Monday, June 22, 2009
Distressing footage depicting the death of a young Iranian woman at a demonstration in Iran has turned her into a galvanizing symbol for the country’s protest movement.
The young woman, known as Neda, believed to be 16-years-old was shot dead while attending a protest with her father in Tehran on Saturday.
Footage of her death was captured on video and has been watched by thousands on social networking sites including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Iranian state television said 10 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded in Saturday’s protest which was held in defiance of a warning from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The office of Tehran's prosecutor general claimed "unknown vandals" had opened fire and killed people on Saturday, Press TV, Iran's English-language television channel, said.
Witnesses claimed she was shot by member of the pro-government Basij militia from the rooftop of a civilian house.
Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have urged people to demonstrate solidarity with victims of unrest by carrying black candles with green ribbons, their website said.
Motorists have been called on to turn on their headlights for two hours from 5 p.m. to "show their solidarity with families of martyrs killed in recent events".
"Protesting against lies and fraud (in the election) is your right," Mr Mousavi, who officially came second to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the poll, said in a statement on his website late yesterday.
"In your protests, continue to show restraint. I am expecting armed forces to avoid irreversible damage," he said.
The unrest in Iran is the most widespread since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which ousted the US-backed shah.
Iran's most senior dissident cleric - Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri - called for three days of national mourning for those killed.
"Resisting people's demand is religiously prohibited," he said. The Grand Ayatollah who was also an architect of the Islamic revolution fell out with the present leadership and has been under house arrest for some years.
Mohammad Khatami, a Mousavi ally and a moderate former president, warned of "dangerous consequences" if the people were prevented from expressing their demands in peaceful ways.
His comments, carried by the semi-official Mehr news agency, were implicit criticism of Khamenei, who has backed a ban on protests and defended the outcome of the election.
State television said a daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a rival of Ahmadinejad, had been released after being detained together with four other relatives during the Saturday rally in Tehran
Lesbian and Gay Perspectives in AmeriCorps and Peace Corps
June is Pride Month, so The New Service podcast from Idealist.org is taking a closer look at the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals serving in Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.
Today's guests are lesbian and gay former service corps participants:
-Chad Jeremy, a former AmeriCorps NCCC corps member, currently a training specialist with AmeriCorps NCCC in Perry Point, MD. Chad is an officer with National Service GLOBE, an affinity group for LGBT folks involved with national service.
-Kate Kuykendall, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (China, 1999-2001); currently a Public Affairs Officer for Peace Corps Los Angeles. Kate's a member of the LGBT Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group.
-Martha Tierney, a former Notre Dame AmeriCorps member, currently a program offer for AmeriCorps National at the Corporation for National and Community Service. Martha is also a National Service GLOBE officer.
The New Service podcast host Amy Potthast speaks with them about agency policies affecting LGBT service—including policies around joining the corps with a same-sex partner; the experience of serving as a lesbian or gay corps member; and opportunities to serve on projects that relate to LGBT issues.
Also check out our interivew with one of the only known transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers about his service. (Because of scheduling issues, and as a way to maintain his anonymity, we agreed to a written interview with him.)
Finally, if you are an LGBT individual considering Peace Corps service, register for Kate Kuykendall's online information session "Have Rainbow, Will Travel: The LGBT Experience in the Peace Corps" on Saturday, June 20, 2009. She'll introduce Peace Corps service more specifically, and also address issues of special concern to LGBT folks.
The Idealist.org Podcasts
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
June 9, 2009
TROY NEWMAN is worried.
Newman is president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which for years has targeted the Wichita, Kan., abortion clinic of Dr. George Tiller. Seven years ago, the group even moved its headquarters to Wichita--the better to harass Tiller, his employees and his patients, up close and personal.
But now Dr. Tiller, one of a small number of doctors anywhere in the U.S. who would perform late-term abortions, has been murdered--shot in the face (to avoid his bullet-proof vest) as he attended church on June 1, allegedly by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder.
And Newman is concerned about a PR disaster--since it's hard to call your movement "pro life" when it assassinates doctors.
Newman's regret, of course, isn't for Dr. Tiller. It's not for the employees of Women's Health Care Services, who still face harassment at their homes, where Operation Rescue blankets their neighborhoods with pictures of aborted fetuses.
Nor does Newman care about Tiller's patients--the women (some of them children) who were victims of rape and incest, or whose pregnancies faced medical complications and fetal abnormalities. These women and their partners were often forced to run a gauntlet of Operation Rescue protesters just to enter Women's Health Care Services and exercise their legal right to choose abortion.
No, Newman's worry is that the murder of Dr. Tiller has ripped the mask off the "pro-life" movement and exposed an ugly truth--just behind the "respectable" front that preaches "saving babies" is a group of violent fanatics who are determined to put an end to women's right to chose abortion "by any means necessary."
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IN ANY other context, a movement that carried out the kind of violence the anti-abortion movement has over the past two decades would be called what it is: terrorist. But most of the media--not to mention politicians--refuse to do so.
The double standard is striking. In May, when a group of men were accused of plotting to carry out bombings of two Bronx synagogues and to shoot down military aircraft, the media featured screaming headlines about "terrorism" on U.S. soil, and politicians promised the public would be protected. This was despite the fact that the alleged "terrorists" never had access to weapons, nor harmed a single person or engaged in a single act of violence.
The modern U.S. anti-abortion movement, on the other hand, has a long and terrible record of bombings, arsons, acid attacks and vandalism at clinics across the country--and a string of murders to answer for.
As the National Abortion Federation Web site details, "Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, there has been an organized campaign by anti-abortion extremists which has resulted in escalating levels of violence against women's health care providers."
The first reported clinic arson in 1976 has been followed by more than 200 other arsons and bombings. Beginning in the early 1990s, some anti-choice activists began injecting butyric acid--which produces a rancid, vomit-like odor--into the walls of clinics. There were approximately 100 separate acid attacks on clinics between 1991 and 1998, causing more than $1 million in damage.
Between 1998 and 2002, 654 letters purporting to contain anthrax were sent to clinics. In November 2001 (just after the September 11 attacks, and in the wake of real anthrax attacks that killed five people), anti-abortion activist Clayton Waagner sent more than 500 fake anthrax letters to various clinics. Though none of the letters turned out to contain real anthrax, clinics were shut down in some cases.
If Scott Roeder was the man who murdered Dr. Tiller, as police allege, he is far from the first to kill an abortion provider in the U.S. Including Dr. Tiller, at least four abortion providers have been assassinated by anti-choice extremists since 1993.
That year, Dr. David Gunn was shot to death outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. The following year, Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts were shot and killed by former minister Paul Hill outside another abortion clinic in Pensacola. In 1998, anti-choice extremist James Kopp killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home in Amherst, N.Y.
Clinic staff and others have also been killed or injured in attacks--like the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., clinic, in which nurse Emily Lyons was maimed and off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson killed by bomber Eric Rudolph.
Dr. Tiller was long targeted for death by the anti-choice movement. In 1993, he was shot in both arms by Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, who was later also convicted of multiple clinic arsons and acid attacks.
Scott Roeder himself has a history of targeting clinics. Recently, he was caught two weekends in a row--the second being the day before Tiller's murder--allegedly attempting to put glue in the locks of another Kansas clinic, Central Family Medicine. But when clinic staff called the FBI to report the vandalism (and provide a description of the suspect, complete with car license plate number), they were reportedly told by the FBI that there was nothing that could be done until a grand jury could be convened.
These actions are designed to prevent women from exercising their legal right to an abortion--and to frighten doctors and clinic staff from providing care. If that doesn't qualify as terrorism, then what does?
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SOME ANTI-choice activists, like Operation Rescue's Troy Newman, condemned Dr. Tiller's murder and publicly professed that they "abhor violence." But others couldn't hide their glee at Tiller's killing.
Randall Terry, the founder and former president of Operation Rescue, staged a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he denied that the anti-choice movement is responsible for Tiller's death--but added that Tiller "was a mass-murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."
Regina Dinwiddie, who protested at clinics alongside Scott Roeder, told CNN that Tiller's slaying was "absolutely" justified. "He forfeited his life by taking the lives of innocent children," she said.
Talk radio host Steve Deace had the gall to compare Scott Roeder to the 19th-century abolitionist John Brown. "Maybe the fact that we have a lawless society that has not protected these babies from infanticide created the Scott Roeders of the world, who in very John Brown-like fashion, illegally took matters into his own hands," Deace said.
Not surprisingly, there are warnings that more violence could be on the way. Speaking to the Associated Press from his jail cell on June 7, Scott Roeder warned, "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."
Colorado Right To Life spokesman Bob Enyart told the Los Angeles Times that abortion providers "should expect that violence begets violence." In particular, Enyart had strong words for Dr. Warren Hern--a colleague of Dr. Tiller's in Boulder, Colo., who has heroically pledged to carry on providing women with access to late-term abortion.
According to the Los Angeles Times, "the constant threats with which [Dr. Hern] has lived since 1973 have transformed his life into a series of security measures: sleeping with a rifle, scanning rooftops for snipers, wearing a protective vest."
But whether they publicly denounce violence or not, there's plenty of evidence to suggest an ideological connection--if not more--between groups like Operation Rescue and the more violent wing of the anti-abortion movement.
After he was arrested, authorities searched Scott Roeder's car and found a Post-It note with the name "Cheryl" and a phone number. That number belongs to Cheryl Sullenger--the senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue--who, after first denying ever having spoken to Roeder, acknowledged speaking with him on several occasions (though never about anything substantial, she claims).
In a statement claiming that Roeder had no affiliation with Operation Rescue, the group stated, "Operation Rescue has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see to it that abortionists around the nation are brought to justice. Without due process, there can be no justice."
Yet there was nothing peaceful or legal about the clinic firebombing that Cheryl Sullenger planned in 1988. Though it was not carried out, Sullenger spent two years in prison for her role in conspiring to bomb the Alvarado Medical Center in California.
So Operation Rescue abhors violence...but employs a convicted terrorist?
Like other anti-choice groups, Operation Rescue claims to be peaceful, but it does everything in its power to make life a living hell for abortion providers and clinic staff. As a 2004 report in Rolling Stone details, the group targeted everyone connected to Dr. Tiller, however casually--using tactics that seem to invite the potential of violence without necessarily crossing any legal lines.
For example, Sara Phares, an administrative assistant at Dr, Tiller's clinic, was sent a letter by Troy Newman suggesting she should "quit her job and repent her sins." A week later, hundreds of Phares' neighbors were sent postcards with pictures of aborted fetuses that accused Phares of "killing babies like these." The cards listed Phare's phone number and home address.
That was followed by Operation Rescue protesters appearing at Phares' home, according to Rolling Stone:
They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with 20-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their backyards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares' front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property.
Such tactics are designed to skirt the line of what's legal--whipping up anti-choice sentiment and putting providers and clinic staff in the crosshairs, but allowing groups like Operation Rescue to claim they had no responsibility.
Former evangelical anti-choice activist Frank Schaeffer was one of the few who admitted that the anti-choice movement "helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen." As Schaeffer commented on the Huffington Post following Tiller's murder:
The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as "murderers." And today, once again, the "pro-life" leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say on this day, after a man was murdered in cold blood for performing abortions, that I--and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church--all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.
Years ago, Troy Newman took out a full-page ad in the Catholic newspaper The Wanderer. In it, he declared: "Wichita isn't big enough for George Tiller and me." Looks like Newman finally got his wish.
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IF TROY Newman and his ilk are responsible for whipping up hatred, they are aided and abetted by the mainstream media and the politicians who applaud their cause.
Few in the press (a notable exception being MSNBC's Rachel Maddow) have been willing to call out the anti-choice movement for encouraging, promoting and creating a climate where this terrorist violence is okay.
Instead, for years, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, repeatedly attacked Dr. Tiller on the air, referring to him as "Tiller the baby killer" and hurling outrageous lies--for example, that Tiller would "execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed."
During a 2006 show, O'Reilly said: "[I]f I could get my hands on Tiller...well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech."
After Tiller's murder, O'Reilly joined the chorus of those trying to wash their hands of the violence. Instead, O'Reilly insisted that he was being persecuted. "When I heard about Tiller's murder, I knew that pro-abortion zealots and Fox News-haters would blame us for the crime," he said, adding that the "far left is exploiting, EXPLOITING, the death" of Dr. Tiller for political gain.
O'Reilly, true to form, then reminded viewers that Tiller was responsible for destroying "60,000 fetuses who will never become American citizens."
Naturally, there was no mention of the campaign of domestic terrorism engaged in by the anti-choice movement over a period of decades. In O'Reilly's world, you're only a terrorist if you're non-white and a Muslim.
O'Reilly's attitude is hardly unique. On the campaign trail last year, for example, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin repeatedly invoked the name of former Weather Underground figure Bill Ayers as a "domestic terrorist" to try to smear Barack Obama because of his casual association with Ayers.
But when NBC News reporter Brian Williams asked Palin, with running mate John McCain at her side, "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist under this definition, Governor?" she refused to say yes.
"There's no question that Bill Ayers, via his own admittance, was one who sought to destroy our U.S. capitol and our Pentagon...that is a domestic terrorist," she told Williams. "Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans, or facilities that--it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're gonna use the word 'terrorist' there."
Such rhetoric isn't surprising given that the modern Republican Party has depended on a base in the anti-choice Evangelical Right--which openly brags about setting Republican "values."
But if the Republican Party has openly embraced such anti-choice zealots, the Democratic Party has been spineless in calling them out for it. Instead, the Democrats have constantly preached that "Middle America" wants "middle ground" on the question of abortion.
Thus, in April, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism acknowledging, in a footnote, that groups opposed to abortion might be among the extremists. That's hardly a shocking statement in light of the movement's history of repeated violent actions.
Obama's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the report at first--but after anti-choice groups protested vociferously, she said the section including anti-choice activists should not have been included.
That kind of weak-kneed response is, unfortunately, all too typical of the Democrats, who spend more time talking about finding "common ground" with anti-choice activists than fighting to defend abortion rights and abortion clinics.
Now that the anti-abortion forces have been exposed as preachers of violence and hate, in the wake of Dr. Tiller's murder, activists should seize the opportunity to push back.
Why are women's health clinics across this country forced to install video cameras and hire security guards? Why are doctors forced to wear bulletproof vests, and patients forced to struggle through a gauntlet of protesters?
If abortion remains legal, then why has the anti-choice movement been able to get away with creating a climate of terror that prevents physicians from practicing, and women from exercising, their legal rights? And why have the Democrats been so willing to accept every restriction on a woman's right to choose--from parental consent laws to mandatory waiting periods to forced ultrasounds.
This isn't "common ground." This is losing ground.
We need to build a new movement for abortion rights that fights to change the terrain of the debate--and pressures the government to hold the anti-choice terrorists accountable for their violence.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Obama and Abortion Rights
By SHARON SMITH
Terry is perhaps best known for his role as a media representative for the parents of Terri Schiavo and a key proponent of “Terri’s Law” in Florida, a bill passed in 2003 that temporarily blocked the removal of their daughter’s feeding tube as she lay in a prolonged vegetative state. At the time, Terry organized angry protests outside husband Michael Schiavo’s home because he wished to have the feeding tube removed. The media lapped it up.
But Terry’s pet cause is opposing abortion. He founded Operation Rescue in 1987, which specialized in whipping anti-abortion fanatics into a collective frenzy as they blockaded abortion clinics across the country during the following decade. As Washington Post staff writer Michael Powell wrote in 2004, “Subtlety wasn't Terry's thing -- he described Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, as a ‘whore’ and an ‘adulteress’ and arranged to have a dead fetus presented to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.”
In the weeks before Obama’s May 17th speech, Terry et al worked hard to create the illusion that they represented a groundswell of outrage at Notre Dame’s betrayal. Money was apparently no object, since Terry spent $50,000 saturating the campus with photos of bloody “aborted fetuses” — which, as usual, looked suspiciously like newborn babies covered in ketchup. These doctored photos appeared and reappeared on placards, on the sides of semi-trailers that circled the university, and even on so-called “Truth Banners” streaming from low flying “Abortion Planes” above Notre Dame.
Anti-abortion activists pushed strollers with plastic baby dolls covered in red paint through neighborhoods as horrified residents tried to calm their frightened toddlers. On May 1st, Terry and a small group of these stroller pushers achieved their first well-publicized arrest on Notre Dame’s campus. Many more arrests would follow in the coming weeks.
As graduation day approached, rumors circulated that up to 20,000 protesters would descend on campus for commencement weekend. A student organization calling itself Notre Dame Response was formed, claiming it was a coalition of campus groups planning to protest Obama’s speech. When the day arrived, however, the anti-abortion masses never appeared. Only 26 seniors and their families — out of a graduating class of 2,900 — skipped commencement to protest Obama’ presence. And 23 student groups actually endorsed Obama’s invitation to speak. No students were counted among the dozens arrested over the weekend (many of them repeat offenders), while a mere 150 off-campus protesters demonstrated against Obama’s speech.
He did not. On the contrary, his speech called for those on opposing sides of the abortion debate to find “common ground … to work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term." Obama’s speech never articulated his own support for women who choose abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy. His speech was so conciliatory to abortion opponents that even the Pope expressed delight. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano praised Obama's speech and noted that Obama had stated at a recent press conference that passing a Freedom of Choice Act, which would protect women’s right to choose, was not high on his list of priorities.
As such, Randall Terry was able to transform Notre Dame into ground zero for the most maniacal wing of the anti-choice movement without ever being forced to answer a coherent defense of the right to choose.
Shortly before Notre Dame’s commencement, a new Gallup poll was released claiming that for the “first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.” The poll found 51 percent describing themselves as “pro-life,” up 7 points from a year ago. To be sure, the same poll showed that 53 percent of respondents also believe that abortion should be legal in certain circumstances. But this severe erosion of support for choice – which stood at 75 percent in 1973 – should be a wake-up call for abortion rights advocates.
Obama appears intent on replaying the Clinton-era scenario, in which the pro-choice presidential candidate promises supporters that he will pass the Freedom of Choice Act while on the campaign trail. Once elected, his enthusiasm vanishes and, when pro-choice supporters do not protest this betrayal, the legislation never materializes. Indeed, the pro-choice movement’s silence during Clinton’s two terms allowed the passage of a wide array of anti-abortion restrictions in states around the country — including mandatory parental consent and notification laws for minors, 24-hour waiting periods and anti-abortion “counseling” — allowing abortion rights to recede under the watch of a pro-choice president.
Entrusting politicians to defend legal abortion has proven a disaster for the pro-choice movement. The movement embarked on this calamitous strategy in the late-1980s, when the leaders of the largest pro-choice organizations, including the National Abortion Rights Action League (now called NARAL Pro-Choice America) decided to adapt their argument for choice to one more acceptable to rightward moving Democrats. NARAL issued a “talking points” memo to its affiliates in 1989, instructing staffers not to use phrases such as “a woman’s body is her own to control” and to reshape the right to choose as a “privacy” issue.
In so doing, the politically passive pro-choice movement allowed the more aggressive anti-abortion crusade to successfully hijack the very definition of “life” in the abortion debate. Removing women’s rights from the debate allowed the rights of embryos to supersede those of living, breathing women desperate to end an unintended pregnancy.
Since Clinton’s election in 1992, the anti-abortion crusade has remained defiant while the pro-choice movement has been in steady retreat. This is the only way to understand how a small but dedicated army of religious zealots has managed to successfully transform the political terrain in its favor — and why a figure as ridiculous as Randall Terry is now regarded as legitimate within the political mainstream.
Those who specialize in doctoring photos of babies care little about saving women’s lives. But large numbers of women die when abortion is illegal, because they are forced to undergo unsafe procedures performed in unsanitary conditions. If they develop an infection, they are often reluctant to go to the hospital for fear of arrest. In 2003, the World Health Organization estimated that 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year. The death toll during the century when abortion was illegal in the U.S. is unknown, but the number is certainly large — and some estimates are as high as 10,000 each year. A University of Colorado study done in the late 1950s reported that 350,000 women experienced postoperative complications each year from illegal abortions in the U.S.
One in every three U.S. women — including one in every three practicing Catholics — has an abortion in her lifetime. Indeed, the abortion rate has been rising as the economy worsens in the current recession, while the National Network of Abortion Funds told the New York Times that calls to its hotline requesting financial help are almost four times higher than a year ago. The majority of women who undergo abortions are young and low-income. So legal abortion is not a marginal issue but an urgent need for millions of women.
The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in 1973 was the greatest victory of the women’s liberation movement — and it was the product of struggle. If support for abortion has declined in recent years, it is not because the right to choose is any less necessary. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to build a new pro-choice movement that reinserts women into the abortion debate and wages an uncompromising fight for abortion without apology.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
CNN Senior Producer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From the time she was about 8 years old, Jane Tedeschi wanted to fly.
Jane Tedeschi when she was in the Women's Airforce Service Pilot program.
1 of 4 "[Charles] Lindbergh was flying across the Atlantic, and a lot of other people were flying air races and things like that. It was very romantic," she said.
Flight was still relatively new in the 1920s and 1930s, and female pilots were few.
But Tedeschi was determined.
In 1941, she found a childhood friend who taught flying and started taking lessons. After the friend was sent off to war and the airport near her home in Bethesda, Maryland, was closed to private flying, she traveled about 40 miles to Frederick and spent nights on the floor of a farmhouse to continue her lessons.
Around the same time, Deanie Parrish was working in a bank in Avon Park, Florida, and kept seeing aviation students who were attending a flying school there.
"I asked an instructor 'Why can't I learn to fly,' and he didn't have an answer...so I decided to find out for myself."
She found an instructor and started taking lessons.
These two women were not only fulfilling a personal dream. Along with 1,100 other women, they would become an instrumental part of the war effort during World War II, becoming the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft.
The Women's Airforce Service Pilots was born in 1942 to create a corps of female pilots able to fill all types of flying jobs at home to free male military pilots to travel to the front.
In the days after the outbreak of the war, Jacqueline Cochran, one of the country's leading female pilots at the time, went to a key general to argue that women would be just as capable pilots as men if they were given the same training.
She won the argument, and the program was launched.
Parrish joined up at age 21 in November 1943.
"Everybody was doing something," she said. "I wanted to do something for my country."
Some 65 years after their service, the WASPs are being honored with the Congressional Gold Medal -- one of the national's highest civilian honors.
Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, shepherded a bill through the Senate, and it now awaits a vote by the House of Representatives.
With fewer than 300 living former WASPs, all in their late 80s or older, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, a sponsor of the bill, told CNN it's important for the House to act quickly.
"This is a largely overlooked veterans group. They haven't gotten the medals they deserve, the recognition they deserve," Ros-Lehtinen told CNN.
Some 25,000 women pilots applied, and 1,830 were accepted. They had to pay their own way to Texas for 21 to 27 weeks of rigorous training, for which they received less pay than the male cadets in the same program, Parrish said.
Candidates had to be at least 21 years old and at least 5-feet, one-half inch tall.
When Tedeschi underwent a physical, she was told her height was only 5 feet. Watch Tedeschi recall WWII »
"I frowned," she recalled. "I said I need that half inch so he wrote it down." She was in.
Eventually 1,102 women completed the program and were assigned to one of 120 bases across the country to start their missions.
Depending on the base, they did everything from participating in ground-to-air anti-aircraft practice; towing targets for air-to-air gunnery practice with live ammunition; flying drones; conducting night exercises; testing repaired aircraft before they were used in cadet training; serving as instructors; and transporting cargo and male pilots to embarkation points.
"We were still civilians. All of our training was to make (Army) Air Corps pilots," Tedeschi said.
They flew more than 60 million miles in every type of aircraft -- from the PT-17 and AT-6 trainers, the fastest attack planes like the A-24 and A-25 or heavy bombers such as B-17s or B-29s.
Paid $250 a month, the women were not officially part of the military -- receiving no benefits, no honors.
Eventually Parrish was sent to Florida where she flew a B-26 bomber for air-to-air target practice, training gunners for combat.
Tedeschi, who graduated in May 1944, was sent to a Selma, Alabama, base which did more engineering work.
"We did whatever they asked us," she recalled in a CNN interview. "You knew enough about flying you could adapt ... sometimes it was a little tougher."
For instance, she would take planes up after repair which could involve acrobatic work -- "which, of course, we liked to do," or be called to do night flying.
While the work was technically non-combat, it could be dangerous.
Thirty eight of the pilots were killed. Parrish recalled the military would not allow the flag to be put on a colleague's coffin.
"It still bothers me," she told CNN.
As the war was winding down in December 1944, the program was closed -- with no recognition from the government and not much help for the women who served.
"You got home the best way you could," said Parrish. "I paid my own way home."
The women then went off to restart their prewar lives -- but without getting any of the help that male veterans were getting.
Several of the women, however, said they were not bitter since the only reason they had signed up was to do their part for the country, pointing out that they were just like the thousands of other women who also learned new skills and went to work in the factories to replace male workers sent off to war.
"We were proud of what we did, and the war was over. It was time to get on," said Tedeschi, who is married and 89 years old.
But many Americans were not aware of their efforts. The WASP records were sealed for more than 30 years. In 1977 Congress voted to make them eligible for veterans' benefits.
"I didn't care for veteran status, but now I could have a flag on my coffin ... that is important to me," Parrish said.
Parrish married a pilot after the war. She and her daughter, Nancy, for over a decade have documented the work of the WASPs. Read more about the WASPs at the Wings Across America Web site.
While some of the WASPs say the medal itself is a nice gesture, more importantly they say they hope the publicity will teach younger generations about their accomplishments and remind some still skeptical men just how capable women are.
"People all over the country will hear about it. It will be a national event," Parrish said.
A report issued this week by Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on abuse within at least 216 Catholic orphanages and state institutions has resulted in a global outcry against the continued abuse of children by the Catholic church. The report investigated alleged incidents of abuse dating back to 1914 and included evidence from more than 1,700 people relating to abuse they experienced as children in state institutions, according to the Irish Times. More than half of those surveyed reported sexual abuse.
The report stated that
"In some schools a high level of ritualized beating was routine….Girls were struck with implements designed to maximize pain and were struck on all parts of the body….A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from," reported the Guardian UK. Most of the schools were run by the Catholic-affiliated Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy. The report also found that the Catholic Church protected known pedophiles working in the institutions.
Through a statement, the Christian brothers said: "We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long-term psychological effects on children.....We appreciate that no healing is possible without an acknowledgement of our responsibilities as a congregation for what has happened," reported ABC.
Media Resources: Irish Times 5/21/09; The Guardian UK 5/20/09; ABC 5/22/09
DC Defense of Marriage Act Introduced in Congress
A bill was introduced yesterday in the US House of Representatives that would institute a Defense of Marriage Act for the District of Columbia defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Dan Boren (D-OK), neither of whom represent the District of Columbia, according to Politico. District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), has long supported gay, lesbian, and transgender rights.
This bill's introduction is in response to the passage of legislation earlier this month by the DC City Council that will enable the District to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. Since Congress has jurisdiction over DC, Congress could block this legislation by passing a joint resolution against it and having this resolution approved by the president, according to the Washington Times. If Congress does not take action, the measure will become law.
Washington, DC Councilmember David Catania (I) has said he will introduce a same sex marriage bill this year. Democratic committees in three wards in Washington, DC have voted in favor of a same sex marriage resolution and a committee on a fourth ward has voted in opposition, according to the Washington Post.
Media Resources: Washington Post 5/21/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/6/09; Politico 5/21/09; Statement of Eleanor Holmes Norton 5/5/09
Louisiana House Passes Health Care "Conscience" Bill
Legislation that would allow health care providers to withhold certain services and medications, including abortion and emergency contraception, on the basis of religious or moral objections was approved by the Louisiana state House this week in a 65 to 33 vote. The bill (see PDF) also includes conscience clauses on stem cell research, cloning of human embryos, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia and now moves to the state Senate, reported the Associated Press.
A previous version of the bill said that it would protect health care providers "from liability, discrimination and employment action for refusing to provide certain health care services," but did not specify which "certain health care services" the law would include, according to the News Star.
The current Louisiana bill is similar to a Bush-era regulation released in December 2008 that established new protections for health care providers who refuse to provide certain services based on moral or religious bases. The provisions of the regulation placed the burden on women to seek out individual providers who will provide certain kinds of treatment, including birth control, abortion and sterilization. The regulations drew widespread protest. During a month-long public commenting period, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received tens of thousands of comments against the regulations, including letters opposing it from at least thirteen state attorney generals and six medical groups. The Obama Administration moved to rescind these HHS regulations in March.
Media Resources: Associated Press 5/20/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 3/9/09; News Star 5/20/09
California Assembly Passes Fair Pay Legislation
The California state Assembly passed a state-level version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Monday on a 49 to 28 vote. The measure codifies at the state level a broader version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. According to the bill, the statute of limitations on pay discrimination claims runs from the receipt of each discriminatory payment.
Assemblymember Dave Jones (D), who co-authored the legislation, said in a press release: "The Court's ruling encourages employers to hide information and will likely lead to more unlawful discrimination. President Obama and the Congress have acted to amend federal law and now we should act to ensure that our state law is not weakened by this court decision. This legislation will ensure that the Supreme Court's flawed decision does not apply to state laws that affect a worker’s right to equal pay."
The federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, signed by President Obama in January, corrected the Roberts Supreme Court decision (see PDF) that gutted the ability of women workers to sue for wage discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a wage discrimination complaint had to be filed within 180 days of the initial salary decision even if the victim is unaware of the discrimination until much later. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 requires that a complaint be filed within 180 days of receiving a discriminatory paycheck.
Media Resources: California NOW Press Release 5/18/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/8/09