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3/13/1996 - Press Conference Held on RU 486

On Wednesday morning (3-13), longtime reproductive rights champion Lawrence Lader held a press conference in New York regarding the French abortion pill, RU 486. Lader, president of Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM) announced that the pill will be tested at three prominent clinics. Lader’s press release stated: “Confronting the possibility of an attempted ban on RU 486 after the November elections, Abortion Rights Mobilization (ARM) will make this critical pill available to at least 2,000 women after FDA clearance. The great advantage of the pill is that it can be administered in a doctor’s office and vastly increase the privacy of women.” Lader is the author of A Private Matter: RU 486 and the Abortion Crisis.

3/13/1996 - Cut in Foreign Aid Will Jeopardize Women’s Health

A group of population organizations issued a study last week outlining the effects of a new law that “deeply cuts” U.S. aid for international family planning. The study showed that 7 million couples in developing countries who would have used modern contraceptives will no longer have access to them. This setback could result in 1.9 million more unplanned births, 1.6 million more abortions, 134,000 more infant deaths and 8,000 more women dying in childbirth and during pregnancy , including those resulting from unsafe abortions. The findings have inspired Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) to try to rally “pro-life” groups to support his effort to restore the funds. Sen. Hatfield hopes to attach language to the spending bill to be passed by March 15 (to avoid a government shutdown) that would allow President Clinton to restore the funds if he certifies that the lack of aid will lead to a “significant increase” in abortions.

The Christian Coalition refuses to support Sen. Hatfield’s proposal because of the nature of the study which was conducted by the Futures Group, Population Action International, Population Reference Bureau, the Population Council, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Spokesperson Brian Lopina said “giving money to International Planned Parenthood” would not reduce abortions but reportedly made no mention of other potential effects of the aid cut.

3/13/1996 - Expert for the Prosecution Says Clinic Gunman is Sane

In the murder trial of abortion clinic gunman John Salvi, a state psychiatrist called by the prosecution testified that Salvi is sane and does not suffer from the delusions that are characteristic of paranoid schizophrenia. Dr. Joel Haycock, chief of forensic psychiatry at Bridgewater State hospital, interviewed Salvi seven or eight times before writing a 40-page report. Haycock acknowledged he made the judgment without knowing some of the conspiracy theories Salvi reportedly told to defense witness Dr. David Bear. The defense rested Tuesday (3-12) and had tried unsuccessfully to prevent Haycock from testifying in the prosecution’s rebuttal, claiming it violated Salvi’s Fifth Amendment protection against incriminating himself.

For more on the Salvi trial, see:

Index of News Stories on John Salvi

3/13/1996 - Servicemen Convicted in Okinawa Rape Appeal Sentence

Two of the three U.S. servicemen convicted last week in the rape of an Okinawan girl have appealed their sentences. Marine Privates Rodrico Harp and Kendrick Ledet appealed their seven year and six and a half year sentences, respectively, to the Naha branch of the Fukouka High Court. Navy Seaman Marcus Gill, who was sentenced to seven years and had plead guilty to both abduction and rape, has not yet appealed. A two-week waiting period exists in Japan before a sentence is handed down. The prosecution had asked for ten-year sentences for all three.

3/13/1996 - Navy Asks Senate to Promote Tailhook Offenders

On Tuesday (3-12), top Navy officials asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to reverse itself and allow them to promote a pilot involved in the 1991 Tailhook sexual harassment scandal. The committee has not yet made a decision on the request to promote Commander Robert Stumpf, who Navy officials said was wrongly accused of witnessing a lewd act. Stumpf denies seeing the lewd act in which Navy pilots groped women in a hallway, but admitted that he watched part of a stripper’s performance at the annual Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas.

Former committee chair Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) accused the committee of unfairly holing up Stumpf’s promotion. While Nunn was chair, the committee put a hold on all Navy and Marine Corps officers until obtaining proof that they were not involved in the Tailhook affair. However, the committee has apparently approved over 43,000 such promotions, 15 of which were given to officers disciplined for Tailhook conduct. Navy Secretary John Dalton and Admiral Mike Boorda, chief of naval operations, asked the committee to drop the remaining holds on promotions for Tailhook offenders, an act that would affect about 25 officers.

3/13/1996 - Sex Discrimination Suit Ordered to Proceed

Attorneys involved in the sex discrimination lawsuit brought against Publix Supermarkets announced Wednesday that a federal judge in Tampa ordered the case to proceed as a class action. Twelve current and former women employees contend the grocery chain segregates its employees by gender and that managers do not post job openings for management and other positions. Judge Henry Adams rejected Publix’s claim that women choose to work in the traditionally female jobs in which they are overrepresented.

The suit has been called the largest sex discrimination suit in history, and its ruling could affect over 100,000 current and former employees in the 500-store chain.

3/12/1996 - Women Demonstrate to Get the Vote in Kuwait

On Tuesday (3-12), forty Kuwaiti women lawyers, scientists and academics participated in a rare public demonstration to demand the vote and the right to stand for parliament. Some of the women waving placards outside the only elected legislature in Gulf Arab states had been members of the civilian resistance during Iraq’s 1990-91 occupation. They accuses the government of reneging on a promise it made at that time to give women political rights. Women’s rights activists had hopes of winning the vote after liberation in 1991 because of the bravery shown by women in the resistance to Iraqi rule. During the occupation, the emir had said he would consider giving women the vote.

Following sporadic demonstrations over the 30 years they have fought for political rights, on Tuesday the women planted a blackhorn tree on the central reservation of a highway outside the building to symbolize the strength and endurance of Kuwaiti women. Women in Kuwait hold top positions in civil service, oil industry, and education, and are allowed to wear Western clothes and drive cars, yet they lack social and political equality with men.

3/12/1996 - Salvi Defense Calls Last Witness

In the murder trial of abortion clinic gunman John Salvi, the defense called its last witness Monday (3-11) and was expected to finish presenting evidence Tuesday. Before the case ends, prosecutors will likely call mental health experts to rebut the defense’s claim that Salvi was insane at the time of the killings. Dr. David Bear of U-Mass Medical School in Worcester was the last of 29 witnesses called by the defense. Bear testified that he believed Salvi to be a paranoid schizophrenic, but prosecutor Marianne Hinkle called his judgment informed speculation.” Norfolk County prosecutors are expected to call mental health experts to dismiss the claims of insanity and to place Salvi with criminal responsibility for his actions.

If convicted, Salvi would face life in prison. If acquitted by reason of insanity, the avowed murderer would be sent to a mental hospital but could be released if he was later declared sane.

3/12/1996 - Dateline: San Francisco -- Churches Expelled for Accepting Gays; Hate Crimes Grow More Violent

Although hate crimes nationwide against gays and lesbians decreased nearly 8 percent last year nationwide, the number of hate crimes involving assaults dramatically increased in San Francisco where the overall crime number remained the same. The survey noted increases in hate crimes in five of the eleven cities surveyed, including Minneapolis, Phoenix, El Paso and Columbus, Ohio. Declines were found in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland. In 1995, San Francisco showed a dramatic increase in hate crimes against gays and lesbians, with the Community United Against Violence reporting 324 incidents and the San Francisco police reporting 144, a discrepancy which underscores the fact that anti- gay/lesbian violence is underreported.

In a separate development, four Bay Area congregations were expelled from a Western association of Baptist Churches because they open their doors to gays without attempting to reform them. The congregations plan to appeal the decision which would mean a loss of financial support that pays for training, guidance, preschool and other programs. According to Kay Wellington, pastor of the San Leandro Community Church said what’s worse is that the severing disowns church members -- many of whom are gays, divorced people, and battered women -- who have already been rejected in other faiths.

3/12/1996 - Spending Bill Debated in Senate

On Monday, the Senate discussed a spending bill designed to avoid a federal shutdown when dozens of Cabinet departments run out of money on March 15. According to USA Today, the bill contains Republican budget priorities that will likely not become law. President Clinton has criticized the measure and has called for increased funding for the environment and education. The House bill contains abortion restrictions which Senate Republicans would like to add to their version.

The bill will be completed by Wednesday (3-13) at the earliest.

3/12/1996 - Cases Involving Date Rape, Drug Increase

In the last eight months, authorities in two Texas counties charged 32 people with illegal possession of Rohypnol, a powerful sedative that has been linked to several cases of rape. According to District Attorney Lynn Ellison, I plan to get our office to rethink the type of punishment we are seeking in these cases, now that we know these pills are used to victimize people.”

Slipping Rohypnol into alcoholic beverages make the drug -- notorious in Texas and Florida -- 10 times more potent than Valium; it has been identified as an agent in sexual assaults against unsuspecting girls. Most of the people charged with possession of the drug were under 25 and were also charged with possession of Valium or another prescription drug

3/11/1996 - Support Declines for California Ban on Affirmative Action

As Californias become increasingly aware of the anti-affirmative action initiative on the November ballot and learn about its ramifications, support for the measure declines, according to a Field Poll released Monday (3-11). Knowledge of the existence of the self-titled "California Civil Rights Initiative" rose from 57 percent in December to 67 percent. Of those, support for the measure fell from 29 percent to 27 percent while opposition rose from 20 percent to 24 percent. According to the poll, when voters read the simple language of the bill they are more likely to support it because it does not mention the fact that it would outlaw affirmative action programs for women and people of color. "As voters learn about the initiative, sentiment is much more evenly divided than after you read them the rather simple language," said Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll.

The Feminist Majority Foundation's 1995 Women's Equality Poll, conducted by Louis Harris and the Peter Harris Research Group, was the first poll to find the precipitous decline in support for the CCRI once voters realize it will outlaw affirmative action programs. The Campaign for Women's Rights and Civil Rights, sponsored by the Feminist Majority and a coalition of more than 80 other organizations, is educating Californians on the issue in order to defeat the measure in November.

Although the San Francisco Chronicle article on the poll covered the issue of tricky language, it too referred to affirmative action programs misleadingly as "preferential treatment." Similarly, an extensive front-page article in the Washington Post entitled "Struggling to Maintain Diversity: UC Berkeley Takes Steps to Offset Ban on Affirmative Action" made no mention of how eliminating affirmative action programs in the University of California system affects women.

3/11/1996 - Russian Politicians Courting Women's Votes

On International Women's Day (3-8), a traditionally important national holiday in Russia, Russian politicians wooed women's votes for the upcoming presidential election. President Boris Yeltsin attended a gala concert honoring women and recorded a speech praising women as the keeper of home and family traditions. Communist rival Gennady Ayuganov invited only women reporters to a news conference where he presented flowers and champagne. The festivities came at a time when Russian women are suffering economic hardships more than men, are discriminated against for employment, and are victimized by widespread domestic violence. Women account for 87 percent of the lowest income level in Russia, making $21 a month or less.

Women still lack significant political representation in Russia, and the four women presidential candidates (out of a pool of 78) have little hope in the election. In Moscow and St. Petersburg a few hundred women rallied holding posters with Lenin and Stalin's portraits, carrying Soviet flags, and demanding a return to Communist leadership.

3/11/1996 - Abortion Issue Divides Republican Party

A New York Times article Sunday (3-10) explored the discrepancy between the Republican party's position against abortion and the positions of individual Republicans. While the platform has called for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion since 1976, polls in several states this year showed majority opposition to such a ban in the partly platform. The article mentioned that presidential candidate Bob Dole, a man with a self-proclaimed "strong pro-life record," might consider a pro-choice running mate in the form of Colin Powell or New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. Dole himself supports a constitutional ban on abortion except for cases of rape or incest or to save the mother's life. Conservative anti-choice activists such as Phyllis Schlafly maintain such a running mate would be unacceptable.

Susan Cullman of the Republican Coalition for Choice said she called for a resolution to discuss the abortion issue at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in August, but the call was rejected in January at the last Republican National Committee meeting. The Republican War Against Women: An Insider's Report from Behind the Lines, Tanya Melich's new book from Bantam Doubleday Dell, sheds further light on the abortion issue within the Republican party.

3/9/1996 - Anti-Abortion Riders Attached to Continuing Resolution

On Thursday, the House approved a bill to temporarily avoid federal default. Without extension, the government would have reached its debt ceiling on March 15. The House bill contains two abortion restrictions which would let states decide whether to provide Medicaid funds for low-income women seeking abortions and would force states to accredit hospitals that refuse to teach abortion procedures. The Senate bill does not contain these provisions.

Abortion rights advocates, including some moderate Republicans, are opposed to the restrictions in the bill. The two-week extenstion is sought by Republicans who are trying to decide what pieces of their agenda to put on a longer-term debt-ceiling extension desired by President Clinton.

3/9/1996 - Relatives Testify Salvi was Listless Before Clinic Shootings

According to defense witnesses, John Salvi was distant and robot-like in the days before he shot and killed two and wounded five others at two Brookline, Massachusetts abortion clinics. When an aunt said Salvi had acted withdrawn and listless, prosecutor Marianne Hinkle implied that Salvi may have been preoccupied with the attacks he was planning on the clinics.

The owner of a hair salon where Salvi had been working as an apprentice the months before the shootings, Rick Griffin, said he and others noticed the collage of fetuses and slogans” on the back window of Salvi’s pickup truck. According to Griffin, when word of the pictures spread through the shop, Salvi started parking on the other side of the lot. When one of the hairstylists mentioned the pictures and said that Salvi told her it was a picture of Jesus, Salvi smiled in the courtroom, took a drink of water, and began making noises the prompted his lawyers to ask for a short recess.

3/9/1996 - Wariness of Hysterectomy is Often Warranted, But Can Be Risky

Clinical trials have just begun in the U.S. to test the effectiveness of a simple doctor’s office procedure to stop excessive menstrual bleeding. This condition now accounts for up to 20 percent of all hysterectomies, a procedure women have been warned against having unnecessarily. Studies have shown that many hysterectomies have been performed for no justifiable medical reason and may have only been financial endeavors on the part of physicians. Surgery rates have sharply declined since 1975 and will likely continue to do so as women become more aware of their options.

However, doctors are now warning that this concern could have negative effects as well. Some women have done further damage to their bodies because they were wary of having a hysterectomy when they did in fact need the procedure. Two doctors representing the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics recently identified the five main reasons for performing hysterectomies as: uterine fibroids, endometriosis, urogenital prolapse, adenomyosis, and cancer.

3/8/1996 - Clinton Suspends Set-Asides; House Strikes Anti-Affirmative Action Blow

Administration officials announced Thursday that President Clinton has decided to impose a three-year moratorium on any new federal programs that reserve contracts for companies owned by women or minorities. The conditions for reintroducing the set-aside programs falling under the moratorium would be so strict it is unlikely they would ever return. The administration did, however, allow federal agencies to use other kinds of preferences if they can justify them. These might include giving price breaks or extra points when evaluating contract bids by minority or woman-owned companies.

While Clinton limited affirmative action in contracting, a House subcommittee voted 8-5 along party lines in favor of H.R. 2128, the "Equal Opportunity Act of 1996" introduced by Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla). The bill, which has a counterpart introduced by Senator Dole in the Senate (S. 1085), would eliminate all affirmative action programs within the federal government. After an intense debate lasting over three hours, the House Constitution Subcommittee approved the bill, which will now go to the Judiciary Committee. The bill would not allow the government to "require or encourage" contractors to use race or gender-based "preferences," which it defines as "an advantage of any kind..." The legislation would eliminate a 30-year-old executive order program which requires most federal contractors to maintain written affirmative action plans with goals and timetables.

3/8/1996 - India's Parliament Supports Quotas for Women Legislators

On Friday, the Parliament of India passed a resolution that supported setting aside one-third of all state and national legislature seats for women. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who backed the measure, told the lower house (Lok Sabha), "I assure the house we are entirely in agreement with the spirit of the resolution. Every year we are taking steps to ensure the empowerment of women." The non-binding resolution was also passed by the upper house (Rajya Sabha) and would have to be ratified by the legislatures of India's 25 states and win the backing of the president in order to become law.

In recent months, women's rights activists have stepped up their campaign for quotas in order to combat the fact that they are increasingly left out of political decision-making.

3/7/1996 - Lawmakers Announce Bill Repealing Internet Gag Rule on Abortion

At a press conference on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced their plan to introduce a bill that would repeal a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which makes it a crime to provide information about abortion on the Internet. The provision, which was not in either the Senate or House version and went unnoticed until President Clinton had signed the bill last month, applies the 1873 Comstock Act to the Internet and makes it illegal to send material on abortion through the mail or across state lines. The fine is $250,000 and/or five years in prison.

Speaking at the press conference were: Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Although Attorney General Janet Reno has called this provision of the bill unconstitutional and the Clinton administration has said it will not enforce the provision, supporters of the new bill warned that an anti-choice president in the future could choose to prosecute those violating the provision. Such a decision would put many women's and abortion rights organizations in jeopardy.

Called a "high tech gag rule," the provision would curtail the ability of health care advocates, women's rights activists, abortion providers, and all Internet users to share and exchange information. The Feminist Majority Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit in conjunction with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and other women's rights and reproductive rights organizations to challenge the ban. Both sides in the case of Sanger v. Reno agree the ban on information is unconstitutional, but the plaintiffs warn that if the law remains on the books, it could be enforced under an anti-choice administration. Lawmakers cite this as another setback for women's health, and the Feminist Majority Foundation considers it an "outrageous affront to freedom of information and women's rights."

3/7/1996 - U.S. Servicemen Sentenced in Okinawa Rape Case

Three U.S. servicemen were convicted of raping a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by a panel of three judges at the Naha District Court Wednesday. In sentences considered tough by Japanese standards, Navy Seaman Marcus Gill and Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp each received sentences of 7 years in prison, while Marine Pfc. Kendrick Ledet was sentenced to 6 1/2 years. Prosecutors had asked for 10 years, arguing that the girl was kidnapped, beaten, brutally raped, and abandoned. Judge Shinei Nagamine told the courts, "This was an extremely heinous and bold crime. It was all the more serious because it was carefully planned."

Prosecutors say that on the evening of September 4, 1995, the three forced the girl into their rental car after she left a stationary shop. They then beat and bound her as Gill drove to a deserted road in a sugar cane field where the girl was raped and abandoned. All three confessed to a role in the attack. Gill admitted raping the girl and Ledet and Harp said they only helped abduct her upon Gill's urging but did not rape her. The court ruled that blood stains from the victim found on Harp's underwear proved he raped her. The judges gave Ledet a lighter sentence because he attempted to rape the girl but was unable to when he realized how young she was.

Lawyers for the defendants criticized the Japanese legal system and said they will appeal, with the families of the defendants saying the verdict was unfair. The defendants themselves showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

3/7/1996 - Same-Sex Marriage Issue Discussed in Hawaii Legislature

On Tuesday night, the Hawaii House approved a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot defining marriage as existing between a man and a woman, following a debate in which half of its 51 members rose to speak. Earlier in the day, the Senate had narrowly approved a bill creating "domestic partnerships" for gay couples, giving them the same benefits and obligations that married couples have under state law but not extending benefits covered by federal law, such as joint tax filing.

A 1993 state Supreme Court decision ruled that it was illegal discrimination to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples unless there is a compelling state interest. According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rey Graulty, domestic partnerships would nullify the 1991 lawsuit (filed by three gay couples), resulting in an almost certain legalization of same-sex marriages.

Unless lawmakers create a compromise by the time the legislative session ends April 29, the question will go back to a lower court on August 1. The House and Senate positions are so far apart, a court decision is more likely than a legislative compromise.

3/7/1996 - Critics of No-Fault Divorce Seek To Make Process Harder

In several states, lawmakers interested in restricting no-fault divorce have suggested "cooling off" periods and mandatory counseling for couples wishing to divorce without establishing who is at fault. Some of the momentum to change the laws comes from religious conservatives and father's rights groups. A sociology professor at the University of Southern California, Constance Ahrons suggests that one reason for the push to make divorce more difficult is a backlash against welfare mothers and could be a response to concerns about single-parent families and juvenile crime. Keeping people married could also be seen as a way to control welfare costs, she says.

A law proposed in Idaho would have forced couples involved in no-fault divorce cases to go into counseling and would have required that they be legally separated for a year before divorcing. The bill was dropped after advocates against domestic violence warned that victims could be put in more danger by such a waiting period. Opponents to the bill said that government had no business interfering in private lives, especially with safety issues at stake.

3/7/1996 - New Rules Proposed for Contracting

The White House has sent a memo to general counsels throughout the government proposing new rules for all federal departments that would require proof of discrimination before awarding race-based government contracts and would limit such contracting. The rules would disallow strict set-aside rules that designate specific numbers of minority contracts, and such "race-conscious" procurement would only be allowed after credible evidence of discrimination is found by a "disparity study."

Last year, President Clinton called for a review of all affirmative action programs, pledging to "mend not end" them. He said affirmative action programs were necessary because of ongoing discrimination, but said he would overhaul them.

3/7/1996 - Virginia Finally Implements Motor-Voter Registration

On Wednesday, Virginia became one of the last states to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, which facilitates voter registration by enlisting motor vehicle offices and posting mail-in voter applications at numerous public places. Gov. George Allen had failed in his attempt to show that Congress was unconstitutionally dictating election laws to the states and opening up the process to potential fraud.

Ten state Democratic leaders praised the beginning of motor-voter registration in Virginia. However, the program opened with little fanfare as some of the motor vehicle offices did not make the option of registering known to customers or even make forms visible. Others presented the option to each customer.