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Briefs (left)

Influence Inquiry Turns Toward
House Panel

By David Johnston and John M. Broder

Federal investigators are examining the activities of several members of the House Appropriations Committee, including Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., chairman of the panel that wields broad influence over government spending, government officials said Thursday.

The officials said the inquiry is focused on the relationships among lobbyists, contractors and committee members who seem to steer lucrative government contracts to favored vendors virtually free of outside oversight through a process known as earmarking.

The officials, who had been briefed on the investigation, were granted anonymity so that they could speak more candidly about a case that remains under federal investigation. They cautioned that the inquiry is preliminary and has not yet established specific evidence of wrongdoing by Lewis or by others. The officials declined to identify any other lawmakers under scrutiny.

Lewis, whose involvement in the inquiry was first reported by The Los Angeles Times on Thursday, issued a denial of any wrongdoing in which he said he had adhered to strict ethical standards in all his decisions on the committee. He said he knew nothing about the inquiry.

Colombia High Court Eases
Nation’s Ban on Abortion

By Juan Forero

Colombia’s highest court has legalized abortion under certain limited circumstances. The decision is expected to embolden women’s rights groups across Latin America to use courts in their countries to try to roll back some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws.

In a 5-3 decision handed down late Wednesday, the Constitutional Court overturned Colombia’s complete ban on abortion and ruled that the procedure would be permitted when the life of a mother was in danger or the fetus was expected to die or in cases of rape or incest. Women’s rights organizations in places as varied as Argentina and New York, where several groups that closely tracked the case are based, hailed the ruling.

“This is a triumph for Colombian and Latin American women,” said Monica Roa, a lawyer in Bogota who brought the suit on the grounds that by banning abortion, Colombia was violating its own commitments to international human rights treaties ensuring a woman’s right to life and health.

Broader Use of DNA Lists Could
Solve Crimes

By Nicholas Wade

A team of Harvard scientists is proposing that DNA databases contain enough information so that criminals whose DNA has not been catalogued could be identified through their kinship to people already listed. They say this could be done by a method developed to identify victims of the World Trade Center attacks and other disasters.

The FBI’s DNA database can now be searched only for exact matches to DNA found at crime scenes. But with slight modifications, it could be searched for close relatives of whoever left the DNA.

“Genetic surveillance would thus shift from the individual to the family,” the scientists, Frederick R. Bieber and David Lazer, say in an article in Friday’s issue of Science.

Kinship-based DNA searching is already used in Britain but has not become routine in the United States.

Such searches might be valuable in generating leads, Bieber said, because 46 percent of prisoners said they had close relatives who either were or had been incarcerated, a Department of Justice survey found in 1996.