Monthly Archives: September 2009

Women are Delaying Pregnancy and Limiting Number of Children in Recession

A new survey released by the Guttmacher Institute last week confirms that the recession is impacting women’s reproductive health choices. The survey, which looked at approximately 1,000 low- and middle-income sexually active women in the United States, found that 44% of women wanted to delay pregnancy or limit the number of children they have due to financial concerns.

However, although 64% of women agreed with the statement, “With the economy the way it is, I can’t afford to have a baby right now,” the survey also included statistics suggesting that financial problems are making it harder for women to use contraception effectively, or for some women, to use it at all:

  • Nearly one in four women reported having put off a gynecological or birth-control visit in the past year, to save money;
  • 23 percent reported having a harder time paying for birth control than in the past;
  • Among women using the birth-control pill, 18 percent reported inconsistent use as a way to save money.

Dr. Sharon Gamp, Guttmacher president and CEO, breaks down the conundrum that women are facing in today’s economy:

The recession has put many women—including middle-class women who are having trouble making ends meet—in an untenable situation. They want to avoid unintended pregnancy more than ever, but at the same time are having difficulty affording the out-of-pocket costs of prescription contraception. Unfortunately, while delaying a prescription refill or skipping pills may save women money in the short term, it increases their risk of an unintended pregnancy and results in greater costs related to abortion and unplanned birth later on.

In other words, some women who know that they cannot afford to raise a child also cannot afford birth control, a circumstance that may actually cause the number of unplanned pregnancies to rise in coming years. You can check out the entire report, “A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions,” here (PDF).

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Rep. Metcalfe Thinks Domestic Violence Awareness Month Has a “Homosexual Agenda”

File this one under “Huh?”: Pennsylvania Representative Darryl Metcalfe (R-12) blocked a resolution recognizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month because he said “it has a homosexual agenda.”

It’s difficult to find any “homosexual agenda” in the language of the resolution, which you can read here. Instead, it reads as sympathetic to all victims of domestic violence in the Commonwealth and makes no mention of any sexual orientation:

WHEREAS, Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used to establish power and control over an intimate partner;

WHEREAS, Domestic violence often causes emotional harm to victims, their children, other family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence affects men and women in all racial, ethnic, religious, educational, social and economic backgrounds; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence takes many forms, whereby victims are often subjected to abuse, harassment, threats, vandalism, trespassing, burglary, theft and stalking; and

WHEREAS, Domestic violence is often escalated, causing victims to suffer physical and emotional trauma, anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation, loss of confidence, fear and, in some cases, injury and death by suicide or homicide[…]

It’s difficult to imagine why any legislator would refuse to recognize the enormous problem of domestic violence, which surely affects his own constituents, to make a flimsy political statement against the LGBT community.

Rep. Siptroth (D-189), the prime sponsor of the resolution, said it best:

“Representative Metcalfe voted for my resolution the past two years. To block it this year to cause controversy and gain some media attention shows a marked lack of respect and understanding as to the impact domestic violence has on individuals.

“It is my hope that my colleague, who should know better, will stop this provocative nonsense and allow this resolution to be adopted unanimously so this very serious issue can be recognized by this chamber.”

If you’d like to let Rep. Metcalfe know what you think of his blocking this resolution, you can contact him here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania

Women are Key to Economic Recovery Plans

On the eve of the G20 summit, Heather Arnet of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania and Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women encourage the leaders attending the meeting to remember the importance of women in any economic recovery efforts.

First, they lay out the dismal situation for women:

A main reason women are central to the global economy is they make up 60 percent of the global work force. In ordinary times, women and girls are the majority of the world’s poor and illiterate, but during recessions, the disproportionate burden is placed on women who are more likely in vulnerable jobs, are underemployed, lack social protection and have less control over financial resources.

Worldwide, women make up about 70 percent of those living on less than a dollar a day; add children, who disproportionately depend on women for their care, and you have the majority of the world’s poor.

A new report by the international agency Plan International found that the global recession is hitting girls the hardest because they are the first in their families to go without food, to be pulled from school and to lose jobs. The report forecasts that 22 million women will become unemployed, driving more girls into the sex trade.

They discuss the situation of women in Pittsburgh, the G20 host city, as being pretty much up to speed in most areas with the rest of the world: the wage gap has women making less than 70 cents for every dollar a man makes and there is a startling absence of women on many corporate boards or publicly traded companies based here. And most of the money in the economic stimulus packages went to work in repairing the physical infrastructure of our society, which is dominated by male workers.

But the authors argue that we need to invest in the social infrastructure of our society as well, in the industries of education, public health and child care, where women are disproportionately employed.

The world leaders meeting this week should also not fall into the trap of thinking of women as helpless beings who need to be served by economic policy, but as able agents making those decisions themselves:

Women need to be considered, not just as those being served by development programs, but they need to be at the decision-making tables in increased numbers. Research has confirmed that women are better at mitigating risk, and a recent study showed that banks with at least 30 percent women in senior management positions were far less likely to have made risky and unsustainable loans.

One of the only two female finance ministers of the G-20, Sri Mulyani of Indonesia, is credited for her work in putting Jakarta’s financial house in order by dismantling the cronyism that plagued Indonesia’s financial architecture from the Suharto era. Indonesia now enjoys one of the most conservative balance sheets in the world and over 4 percent economic growth — and Ms. Mulyani is credited for her role as a tough regulator.

While we cannot add more female finance ministers to the G-20 table this year, we can demand that our world leaders begin to respond to the overwhelming amount of data that points to the immediate and long-term economic gains of investing in the development, education and economic security of 60 percent of the world’s work force.

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Filed under Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Pittsburgh

Woman Stars in (Referee) Stripes

With her blonde hair tucked into her black referee hat, it’s relatively easy to overlook Sarah Thomas and assume that she’s just another male college football referee—only she’s not. Thomas is major college football’s only female referee.

She started as many others did, officiating for youth leagues and studying for tests as she worked her way through middle school and junior varsity games. She reached the high school level in 1999, and worked the game clock while pregnant with her sons, Bridley, now 8, and Brady, 5.

The spouses of her crew even made her a maternity referee shirt so she could continue pursuing her passion during her pregnancy.

When asked whether the players are surprised by her presence on the side line, she told her interviewer that she blends easily into the sideline and is hardly noticed by coaches or players. “Most of the time they are so focused on what they are doing, they don’t notice me,” she said, “and that is what every other official strives for. Our best games are the ones that no one knows we’re there.”

While she may be successful in avoiding the attention of the players, this certainly does not mean that her hard work went unnoticed by everyone. The Times reports that in 2006, she came to the attention of Gerald Austin, an NFL official for more than 25 years.

An officiating scout, another former N.F.L. official, had been impressed by Thomas’s work in a high-pressure playoff game, and called Austin to tell him so. Austin invited Thomas to an officials’ camp in Reno, Nev. “She made one tough call after another and nailed every one of them,” Austin said. “There was no reason not to hire her.”

After two years of training and being eased into the rotation, Austin scheduled Thomas for a full schedule of games this fall. Although the NFL has yet to hire a female referee, Austin thinks that when it finally happens, Thomas would be first on the list, saying, “They have got to look at her,” and “She’s too good.”

Thomas’s success has inspired other women who love football but thought their participation in the sport was limited to screaming at the television to pursue positions as referees. Currently, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has three women on its officiating crews. And this past weekend, the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s first female football official will work a game.

We wish Thomas good luck with her first season officiating at the top tier of college football, and hope that we’ll be hearing about her appointment as the first female referee in the NFL one of these days.

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The Relationship Between Oppressions: Silence Gives Consent

The unequal society that we live in runs on systems of prejudice against race, and gender; the systems are maintained and perpetuated by the domination and subordination of particular groups of people: males over females, whites over people of color.  When this way of life is challenged, conflicts are sure to occur, sometimes in the form of outright disrespect, which some believe has been exemplified in  South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson’s affront to President Obama.  The “You lie” outrage has led some, like former president Jimmy Carter, and New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, to argue that Wilson’s retort was painted all over with racist colors, while others such as David Brooks try to maneuver our focus away from race and claim that the conflict we see now is just an instance of the age-old struggle between the “progressive elite” and “rural white populists.”

Regardless, it is true that many in America still cannot accept the reality of being governed by a black president, and thus view the president very critically.  If he’s angry, he plays into racist stereotypes about black men.  If he’s too calm and collected, he’s labeled ineffective or a weak leader.  Uncannily, this treatment is akin to the oppression many women in the workplace, particularly those in high positions of power, experience as well.  Those who are assertive and aggressive are either classified as pushy, manipulative, power-hungry, or even trying to be like men; those who embrace “female attributes” are perceived as “too soft,” and unfit for management positions and high office.

No single human can be charged with the creation of oppressive systems that we live in today, because all these manifestations of oppression (as seen in racism and sexism) are products of socialization, meaning we have internalized all of these habits and thoughts that enforce the system of oppression since birth.  What we can do is build a “liberatory consciousness” which is actively alert and critical of prejudiced thinking and behavior.  As Maureen Dowd’s article quotes:

“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.  “In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’”

“Silence gives consent.”  We shall not be silent against oppressive acts of prejudice, whether they spring from bigotry based on race, sex, age, sexual orientation, ability, or anything else.

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Filed under Equality, The New York Times

Violence is Never the Answer

James Pouillon, a 63-year-old man from Owosso County in Michigan, was shot and killed on Friday morning while protesting abortion across from a high school in Owosso. According to authorities, Pouillon was killed by Harlan Drake, 33, who drove up to him in a truck and opened fire. Drake is also accused of killing a local business owner earlier that day.

The shooting of James Pouillon is, as President Obama put it in a statement, “deplorable.” Although it is still unknown whether the shooting of Pouillon came about from his status as an anti-choice protester, the WLP would like to stress that we condemn all forms of violence, and that violence is never an acceptable response to philosophical or political disagreements.

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Third Circuit Rules in Favor of Wage Equity for Women in PA

Despite the influx of women into the workforce, gender inequality persists, as this report released by the The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reminds us. Men earn more than women in almost all occupations.  Moreover, women earn less than men both in the ten highest paying occupations for women and in the ten lowest paying occupations for women.

Mary Lou Mikula, employed to manage the police grants budget by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, probably never anticipated that she would one day be at the center of the equal pay battle in the courts, but her situation required it:

She was paid several thousand dollars less than a male manager with whom she shared many responsibilities from her date of hire and continued to be paid less despite her repeated requests for a pay increase.  In an initial panel opinion, the Third Circuit held that her Title VII claim was not filed in a timely manner despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. [The National Women’s Law Center] filed a petition for rehearing in April, and the court’s decision today makes clear that each discriminatory paycheck renews the time period for filing a Title VII claim.

The ruling demonstrates the influence of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which fights pay discrimination and ensures fundamental fairness for American workers.  Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center said that the “decision is a victory for Ms. Mikula and for all those who have been denied equal pay. The decision implements the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as Congress intended, restoring the ability of victims of wage discrimination to challenge this practice in court.”

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Filed under Allegheny County, Employment, Equal pay, Equality, Pennsylvania

The Truth Behind “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”

Adoption is often thought of as a good, politically-uncharged alternative for women who are pregnant, but feel that for whatever reason they cannot raise a child, and do not want to have an abortion.  Think again. Kathryn Joyce at The Nation has an article entitled “Shotgun Adoption” which exposes the horrific lengths that the anti-choice movement will go to in order to deprive women of their autonomy.

Joyce recounts the story of Carol Jordan (a pseudonym), a single woman who, upon becoming pregnant and deciding against abortion, visited Bethany Christian Services, a crisis pregnancy center in South Carolina which offered free counseling. Bethany, it turns out, is also the nation’s largest adoption agency. Over a series of five counseling sessions, the staff at Bethany told Jordan that adoption was a win-win situation, as well as the only right choice for her. A counselor then encouraged Jordan to move into one of the center’s “shepherding family” homes, where she was placed with a family who referred to her as one of the center’s “relinquishing mothers,” despite the fact that Jordan had not yet decided whether she would give up her child for adoption.

At the home, Jordan had contact only with the center, and spent her days sifting through letters and photos from hopeful couples looking to adopt her child. Joyce notes that today, the “birthmother letters” are on Bethany’s website: 500 couples who pay $14,500 to $25,500 for a domestic infant adoption, vying for mothers’ attention with profuse praise of their “selflessness” and descriptions of the lifestyle they can offer.”

Jordan selected a couple who then attended the birth, along with her counselor and shepherding mother. The day after the birth, Jordan’s counselor surprised her with the information that fully open adoptions were not legal in South Carolina, so Jordan would never receive identifying information on the adoptive parents. By Joyce’s account, “Jordan cried all day and didn’t think she could relinquish the baby.” When she shared these feelings with her shepherding parents, and asked if she could bring her child to their home, they “refused, and chastised her sharply.” When she shared them with her counselor, the counselor brought the sobbing adoptive parents into her recovery room, and told her that if she didn’t give up her child now, “she’d end up homeless and lose the baby anyway.”

Jordan ended up signing the relinquish papers the next day. Distraught, Jordan quickly lost more than fifty pounds in the weeks after her surgery, but when she sought post-adoptive counseling from Bethany, the only person she was able to reach was her old shepherding mother, who had cruel words for her. “You’re the one who spread your legs and got pregnant out of wedlock,” she said. “You have no right to grieve for this baby.”

Although Jordan’s experience with Bethany may sound like a horror story, Joyce is very clear that Jordan’s experience is not exceptional, and Bethany centers are not the first and most certainly not the only crisis pregnancy centers who perpetuate this disturbing trend.

Joyce writes:

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the nonprofit pregnancy-testing facilities set up by antiabortion groups to dissuade women from having abortions, have become fixtures of the antiabortion landscape, buttressed by an estimated $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds. The National Abortion Federation estimates that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to “choose life” but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.

This is not a new trend, however. During the “Baby Scoop Era,” the period between 1945 and 1973, single motherhood was so stigmatized that “at least 1.5 million unwed American mothers relinquished children for adoption.” Many of these adoptions were coerced, and the coercion was often brutal, “entailing severe isolation, shaming, withholding information about labor, disallowing mothers to see their babies and coercing relinquishment signatures while women were drugged or misled about their rights.” There was a demand for these children, and thus unwilling mothers were forced into supplying them.

Joyce argues persuasively that currently, the circumstances of single mothers who visit CPCs are not so different than they were during the Baby Scoop Era:

Such enthusiasm for Christians to adopt en masse begins to seem like a demand in need of greater supply, and this is how critics of current practices describe it: as an industry that coercively separates willing biological parents from their offspring, artificially producing “orphans” for Christian parents to adopt, rather than helping birth parents care for wanted children.

Today, there are at least 251 crisis pregnancy centers in Pennsylvania, some of which receive government funding. This means that every day, women all over the state are receiving advice from “counselors” who are treating these women as incubators rather than human beings. It is important than women in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country know the truth about the function of these centers, and the anti-choice propaganda that they perpetuate.

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Filed under Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Women and Health Care Reform

President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress Wednesday night addressing health care may have been a reminder to some of how the progress of the Obama Administration’s “women-friendly initiatives,” highly visible in the first six months of President Obama’s presidency, has been bogged down by the turbulent storm of health care reform.  But in fact, the current discussion of health care is a great time to address and solve some of the most crucial issues that affect women in the area of health coverage and gender gap in the professions that impact governmental policy-making.

In recent months, the battle for health care reform has been raging, but wrapped up in it is a battlefront for women’s rights as well.  Sharon Johnson reveals in “Reformers Say Maternity Benefits Make Dollar Sense” and  “Push Is On to Cover Prenatal Care in Health Plan” just how much it matters to women:

Twenty-one million American women and girls lack health care insurance; another 14 million rely upon individual policies, which are more expensive and less likely to provide maternal care than employee-provided insurance.

And this is not to speak of the women who do have health insurance but are denied maternity coverage, because pregnancy is deemed a “pre-existing condition” under many policies.  This gender discrimination results not only in devastating economic burden for families, but creates excess health costs for the future.

Dr. Linda Brodsky’s opinion piece provides a good explanation of the dire situation we are in:

As a group, U.S. women are among the most educated and privileged in the world. But our gender gap in national political representation remains wider than 26 other countries. … [Women are] at a disadvantage in the most heated domestic policy debate of these days: health care reform.

This explains why it is legal in most states for pregnancy to be considered a “pre-existing condition,” for women to pay more than men on their insurance premiums, for women with Cesarean section history to often be denied coverage.  The gender inequality in medical academia determines the number of women who have the professional expertise to advise our elected leaders, Brodsky says, and ultimately affects women’s representation in policy-making.  Therefore, “as we monitor and participate in this debate, women should push for changes in national health policy that rectify women’s inequalities as medical professionals and patients.”

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Can Two Women Have Similar Jobs Without it Becoming a “Catfight?”

Last week brought the news that Diane Sawyer will replace Charles Gibson on ABC’s World News Tonight, making her the second woman to anchor one of the three major network nightly news shows.

This New York Times article examines Ms. Sawyer’s ascension to the post and looks at how the media is covering the story, trotting out old tropes about women’s inability to get along with each other, starting with the first few lines:

One female network TV anchor is a breakthrough. Two become a catfight.

That equation is almost inevitable no matter who the women are who make it to the top of television news. In the case of Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric, who in January will resume their former morning-show rivalry on the evening news, it’s already printed up in the program of public perception.

The article repeatedly mentions Ms. Sawyer’s appearance (“gorgeous,” “glamorous,” “golden allure,” “teen beauty queen,” “considered too fetching to be a ‘serious’ journalist,” “absurdly good looking” – just in the first four full paragraphs of the piece) while noting the scrutiny of women who break barriers and whether breaking those barriers even means anything at all. Some points in the article are sharp and true:

Ms. Sawyer and Ms. Couric will outnumber their male counterpart 2 to 1 in an era when networks are losing their primacy and even their creative advantage over cable, and network news, in particular, is sinking in relevance and prestige. (Back in 1976, when Barbara Walters was lured by ABC, the network very likely considered the anchor job too important to entrust to a woman and paired Ms. Walters with the more authoritative-seeming Harry Reasoner.) As in other fields, women seem to break through the glass ceiling just as the air-conditioning is being turned off in the penthouse office suites. Women anchors may turn out to be what women doctors once were in the Soviet Union, a majority without status or financial advantage.

While it’s great that a major news publication is examining the issue, including why women are taking the seat behind the anchor desks just when the medium is becoming extinct, it’s entirely unnecessary to frame Ms. Sawyer’s new post as an inevitable “catfight” between her and Katie Couric or focus quite so much on her appearance.

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Filed under Equality, The New York Times