Keeping Score: Senators Push to Protect Pregnant Workers; Supreme Court Threatens Affirmative Action; Legal Abortions Down 6 Percent

In every issue of Ms., we track research on our progress in the fight for equality, catalogue can’t-miss quotes from feminist voices and keep tabs on the feminist movement’s many milestones. We’re Keeping Score online, too—in in this biweekly round-up.


Lest We Forget

“These are the pipelines to leadership in our society. And if universities aren’t racially diverse, then all of those institutions are not going to be racially diverse either.I thought that part of what it meant to be an American and to believe in American pluralism is that actually our institutions are reflective of who we are as a people in all our variety.”

—Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on the fate of affirmative action, which is being reconsidered due to lawsuits filed by Students for Fair Admissions against the Univeristy of North Carolina and Harvard College.

A demonstration on the 40th anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington on Aug. 23, 2003. Conservatives have tried to put an end to race-conscious policies, including affirmative action, for more than 25 years. (Elvert Barnes Protest Photography / Flickr)

Pregnancy discrimination is still rampant in this country. The law is failing us.

“We represent the millions of former and current pregnant and postpartum workers—including retail workers, police officers, healthcare providers, manufacturing workers, and civil servants—many of us who were forced off the job during pregnancy or immediately after childbirth because we needed temporary, reasonable accommodations to protect our health.

“The 44th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is just days away and we are here to tell you pregnancy discrimination is still rampant in this country. The law is failing us.

We know because, as working mothers, we experienced discrimination while pregnant or after giving birth.

We often faced terrible economic or health consequences as a result. …

We have been told, especially during the pandemic, that women are essential to our economy and the future of our nation. It is time we are treated that way.

Please listen to our voices.

Don’t fail pregnant women and families like us on your watch.”

—An open letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), signed by more than 125 mothers. Ran as a New York Times ad, the letter pushed for passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would ensure pregnancy-related work accommodations.

“The recent Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has impacted access to reproductive healthcare with readiness, recruiting and retention implications for the [military].

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, we have heard concerns from many of our service members and their families about the complexity and the uncertainty that they now face in accessing reproductive healthcare, including abortion services. We also recognize that recent developments may create legal and financial risk for our healthcare providers as they carry out their lawful federal duties. I am committed to the department taking all appropriate action, within its authority and consistent with applicable federal law, as soon as possible to ensure that our service members and their families can access reproductive healthcare and our healthcare providers can operate effectively.”

—Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a memo on Thursday, Oct. 20. The statement directed senior Pentagon leadership to facilitate access to abortion procedures for military service members.

The Pentagon will pay for service members to travel for abortion care. (Johnny Silvercloud / Flickr)

Milestones

+ Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act, legislation that would mandate medical and mental healthcare access for prisoners and ban solitary confinement in one’s third trimester.

“We must ensure pregnant women in custody receive the prenatal and postpartum care they need. By establishing standards for their treatment in federal custody and making sure there is reliable access to medical care and appropriate nutrition, our bipartisan legislation will improve the health and safety of these women and their babies,” Klobuchar said.

+ The U.S. Trans Survey is collecting data for the first time since its 2015 report at this link, and is accepting responses from Oct. 19 to Nov. 21. It is the largest survey of trans people in the U.S., and includes any trans and nonbinary people above age 16.

+ FIFA turned down 2023 Women’s World Cup broadcast offers throughout Europe for undervaluing the tournament, which garnered millions of viewers in previous years.

“We know the opportunity for women’s football is there,” FIFA Chief Partnerships & Media Officer Romy Gai said. “Now, together, we need to capture it.”

+ The Social Security Administration will allow transgender Americans to select their correct gender on their records, even if it doesn’t match their prior identity documents. The policy change is meant to “decrease administrative burdens and ensure people who identify as gender diverse or transgender have options in the Social Security Number card application process” according to acting commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi. The agency is considering further changes that would allow those who don’t identify as male or female to select an “X” as their sex designation.

+ Former high school water polo player Ashley Badis is a plaintiff in a Title IX case against James Campbell High School in Hawaii, which allegedly discriminated against its female athletes by not providing equal facilities and resources. Plaintiffs reported a lack of suitable practice spaces, in addition to no dedicated locker rooms for female athletes.

The case comes 50 years after Title IX was first enacted, and “has the potential to really be a wake-up call for schools that continue to ignore the law and don’t take it seriously,” sports media professor Ellen J. Staurowsky said.

+ Italy swore in its first woman prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, on Saturday, Oct. 22. However, Meloni will likely lead the furthest right-wing government since facist Benito Mussolini’s reign.

Her 24-person cabinet only includes six women, and a member of her coalition has blamed Kyiv for the Russian invasion and expressed a connection with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

+ After Brittney Griner contested her nine-year sentence for drug possession, the appeal was rejected by a Moscow court on Tuesday, Oct. 25. U.S. officials say they anticipate an eventual prisoner swap.

How We’re Doing

+ Standardized test scores from National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed “‘heartbreaking’ academic setbacks” in most states, especially in fourth and eighth grade math scores. Surveys of teachers across the U.S. found similar reports of regression since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Only a quarter of eighth graders met the standard for math proficiency, a substantial decrease from one in three in 2019. The percentage of eighth graders proficient in reading fell by 3 percent.

+ More than four-in-five LGBTQ+ students say they have been harassed or assaulted, according to a 20-state survey by YouthTruth, released Monday, Oct. 24. Girls reported poorer mental health than boys, and harassment was mostly experienced at in-person school.

“Most LGBTQ students are going to schools that are unsafe, unwelcoming, and not affirming,” GLSEN senior research associate and co-author Caitlin Clark said.

+ According to the 2022 Locked Out report by The Sentencing Project, 4.6 million Americans are unable to vote due to a felony conviction. This number is down by nearly a quarter since 2016, but is a sharp increase from 1.2 million estimated disenfranchised people in 1976.

Disenfranchised people constitute 2 percent of the otherwise eligible voting population. Three-fourths of these individuals have completed their prison sentences and live in their communities, yet are unable to participate in elections.

“When an individual is behind bars, they are effectively voiceless. They do not have the ability to change the system that has harmed them. But by giving people behind the wall an opportunity to cast their ballot, we can give them their voice back. We can give them a say in the system that has led to their own imprisonment,” Jeremiah Mungo of More Than Our Crimes said.

+ In just two months after the overturn of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, legal abortions decreased by more than 10,000 procedures, or 6 percent. Most of the decline can be attributed to 13 states that restricted or banned abortion after the ruling, whereas abortions increased by 11,000 (12 percent) in states where the procedure remained legal.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About

Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a sophomore at Tufts University studying sociology and community health. She is a Ms. contributing writer, and was formerly an editorial fellow, research fellow and assistant editor of social media. You can find her on Twitter at @sophie_dk_.