If the policies detailed in President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address take hold over his remaining two years in office, it could be an excellent time for women’s health. (Photo: Getty Images)
President Barack Obama delivered this year’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. With a strong focus on middle-class economics, President Obama called special attention to four issues of particular importance to women’s health, their quality of life, and their sanity.
1. Affordable Child Care
The President called attention to the fact that “basic childcare” costs “as much as a year at the University of Minnesota” and proposed new tax credits to help offset the cost of childcare costs in America.
Speaking on the necessity of affordability, President Obama said, “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America — by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.”
This past spring, a study by the Pew Research Center found that more women are electing to forgo work outside of the home to stay at home with their children as a result of rising childcare costs. The study notes that, “Mothers who do work are paying more than ever for child care. In inflation-adjusted dollars, average weekly child care expenses for families with working mothers who paid for child care (24 percent of all such families) rose more than 70 percent from 1985 ($87) to 2011 ($148), according to research by the Census Bureau. For those families, child-care expenses represent 7.2 percent of family income.” A similar study done in the UK found that the cost of childcare cancels out one salary in one in ten households.
2. Paid Sick And Parental Leave
The President also called attention to the importance and economic implications of paid parental leave, saying “Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave.” Currently in the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act only guarantees full-time employees at organizations with more than fifty employees up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) has been attempting to pass the Family Act since 2013, which would guarantee that all employees, regardless of the size of the company for which they work, receive three months of paid leave at 66 percent of their salary. The bill has yet to pass Congress.
President Obama urged Congress to “send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.” The President called attention to the fact that the absence of a national paid sick leave policy “forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.”
3. Equal Pay For Women
“That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time,” President Obama said with great emphasis, adding, “And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.” This fall, Senate Republicans unanimously voted against and thus blocked the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which sought to ban salary secrecy and included provisions to eliminate the wage gap between men and women.
Currently, American women earn 77 cents to every $1 an American man earns. To further protect women in their efforts to ensure they are being treated fairly —and earning fairly — in the workplace, the bill would have made it illegal for employers to retaliate against an employee who either inquires about or discloses her salary to any other employee. Democrats have insisted that such measures are necessary to ensure that all members of the American workforce are given a “fair shot.”
4. Access To Women’s Health Care
Towards the end of his speech, the President quickly commented that while “[w]e still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.”
This Thursday, Congress will vote on the proposed national 20-week abortion ban bill, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which was introduced on the first day of 2015 Congressional session. Experts, including the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, have already spoken out against the bill, arguing the lack of scientific basis behind its reasoning.
What The Experts Say
On Twitter, former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted, “@BarackObama #SOTU pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare”
Planned Parenthood Foundation of America President Cecile Richards replied to the State of the Union in a statement, saying, “We applaud President Obama for his steadfast commitment to helping women and families get ahead. As the leading women’s health care provider and advocate, we hear from women every day whose lives have been shaped by their ability to access reproductive health care. Like the President, we believe all women — no matter where they live or how much money they make — deserve a fair shot and a chance to pursue their dreams. That begins with recognizing that for women, the ability to decide whether and when to have children is key to economic success. As we turn the page on the next chapter in our country’s future, it is critical that we protect access to reproductive health care along with every other advance women have made over the last century. Simply put: The decisions being made today by leaders in Washington and across the country will determine whether the U.S. can keep up with progress for women on a global scale — or whether we fall behind. At Planned Parenthood, we’ve seen what happens when people play politics with women’s access to health care. But we’ve also seen the progress that’s possible when doors are open to women — when the people in office embrace science, embrace medicine, and embrace the direction this country is going without unnecessary government interference and expand access to health care instead of standing in the way.”
In a statement, Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates said in response to the President’s address, “Tonight the President put forth a vision for an America where workplace policies work for women’s lives. Women across the country deserve policies that give them a fair shot at a better future, access to good jobs, and the ability to care for their families. We need more Democratic women in Congress where they can fight for commonsense policies that make lives better for hardworking American families — and stop the Republican’s latest attempts to advance their extreme anti-woman agenda. EMILY’s List – and voters — will be watching, and holding Republicans accountable.”
In advance of the State of the Union address, Planned Parenthood sent a letter to every member of Congress, reminding them that “improved access to a full range of birth control services has resulted in a twenty year low in teen pregnancy and abortion rates. Advances in women’s health have paved the way for women to be a driving force in our economy, and reproductive health access is directly related to women’s economic wellbeing. There is also broad consensus (78 percent) that government should not interfere with private decisions that a woman makes with her doctor.”
In their letter, Planned Parenthood also urged Congress to focus on a number of specific women’s health issues, including calls to “reject any further national restrictions on abortion access that would interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own private medical decisions along with her doctor,” “support access to basic reproductive health care…by expanding funding for programs like Title X…without ideological interference,” and “guarantee that the full-range of birth control is accessible without an insurance co-pay.”