Nancy Goldstein, How the Madoff mess hits women, January 7, 2009, Salon.com
For all the ink that's been spilled on the Madoff investment scandal, I've read
nothing about its impact on funding for progressive women's causes -- which is considerable.
Simply put, only a small pool of foundations are funding litigation and advocacy
work related to criminal justice or constitutional rights; the pool that supports
related programs targeted to women is smaller still. With the recent shuttering
of two of Madoff's clients, the Picower Foundation and the JEHT Foundation, that
pool has shrunk to a puddle.
Picower was one of a handful of foundations willing to stick their necks out and
significantly fund the three organizations that handle virtually all major reproductive
rights-related litigation and legal advocacy in the United States. Now the Center
for Reproductive Rights needs to make up a $600,000 shortage in 2009; Planned Parenthood
is out $484,000; the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project is off $200,000.
The economic crisis makes it particularly difficult to replace that kind of money.
Meanwhile, there's a backlog of bad new laws that need to be contested. It's likely
to grow this year with the popularity of mandatory ultrasound laws for abortion
patients, one of the favorite new litigation strategies of antiabortion activists.
(Seventeen states considered more than 30 ultrasound bills in 2007 alone.)
Consequently, there's a lot riding on the Center for Reproductive Rights' recent
challenge to Oklahoma's law, the harshest in the country. It compels physicians
one hour prior to performing an abortion to do an ultrasound on the patient and
point out various features, while -- per CRR's press release -- "preventing a woman
from suing her doctor if he or she intentionally withholds other information about
the fetus, such as a severe developmental defect." (Translation: information that
might influence a woman to terminate a risky pregnancy.)
But who's going to fund this very expensive suit? Or the challenges to similar laws
that will pass while this case is in court? Women also stand to lose ground with
the closing of the JEHT Foundation, one of the country's premier funders of criminal
justice reform initiatives, including drug policy reform. Both issues have particular
resonance for women. Thanks to stringent mandatory sentences for even first-time,
nonviolent drug offenders, women's rate of incarceration grew by 757 percent between
1977 and 2006 -- nearly twice the rate for men. Women of color, who are scrutinized,
prosecuted and punished more harshly for drug-related offenses than their white
counterparts, bear the brunt of these policies.
JEHT, like Picower, was a rare grant maker in an already select field. It funded
initiatives aimed at ameliorating the hardships women face as a consequence of their
involvement with the criminal system, including grants to the Corporation for Supportive
Housing and the Stop Prisoner Rape Project. Additionally, Sarah From, director of
public policy and communications for the Women's Prison Association, lauds JEHT
for "being one of the few foundations to fund criminal justice policy reform." (JEHT
provided WPA with seed money to start its national Institute on Women and Criminal
"They addressed a real need in the field," says From. "Now there will be fewer resources
for this work overall, and we'll have to work harder to convince new funders to
take a look at our issues for the first time."
Vivian Lindermayer, CRR's director of development, sounds uncannily similar talking
about Picower. "They understood the critical role litigation and legal advocacy
play in securing women's equal access to quality reproductive healthcare. Picower's
closing will have a major impact on CRR and organizations like us."
The media's obsession with wealthy individuals who have been ruined by Madoff and
feel betrayed is understandable. But when that story wears thin, let's hope the
cameras will document the effect of the $42 million shortfall that progressive nonprofits
will face in 2009 without funding from JEHT and Picower. We've only just begun to
understand the implications of that loss for women's health and human rights.