There are many bills floating around Congress that deserve our attention this election cycle. We must hold elected representatives accountable to their voting records when considering who to cast a ballot for. Bills must be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then signed by the president, to become federal law.
Not only is the legislative branch responsible for passing laws, it is also responsible for setting the agenda. Women must continue to speak out about issues like reproductive rights, paid family leave, violence against women, and the wage gap to demand and affect change.
How will women be affected by legislative decisions after the elections? Some bills that stand to benefit women have been blocked, and others that provide important benefits to women are on the chopping block. Let’s take a look:
Defunding Planned Parenthood
Republican lawmakers have been gunning for Planned Parenthood since 2015. Last September, Republican Representative from Texas Diane Black introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that affords millions of women reproductive health care and education. The bill passed the House but was killed in the Senate.
Black also spearheaded and chaired a politically motivated hearing, called the “Selective Investigation Panel on Infant Lives,” after an anti-abortion group launched a campaign claiming that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for a profit. The nearly 30 states that participated in investigating this claim found no evidence to support it.
During the hearing, lawmakers focused on the ethics of abortion, asking leading questions in a clear attempt to cast the organisation in a negative light. These politically charged hearings were a transparent attempt to curb access to abortion by cutting off millions of women from affordable options. If the federal government cuts funding to Planned Parenthood, it won’t just be women seeking abortions who are affected. Planned Parenthood provides affordable STI and HIV screenings, which are crucial for public health. It is also the source of affordable contraception for many women, which is also a crucial preventative measure against unnecessary abortions.
Repealing Affordable Care Act
In keeping with the Republican party platform, Donald Trump has campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The provisions of Affordable Care Act ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance and subsidies if they cannot foot the whole bill. The act set up online marketplaces for people to shop around for a competitive rate. In addition to the exchanges, the law mandates that private insurance companies do not deny patients coverage due to pre-existing conditions, extend coverage to dependents until they turn 26, and include annual physicals and women’s health exams at no additional cost.
The effort to repeal so-called “Obamacare” has been a significant feature of the conservative platform since the act passed in 2010. The counter-proposal to the amendment calls for the end of these mandates and penalties, which might mean higher premiums. More insurance companies might offer insurance plans, but the people who were previously uninsured because they could not afford health care will be left out in the cold once again. In addition, the mandates, which are written to protect patients from insurance companies, will be axed.
Rolling back the Affordable Care Act affects millions of women. First off, the act mandates that health insurance companies cover birth control, mammograms, and pap smears without a copay and without contributing to the deductible. Additionally, prior to passage of the law, eight states neglected to bar health insurance companies from considering domestic abuse a “pre-existing condition,” leaving women vulnerable at the hands of insurance companies who were well within their rights to deny coverage. The Affordable Care Act also lessens the enormous financial strain placed on pregnant women. The act mandates that all plans offer some form of maternity coverage, which costs upward of $10,000 out of pocket.
Paid Family Leave
There has been a lot of talk about paid family leave in this election cycle. New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed a paid family leave bill. This bill would provide for paid family leave for up to 12 weeks after birth or adoption. The bill provides for a fund to be set up, much like Social Security, for low-income families. Under this law, working women would receive two-thirds of their earned income for 12 weeks.
Interestingly enough, there are some stirrings in the Republican party in support of a paid family leave bill as well. Instead of a government check, however, some conservatives are proposing a sliding scale tax credit, based on the Earned Income Tax Credit. It’s possible that we will see some cross-aisle collaboration on this front. Women, of course, are the largest voting bloc. Additionally, it is becoming less and less feasible to survive with a single income, factoring in wage stagnation and a higher cost of living. More people are clamoring for a policy that acknowledges these economic shifts.