Gender & Sexuality

A Contraception Compromise

Stacy Lynn Baum / Flickr
Last year, as part of implementation for the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration rolled out a rule on contraception that inspired a huge backlash from religious conservatives and began the “war on women” fight that extended through the presidential campaign. In short, Health and Human Services required all employers to include contraception in health insurance plans, without extra charge. Religious institutions could receive an exemption as long as they met particular requirements: Said organizations had to be nonprofits who mainly employed co-religionists, and had “the inculcation of religious values” as their primary purpose. This definition precluded exemptions for certain religious charities—like Catholic hospitals—which prompted a variety of lawsuits, as well as a huge political spectacle that tarnished Republicans for the rest of the year. But the Obama administration listened to complaints, and has adopted a new definition of “religious organization” that’s a little...

The Geography of Abortion Access

Mapping the national decline in abortion providers

Flickr/womenscampaignforum
As a collective unit, Americans are pretty keen on the civics-class idea that life in the 6,106,012 square miles of God’s green earth that is the USA is more or less equitable for the 313,847,465 people who have hunkered down to live on the craggy coasts, fruited plains, and purple mountains filled with majesty. We’ve got proportional representation in Congress, a legal system that presumes innocence before guilt, and the ability to walk into any 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee and slice of pizza that will cost you $4 and a year of your life, which has to say something about the level playing field we’ve got going, right? But as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade , the truth is that access to abortion isn’t anywhere close to equitable for women around the country. In fact, things are worse in certain parts of the U.S. than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. In nearly every state, the total number of abortion providers has dropped since 1978—even in traditionally liberal havens like...

Our Customers Don't Want a Pregnant Waitress

Fox Searchlight
Having a family shouldn’t cost you your job. It does, again and again—especially if you’re female. Which is one of the reasons women’s pay still isn’t equal. I’ll be writing about this in the months to come, but for today, here’s one way having a family can cost you your job: women still get fired for being pregnant. Although it’s been illegal since the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act , women are still refused a job or let go if they’re pregnant. You’d be shocked, EEOC and employment law folks tell me, at how often employers say so point-blank: Come back after you have the baby . The guys don’t want to look at a pregnant waitress . Housekeeping is hard work; your pregnancy is a potential liability. Our customers are uncomfortable with a pregnant driver . All that’s illegal. It’s wonderful that we can talk about Sheryl Sandberg going home every day at 5:30 to be with her kids. And it’s wonderful that we can have the advanced conversation about women needing to stand up for themselves...

Homophobia in Sports and Changing Hearts

49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, celebrating his newfound respect for gay people. (AP photo by Paul Spinelli)
Almost all of us, at some time in our youth, had the experience of saying something that turned out to be way more inappropriate than we thought it was, whereupon people turned to us and said, "Dude. Not cool." In most cases, it concerned something we just hadn't thought that much about, and it often occurs when you move from one milieu to another with different mores and ideas, like going from high school to college. Or existing in a world of football players and suddenly finding yourself quoted in the media on a sociopolitical topic because your team is in the Super Bowl, which is what happened to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. When it happens in your dorm room, someone will explain to you why the joke you made or the term you used was out of line, and you'll probably say, "Huh—I hadn't thought about it that way, but OK." And armed with that knowledge, you'll adapt to your new surroundings and the changing times. But Culliver found himself in hot water when he was on...

The Worst State for Women?

North Dakota joins the list of states reversing decades of gains in gender equality.

Flickr/ ggolan
AP Photo/ James MacPherson I n the past couple of years, so many states have passed laws restricting women’s rights it seems they’re competing for the dubious honor of being the worst place for women to live. Texas rejected federal family-planning funds and is busily whittling away subsidized contraception access for poor women. Virginia passed a series of regulations on abortion clinics aimed at putting them out of business. The governor of Mississippi has been bragging about ending legal abortion in his state. In this new year, though, another state has risen to the top of the competitive field: North Dakota. Anti-abortion activists and legislators in North Dakota have been quite busy. Inspired by a Mississippi law , the North Dakota Legislature is considering a measure that could close the state’s only clinic—the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo—by requiring that it employ only doctors who have privileges allowing them to admit patients to a local hospital. Because the clinic is...

Leave Julia Alone!

Obama campaign
The life of Julia at age 27 In early May, shortly after the peak of the GOP's war-on-women problem, the Obama campaign released a simple online infographic that inspired outrage from conservative commentators. Titled "The Life of Julia," the slideshow followed a hypothetical woman named Julia throughout various stages of her life in order to compare Obama's policies to the ones proposed by Mitt Romney. At age three, toddler Julia plays with a bead maze and enjoys the benefits of Head Start under Obama's America, while the infographic warns that Romney would cut Head Start by 20 percent. By age 27 the adult Julia is a web designer—a knowing wink to the young urban hipsterati loathed by conservatives—whose birth control is covered by her health insurance thanks to Obamacare's reforms, but would have lost those if Romney had his way. It was silly, simple fodder that should have faded quickly amid the deluge of media noise. Except conservatives took it as the symbol of all that is wrong...

Breaking the Military’s Brass Ceiling

Leon Panetta's decision to end the women in combat ban was the right one, and long overdue.

AP Photo, File
Flickr/Boston Public Library A t a meeting of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission in March 2010, someone asked then-Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway whether it was possible for a woman to ever be promoted to his position. He had to think about it for a little bit. Not from the usual career path of "combat arms," he said, because those were closed to women; maybe a female pilot could be eligible. Then he added that he didn't think anything would change "because I don’t think our women want it to change." The room went silent. You could hear the intake of breath, people moving in their seats. All eyes shot to the female generals and admirals among the commissioners who were now retired thanks to the ban on women serving in "direct ground combat positions." The ban didn't stop them from serving in combat, just from getting credit for it and from having the opportunity to lead "combat"-designated units. Without those commands, you can't rise to the very top of the military...

The Peak of Her Game

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, listens to questions from lawmakers during her testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, before Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. W ith due respect to Barack Obama, his second inaugural address—containing not a single phrase likely to end up chiseled in stone, but a tactical masterpiece in its GOP-marginalizing, progressive redefinition of what the traffic will bear—wasn't the best political TV of the week. The best political TV of the week was Hillary Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate and then House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday. After licking their chops for weeks at the prospect, Republicans eyeing 2016—specifically, potential contenders Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, both of whom were among her quizzers—may be wondering why...

Equal Opportunity Soldiers On

Flickr/Beverly & Pack/U.S. Army
You know what repealing "don't ask, don't tell" did to change the military, right? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It acknowledged what was already true: lesbians and gay men were doing their jobs, just like everyone else. With the repeal, of course, thousands of people were freer to breathe easily, but nothing else changed. That’s going to be the biggest consequence of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement yesterday that women can serve in combat roles: nothing, absolutely nothing. Because women are already there, dying on the front lines. They’re already “attached” to combat units in roles that aren’t officially combat positions—maintaining equipment, taking fire after setting up camps as logistics officers, going on combat patrols as intelligence officers, and piloting helicopters and planes through combat zones (check out the plaintiffs ' brief in the ACLU's lawsuit against the Department of Defense for the exclusion rule). They’ve gotten Purple Hearts , been hit by IEDs, and...

Workers, Not Babysitters

There's still a long way to go to ensure domestic workers have the same protections as other workers, but progress is coming. 

Flickr/brk in bklyn
S ome very welcome news may break soon for the domestic workforce: the White House appears to be close to announcing a rule change to the Federal Labor Standards Act, finally including home health aides—those who bathe, nurse, toilet, and care for the elderly and disabled in their homes—in its protections. It may sound out of another century, and it is, but home health care workers had been excluded from federal overtime and minimum wage protections through a companionship exemption. It was designed to leave out only those who provided company, but had become so widely interpreted as to encompass a vital, booming workforce. The administration has long been sitting on the decision to change the rule, but outgoing Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently told The Nation , “there’ll be movement on that. We’ll shortly see progress made there.” If and when this change is announced, this workforce will be formally recognized as “workers,” not babysitters making pin money. The symbolism can’t...

Women to Serve In Combat Units

Flick/U.S. Marine Corps
Today, acting on the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he is lifting the ban, in place since 1994, on women serving in combat roles in the United States military. One has to wonder how much longer this would have taken had we not had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the reality on the ground—that women have been fighting and dying alongside their male colleagues for the last decade—made this almost inevitable. What changes now is that women can serve in units like infantry that are designated as combat units. I'm sure some conservatives are going to start hemming and hawing about how the lack of upper body strength among your average lady-type means this will accelerate the wussification of the U.S. military, and how it was just inevitable under Barack Obama's plan to destroy America. No doubt we'll hear that from Rush Limbaugh, who probably couldn't do a push-up if there was a capital gains tax cut waiting at the top of it...

Freedom to Choose, Freedom to Marry

Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe , the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans. While many of us in the LGBT community see parallels between the gay and women's rights movements, we often overlook the direct role of Roe in establishing a right to same-sex marriage: If women are permitted to have sex without offspring—even if their contraception fails and those little cells start dividing inside them—then it must also be okay for women and women, or men and men, to have sex without the possibility of fertility. Reproductive freedom and LGBT freedom are two sides of the same idea. To explain, let me take...

Mississippi's Last Abortion Provider

Flickr/kbrookes
T welve years ago, Dr. Willie Parker was at home listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon. Parker had heard the words many times before. But this time, he found himself focusing on King’s interpretation of the Bible story of the “good Samaritan,” who stopped to help a man who had been left for dead by robbers. Though others had passed the man by, the Samaritan stopped, King explained, because he didn’t think about the harm that might befall him if he did. Instead, he asked what might happen to the dying man if he did not. Parker, an ob-gyn who had been practicing for 12 years at the time, suddenly felt that King’s words held meaning for his own work. Having grown up in a religious family that was active in the Baptist church (Parker was “born again” and preaching the gospel at 15), he had been brought up to believe that abortion was wrong. Up to that point, he had never provided one. He’d refer women to other providers, but was too conflicted about...

The Demographics of Abortion: It's Not What You Think

Why does the ’70s-era image of the white, middle-class teenager as the typical abortion patient persist?

AP Photo
In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade , quite a bit has changed about the abortion debate. Evangelicals have taken the helm of the anti-choice movement, once dominated by Catholics. The movement has shifted strategies repeatedly—from stoking moral outrage and blocking abortion clinics to feigning concern for women’s health and, most recently, passing innocuous-sounding building regulations aimed at eliminating access to abortion. For its part, the pro-choice movement has mellowed since the days radical feminists crash ed town halls into a professionalized juggernaut of lobbyists and lawyers with a mighty service arm known as Planned Parenthood. But one thing that hasn’t changed since 1973 is the public image of what a typical abortion patient looks like: A middle-class, white high-school or college student with no children whose bright future could be derailed by motherhood. Hollywood portrayals of abortion patients are few and far between, but largely reinforce this understanding; Juno...

Looking Back at Pro-Choice's Battles

AP Photo/Nick Ut
(AP Photo/Doug Mills, file) In this April 5, 1992 file photo, pro-choice demonstrators gather on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington. For many abortion-rights activists, the debate over health care reform has been frustrating, even disheartening, as they see their political allies on the defensive over the issue and their anti-abortion rivals on the attack. It's been 40 years since the Supreme Court's landmark decision over a woman's right to choose in Roe v. Wade . How has the landscape over the issue of abortion and the politics of reproductive health changed since? Here's a round-up of our best coverage over the past decade on the changing climate, both in public opinion and in legislatures inside the Beltway and out, over abortion. 2012's War on Women , E.J. Graff "For the ladies, the year’s sound track could have been a strangled gasp, followed by snorting and laughing out loud. The attacks on women’s health, on contraception, on abortion, on the definition of rape—it...

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