Top Twelve Historic Advances for Women Now at Risk
1. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs – The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2010)
Today women are virtually 50% of employed workers in the U.S. Taken together, these laws prohibit employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, including pregnancy, and national origin. The Equal Pay Act deals specifically with pay discrimination on the basis of sex. Title VII covers all employment actions, including hiring, promotion, pay, and termination, as well as all of the other terms and conditions of employment. Both have been central to expanding women's economic opportunities and helping women achieve economic and retirement security. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reversed a Roberts Court decision that greatly weakened the wage discrimination provision of Title VII.
Recent rulings by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court have weakened employment discrimination laws, placing women's rights in the workplace in jeopardy and actions by conservative Senators have undermined efforts to restore these acts and strengthen employment protections for women, including filibustering the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2010. Moreover, during the current recovery period, women have lost jobs. There has been an assault on state and public sector jobs. Some 800 bills were introduced at the state level to attack collective bargaining rights of public workers. Women are a majority of public sector workers at the state and local levels.
Passage in Congress of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act to strengthen Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Collective bargaining rights must be supported, such as the broad coalition efforts in Ohio to reject Senate Bill 5 that took away public workers' rights. Passage of the Pathways Back to Work Act that provides funding for subsidized employment programs and supports summer and year-round employment for disadvantaged youth. Passage of legislation advancing career and technical education for women and girls including non-traditional jobs. Reauthorization of the Perkings Vocational and Technical Education Act, which expires in 2012 andincludes gender equity provisions.
Raise and index the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers (66% women), which stands at $2.13 per hour. Restaurant workers are 71% female and comprise the largest group of tipped workers. Raise and index the federal minimum wage.
2. The Affordable Care Act (2010)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) covers maternity care, eliminates pre-existing conditions and prevents health plans from charging women more than men for the same coverage. ACA also covers well-woman preventive health services, such as an annual well-woman visit, contraceptives, mammograms, cancer screenings, prenatal care and counseling for domestic violence, as basic health care for women at no additional cost and includes the first federal ban on sex discrimination in health care programs and activities. Combined with other provisions, the ACA is an historic step forward for women’s health.
The House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA. Conservative senators, state legislators and governors have also pledged to repeal ACA and deny women, of all ages, critical preventive care services. The ACA is under current review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Full implementation of the ACA. Pass the Health Equity and Accountability Act (H.R. 2954), which seeks to build on the foundation of the ACA to reduce health disparities faced by communities of color and other underserved communities.
3. Women's Right to Vote (1920)
The 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, guaranteed American women the right to vote, although many women of color did not win full voting rights until 45 years later under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Currently women surpass men both in the proportion and numbers of voters.
Instead of advocating a 21st century voting system that is inclusive, conservative legislatures in 30 states are attempting to turn the clock back to the 19th century when only privileged white males were allowed to vote. Newly imposed government issued ID requirements target students, people of color and women. As many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.
Early voting, same day registration, and reversal of state laws that aim to suppress the vote.
4. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) Supreme Court Decisions
The Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision reverses a Connecticut law that banned prescribed contraceptives for married couples and in so doing, legalized birth control for married couples in all 50 states. Establishes the right to marital privacy. Eisenstadt v. Baird overturned a Massachusetts law and extended the Griswold ruling by establishing the right privacy for unmarried or single people in obtaining prescribed contraceptives, thus legalizing birth control for all.
The so-called "personhood" campaigns would define life at fertilization resulting in banning hormonal contraceptives, the IUD, select fertility treatments, stem cell research and other advances.
5. Title X, The National Family Planning Program (1970)
Title X is the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning services in the United States. Title X provides family planning and other preventive health care to more than 5 million low-income and uninsured women who may otherwise lack access to health care.
For the first time in history, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to completely defund Title X in 2011. Nine states have reduced family planning funding through legislative action and one (NJ) has eliminated it through the governor’s veto.
Full funding of the Title X program. Despite the critical importance of family planning for the health of women and families, Title X is still not funded sufficiently to meet the need for these services.
6. Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision (1973)
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment extended to a women's decision to have an abortion.
Anti-abortion Members of Congress have introduced legislation that would make all abortions illegal and essentially overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2011, over 1,000 pieces of legislation have been introduced and 162 bills have been passed at the state level to restrict access to abortion and/or family planning.
Restore and protect coverage for abortion care in all public and private health plans, including for military families, Medicaid recipients, government employees, and consumers who participate in the health care exchanges. Support programs to train medical providers for the full range of reproductive health care, including training on medical and surgical abortion.
7. Social Security Act (1935)
Social Security is the bedrock of older women's financial security – virtually the only source of income for 3 in 10 women 65 and older – and a critical source of disability and life insurance protection throughout their lives.
Efforts to cut the federal budget threaten to shrink the Social Security program, which would disproportionately impact women's economic security. For example, women stand to lose the most from a reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustment or an increase in the retirement age.
Social Security's finances should be strengthened while simultaneously improving benefits for those who depend on them. For example, raising or removing the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax—right now, earnings above $110,100 are not taxed—and otherwise broadening the payroll tax base would put Social Security on solid financial ground and would fund benefit improvements that would be especially important for older women's economic security. Removing penalties for "care giving" years and increase percentage of workers benefits for dependent spouses.
8. Medicare (1965)
Medicare is the nation's health insurance program for seniors and younger adults with permanent disabilities. More than half (56%) of all Medicare beneficiaries are women.
The conservative majority of the House of Representative passed a fiscal year 2012 budget bill that will effectively end Medicare and replace it for those now under 55 with a voucher to buy private insurance. It would increase out-of-pocket health care costs, limit benefits and severely restrict the choice of doctors.
Close the donut hole. The Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit contains a huge "donut hole" that leaves many seniors unable to pay for urgently needed medication.
9. Medicaid (1965)
Medicaid provides 19 million women access to vital health services at all stages of their lives. In 2007 nearly seven in ten elderly individuals who relied on Medicaid for assistance were women. Medicaid pays for about two-thirds of elderly in nursing homes. Additionally, Medicaid covers millions of pregnant women and more than one-third of all children. ACA expands Medicaid coverage.
Under the conservative House budget, Medicaid was targeted for deep budget cuts and converted into capped block grants to states. Medicaid still faces threats as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction deliberates and identifies at least an additional $1.2 trillion in budget cuts.
Full funding of Medicaid. Despite the critical importance of health care access for low-income women and families, Medicaid has been consistently underfunded, and even without additional cuts there is still not sufficient funding to meet the need for basic health care and preventive services.
10. The Violence Against Women Act (1994)
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) created the first U.S. federal legislation acknowledging the severity of crimes related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
VAWA expired in 2011 and therefore needs to be reauthorized immediately. A renewed VAWA, S 1925, is currently awaiting a vote in the U.S. Senate. That bill, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 2, 2012 by a straight 10-8 party line vote (all Democrats for, all Republicans against), would update and strengthen VAWA by including provisions that will help protect college students and other young people who are frequently victims of sexual harassment, assault and violence. Further, it will ensure that tribal, immigrant, and LGBT victims receive the lifesaving services that they need.
Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has never been fully funded. On September 15, 2011, 89 percent of identified local domestic violence programs in the US and territories participated in the 2011 National Census of Domestic Violence Services. On that day, 67,399 victims were served; but, more than 10,000 requests for services, including emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare, and legal representation, could not be met because programs did not have adequate resources. VAWA should also require DHS to apply the standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act to facilities housing immigration detainees because of women and LGBT detainee's documented vulnerability to sexual abuse in detention. Congress must fully fund the Violence Against Women Act.
11. Title IX of the Education Amendments (1972)
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities. Title IX greatly expanded equal access to college education, professional and graduate schools and dramatically increased equal access to sports opportunities so that today girls and women represent over 40% of all college and high school athletes. Title IX also plays a vital role in increasing gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education by improving the climate for women in those fields.
A combination of administrative budget cuts, regulations, private school vouchers schemes, and pressure from congressional opponents threatens to weaken enforcement of Title IX.
Rescission of a 2006 Title IX regulation that makes it easier for public schools to allow sex segregation of academic classes and schools.
12. Family and Medical Leave (1993)
At some point, nearly all workers will need time away from work to deal with a personal or family illness, or to care for a new child. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, seriously ill family member, or to recover from their own serious health conditions, while ensuring job security. The FMLA is the only federal law that helps working men and women meet the dual demands of work and family and it has been used by workers more than 100 million times.
The FMLA was an important start, but the law has significant gaps that leave roughly half of workers ineligible for FMLA leave including workers in businesses with fewer than 50 employees, workers caring for siblings, grandparents and other close relatives, and part-time workers.
It is long past time for workplaces to reflect the needs of 21st century working families, which for many include the ability to care for children, family members and elderly relatives while also being productive, responsible employees. We need to expand access to the FMLA, create family and medical leave insurance which would allow workers to earn a portion of their pay while they take a limited amount of time away from work to care for a new child, sick family member, or address their own serious health condition and pass the Healthy Families Act which would allow workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days each year to care for themselves or a family member. Everybody gets sick and it is time that everybody had the time to get better.