American Women Today

By Rebecca McFerren King, Public Policy Committee

Tragically, what many of us have feared since the GOP’s adoption of an anti-choice party platform in 1976 has come to pass.   After years of waging war on women’s rights, the Republican party under Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell successfully installed a conservative super majority on the United States Supreme Court, which overturned a woman’s constitutional right to safe and legal abortion with its June 2022 Dobbs decision.  In the months since, states have divided themselves along party lines: “blue” democratic states trying to safeguard a women’s reproductive freedom, while states controlled by the GOP seek ever stricter laws prohibiting abortion.  Ironically, all this is happening in a nation which still does not provide paid family leave or childcare to new parents.

For instance, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just signed into law a ban on abortions performed after six weeks of pregnancy, when most women have no idea that they are pregnant.  The law provides extremely limited exceptions: cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life.  Abortions for pregnancies involving rape or incest would be allowed until 15 weeks of pregnancy only if a woman has some proof of the crime, such as a restraining order or police report.  Abortions to save the life of the woman would be permitted only if two physicians attest that the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or to avoid “substantial and irreversible” physical impairment (in an “emergency,” one physician’s attestation is required).

If upheld, the Florida ban will have wider implications for abortion access throughout the South. Since Dobbs, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have banned abortion outright, while Georgia prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which is around six weeks’ gestation.

Meanwhile, leaders within the GOP want to ban abortion nationwide.  Were they to gain control of Congress and the Presidency, what state legislatures decide would be irrelevant; abortion would be illegal throughout all 50 states.  Even now, a battle is waging over a Trump-appointed Texas federal district court judge’s ruling overturning the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, a critical ingredient in the two-step abortion pill regimen which has been on the market for 22 years.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision, which effectively banned medication abortions nationwide.  More than half of all abortions in the U.S. last year were medication abortions.

With that in mind, 17 Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia sued the FDA in federal court in Washington state.  The federal judge in that case ordered the FDA to maintain access to mifepristone in those 17 states and D.C.  With the status of mifepristone and the validity of all FDA-approved drugs in question, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to block the Texas federal court’s ruling.  A temporary stay has been entered, pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s final ruling.

Looming amidst all this legal wrangling is the fact that the United States still offers no paid family leave for new mothers, including those forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.  These women find themselves forced to provide care to a newborn for which they are wholly unprepared – financially and, often, mentally and physically.  The United States is one of only seven countries in the world without some form of universal paid family and medical leave.  In January, in a rare bipartisan effort, Representatives Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) created the House Bipartisan Paid Family Leave Working Group.  However, its success is doubtful.  While paid family leave is desperately needed, especially for low-income women forced to bear children for which they are unprepared, Congress has provided nothing in the 30 years since the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child.  (Under the FMLA, employers may require employees to exhaust all accrued sick and annual leave as part of the 12 weeks, leaving them with zero banked leave upon their return to work.)

If you are like the majority of Americans who believe in reproductive freedom and paid family leave for new parents, make your voices heard by contacting your local, state, and federal representatives.  All politics are local; it is fair to ask candidates for local office, as well as state and federal, their stance on these important issues.

For more in depth reading, see:

%d bloggers like this: