This guest post is by state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, and state senator Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who chairs the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee.
Even as the world celebrated the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8 and the United States honors National Women’s History Month, more and more women are finding their health care and path to independence under legislative attack in the halls of Congress and in state legislatures across the country.
Sadly, there are also vivid signs of such attacks in Washington State.
Recently, a conservative judge in Washington ruled that pharmacists can refuse—based on religious or moral beliefs—to sell customers the morning after pill (Plan B contraceptive).
So much for the rape victim who doesn’t want to give birth to her attacker’s child. Let’s hope for her sake she’s not in a small town with a pharmacist who refuses to dispense Plan B. Should a pharmacist even receive a license if he or she declines to serve certain patients?
From attempts to defund basic health services for women, to creating obstacles for women who try to access reproductive health choices, to restricting access to contraception, there has been a shocking rise in recent weeks in the number of attacks on women’s reproductive health nationally as well as in Washington state.
Nowhere is this more readily seen than in the Washington State Senate Republicans’ backroom budget, which was pushed through without a public hearing during a hostile takeover of the Senate on March 8 with the assistance of three conservative Democrats. Unfortunately, they also blocked several key bills.
Particularly troublesome is their having prevented consideration of House Bill 2330, the Reproductive Parity Act, which would have provided the same insurance coverage standards for maternity and abortion services. As if the Republicans’ first budget proposal that slashed education wasn’t bad enough, their second budget ‘do-over’ continues to balance the budget on the backs of women and children.
During a press conference yesterday, Republicans claimed their new budget protects vulnerable people. (Of course, they announced this through the media rather than working with the Democrats’ leaders, budget writers, and the governor.) But the myriad of cuts in their budget tell a very different story.
Most of the cuts in the Republican budget directly impact women or children, slashing services for families seeking employment and eliminating food assistance for hungry kids. This is what Republican leaders call protecting the vulnerable?
Here are more examples of how the Senate Republican budget disproportionately affects women and children:
The Republican budget reduces by one fourth ($3 million) the funding for family planning services to promote positive birth outcomes, and reduce the amount of unintended pregnancies, which together saves the state millions down the road. Access would be eliminated for 12,500 women.
The Republican budget cuts $155 million from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program that helps women (97 percent of TANF families are headed by women) overcome barriers to get work and achieve self-sufficiency for themselves and their children. If a single mom can’t get help for mental health, domestic violence or substance-abuse issues, how can she reasonably hold a job and care for her kids? As if these cut weren’t enough, the Republicans impose a harsh 48-month lifetime limit (currently is 60 months) on TANF recipients, further limiting families’ abilities to meet children’s basic needs while parents work or try to find jobs.
In addition, the Republican budget eliminates state food assistance to 10,667 families, leaving these households without adequate food. Abundant evidence exists that hungry children have more difficulties in educational achievement.
A budget is a statement of priorities. Writing a budget in tough times means making tough choices, and we know that compromise will be necessary for the legislature to conclude its business. While we’re pleased the senate Republicans have compromised in their second budget by coming to our Democrats’ budget proposal by eliminating the $74 million in education cuts included in their first budget, we refuse to compromise where it results in disproportionate cuts and a blatant disregard for the well-being of women and children across the state. The budget should be written to balance the priorities of all Washingtonians evenhandedly, not wielded as a political cudgel to roll back women’s rights.
We as legislators will continue to fight our hardest to put Washington on the path to prosperity—and that requires parity in budgeting priorities. Women, who make up half our workforce and remain the primary caregivers for our children and kids who will determine our future, deserve equal treatment under the law and equal consideration in our state budget.