|House Passes Bill to Fund Men's Custody Movement||On November 10th, the House passed by 328 to 93 The
Fathers Count Act of 1999 (H.R. 3073), sponsored by Rep. Nancy
Johnson (R-CT) that would provide $161 million in grants for programs that
promote marriage and "responsible fatherhood." This dangerous legislation
now goes to the Senate Finance Committee where it is expected to get a
hearing in February. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) have
a similar bill with
1364, the Responsible Fatherhood Act.
Although backers of H.R. 3073 would have us think that the bill was meant to help poor non-custodial fathers, NOW and many other women's rights and domestic violence program advocacy organizations know better. The measure is especially tailored to send millions of taxpayer dollars to groups that undermine child support enforcement systems, provide biased child visitation/access programs and counsel non-custodial dads on how to avoid paying child support altogether by switching custody. NOW activists have monitored for years those groups and their extremist leaders because we hear from thousands of women each year who have lost custody of children to abusive ex-spouses due to their tactics. Many of these same groups are pushing state legislatures to adopt forced joint custody laws.
Those include the Children's Rights Council (CRC, in actuality a men's custody organization), the National Fatherhood Institute, Institute for American Values and National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development. Men's custody advocates have helped to shape a backlash against tougher enforcement of child support orders. Angry dads groups have a strong advocate in a House Ways and Means staff member, Ron Haskins, who promoted earlier programs in demonstration projects on child visitation and access and who was reported in a 1998 CRC newsletter to be working with Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) to get $2 billion in funding for their programs. Haskins is a former board member of CRC and got credit for defeating protections for battered women on welfare in final conference committee (after both the House and Senate had approved).
The ostensible goals of H.R. 3073 are to teach parenting skills to poor non-custodial fathers and to enhance their employability so that they may obtain jobs in order to meet child support obligations. Other services are may be anger management training, family planning information, tips on relationship skills and money management. Religious groups are eligible for funding, and right wing groups may get a disproportionate chare since they may be more willing to "promote marriage" as a goal, without regard to the situation.
In a letter to House members, NOW questioned the bill's approach calling attention to the dangers of domestic violence, the greater needs of custodial parents on welfare (whose services are constantly in fiscal jeopardy), and the legislation's unconstitutional gender discriminatory language. NOW suggested that funds would be better utilized by custodial parents, especially those who are in the welfare-to-work process. Another part of the bill provided funds for vocational training and other services for welfare recipients, but restricted custodial parents (mostly women) to a small eligibility pool with increased qualifying requirements. That part of H.R. 3073 was attached to the Omnibus appropriations measure and was adopted in the Senate.
It is noteworthy that in the mid-1990's a series of demonstration projects that were nearly identical to the programs proposed in the Fathers Count Act were conducted in seven urban areas, with both private and government funding. Known as the Parents Fair Share Demonstration, the projects were later evaluated and, for five sites, were found to NOT result in a significant increase in child support compliance.
Prior to the vote, NOW pointed out to House members that the promotion of marriage is not an appropriate government policy and will not solve the complicated problems of poverty. Numerous studies have shown that family violence is a major factor in divorce and in keeping women poor; five major recent studies have documented that up to one-third of welfare recipients are currently experiencing abuse and a much higher proportion of poor women report experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault at some point in their lives.
H.R. 3073 would provide three grants of national significance that appear designed especially for Wade Horn's National Father Institute and David Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values. Wade Horn, a columnist on family issues in conservative newspapers, relies on discredited fatherlessness research to "prove" that father-absence alone causes social ills such as teen suicide, poverty, high crime rates, low SAT scores, juvenile delinquency and recently wrote an article about "malicious moms." David Blankenhorn endorses marriage as a cure for domestic violence!
All of these organizations, together with the Children's Rights Council, have encouraged courtroom use of the "parental alienation syndrome," a phony " condition" that has been used against custodial moms. PAS says that women who report abuse are mentally ill and brainwash children against the father -- and therefore judges may conclude that custody should be switched to the father. Biased judges who have little understanding of domestic violence or child abuse often doubt evidence provided about abusive behavior by the husband and award custody to the father. This unjust practice has become a growing trend in family courts all across the country.
Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) worked closely with NOW, NOW/LDEF and battered women's advocates to offer several key amendments to H.R. 3073. The amendments would have changed "fatherhood" to "parenting" programs, removed the gender discrimination and deleted the marriage promotion aspect. The amendment did garner 172 votes, but not enough for adoption.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore both indicated their support of fatherhood programs, and otherwise progressive social policy organizations advocated for H.R. 3073. NOW suspects that neither the president or vice president knows much about the true agenda of the men's rights/men's custody groups and has requested meetings with administration officials to discuss the matter. The same might be said for the progressive organizations like Children's Defense Fund, Center for Law and Social Policy and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- all organizations that advise Congress on poverty programs. One thing that is overlooked by supporters of these fatherhood programs is that there is very little in the way of scientific evidence that supports the assertions about the consequences of "fatherlessness" and about the need for father involvement. In fact, the evidence is heavily weighted in the opposite direction.
NOW's opposition to H.R. 3073 provoked a torrent of op-eds by conservative columnists and hate mail from men's custody activists as well as just plain old women-haters, some of whom promised violence. The power of these groups has grown in recent years -- due in part to their use of the Internet to communicate. Some websites openly advertise that they will help non-custodial parents to reduce or completely eliminate child support responsibility by advising them on a scorched-earth litigation strategy and identifying friendly judges.
For more information on the men's custody organizations and their hateful leaders, see http://www.gate.net/~liz/liz Also, Trish Wilson has written thorough analysis of the assertions of the fatherhood promotion groups in "The Costs of Propaganda: The Myth of "Fatherlessness" in the online journal Feminista! at http://www.feminista.com See Vol. 3, No. 4.
|Action Needed:||Please make an appointment with each member of your Congressional delegation
to discuss what is wrong with this legislation. It is particularly important
for NOW chapter leaders who have heard from women who have lost custody
to abusive spouses with the help of men's custody groups to communicate
with their Senators.
Call or write the President
and the Vice President and give them the same information. If you need
supportive materials, please contact NOW Government Relations at (202)
628-8669, ext. 101 or by email at email@example.com
Please make a call to the District offices during recess to thank Representatives
for their vote and don't forget to thank Rep.
Mink for her dedicated efforts in trying to amend the bill.
Members who voted correctly are: Democratic Reps. Abercrombie, Ackerman, Baird, Baldwin, Berman, Capuano, Clay, Conyers, DeFazio, Deutsch, Doggett, Edwards, Filner, Frank (MA), Gejdenson, Goode, Hastings (FL), Hinchey, Hoeffel, Jones (OH), Kilpatrick, Lantos, Maloney (NY), Markey, McDermott, McKinney, Meek (FL), Olver, Owens, Payne, Pelosi, Peterson (MN), Rivers, Schakowsksy, Scott, Serrano, Sherman, Sisisky, Slaugher, Stark, Tierney, Towns, Velazquez, Watt (NC), Waxman, Weiner, Wexler, Woolsey, and Independent Sanders.
Republican Reps who voted correctly: Barr, Bartlett, Burton, Campbell, Chabot, Chenoweth-Hage, Collins, Cooksey, Cox, DeMint, Dickey, Doolittle, Graham, Hoekstra, Hostettler, Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Jones (NC), Kingston, LaHood, Largent, Manzullo, Moran (KS), Paul, Pombo, Rohrabacher, Royce, Ryun (KS), Salmon, Sanford, Scarborough, Schaffer, Sensenbrenner, Sessions, Shadegg, Smith (MI), Spence, Stump, Sununu, Toomey, and Watkins. Rep. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) office helped organize the Republican votes against the bill.
|VAWA Funded, But Not Reauthorized||Happily, Violence Against Women
(VAWA) programs were funded in the FY 2000 Omnibus budget bill at the
same levels as last year; but unhappily for us, Congress did not reauthorize
those programs to extend them beyond the current fiscal year. A total of
$273.75 million was allocated for VAWA programs under the Department of
Justice, while $169.5 million was approved for Department of Health and
Human services programs.
Needless to say, our new and expanded Violence Against Women Act of '99 (soon to be dubbed New Millennium VAWA), H.R. 357 did not even get a hearing. However, a hearing was held in September on H.R. 1248, VAWA reauthorization bill, and reportedly the House will make its consideration a priority next year. With a total of 212 House co-sponsors on H.R. 1248, we are very close to having a majority (218 needed).
Progress has been slow in the Senate, but hopes are that Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will work out an agreement on S. 51 (which has parts of H.R. 357) and additional components to reauthorize VAWA for five more years. Again, we are very close to having a majority of the Senate in support of reauthorization at 47 Senators.
Advocates are also concerned that the across-the-board budget cut of .38% -- with agency discretion to cut some programs more than others -- may hurt VAWA funding.
|Action Needed:||Please urge your House
and Senate members
to not only reauthorize current programs next year, but to pass the New
Millenium VAWA (H.R.
357) that will strengthen many programs and initiate new ones to assist
previously underserved populations, like lesbians, rural, disabled and
older women. Make sure that your Senators and Representative are co-sponsors.
It wouldn't hurt to let the White
House know that cutting VAWA programs to meet the .38% is not acceptable.
The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111 or you can call the White
House Women's Outreach Office at (202) 456-7300.
Also, if you have not signed the online petition in support of VAWA, please do so at http://www.now.org/issues/violence/ We have collected upwards of 60,000 signatures as of this date from both the online petition and petitions that have been circulating among activists.
|Hate Crimes Prevention Act In Limbo||In the waning days of the first session, advocates made an ardent effort to have the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA, S. 622) restored to the Commerce/State/Justice appropriations bill. But Sen. Orrin Hatch and other Republican leaders refused to replace the provision after it was dropped in Conference Committee. A last minute proposal by Sen. Hatch to restore HCPA if sex-based hate crimes was deleted (leaving in sexual orientation- and disability-based bias crimes) was not accepted. NOW and other advocates told Sen. Kennedy and other Senators that this was not an acceptable compromise. Sen. Hatch is also holding up HCPA's adoption in exchange for support for the Religious Liberty Protection Act (H.R. 1691).|
|Action Needed:||The most important message to deliver to Senators is that the Hate Crimes Protection Act must contain protections for women and disabled persons. To add only the category of sexual orientation to the federal criminal statutes is not acceptable. Urge your Senators to talk with Sen. Hatch (who is running the Republican presidential nomination) and ask him let the legislation go forward. Additionally, we need 11 more Senators to co-sponsor S. 622 -- that will give us a majority. Senators whose names are not on as co-sponsors and should be include: Stevens (R-AK), McCain (R-AZ), Lincoln (D-AR), Campbell (R-CO), Roth (R-DE), Bayh (D-IN), Lugar (R-IN), Abraham (R-MI), Bond (R-MO), Baucus (D-MT), Domenici (R-NM), Edwards (D-NC), Conrad (D-ND), Dorgan (D-ND), Chafee (R-RI), Hollings (D-SC), Warner (R-VA), Byrd (D-WV), Feingold (D-WI) and Kohl (D-WI).|
|House Committee Passes Strong Bill Against Sex-Trafficking||Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Sam Gejdenson (D-CT) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
drafted a strong anti-sex trafficking bill (H.R.3244)
which was favorably reported out of the House International Relations Committee
in early November. NOW, working with international human rights experts
at Equality Now, helped formulate
language that would require better protection of victims and tougher prosecution
of individuals involved in trafficking. Especially important is a broad
definition of trafficking which also prevented a merging of commercial
sexual exploitation and migrant labor. The definition of sex trafficking
covers all sex traffickers, whether or not their victims "consent" to being
The bill originally proposed imposition of sanctions against countries
that allow or facilitate trafficking -- a provision which the State Department
opposed. Compromise language sets forth a sanction-type regime which would
mandate the withholding of non-humanitarian aid for governments which do
not comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, with
a provision for waiver of such withholding to be exercised by the President.
|Action Needed:||We will need lots of help in building support for H.R. 3244 in the House; it is not clear at this time whether the administration will work against the bill or accept the compromise language. But please contact your member and let him/her know that this is a good bill. You may also want to urge Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) who has a similar, but weaker, bill to incorporate H.R. 3244's much stronger language. Sen. Wellstone's bill to require the State Department to annually report on sex trafficking in its Country Reports was signed into law on Nov. 17th as part of the omnibus spending bill.|
|Global Gag Rule Re-instated; President Waives Restriction||During the final weeks of negotiations before Congress recessed, President
Clinton acceded to three years of pressure by Republican abortion rights
opponents and agreed to re-impose a global
gag rule on family planning programs abroad. Reportedly,
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recommended to the President that
the deal be made and she would take responsibility for it.
In essence, the Republican leadership agreed to pay long overdue U.N. arrears of nearly a billion dollars and to expand the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) debt relief program in exchange for muzzling non-governing organizations in other countries on the subject of abortion -- something that would not be allowable in our own country. A compromise on this updated version of the Mexico City policy was worked out wherein the President can waive the gag rule and a ban on provision of abortion services (using non-U.S. funds), but U.S. international family planning funds for ($385 million) will be cut by 3%. Programs that provide abortion services would be singled out for even further limitations on the funding that they can receive.
One hundred-forty members of Congress sent a letter to the President asking for a renewed commitment to international family planning, for an increased budget request next year to make up for the 3% loss ($12.5 million) and a meeting to review of implementation of the Cairo agreements on promoting the global welfare of women. It should be noted that the Republican leadership slashed international family planning in 1997 from $547 million and capped it at $385 million. Of the 210 million estimated pregnancies worldwide, more than a quarter result in abortions or unwanted births. An estimated 600,000 women die each year due to pregnancy-related complications, with about 78,000 dying from botched abortions.
Note: After Congress recessed, the President exercised his waiver authority to allow international family planning programs to continue providing abortion services and to discuss or lobby for abortion (using their non-U.S. funds, of course). A $12.5 million "penalty" reduction for family planning funds was made with the monies being transferred to the Child Survival and Disease Programs. Responding to the request from family planning supporters in Congress, Secretary Albright disclosed before the administration's fiscal year 2001 budget is released that is will contain a request for $541.6 million dollars for international family planning.
|Action Needed:||Please tell President Clinton, Secretary Albright and members of your Congressional delegation that playing foreign policy games over poor women's lives is not acceptable. Ask your Representatives and Senators to oppose linking reproductive rights issues to unrelated foreign policy objectives. Much pressure will have to be brought to bear if we are to get the Republican leadership to restore international family planning funding to its pre-1996 levels. Information can be found on their websites: http://www.whitehouse.gov and http://www.state.gov and http://www.congress.org/|
|Title X Domestic Family Planning Gets a Boost||One good piece of news is that the federal budget bill, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, H.R. 3194, allocates an extra $24 million for Title X Family Planning programs. This will allow the 4,200 family planning clinics to extend comprehensive reproductive health care services to an additional 500,000 clients who are neither Medicaid-eligible nor insured. Overall, the Title X assures that nearly 5 million low-income women have access to affordable contraceptives.|
|Senate Abortion Procedures Ban Vote Fails Veto-Proof Margin||A modest victory was secured when the Senate passed an abortion
procedures ban, the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban (S.
1692) in late October, but failed to secure a veto proof majority
(63-34) by four votes. But the Republican leadership also snipped away
at contraceptive coverage for under federal employees health benefit plans
by allowing for an individual opt-out for health care professionals.
The House also passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, H.R. 2436, that would criminalize the act of causing the death or injury of a fetus by causing harm to the pregnant woman (254-172). The bill would define a fetus as a person in federal statutes -- a development that could have far-reaching negative consequences for women's reproductive rights.
|Action Needed:||There may be a chance that the H.R. 2436 can be defeated in the Senate and activists should make a point of calling their Senators to urge that they oppose the bill. There is no word, as yet, as to when the abortion procedures ban may come up in the Senate, but observers believe that the bill will be held until close to the elections.|
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