Tag Archives: Politics

Shout Out: “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds”

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Last Friday, a group of congresswomen gathered on the steps of the Capitol to announce a new economic agenda titled “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.” The agenda addresses three areas of continued inequality and obstacles for women in the workforce: equal pay, work and family balance, and childcare.

Equal Pay: Women still make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. This past April 9 was deemed Equal Pay Day, a date that marks how far into 2013 women had to work to earn what men earned in 2012. We cannot stand for this date to continue to be some sort of anniversary. To address the persistent wage gap between male and female workers, our congresswomen and congressmen proffer seven solutions. The agenda calls for an increase in minimum wage; investment in job training and education opportunities for women; support for women entrepreneurs and small business owners; and adequate tools to investigate wage discrimination. In addition, the agenda calls for the protection and restoration of employment rights, including those associated with paycheck fairness and pregnant workers fairness. This agenda furthers the call to action initiated by the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, launched June 10, 2013 by fifteen national and state-based women’s rights legal organizations, including the Women’s Law Project, on the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

To read more about the agenda for equal pay, click here.

To read more about the Equal Pay Today! Campaign, click here.

Work & Family Balance: The U.S. currently has no policy to ensure paid sick days and has no mandatory paid family leave policy. Current policy does not suit the structure of women’s lives, which in most cases involve the majority of childrearing, caretaking and household responsibilities. The new economic agenda calls for the address of current policy deficiencies, including provisions for paid sick leave; paid family and medical leave; and paid parental leave for federal employees. Ensuring work and family balance for working women is an economic imperative, given that women are now the breadwinners in 40% of households with children under age 18.

To read more about the agenda for work/family balance, click here.

Childcare: In the U.S., there is a drastic lack of high quality and affordable childcare. It is incredible that the U.S. currently ranks 28th out of 38 countries in the share of four year-olds enrolled in preschool. This is unacceptable considering high quality child care and early learning programs are imperative if the U.S. is to maintain educational benchmarks comparable to other developed nations. Adequate funding of childcare programs, improved training and pay for childcare workers, and expansion of the 2009 Child Care Tax Credit are just some of the actions called for in the When Women Succeed, America Succeeds agenda. President Obama’s Preschool for All and Early Learning initiatives, announced earlier this year, will also be crucial for efforts to raise the standard for childcare in the U.S. Women’s gains in the workplace and the promise of additional gains in the future must be supported by a commitment to providing accessible and high quality childcare.

To read about the agenda for childcare in full, click here.

Unfortunately, many predict that the agenda is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House. However, we can no longer afford to neglect the economic rights of women. Women have a right to equal pay for equal work, plain and simple. Furthermore, the persistent institutionalized sexism in many work environments is based in part on gender role stereotypes that label women as caregivers. As a result of policy loopholes and inadequacies, talented women are deprived opportunities to participate in the workplace on equal footing with men. When Women Succeed, America Succeeds is a productive step in outlining the connections between women’s economic status and the greater well-being of our children and the nation as a whole. Our state and national representatives must value women’s vital social and economic contributions and support policy that furthers gender equality.

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Filed under Congress, Economic Justice, Equal pay, Wage Gap, working mothers, working women

Women have the power – why aren’t more of them using it?

Co-chairs of WomenVote PA, Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project, and Kate Michelman, President Emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America

AT A RECENT meeting a colleague of ours presented us with a challenge and posed the following questions:  Imagine if every woman of voting age participated in this upcoming presidential election? How would that determine the outcome of the election and the legislation and policy coming out of Washington?  What would happen – would anything really change?

The implications of such a reality are staggering.

For one, you would never hear any politician utter the phrase “legitimate rape” nor would a “transvaginal ultrasound” be prescribed by anyone other than a woman’s doctor; equal pay for equal work would be obvious; our reproductive rights would be championed by politicians, not jeopardized; support for efforts to end violence against women would be expanded; Social Security and Medicare would be stabilized and strengthened, not privatized and minimized.

Sadly, the question is hypothetical and the reality is quite the opposite – but we believe it doesn’t have to be. And we believe we can start by increasing the political participation of women here in Pennsylvania. In 2004, the Women’s Law Project, based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, began an initiative called WomenVote PA. The goal was and is straightforward: Increase the participation of women in the electoral process. We are focused on making WomenVote PA a resource for voters to learn more about legislative and policy initiatives and, equally important, a community both in the real world and the digital world, a place that uses education, collaboration and information-sharing to mobilize women voters.

The focus on the November election all but guarantees more Americans will vote this November than in any election since 2008 (assuming voter-ID requirements don’t deprive them of their right to vote). In 2008, 6 million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential race and yet just two years later, 4 million voted in the U.S. Senate race – a staggering 2 million Pennsylvanians who voted in 2008 failed to do so in 2010. That is likely over 1 million women not voting in off-year elections – and each of these off-year elections determine who sits in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as well as the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Increasing that off-year participation number even slightly has real policy implications and real-world effects on women.

A reason behind WomenVote PA’s re-emergence has been what we will generously describe as politicians simply “not getting it.” Whether it is using the phrase “legitimate rape,” attempting to define rape only as “forcible rape,” blocking legislation in support of equal pay for equal work, rolling back our reproductive rights or limiting protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence, WomenVote PA is active in educating our network on the federal, state and local legislation that affects their lives. We believe in assisting our elected officials and policy makers in “getting it.”

And we have the data to back it up. WomenVote PA is an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, which has just published a remarkable study titled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, which will inform our education and outreach efforts. The study provides important research and data about how ongoing bias against women – in the home, in the workplace, in the classroom, and in the community – negatively impacts women’s health. We see it as a necessity that women’s voices are informed and are heard on issues that are essential to their health and well-being and that of their families.

The question “What if all women voted?” really does set the mind reeling – but in Pennsylvania WomenVote PA will focus our efforts on seeing what happens when more women vote. We believe much will.

This opinion piece appeared in many newspapers throughout Pennsylvania.  Please share this with your friends and remember to vote!

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Filed under 2012 Election, Abortion, Equal pay, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Assault, Women's health, WomenVote PA

U.S Department of Justice Launches Investigation into PA Voter ID Law

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

The U.S Department of Justice has begun a formal investigation on the legality of Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID Law, which was passed in March of this year. The law, which we have blogged about before, stipulates that voters must show certain approved forms of ID before voting in every election. The law is under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department for its unequal effect on minority voters in the state.

Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth and the chief election official in Pennsylvania, received a three page letter on Monday, July 23rd from Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General. In the letter, Perez “requested state data on registered voters as well as the state’s list of individuals with driver’s licenses and ID cards.” The Department of Justice has also asked for information about Pennsylvania’s “efforts to educate voters about the new law.” The state has 30 days to compile all the requested information and send it to the Justice Department. 

According to Politico, while it isn’t clear what triggered the Department of Justice’s investigation, the letter does refer to a statement made by Aichele “indicating that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters don’t have a state-issued photo ID.” Pennsylvania has stated that “more than 758,000 voters may be disenfranchised” because they lack a correct form of ID, which also includes passports, military ID, and certain student IDs.

This is the first time the Department of Justice has investigated a state not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This section “requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their voting laws pre-cleared.” Two states that fall under this section, Texas and South Carolina, are currently facing opposition from the Department of Justice to their voter ID laws.

The investigation into Pennsylvania’s law falls instead under Section 2 of the VRA, which bars any state from enacting a “voting standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”

The law is also being challenged in a lawsuit before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is likely.  While opponents of the law wait to hear whether it will go into effect for the November 2012 election, they are focusing on educating the public and on helping those in need obtain proper IDs in the hopes that such efforts can decrease the law’s harmful effects.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, Pennsylvania, Voting rights

Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Law Disproportionately Impacts Women as Election Draws Near

Molly Cohen, WLP Intern

When Pennsylvania passed a law earlier this year imposing a voter ID requirement on voting in every election and narrowing the list of acceptable forms of ID, critics quickly pointed out that the law targets specific populations. Low-income voters, racial minorities, and elderly voters are less likely to possess the necessary photo ID. For many, obtaining proper identification entails a descent into the oft unnavigable maze of state bureaucracies. Additionally, despite Governor Corbett’s promise that there would be no financial cost to this process, those who do not have a raised-seal copy of their birth certificate must pay ten dollars to obtain one. Without this, they cannot apply for a photo ID if they have never had PennDOT issued ID before. The cost and effort of this process may dissuade otherwise eligible voters from participating in the coming election.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten Pennsylvania residents who will be unable to cast their votes this November because of the new regulations, alleging that the law creates an “undue burden” on voters without photo identification and disproportionately affects the poor.

However, in addition to targeting the aforementioned marginalized groups, voter rights advocates warn that this issue significantly impacts women across the socioeconomic spectrum. As we explained in an earlier article, women commonly change their names and their addresses to marry or divorce. According to Faye Anderson, the chief spokesperson of a voter information network called the Cost of Freedom Project, approximately 34% of eligible female voters do not possess citizenship documents that bear their current name. Anyone who does not take steps to correct a mismatched last name or outdated address may be unpleasantly surprised to find that she cannot cast a ballot at the polls.

The validity of the Voter ID law is, at best, questionable. Proponents of the legislation peddled it as the cure for voter fraud, yet there is no evidence that any such problem actually exists. While Governor Corbett, who signed the bill, initially claimed that the law would only impact 1% of Pennsylvanians, a new study places the number closer to 9% statewide. In Philadelphia County, 15.6% of active voters do not possess PennDOT ID and may be ineligible to vote. These statistics have been proffered as evidence that the law, which passed along strict party lines, was designed to suppress liberal votes and ensure the GOP retains political primacy in the state. Mike Turzai, the State House Majority Leader,  reinforced these concerns when he spoke at a recent Republican State Committee meeting. He named the law as one of the party’s accomplishments for the year: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

A hearing slated for July 25th in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Applewhite et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al. will determine whether the law will be in effect this November.

Those who oppose the Voter ID Law have organized several protests and events for the week leading up to the hearing in order to increase media attention and public pressure. A partial schedule is included below.

Saturday 7/21:
PA Voter ID Coalition Operations Center Open House from 11 am to 2 pm at 310 West Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia

Tuesday 7/24:
NAACP Rally for Justice at 1 pm at the State Capitol (3rd Street & State Street) in Harrisburg

Wednesday 7/25:
Hearing in Commonwealth Court to stop the Voter ID Law at 10 am in Courtroom 3002 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center (601 Commonwealth Avenue in Harrisburg). This is a public hearing, and supporters of the lawsuit are encouraged to attend.

There will also be protests across the state on the same day.

Philadelphia: 11 am – Thomas Paine Plaza (Broad Street & JFK Blvd)

Lehigh Valley: 12 pm – Lehigh County Government Center (7th Street & Hamilton Street, Allentown)

Pittsburgh: 1 pm – Freedom Corner (Crawford Street & Centre Avenue)

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Filed under 2012 Election, Democracy, PA Law, PA Legislature, PA Supreme Court

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