Calif. bill allows minors to seek STD prevention

Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 9:18 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Heated debate in the Republican presidential race over child vaccinations also is playing out in California as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown considers whether to a sign a bill allowing children as young as 12 to get vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases without their parents’ consent.

Religious leaders, pro-family organizations and GOP lawmakers have warned the change would erode the rights of parents to be involved in their children’s medical decisions. Supporters say the legislation is needed to keep up with new prevention treatments and help slow the spread of STDs among minors.

The bill passed the California Legislature along mostly party lines and now is on Brown’s desk. He has until Oct. 9 to act on AB499, and has not signaled his intent.

Currently, California minors are allowed to seek diagnosis and treatment for STDs such as the human papillomavirus, known as HPV, without parental consent but cannot get vaccinated without their parent’s approval. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

“I don’t think we should be playing Russian roulette with kids’ lives,” said Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego who authored the legislation.

Opponents say the push for inoculation by medical officers and women’s health advocates tramples on parents’ rights. Just as minors cannot get a tattoo or piercing without parental approval under California law, opponents say parents should be involved in a child’s medical care, whether it’s treatment for a migraine or sexually transmitted disease.

Victim in Mont. grizzly attack was shot by friend

BILLINGS, Mont. — A hunter attacked by a wounded grizzly in a Montana forest was killed not by the bear, but by a gunshot fired by a companion trying to save him, authorities said Friday.

Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe said an autopsy determined 39-year-old Steve Stevenson of Winnemucca, Nev., died of a single gunshot to the chest. The cause of death was determined by a medical examiner with the Montana State Crime Lab.

The shot was fired by 20-year-old Ty Bell, also of Winnemucca, as he attempted to stop the bear’s attack. No charges are expected, Bowe said.

The autopsy found bite marks on Stevenson’s leg caused by the bear.

“We’re fairly convinced it was obviously an accident,” Bowe said. “But the county attorney will review the final report once we’re done.”

Bell and Stevenson were on a black bear hunting trip with two other people in a thickly-forested region along the Montana-Idaho border when the attack occurred Sept. 16.

Syrian agents targeting activists, families

BEIRUT — A young woman was found beheaded and mutilated, apparently by Syrian security agents, underscoring what witnesses and the U.N. human rights office said Friday was a fearsome new tactic of retaliating against protesters’ families to snuff out the 6-month-old uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The slain 18-year-old, Zainab al-Hosni, is believed to be the first woman to die in Syrian custody since the uprising began in mid-March. Amnesty International said Friday she had reportedly been detained by security agents to pressure her activist brother to turn himself in.

The violence serves as a grim reminder of how the Assad family has kept an iron grip on power in Syria for more than 40 years by brutally crushing every sign of dissent. The idea that the regime has eyes and ears everywhere resonates in a nation of 22 million where decades of autocratic rule have nurtured a culture of deep fear and paranoia.

Witnesses and activists say retaliation against families of those involved in the uprising has ranged from threatening phone calls to beatings and even killings, as in the case of al-Hosni.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday that the harassment was even extending beyond Syria’s borders.

“Prominent human rights defenders, inside and outside the country, are reported to have been targeted,” U.N. human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva. “We are also concerned by reports of the targeting and attacking of families and sympathizers of the protesters by security forces.”

She offered no details and did not elaborate on the activists or their families being targeted outside the country.

The Syrian opposition movement has proved remarkably resilient despite a massive military assault using tanks, snipers and shadowy, pro-regime gunmen against demonstrators. According to U.N. estimates, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed in the crackdown since March and thousands more have been detained since protests began in mid-March, riding on the wave of euphoria as popular uprisings toppled longtime dictators in Egypt and Tunisia.

Looters plunder $8.5M from Ivory Coast museum

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Looters stormed Ivory Coast’s national museum during the country’s bloody political crisis earlier this year, plundering nearly $8.5 million worth of art including the institution’s entire gold collection.

Five months later, the museum’s gates still open and close at the posted hours, but empty display cases gather dust. A lone set of elephant tusks sits in the dark in the museum’s main exposition room.

And staff member Oumar Gbane now spends his days making a handwritten inventory of what was stolen since his computer was among the items taken.

“No tourists can come here. There is nothing to see,” he laments. The pillage was the first in the museum’s 70-year history.

Doran Ross, former director of the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, says the Abidjan museum used to be “one of the best maintained in Africa.”

Student groups and tourists once filled the museum’s halls to view the corpse-like Senoufo statues depicting armless ghosts of ancestors and the dark wooden Baoule masks with elongated eyes and narrow mouths.

They saw delicate Akan pendants abstractly depicting animals in shiny gold, sacred Yohoure masks of antelopes with a human faces, and Baoule chest ornaments made of beads and golden disks etched with images of fish and crocodiles.

Ivorian artist and author Veronique Tadjo, who resides in South Africa, says the collection reflected “the various areas [of the country] that now need to reconcile.”

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