Wal-Mart Stocks EC; Mexico Denies Abortion Access

(WOMENSENEWS)–CheersAll Wal-Mart pharmacies nationwide will stock the emergency contraceptive Plan B, effective March 20, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company announced March 3.Last month, Massachusetts’ Supreme Court ordered Wal-Mart to stock the prescription drug after three Boston women filed a lawsuit against the company. Illinois currently has a law requiring all pharmacies in the state to carry the drug, while in Connecticut and New York pressure is building for similar legislation. Faced with the prospect of pressure from other states, the world’s largest retailer decided to reverse its policy of not stocking the drug, New York’s Daily News reported.”I applaud Wal-Mart for making this decision and realizing the importance of having Plan B readily available,” announced Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the author of legislation aimed at forcing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make a ruling on whether to allow Plan B sales without a prescription.Individual Wal-Mart pharmacists who have moral objections to emergency contraception will still be able to turn a customer down, according to the company’s conscientious objection policy, which is based on the guidelines of a national pharmacists’ association.In related news, acting FDA chief Andrew von Eschenbach is expected to be appointed the permanent head by President Bush in the coming weeks, Reuters reported Mar. 10. Von Eschenbach has served as acting commissioner since September 2005, when FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigned abruptly.More News to Cheer This Week:The government of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan is introducing a bill to ban violence against women that it hopes will eventually become a national law, Reuters reported March 9.

More Women Are MPs; Law’s Shield for Clinics Axed

(WOMENSENEWS)–CheersAmong the 39 countries that held parliamentary elections in 2005, the ratio of women elected to public office increased in 28 of them, the Geneva-based nonprofit Inter-Parliamentary Union announced Feb. 27. By the end of 2005, 16.3 percent of upper and lower house members were women, sustaining the progress made since 1995 when the proportion of women in parliament was only 11.3 percent.Many African nations now have a third of their parliaments comprised of women. The Rwandan Parliament is 49 percent female–the highest in the world–thanks to a quota system which requires gender parity. Other African parliaments that are at least one-third women include Mozambique (34 percent), South Africa (32.8 percent), Burundi (30.5 percent) and Tanzania (30.4 percent).Margaret Mensah-Williams, deputy speaker of the Namibian Senate, told the Voice of America that with the increased presence of women in parliaments, legislation on education and inheritance now take women’s concerns into consideration.

Silver Ring Funds Halted; S.D. Bans Abortion

(WOMENSENEWS)–
Cheers
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.

Tape Reveals Mexican Plot; Women Lag in State Govs

(WOMENSENEWS)–CheersIn response to a growing controversy about the arrest of a leading female investigative reporter, the Mexican government announced the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists.The Associated Press reported Feb. 14 that a state governor and a well-known businessman in Mexico were allegedly revealed on tape discussing plans to jail Lydia Cacho, a journalist and activist. The tape was dropped off anonymously at a Mexico City newspaper and radio station, causing an uproar and prompting the federal government to condemn the plot.The tape reportedly records Puebla state governor Mario Marin telling the businessman that Cacho will receive “no impunity” from the law. On tape, the businessman thanks Marin and offers to send the governor “a beautiful bottle of cognac.” At one point, they discuss how to have Cacho raped in jail.

U.K. Aids Women’s Health; Japan Nixes Empress Bill

(WOMENSENEWS)–CheersThe United Kingdom has pledged $5.3 million over two years to support groups offering safe abortions and family planning in the developing world, Reuters reported Feb. 6.The pledge by the U.K. Department for International Development was prompted by an International Planned Parenthood Foundation report released the same day which estimated that 19 million women and girls will risk an unsafe abortion this year and up to 70,000 will die.Since a 2001 “global gag rule” enforced by the Bush administration that withdrew funds from any organization that counsels on abortion–except to advise against it–or provides abortions, dozens of health clinics in Peru, Kenya and other parts of the developing world had to close down, says the London-based foundation, which applauded the U.K. commitment.”We know from experience that the absence of sexual and reproductive health services results in an increase in unintended pregnancies and, inevitably, a greater number of unsafe abortions,” Gareth Thomas, a minister from the Department for International Development, told the Guardian newspaper. “I would urge other donors to follow our lead.”More News to Cheer This Week:Hundreds of Pakistani girls living in relief camps after the Oct. 8 South Asia earthquake are now attending school for the first time, learning math, science, Urdu and English, the Christian Science Monitor reported Feb. 8.