Slide Show: The Democrats Are the Real Party of Women | The Nation

Slide Show: The Democrats Are the Real Party of Women

  • President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, January 29, 2009 (1 of 9)

    Republicans may have touted 2010 as their own “Year of the Woman,” and recent polling suggests that women voters, traditionally a Democratic stronghold, may favor Republican candidates this year. But this obscures the fact that the Democrats remain the real Party of Women, as Rebecca Traister recently argued in The Nation; it is the party pushing female-friendly policies, from abortion rights to equal pay to healthcare access. Democrats in office, and the millions of women across the country who vote for them, don’t always prevail in their efforts to push women’s causes, but a number of them have championed women’s rights since Obama was elected.


    Credit: AP Images

  • A healthcare reform supporter in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (2 of 9)

    One of the major pieces of policy to come out of the Obama administration thus far is the healthcare bill, which outlaws the practice of gender-rating (charging different premium amounts for male and female policyholders) and forces insurers to provide coverage for maternity care, among other wins for women. 


    The health care bill also contained a significant loss, however, in that it fails to include coverage for abortion care except through a complicated rider, which individual plans can choose to offer. 


    The omission of abortion coverage is bad news for women. With the expansion of Medicaid and because of the economic downturn, more women will rely on federal insurance, and will likely exclude abortion from their medical coverage. Still, the National Partnership for Women & Families calls the healthcare law “a victory for every woman who has been overcharged because of her gender or denied coverage because of age or health status. It is a victory for every woman who has struggled to get the prenatal, maternity and preventive care she needs.”


    Credit: Reuters Pictures

  • Barbara Boxer at a campaign rally in Los Angeles, California (3 of 9)

    After Rep. Bart Stupak and his allies proposed an amendment to prohibit federal funds from being “used to fund an abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion,” Senators Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray led the charge to defeat the Stupak amendment. Pro-choice activists supported their challenge to Stupak by organizing “Stop Stupak” rallies and donating to reproductive health advocacy groups.


    Their ultimate failure—while the healthcare bill did not adopt the Stupak amendment, it nonetheless prohibits federal funding for abortion care—points to a long-standing dearth of pro-choice members of Congress rather than a recent decline in the strength of the pro-choice movement, argues Sharon Lerner in The Nation. NARAL Pro-Choice America’s Donna Crane told Lerner, "This is the best vote count we've had in my time here. But we're still more than thirty votes short in the House and almost twenty away from a prochoice Senate."


    Boxer and Murray’s efforts seemed almost doomed to fail when so many Democrats—including Obama—were willing to make “compromises” on women’s reproductive rights for the sake of pushing ahead a flawed healthcare reform bill. During the debate over the healthcare bill, Obama said in an ABC News interview, "I want to make sure that… we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices.”


    Credit: Reuters Pictures

  • Barbara Mikulski speaking about healthcare reform, March 25, 2010 (4 of 9)

    As the fight over what would be included in healthcare reform unfolded, Sen. Barbara Mikulski pushed an amendment, the key provisions of which were eventually adopted by the healthcare reform bill, to require all health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive care and screenings with no copayments. According to Mikulski, “Women pay more and get less. My amendment guarantees access to preventive screenings for the number one killers of women—heart disease, cancers and chronic conditions like diabetes—to save lives and save money.”


    Although the legal guarantee of preventive screenings is a great step forward on the path toward equal healthcare access for women, who prior to healthcare reform often paid more for insurance that included gynecological care, the fact that the legislation fails to include access to birth control shows just how effective conservatives have been in equating all family planning services with abortion.


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  • Lois Capps speaks at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado (5 of 9)

    Rep. Lois Capps attempted to preempt controversy about whether abortion care would be covered by publicly-funded health insurance plans by introducing an amendment to maintain the status quo—continuing the ban on the use of federal funds to pay for most abortions—to the healthcare reform bill, while permitting federally-funded plans to use private money (in the form of premiums and copays) for abortion coverage. Capps was criticized by some members of the reproductive health community for not attempting to include coverage for this legal, medically necessary procedure in healthcare reform. Capps wrote last year that despite her personal prochoice views on abortion, she saw her amendment as an unfortunate but necessary way to maintain the healthcare debate’s momentum: “In an attempt to try to find a compromise for dealing with abortion services in the legislation, I offered an amendment that would essentially continue this ban—even though I personally oppose the Hyde Amendment…. Our hope was that we could continue the current ban on federal funding for abortion so the issue wouldn't bog down the overall health reform legislation.”


    Capps’s amendment, however, was rejected by antichoice legislators and lobbyists, and the healthcare bill ended up creating more extensive restrictions abortion coverage for plans in the health insurance exchange. Though women can still opt for abortion coverage in some health care plans available through the exchange, they will have to pay for the abortion coverage as a “rider,” that is, with a separate check.


    Credit: AP Images

  • Hillary Clinton in Pella, Iowa (6 of 9)

    As a newly-elected Senator, Hillary Clinton may have earned abortion rights supporters’ ire by calling abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” But she’s consistently taken bold stands in favor of reproductive healthcare access, and as Secretary of State, has forcefully articulated a position in support of women’s access to the full range of reproductive health services around the world. In January 2010, she announced that the US would make a funding push over the next five years to promote “reproductive health care and family planning as a basic right” worldwide.


    In April 2010 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton told Republican Chris Smith, who demanded to know whether she considers legal abortion services a part of reproductive health care, that "family planning is an important part of women's health and reproductive health includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe [and] legal.”


    In an article for The Nation, Jessica Arons and Shira Saperstein commended Clinton for her strong stance on women’s reproductive rights, but criticized President Obama for remaining “relatively silent.” 


    While Obama openly identifies as prochoice, he has attempted not to alienate antichoicers. In a 2008 speech at Pennsylvania's Messiah College, Obama said, “I absolutely think that we can find common ground… People of good will can exist on both sides [of the abortion debate].”


    Credit: Reuters Pictures

  • Valerie Jarrett speaks in Washington, July 20, 2010 (7 of 9)

    Women’s rights advocates rejoiced when President Obama made the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first piece of legislation he signed into law. But while the Ledbetter Act restored important protections for workers experiencing wage discrimination—which a recent Supreme Court decision had taken away—it didn’t actually expand fair pay provisions. When the United States first adopted an equal pay law in 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2010, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to a recent Census report.


    Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women Girls, recently renewed the call to address equal pay, writing in the Washington Post that “During a woman's lifetime this disparity adds up to a substantial loss in income, retirement funds and even benefits.”


    The Paycheck Fairness Act would allow coworkers to share salary information with each other without fear of workplace retribution, mandate training about wage discrimination issues and authorize class actions in cases of discrimination. Unfortunately, the bill has been stalled for almost two years since then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro first introduced it in January 2009. 


    Credit: AP Images

  • Rosa DeLauro discusses Medicare in Washington March 16, 2010 (8 of 9)

    While lack of paid sick leave affects workers across all classes and genders, having to work while sick disproportionately affects low-wage female workers. A study released earlier this year by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has also found that workers in companies with no or poorly-paid sick day coverage were the most likely to go to work while sick. Without paid sick leave, women with children or single mothers with children are more likely to choose to tend to their children and their families’ economic security than to their own health.


    To combat this problem, Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Senator Chris Dodd and the late Senator Ted Kennedy proposed the Healthy Families Act in May 2009, which would require most businesses to allow employees to take paid sick days. After Kennedy’s death, DeLauro and Dodd have continued to push for this Act to pass.


    While state-wide paid sick leave legislation has passed in cities such as San Francisco, Washington, DC and Milwaukee, the Healthy Families Act is lacking momentum on the federal level. Organizations such as the SEIU are urging Americans to tell their members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act now.


    Credit: AP Images

  • Voting in Los Angeles, California (9 of 9)

    Next week’s election could be an opportunity to rebuild momentum. Supporters of women’s rights will want to elect representatives that will push crucial initiatives such as the Healthy Families Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.


    Although many women were severely disappointed by the Obama administration's caving in on issues such as including abortion care in healthcare reform, members of his administration, and other Democrats, continue to fight for equality for women. On November 2, voters who care about women's rights should vote pro-choice.


    Research for this slide show provided by Joanna Chiu


    Credit: Reuters Pictures

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