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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

Still Fighting For Insurance Coverage In Wisconsin

In the Wisconsin gubernatorial election, Medicaid coverage for 120,000 people hangs in the balance. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In the upcoming Wisconsin governor’s election, which may very well turn on women’s votes, Governor Scott Walker (R) and Mary Burke (D) are vying to show women that they have their best interests in mind. Recent polls show the candidates tied statewide, but with women favoring Burke by as many as 14 points and Walker favored by men by as many as 28 points. The two candidates stand in stark contrast on a number of issues vital to women and families.

Where do women in Wisconsin stand?

• The poverty rate among women in Wisconsin is 14.4 percent, but rates among women of color are dramatically higher: 41 percent for African-American women and 31.4 percent for Hispanic women.

• One in five Wisconsin women work in low-wage jobs, and women are over twice as likely as men to hold a low-wage job.

• Women in Wisconsin on average earn only 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, 2 cents less than the national average.

• Many women and poor families with children that are eligible are not receiving state support such as food stamps and, as in most states, childcare options are few and expensive.

• Over 1 in 10 women (11 percent) in Wisconsin are uninsured, with 18 percent of African-American women and 29 percent of Hispanic women lacking coverage.

• The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Under Governor Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin set up a state-based exchange but has not participated in Medicaid expansion, leaving over 500,000 low-income individuals without health coverage. If those individuals lived in any of the four neighboring states they would be covered under Medicaid. In 2013 he made changes to Wisconsin’s existing Medicaid structure that resulted in more than 60,000 people getting kicked out of the program. Technically, many of those individuals qualified for subsidies to purchase private insurance through the exchange, but it appears that the majority (61 percent, or about 38,000 people) did not do so, though they could have purchased a plan not on sold on the exchange, obtained employer-sponsored coverage, or gotten on a spouse’s plan. According to a recent report by The White House Council of Economic Advisers, Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin would mean coverage for an additional 120,000 people by 2016. The majority of Wisconsin’s voters (59 percent) say they’d like the state to accept federal funding to support Medicaid expansion.

Burke says one of the first three pieces of legislation she would prioritize in her first 100 days in office would be accepting federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

Reproductive Health

Walker identifies as “100 percent pro-life” and has received a zero rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2013 he signed a law that would require women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds and require abortion providers to have admitting privileges as a hospital within 30 miles (though the law is currently blocked). In 2012, he indicated support for a complete ban on abortion and the adoption of a personhood amendment in the state constitution, and in 2010 he stated his complete opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. From 2011 to 2013 Walker cut more than $1 million in funding for Planned Parenthood, leading to the closure of five clinics. In 2011, Walker attempted, unsuccessfully, to repeal the state’s Contraceptive Equity Law, which requires insurance companies to cover birth control. Walker also eliminated the state’s comprehensive sex education program and replaced it with an abstinence-based curriculum.

Burke is endorsed by Planned Parenthood. She “strongly supports a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions in consultation with her doctor and in accordance with her faith.”  She believes the restrictions supported by Walker are simply a “roadblock” that prevent women from making their own health care decisions, and that “women should have the ability to make their own decision when it comes to decisions that concern their own bodies.” She has promised to veto a 20-week abortion ban if one arrived on her desk.

Fair and equal pay

Wisconsin law requires the minimum wage to be a living wage, defined as one that is “sufficient” and enables workers to have “reasonable comfort, reasonable physical well-being, decency, and moral well-being.” Labor groups in the state have argued that the current wage – $7.25 an hour – does not meet that standard, and one group recently announced that it is suing Governor Walker to demand an increase. Sixty-one percent of likely Wisconsin voters favor increasing the minimum wage, a move that would increase the incomes of 333,000 women in the state.

In 2012, Walker supported the repeal of a law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to take their cases to court. He is against increasing the minimum wage and recently accused those who are in support of it as being “involved in a ‘political grandstanding stunt’ to make ‘a cheap headline.’” He has said that he wants to focus on creating new jobs that pay better, not raising the wage of current jobs. In 2011, Walker received national attention for his support of a bill that dismantled the rights of public sector unions, a move that was a key motivator of the recall election he successfully fought off in 2012.

Burke is in favor of gradually raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. “People working full-time should be able to support themselves without having to rely on government assistance. At $7.25 an hour, that’s just unrealistic.” Burke also says one of the first three pieces of legislation she would introduce and make a priority in the first 100 days in office is raising the minimum wage. She has also come out in opposition to Walker’s attack on unions, saying it was more than an attempt to address budget concerns, and was really “about undercutting our unions and taking away what I believe should be their right to collectively bargain.” In addition to her stance on the minimum wage, Burke was applauded by First Lady Michelle Obama, who recently campaigned for her in the state, for being a leader who would fight for pay equity.

Social Safety Net

Walker believes that safety net benefits serve as incentives that prevent people from working. As such, he has supported drug testing for unemployment benefits and food stamps. In September he said, “My belief is that we shouldn’t be paying for them to sit on the couch, watching TV or playing Xbox.”

Burke is generally supportive of safety net programs such as unemployment insurance. “Making sure that people can access unemployment insurance while looking for work, bridging the gap between jobs, is important to ensuring economic stability.”

Read the rest of this series here.

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: President Obama and Mary Burke appear Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at North Division High School in Milwaukee. Burke, a Democrat and former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive, is running against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/MCT)

In Colorado, A Question Of Personhood

In Colorado, the Senate race is particularly divided by issues of personhood and the minimum wage. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.

In September, a writer for the Denver Post accurately summed up the heated Colorado Senate race: “If Colorado’s U.S. Senate race were a movie, the set would be a gynecologist’s office, complete with an exam table and a set of stirrups.” Perhaps more than in any other state, women’s issues have indeed been front and center in the sparring match between incumbent Senator Mark Udall (D) and Representative Cory Gardner (R). All eyes are on Colorado’s women’s vote, which is likely to determine that state’s next U.S. senator, and in the process, set the course on a broad range of socioeconomic issues that disproportionately impact women.

Where do women in Colorado stand?

• At first glance, women in Colorado are faring better than their counterparts in other states. Colorado has more women in the state legislature than any other state, and ranks among the top 10 for the proportion of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher and for its share of women in the workforce. But as a report from the Colorado Women’s Foundation illustrates, those gains obscure the disparities facing poor women and women of color.

• Colorado women face higher poverty rates than men, and women of color experience rates twice that of white women. Two-thirds of all low-wage workers in Colorado are women. Families of color are particularly affected – median incomes for black and Hispanic households are about 35 percent below the statewide median, and for American Indians, 40 percent below.

• Only about half of low-income households headed by single women receive food stamps, and childcare in Colorado is among the most unaffordable in the country.

• Colorado women make nearly $11,000 less annually compared to their male counterparts and are paid only 77 cents to every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men (African-American and Hispanic women earn 61 and 53 cents, respectively).

• The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.

Where do the candidates stand?

Affordable Care Act

Colorado’s uninsured rate is 11 percent (down from 17 percent in 2013), thanks to its state exchange and Medicaid expansion. It now ranks fifth nationally among states’ reductions in the rate of uninsured under the ACA. It is predicted that Medicaid expansion will yield significant economic results: a 41.5 percent increase in federal payments, a more than $600 increase in average household earnings. the creation of 22,000 jobs, and a 20 percent growth in employment.

Udall was an early supporter of – and stands by his vote for – the ACA. He has said he is committed to making sure the ACA works for Colorado families. “We cannot go back to the old, broken system when adults and children could be refused coverage because of a pre-existing condition, the sick faced annual coverage limits, and all of us were subject to persistent rate increases.”

As a representative Gardner opposed Colorado’s expansion of Medicaid, citing concerns over the state’s ability to pay for it. He has also cited concerns over discontinued plans and increased premiums resulting from the ACA’s new coverage requirements. “Health care should be about patients and doctors, not government and bureaucrats … As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, I will be at the forefront of the effort to outline replacement legislation.”

Family Planning

Udall sponsored a bill in the Senate – the Not My Boss’ Business Act – that would have nullified the Hobby Lobby ruling. He has also voted against banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood and against the Blunt Amendment, which would have granted broad exemptions to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. He said, “It astounds me that some still think the legality of birth control and access to reproductive health services should be subject to debate.”

Gardner voted in support of banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He voted against a proposal that would allow pharmacists to prescribe emergency contraception (EC) and against a measure that would require insurance companies to cover contraception. He has opposed a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for birth control and another that would allow hospitals to tell rape victims about EC. He spoke out against legislation that required science-based sexuality education.

After the Supreme Court announced the Hobby Lobby decision, Gardner said, “The court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment.” He later recommended that oral contraceptives be made available over the counter, a move that many women’s health advocates  criticized as being a blatant attempt at trying to get women’s votes.


Udall received a 100 percent pro-choice rating from NARAL and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood. He has voted against so-called partial-birth abortion bans and against measures to prevent the transportation of minors across state lines to get an abortion. He supported a measure to ensure that rape victims have access to emergency contraception in hospitals and supported legislation to expand funding and access to contraceptive services. “I’ll never stop fighting to protect the rights of Colorado women because I trust them and respect the choices they make.”

Gardner received a zero percent pro-choice rating from NARAL. He voted against the 2009 Birth Control Protection Act and for a bill that would have allowed hospitals to refuse to provide an abortion, even when a woman’s life is at risk. He sponsored a state bill that would have banned all abortions in the state, co-sponsored a personhood bill at the federal level (Life at Conception Act), and in August, backed both state and federal “personhood” measures in an effort to ban abortion. He has since changed his position on personhood efforts, citing his belief that restricting birth control is simply not right (the current CO personhood measures would have restricted EC). In one recent poll of likely female voters, 60 percent say they don’t trust Gardner when he says he no longer supports a personhood amendment.

Pay Equity

Udall voted for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 (meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability) and is a co-sponsor of the 2013 Paycheck Fairness Act (which has yet to be voted on but would strengthen protections against sex discrimination in wages).

Gardner helped block efforts to move the Paycheck Fairness Act forward in the U.S. House in 2013. However, when he was in the state legislature, he supported legislation that designated Equal Pay Day and acknowledged the “persistent problem of wage disparity among various groups.” In one recent poll of likely female voters, 40 percent said Gardner’s role in helping the House block the consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act makes them less likely to vote for him.

Minimum Wage

Udall voted for the federal minimum-wage hike bill in April 2014.

Gardner opposes raising the federal minimum wage, saying that he thinks that “if there’s a minimum-wage issue, shouldn’t the state of Colorado be best equipped to handle the minimum wage in the state of Colorado?” However, Gardner has also opposed state-level efforts—he criticized a 2006 ballot measure to increase the state minimum wage in Colorado, voted against a state measure to implement an amendment (approved by voters) to raise the minimum wage, and sponsored a floor amendment in 2007 to strip increases in the minimum wage adjusted for the consumer price index.

In one recent poll of likely female voters, close to two-thirds (61 percent) said they supported raising the minimum wage, and 41 percent said Gardner’s opposition to raising the minimum wage would make them less likely to vote for him.

Read the rest of this series  here.

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: First Lady Michelle Obama greets a crowd of Mark Udall supporters at a Udall Senate re-election campaign visit in Denver on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Obama visited Denver in hopes of turning a difficult senate race in Udall’s favor. (Kevin Moloney/MCT)