On Supporting Our Mothers, Wives and Daughters

As a father and a husband, I know the joys and difficulties of raising a child, but I also see first-hand how my wife balances both her professional career and her love and commitment for our daughter.

On Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day. But as nice as it is to have a day set aside when we honor our mothers and our children's mothers, the truth is, we should honor them every day. State legislators, with the words they use, the policies they push, and the budgets they adopt, influence the lives and livelihoods of the millions of American mothers.

Words are powerful. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "Watch your words; they become actions." And frankly, some legislators just don't seem to understand that--like New Hampshire State Rep. Mark Warden (R), who told a legislative committee in February that "people may 'like being in abusive relationships' and can leave at any time."

In one sentence Rep. Warden ignores the complexities and the manipulation in violent partner relationships, and he instead relies on ignorance and outdated thinking about domestic violence.

But when women dare to use science and proper medical terminology to discuss a women's health bill they are silenced.

Last year when the Michigan House was debating legislation "that drastically limits abortion access and could shut down all abortion clinics in the state," Republican leaders gaveled Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown out of order after she told her colleagues, "I'm flattered you're all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no."

Rep. Brown was then banned from speaking on any measure on the House Floor the following day.

And it is not just in Michigan that healthcare for our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and partners is under attack. This year alone, lawmakers across the country have introduced 326 provisions restricting abortion rights.

With their new majorities in the Arkansas legislature, Arkansas Republicans overrode Governor Beebe's veto of legislation that would ban abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy; Republicans in North Dakota and Kansas soon followed suit, with Republican controlled legislatures passing and Republican governors signing similar or even more restricting legislation. (Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback even "scribbled 'JESUS + Mary'" on his copy of the bill.)

In North Carolina, Republicans have made it a priority to make it more difficult for young women to receive necessary reproductive health care - and thanks to poorly-written legislation, their bill would also dangerously obstruct emergency health care for all young people.

A legislative panel in the state recently endorsed legislation that would make it illegal for doctors and hospitals to provide "services for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of (i) sexually transmitted diseases, including Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (ii) abuse of controlled substances or alcohol, (iii) mental illness, or (iv) pregnancy." And the re-written medical emergency exemption only applies if "a medical emergency exists that so complicates the pregnancy as to require an immediate abortion or the immediate provision of health care services."

In other words: Hospitals could no longer even diagnose some potentially life-threatening conditions without a parent's consent. Pregnancy tests could no longer be administered simply to avoid the catastrophic birth defects associated with some medications. And medical emergency exceptions for HIV/AIDS, drug or alcohol overdose, and many other life-threatening conditions would now only apply to teenage girls who happen to be pregnant.

Democrats have a different philosophy: they oppose using government power to restrict women's access to healthcare, and they want to make sure women have a level playing field and receive the same pay for the same work. In Michigan, Democratic members of the legislature introduced legislation "to establish a commission on pay equity, require employers to provide wage information on similarly situated employees and add penalties for employers who offer different wages for similar positions and experience."

When I see this kind of legislation, I think of my daughter. Like any father, I want every opportunity in the world for her, but I also want to make sure that when she gets a job she is not paid less because she is a woman. And I certainly don't want her to be denied emergency care because of Republican state legislators' dangerous push to impose their values on my child.

As working women across the United States are finding jobs as the economy recovers from the Great Recession, it is more crucial than ever that they receive the same pay as their male counterparts -- the era of treating women as anything less than full and equal in the American economy is over.

So today across the United States, we will celebrate by taking our mothers out to brunch or sending them cards, flowers and presents. But to really honor mothers, we need to ensure we talk about all women with respect, stop attacking their access to health care, and ensure that equality in the workplace includes equal pay for equal work.