The State of the Union and Reproductive Justice
The conversation I had with SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson recently was wide-ranging, focusing first on the intersection between the work of her organization in promoting reproductive justice, especially for women of color, and the Moral Monday movement. This was just before the Moral March in Raleigh last Saturday which attracted somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 participants, including around 1,000 UUs, many of them in the bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love colors. The policy agenda in that stat e— and now beyond — is multi-faceted, including access to healthcare for low income women and women’s rights in general. We agreed that the focus on these issues, in addition to dismantling highly discriminatory voter ID laws, enhances and augments our mutual work.
Our talk came just following the State of the Union address, lauded for its front and center acknowledgment that all of us benefit when the status of women is improved. President Obama emphasized that ‘women make up about half our workforce’ but still face pay and pregnancy discrimination, as well as ‘Mad Men’–era workplace policies. We agreed that this emphasis on bread and butter concerns of women (literally): a raise in the minimum wage; equal pay for equal work; and again access to comprehensive healthcare offers “lots of hope for this year,” as Monica commented.
We also agreed on what was missing: any mention of the threats to access to birth control and abortion that have only redoubled in the past year. In fact the next day, as reported in the New York Times, the House of Representatives voted to impose tighter restrictions on federal payments for abortions. The vote on HR 7 was 227-188, mainly along party lines. It contains language similar to the Hyde Amendment, the law first passed in 1977. This measure would make what is an annually renewed provision permanent.
As reporter Jeremy Peters observed in his coverage of this vote, the timing was telling. He pointed out that the House leadership chose to “bring the measure up on the day when all of Washington and much of the news was consumed” with covering President Obama’s address, an address that was silent on this development, as well as the upcoming Supreme Court hearing on two cases brought by secular non-profit corporations seeking an exemption, based on their religious beliefs, from the requirement that employers’ health plans cover the full range of contraceptive services without a co-pay under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation (UUWF) has joined an effort with national coalition partners, including the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to oppose the House bill on abortion funding and has been a signee on an amicus brief asking the Court to reject the claims of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby that their religious freedom is being violated by this insurance coverage, trumping the rights of their employees to act according to their own faith beliefs and individual consciences.
There are still opportunities ahead for the President to use his bully pulpit to weigh in as well on these very real threats to healthcare access—and the equal status of women he so eloquently endorsed.