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Guns On Campus: Not An Agenda For Women’s Safety

Allowing guns on campus won’t reduce sexual assault on campus — instead, it will increase the risk of homicide.

Two years ago, Republican leaders released a post-mortem analysis of the 2012 election in an effort to better understand how they lost the single women’s vote by 36 percent. The 100-page report recommended that GOP lawmakers do a better job listening to female voters, remind them of the party’s “historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement,” and fight against the “so-called War on Women.” Look no further than recent GOP-led efforts to expand gun rights on college campuses under the guise of preventing campus sexual assault for evidence that conservative lawmakers have failed to take their own advice.

Today, lawmakers in at least 14 states are pushing forward measures that would loosen gun regulations on college campuses. In the last few days, a number of them have seized upon the growing public outcry over campus sexual assault to argue that carrying a gun would prevent women from being raped. (So far they’ve been silent on how we might prevent young men – who, of course, would also be allowed to carry a gun – from attempting to rape women in the first place.)

Republican assemblywoman Michele Fiore of Nevada recently told The New York Times: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them? The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.” (Really? Hot little girls?) And as the Times highlighted, Florida representative Dennis Baxley jumped on the “stop campus rape” bandwagon recently when he successfully lobbied for a bill that would allow students to carry loaded, concealed weapons. “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible,” he said.

Let’s be clear. People aren’t raped because they aren’t carrying firearms. They are raped because someone rapes them. What a sinister new twist on victim blaming. As if anything positive could come from adding loaded weapons to the already toxic mix of drugs, alcohol, masculine groupthink, and the rape culture endemic in college sports and Greek life on campuses around the country.

These lawmakers have appropriated the battle cry of students who are demanding more accountability from academic institutions to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault. It’s a vain attempt to advance their own conservative agenda of liberalizing gun laws. This is an NRA agenda, not a women’s rights agenda. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, each of the lawmakers who have supported such legislation has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). They have enjoyed endorsements from the NRA during election years and some – including Fiore and Baxley – received campaign contributions from the organization.

These lawmakers are pointing to the demands of a handful of women who have survived sexual assault and are advocating for liberalized campus gun laws. The experiences of these students are real and deserve to be heard and considered as we debate how to make campuses safer. We must also recognize that these students are outliers. Surveys have shown that nearly 80 percent of college students say they would not feel safe if guns were allowed on campus, and according to the Times, 86 percent of women said they were opposed to having weapons on campus. And for good reason.

Research shows that guns do not make women safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. Over the past 25 years, guns have accounted for more intimate partner homicides than all other weapons combined. In states that that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. And women in the United States are 11 times more likely than women from other high-income countries to be murdered with a gun. Guns on college campuses would only make these statistics worse.

If the GOP wants to show they care about women – or at the very least care about their votes – this is just one of the realities they need to acknowledge. And they need to listen to the experiences of all women who have experienced sexual assault – like those who have created the powerful Know Your IX campaign – not just those who will help advance their NRA-sponsored agenda.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog.

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo: Keary O. via Flickr

 

 

After Four Decades With Roe, U.S. Women Still Need Abortion Access, And So Much More

As economic inequality takes center stage in politics, it’s important to remember that reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are just as essential for secure lives.

Thursday’s 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prompted a week of stark contradictions. Thousands of anti-choice protesters descended on Washington yesterday while the House of Representatives passed HR7, a bill limiting insurance coverage for abortions (after a broader abortion ban was – for the time – abandoned). Yesterday, congressional Democrats re-introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill meant to protect abortion access from the medically unnecessary restrictions that have already made the landmark decision meaningless in many parts of the country. And in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama professed his support for abortion rights, along with equal pay, paid sick and family leave, a minimum-wage hike, and expanded health coverage. It’s all been a reminder of what has been won and just how much there is left to fight for – from abortion rights to economic security.

Over the past four years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks on reproductive health – more than 200 between 2011 and 2013 – leaving many states with a scant number of abortion providers. Scores of women are now required to travel long distances, at great cost, to access not just abortion, but a wide range of comprehensive health services.

While reproductive health has certainly been the obsession of choice of conservative lawmakers in recent years, it hasn’t been the only issue in their cross-hairs. In many ways, the increasing hostility to abortion and family planning is reflective of a broader war against the poor that is sure to persist under the new Congress. It turns out the same lawmakers who have championed abortion restrictions in the name of protecting women’s health have done very little to actually help women and families. Indeed, a recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health shows that states with the most abortion restrictions also have some of the worst indicators for women’s health and well-being. So lawmakers are restricting access to health services at the same time they are dismantling the social safety net on which so many women and families rely. The overall impact has been devastating.

In states across the country, women are struggling under the burden of intersecting health and economic injustices. Let’s look, for example, at Kansas, where conservative governor Brownback slashed business regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, nearly eliminated income taxes, and privatized Medicaid delivery, all with the goal of making the state a conservative utopia. In the meantime, Kansas women continue to struggle with high rates of poverty, a lack of health insurance, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Kansas is one of the 16 states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving nearly 80,000 adults (half of whom are women) uninsured. It is the only state in the country that actually experienced an increase in its uninsured rate last year.

To make matters worse for women in Kansas, lawmakers eliminated abortion access from 98 percent of the state’s counties – in which 74 percent of the state’s women live – and passed House Bill 2253, a 47-page law comprised of countless and senseless abortion restrictions. It included a 24-hour waiting period; medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling; prohibiting abortion providers from working or volunteering in public schools; banning University of Kansas Medical School faculty members from teaching students and residents how to perform abortions; and eliminating public health insurance coverage of all abortion services. And the list goes on. Sadly these laws are not unique to Kansas and they have significantly diluted the initial promise Roe held four decades ago.

The economic injustices described above, and those being felt by low-income families throughout the country, are starting to get the attention they deserve, and the policy solutions to address them are gaining traction (see the recent support for raising the minimum wage and instituting paid sick and family leave). But while economists and policymakers are increasingly focused on the pernicious impacts of inequality and economic insecurity, they rarely acknowledge how these issues intersect with reproductive health and rights.

Let us use the anniversary of Roe to remember there can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. We can’t win on one front while losing on the other. Reproductive health – a cornerstone of which is family planning and abortion – is not a frill. It is a core component of comprehensive health care, which is a basic pillar of every individual’s personal, social, and economic well-being.

What good is better and more equal pay if we can’t plan the timing and size of our families? What good is paid sick and family leave if there are no quality, affordable, and accessible providers to give us the care we need when we need it? We need all of it. Now. That’s just demanding a basic – very basic – floor of well-being. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Roe has served as part of that foundation for the last 42 years. But conservatives have successfully chipped away at it and will continue to do so until there’s nothing left to stand on. Perhaps we can seize upon the new energy around closing the inequality gap to remind our leaders that without bodily autonomy, we will never be secure.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog.

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo: Alisa Ryan via Flickr

Is Inequality Killing U.S. Mothers?

The United States’ embarrassing maternal mortality figures are closely tied to extreme economic inequality, and better understanding of one will help the other.

Imagine that each year six U.S. passenger jets crashed, killing all passengers on board. Imagine that every person who died on those planes was a woman who was pregnant or recently gave birth. Instead of offering interventions and regulations that might prevent more planes from falling from the sky, lawmakers attempted to defund and repeal the very programs meant to improve air safety. That, in a nutshell, is the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.

Today, more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years. The United States is the one of only seven countries in the entire world that has experienced an increase in maternal mortality over the past decade (joining the likes of Afghanistan and South Sudan), and mothers in Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, and Greece (among many other countries) have a better chance of surviving pregnancy than do women in the United States.

It should be no surprise that maternal mortality rates (MMRs) have risen in tandem with poverty rates. The two are inextricably linked. Women living in the lowest-income areas in the United States are twice as likely to suffer maternal death, and states with high rates of poverty have MMRs 77 percent higher than states with fewer residents living below the federal poverty level. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women, and in some U.S. cities the MMR among black women is higher than in some sub-Saharan African countries.

New research suggests that one of the many factors driving this crisis might be inequality. We may have just celebrated the dawn of 2015, but in terms of economic inequality it might as well be 1929, the last time the United States experienced such an extraordinary gulf between the rich and the, well, everyone else. Today nearly 1 in 3 blacks and 1 in 4 Hispanics (compared to 1 in 10 whites) live in poverty, and in certain states those percentages are even higher. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the net worth of the poorest Americans has decreased and stagnant wages and increased debt has driven more middle-class families into poverty. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans have enjoyed remarkable gains in wealth and income. Those in the top 1 percent have seen their incomes increase by as much as 200.5 percent over the past 30 years, while those in the bottom 99 percent have seen their incomes grow by only 18.9 percent during that same time.

As the financial well-being of the majority of Americans has eroded, so too has their health. A recent study conducted by Amani Nuru-Jeter from University of California, Berkeley shows that inequality has very different impacts on black and white Americans. The study found that each unit increase in income inequality results in an additional 27 to 37 deaths among African-Americans, and – interestingly – 417 to 480 fewer deaths among white Americans. Nuru-Jeter and her colleagues were surprised to discover the inverse relationship between inequality and death for whites, and suggested that more research is needed to better understand it. “We do know that the proportion of high-income people compared to low-income people is higher for whites than for African-Americans. It’s possible that the protective effects we are seeing represent the net effect of income inequality for high-income whites,” she said.

The research shows us that rising tides might lift some boats, but it sinks others. And it is unclear if the boats of poor whites actually rise, or if it just appears like they rise because of the higher concentration of people benefiting from inequality in white communities compared to black communities.

Either way, we know that the boats of women of color have certainly not been rising in recent years, and these recent findings beg us to ask how inequality is impacting U.S. mothers specifically. After all, we know that women of color have been disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn. Today the poverty rate for black women is 28.6 percent, compared with 10.8 percent for white women. A 2010 study found that the median wealth for single black and Hispanic women was only $100 and $120 respectively, while the median wealth for single white women was just over $41,000. And in the years following the recession black women represented 12.5 percent of all American workers but accounted for more than 42 percent of jobs lost by all women. Black women have an unemployment rate nearly double that of white women.

Given these grim statistics, it should be no surprise that inequality and maternal-related deaths have increased on parallel tracks over the last decade. But while inequality – and its threats to the economy and the wellbeing of average people – has recently gained long overdue attention, maternal mortality remains an invisible health crisis (unless, of course, you live in one of the communities where it’s all too common for women to die from pregnancy). The media rarely talks about it, foundations aren’t collaborating to invest in initiatives to help us understand – let alone improve – the situation, and policy makers aren’t even pretending to care about it. In fact, the Republican-dominated Congress seems eager to trim or prevent the very programs that help mothers have a healthy foundation for pregnancy: food stamps, reproductive health coverage and access, and wage increases, just to name a few.

The Affordable Care Act is providing much-needed health coverage to many poor women for whom it was previously out of reach, and if fully implemented could certainly help stem maternal deaths. But conservative members of Congress are doing their best to make it as ineffective as possible for the people who need it the most. Nearly 60 percent of uninsured black Americans who should qualify for Medicaid live in states that are not participating in Medicaid expansion. And a recent study found that as a result of conservative opposition to expansion, 40 percent of uninsured blacks who should have Medicaid coverage will not get it (compared to 24 percent of uninsured Hispanics and 29 percent of uninsured whites).

Nuru-Jeter’s research shows us that we will need a host of strategies to tackle deaths in the black community, and maternal deaths are certainly no exception. Better understanding how inequality might be driving unnecessary deaths among women of color would better enable us to identify exactly what those strategies should be and how they should be implemented. And perhaps we wouldn’t get all boats to rise immediately, but it just might get them all to float. It’s sad we aren’t even trying to accomplish that much.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog.

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo: Amnesty International via Flickr

How Will Georgia Voters Turn Out For Equal Pay?

The Georgia Senate candidates’ most interesting records on equal pay are in business, and they’re worth close attention. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

Early observers pegged the Georgia midterm Senate race as one to watch, and they’ve been spot on so far. Democratic challenger Michelle Nunn and Republican contender David Perdue – legacies of two of Georgia’s most established political families, who both happen to be from the tiny town of Perry – have been polling neck and neck for the past few weeks. At this point, many project the election in November will result in a January runoff.

Currently Nunn is polling at 45 percent, 3 points behind Perdue’s 48 percent, and her lead among women is down from 13 points to 2. Even though Georgia has historically ranked low on female voter turnout, it is likely that women will determine the outcome of the race. And for good reason: The winner will influence a number of issues that impact the lives of women, particularly those of color, both at the state and national levels.

Where do Women in Georgia Stand?

• Georgia’s current poverty rate of almost 20 percent is 50 percent higher than it was in 2000. Among black and Latina women, the rate is even higher: 33 and 36 percent, respectively. Forty percent of families led by single mothers are in poverty.

• Georgia has the fifth largest uninsured population in the country.  Thirty percent of women in Georgia – 20 percent of white women, 29.4 percent of African-American women, and 53.1 percent of Hispanic women – have no health coverage.

• If Georgia were to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), nearly 350,000 women would become insured. Expansion would generate the development of 70,343 jobs statewide in the next decade, would bring $33 billion of new federal funding into the state, and stimulate $1.8 billion in new state revenue.

•More women in Georgia die of pregnancy-related causes than women in all but two other states. The state’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) – the number of women who die for every 100,000 births – has more than doubled since 2004 and is now 35.5 (a shocking 63.8 for black women and 24.6 for white women). That is almost twice the national MMR of 18.5.

•Georgia has the highest unemployment rate in the United States, at 7.9 percent. It also has the highest unemployment gap between men and women, with 1.5 percent more women unemployed than men.

•Georgia women who do work receive only 76.4 cents to the dollar compared to their male counterparts. The minimum wage in Georgia is $5.15 per hour, the lowest in the country, though workers are paid the higher federal minimum wage of  $7.25 per hour. Women are particularly affected by low minimum wages, comprising two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers. More than 75 percent of these women are age 20 or older, and, if they are single with children, a full-time minimum-wage job will not provide enough income to keep them above the poverty line.

Where Do the Candidates Stand? 

Health Care

Perdue’s campaign platform seeks to repeal the ACA and “replace it with a solution that works to lower costs and put patients in control of their health care decisions.” He believes the health law is harmful to small businesses and argues that its repeal will help strengthen the economy.

Nunn states that she supports the ACA and adopting Medicaid expansion in Georgia, and she did not support the 2013 government shutdown, which was driven by GOP opposition to many of the law’s key provisions, such as mandatory coverage of contraceptives. Nunn’s emphasis has been on fixing, not eliminating the ACA. She has proposed adding a more affordable tier of coverage and extending the tax credit for small businesses. “Here in Georgia — because we did not accept Medicaid expansion — a number of our rural hospitals are now having cuts that are really problematic. So I am running as someone who wants to fix the things that are broken in the health care system and build upon the things that are good, including ensuring that people who have pre-existing conditions have access to health care, that kids up to age 26 have the opportunity to be covered by their parents.”

Abortion

Perdue is anti-choice and opposes same-sex marriage. Perdue has been quoted saying, “I believe that we should promote a culture that values life and protects the innocent, especially the unborn. Being pro-life and believing in the sanctity of marriage are my deeply held personal convictions. I will not waver in defending them if I have the privilege of serving you in the U.S Senate.” In September, Perdue was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, a nationwide anti-choice group.

Socially, Nunn walks an understated yet relatively liberal line. She believes that abortion should not be severely limited. She has drawn attention for touting her “Safe, Legal, and Rare” abortion policy, which is a fairly conservative stance for an Emily’s List-endorsed candidate. “On the issue of abortion, Nunn said that she believes abortions should be ‘safe, legal and rare’ and that women should be ultimately able to make this very difficult personal decision in concert with their doctor and their family.” She believes employers should be able to withhold contraceptive coverage from employees.

Economic Security

Perdue promises to pursue job creation policies that will “grow our economy, plain and simple.” During his tenure as CEO of Dollar General, the company created nearly 2,000 stores and 20,000 new jobs, although he has been criticized for his outsourcing of thousands of jobs in an attempt to cut manufacturing and labor costs.

Perdue has not yet taken a stance on raising the minimum wage or on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would help close the pay gap between men and women. However, while Perdue was CEO, over 2,100 female employees launched complaints against Dollar General for practicing wage discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that female store managers at Dollar General “were discriminated against” and “generally were paid less than similarly situated male managers performing duties requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility.” His critics fear this may lead to Perdue’s support of policies that are economically unfavorable to women, if voted into office.

Michelle Nunn describes herself as a “pro-business moderate and defense hawk who wants to cut deals and get things done.” Nunn is CEO and President of Points of Light, which is the largest organization in the country committed to volunteer service. Under her tenure last year, Points of Light facilitated 260,000 projects that delivered 30 million hours of labor, amounting to $635 million.

Nunn says she supports raising the minimum wage, and that she wants to lower the corporate tax rate and eliminate tax breaks for companies that close factories and ship jobs overseas. She has been a proponent of equal pay legislation, and her campaign website reads, “People should get paid for the work the do – not who they are. Equal pay is respect for hard work, and every minute we let go by without it hurts Georgia families.”

Read the rest of this series here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Kameel Mir is a fourth year student of international affairs, English, and Arabic, writer, campus feminist, and policy researcher at the University of Georgia.

Kathleen Wilson is an advocate for gender equality, and a student at the University of Georgia, where she studies Economics and International Affairs. 

Cross-posted from the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog.

The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Photo: Heather Kennedy via Flickr