Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) heightened pressure on Senate Democrats yesterday when he officially announced that he will vote against the confirmation of John Ashcroft for U.S. Attorney General. Leahy is the highest-ranking Democrat to announce his opposition to Ashcroft, and was joined yesterday by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Both expressed serious concern about Ashcroft’s ability to enforce the law fairly given his record as Missouri Governor, State Attorney General and Senator. Leahy mentioned Ashcroft’s questionable record on civil rights, abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and the role of judiciary.
The Judiciary Committee will vote this afternoon, and the entire Senate could vote by the end of this week. Feminist, pro-choice, and other activist groups are focusing on Democratic senators who have not yet announced how they will vote, especially Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.
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The New York State Assembly is expected to pass a women’s health bill later today, but the Republican-led State Senate and Governor George Pataki will back the Senate’s version of the bill, passed last week, which includes a “conscience clause” that would strip the bill of an important measure. The Women’s Health and Wellness Act, as voted on in the Assembly, would require insurance companies to cover prescription contraceptives and annual breast cancer screenings for women over 40. The Senate version of the bill would mandate breast cancer screening for women over 50, and would include an exception to the contraceptive coverage clause for religious institutions. An estimated 200,000 women are employed by Catholic institutions in New York. Last year, Republicans in the Senate rejected the women’s health measure, calling for further study, but speedily passed a mean’s health measure on the last day of the legislative session that required insurance companies to cover prostate cancer screening.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling last week declaring that the state’s Children’s Code does not apply to a fetus, overruling a lower court judge’s decision to give a fetus the status of a child to protect it from a pregnant woman’s drug habit. The Supreme Court stated that a fetus is not covered by the Children’s Code, which guides social services agencies in removing children from harmful situations, as it could not “be in need of mental health treatment” or “placed through child placement services.” The fetus in the case was carried to term, and Julie Starks, the woman in question, was given custody of the child. Charges of possession of methamphetamines were dropped.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has come out against President Bush’s initiative to direct more federal funds to “faith-based” social service programs that would rally “armies of compassion,” and his plan to establish a White House Office of Faith-Based Action that will remove roadblocks religiously affiliated groups face when receiving federal money. Americans United challenges the constitutionality of Bush’s initiative and Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United said, “The Constitution created a separation between religion and government. The very existence of a federal office whose principal purpose is to give tax dollars to religious groups is in an irreparable conflict with the First Amendment.”
In addition to being unconstitutional, the proposal opens the doors for employment discrimination based on religious preference or non-beliefa private religious group could receive federal funds, but could require all employees to follow the same religion as the organization. The foundation of Bush’s proposal is “charitable choice,” an idea initiated by former Sen. John Ashcroft in 1996.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), in a speech yesterday, voiced her strong opposition to the elimination of US funds for international family planning organizations and to the possible political review of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill RU 486.
Citing the Food and Drug Administration’s September 2000 approval of the drug, Clinton said, “I think the evidence of the efficacy and safety of RU 486 is convincing and I would be very concerned if a decisions were made on political grounds instead of on medical or scientific grounds.” In Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson’s confirmation hearing, he claimed that the medication’s safety is “in question” and may merit a review.
There are no legitimate safety issues “in question” when it comes to Ru-486. It is a safe, effective method of early abortion and a possible treatment for uterine fibroid tumors, meningiomas, ovarian cancer and a myriad of other diseases and conditions that particularly affect women. RU 486 has been used in France since 1988, in the United Kingdom since 1991, in Switzerland since 1992, and is now becoming even more widely available throughout Europe and the rest of the world. It has been used safely by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide. In its September 1996 “approveable” letter, the FDA ruled that RU 486 is safe and effective. Final approval of the drug in September 2000 made it crystal clear that mifepristone had met all FDA criteria.
Clinton also admonished Bush’s executive order to end US funding to international family planning organizations that counseled women on abortion or provided abortion services, even if those services were financed with separate, private funds.
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LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
On Thursday, James C. Hormel, Ambassador to Luxembourg and an openly gay man, said there is “no truth” to Attorney General designate John Ashcroft’s statement that “he had any objective basis or personal knowledge upon which to vote against my nomination.” During his Senate Confirmation hearing testimony, Ashcroft said that he based his decision not to confirm Hormel on the totality of his record an included that he had “known Mr. Hormel for a long time.”
Hormel disavowed Ashcroft’s testimony, saying, “Let me be very clear about the facts: I cannot recall ever in my life having a conversation with Mr. Ashcroft. I have had absolutely no contact with him in almost 34 years.”
Hormel’s’ contradiction of Ashcroft’s testimony is not the only evidence regarding Ashcroft’s use of sexual preference as a hiring or appointment criteria. Paul Offner, a health care policy expert who applied to head Missouri’s Department of Social Services in 1985, said Ashcroft asked him about his sexual orientation during the interview. Throughout his testimony, Ashcroft said he would not and did not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring.
The strong anti-abortion position of the Bush Administration has researchers worried that President Bush may block federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This recently discovered class of research has showed promise for curing diabetes, AIDS and various types of degenerative brain disorders including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Lou Gherig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Anti-abortion forces such as the American Life League have already begun to put pressure on Bush and newly appointed anti-abortion Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, to cut NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding to projects that rely on fetal tissue.
During a 1985 interview for a top position in the Missouri State Cabinet, Sen. John Ashcroft, then Missouri Governor, allegedly asked interviewee Paul Offner, a health care policy expert who was applying to head Missouri’s Department of Social Services, about his sexuality, implying he would not get the job if he were gay. While such a question during an interview would not violate Missouri law, which does not prohibit discrimination in hiring based on sexual orientation, it does contradict Ashcroft’s testimony during his Senate Confirmation Hearing for Attorney General when he told Senators that “sexual orientation has never been something that I’ve used in hiring in any of the jobs, in any of the offices, I’ve held.”
Ashcroft’s conflicting statements about hiring practices his stance on gay rights are not the first to come to light during his Confirmation Hearings. Ashcroft has a long history of anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-civil rights, and anti-gay extremism, yet during his Confirmation Hearings, Ashcroft pledged to uphold all laws that protect, women, abortion, minorities and gays, despite his staunch opposition. Such conflicting statements have led to many Senators coming out against Ashcroft and vowing not to vote for his confirmation.
To learn more about John Ashcroft’s record against women, abortion, minorities and gays, visit www.feminist.org/AppointmentWatch.
Take Action and oppose John Ashcroft’s confirmation as Attorney General.
Read today’s Feminist Majority Foundation press release “Two John Ashcrofts _ One 25 Year Record Against Women’s Rights.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Women’s and Civil Rights groups held a news conference today condemning Sen. John Ashcroft’s (R-MO) long record against the rights of women, minorities and lesbian and gay men. At the conference, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority said that the John Ashcroft presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the John Ashcroft the women’s rights movement has known for over 20 years are not the same man.
“I should know,” Smeal continued, “As Missouri’s Attorney General, Ashcroft filed suit against the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1978, when I was NOW’s president.” Ashcroft charged NOW with federal anti-trust violations and attempted to break the ERA convention boycott of unratified states. In the Judiciary Committee hearings last week, when asked by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), he led people to believe his purpose was simply to defend the tourism business in Missouri.
“His willingness to use the law and Missouri tax dollars to launch a three-year unsuccessful fight against NOW and the ERA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court foreshadows how far he will go to fight and deny women’s rights,” continued Smeal. “His utter lack of understanding of freedom of political speech and the right to take political action to achieve social justice exemplifies a track record where his right-wing ideology prevails over his legal judgment.”
For over 20 years Ashcroft has attacked a woman’s right to abortion. “This is a man who in 1999 pushed an abortion ban (the Missouri Infant Protection Act) yet told us last week that Roe is the settled law of the land,” said Smeal. This Act would also have allowed the use of force against abortion doctors with its “justifiable defense” provision. At the time, Ashcroft urged Governor Mel Carnahan to sign what he called an “important bill.” When Carnahan vetoed the bill he explicitly noted this defense provision and called it “outrageous.” Read the entire press release.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) reintroduced the Equity in Prescription Contraceptive Coverage Actan effort he launched in 1997 that would require HMOs, employee health benefit plans and other insurers to cover all FDA approved contraceptive drugs and devices. In a press release, Sen. Reid said, “Despite the progress we have made as a nation in expanding equality for all American’s, millions of women in our nation still face discrimination from insurers who will not cover the cost of prescription contraception. Only the enactment of this legislation will ensure that contraceptive coverage is readily available to all women regardless of their insurance provider.”
Reid’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) would also require insurers to cover outpatient contraceptive services and would prohibit insurers from imposing co-payments or deductibles for prescription contraceptives that were higher than for other covered services, products or prescriptions. Reid cited that the recently released men’s impotency drug Viagra is covered by many insurance companies, yet prescription contraceptives for women, which have been available for 30 years, are still not covered by many health care plans.
Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratory is developing a new diagnostic tool for breast cancer: a probe that uses beams of light to check lumps and could reduce unnecessary biopsies. Smart Probe uses a thin needle similar to those used in routine blood tests to send light into suspicious lumps; the light bounces off tissue, giving computer-displayed measurements of optical, electrical, and chemical properties that can be analyzed and compared with measurements of health and cancerous tissue to determine whether the lump is benign or malignant. Smart Probe could be used in a doctor’s office with little or no anesthesia, reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies. Kaiser Permanente Medical Center reports that 1.2 million women a year undergo biopsies, with between 75 and 80 percent of suspicious lumps discovered as benign.
At the senate judiciary committee meeting today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) made a dramatic and well-documented statement outlining her reasons for opposing the appointment of John Aschcroft as U.S. Attorney General. Feinstein called Ashcroft’s record “ultra-right wing,” and stated that his “commitment to enforce the law in view of the extremeness of his record, as well as, on occasion, the harshness of his rhetoric, makes it difficult to believe that he can, in fact, fairly and aggressively enforce laws he deeply believes are wrong.” Feinstein included evidence backing the points on which she opposes Ashcroft’s confirmation, for example, citing Ashcroft’s statements opposing abortion and criticizing Roe v. Wade. She also challenged Ashcroft’s testimony regarding James Hormel, the openly gay Ambassador for Luzemburg whose confirmation Ashcroft opposed. Feinstein pointed out, “[the] new John Ashcroft promises never to discriminate against gays or lesbians for employment and said the reason for voting against Ambassador Hormel was because he knew him personally. Mr. Hormel called to tell me that he not only does not know Mr. Ashcroft, but that the Senator had refused to meet with him prior to his confirmation.”
“For over a quarter-century of public life,” Senator Feinstein notes, “John Ashcroft has established a record of right-wing conservatism, and of views far to the right of the average American, and even of many in his own party.” Her statement indicates mounting opposition to Ashcroft’s confirmation among the Democratic Senators.
Read Senator Feinstein’s full statement on John Ashcroft.
You can e-mail Senator Feinstein, or call her office at (202) 224-3841 to thank her for her statement and for voting against John Ashcroft. Sample text for message: I am writing in support of your January 24 statement opposing John Ashcroft’s appointment as U.S. Attorney General. Your thorough research and strong language on Ashcroft’s positions made a powerful statement on behalf of millions of Americans.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) used his power as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone the vote on John Ashcroft’s nomination as Attorney General for at least a week. The delay will allow Ashcroft to answer the over 300 questions submitted by Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had scheduled the vote for today. While Republicans are confident that Ashcroft will be confirmed, opposition among Democrats has been mounting.
Women’s rights and civil rights groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, have generated millions of e-mail and phone messages, letters and faxes to various Senators, urging them to oppose Ashcroft’s nomination based on his anti-woman, anti-choice, anti-civil rights, anti-lesbian and gay rights, anti-gun control record.
Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer (CA), Evan Bayh (IN), Jon Corzine (NJ), Paul Wellstone (MN), and Jack Reed (RI) have made public announcements that they will oppose Ashcroft’s confirmation. Other Democratic Senators have issued statements on their doubts as to whether Aschcroft will fairly and effectively enforce laws he has opposed, given his record of using his political position to further an extremist conservative agenda. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are some of the Senators who have expressed concern over Ashcroft’s record on civil rights, race relations, and abortion rights. Feinstein and Kennedy asked tough questions during the hearings, pressing Ashcroft on his seeming conversion during the hearings. Other Senators who were critical during the hearings include Charles Schumer (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
For more information on John Ashcroft, visit FMF’s Appointment Watch at www.feminist.org/appointmentwatch.
Yesterday, the US Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal in the case against Ameritech phone company, accused of discriminating against pregnant workers.
Ameritech denied job seniority to women workers who took pregnancy leave during the 1960s and 70s, resulting in women earning less retirement benefits today, despite the 1979 Pregnancy Discrimination Act that bars unequal treatment of pregnant employees.
The Supreme Court rejected arguments made by female Ameritech workers that relying on the pre-1979 pregnancy leave policy to deny or reduce benefits today amounts to discrimination against women.
Under the earlier policy, workers on pregnancy leave could only count 30 days of leave toward their seniority credit, which is used to calculate retirement benefits, while workers on leave for other disabilities received credit for the entire leave period. Ameritech changed their policy after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act became law, but did not re-calculate seniority credits for workers who took pregnancy leave pre-1979. Women employees have challenged the policy since 1991. In 1997, the company countered that it did not violate anti-discrimination laws; a Federal Judge agreed. The 7th US Circuit Court of appeals upheld the decision in July 2000, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case this week.
Anti-abortion protestors celebrated the presidency of George W. Bush — without Bush — at their annual march protesting the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal. In a statement read by anti-abortion leader Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Bush said “The promises of our Declaration of Independence are not just for the strong, the independent, or the healthy. They are for everyone — including unborn children.” In the past, Presidents Reagan and Bush I broadcast their statements to the march from the White House. During the campaign, Bush tried to obfuscate the abortion issue. However, he has declared war on women with his cabinet appointments of John Aschroft and Tommy Thompson and his issuance of an executive order reinstating the global gag rule, which denies federal funding to family planning programs that use their own money to provide counseling on abortion. Fueled by outrage over the Bush executive order on the international gag rule and the possibility of a review of mifepristone approval, the campaign to stop Ashcroft is gathering steam. Today, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) came out against Ashcroft. Oppose the confirmations of John Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson.
President Bush’s anti-woman, anti-abortion position is clear this morning, as he announces his decision to block US funding for international groups that provide women around the world with family planning information, counseling and abortion services. Ronald Reagan first issued this order, known as the Mexico City policy, in 1984. President Clinton reversed the Mexico City policy shortly after taking office, allowing international family planning groups to use their own funds to provide abortion services.
The abortion pill RU-486, also known as mifepristone, which was approved in Sept 2000 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also faces close scrutiny. Governor Tommy Thompson at his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Heath & Human Services said there might be safety concerns with mifepristone, and when asked about RU-486 in a “Face the Nation” interview, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, “We are going to take a look at all of the regulations.” Mifepristone has been repeatedly tested and has been in use in many nations for the past dozen years. The FDA declared the drug safe and effective in 1996 and 2000. There are no safety concerns with mifepristone.
For more on the Bush Administration transition, visit www.TransitionWatch.org, co-sponsored by the Feminist Majority, Greenpeace, ACLU and the International Campaign for Tibet.
LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.
Today is the 28th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Despite 28 years of safe and legal abortion access, today a woman’s right to choose is more vulnerable than ever. The threat comes with the inauguration of an anti-choice President, a majority of both houses of Congress is anti-choice, and the potential for an extremist anti-choice Attorney General and Supreme Court.
Today, while abortion rights activists celebrate the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, opponents to choice are working to strip all women of the right to control their bodies. Bush has nominated anti-abortion extremist John Ashcroft for US Attorney Generala position responsible for enforcing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which protects reproductive health clinic workers, doctors, and patients from anti-abortion violence.
Learn more about Roe v. Wade and Take Action on this important issue TODAY. Visit the Feminist Majority Foundation’s newest online feature: www.RoevWadeDay.com.
Brooke Shields and Tony Award winner Cherry Jones will portray a lesbian couple in the true story about a woman who must fight her deceased partner’s parents for custody of the couple’s child. “What Makes a Family” airs Monday night on Lifetime at 9 p.m. (EST) and is sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Partnership for Women and Families, National Women’s Law Center, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Tune in tonight at 9 p.m. (EST) on Lifetime Television.
Secretary Designate Tommy Thompson’s anti-abortion/anti-women’s rights ideology came through loud and clear in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Heal, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. In the final question directed to Thompson, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) asked him whether he would “take any action to undo the FDA approval” of RU-486. In his response, Thompson stated: “I don’t intend to roll back anything unless it’s proven to be unsafe. Safety concerns are something that’s in question”
At the beginning of the hearing Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed deep concerns about the immediate dismissal of FDA Commissioner Jane Henney. According to Mikulski, she had intended to give Thompson a letter asking that Henney be kept in her position, but she learned just minutes before the hearing that Henney had been dismissed and given 24 hours to vacate her office. Mikulski noted that RU-486 had been approved under Henney and expressed hopes that “Henney’s dismissal does not mark the beginning of a battleground and that the FDA will remain above politics. ” Committee Chair Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) echoed Mikulski’s concerns and said, “I think you will find she has broad support” from the industry. “It will be hard to replace her.”
After the hearing, Thompson was quoted by the Associated Press as declining to comment on his position on the use of federal funds to continue research with embryonic stem cells that may prove to be useful in fighting Parkinson’s and other diseases. According to Associated Press, Thompson said “That question didn’t come up and I’m not answering any questions until I’m confirmed.”
During Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearings on Sen. John Ashcroft’s nomination as Attorney General, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) voiced strong doubt that Ashcroft’s new promises to defend women’s rights, abortion rights, civil rights and gay rights can be trusted. “I have listened carefully to Senator John Ashcroft yesterday and today. Waters said, “It is clear to me that John Ashcroft is attempting to deny the passion and poor judgment he has displayed on certain critical issues, such as abortion, guns, civil rights and voter rights. I simply do not trust John Ashcroft. I believe he is simply saying whatever he believes is necessary to be confirmed.”
During Rep. Jackson Lee’s speech to the Judiciary Committee, she outlined Ashcroft’s 20-year battle against desegregation in Missouri schools as Attorney General and Governor of the state, noting his actions to undercut US Supreme Court’s desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, and his repeated refusal to cooperate with desegregation plans. Lee spoke about the position of Attorney General as one that ensures vulnerable people are protected, and questioned if Ashcroft could “be the protector that [he] needs to be for the people of the United States,” considering his record.
Sen. Feinstein expressed distrust of Ashcroft as well after he testified that he would defend the constitutionality of gun controls if confirmed as Attorney GeneralAshcroft opposed gun control measures while in the Senate. “Frankly, I don’t know what to believe,” said Feinstein. Similar doubts have arisen about Ashcroft’s veracity with regard to abortion, civil rights and gay rights. Ashcroft has held anti-woman’s rights, anti-civil rights and anti-gay rights while serving in public office, but now pledges to enforce laws that would protect women, abortion, gay and civil rights.