2/21/1997 - Portugal Narrowly Rejects Abortion Rights Bill
After a long, heated national debate, Portuguese lawmakers yesterday narrowly defeated a bill which would have allowed unrestricted abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. The bill lost by a 112 - 111 vote with three abstentions. The lawmakers did however, vote to extend the period for abortion in cases of rape or incest. Odete Santos, one of the many sponsors of the bill, commented after the vote, "Portuguese women were the big losers. Deputies will not have a lot of responsibility and a lot weighing on their conscience. Their vote means that women will have to continue risking their lives with illegal abortions." Approximately 16,000 illegal abortions are performed each year in the predominately Roman Catholic country.
Following allegations of widespread sexual harassment on a German Army base, the Army is examining how widespread sex crimes are at bases in Western Europe and Bosnia. The allegations at the training center in Darmstadt, Germany included rape, sodomy and cruelty. The Army has relieved the commander of the training base of his duties because of the allegations that three of his instructors sexually assaulted or harassed female trainees. At least some of the alleged incidents occurred after the Aberdeen sex scandal case broke.
In South Carolina, disciplinary hearings for 10 men who allegedly harassed, hazed and assaulted two female cadets at the Citadel have been scheduled for Saturday, February 22. Resembling individual courts-martial, the administrative hearings will be secrective, held before a three-person board. One of the original 12 male cadets originally implicated in the harassment of Jeanie Mentavlos and Kim Messer resigned while another did not return for spring semester. Both Mentavlos and Messer have left the military college.
In Vermont, Lt. Col. Martha Rainville has become the first appointed woman to head a state national guard. Vermont lawmakers appointed her by a 104 to 73 margin over Maj. Gen. Donal Edwards in secret balloting. Vermont is the only state which appoints its adjunct general, the head of the state’s national gaurd..
On Wednesday, February 19th, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Schenk v. Pro-choice Network of Western New York which upholds fixed buffer zones at abortion clinics. The Court upheld two of the three forms of injunctive relief by allowing not only the 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. The Court upheld a 15-foot fixed buffer zone in this case, but also upheld the 1994 Madsen decision of a 36 feet zone and thus makes the zone size dependent on the record of anti-abortion violence and the geographic location of the clinic. The Court did strike down a floating buffer zone in this case, but it left open the possibility of a floating buffer zone in other cases. Chief Justice Rehnquist 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.
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation commented that, the "Schenck decision upholding fixed buffer zones is a victory for abortion clinics, but the decision to strike down a floating buffer zone in this case could not have come at a worse time."
2/20/1997 - Supreme Court Sets Aside Set-Aside Law
The Supreme Court ruled in Philadelphia v Contractors Assn. Of Eastern Pennsylvania that a set-aside program run by the city of Philadelphia is not constitutional. The program set aside one-fourth of public contracts for women and people of color. A judge's ruling barring the city from enforcing the program until the outcome of the legal case has already left many firms struggling to compete. Carole Robinson, an African American businesswoman in Philadelphia, commented, "It’s had a tremendous impact. Some of these businesses have already gone under. And, unfortunately, it’s going on all across the county." The culmination of the eight-year legal battle, along with rulings rejecting similar program in Columbus, Ohio and Miami, indicates that the Court is dismantling set-aside programs for women and people of color.
2/20/1997 - May Sweeps May Sweep Ellen Out of the Closet
TV Guide reports that writers of the hit t.v. sitcom Ellen have written a special one-hour show during which Ellen reveals that she is a lesbian. The script calls for Ellen to reveal to her psychiatrist, who may be played by Oprah Winfrey, that she is attracted to another woman. ABC and Walt Disney Television must both approve the script before it can air. If approved, the show will air during the May sweeps
Labor leaders, gathered for the annual mid-winter meeting of the AFL-CIO, are demanding that the millions of welfare recipients headed into the workforce receive at least minimum wage. They also demand labor law protections cover the so-called "workfare" recipients. Officials fear that if labor laws do not protect these new workers, state and local governments will use them to replace existing job-holders more cheaply. In a resolution, the AFL-CIO wrote, "Real welfare reform must not take job opportunities away from people who already have them." The Labor Department is currently in the process of determining whether federal labor laws cover welfare recipients who are working in public jobs in exchange for continued benefits.
At the conference, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney also expressed outrage at the continued delay of the Alexis Herman confirmation hearings for Secretary of Labor. He announced that the federation’s executive council had approved a resolution in support of Herman. The executive council resolution said, "The AFL-CIO calls for immediate hearings on the nomination of this African American Woman. It is time for Alexis Herman to be able to stand in an open forum and have her nomination considered by the United States Senate.
On February 18th, anti-abortion extremist James Anthony Mitchell, 38, broke into and firebombed a Falls Church, Virginia abortion clinic. Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder said that the extremist was clearly, "protesting abortion." Unfortunately for Mitchell, he didn’t leave the clinic before he firebombed it and got trapped inside by the flames. The fire caused major damage to the first floor of the clinic and smoke damage to the second floor.