At a time when women’s reproductive rights are under attack in state legislatures across the country, there might soon be no female Democratic governors to push back. The only two such governors left in office – Washington’s Chris Gregoire and North Carolina’s Bev Purdue – are leaving office in 2013, and only one state, New Hampshire, has nominated a Democratic woman for governor this year. In other words, women are losing ground.
“We might as well turn the clock back 50 years, because that’s the last time we were without a sitting woman governor who supported reproductive choices and options, and that’s what we’re looking at again,” said Sam Bennett, president and CEO of the Women’s Campaign Fund.
In 2006, Governor Gregoire stood up for Washington women when the State Board of Pharmacy proposed a rule allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense medication, including the emergency contraceptive Plan B, because of moral objections. Governor Gregoire pushed for and negotiated a compromise with the board that protected women’s access to Plan B, and she continues to defend that compromise as it is litigated in federal court.
Contraception, until recently an accepted part of our culture and a primary factor in 20th century women’s empowerment and acquisition of freedoms, is the latest thing that “freedom-loving” conservatives love to hate. Since August 1st, the Patient Protect Act has guaranteed women no-cost contraception, but efforts to ease religious objections to this provision weren’t enough for many state legislatures:
Nine states have considered legislation or ballot measures that would either reject the federal regulation or undermine contraceptive coverage in state law.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) has a roundup of other appalling Republican attacks on women’s rights this year:
Republican legislatures across the United States have repealed equal pay guarantees, made it legal to fire women for using contraception, forced women to undergo unnecessary and invasive ultra-sounds before having an abortion, silenced two female Democratic legislators in Michigan after using medically correct terms to speak out against anti-choice legislation, and called a sexual assault victim “defective.”
While Democratic men have long supported women’s rights, women provide a different perspective from men and bring different styles and skills to the political table. In fact, last week NPR reported that the stocks of companies with women on their boards outperform those with all-male boards – further proof that a balanced approach is better.
While the majority of women currently serving in state legislatures are Democratic, the total number of female legislators has been stagnant at around 23% for over a decade. Thankfully, researchers are investigating what we can do as a society to encourage women to run for office and increase this number. Interestingly, on average, when women run, they tend to win their races as often as men do. What is really needed is for more women to be recruited to run for office, and these candidates need female elected officials to mentor them. The Democratic Party could facilitate this process, as it often has a powerful role in candidate recruitment and funding.
To have a truly representative democracy and a balanced perspective from our political leadership, women need to step up, and the Democratic party and women officeholders must support and encourage them to run for office. Kudos to the ladies taking a chance and running for office this election season. Your country and your sisters need you.