rights, are evidence of the disproportionate criminalization and stereotyping of pregnant Asian American and Pacific Islander women and pregnant people of color in general. Miriam Yeung, executive director of Overbrook grantee National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, stated, “Asian American and Pacific Islander women are particularly vulnerable for being targeted because of myths and racist stereotypes about our reproductive decision-making.” The denial of Patel’s appeal would only compound the already staggering legal burden and lack of access to reproductive justice for communities of color.

Overbrook grantees National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and National Advocates for Pregnant Women have been closely involved in advocating for Patel and mobilizing the public to support her appeal. Patel remains incarcerated while the Indiana Court of Appeals considers her case.

Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families

Women, particularly low-income women and women of color, bear the brunt of the emotional and financial burden when family members are incarcerated, states a September report led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design. The report, which profiled more than 300 family members impacted by incarceration, found that families of individuals in the criminal justice system were saddled with debt from legal fees and lost income, and assumed significant emotional burdens from damages to their familial relationships, social stigma and isolation, and disrupted support systems. The majority of family members on the outside shouldering these financial and emotional costs were women, with low-income women of color suffering an especially disproportionate impact. Transgender women of color with a loved one in prison had a particular set of emotional impacts, because they were more likely to be criminalized themselves, and were therefore generally barred from visiting prisons.

The report outlines recommendations to help stabilize and support these vulnerable families. These recommendations include: restructure criminalization policies to reduce the number of people serving sentences and the length of sentences served, remove barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to access resources like housing and employment, and increase investment and support (job training, education, employment services, etc.) for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families and communities. To read more on the coalition’s findings and recommendations, see the full report.



US Human Rights Fund Launches New Racial Justice Website

The Overbrook Foundation is pleased to share the US Human Rights Fund’s news of the launch of a new website - This site includes resources and stories from human rights advocates present at the US Human Rights Fund’s We Shall Overcome: Using Human Rights to Achieve Racial Justice Convening held in Philadelphia last November. Not only does this site explain the human rights framework that united the interested funders, activists, artists and journalists who attended the meeting, but it also includes convening-related and external resources for those who are interested in learning more about the Human Rights movement in the United States. 


Highlighted stories from leaders in the field on the importance of human rights and their experiences with human rights-based campaigns also have a place on the site.  For example, leaders at NESRIthe Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the ACLU share their experience with using human rights frameworks. In addition, it draws attention to the story of the 2011 Human Rights Hero Award Winner, Jessica Lenahan. Ms. Lenahan is an American human rights defender who brought her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to fight for government accountability for the human rights abuses she faced here in the United States.  (Her story was actually featured on this blog in November - click here to view it.)


The organizations and the convening lessons covered on this site address a variety of issues that intersect with racial justice ranging from education reform to immigrant rights, from criminal justice reform to health care issues.  Despite this wide array of focuses, these individuals and their organizations see how their work can be connected through human rights.  They view the fight for racial justice in our country as a fight for the human rights of all. We hope you can check out to explore and learn from the exciting tools and resources found on this new site!


Women's Human Rights in the New York Times

Last week, The New York Times published a front-page story on the state of women's rights in Afghanistan, specifically focusing on the experience of one woman who was imprisoned for engaging in premarital sex when she was raped and was then released under the condition that she marries her rapist. Responding to this article in “Advancing Women’s Rights”, June Zeitlin, director of the CEDAW [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] Education Project at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, writes:

To the Editor:

As you note in “For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom” (front page, Dec. 2), Afghan government decisions on women’s rights are more critical now than ever as American forces prepare to leave Afghanistan.

One way the United States could really advance the “unfinished business of advancing women’s rights” in that country is by ratifying the international women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Women’s rights opponents in Afghanistan and elsewhere now can question our commitment by pointing out that we are one of only six countries in the world (with Iran, Somalia, Sudan and the Pacific islands Palau and Tonga) that have failed to ratify the treaty. Ratification would show that we are ready to walk our talk for women in Afghanistan and worldwide.

(This article was found on page A28 of The New York Times on December 6, 2011)

The Overbrook Foundation is pleased to see this major publication providing coverage of our grantee’s issue areas and the issue of the United State’s refusal to ratify CEDAW. June Zeitlin has appropriately argued that the US decision to ratify this treaty could have a significant impact on human rights for women both in the United States and around the world. In only a few short paragraphs, Zeitlin identifies the United States’ hypocrisy around providing leadership on women’s human rights issues. Moreover, she explains the important link between our stance on women’s rights and these abuses in Afghanistan, a connection that is easily overlooked when reading an article about injustice in extremely different cultural contexts. The Overbrook Foundation hopes that Zeitlin’s message was received and shared by New York Times Readers because a US ratification of CEDAW, an important step for gender rights and human rights, can only be achieved with significant support among the US citizens and politicians.

2012 Human Rights Institute at the Urban Justice Center

The Urban Justice Center’s Human Rights Project has opened the application period for its 2012 Human Rights Institute. Over the course of this three-day fellowship, participants will learn how to incorporate a Human Rights framework into their own advocacy work around domestic economic and social justice issues. Not only will participants learn more about human rights treaties and arguments, but they will also be provided with concrete tools and methods for integrating these models into their own organizations and communications efforts.

This great opportunity will take place in New York City from March 28th to March 30th 2012. The deadline for applications is January 9, 2012 for those seeking scholarships and January 16, 2012 for those who will not ask for financial assistance.

As The Overbrook Foundation strongly supports the development of a United States Human Rights Movement, we believe that it is important for organizations like the Urban Justice Center to offer workshops and trainings in the use of human rights arguments for new activist leaders. In addition to providing the capacity for participants to teach the populations they work with or others in their own organizations, this fellowship has the potential to create valuable connections and partnerships between organizations across a variety of economic and social justice issue areas.

For more information or the application form, please consult the Human Rights Project’s website: The information found on this blog post comes from this site and emails received from this grantee.

Anti-Immigrant Law in Alabama

As one in a string of recent anti-immigrant laws in several US states, Alabama’s HB 56 has been decried as the harshest anti-immigrant law passed and enacted in our nation’s recent history. This law will increase instances of racial profiling and civil rights abuses since Alabamian law enforcement officers are required to ask anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant for proof of citizenship papers. In addition, illegal immigrants cannot enter into a contract between private parties (i.e. sign a lease) or a contract between private individuals and the state (i.e. receive state-provided utilities). Legal challenges from the Department of Justice and several legal advocacy groups have led to judges’ blocking several of the law’s provisions from being enforced, including a provision that would criminalize harboring or transporting illegal immigrants.Most recently, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has the section of the law that would require schools to identify and record the citizenship statuses of their K-12 students.The court has also temporarily suspended the provision that makes it a state crime for individuals to travel without documentation of citizenship. While this was a victory for many in Alabama, these provisions had already led to the detention of some immigrants and many other harsh, restrictive regulations from HB 56 continue to be implemented in the state.

After hearing accounts from advocacy and legal organizations in Alabama, we have learned of many upheavals both inside and outside of immigrant communities. For some, this law has prevented them from going to work or attending school because of the risks of travelling without papers.For others, it has even pushed their families to flee the state in the middle of the night. Additionally, the impact of this law on the state’s economy has already been felt. Farms are missing employees, many of whom are undocumented, and these jobs do not seem to have widely appealed to the Americans who were supposed to take them. Activists are fighting this law and offering services to affected populations through advocacy campaigns, grassroots organizing, public education clinics and messaging to sway public opinion with economic and civil rights based arguments.

As a Foundation concerned with human rights in the US, we urge all of our readers to learn more about HB 56, the local ramifications of its implementation and the legal battles that surround it. The ACLU, an Overbrook grantee, has described its efforts against HB 56 and its assessment of the situation in Alabama at Major news sources have also provided in-depth coverage of the progression of this discriminatory law.