Three Anti-Choice Bills in Ohio

This is an email I received yesterday from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio:

Today is a sad day for women in Ohio.

This afternoon, the Ohio House passed three bills that drastically restrict a woman’s access to vital health care options:

House Bill 125, the “Heartbeat Bill,” would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable via ultrasound. This is before most women even know they are pregnant.  There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or even the health of the mother.  This would be the strictest abortion law in the country.

House Bill 78 would ban abortion after a pregnancy is viable. There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, mental health complications, or fetal abnormalities.

House Bill 79 would exclude abortion coverage under the new health care reform act. Women would not even be able to use their own money to purchase abortion coverage for themselves.

As if this wasn’t enough, we learned late today that Sen. Kris Jordan will soon introduce a bill to completely defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.  This attack on women’s preventive health care has already been tried in Indiana and Wisconsin.  Low-income Ohio women will now face losing access to basic health care from Planned Parenthood.

What I totally resent about these bills is that the people who voted for them are not representing my position on abortion, nor the position of a large number of their constituents. But what bothers me even more is that the anti-choice position is ultimately an ideology. It is not a sound medical stance. Women sometimes do need abortions and they should not be penalized for or prevented from obtaining them just because some holier-than-thou, heads-in-the-clouds politicians feel more comfortable with a world that is all black or white. To them, abortion is always wrong and carrying a child to term is always right. No ifs, ands or buts.

Anti-choice activists love to recount anecdotes about women who cavalierly use abortion instead of birth control, who feel nothing but relief when they get one, or who could care less about “killing” a baby. This reminds me of when Ronald Reagan spread the story of a mythical welfare queen who drove a Cadillac and lived high on the hog by taking advantage of the system. Funny, no one could actually find that lucky welfare queen.

I’m not saying that there aren’t selfish reasons for having an abortion. But what do we accomplish when we take away the right of millions of women to have a necessary or recommended abortion just to prevent the few who don’t feel bad about it from having one?

Anti-abortionists are trying to make the whole world see the issue the way that they do. But life doesn’t work like that. And neither does democracy. I should have the right to do anything I choose as long as it doesn’t infringe on another’s right to do what she wants to do. Pro-choicers are not trying to force everyone to have abortions. Anti-choicers should not be trying to force everyone to have babies.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is DOA

While I was celebrating Eid Al-Adha on Tuesday, the Senate was voting on whether or not to proceed to a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is called voting on a motion to invoke cloture and is used to end a filibuster. Because cloture requires a two-thirds majority to push it through, it only takes 41 Senators to revoke it. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what happened.

Since there are only 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate now, it would have taken one Republican breaking the ranks to achieve cloture (assuming that the Independents voted with the Democrats). Not only did that not happen, but Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson from Nebraska sided with the Republicans. (Sen. Lisa Murkowski, newly-elected Senator from Alaska did not vote, but since she’s a Republican, it’s assumed that she would have voted along party lines, which would have given the Republicans 42 votes. But even if she would have broken ranks and voted with the Democrats, cloture would still have been rejected 59-41.)

In Great Britain it only takes a simple majority to invoke cloture, but that has been rejected in the U.S. because it’s thought that a simple majority doesn’t do enough to protect the rights of the minority. Silly me: I’ve always been under the impression that in a democracy a simple majority rules. Apparently that’s not the case when it comes to ending filibusters, which is one reason why they’re so hard to end.

Sorry for the civics lesson, but if you’re like me, you find this whole process confusing.

So why would anyone vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act? Because it would put too much of a burden on businesses. In other words, businesses should be allowed not only to pay their female employees less but also to hide the fact that they’re doing so! And people say that there is no more gender inequality in this country.

Another objection to the bill is that it was unnecessary since legislation already exists that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender (although it has yet to be determined if this means that transgendered people are also protected). (Read Nancy Pelosi’s comments on the issue of wage discrimination.) However, the Paycheck Fairness Act includes many provisions that would make it easier to enforce laws that already exist, provide for research and training, and give women the right to sue over discriminatory practices. (At present, they are only able to collect back pay, or double that amount for willful violation.)

Of course, another objection is that the bill would increase litigation against businesses. Again, if businesses don’t want to be sued, then they should pay women and men the same pay for equal work. It’s as simple as that. Maybe it will take a few lawsuits before businesses finally decide that it’s not in their best interests to shortchange their female employees.

Read more here (Huffington Post)and here (Wall Street Journal). Also, see these statistics about the wage gap. You’ll be astonished.

Walmart’s Low Prices: Do They Come From Cheating Women?

Walmart is facing potentially the largest class action suit ever brought against a company. Estimates run as high as one million employees involved although Walmart has stated that it thinks it is “only” half a million. 

Walmart is now in the process of trying to get its case tossed out of court. In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court it stated that each store is its own entity and therefore Walmart as an overall company can’t be sued. It also argued that there are too many potential plaintiffs and that the size of the suit renders it unmanageable.

This suit is significant not just because of its size. It will mark the first time a major company has been required to defend its pay and promotion policies in terms of sex discrimination. The original suit, which was brought in 2001 by seven women, alleged that female employees are consistently paid less than male employees, are promoted less often than men, and wait longer for chances for promotion.

It was subsequently decided that the suit qualified as a class action suit, and that it covers every woman employed at Walmart from 1998 to the present.

A class action suit makes it impossible for an individual woman to sue on her own behalf, but the sheer numbers in this suit would doubtless make a bigger impact on Walmart’s (and other companies’) pay and promotion policies in the future. If Walmart loses, it would take a financial hit of billions of dollars. Individual women suing Walmart would barely be noticed unless they won multimillion dollar settlements (which is not likely).

By rights, this suit, and Walmart’s attempts to wiggle out of it, should be headline news all through the fall, when the Supreme Court will probably rule on it. And it may well be, but I doubt it will be because it is about women. Its main significance is probably going to be seen as its impact on future class action suits instead of on how women employees are treated at Walmart. It’s only the sheer size of the suit that’s putting it in the headlines at all.

Some people will defend Walmart because they know women who are happy working there. But that doesn’t mean that Walmart isn’t guilty of the charges against it. (After all, slavery wasn’t right, even though some slave owners were humane and some slaves seemed to be happy with their lot.) I’m sure there are individual women who have done well at Walmart, at least in their eyes. But do they really know how much better off they could have done if Walmart didn’t have a discriminatory policy?

Others will defend Walmart because they simply don’t believe that there is any discimination against women in this day and age. These are the same people who declare that there is no longer any use for feminism, because its battles have all been won.

But if this suit has any merits, it would seem that they haven’t all been won. Those who would treat women inequitably are still our enemies.

 [Note: It’s interesting that whenever feminists talk in terms of a war against inequality, they are labeled as man-haters. That’s a misconception. Feminists are aware that some women are traitors to their own sex, even if unwittingly. And some men are our greatest champions. I’m sure that there are men and women at Walmart who discriminate against women. So I’m not just talking about men when I mention enemies. I’m talking about anyone who has adopted the “party line,” who goes along with those who think it’s fair to pay and promote men more than women.]

Thursday Thoughts: On Being a Young Feminist

Ah, to be a young feminist today! Wait, what would that look like? The 2010 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference that was held last weekend in Washington, D.C. provides us with one picture: 390 young feminist leaders came from 122 colleges in 30 states plus D.C. and Canada to learn more about what they can do as feminists to support abortion and reproductive rights, international family planning, the LGBTQ community, climate change, organizing on campuses, and feminist issues in general. (For a schedule of all events, see here.)

How does this kind of event compare with what was going on when I was a young feminist?

For one thing, there were no leadership conferences in Washington, D.C.  Instead, there were protest marches and consciousness-raising groups. Oh, the National Organization for Women (NOW) had just been formed, but its founders were older than women in my age group. I went to college in 1970, before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was illegal in every state except for a handful that allowed it in cases of rape, incest or the physical disability of the mother. New York became the first state to allow abortion for any reason up to the 24th week of pregnancy just a few months before I had my abortion in 1971. I was lucky, not because I was able to have an abortion (or because I needed one), but because I didn’t have to resort to an illegal abortion which might have jeopardized my health and future fertility.

Countless young women came to feminism via the same route I did. Finding ourselves pregnant and unable to obtain a legal abortion made us angry. Or if we had had abortions, it made us angry that we had to go through legal and medical hoops to get them (if we were able to get legal ones at all). The anti-abortion movement had not yet found its impetus; that would come with Roe v. Wade.  The mood was ripe in the country for a woman to have a right to privacy as to what she did with her own body. And that had a lot to do with the feminist movement.

Continue reading “Thursday Thoughts: On Being a Young Feminist”

Tuesday Tidbits: From Care2.com

One of my favorite sites is Care2.com, which covers a broad range of topics from animal welfare to civil rights, informs you of what is going on and recommends action you can take. Recently it had four stories that covered women’s issues that I thought I’d share with you today.

The first is about the squeamishness of the general public about feminine products using the word “vagina.” Nancy Roberts reports that:

The venerable menstrual supply company Kotex recently decided it was time to shake things up with an ad campaign that used, gasp, the word vagina. Fortunately for us delicate Americans, according to the New York Times, all three major networks refused to run the ad, saying the word vagina is not suitable for broadcast. When the ad company, JWT, changed the wording to “down there”…only two networks turned it down.

The video below is of an ad from Australia. Do you think this is an improvement??

Another story is about  how India is in the process of amending the constitution to designate that one third of all political seats must be held by women. The author, Robin Marty, asks if the U.S. (where women make up only 17% of Congress) should do the same. What do you think?

In a third story Ximena R. reports that women and girls in Haiti live in day-to-day fear of being raped and describes the conditions in the camps they are living in.

Rejected by little boys

My last example is also by Robin Marty and is about Disney executives canceling future princess-based fare in favor of bigger “guy” roles. Seems that they decided that the last film, The Princess and the Frog, was a royal flop. And we all know that it’s because little boys didn’t like it.  So, are they the standard by which Disney (and other companies) base their marketing? Apparently so.

If you’re interested in receiving update emails from Care2.com, go to the web site and sign up for the causes you’re interested in.

The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?

On this day in 1972, the United States Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment by a vote of 84-8.  Good news, right? Not really, because an amendment to the Constitution has to be ratified by two-thirds (or 38) of the states before it can take effect and when the ratification period was up, it had only garnered the support of 35. Close, but no cigar.

Alice Paul, author of the ERA, 1921

Many people today don’t even know what the ERA is, let alone know that it was authored by the suffragist Alice Paul and originally introduced in Congress in 1923. In 1946 it was narrowly defeated by a Senate vote of 38-35. In 1950, the ERA is passed by the Senate with a rider that nullifies its equal protection aspects. (So, you may ask, what’s the point?) When it finally is passed in 1972, an arbitrary time limit of seven years was set for ratification.

Five years before, the new National Organization for Women (NOW) vowed to fight tirelessly for passage of the ERA and as the clock ticked, it threw itself into the campaign to get enough votes for ratification. At the same time, so did the opposition, headed chiefly by Phyllis Schafly‘s National Committee to Stop ERA.

I remember all the hoopla at the time: seven short and hectic years in which both sides made crazy assertions about what the effects of an ERA would be. Its opponents insisted that it would take away the protections that women traditionally enjoy, from almost always getting custody of the children in the case of a divorce to exemption from the draft. They also contended that there were already plenty of laws in effect that protected women’s rights.

Its proponents, on the other hand, contended that women needed such an amendment so that the protection of their rights would be consistent at all levels of jurisdiction, federal, state and local. They were concerned that the age of majority was different for women than it was for men and that women were routinely discriminated against when it came to gaining employment, establishing credit, buying or selling property or conducting a business.

As it has turned out, the opposition was right on many points. Over the years, many laws have been challenged in the courts and been changed to prevent discrimination against women. Joint custody is the norm. Either sex may be required to pay alimony to the other. Federally-funded schools and programs are required to have the same standards and facilities for women as for men. Women’s participation is up in politics, academia and traditionally male professions. (Not only that, but jobs are no longer allowed to be classified as specifically for men or women.)

But things are not that neat. Women still make only 77 cents to the dollar compared to men. They are often relegated to “pink ghettos”–jobs that are considered to be women’s work and which have fewer benefits and lower pay than traditionally “male” occupations. (A parking lot attendant who is a man, for instance, makes more than a child care attendant who is a woman–showing that we value our cars more than our children.) Laws that have been changed can be changed back. Crimes against women (sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence) are not prosecuted as vigorously as they should be. And a lot of laws on the books still discriminate against women.

The ERA, or the CEA (Constitutional Equality Amendment), has been presented to Congress every year since 1982. But it is apparently no longer even newsworthy. Is it a dead issue? Consider this: Even Afghan women have an Equal Rights Amendment. Why shouldn’t we?

Sources: Interview with Gloria Steinem in the Los Angeles Times, NOW’s Chronology of the ERA,  March 22, 1972 news story in the New York Times.

For more information, check out the University of North Carolina’s “Equal Rights Amendment Pathfinder.”