1. Jobs and Pay Equity – The Equal Pay Act (1963), Title VII (1964), Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2010)
Today women comprise roughly half of employed workers in the U.S., yet they still are paid less than men. Women earn, on average, only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Two key laws – The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, prohibit employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, including pregnancy, and national origin, and have been central to expanding women’s economic opportunities. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act reversed a Supreme Court decision that had greatly weakened the wage discrimination protections of Title VII, and reinstated women’s right to sue for such discrimination.
In June, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen Title VII and the Equal Pay Act and make it tougher for employers to discriminate and retaliate against women workers. The bill, supported by President Obama, was voted down in a straight party line vote with Republicans voting against the bill and Democrats for the bill. Conservative state legislators and governors have taken additional action to roll back and weaken employment and equal pay protections for women. These legislative actions compound the damage done by recent rulings by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, which have weakened employment discrimination laws and placed working women’s rights in jeopardy.
Budget cuts, assaults on state and public sector workers, and attacks on collective bargaining rights have all undermined women’s employment during the economic recovery. Women comprise a majority of public sector workers at the state and local levels, and cutbacks in education and social programs affect them disproportionately.
Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act would represent an economic milestone for women. Additionally, adoption of legislation such as the Pathways Back to Work Act, and reauthorization of the Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act – which expires in 2012 and includes gender equity provisions – would boost job opportunities for women and pave career paths for the next generation of female workers. Raising and indexing the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers, 66% of whom are women, would bring women in the service and hospitality industry closer to earning a living wage, as would raising and indexing 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 a historic step forward for women’s health.
Conservative senators, state legislators and governors have pledged to repeal ACA and deny women, of all ages, critical preventive care services. The House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA in 2011. In March, 2012, the Senate took up and defeated a proposal offered by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would have allowed many employers to sidestep the requirement to cover birth control as part of the ACA’s well-woman preventive care provision.
In late May, Roman Catholic leaders filed federal lawsuits in eight states and D.C. on behalf of dioceses, schools and health care agencies against the inclusion of birth control as part of the well-woman preventive services of the ACA.
Full implementation and funding of the ACA and state exchanges that provide the protection, prevention, and non-discrimination advances for women. 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.
Expand policies such as early voting and same day registration that allow more women to register and vote. Eliminate obstacles to registration and voting by reversing state laws that aim to suppress the vote, and ensuring that polling places are easy to locate and reach.
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 by doing so, legalized birth control for married couples in all 50 states and established 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.
Even though American women celebrated the 47th anniversary of the Griswold decision on June 7, birth control remains under attack. Griswold is the bedrock of women’s right to contraception, and has been non-controversial until this year when Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum reaffirmed his belief that Griswold was wrongly decided and that states should be allowed to pass laws banning contraception. Attacks on access for birth control through defunding Title X and Planned Parenthood further threaten women’s right to make their own important life decisions. Additionally, state-based efforts to define life at fertilization, so-called “personhood” campaigns, would ban hormonal contraceptives, the IUD, select fertility treatments, stem cell research and other advances. Several states, including Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Mississippi–may have personhood referendums on the ballot this November.
The right to birth control for married and single women (and men) so that they can make their own important life decisions about when and whether to have a family.
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. Title X and Medicaid are the cornerstones of federal funding for birth control and are augmented by critical state funds.
For the first time in history, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to completely defund Title X in the FY ‘2011 budget as well as FY ‘2012. Both times the bill failed in the Senate, and the final budget measure did not include the provision. Nine states have also reduced family planning funding through legislative action and one (NJ) has eliminated it through the governor’s veto. Additionally, both the House of Representatives and state legislatures have taken action to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood clinics where many women receive contraceptive care. Together these actions threaten to severely curtail women’s access to birth control.
Full funding of the Title X program so that women can have more access to birth control. 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 shrink the federal deficit through cuts and changes to the Social Security program 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 would greatly help full-time homemakers.
A report released in May 2012 by the National Organization for Women, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare outlines several key proposals that will strengthen the financial base of the program, as well as its effectiveness and fairness.
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. Medicare is strengthened under the Affordable Care Act. It will close the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap, often called the “donut hole,” so that beneficiaries will pay lower costs for their prescription drugs and it will provide many preventive services to seniors, including mammograms, an annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plans at no additional cost.
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 21 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 Congress considers further actions on appropriations.
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)
Domestic violence is a serious, wide-reaching problem that profoundly impacts women’s lives. 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 needs to be reauthorized and strengthened so that the law protects more Americans, especially those whose abuse complaints often get overlooked. A renewed VAWA passed the Senate in May and updates the law’s protections. The House passed a more restrictive bill that excludes certain vulnerable populations. The House and Senate must now reconcile these two versions. Another threat to the law is the fact that it is not fully funded. Currently, domestic violence programs do not have adequate resources to meet the demand for services.
Full funding for and the reauthorization of a strengthened Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will help provide safety and security for women who are victims of violence and abuse.
11. Title IX of the Education Amendments (1972)
June 23 will be the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the benchmark law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities. Because of Title IX’s protections and provisions, women now receive almost 60% of the degrees granted in the United States and 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, widespread misinformation, 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)
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 employed women and men 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. The Supreme Court’s decision in Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, barring suits against the states under the self-care provision of the FMLA, has created another setback for women workers, especially those employed by state governments.
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. Passing the Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days each year to care for themselves or a family member.