HARRISBURG, Pa. (Jan. 23, 2018) — The Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health today unveiled a report detailing its findings from a series of statewide public conversations held last year in Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Cumberland, Delaware, Erie, Lancaster and Lehigh counties.
The conversations focused on a wide range of issues affecting the health and economic well-being of Pennsylvania women and their families, as well as legislative solutions that will help the commonwealth improve its continually abysmal rankings in key indicators of women’s health and economic security.
The Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health unveiled its report, “A Report on Pennsylvania’s Community Conversations on Women’s Health,” during a Capitol news conference with support from a bipartisan group of legislators, key stakeholders and community partners. At the event, women from Allentown, Bucks County, Carlisle, Lancaster and Reading shared their stories.
“I want my voice heard. I want the issues important to me and other women to be a priority,” said Safronia Perry or Carlisle. “That’s why I participated in these community conversations, and that’s why other women did, too. We’re united in working together to protect our health care and strengthen our families, and we’re raising our voices to ensure we’re heard.”
A common refrain at all of these conversations was that Pennsylvania women consistently feel that their voices are not being heard, both in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., but also among their local governments. Indeed, in Harrisburg, the state General Assembly spent most of 2017 focused not on the wide range of policy proposals that would dramatically improve the material condition of Pennsylvania women and their families, but rather on a blatantly unconstitutional measure to restrict legal access to abortion.
“For too long, the voices of Pennsylvania women have been marginalized and largely ignored in the halls of power,” said Lindsey Mauldin, Deputy Director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and chair of the Community Conversations project. “Now that these women have been heard, we hope this report emboldens and encourages elected leaders to enact policies important to women’s health and economic security.”
Health care was a major concern in these conversations. Women across Pennsylvania are deeply concerned about the rising costs of health care and especially ongoing threats to access to reproductive health care, without which economic freedom for women is not possible.
Strengthening legal protections for pregnant women and new mothers also is critical to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians have the ability to fully participate in the workplace. The Workplace Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act, and its companion, the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, both have repeatedly failed to find traction in the General Assembly, despite the best efforts of bipartisan legislators in the Women’s Health Caucus.
These bills would provide much needed protections for women in the workplace. Under current law, a pregnant woman can be fired for reasons as trivial as asking for an extra glass of water. New mothers, many of whom have to return to work as quickly as two weeks after giving birth due to inadequate parental leave policies, are frequently unable to breastfeed as long as they would like because employers are not required to provide basic, reasonable accommodations that would enable them to express milk in a private, sanitary setting.
The gender pay gap was another issue that arose frequently during the conversations. In each location where the events were held, women’s average earnings lagged behind those of men. One simple legislative solution to this issue would be for Pennsylvania to raise its minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25, the lowest allowed by federal law.
Raising the minimum wage would bring a more dignified life to many women who may not earn enough now to pay for basic living expenses, child care or schooling. Increased wages also would make it easier for women to access the education they need to further their careers and find jobs with family-sustaining wages.
Three of the sessions focused on issues facing Pennsylvania’s rising Latinx population, which faces linguistic, cultural and immigration status-related barriers to accessing health care and economic opportunity that their white peers do not.
The United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044, and Pennsylvania’s immigrant population is composed mostly of women and children. Now is the time to address these systemic issues that will affect the health, well-being and economic security of a growing segment of the population in years to come.
Whether it is through the #MeToo movement, continued global Women’s Marches or local community conversations, women everywhere are demanding that their elected leaders hear their voices and act accordingly. The suite of proposed legislation supported by the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, highlighted as part of these community conversations, represents a series of critical first steps toward protecting the health and well-being of women and strengthening families.
The conversations were an initiative of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health.
The conversations, which gave women and others a voice to talk about issues that directly affect their health and lives, were held in 10 communities, including Allentown, Bucks County, Carlisle, Delaware County, Erie, Hershey, Lancaster, Millvale, Pittsburgh and Reading. The theme of each conversation focused on the foremost concerns of the community.
Founded in 2013, the campaign comprises more than 60 local, state and national organizations calling for evidence-based policies to support and protect equal access to affordable reproductive health care, including abortion, personal safety, and workplace equality.
Specifically, the campaign supports legislation to address pregnancy discrimination, close gaps in the state’s equal pay law, provide workplace accommodations for nursing workers, protect patients and doctors from harassment, and prohibit legislatively coercing doctors to lie to patients.