Two female senators–Democrats Hillary Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington–pledged to block President Bush’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration to protest the agency’s delayed decision on a policy regarding emergency contraceptives.

Clinton and Murray said they plan to place a “hold” on the nominee, Lester Crawford, until the agency approves or rejects an application for over-the-counter status of an emergency contraceptive known as Plan B.

The drug’s manufacturer has awaited a decision from the FDA for two years. The administration, which opposes abortion rights, has postponed the decision for political and ideological reasons, Murray charged.

“The FDA advisory committee has recommended approval of Plan B based on safety and effectiveness, but the FDA continues to drag its feet,” Murray said in a press release issued on Thursday. “I have always supported a strong and independent FDA, but by ignoring sound science, they have jeopardized public confidence and the health of American women.”

Other reasons to Cheer this week:

—- Four female financial consultants filed a lawsuit in San Francisco on Thursday charging Smith Barney, the retail brokerage arm of Citigroup, with sexual harassment, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The women said that Smith Barney routinely assigns smaller accounts to female brokers, including those who outperform their male counterparts, and provides them with less administrative support, creating a corporate culture hostile to women’s career advancement. Smith Barney issued a statement denying the allegations.

— Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Wednesday “there is mounting evidence” that stem-cell research would benefit science, reports The New York Times. Zerhouni’s statement comes in the midst of rising pressure by Republicans on President Bush to loosen his restrictions of federal funding for embryonic research.

— Harvard University President Lawrence Summers changed his tune at a symposium on women in science held Thursday, stating that unconscious bias against girls was the main contributor to their underachievement in the sciences later in life, reports the Boston Globe. This was in stark contrast to his recent controversial comments that women underachieve in science-based professions because they’re inherently mediocre in the sciences.

— Liz Weatherly, a mother of three in Auckland, New Zealand, is spearheading an effort to protect women who breastfeed in public from discrimination, reports The Dominion Post. Weatherly gathered over 9,000 signatures in a petition and presented it on Thursday to parliament, pushing for this legislation to pass as an amendment to the Human Rights Act.

— The Norwegian parliament is getting tough on companies that don’t meet a quota of placing at least 40 percent women on their executive boards, reports The Toronto Star. Parliament issued a statement on Tuesday saying it will shut down companies that don’t meet the quota by mid-2005.


Colorado Governor Bill Owens vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would require hospitals to inform rape victims about emergency-contraception, reports The Denver Post. The law would have mandated Catholic institutions to provide counseling to rape victims on how to prevent pregnancy.

Owens, a Catholic, said his faith did not motivate him to veto the bill. He cited religious freedom as rationale for his veto.

“It is one of the central tenets of a free society that individuals and institutions should not be coerced by government to engage in activities that violate their moral or religious beliefs,” he wrote on his veto statement.

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, a Democrat from Denver, a sponsor of the bill, replied: “What about a non-Catholic woman who is taken to a Catholic institution? Doesn’t she have the freedom to make up her own mind?”

Other reasons to Jeer this week

— U.S. soldiers in Iraq allegedly detained two women as hostages to pressure the women’s male family to turn themselves in, reports Reuters. Reporters confirmed there was a handwritten note in Arabic left at the women’s house after they were arrested that read: “Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention.” The note included a cell phone number and was signed “Bandit 6,” which is reportedly a U.S. military code. When a Reuters reporter called the number, a U.S. soldier answered. The U.S. military said it was investigating the accusations.

–Women’s equality in the workplace is “a huge illusion,” according to the Women’s Advisory Committee on Workforce Development, a consultative body to the Quebec government, reported the Gazette on Tuesday. Although the number of women graduating from university and holding jobs has increased, women remain the bulk of minimum-wage and part-time workers, the report stated.

— Based on new Census data, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and Oxfam Hong Kong found that in China unskilled women’s median monthly pay was half that of men’s, which is $6,500, reports the South China Morning Post.

— The Texas senate passed 20-9 a bill that excludes Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions from receiving Medicaid money, reports the Houston Chronicle.

— Alison Stevens contributed to this report.

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