On Thursday night at in Northville, topics were discussed that we are accustomed to hearing about in the media: contraception, women's reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood.
At the Northville Democratic Club’s Town Hall Meeting, which is one of eight held each year, the topic was, “Women Under Attack: What’s at Stake?” For the three speakers invited to discuss a recent torrent of legislation – which would affect women’s health, their legal rights and their earning potential – the answer is: a whole lot. Panelists included State Rep. Dian Slavens, (D-Canton Township), Kim Beebe, the president of the Oakland-Macomb chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Kristy Pagan, the network director of the Women’s Information Network.
“We organized this forum several months ago, not really sure how relevant some of the topics would be,” said Scott Craig, the president of the Northville Democrats. “And this turned out to be more relevant than we ever imagined, unfortunately.”
At issue are the more than 1,100 pieces of legislation brought forward federally, by the National Organization of Women’s count, that address topics such as defunding Planned Parenthood, outlawing morning after contraception and prohibiting birth control pill insurance coverage. They have been introduced mostly by Republicans, but, some Democrats have supported these efforts. And women, who are as politically diverse in opinion as men, have also supported these measures.
A steady storm
Beebe of NOW said the fact that elected officials are debating birth control and women’s health – but not having the same discussion about men’s health – has become more prevalent, but is by no means new.
“Nationally, Michigan ranks 46th in wages for women; we earn 72 cents for every dollar a man earns,” she said. “And they’re talking about birth control? They’re talking about what women can, and can’t do with their bodies?” Nationally, women’s compensation is 77 cents to every man’s dollar.
She added, “A woman stands to lose $500,000 over her lifetime in wages (according to NOW estimates), and that women’s lifestyles, where they live, and how much social security they’ll get when they’re older ... Why isn’t anyone (on Capitol Hill) talking about this?”
The biggest lightening rod related to women’s rights, and contraception, has been Planned Parenthood, which has been the target of conservatives seeking to defund the organization, which would effectively pinch off its reproductive health services.
Beebe said she believes that the debate about Planned Parenthood is ideological in nature and that the choices available to poor women are of little concern to those backing the defunding.
“The people who don’t want to allow the poor and middle class access to services are the same ones that don’t want to support social programs that would help the child once it’s born,” she said. “They’re opening a – there will be no abortion services at the location – and there are protests being planned.”
Declining number of women in office could be a factor
For the first time in three decades, the number of women sworn into Congress declined and that should concern people, said Slavens, who is one of 16 female Democratic state representatives. There are 11 female Republicans in the Michigan House.
“We have to do more to encourage women to run for office, up and down the ticket,” she said. “I thought that no one was going to give me money; that no one would support my candidacy, but people do step up.”
Still, Slavens said some women don’t always see things her way. She said that when Democratic and Republican female legislators have caucused in the past, the Republican women don’t want to discuss issues like contraception.
Slavens added this was especially true when Democrats began to push for a package of bills called "Prevention First." The set of bills would have required private health plans to offer the same level of coverage for contraceptives as they do for other prescriptions, require pharmacies to dispense Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, require insurance plans to cover annual Pap tests and require schools to offer comprehensive sex education.
Pagan, network director of the Women’s Information Network, said one reason women are not seeking office is the money factor.
“Women don’t like to ask strangers for money,” she said. “It’s something you have to get over if you’re going to be a candidate.”
Pagan, who became interested in politics at Salem High School after she ran – and lost – more than one class president election, went on to organize campaigns for candidates in Vermont and Wisconsin. She said women can’t let the prospect of defeat daunt them.
“Women need to be more proactive,” she said.
Susan Nichols, one of the organizers of the forum, said she learned a lot of compelling information.
“Women need to take a closer look at some of these issues,” she said. “They can’t just give up.”