This has been a challenging and victorious week for women and women’s rights. As usual, the war on women is alive and well, and seemingly has a solid foothold in the conservative Republican agenda. But there are bright lights as well.
First and foremost, and probably the most devastating blow to women is the passage of HR-7 by the House. What is HR-7? HR-7 prohibits federal funding of abortions for any reasons, which the Hyde Amendment has done for more than 30 years. There are several issues with this bill. First of all, the sponsor of the bill is a male Republican, Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey. Second, it was originated from a 13 member – all male – subcommittee. Third, the Judiciary Committee comprised of 21 men passed the bill to the vote. There was very little, if any, input from women, even those of their colleagues who vocally spoke of increased health care costs for women, dropped insurance coverage for a previously covered benefit, and penalties for small businesses. Small businesses can receive tax cuts for offering insurance that includes the benefit, and HR-7 ends the tax cut.
Are you ready for the most horrendous part of the bill? HR-7 ends medical deductions for abortion. Pregnancies from rape, incest, and possible severe medical issues are exempt; however, in order to carry the tax deduction, the IRS must have proof that the woman, indeed, was raped and is not committing tax fraud. Fortunately, this bill will more than likely not go farther since the Senate is Democrat controlled and President Obama has promised to veto the bill. Once again, there is already a law preventing federal funding for abortion in the Hyde Amendment, but the Republican men seem to suffering memory loss – maybe too much Viagra that is paid for by insurance?
And now for the good news, if it can be called that. Last night, I was fortunate to have been on a nationwide call sponsored by NARAL that included Lily Ledbetter, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Yesterday was the five year anniversary of the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by President Obama to end pay discriminatory. Five years later, we are still fighting as women for fair and equal pay for equal work. Women earn overall 77 cents to the dollar that men earn in the same position with the same qualifications. Wage discrimination is very much alive and well.
Congresswoman DeLauro spoke about a bill that has been introduced and defeated many times, the Paycheck Fairness Act. Senator Tim Kaine, co-sponsor of the bill, is pushing it again. The PFA would require businesses to end pay discrimination. Businesses would be forced to prove why a woman in the same job is paid less than her male counterpart. If discrimination is present, there would be hefty penalties.
In addition, a push for a national paid family leave that would require employees and employers to pay a minimal contribution for paid family leave insuring up to 12 weeks of partial income for health, pregnancy, birth or adoption, parent or child illness, and any other medical reason.
California and Rhode Island currently have such programs that are working well and would be a model for the national program. One of the call participants pointed out that the United States and Papua, New Guinea are two of the few countries that do not offer paid family leave. It was questioned why America is as backward for its workers as a third world country.
In an effort to achieve equal pay for equal work, President Obama has said that he will sign an Executive Order making it illegal to fire an employee for asking for information on pay of colleagues in an effort to receive equal pay. The Lily Ledbetter Act started the possibilities of inequality having its day in court, and the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Executive Order will take American women into the 21st Century.
Leader Pelosi encouraged women to “Don’t agonize – organize” and “Know your Power!”
Congresswoman DeLauro pointed out the President Kennedy began the fight for equal pay for equal work for women, and we are still battling today.
Congresswoman Edwards talked about the Child Care Act that would cause critical changes to the child care tax credit making it fully refundable for all levels of income including low income families for the first time. The tax credit would be indexed to inflation to allow all families needing child care much deserved tax help.
One caller, Maureen, spoke of an experience in which her family could not afford their number one choice of day care because of the cost at $13,000 per year. So, they chose a less expensive day care. When her husband picked up their child one day, the child had been running a fever and was laying lifeless on the floor. When they got the child to the emergency room, his fever was 104. No one had been called. She spoke of needing the assurance of safe and affordable child care for all working families. No one should compromise on the care and welfare of their children because of costs. The Child Care Act would alleviate this.
The call ended with a statement that the men of our government who would delineate the value of women and their place in our country need to remember:
“When you treat women like they’re worth less, you treat them like they’re worthless.”
I call on all who are reading this blog, women and men alike, to join in turning the tides once and for all for equality regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc. Call, write, or email your Congressperson and let them know that you want equal pay for equal work and that you are tired of living in a country that does not honor women’s contributions and value. After all, it is a Constitutional right!