Beyond suffrage: How far have women come since? August 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion rights, crystal eastman, female suffrage, feminism, gender equality, gender norms, hyde amendment, parental leave, pay inequality, reproductive rights, roger hollander, suffrage, wal-mart, women's rights
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Op-Ed, LA Times, August 26, 2011
American women won the right to vote in 1920. But how far have we come since
on other issues important to women?
victory that took more than 70 years of political struggle to achieve. After
women won the right to vote in 1920, socialist feminist Crystal Eastman observed
that suffrage was an important first step but that what women really wanted was
freedom. In an essay titled “Now We Can Begin,” she laid out a plan toward this
goal that is still relevant today.Eastman outlined a four-point program:
economic independence for women (including freedom to choose an occupation and
equal pay), gender equality at home (raising “feminist sons” to share the
responsibilities of family life), “voluntary motherhood” (reproductive freedom)
and “motherhood endowment,” or financial support for child-rearing and
homemaking.Since the 1920s, women have won many rights and opportunities
in areas as diverse as higher education, professional sports and, in six states,
same-sex marriage. But on the core priorities that Eastman identified, how far
have we come?
Eastman optimistically called equality in the workplace
“the easiest part of our program,” noting that “the ground is already broken” on
women’s participation in various professions, trades and unions. One of the
chief barriers was “inequality in pay,” a problem that has proved remarkably
Women on average still make only 77 cents for every dollar paid
to their male counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This
pay disparity is worst for women of color, who earn only 61 cents if they are
African American and 52 cents if they are Latina. This pattern has been
Women’s lower earnings are related to gender segmentation in the workplace that relegates women to the lower rungs of the
economic ladder. At Wal-Mart, for example — the nation’s biggest employer — women make up about 70% of hourly
workers but only about 30% of managers. The Supreme Court recently ruled that
the retailer’s female employees could not join together in a class-action
lawsuit, making it nearly impossible for them to challenge patterns of
Although women now outnumber men on college campuses, the
upper echelons of most professions and political bodies remain male-dominated.
Just look at Congress: Only 17% of its members are women. Between 1923 and 2011,
only 28 women have chaired congressional committees, and only 45 women of color
have ever served in Congress — just one in the Senate. The new congressional
“super-committee” of 12 legislators charged with reducing the federal deficit
has one white woman and not a single woman of color.
On the home front, gender norms have changed significantly since 1920, but women still do the
lion’s share of child care, elder care and household planning. And child-rearing
is still regarded as a private matter rather than a contribution to society.
Although a recent Time magazine cover story suggested an end to “chore wars,”
its own data showed that married women with children still do more work at home
than their husbands, and full-time employed moms with children under age 6 spend
more hours on household chores than any other group.
Given women’s disproportionate responsibility for child-rearing amid lesser economic
opportunities, the ability to plan whether and when to have children is
critically important. As Eastman said: “Freedom of any kind is hardly worth
considering unless it is assumed that [women] will know how to control the size
of their families.”
This was a tall order in 1920, when it was a crime
simply to disseminate information about contraception. Fertility control is now
legal, but women’s reproductive freedom is under intense attack. The 2011
legislative session saw a record number of anti-choice bills introduced — and
passed into law. In just six months, state legislatures passed 80 laws to
restrict access to abortion.
State legislatures also have made deep cuts to family planning budgets, which has the
perverse result of increasing unintended pregnancies. The Hyde Amendment bans
federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, and only 15 states pay for abortion care
with their own revenue. This means that low-income women in most of the country
can have an abortion only if they can afford to pay for it out of pocket, making
the right to abortion an empty promise for millions of women.
When it comes to support for child-rearing, the United States is the only major
industrialized nation without a national policy guaranteeing paid parental
leave. While a few states and cities have taken the initiative to implement
their own policies, the vast majority of mothers (and fathers) have no right to
paid time off to care for a newborn baby. Many workers do not even have a right
to take unpaid leave, because the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies
only to relatively long-term workers in workplaces with 50 or more employees,
leaving out small businesses, new employees and workers who have put in fewer
than 1,250 hours at that job.
With no paid leave, and discrimination against pregnant
women on the rise, women are a long way from Eastman’s vision of having
child-rearing “recognized by the world as work, requiring a definite economic
reward and not merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some
In all four areas that Eastman discussed, female suffrage has not
ushered in the wide-ranging changes that its opponents feared and its advocates
Eastman understood that work and home are inextricably bound,
that women’s freedom depends on resolving what we now call “work/family”
conflict. As long as women face a “motherhood penalty” while men benefit from a
“fatherhood bonus,” gender equality will remain out of reach. Racial
discrimination has made the path to equality that much harder for women of
The real question now is, in Eastman’s words, “how to arrange the
world” so that women have “a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in
infinitely varied ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex”
to lesser economic opportunities and heavier domestic burdens.
To do this, our institutions must become more responsive. The workplace has to change
to allow people with families to hold good jobs, and policies must change to
allow women to plan their families and to ensure that no one is left behind. In
the 90 years since winning the right to vote, women have achieved gains by
organizing in the streets and the workplace, by lobbying legislatures and
bringing lawsuits. Arranging a more just world will require a new wave of
political action at all levels, from local to national, home to
On Aug. 26, 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of
women’s suffrage. Let’s make this the decade we create the conditions that bring
Eve Weinbaum is director of the Labor Center and an
associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Rachel Roth is director of communications and foundation support at the National
Network of Abortion Funds and the author of a book on women’s
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Abortion Foes Capitalize on Health Care Law May 16, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Women.
Tags: abortion, abortion coverage, abortion rights, anti-abortion, health, health care, health insurance, hyde amendment, private insurance, ricardo alonxo-zaldivar, roger hollander, women, women's health
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Abortion opponents fought passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it’s the law, they’re using it to limit coverage by private insurers.
An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.
“We don’t consider elective abortion to be health care, so we don’t think it’s a bad thing for fewer private insurance companies to cover it,” said Mary Harned, attorney for Americans United for Life, a national organization that wrote a model law for the states.
Abortion rights supporters are dismayed.
“Implementation of this reform should be about increasing access to health care and increasing choices, not taking them away,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate leadership. “Health care reform is not an excuse to take rights away from women.”
Since Obama signed the legislation law March 23, Arizona and Tennessee have enacted laws restricting abortion coverage by health plans in new insurance markets, called exchanges. About 30 million people will get their coverage through exchanges, which open in 2014 to serve individuals and small businesses.
In Florida, Mississippi and Missouri, lawmakers have passed bans and sent them to their governors. Most of the states allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Insurers still could offer separate policies to specifically cover abortion.
Three other states may act this year – Louisiana, Ohio and Oklahoma. Overall, there are 29 states where lawmakers or public policy groups expressed serious interest, Harned said.
“You are going to see more actions like this,” said Tom McClusky, a lobbyist for the socially conservative Family Research Council. “This is not something we are just going to let fall by the wayside.”
Before the overhaul became law, five states had limits on private insurance coverage of abortion – Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Abortion rights supporters are concerned that the list is growing as a result of the new federal law.
Murray had joined in voting down a federal abortion coverage ban when the Senate debated health care last year. Now she and other abortion rights supporters worry the same sorts of restrictions could spread from state to state.
“It’s really going to be a patchwork of state laws by the time these exchanges are set up,” said Jessica Arons, director of women’s health at the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy institute.
Most private health insurance plans cover abortion as a legal medical procedure, but research indicates many women opt to pay directly.
The federal law allows private insurance plans in the exchanges to cover abortion as long as they collect a separate premium. That money must remain apart from public subsidies available to help pay insurance premiums for most customers in the exchanges.
That compromise split abortion foes in Congress and around the country. Anti-abortion organizations including National Right to Life and the U.S. Catholic bishops called it a fig leaf, and continued to oppose the legislation. But Catholic hospitals and many religious orders of nuns supported it.
Abortion rights supporters were cool to the compromise, but it broke a political deadlock threatening the bill.
Anti-abortion Democrats in the House cast critical votes for the legislation after Obama also agreed to an executive order affirming long-standing federal policy against the use of taxpayer funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother – known as the Hyde amendment.
Tennessee already has enacted a far stricter ban, with no exceptions. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who allowed it to become law without his signature, said in a statement it “creates a prohibition much broader than that found in current law and could unintentionally negatively impact the quality of health care options for Tennesseans.”
All eyes are now on Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist will decide soon whether to sign a bill that restricts abortion coverage in that state’s insurance exchange. Florida is a politically diverse state, not known as a bedrock of social conservatism. Crist is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, after it became clear that he would lose the Republican primary to former state Rep. Marco Rubio.
Crist, who opposes abortion, has indicated he has problems with a part of the bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of the embryo.
“Florida has always been pretty much of a middle-of-the road state,” said Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in the state. “If Florida passes it, it really open up more moderate states to passing these bans.”
Conservatives say they won’t forgive a Crist veto. “You can count him as done if he vetoes this bill before him now,” said McClusky of the Family Research Council.
© 2010 The Associated Press