Gains and Disappointments on Women’s Rights in the US
The new law supporting the right to equal pay is a major step forward for women, but dropping funds for contraceptives from the economic stimulus package will impede women’s rights and cost more in the long run, Human Rights Watch has said.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, the first bill President Obama signed, expands the time period for filing pay-discrimination claims. The victims, many of them women, were previously limited by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said they could only file claims against their employer within 180 days of their first unfair paycheck, even if they did not learn of the problem until years later. Under the new law, claims can be filed within 180 days of receiving any discriminatory paycheck.
“This bill dramatically improves a woman’s chance to fight pay discrimination,” said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “And it greatly improves the fairness of the system for everyone.”
However, with President Obama’s support, members of Congress removed provisions of the economic stimulus proposal that supported access to contraceptives. Human Rights Watch understands that the provisions, which would have allowed states to expand access to contraceptives under Medicaid, were taken out after protests from some congressional members. However, a 2007 Congressional Budget Office analysis of an almost identical proposal estimated that such funding for contraceptives would save $200 million over five years, including money Medicaid would otherwise have spent on services related to unintended pregnancies.
Access to contraceptives enables women and their families to make considered decisions about the number and spacing of their children. These decisions carry profound financial and other implications for families, and the decision not to expand access to contraception under Medicaid means that fewer families will be able to make those decisions, Human Rights Watch noted.
“Ensuring access to contraception is not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense,” said Rhoad.