Report: Lack of Paid Leave is the Real War on Families

The United States is one of the only industrialized countries that fails to support new motherhood in any meaningful way. Take, for example, the lack of guaranteed paid family leave.

From a recent report published in In These Times:

Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.

But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave… For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave. Women who work in low-income jobs more likely to require physical labor—the kinds of jobs women who just gave birth need a break from in order to heal property–are least likely to have access to paid leave.

States such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have paid family leave laws in the books. In Pennsylvania, which earned a “D” on family leave benefits from the National Partnership for Women & Families, several family leave bills have been introduced, but none have made any progress.

The Family Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers in companies that employ at least 50 employees. Otherwise, there is no federal protection.

It’s little wonder that nearly one in four women surveyed by the authors of the report were forced to go back to work within two weeks of having a child, sometimes with C-section wounds not fully healed.

Paid leave is not just a matter of common sense in a society that supposedly values families: As In These Times reports, research shows time off can be a matter of life and death for children.

While revealing the harsh experiences of low-income working mothers struggling to patch together a little time to heal from giving birth before returning to work, the new report also highlights the fact that many women forced to immediately return to their jobs are also forced to stop breastfeeding because of the difficulty of pumping milk in their workplace.

Natasha Long had to go back to work three weeks after having her child in 2012. Knowing the health benefits of breast milk for her baby, Long was determined to continue nursing her child. Though the Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires employers provide reasonable break time and a clean private space to pump for hourly workers, In These Times reported that Long’s factory job in Mississippi didn’t have a lactation room.

“So when she was on breaks, she had to run out to her truck. She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts.”

When fighting to reduce low-income women’s access to birth control and abortion, anti-choice conservatives frequently portray women as irresponsible people who should take responsibility for their choices. Yet, bills designed to help mothers support their children often go neglected in state legislatures dominated by the conservatives espousing this rhetoric.

Pennsylvania is currently considering a bill that could enable women like Natasha Long to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. It fills in some of the gaps in protection for breastfeeding workers that the Affordable Care Act left open, and would apply to salaried workers as well as “non-exempt” hourly workers.

Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers (HB1100), sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Daley, would require employers to provide a private, sanitary space and break time for employees who need to express breast milk. It is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a package of evidence-based bills that address real problems faced by real Pennsylvania women.

 

Stay up to date on this topic, the PA Campaign for Women’s Health, and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. WLP is a founding member of the PA Campaign for Women’s Health, a growing collaboration of organizations and individuals calling for an end to ideological politics trumping common-sense policy solutions in Pennsylvania. 

 

Text: Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

 

 

 

 

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State officials: No Wrongdoing at Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania

A review of Planned Parenthood facilities throughout Pennsylvania initiated in response to an anti-choice video propaganda campaign has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, according to state officials.

Last month, a fake company covertly run by anti-choice activists published several videos in an effort to try to defund Planned Parenthood.

Anti-choice activists will protest outside Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania the day after state officials announce no evidence of wrongdoing.

Anti-choice activists will protest outside Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania the day after state officials announce no evidence of wrongdoing.

The videos initially caused an uproar, but it soon became apparent to everyone from Factcheck.org at the University of Pennsylvania to the New York Times that the videos were misleadingly edited to try and suggest Planned Parenthood employees were engaging in illegal activity precisely because the activists couldn’t find real evidence of wrongdoing.

Even as awareness grew that the propaganda campaign had no substance, anti-choice lawmakers—some of who, incidentally, apparently screened the videos weeks before they were published—then conveniently used the videos as an excuse to attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

At least a dozen states launched investigations into Planned Parenthood. So far, every state that investigated Planned Parenthood affiliates found them to be in full compliance with state laws and regulations, including Pennsylvania.

“There is no evidence that any Planned Parenthood site in this commonwealth is involved in the buying or selling of fetal tissue,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy wrote in a letter quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune. Dr. Murphy initiated a review of Planned Parenthood facilities in conjunction with Governor Tom Wolf’s office, in response to the videos.

“We know, and the public knows, that Planned Parenthood serves millions of women, giving them basic healthcare, access to contraception, cervical screenings, and STI information and testing,” WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy recently said. “One in five American women have visited a Planned Parenthood for healthcare.”

A new poll shows “the vast majority of Americans favor providing federal funding for clinics that provide women’s health services, and most of them support these taxpayer dollars going to Planned Parenthood clinics specifically.”

Moreover, the majority of Pennsylvanians are pro-choice.

Nonetheless, anti-choice activists are planning to protest outside of Planned Parenthood facilities across the country on Saturday, August 22 as part of a coordinated campaign to defund healthcare for women.

The protests will take place from 9am to 11am. Show your support by tweeting #StandwithPP and #PA4WomensHealth.

Stay up to date on this topic and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. 

 

 

Text: Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

 

 

 

 

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Good News in Horrific “Rape Bait” Case

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a unanimous decision in favor of the female plaintiff who was raped as an eighth grader by a male student in an Alabama middle school in the case Hill v. Madison County School Board.

The young woman can now proceed to trial with her claim that Sparkman Middle School’s response to her reports of sexual harassment led to her being violently raped in a bathroom by a male student with a known history of violence and sexual misconduct.

The case has been referred to as a “rape-bait” case in the press because of the outrageous scenario that led to the attack. A young woman who has asked to be called “Jaden” was a 14-year-old special education student when she reported that a 16-year-old male student who had been aggressively propositioning her once again asked her to meet him in a school bathroom to engage in sex.

Instead of protecting the student, the aide and administrator hatched a sting plan in which the student would be used as “bait” based on the school’s sexual harassment policy. According to the policy, the “three exclusive types of evidence sufficient for the school to discipline a student for sexual harassment” were for the harasser to be “caught in the act,” physical evidence, and admission of guilt.

In other words, victimized students were disbelieved as a matter of school policy.

In order to try to catch the harasser in the act, Jaden was told to agree to meet her harasser in the bathroom. Teachers planned to intervene before she was harmed.

The boy made a last-minute change and brought Jaden to another bathroom. He sodomized her, Jaden said.

In the ruling, the court wrote that the school showed “deliberate indifference” to the girl’s allegations of sexual harassment.

The plaintiff was represented by the National Women’s Law Center and Mastando & Artrip. The Women’s Law Project and Bondurant, Mixson, & Elmore filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiff in this case on behalf of thirty-three organizations dedicated to gender equality.

“This decision is an important victory for students whose safety and educational opportunities are at risk when schools develop and implement biased policies like the one in this case,” says Women’s Law Project Staff Attorney Amal Bass who co-authored the amicus brief.

Stay up to date on this topic and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. 

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Victory! Successful Resolution to Healthcare Lawsuit

WLP-CLS

Successful Lawsuit Against PA Department of Human Services Is Big Win for Nearly 75,000 Women

Women Unjustly Denied Medicaid Coverage Now Covered

 

Pennsylvania – After being unjustly blocked from full Medicaid coverage despite being qualified for the plan, nearly 75,000 low-income Pennsylvania women now have full healthcare coverage as a result of a settled lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS). The affected Pennsylvanians were all women enrolled in SelectPlan for Women, a limited type of Medicaid that only covers family planning services.

After learning of the Commonwealth’s refusal to transition qualified women on SelectPlan into full coverage in a timely manner, Women’s Law Project and Community Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit against DHS on behalf of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Voices Pittsburgh, and private citizens.

In response to the lawsuit, DHS reviewed the cases of 74,415 women who were enrolled in SelectPlan. They determined that over 59,000 of them were eligible for Medicaid, and transferred them accordingly. They referred another roughly 14,700 women to the federally facilitated marketplace. Women on SelectPlan who do not qualify for full Medicaid or the exchange will remain on SelectPlan until at least June 30.

“We are pleased to see the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services finally enable these women to obtain full healthcare coverage, and appreciate the Department’s attention and hard work to resolve the matter,” says Sue Frietsche, Women’s Law Project Senior Staff Attorney. “Now that the state has finally expanded Medicaid as intended under the Affordable Care Act, there is simply no good reason to exclude anyone qualified from it. Not even women.”

“The full healthcare coverage now available to these women is absolutely vital to their wellbeing,” says Amy Hirsch, Managing Attorney at Community Legal Services. “The women who have benefitted from this settlement are low wage workers; they must be healthy in order to work, and this new health coverage will go a long way towards helping them stay employed and able to provide for themselves and their families.”

For more information or to request an interview with an attorney who worked on this case, contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org or 215.928.5762, or Amy Hirsch at ahirsch@clsphila.org or 215.227.2415.

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1966, Community Legal Services has served more than one million clients who could not afford to pay for legal representation.

 

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WLP & the PA Campaign for Women’s Health at the Big Latch On

The sun was shining in Franklin Square Park last weekend when I headed toward the carousel for the Big Latch On 2015.

The Big Latch On is a worldwide event where groups of women come together at registered events in public places to breastfeed their babies. The goal is to celebrate breastfeeding, raise awareness of breastfeeding support within the community, and advocate for nursing women. Organizers of the Big Latch On imagine a world where every family was supported, nurtured by their community, and where breastfeeding is a normal part of life.

Creative cupcakes were served at the Big Latch On event in Meadville, PA.

Creative cupcakes were served at the Big Latch On event in Meadville, PA.

It was a record year for the Big Latch On: 14,536 children latched, at 654 events across 28 countries. The Franklin Square event was organized by Maternity Care Coalition, members of the PA Campaign for Women’s Health. Members of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health attended several Big Latch On events across Pennsylvania to support breastfeeding women and share information about a bill called Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers.

Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers (HB1100), sponsored by Rep. Mary Jo Daley, would require employers to provide a private, sanitary space and break time for employees who need to express breast milk. The bill is currently under consideration in the Pennsylvania legislature, and is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

It was a record year for the Big Latch On. (Photo via biglatchon.org)

It was a record year for the Big Latch On. (Photo via biglatchon.org)

The PA Agenda is a bold, pro-choice legislative package of bills sponsored and supported by the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, a bipartisan, pro-choice group of lawmakers committed to promoting evidence-based policy solutions to real problems faced by Pennsylvania women and families.

The fact is that right now, nursing mothers in Philadelphia enjoy more workplace protections than women living elsewhere in the state. Pennsylvania needs policies that reflect modern reality: Not only do women work, but many women are both the primary breadwinner and caretaker for their family.

At the Big Latch On, women shared stories of the joy of nursing their babies, and the trauma of having to stop before they felt their child should because of challenges of expressing milk in the workplace. Many of the women nursed their babies before Philadelphia’s current law.

We believe all women across Pennsylvania deserve the right to pump milk at work in private, sanitary spaces, and that’s why we’re advocating for HB1100.

Stay up to date on this topic and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania.

 

Text: Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women’s Law Project Mourns the Loss of Elsie Hilliard Hillman

Elsie Hillman—prominent political leader, pro-choice activist, philanthropist, Pittsburgh icon, and self-described “housewife”—was not your typical feminist.

Elsie Hillman was a champion for women's rights.

Elsie Hillman was a champion for women’s rights. (Photo via PittsburghUrbanMedia.com)

Elsie moved in the highest ranks of the Republican party, nationally and in Pennsylvania, and she was passionately, unshakably devoted to reproductive rights.

That combination often made her our most powerful ally throughout an era when those rights were under furious attack.

Elsie understood on a personal level that women’s dignity, equality, and economic security depend on our ability to determine whether and when we will bear children. With grace, she stood up for women in the corridors of power.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Elsie Hillman was known as a grande dame of Republican politics, although, with her relentlessly down-to-earth manner, she would doubtless have dismissed such a lofty title.

She had friends and proteges in both parties, but she was particularly known for nurturing the careers of a generation of moderate Republicans whose views overlapped her strain of fiscal conservatism wedded with more liberal attitudes on social issues.

Hillman nurtured the careers of Pennsylvania politicians such as former state governors Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge.

“She was a fighter for her party, for her state, her candidates, but especially for her fight for full inclusion of women and minorities in the political process,” Mr. Thornburgh said.

Elsie Hillman greets Barbara Bush in the White House in 1990. (Photo: Credit Robin Rombach/Pittsburgh Press-Gazette)

Elsie Hillman greets Barbara Bush in the White House in 1990. (Photo: Credit Robin Rombach/Pittsburgh Press-Gazette)

Like so many other Pittsburgh nonprofit women’s organizations, the Women’s Law Project benefited directly from Elsie’s generosity, which helped sustain our work.

Elsie Hillman as a teenager (via PittsburghUrbanMedia.com)

Elsie Hillman as a teenager (via PittsburghUrbanMedia.com)

On a personal level, she was a beam of encouragement and inspiration, as she reminded us that the values at the heart of the women’s movement are universal, and don’t belong to one political party or another. Her unique brand of feminist activism will be sorely missed. To read more about Hillman in her own words, we recommend this wonderful 2013 interview. Our sincerest condolences to Elsie’s husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and to the Pittsburgh community she has left behind.

 

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WLP Attorney Tara Pfeifer Recognized by the American Bar Association

Tara Pfeifer, staff attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office, was recently recognized by the American Bar Association for her service to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

WLP Staff Attorney Tara Pfeifer testifying before Pittsburgh City Council.

WLP Staff Attorney Tara Pfeifer testifying before Pittsburgh City Council.

Pfeifer is Vice-Chair of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s LGBT Rights Committee and also a member of the Young Lawyers Division Diversity Committee. In the latter capacity, earlier this year she organized a forum on marriage equality featuring ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak.

The forum, “The Marriage Equality Decision in Pennsylvania – A Conversation with Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania,” won second place in the Young Lawyers Division Diversity category at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago.

“We are so pleased that Tara’s dedication to the public interest and to the LGBTQ community in particular has been recognized,” says Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director of Women’s Law Project.

Congratulations to Tara on this well-deserved honor!

While lawyers’ work is usually under the radar, Pfeifer is the second Women’s Law Project attorney to be recognized by the American Bar Association this week.  WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson just returned from Chicago, where she was awarded the ABA’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence 20/20 Vision award last weekend.

Stay up to date on issues and policy related to the status of women and girls in Pennsylvania by following us on twitter and tumblr and liking us on Facebook.

Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania.

 

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