The State of Women’s Rights in Americaby Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Posted on 2015-12-18
in the house of representatives
Friday, December 18, 2015
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, we face a real problem in America as it
relates to the rights of women and how this will one day impact our
We live in a great country founded on principles of liberty, justice and equality.
Throughout history, we have grown and developed into a nation where women hold some of the most prestigious and powerful positions in our country and throughout the world, as scientists, astronauts, businesswomen, educators, government officials, Supreme Court justices, and hopefully one day soon, the President of our United States.
However, as a global champion and advocate of international human rights and the rule of law, the United States still has a long ways to go guaranteeing equal access to legal rights and protections for all women in America.
The United Nations Working Group on Discrimination against Women in the Law and Practice (U.N. Working Group) recently issued a sobering statement and assessment, with a full report to follow in June 2016, delineating an infringement on the rights of women in America.
Upon visiting several states throughout the country, including my home state of Texas, the U.N. Working Group concluded that women in the United States inexplicably lag behind international human rights standards.
Pointing to data and research on public and political representation, economic and social rights, and health and safety protections, experts in the U.N. Working Group boldly acknowledged that there is a myth that women in the United States already enjoy all of the expected standards of rights and protections because they live in America.
A woman's fundamental reproductive right is tied to their economic independence, empowerment and wellbeing of her family.
The reality is, women in the United States are experiencing continued discrimination and daunting disparities that curtail their ability to fully participate as equal members of society.
The primary areas and statistics noted, include the following: Women have risen to some of the highest levels of legislative and executive representation over the years, yet with only 4 of 15 cabinet members, 19.4% of Congressional Members and an average of 24.9% of state legislatures, the U.S. ranks at only 72 in the global market of women represented in public and political positions.
While the number of women justices has significantly increased, women litigants' access to justice is severely limited.
Although women vote in higher percentages than men, women's access to voting is under attack in states like Alabama where increased voter ID requirements pose unprecedented barriers.
Women constitute nearly half of the US labor force, at a participation rate of 57%. Yet, equal economic opportunity is severely lacking given deficient or nonexistent mandatory standards for workplace accommodations for pregnant women, post-natal mothers and persons with care responsibilities.
What also remains a shameful truth in America, is the gender wage gap which has remained at or near 21% over the past decade. Shockingly, women with higher levels of education experience the largest earning gaps, as do minority women regardless of educational attainment.
The percentage of women in poverty has increased over the past decade, from 12.1% to 14.5%, with a higher rate of poverty than men. As such, women are exposed to higher rates of homelessness and violence without adequate protections in place in shelters and housing support options.
Women in detention facilities throughout the country are also experiencing increasingly high rates of over-incarceration, sexual violence, shackling while pregnant, solitary confinement, lack of alternative custodial sentencing for women with dependent children, and inadequate access to health care and re-entry programs.
Migrant women traveling to the U.S., many victims of trafficking and violence, including sexual violence, are kept in detention centers with children for prolonged periods of time.
Notably, the criminalization of women in prostitution places them in unjust, vulnerable and stigmatized situations that are contrary to international human rights law.
The U.N. has also pointed out that women, particularly black and LGBTQ women, in the U.S. experience deplorable police brutality and increased incidents of homicide by police.
Even though women own over \1/3\ of firms in the U.S., primarily in small and medium sized businesses, these businesses face greater barriers in obtaining low cost capital from sources such as the Small Business Administration--which awards less than 5% of federal contracts to women-owned business.
Lastly, one of the most alarming deficiencies for women in America is the lack of access to basic health care and the imposition of devastating barriers to reproductive health and rights.
Too many women are suffering dire and deadly consequences.
Between 1990 and 2013, the maternal mortality rate for women in the U.S. has increased by 136%.
Black women are nearly 4 times more likely to die in childbirth, and states with high poverty rates have a 77% higher maternal mortality rate.
Our global experts and allies acknowledge that even though women's reproductive rights in America are constitutionally protected, access to reproductive health services are severely abridged by states' imposition of sweeping barriers and restrictions.
For instance, in many states, women must undergo unjustified and invasive medical procedures; endure groundless waiting periods; be subjected to harassment, violence or other threatening conditions that remain constant throughout all reproductive health care clinics; and forced to forgo treatment or engage in lengthy and costly travel due to closure of clinics faced with burdensome licensing conditions.
These restrictions disproportionately discriminate against poor women.
The United States can and should do better.
It is unacceptable that women in America are facing a reproductive health care crisis so dire that the global community is denouncing it as a human rights violation.
Sadly, the direction States are taking will only further dismantle women's access to affordable and trustworthy reproductive healthcare.
Clinics are shutting down at alarming rates throughout the country as a result of devastating restrictions and barriers imposed throughout Texas.
A Texas statute known as HB2 (House Bill 2), was enacted several years ago claiming to promote women's health, when in fact it only set in motion dangerous restrictions on women's access to reproductive health care.
In addition to constant attacks on funding for reproductive health care clinics, abortion providers in Texas were forced to undergo impossible million dollar renovations and upgrades.
Denying hundreds of thousands of women health care services in Texas, nearly half of all reproductive health care clinics were forced to shut down, and now only 10 remain in the second largest state in the country.
Another moment will occur when the Supreme Court decides Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, which will decide the fate of the remaining clinics in Texas and throughout the nation.
No woman in America should be denied the dignity of being able to make choices about her body and healthcare.
Access to safe, legal and unhindered healthcare must be realized by all women.
A woman's right to choose to have an abortion is a constitutionally protected fundamental right.
More than 40 years ago in the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion.
More recently, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the Supreme Court upheld Roe v. Wade and further explained that states could not enact medically unnecessary regulations meant to create substantial obstacles for women seeking abortion services.
Yet, fairness and access to exercise constitutionally protected fundamental rights is trampled on and denied to millions of women.
We cannot ignore the unfairness of imbalanced protection and access to fundamentally protected rights for women in America when it is easier to purchase and lawfully possess a firearm--even for a person on the terrorist watchlist--than it is for a woman to exercise her constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
Mr. Speaker, this is neither fair nor right and it should not be rewarded.
As our nation continues to push back against horrific acts of violence at the hands of dangerous and irresponsible gun owners and gun dealers, and our nation's number one provider of women's healthcare continues to experience violent and deadly attacks on its personnel and facilities, it is time we find common ground.
A woman's right to choose to have an abortion and an individual's right to possess a firearm are both constitutionally protected fundamental rights.
I will be working with my colleagues to find ways to address the unfair and unjust disparity by reviewing and responding to unwarranted [[Page E1842]] restrictions that result in disparate access to these constitutionally protected rights.
Certainly, if the state has a legitimate interest in requiring a woman to wait several days, undergo a physical examination, receive counseling and education about alternative options before making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, then it has an equally compelling interest in requiring a person seeking to obtain a firearm to demonstrate the mental, physical, and emotional fitness to possess an instrument that is used to kill more than 30,000 Americans annually.
I hope that one day soon in America it will not be harder for a woman to exercise her fundamental right to choose than it is for a person on the terrorist watchlist to lawfully purchase and possess firearms.
At a minimum, I urge the Congress to rededicate itself to the critically important but unfinished task of ensuring equality of opportunity and protection of law for women.