War Against Women

Emergencylabor.org writes that there’s no doubt about it, women are under attack. Though many use this term to refer to Republican proposals, the attacks are in most cases bipartisan, with Democrats either supporting anti- woman policies or agreeing to “compromises” that undermine women’s legal rights, health, and economic, and social status. 


Equal pay is still a dream. U.S. women make only 77 percent of what men make. When race is added, Black women make 67.5 percent compared to all men and Latinas make only 57 percent, which was the average wage gap for all women in 1963 when pay discrimination was first addressed by law. Besides, much of the narrowing of the wage gap has been due to reductions in male wages, rather than improved wages for women.


Though the wage gap persists—largely because women are concentrated in low-paying jobs—it crosses races, educational levels, and most occupations. Even with- in the same employer, in jobs where women dominate, their pay is typically 20 percent less than in jobs dominated by men requiring comparable education and skill sets (an issue referred to as “comparable worth”), showing continuing discrimination in women’s wages.


Only women with union contracts can truly expect to be paid the same as equivalent men, and, even in union jobs, comparable worth rarely is addressed. Union women, though, usually have some job protection and a grievance process.


The most direct and blatant attacks on women have been in the area of reproductive rights. Without the ability to control if, when, and how they give birth, women have little control over the rest of their lives. Yet, the right to choose legal abortion has been under attack ever since it was established by Roe vs. Wade in 1973.


At the federal level, the most prominent restriction is the Hyde Amendment, which denies any federal funding for abortion, except for cases of rape, incest, or to save a woman’s life. Hyde ensures that women dependent on federal funds—including active-duty service women—are routinely denied access to abortion, since they often can’t afford, locate, or visit private providers. Also, the Supreme Court upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which prohibits a certain method used for medically necessary late- term abortions, inaccurately referred to as “partial birth,” even when there is no chance of fetal viability and the method is in the best medical interests of the woman.


Restrictions at the state level are numerous. Most states require parental consent for minors and many require spousal consent for married women, waiting periods up to 72 hours, and exposure to anti-abortion counseling. Current efforts, already successful in many states, focus on:


  • Outlawing private insurance coverage for abortion
  • Denying state funding for abortion and to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions
  • Requiring that abortions be performed only in hospitals (where they are more expensive)
  • Requiring that women hear the fetus’ heartbeat, even though that often requires using an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound
  • Putting medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers
  • Allowing medical providers to refuse to perform abortions, regardless of circumstances

Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota have passed “trigger” laws, which will outlaw abortion if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. In 2012 alone, some 39 restrictions on abortion have been enacted by states and 2011 saw a record-breaking 80.


In most parts of the U.S., providing abortion is quite dangerous, requiring expensive security measures. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider; twenty-five percent of women seeking abortion have to travel over fifty miles and eight percent over one hundred miles.


Contraception has been fully legal throughout the U.S. since 1965 and 99 percent of all sexually active U.S. adults have used it at least part of the time, including 98 percent of Catholic women. Yet, contraception is also under attack. Efforts to restrict it are usually posed as protecting religious freedom or as a means (proven ineffective) of delaying sex among teens. Many public schools are now limited to teaching abstinence as the only effective way to avoid pregnancy, despite the fact that abstinence-only education programs have resulted in higher teen pregnancy rates wherever they have been implemented. Many states allow pharmacists to refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions if they have a religious objection to doing so. Efforts are underway to require women to tell their employers if and why they are seeking contraception, if covered by employer-provided insurance. Opposition to contraception indicates that the most important issue for the extreme right isn’t abortion, which contraceptive use obviously helps prevent, but restoring the traditional patriarchal family model.