Monday, October 28, 2013


Soon, the Senate will vote on the Employment Non Discrimination Act, a bill that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who has been cosponsoring the bill since 1997, recently announced his plan to introduce the legislation for a vote during the current work period. With 54 co-sponsors (almost all Democratic and two Republican senators), the bill would add to legislation that makes discrimination illegal on the basis of race, sex, religion, color, nationality, age, and disability.

Meant to give members of the LGBT community protection under federal law, EDNA could also have larger implications for allowing women another outlet for seeking remedies to workplace discrimination. This law could be effective in helping lesbian and transgender women, who suffer from the double stigma of their sex and sexual orientation/transgender identity, seek a remedy for such discrimination. Currently, discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation is illegal in only 22 states, and discriminating based on gender identity is illegal in 18. Thus, this law could have a large effect in states where such protection doesn't exist. 

ENDA has been introduced repeatedly, but was last voted upon in 2007, when it was approved by the House. Considering the bill has been around since 1997, it may be surprising that it hasn't already been passed or been called up for a vote since 2007, especially since Democrats have had control of the Senate since 2009. During 2009-2011, Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress, suggesting that the legislation could have been called up for a vote and passed while Democrats still had control over the agenda of both houses of Congress. Even though Democrats have control over the Senate's agenda, it seems surprising that the bill would be considered again now, when Republicans control the House and are unlikely to consider the bill.

The renewed interest in the bill could be due to a variety of factors, the most obvious being the increased popular support. After the recent decisions of the Supreme Court that supported the rights of LGBT individuals, it seems that public opinion may be shifting towards accepting legislation like ENDA. By substantively representing the changing beliefs of constituents, members of Congress may feel that shifting their support towards this bill would reflect the shift in overall public opinion. Especially for Democrats, supporting this legislation could be important in securing support from LGBT interest groups, whose scoring on their roll call votes could give them a boost amongst LGBT constituents, as well as constituents who support LGBT rights. 

Moreover, the bill is said to have some support from about six Republican senators, who may be attempting to reach across the aisle (or seem as if they are reaching across the aisle) to gain back some of the legitimacy lost through the controversial government shutdown dealings, represent the shifting public beliefs, and credit claim. These Republicans are mostly located in states that are more moderate, suggesting that they would not be potentially isolating very conservative constituents. 

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sisterhood in the Senate

Recently, women in the Senate showed that it is still possible to overcome partisan divisions on the Hill. A feature in Time magazine this week, "Women are the Only Adults Left in Washington", examined the relationships that have developed among women Senators, and how these Senators capitalize on those relationships to overcome gridlock. The article describes the end of the era of the "old boys' club," and claims that it is now made up of the "the four Republicans and 16 democrats who happen to be women." But it is not by chance that these Senators are all women, that's what has created the bond that allows them to work well together. The article credits dinners and an unofficial rule that women do not criticize each other.

This article raises some interesting questions about coalitions within the Senate. It raises the point that women are far from achieving parity in Congress, and while there are some women in powerful leadership roles (Sens. Murray, Mikulski, among others), there are many committees that have yet to have a female chair. Furthermore, party leadership in the Senate is currently all men. So perhaps what allows the 20 female Senators to refrain from criticizing each other and to broker effective deals is that they are outsiders, in a sense. As we saw during the government shutdown, party leaders such as Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell spent a good deal of time assigning blame and claiming credit. But Senators Collins and Mikulski, who got the ball rolling on a potential solution to the government shutdown, had the opportunity to refrain from assigning blame and claiming credit for their parties because they are not in formal leadership positions. It is interesting to think about women Senators' actions during the government shutdown as a unique variation of credit claiming. Rather than claiming credit for themselves or for their party, women in the Senate have been able to quietly claim credit for their bipartisan work, as evidenced by the Time article.

It would also be useful to think about whether these kind of relationships exist in the House. There is roughly the same proportion of women in the House as in the Senate, and yet those women have not garnered the same kind of attention for building relationships and working together across party lines.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ohio Abortion Clinics Close

The Columbus Dispatch reports that one more abortion clinic has closed this month, while two others are appealing their closure. These three clinics add to the two others that were closed earlier this year, leaving only nine abortion clinics in the entire state of Ohio.

These abortion clinics were closed for either health violations or the absence of a valid transfer agreement with an area hospital. However, the state budget, signed by the Ohio State Legislature and the governor, banned public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion clinics, making it significantly harder for clinics to continue operation by law. In addition, the budget prohibits doctors who have rights to practice at a public hospital from also working at an abortion clinic, and it includes amendments that limit federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, agrees: “It seems the problem isn’t clinics providing excellent care but rather all the restrictions of abortion care making it more difficult for physicians to operate clinics in Ohio.”

She continues, “This move is an abuse of power motivated by pressure from Ohio Right to Life, an anti-choice organization led by Gov. Kasich’s appointee to the State Medical Board, Mike Gonikadis. Kasich’s agenda is clear- to put politicians in charge of women’s personal, private medical decisions by closing every abortion clinic in this state, despite their incredible safety record.”

Ohio is able to pass conservative pro-life policies because it has a very Republican-leaning state legislature. Of the 99 representatives in the House, 59 are Republican and 40 are Democrat. In both caucuses, there are 11 women, so 18% of the Republicans in the House are women, and 27% of the Democrats in the House are women. We see an even larger discrepancy in the Senate, with 23 of the 33 Senators identifying with the Republican party, and 10 of the 33 Senators identifying with the Democratic party. Of the 23 Republicans, only 3 are women, making up 13%, and of the 10 Democrats, 5 are women, making up 50%.

The budget bill passed through the Senate with a 23-10 party-line vote, but after disagreements between the chambers, mostly concerning the rules for charter schools and teacher pay, the state legislature formed an all-male conference committee made up of 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Again, the budget passed with a party-line vote, 4-2.

These results clearly demonstrate the polarization in the state legislature and the power of the majority party to pass items on its own agenda without needing to appeal to any members of the minority party. As many Republicans have expressed pro-life political beliefs, a unified Republican majority party in both the House and the Senate has ultimately led to drastic changes to the availability of abortion clinics in the state.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Government Shutdown and Birth Control

      As the government shutdown continues and the House and Senate struggle to compromise, more components of the Affordable Care Act are factoring into the GOP's negotiation tactics. Recently, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has attempted to rally the GOP around a "conscience clause" that allows employers and insurers to opt out of birth control coverage for women if they object to it on moral or religious grounds. Although Obamacare currently requires employers and insurers to provide free contraception in their health care plans, it has already exempted churches, religious organizations, and religiously affiliated universities and hospitals from this requirement, instead forcing insurance companies to provide free contraception to employees covered by religious institutions.

      Of course, adding this "conscious clause" could be very difficult for women who have begun to enjoy the free contraception provided by Obamacare. Though the article does not make the wording of this proposed clause clear, it may simply provide a loophole for insurers and employers who are not officially religiously affiliated but could opt out of free birth control by claiming that they oppose it on moral grounds.

      In an article on, Igor Volsky notes how this move is just another tactic used by the GOP to gain leverage in a debate that is related but not the cause of the government shutdown. As the Senate has now basically taken over and is in the process of drafting a bipartisan agreement, the House Republican majority still holds a great deal of power in accepting or rejecting the Senate's plan. The article suggests that using issues like contraception as leverage, Republicans can eagerly oppose this deal to strike down important parts of Obamacare that are against Republican ideology. Women's contraception is unfortunately one issue that has become part of a larger strategy. As the Thursday debt deadline approaches and pressure mounts, many Senators are hoping that enough House Republicans cave and enough vote with the House Democrats to pass the Senate's bipartisan measure without this added clause. However, considering the Republican majority in the House and the minority of females in Congress, this may be a part of Obamacare that Democrats are willing to sacrifice to reach a deal by Thursday. If Democrats substantively represent their constituents, it seems unlikely that a conscience clause will pass, but if they are merely descriptive representatives, this measure may be an important component of compromise. Many Democrats, though, feel that any negotiation over the Affordable Care Act would be a loss, and this desire for party unity and loyalty may actually work in women's favor by not letting Republicans pass this conscience clause.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Government Shutdown and Representation

It's hard to think of a more salient moment to discuss representation than now. Now that the government has been shut down for five days, the effects of the shutdown are no longer hypothetical. For those who are not immediately effected by furloughs and benefit cuts, it might feel like little has changed. That is not the case, unfortunately, for women and children affected by the lack of funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), according to the Huffington Post. WIC provides support for poor mothers and pregnant women, helping them pay for healthy food for themselves and their children. While some states can choose to use their own funds to make up for the loss of federal assistance, that is not a sustainable solution. With little headway being made on the Hill, short-term solutions may run out before Congress is able to agree on a continuing resolution.

Approximately 20% of seats in Congress are held by women, which makes one wonder if American women wouldn't benefit from a more representative proportion of women in Congress. Perhaps programs like WIC would be prioritized and move Congress towards a shutdown-avoiding compromise. That is a plausible argument, but as we discussed in class this week, there is more to consider than just increasing the proportion of women in Congress. Members of Congress can represent their constituents symbolically, descriptively, and/or substantively. It would be a mistake to think that a female Member of Congress would necessarily be a better substantive representative of her female constituents- while there is something to be said for increasing the symbolic representation of women in Congress, that alone would not necessarily increase their substantive representation. 

Works Cited