Allison Stevens

Congress Sets Sights on Closing the Wage Gap

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat, says now is the time to put the squeeze on the wage gap.

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Female Politicians in Comeback Runs Are Breaking Records

BETHESDA, Md. -- Donna Edwards' June election to the U.S. House of Representatives was neither fast nor easy.

In 2006, Edwards tried to unseat Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn of Maryland, but she lost by fewer than 3,000 votes. "When I lost, I wanted to crawl under my bed," Edwards said earlier this month at the annual conference of the Washington-based National Organization for Women held in Bethesda, Md. "But I woke up."

Wynn, an African American who voted in 2002 to authorize the president to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, was too moderate for the heavily Democratic district in suburbs east of Washington, D.C., Edwards asserted.

Ousting him, she said, deserved a second try.

So Edwards, a lawyer and anti-domestic violence activist, staged a repeat performance of her 2006 campaign. Voters responded enthusiastically, giving her a 22-point victory over Wynn the second time around.

Wynn resigned in June, triggering a special election for the seat. Edwards won with 80 percent of the vote and now serves in Congress.

Edwards' persistence is unusual for female candidates, who tend to shut down the campaign office and return to pre-race routines after losing political contests, according to Gilda Morales, a researcher at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New Brunswick.

"Women kind of disappear after they lose," Morales said.

Long Road to Victory

After losing once, running a second race in the same district or state for the same office may seem futile. But often, a political loss is the first leg on a longer road to victory, an axiom well understood by male candidates ranging from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. Indeed, repeat candidates often benefit from higher name recognition, established fundraising networks and experience gained from rookie mistakes.

"No question there's an advantage because you know what you did right and what you did wrong the last time," said Jonathan Parker, political director of EMILY's List, a leading political action committee in Washington that backs pro-choice Democratic women.

It's a lesson Edwards said needs to be learned by women. "For so many women who run for political office and lose, you may never see that person again. That needs to change."

Edwards' message appears to be catching on.

Sixteen women who lost congressional races in 2006 are running again in 2008, a record number of female comeback bids for congressional office that could mark a new era in the evolution of the female political candidate, Morales said.

Historically, women have sought political office after the death, resignation or retirement of husbands or male relatives, as was the case with presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton. That pattern began to change in recent decades, and today, many of the 88 women currently serving in Congress established political careers without following in the footsteps of male relatives.

Now women are running on their own initiative, sometimes for a second or third time.

New Outlook, Repeat Candidates

Several of the women who ran in 2006 have a better shot this time around, Parker said. He pointed to two women, both endorsed by EMILY's List, who are running for the same seat they lost before but under more favorable circumstances this time.

In 2006, Linda Stender of New Jersey and Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio ran against GOP incumbents, both of whom are retiring this year. Because Stender and Kilroy have already run, they enjoy the edge in name recognition, fundraising and experience.

As of mid-July, Stender had $1.2 million in the bank, far more than the $81,000 reported by her GOP rival, state Sen. Leonard Lance. Kilroy also had $1.2 million on hand; her opponent, state Sen. Steve Stivers, had $880,000, according to CQ Politics, an online political journal.

Several other women are mounting rematches against the same incumbents they fought in 2006, but under more favorable conditions this time around, Parker said.

In Washington state, Democrat Darcy Burner is running again against Republican Dave Reichert, to whom she lost in 2006. Burner has a better shot this year because she can ride on the coattails of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who is expected to carry Washington state, Parker said.

And in New Hampshire, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen is running a second time for the United States Senate against GOP Sen. John Sununu, whom she lost to six years ago. This time, she hopes to capitalize on a Democratic tide that swept the state in 2006, when Democrats took control of both houses of the state Legislature for the first time since 1874.

All four races are considered too close to call by Charlie Cook, author of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that tracks congressional races.

"There are real reasons these women candidates are running again," Parker said. "They're not just running to run."

Playing the Odds to Win

Other female Democrats also hope to take advantage of a more favorable national political climate.

Daily tracking polls of registered voters across the country conducted during the month of July by Gallup give Obama a 1- to 9-point lead over GOP nominee John McCain.

And 51 percent of registered voters surveyed in a national poll conducted July 25-27 by Research 2000 said they would favor a Democratic candidate for Congress, while only 37 percent said they would back a generic Republican candidate.

Female Democrats like Victoria Wulsin of Ohio and Sharon Renier of Michigan hope to capitalize on that trend. Wulsin is taking on GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt and Renier wants to oust Republican Tim Walberg.

Both women came close to victory in 2006, although none more so than Christine Jennings, a Florida Democrat who came within 373 votes of beating Republican Vern Buchanan. In that race, more than 18,000 ballots were not counted due to voter machine malfunction, giving Jennings hope that she will win this time around.

Meanwhile, two Republican women -- Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania and Anne Northup of Kentucky -- who lost their seats in the 2006 midterm elections are running to reclaim them now.

All of these races are considered competitive by Cook.

Other women are running longer-shot repeat campaigns, including Republicans Sydney Hay of Arizona, Deborah Honeycutt of Georgia and Charel Winston of California, and Democrats Judy Feder of Virginia, Diane Benson of Alaska, Nikki Tinker of Tennessee and Cristina Avalos of California.

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

The Politics of Stillbirth

This article is reprinted from The American Prospect website.

Thirteen years ago, Joanne Cacciatore delivered a stillborn fetus, a trauma that was compounded by the fact that she received a death certificate in the mail but no birth certificate -- a tangible memento she said would have helped her grieve.

Motivated by her loss, she mounted a grassroots campaign in her home state of Arizona to get the government to give parents who deliver stillborn fetuses the option of receiving a "certificate for stillborn birth" -- and in so doing unintentionally waded into the turbulent waters of abortion politics.

Although reproductive rights advocates say they sympathize with Cacciatore, they also fear her effort -- which has since ballooned into a nationwide campaign -- could aid anti-choice groups as they attempt to chip away at or eliminate abortion rights. "There's no question in my mind that the anti-abortion crowd will look for some way to use this," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, has said. At issue is the question of "personhood," or when human life begins; the answer lies at the heart of the debate over abortion.

Opponents of abortion rights contend that life begins at the moment of conception, and they have sought to define embryos and fetuses as human beings with a right to life. Under their logic, abortion is murder and should be illegal. Supporters of abortion rights do not equate embryos and fetuses with full human beings. Granting "personhood" to embryos and fetuses before they are born raises their legal status and jeopardizes women's right to abortion, they say.

Abortion-rights opponents have not taken up the cause of stillborn birth certificates en masse, Cacciatore said. But pro-choice groups worry that Cacciatore's movement to enact what she calls "Missing Angels" laws, which would grant fetuses that die before they are born certificates of stillbirth, will push anti-choice groups one step further in their quest to make abortion tantamount to murder.

On average, there are more than 25,000 stillbirths a year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics in Atlanta, Ga.

NOW has not taken an official stand on the issue. But Gandy said the organization has urged local women's rights activists to oppose legislation that doesn't include language guaranteeing that certificates of stillborn birth will only be issued to fetuses that die as a result of a naturally occurring intrauterine death after the 20th week of pregnancy. NOW also stipulates that certificates must only be issued only to parents who request them.

Otherwise, aborted fetuses could be eligible for the certificates -- a sign that would confer greater status, she said. And if outside parties could request the certificates, anti-choice groups might inundate states with requests for aborted fetuses, she said.

Cacciatore says the "Missing Angels" bills should not be muddied up in the contentious debate over reproductive rights. "The bottom line is, if these women want it, it should be their choice," she said.

But pro-choice activists have reason for caution: Efforts to improve the legal status of embryos and fetuses have gained considerable ground in recent years.

In 2002, the Bush administration expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program to include embryos and fetuses, a move that for the first time made them separate beneficiaries of a government program, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights advocacy group.

And in 2004, Congress passed and Bush signed the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," a law that made it a separate federal crime to harm an embryo or fetus, giving them rights apart from the mothers. The law passed in the wake of the 2002 death of Laci Peterson, a California woman who was 8 months pregnant when she was murdered by her husband.

Cacciatore's campaign, pro-choice advocates fear, could further the personhood movement.

That is why Planned Parenthood of New Mexico recently objected to a "Missing Angels" bill even though it passed the state legislature with near unanimous support. "We're always concerned about measures that elevate the legal status of the fetus," said Martha Edmands, director of public affairs of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat running for his party's presidential nomination, vetoed the bill on April 6. In a letter of explanation, Richardson did not cite reasons related to abortion but said the bill would cause logistical problems because it would issue two certificates -- one for stillbirth and one for death -- for the same event. "Having two documents for a single vital event can lead to confusion and potential fraud and is not sound policy," he wrote.

Richard Olsen, a member of the National Stillbirth Society in Phoenix, Ariz., blamed Richardson for kowtowing to political pressure from reproductive rights groups. "This was just political opposition by a governor who wanted to show the women of America that he was pro-choice," Olsen said. Cacciatore agreed, adding that 20 states have already passed similar laws and none have encountered logistical problems.

"Missing Angels" bills have faced opposition elsewhere from state chapters of national groups that back abortion rights, including NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Cacciatore said.

In California, where a "Missing Angels" bill is pending in the state legislature, Planned Parenthood of California, the California Medical Association, and the California American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have tried to block the bill.

But Cacciatore doesn't expect opposition to spread. This year, in fact, has been the most active yet, she said: "We're gaining momentum."

This article is available on The American Prospect website.
© 2007 by The American Prospect, Inc.

Strategic Gains Nurture Bolder Anti-Choice Moves

Frustrated with the slow process of gradually chipping away at abortion rights through a series of restrictions to abortion, anti - choice lawmakers in Georgia recently took a bolder move.

In March they introduced the first bill in the country to amend a state constitution to define embryos and fetuses from the moment of conception as persons entitled to a right to life.

The legislation is the latest sign of a widening strategic divide within the anti - choice movement.

In recent years, those who have pushed an incremental approach to gradually restrict access to the procedure -- but not ban it altogether -- have enjoyed the upper hand. But the "personhood amendment" signals that absolutists are readying a more direct challenge to the incrementalists in their midst.

"For too long the pro - life movement has been dominated by a strategy of 'wait;' too fearful of losing to risk winning," Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal advocacy group in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in a statement. "The adoption of this amendment will place Georgia at the forefront of the battle to restore the sanctity of innocent human life."

To be sure, gaining the support of two - thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers of the Georgia Legislature and a majority of the state's voters that is required to pass the "personhood amendment" will be an uphill battle.

Even if it were to become law, the amendment would not have any immediate effect on abortion rights in the state because it does not address criminal penalties, said Josh Brahm, a spokesperson for Georgia Right to Life in Lawrenceville, Ga. And any legislation that did include criminal penalties would be blocked because the U.S. Supreme Court -- while restricting some access in its April decision banning a specific type of abortion procedure -- has continued to uphold the basic right to abortion.

Still, Kay Scott, president of Planned Parenthood of Georgia in Atlanta, says the effort to endow embryos and fetuses with legal rights -- the so - called personhood push -- should not be discounted in her state.

If it passes, Georgia's "personhood amendment" could provide anti - choice advocates legal language that could ultimately make abortion at any gestational age tantamount to murder and could eventually lead to the outlawing of everything from contraception to stem cell research to certain kinds of fertility treatments, Scott said.

"The rest of the country took a moderate turn at the last election, but Georgia sort of went to the right," she said. "It's clear they feel like it's possible they could pass something like this in Georgia."

Tactical Steps

If such an amendment were to pass in Georgia or anywhere else it could be used as a vehicle to mount a frontal legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, Brahm said.

Proponents of the amendment base their legal claim on a passage in the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade in which Justice Harry Blackmun said the court was not in a position to answer the question of when life begins but added that if the "personhood" of embryos and fetuses were ever established, the case for abortion would collapse under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In this view, the entire debate over abortion rights hinges on the question of personhood; if embryos and fetuses are granted that status, it would establish the legal underpinnings needed by anti - choice groups to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Georgia amendment is the most conspicuous sign yet of the effort to recognize embryos and fetuses as persons, but the movement has seen significant under - the - radar success in recent years.

In 2002, the Bush administration issued a regulatory change to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program to include embryos and fetuses, making them separate beneficiaries of a government program, according to NARAL Pro - Choice America, an abortion rights advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

In 2004, President Bush signed a bill passed by the Republican - controlled Congress that for the first time in federal law recognized embryos and fetuses as persons with rights apart from the mothers. Called the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," the law made it a separate federal crime to harm an embryo or fetus.

The bill gained traction after the highly publicized death of Laci Peterson, a California woman who was eight months pregnant when she was murdered by her husband in 2002.

Tacit Boost From Supreme Court

This spring, the movement got a tacit boost from the April Supreme Court ruling that upheld a federal law banning an abortion procedure known as "intact dilation and evacuation."

The decision itself did not break new ground on the question of personhood.

But writing for a 5 - 4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: "The state has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed."

Some anti - choice activists saw this as encouragement to pursue "informed consent" laws; some of these add counseling requirements to abortion services that are designed to elevate the emotional, if not legal, status of embryos and fetuses, said Scott of Planned Parenthood of Georgia.

One such restriction that is quickly gaining ground is a law requiring physicians to give pregnant women the opportunity to view an image of the fetus in an ultrasound screening before performing an abortion.

"Ultrasound requirements ensure informed choice because they allow a woman to see her unborn child as he or she really is, both by seeing his or her form and face on a screen and also by hearing the heartbeat," Denise Burke, vice president and legal director for Americans United for Life, wrote in a 2006 legislative guide on state ultrasound bills. The image, Burke wrote, helps establish a bond between the woman and her "unborn child," making it more likely her plans to have an abortion will be dampened. Ultrasound Law in 10 States

So far 10 states -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah -- have passed an ultrasound law requiring physicians to give women the opportunity to view ultrasounds, according to National Right to Life, an anti - choice advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Louisiana, meanwhile, has mandated that physicians perform ultrasounds after 20 weeks gestation and offer women the opportunity to view the image.

State lawmakers will take more action on ultrasound bills on the heels of the Supreme Court's abortion ruling, Heather Boonstra, a public policy associate at the New York - based Guttmacher Institute, predicted in a recent policy memo.

The "personhood" movement may also gain traction from a grassroots movement to grant birth certificates to stillborn fetuses, pro - choice advocates fear.

Over the last six years, 19 states have passed laws giving men and women the opportunity to request such certificates, and seven more states are considering similar legislation, known as "missing angels" bills.

Pro - choice advocates worry the laws could aid the anti - choice movement by elevating the status of the fetus. "There's no question in my mind that the anti - abortion crowd will look for some way to use this," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C.

But Joanne Cacciatore, who delivered a stillborn fetus 13 years ago and subsequently began lobbying state legislatures to pass "missing angels" bills, brushed aside those fears. "This is a bipartisan issue," she said. "It has nothing to do with abortion."

Bush May Veto Bill That Would Help Protect Hate Crime Victims

WASHINGTON -- Women's rights groups are making a last-ditch push to enact legislation that would expand existing "hate crimes" laws to include gender and other categories such as sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

The bill cleared a major hurdle on May 4 when it passed in the House of Representatives.

But the White House quickly dampened advocates' spirits with a veto threat on the same day, saying the bill is unnecessary because victims are covered under existing law.

White House aides also objected on the grounds that it would leave other classes of people, such as the elderly, members of the military and police officers, without similar status. Current law covers crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.

But after 15 years spent lobbying for the bill, advocates are not giving up.

"It looks like it will be unlikely that it will become law, but we will keep working at it," said Olga Vives, a vice president at the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C.

If the legislation becomes law, it would establish uniform protections for women and girls who are victims of hate crimes around the country. Currently, 28 states include gender in their own versions of hate-crimes laws.

If the bill fails, advocates say a hard-won opportunity to specifically address hate crimes against women and girls will be lost, or at least put on hold until a different president occupies the White House.

Lobbying for Passage

A coalition of women's rights groups is mounting a public relations and lobbying campaign to push the bill through the Senate even though its chances of surviving a veto are slim. Together with groups representing gays and lesbians, minorities and people with disabilities, women's rights advocates are lobbying senators in writing and in person and contacting media outlets to press for Senate passage.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has not set a date to review the Senate version of the bill, and it is unclear whether supporters will be able to muster the 67 votes needed to override the threatened presidential veto. The House voted 237-180 for the bill, not enough to meet the two-thirds threshold to keep it alive.

Even if the bill fails to win veto-proof support, proponents say congressional passage would be a symbolic victory for women's rights and would send a strong message against gender-biased hate crimes. It would also force a showdown with President Bush over a civil rights issue, which advocates say would harm his already low public approval ratings.

Bush rarely invoked his veto power when Republicans controlled Congress, using it only once to kill a bill to loosen restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. In the first five months of the current Congress, controlled by Democrats, Bush has vetoed an emergency spending measure because it included a timetable for withdrawal of troops in Iraq and has threatened to bring out the veto pen on issues ranging from federal funding of abortion to stem cell research to hate crimes.

"Is this going to be a president who now vetoes everything in front of him?" asked Roberta Sklar, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. "How many pieces of legislation that the people want will the president veto?"

Shepard Murder Frames Debate

Named after Mathew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in 1998, debate over the hate crimes bill is often framed around the context of sexual orientation rather than gender.

Lesbian and gay rights groups are a driving force behind the legislation. On the day it passed the House, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the only openly gay man in the House, presided in the speaker's chair.

Opposition to the bill, stemming largely from social and religious conservatives, has also centered around its provisions relating to sexuality.

Critics say the bill would grant gays and lesbians "preferential treatment" by elevating them to a specially protected class of victim. And they warn that the law could be used to gag religious clergy and advocates from expressing opposition to the "homosexual" lifestyle and other behaviors like cross-dressing.

"Victims are -- and should be -- treated equally in the justice system, regardless of their sexual orientation," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

"This hate crimes bill would overturn this balance, creating second-class victims and a federal justice system that discriminates against grandmothers, children, women and men simply because they are heterosexual."

Obscured Focus on Women

The focus on sexual orientation and gender identity has obscured the bill's impact on women, said Jocelyn Frye, who serves as general counsel for the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

"It's a message that is lost in a lot of discussion and debate about the bill," Frye said, adding that opponents "have in a very calculated way tried to play to the most divisive rhetoric in talking about the bill. Perhaps it's not in their interest to talk about why this bill has implications for women more generally."

Women could stand to gain substantially from the law.

The bill would add significant resources for prosecution of crimes in which the victims were targeted for their gender, as was the case in two high-profile shootings last fall in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

In the Pennsylvania crime, 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts IV killed five girls between 7 and 13 in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster before he killed himself. And in Bailey, Colo., a gunman broke into a high school and took six girls hostage; he released four of the girls, and one was rescued before he killed the other girl and himself.

"As we saw in the Colorado and Amish school shootings, women and girls are sometimes singled out for cruelty and even murder because of their gender, yet federal law does not consider these acts to be hate crimes, as it would if the students had been targeted because of their race or religion," said NOW president Kim Gandy.

The law does not stiffen penalties for all crimes against women; crimes of domestic violence or sexual assault would not necessarily fall under the category.

To qualify as a hate crime, sufficient evidence must be presented showing the perpetrator's bias, there must be a link to interstate commerce and federal prosecutors must get permission to proceed from the Department of Justice.

The legislation would also give the federal government more leeway to assist local authorities in prosecuting hate crimes and to conduct federal prosecutions themselves. And it would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect statistics on gender-based hate crimes.

New Bill Would Help Domestic Violence Victims

When it comes to domestic violence, Sen. Joseph Biden likes to compare the federal government to a lawnmower.

"Combating violence in the home is like cutting the grass," the Democrat from Delaware is fond of saying. "You can't just do it once."

In other words, the scourge of domestic violence can't be cured with one piece of legislation or one round of federal spending, he says. It's a persistent problem that needs to be addressed year after year, one congressional session after the next.

That is why Biden -- author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which created and funded federal programs to help victims of domestic violence -- keeps thinking about new ways to reduce violence against women. And now with his party in power in the House and Senate, he is in position to find more support.

His current plan involves legal assistance.

Only 170,000 low-income domestic violence survivors have legal representation each year, less than 20 percent of at least 1 million victims who experience it annually, according to a 2005 report by the Institute for Law and Justice in Alexandria, Va., and the National Center for Victims and Crime in Washington, D.C.

Creating a Legal Network

To address this need, Biden, an attorney, has written a bill that would create an electronic network of 100,000 lawyers willing to do volunteer work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. The bill would also set up a fund to help a separate group of lawyers -- those who spend a majority of their time working on behalf of domestic violence victims -- pay back their school loans.

The median salary for a lawyer who joins a private firm is $85,000, while the average entry-level public sector salary -- such as a lawyer who works at a legal aid clinic -- is $35,000, according to Biden. Most lawyers graduate with a combined debt from undergraduate and graduate school of more than $80,000, according to the American Bar Association in Chicago.

Biden's proposal comes at a time when the amount of domestic violence in the United States is dropping, although assaults and other crimes at the hands of intimates has remained at about 10 percent of all violent crimes over the past decade.

A report released last month by the Department of Justice indicated that the rate of intimate partner violence in the United States fell by more than half between 1993 and 2004, a finding that paralleled an overall decrease in violent crime during the same period. The rate of homicides, rapes, assaults and robberies against women fell from 10 in 1,000 to 4 in 1,000, according to the report.

The report is a sign of success that the VAWA programs are working, said Allison Randall, public policy director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C.

Economists Studied Earlier Drop

In 2002, in an analysis of a decline in domestic violence during the 1990s, economists at Colgate and the University of Arkansas concluded that the availability of legal services, improvement in women's economic status and higher levels of education explained why women's risks of being battered had dropped. An aging population was also cited, because older women are significantly less vulnerable to this kind of abuse.

Economists Amy Farmer of the University of Arkansas and Jill Tiefenthaler argue that although shelters, hotlines and counseling services provide critical crisis-intervention services, they do not give women the ability to permanently leave their abusers. Legal assistance gives victims the tools -- such as protective orders, child support and public assistance -- to achieve financial independence and freedom from harm.

Under Biden's bill, lawyers who devote more than half of their full-time caseload to low-income domestic violence survivors for more than two consecutive years will get a 20 percent discount on their student loan bill, paid for by the Department of Justice. Lawyers who serve four and five years in their practice will get a 30 percent break.

"There is a wealth of untapped resources in this country, lawyers who want to volunteer," Biden says in a one-page written summary of the bill that goes on to say that law-school graduates are saddled with tremendous debt that can become unmanageable in lower-paying fields of law.

Biden is also working on legislation to combat violence against women at an international level. Called I-VAWA, for International Violence Against Women Act, the bill would, for the first time, commit the United States to ending violence against women around the globe.

The measure is expected to involve remedies in the areas of public health, the global economy, foreign law, international conflicts and humanitarian crises, according to Esta Soler, president of the Family Violence Prevention Fund in San Francisco.

She said in a statement that the bill -- based on the premise that financial independence helps protect women from domestic violence -- will include provisions to promote more equitable property rights, teach women how to build credit, improve women's access to education and job training programs, provide training and sensitization programs for judges and judicial officials, raise awareness of gender violence in the workplace, increase women's access to reproductive health services and incorporate domestic violence and sexual assault screening into HIV/AIDS programs.

Follows 2005 WHO Report

The legislation follows a 2005 study by the World Health Organization that found that domestic violence is common worldwide and its effects devastating.

The WHO report indicated that between one-fifth and three-quarters of females around the world had experienced physical or sexual violence since age 15. As a result, women are more vulnerable to exposure to HIV/AIDS and are subject to greater health risks during pregnancy, when violence often continues or escalates.

"This report reveals a global picture of the treatment of women and the statistics are appalling and egregious," Biden said last year in response to the WHO report. "In some communities, women are safer in the streets than they are in their own homes."

Biden, the chief anti-violence advocate in the Senate and a contender for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, now holds a seat in the majority party and, as a result, has greater sway in Congress. Even so, prospects are uncertain for the two bills, which he plans to introduce this spring.

Some advocates fear objections to the price tags of the two bills, especially as lawmakers are tightening the fiscal reins in response to a high federal deficit and the prospect of increased spending on the war in Iraq.

"The deficit is a problem," said a nationally recognized leader in the domestic violence advocacy community on the condition of anonymity. "The content is not the barrier. But any bill that requires new funding streams is going to have a hard time of it."

The Congressional Budget Office has not estimated the total cost of the lawyer bill, but a Biden staff member expected the loan forgiveness portion of the bill to be about $20 million in the first year. An additional $8 million would be needed to recruit volunteer lawyers, operate a referral system, launch a pilot program and roll out a national program.

The international bill to combat domestic violence could be trickier than the domestic legal services legislation because lawmakers are generally more reluctant to spend federal money on foreign programs than on domestic ones. The bill does not yet have a formal cost estimate.

Women Break the Gender Barrier in 2006 Elections

Democrats wrested control of the House of Representatives in yesterday's midterm elections, putting Nancy Pelosi of California in position to smash through a political glass ceiling that has kept women out of the upper echelons of power throughout U.S. history.

In addition, the Senate will have at least one more female Senator, and at least four additional Democratic women will become members of the House.

When House Democrats meet to elect their leaders next year, they are expected to promote Pelosi to become Speaker of the House, which would put her third in line for the presidency and make her the first woman to hold the position, the most powerful in the legislative branch of government. Pelosi is also a strong backer of abortion rights; if she controls the House she can be expected to put the brakes on a strategy pushed successfully by Republicans over the last dozen years to chip away at abortion rights.

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Female Vets Put Military Mettle in House Races

When Maryland Democrat Mishonda Baldwin is on the campaign trail, parents often ask if they can introduce her to their daughters.

That's partly because she is such an anomaly, says Baldwin, a decorated veteran of the first war in Iraq who has also served as an intelligence officer and as a U.S. delegate to Egypt and Jordan for the American Council of Young Political Leaders, a nonprofit organization that sponsors international exchange programs.

"When you lay out my background and my experience and my young age, most people are absolutely flabbergasted," she told Women's eNews. "Women in particular are just absolutely thrilled; they're like, 'This is the best thing since sliced bread!'"

Baldwin is one of only four women with military experience known to be running for Congress in this year's midterm elections.

That small number also happens to be a record, says Gilda Morales, a researcher at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. And it is one that she says will go a long way toward changing the popular perception that women are less capable than men on foreign policy and national security.

"These women have more face credibility," says Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a group in New York dedicated to electing a female president. "Whether men have been in war or not, people project that on to male candidates because people have seen men primarily on the front lines in movies or in history. Women are still having to prove their toughness." Sea Change in Attitudes

But Wilson takes heart from a recent "sea change" in voter attitudes. She cites a 2005 poll commissioned by the White House Project that showed "a growing belief" that men and women are equally suited to handle the complex issues of foreign policy and national security. Fifty-four percent of those polled said a female leader would be no different from a male leader in handling issues of foreign policy and 55 percent said there would be no difference between a male and female leader on issues of homeland security.

That is a "stunning" shift in voter attitudes, Wilson says. "Traditionally that's been a real sticking point for women."

But Baldwin and her fellow female veteran congressional candidates -- Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republicans Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Martha Rainville of Vermont -- are shielded from any lingering stereotypes.

"I can talk about health care and I can talk about the FISA courts," Baldwin told me, referring to the controversial federal court that handles requests from the FBI for warrants to monitor suspected foreign agents within the United States. "We're like this new untried commodity in the political sphere. What people are finding is that we're tough, we're credible, but by the same token we haven't lost sight of our progressiveness."

While there are only four known female veterans in the House races -- compared to well over 100 male veterans running for election or reelection to the House -- their impact is often expanded by media attention. Duckworth, for instance, was little known when she threw her hat in the ring last year. But since then she has become a central figure in the Democrats' bid to retake the House of Representatives. That's due in great part to her compelling story about co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter that was struck down in November 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the cockpit and exploded.

Campaigns Affect Public Views

"We finally do have this core group of women who are running this year," says Barb Palmer, a professor of political science at American University in Washington, D.C., and co-author of "Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling," a book about women in politics published earlier this year. "Regardless of whether they succeed, they are contributing to the downfall of those perceptions."

The stereotype about women and war is one of two main hurdles still blocking a woman's road to the White House, says Dianne Bystrom, professor of political science at Iowa State University in Ames, who has a specialty in women and politics. The other is the view that women with young children cannot handle political office. Women, she says, face tougher scrutiny about the state of their marriages and the number and age of their children than do men.

Bystrom sees the stereotype of women and war easing in 2006 and beyond, thanks not only to female veteran candidates but also to female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the appointment of women to positions of authority on international issues.

The most prominent of these are secretaries of state Madeline Albright, a Democrat who served under President Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice, a Republican serving under President Bush. Women in lower offices are also combating stereotypes by serving in positions that identify them with foreign policy. As women increase their numbers in the House and Senate, more are gaining recognition for their service on committees that deal with veterans' issues, military affairs and intelligence.

"As more women come into these offices, the likelihood is that people will not think of them as anything less than men," said Morales.

Baldwin Trails in Fundraising

Baldwin is one of eight Democrats running in a crowded field in Maryland's Sept. 12 primary for the seat vacated by Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat running for the Senate. Baldwin has raised $26,000, far less than many of her competitors. John Sarbanes, another Democrat in the race who is the son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, has raised nearly $790,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Political oddsmakers give the three other female veterans better chances for victory. GOP Rep. Heather Wilson, a former Air Force officer and currently the only female veteran serving in Congress, has a slight edge in her race against Democrat Patricia Madrid. Before winning her Albuquerque, N.M., House seat in 1998, she served on the National Security Council staff at the White House.

Two other women -- Duckworth, who lost both her legs in Iraq in 2004, and Rainville, who in 1997 became the first woman to serve in the influential position of state adjutant general of the National Guard -- are considered formidable challengers in their open seat races.

Duckworth locked up her party's nomination in March and will face Republican Pete Roskam in what is expected to be one of the most closely fought races this fall. Rainville is favored to win her party's Sept. 12 primary; if she does, she will be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning district representing the entire state of Vermont.

Another female veteran -- Democrat Karen Otter of California -- lost a primary contest for a House seat in June. She served in Army units in Oklahoma and Germany.

Senate Bans Out-of-State Abortions for Teens

Legislation that would place another restriction on access to abortion cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, prompting reproductive rights advocates to gear up for another protracted legal battle over abortion rights.

By a margin of 65 to 34, the Senate passed a bill that would make it a federal crime to transport a pregnant woman under 18 across state lines to circumvent state parental notification laws. The legislation makes an exception for those whose lives are endangered by pregnancy but not for those whose health is in danger.

Thirty-four states have some form of parental consent or notification law, though some of those laws are not enforced because of court battles or actions by state attorneys general, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank in New York. If the Senate measure becomes law, notification would essentially be required in all states.

"Reasonable people can at least come together on some restrictions on abortion," said Sen. John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada who sponsored the legislation. "This is one of those reasonable restrictions."

Democrats disagreed. "This bill is just another ploy for the majority to get their base on their side in an election year," Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said, citing recent votes on proposals that would amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and flag-burning. "Women's lives are being used as pawns in a political debate."

The bill prohibits parents and other adults from taking a pregnant minor to another state to have an abortion without complying with parental involvement laws in the young woman's home state.

If the bill is signed into law, the New York-based American Civil Liberties Union has committed to challenging it on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion providers based in Washington, D.C.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights -- two abortion rights groups in New York -- have also committed to challenging the bill on behalf of various clients, said Julie Sternberg, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project.

The first step in a legal challenge would be to seek an immediate injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the case is litigated, Sternberg said.

Reconciling Two Versions

But the bill first has to win the president's signature. That can happen only after a conference committee session in which House and Senate negotiators hammer out the differences between the Senate bill and a stricter House version that passed last year.

The House bill encompasses the Senate language but also would require doctors to notify out-of-state parents at least 24 hours before performing an abortion or give notice in writing at least 72 hours in advance of the procedure. Those who do not do so could be sued for damages.

Religious opponents say the legislation is necessary to ensure that parents are involved in their children's decisions to have an abortion. They say the bill will prevent family planning clinics, boyfriends and other individuals from coercing vulnerable teens into having abortions without their parents' knowledge.

"Adult men have a very significant interest in getting a girl they've impregnated out of a state with parental consent laws into another state (without such laws) to get her an abortion," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. "They don't want to be subject to statutory rape laws and they don't want to be liable for child support for 18 years. So they want to destroy the evidence."

Endangering Young Women

But critics say the measure endangers pregnant young women. If signed into law, the legislation might force young women to involve an abusive parent in their decision-making, deter those who may have to travel longer distances or wait longer periods for abortions, compel minors to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, drive themselves to a clinic or perhaps perform an abortion on themselves.

"I don't see how my colleagues can say this bill is about the safety of young women when it endangers them more," Murray said during the Senate debate Tuesday afternoon.

President Bush is expected to sign whatever version of the bill emerges from conference committee. If he does, it would be the latest restriction in a campaign by anti-choice religious advocates to chip away at abortion rights via incremental laws rather than an overarching measure to ban the procedure altogether.

During this congressional term, in addition to the parental consent measure, House Republican leaders have pledged to consider a measure that would require women who seek abortions after 20 weeks to acknowledge in writing that the fetus has the capacity to feel pain. Series of New Laws

In 2004, President Bush signed into law legislation that criminalized injuries to fetuses that arise from violent offenses. And in 2003, he signed a bill that banned a procedure its opponents call "partial birth" abortion, a law that has the potential to outlaw all abortions performed after the 12th week of pregnancy.

This fall, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider the constitutionality of the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. At the same time, reproductive rights groups will be preparing their challenge to the teen consent bill if it is signed into law.

As in the suit over the so-called partial birth abortion law, lawyers will stake much of their challenge to the teen consent bill on its lack of a health exception for the woman, Sternberg said. That requirement was upheld in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

The legislation also violates principals of federalism and due process, Sternberg added. It requires a certain set of teens to abide by both the laws in states where they are traveling to and where they reside, she said, essentially treating some teens as "foreigners in other states." In addition, the bill could subject teens to harm imposed by the government because it would encourage them to take the potentially dangerous task of driving themselves to and from clinics to get an abortion, she said.

LaRue of Concerned Women for America disagreed. "It'll be upheld in a heartbeat," she said, noting that the Supreme Court has upheld state parental notification laws in the past.

Even some pro-choice advocates concede that a legal challenge would be an uphill battle.

"The Supreme Court rulings on minors' access would be tough to overcome," said Gloria Feldt, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "I don't hold out much hope given the fact that the courts have been packed by George Bush with anti-choice judges."

Roberts Tips His Hand on Abortion

All eyes were on new Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday as he presided over the oral arguments for two far-reaching challenges to abortion laws.

Roberts, a conservative who deflected most questions about abortion at Senate hearings in September during his nomination to the high court, revealed little on questions over whether parental notification laws must require an exception for the health of the mother and whether federal laws against racketeering and extortion can be used against protesters who block access to abortion clinics.

But observers had their first insight into the disposition of the new court on the explosive issue of reproductive rights when a crucial question arose: whether abortion laws can take effect while they are being challenged as unconstitutional.

On several occasions in the hearing of Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Roberts questioned the need to strike down an entire abortion statute based on a single sticking point -- in this case, the lack of an exception for the health of the mother.

In arguments before the justices, Kelly A. Ayotte, the attorney general of New Hampshire, rejected the notion that the lack of the health exception posed a problem, arguing that a "judicial bypass" provision would cover medical emergencies by enabling doctors to get quick permission from a judge to circumvent the law's requirement that physicians notify a parent of a pregnant teen at least 48 hours before performing an abortion.

Several of the justices seemed unsatisfied with that explanation.

But Roberts seemed to suggest that even if the judicial bypass provision is deemed problematic, it should not necessarily invalidate the entire statute.

Justice Weighs Law against Rare Cases

"It's a problem that arises only in emergency situations," Roberts said. He then questioned whether those rare cases should "implicate the vast majority" of cases in which the pregnant teen's health is not at risk.

That statement, along with other comments, suggested he was searching for a way to change the current standard of jurisprudence, which permits courts to stop abortion laws from taking effect while the courts decide if the laws pass constitutional muster.

Challengers to the law, represented by Jennifer Dalven -- deputy director of the New York-based Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union -- argued that the law is unconstitutional on its face, regardless of the frequency of health emergencies.

Reproductive health advocates have argued that changing the standard of jurisprudence so that abortion-related laws would be in force until they are ruled unconstitutional would compel women to obey them even as the laws are being challenged.

Meanwhile, several justices raised questions about the central element of the case -- whether parental notification laws must provide an exception for the health of the mother -- as Supreme Court precedent has held. Many questioned why the New Hampshire law makes an exception for the mother's life but not her health and expressed concern about pregnant minors who may need immediate medical attention.

Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside those fears, arguing that a doctor could quickly get around the 48-hour notification requirement with a judge's permission.

It only takes 30 seconds to place a phone call to a judge, Scalia said. If a doctor can't wait that long, he or she "better not put on his gloves" before performing an abortion, he quipped.

But Dalven responded that the judicial bypass provision is unconstitutional because it would necessarily delay medical attention, a potentially "catastrophic" situation for a pregnant teen whose health is at risk.

Observers also paid close attention to Sandra Day O'Connor, a supporter of abortion rights who has cast the swing vote on several key abortion cases and seemed to be searching for a compromise in the Ayotte case.

But O'Connor may not be able to influence the outcome this time.

She has said she plans to step down from the bench immediately after her successor wins confirmation. Samuel Alito, the conservative appellate judge nominated to replace her, has not yet run into significant resistance on Capitol Hill. If he takes his seat before the court delivers a ruling on the Ayotte case -- and the eight remaining justices are evenly divided -- Roberts could order a rehearing of the oral arguments.

Making the Media Case

After the oral arguments, activists and protestors on both sides of the case gathered on the front steps of the Supreme Court to make their case to the media.

Both expressed mixed reactions.

Karen Pearl, interim president of New York-based Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., said she was "gratified" to hear that "the court cared very deeply" that women's health should be protected. "In general, the justices really did seem to understand the importance of protecting women's health," she said. "The arguments seemed to go very, very well on that issue."

But Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C., and Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Va., said they were concerned that some of the justices appeared eager to narrow the standard of review as it applies to abortion laws.

Roberts "seemed to imply that because medical emergencies are not a large fraction of abortions, (the New Hampshire law) could be upheld," Gandy said.

Supporters of the law agreed. "From our perspective, that would be a possible very good development in abortion jurisprudence," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "The result will be that an abortion law that is passed will actually be allowed to be enforced."

On the other hand, she said "a negative development out of this would be that the court could decide parental involvement laws have to have a broad health exception."

Gandy said that was her hope, adding that a "bare majority" of judges seemed to favor the case made by Planned Parenthood, an impression shared by Smeal.

Campaign Against Abortion Clinics

The court also heard oral arguments in two other abortion-related cases, Scheidler v. National Organization for Women and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women.

In both cases, Joseph Scheidler, through the Pro-Life Action Network and Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion rights group, was accused of orchestrating a nationwide criminal campaign against abortion clinics in an effort to drive them out of business, thereby violating federal anti-racketeering laws.

Smeal was also concerned about "harsh questioning" of the women's rights lawyers in the racketeering cases. A defeat would lift a federal injunction prohibiting demonstrators at abortion clinics from conducting blockades, trespassing, damaging property or committing acts of violence. The lack of an injunction, Smeal said, could lead to a resurgence in violence against abortion providers and their patients and ultimately the shuttering of more abortion clinics.

"If we lose this, it could be a signal to the extremists to do more," Smeal said. "They're still trying to drive out abortion clinics now. We need every law we can to protect them."

Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue West, an outgrowth of Operation Rescue, echoed that sentiment, saying a defeat for women's rights groups would help anti-choice activists "make inroads" in their goal to shut down abortion clinics. "That would make it harder and harder and harder to obtain someone to kill your baby," he said.

A victory for the anti-choice groups would give "a whole shot in the arm to the pro-life movement," said Scheidler. "It would give a lot of people the assurance that they can go out to abortion clinics and counsel women in front of clinics and have prayer vigils without lingering fear that you might be breaking federal law or an injunction. It would give us more freedom."


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