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Recapping a Year's Advances, Setbacks

December 28, 1986|JANICE MALL

The landmark pay equity case, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees vs. Washington State, was settled for $101 million in April. The New York Times unbent and allowed reporters to use the courtesy title "Ms." in news stories in June. Patricia McGown Wald became chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, the first woman to head any federal appellate court, in July.

These are among the events picked by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund as the top 10 advances for women's rights in 1986.

In its annual Year in Review, NOW also picks what it regards as the top 10 setbacks for women. Among these in 1986 were a Census Bureau report in August that a third of the nation's poor live in single-parent households composed of women and children; the Kiwanis International Club's vote in June to not admit women (for the 11th straight year); and a report in December from the National Abortion Federation that there were 135 incidents of terrorism against women's health-care centers in 1986.

The others named in the top 10 advances for women were:

--155,000 pro-choice supporters turned out for the NOW-organized "March for Women's Lives" held in Washington and Los Angeles in March.

--The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a Pennsylvania law that discouraged women from seeking abortions, and for the first time stated explicitly that, "A woman's right to make that choice freely is fundamental."

--The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that sex harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

--TV shows about women won Emmy awards in record numbers last September; "Cagney & Lacey" and "Golden Girls" won best dramatic and comedy series, respectively.

--Congress enacted six economic equity laws in October, having to do with pension rights for military spouses, private pension reforms, child-care services, health insurance continuance for widows and divorced spouses and their children, increased tax credits for low-income families and an increase in the tax deduction for single heads of households.

--Emily's List (Early Money Is Like Yeast--It Makes the Dough Rise) became the only Democratic women's federal Political Action Committee, raising $350,000 for the Senate campaigns of Barbara Mikulski and Harriet Woods.

--In the November election, ballot measures that would restrict access to abortion were defeated in Oregon, Arkansas, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

NOW regarded the confirmation of conservatives William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court and Antonin Scalia as associate justice as one of the 10 low points of the year for women.

Other bad news in '86, according to feminists:

--A 13-year, $20-million sex discrimination suit against Sears Roebuck and Co. was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Chicago in February.

--Lung cancer surpassed breast cancer in February as the No. 1 killer of American women.

--The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Christine Craft's case after a federal appeals court ruled against her in her sex discrimination lawsuit against Metro-media. In the four years she fought the case, two juries had awarded the TV anchorwoman more than $300,000.

--In June the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Georgia sodomy law, which NOW believes could have an adverse impact on other issues of privacy such as access to abortion and contraception.

--Catherine Pollard of Milford, Conn., was denied her wish to become the first female Boy Scout troop leader in the country in November.

Also in November, the White House Task Force Report on the Family concluded that federal policies should favor the traditional two-parent family.

While it selected its top-10 best-and-worst events from among those that affect large numbers and public policy or set legal precedents, NOW also put out a list that made note of other triumphs and tragedies of 1986.

Early this year, the body of a murdered woman was found in a Lexington, Mass., dump after a local district judge had turned down her request for police protection from her husband in a spousal abuse trial. The judge had castigated the woman for wasting his time and the taxpayers' money.

Barbara Aronstein Black became the first woman dean of the Columbia University School of Law in February.

A March report in Newsweek said that 71% of all women believe the women's movement has improved their lives.

Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, author of "The Second Sex," died in April. Also in April, a California Superior Court judge ruled that a prostitute cannot be considered a victim of rape, even if she is forced to engage in sex.

In May, the third edition of Arthur Janson's "History of Art," a standard college art history text, included women artists for the first time.

In other May events, General Mills made over Betty Crocker for the sixth time--and transformed her from a homemaker to a career woman. Ann Bancroft, 30, became the first woman to reach the North Pole by dog sled. The Union League of Philadelphia, a men's club dating to the Civil War, voted to admit women.

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