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Romney Turns Around; Rapes on Rise in West Africa

Saturday, December 10, 2005

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Cheers

Anti-choice Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts supported a new state law requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims after he initially opposed it, the Associated Press reported.

The governor originally vetoed the law that was passed by the Legislature this summer, but his veto was overridden. This week, the state public health commissioner, Paul Cote Jr., proposed that Catholic and other private hospitals be permitted to refuse to dispense emergency contraception, or Plan B, to rape victims on the grounds of religious or moral opposition. Cote based the proposal on a pre-existing law that barred the state from requiring private hospitals to dispense contraceptive devices or information.

Facing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, Romney asked his legal advisors to review the new law. They ultimately determined it should stand without exemptions.

Although he entered office in 2002 claiming that while he personally opposed abortion he had no plans to challenge its legality, Romney publicly recanted his support for legal abortion, the Boston Globe reported. Romney's repositioning is seen as an attempt to take more conservative social positions in preparation for a 2008 presidential run.

In another Plan B development, four Walgreens pharmacists in Illinois were suspended without pay after refusing to fill Plan B prescriptions, according to Stateline.org. The four filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Dec. 7 in protest, saying they had been "effectively fired" for their moral beliefs. Illinois' governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, issued an executive order requiring all pharmacists that fill birth control prescriptions to dispense emergency contraception as well.

Other News to Cheer This Week:

  • Maine rejected a $160,000 federal sex education grant Nov. 29 because of a requirement that it be spent on abstinence-only sex education, a possible conflict with a state law that mandates teens be taught about contraception. The federal government wants states "to tell teens that sex outside of marriage was unacceptable and that couples should be economically self-sufficient before they have sex," reported Stateline.org, and would require that Maine spend an additional $120,000 in matching state funds to receive the grant.

    "We were in a position of having to turn our backs on proven programs that we have been using for quite a while, versus accepting these standards that we think may actually be harmful to our children," said Maine's public health director, Dora Anne Mills.

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  • The female mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis, has been elected World Mayor 2005 by the London-based City Mayors, which examines how municipal governments deal with issues such as housing and transportation, the organization announced Tuesday. Bakoyannis was elected for the successful staging of the 2004 Olympic Games, her fight against terrorism and for smaller city improvements such as planting trees and flowers. Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga, Ontario, was the runner-up and Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta made it into the top 10.
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  • On the 50th anniversary of her act of disobedience that set the civil rights movement in action, Rosa Parks became the first African American woman to be honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol's storied Statuary Hall. President Bush signed a bill Dec. 1 to mark the anniversary of Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Her act sparked the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. Parks, who died in October, was also the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
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  • Women in the Australian state of South Australia who are going through a marriage separation, especially those who are victims of violence and abuse, will have access to volunteers trained to provide them with support, companionship and information during family court proceedings starting in April, the Australian Web site News.com reported Thursday.
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Jeers

Sexual violence against women is on the rise in the West African nation of Cote d'Ivoire where a civil conflict has swept across the nation since 2002, the Integrated Regional Information Networks, an editorially independent news service of the U.N. has reported.

Ethnically motivated human rights violations against women occur on both sides of the conflict and the perpetrators have no fear of punishment as inquiries are rarely completed, concluded the authors of the U.N. report cited by the news agency. Rape, forced marriage and genital mutilation are increasing as is prostitution among poor women. In additional, Nigerian village girls are being lured to Cote d'Ivoire by a human trafficking network and forced into sex work once there.

The situation mimics what occurred during the decade-long civil war in nearby Sierra Leone that ended in 2002. There, over a quarter-million women and girls were raped in an effort to "humiliate, terrorize and destroy" the opposition, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Large-scale rape is also occurring in Sudan.

However, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who will become next month, the first female president of neighboring Liberia and in all of Africa, vowed that rapists in that country will be punished, the news agency reported. The Liberian Parliament passed a law Dec. 1 making rape illegal in Liberia for the first time, with prison sentences ranging from seven years to life. Rape was common in Liberia's 14-year civil conflict that ended two years ago, but the local media is reporting a recent increase in cases.

"Nobody will abuse our girls and women and get away with it," Johnson-Sirleaf said.

Other News to Jeer This Week:

     

  • About 20 San Francisco police officers will be suspended for their alleged involvement in producing a number of videotapes over the past two years that mocked African Americans, Asians, women and the transgender community, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday. Some of the video scenes depicted police officers running over a homeless woman, "ogling" female drivers and an African American officer wearing a dog collar and eating out of a dog dish. The tapes came to light after one of the officers posted some of the material on his personal Web site.
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  • Of the 46 Standard and Poor's 100 publicly-traded corporations that responded to a survey, almost half do not publicly disclose information pertaining to their progress in achieving equal employment opportunities, the Washington-based nonprofit Social Investment Forum announced Wednesday. Despite recommendations made by the bipartisan Federal Glass Ceiling Commission in 1995 that companies voluntarily disclose such information, the report found that only six of the companies do. Fifteen companies refuse to disclose any equal employment opportunity data.
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-- Allison Stevens contributed to this report.

Karen James is a Women's eNews intern and master's candidate at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief for Women's eNews.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.