The Women’s Law Project (WLP) is a founding member of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health.
The Campaign’s priorities are informed by our shared understanding that women’s health and economic security are inextricably connected, and that we cannot achieve economic or racial justice without reproductive freedom.Currently, the Campaign is focused on supporting legislation in the Agenda for Women’s Health through policy advocacy and constituent education. The Agenda is a package of state bills sponsored and supported by the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, a bipartisan, pro-choice group of lawmakers committed to promoting evidence-based policy solutions to real problems faced by Pennsylvania women and families.
The PA Agenda for Women’s Health currently includes more than a dozen bills addressing issues across the spectrum of healthcare, workplace equality, and economic justice.
Why do we need the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health?
Women’s health and economic security rank low in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania routinely earns disastrous grades for women’s health and economic security in national surveys. Most recently, an analysis conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research graded Pennsylvania with a C in “Reproductive Rights” and a D+ in the category of “Work & Family.” But we know we can improve women’s health and economic security by implementing specific, concrete policy changes.
The maternal and infant mortality rates in Pennsylvania are disastrous: The United States has the dubious distinction of having the worst rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. Within that ranking, Pennsylvania is in the bottom half among states, and is failing goals to reduce both infant and maternal mortality. On average, pregnant women and newborns in Philadelphia fare worse than in the rest of the state and country. Maternal and infant mortality is severely stratified by race: African American women are three times as likely as white women to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.
Pennsylvania lacks basic protections for working mothers: Mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in 65.3 percent of Pennsylvania families. Yet, Pennsylvania lacks basic workplace protections for pregnant workers and has failed to close the loopholes in a notoriously ineffective equal pay law. Pennsylvania falls short of breastfeeding goals, in part because the state fails to ensure basic workplace accommodations for new mothers who need to pump milk at work in order to continue breastfeeding at home.
Pennsylvania is an island of poverty wages: All six states bordering Pennsylvania have raised their minimum wage in the last year. With a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the lowest permitted by federal law, Pennsylvania has become an island of poverty wages. A mother of two earning minimum wage working full-time, year-round still falls thousands of dollars below the poverty line.
Radical anti-choice state lawmakers push dangerous abortion bans opposed by doctors: Studies show the number of abortion restrictions in a given state correlates with poor health outcomes for women and higher risk of maternal death. A recent analysis reveals that Pennsylvania has implemented 11 of 14 restrictions, including Act 122, a controversial ambulatory surgical facility (ASF) requirement that the state Lieutenant Governor conceded was designed to “deny women access to safe legal abortions.”
The Beginning of a Movement (2012-2013)
In 2012, the Women’s Law Project published a report called Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. This report examines the correlation between the discrimination experienced by women in school, work and everyday life and the status of women’s health. The goal of the report was to build a blueprint for a state and federal policy agenda to women’s health in Pennsylvania, in part by eliminating systemic discrimination.
The timing of our report was prescient. In 2012, some Pennsylvania lawmakers grew frustrated with the Pennsylvania’s Legislature’s fixation on restricting abortion while ignoring maternal and infant mortality, discrimination of pregnant and breastfeeding workers, a broken equal pay law, and a stagnant minimum wage. In the first half of 2011, the Pennsylvania Legislature spent roughly half of its time debating abortion bans, as women’s health suffered and child poverty continued to rise.
That’s when Rep. Dan Frankel (Pittsburgh), co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature, began a conversation with the Women’s Law Project in order to explore pro-active, concrete ways to address the women’s health crisis. These conversations were productive. The first incarnation of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, based in part on findings and recommendations in Through the Lens of Equality, was introduced in December, 2013.
The Campaign Gains Momentum (2013-2015)
The low ranking of women’s health and economic security in Pennsylvania is the result of policies rooted in ideology, not evidence. WLP co-founded the Campaign in order to support the call for evidence-based policies in Pennsylvania. Working on the ground in the state and in strategic partnership with national organizations, the Campaign quickly gained momentum, members and tangible successes.
So far, the Campaign has successfully advocated for three Agenda bills that have passed into law: a bill that protects domestic violence survivors from being evicted for calling the police for help; a ban on intimidate partner harassment (sometimes called a “revenge porn” ban), and a resolution to study the “cliff effect,” a situation where working parents’ increased income makes them ineligible for programs that allow them to work.
The Campaign has also been successful in calling for public hearings on issues that in some cases have not been addressed for decades. Pennsylvania recently held public hearings on the Patient Trust Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and the Pennsylvania Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act.
The Campaign Expands & Gains Traction (2016 – present)
The PA Campaign, which currently has 55 member organizations, continues to expand, diversify, and make in-roads on advancing policies that will improve women’s health and economic security, protect equal access to reproductive healthcare including abortion, and ensure workplace equality. We strive to keep constituents informed about these issues and efforts, provide simple ways for citizens to make their voice heard in Harrisburg.
Want to Help Fight for Equality in Pennsylvania?
If you are a member of an organization interested in joining the PA Campaign for Women’s Health, contact Tara Murtha at firstname.lastname@example.org.