By Cynthia L. Cooper
Friday, December 15, 2000
Women's groups filed more than 20 legal objections and more than 800 women protested, yet a federal judge decided anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers help women and serve a worthy government purpose of promoting pregnancy. Also, news briefs.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--A federal district judge on Thursday refused to block disbursement of settlement funds from the Nine West price-fixing case to crisis pregnancy centers. Several women's advocates had objected to the centers receiving the cash, saying the centers advance an anti-choice agenda and do not promote the health of women.
In approving an overall disbursement plan for $34 million, Judge Barrington D. Parker said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "the government may make a value judgment that supports childbirth over abortion." Crisis pregnancy centers, he said, "have missions which could fairly be said as furthering the interests of women."
That they are controversial is insufficient reason to remove them from the anti-trust settlement plan for the Nine West women's shoe retailer and its affiliated brands, Parker said.
Women's health advocates had filed more than 20 objections to the proposed distribution of funds to crisis pregnancy centers in Nebraska, Virginia and South Carolina. They said that women were misled and terrorized at these centers.
More than 800 members of the pro-choice organization, NARAL, had complained that they had bought shoes from Nine West and its affiliates, a NARAL representative testified.
"The crisis pregnancy centers are deceptive and misrepresent themselves to the public," said Marjorie Signer, secretary for Virginia's National Organization for Women. "They do not promote the health of women, but promote a religious, social and political agenda," Signer said.
She described one "survivor" of a Virginia clinic who had been counseled that she would be murdering a child if she were to get an abortion, and told that she might die herself in the procedure. She described another woman who had been asked to pray and whose records gave no indication she had received any medical care. The center's forms, she said, did not even have a space to describe medical treatment.
Settlement funds from the case were designated to go to "programs relating to women's health, educational, vocational and safety programs." Scores of other women's organizations across the country, many related to domestic violence, breast cancer or employment training, are also recipients of monies.
Each state's attorney general created a distribution plan. Women's organizations were selected because it was not possible to locate and compensate aggrieved women who purchased shoes from Nine West and affiliated brands.
Representatives of the attorneys general in Nebraska, Virginia, South Carolina and New York argued in favor of funding for the crisis clinics. The attorney general of each state created a distribution plan. New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer assembled the national settlement package for all states, but his office was not responsible for how states decided to spend the funds.
The funds arise from an antitrust price-fixing case against Nine West and affiliated shoe brands. The lawsuit, filed last March by the attorneys general of all the states and territories, alleged that the shoe manufacturers had illegally prevented store retailers from offering discounts on shoes from 1988 to 1999. Because of the difficulty and cost in locating the original consumers who were harmed, settlement funds are funneled to groups that are representative of the consumers, in this case, women.
"The Attorney General believes that (crisis pregnancy centers) perform a valuable service and it's appropriate to share the funds with them," said William Hurd, solicitor general of Virginia, which designated that 22.5 percent of its $757,000 share of settlement money go to crisis pregnancy centers. The attorney for Nine West, Ronald Rolfe, rose during the hearing to note that his client had nothing to do with the selection of the organizations.
Judge Parker's ruling stretches the doctrine that the government may prefer childbirth to abortion, because, in this case, the funds will go directly to organizations that present misleading and inappropriate information, said Elizabeth A. Cavendish, legal director and vice president of the NARAL Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"It is not expressing a preference, but promoting anti-abortion sentiment," she said.
Cynthia L. Cooper is a free-lance writer based in New York and specializing in reproductive health and other women's issues.
See our Oct. 12 news story, "U.S. Judge to Mete Out $34 Million Fund for Women":
Visit NARAL for information on the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers:
EEOC Rules in Favor of Contraceptive Coverage
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Two women, whose names were not immediately disclosed, filed suit to challenge the exclusion of contraceptives in their employers' benefits plans which already covered prescription drugs.
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