February 2013 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Suffrage Procession, when 5,000 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. The suffragists who mobilized in Washington that day were up against groups like the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage who, in 1917, argued in a letter to Congress that passing the 19th Amendment would be ‘an official endorsement of nagging as a national policy.' Congresswoman Speier keeps an original copy of that letter framed and hung on the wall of her office right next to the 1871 petition to Congress from suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The comparison is a bittersweet reminder that the early suffragists did not live to enjoy the victory of the 19th Amendment and the great transformation that followed.
They would be proud today to know that in the 2012 elections, women made up 55% of the voters. In addition to high turnout, we are breaking records as office holders with 101 female U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress, and at the state level with five Governors and 11 Lieutenant Governors.
But there is still more to do.
Protecting a Woman’s Right to Choose
Congresswoman Speier believes that every woman in this country must have access to reproductive health care services and is committed to protecting a woman's right to choose. Unfortunately, since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, that guarantee has come under unprecedented attack. The Republican majority has crafted measures to redefine rape, leave women to die rather than access abortions and cut off support to women’s health care clinics. In February 2011, Speier took to the House floor in opposition to a Republican amendment that would have withheld Title X funding for clinics, like Planned Parenthood, that provide abortion coverage. She was outraged that those in favor of the measure were insisting that it was necessary to ensure that federal funds were not used to pay for abortions even though the Hyde Amendment already requires this. Further, Planned Parenthood uses over 90% of their funding for essential preventive screenings women in this country depend on, such as pap smears, STD tests and annual examinations.
But when she reached the House floor she felt compelled to share her own story in response to lies that were being perpetrated by one of her colleagues. On that day, Speier shared the fact that she had an abortion procedure when she was 17 weeks pregnant and there was nothing cavalier about her experience. She and her husband wanted to see the pregnancy through, but they lost the baby.
In the days that followed Speier received thousands of letters, calls, and e-mails from women not just in California, but around the country. They shared with her that they had endured similar procedures themselves but had never spoken out because of the stigma created around the issue. Others talked about how Planned Parenthood had become their only health care option and how pleased they were that she and her colleagues were fighting for it.
Speier was pleased that the Senate defeated the amendment to strip funding for Title X. She was grateful and humbled by all of the support she received. The stories she hears from around the country encourage her to keep up the fight for reproductive rights.
True equality will not exist until women have the rights and privileges that men enjoy, from equal pay for equal work to affordable health care premiums, adequate child care support and worker protections. As a member of both the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and the Pro-Choice Caucus, Speier is working hard to promote legislation that will improve the lives of women and ensure them access to a brighter tomorrow. During her time in the California State Assembly and Senate, she worked tirelessly for the rights of women on issues such as contraceptive equity, prenatal substance abuse and access to capital for women owned businesses.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
For all the progress women have made, Speier remains outraged that a woman still earns 77 cent for every dollar that a man takes home for the same job. In fact, right now women have to work nearly four months longer than their male counterparts to earn the same annual pay at a comparable job. Equal pay means that women must take home one dollar for every dollar men get paid, not 77 cents, 80 cents or 90 cents. Speier believes it is past time to right this wrong.
New York Times: Mapping the Glass Ceiling
Access to Adequate, Affordable Health Care
Speier represents one of the most innovative areas in the country where cures to the nation’s most debilitating diseases like breast cancer and heart disease are being created. But what value is this research to women who lack access to affordable health insurance coverage? Sadly, in 2006, one in five women of childbearing age was uninsured - making them more than 30% more likely to have a serious health problem after giving birth. Uninsured women with breast cancer are up to 50% more likely to die from the disease than their insured friends. This is one of the reasons Speier proudly cast her vote for the health care reform measure, entitled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in 2010. Because of this law, being a woman can no longer be considered a pre-existing condition. It ended harmful insurance industry practices like denying coverage to women who have suffered from cancer or heart disease. Further, in 2014, more than 11 million women will be eligible for subsidies to help pay for premiums. It also prohibits insurance plans from excluding maternity coverage or cancer screenings from plans.
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
Human trafficking has become our modern-day slavery and is considered one of the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. In fact, it recently became the second most profitable criminal enterprise alongside illegal arms trafficking. What many do not know is that this epidemic is thriving in our country and not only affects foreign victims but also American children. In fact, national experts estimate that as many as 300,000 American children are trafficked each year in the United States and the average age of the victims is 12-14. Evidence shows that the Internet has become the tool of choice for these predators.
In 2010, Speier called on the House Judiciary committee to hold a hearing into this troubling epidemic. The hearing took place in September 2010 and led to a deeper understanding of the issue and a renewed commitment by Congress to improve the lives of the innocent victims affected. But the problem is truly local and must also be tackled at home. That is why Speier launched the San Mateo County Zero Tolerance initiative-a collaborative partnership between law enforcement officials, community members and our non-profit partners. The goals of the initiative are to raise community awareness and ensure that victims have the resources they need and that their perpetrators are brought to justice.
Congresswoman Speier speaks at an anti-human-trafficking training for airline
employees at SFO organized by Airline Ambassadors
Since then, Speier has held a several anti-trafficking trainings for hotel and airline workers in close cooperation with local law enforcement officials who have made this issue a priority. Anyone interested in participating in the initiative should contact her San Mateo District office at (650) 342-0300.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
For over twenty years, unbeknownst to Goodyear Tire employee Lilly Ledbetter, she took home significantly less than her male counterparts even though she did the exact same job. Shortly before retiring, an anonymous co-worker slipped a note into her mailbox comparing her pay against three other male employees. While a jury originally awarded Ledbetter over $3 million after she sued to rectify the situation, the Supreme Court unfortunately overruled the award because a loophole in the law which required that she file her claim within 180 days of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act amended the law so that no company that chooses to discriminate based on gender will be free from liability because of a senseless statute of limitation. Speier proudly cast her vote for the bill in January 2009 and cheered as President Obama signed it into law shortly thereafter.
Paycheck Fairness Act
More than 45 years ago, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal to pay different wages to employees of the opposite sex for equal work. The Paycheck Fairness Act, of which Speier is a cosponsor, would create stiff new penalties for employers who break the law and strong safeguards to protect victimized employees.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, of which Speier is a co-sponsor, would ensure that pregnant women are not forced out of jobs unnecessarily or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working. Currently, pregnant working women around the country are being denied simple adjustments – permission to use a stool while working a cash register, or to carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated, or temporary reassignment to lighter duty tasks – that would keep them working and supporting their families while maintaining healthy pregnancies. The legislation would close legal loopholes and ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job.