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Responding to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) demand that a federal judge retire before her son can be appointed to the same judicial circuit, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) complained to Hatch last week that his new policy on nepotism was unfair because many men have been allowed to serve with close male relatives. "To devise a new policy whose first application would be to a woman would be a serious mistake." Hatch has also been accused by liberal advocacy groups of using family relationship to unseat one of the most progressive judges in the county.
Judge Betty B. Fletcher of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last week to take senior status, a semi-retired position that would assign her to fewer cases, in order to comply with the demand from Hatch, chair of the Judiciary Committee. Fletcher is one of 29 women in the nation serving on an appeals court and is one of four women among the 25 Ninth Circuit court judges. Feinstein said Fletcher is a "shining example to women lawyers. The mother of four, she went to law school when women were not welcome in the profession."
Alaskan Gov. Tony Knowles Monday (5-6) refused to veto a bill outlawing same-sex marriage in the state, adding Alaska to the list of states banning gay and lesbian marriages. Like lawmakers in Utah and South Dakota where same-sex marriages are also banned, Alaska lawmakers fear having to provide spousal benefits for residents who might go to Hawaii to get married if such unions are legalized there.
In Congress, Reps. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) planned a Wednesday (5-8) news conference to introduce a piece of legislation that would define marriage in federal law as a "legal union between one man and one woman." The a draft of the bill, titled the "Defense of Marriage Act" was circulated in Congress on Tuesday. The bill would also allow states to reject the legality of same-sex marriages performed in another state. The Human Rights Campaign condemned both actions as election-year political ploys.
On Tuesday (5-7), a federal judge dismissed a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by a woman charging that the two male Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University students who raped her received preferential disciplinary treatment in order to benefit the school’s all-male football team. The judge said that the complaint, even if true, does not mean the university violated Title IX since athletic status, not sex, determined how the men were disciplined. University officials canceled the suspension of Antonio Morrison just before the start of football season in 1995.
Broznkala also said the university did not follow through on appropriate judicial processes because of favoritism to Morrison, giving him access to a tape of the first disciplinary hearing before the second while denying Broznkala the tape. Broznkala is considering an appeal.
5/8/1996 - New Findings in Breast Cancer Research
According to statistics released Tuesday (5-7) by the National Cancer Institute, U.S. breast cancer death rates dropped again in 1993 to 25.9 percent from 27.5 percent in 1989. In the prevention of breast cancer, early findings from a British study indicate that women with an increased risk of breast cancer might benefit from the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen or the vitamin A derivative 4-HPR. The National Cancer Institute is also reconsidering its position on mammograms for women under the age of 50, and plans to convene a panel to review an unpublished Swedish study that finds a 24 decrease in the breast cancer death rate among women who started getting mammograms in the their 40s. In 1993, the NCI had said there was not enough evidence to justify women getting regular screenings before age 50, reversing an earlier position that women over 40 should have the procedure done every two years.
California Rep. Vic Fazio has introduced legislation to permit the sale of a 33-cent stamp, from which the extra penny would be earmarked to go toward breast cancer research, stating the measure could raise close to $200 million a year. In June, the postal service will issue a regular 32-cent stamp commemorating breast cancer awareness.
The House passed a bill Tuesday night (5-6) that would require states to inform the public when dangerous sex offenders are released from prison and move to their neighborhoods. The federal version of New Jersey’s "Megan’s Law" would let states decide how much danger the offenders pose and how much public warning is appropriate. The bill is named for seven-year-old Megan Kanka who was raped and killed in 1994, allegedly by a convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her in Hamilton Township, NJ. Another measure, which passed 414-4, would enable federal prosecutors to ask for life sentences without parole for repeat sexual assault offenders. The House also passed a bill expanding federal anti-stalking provisions to include strangers crossing state lines to injure or harass another person.
In the California kidnapping and murder trial of Richard Allen Davis, Davis came close to admitting he raped 12-year-old Polly Klaas after abducting her from a slumber party. When presented with the possibility that evidence of semen had been found -- a lead that turned out to be false -- Davis replied, "Then, hey, then I’m guilty of it. That’s all there is to it." Davis has maintained that he was intoxicated and does not remember the abduction nor sexual assault, but that he killed Polly in order to avoid being found out and sent back to prison.
5/8/1996 - War Crimes Trial Begins in The Hague
The first war crimes trial since Nuremberg began Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands. The prosecution accused Bosnia Serb bar owner Dusan Tadic of murdering more than 30 Muslims and Croats, torturing more than a dozen women, participating in gang rapes, and torturing and assaulting other Muslims and Croats. In addition to crimes against humanity, Tadic had also been charged with rape. However, prosecutors had to drop the charge because the victim was too afraid to testify. Some victims of other crimes allegedly committed by Tadic are also fearful of the defendant and will be allowed to testify outside the courtroom via a video link.
5/7/1996 - Fraternity Sexual Assault Levels High
In the last few years, fraternities, which have a national membership of 400,000 male students on 800 U.S. college campuses, have had to use one third of their budgets to pay liability costs for claims involving rape, robbery, and serious injury. An informal campus survey conducted by a graduate student at the University of Georgia, Athens, found that nearly 11 percent of fraternity men admitted to forcing sexual activity after a partner said "no," and nearly 20 percent had engaged in sex with someone they felt was reluctant. District Attorney offices and rape crisis centers across the U.S. report similar findings.
Colleges and universities, which are legally required to report crimes that take place off campus as well as on campus, have been harshly criticized by police and state criminologists for underreporting sexual assault cases and failing to discipline fraternities.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb blocked a new Wisconsin state law Monday (5-6) that would require women seeking abortions to consult with a doctor and wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. The law also details the specific information doctors would be required to provide. Issuing a restraining order, Crabb said the law would have a "chilling effect" on doctors who could face fines up to $10,000 for violating the law, stating that the law would substantially decrease the availability of abortion services.
The lawsuit, filed by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and three physicians who perform abortions, claims the law violates the First Amendment by requiring doctors to distribute written anti-abortion materials. The plaintiffs also say the law will discourage doctors from performing abortions and unduly burden a woman’s right to privacy. The waiting period law was signed last week by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
5/7/1996 - Battered Women Criticize California Governor
This week, advocates working against domestic violence in California are meeting to urge Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to act on the clemency positions of several battered women currently in jail for killing their abusers. In 1992, the California Coalition for Battered Women in Prison helped 34 women draft petitions to Wilson asking for clemency. Since then, Wilson has denied seven of the petitions, commuted one, and reduced another sentence from 15 years to life to 12 years to life. The remaining 21 petitions remain untouched after four years.
Each of the women requesting clemency had killed her batterer and exhausted legal avenues. The average sentence was 15 years to life in prison. Sue Osthoff of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women says most governors make more timely decisions and that the wait in California is "grossly unfair to the women whose lives are in the balance." Elizabeth Leonard, author of the 1996 report, "Battered Women and Violent Self-Defense," says that data shows increasing harshness in the sentencing of battered women. In 1979, their mean prison sentence was 4.1 years, and in 1983, it had risen to 10.2 years.
5/7/1996 - Mitsubishi May Talk With EEOC
Mitsubishi Motor, the company charged with pervasive sexual harassment at its Normal, Ill. plant, has approached the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to discuss the agency’s lawsuit. In the first official contact made with the EEOC by a Mitsubishi representative, a lawyer for Mitsubishi and a former head of the EEOC attempted to discuss the case with EEOC Chairman Gilbert F. Cassellas last week. Cassellas referred both men to the Chicago office of the EEOC. Neither Mitsubishi nor the EEOC would comment on any developments, other than to acknowledge that "contacts may have been made."
EEOC Vice Chairman Paul M. Igasaki said the EEOC is proceeding with the lawsuit, which will likely not go to trial for at least two years. Normal, Ill. plant chairman and chief executive Tsuneo Ohinouye said the company rejected an EEOC settlement proposal last summer, but that the company was interested in settling the dispute to "regain" Mitsubishi’s reputation and its employees. The EEOC is required by federal law to attempt to settle a dispute before it goes to court.
5/7/1996 - More Women Online in San Francisco
According to a telephone survey conducted by San Francisco State University for ValueStar of Alameda, almost one half of the Bay area residents using online service are women. Women make up 47 percent of online users in the Bay area compared to 30-35 percent nationally. ValueStar explained that more women working at home in the region meant more women are using e-mail and are networking online. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said e-mail was the most popular pastime, while 28 percent favored the World Wide Web, and seven percent preferred newsgroups.
Jim Star, managing director of ValueStar, said this challenge to the assumption that men dominate cyberspace will result in increased cyberspace offerings targeted toward women.
Members of the Republican Party are engaged in a debate over the plank in the GOP platform calling for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and seven other pro-choice Republicans met last week to discuss strategies for challenging the plank three months in advance of the party’s national convention in San Diego. The moderates, who maintain that most party members support abortion rights, are encouraging open debate on the subject after stifled discussion at past conventions. Snowe and Rep. James Greenwood (R-Penn.) intend to work with the Republican Coalition for Choice to confront the issue. Several Republican governors, including Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, have warned against leaving the anti-abortion plank intact.
Snowe plans to meet with newly-elected convention chair, Henry Hyde, a strong opponent to abortion rights, and with other party leaders to alter the plank and acknowledge that many Republicans are pro-choice. At the very least, Snowe hopes a more diverse debate will lead up to the August convention than in years past.
5/6/1996 - Physician Shot at Women’s Health Clinic
Friday evening (5-3), a phsycian who performs abortions at the Family Planning Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada was shot. Dr. Paul Debello remains in serious condition. Investigations are underway to ascertain whether the shooting is related to anti-abortion violence.
In his Saturday (5-4) radio address, President Clinton announced four executive orders aimed at teen mothers on welfare. Plans include requiring teen mothers on welfare to live at home with adults and stay in or return to school. Clinton would also give states the authorization to reduce welfare benefits for mothers who do not complete high school and to give bonuses to mothers who do. Benefits would also be reduced if mothers do not live at home, attend parenting classes or establish paternity of their children to get child support.
Women’s rights and welfare rights groups have been concerned about measures requiring teen mothers to live at home, arguing that the young women, some of whom are victims of incest, could be subjected to further abuse when forced to stay at home.
A number of Hungarian women working in the kitchens that serve U.S. peace troops in Bosnia have complained of sexual harassment and exploitation by American men. Most of the perpetrators are civilians employed by a subsidiary of Brown and Root, the Houston-based company which employs 200 Hungarians as kitchen staff, construction workers and drivers. The women complained of being groped and being offered money for sex and cohabitation with American men. Some complained that American companies have significantly cut wages without warning and that the contractors act independently without anyone supervising the wage cuts or unrenewed contracts. Neither Brown and Root nor the U.S. military has commented on the claims.
The Monday issue of the Shanghai paper, Liberation Daily, criticized Chinese advertising. Among other complaints of materialism and worship of foreign things, the paper said ads use sex too much to sell products, employing provocative words and images while exploiting women’s bodies. The paper also said ads promote male chauvinism, quoting one cosmetics ad promising to give a man a new wife everyday.”
5/6/1996 - Estrogen Patch Eases Postpartum Depression
Close to 10 percent of all new mothers experience a form of clinical depression that can last for several months after giving birth. A new study published by the British medical journal The Lancet finds that wearing an estrogen patch can lead to faster and more extensive recovery of postpartum depression. Authority on the subject Dr. Michael W. O’Hara of the University of Iowa in Iowa City said the treatment might be "an alternative for women who don’t respond to antidepressants." Normal estrogen levels range from 80 to 200 picograms per liter of blood; levels during pregnancy reach 5,000 picograms and plummet to 80 to 100 immediately after childbirth
5/6/1996 - House Committee Makes Conservative Votes
On Wednesday (5-1), the House National Security Committee voted to support a ban on abortions at overseas military hospitals. The Committee also voted for a ban on gays and lesbians in the military and the involuntary discharge of service members with AIDS.
5/3/1996 - Shelter Opens for Battered Women in Shanghai
A battered women’s shelter called the Nangang Family Violence Protection Center has opened in Shanghai, China. Funded by a private entrepreneur, the shelter offers 20 beds and an untrained staff. Hundreds of women have called the shelter since early this year, and dozens have stayed over. Although no statistics are kept on wife abuse complaints in China, there are indications that the problem is increasingly common. According to China Women’s News, family violence causes one-quarter of the million-plus annual divorces in China. The constitution bans the mistreatment of women; one city, Changsha, recently passed a regulation instructing police to thoroughly and sympathetically respond to complaints of wife battering
On May 2, all 12 members of the Board of Immigration Appeals heard the case of Fauziya Kasinga, the 19-year-old woman from Togo seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in her native country. In the 90-minute hearing, immigration service general counsel David A. Martin -- who suggested he did not believe Kasinga’s case in its entirety -- argued that the Board should establish a precedent that only girls and women who would be forced to undergo FGM be granted asylum. The narrow grounds Martin advocated would exclude women who had already undergone FGM, as well as women who would be ostracized from their community if they refused the procedure. Performed with unsterilized knives or even broken glass, the practice entails cutting off all or part of female genitalia and can cause severe health complications and even death. Kasinga’a lawyer, Karen Musalo, urged the panel not to use Kasinga’s case to issue broad guidelines for all women seeking asylum on similar grounds, saying they have a chance to make their own cases. The written decision of the board, expected this summer, will apply to all 179 immigration judges in the U.S. who hear asylum cases.
Rates of sexual harassment in traditionally male blue-collar industries are nearly twice that of service-sector industries. A USA Today analysis of 15,691 claims filed in 1995 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found large numbers of complaints were filed by women in the fields of mining, construction, transportation, and manufacturing. Overall claims filed with the EEOC have more than doubled in the five years since Anita Hill exposed sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. However, a 1995 report, Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace, found that only half of all such incidents are reported, and only 6 percent of victims file an official complaint. Fears of retaliation and job loss keep many women in all sectors from reporting incidents. Situations like those exposed in the current EEOC suit against Mitsubishi are not unique.
5/3/1996 - France to Allow Women to Fly in Combat
Next month, women will be able to compete for 3 of France’s 63 air force academy places. The U.S. and a handful of other countries currently allow women to fly combat missions. Twenty French women already pilot transport planes and an AWACS surveillance jet.
5/2/1996 - Congresswomen Criticize Mitsubishi
After meeting with Mitsubishi officials and concluding they are in denial about the seriousness of sexual harassment claims brought against the company, Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) is coordinating a congressional response to the case. Six congresswomen joined Schroeder Wednesday (5-1) in calling for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to seek a court order to prevent Mitsubishi from retaliating against workers involved in the EEOC’s sexual harassment suit against the company. Claiming that Mitsubishi has challenged the authority of the EEOC and manipulated employees, the congresswomen charge that the company: made threats of job losses if allegations caused sales to drop; planned and encouraged workers to attend a protest outside the Chicago office of the EEOC; encouraged workers to make free phone calls to reporters, the EEOC and government officials to deny the charges; and asked the court for medical records of the women involved.
The Senate approved an immigration bill amendment to make it a crime to perform female genital mutilation -- on girls under the age of 18, carrying penalties of up to five years in prison and fines. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev) and passed by a voice vote, was added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo) designed to crackdown on illegal immigration. Sen. Reid was forced to withdraw language that would have offered political asylum to women fleeing their home countries to escape the practice.
On May 2, the Board of Immigration Appeals heard the case of Fauziya Kasinga, the 19-year-old woman from Togo seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape FGM in her native country. Performed with unsterilized knives or even broken glass, the practice entails cutting off all or part of female genitalia and can cause severe health complications and even death. Immigration service general counsel David A. Martin plans to argue that the Board should establish a precedent that only girls and women who would be forced to undergo the procedure be granted asylum. Refugee advocates say this policy would exclude women who had the procedure as children or who would be ostracized from their community if they refused, forcing them into a life of economic hardship and possibly prostitution.
The state of Texas has asked the Supreme Court to allow race as a consideration in affirmative action programs designed to diversify the student body of the University of Texas. The petition, Texas v. Hopwood was authored by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe and seeks a reversal of a federal appeals court ruling that called for a change UT admissions policies. The case will likely affect institutions of higher learning throughout the country.