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2/19/1997 - Statement of Eleanor Smeal, President, Feminist Majority Foundation: "Schenck Decision Upholding Fixed Buffer Zones Is Victory For Abortion Clinics, But Decision To Strike Down A Floating Buffer Zone In This Case Could Not Have Come At A Worse Time."
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in Schenck v. Pro-choice Network of Western New York by once again emphatically upholding fixed buffer zones at clinics is a victory for women seeking abortions and for women’s health care providers. The Court upheld two of the three forms of injunctive relief sought by the Buffalo clinic by allowing not only fixed buffer zones but also by recognizing the right of clinic personnel and patients to wave off anti-abortion "side-walk counselors" within these zones.
In this case, the Court upheld a 15-foot fixed buffer zone, but this decision in also upholding the 1994 Madsen decision of 36 feet zone makes clear that the size of the zone is dependent on record of anti-abortion violence and the geographic location of the clinic.
Although the Court struck down a floating buffer zone in this case, it left open the possibility of a floating buffer zone in other cases. Chief Justice Rehnquist in this essentially protective decision did not rule out the possibility of floating buffer zones if the record of anti-abortion extremist behavior at a particular clinic warranted this remedy. The decision simply said that the record in this particular case did not warrant a floating buffer zone.
If the Schenck decision emboldens anti-abortion extremists to engage in more violence and harassment at clinics, the striking down of the Buffalo "floating" buffer zone could not have come at a worse time. Since December, a New Orleans abortion doctor has been stabbed 15 times, a Tulsa clinic has been bombed several times, an Atlanta clinic was bombed twice, and last night a Northern Virginia clinic was arsoned. Those of us engaged in protecting clinics and health care workers have noticed an appreciable increase in anti-abortion terrorism at clinics recently.
Fixed buffer zones are an essential tool in preventing anti-abortion violence. Approximately one-third of clinics (31.7%) are currently protected by buffer zones. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s 1996 National Clinic Violence Survey found that clinics with buffer zones reported far greater decreases in death threats, blockades, and invasions than clinics without buffer zones.
2/18/1997 - Ex-Citadel Cadet Tells of Brutal Hazing
Jeanie Mentavlos, one of the two female cadets who left the Citadel in January after a semester, has detailed the series of mental and physical abuse which she endured. Speaking during an interview at her home, Mentavlos related that early in her days at the South Carolina military college, a male upperclassmen ordered her into a small dorm room, turned off the light and shoved stiff cardboard into her chin. "He grabbed it out of my hand and punched me in my chin with it," Mentavlos said. The male cadet threatened that next time he would actually show her what "mean" meant The incident left Mentavlos with three large welts on her chin.
In October, two upperclassmen entered Mentavlos’ room late at night and set the sweatshirt she was wearing on fire. She put it out but had to break from the position required in the presence of upperclassmen to do so. The junior cadet ordered the sophomore cadet to light her again, this time the fire burned through the sweatshirt before the junior cadet put it out. In November, while Mentavlos and Kim Messer (the other female who quite the Citadel because of the hazing) were returning to their dorms, an upperclassman ordered the women to the room of the company commander. With the company commander present, the two women were forced to stand on tiptoe, facing into a doorless closet for two and a half hours while the men kicked, cursed and forced them to stretch higher, "They kept screaming ‘Get up, get up’, I couldn’t even breathe I was crying so hard. They were screaming at me ‘Quit breathing.’ I was still crying when I ran out of there." A couple of weeks later, a sophomore cadet splashed nail polish remover at Mentavlos and lit her on fire, "The flames were going past the front of my ears. I just freaked out."
These incidents represent only the most serious harassment Mentavlos endured, but the harassment was constant and began to affect her ability to study and sleep. Almost nightly a cadet would enter her room late at night and force her to stand at attention. Mentavlos’ brother was a Citadel senior cadet at the time but has since left the school before graduation, and several of her relatives graduated from the Academy. Mentavlos said she was aware of the hazing that occurs and commented, "I didn’t necessarily expect it to be comfortable when I went in there." However, she believes the treatment she received was cruel, sadistic and excessive. State and federal criminal investigations continue, and twelve cadets currently face college disciplinary charges. The father of one of the two women who remain replaced the Citadel’s second-highest ranking official last week.
In the third federal appeals court ruling to uphold the government's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on February 14 to uphold the military's policy banning homosexual conduct on or off duty. A discharged sailor had argued that the military ban was unconstitutional because it treated lesbians and gay men differently than heterosexuals. In her dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher said that discharging homosexuals but not heterosexuals for off-duty sexual conduct was a policy of discrimination based on prejudice.
A traveling exhibit currently in Los Angeles offers fifty-eight books for young women which star a variety of heroines. Started in Washington, D.C. by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the "Brave Little Girls" exhibit was so successful that sponsors took it to Los Angeles and will soon take it to San Francisco and Denver. The exhibit is targeted at a new generation of young women who don’t want to always read about a handsome prince saving a woman in distress. Commented Stephanie Mayse, age 11, "Boys are so much better than girls in books. The boys get to do everything. There’s not a lot of books with the girls as heroes – it’s hard to find books like that." Another 11-year-old, Britni Billera commented, "When I’m reading and the men tell the women that they can’t do things or they need help, I think, ‘Why doesn’t she do it anyway by herself?’ I get so upset I don’t want to read it anymore." The exhibit features heroines such as Tatterhood, a girl who fights off hobgoblins with a wooden spoon; Mirette, who walks a tightrope and saves a high-wire master; and Princess Izumi, who rejects a marriage proposal to study caterpillars and other creatures. Old favorites such as Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking are also included.
The American Embassy in London has claimed state immunity in an effort to block a sexual harassment judgment. Mary Fogarty claims she was sexually harassed at the embassy when her boss repeatedly made obscene comments at her and began licking her ear. She subsequently lost her job, and the embassy repeatedly turned her down for other jobs. An industrial tribunal judged that the Embassy had harassed her and awarded her 12,000 pounds, but her lawyer believes the embassy’s claim for immunity "will almost certainly succeed." Attorney Laurence Davies, a former City solicitor further commented, "It is nothing short of scandalous that the perpetrators of this discrimination are prepared to hide behind the U.S. flag. We have received calls from sympathetic Americans within and outside the embassy who are disgusted at this cynical attempt to escape liability; they are ashamed of the U.S. and rightly so."
2/18/1997 - Women’s Soccer Pro-League to Debut in 1998
Organizers behind the new National Soccer Alliance announced on February 15th that an eight-team women’s soccer pro-league will hold its first matches on April 17, 1998. Julie Foundy, the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic soccer athlete, commented that the organization has full support of the players. "[W]e are not only excited about this, we are ecstatic…I think I’ve played two games since the Olympics…for five months I didn’t touch a ball because there’s no environment to play in. For us to maintain our level as gold medalists and world champions, this is a necessity," said Foundy. The organization does not yet have corporate sponsors or selected host cities, but league commissioner Booth Gardner commented that play will go forward. "The bottom line is that the player have told us that they want to play in ’98, and that means we have a lot of work to do," Gardner said.
The Mississippi House passed a bill on February 13th which would ban the D&X abortion procedure unless the woman's life is danger. The ban would also make doctors who perform the procedure liable to criminal damages and a fine of $25,000. The doctor could also be liable for civil damages if sued by the father or woman's parents if she is underage.
The Virginia House voted to pass a similar bill, but it died in a Senate committee yesterday when Democrat Emily Couric changed her vote at the last minute. Couric had previously voted for the bill, but asked for another vote and then voted against it. She feared that anti-abortion lawmakers would amend the bill on the Senate floor to impose the ban even if the woman's life was at stake and to also impose restrictions on other types of abortions.
2/14/1997 - Anti-abortion Arsonist Sentenced
A Federal Court sentenced Jennifer Sperle to 30 months in prison and will report to an unnamed federal facility on March 12th. Sperle was convicted of arson in relation to a Norfolk abortion clinic.
In a widely anticipated vote, the 105th's Congress first vote related to the abortion debate, the House voted (220-209) to release international family planning funds in March as opposed to July. The vote also increases the funds to $385 million. The measure does not impose limitations on funding, so groups who perform abortions can receive funds. The Senate is expected to act on the measure before the end of the month and President Clinton, if the Senate also passes it, is certain to sign the legislation. Gloria Feldt, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, "This is a wonderful victory for women and children worldwide."
Hours later, the House also passed (231-194) a measure which would prohibit the transfer of U.S. funds to family planning groups which provide abortion-related services. The prohibition would remain even if the abortions were paid for with private funds. The Senate is not expected to pass the second measure and, if not, President Clinton is expected to veto the measure.
2/14/1997 - Ferraro Contemplates New York Senate Run
Geraldine Ferraro, former Democratic Congresswoman and the first female Vice-Presidential nominee, has mailed a letter to potential supporters asking them to wait until 1998 to back a Senate candidate. Ferraro will decide in 1998 whether or not to run for New York's Senate seat; if nominated, she would run against current Senator Alfonso D'Amato. In the letter she wrote, "I will personally get back to you, either to tell you I love you for waiting but I've decided to put an end to my public service career, or I love you and I need you to help me send Al D'Amato back to Island Park."
During a National Press Club speech on February 13, Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal warned the Republican Party that if it continued to lead its efforts to dismantle affirmative action and repeal abortion rights, the gender gap will turn into a gender gulf. Speaking to a packed house of women's and civil rights leaders, activists and national press, Smeal described the origins of the gender gap and how it will affect local and national politics in the future. The gender gap is the measurable difference between how women and men vote for a candidate. In the 1996 presidential election, the gender gap was 11% (not the often reported 17%) and determined the outcome of the race: if only men had voted, Bob Dole would have won the race.
Smeal also described the impact of abortion on the gender gap, and predicted that the affirmative action issue would expand the gender gap into a gender gulf. Women are more likely than men to condition their votes on a candidate based on the candidate's position on abortion rights. Young women, especially, are very strong supporters of abortion rights.
Affirmative action is also a key issue among women, and especially among young women. Women were the overwhelming majority of financial contributors to the Stop Prop. 209 campaign while men were the overwhelming majority of financial contributors to the supporters of Prop. 209, the California anti-affirmative action measure.
Unfortunately, right-wing organizations with the help of the Republican Party, were able to outspend opponents of Prop. 209 two-to-one. Smeal also pointed out that contractors were heavy supporters of Prop. 209 because, "[j]ust six years ago women and minorities were receiving less than 5% of state contracts. Affirmative action reforms put into effect in 1992 and 1993 resulted in women- and minority-owned businesses being awarded 22% of state contracts. No wonder state contractors, threatened by this new competition, poured money into the campaign to pass 209."
At the end of the speech, Smeal called for an omnibus Women's Equality Act to remedy sex discrimination and she also called for a Women's Voting Rights Act to increase the representation of women in local and national legislatures. Smeal commented, "For how can we be truly a democracy with only 11% women members of Congress and 22% in the state legislatures? Do you really think that Congress would consider resegregating military women because of some military men's criminal behavior if half the members of Congress were women? Would a gender-balanced Congress consider, as this one is, exempting police officers (and perhaps military personnel) convicted of spousal abuse from the Domestic Violence gun control provision that prohibits convicted abusers from carrying a gun?"
2/13/1997 - Settlement Clears Way for Sale of Mifepristone
The Population Council has announced it has settled litigation regarding control of the abortion pill mifepristone (formerly known as RU 486). A new privately-held company called Advances for Choice has been established to sell the drug and will be publicly identified as the U.S. distributor of mifepristone. Jack Van Hulst, president and chief executive of Advances for Choice said that the company had adequate funding to bring the drug to market and that the new partnership should enable the drug to be available to doctors by the end of the year. In September, the Food and Drug Administration found the drug “approvable” but requested more information about its manufacturing and labeling, materials which will be submitted to the FDA by July, Hulst said.
Joseph Pike, former fundraiser for the marketing of the drug, has “sold a substantial portion of his equity” in the project but will play “no present or future role” in its management, according to a Population Council statement. The Washington, DC- based Advances in Health Technology, set up to inform the public about mifepristone, will become part of Advances in Choice in New York.
Three male U.S. Army instructors at the Darmstadt, Germany training center have been relieved of their duties because of allegations made by 11 female soldiers that the instructors sexually assaulted and harassed them. Allegations also include forcible sodomy, indecent assault, and cruelty and maltreatment of a subordinate. Two of the instructors were placed into custody February 7 for allegedly contacting a victim and attempting to influence her testimony. Personnel from the Army Criminal Investigative Division, which questioned about 70 people in the investigation, said, “The remaining suspect has been ordered by his chain of command not to contact any victim or witness.”
Earlier this week, the Army’s top enlisted man, Sergeant Major Gene McKinney, was suspended from duty pending an resolution of an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed at least two women.
A report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute has found that the U.S. has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world though rates are down worldwide. In the U.S,. 14% of girls aged 15-19 gave birth in 1996, twice the rate in Britain, the first-runner up. Of the teen pregnancies in the U.S. 73% were unplanned. Teen pregnancy rates decreased significantly in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America. In other parts of Latin America, one-third of teens has a child during adolescence while the same holds for at least one in two girls in sub-Saharan Africa. Rates dropped by almost half in the Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Sri Lanka.
The report cited improved educational opportunities for girls as having a strong correlation to the decline in teen pregnancies in developing countries. AGI president Jeannie Rosoff also urged increased access to family planning and reproductive services around the world. “U.S. international population assistance, which has contributed so much to the progress we observed, must continue,” Rosoff said. “Our global future is at stake.” The U.S. House approved a measure that would release international family planning funds in March rather than July, but the measure included a provision which prohibits funding to family planning groups who perform abortions or advocate access to abortion. A Senate vote is expected to follow later this month.
The eight-page AGI report used data from 44 developing countries and five industrialized countries which together comprise nearly 75% of the world’s population. Adolescents are defined as girls aged 10-19.
Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice signed a law banning same-sex marriages in the state, calling the relationships “perverse.” The law will also deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states and would ensure that same-sex couples be excluded from the benefits of marriage such as health insurance which Fordice said were intended for “traditional families.” The American Civil Liberties Union is considering a challenge to some of the state anti-same-sex marriage laws. Mississippi became the seventeenth state to ban same-sex marriages with Washington state poised to become the eighteenth. Fordice is still recovering from an election day accident in which his car turned over on his way home from lunch with an unidentified woman while his wife was out of town.
A study, published in the journal of the American Psychological Association, of nearly 5,300 women shows that having an abortion does not cause emotional trauma for young women. Researchers Dr. Nancy Felipe Russo and Dr. Amy Dabul Marin interviewed 773 women who had had abortions and compared them to women who had not had abortions. The women, originally between the ages of 18 to 24 in 1979, were interviewed every year between 1980 and 1987; the interview included the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, a standardized test which measures overall well-being. The study found that higher self-esteem resulted mainly from having being employed, income levels, education levels, and having fewer children. The study did not find any evidence that young women who were emotionally well-off before having an abortion, were not emotional well-off after having had one. The study concluded, "Given the persistent assertion that abortion is associated with negative outcomes, the lack of any results in the context of such a large sample is noteworthy."
2/12/1997 - ABC News Producer, Eleanor Prescott, Dies at 50
The former executive producer of “Lifetime Magazine,” a woman’s news program, and ABC’s 20/20, died on February 11 at age 50. Eleanor Prescott had also served as the senior producer for the “Good Morning America Sunday” show and as executive producer of “Business World.” Prescott has most recently served as producer of ABC News. She attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was the first woman to serve as editor of the Columbian Daily Spectator.
A senior Army official has confirmed that two more women have made allegations that Sergeant Major Gene McKinney sexually harassed them. The official also said there might also be a third woman. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command is currently looking into the allegations and McKinney has been suspended from duties until the matter is resolved. McKinney has denied the allegations.
Prosecutors in Mexico have dropped murder charges against a woman who shot a man who was attempting to rape her. The state claims that Claudia Rodriguez used excessive force in her defense, but Prosecutor Victor Hugo, without comment, dropped charges against her in a paper filed on February 7th. The overturned ruling, which denied a defense motion to drop the charges, concluded that, “Instead of avoiding the sexual attack, by her attitude in remaining in the company of the aggressor despite his propositions to her, she provoked him to attack her so she could shoot him in some vital part of his body.” The man had folloed her from a bar though Rodriguez repeatedly refused all of his advances. She continued to resist him and pulled out a gun she bought after a previous attack to deter him. Unshaken, the man commented, “No woman has ever gotten away from me,” and started ripping at her clothes. Women’s groups from across the world have weighed in on Rodriguez’ defense claiming that charges made against her demonstrate a double-standard against working-class women in Mexico’s justice system. Ana Magaloni, one of her attorneys, commented on the ruling, “This is a great achievement.”
When allegations of sexual harassment in the Army first broke in relation to events at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Army officials dismissed the complaints as a result of a "few bad apples". As the count of women alleging sexual harassment at Aberdeen escalates, from 19 at the first count in November to 50, the Pentagon is being forced to reevaluate the seriousness of the problem. Furthermore, interviews with female recruits and Army officials show that the Army failed to identify the warning signs of the problem's pervasiseness for over twenty years. In 1980, 150 of 300 women in the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany reported that they were subject to unwanted physical advances. In 1989 and 1996 a majority of women responding to polls conducted in all branches of the military reported that they had encountered some form of sexual harassment. Many of the women also reported that their complaints were met with ridicule and indifference at best and retaliation at worst.
As hundreds and thousands of complaints of sexual harassment erupt throughout the nation, Army officials are quick to point out that they have a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual harassment. However, because women must report through a chain of command and because many officers refuse to listen to the complaints or to take them seriously, critics see a structural barrier to successful solution. The Army's top enlisted officer, for example, has just stepped down from the panel reviewing sexual harassment because of allegations of sexual harassment made against him. Approximately 500 formal complaints are logged each year, but only 12 weeks after a special number was created, outside the normal chain of command, the Army recorded 7,000 calls alleging sexual harassment.
While the Army is reviewing whether or not to continue integrated training for males and females, many critics argue that women are being unfairly punished for the sexual harassment. Some advocates of segregation maintain that women and men simply can't train together because putting the two sexes together in that type of atmosphere naturally leads to problems of sexual harassment. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) commented on February 7th, however, that this is unfair to the female recruits. Snowe observed that the extent of sexual harassment is not found in college dorms where women and men "train" side-by-side and there should be no excuse for it to occur in the military. She also commented that "Every time a woman is excluded from a position, she's devalued in terms of what she can do in performing her responsibilities and fulfilling the mission."
A study by Egypt's National Population Center has produced some stark statistics regarding the treatment of women and girls in that nation. The study shows that 35% of Egyptian wives polled were victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Of the 35%, 70% were attacked for refusing to have sex. The study also reported that 97 percent of married women had undergone female genital mutilation, a process which removes some or all of a woman's external sex organs. Though the mutilations are illegal, they are still commonly practiced, often in unsanitary conditions.
San Francisco City Supervisors unanimously approved a deal with United Airlines on February 10th over a dispute concerning the City's new domestic partner law. The agreement requires United Airlines to offer health benefits to same-sex partners of their employees within two years. The supervisors had earlier refused to approve a lease for an expansion of United's facilities at San Francisco International Airport. In approving the lease on Monday, the board approved of United's offer to provide the benefits within two years. While United originally asked for a 25-year lease, the supervisors agreed on a two year lease, extendible to 23 more years if United did indeed provide the promised benefits. Supervisor Leslie Katz commented on the agreement, "I think it's setting a precedent for other businesses, small and large, that they can come into compliance; that these are principles of fairness, that we don't want to contract with employers who discriminate."
2/11/1997 - First Abortion Vote Scheduled for Thursday
Lobbyists on both sides of the abortion debate are intensifying their efforts as the first abortion vote of the 105th Congress draws near. The first vote concerns when, March or July, the government will release funding for overseas family planning and how much, $215 million or $92 million. While those funds will not cover abortions, both the pro-choice and anti-choice forces have treated this as a signal of Congress's future votes on abortion. A second measure coming up for a vote deals with the abortion issue directly. The measure, offered by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) would provide $385 million for family planning on the condition that no organization which provides abortions, even if with private funds, would receive U.S. funds.
The unofficial U.S. military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reports that authorities are looking into allegations of sex crimes at an Army Training Center in Darmstadt. Female students allege that three male instructors committed acts of rape, sodomy, cruelty and maltreatment against them. The three men have been removed from their jobs at the training center.
The Army has suspended Gene McKinney from his duties as Sergeant Major amid allegations that he sexually harassed an employee. The Army maintains that it had become "increasingly difficult" for McKinney to carry out his duties amid "continued public attention." Brenda Hoster, the woman who alleges he sexually harassed her, commented on ABC's "This Week", that it was unfair for the Army not to suspend McKinney because it is standard policy to suspend Army drill instructors accused of sexual harassment. Two senators had also urged the suspension. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) commented, "The suspension is a positive signal that the Army takes this seriously." Another military source has confirmed that the Army is investigating a Navy sailor's allegations that McKinney also made comments to her which were inappropriately sexual in nature. The military source commented only, "The Army Criminal Investigation Division has it."
McKinney will take a desk job during his suspension with the head of the Military District of Washington, Major General Robert Foley. He will continue to receive his $4,728 monthly pay and allowances. McKinney has denied the allegations.