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Seven states, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued to block an impending federal rule that allows doctors, pharmacists and other health care workers to refuse to provide care they object to, the Hartford Courant reported Jan. 16.

Known as the "conscience rule," the policy goes into effect Jan. 20 and was pushed through in the final months of the Bush administration. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop its implementation and the incoming Barack Obama administration has said it will work to reverse it.

The conscience rule builds on prior legislation that allows doctors and health care workers to refuse to provide abortions or sterilization services or to receive training in the procedures. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose state initiated the suit, said the rule’s implementation could endanger women’s health. California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island also joined the Connecticut lawsuit.

In Connecticut, the policy clashes with a 2007 state law that requires all hospitals in the state to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Blumenthal was also concerned that the rule mandates federally funded institutions to certify that they comply with laws that protect providers’ "conscience rights" or lose funding.

More News to Cheer this Week:


  • Nepal has dramatically reduced its maternal mortality rate since 2001, the Inter Press Service reported Jan. 13. In 2001, 540 women died per 100,000 live births. The current death rate has fallen to 280 per 100,000 live births. The drop means that Nepal is on target to reach the United Nations’ millennium development goal of reaching 213 deaths per 100,000 births before 2015. The legalization of abortion and a substantial increase in prenatal care were factors in reducing the death toll. A separate U.N. report issued Jan. 15 concluded that women in the least developed countries are 300 times more likely to die from childbirth than women in industrialized nations.


  • Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and anti-choice Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reintroduced the Prevention First Act into Congress, the Colorado Independent reported Jan. 13. The bill would fund medically accurate sex education, include contraceptive drugs in health care insurance programs and support rape victims’ access to information about emergency contraception. It would also provide $20 million to teen-pregnancy prevention programs in an effort to reduce the number of abortions.


  • President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan would significantly help women and their families through the economic recession, according to a Jan. 15 analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. The center endorsed the plan’s expansion of nutrition, energy and housing assistance, as well aid to low-income families, elderly and people with disabilities. "The worsening recession is causing pain across the country, especially for the millions of women and families who already were struggling to make ends meet," said center co-president Nancy Duff Campbell. "The plan is compassionate and smart."


  • A British Columbia human rights tribunal awarded 13 members of a girls’ softball team $1,000 each to compensate for gender discrimination, CBC News reported Jan. 13. In 2005, Canada’s Little League paid the travel expenses of a boys’ baseball team, including their airfare, to attend a tournament, but would not pay for the expenses of the girls’ Little League team from Beacon Hill. The girls did attend and won the tournament and their coach later filed the complaint.




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Women held in three immigration detention facilities in Arizona are receiving inadequate treatment, such as deficient medical care and being mixed in with prisoners serving criminal offenses, according to a report issued by the University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women in Tucson.

Examples of inadequate treatment documented by the research center included one undocumented immigrant who was six months pregnant and was denied prenatal care and another woman who went untreated for cervical cancer, the Associated Press reported Jan. 14. Arizona is the nation’s busiest crossing point for undocumented immigrants.

The sample used for the report was relatively small, with researchers interviewing a total of 42, including 21 current or former female detainees. The Southwest Institute urged the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements agency to address the separation of families, inadequate access to telephones and legal materials, inappropriately severe penal conditions–such as shackling–and mental health needs of detainees. Immigration officials called the Southwest Institute’s methodology suspect.

More News to Jeer This Week:


  • Nepalese journalist Uma Singh, who reported on women’s rights and criticized Nepal’s dowry system, was hacked to death in her room by 15 men on Jan. 11, the BBC reported. Another female journalist’s house was raided the same day. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists said the killing of Singh, who worked for a daily paper and radio station in Janakpur, reflects a growing pattern of violence directed at reporters.


  • Human trafficking victims may have been denied access to emergency contraception, condoms and reproductive care by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, which received federal funds to provide social services to thousands trafficked into the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which contracted with the Catholic agency to assist victims, the Associated Press reported Jan. 12.


  • Beijing authorities warned they may increase penalties against couples who break family planning rules by having more than one child, the China Daily reported Jan. 14. By raising fees officials believe they can address public perception that wealthy families can have more children by paying fines.


  • Chinese human rights activist Mao Hengfeng was detained, reportedly beaten and sentenced to seven days of detention for disturbing public order, according to Amnesty International. Mao demonstrated with other protesters on forced evictions and human rights abuses and has previously been detained for her protests on women’s reproductive health issues, such as forced abortions. Mao was forced to have an abortion in 1989, and lost her job at a factory when she became pregnant.


  • Prosecutors in Greensburg, Pa., charged six teens, whose ages range from 14 to 17, with creating, distributing and possessing child pornography, after three female teens took nude photos of themselves and e-mailed them to friends, Wired blogger Kim Zetter reported Jan. 15. Privacy advocates are concerned that prosecutors are misusing protective laws. In 2007 two Florida teens faced charges after they photographed themselves having sex.

Rebecca Harshbarger is a Women’s eNews reporter based in New York City.

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