Women's Policy Institute graduates advocate for women's rights in California by influencing and helping pass legislation that supports women and families.
Feminism is alive and well today. Dare I say it, it's mainstream. Generation Z and Millennial women have embraced the F-word: Pop culture icon, Beyoncé, proudly performs with it as her backdrop, while young women publicly celebrate Justice Ginsburg, aka Notorious R.B.G., and are going so far as to tattoo her face on their bodies.
But as feminists and women's rights advocates, we have to stay vigilant. Injustices have not been righted. Discrimination against women has not been legislated away. Equity is not yet our reality. Like Justice Ginsburg in the Roberts Court, we have our work cut out for us.
At this very moment, on the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, many women's rights are being rolled back, especially women's reproductive rights. Just this past year, we saw 57 new restrictions on abortion, a debilitating Planned Parenthood scandal and the tragic murder of three people at a Colorado Springs clinic.
All around the country, our opponents are busy working to reverse the progress we have made.
They have two cases coming before the Supreme Court that could transform abortion law as we know it and eliminate what remains of the contraception-mandate under the Affordable Care Act. In the last 5 years, they passed 288 new restrictions across the country and we know that hundreds of attempts will be made in 2016.
Many of us feel blindsided by their success. That's because, instead of making big, earth-shattering moves, they've been chiseling away at women's reproductive rights for decades by passing incremental legislation—what seemed like minor reforms: an extra visit to the clinic, an extra twenty-four-hour waiting period, an extra ultrasound, an extra building requirement. But decades of incremental political and legal gains merged into something huge and terrifying this year.
As a result, in Texas more than half of the state's 41 clinics have been shut down. Some women need to travel 150 miles to get to the nearest clinic. In Mississippi, only one clinic is still open; the doctor flies in from out of state to provide abortion care.
More than ever, now is the time to make our laws work for women, to ensure that there's true social, political and economic equity between the sexes. More than ever, now is the time that we must work together to ensure that our systems and policies serve all women including women of color, immigrant women, undocumented women, low-income women, elderly women, young women, single mothers, transgender women, lesbians and women with disabilities.
Let us counter our opponents' strategy by winning important incremental victories in senates, assemblies and courts across the nation.
How can we make our laws work for women? One example is the law that was passed in California last year: California became the only state with a law that cracks down on anti-choice pregnancy centers and deceptive practices that such centers have used to prevent or discourage women from having an abortion. This is an incremental victory that we hope will be replicated across the nation.
Another law that needs changing right now is the Maximum Family Grant rule. The Maximum Family Grant rule was passed in 1994 as a way to coerce poor mothers into having fewer children. This law is punishing low-income mothers for choosing to have a child by denying their newborn $122 a month in welfare benefits. However, in the same way we need to protect the women's right to choose to end her pregnancy, we must also protect her right to choose to have a child. Using desperately needed financial assistance as a bargaining chip against women is wrong and deeply unethical.
Senator Holly Mitchell has tried to overturn the Maximum Family Grant rule for three years in a row, and this year, she will be doing it again. She has an incredible group of women's rights advocates working on this bill, among them the Women's Foundation of California's grant partners California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and ACCESS: Women's Health Justice.
There are many other policies that we must focus on to create greater opportunities and equity for women. We should raise the minimum wage so that the two-thirds of minimum wage workers who are women can actually earn a living wage and support their families; eliminate the wage gap which is particularly high for women of color—in California, Latinas earn 44 cents for every dollar a white man earns and Black women earn 64 cents to a man's dollar; expand our social safety net so that single mothers who are struggling financially can receive enough in welfare assistance to put a roof over their heads and food on their tables; and invest in subsidized childcare so that eligible mothers can work while their children are cared for.
Today, on the 43rd anniversary of Roe, which transformed in ways unimaginable the political, economic and social lives of U.S. women, I invite us to recommit to protecting the rights of women, including our right to choose. Mission not yet accomplished. But soon.