On Jan. 14, 50,000 pro-choice women took to the streets of Milan, marching under the slogan "Let's Emerge From Silence" and demanding that Italy maintain its current abortion law. The women were concerned that the country's Catholic politicians, encouraged by the Vatican, would try to undo a 1978 Italian law that makes abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy.
The protest came two days after Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Vatican's condemnation of abortion, The Associated Press reported. Italian bishops have made abortion a campaign issue in this year's general elections and ministers in the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have heavily criticized the march. It is the first time the issue of legal abortion is on the table since 1981, when Italians upheld abortion rights by rejecting a referendum backed by the Vatican.
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A Jan. 20 Gallup poll released to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade reaffirms that a majority of Americans support abortion rights. In the poll, 63 percent of respondents said they were opposed to overturning Roe and about half considered themselves to be pro-choice. On current abortion laws in the U.S., 39 percent said the laws should remain the same, 20 percent said they should be less strict and 38 percent said they should be more restrictive.
U.S. first lady Laura Bush, in Africa to attend the inauguration of Liberia's president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, announced Jan. 18 a new U.S. commitment of $163 million to fight AIDS in Nigeria and presented an initial shipment of anti-retroviral drugs to a Catholic hospital. In Ghana, Bush also promoted her husband's Africa Education Initiative, a $600 million project to provide for education and teacher training so that more African children, especially girls, can attend school, reported The Associated Press. Bush's visit was widely reported as an attempt to draw attention to women's issues.
The lack of basic vital statistics--such as the number of births and deaths--broken down by sex is hampering developing countries when making critical economic, health and education decisions, according to a Jan. 18 United Nations report, "The World's Women 2005, Progress in Statistics." The report looked at 204 countries over the past 30 years to examine progress in reporting basic data. Researchers discovered that there has been little overall increase in the reporting of official national statistics and African countries have the worst record.
The failure to register adequate gender statistics in certain countries is closely tied to the discrimination against women in those societies, Francois Farah of the U.N. Population Fund told The Associated Press. "Women are not visible in most vital statistics because they are simply often not made visible in their own societies and communities," he added.
The report highlighted some countries, such as Colombia, Nigeria, Peru and Uzbekistan, that have not conducted a census since 1995, according to Reuters. Others, like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan and Vietnam have registered less than 90 percent of all births. The report also stated that 31 out of 55 African countries did not report births by sex between 1995 and 2003.
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The Arizona state House Health Committee signed off on legislation that requires abortion practitioners to inform women considering an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy that their unborn fetus can experience pain. The measure passed the committee by a 5-1 vote on Jan. 18, the Arizona Daily Sun reported. It will need to clear two more committees before it reaches the full House. Practitioners who violate this law, if passed, could be required to forfeit their medical licenses.
New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed that the city led the nation with almost 92,000 abortions performed in 2004 out of the 227,000 pregnancies recorded in the city that year. Abortions performed in the city for out-of-town women increased from 57 per 1,000 to 70 out of every 1,000 between 1996 and 2004, according to the annual Vital Statistics report released Jan. 15. New York's Daily News wrote that that this increase may continue "if other states continue to adopt more legal restrictions against abortions."
Several conservative groups from the U.S. have been helping rally opposition to family-planning legislation pending in the Philippines, which they say goes too far in promoting sex education and access to birth control, the Washington Post reported Jan. 18. The proposed bill guarantees universal access to safe, affordable and quality reproductive health care services and also sets up mandatory sex education from grades 5 to 12, with topics to include reproductive health and sexual rights, sexual identity and gender roles, and includes schools run by the Catholic Church.
Randall L. Tobias, a former pharmaceutical executive and Republican campaign donor, has been nominated to be the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department announced Jan. 19. David Bryden, spokesperson for the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance, told the Indianapolis Star that his group is concerned about Tobias' lack of experience in development issues and his record as an AIDS czar, where he favored brand-name AIDS drugs over cheaper generic versions. Tobias' appointment, still to be confirmed, is part of an overhaul of the State Department's foreign aid efforts that critics have said may imperil the independence of aid workers and politicize the agency.
Jill Carroll, an American journalist on assignment in Iraq for the Christian Science Monitor, was seized by gunmen in Baghdad Jan. 7, along with her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, who was later found murdered. At deadline, Carroll's fate remained unknown. Her kidnappers issued a 72-hour deadline Jan. 17 demanding the release of all Iraqi women being held by U.S. authorities--there are eight--or Carroll will be executed. Ann Cooper of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on Carroll's captors to release her and joined appeals from Carroll's family, colleagues and Muslim organizations.
"The chorus of support for Jill Carroll from across the Muslim world is evidence of her status as an independent journalist who has reported with deep sympathy and courage on the situation confronting all Iraqi citizens," Cooper said. "We call on those holding Jill Carroll to heed these calls, recognize her status as a neutral observer and release her immediately."
Anju Mary Paul is an editorial intern with Women's eNews.
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