As a social worker, the head of Lowell's first all-female law practice, and a community activist, I have always made the issues that impact women a priority. Now, as the first female elected to Congress from Massachusetts in 25 years and the only female member of Massachusetts delegation, I have been a strong advocate for federal policies that improve the well-being of women. I am proud to join the 76 members of the Women's Caucus in ensuring that our perspective is represented in the legislation Congress considers.
When I meet women interested in political office, I always say, "If we don't run, we can't win." When women serve in elected office, more of the issues that disproportionately affect women, like women's health and equal pay, are addressed. So, too, are more of the issues that affect families, such as health care and education. This perspective can also highlight issues around justice and equal rights for all because women have fought for their own equal standing for so long.
Women's rights have come a long way, but we still have work to do. In the US, women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned for similar work by their male counterparts, according to the US Census Bureau, and aremore likely to be poor. Many women in the US lack access to safe and affordable family planning assistance and many are still victims of domestic violence.
Women in the Workplace. I am a proud co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House, is a comprehensive measure that builds on the protections in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to help put an end to the discriminatory practice of paying a woman less than a man for performing the same job.
The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores a basic protection against pay discrimination by rectifying the Supreme Court decision in the case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The case concerned Lilly Ledbetter, a Goodyear employee with more than 19 years of service to her employer who did not discover until the end of her career that she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. Seeking back pay, she sued Goodyear. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent, ruling that Ledbetter she should have filed her claim within six months of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck.
The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act requires employers who practice unequal pay to justify their actions. In addition, the Paycheck Fairness Act protects employees who chose to share their salary information with their co-workers from being punished by their employer. It also closes loopholes that for years have allowed employers to engage in gender-based pay discrimination without the fear of prosecution. This bill was signed into law by President Obama on January 29, 2009.
I am also a proud co-sponsor of the Healthy Families Act. This legislation would allow Americans to earn paid sick time so that they can address their own health needs and the health needs of their families, guaranteeing up to seven paid sick days a year. It would also allow workers to use paid sick time to recover from or seek assistance related to an incidence of domestic violence or sexual assault. Legislation such as the Healthy Families Act removes barriers that keep women from working because of their family obligations. This legislation will help all workers achieve better work-life balance.
Women's Health. Congress passed a historic health care reform bill, which was signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. This bill holds benefits for us all, but it has a unique impact on women because of the way women have been persistently discriminated against by insurance companies. For example:
* Women on average pay higher premiums than men (a practice known as "gender rating"). A 25-year-old woman can pay up to 84% more than a man, even for a health plan that excludes maternity coverage. More than 60% of health care plans charge a 40-year-old woman who doesn't smoke more than a 40-year-old man who does.
* Prior to passage of health reform, it was still legal in many states for insurance companies to deny a woman coverage if she has been the victim of domestic violence. I was proud to join my fellow women colleagues in raising this issue and others that specifically affect women during the debate over health care reform. Because of these women, the final bill guarantees coverage for mammograms and pap smears.
During the Budget Committee markup of health care reform, I introduced an amendment to prohibit insurance companies from denying full or partial coverage to women, including maternity coverage, for so-called "pre-existing conditions" such as domestic violence, pregnancy, or a medical history of cesarean sections. My Republican colleagues joined me in supporting this motion, acknowledging that my amendment was crafted "fairly" and "addresses a significant problem," and will improve health care for women and families. The motion passed unanimously.
Reproductive Rights. Each year, half of the more than six million pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion. I know this is an issue that individuals take very seriously and I respect those who may come to a different conclusion than I do. I believe that women should have the right to make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctors, and I am working hard so that the need for an abortion is rare.
In order to make this possible, young people must have access to the proper sexual education and preventative health services. To help accomplish this, the federal government funds Title X, the only federal program dedicated to providing women and men with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services that help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and improve women's health. To be very clear, Title X does not fund abortion services.
As I stated on the House floor, these funds are critical to guaranteeing that millions of women receive critical health services and quality, preventive health care. I have also cosponsored legislation repealing the "global gag rule," which prevents any foreign aid from being used for health services at clinics that also perform or promote abortions.
Violence Against Women. During my time in Congress, I have been a strong proponent of measures that prevent and respond to domestic violence and sexual assault and that enable women to empower themselves with the tools to find safety and seek economic mobility. As I noted on the House floor, domestic violence not only harms the victim, it has a cumulative effect on communities. Children who grow up in households where domestic violence occurs are 60-75% more likely to experience child abuse. These children tend to suffer from a variety of psychological problems during their lifetime. I have been a strong supporter of full funding for the Violence Against Women Act which helps with legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, strengthens domestic violence shelters, and helps to enforce restraining orders.
Women in the Military. Women now comprise about 15% of the military, and the population of women in uniform continues to grow. Our women servicemembers put their lives on the line for our nation day after day, and deserve our protection and support. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have made it a priority to ensure that the women who serve in our military are given the opportunity to succeed.
In 2010, there were 3,230 reported sexual assaults in the military, yet the Department of Defense estimates that number of actual assaults is much higher. Once a report is made, women often experience a lack of support, confidentiality, or access to legal counsel. A 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office stated that some servicemembers believe that there is no point in reporting the incident if the perpetrator is of a higher rank and that victims are reluctant to report attacks "for a variety of reasons, including the belief that nothing would be done or that reporting an incident would negatively impact their careers." I have spoken to veteran women who have experienced this trauma and seen the toll it has had on their lives.
That is why I introduced the Defense Sexual Trauma Response, Oversight, and Good Governance Act (the Defense STRONG Act). This bipartisan legislation, which was introduced in the Senate by Senator John Kerry, strengthens the sexual assault prevention and response program by focusing on training, accountability, and a uniform organizational structure for sexual assault prevention and response programming throughout the military. It ensures victims have added protections within the Uniform Code of Military Justice Courts Martial process, including access to the advice of a lawyer, and ensures that private conversations between victims and Victim Advocates cannot be used against the victim in court proceedings. Many of my provisions were included in the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House in May 2010.
I have also introduced the Women's Excellence of Care and Access Review and Evaluation Act (the WE CARE Act). This legislation directs the Department of Defense to conduct a comprehensive review of the availability, efficacy and accessibility of women-specific health services and treatments for female members of the Armed Forces. This comprehensive assessment would provide the needed focus to ensure the Military Health System is providing the right care for the right patient at the right time.