September, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Tara Murtha, WLP Staff

First, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tara Murtha, and I’m the newest member of the Women’s Law Project team. I’ll be working on strategic communications, which includes corresponding with you, our beloved constituent and supporter of equal rights for women and girls. I’ve known about the work of Women’s Law Project for years, as a journalist and engaged member of the Philadelphia community interested in social justice and equality. Even so, since coming on board, I’ve discovered WLP staff and board members have their hands in even more projects than I realized. I’m thrilled to be able to work with them directly and to meet some of you at our annual party in December.

I couldn’t think of a more exciting time to work on these issues. We have the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health on the table, a bipartisan package of bills focused on women’s health and economic equality—of course, neither issue can seriously be discussed without the other. Since announcing the first and then second wave of bills, many of these bills have been introduced and sent to committee. In July, Governor Corbett signed a version of the so-called “Revenge Porn” bill initially introduced as part of the Agenda.

Meanwhile, we’ve entered a feminist zeitgeist where we find WLP issues like sexual assault, campus sexual assault, domestic violence awareness and equal pay in the daily news cycle. It seems society is waking up once again, and I’m happy to be here, ready to rise and shine a brighter light on these issues along with the rest of the staff and your support.

Have an idea or want to work on a project to engage voters? Have feedback on the website, or want to know more about a particular issue? Drop me a line. I can be reached at 215-928-5762, or drop me a note at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org.

So! Introductions out of the way, let’s get back to September, the best month that smells like freshly sharpened pencils. The kids are back in school, and the Legislature is back in session.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly reconvened just as the US Census Bureau published a new report revealing that 14.5 percent of Americans live in poverty. So what is one of the first things the Pennsylvania Legislature do? Propose cutting benefits to struggling families with newborn babies.

Sponsored by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2477 would implement what’s known as a “family cap” on the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program. Family caps deny babies conceived while the family is enrolled in the program from receiving TANF benefits. Quite literally, this bill attempts to deter poor women from giving birth by refusing to financially help the child.

We think it’s a bad idea. You can read more about the family cap bill on the Women’s Law Project blog here. We’ll keep you posted if it progresses.

Now, some good news: For the first time in more than 50 years, Pennsylvania hosted a hearing on the ongoing and persistent problem of the gender pay gap.

On September 18, WLP Senior Attorney Susan Frietsche testified in support of House Bill 1890 in front of the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee. Sponsored by Rep. Erin Molchany and Rep. Brian Sims, H.B. 1890 would amend Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Act to give it some teeth.

Pennsylvania’s gender wage gap is the 12th largest in the country. Despite equal pay laws on the books, gender wage gap is still persistent, and progress narrowing it has slowed. Women working full-time year round in Pennsylvania are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to men. A Pennsylvania woman working full time, year-round is paid $11,916 less a year than a man working full time, year round.

H.B.1890 would go a long way toward chiseling down that difference.

More good news: We’ve also seen momentum on the Patient Trust Act. Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel, the Patient Trust Act says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

The Patriot-News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Delaware County Daily Times and the Huffington Post are just a few of the outlets that published a powerful op-ed on the Patient Trust Act written by WLP Senior Staff attorney Sue Frietsche and WomenVote PA co-chair Kate Michelman.

The Patient Trust Act is a model for other states; a recent report called Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health Care demonstrates that these kinds of bills where politicians try to force words into the mouths of doctors are becoming increasingly common. Both the Equal Pay legislation and the Patient Trust Act were drafted as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.

A Pennsylvania doctor expressed her support for the bill by writing a letter to the editor of the Patriot News: “I certainly don’t want a politician putting words in my mouth,” wrote Dr. Kristen McElhinney. “Especially if those words aren’t medically accurate or appropriate for a patient in my care. Who can argue with protecting my sacred commitment to my patients?”

We’ll be watching for an answer to that question, and keep you posted on the bill’s continued progress.

What else? We hung out with All Above All, a national organization advocated for a repeal of restrictions on abortion funding, when they stopped at Love Park in Philadelphia as part of a national tour.

In the digital space, WomenVote PA, the action arm of the Women’s Law Project, launched a new Tumblr blog as another way to keep everyone informed with policy updates, news and the latest reports relevant to equality for women and girls in Pennsylvania and beyond. Please check us out and follow, heart and re-blog us over at http://womenvotepa.tumblr.com. (You can also follow us on twitter at @womenvotepa, and like us on Facebook.)

Best regards,

Tara

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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