While we were at work on this issue, our world changed suddenly, terribly.
As we go to print, we’re still reeling from the tragedy—the increasing number of cases of COVID-19, the increasing number of deaths, the increasing anxiety and feelings of helplessness. By the time you read this, the numbers of sick and dying will only be greater and the losses more tragic.
These are difficult times for us all. And yet, we continue.
Here at Ms., we’ll keep providing up-to-the-minute reporting—both in the magazine and online at msmagazine.com.
We’ll salute our heroes and mourn those who are lost.
Ms. will remain focused on aspects of the crisis not often reported on by mainstream media: how this virus disproportionately impacts women, many of whom are on the frontlines of this public health crisis. The vast majority of nurses, home health care workers and those who look after the elderly in nursing homes are women. So are the overwhelming majority of teachers, school counselors and school cafeteria workers, domestic workers and child care providers.
When we shelter in place, what happens to women experiencing domestic violence, homelessness or mental illness?
For women who can’t afford not to work, what happens when family members become ill or children’s schools close?
This crisis has become a national teaching moment, exposing some of the most glaring inequities in our country. We’re outraged that 69 percent of low-income workers making $10.80 or less per hour—who are mostly women and disproportionately women and men of color—do not have even one day of paid sick leave, let alone longer paid leave to care for sick family members. Many are the sole providers for their families. They will go without pay if they can’t show up at work, but they will be putting themselves and their communities at greater risk if they continue to work while sick.
Congress has rushed to pass paid sick days in this crisis—but this is the time to make paid sick leave and paid family medical leave permanent. Thirteen states, D.C., and a number of cities and counties have passed mandatory paid sick leave. When these laws go into effect, incidents of colds and the flu during flu season can decrease by as much as 40 percent, according to a 2017 study.
It’s also time to raise the minimum wage. Before this crisis, did we even consider that upward of 75 percent of students in major urban school dis- tricts like Los Angeles, New York and Boston are so impovershed they depend on school for their food? School closures in some places were delayed while districts scrambled to figure out how to get meals to these children. (Now school districts are struggling to institute long-distance learning when their students lack computers and internet access.) We’re one of the richest countries in the world, and we’re not paying minimum-wage workers a living wage.
These issues are not new. For more than 40 years, the feminist movement has worked for paid sick days, paid family medical leave and a higher minimum wage—we’re currently fighting for at least $15 per hour. And since the 1970s, feminists have fought for universal child care.
Even as we’ve been covering these developments on msmagazine.com, we’ve been tracking and reporting on the ongoing attacks on abortion access. Taking advantage of a public health crisis, hostile state governors and attorneys general in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa and a number of other states have ordered abortion clinics to close or limit their procedures, declaring that abortion is “nonessential”—of course it’s essential, as well as time sensitive—and ignoring the fact that such clinics provide a range of necessary medical services, especially to low-income women.
Feminist state legislators in Ohio successfully fought back against the edict, negotiating a deal that allowed the state’s clinics to remain open. A coalition of reproductive rights groups sued five of the states. At press time, federal judges had struck down pandemic-related abortion bans in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, though the ruling on Texas’ order was quickly overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and clinics were again ordered closed.
Clinics are already under tremendous pressures, facing the same shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies plaguing hospitals.
And to make matters worse, anti-abortion extremists have stepped up their harassment at some clinics, not just ignoring shelter-at-home orders but deliberately gathering at clinic entrances, crowding patients and staff—with one protester maliciously coughing in a clinic escort’s face.
All this as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo, a decision that could severely restrict abortion access in many states by allowing laws requiring unnecessary hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers.
The Trump administration’s complete mishandling of the federal response to this public health crisis has put us all in greater danger.
Yet even as the health care system struggles to respond—without critical national coordination—the Trump administration’s Department of Justice has continued its efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act in federal court. If the ACA is overturned, some 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance coverage. And we could return to a time when insurance companies could deny coverage for people with preexisting conditions, and could potentially charge women 100 to 150 percent more than men for the same or less coverage.
The fast-moving nature of this pandemic, and its particular impacts on women, makes clear the importance of Ms.’ work to keep you informed. We must be the generation that finally—once and for all, not just in a time of crisis—wins the debate on economic and reproductive justice.
At the same time, we are expanding our unique election coverage and doing everything we can to keep our readers armed with factual information and strategies to mobilize feminists’ voting power in the critical upcoming elec- tions. Ms.will, as always, report on what’s at stake for women and the country. We must keep a focus on the fight to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution. See our report in this issue on how the elections will impact the fight ahead for women’s constitutional equality.
We’ll continue reporting and truth-telling—but we can’t do it without your support. At a time like this, we need you and the Ms.community more than ever. We’ll keep you and your loved ones in our thoughts; please keep us in yours.
This piece is excerpted from the Spring 2020 issue of Ms.
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