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U.S. News Archive
October 14 - October 20, 2001



This page contains news for the period October 14, 2001 through October 20, 2001.  

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Friday, October 19, 2001

Reassessing the military's policy on pregnancy

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the United States military used to kick out women who became pregnant. Now, the policy, developed gradually over three decades, is to keep them in uniform while exempting them from war zones and sea duty.

To the Pentagon, accommodating pregnancies is a necessary part of an overall commitment to a gender-neutral military. There are about 200,000 servicewomen on active duty -- 14 percent of the total strength -- and they play vital supporting roles in the current attacks on Afghanistan.

Yet critics say the effort to recruit and retain women has produced a pregnancy policy so magnanimous that it undercuts wartime readiness. They suggest there could be consequences, such as unmarried servicewomen getting pregnant to obtain benefits or to be pulled from a war zone.

"The pregnancy policies have become so very generous that they actually encourage single motherhood," said Elaine Donnelly, director of a private, conservative group called the Center for Military Readiness.

Donnelly, who has served on Pentagon and presidential advisory committees, said problems can be particularly acute aboard aircraft carriers and other warships. She said that in some cases, more than 10 percent of the female sailors have been unable to deploy due to pregnancy.

"Pregnancy is a temporary condition, just as if a soldier breaks his leg," said Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, a Defense Department spokeswoman. "It's always going to be an issue if you have someone on your team and then they're not there. It's something all the services have recognized, and they're figuring out how to make it work."

Asked whether pregnancy had been used to avoid difficult missions, Abbott said, "I'm sure it has. And there are other soldiers who have shot themselves in the foot to get out of it."

Among critics, there is no consensus on what should be done with the pregnancy policy.

Donnelly wants greater flexibility, so commanders could have the option of discharging pregnant soldiers. Robert Maginnis, a retired Army colonel and policy analyst with the conservative Family Research Council, suggested the military could try harder to promote sexual abstinence.

Under current policies, pregnant servicewomen are exempted from overseas deployments, and those in the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard are removed from sea duty by the 20th week of pregnancy. With rare exceptions, they cannot be involuntarily dismissed from the service, and -- whether married or single -- are eligible for a range of health, housing and educational benefits.

"Both pregnancy and parenthood are compatible with a naval career," the Navy said in announcing its new policy in 1995.

But in a 1999 research paper, Army Maj. Meredith Bucher questioned the Pentagon stance that pregnancy does not weaken overall readiness. She argued military-wide statistics disguise the fact that pregnancy can disrupt units that are understaffed or have a high proportion of women.

Official figures cited by Bucher showed that 2,402 of the 26,807 women in war-fighting Army units were pregnant in 1998, about 9 percent.

Patricia Shields, a political science professor at Southwest Texas State University and editor of the quarterly journal Armed Forces & Society, said the military needs to reassess pregnancy policy in light of the war on terrorism.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

South Carolina unwed mothers on the rise

A story published today by The State reports that according to new figures released by the Census, one in three never-married women in South Carolina have children, making the state second in highest numbers of unwed mothers in the nation.

Child support payments also are up, as the state looks for new ways to ease the burdens that often accompany single parenthood.

Bill Byars, a retired family court judge working at the Children's Law Office at USC, said the state's presence at the top of the list is important because children of unwed mothers "do not fare as well" as those with two parents.

They're statistically more likely to be poor, to have trouble in school, to end up in court and to be abused and neglected.

In 1990, 21 percent of never-married women in South Carolina had a child. South Carolina was No. 10 in state-by-state rankings. The current percentage shows that the state has increased to 33 percent.

South Carolina follows only Mississippi in the rankings. Other states in the top five are: Louisiana, third; the District of Columbia, fourth; and New Mexico, fifth.

"If you plotted the graph, you'd see generally higher numbers in poorer states," said analyst Martin O’Connell, whose census office compiles the "Fertility of American Women" report. "Part of it is about knowledge and availability of contraception, and part of it has to do with marriage patterns."

Experts in the field have seen the numbers of unwed mothers increasing for decades.

The Department of Social Services started an initiative in 1999 called First Things First in an attempt to reverse the trend. "We're trying to make a difference in those numbers," said Larry McKeown, director of child support enforcement.

McKeown said the idea is to stress to young people the importance of taking life's major steps in the correct order -- get educated, get a job, get married, then have children.

"Research shows what common sense tells us," McKeown said. If young women follow that script, they reduce the chances that they'll fall into long-term poverty.

California pharmacists allowed to dispense emergency contraceptive pills without prescription

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the state of California will let pharmacists dispense emergency contraceptive pills without a prescription, becoming the second state to do so.

The new law, which has no age limit, was signed Sunday by Gov. Gray Davis and takes effect Jan. 1.

"California is a bellwether state for many other parts of the country," said Jane Boggess, director of the Public Health Institute's Pharmacy Access Partnership.

The so-called morning-after pill is a high dose of birth control pills taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

Morning-after pills differ from the so-called abortion pill RU-486, which is for women who already know they are pregnant and want a non-surgical abortion. RU-486 can be used up to seven weeks after the beginning of their last menstrual period.

Opponents say the law lets pharmacists act beyond their training.

Christine Thomas, acting executive director of California Right to Life, said the group believes the drug induces abortion and therefore would have opposed the bill even if it had excluded minors.

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Relationship shootings more evident among city dwellers

A story released today by Detroit News reports that a new FBI report on homicides found that people who live in big cities are more likely to be killed by their lovers or spouses than people living in small towns.

According to the study of FBI data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of partner killings in cities with more than 250,000 people was two to three times higher than in those with fewer than 10,000 residents.

The report also found that women in the South and West are most at risk for deadly domestic violence.

According to the data, 60 percent of men, and more than 64 percent of women, were killed by firearms in arguments with spouses and lovers.

Dr. Len Paulozzi, a CDC epidemiologist, pointed out that men are more likely to own guns than women, which explains why fatal domestic violence is committed more often against women.

North Carolina's out-of-wedlock birth rate on the rise

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the percentage of babies born in North Carolina to single women has risen steadily during the past decade.

Last year for the first time, more than one in every three North Carolina babies, or 39,770 children, were born to unwed women, according to new figures from the N.C. Center for Health Statistics.

The phenomenon has been felt more keenly in the black community, where two of every three babies are born outside marriage. However, it is births to unmarried white and Hispanic women that are driving up the numbers, accounting almost entirely for the increase in out-of-wedlock births through the 1990s.

Of all white babies born in North Carolina last year, 19 percent were to single mothers, up from 14 percent a decade earlier. Among Hispanics, out-of-wedlock births have climbed to 43 percent, nearly double the 1990 figure.

To an extent, the numbers reflect a growing acceptance of couples living together and having children outside marriage, especially among whites.

But the link between unmarried mothers and poverty is so well established that many see any increase as cause for concern.

Children of unmarried parents who live in poverty are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, develop drug and alcohol problems and repeat the cycle of having babies while unwed, said Dennis K. Orthner, a professor of social work and public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill and associate director of its Jordan Institute for Families.

In its sweeping welfare reform of 1996, Congress encouraged two-parent families, and the N.C. General Assembly has allocated $1.6 million in federal funds each year since the 1997-98 fiscal year to reduce out-of-wedlock births.

Yet between 1997 and 2000, births to single mothers in North Carolina increased nearly 10 percent, compared with a nearly 7 percent increase in the prior four years.

One problem is that child-care and housing assistance by and large goes to women rearing children alone, and very little support goes to two-parent families, Orthner said.

"Our welfare system is putting a lot of women to work, but it doesn't do anything for the men," Orthner said. "We have no welfare system for men in this country. We offer virtually no help for low-income men, except through the juvenile-justice and corrections systems."

Government health programs, however, apparently have helped to reduce births to unwed teenagers. Since 1990 the teen birth rate in North Carolina has fallen 27 percent, said Margaret Woodcock, head of Women's Preventive Health in the state Division of Public Health.

"We've made a lot of progress with teens," Woodcock said. "I think what you're seeing with these out-of-wedlock births, it's not the teens that are making that impact, it's people in their 20s or even older."

The state has made less progress with one group of teens: Hispanics. In 1998, North Carolina had the highest rate of Hispanic teen pregnancy in the nation, at 198.6 per thousand, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The jump accompanied the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the 1990s, as more families put down roots in the state.

"We have a lot more Hispanic teenagers than we used to 10 years ago," said Adrienne P. Knowles, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina. "Back then, we had more 20- and 30-something-year-old men who were here working. And now we have more and more women and teenagers in our population in North Carolina."

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Pennsylvania’s adoption bill heard before Senate panel

A story published today by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that a sweeping overhaul of Pennsylvania’s arcane adoption laws is in the works, but it's clear that a controversial bill introduced in May won't be passed anytime soon.

"We've got our work cut out to deal with all of these issues," said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who sponsored the bill after a 35-member panel studied the issue for three years and drew up a 213-page report on the subject.

The current law is a patchwork of statutes passed by the Legislature over the years, regulations enacted by state bureaucracies and court rulings.

Perhaps the most important part of the bill are provisions that would streamline adoption proceedings by more quickly terminating parental rights in court.

Another provision in the bill would allow a child to be adopted by a parent's unmarried partner, regardless of sexual orientation, if the other parent's custody rights have been terminated.

In two cases involving gay couples who sought joint custody of children, the state Superior Court ruled last year that the state's adoption law allows someone to jointly adopt a partner's children only if the parent and partner are married. Gay marriages are not recognized by Pennsylvania law.

Both of those provisions drew objections from representatives of Catholic adoption agencies that said the bill would confuse rather than improve adoption law.

Kay Eisenhour, director of adoptions at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg, said the bill failed to adequately protect the privacy of birth parents who did not wish to have their names revealed.

Eisenhour also noted that the bill would allow unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, to adopt.

"While these living arrangements exist in our society, they are not considered to be 'optimal' for the well-being of children," she said.

But organizations that promote the rights of adopted children yesterday blasted a provision in the bill that would continue to keep secret original birth certificates in order to prevent identification of biological parents.

Another portion of the bill in dispute would give a pregnant woman 20 days after the baby is placed for adoption to change her mind after agreeing to put a child up for adoption. Some say that is not enough time; others say it's too much time.

Eleanor L. Bush of the Pennsylvania Bar Association said the proposed law goes too far in allowing the involuntary termination of parental rights if a parent treats a child improperly, and she said the law would apply even if a parent mistreated someone else's child

Little argument was heard yesterday on the main thrust of the bill, to more speedily sever in court parental rights so that adoptions can be finalized more quickly.

Background checks on prospective parents would be mandatory.

Under the bill, the state Department of Public Welfare would be charged with establishing a registry for medical and social history information of biological parents.

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Choosing an appropriate policy insurance for a single mom

A question and answer column published today by the Los Angeles Times written by Liz Pulliam Weston focuses on the single mother and the option of obtaining variable life insurance policy. A portion of her column appears below:

Question: In 1998, I began investing in a variable life insurance policy with a death benefit of $250,000. I began this plan in hopes of increasing my monthly investment as time went on. Well, my financial situation has worsened. I am 39, a single mother of three minor children and I make $30,000 a year. I receive little or no child support. I'm paying $1,100 a year for this policy and am concerned that I'm throwing my money away. My financial advisor--who, by the way, recommended this plan--tells me he wouldn't be able to find a life insurance policy at the rate I currently pay and tells me to stick with it.

Ms. Weston answers by saying that being single mom is not an ideal candidate for the variable life policy. She explains that variable life policies combines life insurance with an investment feature. Insurance aficionados will tell you these policies are most appropriate for high-income people with plenty of disposable income who already have exhausted other means of saving for retirement by contributing the maximum allowed to 401(k)s, IRAs and other plans. 

The illustrations the agent provided shows that these types of policies need years of steady payments to build up much worth. The $2,000 to $3,000 paid will get less than $400 back.

Weston adds that if the policy holder decides to cash out, she must be sure to have a term policy in place first. With three kids depending on her income, she definitely needs the coverage. Weston believes that the single mom should start shopping for rates at one of the Internet shopping services such as InsWeb.com or Quotesmith.com.


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