2017 marks the centennial of women being allowed to serve as Members in Congress. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to serve in the House of Representative in 1916 and again in 1940. To commemorate this august celebration, the House of Representatives’ historian is featuring a special exhibit of oral histories, which you can check out here if you aren’t lucky enough to be able to see it in person.
With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday, it’s a good time to look at the considerable progress women have achieved—and also to grapple with the depressing setbacks women have faced recently. As a New York Times story this week pointed out, in the progress column, there are now 21 women in the Senate. No, it’s not half, as it should be, but it’s still progress for what is a very powerful post in American politics.
But the setbacks abound. The House just passed the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace legislation, and in so doing, removed the required coverage for pregnancy and maternity care. The deal was negotiated by 13 Republican men. The Senate’s health care team, established by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), includes not a single woman.
Although female Republican senators number only five, they include Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)—all three of whom are highly respected, very experienced, and have special expertise on health care. The New York Times piece noted how little power—compared with their 16 Democratic female counterparts in the Senate—those GOP female Representatives have.
Then there was the House repeal and replace debates that led up to the vote, which featured Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) demanding to know why men should have to pay for prenatal care--nevermind the fact that the ACA’s requirement that women have no cost access to contraception has driven down the rate of abortion and unwanted pregnancies. And yet, President Trump's new HHS Secretary Tom Price, a doctor himself, has said repeatedly that no women has been denied access to contraception because of cost. What a shockingly false and ignorant statement!
So Happy Mother's Day to women across the country! We may have 21 female members of the Senate, but we still have a very long ways to go. We have a Secretary of HHS who doesn’t believe women should have access to contraception or abortion. We have a new woman appointed to oversee Title X programs—great! But she also happens to be a woman who believes birth control should be between a woman, her husband, and God. Call me naïve, but I thought by 2017 women would have gained far more power, respect, and security than recent events demonstrate.