The U.S. Senate expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as S-CHIP, on Jan. 29, the Washington Post reported. The program will now allow states to cover pregnant immigrants and fund insurance for an additional 4 million children across the country by 2013. Currently, legal immigrants are barred from receiving government-subsidized health coverage for five years after entering the United States.
The S-CHIP expansion was twice vetoed by President Bush. The new bill has already passed the House and President Obama is expected to sign it. The expansion will be funded by raising the cigarette tax from 39 cents a pack to $1.
The Senate also voted to reject an amendment that would have reinstated the so-called global gag rule as part of the new reauthorization and expansion of S-CHIP, the Associated Press reported Jan. 29. Last week, President Obama reversed the policy, which banned federal funding to international family planning groups that provide abortion services or information about abortions. The amendment was defeated 60-37.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Johanna Sigurdardottir, a lesbian, former flight attendant and current social affairs minister, will serve as Iceland’s interim prime minister until new elections are held later this year, the AP reported Jan. 28. Iceland’s government collapsed on Monday when the entire cabinet resigned over the country’s economic crisis. Sigurdardottir is known for allocating generous public funding toward assisting the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of domestic violence. Sigurdardottir is the world’s first openly gay prime minister.
- The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill signed into law by Obama on Jan. 29, USA Today reported. The law reverses a Supreme Court ruling that plaintiffs must file wage bias claims within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck. First lady Michelle Obama honored Ledbetter at a reception in the State Dining Room, the Chicago Sun Times reported. “It was a top and critical priority for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, older women, younger women, women with disabilities and their families,” Michelle Obama said.
- Workers who cooperate with internal investigations and report inappropriate conduct at work are protected from retaliation under civil rights laws, the Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision Jan. 26, the Los Angeles Times reported. A lower court had ruled that only employees who initiate discrimination complaints are protected from dismissal, but not those who answer questions during an employer’s internal investigation.
- Almost 2,200 government employees who work on foreign policy issues delivered a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the government to provide equal benefits to same-sex partners, the Washington Post reported Jan. 27. “I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy,” Clinton said. “My understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit.”
- In Iraq, women’s rights advocates are urging the government to amend the current provisional election law to guarantee women a greater share of seats on the councils than previous polls, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Jan. 27. Currently, women are allocated 25 percent of seats in the Iraqi parliament councils. But in earlier drafts of Iraqi election law, women were supposed to receive every third seat allocated to parties. An Iraqi women’s network is working to establish a 30 percent quota for women in councils.
Although the House of Representatives passed the $819 billion stimulus plan Jan. 28, a provision to expand state access to family planning services under Medicaid was missing, Time reported. House Republicans attacked the family planning provision extensively last week, citing it as a major reason for opposing the stimulus bill, a combination of spending programs and tax cuts.
President Obama asked Democrats to remove the family planning in response to Republican criticism. “While he believed that the policy of increased funding for family planning was the right one . . . he didn’t believe that this bill was the vehicle to make that happen,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. Despite the removal of the provision, not a single Republican representative voted for the bill, which was passed along party lines.
As of now, states that want to expand their Medicaid coverage to help low-income women access family-planning services must first obtain a federal waiver.
The provision eliminated from the stimulus package would have eliminated this requirement, allowing states to have direct access to Medicaid funds for family-planning services that do not include abortion. Supporters argued that the provision belonged in the stimulus bill, since it would result in lower health care costs, as a result of investing in preventative care.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- An appeals court ruled that the California Lutheran High School in Riverside County, California, can legally expel two 16-year-old female students for having a “bond of intimacy” that suggested a lesbian relationship, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 28. The appeals court decided that since the private religious school is not a business, it does not have to comply with a state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Three Iranian football officials were suspended after the first mixed-gender football game in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Male and female teams of teen players competed against each other in Tehran on Jan. 20, the AP reported. The ayatollah, the supreme leader of Iran, is firmly against women entering the stands if men are playing. When female football teams play, only women can enter the stands. Video clips taken on cell phones were used as evidence against the officials.
- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said rapes would occur in Italy until “there are as many soldiers as pretty girls,” flippantly referring to three rape cases in January, the Telegraph reported Jan. 27. In the most recent attack, five men raped a 21-year-old woman after locking her male partner in the couple’s car on the outskirts of Rome. Tension is high over recent rape cases, with some Italians blaming crime on new immigrants and the prime minister’s comments did not ease tensions. “We could not field a big enough force to avoid this risk (of rape.) We would need so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful,” Berlusconi said.
- U.S. children avoid careers that involve math and science due to a lack of confidence in the topics, according to a Jan. 26 survey released by the American Society for Quality, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Girls between 8 and 11 years said parents encouraged them to become actresses more frequently than engineers, and 85 percent of children said they were not interested in engineering careers.
- Wisconsin lawmakers urged the University of Wisconsin hospital to end a plan to provide second-trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center, the AP reported Jan. 22. Fifteen percent of abortions occur during the second trimester, and are most often sought because of complications that endanger the woman’s health. Because the only doctor in Madison, Wis., who provided second-term abortions has left the area, supporters of the plan argue there is a public need for it.
Constance Cook, a women’s right advocate who served in the New York State Assembly for 14 years, died Jan. 20, Newsday reported. Cook sponsored a bill that repealed the state’s anti-abortion law and in 1970 abortion became legal in New York three years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prohibiting states from banning it. A lawyer by profession, Cook also represented the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess in her case against the Episcopal Church, in which she argued that the church practiced gender-based employment discrimination. The case put pressure on the church to ultimately allow ordination of women in 1977.
Rebecca Harshbarger is a reporter at Women’s eNews, based in New York City.
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