Sponge Is Back; Florida Okays New Abortion Rules

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(WOMENSENEWS)–

Cheers

The Food & Drug Administration announced Friday that after 11 years it has re-approved the Today Sponge, once the most popular over-the-counter female contraceptive.

From 1983 to 1994, the Today Sponge was widely available in the United States and more than 250 million Sponges were sold. The current manufacturer, Allendale Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based consumer health care products company, plans to begin U.S. production immediately and will begin national distribution this summer, according to a company press release.

The previous Sponge manufacturer stopped making it in 1994, along with other products, due to complications with its production facilities.

Allendale bought the rights to the Sponge in 1998 and has been navigating the FDA approval process ever since. Despite its absence from the market, the Sponge has remained popular among women as an effective, hormone-free, contraceptive choice.

Other Things to Cheer About This Week:

In the U.K. domestic violence declined more than half since the mid-1990s as the government continues to pass tougher laws, the Economist reports in this week’s issue.

Over the years the police have gotten tougher, abandoning a “tea and sympathy approach” to abuse, instead following something akin to the U.S. government’s approach to Al Capone, said Simon Letchford of the Metropolitan Police. (He was arrested for tax violations not bootlegging.)

“If we can’t get him for beating up his wife, what else can we get him for?” he said, pointing out that many abusers are likely to commit other crimes.

The government continues its zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence and next July all accusers, even those acquitted, can be subject to a restraining order if the courts find it reasonable to issue one.

— Canada approved over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception Plan B on Wednesday, making it the 34th country to do so, reports The Baltimore Sun. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. continues to stall on approving the nonprescription status of Plan B.

— A bipartisan group of lawmakers is gathering signatures for legislation that would require hospitals that receive federal funding to provide rape victims with information about and access to emergency contraception, which prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of assault. But the bill, dubbed the CARE Act–an acronym that stands for Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies–seems unlikely to win quick approval. The Department of Justice, in fact, did not mention emergency contraception in guidelines issued recently regarding the treatment of rape victims.

The Washington, D.C.-based Republican Majority for Choice, however, is applying political pressure on party leaders to act on the legislation, which they say would reduce the number of abortions.

“It is hypocritical for our Party to rush to the bedside of one person, Terri Schiavo, yet ignore the needs of the estimated 300,000 women who are victims of rape every year in our country,” National Co-Chair Jennifer Blei Stockman said. “By supporting CARE, the Republican Party has a real opportunity to prove that they are not a wholly controlled subsidiary of the religious far-right movement which has led the opposition to this bill at the state level.”

— Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, has launched a $3 million program to increase access to emergency contraception and improve family planning, reports the Mayor’s Office in a press release yesterday. In New York City more than 60 percent of pregnancies are unintended.

— For the first time in the history of Kuwait, women have the right to vote and run in local council elections, reports The Washington Post on Wednesday. The bill passed 26-20, but requires further legislation before it is finalized into law. Kuwait has been one of two countries in the world remaining without women’s suffrage. The other country, Saudi Arabia, still is debating the issue.

— Women in the United Kingdom will get pap smear results faster and more efficiently, reports The Observer on Monday. Pap smears are a reliable diagnostic for early signs of cervical cancer, which kills 1,200 women annually. Many women wait more than a month for test results, but now laboratories must deliver results within a week.

— In Ireland, the Minister of State Frank Fahey announced Thursday that state-funded companies must have at least 40 percent women on their board, reports The Irish Times. Women’s rights advocates cheered this “historic” move, and are now pushing for a similar requirement for all companies.

— Emergency call operators answering 911, most of whom are women, might receive pay equal to their male counterparts in the local fire department, reports Newsday on Tuesday. Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi proposed the pay raise, which would cost tax payers $1 million per year. Operators earn on average 13 percent less than fire communications workers, who are all men.

— Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act on Tuesday to better enforce previous laws that bar wage discrimination on the basis of gender. Paycheck disparity between men and women increased in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, with women earning 76 cents on the dollar, or one cent lower than before, reports the National Women’s Law Center.


Jeers

Florida passed two bills that make abortion a more expensive and less accessible procedure for women, reports St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday.

One bill targets the state’s abortion clinics with added regulations for physical facility, supplies, equipment, paperwork, staff training and post procedure follow-up, increasing the cost of the procedure to patients.

Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach), and Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), both sponsors of the bills, say these measures are necessary to improve safety. But critics say there have been only four valid complaints last year against abortion clinics, out of 91,000 abortions performed in Florida.

“We actually have people dying from plastic surgery and breast augmentation with the wrong anesthetics,” said Rep. Nancy Detert (R-Venice), an opponent of the bill, during a floor debate. “Your bill targets one particular industry.”

The second bill would require girls under 16, including victims of incest, to inform their parents if they want an abortion.

Federal law permits states to require parental notice as long as a teen has the right to go to court to prove she is mature enough to make that decision on her own. The Florida bill eliminates that choice for girls under 16. Critics say the bill is unconstitutional.

Other Things to Jeer This Week:

— The Senate Judiciary approved on Thursday the nominations of two ultra-conservative female nominees to appellate court positions. Committee Republicans–without any support from committee Democrats–endorsed the nominations of Janice Rogers Brown, an African American who sits on the California Supreme Court, and Priscilla Owen, who sits on the Texas Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats filibustered their nominations in the last Congress because they objected to their records on reproductive rights, civil rights, workers’ rights and consumer rights. They have vowed to continue their opposition to nominees they consider ideologically extreme.

If Democrats do block floor votes of Owen or Rogers Brown, Republicans may use their nominations to launch an effort to change the rules and ban filibusters of judicial nominations. If Republicans succeed, Democrats have threatened to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill.

— The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is lobbying the World Health Organization to block putting two abortion pills on a drug list distributed to governments as a blueprint for drugs that should be available to medical professionals, reports The Guardian on Thursday. Many countries where abortion is legal have no alternative to surgical procedures.

— Half of women serving time for manslaughter in Greece’s Korydallos prison were subjected to domestic abuse prior to their crime, reports Athens News Agency. The survey, conducted by the University of the Peloponnese in collaboration with The Research Center for Gender Equality of the Interior Ministry, also found that most (29 out of 33) of the women’s victims were either a husband, partner or a member of the immediate family.

— Alison Stevens contributed to this report.

Rasha Elass, an intern at Women’s eNews and a freelance writer based in New York City, attends Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Allison Stevens is Women’s eNews’ Washington bureau chief.

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