Saginaw Valley NOW pickets Wal-Mart in Bay City, Mich., for its refusal to sell emergency contraceptives. National NOW Board member Gloria Woods with NOW round. Photo courtesy of Gloria Woods.
This fall, many NOW members were busy organizing for local elections. NOW chapters also participated in actions for NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day on Sept. 22, 1999, and plans are underway for this year's events on Sept. 20, 2000. Many chapters across the country are busy planning their annual events for the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade as they bring public attention to continuing attacks on abortion rights. Please contact your local chapter for news of Roe v. Wade actions in your area.
The Missouri bill is particularly onerous— its vague wording could preclude most abortions, and it contains a provision that threatens to give anti-abortion terrorists free reign. NOW President Patricia Ireland said, "The Missouri law puts women's health and lives at risk and will turn abortion clinics into shooting galleries. . . . Missouri state legislators have sent women back to pre-Roe days of interstate travel and back alleys."
Abortion procedure bans have been challenged in 30 states and declared unconstitutional in most. While the Eighth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals struck down abortion procedures ban laws in Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa, the Seventh Circuit has upheld similar laws in Wisconsin and Illinois. The issue appears headed for the Supreme Court.
NOW-New York State, NOW-New York City and Westchester NOW were plaintiffs in the class action suit, NY State NOW v. Pataki, in which Southern District Judge Robert L. Carter recently ruled that the delays have the effect of violating the constitutional rights of thousands who file complaints alleging discrimination in employment and housing.
Judge Carter ordered the state to hire staff capable of processing claims within 24-36 months and to spend more money for a special backlog case unit to resolve the backlog of cases. His decision sends a strong message that states can be held accountable for failing to provide justice to victims of discrimination.
Involved in the suit since 1994, NOW-New York State argued that the Human Rights Division's enormous backlog resulted in cases being undermined by lost files, the faulty memories of witnesses and even the bankruptcy of employers charged with discrimination. Allegedly, many complaints were summarily dismissed with no investigation by an agency desperate to reduce its caseload.
Carter issued a permanent injunction to prohibit intake rules that allowed for summary dismissal of cases, writing in his opinion: "The evidence NOW presented at trial showed that the intake rules had great impact, and potentially deprived large numbers of persons of their discrimination complaints without cause."
NOW-New York City President Galen Sherwin said, "This is a victory for all victims of discrimination who rely on government agencies to investigate and resolve their claims because they cannot afford to file private lawsuits. This ruling will at last put some teeth into New York State's anti-discrimination laws."
activists in York, Pa., march with feminist messages in York County's 250th
Anniversary Parade. Photo courtesy of Peg Welch.
In response to public concerns, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a series of articles about rapes in their city, alleging that thousands of rape cases in Philadelphia have been ignored by authorities. With front-page headlines reading "Women Victimized Twice in Police Game of Numbers," reporters documented how, for nearly two decades, thousands of reports of rape had been dismissed in an effort to avoid high crime statistics and to avoid a massive case load.
The police department's sex-crimes unit had rejected a large percentage of reported rapes as "unfounded" and coded others as "investigation of person," an administrative category meant for cases where no crime was committed. Most of the cases were shelved with little or no investigation, and rape victims had no idea that their complaints were no longer being investigated. The Inquirer discovered that two of these dismissed cases had DNA evidence linking them to the other six Rittenhouse Square rapes.
Philadelphia NOW and other women's rights groups utilized the media coverage to put pressure on the police department to reopen old cases. Police are currently reviewing hundreds of cases dismissed since the start of 1998. On Nov. 5, the police commissioner announced that he planned to train 45 detectives for rape investigations. The city council is considering holding hearings about the police department's sex crimes unit.
Pennsylvania NOW President and National NOW Board member Barbara DiTullio states: "All over this country, advocates know rape victims are often not believed and many cases are not investigated or prosecuted, but here in Philadelphia, we have been able to document and quantify how extensive the problem is. I hope the police commissioner uses the increased public attention and the upcoming hearings at City Council to get the resources needed for the police to do their jobs."
Candidate for U.S. Congress and Missouri State Senator William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, speaks to activists at a NOW rally in St. Louis. The rally followed a protest of Miracle Supply Company, against whom NOW member Betty Hoffstedder and others have alleged sexual harassment. Photo courtesy of Patricia Ireland.
Racine NOW President Rachel Trobaugh presented a statement at the funeral: "Who was this young woman, tortured and beaten to death? She was somebody's baby, somebody's daughter, maybe somebody's sister. We don't know, but she certainly was somebody's victim."
At the burial, chapter activists passed around a petition to gather signatures in support of the new Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was shelved this year by a conservative Congress. Across the country, activists have collected more than 55,000 signatures in support of VAWA. Connect to www.now.org/issues/violence/ to sign the petition.
Chapter Vice President Susan Waldman was quoted in the local Observer Tribune: "This whole situation contributes to the pervasive attitude that girls don't count. Right now, we are hoping to make some noise so that people will recognize it as a problem." The issue received a lot of media attention, with headlines reading: "NOW going to bat for girls' ball team."
As a result of NOW's efforts, the township voted to build three fields for use by girls' softball teams. The press quoted Waldman again: "I'm just thrilled by the news. It's great. We really just wanted to bring the issue forward and we did."
Activists and new members of Bucks County NOW (PA) held an action on Women's Equality Day to highlight the Fair Pay Act and celebrate feminist foremothers. Photo by Joan Menapace.
On Oct. 5 at 8:30 a.m., Howard Katz (Kane County NOW, Ill.) alerted the electronic mailing list to a web site advocating domestic violence. He clipped excerpts that urged men to beat their female partners. The web site stated that "you probably get the same jail time for beating her to a pulp as for a couple of slaps, so be sure to really enjoy yourself and stomp her." Katz urged Great Lakes NOW members to protest the site to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), xoom.com.
Great Lakes Region NOW members sent in numerous complaints, and by 7 p.m. that night, e-mail list member Cynthia Allen let members know their cyber-picket had been successful.
The ISP responded: "I have received literally hundreds of concerned letters about this site. Due to the nature of the site and the strong emotions it has stirred up, I am taking the time to tell you personally that I have shut the site down, and flagged the member information as 'Repeat Offender', which will prevent him from re-opening another site with the same information."
Local media gave significant coverage, soliciting opinions about feminism from those in attendance.
In September, Cincinnati NOW held a day-long workshop called "Divorce and Breaking the Cycle of Abuse: A Workshop for Women Coming Out of Emotionally and Physically Abusive Relationships." The workshop was led by Dr. Carolyn Jenkins, Xavier University professor of sociology, and Lea Webb, immediate past chapter president and a member of national NOW's Committee on Family Law and Custody.
Gloria Steinem speaks to a crowd of 1,000 attendees at Cincinnati NOW's 30th Anniversary Celebration. Photo courtesy of Cincinnati NOW.
Many thanks for information provided by: Kansas NOW President Sharon Lockhart, New York City NOW President Galen Sherwin, Pennsylvania NOW President Barbara DiTullio, Racine NOW President Rachel Trobaugh, Bucks County NOW President Barbara Thomas, Morris County NOW Vice President Susan Waldman, National Board Member Gloria Woods of Saginaw Valley NOW and Cincinnati NOW Treasurer Kathy Helmbock.