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Good News for Women

NOW wants to make sure the good news for women doesn't fall through the cracks. We'll update this section periodically with feminist victories and inspiring stories.


Victim Advocate Named to the Panel Reviewing Sexual Misconduct Allegations at the U.S. Air Force Academy
June 27, 2003

Just two weeks ago, NOW highlighted the lopsided nature of the panel reviewing sexual misconduct allegations at the U.S. Air Force Academy and demanded that a victim advocate be included on the panel. After intense scrutiny and criticism, Anita Blair was removed as the panel's executive director, the ultraconservative Amy McCarthy resigned and Indiana sexual assault expert Anita M. Carpenter was named as a replacement.

NOW's calls to Sen. Allard's office and to Tillie Fowler, the chair of the congressionally-mandated panel, appear to have worked for the moment. But the sexual assault allegations at the Air Force Academy, which continue to emerge, are sadly just the tip of the iceberg. NOW activists must insist that future national investigations into sexual violence everywhere—not just in the military—should automatically include experts on sexual violence and victim advocates.

For a chronology of news articles on the scandal at the U.S. Air Force Academy, visit:

Supreme Court Upholds Family Leave Act for State Workers
May 28, 2003

In a victory for women, workers and families across the U.S., the Supreme Court yesterday rejected an attempt to undermine the federal law guaranteeing 12 weeks of family leave and uphold the right of state employees to take time off from work to care for children or ailing relatives.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that Congress was within its rights to require states to give state workers the same 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave the federal law grants to employees in the private sector.

In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Court ruled that the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, sets "a minimum standard of family leave for all eligible employees, irrespective of gender" that reduces "employers' incentives to engage in discrimination." Rehnquist said that this type of law receives special treatment in the U.S. legal system, trumping concern over a state's right to have immunity from lawsuits.

The case was brought by William Hibbs, an employee of Nevada's Department of Human Resources, who wanted to sue the state to enforce his right to family leave so he could care for wife after she suffered near-fatal injuries in a car accident, but Nevada claimed it was immune from his lawsuit under the Constitution's guarantee of state sovereignty.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas—appointees of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—provided the three dissenting votes. Both of the Republican nominees who helped form the majority, Rehnquist and O'Connor, are rumored to be retiring. Without their votes, Hibbs would not have had a majority on the Court.

Feminist leaders applauded the Supreme Court's refusal to undermine the federal law, and vowed to continue the fight to strengthen supports for working families.

"Today's ruling is not only a victory for the state workers who deserve the right to family and medical leave, it's a victory for all workers in the United States," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "No one should have to choose between family concerns and a paycheck."

Miami-Dade Florida Defeats Anti-Gay Ballot
September 24, 2002

by Joy Nadler, Communications Intern

Residents of Dade County, Florida, voted earlier this month to support a countywide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was a narrow victory, with 53% voting in favor of civil rights protections for lesbians and gays.

The ballot question attempted to repeal an anti-discrimination law passed in 1998, 25 years after once-popular right-wing singer Anita Bryant campaigned to eliminate a similar gay rights ordinance that would have outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, finance and public accommodations according to sexual orientation.

Organizations including Take Back Miami-Dade and the Miami-Dade County Christian Coalition tried to repeal the law, saying it gave special rights to the lesbian and gay community.

Civil rights advocates, including NOW, believe the ban on discrimination is necessary to support equal human rights.

Opponents of discrimination were victorious despite numerous voting irregularities, including malfunctioning machines that turned away hundreds of voters. Some reportedly complained that when they voted against the anti-gay ballot measure, a "yes" vote for the measure registered instead and there was no way to correct the error. Several polling locations did not open for five hours after the scheduled 7 a.m. opening.

Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, hailed the victory as a turning point in more than two decades of struggle against the right wing's vicious campaign of anti-gay ballot measures. "The people of Miami-Dade oppose discrimination against gay and lesbian people. Period," Jean said. "The Christian Coalition's campaign of outright lies and scare tactics didn't work."

Feminist leaders expressed optimism that the vote in Dade County will create an obstacle to other anti-gay ballot measures across the country, but warned that bias against lesbians and gays is still strong.

"When the government starts targeting individual groups for legalized discrimination, every woman's rights are at stake," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Our government has taken action to define civil rights protections on many bases, including race, religion and national origin. We must now do the same to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and ensure equal justice for the lesbian and gay community."

Pennsylvania Ends Ban on Second-Parent Adoptions
August 22, 2002

by Katherine P. Califa, Communications Intern

In a victory for children's and lesbian and gay rights, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Aug. 20 that a child may be adopted by the unmarried partner of the child's legal parent.

The ruling, which overturned a two-year-old lower court decision, means that Pennsylvania children in lesbian and gay families can now get health insurance, Social Security benefits, inheritance rights and the right to child support from their second parent. The decision also safeguards a second parent's custody rights in the event of the first parent's death.

The Women's Law Project in Philadelphia brought the case, representing two families from Pennsylvania's Erie and Lancaster counties. More than 75 organizations, including the National Organization for Women Foundation, participated in the amicus brief, and those involved in the case celebrated the decision.

"Children should not be discriminated against because their parents are lesbian or gay," said Christine Biancheria, counsel for the petitioners, in a news release after the ruling. "They're entitled to the same benefits, rights and protections that children in all other families have."

Before Tuesday's ruling, nothing in the law prevented a Pennsylvania lesbian or gay couple from jointly adopting a child. But if one member of a couple was already a legal or biological parent, the parent's partner could not adopt.

In addition to Pennsylvania, second-parent adoption has been approved either by statute or state appellate court rulings in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

NOW President Kim Gandy applauded the ruling and urged courts in other states to follow suit. "Without legally recognized second-parent adoptions, thousands of children could find that their legal relationship with their second parent is vulnerable to attack," Gandy said. "The Pennsylvania ruling is a welcome victory for all families."

The New York Times Changes Policy on Same-Sex Nuptial Announcements
August 19, 2002

In a victory for activists across the country, the New York Times, the nation's most prestigious newspaper, announced Sunday it will begin printing announcements of same-sex unions. The change from "Weddings" to "Weddings/Celebrations" will begin next month, according to an editor's note in the paper's Aug. 18 edition.

The New York Times joins the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle as one of the growing number of national newspapers that publish gay and lesbian unions.

Under recent pressure from members of Massachusetts NOW and other activists, the Boston Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co., has reportedly been reviewing its own ban on same-sex union announcements, but has not announced a change in policy. In 1998, NOW activists demonstrated in front of the New York Times and Washington Post offices to demand equal access to paid announcements about commitment ceremonies for lesbian and gay couples.

NOW President Kim Gandy applauded the announcement and urged the Boston Globe and other newspapers to follow the lead of the New York Times.

"We hope the New York Times' change in policy will lead other newspapers to treat lesbian and gay unions with the same regard as those of their heterosexual counterparts," Gandy said. "There simply isnít a good reason for any newspaper to print the milestones of straight couples while excluding those of lesbians and gay men."

Judge Orders U.S. Navy to Pay for Abortion of Fetus with Fatal Condition
August 14, 2002

by Katherine P. Califa, Communications Intern

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ordered the U.S. Navy on Aug. 9 to pay for an abortion for a woman whose fetus has a fatal condition called anencephaly, in which it develops without a forebrain, cerebellum or skull and has no chance of survival.

The Northwest Women's Law Center brought the lawsuit Jane Doe v. United States, et al. in Seattle earlier this year after the Navy and its health contractor, TRICARE Management Activity, refused to pay to terminate the pregnancy. Because the woman and her husband, who is in the Navy, were unable to afford an abortion in a private clinic, she faced the prospect of carrying the fetus to term.

Lisa M. Stone, executive director of the Northwest Women's Law Center, said her organization filed suit because the government could not justify its decision not to pay for the woman's abortion. "Carrying the fetus to term will risk Ms. Doe's health, cost much more, and not protect anyone's rights or life," Stone said. "Tragically, this fetus cannot live under any circumstances, so forcing Ms. Doe to continue the pregnancy is irrational and inhumane."

This is similar to the case Britell v. United States, in which a federal district judge ruled in May that the U.S. could not refuse to pay for the abortion of an anencephalic fetus carried by the wife of an Air National Guard officer. In ruling that the regulation prohibiting coverage of abortions for anencephalic fetuses violated the Equal Protection Clause, the judge noted that it forced Britell and women in similar situations "to suffer carrying their anencephalic fetuses until they are born to a certain death. The rationale is no rationale at all. It is irrational, and worse yet, it is cruel."

NOW President Kim Gandy applauded the judge's decision in Jane Doe v. United States, et al., and said it guarantees that the woman will receive appropriate medical care.

"The Navy's refusal to pay for the abortion demonstrated a shocking disregard for this woman's health and well-being," Gandy said. "Knowing that the fetus had no chance of survival, forcing her to carry it to term would only prolong her emotional suffering and increase the chance of physical harm."

Court Overturns Conviction of Florida Abortion Doctor
July 24, 2002

by Katherine P. Califa, Communications Intern

A federal appeals court overturned an attempted-extortion conviction against Florida abortion doctor Dr. James Pendergraft last week.

Pendergraft had filed a lawsuit against Marion County (Fla.) in 1998 claiming that local police did not adequately protect his clinics against violent anti-abortion protestors. Local officials in the politically conservative county prosecuted Pendergraft, claiming that the doctor's lawsuit was an extortion attempt to make the county pay him $1 million.

An outspoken advocate for reproductive rights who spoke at NOW's April 2001 Emergency Action for Women's Lives, Pendergraft was convicted last year of attempted extortion, mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 46 months in jail. He served seven months before the Circuit Court of Appeal ordered his release earlier this year, pending their review of the case.

In overturning the conviction, the appeals court stated that the doctor's lawsuit was not grounds for prosecution. "The right of citizens to petition their government for the redress of grievances is fundamental to our constitutional structure," the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel wrote. "A threat to file suit against a government, then, cannot be 'wrongful' in itself."

Many activists believe that Pendergraft's high-visibility approach to reaching out to women in need of abortion, combined with the fact that he performs medically necessary late-term abortions, made him and his clinics a target of anti-reproductive rights forces.

"The outrageous criminal charges against Dr. Pendergraft and his subsequent imprisonment are a compelling example of the efforts to close the clinics, and why women do not have access to abortion services in more than 85 percent of U.S. counties," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "Plain and simple, doctors are afraid of what will happen to them if they provide abortions."

For more information on Dr. Pendergraft's case:
Wrongfully Imprisoned Abortion Provider Released
Florida Abortion Provider Behind Bars

Arkansas Sodomy Law Ruled Unconstitutional
July 10, 2002

by Katherine P. Califa, Communications Intern

A 25-year-old law prohibiting sexual relations between people of the same sex was declared an unconstitutional invasion of privacy by the Arkansas state Supreme Court on July 4, the Associated Press reported.

"Freedom and justice won today!" stated Arkansas NOW Coordinator Wanda Stephens, after hearing news of the verdict.

Although the 1977 law had apparently never been used to prosecute anyone, seven plaintiffs represented by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund challenged it because they did not want their conduct considered illegal. The law carried a penalty of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

A judge in 2001 ruled that the law was unconstitutional, but the state of Arkansas appealed the ruling, arguing that legislature should be allowed to consider moral judgments when creating laws. In the current decision, two of the justices dissented, stating that the plaintiffs failed to show an actual threat of persecution or harm from the law's existence.

Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah still criminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex.

Senate Votes to Lift Abortion Ban on Military Bases
June 27, 2002

by Katherine P. Califa, Communications Intern

The Senate voted to lift the ban on privately funded abortions at U.S. military hospitals June 20. The decision was approved 52-40 as part of next year's $393 billion defense authorization bill. Last month the House rejected a similar plan 215-202, and it is expected to maintain its anti-abortion stance during negotiations with the Senate.

Currently, female military employees serving abroad can either request permission from their commanding officer to travel back to the United States for an abortion at a non-military facility, or use whatever facilities are available in the host country. Approximately 100,000 women serve on U.S. military bases overseas, many in countries where safe, legal abortion is not available.

"This ban denies our military employees their legal right to abortion," states NOW president Kim Gandy. "They should not be denied their constitutional rights simply because they serve abroad. The Senate recognizes this, the House should have the same wisdom."

History of the Military Abortion Debate:

1979: Federal assistance for military personnel and dependents to obtain abortions is outlawed.

1988: The Reagan administration bans all abortions at U.S. military facilities, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life

1993: President Clinton lifts the ban on privately funded abortions at military facilities.

1995: The ban is re-instated as Republicans seize control of Congress.

1996: The Senate votes to drop the ban, but the House refuses to compromise.

The Washington Post and the New York Times Oppose Judicial Nomination of D. Brooks Smith
May 23, 2002

The Washington Post and the New York Times, two of the most influential newspapers in the United States, published editorials this week urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Bush judicial nominee D. Brooks Smith to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. NOW has strongly opposed the nomination of Smith for a lifetime seat as an appellate judge.

Both newspapers cited serious concerns about Smith's ethical lapses, including:

  • Smith presided over a case involving a bank in which his wife was an officer and in which he and his wife had $100,000 or more in stock. Under federal law he should have recused himself from the case, because his impartiality "might reasonably be questioned."

  • When Smith was up for confirmation to the trial court, he conceded that his membership in the all-male Spruce Creek Rod and Gun Club violated the judicial code of conduct, and promised the Senate that if he was unable to persuade the club to open its doors to women, he would resign. But as NOW activists discovered last month, instead he remained in the club for more than a decade, although it continued to discriminate all that time.
In addition to calling for the Senate to reject Smith, the Times urged Judiciary Committee members to not be intimidated by charges from Smith's ultraconservative defenders that Senate Democrats want to delay acting on all of Bush's judicial nominees: "The concern about Judge Smith is not that he is a Bush nominee, but that his record shows him to be unqualified for the appellate bench."

The Post described Smith as a judge who has "pushed ethical lines and then sought to rewrite the rules retroactively to justify his behavior" and urged the Senate not to reward this pattern.

Click here for more information on D. Brooks Smith.

Nigerian Woman Wins Reprieve from Stoning
March 27, 2002

Safiya Hussaini was acquitted on Monday of charges of adultery, a "crime" that, in the Sokoto state of Nigeria, comes with a sentence of death by stoning. Last October a court convicted Hussaini based on the fact that she became pregnant out of wedlock, although the 35-year-old mother of five charged that she was raped by a neighbor. A Muslim appeals court overturned her conviction, stating that the law was not yet in effect when she become pregnant, but no doubt influenced by the worldwide public outcry against the sentence.

Although Hussaini's life has been spared, the news for women in Nigeria overall is not good. Two years ago a number of states in northern Nigeria began implementing laws based on an extremist interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. According to Amnesty International, this particular interpretation of Sharia considers pregnancy sufficient evidence to convict a woman of adultery or premarital sex. The oath of the man denying having had sex with the woman is often considered sufficient proof of his innocence unless four independent and reputable witnesses testify to seeing him take part in the act.

The national government of Nigeria opposes the extreme punishments being applied under Sharia, including stonings, beheadings and amputations; however, another northern state, Katsina, just sentenced a woman, Amina Lawal Kurami, to death by stoning for adultery. She has only 30 days to appeal.

Until all women have equal protection under the law in Nigeria, other women are certain to be sentenced to death for the "crime" of becoming pregnant out of wedlock, even if it is the result of rape or coerced sexual intercourse.

2002 Elections: Good News from California
March 8, 2002

by Linda Berg, Political Director

The 2002 election cycle got off to a great start Tuesday in the California primary with the decisive victory of every NOW/PAC-endorsed candidate for federal office.

Because incumbent Rep. Ellen Tauscher of northern California has no general opposition, feminists can celebrate the first reelection of a feminist representative. Rep. Barbara Lee, who became the object of right-wing wrath after casting the sole House vote against the war in Afghanistan, trounced her primary opponent in the east San Francisco Bay area. Congratulations to other feminist incumbents: Representatives Robert Matsui, Lynn Woolsey, Nancy Pelosi, Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, Lois Capps, Hilda Solis, Diane Watson, Lucile Roybal-Allard, Maxine Waters, Jane Harman, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Grace Napolitano, Loretta Sanchez, Bob Filner and Susan Davis.

Additionally, a number of feminists are now in position to challenge right-wing House members. In central California's 11th District, Elaine Dugger Shaw won the primary by an almost two-to-one margin and will go on to challenge Rep. Richard Pombo in the general election. 2000 House candidate and NOW activist Mark Norberg will again challenge Rep. John Doolittle in northeast California's 4th District. Uncontested in their primaries were feminist candidates Elle Kurpiewski and Gerrie Schipske. In November, Kurpiewski — a feminist with a long career as a flight attendant — will challenge Rep. Mary Bono in southern California's 44th District. Schipske — an out lesbian and nurse who is a former NOW chapter president — will challenge Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in southern California's 45th District.

One of the most exciting results in California comes from Southern Los Angeles, where Linda Sanchez, the sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, overcame a crowded field to win the Democratic primary in a newly created, solidly Democratic district. If Linda and Loretta Sanchez win in the November general election, they will become the first pair of sisters ever to serve in Congress.

We are also celebrating the fact that 90 percent of their state and local endorsed candidates won their primary races on Tuesday. From Gov. Gray Davis down through the pipeline, feminists in California achieved great victories this week.

Rosie O'Donnell Calls Attention to Florida's Ban on Same-Sex Adoption
March 1, 2002

Talk show host Rosie O'Donnell spoke publicly for the first time about being a lesbian while performing a comedy routine earlier this week at a benefit for ovarian cancer research at Carolines Comedy Club, according to an article in USA Today.

O'Donnell has also reportedly taped an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer in which she talks about the Florida law that bans same-sex couples from adopting children. O'Donnell, who has adopted children of her own and is a foster mother, told USA Today that she agreed to the ABC interview primarily because she wanted to talk about the case of two gay men in Florida who face having a foster child they raised removed from their home.

"Come to find out, in order to adopt this child, I would have to perjure myself, would have to sign a document that says in the state of Florida that I am not bisexual or homosexual," she told USA Today. "The fact that I was unwilling to sign that document (would mean) the child (would be) removed from the house."

NOW congratulates O'Donnell for her courage in speaking publicly about her sexual orientation, and applauds the way she has used her status as a public figure to call attention to the Florida law that discriminates against same-sex couples.

Vonetta Flowers Becomes First African American to Win Gold in Winter Olympics
February 20, 2002

Bobsledders Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers made history on Feb. 19 when they clocked a time of one minute, 37.76 seconds to win the inaugural women's Olympic bobsled event. They were the sport's first Olympic gold-medal winners, and Flowers became the first African American ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.

Flowers, a former track and field All-American who didn't start bobsledding until 2000, told reporters she hoped the gold medal would encourage more young people of color to try winter sports. "First thing you have to do is educate minorities about winter sports," she said. "I hope this encourages other African-American boys and girls to give it a try."

The success of Bakken, Flowers and other U.S. women at the 2002 Winter Olympics underscores the progress women have made in sports under Title IX, which passed in 1972 to expand opportunities for girls and women in high school and college athletics.

NOW Applauds Powell Support for Safer Sex
Feb. 15, 2002

During an MTV forum on Valentine's Day, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell strayed from the Bush Administration's insistence on abstinence-only programs with a strong statement of support for condoms. Powell responded to a viewer question regarding condoms by saying, "I not only support their use, I encourage their use among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves." He highlighted the rapid spread of AIDS around the globe, in Africa, China, India and the Caribbean in particular. AIDS claimed 3 million lives worldwide in 2001.

In contrast, a Bush budget proposal seeks a 33 percent increase in funding for abstinence-only programs in the FY 2003 budget. A 1997 National Institutes of Health panel noted that "abstinence-only programs cannot be justified in the face of effective programs and given the fact that we face an international emergency in the AIDS epidemic. Both the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control support educating sexually active teens about using condoms to prevent AIDS, other STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

Write to President Bush and tell him you support Colin Powell's medically-sound, common sense approach to safer sex.

Life-Sustaining Generic Drug Approved
Jan. 25, 2002

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) renewed its approval of generic Taxol, a life-sustaining drug treatment for breast and ovarian cancer on Jan. 25. Bristol-Myers Squibb, the maker of the brand-name drug, fought to hold on to its money-making monopoly on Taxol by using loopholes in the patent system.

The NOW Foundation took the lead in organizing support for the approval of the generic form, which can cost less than half of the brand-name price. Women's lives and health could be at risk, NOW Foundation contended, without access to affordable medication. NOW leaders accused Bristol-Myers Squibb of dangerous business practices and corporate greed. In the end, Bristol-Myers Squibb withdrew its disputed patent and the FDA issued a final approval of generic Taxol.

Read more about NOW's work on generic Taxol.

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