Halloween Ode to the Garman Opera House

Happy Halloween readers!

It’s a day of “Trick or Treating” or “Trunk or Treating” depending on where you live.  In my case, a safe, historic town with lots of door-to-door trick or treaters.

However, it may also be a sad day – IF the Garman Opera House is allowed to be demolished by the Bellefonte Borough Council when it votes on the recommendation to raze this historic theater Monday night, November 4.  Despite the fact that the plan to demolish the Garman is on appeal in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

So a friend of mine (who is also a member of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association) has created a Halloween lawn Ode entitled “Let Us Eat Your Town” on his front lawn to the Garman Opera House (1890-?) and to the destruction of Historic Victorian Bellefonte – our town:


Photo of Patrick North's front yard with his Halloween Ode to the Garman Opera HouseGarman Opera House

Ode to the Garman Opera House: “Let Us Eat Your Town.” Photo taken by Sally Houser

What will be lost?  Here’s the streetscape as it looks today.  On the left is the Centre County Courthouse. The Garman Opera House is the building on the right with the black bonnets over the first-floor windows:


Streetscape of High Street as seen today of the Garman Opera House across the street from the Centre County Courthouse.

Streetscape of High Street as seen today of the Garman Opera House across the street from the Centre County PA Courthouse.

And here’s what it will look like once the building is razed, courtesy of the artistic Photoshop skills of my friend Mary Vollero – a locally well-known artist and PSU faculty member.


Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse if and when the Garman Opera House is razed. We need to stop this before it happens. Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse if and when the Garman Opera House is razed. We need to stop this before it happens. Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Note, the developer, who purchased the building through a local court order, has given no guarantee that he will build ANYTHING in the next two years to replace the Garman.  His only guarantee is to raze the building and plant grass.  If he doesn’t restore/rebuild, he has agreed to give town council the right of first refusal to buy the property back at his cost for purchasing and razing the building.

The Bellefonte Borough Council is meeting on Monday, November 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm.  They will be voting on the recommendation to raze the Garman.

Despite opposition by the community (at least 700 residents of the town and more than 1700 signers on BHCA’s Save the Garman petition).  Despite the fact that the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association has a feasible plan (and initial funds) to save and restore this structurally-sound historic theatre as a regional community arts center. And despite the fact that the decision to destroy this historic building was done through the misuse of Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act; that decision is now on appeal in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.

For more info, you can check out the complete Save the Garman Opera House website as well as my two earlier blogs (here and here) on this gem of history and the arts here in rural central Pennsylvania.


Happy Halloween All!

It might be the last one for the Garman Opera House UNLESS we can change the minds of the Bellefonte Borough Council. Come to Bellefonte’s council meeting on Monday evening, November 4 @ 7:30 pm to stand up for and speak out against the demolition/razing of the historic Garman Theater. Meeting will be held at Borough Council Chambers, Bellefonte Municipal Building, 236 West Lamb Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823.  If you can’t come, you can contact members of council through this link: http://bellefonte.net/government/directory/borough-contacts/

Thank you and


Enders Game and Pride

Some thoughts about a popular young adult author and his homophobic speech. Thanks Mary Griggs for raising this issue.

Mary Griggs

orson scott cardI read Enders Game when it came out during high school and really enjoyed it. I mean, what young person wouldn’t – it is the story of a kid, selected from everyone else for specialized training because he was smart, who survives school bullying and goes on to save the planet! All the special little snowflakes who didn’t really fit in at school, found a bit of wish fulfillment in those pages that we, too, would be plucked from obscurity and become someone who can make a difference to the world.

Before I could get hooked on any of Orson Scott Card’s other books, though, he started making offensive remarks about people like me. Here is one of the first I ever heard:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used…

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Voter ID Laws Block Women’s Votes

In the early spring of 2012, Pennsylvania passed its restrictive photo voter id law that is similar to the one in Texas discussed in Nel’s New Day. That summer, I testified in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court about my observations at the PennDOT licensing center in Pleasant Gap about the problems I observed in obtaining a photo id. These included lack of timely public transportation to and from the facility, lack of knowledge of the staff about the voter id law, inaccurate paperwork, long lines, and how women changing their names on their drivers’ licenses could be disenfranchised.


This last problem is one I saw in addition to all of the issues for women voting that are raised in Nel’s blog. Here’s what I observed.


A woman came in and said that she had just gotten married and needed to change her name on her driver’s license. She asked for the paperwork. The employee said rather than filling out the paperwork and paying for a replacement driver’s license, he could give her a piece of paper to carry with her current license showing her new name. Since Pennsylvania’s voter id law requires the name to be “substantially the same” on the voting records and the driver’s license, any woman taking this suggested route could end up being disenfranchised since what is on the id doesn’t match her new legal name and will not match the voting registration if she has made the change with the elections office. Had she gone through the paperwork and paid for the new license, she could have done a voter registration update at the same time since PennDOT is one of the recognized state voter registration sites. None of that was offered.


As a result of the Commonwealth Court case, the Pennsylvania Voter ID law has been temporarily enjoined. I wrote about the case in January of this year. The second stay came in March and the third one came after the primary. That stay says that until the constitutional issues surrounding the Voter ID law are resolved, photo ids can be asked for but cannot be required. First time voters will still need some form of identification (but doesn’t have to be a photo id; for example, it could be a copy of an utility bill).


As Nel states at the end of her blog, we here in Pennsylvania are hoping for the same thing:

“Let us hope that the lawyers will carefully explain to the judges the [constitutionally] discriminatory basis for voter ID laws and that the judges will believe them.”

Nel's New Day

GOP legislators and governors have found many ways to disenfranchise voters who might possibly vote against them: gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter list purging, etc. The Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the almost 50-year-old Voters Rights Act created even more havoc for voters. The tipping point against these actions may have come this fall in Texas.

Last night Rachel Maddow laid out the Texas problem on her show. It starts with a Texas law that mandated that all married women must use her maiden name as the middle name, a change resulting in a mismatch between the name on voter registration and driver’s license for women. The information went viral after Sandra Watts, judge in the 117th District Court, was challenged when she tried to vote. Watts has voted in every election for the past 49 years, the name on her driver’s license has stayed…

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Calling for Marriage Equality

Last Monday (October 21), New Jersey became the fourteenth state to grant lesbian and gay couples the right to marry.  This declaration came through the New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday, October 18 when the Court stated that same-sex couples could marry while the state’s appeal to uphold the ban proceeded through the court.  On Monday, October 21, Governor Chris Christie withdrew the state’s appeal asking the court to uphold the state ban on same-sex marriage; his administration released a statement that said, “The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

While all of this was going on, the New Jersey General Assembly was once again attempting to pass a veto-proof marriage equality bill because in February 2012 Governor Christie had vetoed the original marriage equality bill and we expected that he would the bill again.  So many people around the country were calling constituents of persuadable legislators to vote for the bill.  With both decisions by the Supreme Court and Governor Christie, the phone calling into New Jersey ended.

Meanwhile, a similar bill for marriage equality is pending in Illinois. And like in New Jersey, the vote for the right to marry is close.  The bill passed the Illinois Senate on February 14, 2013 with 34 yeas and 21 nays; it is now up for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives. And like in New Jersey, supporters of marriage equality are calling into the state to educate constituents about the bill and ask them to call their Representative to vote yes on Senate Bill 10.

The organization coordinating the calls is the National Equity Action Team (NEAT),a coalition of national, state, and local organizations and individuals who mobilize to win the freedom to marry in states with active marriage equality campaigns.”  The coalition organizations include:

NEAT is organizing phone banks two to three times a week for equal access to marriage.  Some of the phone banks are land-based groups of people making calls together at one site (usually NYC, Raleigh, NC, and several sites throughout IL); others are phone calling from the privacy of their homes and are being made throughout the US.

Joanne Phone Banking for Marriage Equality

Joanne Tosti-Vasey making phone calls into New Jersey on October 3, 2013

I have made these calls three times so far. Two were calls into New Jersey and one, so far, was into Illinois.  The first evening I did the calls with several NOW members of my local NOW chapter – Ni-Ta-Nee NOW.  The rest of the calls were made from the privacy of my home.

You too can call for Marriage Equality.  Just go to http://theneat.org and then click on the Volunteer button at the top of the page. The volunteer pages list several opportunities – some group calls and some home-based phone banking through November 10 as of right now.  Check your calendar, click on the dates and times you are available, fill out the information form, and you are on your way!  NEAT will then email you with the details and will provide and computer- and phone-based training.

Join me.  And call for Marriage Equality. Thanks.

Educating Girls with Disabilities around the World: A Guest Blog

Stephanie Ortoleva photo

My friend, Stephanie Ortoleva, President and Founder of Women Enabled, Inc.

Friday, October 11 was the International Day of the Girl.  To celebrate that day, one of my best friends, Stephanie Ortoleva, wrote about a missing piece of the conversation on educating girls – the education of girls with disabilities.  I thought you’d like to hear what she has to say. Thus this guest blog.

First, a bit about Stephanie. She is the President and Founder of Women Enabled, Inc., a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of woman and girls with disabilities in collaboration with activist organizations around the world.  She is also an international human rights lawyer, advocate, speaker, and author.  You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook and read her papers on the Social Science Research Network.

If you like this blog, you can get more information on this topic from Stephanie.  She has written a chapter in a soon-to-be-published (2014) Sage Publications book edited by Asha Hans entitled “Women and Girls with Disabilities – Global Perspectives” (ordering information will be on the Women Enabled, Inc. website in the Reading and Listening Room). You can also go to the Women Enabled, Inc. website in the “Education and Employment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” section and the Publications Section for several other articles on women and girls with disabilities.

And now, here’s what Stephanie has to say on the education of girls with disabilities….

International Day of the Girl:  Focus on Education – Missing Stories in the Blogs

The United Nations has designated October 11 as International Day of the Girl, with a focus on Education.  But as I read many well-written and strong feminist posts on this issue, the concerns of millions of girls with disabilities are missing from the dialog.  Who are the missing girls?  The deaf girl in India who attends a school for deaf children and who was raped by her teachers.  The blind girl in the United States who wants to be a scientist, but is not permitted to take the classes and who is told a blind person can’t be a scientist, especially not a blind girl.  The girl with a disability in Pakistan whose parents keep her at home and will not even let her attend school because they are ashamed.  These are only a few of the untold stories.  But the statistics about education of girls with disabilities tells an even starker story.


Estimates of the percentage of children with disabilities not attending school are extremely variable.  However, in general, children with disabilities are less likely to start school and have lower rates of staying and being promoted in school than their peers without disabilities.  The correlation between low educational outcomes and having a disability is often stronger than the correlations between low educational outcomes and other characteristics such as gender, rural residence or poverty.  The limited statistics that are available indicate that although the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 3%, only 1% of women with disabilities are literate, based on comprehensive research completed by Harilyn Rousso for UNESCO.  These percentages are significantly lower than those for women in general.

  • The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reports, “In 2008, 796 million adults worldwide (15 years and older) reported not being able to read and write and two-thirds of them (64%) were women.  The global adult literacy rate was 83%, with a male literacy rate of 88% and a female literacy rate of 79%.” In 2010, according to a journal article by Francis  Huebler, this statistic improved marginally to a male literacy rate of 89% and a female literacy rate of 80%, with the percent differential between the genders remaining the same.
  • The World Bank and the World Health Organization Report states that out of the 51 countries included in the analysis, “50.6% of males with disability have completed primary school, compared with 61.3% of males without disability. Females with disability report 41.7% primary school completion compared with 52.9% of females without disability, a difference of 8.9% between males and females with disabilities.”
  • There is a direct correlation between poverty, being a child with disabilities and low education participation, with the girls with disabilities from lower socio-economic backgrounds rarely attending school.
  • Girls with disabilities have the lowest education participation rates of all groups and they have few opportunities for vocational training, all of which further contributes to their low employment rates.

International Law

Under international law our participation is our human right. [These rights are enumerated in both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women]. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in its Article 7 on Children with Disabilities and its Article 24 on Education focuses on the girl child with a disability and her right to education. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in Article 10, guarantees to all women and girls the right to education.  Furthermore, in several of its General Recommendations, the CEDAW Committee has specifically addressed the rights of women and girls with disabilities. And  the Final Conclusions from the 55th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which focused on women and education and employment in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, specifically incorporated these rights for women and girls with disabilities.  Thus, the synergy between the CRPD and the CEDAW is a vital tool for advancing our rights in this area.

Barriers to Participation in Education

Barriers to the participation of women and girls with disabilities in education are based on culture, family structures, societal attitudes and stereotypes, institutional systems, law and legal processes, economic realities, patriarchy and paternalism.  Specific barriers include:

  • Cultural bias – Often, women are denied education because it is believed that they will become wives and mothers and such resources are provided to male children.  But for women with disabilities, are often seen as unlikely to assume such roles, and thus are the last to receive family resources;
  • Double discrimination – Women and girls with disabilities face double or intersectional discrimination based on both gender and disability (as well as other identities) and stereotypical attitudes based thereon further limit our opportunities;
  • Invisibility – Girls with disabilities are often kept in the home and their births may not be registered, making them invisible to the education system, either because of assumptions about our abilities or embarrassment on the part of our families.  Additionally, misconceptions about our abilities may make us invisible to teachers even if we attend school;
  • Violence against women and girls with disabilities – Women and girls with disabilities are more likely to experience gender-based violence than their non-disabled sisters, sometimes because we are erroneously perceived as sick, helpless, asexual, and powerless, or on the other hand, we are seen as hypersexual or just lucky to have sexual experiences at all wherever we can because we are undesirable.  Additionally, women and girls with disabilities living in residential facilities or schools are even more likely to experience such abuse;
  • Pregnancy, HIV-infection and other results of sexual assault and rape – As a result of sexual violence and rape, women and girls with disabilities may become pregnant or contract sexually transmitted diseases from the abuser;
  • Bullying and teasing – Disabled girls are sometimes subjected to bullying and teasing by their peers based on both our gender and our disability, negatively impacting our emotional and cognitive development, as well as causing low self-esteem;
  • Economic resources for education – Male education is prioritized as it is believed that a male child can contribute financially to the family, and women and girls with disabilities are not viewed as worthy of an education since many assume their disabilities will preclude success;
  • Schools in inaccessible locations and/or lack of transportation – Schools that provide special education and/or education for children with disabilities in integrated settings are often located in cities and families are reluctant to send daughters to the city or there is no accessible transport to such schools.  Boys are often seen as more independent and permitted to travel to urban locations;
  • Accessibility to assistive technology and rehabilitation – Men and boys have greater access to such services;
  • Accessibility of school facilities – Often the school buildings and facilities themselves are inaccessible, posing yet another barrier;
  • Accessible toileting facilities and assistance in toileting – Provision of toileting assistance places a particular burden on women and girls with disabilities, especially with respect to menstruation which is often a taboo topic. [In addition,] access to appropriate hygiene products is non-existent or in very short supply, resulting in increased isolation for women and girls with disabilities and further impairs their ability to attend school or work;
  • Availability of special education – Girls with disabilities are less likely to receive special education, in some instances because teachers expect more from boys than girls and sometimes because girls, who may be less likely to act out due to cultural control pressures, are not referred for services based on a learning or other disability.  And even if a girl receives special education services, she may be tracked toward pursuing traditional gender-identified career paths;
  • Competitive classroom climate and teaching strategies – Competitive educational approaches are challenging to some girls with disabilities.  Mainly for the same reasons discussed earlier, like bullying, being outnumbered by males in the classroom, and low self-esteem.  In addition, many teachers are trained to teach more life skills to students with disabilities rather than focus on competitive subjects;
  • Digital divide – Women and girls with disabilities are at the bottom of the digital divide and the least likely to have access to technology;
  • Belief that girls do not do math and science – We are presumed not to have aptitude in these subjects and are steered into gender stereotypical subjects, as well as the “talent myth” which is based on the erroneous assumption that skills in STEM fields are an innate aptitude and cannot be learned;
  • Counseling based on stereotypical roles for women and girls – Counselors often steer girls with disabilities toward gender-stereotyped jobs and generally they are less likely to afford girls with disabilities vocational education. [Also,] many counselors hold the incorrect societal perception that girls with disabilities have limited aptitude or interest in STEM and other challenging subjects;
  • Girls with and without disabilities have limited interaction – Both groups would benefit from such interactions, as they contribute to networking and peer support, and reduction of fear and stigma;
  • Absence of women with disabilities as role models – The invisibility of women with disabilities in educational materials, as educators, in the workplace and in the media creates a dearth of positive role models for women and girls with disabilities; and
  • Shortage of women with disabilities as mentors – Having a responsive and supportive mentor makes the world of difference for academic and professional success and increased self-esteem.

Let’s spread the facts and then, let’s change them!

How Much Pay has Congress Made Since They Shut Down the Government?

While over 800,000 federal employees were sent home without pay on October 1 when Congress failed to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, members of Congress still continue to receive their salary.  I just came across a graphic that shows, in real-time, how much all 535 members of Congress – the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the Senate – have earned since the day Congress shut down most of the federal government programs.

Take a look via CongressStillGetsPaid.com.

Congress, this is outrageous.  Get the federal government back to work.  Rather than attempting to end Obamacare and/or cutting Social Security – both detrimental to a huge swath of the American public – JUST PASS A CLEAN CONTINUING RESOLUTION!

Day Nine of the GOP Government Shutdown: Koch Brothers Getting Nervous

I think that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is right on target when he said that “Congressional popularity [is] lower than witches, hemorrhoids, and dog poop.” This stonewalling related to both the budget and the pending debt ceiling needs to end. Rather than attempting to end Obamacare and/or cutting Social Security – both detrimental to a huge swath of the American public – JUST PASS A CLEAN CONTINUING RESOLUTION!

Nel's New Day

Eleven months ago, the wealthy Koch Brothers started orchestrating the current government shutdown; now they understand that they have unleashed a monster because many of the most vocal Tea Party members in Congress are ignorant. And stupid.

Last Saturday, the New York Times divulged the background for the plot to create the current developing disaster for the United States:

“Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

“Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed ‘blueprint to defunding Obamacare,’ signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative…

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Corbett’s at It Again

This time, Corbett is attacking LGBT couples

“Just Close Your Eyes”

Last year, the Pennsylvania General Assembly was considering passage of a transvaginal ultrasound bill to force women to have an unnecessary ultrasound in advance of going to an abortion clinic if they want to terminate their pregnancy. This bill would have required pregnant women to have the intrusive vaginal ultrasound with a video screen pointed at then and then would have required them to carry that report to the clinic the next day along with a signed form indicating that they had the procedure done.  This report would also have to be placed in their medical record despite the fact that this procedure was not medically necessary.

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was asked if this was a bill that burdened women, he said that the women who didn’t want the procedure could “Just close their eyes.”

Here’s a clip of that comment (the commentary and the comment start at 02:39 minutes into this video):

This time he says, “I think a much better analogy would have been  brother and sister…”

Now this week, he’s attacking loving gay couples who want to marry just like their heterosexual friends do.  On Friday he responded to another reporter’s question.  He appeared on a Harrisburg TV station program called “Ask the Governor.”  The reporter asked him to comment on the legal argument that his lawyers are proceeding with in a case to stop Montgomery County’s Register of Wills from issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians who want to get married in Pennsylvania.

The legal brief compares same-sex marriage to allowing 12-year old children to get married.  His response, just a bit longer than the “Just close your eyes” comment from last year, is just as offensive.  The reporter said to him, “comparing gay marriage to the union of 12-year olds … you called inappropriate.” Corbett responded:

“It was an inappropriate analogy. I think a much better analogy would have been  brother and sister, don’t you? ”

Here’s a clip of this comment:

He later, as with last year’s comment, apologized, saying this time that it’s just a “legal” argument since marrying a 12-year old or having an incestuous marriage, or marrying a person of the same-sex are all illegal.

This is the guy who thinks he represents the Commonwealth?!!?  Women as well as men? I don’t think so! All gays and lesbian couples as well as any heterosexual couple that wants to get married?!!? I don’t think so!

Inappropriate, Offensive, Insensitive, and Hateful

Both of these statements are offensive, insensitive, and hateful.  And, yes just as Corbett later stated they are both inappropriate.  Yet he continues to attack – women, gays, immigrants, etc.  For a sampling of these attacks by Governor Corbett (as well by the Pennsylvania legislature), check out my blog posting earlier this entitled “War on Women in PA: At Least a 20-Year Happening.”

The apologies are not enough.  Corbett has to go.  He needs to be a 1-term Governor in Pennsylvania – something that hasn’t happened since the PA Constitution was amended in 1968 to allow a Governor to succeed himself (or herself, which might change if we ever elect a female governor) with a second term.

The Alternatives (So Far)

We know that Tom Corbett will be the Republican candidate for PA Governor in 2014.  We don’t know who the Democratic (or any other party) candidate will be on the November ballot.  Right now there are at least eight Democrats running: John Hanger, Jo Ellen Litz, Rob McCord, Katy McGinty, Max Myers, Ed Pawlowski, Allyson Schwartz, and Tom Wolf have officially announced and Rep. H. Scott Conklin, Senator Mike Stack, and former Auditor General Jack Wagner are considering a run. We need information on these alternatives.

So I started looking for blogs or commentary on alternatives to Tom Corbett.  So far, there is only one that is not party-based that I could find.  It is written by Cindy Purvis, Treasurer of Healthcare for All PA.  Her blog is titled “Race for PA Governor” and focuses on single-payer healthcare reform.  So check out her blog.

After the fall elections, there should be more websites up that can provide more complete information on the stances of candidates across a wide spectrum of issues, including women’s rights, reproductive justice, marriage equality, and other LGBTQ issues.  One of the best, in my opinion is Project Vote Smart.  Right now there is nothing on any race being held in 2014, but check back later.

Meanwhile, you can let your outrage be known. Contact Tom Corbett by email or phone at 717-787-2500.  Tell him that his wars on women and the LGBT community must stop.  Let him hear your outrage.  Maybe he might reconsider some of his views and actions towards the citizens of Pennsylvania.  I doubt it, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.