HERvotes Takes On the Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment

Welcome to the fourth #HERVotes Blog Carnival! This time, we’re writing with an especially urgent focus. There’s an extremely dangerous constitutional amendment to the Mississippi state constitution on the November 8th ballot. It grants personhood and constitutional rights to a fertilized egg.

Election day is just one week away. We must stop the outrageous movement to give fertilized eggs more rights than women and girls.

The implications are staggering. By giving constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, the amendment could ban emergency contraception, birth control pills and IUDs as well as all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman or girl. It could eliminate medical choices for women, such as some cancer treatments or in vitro fertilization. It could allow the state to investigate and even prosecute a woman for a miscarriage. Undoubtedly it would lead to many court cases.

How to join the fight:

  • You can help in this get-out-the-vote effort by urging everyone you know in Mississippi– your friends, family, co-workers, or members of groups you are affiliated with–to Vote No on Initiative 26.
  • To take direct action, you can donate here to help the statewide Mississippi coalition campaign buy desperately needed television and radio ads.
  • You can share the posts here on Twitter–hashtags #HERvotes and #NoOn26—and Facebook. If we spread the word far enough, we can reach every women’s-rights voter in Mississippi.

With your help, this outrageous Mississippi Initiative 26 will be defeated. The blog posts here share more reasons why we need to take action now. Happy reading, and thanks for fighting for women’s lives!

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Photo from the Mississippians for Healthy Families Facebook page.

The Staggering Facts of Seven Billion

We humans mark a milestone today—the world’s population reaches 7 billion.  When I was born there were about 2.2 billion people on earth.  When my assistant was born there were a little more than 5 billion people on earth.  It took just 12 years to go from 6 billion to 7.  As the population climbs rapidly, unfortunately so does human suffering—mostly among women and children.  We can and must slow this precipitous climb.

More than 1 billion people are forced to live on less than a dollar a day.  Widespread hunger, malnutrition, and inadequate supply of clean water and sanitation exists.  About 1 billion people do not have enough to eat.  Nearly 11 million children will die before their 5th birthday, 60% of them from malnutrition. According to the United Nation’s World Food Program, “Hunger is the #1 world’s risk—it kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.”[1]

More than 2.6 billion do not have basic sanitation. Another billion people have unsafe sources of drinking water.  Some 40% of the world’s people do not have access to a basic latrine.

Every minute of every day, somewhere in the developing world, a woman dies due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth…over 500,000 a year.   In some developing countries, pregnancy is the most common cause of death for women of childbearing age.

And more than 70,000 women and girls die every year due to complications from illegal and unsafe abortions.  Millions more are injured.

Nearly all these deaths and injuries are preventable.

Some 215 million women in the developing nations want access to modern means of contraception, but simply do not have access.  Yet U.S. policies have kept critical family planning resources from reaching women in the developing world, directly contributing to this needless suffering and death.

It’s time we said enough.  The Feminist Majority Foundation is determined to change the direction of U.S. policies on international family planning.  Changes in U.S. policy can directly empower women and girls, save the lives and suffering of thousands of women and girls, and slow population growth, reduce human suffering, and help to create a more sustainable environment.

The Obama Administration proposed for Fiscal Year 2012 $769.1 million for international reproductive health and family planning assistance, including $47.5 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which works in 150 countries to prevent maternal mortality and expand access to contraception. The House Republican majority voted in 2012 to cut international RH/ FP to $440 million and to totally defund UNFPA — a staggering $329 million from the Obama Proposal and $208 million cut from 2010.

What do these gigantic House cuts mean? For every $10 million cut from the international family planning and reproductive health program:

  • 610,000 fewer women and couples would receive contraceptive services and supplies
  • 190,000 more unintended pregnancies, and 82,000 more unplanned births, would occur;
  • 83,000 more abortions would take place (of which 60,000 would be unsafe);
  • 500 more maternal deaths would occur;
  • 59,000 more years of health life would be lost; and
  • 2,300 more children would lose their mothers.[2]

On the domestic front, the House Republican majority voted in 2012 to eliminate all domestic family planning aid and to completely defund Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).  Not only does this cut access to birth control to poor American women, these policies also contribute to an unsustainable environment.  “Twenty percent of the world’s population in the industrialized nations use some “80% of global resources and consumes 30% more than the planet can regenerate.”[3]

Let your Member of Congress and Senators know today in honor of the 7th billionth person know we want a livable future for our children and grandchildren.  Stop playing politics with our world’s and nation’s future.  Vote to make international and domestic family planning and reproductive health more accessible for women who want and desperately need it. Let them know today and often.

For all of our lives,

Eleanor Smeal


[1] http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

[2] Guttmacher Institute

[3] “The End of Poverty? Think Again”

HERVotes: Why Women Must Vote in 2012

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

The Feminist Majority Foundation is proud to join a major coalition of organizations, HERvotes, which is growing, representing millions of American women in an effort to mobilize women voters in 2012 around preserving women’s Health and Economic rights.

Right now, a slew of historic gains for women are under threat of being weakened, cut, or eliminated by extremist policies at the local, state and federal level.

HERvotes has released a list of the top 10 historic advances for women’s lives and security that are under threat.

These attacks–on Medicaid, on Social Security, on Medicare, on the Affordable Care Act, on the Equal Pay Act, on the Violence Against Women Act, on family-planning, on workplace protections against sex discrimination, and more–are attacks against women, plain and simple.

These laws weave the safety net that ensures that women and other vulnerable populations are protected at times when we are ill, poor, unemployed or discriminated against. It’s unjust for leaders to prioritize Wall Street corporations over Main Street women and families.

Our best hope to keep the safety net in place is our collective voting power. That’s why, from now through Labor Day, Ms., the Feminist Majority Foundation and dozens of other women’s groups will be blogging about the real-life effects of the attacks on women’s rights. Check back here daily for more women raising their voices in defense of our rights.

The blog carnival is launching HERvotes, a campaign which will continue until Election 2012. Women must mobilize, register, and flex our electoral might to hold onto our crucial health and economic rights. Join the effort by tweeting #HERvotes and most of all, registering to vote and voting like our lives depend upon it.

It’s been an honor to work with a number of extraordinary women to launch this campaign–and the list continues to grow! My heartfelt thanks to:

Photo from Flickr user sleepyneko under Creative Commons 2.0.

Betty Ford, champion of women’s rights

I will never forget the day in 1981 that I asked Betty Ford to be an honorary co-chair with Alan Alda of the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown Campaign. I thought it would be a long, involved process. But she said almost immediately that she would be honored to do so.

At the time Betty Ford, the wife of former President Gerald Ford, was one of the most admired women in the United States. She also was completely unpretentious. If she could help women win full equal rights with men under the U.S. Constitution, Betty Ford wanted to give it her all.

Read the rest of “Betty Ford, champion of women’s rights” by Eleanor Smeal at CNN. com



Photo: Eleanor Smeal and former first lady Betty Ford appear at a 1981 countdown rally for the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington (FMF).

Eleanor Smeal Tribute to Geraldine Ferarro

Geraldine Ferraro
Geraldine Ferraro

We are saddened today to learn of the death of Geraldine Ferraro. She was an historic feminist, a compassionate humanitarian and a role model for generations of women and girls seeking to break the glass ceiling.

She was a champion for women’s rights during her three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, but of course she’s most remembered for her historic run for vice president in 1984. As Ferraro traveled the country, she attracted huge crowds eager to vote for a woman for such a high office.

Aside from her political accomplishments, she provided courageous inspiration to millions of people combatting cancer, and helped countless people fighting multiple myeloma.

I had the privilege of working on women’s issues with Gerry for many years, and also saw her compassion and strength in action as she helped a dear friend of mine in her own struggle against multiple myeloma. We will miss her very much.

President’s 2012 Budget – a Striking Contrast to Republicans for Women’s Programs

Today President Obama released his 2012 Budget, which poses a direct contrast to the massive cuts to programs that benefit women and girls proposed by House Republican in the Continuing Resolution (CR) for funding FY 2011. The proposed budget would decrease funding for the Department of Defense by $78 billion over the next five years, a striking contrast to the House Republican’s proposed increase of $8.1 billion for FY 2011.

Unlike the Republican’s proposal to eliminate the Title X domestic family planning program, President Obama’s budget allocates $327 for Title X Family Planning Programs, an $11 million increase from 2010 enacted funding. In addition, Obama’s 2012 budget would support 9.6 million women in the Women Infant Child (WIC) program and would benefit family caregivers, the majority of whom are women, by including $96 million for the Administration’s Caregiver Initiative.

Moreover, the President’s budget proposes $777 million to support victims of violence, including domestic abuse and sexual assault, $135 million to support battered women’s shelters, and $4.5 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The 2012 Budget also proposes $23 million for a State Paid Leave Fund within the Department of Labor that will “provide competitive grants to help states that choose to launch paid-leave programs cover their start up costs.”

President’s Obama budget proposes $350 to establish the Early Learning Challenge Fund, administered by the Department of Education, and includes $8.1 for Head Start and Early Head Start, while the Republicans proposed a $2.27 billion cut from the President’s 2011 request.

Republican House Leaders Launch New War on Women

Republicans propose massive cuts in programs that benefit women as they propose increases in Defense spending of $8.1 billion. The House begins consideration of the Continuing Resolution (CR) for funding FY 2011 without which the government will shut down on March 4. Republicans would eliminate Title X domestic family planning programs with a massive cut of $327 million which is what President Obama is requesting in his 2012 budget. International family planning would be cut 32% from FY 2010 spending levels and 38% from the President’s 2012 request. To make matters worse, Republicans explicitly forbid any of this funding go to UNFPA while the President would designate $55 million of these funds to UNFPA in 2011.

“House Republicans are revealing that their utter contempt for women’s programs and their lack of concern for children in these inhumane so-called budget cuts. Every dollar for family planning saves an estimated four dollars of unplanned governmental spending. If you are not going to spend money on family planning, on children’s education, adequate food and nutrition for poor and pregnant women, you will spend more money on health care and prison programs,” responded Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority.

While proposing wiping out domestic family planning, Republicans are drastically cutting, by $758 million, the Women Infant Children (WIC) program which provides food and nutrition for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. The Republican bill also includes a proposed $210 million cut in Maternal and Child Health block grants and $1.83 billion cut in Head Start from 2010 spending levels and $2.27 billion from the President’s 2011 request. The Republicans would also cut dramatically Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding by $170 million.

A vast coalition of women’s rights, civil rights, domestic violence, and health groups including the Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood Federation of American (PPFA) NARAL, National Organization for Women (NOW), National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) are determined to fight these Republican draconian measures.

Election Results 2010 – The Gender Gap Lives

I Voted Sticker

Don’t believe anything you might have read to the contrary: The gender gap was alive and well in the 2010 midterm elections.

That gap—the measurable difference between the way women and men vote—showed clearly in 25 of 26 U.S. Senate races and 17 of 18 gubernatorial races for which exit polls were conducted. (There were no exit polls for House districts or state legislatures.) And the general pattern remains the same as it has since the 1980s: Women tend to favor Democratic candidates more than men do, while men favor Republicans.

“Typically, we see gender gaps in about two-thirds of all statewide races,” says Susan J. Carroll, senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University in New Jersey, “but this year we saw gender gaps in all but a couple of contests.”

In fact, the gap was so pronounced that without women’s votes Democrats would not have retained a majority in the Senate. In three key races—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) versus Sharron Angle (R) in Nevada; Sen. Michael Bennet (D) versus Kenneth Buck (R) in Colorado; and Sen. Patty Murray (D) versus Dino Rossi (R) in Washington—the Democrats would have been defeated if men alone had cast votes (see chart, above).

The size of the gender gap varied widely in races, from as little as 4 percent to a startling 19 percent in the Hawaii governor’s race, where former Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie was elected with 68 percent of women’s votes and just 49 percent of men’s. Even the Republican strategy of nominating more women candidates could not close the gap: Losing GOP candidates Christine O’Donnell (Delaware), Sharron Angle (Nevada), Linda McMahon (Connecticut) and Carly Fiorina (California) all had solid majorities of women voting against them. Of the non-incumbent Republican women senatorial candidates, only Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire had a majority of women voters on her side—and she won.

Despite the power of progressive women voters, women officeholders lost ground in Congress for the first time since 1979—albeit by just one seat—and a number of anti-choice women gained office. In a midterm that was difficult overall for Democrats, nine pro-choice Democratic women incumbents lost their House seats (four of whom were of color), and one, Blanche Lincoln of Nebraska, lost her Senate seat. At the same time, eight new Republican anti-abortionrights women (only one of color) won their House races along with the antichoice Ayotte in the Senate. (That said, one anti-choice Democratic woman lost her seat in the House, and a Republican woman with a mixed record on abortion won.)

Women lost clout, too: Nancy Pelosi is no longer speaker of the House. In contrast, House Republicans have no woman in a top leadership position, and all the men in charge are virulently anti-abortion and family planning—receiving scores of “0” from Planned Parenthood.

Overall, women still have a long way to go to reach parity within their parties and in the U.S. Congress, although Democratic women are further ahead. In 2011, women will hold only 10 percent of the Republican seats in the House, while Democratic women, despite their losses, will occupy 25 percent of the Democratic seats. In the Senate, only 17 women hold seats—12 Democrats and five Republicans. Overall, women will remain 17 percent of Congress, keeping the U.S. at a disgraceful 72nd in gender equity among 188 countries with national parliaments.

Sneak Peek at the new Spring Ms.: 5 of the 25 Gains for Women in the Health-Care Bill

Feminists didn’t get everything we wanted in the historic health-insurance reform package passed in March: The lack of a public option and limits on abortion coverage were the most glaring setbacks, and a single-payer system wasn’t even considered. But bottom line, an additional 32 million Americans will gain health-care coverage—meaning that the vast majority in the U.S., some 95 percent, will be covered.

Considering the hundreds of millions spent by the health-insurance industry in federal lobbying, the intransigence of the Republican bloc in Congress and the lack of a pro-choice majority in either house, it’s a wonder that anything was achieved, let alone historic gains for millions of people, especially women.

For years, insurance companies denied discrimination against women and/or put forth bogus claims to justify it. With the passage of this reform package, the beginning of the end of health-insurance sex discrimination, in both benefits and pricing, is at hand. One attribute, for sure, of the women’s movement—we don’t take no for an answer when it comes to obtaining women’s equality. And we never give up or give in.

Here are 5 gains we can cheer:

1. The legislation essentially contains a “Title IX” for women. It states that, with a few exceptions, an individual cannot “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving federal financial assistance.”

2. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “No longer will being a woman be considered a pre-existing condition.” Gender rating—charging women more than men for health insurance—is eliminated for individuals plans and for employer plans covering fewer than 100 employees. Today, in most states, women with individual plans pay as much as 48 percent higher premiums than men for the same coverage.

3. The legislation requires that insurers provide maternity coverage; currently, about 80 percent of individual insurance policies do not.

4. Companies with more than 50 employees must also provide breastfeeding mothers reasonable break time and a room to express milk.

5. The act funds support services for, and education and research on, postpartum depression.

6. … To find out the rest, you’ll need to get the new issue of Ms. on newsstands May 25—or direct to your door by becoming a Ms. Member!

Help Free Courageous Iranian Activists

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi’s sister, a professor in dentistry, Noushin Ebadi, Mansoureh Shojaee, a founder of the One Million Signatures campaign for women’s equality in Iran, and Morteza Kazemian, a journalist, were arrested the evening of December 29 by Ministry of Intelligence agents.  Ebadi, who is out of the country, released a statement that her sister, who is not a human rights activist, was arrested simply because she is her sister and to put pressure on her to stop her human rights activities. Please take a minute to show solidarity with Iranian feminists as they fight for equality and freedom. Continue reading “Help Free Courageous Iranian Activists”

Election Results 2009—Wake Up Call for Social Progressives and Feminists

In both the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, social issues took a back seat to economic issues. This is understandable considering dismal unemployment figures, the housing crisis, fear of layoffs, and dwindling retirement investments. Bad economic times trump social issues. Continue reading “Election Results 2009—Wake Up Call for Social Progressives and Feminists”

Feminist Movement Loses a Dear Friend and Champion

Statement of Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal on the Death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy

For decades, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was a champion of women’s rights. For years, when few other Senators would take women’s rights seriously, the women’s movement could count on Senator Kennedy. In struggle after struggle, the women’s movement could turn to Senator Kennedy and his dedicated and talented staff to lead the fight in Congress. Behind the scenes, Senator Kennedy would sit down with the leaders and activists of the women’s and civil rights movements and strategize. He was indefatigable and, whether in the Senate in the majority or minority, he had the undying hope and the know-how to move ahead, pass legislation to help millions, and work for a better day.

Continue reading “Feminist Movement Loses a Dear Friend and Champion”

Why Is the FMF Refusing to Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is in deplorable condition. There’s no disputing that.

Some feel that we should just walk away. Continue reading “Why Is the FMF Refusing to Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan?”

Sotomayor Hearings and the Culture Wars

Buried in the stories about the Sonia Sotomayor hearings are mentions of the arrests at the hearings of four anti-abortion protestors, including Norma McCorvey, who is the Roe of Roe v. Wade.

Not mentioned is the disgusting, little pamphlet being handed out there by supporters of Randall Terry, founder of the original Operation Rescue, an extreme anti-abortion group. In launching his 12-city tour to “defeat” Sotomayor he released this horrifying skeleton image of Sotomayor. Take a look at it and realize the depths to which the “culture wars” have sunk. Continue reading “Sotomayor Hearings and the Culture Wars”