Women have had the most fundamental of political rights – the right to vote – in the USA for less than a century, as the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

Economic rights and related issues affecting self-determination, as well as discrimination in the workplace, remain serious concerns.

Pay Equity

The statistics on gender pay equity continue to show that women are commonly paid less than men for doing the same work. Even after myriad factors are adjusted for, including differences in hours worked and time taken away from career pursuits to devote to family, pay equity remains an issue of basic fairness. Earlier this year there were protests at one of the district’s major retail outlets over the fact that women were being paid less than men. The jobs at issue were performed by hourly workers, and the differences in pay could not be accounted for by job title, responsibilities, negotiating salaries, career ambition, or any of the factors typically cited to explain differences other than simple discrimination.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 make gender discrimination of this kind illegal. But filing complaints with the Equal Pay Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act often does not result in wrongs being righted. Under current law it is too easy for employers to claim that factors other than sex account for pay differences: one employee had more experience or training, or was a better salary negotiator, for example. Workplace policies that discourage, or even prohibit, employees from comparing their compensation are unacceptable. Under current federal law such policies are illegal, but most workers don’t know that, and they continue to feel pressure to refrain from doing so.

Reproductive Freedom

In Roe v. Wade the US Supreme Court established a framework for access to abortion that has been in place for more than four decades. Yet at both the federal and state levels there have been persistent efforts to restrict abortion in ways that are clearly inconsistent with that decision. And state legislatures continue to test the boundaries.

Abortion is an ethical dilemma: a situation in which there are competing interests that must be weighed and valued against each other. Yet people on the two sides infrequently acknowledge this, one side insisting that the only interests that matter are that of the unborn child in surviving to term and that of the state in protecting that life, while the other side insists that the only interest to consider is that of a woman in controlling her own body, making decisions with the advice and guidance of her doctor without state interference. By definition, an ethical dilemma requires that the competing interests be weighed and valued, and the resolution must be determined through consensus: in this case societal consensus. Many public opinion surveys have told us Americans are, by and large, comfortable with the Supreme Court’s framework in Roe v. Wade, and they want to preserve the status quo, opposing new restrictions.

I believe this status quo must be preserved, and efforts to impose new limitations must be turned away in the legislatures and the courts.

Access to contraception and other women’s health services are under continued threat by Republican legislators who want to allow policies by employers and health insurance companies that refuse to pay for these services, and who attempt to cut off funding through federal avenues, including Medicaid payments, for organizations that provide women’s health services, such as Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is maligned as an abortion mill, when abortion services are a small proportion of the organization’s work, and pregnant women are provided counseling about the entire range of options available to them. Planned Parenthood provides vitally important services that many women need and can get nowhere else. The current Congress and Administration have been perceived as an existential threat to Planned Parenthood, resulting in increased private donations to support the organization. But while this is a welcome sign of the way Americans value Planned Parenthood’s contributions to women’s health, federal funding must be preserved – and enhanced. Planned Parenthood is a critical source of a range of healthcare for women, including pregnancy prevention, treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and early detection of cancer. Loss of funding represents a serious threat to women’s health.

All issue papers are written by me, Bob Solomon. Your feedback is welcome!