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7/15/1997 - Breast Cancer World Conference Features Mastectomy Debate

The first world conference on breast cancer has featured an important debate over whether or not women with a breast cancer related gene should have mastectomies. Some argue that because eighty percent of women who carry the gene will have breast cancer, they should have mastectomies. Others argue that mastectomies are an extreme step which force women to mutilate themselves even though undergoing the procedure is not necessarily a proven prevention measure. Often, removing a tumor is enough to prevent the disease from spreading. Bella Abzug, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and leader of the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) in New York, has been battling breast cancer for four years. She argued at the conference, held in Kingston, Canada, that many women were unnecessarily undergoing the procedure. She further commented, "There is a lot of fortune-telling and bookmaking going on."

The conference has brought together representatives from over thirty countries to battle the disease, which claims one million lives per year. When the conference ends on July 17th, participants are expected to adopt a worldwide action strategy for battling the disease.


7/15/1997 - Federal Judge Blocks Rhode Island "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban

United States District Judge Ronald Lagueux has issued an order blocking enforcement of Rhode Island's partial birth abortion ban. The judge set a hearing for August 4th to determine whether or not the law, as written, is overly broad and thus unconstitutional. The lawsuit, brought by Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island and two doctors, contends that the law is so vaguely written that any doctor performing an abortion after the first trimester, using any procedure, could face felony indictments.


7/15/1997 - Senate and House Defense Spending Bills Include Ban on Overseas Abortions

Both the United States Senate and House versions of the defense spending bill maintain the ban on abortion at overseas military hospitals. The Senate and House bills authorize $268 billion in military spending. This is $6.6 billion more than President Bill Clinton's administration requested and $3 billion more than allotted in the 1997 budget.


7/15/1997 - Californian Women Win the Right to Breast-Feed in Public

California Governor Pete Wilson (Rep) signed a bill on July 14th protecting a woman's right to breast-feed her baby in public. Wilson supported the legislation because nursing promotes maternal and infant bonding and also reduces health care costs for children. Proponents of the measure believe it will lessen the fear of public disapproval which contributes to the low rate of breast-feeding in the United States. When similar legislation was introduced in the state two years ago, however, some Republicans argued that it was unnecessary, and others feared it would lead to public nudity. Despite the opposition that remains today, the legislation will go into effect January 1, 1998, making California the 13th state to explicitly permit breast-feeding in public.


7/14/1997 - Hillary Rodham Clinton Speaks Out for Women's Rights

During an address to the "Vital Voices: Women in Democracy" forum held in Vienna, United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton urged female leaders in former communist countries to work hard for women's rights. Clinton addressed over 1,000 prominent women leaders, representing 19 post-communist Eastern European countries, at the conference and urged them to banish poverty and prejudice. Clinton emphasized, as she has throughout her world travels, that government must treat women's rights as integral to local, state and global economies as well as basic human rights. During international speeches, Clinton often notes that although women comprise half the world's population, they comprise seventy percent of the world's poor and approximately sixty-six percent of those who cannot read or write. In war zones, she notes, women and children are over ninety percent of the refugees. At the forum, Clinton also announced a $3 million U.S. grant to promote micro-credit and similar pilot programs designed to improve the status of women in the former Soviet Bloc. Vesna Pesic, a leader in Serbia'' opposition democracy, commented on Clinton's advocacy for women's rights, "She's not just a first lady, she's a politician with a tough, persuasive voice. She seems very committed to her views, and I think people like her sense of conviction."

According to statistics made available at the conference, women earn as low as forty percent of men's wages for the same work in the former Soviet Bloc; Ukranian women represent seventy percent of that country's unemployed; Belarus professional women must look three times as long as male counterparts for work. The problems facing women in Eastern Europe have increased dramatically since the fall of communism. Many women no longer receive child-care or support from pension programs. And, unemployment throughout the region has increased dramatically.


7/14/1997 - Young Woman Names Mars Rover After Sojourner Truth

In 1995, then eleven year-old Valerie Ambrosie won an essay competition designed to generate a name for the Mars rover. Ambrosie suggested that the rover be named after Sojourner Truth, a famous abolitionist and women's right advocate. Ambrosie wrote in her essay, chosen from over 3,500 entries, "It's only logical that the Pathfinder be named Sojourner Truth, because she is on a journey to find truths about Mars. The Pathfinder should have strong personalities in order to go under harsh conditions like that on Mars. Truth, while on tours, went under many harsh conditions. Even before, she went under harsh conditions as a slave." Ambrosie was the valedictorian of her eighth grade class and is on full scholarship to Notre Dame Catholic High School in Fairfield, Connecticut. Sojourner is currently exploring the surface of Mars.


7/14/1997 - Egypt Continues Ban on Genital Mutilation

Health Minister Ismail Awadallah Salaam announced on July 11, 1997 that the Egyptian health authorities will continue to enforce a ban on female genital mutilation despite a June 24 court ruling against the ban. Salaam's ministry has filed an appeal with Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court challenging the mid-level administrative court's decision. Islamic fundamentalists oppose Salaam, arguing that genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, the full or partial removal of the clitoris of pre-pubescent girls, protects women from the results of excessive desire. The practice, however, has can lead to death and has been linked to sexual dysfunction and emotional and physical trauma. Salaam defended his decision, saying, "The decision to ban female circumcision was a sound decision, in line with the proper concept of religion…Linking female circumcision with Islam is an insult to the religion." Procedurally, it is unclear whether or not Salamm has the power to ignore the lower courts ruling and enforce the ban.


7/14/1997 - Egypt Continues Ban on Genital Mutilation

Health Minister Ismail Awadallah Salaam announced on July 11, 1997 that the Egyptian health authorities will continue to enforce a ban on female genital mutilation despite a June 24 court ruling against the ban. Salaam's ministry has filed an appeal with Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court challenging the mid-level administrative court's decision. Islamic fundamentalists oppose Salaam, arguing that genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, the full or partial removal of the clitoris of pre-pubescent girls, protects women from the results of excessive desire. The practice, however, has can lead to death and has been linked to sexual dysfunction and emotional and physical trauma. Salaam defended his decision, saying, "The decision to ban female circumcision was a sound decision, in line with the proper concept of religion…Linking female circumcision with Islam is an insult to the religion." Procedurally, it is unclear whether or not Salamm has the power to ignore the lower courts ruling and enforce the ban.


7/14/1997 - States Apply for Restrictive Sex Education Programs Money

By July 15, states must turn in applications for $250 million authorized by Congress for programs that promote abstinence as the only way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood and other groups that support more extensive sex education, however, point out that an "abstinence only" message to teenage students is unrealistic and has dangerous consequences. These groups also worry that states will take money out of existing programs to match funds for the federal grants. Conservative groups, on the other hand, fear that states will ignore Congress' intent and allow programs that teach abstinence but also discuss contraception. Both sides lobbied states which were putting together the grant proposals to the Department of Health and Human Services.


7/13/1997 - Promise Keepers Holds No Promise for Women

Washington, DC - Today, the Feminist Majority Foundation, joining other national women's rights, religious, lesbian/gay/bisexual, and domestic violence organizations, condemned the hidden agenda of the all-male, religious right organization, the Promise Keepers.

"Some reactionary male want-to-be-patriarchs -- the so-called Promise Keepers -- are preaching to football stadiums of men that men must resume their rightful place at the head of their household," said Alice Cohan, Feminist Majority Foundation Director of National Programs. "The submission of women is at the core of all these attacks on women's rights and is a backlash to the changed role of women in every facet of our society."

"Despite their best attempts to hide an anti-women, anti-abortion agenda, one must only examine the major leaders and funders of the Promise Keepers' movement to uncover their real goals. Their empires have been built on misogyny, not 'brotherly love.' Pat Robertson, the religious right media mogul and founder of the Christian Coalition, provides major coverage of the Promise Keepers through the 700 Club. James Dobson, whose organization Focus on the Family is one of the largest religious right entities in the country, kept Promise Keepers afloat financially in the early years. Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ empire has lent at least 85 full-time staffers to Promise Keepers' national headquarters in Colorado. Another leading supporter is Gary Bauer, head of the anti-abortion and anti-lesbian/gay Family Research Council."

"Serving as Promise Keepers National Spokesperson is Mark DeMoss of the DeMoss family, whose foundation pours millions of dollars into religious right causes including the anti-abortion Life, What A Beautiful Choice advertisements. Finally, there is Bill McCartney, former football coach and founder of Promise Keepers. McCartney is militantly opposed to women's reproductive freedom, and has been a featured speaker at events of the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue. During an Operation Rescue rally, which was trying to close a local women's clinic, McCartney declared that abortion had become 'a second Civil War.'"

"While in their official speeches, materials and publications, the Promise Keepers avoid explicit anti-abortion statements, further examination uncovers anti-abortion sentiments. Incorporated in their New Man magazine are advertisements for pro-life bank checks and commentary on the guilt and pain of 'male post-abortion syndrome.' Additionaly, some state Promise Keepers' World Wide Web sites include anti-abortion links, revealing their true position on abortion."

"The Promise Keepers are the newest, slickest, and perhaps most deceptive mouthpiece yet of the radical religious right," concluded Cohan.


7/11/1997 - Rich Refuses NEA Medal of Arts Award in Protest of Government's Actions

Award-winning poet Adrienne Rich has declined the 1997 National Medal for the Arts. In explaining her decision to the Clinton Administration, Rich commented that "democracy in this country has been in decline." Rich expressed her views in a letter written to Jane Alexander, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which administers the awards. The letter further stated, "the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration…[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage." Rich expressed her concern that the gap between rich and poor continues to increase. In a statement Alexander commented, "Ms. Rich is eminently qualified to receive this distinguished award from President Clinton. However, I certainly respect Ms. Rich's decision not to accept it." Rich has published more than 15 volumes of poetry since 1951. Her most recent work is entitled Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991 - 1995. Past recipients of the award include the writer Eudora Welty, the artist Roy Lichtenstein, the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, and the opera diva Leontyne Price. A spokesperson for the NEA commented that Rich is very likely the only person to have ever turned down the award.


7/11/1997 - Diet Centers Reconsider Diet Pill Prescriptions

After recent medical indications that the diet drug combination fenfluramine and phentermine (fen-phen) may damage heart valves, diet centers have begun to rethink their prescription of the popular drugs. The findings, by doctors at the Mayo Clinic, have already prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to send warning letters to thousands of doctors. Now, Jenny Craig Inc, a diet center chain, has recommended that its doctors stop prescribing the pill combination. Another diet center chain, Nutri-System Inc., has said it is reviewing its position with regards to the pills. C. Joseph LaBonte the president and CEO of Jenny Craig Inc., commented, "In light of the Mayo Clinic data…we are advising the independently contracted physicians in our centers that they not prescribe fen-phen until its long-term safety and efficacy is validated." The company is continuing to offer the drug Redux, which has also been linked to other potentially dangerous side-effects.


7/11/1997 - Women's Baseball League Begins First Season

Sports fans who attend UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium on July 12 at 7:00 p.m. will watch skilled baseball players pitch breaking balls, make double plays, and hit grand slams. And these talented athletes will be women. For the first time in about half a century, a professional women's baseball league is beginning its season. San Diego stockbroker Mike Ribant formed the California-based Ladies League Baseball Association and hopes to expand it from its present membership of 5 teams to 12, 6 on each coast, by next year. The Los Angeles Legends will play the Long Beach Aces in Saturday's game. Legends player Mimi Hall commented, "It's only when I see the practice gear that it all starts to sink in. I get in the dugout and suddenly think, 'I'm here because I'm a professional athlete.'"


7/11/1997 - Dancer's Death Highlights Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Her Profession

The Boston Ballet believes 22-year-old Heidi Guenther's recent death resulted from an eating disorder. The 5'3" dancer weighed 100 pounds, 15 pounds below normal for her height. Her death emphasizes the obsession many individuals in her profession have with staying thin. Studies reveal that eating disorders among professional dancers are twenty times higher than they are among the general public. Expected to weigh 10 to 20 percent below normal standards, dancers have been known to eat Kleenex to keep themselves full without taking in calories. Guenther's death has prompted the Boston ballet to improve its eating-disorder program, said company spokeswomen Mary Crotty.


7/10/1997 - Judge Upholds VAWA Provision Calling Gender-Motivated Crime a Civil Rights Violation

U.S. Judge James Jarvis, of the Eastern District of Tennessee, has upheld the constitutionality of the civil rights provision of the federal Violence Against Women Act. The provision makes gender-motivated crime, such as spousal abuse, a civil rights violation. Congress used its power under the interstate commerce clause to pass the legislation. After four months of hearings, Congress found in 1994 "that gender-based crimes and fear of gender-based crimes restrict movement, reduce employment opportunities, increase health expenditures, and reduce consumer expending, all of which affect interstate commerce and the national economy [and that about half of rape victims lost their jobs or were forced to quit after the crime]." Jarvis made the ruling in the case Laurel Knuckles Seaton v. Kenneth Marshall Seaton; Laurel Knuckles has sued her estranged husband for compensatory and punitive damages of $40 to $87 million. Knuckles claims that her husband repeatedly mentally and physically abused her and thus violated her civil rights.

In 1996, another U.S. District Judge found in Doe v. Doe that the provision satisfied the "rational basis" test required for Congress to pass the legislation under the interestate commerce clause. The Doe case also involved a woman whose husband allegedly repeatedly beat and threatened to kill her. In another case, Jane Doe v. Father Gerald Hatz, a third U.S. District Judge also upheld the provision's constitutionality. That case involved a woman who alleges that a church bishop groped and kissed her when she entered church for evening service. Only Judge Jackson Kiser, chief judge for the Western District of Virginia, has ruled that the provision is not constitutional because Congress exceeded its power. The case, Brzonkala v. Virginia Tech, involves a student who accused two football players of raping her. The decision is on appeal to the 4th Circuit. The Supreme Court is expected to hear a case challenging the provision at some point in the near future.


7/10/1997 - Study Finds 1 in 7 Girls Sexually Abused

A study headed by Dr. Harriet L. MacMillon of the Centre for Studies of Children At Risk at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and published in the July 9th, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that approximately 1 in 7 females are sexually abused as children. The study also shows that 1 in 5 girls are physically abused while growing up and a little less than 1 in 10 girls are severely physically abused while growing up. Girls at all ages were more often sexually abused than boys. Also, girls reported a higher incidence of simultaneous physical and sexual abuse. Seven percent of women and a little over two percent of men reported simultaneous abuse. The study asked 1,000 randomly selected people ages 15 and above to fill out a confidential questionnaire. Doctors involved in the study said the numbers were actually on the low side because teenagers make up thirty to forty percent of abusers against children, but the study only asked if a person has ever been abused by an adult.


7/10/1997 - Kentucky College Appoints Its First Female President

Jacqueline Addington has been appointed president of Owensboro, Kentucky Community College. Addington, who currently serves as the assistant vice president for academic affairs at Western Kentucky University, will become the first woman to hold the presidency position at the college. With her appointment, three women will serve as presidents in the fourteen-member University of Kentucky Community College System. The other two women serve as presidents at Lexington and Prestonburg colleges.


7/10/1997 - Forum Analyzes Women's Role in Democratic Eastern Europe

Over 300 women have convened in Vienna, Austria for a three-day conference to analyze women's role in expanding and building democracy in Eastern Europe. U.S. Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt welcomed the participants yesterday and in her opening remarks commented, "The voices of women are vitally important for the creation of democracy." United States First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will also address the participants of the conference, entitled "Vital Voices: Women in Democracy."


7/10/1997 - California Ban on Prenatal Services for Immigrants Delayed

Legal challenges have delayed California's attempt to deny prenatal services to illegal immigrant women. Because several groups, including pregnant women, private clinics, immigrants rights advocates, and the California Medical Association, are fighting the cutoff in court, the earliest it can be implemented is now Sept. 1, 1997. Plaintiffs argue that Governor Pete Wilson's administration's plans violate a federal statute which exempts pregnant immigrant women whose older children were beaten by their fathers from the ban. Individuals have pointed out that the cutoff will raise public health costs because it will cause more pregnant women to go to emergency rooms for high-risk deliveries which earlier checkups could have prevented. A hearing on the cutoff takes place on July 11, 1997 in Oakland Superior Court.


7/10/1997 - Calcium Given to Pregnant Women Does Not Prevent High Blood Pressure

A government study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 10, 1997 discovered that calcium supplements given to pregnant women to prevent preeclampsia, dangerously high blood pressure, are ineffective. The condition occurs in about 5% of pregnant women and endangers the lives of both the woman and child. The National Institutes of Health administered the study by randomly giving 4, 589 pregnant women either calcium tablets or dummy look-alikes. Seven percent of the women in each group developed preeclampsia.


7/9/1997 - Drug Maker Launches Aggressive TV Campaign to Market Female Contraceptive

Pharmacia & Upjohn has begun to air television advertisements for the female contraception method Depo-Provera. The injectable drug provides 99% effective contraception for up to three months with one injection. First sold in the U.S. in 1993, it contains the active ingredient medroxyprogesterone acetate. The drug company has advertised the drug in magazine ads since February and began television advertisements on July 8th. The ads target young single women, young mothers and older women. Joan Sinopoli, the vice-president of HMC Consumer, the advertising company that created the ads, commented, "Linking birth control, a woman's freedom to plan her life and her family's life is an empowering notion, and one that more women need to hear. Television allows us to make this connection to a broader sweep of mainstream American women."


7/9/1997 - Hawaii Same-Sex Benefits Law Passes

A Hawaii bill allowing same-sex couples limited benefits traditionally reserved for married couples became state law on July 8th without Governor Ben Cayetano's signature. The legislature passed the bill in conjunction with passing a proposal to amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriages. The legislation came in response to a State Supreme Court ruling that a state law banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. The law provides "couples" the right to share medical insurance, joint property ownership and inheritances. The law does not allow the couples to file joint income taxes or have right to child custody.

Many, however, criticize the new law because it does not apply specifically to same-sex couples and because it does not give all the benefits of marriage. The law says that any two people who are eighteen or over and unable to legally marry each other can apply for the benefits. Technically, the people do not have to know each other, live together or even live in Hawaii to apply for benefits. Gov. Cayetano supported the intent of the legislation, but not the wording and will try to change it in the next session. He commented, "Apparently the religious right did not want the bill to be seen as specifically tailored to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, the Legislature gave in to that, but created another problem."


7/9/1997 - Diet Pill Combination May Pose Serious Heart Risks

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and at the medical clinic in Fargo, North Dakota have reported that 24 women who used a popular diet drug combination are suffering from a very rare and serious heart condition. The women developed an unusual and serious heart valve problem and eight of them also have a potentially fatal condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the lungs constrict. The women were taking fenfluramine and phentermine (fen-phen) when they developed the conditions, though doctors still do not know the cause-and-effect process. The report has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to send warnings to thousands of doctors regarding the diet pill use.


7/9/1997 - Cherie Blair Represents Lesbian Couple in European Court

Cherie Blair, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is representing a lesbian couple in an employment discrimination case against the British government in front of the European Court of Justice. Lisa Grant, 29, a railway booking clerk and her partner Jill Percey, 38, sued the government claiming that its policy of denying lesbians and gay men travel benefits is in violation of the European Union's anti-discrimination laws. Travel benefits are extended to both married and unmarried heterosexual partners of railway workers. Blair commented before the court, "To say that a human being can be penalized for choosing to express their sexual identity, is equivalent to saying that you can discriminate against a pregnant woman because she could have chosen not to become pregnant." Further she commented, "The court should reject such pedantry. The right to human intimacy is a fundamental right and I would suggest, a fundamental human need." The court plans to deliver a preliminary opinion on September 30, 1997 and a final opinion sometime in early 1998.


7/9/1997 - McKinney Hearing Continues

Brenda Hoster, the woman who originally brought charges of harassment against the Army's top enlisted man Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKinney, has said she will be willing to testify at the pre-trial hearing assessing the charges under two conditions. Hoster and her attorney will ask the U.S. Military Court of Appeals to order lawyers for McKinney not to question her about her previous sex life. They will also ask the Appeals court to bar testimony in the hearing of General Dennis Reimer, Army Chief of Staff. Hoster claims that the character testimony of the General could unfairly influence the presiding officer in the case and could intimidate other witnesses in the trial.

Of her initial refusal to testify, Hoster commented, "I want to testify, [but] what I've seen these other women go through is absolutely ridiculous." She further commented, "This whole thing, this hearing, is about let's pit the boys against the girls. Let's see what we can dig up on the girls and let's get this over with." Defense attorneys are inundating other women who have brought charges against McKinney with question after question about their sexual past.

Of the General's testimony she added, "Here's the top leader for soldiers. He's going to come in and say, 'Hey, this guy has great character. There's no way he could have done any of these things.' Where does that leave me and the other three (victims)? It's definitely a slap in the face to all of us and it's a slap in the face to any other victims out there or who will be out there in the future." Hoster said she would be more than willing to testify as soon as the Army started "playing by the rules" during the hearing. The goal of the hearing is to determine whether charges brought against McKinney, the Army’s top enlisted man, warrant a court-martial.

In related news, the father-in-law of one of the other female accusers testified on July 8th that the woman felt betrayed by McKinney's sexual advances. Career Army Sergeant Major Harold Lewis testified that his daughter-in-law, Sgt. Christine Roy who claims McKinney pursued her with constant calls and had sex with her against her will while she was eight months pregnant, told him she felt uncomfortable with McKinney's advances. He testified, "I asked if he had called her a lot. She said, 'Yes.' I asked if he had said anything on the phone that made her uncomfortable. She said, 'Yes.' I told her to report it immediately."