Monday, October 4, 2010

Feminist Voting – One Woman’s Opinion By Jeanne Clark

Like most active feminists, I regard voting as a serious responsibility. I know that elections have consequences and that electing the wrong people to public office can have either good or very, very bad consequences for women.

Sometimes voting is easier than others. When candidates apply for and receive the endorsement of Pennsylvania NOW PAC or National NOW PAC, I know I can vote for those candidates with my whole heart and soul, knowing the candidate will not only be a vote for women’s rights, but will be an advocate for women’s rights as well.

That’s why I am so delighted that Joe Sestak is on the ballot for U.S. Senator. This election, I will proudly cast my vote for Joe. Joe will fight for women’s lives and women’s rights in the Senate and will be a great champion for us. And we have many great candidates running in Congressional Districts and for the General Assembly across the state who have the PAC endorsements. So feminists can vote for those candidates with no qualms.

But in too many races, we have no perfect endorsed candidate. One of those races is the race for Governor. Both candidates are opposed to abortion and have previously received the endorsement of the antiabortion forces. On the surface, this looks like a choice between a rock and hard place.

But a little involvement in the political process and talking to friends, as well as my own history, makes this decision actually pretty easy.

Because even though Dan Onorato says he is personally opposed to abortion, he has pledged that he will support the law, and oppose any more encroachment on our right to choose birth control and abortion. He has also promised not to use his appointment power to advance the antiabortion cause.

He made these promises to my friend Barbara Hafer, former state Treasurer and state Auditor General. He made the promises when he asked Barbara for her support for his first race for Allegheny County Executive and reiterated the same promises when he asked for her support for Governor.

So, how good is the promise? While there are no guarantees, Dan Onorato has kept his promise through his service as Allegheny County Executive. And with Barbara’s agreement to go public on the promise, it’s certainly not a secret – there are lots of us to keep his feet to the fire.

And Dan has become less conservative on social issues – if it didn’t sound so paternalistic, I would say he’s grown. He proudly signed the county legislation to create a county human relations commission which includes sexual orientation as a class protected from discrimination, and he appointed an LGBT attorney as chair. He is, I believe, listening and learning from the feminists around him.

So my decision to vote for Dan Onorato for governor turns out to be pretty easy.

And as to the rest of the ballot, that’s pretty easy this time, too. Because, in my forty years of voting, I’ve watched one party go from mild hostility to women rights to actually incorporating women rights into the basic DNA of the party beliefs, and the other party become the nation’s biggest opponent to women’s rights. I’ve seen the first women Speaker of the House incorporate feminist beliefs into the structure of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the current U.S. Secretary of State make women’s rights a basic, human right in our foreign policy and dealings with other nations – and I’ve seen the other party demonize those women for sport, and do everything they can to keep sexism alive.

As a public relations professional, I once represented the National Republican Coalition for Choice, and loved it. Those wonderful women warriors for women’s lives have now, by and large, been run out of the Republican Party.

I spent years of my life trying to start a new national political party – the 21st Century Party – which would have feminism and equality as bedrock principles and would require that the party nominate and support women in equal numbers to men. But after the Republicans were able to steal the presidential election from Al Gore, with clear evidence that well-meaning women and men inadvertently helped by voting for third party candidates with no hope of winning, I realized that the stakes are way too high to throw a vote away for a cause. Real women suffered as a result.

So – for the first time in my life I’m voting straight Democratic, with no office omitted. I invite other NOW members to join me.

- FYI, Jeanne Clark is a member of NOW and President of Squirrel Hill NOW in Pittsburgh, PA.  She also regularly blogs for Ms. Magazine at

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall Pennsylvania NOW Times and Voters' Guide

The Pennsylvania NOW Times Fall issue is now available online.  The newsletter includes:
  • Our Voters' Guide
  • Legislative Updates - what passed and what didn't during the 2009-2010 Pennsylvania General Assembly session.
  • Unshackeled - story about Pennsylvania outlawing the shackling of incarcerated pregant women.
  • Anti-Abortion Bill Condemned - article about a bill introduced by Senator Don White that would outlaw abortion coverage, even when medically necessary, in the new health care insurance exchanges.
  • Police Failure to Investigate Rape - story about what happens when police fail to properly investigate allegations of rape.
  • Chapter Exchange

Friday, October 1, 2010

Statewide Coalition Condemns Proposed Abortion Ban Restricting Women's Access to Reproductive Health Coverage in Pennsylania

The following press release was sent to media throughout Pennsylvania on September 30, 2010 by Pennsylvanians for Choice. Pennsylvanians for Choice is a coalition of pro-choice organizations and their allies whose mission is to protect and enhance reproductive health care for all Pennsylvanians. Member organizations include: Pennsylvania NOW, Inc., the Women’s Law Project, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union, WOMEN’S WAY, the Women’s Medical Fund, and CHOICE.
Pittsburgh, PA: Today Pennsylvanians for Choice, a statewide coalition of pro-choice organizations, denounced proposed legislation that would severely restrict access to abortion care in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 1399, introduced by Senator Don White (R-11) would ban private insurance plans sold in Pennsylvania’s state exchange, created under health care reform, from covering even medically necessary abortion procedures.
“Today, most private insurance plans cover abortion care,” said Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. “Senator White’s proposal would leave women worse off than they were before health care reform began.” Under Senator White’s bill, no abortion plan that contracts with the state exchange would be permitted to cover abortion except in the narrowest circumstances.

With an estimated 80% of private insurance plans currently covering abortion procedures, coalition spokespeople said that a ban of this magnitude would have a devastating effect on Pennsylvania women.

"Aside from having some of the oldest and most stringent abortion laws in the nation, Pennsylvania, like every other state, is bound by the Nelson abortion provision to the federal health care law,” said Sari Stevens, Executive Director of the Harrisburg-based Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. Under the Nelson abortion provision, any health insurance plan that contracts with the exchange is required to implement a complex system of segregation to ensure no federal funds are used for abortion coverage - including the collection of two separate payments from the beneficiary, one for abortion coverage and one for all other health care coverage.

“Poll after poll shows that Pennsylvanians are not interested in reopening the debate around abortion. I urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to follow the lead of their constituents and support measures to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place,” added Stevens. The insurance exchanges, slated to be available for enrollment in 2014, will serve those who do not have access to employer-based health plans including the unemployed and small business employees.

The proposed ban would deny insurance plans participating in the exchange from covering abortion care except in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or where the life of the woman is in danger. Frietsche pointed out that “in the Medicaid context, Pennsylvania courts have already ruled that it’s unconstitutional to make rape survivors jump through the kind of insulting and burdensome hoops this bill would create.” The bill would require rape survivors to “personally” report the crime and identify the assailant, if known, within 72 hours in order for their health insurance to cover an abortion procedure.

“The White bill is a throwback to the days when society blamed rape victims for somehow being responsible for the violence that was done to them,” Frietsche commented. “Pennsylvania lawmakers really should have moved beyond these gender stereotypes by now.”

“Instead of denying Pennsylvania women access to fundamental reproductive health care services, politicians should be working to protect and advance women’s health,” concluded Rebecca Foley of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit WOMEN’S WAY. “This proposed ban will leave many Pennsylvania women without coverage for safe, legal, and critical care.”