Congressional Democrats on Feb. 5. introduced a package of bills designed to increase access to contraception and reduce unplanned pregnancies in the United States.

The Reid-Slaughter Prevention First Act proposes an increase in funding for family planning programs to $699 million from $283 million. The higher amount reflects where the budget for the national family planning program–or Title X–would be if it had kept up with inflation since 1980.

“If we want to reduce the number of abortions in this country, the methodology is clear: empower women to prevent unintended pregnancies through education and access to contraception,” Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a co-sponsor, said in a statement.

The New York-based Guttmacher Institute reports that nearly half of pregnancies of U.S. women are unintended, and 4 in 10 of those pregnancies end in abortion.

Slaughter also introduced a bill to encourage greater female participation in sports in high schools, her office announced Feb. 7. The bill would require schools to report the number and gender of student athletes and expenditures for sports programs.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Harvard University’s main governing board will recommend a female president to its group of overseers, said an alumni group responsible for the final selection, Boston.com reported Feb. 9. “Drew Gilpin Faust, the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, has been the front-runner over the past week, and several people close to the search said they were unaware of any other candidates being considered in the final stages of deliberation,” Boston Globe reporters wrote.
  • Eight Emirati women were appointed to the 40-member Federal Council of United Arab Emirates, the country’s main legislative body, Middle East Online reported Feb. 5. That brings the total number of female members on the council to nine. Amal Abdullah al-Kubaissi from Abu Dhabi was the only woman elected in December, when national elections were held for the first time. By law, half of the council is appointed and half is elected.
  • A group of Saudi women has petitioned King Abdullah to annul a forced divorce. The case concerns the decision by the country’s high court to separate a couple against their will, after three years of marriage, because of their different tribal backgrounds. The woman–whose identity is concealed and is widely identified in the media as “Fatima”–is in jail with her youngest child for refusing to return to her parental family after the court order. In a related development this week, a Saudi lawmaker has proposed a civil law consistent with religious law that allows Saudi women to retain half of their husbands’ fortune in case of divorce.
  • After a spacewalking expedition that lasted 22 hours and 27 minutes, U.S. astronaut Sunita L. Williams broke a time record that makes her the most experienced female spacewalker in the world, the Associated Press reported Feb. 5. Williams, 41, a Navy commander and former test pilot, outdid by one hour and 27 minutes the previous space-walking record for women set by former astronaut Kathy Thornton.
  • More than 1.5 million women–the number employed by Wal-Mart Stores since 1998–were permitted by a federal appeals court to pursue a class action case against the nation’s largest retailer, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 7. The suit, now the largest workplace class action in U.S. history, alleges that Wal-Mart discriminated against its female employees in pay and promotion decisions.
  • Egypt’s grand mufti, Dr. Ali Gomaa, has issued a fatwa–or religious order
    –saying women may serve as heads of states, Dar Al Hayat reported Feb. 5. Gomaa said that women are not allowed to be caliphs–a religious position that largely disappeared after the Ottoman period–but that women are eligible to lead nations.
  • The recently formed Indigenous Women’s Political Caucus will help South Dakota’s Native American women keep tabs on proposed state legislation, Indian Country Today reported Feb. 5. The group will develop strategies for action on proposed legislative measures. Ten Native women ran for state legislative offices in the November election, when state voters also defeated a controversial ban on abortion.

For more information:

“Gender-Pay Activists Step Up the Pressure on Wal-Mart”:

“Pine Ridge Leader Faces Battle Over Abortion Ban”:

“Some Hospitals Withhold Plan B After Rape”:

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University of Chicago researchers have found that 1 in 7 physicians believes he or she may refuse to tell patients about legal but controversial medical treatments such as abortion as well as birth control for teens, the Feb. 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reveals.

According to the findings, 29 percent of patients, or about 100 million Americans, are treated by physicians who feel they have no obligation to present all available medical options if they have moral objections to them. About 86 percent of physicians would present all options to patients, but only 71 percent of that group would refer the patient to a doctor who would be willing to assist.

“Our survey data point to a basic dilemma facing patients and physicians” in our pluralistic democracy, said study author Farr Curlin, assistant professor of medicine at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. “Because patients and physicians come from many different moral traditions, religious and secular, they will sometimes disagree about whether a particular medical intervention is morally permissible.”

The study found that male physicians, Catholic and Protestant physicians, and physicians who personally objected to controversial medical options were most likely to refuse to disclose information.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Women with histories of domestic abuse have significantly higher health care costs and use health services more than women with no history of abuse, HealthDay News reported Jan 31. The study, analyzing data from 3,333 women and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that abused women pay 19 percent more for annual health care. “These results show the enormous cost of intimate partner violence and can justify investing in intervention programs to reduce its health effects and prevent its recurrence,” authors said.


U.S. women age 30 and older are having babies at the highest rate since 1968 while teens are having fewer than ever, the Buffalo News reported Jan. 6, citing the Centers for Disease Control’s annual “vital statistics” report in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics. The study found that 96 in 1,000 women over 30 had children. Among women aged 15 to 19, the birth rate was 40 in 1,000.

In Memoriam:

Angela E.V. King, a former United Nations assistant secretary general and special advisor on gender issues and the advancement of women, died this week from breast cancer in New York. King, a native of Jamaica, was a founding member of the U.N.’s Group on Equal Rights for Women. “She will be mourned with profound affection and respect by many friends and allies around the world,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Toyin Adeyemi is an independent journalist based in New York City. Nouhad Moawad oversees Women’s eNews’ Arabic site.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].