Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Voter ID Law

In a six-to-one decision, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a voter identification law on Monday, supporting a lower court decision that ruled the law violated the equal protection clause of Missouri’s constitution, as well as the right guaranteed by the state constitution to vote. Opponents of the voter identification law, which would have required all voters to present a state- or federally issued photo ID when voting, argue that the ID requirement makes voting too difficult and places a financial burden on voters. The law would have especially affected the poor, elderly, and disabled, who are less likely to already possess a form of photo ID.

In the majority opinion, the court said that the law “places too great an encumbrance on the right to vote of Missourians who cannot show the very specific and often costly-to-obtain photo IDs the statute requires,” according to Southeast Missourian.

The voter identification bill was signed into law by Governor Matt Blunt (R) on June 15 and was challenged in the lower court in September. It is estimated that 169,000 to 240,000 Missourians lack the identification that would have been necessary to vote under this law.

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FDA Urged to Investigate Hidden Information About Silicone Breast Implants

Consumer activist organization Public Citizen called for a Food and Drug Administration investigation of silicone gel breast implants maker Mentor Corporation after a former employee reported that Mentor was aware of dangerous side effects of the implants, but hid them from the FDA. The former employee was a scientist with Mentor for 15 years, and believes he was let go earlier this year because of his protests against the company’s refusal to send proper test results to the FDA, Washington Post reports.

Throughout testing, scientists found that larger silicone molecules were breaking down into smaller ones, causing them to occasionally leak out of the implant bag. “The bottom line is that somebody needed to look at this,” said the scientist, who is choosing to remain anonymous, to the Washington Post. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research group, wrote to the FDA: “This new evidence that information has been illegally withheld from the FDA should prompt a new criminal investigation bearing on the safety of silicone gel implants,” reports Our Bodies, Our Blog.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has long advocated against the use of silicone gel implants. Members of Congress have supported NOW’s position, and in September, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) introduced a bill that would stop approval for breast implants until producers of the implants can prove safety, with no breaking or leakage into a woman’s body, according to NOW’s website.

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HHS Must Ensure Abstinence Programs Include Accurate Condom Information

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a legal opinion on Wednesday finding that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must ensure that abstinence-only programs receiving federal funding include medically accurate information about condoms. In its letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt, the GAO found that Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade Horn was incorrect when he said that abstinence-only programs did not fall under the purview of the Public Health Service Act, which requires that programs discussing sexually transmitted infections include medically accurate information about the effectiveness of condoms.

Though the GAO did not examine federally funded abstinence-only programs for violations of this law, the legal opinion was hailed as a victory by reproductive health advocates. “We welcome the GAO’s finding and eagerly await the next steps by HHS to come into compliance with federal law,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “For the better part of 25 years, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been permitted to use tax-payer dollars to lie about the effectiveness of condoms and the current Administration has, time and again, failed to hold these programs accountable for much of anything except cashing their grant checks,” continued Smith.

“We have no disagreement that abstinence education curricula should be medically accurate,” said Horn, according to the Associated Press. “In fact, we insist on it.” However, Horn told the AP that the GAO opinion will not have an effect on the abstinence-only literature.

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Foley Names Childhood Abuser

According to his lawyers, former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) has reported the name of the Catholic priest who allegedly abused him as a teenager to prosecutors. The priest, Anthony Mercieca, has disclosed details of his involvement with Foley to the Florida newspaper Sarasota Herald Tribune, admitting to the intimate and sexually inappropriate nature of their relationship. Foley, who resigned from the House of Representatives last month after he was accused of having highly sexual online conversations with young, male Congressional pages, announced that he had been abused by a clergyman as a youth, has been living as a closeted gay man, and is currently struggling with alcoholism.

Mercieca spoke with reporters with the Sarasota Herald Tribune, acknowledging that his two-year relationship with Foley had been intimate and could be perceived as sexually inappropriate.

The Catholic diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, Foley’s home district, has been rife with scandals. The past two bishops in Palm Beach, Anthony O’Connell and J. Keith Symons, both resigned after allegations of sexual abuse. O’Connell admitted to repeatedly abusing a teenage boy, and Symons admitted to molesting five teenage boys, the Boston Globe reports. Additionally, the same day that the Foley scandal broke, the current bishop of the Palm Beach diocese apologized on behalf of two priests who were accused of stealing $8.6 million dollars from the church, the Palm Beach Post reports.

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South Dakota Anti-Abortion Group Uses Misleading TV Ad

The South Dakota anti-abortion group Vote Yes for Life has launched a misleading television advertisement to gather support for Referred Law 6, a bill on South Dakota’s November ballot that will affirm the state’s current abortion ban. The ad features a group of doctors who claim inaccurately that, “science now proves that life begins at conception” and that the bill “does provide exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”

Three weeks before the upcoming election, outraged pro-choice feminists in South Dakota and neighboring states have geared up to combat the anti-abortion group’s false information. “Their ad is full of blatant lies,” said Lindsay Roitman, the campaign manager for the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, in a phone interview with Ms. magazine. “The law explicitly says there are no exceptions except to prevent the death of a woman,” Roitman said. “I think that they’ve reached a new level of desperation. The opposition knows that this law is too restrictive and the only way they can respond, the only way for them to win people over is to lie to them.”

Roitman also questioned the medical expertise of the doctors in the ad because “most of these doctors aren’t doctors who are treating women with pregnancies, and there’s only one ob-gyn who has been identified.”

South Dakota doctors who oppose the bill have united under the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hosting several press conferences expressing their concerns about the ban. Meanwhile, the Campaign for Healthy Families has launched a political offensive to correct the false information in the ad. “We can cite everything we say in our ads or our information,” Roitman said. “We’ll continue to communicate with our voters about the true impact of this law through television ads and grassroots organizing.”

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Scalia Declares No Right for Supreme Court to Legalize Abortion

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia appeared in a televised debate on Sunday with ACLU president Nadine Strossen, during which he reaffirmed his anti-abortion and anti-gay rights stance. Scalia believes that abortion and gay rights were never intended to be a part of the Bill of Rights, which is “why abortion and homosexual sodomy were criminal for 200 years,” the conservative judge told the 1,500 member audience, according to USA Today. During the debate, Scalia articulated his “textualist” approach to ruling on Court decisions, in which he tries to interpret the Constitution within its 18th century framework, Jurist reports.

Justice Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Reagan and continues to be one of the most conservative judges on the Court. He is well-known for his anti-abortion stance, and has said in the past that he would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

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US Population Reaches 300 Million Today, Ranks Third in World

The United States population will hit 300 million people today, the US Census Bureau estimates. The US currently ranks third in the world for population size after China and India, reports PlanetWire. Larger population numbers are attributed to factors such as births outnumbering deaths and immigration, both legal and illegal. About 40 percent of US population growth comes from immigration, according to the The Discovery Channel.

The nation’s rapid growth – at a rate of approximately one person every eleven seconds – and extraordinary consumption severely impacts the health of the environment, National Geographic News reports. While the US only has five percent of the world’s population, it uses about a quarter of the earth’s resources. With each American producing five pounds of trash per day and using water at a rate three times higher than the world average, the growing US population is depleting the world’s resources much faster than any other country.

According to PlanetWire, the rate of population growth in the US is also increasing. It took 139 years, from 1776 to 1915, before the country reached its first 100 million people. Fifty-two years later, the population reached 200 million, and it has taken only 39 years to reach 300 million. It is expected that the US will have 400 million Americans in just 37 years.

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Former FDA Head to Plead Guilty on Stock Charges

Lester Crawford, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will plead guilty today to making a false statement and falsely denying a conflict of interest regarding his stock holdings. According to MSNBC, Crawford lied about his stock holdings and options in companies that were affected by FDA decisions, including consumer products manufacturer Kimberly-Clark, PepsiCo, Sysco, and Wal-Mart. As the chair of the Obesity Working Group in 2003, Crawford and his wife had about $62,000 invested in PepsiCo, a major producer of soft drinks and snack foods, MSNBC reports.

Crawford’s lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, has publicly stated that Crawford admits his guilt to the two misdemeanors. “Absolutely, he did something wrong,” Van Gelder told The Boston Globe, “No matter how complex these transaction forms are, at the end of the day it’s his signatureÉ He will accept responsibility.” Each of the two charges are punishable by up to a year in jail, but Van Gelder expects that Crawford’s cooperation will reduce the severity of his sentence, The New York Times reports.

Crawford was reported to have had an unusual amount of involvement in delaying the decision to approve emergency contraception for over-the-counter sales, according to the depositions of senior FDA scientists. He resigned abruptly as commissioner of the FDA after over-the-counter approval for the drug was delayed in August 2005. The New York Times reports that Crawford’s resignation was just one month after the department’s ethics office began an investigation of Crawford’s finances.

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Abramoff Emails Link Mehlman to Mariana Islands

The House Government Committee has just released e-mails from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff which indicate that Abramoff tried to use his connections with then White House Political Director Ken Mehlman (who is currently the chair of the Republican National Committee) to have State Department employee Allen Stayman fired. Stayman was advocating for labor reforms to improve the working conditions within sweatshops in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is exempt from US minimum wage requirements and most provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The emails show that Abramoff, who was working as a lobbyist for the Northern Mariana Islands and its garment factories, asked Ken Mehlman to fire Stayman, the Los Angeles Times reports. Mehlman has denied he had a role in firing Stayman, but, although the State Department fought the firing, Stayman was fired within four months of the sent emails, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Ms. magazine wrote a long investigative report showing how Abramoff worked to prevent labor law reforms to raise the minimum wage to US levels, eliminate long work hours, and stop high “recruitment fees” that workers must pay upon hiring. By maintaining these poor working conditions for a predominately female workforce, Abramoff served his clients, the Northern Mariana Islands and their sweatshops.

The emails show numerous ties between Abramoff and the White House; previously, Abramoff’s ties had been thought to be mostly with Congress. The Los Angeles Times reports that Abramoff had more than 400 contacts at the White House. The White House has denied any close relationship with Abramoff. The e-mails also indicate several other allegedly unethical dealings between Abramoff and high-level White House officials.

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Polls Show Support for Same-Sex Marriage Bans Eroding

Opposition to same-sex marriage bans is growing in three out of the eight states – Arizona, South Dakota, and Colorado – with ballot initiatives on the subject this November. Failing to pass any of these ballot initiatives would be seen as a major victory for gay marriage advocates, as 19 states have passed ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage since 1998, with around 70 percent of voters supporting the measure each time. Pollsters attribute the waning support for the bans to better organization and mobilization tactics on the part of lesbian and gay rights advocates, as well as a growing acceptance of homosexuality, according to USA Today.

Colorado’s ballot is especially important, as it has two initiatives concerning gay marriage: one that would ban it completely and another that would create “domestic partnerships,” conferring legal rights to same-sex couples without legalizing marriage. If Colorado voters pass the initiative granting domestic partnerships, gay rights advocates could use this victory to push for greater legal rights in other states. Fifty-eight percent of Colorado voters are in favor of creating domestic partnerships, according to the Advocate.

In Arizona, 51 percent of registered voters oppose the same-sex marriage ban on the ballot, while only 38 percent support it. In South Dakota, only 41 percent support a ban, and 49 percent oppose it, according to USA Today.

LEARN MORE about the Feminist Majority Foundation’s campaign to Get Out HER Vote

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Postpartum Depression Screening Law Takes Effect in New Jersey

A new bill in New Jersey that requires health care providers to screen new mothers for postpartum depression and educate them about the condition took effect last week. The law gives $4.5 million to providers for education and screening and also mandates that providers ask women about any past depression or postpartum depression history, according to Kaiser Daily Women’s Health Policy Report. The State Department of Health and Senior Services created a five-minute educational video and brochure called “Speak Up When You’re Down,” providing information and resources for new mothers.

Approximately 80 percent of women have mild depression within the first few weeks of birth, and 15 percent will develop postpartum depression as a result of stress and hormonal imbalances that may follow the birth of a child, reports the Bergen Record. “Women should have a minimum of three if not four opportunities for interventionÉ Women shouldn’t have to suffer in silence,” Dr. Michael R. Petriella, vice chairman of obstetrics and gynecology for Hackensack University Medical Center, told the Bergen Record.

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Study Shows Gay Rights Benefit Economy

A recent study found that recognizing same-sex couples with domestic partner benefits or legalizing same-sex marriage would benefit the US economy. The study, conducted by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that homosexual employees who receive domestic-partnership benefits were more relaxed in their work environment and were thereby more productive than those without the benefits. The study’s co-author, M. V. Lee Badgett, stated, “Our study shows that equal treatment of couples in the business world attracts heterosexual employees and creates more productive workplaces for gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees,” according to The Advocate.

In addition, support for same-sex couples by employers results in healthier and more stable families and less demand on public programs. According to the report, “small costs to the employer are balanced out by benefits to employers from positive effects on employees’ productivity, health, and stabilityÉ In addition, state and federal budgets will see a net gain.”

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The Ivies Agree on Gender Rights

Yale University has joined the ranks of 74 colleges and universities that have officially banned discrimination based on gender identity from campus. The school is the final member of the Ivy League to write such a protection into official school policy. The campus’s Queer Political Action Committee (QPAC) brought the issue to the school’s attention with a signature drive.

The decision by Yale is part of a greater movement. A report issued by GenderPAC, a gender public advocacy coalition, shows that half of the top 50 institutions (as ranked by US News & World Report) include gender identity and expression in anti-discrimination policies. The effects are also trickling into K-12 school districts, such as those in California, Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey.

Yale has taken additional step by including protection of gender expression. GenderPAC explains, “‘Gender identity’ refers to a person’s sense of being male or female, while ‘gender expression’ describes how people manifest feeling masculine or feminine through how they look, act, or dress.” With the new policy in effect, Hugh Baran, a student leader in Yale’s QPAC, already anticipates changes. Already, he says, Yale has appointed a liaison to oversee LGBT issues and there is discussion of diversity training for faculty and incoming students.

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South Dakota Abortion Ban Advocates Use “Feminist” Language

Anti-abortion advocates in South Dakota have turned to women-centered messages to promote the extensive abortion ban on November’s ballot. While some anti-abortion advocates are using traditional “pro-life” messages by holding a “bucks for babies” fundraiser or a Rock for Life concert, others are promoting the message that “abortion hurts women,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Some anti-abortion advocates are even using emergency contraception (EC) as an alternative to abortion for the sake of legitimizing the South Dakota ban, Feministing reports.

The anti-abortion camp is alleging that the right to chose a legal, safe abortion “exploits women,” UPI reports. Leslee Unruh, a campaign manager for South Dakota’s anti-abortion activists, told the Los Angeles Times, “We women buy the choice line. We’re panicked , or we’re being pressured,” but that “if you don’t do your job right as a mother, what good is anything else?”

Unruh’s logic echoes that of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion by arguing that choosing an abortion is against the nature of women. The task force’s report claimed that a woman would never freely choose abortion because to do so would violate “the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child,” the American Prospect reports.

The ban (SD HB 1215) would criminalize all abortions without exceptions for rape, incest, or a woman’s health. The only exception would be to prevent the death of a woman. Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the Campaign for Healthy Families, which is leading the efforts to defeat the ban, told Reuters, “the only time you can even discuss an abortion is when a woman is dying. We can’t let this happen.” The ban was signed into law March 6 by Governor Mike Rounds, but was stayed by petitioners who gathered enough signatures to move the ban onto the November 7th ballot.

DONATE to support the Feminist Majority Foundation’s efforts to defeat the South Dakota abortion ban. Half of your emergency contribution will go directly to the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families.

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Thirty Years is Enough for Hyde Amendment

October marks the 30th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, the law that prohibits using federal funds for abortions. Passed every year since 1976, the Hyde Amendment does not allow any woman on Medicaid, in the military, or on disability insurance to receive financial assistance for an abortion, except in cases of incest or rape, according to the National Organization for Women. While some states allow funding to be used in cases where the mother’s life would be endangered or fetal abnormalities would occur, many abide by Hyde guidelines, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Because of the lack of federal funding, millions of young, low-income women and women of color are disproportionately affected, according to the Pro-Choice Public Education Project. Every year, women who can not afford a safe abortion may put their lives and health at risk by turning to an unsafe, back alley procedure. By not providing funding to women who need it most, the Hyde Amendment is making abortion inaccessible for countless women.

LEARN MORE about the Hyde – 30 Years Is Enough Campaign

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More Birth Control Options for Men?

Men may soon have new options for safe and effective male contraceptives, such as a birth control pill, a patch, or an implant. According to MSNBC, researchers have had much success over the last five years with testing male hormonal contraceptives (MHC) and a daily pill could be available in five to seven years, with implants possibly arriving even sooner.

The University of Washington in Seattle has found that a male contraceptive that releases a certain amount of testosterone over a three month period has the potential to be a safe and dependable form of birth control. Like hormonal contraceptives for women, which prevent the body from releasing an egg, male hormonal contraceptives would prevent the production of sperm. Dr. Andrea Coviello, from the Population Center for Research in Reproduction, and fellow researchers have been testing a sustained released, testosterone micro-capsule that consists of a thick liquid injected under the skin. “It largely depends on how funding continues. The technology is there. We know how it would work,” Coviello told MSNBC.

Scientists are also experimenting with a new implant, the intra vas device (IVD), that would block the flow of sperm. The device, which consists of tiny silicone plugs, would be another reversible birth control method for men. While the plugs would be inserted and removed surgically, the procedure is not as permanent as a surgical vasectomy.

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Michigan Health Department Overcharged Low-Income Women for Birth Control

A Michigan health department serving four counties overcharged low-income women for birth control and falsified records to hide the charges, according to a report by the state’s Office of Audit. The health department provides services with money from federal grants, local tax revenue, and third-party insurers. Services are supposed to be available on a sliding scale to low-income clients. Despite the health department management’s knowledge of the violations, more than 1,000 low-income women paid full price for birth control and contraceptives between 2003 and 2005, AP reports.

Ogemaw County commissioner and board member John West, who had requested the audit earlier this year, said he does not know exactly how much money is involved but believes that more than $75,000 was improperly collected over the two year period.

Community members are raising concerns over the health department’s violations and the fact that nobody who was aware of the health department’s activity came forward. Ogemaw County Commissioner Bev Scott told the Bay City Times, “I want to know why. Why, when management knew what was going on, did they do nothing? Why did they contribute to the cover-up?” Board members and management will hold an open meeting on Oct. 17 and the board will discuss the state audit at its regular meeting on Oct. 23.

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New Yale Report Shows Career and Family are Equally Important to Educated Women and Men

In response to a front-page New York Times article from one year ago, which alleged that women students at elite schools will choose a family and motherhood over a career, Victoria Brescoll, a postdoctoral research fellow at Yale, conducted a study to determine true attitudes of women and men students regarding their future careers and family lives. Her findings show that both women and men value career and family to the same extent, but that women expect to encounter greater hardship in balancing a career and a family.

Dr. Brescoll reported that, of 469 Yale students, 81.4 percent planned on becoming a parent. Brescoll found that more men planned on becoming a parent than women: 87.6 percent of men and 78.4 percent of women indicated that parenthood is a life goal. Both men and women planned on having about the same number of children (women’s average response was 2.41 and men’s average response was 2.47) at about the same age (women’s average age was 29.35 and men’s average age was 30.05).

Brescoll did find that more women planned on taking time off after having children, but not to the extent that the New York Times article from 2005 purported. The original story, written by Louise Story, claimed that 30 percent of well-educated women would stop working altogether after having a child, Inside Higher Ed reports. Brescoll found that only 4.1 percent of Yale women surveyed would stop working outside the home.

Brescoll also found that women expect more personal barriers to full-time work and parenthood: on a scale of one to seven, where one is “strongly disagree” and seven is “strongly agree,” women had an average response of 4.44 and men had an average response of 3.37 to the statement, “If I have children someday, I think it will be difficult for me to work full-time.”

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Supreme Court to Consider Abortion Procedures Ban in November

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear several contentious cases during its current term, including two cases considering the constitutionality of the so-called “partial-birth” abortion ban passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in November of 2003. This abortion procedures ban has been ruled unconstitutional by lower courts in California, Nebraska, and New York because of its lack of a health exception.

A previous Supreme Court case from 2000, Stenberg v. Carhart, found that a similar state law was unconstitutional because it lacked a health exception. The 2000 decision was decided 5-4, with former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor providing the fifth vote against the state abortion procedures ban. The cases to be decided this term are Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. Oral arguments have been scheduled on November 8, according to Legal Times.

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Review of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Finds Misleading Messages

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) released its fourth annual review yesterday of a selection of federally funded abstinence-only education programs. The reviews found that “the curricula are riddled with messages of fear and shame, gender stereotypes, and medical misinformation that put young people at risk.” SIECUS reviewed three abstinence-only curricula (WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training, Why kNOw, and Heritage Keepers) used in over a dozen states. These three programs have received over $6 million in federal funds since FY 2001.

“Curricula that instill fear and shame in young people, disparage condom use, perpetuate gender stereotypes, and contain anti-abortion messages have no place in any program for school-aged young people, let alone programs sanctioned by the federal government, and paid for with hard-earned tax dollars,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, in a release accompanying the report.

Forty-six percent of all high school students and 63 percent of all high school seniors are sexually active, according to SIECUS. In the past six years, nearly $800 million dollars has been given to abstinence only education programs.

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