Perhaps you’re sick of the political system. I get that. It’s all too easy to see it as a system riddled with corruption, fueled by the coffers of special interests that never seem to have your interests at heart. The bipartisan bickering, the heated rhetoric, the fact that Congress has an approval rating so low it’s closer to the margin of error than it is to the hearts of its constituents. So why bother? What does it really do except make you late for work on Tuesday?
As it happens, a lot. Especially for women. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of the some of the freedoms won by women (and men), via our political experiment that is democracy, that are now under attack by our state and federal lawmakers. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
1. Women’s Right to Vote (1920)
The 19th amendment was passed by the states in 1920 and guaranteed all American women the right to vote. Since then, women have surpassed men both in the proportion and numbers of women who vote.
Threat: Instead of advocating a 21st century voting system, conservative legislatures in 30 states are attempting to turn the clock back to the 19th century when only privileged white males were allowed to vote. Newly imposed ID requirements in some states target students, people of color and women. As many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.
2. Social Security Act (1935)
Women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and approximately 68 percent of all beneficiaries age 85 and older. Social Security is the bedrock of women’s financial security in the later years of their lives.
Threat: Bills introduced by conservative congressional members would gut the current
Social Security program and disproportionally impact women’s economic security.
3. Medicare (1965)
Medicare is the nation’s health insurance program seniors and younger adults with permanent disabilities. More than half (56%) of all Medicare beneficiaries are women.
Threat: The conservative majority of the House of Representative passed a fiscal year 2012 budget bill that will effectively end Medicare and replace it for those now under 55 with a voucher to buy private insurance. It would increase out-of-pocket health care costs, limit benefits and choice of doctors.
4. Medicaid (1965)
Medicaid provides 19 million women access to vital health services at all stages of their lives. In 2007 nearly seven in ten elderly individuals who relied on Medicaid for assistance were women.
Threat: Under the conservative House budget, Medicaid was targeted for deep budget cuts and converted into capped block grants to states. Medicaid still faces threats as the Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction deliberates and identifies an additional $1.5 trillion in budget cuts.
5. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964)
Title VII passed in 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VII covers all employment actions, including hiring, promotion, and termination, as well as all of the terms and conditions of employment and has been central to expanding women’s economic opportunities.
Threat: Recent actions by conservative Senators and the conservative-majority on the
Supreme Court have weakened employment discrimination laws and placed women’s rights in jeopardy.
6. Title X, The National Family Planning Program (1972)
In 1972, Title X, America’s national family planning program, was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. More than 5 million individuals receive health care through Title X clinics.
Threat: For the first time in history, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to completely defund Title X in 2011. Nine states have reduced family planning funding through legislative action and one (NJ) has eliminated it through Governor veto.
7. Title IX of the Education Amendments (1972)
Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs or activities. Title IX greatly expanded equal access to sports opportunities so that today girls and women represent 40% of all college and high school athletes.
Threat: A combination of budget cuts, regulations held over from the Bush Administration and pressure from congressional opponents threatens to weaken enforcement of Title IX.
8. Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision (1973)
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment extended to a women’s decision to have an abortion.
Threat: Anti abortion members of Congress have introduced legislation that would make
all abortions illegal and essentially overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2011, over 1000 pieces of legislation have been introduced and 162 bills have been passed at the state level to restrict access to abortion and/or family planning, the most since 1973.
9. The Violence Against Women Act (1994)
The Violence Against Women Act passed by Congress in 1994, created the first U.S. federal legislation acknowledging the severity of crimes related to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and violence against women.
Threat: VAWA will expire at the end of the 2011 unless it is reauthorized. The law also
requires updates and strengthening, including provisions that will help protect students on campus who are consistently subject to sexual harassment, assault and violence. Despite this, no action has yet been taken to ensure VAWA is reauthorized for the years to come.
10. The Affordable Care Act (2010)
The Affordable Care Act of 2010, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, covers well woman preventive health services, such as an annual well-woman visit, contraceptives, mammograms and cancer screenings, prenatal care and counseling for domestic violence, as basic health care for women at no additional cost. Combined with other provisions, the ACA is an historic step forward for women’s health and economic security.
Threat: Conservative members of Congress as well as conservative state legislators
and governors have pledged to repeal ACA and deny women, of all ages, critical
preventive care services.
Sure, the system is far from perfect. The process of lawmaking is slow, sleazy and cumbersome; and the deepest pockets still buy the loudest speakers. But it’s better than a system where your vote actually doesn’t count, or one where you don’t even get the luxury of choosing whether or not to vote. Remember those Iraqis and Afghans who voted a few years back? They literally risked their lives to get to the polls, and still voted in numbers greater than we did in 2008, when the weather was nice and we were reportedly excited about our future. And no one had to worry about getting killed while simply standing in line and exercising her right to be heard.
So, really, what do you have to lose? Except for your fundamental freedoms and a little time off your day? Do it! Do it for Alice Paul and Lucy Stone, who fought so hard for our right to do it at all. Do it for all the women worldwide who would gladly take your place in line if they only had the chance.