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International News Archive
March 29 -  March 31, 2001


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This page contains news for the period March 29, 2001 through March 31, 2001.



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Thursday, March 29, 2001

Australian Prime Minister wants to amend fertility access to single women

A story released today by Reuters reports that a battle over single mothers' and lesbians' access to fertility treatment is on the horizon in Australia, as activists worry about a "return to conservatism."

Australia's parliament will revive an emotional battle next week over the right of single women and lesbians to use state-sponsored fertility treatment.

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard is set to introduce an amendment to the sex discrimination act on Monday to give Australia's six states the authority to restrict access to reproductive technology to married, heterosexual couples, arguing that they wanted to stop the deliberate creation of single-parent families.

The proposed legislation was sparked by Australia's highest court decision to grant an unmarried woman access to state fertility treatment.

"The object of the bill is to ensure that, other things being equal, a child has the prospect of the care and affection of both a mother and a father," said Attorney-General Daryl Williams to reporters.

The parliamentary debate and the court case, set to begin in April, promises to vault the battle over lesbian and single motherhood to the top of the political and social agenda of the country.

"Like the abortion issue, it is a major issue of a child's rights versus a woman's rights," said Lisa Solomon, a spokeswoman for the Women's Electoral Lobby.

"A lot of hard-fought gains are being slowly chipped away at. There is very much a return to conservatism, and the prime minister of Australia is leading it," she told Reuters.

Howard's ruling Liberal-National coalition has a five-seat majority in the lower House of Representatives, making passage of the amendment there next week a near certainty.

But a big battle looms in the Senate, where the opposition holds a slim majority.

Solomon said she expects the Senate battle to come down to a handful of votes. While the opposition Labor and Democrats parties have both pledged to oppose the amendment, three Labor Senators have threatened to break the party line that could give the government enough votes to change the law.

South African couple challenges Child Care Act

A story published today in Mail & Guardian reports that South Africa's Pretoria High Court will hear a case that could have wide-reaching repercussions to the adoption laws of the nation.

Under the Child Care Act, Suzanne du Toit and her partner, Anne-Marie de Vos, are not allowed to share joint custody of the two adopted children they have raised for the past six years. Du Toit has brought a civil action against Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Penuell Maduna and Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya on the grounds that the Act is unconstitutional because it discriminates according to sexual orientation.

The Act currently allows married persons, widows or widowers and unmarried persons to legally adopt children. De Vos is the children's adoptive parent, and Du Toit, although an equal caregiver, has no legal rights to the children should anything happen to her partner.

The court case was sparked by a car accident in April 1999 involving De Vos.

She escaped uninjured but the couple say they realized that had the accident had been fatal, the children would have been left parentless. This prompted them to start legal action to secure Du Toit's rights as a co-adoptive parent.

Under the Act, Du Toit has no legal rights with regard to the children " including signing any documents relating to their lives or even visiting them if they are in hospital."

These restrictions however, do not apply to heterosexual couples who adopt.

The state has indicated that it will not oppose the application, with both ministers saying they will abide by the court's decision.

Finnish study says smaller men are less likely to marry

A story released today by Agence-France Presse reports that a study from Finland shows that men who were small at birth and as adolescents are less likely to marry than their bigger counterparts, whose size may provide an advantage in sexual confidence and socializing.

Epidemiologists from Finland's National Public Health Institute examined the background and health records of 3,500 men born in Helsinki University Central Hospital between 1924 and 1933. Comparing those who married, the 259 bachelors who were smaller and lighter, both at birth and at the age of 15, and also tended to come from lower social classes with a lower income.

The relation between birth weight and marital status was also confirmed in a study conducted in the southeast English county of Hertfordshire among 1,600 men born between 1920 and 1930, according to Britain's Medical Research Council.

Even if social status and income are stripped out of the calculations, the clear evidence is that "men who were small at birth are less likely to marry," say the authors.

They are cautious about the causes for this, saying the factors that lead men to marry "are complex and include both social and biological ones."

Even so, early growth restriction "influences the factors involved in partner selection, which may include socialization, sexuality, personality and emotional responses," they suggest.

Previous studies indicate unmarried men have higher rates of heart disease and die earlier than those who are married, and they also noted that a small size at birth carries a higher statistical risk of cardiovascular problems.

"Links between marital status and health may be established during intra-uterine life," they say.


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