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International News Archive
August 07 - August 13, 2001


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This page contains news for the period August 07 through August 13, 2001.



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Monday,August 13, 2001

Australian Government acts over IVF for single women

A story released today by the Australian Associated Press reports that federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams has exercised a rarely-used power to ensure that the Catholic Church can challenge a Federal Court decision granting a single Melbourne woman the right to IVF.

"I have granted a fiat to the Australian Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church to give the bishops standing to challenge the Federal Court decision in McBain v State of Victoria in the High Court," he said.

"The fiat will enable the bishops to argue in the High Court that the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) is not inconsistent with the Victorian legislation."

A fiat is an authority that can be granted to someone who could not otherwise seek court orders in their own right.

The Federal Court last year held that Victorian laws restricting IVF (in vitro fertilization) access to women who were either married or in de facto relationships were inconsistent with the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act (SDA).

Today, Mr. Williams said he had removed any doubt about the church's right to challenge the decision.

He said the Government would intervene to support the bishops' argument that the SDA did not override Victorian laws, but the fiat would not extend to the bishops' second argument.

They claim the SDA's prohibition on marital status discrimination did not give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women so was invalid.

"I have not granted my fiat in relation to that argument and the bishops will have to persuade the (High) Court that they have a right to pursue this argument," Mr. Williams said.

"The Commonwealth will intervene in the High Court proceedings to oppose this argument and defend the constitutional validity of the (SDA)."

The Australian Family Association and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have also been granted leave to intervene in the case.

The full bench of the High Court will hear the matter on September 4 and 5 in Canberra.

SDA amendments to enable states to make laws blocking single or lesbian women from accessing IVF are still before federal parliament, following last year's Federal Court decision.

Sunday,August 12, 2001

British Law Society unveils plans for unmarried couples

A story published today by the Sunday-Times (London) reports that some cohabiting British couples still believe that they can claim rights as a "common-law wife or husband", but the status means nothing in the eyes of the law. A lot of them are also unaware that they have virtually no legal rights unless they are married.

The Law Society in an effort to protect unmarried British couples has recommended a number of changes to bring the law up to date. It suggests that couples - both heterosexual and homosexual - should be allowed to draw up legally-binding cohabitation contracts. These could set out who is entitled to what, should the relationship break down. They could also prove especially valuable to couples with children.

However, the society does not recommend that unmarried people should automatically be entitled to maintenance or half the assets. Instead, it suggests that maintenance could be paid for up to four years to provide for "training or retraining". The proposal is designed to solve the problem of unmarried women being left without a home, money or the skills to get a job and support themselves.

Courts they recommend, should also be able to share assets between unmarried couples if they separate - regardless of who originally bought them. When splitting assets, the court would have to quantify the value of the input of each member to the relationship.

The proposals of the society are controversial and many critics believe that the plans undermine the concept of marriage.

Single Nigerian woman sentenced for extramarital affair

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that an Islamic court in Nigeria has sentenced a 20-year-old woman to 100 lashes with a cane in public for having an extramarital affair.

Amina Abdullahi was convicted on Friday in Gusau, capital of Nigeria's northern Zamfara state, for acknowledging that she had sex with a man who was not her husband.

Last year, Zamfara became the first of 12 Nigerian states to introduce Islamic law. Its introduction sparked bloody clashes between Christians.

Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Australian government to back Catholic church on ‘gay fertility treatment'

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Australian government says it will back the Catholic Church in a court battle aimed at banning single women and lesbians from using fertility treatment.

Women's rights groups slammed the government's decision, saying it has no right to intervene in reproductive matters.

The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is challenging in the nation's highest court a lower federal court decision in Victoria state last year allowing single women access to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or insemination services.

Within weeks of that decision, Prime Minister John Howard's government also introduced a bill to amend the Federal Sex Discrimination Act and allow state governments to pass laws banning single women from receiving IVF treatment.

Attorney General Daryl Williams said the government had given its support to the bishops' challenge against allowing single women access to IVF.

However, Williams said the government would not support the church's broader stance on discrimination regarding marital status. Such a precedent would mean unmarried people could face prejudice in all facets of life, he said.

"The government does not agree with that, and in its intervention will oppose the bishops on that point," Williams said.

Williams said if the High Court challenge was successful, the government could drop its legislation to amend the SDA. The bill is currently before the Senate.

The Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL), which will defend the lower court decision in the High Court, said the government's support of the Catholic Church position on women's fertility issues was a "double standard."

"We're bitterly disappointed that the federal government is seeming to suggest [they can intervene] in the area of reproductive health and women's rights to choose about when and under which circumstances they have children," said WEL spokesperson Lisa Solomon.

"The government even supports women when they have children outside wedlock, so it's an enormous double standard," she added.

The case is to be heard before a full bench of the High Court on September 4.

Botswana seminar focuses on the rise of cohabitation in the country

A story published today by the Daily News (Botswana) reports that the controversial issue of cohabitation came under spotlight at a child welfare seminar in Selebi-Phikwe last Tuesday which sparked a debate with some people saying that it must be legalized.

A heated debate over the issue emerged at the three-day seminar focusing on issues of child welfare after Nelson Keipidile, a social worker with the Selebi-Phikwe Town Council, presented a paper entitled "Cohabitation and its effects on child growth."

Participants called for more community education on issues that emanate from cohabitation. Other seminar participants complained that contradictions between customary and common laws has affected the younger segment of the population in avoiding marriage and opting instead to live with each other.

However, some participants said the marriage institution was dying because people no longer value it; they favor cohabitation. Therefore, if cohabitation was not addressed, people would no longer marry.


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