Justices Consider Medical Details in Abortion Ban Hearing

The Supreme Court heard two cases yesterday regarding the federal ban on certain abortion procedures used in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. The two cases, Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart, challenge the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which would criminalize doctors for performing a procedure that is medically known as dilation and extraction. The ban was passed by Congress in 2003 without an exception for the health of a pregnant woman. Reproductive rights advocates are also concerned that the law is too vague and could be applied more broadly to other abortion procedures.

Yesterday’s hearings included several questions by justices as to whether the procedure in question is ever medically necessary for the health of a pregnant woman. Congressional hearings found that women never need dilation and extraction for the sake of their health, but lower courts have ruled that this finding was false, NPR reports. In fact, during a previous hearing at a lower court, even a doctor in support of the ban testified “he had used and would use the procedure in some circumstances,” according to NPR. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion that struck down a similar Nebraska state ban in 2000, noted that women with serious health problems should not have to face a judge in order to have a procedure that is deemed medically necessary by her physician; “I don’t see how it’s going to work without some people suffering serious illness as a result of mistakes by the judge,” Justice Breyer told the court.

Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a swing voter on abortion cases who will likely be in a position to control the outcome of the case, questioned both sides, asking about the medical situations that might necessitate a dilation and extraction abortion, the New York Times reports. Justice Kennedy pointed out that the dilation and extraction procedure might actually be safer in some circumstances.

President Bush’s two court appointees were watched closely yesterday, as both of them are against abortion rights. According to several reports, including Reuters and the New York Times, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to support the government’s position on the ban by bolstering the arguments in support of the ban. Justice Samuel Alito, on the other hand, did not ask any questions of either side.

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EC Available OTC Soon; CRR to Subpoena EC White House Documents

The Reproductive Health Technologies Project announced on Monday that emergency contraception (EC) will be available behind pharmacy counters without a prescription for women 18 years and older as early as this week. Emergency contraception is effective up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, birth control failure, or rape, but it is most effective if taken within 24 hours. Because of the time-sensitive nature of EC, over-the-counter access is crucial to its effective use.

Also on Monday, a US magistrate announced that the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) will be able to subpoena White House documents for its lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CRR is suing the FDA for breaking its own regulations by involving politics in what should have been a scientific decision to make EC over-the-counter. The judge’s ruling also said that CRR will be able to depose former White House policy aide Jay Lefkowitz along with Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs. The judge ruled that the FDA acted in “bad faith” in its decision-making process for making EC over-the-counter.

Said Nancy Northup, president of CRR, in a press release yesterday, “We are pleased that the court is not only allowing us to further explore seemingly inappropriate White House involvement in the FDA’s decision making… Our months of discovery have revealed that FDA scientists attempted to carry out a scientific approval process, but higher level officials made a mockery of that process, by ignoring the results and bowing to political pressures.”

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Gender Gap Key in Democratic Victories

The women’s vote was key in Democratic victories on Tuesday. Nowhere was its impact more apparent than in the Virginia Jim Webb/George Allen Senate race. Fifty-five percent of women voted for Jim Webb (D), while 55 percent of men voted for George Allen (R), for a ten-point gender gap, according to exit polls. The gender gap was also decisive in the Montana Jon Tester/Conrad Burns Senate race, where 52 percent of women voted for Democratic challenger Tester and 50 percent of men voted for incumbent Republican Burns for another decisive gender gap. In Missouri’s Senate race, 51 percent of women voted for Claire McCaskill (D), while 51 percent of men voted for Jim Talent (R). It can be said that if only men voted, Republicans would still be in control of the Senate.

In the House, again, women’s votes made a difference in the election’s outcome. The exit polls were largely not broken up by House district, but overall, women voted five percentage points more (56 percent) for Democrats than men (51 percent). According to past gender gap analysis and overall Senate and House exit polls, women played an integral role in the House going Democratic – especially in close races.

LEARN MORE Read more election results at www.FeministMajority.org

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Michigan Votes to Ban Affirmative Action

Michigan voters approved a state-wide ban on affirmative action in public education, public employment, and state contracts on Tuesday. The referendum was opposed by many prominent leaders in the political, business, and academic worlds, including both major gubernatorial candidates, Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) – who was reelected on Tuesday – and Dick DeVos (R). Detroit and the surrounding metro area also showed strong opposition to the referendum, as evidenced by the ubiquitous “No on 2” signs. Roughly 58 percent of voters across the state, however, came out in favor of the ban. Proposition Two garnered the most support from men and white voters, with 60 percent and 59 percent voting to approve it, respectively. Only 47 percent of women and 14 percent of black voters cast a “yes” ballot for the proposition, according to exit polls, Inside Higher Ed reports.

The ban has been controversial from the beginning. Ward Connerly, an African-American businessman, pushed through a similar ban on affirmative action in California during the 1996 election. He created an anti-affirmative action organization with the same name as the bill on Michigan’s ballot – the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative – with Jennifer Gratz. Gratz filed suit against the University of Michigan Law School in 2003 when she was reportedly denied admission.

In order to put Proposition Two on the ballot, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) paid workers two dollars for every signature they obtained. According to Kate Nielson, a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation who spent much of the past two months working in the field, the MCRI used other deceptive means to get the referendum on the ballot. One black, female Wayne State University student working for the MCRI to collect signatures was told that the referendum was to cut taxes.

The consequences of the approval of Proposition Two will be far reaching in Michigan and beyond. Changes are set to start as early as December 22, but legal challenges are expected. The passage of Proposition Two will not only affect Michigan citizens; with his success in Michigan, Connerly is expected to take the same ban to other states. Ohio is the next suspected target. Opponents of these bans plan to mobilize their base early in an attempt to keep similar referenda off of future ballots.

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Anti-Abortion Measures Defeated in SD, CA, OR; Minimum Wage Increases Pass

Across the country, anti-abortion ballot measures were defeated and minimum wage increases passed in six states. The punitive ban on abortion in South Dakota, with no exceptions except to “prevent the death” of the woman, was defeated 56 to 44 percent. “This draconian ban was a threat to the lives and health of South Dakotan women, and its defeat is a tremendous victory,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which organized opposition to the ban on college campuses in South Dakota.

In California, voters rejected for the second time a ballot measure to mandate parental notification for young women seeking abortions. The measure was defeated by a vote of 54 to 46 percent. This is an even wider margin of defeat than in 2005, when the measure failed by a vote of 52.6 to 47.4 percent. Oregon voters also rejected a parental notification measure by a vote of 54 to 46 percent, with 66 percent of precincts reporting, according to CNN.

All six states (AZ, CO, MO, MT, NV, OH) with minimum wage increases on their ballots passed them with large margins, according to CNN. On the issue of same-sex marriage, bans were passed in Colorado, Idaho, Wisconsin, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The same-sex marriage ban in Arizona is still too close to call, with 51 percent opposing the ban, 49 percent voting for the ban, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to CNN. Colorado’s measure to allow domestic partnerships also failed, 53 to 47 percent.

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi Set to Become First Woman Speaker of the House

With Democrats winning a majority of the seats in the House yesterday, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will become the first woman and self-declared feminist Speaker of the House in history. As speaker, Pelosi is third in line of succession to the White House.

Rep. Pelosi has publicly articulated a positive plan for her “first 100 hours” as speaker. Pelosi has said she will start by increasing the federal minimum wage, removing the ban on stem cell research, implementing 9-11 commission recommendations, working to lower the cost of prescription drug coverage, and increasing tax breaks for middle-class Americans, according to CNN. As minority leader, Pelosi worked tirelessly to raise money to elect Democrats to the House and was responsible for the highest levels of party unity in voting in decades, according to the Associated Press. Pelosi has been a long-time supporter of women’s rights and women breaking the glass ceiling.

After holding leadership positions, including Chair of California’s Democratic Party, Pelosi was elected to the House in 1987, filling Sala Burton’s seat, which was formerly Phil Burton’s seat. In 2000, she became the first woman Democratic whip, and in 2002, she became the first woman Democratic leader. Pelosi has referred to her rise within the party ranks as breaking through a “marble ceiling,” a phrase that she feels reflects the difficulty for women to rise to positions of power within national government, according to the Associated Press.

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Supreme Court Hears Federal Abortion Ban Case Today

The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in two cases that challenge the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which Congress passed in 2003. Six federal courts across the country have struck down the law, finding it unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. The ban (PDF), which proponents claim would only ban late-term abortions, refers to a procedure called dilation and extraction, and could ban most safe and effective abortions for pregnancies as early as 12 weeks, AP reports. Most importantly, the ban has no exception for severe fetal anomalies or for the health of a pregnant woman.

The Feminist Majority Foundation participated in an amicus brief along with the Institute for Reproductive Health Access and 51 other clinics and organizations in support of Carhart and his fellow respondents. The brief (PDF) details the three reasons women generally seek second- and third-trimester abortions: a fetus is found to have grave anomalies, a pregnancy endangers the health or life of a woman, and obstacles delay the access to a first-trimester abortion. The brief also includes personal stories of women who have stepped forward to share their experiences of a second- or third-term abortion, including the reasons for having the procedure and their decision-making process. Abortions after the first trimester are not very common; second-trimester abortions account for about eight percent of all abortions, and third-trimester abortions accounted for less than one percent. These procedures are, however, very necessary for the well-being of women in troubled pregnancies.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a similar state law in Nebraska by a 5-4 vote with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor casting the decisive vote. Like the ban under current consideration, the Nebraskan law also could have included other abortion methods and did not provide an exception for the health of a pregnant woman. With O’Connor retiring and Bush’s two additions to the court, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court may reverse this decision and deliver a blow to Roe v. Wade.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, has noted the significant impact this ban could have on women over 35. Amniocentesis, a prenatal test that can identify genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in a fetus, is recommended for women over 35 because of a heightened risk of fetal abnormalities linked to the age of a pregnant woman. This test, which is preformed in the second trimester, can reveal serious complications that could compel a woman to decide to terminate her pregnancy. Without the ability to undergo a safe and legal second- or third-term abortion, women may feel restricted from waiting until later in life to become pregnant.

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UPDATED 11:31 PM EST Latest News on 2006 State Ballot Measures

Check back here throughout the night to get the latest news on state ballot measures in the 2006 election.

UPDATED 11:31 PM EST

The South Dakota abortion ban is at 55 against, 45 for, with nearly 50 percent of precincts reporting.

UPDATED 10:46 PM EST

According to the Argus Leader, with 194 of 818 precincts reporting, 60 percent of voters voted “no” on the abortion ban.

UPDATED 10:30 PM EST

Minimum wage increases are predicted to win in Missouri and Nevada, as well as Ohio, as previously reported.

UPDATED 10:22 PM EST

CNN is reporting that opponents of the South Dakota abortion ban are winning by 6 percent, with 9 percent of precincts reporting.

UPDATED 8:00 PM EST

Same-sex marriage ban projected to win in Virgnia. Minimum wage increase projected to win in Ohio.

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Democrats Win Governors’ Races

CNN has projected several gubernatorial wins for Democrats. Ted Strickland (D) is projected as defeating Ken Blackwell in Ohio’s gubernatorial race. Blackwell, a Republican, was the Secretary of State of Ohio during the disputed 2004 election.

Incumbent Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) has been predicted winner of the governor’s race in Michigan. Deval Patrick (D) has been projected the winner of Massachusetts’ governor’s race, defeating Republican Kerry Healy. Incumbent Governor Ed Rendell (D) has been projected the winner of Pennsylvania’s governor’s race. Eliot Spitzer (D), former Attorney General of New York, has been predicted winner of New York’s gubernatorial race. And, incumbent Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico will keep his seat, predicts CNN.

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SD Abortion Ban Lobby Received $750,000 in Questionable Funds

On the eve of Tuesday’s election, news has broken that Vote Yes for Life, the group trying to pass a sweeping abortion ban in South Dakota, may have received an illegal donation of $750,000 — the largest single amount received by either side of the South Dakota abortion ban debate. The disputed money came from Promising Futures, Inc., a company set up by the ban’s author and sponsor, State Representative Roger Hunt, to collect donations for Vote Yes. Promising Futures disclosed the $750,000 donation three days after the October 31 deadline and failed to include the original donor’s name. Both late filing and anonymous donations over $100 violate state law, South Dakota’s Secretary of State told the Argus Leader Saturday.

The Argus Leader has demanded that Hunt reveal the original donor’s name, blasting the representative for “hiding behind what he admits is a sham corporation.” The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the primary organization mobilizing voters against the ban, has called for an expedited investigation by the attorney general and has formally asked Vote Yes for Life to return the money.

“This is yet another example of the continued campaign of dishonesty coming out of the Vote Yes camp,” said Healthy Families Co-Chair Jan Nicolay in an official statement. “They lied about the lack of exceptions for rape and incest victims… for the woman’s health and for fetal anomalies… It’s no surprise that the Vote Yes for Life Campaign would fudge their numbers, too.”

The financing scandal is not the first problem for Vote Yes for Life. This summer, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the IRS over Vote Yes’s alleged use of federal funds to lobby for the ban.

DONATE to support the Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts to defeat the abortion ban in South Dakota. Half of your donation will go to the Campaign for Health Families for media ads.

LEARN MORE Read the Ms. magazine article Showdown on the Plains

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Kansas Abortion Provider Requests Investigation of TV Remarks

Abortion provider George Tiller plans to ask the Kansas Supreme Court today to investigate if Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline and FOX TV Host Bill O’Reilly violated patients’ privacy during an interview on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly reported that a “source inside” one of the two abortion clinics under investigation by Kline said that Tiller provided late-term abortions to depressed women. While a spokesperson for Kline has denied knowledge of O’Reilly’s inside source, Tiller’s attorney claims it is “preposterous” that a person within the clinic would compromise the privacy of the clinic’s patients by divulging such information to O’Reilly, the Associated Press reports.

The interview follows Kline’s announcement on Tuesday that he had succeeded in his two-year quest to obtain abortion records from two clinics, though the records have been stripped of names and other identifying information. Kline had initially sought these records in 2004, claiming he is using the records to investigate possible illegal late-term abortions and cases of child molestation and rape.

Kline’s future as attorney general will be decided by tomorrow’s elections. A recent poll shows Kline trailing by thirteen points to his Democratic opponent, Paul Morrison, according to the Washington Times, which the newspaper attributes to Kline’s request for the abortion records.

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DHHS Sued for Failure to Provide Information on Pro-Life Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is suing the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to respond to a request for information regarding its policy of using federal funds to support so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CREW requested the information in August under the Freedom of Information Act after some CPCs were found to provide false and misleading information about abortion to pregnant teenagers.

Millions of dollars earmarked for federal and state funded abstinence-only education is being given to CPCs each year, according to the lawsuit. These pro-life centers often misrepresent themselves, failing to advertise that they are anti-abortion and attracting women who want full information about all their reproductive choices, including abortion. Often, CPCs use shame and scare tactics to deter women from choosing abortion, according to a report released by Legal Momentum.

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HPV Vaccine to be Included in Immunization Program for Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have added the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, to the government-sponsored Vaccines for Children program. The Vaccines for Children program provides subsidized vaccines for children ages nine to 18 who are on Medicaid, are uninsured or underinsured, or are Native American or Alaska Native, according to Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report. Gardasil’s inclusion in the program will increase equitable access to the vaccine, which is becoming increasingly covered by private insurance companies.

The HPV vaccine is aimed toward women ages nine to 26 to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil has been found to be most effective when given to young women before they become sexually active, as the vaccine only prevents contraction of the disease, and does not treat infected women. Gardasil is the first immunization recommended for children that prevents a sexually transmitted infection.

According to the FDA, over half of sexually active women will contract HPV in their lifetime. The FDA also reports that HPV is responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer and 90 percent of genital warts cases. The HPV vaccine is already available in Australia and Mexico and is set to be released in several European countries by the end of this year.

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AAUP Report Highlights Gender Inequities in Higher Education

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a report last week that draws attention to disparities among female and male faculty in higher education. According to the report (PDF), women are obtaining doctoral degrees at record rates, but represent only a small portion of tenured faculty. The report notes nine doctoral institutions where women account for less than 10 percent of full professors, with women accounting for a mere 6.4 percent of tenured faculty at Polytechnic University. The report also illustrates the salary gap among women and men professors; at the University of Houston, the average salary for a woman assistant professor is only 79.4 percent the salary of a man.

Martha S. West, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis and co-author of the report, said, “I think the significant thing is that we are releasing the data for individuals schools around the country, so people at their own schools can compare how their school is doing compared to others… Hopefully we’ll generate some significant attention all over the country.”

LEARN MORE about the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Program

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Kansas Attorney General Receives Redacted Abortion Records

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (R) announced on Tuesday that he had succeeded in his two-year quest to obtain abortion records from two clinics, though the records have been stripped of names and other identifying information. Kline had initially sought these records in 2004, at which time he said he needed the records to prosecute possible violations of the state’s law prohibiting sex with girls 16 and younger. However, Kline had subpoenaed records of women over the age of 16 and only asked for the late-term abortion records from Women’s Health Care Services in Wichita, even though the clinic also performs early abortions, according to Ms. magazine. Kline later said that he was also looking into whether clinics had violated late-term abortion statutes.

Lee Thompson, the attorney for Women’s Health Care Services, questions the timing of the announcement that Kline had obtained the abortion records, as Kline is in a reelection race right now for Attorney General. “This has always been part of [Kline’s] political agenda, rather than good-faith criminal prosecution,” Thompson said, according to the Kansas City Star. “Why did he wait a week before the election?” Kline is facing Democratic challenger Paul Morrison, who has repeatedly criticized Kline over his attempts to access the abortion records. Morrison’s campaign manager, Mark Simpson, told the Kansas City Star, “Everything Phill Kline has been doing has looked pretty desperate … We feel this is an invasion of privacy and a desperate, dangerous move.”

LEARN MORE Read “Abortion Clinics Under Fire” in Ms. magazine to learn more about targeted clinics in Kansas and Mississippi

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Man Found Guilty in First US FGM Trial

A man was convicted of aggravated battery and cruelty to children on Wednesday for performing female genital mutilation on his young daughter in 2001. This is believed to be the first criminal case of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the US. The girl’s father, 30-year-old Ethiopian immigrant Khalid Adem, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but could have received up to 40 years, Reuters reports. “The child has suffered, will suffer, the rest of her life,” said Judge Richard Winegarden during sentencing, according to the Associated Press.

During the trial, Adem testified that he had never cut his daughter, nor did he ask anyone else to do so, reports the AP. He said he grew up in the capital of Ethiopia and considers FGM to be a practice carried out in rural areas. Adem’s lawyer tried to imply that the girl’s mother, who divorced Adem in 2003, was responsible for the cutting the girl, even though she has worked on passing anti-mutilation laws in Georgia state.

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Media Misleads: Women Don’t “Opt Out,” They’re Pushed Out

When women leave careers to raise children, they are not “opting out” – as the news media often suggests – but are pushed out by the “maternity wall,” the mothers’ version of the glass ceiling, the Center for Worklife Law argues in a new report. The report, “Opt Out or Pushed Out: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict” (pdf), analyzed 119 articles from 1980 to 2006 about women leaving work to become mothers. Seventy-three percent of the articles indicated that women left paid jobs because of a psychological or biological “pull” towards motherhood, rather than being pushed out by workplace inflexibility or gender discrimination.

These statistics, however, clash with a 2004 study cited in the report, which found that, while five out of 43 professional women stayed home after becoming mothers, only 16 percent intended to quit their jobs, and 86 percent blamed work reasons, such as workplace inflexibility, for their leaving, according to the report. “Perhaps the most damaging parts of the Opt Out story line is that it excuses gender discrimination under the rubric of ‘choice,'” the center notes in the report.

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