Tag Archives: Women’s Law Project

Pennsylvania Should Adopt A Law to Protect Women in Midlife From Employment Discrimination Based on Caregiving Responsibilities

By Caroline Buck, WLP Law Intern and Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

Women moving into the workforce has been one of the most important economic trends in the last 30 years. In April, the Center for American Progress issued a report that detailed the substantial impact of working women on the economy.

One of the report’s key findings was that if women’s employment had remained at the same level it was in 1979, the 2012 gross domestic product would have been roughly 11 percent lower. “In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.”

The most dramatic increase in working women has been the influx of mothers into the workforce. In 1979, 27.3 percent of mothers worked outside of the home. In 2007, this number grew to 46 percent.

Since 2007, both the percentage of working mothers and the overall number of women working outside the home has dropped.

It’s bad news for both women and the economy.

Last week, the New York Times published a report digging into the dynamics and consequences of the trend of women, and particularly middle-aged women, dropping out of the workforce while at the peak of their earning potential.

There’s no single explanation for the drop, but caring for elderly parents is one reason for the statistically significant reduction of women in the workforce. In a recent article investigating the issue, the New York Times profiled Tracy Murphy. Formerly a non-profit agency manager, 54-year-old Tracy left her job to care for her sick mother five years ago.  As we know, women are the primary caretakers of both parents and children. Though middle-aged women are dropping out of the workforce at a higher percentage than their younger counterparts, women in their 20s are also dropping out to focus on young children or to return to school.

Another factor is that the edge of the recession cut into government budgets, where statistically more women than men earn a paycheck. Almost half of the government jobs lost between 2008 and April of this year were in education – a job still overwhelming female – and illustrative of the ongoing job segregation that depresses women’s wages and opportunities.

From the New York Times:

“It’s a disaster for the women concerned,” said Ian Shepherdson, an independent economist, “but it’s also bad news for the economy because they are not contributing to growth and their skills are eroding through extended inactivity.”

With parents living longer and having children later, the report explains that women are pinned between caring for parents and children themselves to “save money,” and losing earnings and benefits that ideally would be incrementally increasing over the years.

Then, when they try to return to work, they find themselves pinned between being too young to retire and too old to be competitive. In addition, they are often discriminated against in hiring processes and passed over for promotions based on the assumption that they will be less committed to their jobs as a result of their caretaking responsibilities.

So what can we do?

There are certainly cultural factors at play: Women account for two-thirds of caretakers. Daughters are so much more likely to be tapped to care for elderly parents that studies of a recent report on the phenomenon commented, “it’s almost like being back at the turn of the century.”

Policies that acknowledge the shifting configurations of family, the labor market and the economy, as well as legislation that protects caregivers against employment discrimination, could help.

In Pennsylvania, 1.39 million people – primarily women – serve as informal caregivers for adults requiring long-term care at any given time. Additionally, three-quarters of adults requiring long-term care rely exclusively on family members to provide the daily assistance they need. Some states and localities have adopted laws to expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities.  Pennsylvania has not yet done so.

On June 5, Tara Pfeifer, Staff Attorney for the Women’s Law Project, presented testimony before the Pennsylvania House Labor Committee in support of a state bill that would provide some necessary protections.

H.B. 2271, if passed, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination based on “familial status” in the employment context. Although this is an important step that would provide much needed protections for working parents with caregiving responsibilities, the current bill does not provide legal protections to those who are caring for adults that require long-term assistance. As a result, other legislation is needed to fill this gap.

The economic and social impact of caretaking responsibilities on women’s workforce participation is clear, and the potential for discrimination in the employment context because of these responsibilities looms large. Yet until further legislative action is taken, those caring for other adults will remain vulnerable.

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Filed under Caretaking, familial status, PA Law, PA Legislature, working women

Court Enters Consent Decree So Pennsylvania Girls Can Wrestle

The Women’s Law Project and Flaster/Greenberg P.C. announce the successful resolution of a lawsuit on behalf of a Pennsylvania seventh-grade female student who was denied the opportunity to participate in the Line Mountain School District’s all-male wrestling program, in violation of her constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2013 in federal court and alleged that the district’s all-male wrestling program discriminated against girls on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In January 2014, Flaster/Greenberg lawyer Abbe F. Fletman and Women’s Law Project attorney Terry L. Fromson were successful in obtaining a preliminary injunction requiring the school district to allow seventh-grader Audriana Beattie to join the all-male wrestling program for the duration of the lawsuit.

The Court has now approved a consent decree entered into by the parties that will allow Ms. Beattie to remain on the previously all-male wrestling team and other young women who wrestle competitively may join the team.

The school district has also rescinded its policy that kept girls off boys’ teams and will not adopt any policy in the future that will unlawfully deny athletic opportunity on the basis of sex.

“Wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports for young women; the school district’s agreement to resolve this action both brings the school into compliance with the law and addresses girls’ athletic interests,” said Fromson of the Women’s Law Project. “Audriana has been a competitive wrestler for more than four years, and we are pleased that she will be able to continue competing at Line Mountain,” said Fletman of Flaster/Greenberg. Because of this action, Audriana has been able to wrestle with the boys’ team, where she achieved a 6 win/13 loss record this season, while also preparing for the Pennsylvania Girls State Wrestling Championships, where she came in first in her weight class in Middle School competition.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Title IX

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.

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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.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women

Title IX Advocates Await Release of New Athletic Gender Equity Reports

Attorneys from the Women’s Law Project announced that the first annual athletic gender equity reports from public high schools, junior highs and middle schools are due today under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act, formally known as Act 82 Article XVI-C, requires secondary schools to publicly report basic information about school-sponsored athletics programs on an annual basis in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and achieve gender equity.

“For more than 40 years, Title IX has required schools to treat girls equally,” said Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project. “Sadly, there is evidence that girls are still being excluded and shortchanged and have actually lost ground in recent years.”

Fromson explained that starting today and each year thereafter, Pennsylvania secondary schools (grades 7 through 12) will have to submit a form to the state Department of Education containing the following information, which must be publicly posted by November 1:

  • Number of students in each school by gender;
  • Listing by gender of each varsity, junior varsity and freshman athletic team, together with year when each team was established;
  • Number of team participants by gender;
  • The seasons during which each team competed;
  • Total value of contributions and purchases made on behalf of each team by booster clubs;
  • Expenditures for each team, including travel, uniforms, equipment and supplies, coach compensation, facilities, and athletic trainers;
  • Number of coaches and trainers per team;
  • Number of competitions per team;
  • Name of school’s Title IX officer.

To find and download the forms online, go to:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/school%20services%20office/9153/disclosure%20of%20interscholastic%20athletic%20opportunities/1419362

The state legislation is modeled after the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires federally funded colleges and universities to publicly disclose similar information annually on an easily searchable website.

“The Women’s Law Project intends to look carefully at the new gender equity reports to ensure that parents and students know how their schools are treating them,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney in the Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Girls, PA Law, Sports, Title IX

New Philadelphia Family Court Building is Topped Off

By Dabney Miller, WLP Associate Director

Beam rising in topping off ceremony.

Beam rising in topping off ceremony.

Philadelphia is finally getting a new Family Courthouse.  Construction reached the topping off point on May 2, 2013, when dignitaries, advocates, and construction workers signed a beam, which was then hoisted to the top of the sixteenth floor, amid cheers from the crowd.  Ten years ago, the Women’s Law Project released Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court: A Report to the CommunityOur lead recommendation was a new courthouse; we argued that critical concerns about safety, openness, and the fair dispensing of justice could not be addressed in the current building, which is a labyrinth of crowded, narrow halls, courtrooms too small for observers, and waiting rooms where conflict plays out.  Our report became a rallying cry, and we are delighted to have been part of the Topping-Off Ceremony for the new Family Courthouse, which will also unify the juvenile and domestic relations divisions.

Much remains to be done, however.  Tens of thousands of people come to this Court each year to resolve personal and intimate family matters involving domestic violence, child support, child custody, divorce, and dependency.  Profound and life-altering decisions are made in the Court about where and with whom children will live, when and under what circumstances parents may see their children, and who will make decisions about the education, health care, and religious upbringing of children.  Its judges have the awesome responsibility of issuing orders to protect people from violence and stalking.  It is imperative that those coming to the new Courthouse find justice after they arrive.  Above all else, the courthouse must be a place that litigants can come and go without fear and where children and parents may have safe and supervised visits when required by the law.  Second, the court must be open to the public consistent with constitutional standards.  The bright light of open courts always leads to fairer processes and outcomes.  Third, this courthouse must be accessible to those Philadelphians who may not be able to read or understand legal processes.  Ninety per cent of Family Court litigants cannot afford lawyers, so they must advocate for themselves in an intimidating system, often at a time of crisis in their lives.  Many technologies now exist to assist them in completing forms and filing petitions.  These technologies, along with trained staff who are motivated to help, will make all the difference for Philadelphia’s families.  Finally, the court must be adequately staffed so that judges, masters, conference officers, and other individuals who work with the public have time to handle their cases in a way that assures the litigants that their positions are heard and carefully considered.

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Filed under Family Court, Philadelphia, Women's Law Project

PA Superior Court Hears Argument on Insurance Claim of Domestic Violence Arson Victim

By Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney

Q.: What’s worse than having your house burned down by your abusive spouse?

 A.: Finding out your insurance company won’t cover the damage.

On April 2, 2013, the Women’s Law Project presented oral argument to the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Lynn v. Nationwide Insurance Company, a case of first impression involving the insurance claim of a domestic violence survivor whose abuser intentionally set fire to their house.

At stake is the continued vitality of a 2006 Pennsylvania law (referred to by the Women’s Law Project as the “Innocent Co-Insured Victim Act”) that requires insurers to pay the claims of innocent co-insureds when their property is deliberately destroyed by an abusive partner. This statute was passed after a ten-year lobbying effort by dozens of domestic violence advocacy organizations led by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Terry Fromson, Managing Attorney of the Women’s Law Project. The passage of the Innocent Co-Insured Victim Act was part of a larger initiative to fight a host of insurance industry practices that disadvantaged or endangered domestic abuse survivors, described here.  The trial judge in the Lynn case misinterpreted this statute to require insurers to pay the property claim of a domestic violence survivor only when the claimant can show that the insurer’s reason for denying coverage was because of discriminatory animus against domestic violence victims—a showing that is virtually impossible to make.

In the Lynn case, a woman drugged her two children, left her husband an angry suicide note, and set fire to the family home with herself and her children inside it. She did not succeed in harming herself or her children, fortunately, but the house was damaged, and the woman is currently incarcerated for these offenses. When her husband filed a claim under their homeowner’s policy, he was turned down, and among the grounds for its denial of the claim, Nationwide cited a clause in their contract that excludes coverage of damage caused by the intentional acts of anyone insured under the policy. As applied here, this intentional act exclusion essentially blamed the victim for the wrongs the abuser committed.

On appeal from the trial court order holding that Nationwide did not have to pay the husband’s claim, an all-female Superior Court panel (Judges Bowes, Donohue, and Mundy), sitting at a special session at the Beaver County Courthouse in western Pennsylvania, heard argument from attorney Gary Davis, representing the appellant Brian Lynn, and from Sue Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project, representing the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and two dozen other Pennsylvania non-profit organizations that serve domestic violence survivors. To read the amicus brief, click here.

If the lower court’s opinion is permitted to stand, the impact on domestic violence victims will be devastating. One of the primary reasons abuse victims cannot get out of violent relationships is economic: they face destitution if they leave. Permitting abusers to leave their victims homeless will make it very difficult for survivors to put their lives back together. It also violates the plain language of the Innocent Co-Insured Victim Act, a statute specifically adopted to avoid this very injustice. The Superior Court may issue its ruling at any time.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, Insurance Discrimination, PA Superior Court, Pennsylvania

Roe v. Wade 40 Years Later: How Far Have We Come?*

By Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy

January 22nd marks the fortieth anniversary of landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade was a historic milestone for women in America, because this right to control our capacity to reproduce – including our right to use contraception – significantly enhances our ability to participate fully in society. It helps ensure our personal privacy, our dignity, and our health.

Roe v. Wade promised to protect our ability to make decisions about our bodies without unwarranted interference, and recognized the essential importance of equality and freedom for women in our society.

On this fortieth anniversary, it is appropriate to ask if the promise of Roe v. Wade has been fulfilled.  Has women’s liberty and equality progressed as far as we hoped it would since January 22, 1973?

Clearly there have been some great strides forward. During the 2012 elections, women turned out in droves to make their voices heard. In almost every instance where women’s reproductive rights were challenged, freedom of choice prevailed. Earlier this month, a record number of women were sworn into the 113th Congress. Indeed, some may view the successes of 2012 as a sign of continually emerging equality and solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. Sadly, they would be wrong.

In 2012, forty-two states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 reproductive health-related measures. The primary purpose of at least 43 of those was to limit access to abortion.  This was in addition to the 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011. Twenty states restricted abortion coverage through the state health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Health Care Act. Crucial family planning funds were slashed from many state budgets.  Funding for reproductive health services in non-state operated clinics such as Planned Parenthood came under attack at both the state and federal levels. Currently, contraception can be barred from employer-based insurance coverage in eight states, and abstinence-only education remains the norm in the majority of our country.

This fight against contraception reveals the true hypocrisy of the anti-abortion groups: their concern isn’t protecting the unborn fetus; it’s about controlling which choices women are, and are not, allowed to make.

Forty years later, women still do not have equal pay in the workplace and are discriminated against due to pregnancy and familial responsibilities.

And despite the record-breaking number of women in Congress this year, and despite women voting at higher rates than men, women remain vastly underrepresented in the political landscape, let alone the corporate world. Those who do beat the tremendous odds are subjected to double standards of behavior, gender-based rhetoric, and vicious vitriol directed at times towards their femininity rather than their capability.

Negative attitudes towards women do not end there. The continued occurrences and reactions to instances of rape and sexual assault are indicative of the negative attitudes towards women that permeate society today. The gang rape on a bus in India sparked a global furor. The rape in Steubenville, Ohio, our own backyard, sparked a similar wave of repudiation. However, the blaming, shaming, and judgment directed toward the victims of these horrific crimes remains a key component of the dialogue surrounding even these high-profile instances of sexual assault. While the sheer volume of sexual assault and rape speaks to the prevalence of violent and negative attitudes towards women, the victim-blaming and judgment that occurs paints an even more disturbing picture revealing how subversive and long-lasting these negative perspectives of women are.

Technically, the core protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade remain intact. However, those protections are eroding due to the constant onslaught by radical conservatives bent on undermining the rights of women. The goal of Roe v. Wade was to ensure a woman’s right to control the most intimate aspect of her life. Without this right, simply put, women are unable to participate equally with men in the social, political and economic life of the nation.

The road ahead remains difficult. Our health, financial security, and personal safety are constantly challenged, compromised, and limited. So while we reflect on these past forty years, let us acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary steps we have taken to move our country towards equality.

But let us also understand that hard work and vigilance is needed now, more than ever, in the fight for women’s equality and justice.  The goal of Roe v. Wade has not been achieved, but on this anniversary it is essential that it also not be forgotten.

Kate Michelman is president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America, author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose,” and co-chair of WomenVote PA.

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.

*NOTE: This post so far has appeared in the following newspapers and/or online: the Huffington Post, the Main Line News, the Harrisburg Patriot-News, and USA Today.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Women’s rights fight has moved to state level

Op-Ed  by Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, December 9, 2012

That Mitt Romney was stunned by his defeat says much about his and others’ blindness to the divergent forces that carried Barack Obama to victory.

Imagine the bitter truths they must confront as the nature of the electorate becomes clear. The demographic realities that shaped the victory gave joy to those of us who have been ignored, belittled, and targeted by the conservative right. The very women, youth, people of color, gays and lesbians they assumed to be at the margins of national politics had their revenge. And, yes, we voted for “liberal” causes, obvious rights that have been denied for too long by the people who saw the country through out- of- date lenses.

Women, in particular, claimed our rights in bold print. More women turned out to vote than men. We were the largest deciding block in Obama’s victory (11 points over Romney). We left absolutely no doubt that we demand and deserve equal rights: equal pay, an end to pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, better family health care, paid leave, and broad access to contraception. At t he t op of t he list: Government should have no part in a woman’s reproductive decisions. Choice. It’s what most women demand for all women. An exit poll revealed that Americans believe abortion should be legal, 59 percent to 36 percent.

We had a great day. We won a solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. The national vote said it all.

Wrong.

The national vote, while worthy of high-fives all round, is hardly the end of our struggle for women’s rights. When conservatives lose a decisive battle at the federal level, they redouble their efforts at the state and local levels. And they’ve already made that clear in Ohio. A few days after the election the legislature defunded Planned Parenthood.

Facing vetoes from the White House and having no hope of stacking the Supreme Court, pro-life advocates will become much more aggressive at the state levels. Their targets: governors (30 Republicans), Republican-controlled legislatures, and local governments and institutions, including hospital boards, PTAs, even library boards. They are particularly focused on judicial appointments.

Women showed our force in checking the war on women. But don’t be deceived; the war goes on. Only the battlefields change.

Consider some of their recent legislative gains across the nation. Parental disclosure. Ultrasound tests. Showing a woman the X-rays of her unborn. Preprocedure lectures. Shutting down clinics by needlessly raising architectural standards. Forcing women farther afield to find a clinic. The list goes on.

Extreme conservatives can’t roll back Roe v. Wade, but they can and will try to crawl beneath the radar of broad publicity with seemingly innocuous ways to shame us, to deny our rights and our equality. They will count on our satisfaction in winning the White House to soon give way to apathy. To ignore their zeal is to risk forfeiting our hard-fought gains.

To exercise their power in ways that affect their lives and health, women must educate themselves about the values and policy views of decision-makers at every level. In many cases, the decisions that have the biggest impact are made by officials who often don’t attract much attention.

The country is served well by national organizations, but today the greater need is at the state and local levels — to make effective use of traditional and social media and grassroots efforts to profile candidates and encourage women to be aware, to choose, and to vote.

The best of these information groups include both Republicans and Democrats. They may or may not endorse candidates. Their objective is to keep vigilance over all manner of issues affecting women in that state, to share solid information, and to demand accountability from those who threaten our rights.

The only way women will continue our advance toward equality and privacy is to be aware — to take the time not just to understand the forces trying to take back our recent gains, but to make the time to fight back.

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

 

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Filed under 2012 Election, Abortion Access, Contraception, Equality, Reproductive Rights, Women's health, WomenVote PA

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