On Monday, a sea of pink flooded the Capitol for Planned Parenthood’s Day of Action. Women’s Law Project was there to join constituents in asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.
The Agenda is a legislative package of bills designed to promote and protect the health and economic security of women in Pennsylvania. Agenda bills are sponsored and supported by members of the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, pro-choice caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Since the first wave of Agenda bills was introduced last session, more than a dozen bills have been introduced, and three have successfully passed into law.
We were thrilled to join young women and men from all over the state, many who were visiting the Capitol for the first time, to express their support for the Agenda and concern that too often in Pennsylvania politics, “women’s health” is just code for “abortion restriction.”
“What a thrill to be surrounded by hundreds of women’s health activists fighting for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” says Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh. “The Capitol looked beautiful in pink.”
Pennsylvania consistently ranks as one of the worst states for women’s health andeconomic security. It’s clear we need less rhetoric and more solutions to the very real problems faced by women in Pennsylvania.
For example, did you know that women who work at small businesses in Pennsylvania have less protections against sexual harassment than employees at large corporations? It’s true. An Agenda bill has been proposed to close that legal loophole by extending the protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sexual discrimination, to all companies across the state.
Even though pregnancy discrimination is technically illegal, in practice, some employers try to force pregnant workers off the job by refusing to provide minor temporary accommodations such as letting an employee sit on a stool or carry a bottle of water. We routinely receive phone calls from women around the state who are stuck in this situation. The Agenda’s “Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers” would ensure that women are not forced to choose between employment and a healthy pregnancy.Philadelphia and Pittsburgh passed limited local protections, but the rest of the women in state are left without protection.
Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass, who testified in support of the Philadelphia ordinance, addressed the crowd on the Capitol steps.
“There are many women who will never need a workplace accommodation during their pregnancies, but for individuals who do, the consequences are dire when their employer refuses to provide one,” said Bass. “Let’s make it happen. The health and economic security of women and their families should not be placed at risk simply because a pregnant worker needs a chair or help lifting a box.”
Another Agenda bill ensures that when women return to work after childbirth, they have a private and sanitary space to express milk.
A recent report revealed that without intervention, women in Pennsylvania won’t achieve equal pay until 2072. The Agenda’s Equal Pay bill would close loopholes in equal pay law by prohibiting wage secrecy, which would help narrow the gender wage gap. Many of the bills in the Agenda were developed by Pennsylvania lawmakers in response to Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.
Now, lawmakers in the Women’s Health Caucus are finalizing new legislation and preparing to announce a third wave of Agenda bills this session.
As always, we need your support as we raise awareness around these issues. To stay up to date on the Agenda for Women’s Health, follow our blog, twitter, facebook and tumblrpages. Sign up for our action alerts, so that we can keep you posted and tell you what you can do to show support for the Agenda for Women’s Health, and be part of the movement to demand rational, evidence-based policy solutions to the problems faced by women in Pennsylvania.
If you are in Western Pennsylvania, come out and meet our attorneys and staff at our annual Rights to Realities party, on May 1.
Photos: Sandi Yanisko