NOW Newsline

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney, Publications Manager and Alyssa Wilmot, Publications Intern

Emergency Contraception Approved

After years of waiting, the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved emergency contraception package is now available. Doctors have long prescribed certain oral contraceptives to women in emergency situations after intercourse. However, this off-label use was not widely known, and no product existed specifically for that purpose.Gynetics, Inc.'s PREVEN Emergency Contraceptive Kit, released last September, can prevent pregnancy within 72 hours after intercourse. It is available by prescription from doctors and other health care professionals.

Experts estimate that as many as 2.3 million unintended pregnancies could be avoided with the use of emergency contraception. NOW, along with other abortion rights groups, petitioned the FDA to approve and promote the use of emergency contraception and has committed to educating women about this option.

Conservative legislators may attempt to hamper distribution of emergency contraception to women through conscience clauses. Since Roe v. Wade, legislators have used conscience clauses to allow publicly funded health care providers to refuse to provide abortion and family-planning services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs. Abortion-rights opponent Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, planned to offer an extremely broad conscience clause in Congress' last session. It never materialized, but similar action is expected this year. Meanwhile, many states already have conscience clauses, some of which may affect access to emergency contraception. In July of 1998, South Dakota legislators passed a law clearly designed to permit a pharmacist to refuse to dispense emergency contraception prescriptions.

"The opponents of emergency contraception are also opposed to other forms of birth control and to abortion. We must protect women's access to all reproductive services," said NOW President Patricia Ireland.

Supreme Court Protest: Equal Opportunities Under Law?

When the U.S. Supreme Court reconvened on Oct. 5, 1998, NOW joined with the NAACP and other organizations to speak out against the Court's shameful record on hiring women and people of color as law clerks. Of the 428 total law clerks hired by the current justices, fewer than one quarter have been women, while more than 40 percent of law school graduates are women. The justices' record on people of color is also abysmal: four percent have been Asian-American, two percent have been African American, one percent have been Latina/o and none has been Native American.

In front of the Court protesters chanted: "What do we want?  Justice!  When do we want it?  NOW!"  Demonstrators demanded that the Court acknowledge the under-representation and address the lack of diversity by changing and improving the process of hiring law clerks. NOW, the NAACP and others followed up with a letter to Chief Justice Rehnquist demanding a meeting with the justices.

First Latina Will Head EEOC

On Oct. 23, 1998, Ida L. Castro became the first Latina Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Nominated by President Clinton on April 2, 1998, Castro was finally confirmed by unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate. The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Equal Pay Act, Title I of the American with Disabilities Act and parts of the Rehabilitation Act.

Previous to this position Castro made considerable strides for women's rights as acting director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor. She was the first Latina to receive tenure as an Associate Professor at Rutgers University and at 20 became the youngest and only female cabinet member in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

Randall Terry Files for Bankruptcy

Randall Terry, founder of the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, filed for bankruptcy protection in November 1998, citing $1.7 million in debts including $1.6 million Terry alleges he's been ordered by courts to pay NOW and Planned Parenthood. "NOW has never seen a penny from all of our litigation against Terry and Operation Rescue," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy. "But he should not get away with using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying the clinics for the damage he's done."

NOW has persistently gone after Terry, Operation Rescue and others whose violent tactics seek to deny women's reproductive rights, most recently in the successful NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit.

Presidential Support for Women's Health and History

On Oct. 31, 1998, President Clinton signed The Women's Progress Commemoration Act and the Women's Health Research and Prevention Amendments of 1998. The Women's Progress Commemoration Act establishes a 15-member commission to preserve women's history in the U.S.  The commission will seek out historical sites of women's accomplishments and develop plans to preserve them for future generations. The Women's Health Research and Prevention Amendments of 1998 will advance women's health with an emphasis on diseases that primarily affect women. The bill will expand Federal research on osteoporosis, strokes, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, and continue to provide breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women.

San Francisco Leads the Way With CEDAW

This past year San Francisco became the first U.S. city to institute the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The United Nations adopted CEDAW, an international bill of rights for women, in 1979. CEDAW requires ratifying countries to take "all appropriate measures" to ensure the full development and advancement of women in all arenas.  Presently, 161 countries have ratified the Convention. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world holding out.

While several states, counties and cities have passed resolutions urging U.S. ratification, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the first-ever ordinance obligating a city to the priniciples of CEDAW. NOW commends San Francisco on its initiative to improve the lives of women and girls and continues to press Congress for immediate ratification of this vital treaty. 

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