The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to stop federal funding of the Silver Ring Thing, a national program supporting abstinence until marriage, in a settlement with the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union, the organization announced Feb. 23. The Silver Ring Thing organizes events for teens that involve skits, music and inspirational speeches. At the end of the program, participants sign an abstinence vow and receive a silver ring as a symbol of their promise.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in May 2005 to stop a $75,000 grant because the Silver Ring Thing promoted Christianity in its programs. "The ACLU supports the right of the Silver Ring Thing to offer religious programming," Julie Sternberg, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU said. "But it may not do so with government funds." Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to support religious activities.
The federal government has spent an estimated $1 billion on abstinence education programs since 1997. However, a 2004 study by Columbia University researchers found that although teens who take abstinence vows may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent break their vows and eventually have premarital sex, the Washington Post reported. Some studies also indicate that graduates of these programs are more likely than other young people to have unsafe sex once they break the vow.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- A committee in Colorado’s House recommended a bill to allow pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a doctor’s prescription, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reported Feb. 20, although pharmacists could opt out on moral grounds. If the bill is passed, Colorado would join eight other states in allowing similar agreements. Maryland is considering a similar bill.
- Colorado’s Senate also backed a bill granting working nursing mothers time to pump milk each day at their workplace. Breastfeeding mothers would receive two 10-minute breaks to pump milk daily. However, they have no guarantee of a private place to do it.
- Six women ran for positions on the chamber of commerce in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the Associated Press reported Feb. 24. Early results indicate that none won, but the candidacies were more symbolic than anything else, representing a small shift in favor of women’s rights in the strongly conservative nation. In November, 2005, two women were elected to the chamber of commerce in Jeddah, the port city on Saudi Arabia’s west coast.
- Sudanese women can now play soccer in the country’s first competitive female soccer league, Reuters reported Feb. 23. Thanks to the new constitution, forged after a 21-year civil war ended, restrictive Islamic laws that prevented female sports in the past have lifted. The new constitution expressly protects the religious rights of non-Muslims in the capital, Khartoum. Non-Muslim female soccer players in the league wear shorts and T-shirts in front of a mostly young male audience. Some female Muslim players still compete in long trousers and head scarves.
South Dakota’s Legislature has voted to ban nearly all abortions in the state. No exceptions for incest or rape cases or for the health of the pregnant woman were made. Only abortions to save the woman’s life are permitted by the proposed law.
The bill was originally written by Rep. Roger Hunt to set up South Dakota as the first state in 14 years to start a direct legal attack on the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, The New York Times reported. "This represents a monumental step backward for personal privacy for women," said Nancy Keenan, president of Washington, D.C.-based NARAL Pro-Choice America.
A referendum to send the question to the voters was rejected, as was an attempt to prohibit tax dollars to finance the legal battle that pro-choice activists have vowed to begin. To be enacted, the bill must be signed by anti-choice Gov. Mike Rounds. South Dakota has only a single clinic that performs abortions, with 800 procedures a year.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has agreed to review a 2003 federal ban on the procedure, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Washington Post reported Feb. 21. The Bush administration requested the review despite three lower court rulings that struck down the law because it lacked an exception for women’s health. The case comes up before the newly reconstituted Supreme Court that includes two Bush appointees, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
"The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case is a stark reminder of how President Bush and his anti-choice congressional allies have politicized the judicial process," Keenan said.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- No films directed by women were nominated for best picture or best director at this year’s Academy Awards, points out the Fund for Women Artists, a Florence, Mass., advocacy group, in a Feb. 17 announcement. In the 78-year history of the Oscars, only three women have been nominated for best director and none has won. Two groups, the Guerrilla Girls and the Hollywood-based Movies by Women, have posted a billboard of King Kong in a pink cocktail dress and pink lipstick on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood to draw attention before the March 5 award ceremony. The billboard’s text demands, "Unchain the Female Directors."
- A 19-year-old female Iranian journalist, Elham Afrootan, was murdered in prison after being arrested on the charge of insulting Ayatollah Khomeini, the Women’s Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran, a Boston-based women’s rights organization, claimed in a press statement Feb. 17. Afrootan wrote a piece in a local weekly entitled "Make the Fight Against AIDS Public," in which she compared Khomeini with the AIDS virus. In Iran, insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic is punishable by death. The government claimed her death was a suicide.
Harvard President Lawrence Summers announced Feb. 22 that he would step down at the end of the school year, the AP reported. Summers resigned a week before a second no-confidence vote organized by the faculty was scheduled to take place. The first vote was passed in March 2005 over Summers’ remarks that the intrinsic abilities of women might be the reason for their lower representation in scientific fields.
Anju Mary Paul is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews. She has an M.A. in journalism from New York University.