Category Archives: Politics

93 Years of Women Voting: Are We Using This Right to Drive the Change We Need?

By Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, Co-Chairs of WomenVote PA

It’s hard to believe women only gained the right to vote 93 years ago today. That’s when the 19th Amendment — which prohibits any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote — was ratified.

The demand by American women for the right to vote emerged during the anti-slavery movement of the 1830′s and ’40s. Efforts gained momentum in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Seneca Fall Woman’s Rights Convention. But it wasn’t until our heightened involvement in WWI, that President Wilson said in 1918, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?”

It was a remarkable victory won after years of fighting, with women picketing, protesting, being arrested, jailed and force fed in the struggle to gain voting rights.

And so on August 26, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to approve it, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution became law. Women could vote in the fall elections that year, including in the Presidential election where Republican Warren G. Harding beat Democrat James. M. Cox.

Fast forward to today and the question for women is: How have we used that right over the years? Are we exercising our right to vote? And are we doing so in an educated manner? Do we understand the direct relationship between our vote and the policies and laws that impact our lives, including our reproductive rights, economic security, and freedom from violence? Or do we take this right for granted and forget all of the rights that are and could be affected if we exercised our voting power to its fullest extent?

According to the Voter Participation Center, unmarried women — women who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed– are one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the United States. Yet of these 53 million unmarried women of voting age, only an astonishing 39% were even registered to vote in 2010.

It seems women turn out for Presidential elections. The 2012 Presidential election was correctly proclaimed the “year of the woman.” Our voting patterns resulted in an “18-point gender gap that largely contributed to the president’s re-election.”

Just think what we could accomplish with higher participation in elections for offices below the Presidential level. It is these elections that have the greatest impact on the daily lives of women. The selection of the members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, Governor as well as the U.S. House and Senate does more than the election of a President to determine real policy implications and effects on equality for women.

Unfortunately, women are not registering to vote and showing up to the polls for those elections in numbers that would allow them to have the voice they should have. For example, in 2008, about six million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential race. Two years later, only four million voted in the U.S. Senate race. The majority of the two million Pennsylvanians who voted in 2008 but not in 2010 were women.

What this means is simple: the voices of the women who did not vote were not heard on issues that directly affect them. They had no say in the debates that came before our Congress and General Assembly for the last several years involving issues critical to women — health care reform, reproductive rights, pregnancy discrimination, violence against women, food stamps, paid sick leave and pay equity. While these issues disproportionately affect women and their children, the women who did not vote had no say in the election of legislators and other state officials who would decide to slash funding, change eligibility rules or even eliminate vital programs.

It’s an understatement to say that the changes wrought by the 2010 elections did not auger well for the women of Pennsylvania or the nation, whether they voted or not. The real question on this anniversary of women’s suffrage is whether women will make their voices heard next year.

We know that voting isn’t easy in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has among the most restrictive voting laws in the country. While many states have same day registration, mail in ballots and other processes to facilitate voting, Pennsylvania does not. It takes a lot of effort for Pennsylvania women with jobs and family responsibilities to take the time to go to the polls. Compounding these challenges, Pennsylvania is one of the state’s leading the effort to further restrict voting by passing an unnecessary and burdensome voter ID law (which thankfully has thus far been enjoined by the courts). But, too much is at stake in non-presidential elections not to vote, no matter how inconvenient it might be.

Today, as we celebrate our hard-fought right to vote, let’s remind women of the importance of leveraging that right to ensure full participation in electing and re-electing leaders who are committed to women’s equality.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Politics, Voting rights, women in legislature, women voting, Women's Law Project, WomenVote PA

Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin – Let’s End This List

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Three weeks ago, under the watchful eyes of six male state legislators (photo), Governor Kasich (R) of Ohio signed the new state budget. As many have noted, the symbolism in this photo is marked, as Ohio’s new budget reads bankrupt for abortion rights. HB 59 contains drastic cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood; it threatens to withhold public funding for rape crisis clinics if clinic employees provide counseling on abortion care; it requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for an ultrasound; and it prohibits transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public hospitals, a measure that is already threatening to close one of only twelve clinics in the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the Texas legislature passed the anti-abortion legislation that Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of other women and men, in Texas and across the country, have been fighting since “the people’s filibuster” late last month. This is the law that is predicted to close all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics. Three Planned Parenthood clinics have already announced they will have to close their doors come August, as a result of the law’s new mandates. As if this doesn’t go far enough, several legislators have sponsored HB 59, a fetal heartbeat bill that would bring the threshold for legal abortion down to 6 weeks.

North Carolina and Wisconsin have also passed recent anti-abortion legislation. In NC, the prohibitive cost of mandated upgrades threatens closure of all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics. In WI, AB 227 (aka SB 206) would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents of the law say it would close two of only four clinics in the state.

And that is exactly the point.

What this recent wave of draconian anti-abortion legislation renders overwhelmingly clear is the importance of who our state legislators are. In the matter of abortion, where individual states retain enormous discretion, the actions of state legislatures can devastate abortion rights. This has been demonstrated time and time again: in Texas, in North Dakota, and in Pennsylvania. Therefore, every election, presidential or not, is essential to the security of women’s rights. However, voting rates in off year elections for state representatives remain notoriously low. Female voter participation in particular has been shown to drop by over a million votes in off year elections in Pennsylvania.

In evaluating state legislative actions against abortion rights, we must carefully consider who it is that we elect to our state legislatures. It’s no surprise that women’s rights are getting short shrift in many states. After all, women are still underrepresented in public office. Women compose only 18% of Congress, and it is hardly better at the state level. In Ohio, women make up 24% of the state legislature; in Texas, 21%; in North Carolina, 22%; and in Wisconsin, 25%.The dearth of women in our state assemblies matters when it comes to setting legislative priorities and countering efforts to restrict access to abortion, not because all women support abortion rights—they do not—and not because electing more women to public office is the silver bullet to end the “war on women.” Rather, as Senator Davis so eloquently demonstrated, the voices of women who are directly affected by public policy have the power to inform the public debate and transform how legislatures approach issues of concern to women. The key is to elect a legislature that is diverse in experiences, viewpoint, and perspective.  If we want to change the outcome, that is, put a stop to threats against reproductive rights, it matters who the players are.

Fact: Women compose only 18% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Consider this in the larger picture of state governments, which nationwide have become more conservative since 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the first half of 2013, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted in the entire year of 2012. With trends like these, it will take a long time to pin down the ever-evolving standard for the nation’s “strictest” abortion laws.

Whether or not these recent anti-abortion laws are ultimately challenged and/or struck down, in passing these measures, state legislators demonstrate an overwhelming lack of respect for women’s choices. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker claims the new bill, “improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice.” Choice is the operative word here because ultimately, these laws preclude it. A woman can’t very well choose to have an abortion if she is unable to access an abortion.

In the first half of 2013, the efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights were astounding, and continued and increasing counter efforts are needed to turn the tide. The image of Governor Kasich of Ohio surrounded by only men as he signed the new state budget reads as a lot more than the beginning of a new fiscal year. It reads as a need to continue fighting to secure women’s reproductive rights in every state. It reads as a fundamental lack of diversity in the vast majority of leadership positions in society. And it reads as a need to remind ourselves of the significance of our votes, and the relationship between the who and the what in the matter of legislative priorities. After all, as Ohio State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) summed it up, is your uterus a budget issue?

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Democracy, PA Legislature, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Voter turnout, women in Congress, women in legislature, women voting, Women's health

Employment Non-Discrimination Act Gets Hearing in the Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

On June 12th, the U.S Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing to debate the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Currently no federal law exists barring discrimination of individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA would provide an equal standard of workplace protection for LGBT Americans. It was last discussed in 2009, and has been stalled in Congress for the past three years. Activists hope the Senate hearing will be the first step to getting the bill moving in Congress once again.

To gain bipartisan support within the committee, and, it is hoped, within the full senate, a broad exception for religious organizations is included in the bill. The exception is more extensive than in previous discrimination bills, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, on which ENDA is based. The Civil Rights Act lays out protections for individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Religious organizations are allowed to take an individual’s religion into account, but that is the only exemption they are given. For example, a Catholic school can require that all staff and faculty is Catholic, but they cannot fire someone for being a woman or being African American.

The religious exception in ENDA goes one step further, and allows religious organizations to continue to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Religious organizations will not be held accountable for firing employees whom they learn to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. While this weakens the force of the bill, lawmakers believe it is the only way to ensure the bill is passed.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states that does not have a law banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While 24 local governments in Pennsylvania have ordinances that prohibit “discrimination against LGBT people, approximately 70% of the state’s population remains unprotected,” according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.  Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House debated employment discrimination bills in 2011, but neither came to a vote and there has been little talk for the last year of granting these protections.

This hearing also marks the first time that an individual who is openly transgender has testified in the Senate. Kylar Broadus is the founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition of Columbia, Missouri. He started the organization after he was fired from his job for coming out as transgender and beginning to transition. He had no way to fight his employer because there was no law that made firing him illegal.

There is widespread support for passing ENDA within the American public, even among Republicans and those usually unsympathetic to LGBT rights. A poll found that 73% of Americans believe Congress should pass ENDA, and many think that federal workplace protection already exists for LGBT individuals.  Proponents of ENDA are hopeful that the bill will come to a vote sometime this year.

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Filed under Congress, Employment, LGBT, Politics, Sexual orientation, Sexuality

Debunking the Myth of the “Welfare Queen”: Who Actually Receives TANF Benefits?

In February of this year, a blogger wrote about their experience observing an 11th grade classroom. The post discusses a student performing a poem that mocks a poor woman who encourages her seven children to steal food. When the character confronts police officers and runs into the drug-addict father of her children, she delivers the punch line – “You can have my welfare check!”

According to the post’s author, when asked who the poem was referring to, the student said “Minorities, because they’re the main ones on welfare.”

Besides the obviously skewed viewpoint the poem expresses, it is alarming to note that the girl reading the poem was one of two black students in the classroom – the rest being white.

This unsettlingly common view of cash assistance recipients in the U.S. dates back to the 1976 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan popularized a hyperbolic framework for female welfare recipients known as the “welfare queen.” The stereotype is sexist, racist, and belittles the legitimacy of cash assistance programs, criminalizing and disparaging those in need.

While the infamous star of the “welfare queen” narrative, cruising around in her “welfare Cadillac” was nowhere to be found by the national media, the fictional picture of lower class minority women abusing the system that gives them monthly “hand-outs” continues to shape the way Americans think about welfare recipients. Moreover, this misconception adversely affects the largest demographic benefitting from cash assistance – children.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government, Pennsylvania, Politics, Welfare

Chatham University Will Hold Q & A Session with Gubernatorial Candidate Dan Onorato

Update: Please note the new time and day for this event!

The Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy will hold a public forum with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato on Wednesday, September 29 at 2:30 PM. The forum will focus on the potential impact an Onorato administration would have for women and girls throughout the Commonwealth. Audience members will also have the opportunity to ask the candidate questions.

Dan Onorato currently serves as Allegheny County Executive and previously served as county controller and on Pittsburgh City Council. During his time as County Executive, he signed an ordinance passed by Allegheny County Council that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodations countywide.

This is a great opportunity for Pennsylvania residents to discuss what might happen for women and girls if Onorato is elected governor in November. Its especially crucial to consider this issue, as women are half the population yet Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of the 50 states in both women’s representation in government and in terms of women’s overall political participation.

You can RSVP for the event on Facebook or at Chatham’s website.

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Filed under 2010 Election, Allegheny County Council, Democracy, Events, Girls, Government, Pennsylvania, Politics

Spotlight on Conservative Women in Politics

The Women’s Law Project is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates nor affiliate with any political party. However, we are interested in the media coverage of women in politics and the variety of opinions currently being expressed about conservative candidates and what their candidacy means for women. As a resource for readers, we have provided a list of stories we have read recently on this topic with links to more information.

  1. Reason.com argues that the feminist critique of conservative female politicians is unfair
  2. The LA Times reports that the GOP is purposefully promoting more female candidates to discourage association between their party and the traditional political insider
  3. Jessica Valenti says “so-called conservative feminists don’t support women’s rights.”
  4. Newsweek states that the left’s “native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills.”
  5. Amanda Woytus responds to the above article, stating, “Palin is not a feminist. She’s merely using the word to rally religious women and unite them under the same issue they’ve been united under for years — anti-abortion rights.”
  6. Despite the fact that the GOP boasts an increasing number of working mother candidates, Betsy Reed says the “Republican Party’s stance on the issues that matter to working mothers is as regressive as it has ever been”
  7. Mary Kate Cary states that we have entered into an era of “post-feminist politics” and that female conservative candidates “are agents of change not only in the electorate but inside the women’s movement.”

What do you think about the increasing number of conservative female candidates? Does it represent a step forward or back for women’s rights? Let us know your thoughts in comments.

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Filed under 2010 Election, Democracy, Equality, Government, Politics

Victories for Female Candidates: Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

NPR termed it a “Super Tuesday For Women. The Washington Post called ita year of the woman,” but noted “the general election in the fall will be the real test of whether the ‘year of the woman’ label is fitting.” After high-profile primaries resulted in numerous victorious female candidates across the country, Samantha Bee of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart humorously explained, “Men broke the country and now you need the ladies to come in and make it all better.”

So what did happen in this year’s primaries? Here are some of the highest-profile wins:

Meg Whitman won the California Republican Gubernatorial primary, making her the “first female billionaire to translate her business acumen into politics” after being the former chief executive of eBay. Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast comments, “[she] opposes the right to abortion, can’t decide if global warming is real, [and] won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.” Whitman spent almost $80 million on her successful campaign, much of it her own money. Whitman will face Jerry Brown (D), a “former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job,” in the November election.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, won the Republican Senate nomination in California. Fiorina commented in her victory speech on Tuesday night, “Career politicians in Washington and Sacramento be warned, because you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.” Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She will face another woman, the incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D), in November.

Nikki Haley faces a June 22nd runoff challenge for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina, a state where no women occupy an elected position in the 46-member Senate, after receiving 49% of the vote in the Tuesday primary. She would be the first Indian-American governor of South Carolina. Like Fiorina and Whitman, Haley was also endorsed by Palin, which some think contributed to her jump to the front of the “crowded GOP field” in South Carolina.

Roxanne Conlin won the Democratic Senatorial primary in Iowa, a state that has never elected a woman to the House or Senate. Conlin took “an overwhelming percentage of the vote,” leaving her two male competitors in the dust. She will face five-term incumbent Senator Sen. Charles Grassley (R) in November.

Sharron Angle will face incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in November, who was apparently “hoping to face off against this rather extreme candidate,” rather than the two other potential contenders that she ousted. Angle, a tea-party endorsed candidate, holds some “controversial positions,” including “abolishing the Department of Education, getting the United States out of the United Nations, and privatizing and/or phasing out Social Security.” The GOP is focusing, on the other hand, on the 13.7% unemployment rate in Nevada, which they feel incumbent Senator Reid has failed to address.

What do these victories mean for women and for the feminist movement?

The Women’s Campaign Forum wrote:

While it cannot be denied that Fiorina and Haley’s [and Haley’s and Angle’s] wins are historic, they also beg the question: Are these victories for women?

As feminism and the women’s movement were born out of the need for reproductive freedom in the form of birth control in the 1970’s, can an anti-choice woman running for office be considered a feminist just because she is a woman? The answer: No.

While, here at WCF, we applaud conservative female candidates who have risen above the misogynistic tactics thrown at them during their races, feminist victories will only come from women who support reproductive health choices.

(emphasis original)

Female representation in our federal legislature (along with numerous other governing bodies in the United States) leaves much to be desired. The Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University reports that:

  • Women hold 73, or 16.8%, of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Of these 73, only three chair a House of Representatives committee and only 7 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Women hold 17, or 17%, of the 100 seats in the 111th U.S. Senate.
  • Of these 17, only three chair a Senate committee and only 4 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Of the 90 women in the U.S. House and Senate, only 23.3% identify as women of color.
  • Only 262 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date (167 Democrats, 85 Republicans).

At the Women’s Law Project, we don’t endorse candidates. But we are concerned with the lack of female representation in our country’s public offices. When high-profile victories for female candidates bring attention to this issue of female representation, we are eager to jump into the discussion.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think? Do these victories mark a new era for women in politics? Leave a comment below!

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Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government, Politics

Update on Abortion Access in Healthcare Reform

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to table an amendment to the healthcare reform bill, the language of which mirrored the restrictive Stupak-Pitts amendment attached to the House’s version of the bill. The Senate amendment was offered by Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, and seven Democrats, all male and including Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Bob Casey, voted to keep the amendment alive. Two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, voted to table the amendment.

This week, the Nation re-published WLP Special Advisor Kate Michelman’s article about the devastating impact that healthcare crises have had on her family. In a brief new introduction, Kate writes:

Other than the steady decline to be expected with my husband’s Parkinson’s disease, there is little change to report in our situation since I wrote about our family’s health care challenges in The Nation last spring. Costs continue to mount as his independence ebbs. Caretaking is my life. But what has not changed for us is not nearly as important as what has changed in the healthcare debate. A year ago, amid post-election euphoria, the healthcare debate seemed to offer real hope. A public option that would inject competition into the healthcare market and theoretically bring the cost of healthcare under some semblance of control seemed to be the most minimal reform Washington could conceivably offer a nation fed up with a system that was failing us. Today, a considerably diluted public option is flitting around the edges of the Senate debate as an extravagant idea that might, if enough deals can be struck, sneak through. Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats sacrificed women’s health by inserting restrictions on abortion broader than even the most ambitious Republicans could have imagined a year ago, and Senate Democrats may pursue the same strategy. The article below, which I wrote last April, is as relevant as ever.

The Senate vote also came as the New York Times published an op-ed by Rep. Bart Stupak, who, along with Pennsylvania Rep. Joseph Pitts, wrote the amendment restricting abortion coverage in the House version of the bill. He jumps through linguistic hoops, trying to assert that his language does nothing but uphold the Hyde Amendment which has restricted federal funds for abortion since 1976 and has had a disproportionate effect on low-income women.

The Stupak-Pitts amendment goes way beyond the Hyde Amendment. Women’s eNews nicely summed up the effects the Stupak-Pitts amendment will have on abortion coverage:

The amendment–named for Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.–infringes on abortion access in three ways:

-  It prevents any government-run plan from offering abortion coverage, even if women pay for the service with their own premiums;

-  It prohibits participants in a proposed health insurance exchange from receiving abortion coverage if they also receive government subsidies available to low- and moderate-income earners;

-  It requires private insurance companies in the exchange to only provide abortion as supplementary coverage.

The practical result of the Stupak-Pitts amendment would mean “a new norm of exclusion” for abortion coverage, according to a recent analysis by George Washington University’s School of Public Health.

At the end of his op-ed, Rep. Stupak writes that the American people “do not want taxpayer dollars financing abortion.” On this, he is absolutely wrong. According to research conducted by the National Women’s Law Center this year, the majority of Americans do support abortion coverage in healthcare reform legislation:

Voters overwhelmingly support the broad outlines of reform and requiring coverage of women’s reproductive health services.  Seven-in-ten (70%) favor a proposal that establishes a National Health Insurance Exchange with a public plan option. If the reform were adopted, voters overwhelmingly support requiring health plans to cover women’s reproductive health services (71% favor-21% oppose).

Absent coverage for women’s reproductive health services, majorities oppose reform. If reform eliminated current insurance coverage of reproductive health services such as birth control or abortion, nearly two-thirds (60%) would oppose the plan and nearly half (47%) would oppose it strongly.

Even in the face of opposition arguments, majorities support requiring coverage of abortions under reform.  After hearing strong arguments both for and against covering abortion under reform, two-thirds (66%) support coverage, agreeing that health care, not politics, should drive coverage decisions. A majority of voters (72%) reported that they would feel angry if Congress mandated by law that abortion would not be covered under a national health care plan.

Congress is certainly hearing from that majority of voters right now, which explains the rejection of the anti-choice amendment to the Senate bill and Rep. Stupak’s defensive (and untrue) op-ed. Moving forward, we will continue to work to ensure that abortion coverage is not carved out of healthcare reform efforts and thank those legislators who are not willing to throw women’s basic reproductive healthcare under the bus. You can take part by thanking your senators, if they voted to table the amendment, or explaining to your elected officials why the Stupak-Pitts amendment goes further to restrict women’s access to abortion than any previous legislative effort.

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Filed under Abortion, Equality, Government, Health insurance, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Democrats Sacrifice Women’s Rights for Political Gains

Women’s Law Project Special Advisor Kate Michelman co-authored a scathing op-ed with former Catholics for Choice president Frances Kissling this week in the New York Times, criticizing House Democrats for passing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the healthcare reform bill. As we wrote earlier this week, the Stupak-Pitts amendment cripples women’s access to abortion, a procedure which is fundamental to women’s equality.

Michelman and Kissling’s main argument is that the Democrats unquestionably sold women out by allowing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to pass with the healthcare reform bill: “To secure passage of health care legislation in the House, the party chose a course that risks the well-being of millions of women for generations to come.” They further argue that, despite pro-choice Democrats’ claims that they were reluctant to sign the bill, and will continue to fight for women’s right to choose despite its passage, the party really invited this bill by “subordinat[ing] women’s health to short term political success.” They furthermore suggest that the results of this ‘compromise’ could be devastating for women’s rights—arguably more so than the actions of “abortion’s strongest foes.”

They write:

Many women — ourselves included — warned the Democratic Party in 2004 that it was a mistake to build a Congressional majority by recruiting and electing candidates opposed to the party’s commitment to legal abortion and to public financing for the procedure. Instead, the lust for power yielded to misguided, self-serving poll analysis by operatives with no experience in the fight for these principles. They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party’s image problems with “values voters” and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion.

Democrats were told to stop talking about abortion as a moral and legal right and to focus instead on comforting language about reducing the number of abortions. In this regard, President Obama was right on message when he declared in his health care speech to Congress in September that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” — as if this happened to be a good and moral thing. (The tone of his statement made the point even more sharply than his words.)

Indeed, it is the job of Democrats and progressives to defend a woman’s right to choose—not to make it sound as if a woman’s choice is immoral and wrong. Furthermore, Michelman and Kissling add that the Democratic Party has also started calling anti-choicers “pro-life”—a rather dishonest signifier.

Currently the Democrats are simply happy to have a congressional majority, and thus, as Michelman and Kissling write, “they seem to think all positions are of equal value so long as the party maintains [this] majority.” If this is the case, however, Democrats seem to be forgetting that they need the votes of pro-choice women, whom they have often recognized as their base, in order to be elected—votes that they will certainly not get if the Stupak-Pitts amendment is part of the final bill. Indeed, we agree with the Michelman and Kissling’s formidable concluding discernment:

In the meantime, the victims of their folly will be the millions of women who once could count on the Democratic Party to protect them from those who would sacrifice their rights for political gains.

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Filed under Abortion, Health insurance, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Comprehensive Health Care Reform – Unless You’re a Woman

On Saturday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 220-215 to overhaul the health care system in the United States. Media outlets are framing this as a victory for progressives, and to be sure, some elements of the bill will be helpful in the long run. But the Stupak amendment, which was attached to the bill at the last minute on Saturday and was approved by a vote of 240-194, makes this bill a setback for women’s equality.

The amendment reads:

No funds authorized or appropriated by this Act (or an amendment made to this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion, except in the case where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, or unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.

This cripples women’s access to abortion in several ways:

The provision would apply only to insurance policies purchased with the federal subsidies that the health legislation would create to help low- and middle-income people, and to policies sold by a government-run insurance plan that would be created by the legislation.

Abortion rights advocates charged Sunday that the provision threatened to deprive women of abortion coverage because insurers would drop the procedure from their plans in order to sell them in the newly expanded market of people receiving subsidies. The subsidized market would be large because anyone earning less than $88,000 for a family of four — four times the poverty level — would be eligible for a subsidy under the House bill. Women who received subsidies or public insurance could still pay out of pocket for the procedure. Or they could buy separate insurance riders to cover abortion, though some evidence suggests few would, in part because unwanted pregnancies are by their nature unexpected.

Abortion is fundamental to women’s equality. It’s that simple. Without the ability to decide when and if to have children, women will never be able to control their destinies as men have been able to do for centuries. Contraception is available – though not as widely as you may think – but abortion must also be available, it must be accessible, and it must be affordable.

Over half of the women seeking abortions in the United States were using contraception at the time of their pregnancy. The Hyde Amendment – which looks strikingly similar to the Stupak amendment above and which bars the use of federal funds for abortions for women on Medicaid – has forced women who would have terminated their pregnancies to carry them to term.

To carve out this specific procedure which is so crucial to women’s autonomy and deny coverage for it – even for women who buy their own insurance with their own money – is unacceptable. And even as they spoke out against it, supporters of women’s rights voted for the final bill:

“If enacted, this amendment will be the greatest restriction of a woman’s right to choose to pass in our careers,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, one of the lawmakers who left Ms. Pelosi’s office mad.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, said the bill’s original language barring the use of federal dollars to pay for abortions should have been sufficient for the opponents. “Abortion is a matter of conscience on both sides of the debate,” Ms. DeLauro said. “This amendment takes away that same freedom of conscience from America’s women. It prohibits them from access to an abortion even if they pay for it with their own money. It invades women’s personal decisions.”

But Ms. DeGette, Ms. DeLauro and other defenders of abortion rights said they would nonetheless vote in favor of the health care bill and fight for changes in the final version, to be negotiated with the Senate.

We hope that the final version of the bill, after the Senate votes on it, will not include this restrictive provision on abortion coverage, and that supporters of women’s rights in Congress will not allow women’s equality to be hijacked as legislation moves forward. We will work as hard as we can to ensure that this doesn’t happen and hope you will too. The rights hanging in the balance are too crucial to women’s equality to do otherwise.

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Filed under Abortion, Equality, Health insurance, Politics, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health