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U.S. News Archive
January 21 - January 27, 2001



This page contains news for the period January 21, 2001 through January 27, 2001.  

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Thursday, January 25, 2001

Push to repeal state inheritance tax heats up in New Hampshire

A story published today in the Concord Monitor reports that a major legislative battle is brewing in New Hampshire over a bill to repeal the state's 18 percent inheritance tax.   Transfers to children, parents, and spouses are exempt from the tax, leaving its brunt on single people without children, unmarried couples, and lateral blood relatives.

One resident, Wolfgang Kaiser, told the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday exactly what he'd do if he were dying and the inheritance tax were staring down his heirs.

"When my turn comes to leave this earth, I would not hesitate to burn my home to the ground to keep the state from getting its hands on it," he said.

The couple left Maine to retire in Tuftonboro five years ago, and "built our home with our own hands on family property," Kaiser said. They didn't realize then that New Hampshire's 18 percent inheritance tax singles out people like them - childless people, with no direct descendents to inherit their estate.

Spouses, children and parents are entirely exempt, but non-lineal heirs - like cousins, nieces and friends - must pay 18 percent of any inheritance, no matter what its value. If, for instance, Kaiser wanted to leave a $100 savings bond to a nephew, the state would claim $18.

Whether Kaiser outlives the inheritance tax remains to be seen.

The story says that many lawmakers and taxpayers alike want it gone. More than 70 people, many of them elderly and childless, attended yesterday's committee hearing to speak passionately in favor of North Walpole Rep. Paul McGuire's bill to repeal the inheritance tax. But whether the state can afford to kill the most despised tax on the books will probably depend on the Legislature's willingness to find a replacement tax even in the midst of the school funding crisis.

Nobody claims that the tax is fair. The governor and most lawmakers agree that it burdens a narrow sector of the population, and heavily at that. But the cash-strapped state can hardly spare the $27 million a year the tax brings in, according to the Department of Revenue Administration. A similar repeal died last year after Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it. In her veto message, Shaheen lamented the Legislature's failure to come up with a replacement revenue source and said it would be irresponsible for her to sign the repeal, given the state's precarious fiscal condition. The repeal almost passed anyway. House overwhelmingly overrode her veto; the Senate narrowly upheld it.

This year, political momentum for the repeal is building quickly. The constituency is larger than one might think; about a quarter of all estates are taxed statewide. And there's increasing talk among lawmakers about whether the tax would stand up in court - the constitution requires that all levies affect taxpayers equally, except for "reasonable" exemptions. But the state's financial woes are worse than ever. The Legislature must find $225 million to pay for public schools over the next two years, and there is little agreement among legislators about how to do it. Whether the inheritance tax profits from revisions to the tax structure this session or gets lost in the shuffle may be up to the Ways and Means Committee, which House Speaker Gene Chandler revived this year to review tax legislation.

"Many of us look to this newly formed committee to be the first guardian against unfair taxes," said Rep. Sid Lovett, a Democrat from Holderness.

Those who shared their stories with the committee yesterday gave four hours' worth of reasons why, "in the name of human decency," as Kaiser put it, the tax must go. One of many anti-tax fliers that circulated cried, "Live Free but Don't Die in New Hampshire!" Many nodded along with the testimony, sometimes breaking into applause.

Jane Hutchinson, a 78-year-old widow who lives in Rye, moved to New Hampshire 13 years ago. When she began planning her estate, her lawyer advised her to move to Maine. But her friends and extended family live in New Hampshire, she said.

"This is my home," she said. "It's like being punished for not having children."

William Hartley, an estate planning lawyer from Laconia, said the tax gave him lots of business but he couldn't bear to watch the state's "theft" go on.

"If you taxed children at 18 percent, you'd be run out of town," he said.

Rep. Susan Almy, a Democrat from Lebanon, said the tax also drives small family businesses out of existence because unmarried children who inherit their parents' grocery store or bakery often can't pass on the business without selling it.

The Ways and Means Committee listened sympathetically to the testimony, but they clearly were focused on whether the state could find a good replacement tax. Some committee members suggested gradually reducing the amount over time or providing generous exemptions.

The federal death tax, for example, exempts estates worth less than $750,000.

Almy, who is also a member of the committee, said there should be "no excuse this year" for failing to come up with a revenue substitute. In 1999, she proposed a "revenue neutral" solution, a compromise that did not repeal the tax but tried to make it fairer. Her bill would have reduced the tax rate to 7 percent, provided a $100,000 blanket exemption and required all heirs, except spouses, to pay it. (The House rejected Almy's idea but repealed the tax anyway.)

McGuirk plans to introduce a separate bill that lists substitute taxes for the committee to consider, including slight increases in the statewide education property tax, the business enterprise tax or the insurance premium tax. He also suggested taxing gambling winnings that exceed $100.

Rep. John Pratt, a Democrat from Walpole, said that if the state failed to come up with a substitute funding source it should at the very least lower the rate and apply it to every heir, direct descendants and otherwise. That, he said, "is the only honorable thing for this House to do."

Several lawmakers warned that if the state did not change the policy, it could face a lawsuit from a taxpayer who claims the tax is unconstitutional. The constitution requires all taxes to affect taxpayers equally, except for "reasonable" exemptions.

"The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we think this is 'reasonable'?" said Sen. Clifton Below, a Lebanon Democrat. "That is, in this day and age, is there such a distinction between lineal descendants and the many cases where people want to pass property to an unmarried partner, a caregiver or (friends or relatives who are) like children?"

Meanwhile, the story emphasizes that some elderly people who can't afford to leave their homes and possessions to their loved ones are growing impatient.

"This is, I think, the fourth time I've spoken to one of these committees," said Hutchinson, the widow from Rye. "A lot of us are elderly. We can't live forever waiting for justice. We want justice now, this year. I don't think that's too much to ask."

New study lifts the covers on how we're having sex

A story published today in the Chicago Sun Times reports that more than half of American teens are having sex before they are 18, religion is playing a diminishing role in decisions about sex, and more people are expressing their sexuality by watching porn or visiting nude bars.

These are among the findings of Edward O. Laumann and Robert T. Michael, University of Chicago professors who have updated their research on what goes on in people's bedrooms.

Their research was the basis for the best-selling book, Sex in America. Their new book, Sex, Love, and Health in America, provides an encyclopedia of facts, figures and insights into America's sex life.

Although they make no staggering revelations, the professors have uncovered some interesting glimpses of what goes on behind closed doors.

On the subject of religion, for example, the authors found that its effect on sexual practice has diminished. Before 1970, for example, being raised Roman Catholic or having a middle-class mother played a substantial role in reducing a woman's likelihood of having sex before age 18. Now the main factors are having an intact family--living with both biological parents--and having a late first menstruation.

Among the other findings:

* Cohabitators and polygamists were more likely than monogamists to buy or rent X-rated videos, engage in phone sex and go to nude bars.

* About half of all men and women are "comfortable" monogomists, having sex with a partner less than once a week and seeking no other sexual stimulation.

The two professors say that public policy plays a role in sex.

"Because of the public consequences of these private acts, our society faces the need to create public policies to address the issues," said Michael.

Few scholars have taken an analytical approach to the subject. Part of the problem, Michael said, is that there is little research on sex.

To get people to talk about their sex lives, the professors used a number of unique techniques while interviewing the nearly 3,500 people for the studies.

They promised the interviewees that they would have complete anonymity and also provided them with a list of sexual terms so that they would not feel uncomfortable saying the words.

How we express sex

Half of us are "comfortable monogamists," having sex with a partner less than once a week and having little use for nude bars, X-rated movies or phone sex.

The other half who had at least one sex partner in the past year included "enthusiastic polygamists" (15 percent of men), "venturesome cohabitors" (35 percent of men), "autoerotic [masturbating] singles" (23 percent of women) and "enthusiastic cohabitors" (18 percent of women).

In the research by two University of Chicago professors, married, monogamous people reported having more sex than "primarily" monogamous folks. More than 40 percent of the monogamous people had sex more than once a week; only half as many in the other group had sex that often.

The number of those who are emotionally satisfied was more than twice as high for the monogamous group--88 percent--compared with the mostly monogamous.

Sex before 18

Teens are having sex at an accelerated rate, according to the researchers from the University of Chicago.

Before the Sexual Revolution, for people born before 1953, about half the men had sex by age 18. That number is now up to six in 10. Among women, about one-third in the earlier group had teen sex. That jumps to half of women born after 1953.

The use of contraceptives by teens also is steadily rising. About 25 percent used contraception at their first sexual encounter 40 years ago, rising to 40 percent recently.

Married men, rejoice

It appears that married men and women are having more fulfilling and satisfying sex lives than their cohabiting and unattached single counterparts.

Researchers from the University of Chicago argue that the reason might be that marriage is a social institution and has a more defined set of rules.

According to their research, married men tend to be more emotionally invested in their sexual relationship than cohabiting men or other single men. Married men say they would not have sex unless they were in love, and find sex with a stranger relatively unappealing.

People in sexually exclusive relationships also have an emotional investment, which increases their sexual satisfaction.

Married people are also more likely to have an orgasm, find sex with a stranger unappealing and find more physical pleasure in their current relationship.

There is some good news for co-habiters: They have sex more often than married couples, about seven times a month instead of about five for other single men and married men.

The story asks: "Where does that leave the single guy?"

"It's a crapshoot out there," said Brandon Narva, a technology sales professional, who is single. "The spontaneity is great, but I can see the good part of dating someone for a long time."

Marital status affects vacation plans of workers

A story released today over Business Wire reports that 93 percent of working adults feel that taking time off from work actually increases their productivity, according to the January 2001 Xylo Report: Vacation Habits of Working Adults.  Seventy percent of employed adults polled say they plan to take vacation time in the upcoming year.

The poll shows that the marital status of workers affects their plans to take a vacation as well as their feelings about how vacations increase their productivity.

The Xylo Report is a national survey on work/life issues conducted monthly by Wirthlin Worldwide for Xylo, Inc. Xylo (formerly employeesavings.com) is a leading provider of Web-based work/life solutions used by Fortune 500 and other thought-leading companies to attract and retain employees. The company commissioned Wirthlin Worldwide, a leading opinion research firm, to survey 1,002 U.S. adults during the period of January 5-7, 2001. Sixty-five percent of the 1,002 respondents qualified for this survey by being employed.

The January 2001 Xylo Report: Vacation Habits of Working Adults provides insight into the vacation habits of today's workers.

Ninety-three percent of employees who take vacation time feel that it increases their productivity, with 65 percent claiming that time away from work makes them feel a lot more productive. Men are more likely to respond that vacation time improves their job performance than are women (95 percent and 89 percent, respectively).

Responses from different family status groups show a relationship between time off and increased job productivity. Married employees (92 percent) are more likely to report that vacation makes them feel more productive than are single employees (88 percent). Conversely, non-parents (96 percent) more frequently report an increased sense of productivity than do parents (91 percent).

A majority of employed survey respondents, 70 percent, plan to take vacation time in 2001. Just under two-thirds of workers, 64 percent,believe that they will travel during their time off.

Certain trends develop relating to vacation time and an employee's marital and parental status:

-- 72 percent of married parents plan to take vacation in 2001; 65 percent will travel

-- 82 percent of single parents plan to take vacation time in 2001; 79 percent will travel

-- 85 percent of married non-parents plan to take vacation in 2001; all will travel

-- 59 percent of single non-parents plan to take vacation in 2001; 53 percent will travel

Counter to their responses to productivity issues, workers under 35 are least likely (60 percent) to take vacation in the upcoming year. Seventy-seven percent of those over 55 plan to take vacation; however, they are the most likely group to not travel during their time off (16 percent).


Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Living alone not a risk to older women's health

A story published today in the New York Times reports that older women who live alone are not more isolated and have no greater risk of poor health than women who live with a spouse, according to new findings. In fact, the study shows that women living independently performed better on measures of mental health than those living with a spouse.

Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and other colleagues examined the association between living arrangements and health status for 28,324 women between the ages of 60 and 72 years.  Subjects were surveyed twice, and the research team measured physical health and vitality as well as and mental health.

Women living independently or with others who weren't their spouse had a lower risk of decline in mental health compared with those living with a spouse. The former group also had a lower risk of decline in vitality, Kawachi's group reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology for January.

The researchers explain that among women living alone, contact with friends and relatives and the level of social engagement were significantly associated with a decreased risk of decline in mental health. This was not the case for women living with a spouse.

``Living alone is not synonymous with social isolation,'' Kawachi and colleagues conclude, ``and it is the latter that may have more direct impact on functional health status.''

Church singles group in Michigan expands membership

A story published today in the Detroit News reports that what once was a small experiment at a church in Northville, Michigan, has turned out to be a popular meeting place for singles. 

Everything from softball and golf leagues to coffeehouses, missionary trips and worship services are offered at a singles group at the Ward Presbyterian Church.  The church began its singles group some 28 years ago and has since become a large and popular place.

"The group was originally for church members. But when we opened it up to all singles, we grew from about 100 participants to over a thousand in six months," says Dave Satterthwaite, a founding member who met his wife through the group.

Divided into three sections, the group tries to accommodate all singles. Single Spirit is for 20 to early-30-year-olds who haven't been married. Single Point, the largest group, is for adults aged 35 and up, most of whom are in their 40s and have been married. Single Focus is a transition group, primarily of 30-40-year-olds who have not been married.

"We have the group for single adults to be around people they trust and have something in common with," says Paul Clough, who serves as minister to single adults at Ward.

The group's calendar shows coffeehouse meetings, bowling leagues, indoor volleyball, concerts and trips to places such as Australia, Alaska, the Holy Land and Greece. In addition to the social aspect of the group, the organization also offers Divorce Recovery workshops, grief seminars, single parent activities and Talk it Over, a group in which attendees share ideas and information.

Membership in the group is not required, and Satterthwaite estimates that some 2,500 people participate in singles activities every month at Ward. For information about any of the singles groups at Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church, call (248) 374-5920


Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Bush tax bill has cuts for all; Dems want 'targeted' cuts for 'working families'

A story published yesterday by Reuters reports that two U.S. senators, one a Republican and the other a Democrat, announced jointly on Monday they will launch a bill based on President George W. Bush's $1.3 trillion tax-cut plan.

"We want to see working Americans have an opportunity to benefit from the huge (budget) surpluses that we have today," said Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a close Bush ally.

Gramm, the chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee, appeared at a news conference to announce the launch along with the Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia.

"Right now, our taxes have never been higher. Right now, our surplus has never been greater," said Miller.
"Remember that old Elvis Presley song, Return to Sender? That's what we want to do right now."

The Gramm-Miller bill, entitled "The Tax Cut With a Purpose Act of 2001," will get the ball rolling on the tax debate, which is sure to become heated since Republicans differ among themselves on what the priorities should be and Democratic leaders want the cuts limited to middle-class working families.

Another Republican senator from Bush's home state of Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison, offered a separate bill to ease the so-called "marriage penalty" -- a quirk in the tax code that sometimes forces married couples to pay more tax than they would if they were single.

Gramm and Miller said their bill mirrored the plan from Bush's election campaign, but added it was a work in progress.

"It will be changed many times," Gramm said. "This tax cut may actually get larger during the legislative process, but we don't believe it's going to get smaller."

The Reuters story says that some key figures like Richard Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, have shown sympathy for Bush's idea of broad tax cuts, but winning wide Democratic support will not be easy.

In a move that seemed aimed at stealing the spotlight from the Gramm-Miller announcement, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle weighed in with his own remarks on Democratic priorities.

He outlined ideas for "targeted" tax cuts for education, family-care and retirement savings.

"The bulk of the tax relief must go to middle class working families because they are the people who need tax relief the most, and second we need tax cuts that are affordable and fiscally responsible," the South Dakota Democrat said.

According to a Washington Post story published today, Daschle's plan would eliminate the marriage tax penalty, eliminate the inheritance tax on more than 99 percent of estates and help families pay for college, save for retirement and care for the disabled and elderly.

"We are willing to negotiate," Daschle said. "At the same time, we are committed to two fundamental principles" -- that the bulk of the tax relief go to middle-income families and that any tax cut "must be affordable and fiscally responsible." Daschle did not attach a cost to his tax cut proposal.

A story published today in the Chicago Sun-Times summarizes how the tax-cuts to be proposed by President Bush would affect American taxpayers.  The story emphasized that the Gramm-Miller bill, introduced yesterday, is not the Bush plan but is a prelude to it.  The administration's tax proposals won't be out until next month at the earliest.

The tax-cut plan pushed by Bush during his campaign had five key elements, adding up to $1.3 trillion in cuts.  But the plan was written before the economy's downturn, and Bush advisers have signaled that it may be revised.

Those elements are:

* Cut income tax rates.

Bush wants to compress the current five tax rate brackets of 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6 percent into four brackets of 10, 15, 25 and 33 percent.

The current 15 percent tax bracket, for example, would be cut to 10 percent for the first $6,000 of taxable income for single people and the first $10,000 for married couples.

For middle-income taxpayers, the 25 percent rate would apply to married couples with taxable income over $43,050 and singles with taxable income over $25,750. Those taxpayers now pay 28 or 31 percent, according to Bush campaign documents.

* Double the child credit to $1,000 per child and reduce the "marriage penalty" paid by some couples filing jointly.

The marriage penalty would be reduced by allowing the lower-earning spouse to deduct 10 percent--up to $3,000--of the first $30,000 in income. Such a deduction would eliminate about half of the marriage penalty for couples with combined incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Bush campaign documents.

* Eliminate the death, or estate, tax.

* Expand education savings accounts.

Families or individuals with incomes up to $150,000, or single earners with incomes up to $95,000, could contribute up to $5,000 annually per child. The money could be withdrawn tax-free for education expenses from kindergarten through college.

* Expand deductions for charitable contributions so taxpayers who do not file itemized returns can get the tax break.

Workshop for single parents offered in Oakland County, Michigan

Too much to do. Too much responsibility. Not enough help. A story published today in the Detroit News says that for many single parents, this describes their life in a nutshell. They are solo, without another adult to share the daily problems and challenges of parenting.

Kathy Conn, a CPA by day and leadership training facilitator by night, helps single parents look at their challenges and learn how to make effective changes. She offers the interactive workshop, Single Parent Dilemma, on Thursday nights at West Bloomfield High School.

Based on Your Choice, a personal growth and development program designed by former Detroiter Nick Berar, Conn's workshop focuses on each parent's ability to find dignity, self-respect and direction in life.

"This is not a class to give you 10 things to do to be a better parent," Conn says. "We offer ways to help people grow, so they can become better parents."

Conn's workshop reviews the obstacles that keep people from reaching their goals.  "We discuss how to be aware of our emotions and feelings and use them to motivate us to change," she says.

The purpose of the workshop is to help parents improve themselves and change something in their lives, not how to change their children.

"The end result is often a better relationship with their kids," she says.

Virginia lawmakers reject repeal of state sodomy law

A story published today in Planet Out reports that a state House committee has declined to relax Virginia's
"crimes against nature" law, and an effort to strike it down in court may be doomed.

A Virginia bill to decriminalize private oral and anal sex acts between consenting adults and to reduce those acts committed in public from felonies to misdemeanors was rejected by the state House Courts of Justice Committee on January 19 by a vote of 13 to 9.

Under current law, Virginia makes no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual acts, or between public and private ones; theoretically it could be applied to married couples in their own homes, although it's essentially exclusively prosecuted against acts in public places, and many believe disproportionately enforced against gay men. The maximum penalty for this felony is five years' imprisonment and a fine of $2,500.

Delegate Brian Moran (D-Alexandria), the sponsor of the bill, said, "I think the public policy of the Commonwealth should not criminalize behavior between consenting individuals that takes place in private." He refused to compromise with some committee members who were willing to reduce the penalty for private consensual acts to a fine with no jail time but were unwilling to decriminalize them altogether.

The story says those committee members agreed with former prosecutor Moran that the current law as it applies to private behavior is unenforceable, but it was important to them not to appear to "condone" oral and anal sex. Moran lambasted those committee members for being bigoted against gays and lesbians, and they voted against his bill.

The most dramatic recent use of the "crimes against nature" law was police sting in Roanoke's Wasena Park a year-and-a-half ago. Although it had been traditional there to use the "indecency" charge, the men arrested in that sting were charged with soliciting the felonies of the "crimes against nature" statute, which is a felony itself. Ten of the men arrested in that sting pleaded guilty for conditional sentences in order to challenge the law in court.

In November, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals quite brusquely rejected their claim, in essence denying they had any standing to challenge the law. That court announced January 22 that its full bench will not review that decision, in part because the three judges had been unanimous. The men's attorney Sam Garrison said he'll file an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, but that court is by no means bound to take it up.

Challenges have fared better in states whose "crimes against nature" statutes apply exclusively to gays and/or lesbians. One such challenge is now in progress in Arkansas, where the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is representing seven plaintiffs in a lawsuit charging the sodomy statute violates their constitutional rights to privacy and to equal protection under the law. A circuit court judge will hear motions seeking a final judgment in that case on January 29.

Cornell scholars question constitutionality of 'abstinence-only' high school sex ed

A story published today in the Cornell Daily Sun, a campus paper at Cornell University reports that two of its scholars are using a First Amendment clause to back their scrutiny of a controversial sex education curriculum in secondary schools.

According to Prof. Gary Simson, law, and Erika Sussman law '95, teaching abstinence-only sex education can be viewed as endorsing the beliefs of the Christian Coalition and the "religious right."

In an article they have written, "Keeping the Sex in Sex Education: The First Amendment's Religion Clauses and the Sex Education Debate," Simson and Sussman argue that curricula teaching only abstinence until marriage violate the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment.

This clause states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The article criticizes a curriculum known as "Sex Respect," which teaches that abstinence until marriage is the only morally correct sexual behavior.

It also teaches that contraceptives "do nothing to protect you from the emotional and psychological consequences of premarital sex." Also considered to be immoral in "Sex Respect" are other types of contraceptives, abortion, homosexuality and masturbation.

Simson and Sussman point to a particularly controversial statement in "Sex Respect:" "If premarital sex came in a bottle, it would probably have to carry a Surgeon General's warning, something like the one on a package of cigarettes: THERE'S NO WAY TO HAVE PREMARITAL SEX WITHOUT HURTING SOMEONE."

According to Simson, "Sex Respect" is not even the most conservative curriculum. "There is even one curriculum that tells kids that if they have sex, they would have to spray their genitals with lysol. This is truly incredible. These teachings can cause kids to permanently damage themselves," Simson said.

Simson also stresses that he is not suggesting that schools not teach abstinence. But he feels that teens are receiving skewed or false information.

"Abstinence-only-till-marriage is not at fault just because it teaches abstinence. It is at fault because it is a really slanted curriculum and teaches that this one belief is the only proper one," Simson said.

According to a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, abstinence-only sex education classes have increased in number by 11 times since 1988. This is partly because of arch-conservative forces and a federal grant that gives $50 million for such programs each year, the article states.

Simson noted that the same person who wrote "Sex Respect," also wrote "Love and Life: A Christian Sexual Morality Guide for Teens."

The story says that many parents are pushing for a more multi-faceted approach to sex education. Simson cites a Nov. 4 article in The New York Times, which states that an overwhelming majority of parents want schools to provide more, not less, sex education. These parents called for instruction about birth control and AIDS.

Having a curriculum that favors certain religious beliefs and political viewpoints has caused many Democrats to be alarmed. "Some methods of teaching abstinence-only are so absurd that it has to be from some kind of agenda.  There is no evidence that this method of scare tactics work," said Michael Moschella '02, president of the Cornell Democrats.

"Teaching all aspects has shown to work. People pushing this agenda say that this is the way everyone should live and act. They are basing public policy on controversial viewpoints," Moschella said.

Conservatives claim that it is difficult to remove religion and morals from sex education. "Religion and morals have always played a part in people's actions. I believe contemporary America thinks Dr. Ruth Westheimer's view of life is exceptional, not typical. Most parents do not want their sons growing up to be Bill Clinton. They also do not want their daughters to be hurt," said Prof. Jeremy Rabkin '74, government.

Simson and Sussman also confront a popular school district policy which allows parents the option to decide
whether their children will take sex education.

"Withholding children from sex education is not fair to the children. They have a right to know about this," Simson said.

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals decided Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, which found that a school district had the authority to require students to attend a sexually explicit presentation.

Simson believes that legal challenges to these conservative teachings will soon rise; he has already been contacted by several groups requesting advice on this topic.

"I think the challenges could hold up in court. It all depends on Justices Kennedy and O'Connor. O'Connor has been very strong on establishment clause cases," Simson said.

Simson stresses that it is best for government to remain separate from religion. "The less government is involved in religion, the better it is for religion," Simson said.


Monday, January 22, 2001

Poverty, unmarried status contribute to use of abortion services

A story published today in the News & Record reports that Black women are twice as likely as white women to undergo abortions. That pattern extends to North Carolina and the nation, according to data from several state and federal agencies.

Twenty-eight years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Since then, the gap in abortion rates between blacks and whites has increased, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1973, the number of abortions per 1,000 live births among black women was almost one-third higher than that for white women nationally. By 1997, the number was almost three times higher for blacks and 38 percent higher among Hispanics, according to a federal report issued last month.

Higher abortion rates among blacks and Hispanics could be related to the connection between abortion and unmarried status, said Mark Smith, a researcher at the health surveillance and analysis unit of Guilford County Public Health.

About 170 out of every 1,000 unmarried black and Hispanic women were pregnant in 1995, almost three times the pregnancy rate for single white women, according to a recent federal report. Unmarried blacks and
Hispanics were about three times as likely to have abortions as married black and Hispanic women.

Abortion providers and several university professors who study abortion trends say minorities have higher abortion rates because:

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be poor. Poor people have trouble paying for birth control. Those who do not use birth control are more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy.

Single black and Hispanic women get pregnant more often than single white women. Single women are more likely to have abortions.

Blacks are more likely to have sex at an earlier age than whites. Younger women -- especially teens -- are more likely to have abortions.

"Access to contraception is not as great in minority communities," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation in Washington, the oldest and largest professional association of abortion providers. "Minority women have to pay more out-of-pocket expenses that aren't covered by insurance."

Birth control can be expensive. Birth-control pills often cost $25 a month. Injection methods such as Depo-Provera cost a similar amount. Implants such as Norplant that prevent the release of eggs cost $500 to
$600. A pack of 12 condoms costs about $7 in a drugstore.

The story says that the median personal income of nonwhites in North Carolina is about $14,000, compared to $19,000 for whites, according to 1997 data from the Office of State Planning. In addition, fewer than half of all Hispanics and blacks have private health insurance that might pay for contraception, compared to three-fourths of all whites, according to a 1996 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Those who do not use birth control are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies, Saporta said. And those who have unwanted pregnancies are more likely to have abortions.

Also, black women typically begin having sex earlier than whites, and abortion rates are higher among younger women, said Simone Caron, a Wake Forest associate professor of history who has done research on abortion.

"First encounters with sex usually involve no birth control," Caron said.

Half of black girls have had sex by age 15, about a year earlier than whites, according to a recent report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York. Hispanic girls begin having sex about the same time as white girls. Girls under 15 are the most likely age group to have abortions.

Education could help reduce the gap between abortion rates for whites and minorities, Caron said. If students learned more about pregnancy before becoming sexually active, they would be less likely to have unprotected sex, she said.

Teens having more sex than some studies are reporting

A story published today in the Los Angeles Times reports that the first nationally representative survey of teenage boys' sexual practices shows that the amount of oral and anal sex by teens is getting higher.  Because many teens don't consider such conduct to be "sex" -- thinking that only intercourse qualifies for that category -- previous studies about the incidence of teenage sexual behavior may have seriously underreported teen sexual behavior.

The study, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute researchers and published last month by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in its Family Perspectives journal, has public-health experts and sex educators concerned that teens are exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases by engaging in unprotected, risky behaviors under the belief that they are "safe."

"This study provides documentation for what a number of people who have worked in the field have strongly suspected," said Robert W. Blum, director of the Adolescent Health Program at the University of Minnesota. "It shows that there is substantial evidence that we have much more young people involved in sexual behaviors that pose health risks than we thought."

In the study, which included 1,297 heterosexual 15- to 19-year-olds, 55% reported having engaged in vaginal intercourse, 53% said they had been masturbated by a female, 49% had received oral sex, 39% had performed oral sex and 11% had engaged in anal sex. Although 22% reported using condoms during vaginal intercourse, there was no complete data on condom use during oral and anal sex.

Responses were compared with a 1988 survey of 1,880 male teens. The results showed an increase in the proportion of teenage males who reported having been masturbated by a female (from 44% in 1988 to 53% in 1995). Oral sex figures were similar for both years, except for black teenage males, whose levels more than doubled (from 25% to 57%), bringing them closer to those of Latino and white boys (50% and 45% respectively).

What worries public-health officials the most is that teenagers appear to be engaging in high-risk sexual practices without caution and with alarming casualness.

"When you put this study together with other studies about what kids call sex, most kids do not call oral sex and anal sex 'sex,' " said Blum, who called the study's report of more than one in 10 teenagers having had anal intercourse "surprising and quite high."

In a separate, earlier study of undergraduates at a Midwestern university, more than half did not consider oral sex "sex," and 19% felt the same about anal sex. In another survey of college undergraduates, more than half said oral sex did not qualify as "sex," numbers which increased when oral sex was specified as not producing orgasm.

Another study of college freshmen and sophomores in the South found that 61% considered mutual masturbation to be abstinent behavior; 37% described oral sex as abstinence; and 24% thought the same of anal sex.

"Among many kids, there is this mythology that [non-coital sex] is safer or not a risk behavior," said Blum. "Most of that focus in this country since 1996 has been on abstinence. The implicit message in abstinence is abstinence from penile-vaginal intercourse. Teenagers see non-coital sex as protective because it protects against pregnancy."

But sexual practices such as oral and anal sex are risky. A health-screening project for meningitis among middle-school students in Georgia found that several girls' throat swabs revealed they had pharyngeal gonorrhea. Anal sex is particularly risky for young women and is a major transmitter of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Many sexually transmitted diseases including herpes, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia can be transmitted orally and genitally, unless partners use condoms or dental dams. Although HIV is not easily transmitted through oral sex, physicians warn that transmission can occur.

"In every study I have seen that asks about anal intercourse, some significant number of adolescents are engaging in it," said Dr. Mark Schuster, director of UCLA/Rand Center for Adolescent Health Promotion and author of a 1996 study of L.A. high school students' sexual practices in which 12% reported having had heterosexual anal intercourse in the prior year.

"It may be possible that young men are engaging in it because young women want to preserve their virginity," said Schuster. "But parents, physicians, and health educators need to know that some adolescents are engaging in anal intercourse. We need to know if we need to test for STDs and what risk reduction advice we need to be giving."

Teenagers are ignorant about STD transmission, said Schuster, because of lack of information.

Most adults are uncomfortable talking about oral sex and anal sex with teens, said Nancy Sasaki, president of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.

"We don't talk specifically about oral and anal sex when we do sex-education outreach programs," she said. "Those are difficult topics for us also because we need parent support in raising those issues."

Freya L. Sonenstein and Gary Gates, co-authors of the Urban Institute study, agree.

"Both parents and educators may be having difficulty imparting information about the riskiness of oral sex and anal sex," said Sonenstein, director of the Population Studies Center at the Urban Institute. "What we hope our study does is show that even though they are not talking about these behaviors with their kids, their kids are engaging in these behaviors."


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