- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

Parental notification is a women's issue

The other night on television, I saw Virginia state Sen. Emily Couric make an appeal to viewers to re-elect Sen. Charles S. Robb solely on the abortion issue. Mr. Robb, she proclaimed, has always supported the protection of women's rights.
How had Mrs. Couric and I, I wondered, arrived at such such opposing views on this important issue? We had grown up in the same wealthy neighborhood in Arlington County in the 1950s and '60s. We had both been raised in families with four children, with caring mothers and fathers. We had attended all the same public schools, and we both had been cheerleaders at the same high school. Our parents socialized with one another and had carpooled us to school and to extracurricular events. What had brought us to see this issue so differently?
Through the years, Mrs. Couric married and had two boys. I also married, having five girls. Surely, I thought, I should be the one on television asking for the protection of the rights of all women.
I am writing, with the permission of my daughter Elizabeth, to describe what took place at her high school in Fairfax County five years ago. The last semester of her senior year, Elizabeth became pregnant. She had found out on a Thursday at a nearby public health clinic in Reston. The next day during class, Elizabeth was summoned by the school nurse. She was told to go directly to the school clinic, where she found the nurse from the public clinic waiting for her. There, in the high school clinic, the public clinic nurse counseled my daughter on the difficult situation she was facing. In no uncertain terms, she offered my daughter an abortion, assuring her that no one including her parents would ever know the pregnancy occurred.
Only a few months earlier, the high school nurse had called me to ask if it was OK to give Elizabeth a Tylenol for a bad headache. Parental notification was required for a Tylenol but not for a surgical procedure performed on my child that would end one life and forever change another.
I thank God for leading Elizabeth to us with her problem. I thank my husband, who always has supported pro-life issues in our household since the children were little. Most of all, I thank Elizabeth for becoming the woman she needed to be that day, at age 17, and protecting the life of her unborn child in the high school clinic.
Admittedly, I had a difficult time during her pregnancy. I was angry, depressed, and ashamed those months. But for all those miserable moments, I can now look into my adorable granddaughter Abby's face and experience the joy of life.
This upcoming spring, after five years of incredible hard work and perseverance by Elizabeth, the help and guidance from Elizabeth's family and friends, and the assistance of some government programs, Elizabeth will graduate from the University of Virginia with a degree in speech pathology, her 4-year-old daughter by her side.
So, will I vote to re-elect Mr. Robb this fall as Mrs. Couric has asked? Absolutely not.
How has he protected women's rights? My rights as a parent were not protected, Elizabeth's privacy and her right to have her parents present were not protected and only Elizabeth protected Abby's right to continue living.

Anti-arbitration bill helps consumers and small business

On behalf of the nation's nearly 20,000 new-car and new-truck dealers, I want to express my disappointment over the misleading Commentary article opposing S. 1020, the Motor Vehicle Franchise Contract Arbitration Act, by James Wootton, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform ("Trojan horse for trial lawyers," Oct. 20).
Mr. Wootton claims the bill is a Trojan horse that, by undermining arbitration, will introduce an avalanche of frivolous class-action suits. But since Mr. Wootton never makes a factual case to justify his Trojan horse analogy, he sounds more like Chicken Little yelling, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
We can only assume that the U.S. Chamber had no credible arguments on the merits, so Mr. Wootton had to resort to gross distortions unrelated to S. 1020. If the fear-based allegations of the U.S. Chamber were close to the truth, few members of Congress would have supported this legislation. Yet, 252 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored H.R. 534, and the House passed the bill without a dissenting vote. Similarly, in the Senate, S. 1020 has 54 co-sponsors.
Huge numbers of Republicans and Democrats support this legislation for the following reasons:
Forty-nine of the 50 states have enacted laws specifically to govern the unique economic relationship between motor vehicle dealers and manufacturers and to inject some semblance of fundamental fairness. The states enacted these laws in direct response to abuses of contractual power by the manufacturers.
The majority of these state laws rely on an administrative forum to resolve disputes, so few dealer/manufacturer disputes ever go to court.
Unless Congress enacts S. 1020, the manufacturers will continue to ignore state law with impunity, continue to exploit their inherently excessive contractual power over motor vehicle dealers, and force dealers to resolve disputes on terms set exclusively by the manufacturers.
As a dealer for 45 years and chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, I am extremely proud of the role that franchised-car and franchised-truck dealers play in meeting the transportation needs of the American consumer.
Moreover, I take even more pride in the fact that new-car and new-truck dealers drive their local economies all across the country by providing well-paying jobs for more than 1 million Americans and their families. A strong bipartisan majority already has decided to support S. 1020, thereby affirming the need for fundamentally fair treatment of the nation's car and truck dealers.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has forsaken these small businesses and the families that depend on them and sided with the giant multinational corporations. The good news is that reasonable people including the overwhelming majority of Republican and Democratic members of Congress support the principle of fundamental fairness.
National Automobile Dealers Association

A question for all credit-card holders:
Have you read your agreement with the bank that issues your credit card? Have you read all of it, including the 6-point type in light gray on the back side of the tissue paper? Including the eye-numbing amendments stuffed into your bill, somewhere among the fliers promising abs of steel in 12 weeks and offering holiday fruitcakes for the entire family at a drastic discount?
You have to read it if you want to find the clause that says you will have to pay an arbitrator to decide whether the bank owes you money if it makes a mistake.
Do you feel like you chose to do that? James Wootton, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, thinks you did ("Trojan horse for trial lawyers," Commentary, Oct. 20) and that you ought to forgo that cheap and familiar system of dispute resolution the courts in favor of arbitration. I disagree.
Arbitration is not necessarily a bad thing. You ought to be able to choose to do it. But the system that Mr. Wootton favors generally called mandatory arbitration has nothing to do with choice. It is based on the paper that no consumer has time to read.
"Boilerplate" contracts are a reality of our fast-paced world. Courts recognize that they are not products of real choice, but enforce them with one caveat: They cannot contain clauses that would surprise or be unfair to the persons who did not draft them.
Would you be surprised to learn that resolving your small dispute with the bank would cost you a couple hundred dollars in arbitration fees? Would you be surprised that you could not get together with a dozen persons in the same boat and split the fee of one lawyer to handle the claims together? Or that you did not have the same rights you would have in court?
Might you feel it unfair that your case would be decided by someone whose sole source of income was resolving disputes for the bank?
Too bad. The arbitration clause is enforceable, because of an act of Congress that Mr. Wootton endorses and that says, effectively: You chose it. Live with it.
That is not what choice is about, and it is time for Congress to change the statute and to give consumers a deal they can live with.
Association of Trial Lawyers of America
Washington, D.C.

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