Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health: Phase Two

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On June 3, I gave an update on the second roll-out of bills associated with the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. At the time, I did not have the bill numbers associated with each of these new bills nor did I have the information on where they were sent to. Now I do. Here’s that information.

Phase Two

Curbing Political Interference in Providers’ Medical Decisions:

H.B. 2303 will soon be introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D—Allegheny) to protect the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care. Senator Mike Stack (D—Philadelphia) has agreed to introduce the Senate version of this bill

Identifying gaps in health care for women veterans:

S.R. 262 has been introduced by Senator LeAnna Washington (D—Philadelphia and Montgomery) establishing a 17-member Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care that will study health care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans. It is currently in the Senate VETERANS AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Committee. The House version is sponsored by Representatives Pam DeLissio (D—Philadelphia an Montgomery) and Kevin Schreiber (D-York); their co-sponsorship memo is currently being circulated, but no bill number has yet been assigned.

Fighting deep poverty among women with children:

There are three different bills designed to address this issue.

    1. S.R. 62 has been introduced by Senator Chuck McIIhinney (R—Bucks). This resolution “directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study approaches to family work support programs which will increase income, keep families working and mitigate the circumstance referred to as the cliff effect.  This effect occurs when working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches.  The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.” It was sent to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee for review. On June 10, this committee unanimously voted in support of the bill and the bill is now waiting for the next review by the full Senate.
    2. H.B. 2305 will soon be introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D—Montgomery). It will increase the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need. This bill will increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50% of the Federal Poverty Level and would allow annual adjustments to be made based on revisions to this index of poverty.
    3. H.B. 2306 will soon be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D—Philadelphia). It will increase in the TANF Earned Income Disregard from 50% to 75% to encourage individuals to work by acknowledging that working families have unique expenses that take up a large percentage of their take home pay. This increase would help offset the additional taxes, transportation, clothing, and child care co-pays associate with working. The current disregard level is not enough to offset these additional costs.  A Senate version to be introduced by Senator Judy Schwank (D—Berks) is circulating a co-sponsorship memo to introduce this same legislation in the Senate; a bill number has yet to be assigned.

Ensuring widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions:

There are two different bills designed to address this issue. These bills require that a public employee select a retirement plan payment structure that provides no less than a fifty percent (50%) survivor annuity to the employee’s surviving spouse. These bills would bring spouses of public employees the same survivor protections that all other employees currently have. This is necessary since the federal Retirement Equity Act of 1984 does not cover employees of the state, local municipalities, or public schools. These bills mirror the spousal protections provided in federal law. Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D—Bucks) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the House for H.B. 2307 and H.B.2308. Senator Vincent Hughes (D—Montgomery and Philadelphia) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the Senate to introduce similar legislation in the chamber.

Protecting all employees against sexual harassment:

H.B. 2300 has been introduced by Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-LeHigh) to amend the PA Human Relations Act to extend the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state. Currently law only affects employers with four or more employees. This bill is currently in the House LABOR AND INDUSTRY Committee.

Taking Action on the PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo of a woman successfully scaling Nittany Mountain and working for equality

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo

And FYI, my local chapter of the National Organization for Women — Ni-Ta-Nee NOW — will be circulating a petition in support of this Agenda at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, PA on July 10-12, 2014. Our table will be located in front of Freeze Thaw Cycles, 109 S Allen St, State College, PA 16801 from 10 am to 8 pm each day. Please drop by, learn more about this Agenda, sign the petition, register to vote, and join NOW.

Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health Initial Roll-Out

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On December 11, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Health Agenda Caucuses rolled out the first set of bills that are part of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Agenda.  The Agenda was spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery). These legislators were assisted by several of their colleagues, including  Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware and Philadelphia), Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny), Mark Painter (D-Montgomery), and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) made the announcement of the roll-out. They announced that this first set of bills would soon be going to committee.

Video Statements

During the media advisory session, several of the Representatives were videotaped by the Pennsylvania House.  Here are those videos:

Representative Dan Frankel Announcing the Roll-Out of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Representative Brian Sims and Erin Molchany Introducing the Pay Equity Bill

Representative Sims spoke first:

Then Representative Molchany followed up with additional information:

Representative Tina Davis Introducing Digital Intimate Partner Violence Bill.

This bill would “make revenge acts that include pictures of partners who are naked or involved in sexual acts illegal.”

Representative Mark Painter Introducing Employment Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Women Bill

Representative Mary Jo Daley Introducing Bill to Require Sanitary Conditions in the Workplace for Breastfeeding Women

Representative Maria Donatucci Introducing Bill to Expand Access to Cervical Cancer Screenings

Advocates Support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Standing next to the legislators were representatives of many different advocacy groups who stood in support of this agenda.  The Women’s Law Project was the lead organization in working with the legislators to help create this agenda.  Pennsylvania NOW was also there.  None of the organizations present spoke at the press conference but did deliver their Statements of Support to the media.  Here are the statements from these two organizations.

Women’s Law Project

This statement is currently posted on the Women’s Law Project Legislative Action page and is repeated here just in case the URL is moved:

Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative
To Improve Women’s Health

Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality.

Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement.

“Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.”

“This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.”

Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person in this state.”

For more details on the proposed legislation, please visit our web site in the coming weeks for updates, as well as visiting the WomenVote PA web site.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org

Pennsylvania NOW

This statement was crafted by Caryn Hunt, President-Elect; Susan Woodland, Secretary-Elect and current  At-Large Member of the Executive Committee, and myself.

Pennsylvania NOW Supports the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

HARRISBURG, December 11, 2013—The Pennsylvania state chapter of the National Organization for Women (PA NOW) applauds the work of the House and Senate Women’s Health Caucuses as they roll out a comprehensive plan to address the real issues affecting Pennsylvania women today. Spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel, Senator Judy Schwank and Senator Chuck McIlhinney in conjunction with the Women’s Law Project, and then developed by a broad coalition of Pennsylvania advocacy organizations that work on behalf of women every day, it is based on years of experience about what women want and need to stay healthy. This Agenda goes a long way to redressing entrenched inequities for women in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania Republicans, like their counterparts in other state legislatures, have obsessed about women’s reproductive rights and have waged a non-stop campaign to control them from the capital, rolling back not just access to safe, legal abortion, but also the sense that women are full citizens entitled to a government and society that also works for them,” said Pennsylvania NOW President-Elect Caryn Hunt. “This agenda provides an antidote to the shallow, rhetorical policy-making of those in the General Assembly who have led the calls for women’s restrictions and called it concern for women’s health. It’s refreshing to see so many bills introduced that will genuinely help women, and that together provide a much truer portrait of the needs women want their representatives to address.”

These first bills address a variety of concerns for women: pregnancy accommodation is a common sense step to ensure that pregnant women are treated not as liabilities, but as persons with a temporary need for reasonable accommodations in the workplace; the bill to provide at 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health clinics is a necessity in our state to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner; bills targeting “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that for too long have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work. Other bills fill gaps in existing protections for nursing mothers, victims of intimate partner harassment and of domestic violence.

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women,” added Joanne Tosti-Vasey, President Emerita and Lobbyist for Pennsylvania NOW. “They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Pennsylvania NOW has high hopes for the Women’s Health Agenda. Finally, the concerns and needs of Pennsylvania are being honestly addressed by their representatives, rather than attacked and abridged.

I will report on more of these bills as they are announced.