Tag Archives: Women’s rights

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

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

Pay Equity Bill Voted Down in Senate

Nikki Ditto, WLP Summer Intern and Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

On Tuesday June 5th, the Senate voted down the Paycheck Fairness Act in a largely party-line vote. The bill would have helped to strengthen already existing legislation on gender discrimination in the workplace, but proponents were unable to win the necessary 60 votes in order to pass it.

The Act would have required that employers prove that pay differences are based on qualifications and not on gender. U.S Senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, explained in an article on the Huffington Post that the Paycheck Fairness Act would also help to reduce gender discrimination by:

  • Prohibiting employers from punishing employees for sharing salary information with co-workers.
  • Making discrimination costly to employers by making those who bring gender discrimination cases eligible for compensatory and punitive damages, as is the case with race and ethnicity discrimination cases.
  • Developing new training programs for women and girls on how to negotiate compensation packages and recognizing employers who have eliminated pay disparities.

While the rate of women in the work force has increased, their salaries as compared to their male counterparts have not. As we have blogged about before,  “2010 census data shows women still make only 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. For women of color this discrepancy is even larger. African American women earned only 67.7 cents and Latinas earned 58.7 cents to the male dollar.”  This is all in spite of the fact that women, on average, are more educated than men, and are increasingly acting as dual-earners or sole providers for their families. Pay discrimination for women and minorities is a major problem that has important consequences for families and the economy. 

The Paycheck Fairness act was meant to improve upon previous legislation, like the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that was passed in 2009. Backers of the bill (largely Democrats) said the Act would have closed loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act and that it is necessary to ensure pay equity. Those who opposed the bill (largely Republicans) argued that “they oppose pay discrimination but disagree with the Democrats’ bill.”

Though the Act only got 52 of the 60 votes needed to be passed into law, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, (D-Md), who was the chief sponsor of the bill, said that she would not be deterred and “vowed to return to the bill until it passes.”  Women, it seems, will remain a central topic for both this Congress and in the upcoming presidential campaigns.

To read the entirety of the Paycheck Fairness Act, click here.

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Filed under Congress, Equal pay, Gender Discrimination, Government

Senate Defense Bill Would Allow Women in Combat

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

A proposed measure in the Senate’s National Defense Reauthorization Act would demand that the military come up with a plan to allow women in fight on the frontlines. While the House version of the bill does not include the same measure, a separate bill with the same provision is pending in the lower chamber. The measure allowing women in combat could be added to the House bill when it is meshed with the Senate bill. While the Pentagon recently announced that women are now formally permitted to serve in jobs that would put them in the frontlines, such as serving as a tank mechanic or fire detection specialist, the measure is still needed because women may still not officially serve in combat.

As we have written before, “there is no reason to restrict the role of women in the military” since when women have been asked to perform more dangerous jobs in the military they have exceled in their roles. Not only is there no reason to bar servicewomen from serving in combat positions, but the restriction makes it more difficult for women to be promoted to higher ranks in the military since, as the Huffington Post reports, “battle experience is a key to promotion.” As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who proposed the measure said,

Women are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines, but without the formal recognition that is essential for them to advance and obtain the benefits they have earned. Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender.

We hope that the National Defense Authorization Act will include the provision allowing women to serve in combat since women should be given the same opportunities to advance in the military as their male counterparts. We will keep you updated about this issue.

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Filed under Congress, Military

In Remembrance: Illegal Abortion Kills

Tuesday, October 18th, Pittsburgh pro-choice advocates marched on the office of Senator Jane Orie, one of the PA Senate’s strongest supporters of the dangerous SB 732, which could put most of Pennsylvania’s abortion clinics out of existence by legislating compliance with unnecessary and expensive Ambulatory Surgical Facility (ASF) guidelines. Unlike the lively We’ve Had Enough rally in Harrisburg, the Pittsburgh protest was somber. Its aim was to remind Senator Orie how many women have perished from desperate measures taken when safe, sanely-regulated abortion was not accessible.

The National Organization for Women lists brief biographies for some of these women on their website.  Clara Bell Duval, a Pittsburgh native with five children, died in 1929 from self-abortion with a knitting needle. Geraldine Santoro, separated from her abusive husband and pregnant by another man, tried to perform the procedure in a hotel room with the father of her child, and bled to death. In 1977, soon after the passage of the Hyde Amendment which denied abortion coverage to women on Medicaid, Rosie Jiminez died from a botched illegal abortion, too poor to afford the procedure at a private clinic.

To this list we can now add Karnamaya Mongar, the 41-year-old Nepalese refugee with whose murder the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged. Mongar allegedly died from an overdose of anesthesia at the hands of an unlicensed employee at Gosnell’s unsafe, unsanitary, and poorly monitored “Women’s Medical Society.”

Dr. Gosnell  allegedly sold prescription drugs during the day and performed illegal abortions at night, primarily for clients who were poor, immigrants, and women of color. For over 16 years the Health Department ignored complaints about the facility, including a hand-delivered complaint from a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Health Department and other regulating agencies had cause to be concerned about Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, but they did not investigate repeated complaints from patients and other providers.

The problem with Dr. Gosnell’s clinic was not the lack of regulations, but the lack of enforcement of those regulations.  The Pennsylvania legislature, rather than improving inspection procedures and ensuring that consumer complaints are appropriately investigated and acted upon, is using Dr. Gosnell as an excuse to push for unnecessary and cumbersome regulations that could effectively close down most freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.

SB 732, Pennsylvania’s “answer” to Dr. Gosnell’s house of horrors, would require all health facilities that offer abortion care to comply with Ambulatory Surgical Facility regulations. These complicated and expensive regulations have the potential to shut down nearly every freestanding abortion clinic in the state of Pennsylvania at least temporarily, and only those with the resources to redesign their facilities in accordance with ASF regulations – such as quadrupling the size of their operating rooms for no added safety benefit, and installing unnecessary hospital-grade elevators capable of lifting the equivalent of a small car – would be able to reopen. Those surviving clinics would have to increase the cost of an abortion out of reach of many women.

Karnamaya Mongar didn’t die because the elevators in Gosnell’s clinic were too small. She died because the regulations already in place were ignored.  If the cost of a safe, legal abortion increases or the number of safe providers decreases as a result of SB 732, stories like Mongar’s will become a lot more common in our state. Making abortion harder to access for all women is, to paraphrase David Bowie, like fighting fire with gasoline. These regulations are a backdoor tactic to severely limit abortion care, a hypocritical and disingenuous response to the atrocities allegedly committed by Dr. Gosnell. 

The heartbreaking stories of Clara Duval, Geraldine Santoro, Rosie Jiminez and now Karnamaya Mongar send a message that ought to be loud and clear: when safe abortion care is made illegal, unaffordable, or too difficult to access, women who are desperate to end their pregnancies seek other options, as dangerous or unsavory as they might be because the alternative—remaining pregnant—is untenable.   Far too often, those women die. It is our responsibility to remember their lives as we continue to fight for fair, reasonable reproductive health care legislation. Learn more about SB 732 here.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

“Chaining” Social Security Would Harm Women

On July 11th President Obama urged congressional Democrats to make cuts to cost-of-living social security adjustments in return for Republican support for a tax raise. In the words of Maria Freese, Director of Government Relations of the Washington-based National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare in an interview with WeNews, “Proposing cuts in a self-financed program paid for by Americans throughout their working lives to get Republicans to close tax loopholes and end tax breaks for the wealthy few is not shared sacrifice.” While this cut in social security would be unfair to everyone, Richard Eskow points out that it would be particularly detrimental to minorities, lower-income people, and women.

Republicans want to replace current cost-of-living allowances (COLA) for social security with a “chained” cost of living index. This formula takes into account that when prices of goods go up, consumers substitute cheaper items for those that have become more costly. Eskow points out how dangerous this reasoning can be:

As a government agency explains, “Pork and beef are two separate CPI item categories. If the price of pork increases while the price of beef does not, consumers might shift away from pork to beef.” So if people can no longer afford pork, they’re spending less. Under a chained-CPI approach cost of living adjustments (COLAs) would then go down….

That’s not a sound way to calculate the overall cost of living. If I can’t afford cable TV and stop watching it, Time Warner’s prices don’t go down. But under this plan, my misfortune also becomes my little contribution to next year’s benefit cut.

How would this work for Social Security? Let’s see: If old people stop buying pork their “chained CPI” benefit will go down. If that forces them to live on catfood, their benefit goes down again…It’s a death spiral. Soon we’ll be calculating the cost of survival, not the cost of living. It’s a process that leads nowhere but down, until even survival is factored out of the equation.

If COLA were “chained,” a woman who received a $1,100 benefit at 65 would receive $56 dollars less per month by age 75. Joan Entmacher, Vice President for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center told WeNews that by ” 90 that would mean $87 per month [decrease from the benefits received at age 65], an equivalent of 20 weeks of food a year.”

The negative effects of chaining the cost of living adjustments would be particularly detrimental to women “who receive less in benefits on average than men and can least afford the cuts. They live longer than men, too, so they’re more likely to see their benefits dwindle with every year that passes.” Some supporters of chaining COLA argue for a “birthday bump” that would entail small benefit increases after an individual has been retired for twenty years. However, this “bump” would not off-set all of the cuts individuals would have faced before then and would only benefit those who live long enough to receive the increased benefits. Since minorities and low-income people have lower life expectancies than their wealthier, white counterparts this plan would be particularly unfair to these communities.

Social security has not contributed to the national debt and its benefits have not been raised due to COLA in two years. However, some politicians are willing to reduce everyone’s benefits and risk increasing the number of women in poverty by “chaining” social security. We will keep you updated on this issue.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Social Security