By Morgan Cephas, Mary Jo Daley, Amanda Cappelletti, and Judy Schwank
As we begin the 2021-22 legislative session with myriad tasks ahead of us, innumerable struggling people and businesses demanding answers and assistance, and an ongoing worldwide pandemic we so badly want to put behind us, we, as co-chairs of the bicameral Women’s Health Caucus, offer our policy priorities for the women of Pennsylvania.
We ask that, during this COVID-19 pandemic, we prioritize popular and evidence-based policies that help both women and children rather than focusing on the harmful, medically unnecessary restrictive bills outlined in the majority agenda for the Pennsylvania House Health Committee.
More than 22,000 Pennsylvanians have died because of COVID-19. The threat of this coronavirus remains dangerously high, especially as new variants from other parts of the world are making their way into our state.
Vaccination rollouts have been painfully slow and confusing, and, even with a more focused effort and plan from the federal government, working to ensure constituents are receiving the help for which they are asking should be our highest priority.
In addition to the crucial pandemic-related issues, and instead of forcing wedge issues, why not focus on Black women who are dying at extraordinary rates post-partum?
Or the countless women forced to leave their jobs to care for their children because their employer doesn’t provide paid leave? What about women who, due to a federal lawsuit by the previous president, can no longer access contraceptives?
Conducted by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nationwide comparison of states and their policy priorities that affect women and children shows that while Pennsylvania enacted only 13 of 25 supportive policies benefitting women and children, it ranked seventh for the highest number of abortion restrictions.
For years, Democratic and Republican legislators have introduced bills that would improve access to healthcare; support pregnant people; promote children’s and adolescents’ health, education and safety; and support families’ financial health. Unfortunately, these bills waste away without ever receiving a hearing, let alone a vote.
Considering that Gov. Tom Wolf will veto the abortion restrictions, as well as the mandatory and financial restrictions on patients’ decisions, it is a story of opportunities lost for the women and families of Pennsylvania. Among many Republicans in our General Assembly, women’s rights are too often a political game.
In the Women’s Health Caucus, though, we listen to women. We know that whether Republican, Democrat, Independent or other; whether wealthy, poor or middle class; whether residing in the city, the suburbs or rural Pennsylvania; whether young or old; there are real issues affecting women’s free choice, financial well-being and life itself.
Many of the bills that address these concerns have been or will be reintroduced for this new legislative session. So let’s give them an honest chance. Let’s provide 12-month post-partum Medicaid coverage, paid family leave, expansive contraception access, and workplace accommodations for nursing moms or pregnant women. And let’s support policies that address the high rate of maternal mortality in Black women.
Let’s craft, discuss and pass legislation that helps all women, all children, all families.
If we keep focus on policies that work for everyone, our commonwealth will be better for it.
All Democrats, Rep. Morgan Cephas represents the Philadelphia-based 192nd District; Mary Jo Daley represents the Montgomery County-based 148th District; Amanda Cappelletti represents the Montgomery County-based 17th Senate District, and Schwank represents the Berks County-based 11th District. They write from Harrisburg.