by Gloria Lau, YWCA USA CEO
“We’re not going backward.” So says Ellie Smeal, my friend and shero, publisher of Ms. Magazine, in their new cover story, “Fighting the War on Women.” These days, I repeat the same mantra every day, as do YWCA women, from ages 18 to 80-something+, around the country. We not only have to say it, we have to say it together. We have to say it loudly and we have to say it with conviction. And we need more women to join in.
This “war” has been going on all year. As the Ms. article notes, in the first three months of this year, 944 provisions designed to compromise reproductive rights were introduced by state legislators. By early May, 30 new anti-abortion restrictions had been enacted, many of which threaten basic health care for women. As the article points out, these anti-abortion restrictions do not take into account that in some instances women use contraceptives to treat serious medical conditions. In fact, “1.5 million women in the U.S. take oral contraceptives solely for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.”
In addition, recent Medicaid cuts pose a threat to women’s health care particularly to the low-income and the elderly. Medicaid cuts, as the article references, not only impact family planning funds but also account for two-thirds of nursing-home care. Thus, these new state laws and funding changes are impacting elder care for women as well.
It’s time for these attacks to end. Every woman can play a role. Here at the YWCA, we are engaging millennials to help protect the gains their grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought so hard to earn. And, we’re engaging our foremothers as well – the women who earned the rights we have now because they spoke up and stood up for women’s rights for 40 plus years. Constance Tate, former YWCA national board member and past president of the YWCA of New York City, reflects on how past battles for reproductive rights are currently being re-fought:
“I can remember how relieved we were in 1964 when Griswold v. Connecticut was decided by the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision, allowing married couples to use birth control,” recalls Tate. “I remember how we cheered in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was passed, allowing abortions in the first three months of pregnancy. In both cases, the decision was that laws controlling such behavior can violate a married couple’s or a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, and that right is just as true and absolutely vital today.”
And this particular war has many fronts – it isn’t just about healthcare. It is also about safety and funding a Violence Against Women Act that protects all women. It is about access to voting and it is about pay equity.
The YWCA offers our thanks to Ms. Magazine and Ellie Smeal for doing the homework and showing us the stark reality of what we face. Together, when we go to the polls in November, let’s make our votes – and women’s voices – count.