Karen Heller: Pennsylvania women at risk due to gender bias, study finds

"There may be a war on women now, as some recent acts might suggest. We're far from equality, and wanted to look at the intersectionality of all of these issues." - Carol Tracy, Womens Law Project
"There may be a war on women now, as some recent acts might suggest. We're far from equality, and wanted to look at the intersectionality of all of these issues." - Carol Tracy, Womens Law Project
Posted: May 24, 2012

The Women's Law Project just released a massive, two-year study, "Through the Lens of Equality," examining the role gender bias plays in the physical, emotional, and financial health of Pennsylvania women. The diagnosis? Not so good.

Actually, the report states, "the health consequences of inequality truly shocked us."

Really, can we be shocked about gender inequality in a commonwealth whose governor, in defending a bill requiring an ultrasound prior to an abortion (plus two souvenir photos), advises "you just have to close your eyes"?

Or by bills enacted by a legislature whose membership more closely resembles that of Augusta National - 42d in the nation in female representation - than a state with a 6.5 million female majority?

A government that coddles energy companies the way we wish they would care for children?

"There may be a war on women now, as some recent acts might suggest," says the Women's Law Project's Carol Tracy, an author of the report. "We're far from equality, and wanted to look at the intersection of all these issues."

Pennsylvania ranks 32d among states in women's health, according to a 2010 study. Our numbers are dreadful in terms of breast cancer death rate (sixth), high blood pressure (ninth), diabetes (12th), and smoking (14th). Who knows what will happen to everyone's health if the commonwealth doesn't get serious about environmental regulations related to fracking.

The report includes a list of recommendations for reform - actually, it's a fat catalog - that, while honorable and right, had me singing the lyrics from "Never Never Land" specifically, "I know a place where dreams are born."

Look, I'd also like a pony.

Among the report's prescriptions are "eliminate sex discrimination in employment," "make paid family and sick leave universally available," and "expand access to affordable and timely contraceptive and family planning services."

Right, right, right, yet never going to happen.

Pennsylvania is open for business but not so much for many residents, especially women, the poor, and urban residents - you know, people who don't resemble most of our bloated, expensive, backslapping legislature. Or, as Tracy puts it, "To them, life is sacred until birth. They don't really focus on the appropriate care for women who wish to continue their pregnancy."

The report is also predicated on "anticipated full implementation" of President Obama's health-care act, its legality recently argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. As you may recall, then-Attorney General Tom Corbett was among the first state officials to file a lawsuit challenging the law.

Pennsylvania, as I've noted before, is where reform goes to die. The commonwealth's new slogan should be "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania - just not in Harrisburg."

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania is not alone, but one of 11 states trying to mandate ultrasounds prior to abortions. In the first three months of this year, legislatures introduced almost 1,000 provisions regarding women's reproductive health, half of them restricting access to abortion.

And legislative opposition weakening women's rights and protection is also occurring in Washington. Obama has been unable to strengthen the 1963 Equal Pay Act to enforce income equality. Last week, the House passed a bill, along party lines, that dilutes the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, omitting Senate provisions to protect immigrants, Native Americans, and gays.

"The good news is there are ways to make things better; there are laws that exist that need to be enforced," Tracy says. She hopes the report's findings "open the eyes of women. The sleeping giant of women voters has to wake up," not merely presidential elections - when women turn out in droves - but in electing legislators "who create state policy," the very ones that aren't helping.

Terrific point. Because the single greatest health and equality reform Pennsylvania women need is better, more concerned representation in Harrisburg.

Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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